Czarist letters revealing state, bedroom secrets draw bidders at Swiss auction

Mon Dec 9, 2013 6:41pm EST
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By Robert Evans

GENEVA (Reuters) - A trove of letters from Russian royals revealing secrets of state and bedchamber and voicing scorn for the "hypocrisy" of Victorian court life in Britain drew big money, including some from Moscow, at a Geneva auction on Monday.

Written in Russian and French by two 19th century czars, an empress and a pride of princesses, the 230 letters were found in a Massachusetts attic in the 1990s and experts say they open a window into hidden corners of a long-vanished world.

In one, Czar Alexander II tells his sister Olga, wife of the crown prince of the German kingdom of Wurttemberg, that despite pressure he will not bring Russia into a short war setting Austria against France and Sardinia in 1859.

He adds: "Keep it to yourself."

In another, he recounts the problems caused for the straight-laced royal family in St.Petersburg by a wild affair and subsequent secret marriage between their sister Maria and a low-ranking Russian count.

Almost the entire package of letters, sold at Geneva's Hotel de Ventes auction rooms in 12 lots, are addressed to Olga - who married her German prince in 1846 and later became queen when he succeeded to the throne of the small Rhineland state.

The whole batch fetched over 743,000 Swiss francs ($830,000) - a large sum for documents of this type - amid heavy bidding at the crowded auction room with unidentified Russians bidding on the spot and by telephone.

Several letters from Olga's niece, another Maria, reveal antagonism between the Russian grand duchess - as daughters of the czar were known - and her mother-in-law after she married Alfred, son of Britain's Queen Victoria.   Continued...