Imperial Dancer: Mathilde Kschessinska and the Romanovs
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The vivacious Mathilde Kschessinska (1872-1971) was the mistress of three Russian Grand Dukes and the greatest ballerina of her generation. As a young girl, she had enjoyed romantic troika rides, and passionate nights, with the future Tsar Nicholas II. When their relationship ended Mathilde began simultaneous affairs with Nicholas's cousin, Grand Duke Sergei and Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich. When her son was born in 1902 nobody knew for certain the identity of the father - except that he was undoubtedly a Romanov. In ballet, she partnered the great Vaslav Nijinsky, became a force to be reckoned with in the Imperial Theatre and, later in life, taught Margot Fonteyn. Mathilde Kschessinska is mentioned in almost every book about the Romanovs but so many myths surround her that she has become the stuff of legend. It is said a hoard of Romanov treasure lies buried under her house in St Petersburg and that a secret passage connected her home to the Winter Palace. Even her own memoirs, published in the 1960s, are as much fantasy as reality. The real story, which this book will reveal, lies in what Mathilde did not say.
thought that Nina, being married, has somehow left her behind. Naturally their relationship has changed,’ Dimitri wrote in his diary. Andrei agreed that because of people’s attitude to Mathilde, his own situation was difficult and he asked that she be treated ‘normally.’ He also claimed that although it would be easy to change all this by marrying her, Mathilde did not want to marry. In fact it appears the opposite was true. The following day Mathilde learnt that Gabriel had arranged for Nina to
rather innocent Grand Duke to survive. Diana quickly nicknamed the Grand Duke ‘Lucy’, after the female saint who shared his name day, and in their correspondence Andrei often signed his letters, even years later, ‘Lucy’.15 Joseph was delighted at Mathilde’s success. ‘I read with deep interest about the little one [Mathilde, who he never mentioned by name], about her work and her studio and I was happy to learn that her pupils gained first place,’ he told Julie in the summer of 1933. ‘Well, I was
fifty-eight. Sima had been Mathilde’s sister-in-law, friend and the companion on her travels in the early days of her relationship with Andrei. She was proud of the fact that she was never a refugee, having been living and working in London since 1914. Many of the great British dancers received their early training in her studio. Joseph remained fond of Sima despite their divorce, often asking for news of her. Mathilde was now very worried about Joseph. His increasing deafness was becoming a
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ormolu. Their silk coverings, with a pattern of baskets and garlands of roses, had been imported from France. Silk damask covered the walls and the curtains were expensive velvet. ‘The fabrics in the room had cost some 3,000 roubles alone’, over �18,000 today.7 The hall led to the Winter Garden with many rare plants and flowers, whose three enormous windows looked out towards Kronversky Prospekt. Honeysuckle, ivy and wisteria grew along wooden trellis-work on the walls and in the centre of the