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‘Ever your loving Nicky’: A forgotten letter?

I first encountered this hitherto neglected and virtually ‘forgotten’ letter, categorised as by Tsar Nicholas II, within the volume The Complete Wartime Correspondence of Tsar Nicholas II and the Empress Alexandra April 1914-March 1917, skilfully edited by Prof Joseph T. Fuhrmann. What immediately caught my interest was the fact that it was contained within the main body of the work, ‘The Nicky-Sunny Correspondence’ (pp. 13-705) and that is was reproduced chronologically in the opinion of Prof Fuhrmann, at the very end of the Wartime Correspondence, Letters and Telegrams.

More importantly, it was a letter which, together with a second, fragmentary letter and a telegram, survives in the collections of the archive listed in the book as the ‘Central Archive of the Russian Federation’ (Joseph T. Fuhrmann, The Complete Wartime Correspondence, 704). According to Fuhrmann, these texts had not ‘heretofore been published in any language.’ (Fuhrmann, 704). Until Fuhrmann included it at the end of his edited (1999) Complete Wartime Correspondence, it had not been published in either Russian or English.

My closer examination of this text has led me to suggest a new theory regarding this letter, which differs entirely from its previous interpretation. I do not by implication, mean to throw doubt on Prof Fuhrmann’s authorial interpretation of primary source material. Based on the reasonable assumption that this letter was written by Nicholas, it belongs in my view, not to the wartime correspondence between the Tsar and Tsarina at all, but to a much earlier period.

Fuhrmann theorised that the aforementioned letter to the Tsarina was written ‘while still at Mogilev’ (cit., Fuhrmann, 704) – following the Tsar’s abdication on Thursday, March 2/15 1917 – and sent, as was a second letter, of which a fragment survives. A telegram is also quoted in the above context, as having been written, according to Fuhrmann, (in Russian) from Kiev, listed in the Complete Wartime Correspondence as No. 1695/Telegram 95.

Based on my research detailed below, I suggest otherwise. Instead, I believe that this letter – listed as ‘No. 1696’ – belongs to an entirely different point in time – even before the engagement of the future Tsar Nicholas II to Princess Alix of Hesse, which occurred in 1894. The letter in question is undated and without a place heading. It is written on two sides of a card which measures approximately 4 ½ by almost 3 ¾ inches. This card bears the imperial monogram and crown, and the edges of the card on which the letter is written is gilded. The imperial monogram and the crown are also on an additional side of stationery, on which the letter concludes (Fuhrmann, 704).

The monogram of the Tsarevich Nicholas naturally featured on all his stationery; the two intertwined ‘A’s [for Alexandrovich] in red or gold and the blue Cyrillic ‘H’ [for ‘N’] crossing them, beneath a gold, imperial crown. As such, it appears in his correspondence with Princess Alix in 1894, for example, before his accession as Tsar. This is useful for my enquiry, because it shows us the kind of stationery he was using as Tsarevich (Alexander Bokhanov, The Romanovs, Love, Power & Tragedy, pp. 68-74).

Fuhrmann posits the theory that the letter is improvised and possibly in a “code”, which Alexandra would have been able to understand, using loaded language to in fact convey other meanings. Certainly the imperial couple did employ a code in their telegrams during the period of their engagement and Princess Alix of Hesse had used a “code” in her private correspondence; the entry in Princess Alix of Hesse’s diary for the day of her engagement to the Tsarevich Nicholas (8 April 1894) similarly contains over six lines, written in her own private code. (Elisabeth Heresch, Alexandra, Tragik und Ende der letzten Zarin, 83). Clearly, that content contained emotions she regarded as too deeply personal to confide to paper.

I will suggest, however, that the letter in question, does not belong to the period of the abdication, but in fact, even pre-dates the engagement of 1894. If correct, then it is essentially a ‘lost’ letter, which remained unpublished until Fuhrmann’s book in 1999 and then featured in an erroneous chronology and as such, was ignored.

The tone of this little known letter is in my view, entirely concurrent with that of the (published) correspondence exchanged between the Tsarevich and Princess Alix of Hesse, in 1889. The wartime correspondence between the Tsar and Tsarina by complete contrast, contains a wealth of private language and the Tsar by this point (outside of his telegrams to the Tsarina, which were always formally headed ‘To her majesty’) was heading wartime letters to his wife, with examples such as ‘My darling Sunny-dear’, ‘My own beloved Sunny’ and ‘My own beloved Wify-dear’. Remarkably, I have managed to find an exact period in the published correspondence of the Tsarevich and Princess Alix of Hesse that would seem to directly place the Fuhrmann letter within the year 1889 and therefore make sense of the content, which by my reckoning, is not written in a “code” at all.

Similarly, it was almost certainly written in English in the original, as Princess Alix of Hesse did not properly begin learning Russian in earnest until her 1894 engagement. English was the common language that the couple used in correspondence, although of course, both knew French and German. In time, Alexandra would master Russian with great fluency.

The letter reads verbatim as follows: ‘Darling Alix [written as Alex in the book], Just a line or two to tell you that we found that letter of yours to Xenia [The sister of Nicholas, Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna] delicious! We could not make out the words & expressions and laughed a good deal when it came out wrong. Really I miss you very much [.]. [T]he ice looked so lonely when you left & the hills were astonished no one payed [sic] any attention to them. We played with Ella at badminton, but it was not quite the same. I have been to see the “Walkure” and “Sigfried [sic].” I find it lovely, what a pity we could’ [sic] not come to see the Rheingold with you! So now good-bye. Ever your loving Nicky.’ (cit., Fuhrmann, 704).

According to Alexandra’s early biographer, Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden, Alexandra “adored” the music of Wagner, already when Princess of Hesse and her music teacher was the Dutchman, W. de Haan, then Director of the Opera at Darmstadt (Sophie Buxhoeveden, The Life and Tragedy of Alexandra Feodorovna, 14). Alexandra was in addition, an accomplished pianist, although she personally found playing the piano publicly before Queen Victoria and the Queen’s guests and entourage at Windsor, a dreadful ordeal, as she confided later to the Baroness (Ibid, 15).

The letter in Fuhrmann’s Complete Wartime Correspondence believed to be written by Tsarevich Nicholas, must I feel, surely belong to the period immediately after 17-year-old Princess Alix’s return to Darmstadt to visit her elder sister ‘Ella’, Grand Duchess Elisabeth Feodorovna, also the aunt by marriage of Tsarevich Nicholas, the wife of his uncle, Grand Duke Sergei.

Grand Duke Ludwig IV of Hesse, Prince Ernst Ludwig of Hesse and Princess Alix arrived in St Petersburg – according to the diary of Tsarevich Nicholas – on 18 January 1889. We read in the diary of Princess Alix of Hesse for 29 January 1889: ‘I skated and slid down the hills in the afternoon in the Anichkov garden…’ (cit., Andrei Maylunas and Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion, 15). Similarly, the Tsarevich Nicholas wrote in his diary two days later: ‘Aunt Ella and Alix came. Played ball with them and slid down the hill…’ (cit., Ibid, 15). He wrote again on 3 February 1889: ‘Slid down the hill with Aunt Ella and Alix…’ (cit., Ibid).

On 25 February 1889, Nicholas wrote in his diary: ‘Had tea with Aunt Ella, Alix and Sergei. After dinner at their house, we played badminton…’ (cit., Ibid, 16). Again, we seem to be seeing the same activities of the Fuhrmann letter, backed up by actual diary entries made for early 1889.

What convinces me that the letter really does belong to 1889 and not to 1917, are the following extracts from two letters exchanged between Tsarevich Nicholas and Princess Alix, from March/April 1889.

Princess Alix wrote Nicholas a letter from Darmstadt on 17 March 1889. In it, she appears to be referring to the fact that she wrote a comical letter, which then could date the letter written by Nicholas to early-mid March 1889, because she seems to be replying to it: ‘Dearest Nicky [,] So many thanks for your note enclosed in Xenia’s letter… my mad letter amused you then all – well I have been cracked enough to write another. We went last night to see the ‘Rheingold’, and I hope next week to see the ‘Walküre’s Siegfried.’… But now I must say goodbye as I am going out driving. Ever your loving Alix.’ (cit., Maylunas and Mironenko, 16).

Tsarevich Nicholas wrote back to Princess Alix from the Imperial Palace at Gatchina on 2 April 1889: ‘Dearest Alix, Thank you so much for your dear little letter… We also saw Siegfried with Ella, I like it so awfully especially the melody of the bird and the fire! Now the Nibelungen are all over, and I think it a great pity…’ (cit., Ibid).

The Tsarevich then goes on to tell Princess Alix that Grand Duchess Elisabeth Feodorovna had sent him a photograph frame, which she had decorated with remembrances of Princess Alix’s and Prince Ernst Ludwig’s recent visit to St Petersburg: ‘There is the ice, the big hall, the skates, a clown, the window with 3 lights, a cotillion-ribbon and a basket with flowers from Aunt Sacha Narychkine’s ball, the badminton articles…’ (cit., Ibid, 16). The Tsarevich’s letter bears his name ‘NICHOLAS’ in Cyrillic, beneath the imperial crown.

Interestingly, the fragmentary, second letter cited by Fuhrmann, might also appear to belong to this date in my view and not to the period of the abdication. At the end of the Tsarevich’s letter from Gatchina (2 April 1889), he wrote: ‘I thought of the goat the whole time…’ (cit, Ibid, 16). The fragment of the (second) Fuhrmann letter includes the sentence: ‘I wish it were not winter to be able to go down the hills upon pullys [sic] once more. It is a great pity I could not stop on my way to Stuttgart to see the dear old goat for a minute. Now I close as Xenia is anxious to go on with her scribble. Another one of [the] Pelly party. – Nicky’ (cit., Fuhrmann, 705). So clearly, Nicholas was writing a letter again, to be enclosed in one by his sister, Grand Duchess Xenia.

A letter from Nicholas to Alix on 23 May 1889 saw him sign: ‘One of the Pelly party’, ‘Pelly I’ and ‘Pelly II’ being private nicknames to denote Alix and himself, the ‘goat’ clearly also meaning Princess Alix. The Gatchina letter (2 April 1889) also has Nicholas sign himself, exactly the same as the mysterious, first Fuhrmann letter, ‘…ever your loving Nicky’ (cit., Maylunas and Mironenko, 16). The fragmentary, second letter remained similarly unpublished until Fuhrmann included it in his Complete Wartime Correspondence and had until then, not been reproduced in any language (Fuhrmann, 704). It has a strange appearance according to Fuhrmann, being made up of various pieces of torn and glued paper and is contained within an envelope, with nothing written on it.

By 1891, the Tsarevich was confiding to his diary: ‘My dream – one day to marry Alix H[esse]. I have loved her for a long time, but more deeply and strongly since 1889 when she spent six weeks in Petersburg during the winter!’ (cit., Maylunas and Mironenko, 20).

We know that Alexandra burned much of her private correspondence in the wake of the Revolution, but preserved the letters from Nicholas; such is supported by contemporary evidence. I feel that this hitherto ignored letter (and the second fragment) belong to a time much earlier than the volume to which the correspondence between them was dedicated.

If so, then it is significant.

©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2019
About author

Elizabeth Jane Timms is a royal historian, writer and researcher. An expert in royal studies as an academic subject, she specializes in Queen Victoria's family and Russian royalty and speaks as an independent scholar on matters royal historical for both TV and radio, including the BBC. She writes for journals and specialist magazines. She is an authority on Russia's last Tsarina, Alexandra Feodorovna (1872-1918) and was selected as an historical advisor for the first-time translation from English to Russian of the classic biography by Baroness Buxhoeveden (Moscow, 2012). She also specializes in Empress Elisabeth of Austria and has written a series of academic articles on her life based on original research in Vienna and Geneva and spoke about the Empress on the TV Yesterday Channel series, World's Greatest Palaces (2019). Elizabeth is a long-standing contributor to the Swedish historical journal Royalty Digest Quarterly, currently also writing for the Tudor Society's magazine, Tudor Life. She is a former contributor to the European Royal History Journal and Jane Austen's Regency World Magazine. She joined the team of History of Royals magazine in 2016 and was History Writer at Royal Central (2015-20). She was elected a member of the Royal Historical Society in 2017.