Welcome to 'Lost in the Myths of History'

It often seems that many prominent people of the past are wronged by often-repeated descriptions, which in time are taken as truth. The same is also true of events, which are frequently presented in a particular way when there might be many alternative viewpoints. This blog is intended to present a different perspective on those who have often been lost in the myths of history.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna: A Compassionate Survivor

Not necessarily shrouded in myth, but sometimes over-shadowed by her more famous relatives is Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna.

Born in 1882 as the youngest child of Tsar Alexander III and Empress Marie Feodorovna of Russia, Olga entered the world at the Peterhof Palace. She and her siblings were all raised at Gatchina and enjoyed a fairly modest up-bringing. The children slept in camp beds, enjoyed much physical recreation, bathed in cold water and many times, preferred simple food. As her siblings, she was educated at home, by tutors. Her taste for the simple pleasures in life probably came from her father, with whom she enjoyed a very close relationship with. Alexander III doted on her and her brother, Michael. Many of her favorite childhood memories included her father taking her and her brother for long hikes in the forest. From most accounts, relations with her mother were always a little strained. Although Marie loved her children, she focused on being a wife, and also the Empress of Russia. Olga enjoyed good relationships with all her siblings and was probably closest to her brother Michael during childhood.

In 1894, her life was changed dramatically by the death of her father. It was an traumatic and emotional experience for Olga who was just 12 at the time. She again experienced tragedy when her older brother, George died in 1899. She entered into society in 1900, an experience which was not to her delight. In 1901, at 19 years, she married 33 year old Prince Peter Alexandrovich of Oldenburg. There is much speculation that the marriage was, perhaps arranged by both of their mothers. For whatever reason, it was not a happy marriage and remained unconsummated. Her husband was stationed near Tsarskoe Selo, where Nicholas, Alexandra and their family resided. Peter preferred to spend time with his fellow officers and wasn't particularly attentive to Olga. It was at this time when she became close to her brother, Nicholas and his entire family. At a time when many people took an instant dislike to Alexandra, Olga tried to keep an open mind and heart. As a result, she was welcomed with open arms and was in a position of trust. She enjoyed a very close relationship with Nicholas and Alexandra's children and often spent time with them, and enjoyed arranging activities and parties for her nieces. Although very close in childhood, to her brother, Michael, their relationship deteriorated when he married his mistress Natasha, who was a commoner. This event placed some strain on the entire relationships between all the siblings.

At the outbreak of WWI, Olga worked as a nurse and was once awarded the Order of St. George for coming under heavy fire as she worked at a hospital near the war front. In 1916 her marriage to Peter was finally annulled. This gave her the freedom to marry Colonel Kulikovsky, whom she had met several years prior and had fallen in love with. When her brother abdicated the throne, Olga and her family spent a very difficult time moving around the Crimea and other areas, just trying to stay safe. Both of her sons, Tikhon and Guri were born during this time of unrest. As Olga's mother made her way back home to her native Denmark, she summoned Olga and her family. They arrived in early 1920. After the revolution, the murders of many of her beloved family (including both brothers), and being displaced from her own country, Olga still had the ability to delight in the beauty of nature and of life. She became a strong, yet compassionate survivor.

Olga and her family resided with her mother until Marie died in 1928. It was not an easy time for Olga. The relationship with her mother remained difficult, and it is said that Marie was rather demanding of Olga and treated her husband as an inferior. After her mother's death and the sale of her estate, Olga purchased a rural farm outside of Copenhagen. Her house became a meeting place for many in the Russian emigre community. The modest lifestyle she lived as a child served her well her. Olga, always a fantastic painter, also began to sell many of her paintings to help support her family and their farm. They survived WWII in Denmark, even as the economic and political side of things took a downturn. Fearing the advancement of Soviet troops towards their area, they moved across the ocean and settled on another rural farm in Ontario, Canada. After growing older, and not having their sons with them they sold their farm and moved to a suburb, just outside Toronto. She had many royal visitors and even had the opportunity to take lunch with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip.

Olga lost her husband when he died in 1958 and Olga's condition deteriorated and she became rather frail. In 1960 she was unable to care for herself and spent her last days with some Russian friends in an apartment in Toronto. She died in November of 1960 - she was 78.

Always resourceful and taking an interest in the simplicity of life, she took on her many burdens in life with great dignity. She had a reputation for being friendly and down-to-earth. Although reserved with strangers, she was exceptionally warm to those she knew well and trusted. Her ability to see beauty in ordinary nature and surroundings is mirrored in her lovely and vibrant paintings. As a true example to the faith she was raised in, she treated most all she met with a kind and caring heart. She was an amazing woman who lived an remarkable life in her own way.

If you are interested, there is a wonderful documentary that you may currently find on youtube about Grand Duchess Olga. Here is a link to the full documentary. Note: I am unable to find a way to provide a direct link, so you may have to cut and paste!



Christina said...

Thank you Val for you lovely and thought-provoking post! I had never thought of how Olga must have been affected by the death of her father and brother, nor how young she was at the time. As you say, she is so often overshadowed by her older siblings.
Thank you, too, for the great link!!

Val said...

Christina - thank you! Just like you, I had never given much thought to how she must have suffered the loss of her father and brother. It must have been a great grief to her at such a tender age.....

Lostsplendour said...

Thanks Val for this post.
The link for the full documentary (well the playlist) is http://www.youtube.com/user/docnarchy#grid/user/36AE2695B0ADA386

Val said...

Lostsplendour - thank you very much! I have added the link for the full documentary at the end of my post. One will have to cut and paste...there seems no way to make the link work - or at least, I can't figure it out! Forgive me, I'm still very new to blogging :-)