Princess Olga Paley

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Princess Olga Valerianovna
Princess Paley
Countess von Hohenfelsen
Olga Valerianovna Palej.jpg
BornOlga Valerianovna Karnovich
(1865-12-02)2 December 1865
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
Died2 November 1929(1929-11-02) (aged 63)
Paris, France
Erich von Pistohlkors
(m. 1884, divorced)
(m. 1902; died 1919)
FatherValerian Karnovich
MotherOlga Vasilyevna Meszaros

Princess Olga Valerianovna Paley (2 December 1865 – 2 November 1929) was the morganatic second wife of Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich of Russia.

Early life and first marriage[edit]

She was born as Olga Karnovich in Saint Petersburg, the daughter of a minor nobleman, Valerian Karnovich (1833-1891), who worked as a medical doctor at the Imperial Court and his wife, Olga Vasilyevna Meszaros (1830-1919), who was of Hungarian and German ancestry and had been settled in Russia since the 17th century. In 1884, in Riga, Olga Karnovich wed General Erich Gerhard von Pistohlkors (1853–1935), a member of the Pistohlkors noble family, by whom she had four children:

Scandal and second marriage[edit]

Olga began an affair with Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich, causing a great society scandal. Russian courtiers and members of Paul's family viewed Olga as a commoner and "fornicator."[1] At the Winter Palace ball, she attended wearing the diamonds that the late Empress Maria Alexandrovna had bequeathed to Paul. The appalled Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia recognized the imperial jewels and ordered her chamberlain to escort Olga out of the party.[2] Paul's older brother Vladimir declared that "if [Olga] will become the wife of my brother, I will turn my back on her and she will never in life see my face again."[3]

Paul asked permission from Tsar Nicholas II to marry Olga, but the Tsar refused. Olga's marriage to Pistohlkors was terminated by divorce, and she became pregnant with Prince Vladimir Pavlovich Paley.

In 1902, Paul fled to Paris with three million rubles and married Olga morganatically. Olga was not given any titles, because the marriage was not approved. Tsar Nicholas II was furious with Paul's disobedience, and he lamented that he "fear[ed] a whole colony of members of the Russian Imperial Family will be established in Paris with their semi-legitimate and illegitimate wives!"[4] In 1904, Luitpold, Prince Regent of Bavaria granted Olga the title of Countess von Hohenfelsen. In 1915, Olga asked Grigori Rasputin to petition Tsar Nicholas II to grant her a Russian title.[5] Nicholas acquiesced and granted her the title of Princess Paley.

Olga and Paul had three children:

Olga resented her stepson, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, because her son Vladimir could never be a grand duke like his older half-brother.[6] She tried to turn Paul against his own son and wrote to her husband, "I have been telling you in every letter; 'don't trust Dmitri,' and I myself was deceived by his damned tricks! I have rarely hated people, as I hate him right now!"[7] In October 1916, she was angry at Paul for giving fine wine from their cellar to Dmitri and said, "I would somehow understand if you treated the Sovereign to it,” she complained, “but to waste it on Dmitri... was totally unnecessary.”[8]


Olga left Russia in 1920 with her two daughters and went to Finland, after her son and her husband were executed by the revolutionary government. She died in exile in Paris on 2 November 1929, at the age of 63.


  1. ^ John Curtis Perry, Flight of the Romanovs, p. 71
  2. ^ John Curtis Perry, Flight of the Romanovs, p. 71
  3. ^ John Curtis Perry, Flight of the Romanovs, p. 72
  4. ^ John Curtis Perry, Flight of the Romanovs, p. 72
  5. ^ John Curtis Perry, Flight of the Romanovs, p. 129
  6. ^ John Curtis Perry, Flight of the Romanovs, p. 127
  7. ^ John Curtis Perry, Flight of the Romanovs, p. 128
  8. ^ John Curtis Perry, Flight of the Romanovs, p. 129

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