When Margaretta Eagar was born in Limerick as one of ten children, her parents could never have guessed the extraordinary life that would unfold for her.
From 1898-1904 Eagar served as nanny to the children of Russia’s last tsar, and later published an autobiography, Six Years at the Russian Court, about her time serving the royal family. Born in 1863, Eagar was trained as a nurse in Belfast and later worked as a matron at an orphanage.
However, in 1898 Eagar landed the coveted role of nanny to Russia’s expanding royal family. Tsar Nicholas II and Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna had four daughters — Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia, who were cared for by the Limerick woman for the formative years of their childhoods. She spent a significant amount of time with the children – so much so that, by the time she left, they had reportedly developed Hiberno-English accents.
Nicholas II reign ended in 1917 with the violent Russian revolution. After months in captivity the entire family and their staff were shot by a firing party in the basement of the house in which they were incarcerated.
Happily for Eagar, she served the family long before the violence of the revolution and her memoir tells a happy story of her time in Russia. She seems to have been fond of the family, and described the Empress as “the handsomest woman I had ever seen.”
She also appears to have had warm feelings for her four charges, who she became close to during her stay. After leaving court she received a pension from the Russian government, and continued to correspond with the four girls up to the time of their murder, an event which haunted Margaretta Eagar until her own death, aged 73, in 1936.
Written by PATRICK KELLEHER as part of our special magazine series printed in the Irish Independent.