Russian Imperial Court Costume

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Russian Court dress is known for its sartorial splendor and the isolation in which it developed. Russians had inherited a religious and sumptuary legacy from Byzantium, and so the clothes of the Russian court were the rich silks of the east; long robes heavily embroidered and sewn with pearls and precious gems. These caftans (robes) and Sarafans (over robes) would have been at home in Beijing, Constantinople, Samarkand, or any of the legendary cities along the Silk Route. Russian court dress remained largely unchanged from the 10th century until the 17th.

When Peter I (the Great) took the throne, he advocated the Europeanization of the Russian Empire. Discarding the ancient title of Tsar and assuming that of Emperor, he moved the capital to the westernmost port of the Empire, and created the breathtaking city of Saint Petersburg on the Neva River, near the Gulf of Finland. Peter also abolished the ancient modes of dress and manners of living that had marked the Muscovite court. Women were removed from the Terem (isolated living quarters), and all members of the court were required to adopt western dress.

This article was originally written for the Alexander Palace website. It has been expanded for this website.

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The Russian Imperial & Royal Order of St. Stanislas

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The Imperial and Royal Order of St Stanislas, today one of the Russian Imperial Orders of Chivalry, has a most complicated history amongst the Russian honours, both before the revolution and after.  Beginning its existence as the second in precedence of the Polish Royal Orders of Chivalry, it became, after its assimilation into the Russian Imperial Awards system the most junior of the Russian Orders, as well as the most frequently awarded until the revolution of 1917.

This article was originally published in Royal Russia No. 6 (Summer 2014).

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The Russian Imperial Order of St. Catherine

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Sometimes, one feels the need to revisit an earlier subject when new information becomes available. After finding a cache of information about the Catherine Institutes in St. Petersburg and Moscow, I felt it was time to revisit my article on the Russian Imperial Order of Saint Catherine, written almost 20 years ago for the wonderful Alexander Palace site.

Now that we have access to so much more information, I hope that you will enjoy reading this new piece as much as I did revising it and including new information and new resources on the subject for Russian speakers.

To read the full article, click here

That Night at Versailles

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There have been frequent comparisons drawn between Marie Antoinette, the last queen of France, and Alexandra Feodorovna, the last empress of all the Russias.  Both arrived from foreign courts full of youth and inexperience, both were initially adored by their adopted people yet later vilified by them, and both were to meet tragic and brutal ends.  The mournful comparison is popular, and the romantic myth has plagued popular histories published since the Russian Revolution; however, the story that Alexandra Feodorovna occupied the rooms of Marie Antoinette at Versailles is false, as a rediscovered French primary source reveals. 

The myth of the “Night at Versailles” first appears in Baroness Buxhoeveden’s “The Life and Tragedy of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna” in 1928. The story was repeated in Robert K Massie’s “Nicholas & Alexandra,” in which Massie writes simply: “at Versailles for an evening, Alexandra was assigned the rooms of Marie Antoinette…” citing Buxhoeveden for the information.  Bukshoeveden, it appears, is to blame for the cascade of false repetitions about the Empress’ visit and it’s purportedly tragic associations.

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