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.
her parents’ apartment. First she had to tell her father. Knowing the pain this would cause, she stood hesitating at the door of his study until Julie came to the rescue and told their father everything. Felix was devastated and asked Mathilde whether she realised that the Tsarevich could never marry her. Mathilde replied that she loved Nicholas and did not care about the future. Felix Kschessinsky consented, on condition that Julie lived with her. Mathilde acquiesced, determined to take her
use as a buttonhole. Mathilde said that everybody loved him, although she omitted to say what Grand Duke Sergei thought of her new admirer. In the event it did not matter. Skalon became ill with progressive paralysis and was admitted to a clinic, where he died. At the funeral Mathilde placed a small bouquet of violets on his coffin. Later she received a touching letter from his brother. In the autumn of 1899 the Italian ballerina Henrietta Grimaldi was making a guest appearance at the
Grand Duke had apparentlywon. The following day the assistant to the Minister of the Imperial Court showed the Emperor letters written by Volkonsky to Diaghilev and obtained the order for Diaghilev’s dismissal for improper conduct. Diaghilev was disgraced and could never hold an official appointment again. Mathilde now used her influence against Volkonsky at every opportunity. Hearing him tell the stage manager that Fiametta, in which Vera Trefilova danced, was to be performed in front of the
but Mathilde refused to appear and only Karsavina danced in Paris. Vera Trefilova made her last appearance at the Maryinsky in January 1910 and retired shortly afterwards at the height of her fame. Some blamed her reluctance to accept Fokine’s triumph, others cited the jealous intrigues of Kschessinska, who was alleged to have led a campaign against her. On 6 February 1910 Mathilde danced in a charity performance at the French Embassy in aid of flood victims in France. She refused the Sevrès
instance of a judgment that could not be enforced. Soon afterwards was published The Tsarevich’s Romance, or The Great Romance of Nikolai II, a tawdry fictionalised account by ‘Maria Evgenia’, written ‘by order’. The publication again suggested that Kschessinska had borne Nicholas two healthy sons.35 The gold wreath and the cases Julie had seen at the Prefect’s office were returned. Mathilde deposited the wreath and the boxes of silver in the Society of Loan Credit, along with several things