Hearts Through History Romance Writers

Pavlovsk Palace and the Spoils of War


scan0001_adjustedThe city of St. Petersburg , founded by Peter the Great in 1703, became the new capital of Russia in 1711. As the city grew, both the imperial family and aristocrats began to build grand summer residences just outside the city. Dubbed the Versailles of the North, Peterhof was built for Peter the Great on the Gulf of Finland, and south of the city at Tsarskoe Selo was the magnificent baroque style Catherine Palace. In 1780, architect Charles Cameron began building the classically styled Pavlovsk Palace for Catherine the Great’s son, who would become Paul I, and his wife, Maria Feodorovna.

Pavlovsk sits just three miles from Tsarskoe Selo. Though smaller than many of the other palaces, it is known both for the beauty of its 1,500 acre landscape park dotted with decorative pavilions and statuary, and for its unparalleled artistic collections including furniture, textiles, and sculptures.

scan0004When World War II began, the palace staff did its best to protect the contents of Pavlovsk before they were forced to evacuate. Some items from the interior of the palace were reportedly moved to the basement, and several of the outdoor statuary were buried underground. The Siege of Leningrad (historically and currently known as St. Petersburg) began in September of 1941, and Pavlovsk Palace was occupied by enemy troops for nearly two and a half years. What remained in the palace was pillaged, bridges and pavilions were destroyed, and more than seventy thousand trees were felled to build fortifications around Leningrad. Most damaging of all, in January 1944, when forced by the Soviet Army to retreat, enemy forces set the palace on fire, reducing it to little more than a pile of rubble.

Pavlovsk_wardamageThousands of fragments of murals, fireplaces, plaster moldings, and other pieces of décor were sifted from the rubble of the palace. These, along with architectural drawings, pictures, and other items that survived, made restoration of Pavlovsk possible.  Restoration began in 1954, and restoration of the interiors of the palace was completed in 1978, making Pavlovsk the first of the Russian palaces to be reconstructed after the war.

Of all of the palaces I’ve visited, Pavlovsk is my favorite. I was especially drawn to Maria Feodorovna’s library. Doesn’t it look like a wonderful place to write? I was delighted to learn that earlier this week, one hundred and twenty-five books that were stolen from Pavlovsk by the Nazi’s were located in Germany and returned to the palace.

scan0003In 1992, a research group from the University of Bremen was formed to track down the missing Russian art located in Germany.  In 2012, another group was formed whose focus is to track down the artifacts that were stolen from six Russian museums that were decimated by the German occupation during the war, including Pavlovsk Palace. In all, more than 300,000 books were taken, 11,500 of which came from Pavlovsk. There is still much research to be done in both Germany and Russia to determine the fate of the rest of the books, but this victory has played a small part in returning the library to its former glory.




Pavlovsk: The Life of a Russian Palace, Suzanne Massie, Little Brown & Company, 1990.



Ally Broadfield writes historical romance set in Regency England and Imperial Russia. Her first book, Just a Kiss, is coming from Entangled Publishing in December. She would love to have you visit her website or Facebook page.

The History of the Nutcracker Ballet

Postcard of ballerina Olga Preobrajenskaya as the Sugarplum Fairy with Nikolai Legat as Prince Coqueluche in the Imperial Ballet's original production of the Nutcracker.

Postcard of ballerina Olga Preobrajenskaya as the Sugarplum Fairy with Nikolai Legat as Prince Coqueluche in the Imperial Ballet’s original production of the Nutcracker.

One of our family holiday traditions when I was a child was to attend the Nutcracker Ballet every year. I first took my daughter to see the Nutcracker when she was three years old. Perhaps it was a bit early, but at the time she was taking a dance class and loved Angelina Ballerina, and sure enough, she was enthralled from the moment the curtain opened. So began our annual tradition of attending the Nutcracker each Christmas season.

My daughter is now ten and dance is still her favorite activity. After attending a performance of the Nutcracker last week, she started asking questions about its history, so we decided to do a little research. The Nutcracker Ballet was first performed at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia on December 17, 1892. I am lucky to have attended both an opera and a ballet at the theater, so I dug through some old albums and boxes and was able to find a ticket and a picture to share with her.  (Historical Note: The Mariinsky Theatre became the property of the state in 1917. In 1920 it began to be called the State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet, and in 1935 it was renamed after Sergei Mironovich Kirov. On January 16, 1992, the theatre’s historic name was restored and it became the Mariinsky Theatre once again). (more…)

Historical Detail: How Much is Too Much in a Romance?

The authenticity of a historical romance novel depends largely upon the author’s knowledge and use of historical detail. Since it can’t be assumed that a reader is familiar with the time period in which a novel is set, the author must include enough detail to ground the reader in the setting, but not so much that it slows down the story and overshadows the romance.

Even those of us who love history have likely come across a book that had so much historical detail we put it down to take a nap. Conversely, we’ve likely also read a book that had so few historical details that we couldn’t picture how the hero and heroine’s world looked.

Most historical authors spend countless hours, days, even weeks or months researching a book. So how do we decide how much of that research to include in our book? While each author has her own personal style, I think a commercially successful book must provide a framework for the story while keeping it firmly focused on the romance between the hero and heroine. (more…)

Peterhof: The Russian Versailles

Here in Texas, we are deep in the dog days of summer. Most days the temperature soars over 100 degrees, the grass is brown, and the water in the swimming pools is same temperature as a hot bath. I’m originally from the north, so I’m always ready for the fall weather to move in (usually by the first of July). There is one place I was lucky enough to visit that is almost always cool and refreshing.

Nearly everyone knows about Versailles in France, but have you ever heard of Peterhof, the Russian Versailles? Peterhof was founded by Peter the Great in the early 1700s. Peter visited Versailles while in France and was so impressed he envisioned his own palace and fountain complex, but on a much grander scale.


Iced Glissoires and Balançoires in St. Petersburg

On a recent trip to a used book store, I came upon a wonderful find in the architecture section. I visit the store periodically to hunt for research books, and because the various employees tend to classify things differently, there are several sections I check, including: history, fashion, furniture, architecture, travel, and art. The treasure I found was, St. Petersburg, A Portrait of a Great City by Vincent Giroud. The book showcases Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s collection relating to St. Petersburg, including rare accounts of early visitors to the capital of the Russian empire.

An eight volume account of Russia called Rusland was anonymously published in 1804, and the beginning and end of each book has woodcut vignettes of various places and people. According to the appendix, they are the work of Amsterdam painter Harmanus Fock (1766-1822). Fock also designed two folding plates, engraved by Jacob Ernst Marcus (1774-1826) in 1804. The subject of the plates is public amusements in winter and summer.