January 9, 2024 | Clarice Withers

Turbulent Facts About Olga Alexandrovna, The Last Grand Duchess


Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna was one of the few Romanovs who survived the bloody Russian Revolution—but most of her life was anything but luxurious.


1. She Was Born With A Target On Her Back

Olga Alexandrovna, the last Grand Duchess of Russia, was born in a time of utter turmoil in her home country of Russia. Although she was daughter of the Tsar Alexander III of Russia, and sister to the future Tsar Nicholas IIvery little of her life was princess-like. 

The Russian imperial family had many enemies, after all, and Olga would be running for her life soon enough. Portrait of Olga Alexandrovna Romanova. Around 1910-1914.from ruwiki, Wikimedia Commons

2. She Lived In Opulence

Olga was born in the Russian version of Versailles, but raised in another giant castle, Great Gatchina Palace. Indeed, her family's enormous palaces were dotted all over St Petersburg, and Gatchina was one of its crown jewels. But looks can be deceiving. Although Gatchina was swanky on the outside, inside it was anything but. 

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna as young girl - circa 1889Royal Collection, Wikimedia Commons

3. She Had A Surprising Childhood

Although Olga was born into unimaginable wealth, she and her siblings did not have a comfy cozy existence inside the walls of the extravagant Gatchina Palace. They slept on hard beds, bathed in freezing cold water, and ate basic porridge for breakfast. 

Yet the young Olga would quickly have her comforting, if rigid, routine interrupted by tragedy. 

Empress Maria Feodorovna and her daughter Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna - 1889Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

4. Her First-Ever Outing Ended Horribly

When Olga was six years old, she left Great Gatchina Palace for the first time ever—only for the trip to end in literal disaster. While she was on the train home, eating lunch with her family in the dining car, the train suddenly and violently came off the rails

When the dust settled, Olga witnessed a chilling scene. 

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna Romanova as a child - 1896Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

5. She Witnessed A Horrific Accident

The train didn’t just de-rail; it literally tore open. The roof of the dining car where Olga had been eating lunch caved in,and the floor and wheels of the car were completely sliced off. Although her father reportedly helped people off, and her mother made bandages for the wounded, their heroism couldn't overcome the dark thought that settled into everyone's chests.

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna Romanova as a child - 1896Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

6. Conspiracy Surrounded Her

Although Olga and her family survived the train accident, afterward they started to hear chilling rumors. Everyone was saying that the derailment had been deliberate, and a direct attack on the Tsar’s family. And their speculation was logical. This family had a lot of enemies...and Olga actually knew this better than anyone. 

King Chulalongkorn in Russia with the Tsar, ALexander Palace - 1897Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

7. Her Childhood Home Was A Hiding Place 

Olga had fond memories of her childhood in Gatchina Palace. But she was actually there for safety reasons. Namely, trying to avoid being assassinated. A year before she was born, the Grand Duchess’s grandfather, Alexander II, had been brutally slain in the street. 

In spite of this, Olga's childhood did have its bright spots.

Maria Fyodorovna with her children in Gatchina - 1898Smirnov, Wikimedia Commons

8. She And Her Dad Shared A Secret World

Olga and her dad, Tsar Alexander III, had a special father–daughter bond. One day he let her in on his secret world. He had a sketchbook full of drawings of an imaginary city called Mopsopolis. The truly imaginary part? Its residents were all pug puppy dogs. 

Besides that, he also took her on long walks in the forest, teaching her how to build campfires and forage for mushrooms. Until, that is, this happiness was cut short in a cruel way. 

Family of the Russian Emperor Alexander III. Around 1889.Sergey Lvovich Levitsky, Wikimedia Commons

9. She Lost Her Closest Family Member

When Olga was 12 years old, all these special moments with her dad evaporated. In 1894, Alexander III realized he had terminal kidney disease, or nephritis, and didn't even live out the rest of the year. Little Olga was devastated at the early loss of her father, but this was just the beginning of her troubles.

Maria Fjodorovna and w:Alexander III of Russia in Denmark 1893.Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

10. She Hated Being A Celebrity

As Russian royalty, when Olga turned 18, she was due to make her first official public appearance. Sounds like every little girl’s dream, but Olga's response was surprising. She absolutely hated it. "I felt as though I were an animal in a cage,” she said, “Exhibited to the public for the first time”. 

Sadly, things were about to get even worse for her...though it didn't look that way at first. 

Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, dowager empress Maria Feodorovna and grand duchesses Olga and Xenia Alexandrovna - 1906http://www.pinterest.com/pin/102949541451840314/, Wikimedia Commons

11. She Accepted A Shocking Proposal

The same year Olga officially “came out,” she got escorted to the opera by her distant cousin, Duke Peter Alexandrovich. Olga seemed to make an huge impression on him, and a year later he asked for her hand in marriage. As Olga remembered, “I was so taken aback that all I could say was ‘thank you".

Soon after, she said yes. She would regret it.

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna with her first husband Duke Peter Alexandrovich of Oldenburg - circa 1901Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

12. Her Suitor Was A Bad Fit

Even on the surface, Peter didn't seem like a particularly good match for Olga. After all, he was 14 years older than her, and his hobbies included a passion for literature and an equal obsession with gambling. Not necessarily the interests of an 18-year-old, sheltered girl. 

Yet there was one reason Olga desperately wanted to get married as soon as possible. 

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna with her first husband Duke Peter Alexandrovich - circa 1901Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

13. She Never Got Along With Her Mom

Empress Marie, Olga's mother, adored being the wife of arguably the most powerful monarch in all of Europe at the time. She loved the role, and the people loved her. Her own daughter? Not so much. Their relationship was strained and chilly from the time she was young,and Olga evidently wanted out from under her apron skirts.

But her mother was now the least of her worries.

Portrait of Maria Feodorovna, Empress of Russia - 1908W. & D. Downey, Wikimedia Commons

14. Her Husband Had A Scandalous Side

Olga was young and naive. So she couldn't see the glaring truth. As it happened, Olga wasn't the only one who was surprised at Peter's proposal—all of royal Russia was too. Some suspected his own ambitious mother had shoved him into it, because he had never demonstrated a drop of interest in women before.

In fact, most believed he was gay. Is it any wonder, then, that their wedding night was disastrous?

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna with her first husband Duke Peter Alexandrovich - circa 1901http://www.romanovrussia.com, Wikimedia Commons

15. She Spent Her Wedding Night In Tears

Duke Peter set right to work ruining any illusions of happiness that Olga might still have been clinging to. On their wedding night, he left in the evening to go gambling, then stayed out all night. Olga, meanwhile, spent the night sobbing alone in her room. These would not be the last tears she’d shed over this marriage.

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna wearing the traditional dress of the Russian court - 1908Alexander palace forums, Wikimedia Commons

16. He Stole From Her

Olga quickly discovered that her totally-uninterested husband wasn't just a fan of gambling, he was downright addicted. More than that, his marriage only fuelled his addiction—literally. By marrying Olga, Duke Peter got access to a lot more money. Which he promptly lost at the gambling table.

But their worst marital problem? That only became more and more clear with time. 

Portrait painting of Duke Peter Alexandrovich of Oldenburg - 1908Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

17. They Were Missing Something

Between Duke Peter's preference for men and his addiction to the card tables, there wasn't much room for Olga anywhere. She began carrying around a "shameful" secret. She and the Duke never, ever slept together, and thus never consummated their union. 

Yet even though they had no honeymoon phase to speak of, their real honeymoon was a nightmare. 

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna standing in white outside - circa 1913Romanov family, Wikimedia Commons

18. She Honeymooned In Style

Shortly after the wedding, the newlyweds went on vacation to Biarritz, a popular vacation spot among European aristocrats known at the time for its salt baths, night life, and, of course, the brand new casino that had just opened. Let’s just hope that while Peter was off gambling, Olga was relaxing at the spa—she needed it. Especially when she returned to her hotel one fateful night. 

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia with her niece Maria - 1913http://statearchive.ru, Wikimedia Commons

19. Her Honeymoon Ended Badly

The Duke and Grand Duchess came back to their hotel one night after a day of, presumably, gambling and salt bathing, to find that their hotel was on fire. Fortunately only Olga's odious husband seems to have lost anything of real value, and neither of them was hurt. But her good luck ran out on returning home. 

Olga was about to lose something even her money couldn’t buy.

Olga Alexandrovna Romanova on the Standart imperial yatch - 3 July 1914Romanov family, Wikimedia Commons

20. Her Wedding Gifts Were Jaw-Droppingly Extravagant

It’s sometimes hard to feel sorry for Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna at this point in her life. Vacationing in Biarritz? Check. Private yacht ride to Italy afterward? Check. A 200-room mansion in the middle of St Petersburg as a wedding gift from her brother?

Still, even the mansion could not console her: When she got home, she was absolutely wretched, and wanted to see her husband as little as possible. The situation went from tense to tragic. 

Olga Alexandrovna Romanova and family -Nicholas II on the Standart imperial yatch - 1914Romanov family, Wikimedia Commons

21. She Avoided Her Husband

In the end, Olga's mansion was barely big enough for the two of them. She made sure that 198 of those many rooms stood between her bedroom and her husband’s, and they slept at opposite ends of the mansion. She also set up an art studio on her side, where she tried to drown her sorrows in paint. 

The toll of her empty life began to show.

The Royal Russian family during the First World War - 1914Brooks JJ, Wikimedia Commons

22. She Was Majorly Depressed

In the first years of her marriage, Olga became extremely depressed. Like all depression, it was rough. But, unlike all depression, it caused something utterly bizarre to happen. In the midst of this emotional state, all of her hair fell out. 

For two years, she had to wear a wig while her hair grew back. So, in search of a distraction, she plunged right into a new passion.

Olga Alexandrovna of Russia as honorary Commander-in-Chief  - between 1901 and 1914Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

23. She Distracted Herself

Deeply unhappy in her marriage, Olga threw herself into hobbies. While living in her mother-in-law’s palace, Ramon, she built a home, named Olgino, next door, and proceeded to open a hospital, fund a school, and generally try to help whoever she could—she even did some basic medical training at the hospital. 

Her training would later come in handy in a way she could never have imagined. 

Olga Alexandrovna Romanova - 1914Romanov family, Wikimedia Commons

24. She Hunted Wolves, NBD

Two years into her marriage, Olga and her husband shared basically nothing together, especially not their marriage bed. They did have one eyebrow-raising pastime together, though. They liked to go wolf hunting. Still, her union was all but a sham, and she rebelled in a huge way.

Portrait painting of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia - 1850Wikimedia Commons, Picryl

25. She Fell In Love With A Commoner

Olga had always been fond of her brother Michael, but now she had a reason to be eternally grateful: he introduced her to the handsome Nikolai Kulikovsky. Olga was smitten from the moment she saw Kulikovsky in a military parade, and begged her brother Michael to seat them beside each other at lunch. 

And the sparks definitely flew, because after that lunch Olga acted fast—or tried to.

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia with her husband Nikolai Kulikovsky - 1916http://www.osd.ru, Wikimedia Commons

26. Her Husband Denied Her

Olga had only known Kulikovsky for days, but she knew a good man when she saw one. She was in love, and there was only one thing to do. She went to her husband to request a divorce, expecting he’d give it to her—he clearly was not into their marriage either. 

But he was into her money, and he said no. When she tried to reason with him, he said he’d reconsider—in seven years. Furious, Olga tried another tack. 

Portrait painting of Olga Alexandrovna on the walk - 1908State Historical Museum, Wikimedia Commons

27. Her Brother Betrayed Her

When Duke Peter said no, Olga wasn't ready to give up on possibly her one chance for happiness. So instead, she went to her brother Nicholas, now the actual Tsar of Russia. She begged him to allow her to divorce the Duke and marry her love...and got heartbreak back.

Nicholas also said no, believing marriage was for life and, besides that, that Kulikovsky wasn't royal enough for his sister. Still, Olga did not give up. She had another plan, and this one was reckless.

Portrait of Nicholas II, Tsar of all the Russia - 1912Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

28. She Was In A Love Triangle

Olga's husband was a very bad match for her, but he did help her implement a steamy solution to their divorce problem. Duke Peter made Kulikovsky his aide-de-camp and, under these pretenses, let him move into their royal household so Olga could have, um, "access" to him whenever she wanted. 

This plan did not go as smoothly as they might have hoped. 

Wedding of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia with her husband Nikolai Kulikovsky - 1916https://project1917.ru, Wikimedia Commons

29. She Inspired Scandalous Rumors

Olga's illicit romance was not meant to be public knowledge. But it most definitely was. Society went to town stoking gossip about the nature of their relationship. The rumors, however, didn’t bother Olga. With her lover close by, she couldn’t help finally being happy. 

She soon had energy for other things—and turned her attention to some now infamous young girls. 

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna at the easel - 1900Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

30. She Doted On Her Romanov Nieces 

For some time, Olga lived close to her brother Nicholas and his large family. She was the ultimate fun aunt, taking her nieces to parties and social events every weekend in the winter—no parents allowed. She was particularly close to her youngest niece, Anastasia, who was her god-daughter and whom she dubbed "Shvipsik" or "little one". 

In fact, Olga was so intimate with the Romanov imperial family, she had a front-row seat to the nightmares that were coming.

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia with her niece Anastasia - 1913http://statearchive.ru, Wikimedia Commons

31. Her Family Had A Weak Spot

Although Olga had a close relationship with the Romanov girls, she also doted on their brother, her nephew Alexei, who was unwell with hemophilia. And Olga was right to dote: Alexei's mother, the Tsarina Alexandra, was mad with worry over her child and kept devising more and more desperate ways to cure him. 

Indeed, in her quest to heal Alexei, Alexandra was often gone from court, and Olga had to fill in for her. Olga probably enjoyed being the center of attention at long last, but she certainly did not enjoy the next development.

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, behind stand the Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich and his wife Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna. - 1902Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons 

32. She Came Face To Face With Danger

Soon, a strange man—a commoner no less—became a close confidant of the Tsarina: the mystic Grigori Rasputin. While Rasputin had a large following and the Tsarina believed he had healing powers that would help her son, Olga wasn't so taken in. 

Although she never spoke out publicly against him, privately she worried for her family. But, Rasputin’s tricks soon looked like child's play. 

Rasputin factsGetty Images

33. She Lived Through The First Russian Revolution

Rasputin wasn't the only thing wrong with Russia, and by 1905 the horrible living conditions in the country sparked unrest. Olga found this out first hand. While she was staying in St Petersburg's Winter Palace, revolutionaries fired at the building, sending glass showering down around her, though she escaped unscathed. 

 Both the bullets fired and Olga’s survival of them were a portent of things to come.Olga Alexandrovna Romanova on the Standart imperial yatch - 3 July 1914Romanov family, Wikimedia Commons

34. Her Loved Ones Fell Around Her

For the next seven years, uprisings and mutinies took hold all over Russia. Olga's uncle was assassinated; a prime minister whom she supported was also assassinated. All this and she’s still in a fake marriage—it had been 11 years. One day, it hit a breaking point.

Sergei Alexandrovich, Grand Duke of Russia - 1892D Asikritov, Wikimedia Commons

35. She Had A Nervous Breakdown

In 1912, Olga was touring around England with her mother. You'd think that getting out of the dumpster fire that was Russia at the time would help soothe her, but the exact opposite happened. While on the trip, Olga suffered a serious mental breakdown.

And some pretty major world events were about to happen. They would not help her precarious state of mind. 

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia - 1916https://project1917.ru, Wikimedia Commons

36. She Came Under Enemy Fire

Soon enough, WWI had reached Russia. Trying to rally herself, Olga used her medical knowledge to work as a nurse, tending to patients on the battlefield. Until one day her healing turned to horror. She had gone right to the front to tend to men, and came under heavy fire as a result. 

She luckily survived the attack, uninjured. Upon hearing of her bravery, a Finnish General awarded her the highest military decoration in the Russian Federation. But a better reward was coming. 

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia as a nurse - 1916https://ok.ru, Wikimedia Commons

37. She Finally Got What She Wanted

With the conflict raging all around and life seeming so precious, Olga's brother Tsar Nicholas finally gave into her deepest desire: He annulled her marriage to Duke Peter and she was free to marry her beloved Kulikovsky, who had waited 13 long years to marry his bride. 

Tragically, the celebrations and merriment were about to come to an abrupt end. 

Wedding of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia with her husband Nikolai Kulikovsky - 1916https://project1917.ru, Wikimedia Commons

38. She Lost Her Status In One Day

Five months after her wedding, the Grand Duchess was dealt a devastating blowThe Russian people wanted change. They staged a revolution in early 1917...and this was even bigger than before. The rising tide of change and unrest forced Tsar Nicholas II to abdicate the throne just weeks later, bringing an end to centuries of the rule of the Romanov dynasty.  

Now Olga was in immediate and serious danger. 

Russia - Bloody Sunday, 22 January 1905Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

39. She Had To Run For Her Life

After abdication, the Tsar and his immediate family were put under house arrest—and Olga had to make a terrible decision to save herself. She and her new husband fled Russia to Crimea along with a smattering of other relatives, taking a special train to do so. 

They didn’t quite get the freedom they were after, though.

Portrait painting of Olga Alexandrovna - 1905Petr I. Neradovskiy , Wikimedia Commons

40. Her Life Was Hanging By A Thread

Local forces in Crimea acted swiftly when the royals arrived, and they also placed Olga and her companions under house arrest in one of the royal estates. The various branches of the House of Romanov were now all under the thumb of the revolutionaries and isolated from each other. But there was one more twist.

The Governor's Mansion in Tobolsk, where the Russian Royal family was held in captivity between August 1917 and April 1918.Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

41. She Gave Birth In Her Gilded Prison

When Olga fled Russia, she had more than one good reason to do so—she was actually pregnant at the time. She had a boy, Tikhon, while still under control of the revolutionaries, and her days of early motherhood must have been spent wondering what the future held. That answer was bone-chilling.  

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia with her son Tikhon - 1919http://istram.ucoz.ru, Wikimedia Commons

42. She Was Thrust Into Enemy Territory

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna now heard troubling news: A council condemned the entire Romanov family living in Crimea to death, including her baby son. Except fate wasn't done with her yet. Suddenly, the political climate shifted again, and German forces took over Crimea.

This presented an opportunity Olga had to grab with both hands. 

Grand Duchess Olga AlexandrovnaRomanov Empire, Picryl

43. They Ran Away  

Over the next short while, Crimea changed hands several times, and the execution charges hanging over Olga and her family's heads got lost in the shuffle. During all the kerfuffle, any surviving members of the Romanov family were allowed to escape the country. 

The thing is, there weren’t actually that many of them left.

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna Romanova-Kulikovskaya with sons Tikhon and Guriy.Romanov Empire, Picryl

44. She Received Terrible News   

At some point during her imprisonment, Olga got a gut-wrenchiing message: Her brother Tsar Nicholas II had been killed. There was no official word on what happened to his wife and children, Olga's beloved nieces, but the family assumed the worst. Because never has a family been so ruthlessly hunted down. 

A photograph of Czar Nicholas II taken after his abdication in March 1917.Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

45. She Lost A Lot Of Relatives

The years 1917 to 1920 were not good ones for the Romanovs. As one historian notes, “Of the 53 Romanovs who were alive in 1917, it’s estimated that only 35 remained alive by 1920”. But while Russian soil was flowing with the blood of her family, Olga made a very risky decision.

Grand Duchess Olga her brother Grand Duke Micheal and her sister Grand Duchess Xenia - before 1917Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

46. She Clung To Her Past

After all this, Olga refused to leave her beloved country, despite the great danger to her and her family. Despite, also, the fact she was pregnant for a second time. While staying in an ally's farmhouse, she had her second son, Guri...and then quickly came to a heartbreaking realization.

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia with her family - circa1920Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

47. She (Briefly) Experienced Squalor 

Although she longed to stay in Russia, the birth of another vulnerable baby seems to have snapped Olga out of that fantasy. Her country was simply too dangerous for a Romanov to raise a family in. She had her husband fled again, ending up first in a refugee camp, where they shared three rooms with 11 others.

Even when this Cinderella phase stopped, there was no fairy-tale ending. 

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia with her family - circa1920Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

48. She Moved Back In With Her Mom

Eventually, Olga, her husband, and her two boys landed with her mother in Denmark. Yes, after all that, Olga had ended up with the woman she had tried to escape through marriage all those years ago. Unfortunately, her mother hadn't changed. 

She was cross, disliked Olga's two boys (too loud), and hated Olga's "common" husband Kulikovsky so much that she rarely allowed him to even be in the same room as her. Ogla must have wanted a way out again...and she found a very disturbing one.

Portrait of Dowager Emress of Russia.Bain News Service, Wikimedia Commons

49. She Never Got Over The Loss

Although the Grand Duchess was generally a practical person, she experienced deep grief at the loss of her favorite niece, Anastasia...though she always hoped that all was not lost. After all, Anastasia’s remains had never been found. So in 1925, when a woman claiming to be the Princess Anastasia surfaced in Berlin, Olga had to find out for herself.

Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia with her aunt Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia - circa 1912Romanov family, Wikimedia Commons

50. She Went To Berlin To Visit A Long Lost Niece

Upon meeting her beloved "Anastasia," Olga realized something was horribly, horribly wrong. This woman, going by the name Anna Anderson, looked nothing like her dear niece. To add insult to injury, Anderson only knew German, where Anastasia had been fluent in both English and French. 

She came to a tragic conclusion. 

Profile photograph of Anna Anderson, who adopted the identity of Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia in early 1922Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

51. Her Hope Died

It wasn't just that Olga knew Anna Anderson was an impostor from the moment she laid eyes on her, it was that she now finally had to admit that Anastasia wasn't coming back. As she said later, "I had left Denmark with something of a hope in my heart. I left Berlin with all hope extinguished".  

One more tragic twist of fate was in store for her. 

Photograph taken of Anna Anderson in 1920Dalldorf Asylum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

52. She Had To Flee Her Home Again

As WWII heated up and then resolved, Olga's life hit a boiling point too. In the wake of the conflict, the Soviets suddenly controlled a Danish island , and they had no love lost for the sister of their former Tsar. Olga began to worry one last time about assassination and kidnapping...and she made one last big upheaval.

The family fled to Ontario, Canada, where they lived in Toronto, then the more remote Halton County. No matter where she went, though, Olga couldn't outrun tragedy. 

Grand Duchess Olga AlexandrovnaRomanov Empire, Picryl

53. She Fell Far

The last years of Olga's life were ones of quiet desperation. Her husband was nearly fully paralyzed by the end, and passed in 1958, though not before Olga had sold her remaining jewels to keep them afloat. In 1960, she had to move in with friends in a humble Toronto apartment above a beauty salon, where she passed that November at the age of 78.

Home of Olga Alexandrovna of Russia in her later years. - 2020Djuradj Vujcic, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons


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