Natalia Pavlovna Paley - Life in Russia

Life in Russia

In January 1912 Tsar Nicholas II forgave his only living uncle for marrying morganatically, and Grand Duke Paul returned to Russia on the occasion of the tercentenary of the Romanov family. He was followed later by his wife and their three children. In the Spring of 1914, the family settled in Tsarskoe Selo in a luxurious palace filled with antiques and object of arts. In Russia, Natalia became close to her maternal grandmother, her half-sisters and half-brothers. Three months after they had settled into their new life, World War I began.

During the war, Natalias’s brother, Prince Vladimir Paley, joined a regiment. Though he was in poor health, Natalia's father, Grand Duke Paul, ignoring his doctor's advice, left to take command of a Guards regiment in 1916. At the fall of the Russian monarchy in March 1917 instead of leaving the country, Grand Duke Paul and his wife, not seeing the dangers ahead, decided to stay in their luxurious estate amid the upheaval. As Tsar Nicholas and his family were sent to internal exile to Siberia, Natalia and her family remained living in their palace under increasingly deteriorating conditions after the Bolsheviks rise to power in October 1917. By early January 1918, they could no longer afford to heat their large Tsarkoe Selo Palace and they were forced to move to an English dacha at Tsarkoe Selo that belonged to Grand Duke Boris Vladimirovich. Their home was expropriated and turned into a museum while Lenin himself rode their car.

In March 1918 the revolution tightened its grip. All male members of the Romanov family, including Natalia's bother Valdimir, were ordered to register at Cheka headquarters and shortly after they were sent away into internal Russian exile. They never saw Vladimir again. He was murdered by the Bolshevik along with several other Romanovs relatives on 18 July 1918, one day after the murder of Tsar Nicholas II and his immediate family at Yekaterinburg. Grand Duke Paul, who was too ill to travel, initially escaped the fate of his son. He was arrested on July 30 and sent to Spalernaia prison, where he would remain for most of his incarceration. In desperation, Olga left her two youngest daughters Irene and Natalia, aged 14 and 12, under the care of their English governess moving with her daughter Marianne to be closer to her husband's prison. Irene and Natalia, accompanied by their governess, were allowed to pay two visits to their father. The sisters lived alone with the servants until October when Grand Duke Boris' dacha was expropriated and they were evicted and forced to move to Petrograd with their mother and their half-sister Marianne. Worried about her daughters, Olga, with the help of a few remaining friends, organized Irene and Natalia' escape. In early December the girls left their mother and took a streetcar to the train station of Ochta. After a four hours trip in a cattle wagon, they jumped into the snow and took a horse drawn sleigh. Finally, they walked for miles in the frigid night air. After thirty-two hours of traveling they reached Terijoki, the Finnish frontier. On arriving there, they continued their journey to Vyborg. Taken to a sanatorium in Ranha, they anxiously awaited their parents' arrival. Their father never made it. Grand Duke Paul was killed in January 1919, and tossed into a heap along with the bodies of other victims. The following month, Princess Olga joined her daughters in Finland.

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