Extraordinary group of six letters signed by Darya Feodorovich Tuytchev (1834-1903), daughter of Feodor Ivanovich Tyutchev, a courtier at the Russian Imperial Court, discussing the assassination attempt on the imperial family at the Winter Palace in St Petersburg in 1880, and the subsequent death of the Empress Maria Alexandrovna. The letters are written between (O.S.) February the night of the bombing and end in May following the death of the Empress. Four letters are written on her personal embossed stationery with her initials in Cyrillic 'DT', are written over several days to her sister Anna Tuytchev, relating the events immediately following the bombing.
Her sister had been Maid of Honour and confidante of the Empress between 1853-1866, until she married the Slavophile writer Ivan Aksakov. Their father was a famous writer and statesman. Anna's memoirs are regarded as a valuable historic source of the life of Russian aristocracy in mid 19th-century Russia.
On the evening of 5th February 1880 Stephan Khalturin, from Narodnaya Volya, set off a timed charge under the dining room of the Winter Palace, right in the resting room of the guards a story below, killing 11 people and wounding 30 others. Fortunately for the Tsar, dinner was delayed by the late arrival of the his nephew, Prince Alexander Joseph of Bulgaria, so the tsar and his family were not in the dining room at the time of the explosion and were unharmed.
Tsarina Marie Alexandrovna was suffering from tuberculosis. In 1866, Alexander II took a mistress, Princess Catherine Dolgorukya, with whom he would father three surviving children. The affair, in the face of the tsarina's declining health, served to alienate the rest of his adult children, save his son Alexei and his daughter, who, like Alexander II's brothers, believed that the tsar was beyond criticism. In 1880, however, following threats on Catherine's life, the tsar moved his mistress and their children into the Winter Palace, installing them in rooms directly above the apartments of his ailing wife. When Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna made a visit in May 1880, being warned that her mother was dying, she was horrified to learn of his father's mistress' living arrangements and confronted her father. Shocked by the loss of support from his daughter, he quietly retreated to Gatchina Palace for military reviews. The quarrel, however, evidently, jolted his conscience enough to lead him to return to St. Petersburg each morning to ask after his wife's health.The tsarina, however, had not much longer to live, dying on 3 June [O.S. 22 May] 1880. On 18 July [O.S. 6 July] 1880, Alexander II and Catherine were married in a secret ceremony at Tsarskoe Selo. The action scandalized both his family and the court, something Darya alludes to in the final letter follwing the death of the Empress when she writes, "The last days were bad. I do not dare to go into the details we are hiding and being hidden from us."
“11 o'clock at night 5
By now you probably know that the palace was bombed. Thanks be to God, neither the Emperor nor any of the members of the Imperial Family have perished; although the bomb came from the guard-house which is under the dining room where the emperor has been dining since the return of the Empress. The bomb exploded at 6pm exactly, but as the Emperor was waiting for the arrival of Prince Alexander who was arriving by train from abroad, he put the dinner back to 6.30pm. The tables have been overturned, all the windows broken in these rooms, and on all the floors in that direction.
At the guardhouse, there is no longer a stone left upon another stone. The corridor behind Antoinette's chambers has a gaping hole, one of the doors of her apartment has been torn off. She herself was at dinner and did not otherwise suffer. A small kitchen was destroyed and at the time of the explosion all the windows on that side of the palace were destroyed and the lamps were extinguished. Thankfully the Empress was sleeping at the time of the explosion and that the terrible detonation that went off 3 times did not wake her up, she is unaware of the danger that her family ran. Six soldiers were killed, 19 severely wounded, in all 43 wounded men, amongst them were cooks, servants, and moujiks who were in the kitchen. Our XXXXX had gone to get dinner, his leg was broken, his head injured. Stepanov's servant was crossing the corridor behind Antoinette's apartment and was injured.
One of Prince Alexander's cars was fired at upon his arrival at the palace. I was having dinner at XXXXXXX when the explosion happened from whom I heard about it. I returned immediately to the palace, worried about the Emperor and the Empress. The palace was full of policemen; it really was a devilish act.
I am writing these lines to you to reassure you and Kitty, but I am broken, XXX and tired.
Tomorrow we have prayers by the hour. God bless you.
It appears from your despatch to Antoinette that you did not receive last night the dispatch from mother who wrote to you about the explosion. I wrote to you yesterday with all the details. We had this morning a xxx, an outing, xxx, the poor Emperor looked so unwell. He had decided to recount the happenings to the Empress who wept and was very upset when she first heard. Now, thankfully, she has calmed down.
Mrs Winkler has just told me that the Empress had said to her on Sunday: I would have very much like to see Madame Akamoff, it pains me a great deal not to see her. To which Mrs Winkler replied. I think she's leaving today, but if Your Majesty wishes, I am sure she will postpone her departure. The Empress replied. No, I am so weak now. I'll wait until I get some strength back - I'll see her later. This is what Mrs Winkler has charged me to pass onto you.
She is quite deluded as to her true state of health.
The place where the dynamite was detonated has been discovered. It was in the xxx next to a room where the carpenters’ were staying, one of whom was the culprit, since yesterday he has disappeared. At six o'clock in the evening, a non-commissioned officer was making his rounds and entered the carpenters’ room, which was dark. He asked them why they did not have a fire lit, they answered that they were going out for dinner. If he had insisted on them lighting a fire, he would have seen that the battery was there. 14 soldiers were killed and 60 wounded.
Marie Alexandrovna has been very agitated and didn’t sleep a wink all night. Good evening, continue to pray for this yellow Empress. We really need it as we are being hunted like beasts. We do not know if we will wake in this world or in a better one where I hope there won't be these socialists.
I am currently finishing reading the last moments of the Emperor Nicholas that you sent to the Grand Duchess xxx which I found at A. Tolstoy's- I was very moved by it - this description goes straight to the heart, soul, and imagination.
The Empress was this morning at Mass; she was also there on Wednesday, she was pushed in her wheelchair to the church. It is the Grand Duke Serge who pushed it; the Emperor was walking beside him, as well as the other sons. Mass did not tire the Empress too much - but she slumped into her chair, so pale, so thin, and her mouth covered with her handkerchief, which she held in her hand. Tomorrow, she will take communion with her family. She wants to approach the Holy Communion on foot supported by the Emperor and the heir, and not in the wheel chair.
I am happy that they are taking communion tomorrow and that she can do it with the Emperor and the whole family, God bless this effort of faith and will - May God support her for the end of the fight and make her gain the crown of glory xxx xxx.
Telegraph her to congratulate her.
How is your health? Since the xxx you do not write to me. How is your eyesight? Have you been able to go to church a little? Levitsky took a photograph of the Empress in her study for me, I do not know if you would like this souvenir - a copy. In that case, write it to me and I will send it to you. I sent your letters through Olga Novikoff. Keep it xxx as long as you will need it - but give it back to me, I am very fond of it. Antoinette will also be taking communion tomorrow; she does not look well and complains of fatigue.
Farewell my dear, give my compliments to your husband.
God bless you. I love you dearly
I have just taken the box containing xxx etc, the Grand Duchess will give it to the Empress. This morning the Empress has been in the little chapel with the Emperor and children. She was pushed in her wheel chair up to xxx and supported by the Emperor and the Grand Duke when she approached for communion. Tears rose to my eyes when she bowed. She staggered to her feet, and when she stood up there was little left of what we knew of her. Her head thrust between the shoulders, which came out like two points, a bony chest, a greenish complexion, the whole body reminiscent of sickness and old age. Only her gaze and her hands were reminiscent of her old charm. After communion, the Empress felt stronger. She wanted to take her coffee with her family and pour it out for the Emperor. At the moment, she is sitting in her cabinet and is complaining only of irregular heartbeats. I spoke with the Grand Duchess of your last moments with Emperor Nicholas "I would like the Grand Duchess to read some passages to the Empress and also to the Emperor." She told me that you also wanted your notebook back?
I wrote to you yesterday that I do not have much to tell you. On March 10, we are having a big dinner in honour of the birth of Emperor William.
How is your health?
The weather is clear, cold and very windy.
Kaxxx took communion this morning with her mother.
This morning I received your letter of 18th as well as the cup containing the lilac and the lily of the valley; the lilac smelled lovely but the lily of the valley did not smell. I put them in vases and had them brought to the Empress who found the smell of the lilac lovely and had it put in her cabinet. Of course, I did not see the Empress myself. Yesterday, she fainted; the nights are long, without xxx and she goes xxx. The maids say that she has lost weight, - for the past 2 days she has been moved from her bed in the bedroom to another bed on wheels, which is in the big red cabinet. For a time it seemed to please her, but her condition has not improved rather the opposite. Nothing but the transition from one bed to another tires her and worsens her weaknesses. Maria Alexandrovna's children arrive on Saturday and will be staying in Yelagin where the heir with his family and the court are staying. The picture of your spring and xxx in the water is more cheerful. How do you feel? what does the doctor say about these congestions after your stay in the thermal town of xxx bad?
I send you my love, sorry for this scribble. I am tired - I have had a migraine following the heavy air in the city. My kind regards to your husband.
What does Princess Kilixxx do? She writes to me that she has found a good place to live, but the perspective of solitary life I do not know - and her grief is heart-breaking. Poor xxx, so unhappy from the head downward. And at this moment there are beings that believe in spring, in happiness, and do not know the darkness around.”
“3o'clock in the afternoon
My dear Analu
I begged mother this morning to inform you of the death of the Empress. My God, I write these terrible words, which represent this heart-breaking reality, and by writing them they enter my heart like a stabbing. It was at 7am that she went from life to eternity without waking up, without xxx, without agony. We saw her at 10am. Her head leaning on the sofa with an air of virginal youth, to me she looked more like she was under a chaste sleep as she was so gracious. With a celestial grace. I have just gone down to the bedroom; where the mass took place. In her parade bed, death has already made its mark on her features and her face has regained the thoughtful and careful expression of recent years, but nevertheless a great calm and an inner absolution. We read the gospel of St. John, and all these words seemed to express the past year of the deceased. The sincere xxx because of what we were reading spoke of the vanity of this passing world and our hearts that do not become xxx. It is necessary to pray calmly for the repose of the soul and fulfil our last duty towards the deceased who has passed to another world in such a lonesome manner.
I thought of you near the body of the Empress. It made me so anxious for you not having said your last goodbye in her lifetime. Poor xxx, what you must feel!
In prayer, if you were not suffering, I would like you to come and say goodbye to her in this world. [Grand Duchess] Marie and her two brothers Serge and Paul are near the body of the Empress whilst a painter paints the portrait. The last days were bad. I do not dare to go into the details we are hiding and being hidden from us. Yesterday, through the doorway, I heard the cough and moaning of the Empress, who was more sleepy and weaker than ever. But towards evening, she had recovered so that nothing made anyone predict this prompt end that the weakness which had increased in the last 10 days. Farewell, xxx. We must pray to God to bring our hearts to all of us so that we may all see each other in the day of his last judgment.
God bless you
Larges Size: 20 x 13 cm approx