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Little attention was paid to the four charming and vivacious young princesses who were growing up at the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo outside St Petersburg.
Indeed, during the 1900s the political climate in Russia became so volatile, and the assassination threats against Nicholas II so worrying, that the Imperial Family was increasingly secluded from public view and the press was gagged from saying anything about their domestic life.
From 1907, when Alexey suffered his first serious haemophilia attack, instead of enjoying the company of young people of their own age, the girls’ lives were dominated by the presence of Grigory Rasputin, the man whom Nicholas and Alexandra looked upon as a spiritual adviser and healer and trusted as the only person who could protect their precious son from harm.
Yet despite all the constraints placed on them by public and press curiosity, by the time they had entered their teens, the four Romanov sisters were undoubtedly the most talked-about princesses in Europe.
In contrast, the third sister, Maria, had a wonderful warmth and openness; everyone remarked on her great, plaintive blue eyes.
She had an earthy, Russian quality that was demonstrated in her great love for children and she would have made a devoted mother.
They seem to represent not just the lost world of old tsarist Russia but also the ruthless and arbitrary brutality of the revolution that destroyed them.
The faces are familiar, but until now very little was known about the four Romanov sisters beyond the chocolate-box image of them produced for public consumption by the tsarist publicity machine.
They might have been cosseted with extravagant gifts from royal relatives and eminent statesmen, but their mother – in the tradition of her own mother Alice and her much-loved grandmother Queen Victoria – imposed a rigorous English regime of frugality, hand-me-down clothes, iron bedsteads, plain nursery food and cold baths.Olga, the eldest, was a dreamer and a romantic who loved music and poetry and was prone to melancholy.She struggled with her temper as she grew older, partly because, as the eldest, she had the responsibility of setting an example to her younger siblings.Though still young, the four sisters became their brother’s devoted carers, watching over him and trying their best to protect him from harm.
They learned to content themselves with each other’s company and they never complained.In November 1894, when Princess Alix of Hesse (Alexandra Feodorovna) married the new tsar, Nicholas II, gossips around the world were agog.