SAW DEATH ANGEL
Apparition That Appeared to Royal Children.
Story Related by Governess of Russian Princesses
Czar and Czarina Believe Supernatural Figure Really Was Visible.
Grand Duke Ernest of Hesse had a very pretty little daughter by his first wife, Princess Victoria Melita of Great Britain and Coburg, now married to Grand Duke Cyril of Russia. This little girl’s name was Elizabeth, and on account of her beauty and sprightly cleverness she was a universal favorite and the only tie between her parents after the estrangement, F. Cunliffe Owen writes in the New York World.
While staying with her uncle and aunt, the present czar and czarina, at their picturesque country seat in Poland, she succumbed when seven years old to poison—ptomaine poison, according to some, but according to others drugs conveyed into food or drink by the Nihilists for the purpose of taking the life of Emperor Nicholas.
A remarkable account of the affair is given by an English woman of the name of Miss Eager [Eagar], who, after spending a number of years in the service of the emperor and empress of Russia as the nursery governess of their young children, published on her return to England, with the full authority and approval of their majesties, a volume entitled, “Six Years at the Court of Russia.” [Six Years at the Russian Court, M. Eagar, 1906]
According to her, little Princess Elizabeth, or “Ella,” of Hesse was taken ill one afternoon or night and died before the following morning. Between nine o’clock and ten o’clock two of the little girls of czarina, who were sleeping together in a room adjoining that of their seven-year-old cousin of Hesse, suddenly alarmed everyone within hearing by the most frantic screams.
When the empress, Miss Eagar and the doctors rushed in they found the two little grand duchesses standing up on their beds, shrieking and shaking with terror. It was some time before they could be soothed, and then they related that they had seen a man with flowing robes and huge wings in their room. While they were still talking the eyes of both children suddenly dilated with terror, and both pointing in the same direction, they cried: “Look! Look! There he is again. He has gone into Ella’s room. Oh! Poor Ella! Poor Ella!”
Neither Miss Eager nor the czarina, nor yet the physicians, could see anything. But a few moments later Princess Ella suddenly sat up in her bed, crying: “I am choking. I am choking! Send for mamma!” Three hours afterward the child, who had immediately after the cry for her mother fallen into a state of coma, passed away, in the absence, of course, of her parents.
Miss Eagar expressed her firm conviction that the little grand duchesses had seen a supernatural apparition and that the apparition in question was the angel of death. That the czar and czarina shared her impression is shown by the fact that they had authorized her to publish the story in her book, as well as by the circumstance that she retains their favor and good will and is in receipt of an annuity from them for the remainder of her days. Truth [Erie, PA] 29 July 1916: p. 5
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine [1895-1903] was regarded by all who knew her as too angelic for this world. Her parents, Grand Duke Ernst of Hesse and Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, were divorced in 1901. She was a particular favourite of Queen Victoria and was very close to her father, especially after the divorce. Her father never got over her death.
There were rumours at the time that Princess Elisabeth had been poisoned by food meant for Czar Nicholas–one story suggested bad oysters; another claimed the child was poisoned by soup which the Czar gallantly passed to the Princess saying, “Ladies first.” Typhoid was the official explanation. The Imperial children’s nurse, Miss Margaretta Eager left her post with the family, perhaps for political reasons, during the Russo-Japanese War and received a pension from the Russian government until the Revolution put an end to it. She was haunted by the deaths of the Imperial family for the rest of her life.
Frederick Cunliffe-Owen was a former English diplomat and writer. He and his wife, Marguerite, were well-connected with many of the royal houses of Europe and it is possible that he heard this story from Miss Eagar with more detail than she gives in her memoir.
Grand Duchess Marie was four years old and Grand Duchess Anastasia was only two when Princess Elisabeth died. They were known as “The Little Pair” (in contrast to “The Big Pair:” Olga and Tatiana) and slept in the same room. While it seems certain that the young Grand Duchesses saw something unusual, this is what Miss Eagar published about the incident:
Presently the two little Grand Duchesses, Marie and Anastasie, began to scream, and I ran into their room ; I found them both standing in their beds looking terribly alarmed. They told me there was a strange man in their room who had frightened them. Now the rooms were in a suite, and they could be entered only from the dining-room, or from the second bedroom, and this bedroom in its turn could only be entered from the room in which the little Princess lay ill. It will therefore be seen that no one could have entered their room without our knowledge. The doctor and the little Princess’s own faithful servant-man had been in the dining-room all night.
I thought the night-light might have thrown a shadow which frightened the children into thinking there was someone in the room. I therefore changed its position, but still the children were afraid, and said he was hiding over by the curtain. I lit a candle, and taking little Anastasie in my arms, carried her round the room to prove to her that there was absolutely nothing to frighten her. The doctor came in and tried to soothe Marie, but it was useless; she would not be soothed and Anastasie refused to return to bed, so I took her in my arms and sat down to try to comfort her. She buried her face in my neck and clung to me trembling and shaking. It was dreadful to me to see her in such a fright. The doctor being obliged to go I lighted a candle and left it on a little table close to Marie’s bed, and sat down near it, that I might be beside both children.
Marie kept talking about the dreadful person, and starting up in wild horror every now and then. The doctor came in and out, and told me the strange doctor had come and had given the little sufferer an injection of caffeine; her heart seemed stronger and he began to have hope.
When next Marie began to talk about the mysterious stranger I said, “A strange doctor had come to help Dr. H. to make cousin Ella quite well, and perhaps he might have come to the door in mistake, or you might have heard him speak, but there is no one in the room now.”
She assured me that the stranger was not a doctor and had not come through that door at all, and did not speak. Suddenly she stood up and looked at something which I could not see. “Oh!” she said, “he is gone into cousin Ella’s room.” Anastasie sat up on my knee and said, “Oh! poor cousin Ella; poor Princess Elizabeth!” [The child died very shortly after this, as Miss Eagar describes.] Six Years at the Russian Court, M. Eagar, 1906
Miss Eagar does not mention robes or wings (although these may be noted in an edition of Miss Eagar’s memoirs of which Mrs Daffodil is unaware), but she was an Irishwoman even though trained as a nurse, and it is possible she may have confided those extraordinary details to someone verbally, while being more reticent in print. Certainly the Czar and Czarina were firm believers in supernatural manifestations and apparitions.
Marguerite Cunliffe-Owens was a writer of aristocratic tittle-tattle for the papers and “historical novels” about the crowned heads of Europe, with titles like The Martyrdom of an Empress and Snow-Fire: A Story of the Russian Court. She used the pseudonym La Marquise de Fontenoy for these intimate and incendiary revelations. Anything was possible in the mystic atmosphere of the Russian court, but one suspects that the suggestion of an angel came from her purple-inked pen.
For another story of a shrouded personification of Death, see this post.
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead and on Twitter @hauntedohiobook. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.