Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Princess Olga A Wild & Barefoot Romanov


A Wild and Barefoot Romanov is the title of Princess Olga Romanov's memoirs.  Olga, who was born 1950, is the only child of  Prince Andrew Alexandrovich of Russia and his Finnish-Scottish second wife Nadine McDougall.  Prince Andrew was the second child and eldest son of Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna and Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovitch.    Xenia was Emperor Nicholas II's sister, which meant that Andrew was the Emperor's nephew, and a first cousin to Nicholas' children.

Andrew's world of great wealth and servants came to an end with the Russian Revolution, the end of the monarchy that led to the  murders of Nicholas and his family and other members of the Romanov family, and exile for those who survived, having fled first to their estates in the Crimea, and finally, leaving Russia in the spring of 1919.

Andrew and his father left Russia four months before the rest of the Crimean-based family.  They were accompanied by Andrew's first wife,  Elisabetta Sasso-Ruffo, a previously married half-Italian-half Russian woman, who was ten years his senior, and pregnant with their first child,  when they married in November 1918.

King George V offered his cousin, Grand Duchess Xenia, grace and favor homes at Windsor and Hampton court.  Andrew and his first wife and their three children lived with Xenia.

One would assume that the British royal family would embrace Xenia's family, which included her seven children.  Her only daughter, Irina, was already married to Felix Yusopov, one of Rasputin's murderers, and, in exile, settled in France.  The family affection ended with Xenia, as her sons had to find their own ways in the world.  Most of Xenia's descendants live in the United States, France and Australia.

Andrew had no inheritance, and no recognizable job skills.  After the death of his first wife in 1940 from cancer,  Andrew married again, just two years later to Nadine McDougall,   Nadine had some money and a family home, Provender, in Kent, which suited Andrew well.

In a word, Nadine was an insufferable snob.  She married a grandson of Alexander III, a real Prince of Russia, who had no income, and no title that he could technically pass to his wife and family.  Both of his marriages were morganatic and in violation of the Pauline laws.   No matter,  Socially,  Nadine and Olga were princesses .. so let's leave it that.   It also should be noted that Olga states that her father was HIH (His Imperial Highness) and head of the Orthodox church.  Andrew was a Prince of Russia, and styled as His Highness.  Grand Dukes and Grand Duchesses were HIH.   Nor was Prince Andrew the head of the Orthodox church.

Olga was born in 1950. It is suffice to say that Nadine was not hands on mum.  She had delusions of grandeur that would effect Olga's life.   Same pram as the Queen had for her young children.  Only Malvern water.  No tap water.  Nannies, nurses .... a rather presumptuous life for a family of three in Kent, living in a historic house.

While Andrew pottered around Provender, opening fetes and cooking,  Nadine was determined that her only child would marry into a well connected and wealthy family.  No need for a proper education if the only goal was to find a husband.

I feel a bit sorry for Olga.  Limited education, no real job skills, an adoring father who could not stand up to his socially ambitious wife.  Nadine apparently did not have good financial advisers, and when, things got really bad, Nadine got Olga to turn over to her Olga's trust fund.  One word:  naive.  Olga was very naive.  She willingly sign the papers, allowing her mother to take her money ... and never paid her back.

Olga married Thomas Mathew in 1975, settling into a home in Scotland, where Olga raised four children,  The three eldest children survive.

It was at Provender where Olga felt most at home.  In the final years of her mother's life, it became impossible to maintain the historic home.  Leaky roof, no electricity... the house was literally falling down.   Olga would find her metier with Provender's restoration and salvation.  The house is now open to the public, and Olga exploits, in the most of positive of ways, her Romanov connections, although many of her father's possessions, including family correspondence, was sold to pay for the restoration.

While  A Wild and Barefoot Romanov provides an intimate  look at Olga's life and upbringing, the book flops when it comes to facts.  Several times, Olga reminds us that women cannot inherit the throne in Russia.  This is untrue. The Fundamental Laws make it clear that all eligible males have rights before all eligible females.  Olga is correct when she says she has no rights.  This is due to the fact that her father's marriage to her mother was morganatic.  Nadine was not a member of a reigning or a royal house as required by the Fundamental Laws.

She also gets it wrong about George V and the purported offer of asylum in the spring 1917.  If the Provisional Government had not vacillated in its response to the British offer,  Lord Stamfordham would not have had the opportunity to meet with different government officials to make it clear that Nicholas was not welcome.  Kenneth Rose was the first to write about this in his biography of King George V.

Olga writes that her father did not ask Queen Elizabeth (consort of George VI) for permission to marry Nadine ... he didn't need the Queen Consort's permission to wed.  Tosh.  I also doubt that this decision led to tension with Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother.)  More tosh.

In September 1968,  Olga and her mother were in a Scottish hotel to attend the Oban Ball, where it "was announced that Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, had died."   Marina died on August 27, 1968.

I wish the book was better edited.  There were times when I wanted to reach for a red pencil.  It also would help readers if the editor had insisted on source verification (footnotes for some statements) and included an index.

The book includes several dozen family photos, many of which have not been seen before, as the photos are private family photos.

The penultimate chapter, "Lost Heritage," includes the 1924 correspondence between Dowager Empress Marie (Olga's great grandmother) and Grand Duke Kirill, who defended his decision to claim the throne, even though Marie never accepted that her sons and grandchildren were dead.   Her daughters perpetuated the fiction,  never taking the opportunity to tell their mother that Nicholas and Michael were dead. 

Olga's floundering life was given purpose with the restoration and she has made the most of it. 

A Wild and Barefoot Romanov is a fun read, but one does come away with a sense that Olga's life would have been very different if her father knew how to stand up to her snobby, snooty mother.


Noted royal biographer Coryne Hall provided assistance to Princess Olga.




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