Natalia Brasova - War


Upon the outbreak of World War I, Michael requested Nicholas II's permission to return home and to the army, with the understanding his wife and children could accompany him. Nicholas agreed and the family returned to the house on Nikolaevskaya street; Natalia was still not permitted to live any of the imperial palaces. Michael was appointed to the rank of major-general, and given command of the Savage Division (Дикая Дивизия) formed from Chechens and Daghestani. The post was perceived as a relatively low position in the Army, and was believed to be Nicholas II's punishment for Michael's marriage.

As was expected of women in the imperial family, Natalia founded two hospitals, one at Gatchina and one at Saint Petersburg, in properties owned by Michael. In January 1915, her sister Olga died in Moscow, and she went there for the funeral. At her hotel in Moscow, she was visited by Michael's cousin, Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovich of Russia, who professed himself in love with her. Dimitri had a reputation as a rake, and Natalia, though flattered, turned him down and told her husband of the encounter. Just eight weeks later, her eldest sister Vera also died.

In March 1915, Nicholas II agreed to legitimise George, and grant him the style of Count Brasov, although George still held no claim to the throne. Natalia's social circle expanded as more people began to accept her. As the war began to go badly for the Russians, Natalia was dismayed by the change in Michael's appearance as he abandoned his smart uniforms and decorations and wore a plain uniform with his muddy boots. Michael was "deeply upset" by Natalia's criticisms of his decision to be in the frontline of the war. He wrote to her, "the present time is so hard for Russia that my conscience could not allow me not to join the frontline service – and I am convinced that having done that, I also brought you some good in terms of public opinion, which, unfortunately, we can't totally ignore."

Natalia's social circle widened to include deputies in the Duma, and she was perceived as a liberal who supported a constitutional monarchy rather than the Tsar's autocracy. The Tsarina, Alexandra, even feared that Natalia was conspiring to make Michael Emperor. The Tsarina and Dowager Empress still would not accept Natalia. A portrait of her in a Kiev hospital she had funded with her own money was hidden by hospital staff for a visit by the Dowager Empress, and Alexandra had an exhibition of photographs of Michael and Natalia cleared by the imperial police. Natalia was depressed by the snubs, and by her separation from Michael, who was still at the front. In September 1916, they reunited at Mogilev, and spent time at Brasovo and Gatchina for the next six weeks, until Michael fell ill with stomach ulcers. They moved to the Crimea for Michael's recuperation. Christmas 1916 was spent at Brasovo as a family, where Natalia's daughter was "thrilled to the core" to hear that Dimitri had helped murder Rasputin, Tsarina Alexandra's self-styled spiritual mentor.

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