Hayling's princess

A new dimension has been added to the story of Princess Catherine Yourievsky, who lived on Hayling from 1934 till she died in 1959.

The princess, known as "Her Serene Highness", was the youngest daughter of the reforming Czar Alexander II, who was assassinated in 1881.

She is buried in St Peter's churchyard, Northney.

A letter to the Hayling Islander from Bernard Shone of Bordon has revealed the possibility that the princess or "Prinny" as she was called by her lady's companion "Nana" Smithers, had an illegitimate daughter, Olga Maria.

The revelation stemmed from a chance meeting in a shop in Bramley, Yorkshire, in 1961.

Bernard was a travelling salesman from Bradford and he saw a "well spoken" lady arguing with a difficult shopkeeper.

He learnt her name was Olga Maria and that she was of Russian extraction.

A week later, she waited to speak to him about the shopkeeper and, since he had always been interested in the Russian Czars, he plucked up courage to ask about this.

They became friendly and she showed him a photo of her grandmother, whom he instantly recognised as Princess Catherine Dolgoruky, Alexander II's second wife.

At this ".... Olga Maria became both surprised and agitated and told me never to mention to any one that she was related to Catherine or the Romanovs."

She also showed him a photo of her mother, Hayling's Princess Catherine Yourievsky.

She hinted several times that her father was not Princess Catherine's first husband, the wealthy Prince Bariatinksi who had died in the early 1900s, nor Prince Obolensky, her second husband whom she married in 1916. Several times Olga said her father may have been a priest.

She told Bernard how her grandmother called Czar Alexander "Hoffman" in their secret love letters and that she remembered the bloody scene at the Winter Palace, St Petersburg in 1881, when her grandfather was blown up by two assassins' bombs.

She knew of Princess Catherine's two legitimate sons by Bariatinsky and her second husband, the brilliant soldier and entrepreneur, Prince Obolensky, who left her for Alice Astor heiress to the Astor hotel millions in 1922.

Olga also claimed to have known Anastasia, a daughter of Czar Nicholas II murdered by the Communists in 1917 and believed that one of Czar Nicholas' other children, Grand Duchess Tatiana, may be buried in Kent in a grave marked as that of Larissa Feodovna.

When the remains of Czar Nicholas' family were recovered, 70 years later, one family member was missing.

After the Russian revolution of 1917 Her Serene Highness's family were scattered and most lost touch. Olga Maria claimed she had escaped from Russia with a group disguised as peasant children.

In the 1930s, she lost a great deal of money and her home in Snaithe.

In 1951, she was told by a French journalist that her mother was living "in Ireland" so she went to search for her in County Mayo.

It is now believed the journalist meant "Hayling Island", pronounced with a French accent (without the letter H).

Olga would not have heard of Hayling Island, so she searched for her mother in the Emerald Isle.

Because of the threat of Stalinist agents, the presence of HSH on Hayling was not publicised.

It now appears that Hayling's princess may not have wanted her children to get in touch because of her disgrace.

Bernard says that he exchanged visits with Olga Maria several times.

She adamantly refused to be photographed but one day Bernard snapped her as she was leaving in a grey Bentley driven by a kilted Scottish chauffeur.

She spotted this and was "displeased" but let him keep it. He made up for this by arranging for her three dogs to be looked after when she died.

The story, if true, clears up some mysteries.

Firstly why Her Serene Highness, usually very friendly with Hayling Islanders of all walks of life, would freeze up when personal matters were mentioned and shunned journalists.

She was never visited by either of her two legitimate sons, though Prince Obolensky came here twice, once when he was Russian adviser to General Eisenhower in Southwick and Colonel of U S special forces. Princess Catherine once went to a wedding at Kensington Palace and returned to Hayling with wedding cake, which she shared with children at a school in West Town.

Apart from that, any contact with official circles, British or Russian, was nil, though it is rumoured that she once had a visit on Hayling from Prince Philip and small cash sums were paid to her by another royal contact, possibly Queen Mary, wife of King George V.

The princess had two homes on Hayling, first The Haven in Sinah Lane, then two almshouses, now 240 Havant Road.

One intriguing mystery remains.

Olga Maria died about 1966 leaving, it is believed, at least one son.

But did she really never visit her mother on Hayling?

Olga Maria seems to have known a lot about the adult aspects of her mother's life but it seems certain that her half brothers or Prince Obolensky knew nothing about her existence.

The possibility is that they did meet on Hayling in the 1950s but the Hayling Princess did not wish to face up to the circumstances of her daughter's birth and Olga Maria didn't want to take on the burden of her mother, who had financial problems and a great liking for sherry!

So Hayling's Serene Highness Princess Catherine Yourievsky was left in her Havant Road home, alone with her amazing memories. - Vic Pierce Jones