Last Summer, one of the items auctioned by Morphets was a set of extremely fine linen napkins.
The napkins carried the monogram of Russian Tsar Alexander III, at whose death in 1894, his eldest son ascended the throne as Nicholas II. Alexander III’s consort, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, was known before her marriage as Dagmar, and like her sister Queen Alexandra (consort of Edward VII) was of Danish origin.
The close family connections of European royalty meant that the various European royal families travelled widely and frequently in their efforts to keep in touch with one another. During the summer of 1914, the Dowager Empress Dagmar travelled to London to visit her sister Queen Alexandra, and when she discovered that her niece, the Grand Duchess George of Russia, was also visiting, she arranged for the two of them to return to Russia together.
The Grand Duchess, after staying at Buckingham Palace from July 17 travelled down to Harrogate with her two daughters, the Princesses Nina and Xenia, for them to take advantage of the cooler Yorkshire air during the European heatwave, lodging them at 11 York Place, after which the Grand Duchess returned to her cousin’s at Buckingham Palace.
However, the visit of both the Grand Duchess and the Dowager Empress had to be cut short, when King George V, worried by the increasingly dangerous state of Europe after the assasination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, urged the two ladies to return to Russia with all haste. The Dowager Empress decided to take her nephew’s advice, but the Grand Duchess refused to leave without the two little Princesses, who were still in Harrogate and enjoying the fashionable resort’s summer season, which was then at its peak.
Thus it came to be that on the fateful day of August 4 1914, a special train drew into Harrogate Railway Station with a carriage containing Her Imperial Highness, Grand Duchess George and her retinue. Beneath a blue sky and blazing sun, Harrogate was seething with activity. The majority of waiters at the great hotels were German, and they left the town en masse, causing a major problem for the visitor trade.
The military was on the move, and several regular railway timetables were suspended. The recruiting campaign had opened, with crowds of volunteers gathering at the drill hall in Strawberry Dale. It was into this frenzy of activity that the Grand Duchess arrived in Harrogate. The Dowager Empress was less fortunate, in that the Imperial train managed to travel east as far as Berlin, before the German military took over the railways, making it impossible for the Dowager Empress to proceed any further.
Taking the Kaiser’s advice, Dagmar went to Copenhagen, from where, with great difficulty, she managed to hire a boat across the Baltic to Russia.When the Grand Duchess heard of the difficulties encountered by her aunt, she decided not to attempt the return journey to Russia herself, but instead, to remain in Harrogate, which became the scene for her extraordinary work for wounded servicemen.
I do not know the history of the Russian Imperial napkins before they came to be auctioned at Morphets, but after being purchased by another buyer, they came into the hands of Advertiser reader Mrs. A Connery, who has retained one of these beautiful objects in Harrogate, after having re-sold the others to a Russian collector in the USA. I am most grateful to Mrs. Connery for sharing the story of the Imperial napkins with Advertiser readers.