Who was Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia?
Olga Alexandrovna, also known as Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia, was the daughter of Emperor Alexander III of Russia and the younger sister of Emperor Nicholas II. She had an interesting life. She was married to a man believed to be homosexual and never consummated the marriage for 15 years. She had it annulled years later, to marry a cavalry officer named Nikolai Kulikovsky. She was a nurse during World War I. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, she and her family fled to Crimea, and later went to her mother, the Dowager Empress, in Denmark. When her mother died, she and her husband bought a dairy farm and lived a simple life. At the same time, she sold her paintings to contribute to the family’s income. Fearing Stalin’s regime, they moved to Canada and remained there until her death.
Childhood & Early Life
Olga, the last Grand Duchess of Russia, was born on June 13, 1882, at the ‘Peterhof Palace,’ west of central Saint Petersburg, to Emperor Alexander III and his consort, Empress Marie Feodorovna, former Princess Dagmar of Denmark. She was “born in the purple,” meaning she was born during the reign of her parents. Her birth was highly celebrated and announced by gun salutes throughout the empire.
To keep her away from assassination attempts, the family sent her to be raised at their country palace of Gatchina, where she had an English nanny named Elizabeth Franklin. The conditions they lived in were quite harsh, and they had to get up at dawn, eat simple food, use cold water, and sleep on hard mattresses. This simple upbringing had an impact on her personality, as even when she was older, she would prefer simple things and comfort over a lavish lifestyle.
Her childhood at the ‘Gatchina Palace’ was happy. Her father would often take long walks in the woods with his children, teaching them how to make a fire or find mushrooms. Those moments tied the family closer, and Olga would remember them with pleasure in her older years.
There was one significant incident that shadowed her otherwise perfect childhood. When they were returning from a trip to the Caucasus on October 29, 1888, their train derailed and was severely damaged. There were 21 victims, and it was said that the Emperor helped survivors exit the train and the Empress attended to their wounds. It is possible that those accounts were significantly exaggerated to underline the merits of the Imperial Family.
The Grand Duchess’s education was provided by private tutors. She studied history, geography, Russian, and foreign languages. She loved to dance and was an equestrian. They spent their holidays at the ‘Peterhof Palace’ and in Denmark.
When Olga was only 12 years old, her father died. This had a huge impact on her, because they were very close and because her mother was rather reticent toward her children. The Empress valued court etiquette, while her daughter enjoyed the simple life. Thus, their relationship remained difficult for many years.
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Olga ventured into court life a year later because of her brother’s death, and she hated her first appearance. She said it felt like being caged and put on display. Following this, Olga went to events accompanied by Duke Peter Alexandrovich of Oldenburg. He was her second cousin, and his mother and the Empress were good friends. He was also 14 years older than Olga and was privately believed to be homosexual. Their mothers arranged their marriage, probably because the Empress wanted to keep her daughter close. Olga accepted the proposal, not knowing what she was getting herself into. They were married for 15 years but never consummated their marriage and, therefore, had no children.
Although he treated her well, she wanted love and found it in 1903, when she met a tall, handsome man named Nikolai Alexandrovich Kulikovsky. Shortly after this, she asked her husband for a divorce, and he refused. Over the years, Olga continued to ask her brother Nicholas II to help her end the fake marriage, and he finally annulled it. She married Nikolai on November 16, 1916.
In 1901, Olga was named the honorary commander-in-chief of the ‘12th Akhtyrsky Hussar Regiment’ of the ‘Imperial Russian Army.’ Thus, when World War I began, she became a nurse at a ‘Red Cross’ hospital in Rovno, near the place where her regiment was stationed. She even came close to heavy fire and was awarded the ‘Order of St. George.’
The war and the revolution had a deep impact on her. In 1917, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated. Following this, he and his family were placed under house arrest. Olga and her husband, along with their two sons, managed to escape and went to her mother in Denmark. They were safe there for a while, but it was a difficult situation, because while her mother accepted their marriage, she still considered Kulikovsky inferior to her.
The Dowager Empress died on October 13, 1928. After selling her estate, Olga and her husband bought a farm near Copenhagen. That was her chance to live the simple life she wanted and to raise her children the way she considered right. They received visits from many Russian immigrants. She also painted a lot during that period, mainly Russian and Danish scenes, and even had exhibitions and auctions in different European cities. Part of that money went to her charities.
At the end of World War II, Olga was accused of conspiracy against the Soviet government and feared that she would become a target of assassination attempts. Following this, she and her family moved to Canada. They settled on a farm in Campbellville, Halton County, while their sons and their families went to Toronto. When their age made it difficult for them to run the farm, they moved to Toronto, too.
In 1925, Olga met a woman named Anna Anderson, who claimed she was her niece, Anastasia. Olga immediately realized it was a fraud. Anastasia had been, in fact, killed in 1918, but her remains were discovered many years after Olga’s death.
Family & Personal Life
Olga wasted many years in a marriage that did not mean anything, and although she continued to ask her husband to release her from it, he kept postponing it. Her second marriage, however, was exactly what she needed and despite the war and having to move from one country to another, she had a happy family life.
The last Grand Duchess of Russia died in Toronto, on November 24, 1960, after being in a coma for a few days.