Saturday, February 18, 2012
Elegant style yachts were once the norm among many of the world’s most important rulers. The British, the Danes, and even the Americans have all at one time or another provided their leaders with beautifully appointed yachts that served for both recreational as well as official purposes. But few of these highly specialized ships can compare with the Standart, reserved exclusively for the use of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia
This handsome „ship of state“ was a graceful seagoing vessel and was considered the most perfect ship of her type in the world. She was named after the famous frigate of Peter the Great. Built to the Tsar’s own specifications, she was constructed in Copenhagen in 1895 by the Danish firm Burmeister-Wain, possibly owing to the fact that the Tsar’s mother, the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna was of Danish birth. The shipyard still maintains a thriving existence but the plans no longer exist for the Standart due to the destruction of the shipyard brought on by two world wars.
Across the North Sea, however, the plans for the former Imperial Yacht can still be found at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. A copy of these plans can also be found at the Research Library of the Imperial Russian Historical Society in Canada. After a visit to Cowes, the future King Edward VII asked for the plans of the Imperial Yacht. The plans had been preserved in 1895 by the Admiralty Office when plans for a new British royal yacht were under construction.
The Standart was a superb, black-hulled 5557-ton yacht measuring 401′ in length and 50′ wide, making it the largest private ship in the world. She was much larger and faster than that of the other Imperial Yacht’s, the Alexandria and the Polar Star reaching speeds of up to 21.18 knots. Anchored in a Baltic cove or tied up at Yalta, the Standart was as big as a small cruiser. She had been designed with the graceful majesty of a great sailing ship. She combined elegance and comfort and met all the requirements of a floating palace. A large bowsprit, covered with gold leaf, lunged forward from her bow and three tall masts towered above her two white funnels. White canvas awnings stretched over smooth decks shielding the passengers from the sun, while informal wicker furniture on the main deck invited relaxation. Also on the main deck was a huge dining saloon that could seat up to seventy-two guests at one long table for luncheon or dinner.
Below deck was found a formal reception salon and drawing rooms panelled in mahogany, polished floors, brass and elegantly hung crystal chandeliers and velvet drapes. The Imperial Yacht even had its own chapel for the private use of the Imperial Family.
|The Imperial yacht Standart at anchor in Yalta, 1898|
|The Imperial yacht Standart at Sebastopol in the Crimea, 1914|
„This relationship of the Imperial Family to its entourage was very friendly and informal,“ Count Grabbe recalls. „They were especially cordial with the officers of the Standart. These young men were exemplary–charming, modest, possessed of a great deal of dignity and tact, and incapable of intrigue.“
The yacht was commanded by Rear-Admiral Lomen, who was responsible for the safety of the Tsar from the moment Nicholas II set foot on board any vessel, whether a yacht, a dreadnought or a launch. „The whole of the naval administration stood in mortal fear of the Admiral,“ recalls A.A. Mossolov. „It is true that he asked a great deal, and if he was annoyed he could be extremely rude. He claimed that onboard the yacht the Tsar himself was under his orders! Off duty he was pleasant and sociable.“
The actual Commanding Officer of the Standart was Captain Tchaguin, and the second in command, Commander Sablin. Both had the satisfaction of being thought of very highly by Their Majesties. In the letters which she wrote to the Tsar when he was at General Headquarters, the Tsarina frequently mentions Sablin.
Life at sea seemed to bring the best out in all the members of the Imperial Family. A.A. Mossolov recalls in his memoirs, „The Empress herself grew gay and communicative onboard the Standart. She joined in the children’s games, and had long talks with the officers.“
The officers were certainly in an exceptional situation. Almost daily, the Tsar invited these officers to dinner and after the meal liked to play billiards with them or enjoy a game of dominoes. In return the Imperial Family accepted invitations to tea in the mess. On such occasions the Empress usually sat nearby, sewing, the Tsarevich ran about with his playmates, while the Grand Duchesses, surrounded by all the young men, scattered throughout the yacht. „We form a united family,“ the Empress used to remark on these memorable and happy voyages.“
|The Empress arrives onboard and is greeted by the officers|
The family vacations to the Crimea and their cruises on the Standart were a welcome change for the children in particular.
When the Imperial Family went onboard the Standart, each of the five children was assigned a diadka, a sailor charged to watch over the the child’s personal safety. The children played with these diadkas, played tricks on the them and teased them. Gradually the young officers of the Standart joined in the children’s games. As the Grand Duchesses grew older, the games changed into a series of flirtations, all very innocnet of course. „I do not, of course, use the word ‚flirtation‘ quite in the ordinary sense of the term,“ remarks Mossolov, „the young officers could better be compared with the pages or squires of dames of the Middle Ages. Many a time the whole of the young people dashed past me, but I never heard the slightest word suggestive of the modern flirtation.“ Moreover, the whole of these officers were polished to perfection by one of their superiors, who was regarded as the Empressès squire of dames. As for the Grand Duchesses, even when the two eldest had grown up into real women, one might hear them taking like little girls of ten and twelve.
„The girls loved the sea,“ Count Grabbe comments, „and I well remember their joyful anticipation of these cruises on the Standart, which opened broader horizons for them, brought them new contacts, and permitted an intimacy that was other wise impossible. To be at sea with their father–that was what constituted their happiness.“
The Tsarevich Alexis also loved the excursions on the Standart as well. He enjoyed accompanying the Tsar while he carried out his duties on board the Imperial Yacht. He loved to play games such as shuffleboard. On sunny afternoons it was not uncommon to find an exhausted Alexis stretched out and fast asleep under one of the many lifeboats on the main deck. At times, his haemophilia restricted his movements severely and photographs show the young Tsarevich walking with the aid of a cane. Due to his illness, a favourite sailor was assigned to watch over Alexis. At first it was the sailor Derevenko who for some time was patient and conscientious in watching over his Imperial charge; his behaviour toward Alexis, however, became excessively mean after the Revolution. Fortunately, the Tsarevich also had another sailor-attendant–the loyal Nagorny. This sailor was later killed by the revolutionary army that overran Russia after World War I.
So it was, that when the warm months of the summer rolled around that the Tsar and his family set sail on the Standart for their vacation off the coast of southern Finland. For the Tsar, there was no greater relaxation than these restful, seaborne excursions on his beloved Standart. Here his family and found a secluded bay surrounded by small islands where they could relax and enjoy their time together away from the palaces and rigid rules that governed the Russian court. This charming spot was such a favourite of Nicholas II and his family, that they returned to it every year and the children even nicknamed it the „Bay of Standart.“
|Fun and games were enjoyed by all including the officers who are seen here dancing with the grand duchesses|
|The Emperor (seated holding a cat), accompanied by his children, and surrounded by the officers of the Imperial yacht|
|The grand duchesses dancing on the main deck of the Imperial yacht|
|Nicholas and Alexandra relaxing onboard the Standart. This is one of my favourite photos – Paul Gilbert|
|Grand Duchess Tatiana, Commander Sablin, Grand Duchess Olga, and two unidentified officers|
|The Emperor and his son, Alexis who is wearing naval uniform complete Standart on his cap|
|The Emperor with Count Vladimir Fredericks, who served as Minister of the Court|
|The Empress and the Emperor caught in a more relaxed moment on the deck of the Imperial yacht|
|The Emperor consulting with Admiral Konstantin Nilov. General Count Alexander Grabbe,
author of ‚The Private World of the Last Tsar‘ can be seen in the left of the photo
|The Empress looking happy as she boards the Imperial yacht|
|Grand Duchess Olga had grown into a beautiful young woman|
|Grand Duchesses Maria and Olga|
|The Emperor had a great passion for books and often read aloud to his wife and children after dinner|
|Empress Alexandra conversing with Count Paul Benckendorff, who served as General A.D.C. and Grand Marshall of the Court|
|The Emperor posing in front of one of the Standart’s lifeboats|
|A beautiful photograph of father and son|
|Grand Duchess Olga Nikolayevna, the eldest daughter of Nicholas II|
|The Emperor reviewing one of the many reports submitted to him onboard|
|Tsar Nicholas II with his family on board the imperial yacht Standart|
|A pensive looking Empress Alexandra surrounded by her daughters (from left to right: Tatiana, Maria, Olga, Alexandra, Anastasia)|
|Empress Alexandra, Tatiana, Olga, and Anastasia holding a dog|
|Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, Emperor Nicholas II, Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia|
|Empress Alexandra with Grand Duchess Maria|
|Empress Alexandra on the main deck of the Standart|
|The Empress looking relaxed and content with her surroundings|
|An equally relaxed looking Emperor poses for the camera|
|Despite his critics, Nicholas II looked every bit an Emperor!|
|Emperor and son, Alexis|
|Alexandra, the doting mother and Alexis|
|The Empress bore a heavy cross after learning her only son had been afflicted with haemophilia|
|Alexis looking happy and healthy|
|Alexis with one of his tutors, Pierre Gilliard|
|The Empress often stayed onboard the Imperial yacht with Alexis if his health did not allow him to partake in excursions with the rest of the family|
|Grand Duchess Olga with her favourite niece, Anastasia|
|Grand Duchesses Maria, Olga, Anastasia and Tatiana preparing for an excursion|
|The Emperor with his mother, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna (nee Princess Dagmar of Denmark)|
|The Emperor and his four beautiful daughters: Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia|
|Anna Vyrubova with the Empress|
|Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, the younger sister of the Emperor, seated with the Empress|
|The officers were often invited to dine with the Imperial family in the main dining room of the Standart|
|Emperor Nicholas II, Commander Nicholas Sablin, and Empress Alexandra onboard the Imperial yacht Standart|
|Emperor Nicholas II on the pier with the Imperial yacht Standart in the background|
History must be grateful to Anna Vyrubova. A devoted friend and confidant to the last Empress of Russia, she was one of the lucky few who were associated with the Russian Court that escaped from the horrors that swept post-revolutionary Russia. Anna was dearly loved by the entire Imperial Family, and as a result she spent a great deal of time at home with them and even accompanied them on board the Imperial yacht Standart. She was a keen photographer and used her skills to photograph their most intimate moments together. When she escaped to Finland in 1920 she managed to leave with a set of handsome leatherbound albums filled with photographic memories of the last Imperial family of Russia. These albums now form part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.
A selection of photographs from these albums are displayed here and focus on Tsar Nicholas II and his family during their cruises onboard the Imperial yacht Standart. They portray the private moments of a very private family during some of the happiest moments of their lives, as they sailed to the islands in the Finnish archipelago, the Crimea in the Black Sea, or to visit relatives in Denmark and Great Britain.
Their peaceful life onboard the Imperial yacht Standart was enjoyed by the entire family, including the Empress, who was rarely photographed smiling. When she boarded the Imperial yacht, Alexandra seemed to take on a whole new persona and in a total moment of abandon would exhibit motherly tenderness to her children, and husband, or engage in cheery, light-hearted conversation and fun with those around her. The gaiety onboard quite often included the members of the ships’s crew and officers, who not only dined with the Imperial family, but also participated in their games and excursions onshore.
These photographs are proof that the family of the man who reigned as autocrat of the vast and mighty Russian Empire, were a very typical Edwardian family. They portray a family pursuing the carefree pleasures that many other families of that era also pursued, a world and a time that have long since disappeared but have not been forgotten.