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The Sordid Lives and Loves of a Branch of Post Revolutionary Romanovs

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By the 1920s those Romanovs who’d survived the Bolshevik Revolution and escaped Russia with their asses still attached had lost their throne, wealth, power, splendor, and of course a few of their relatives had lost their lives, but at least one branch of the dynasty had retained their glamour, sense of entitlement, and their ability to be assholes to each other. Upon escaping their estate at the Crimea aboard the British naval cruiser, H.M.S. Marlborough, and being reunited with relatives and in-laws in Denmark, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, brother-in-law to Tsar Nichoals ll and great-grandson of Tsar Nicholas l, is rumored to have informed his wife, Grand Duchess Xenia, that recent events had led him to the conclusion life was too short for her husband to keep pretending to still be in love with her and therefore Alexander was abandoning Xenia to fend for herself in Scandinavia while he pursued a late life career as a journalist on the continent. Like various others among their mutual relatives, and several of their children, Alexander wound up in Paris. He was joined by his only daughter, Princess Irina Yussopov, her bisexual, cross dressing, Rasputin murdering husband, Prince Felix, and Alexander’s second son, Prince Feodor.

Their cousins, the Paleys, had long settled in the city of lights prior to the revolution. John Van der Kiste describes the tale of their origins in The Romanovs 1818-1959. Their story begins in 1895 when the recently widowed Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovitch, youngest son of Tsar Alexander ll, began banging the wife of his brother, Grand Duke Vladimir’s, aide-de-camp, Olga von Pistolkhers, née Karnovich. Olga’s husband also just so happened to be a captain in Paul’s own army regiment. Shit officially hit the fan, at least at the Imperial Court, when, in 1897, Olga showed up to a court ball at the Winter Palace sporting a tiara given her by her imperial lover, that unfortunately had previously belonged to his late, near sainted mother. His sister-in-law, Empress Marie Feodorovna, recognized the tiara instantly and ordered Paul’s married side chick leave post haste.
Matters only went from bad to worse in 1897 when Olga gave birth to a son, Vladimir, who was undoubtedly Paul’s bastard, and asked her estranged husband for a divorce.

Despite Paul wanting to marry his mistress and legitimate his son, Tsar Nicolas ll vehemently refused his request, and only granted Olga a divorce on the grounds she wouldn’t wed her imperial baby daddy. Nonetheless, the grand duke and his favorite divorcée purchased a palatial love nest along Paris’ Bologne-sur-Seine, and in 1902 defied his family, married his mistress in Italy without the Tsar’s permission, was subsequently banished from Russia, and abandoned his two children from his first marriage, one of whom was Prince Felix Yussopov’s future fellow murderer of Rasputin, and rumored onetime secret lover, Grand Duke Dimitri. Paul’s son and daughter, Marie, spent the rest of their childhood being raised by their uncle, Serge, and his wife, Elizabeth. That is until Uncle Serge, who was likely a secretive homosexual, at least that’s what his nephew-in-law, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, implied in his future memoir, was blown up by an assassin’s grenade thrown under his carriage in front of the Kremlin and his widow joined a nunnery. But back to Paul and Olga.

Hard ass that Nicholas ll could occasionally be, he nonetheless couldn’t hold a grudge forever, and by 1908 he was willing to accept his uncle, his new aunt-in-law, and their now three children back into the family fold. He even bestowed upon Paul’s wife and progeny the title of Prince and Princess Paley, with the style of Serene Highness. By 1914 they were all comfortably ensconced within their own palace on the Tsarskoye Selo estate just outside St. Petersburg. We all know what happened next.

While Princess Olga and her two daughters, Irina and Natalie, managed to escape to Finland during the revolution, eventually making their way back to Paris, Paul and his now 21 year old son, Vladimir, weren’t so lucky. Both were executed the day after the same fate had befallen the Tsar and his family.

By the early ’20s the reunited Romanovs tried as best they could to carry on with their lives. Some old habits, however, die hard, and their subsequent behavior proved it took more than a mere communist revolution to wipe out 3 hundred years of decadent behavior locked within the heredity of those dynasts who’d survived the deluge. Prince Feodor Alexandrovich, 2nd son to Grand Duke Alexander and his now estranged wife, Xenia, moved into his sister, Irina Yussopov’s, apartment when he initially settled in the city of lights and worked as a taxi driver. He would eventually become an architect. While its still unknown whose idea it was for him to wed his cousin, Irina Paley, an arranged marriage it certainly was, and one for which neither party appeared to have much enthusiasm. Perhaps Grand Duke Alexander and Princess Olga wished to reestablish a purer Romanov bloodline through the incestuous union of their children? Perhaps they reasoned if they couldn’t hold on to their throne and splendor, at least they could maintain their family’s legacy of consanguinity. There was certainly no financial incentive for their kids to tie the knot, as both families’ estates had been confiscated by the Soviets.

Nonetheless, their children agreed to the match, and were married in an elegant Parisian ceremony in May of 1923, not even a month after their cousin, Prince Albert, Duke of York, plighted his troth with the reluctant Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. It didn’t take long for this latest Romanov marriage to fall to shit. Despite this, they still managed to produce a son, Prince Michael, the next year whose paternity is beyond dispute. One couldn’t write the same concerning their daughter, Irene, born 10 years later. By then her mother had long begun an affair with Count Hubert de Monbrison, and it’s now an established fact that he was the girl’s father. This appears to have been the final straw that broke the back of their marriage, and Feodor divorced Irina in 1936. He officially, however, accepted paternity of his daughter and, for what it was worth, little Irene spent the rest of her life calling herself Princess Romanov.

Prince Feodor and his cousin, and ex-wife, Irina Paley, proved in the ensuing years that the bonds of family mattered more than their personal discord after their divorce. After moving to England to live with his mother at the start of WW2, he developed tuberculosis in 1941 and spent the duration of the war in sanatoriums. After the war ended, and in an effort to be closer to his son, Feodor moved in with Irina at her villa in the south of France. Unable to work or support himself, Irina and her sister, Natalia, took care of him until he died in 1968. Although their affair began in the ’30s Irina and her French count, and daughter’s real father, didn’t marry until 1950. Far from being complicated, Irina, Feodor, and Count Hubert’s Romanov family ménage a trois seems to have worked out quite well for them. She died peacefully in 1990.

Perhaps because he grew up in a nominally genteel environment where spouses, extramarital lovers and bastard children happily cohabited, Feodor and Irina’s son and grandson repeated their behavior in their own conjugal lives. A noted, though never famous, assistant film director, Prince Michael Feodorovitch began an affair with the French actress, Annabella, in the early ’50s. His marriage in 1958 to Helga Stauffenberger, and the birth of their only son, another Michael, did nothing to stop it. The affair, however, did fizzle out of its own accord sometime in the early ’60s, and Prince Michael remained married to his first wife until 1992. In 1994 he wedded a woman literally young enough to be his daughter named Maria de las Mercedes Ustrell-Cabani. Less than a year younger than his son, stepmother and stepson must’ve gotten along exceptionally well. For the next year Maria gave birth to a daughter, Tatiana, that everyone acknowledged was the product of an affair she’d had with her husband’s son. Far from being put out by this, Prince Michael Feodorovitch duly adopted his granddaughter and raised her as if she were his child. Tatiana’s actual father passed away in 2001, whereas her grand/adoptive father died in 2008.

And so ends this sordid tale concerning the conjugal lives of one branch of the House of Romanov post revolution. Say what one will about them, they’ve retained their decadence despite losing practically everything else, and God bless them for it!!!! Since the author’s on the subject of those he wishes heavenly blessings upon, he dedicates this post to the memory of his Uncle Ken, who passed away last Tuesday. A sweet prince in all but name, may flights of angels sing him to his rest!

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Comments (12)

Thank you for another really interesting post

Hello Royal Foibles

Most interesting post, with many examples of opportunism, albeit somewhat necessary to survive in style, and also of willful obliviousness of what is inconvenient to see or admit. Are most royals all appearence and fear of anything déclassé? After all, both at the well-off top of social hierarchies and at the very poor bottom, “spouses, extramarital lovers and bastard children”, to use your words, cohabitate. But in one what is distasteful is kept secret, while in the other it’s shouted out loud in the open.

And, please… the font used for your posts is too light and in this last post the paragraphs are twice as wide as in the previous ones. Enlarging them in an IPad results in half the text being cut off. Thanks.

So sorry for your loss dear writer. Your foibles are such a treat.

Thank You!!!!

Condolences on the loss of your uncle.

Thanks!!!! 🙂

I am so sorry for the lost of your uncle. Even sad moments make your writing beautiful and delightful. I will say a prayer for you and your family.

I am certain that your uncle will enlighten you with stories from the other side, as he goes along meeting royals that have made it to heaven.

Thank you so much for the lovely condolence and compliment!!!!!!! 🙂

Loss is better than lost, actually. Sorry for the typo…

Of course you must write another time a post about the most fascinating of the Paleys, Irina’s sister Natalie, a sometime actress, socialite, mannequin, and a favorite model for Beaton, Horst and many others. She married the couturier Lucien Lelong, had an affair with gay writer Jean Cocteau, aborted his child, married Noel Coward’s ex-lover Jack Wilson, and ended her days in New York City an alcoholic and nearly blind, her celebrated iconic beauty long gone…

I too, would love to read one of your posts about Natalie.

The following from above is incorrect,”Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, brother-in-law to Tsar Nichoals ll and great-grandson of Tsar Nicholas l…” He was a grandson of Nicholas I. If he hadn’t been, by Romanov house rules, he wouldn’t have been styled Grand Duke, but merely Prince of Russia. Interesting article nonetheless.

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