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Last days at Tsarskoe Selo, being the personal notes and memories of Count Paul Benckendorff; telling of the last sojourn of the Emperor & Empress of Russia at Tsarskoe Selo from March 1 to August 1, 1917
translated by Maurice Baring
At 2 o'clock in the afternoon a corps of the Guards of the 1st Regiment of the Rifles of the Guard came to relieve the combined regiments. All the posts were relieved by them except the interior posts which were abolished. Towards 3 o'clock the company of the combined regiment was formed before the front entrance and received the Colours of the regiment which had always been guarded at the Emperor's. This was a melancholy ceremony; everybody was in tears. After so many years of good and loyal service the combined regiment, composed of the flower of the Guard and of the army, was obliged to give place to a revolutionary horde, horrible even to look at. For the last time the colours passed the threshold of the Palace; God knows what became of it.
Nicholas with the troops at the FrontThe soldiers of the new Guard were horrible to look at; untidy, noisy, quarrelling with everybody; the officers, who were afraid of them, had the greatest difficulty in preventing them from roaming about the Palace and entering every room. These officers, all of them subalterns, had joined for the War, and there was among them not one single officer of the old army. The first one to come on guard made a bad impression on us. They were all impregnated with new ideas, and they spared us nothing in order to show that they were the masters. There were many quarrels between them and the household staff, whom they reproached for wearing livery and for the attentions they paid to the royal family. This day and this first night were very painful for all of us. We heard shots in the garden. We afterwards learned that these were fired by the sentries on the half-tame deer which were in the park, and that three of them were killed. Captain de Kotzebue did what he could to render matters tolerable; we owe him a lot in this respect. The contingent of the officers of the three regiments (1st, 2nd and 4th) was very different. There were some extremely well-behaved persons from the 1st and especially from the 4th, for whom we had nothing but praise. Others, and all those of the 2nd regiment of Rifles, were impossible. One could never have believed that in so short a space of time, thanks to the unfortunate "order of the day" No. 1, so great a change could have come about in the outward appearance as well as in the spirit of the troops. Shortly before his departure for G.H.Q. the Emperor had reviewed the reserve battalions of these three regiments of the Guard. They had looked very smart and had saluted His Majesty as usual. The officers whom the Emperor had assembled to speak to were respectful and full of zeal. Nobody could have foreseen that in a few weeks these same troops would have the appearance of barbarian hordes) and that these same soldiers would claim to govern Russia; that the Provisional Government from fear of these very hordes would often be compelled to obey them, and that all the vexatious measures taken against the Emperor and his family would be taken in obedience to this rabble.
Right: Alexandra arriving by train at Headquarters with Nicholas and her children
I saw the Empress once more during the evening. She was very sad, extremely anxious about the Emperor's journey. During the day she had requested that a priest might be fetched who might pray for the happy issue of this journey. She was refused this consolation; the entrance and the exit of the Palace were already closed. I had later to write to Guchkov in order to obtain permission for a priest and the deacons to come on Sundays and feast days to say Mass and the other services in the chapel of the Palace. I received this permission with great difficulty two weeks later. Each time the clergy arrived and left they were subjected to hateful formalities and observations. It was the priest of the Feodorovsky cathedral, Father Belyaev, who came to officiate. He deserves all our respect and our most profound gratitude for all that he did for us with so much heart and soul. He used, at the end of Mass, to say a few words which were for us a true consolation and comfort. With him came a deacon and a sacristan, who were constantly changed, and also four singers from the Imperial choir. The Empress was engaged in preparing her children for the sad news, and that occupied her entirely. I begged her to put her papers in order, to burn all that was useless, and I did not conceal from her that she was in danger of a domiciliary visit if everything was to go on in the same way. I was able to announce the Emperor's arrival to her for 11 o'clock in the morning of the following day. The Commandant had communicated to me that His Majesty, after having said good-bye to the Empress-Mother, had left Mohilev at 2 o'clock, accompanied by three commissioners of the Duma. At the last moment Admiral Nilov had been prevented from boarding the train and had even been arrested for a few hours at G.H.Q. He was allowed to start the next day.
The heir and the Grand Duchess Marie Nicholaevna, were both very ill with measles. The two eldest Grand Duchesses were convalescent, and the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nicholaevna had just fallen sick.
Left: Nicholas II
On the 9th of March, about 11 o'clock in the morning, I went with Count Apraksin. to the first entrance to await the arrival of the Emperor. I had asked Captain de Kotzebue to see that motorcars for the Emperor, his suite and his luggage should be sent to the station. I had also sent Colonel Gebel with a letter for my step-son, Dolgorukov, and had begged Gebel to confirm this letter -and to tell Dolgorukov, Naryshkin and Mordvinov that they were expected at the Palace, where rooms were ready for them. The officers of the Guard were all at the first entrance, where many soldiers with their caps on their heads, smoking and extremely slovenly, were walking about in spite of the efforts made by the officers to send them away. The Commandant of the Guard had given orders that the gates of the Palace should be locked and that he should be informed by telephone if anybody wished to enter. The gate is about a hundred yards from the Palace. Towards 11:15, the Emperor's motor-car arrived in front of the gate and was stopped by the sentry, who asked who was in it. After having received the answer of the chauffeur, he made the prearranged signal to the Commandant. The Commandant went down the steps and asked in a loud voice who was there. The sentry cried out, "Nicholas Romanov." "Let him pass," said the officer. After this offensive comedy, the motor arrived at the steps and the Emperor and Dolgorukov descended. The ante-chamber was full of people, and this sight made a terrible impression on our sovereign. He walked through the crowd, saluting in military fashion, shook hands with me and with Apraksin, and entered the Empress's apartment without saying a word. Dolgorukov was moved to tears by this unexpected scene. I took him at once to his mother, and he told us all that had happened at Pskov, Mohilev and during the journey. His narrative was dramatic, and made a deep impression on us. It seemed to us inexplicable that the Emperor, who had never been able to make up his mind to grant a constitution and to appoint a responsible minister, had so quickly consented to abdicate. The part played by the Generals and the Staff seemed to us like treason.
Right: Nicholas with Aleksey
Towards 2 o'clock I waited upon the Emperor. It was with profound emotion that I crossed the threshold of the room in which for so many years I had seen my sovereign at the height of mortal power. He himself was much moved, and embraced me very cordially, and at once began to tell me the vicissitudes of this dramatic event. He showed me the telegrams of the Generals commanding the different fronts, who all, with one accord, had told him that the only means of saving the monarchy was to abdicate in favour of the Tsarevich. Even the Grand Duke Nicholas was of this opinion and begged him on his knees. The telegram from General Sakharov, commanding the Rumanian front, was the only one drawn up mi terms which disapproved of the revolution and the action of the Duma. His Majesty complained bitterly of the almost rude insistence with which General Russki had spoken to him on the day of his arrival at Pskov. He had been able to ascertain since that many of the General's arguments were baseless. For several hours at a time General Russki had argued with him without leaving him one moment for reflection. Towards 10 o'clock on the evening of the 1st of March, he had left the Emperor to talk direct with Rodzianko. This conversation had lasted two hours and the result of it had been transmitted to General Alekseev about 1 o'clock in the morning. The latter had telegraphed to the army commanders, and at 8 o'clock in the morning the Generals' answers were already in the hands of the Emperor. The swiftness with which these answers had arrived and their unanimity amply proved that a line of conduct had been determined beforehand, and if all these Generals were not perhaps personally concerned in this treason, at least their staffs were all in the plot and had known how to influence them. In any case the responsibility for this treason will always weigh upon them. The Emperor as Supreme Commander of the army had, in the presence of the enemy, been betrayed by his Generals and had been forced to give way to pressure because the last support of the monarchy, the army, was going over to the revolutionaries. History has never known the like of this.
Left: Nicholas II looking from the window of the Imperial Train
The Emperor told me that he had first of all abdicated in favour of his son, and that he had already even put this act of abdication into the hands of General Russki before the envoys of the Duma, Guchkov and Shulgin, had arrived at Pskov. It was a conversation with Professor Fedorov which had caused him to change his mind. His Majesty had thought at first that it would be possible for him to retire with his family to Livadia, to keep his son with him and to look after his education. The Professor proved to him, and rightly, that the sovereign who has renounced his right to the throne could not in any case remain in the country; that events which would soon become tragic would oblige them to leave as soon as possible for abroad; that the new government would never allow him to educate the sovereign and that he should be prepared to be separated from him. Questioned as to the health of the heir, the Professor said that in his opinion, and in that of all the medical advisers who were looking after him, the Tsarevich was incurable, that, thanks to care and precautions, it would be possible to prolong his life, but that he would never be a perfectly healthy man. He would never be able to ride., and all fatigue should be forbidden him. Summing up his opinion Fedorov said that the Emperor, the Empress and the Grand Duchesses should leave as soon as possible, and that the Tsarevich should be left in the hands of the Regency which was to be formed. It was in consequence of this conversation that the Emperor decided to cancel his first act of abdication,, and without telling anybody, he drafted the act which he gave that evening to Guchkov, in virtue of which he abdicated in favour of his brother. The illegality of this act had not yet struck him.
I informed His Majesty of all the arrangements which General Kornilov had taken, and begged him to comply with them to the letter in order to avoid all friction with the soldiers, who we already felt were the sovereign masters. In the course of the day His Majesty took his first walk in the garden with Dolgorukov. As nothing had as yet been arranged, he was obliged to wait about twenty minutes for the officer on duty and for the key of the door of the drawing-room. He walked for about an hour in the enclosure which had been allotted and which was surrounded by sentries. He walked with Dolgorukov and was followed by the officer who, in speaking to him, addressed him as Colonel. There were several incidents with the sentries. The Emperor said good morning to them. Some answered "Colonel", others "Your Imperial Majesty", others did not answer at all. Several would not let them pass in spite of the presence of the officer. Later on these walks were repeated twice a day, at 10:30 and at 2. For the sake of exercise the Emperor and Dolgorukov cleared away the snow from the roads with spades, and when the thaw began they broke the ice on the canals and on the ponds.
About 5 o'clock I was summoned in a hurry by the Commandant. I found him, greatly upset, at the first entrance. He told me that a certain Lieutenant of the artillery, Colonel Mankovski, had arrived from the town with three armoured cars filled with soldiers, and that he said he had been ordered by the council of workmen and soldiers to take the Emperor to the fortress; that he was in a violent state and that the officers of the Guard had all the trouble in the world to resist him. They had succeeded in obtaining from him the assurance that he would give up his project on condition that he saw the Emperor, so that he could report to those who sent him that His Majesty was really and truly at Tsarskoe, a fact which was doubted by the extreme revolutionaries. I found the Emperor with his sick children, informed him of what had happened, and begged him to come down and walk slowly along the long corridor from the door of the Empress' drawing-room to that of his personal servant's. He did this a quarter of an hour later. In the meantime the Commandant, all the officers of the Guard, Apraksin and myself, stationed ourselves at the end of the corridor near the lift so as to be between the Emperor and Mankovski. The latter was violent and threatening. The officers were greatly incensed with him, and I think that if he had insisted on carrying out his threats they would have defended the Palace with energy. The corridor was lit up brightly, the Emperor walked slowly from one door to the other, and Mankovski declared himself satisfied. He could, he said, reassure those who had sent him. He started with his cars, and this first incident was closed. This made a great impression on us. It was the first of the trials which awaited us. The day and the evening ended quietly. I succeeded in buying some newspapers which they had at first wished to deprive us of, and to arrange the delivery by the post office of those foreign journals to which their Majesties subscribed. The Emperor was greatly interested in what was happening in the army and in the town. Unfortunately, news reached us irregularly. The Emperor was deeply hurt that the Order of the Day that he had given to the army on leaving the Command had not been published. He had great expectations of the campaign that was about to begin, and of the great effort which was to be made in conjunction with the Allies. Since the beginning of the War our troops had never been so numerous nor so well provided with everything. The effect of the revolution on it was not yet visible; but desertions had begun and at the front a nefarious fraternizing with the enemy. During the first half of the month of March all was still in order. In the town the position was becoming worse every day. The Duma, which was at first very proud of the stupid revolution which it had brought about, per ceived that its power was at an end and passing into the hands of the Council of Deputies of Workmen and Soldiers. The Duma ended by standing aloof, under the pretext that it had not been regularly elected, and the Provisional Government was in the air without any support.
At the Palace all these changes were felt. The attitude of the soldiers on guard became more and more provocative. Quarrels with the servants were an everyday occurrence. They felt they had the right to criticize the mode of life of their Majesties; they considered their meals, which were simple enough, too abundant. They wandered about the Palace, walked into all the rooms, and we were forced to lock the doors. The consulting, doctors and specialists who came to look after our invalids were accompanied always by an officer and a soldier, who never let them out of sight and listened to everything that was said. At first they wished the officers and the soldiers to go into the rooms where the Grand Duchesses who were ill were lying in bed. With great difficulty we succeeded in persuading them to remain at the open door of the room. The days followed one another in sadness and monotony. Count Apraksin, after a week, obtained permission to leave on the 13th of March. De Kotzebue accompanied him himself to the town. He had promised to send us news and to do what he could for us there. We never heard of him again. The Feast of Easter, and the time when their Majesties were in the habit of fulfilling their Easter duties, drew near. I wrote to the Minister of War, Guchkov, to obtain permission for the clergy and singers to come. For a long time I received no answer, and it was not till the beginning of Holy Week that Father Belyaev, a deacon and four singers were admitted, on condition that they stayed there. Their visit lasted three weeks. Later on, they used to arrive on Saturday night for Vespers and leave after Mass on Sunday. On the 20th of March, Captain de Kotzebue left for the town on business. He did not come back, and it was even said that he was arrested; this proved untrue. Soldiers had accused him of being too friendly towards us and reproached him especially with his frequent visits to the Empress and Madame Vyrubova. The Emperor had requested him to ask Prince Lvov, President of the Council, or Guchkov to come to see him: all he obtained was a refusal. I wrote a letter to Victor Kochubey for him to ask him, as well as General Volkov, to represent the Emperor and settle all questions of his private fortune, as well as that of the Empress and the children. This letter was sent back to me with an order from the Commander-in-Chief forbidding it to be sent to its destination. We remained several days without any explanation of the disappearance of our Commandant, until the first visit of Kerensky when the riddle was solved, and we recognized all that we had lost by the change of regime.
The travelling ikonstasis of Alexander I in the Imperial Chapel in the Alexander Palace
On the 21st of March, about 2 o'clock in the afternoon, the Minister of Justice of the Provisional Government, Kerensky, came to the Palace followed by fifteen people, officers and others. He entered by the kitchen door, assembled the Guard in the passage, and made them an ultra-revolutionary speech, which shocked the officers of the Guard. He then spoke to a few servants who were assisting at this scene, and told them they no longer served their old masters, that they were paid by the people, and that their duty was to watch all that took place in the Palace and to consider themselves under the orders of the Commandant and the officers of the Guard. The tone of this speech was as provocative as possible. He then went to the apartment of the officers of the Guard and asked for a report on all the measures taken for watching those who were interned. I waited for him in the Emperor's waiting room, and he appeared shortly. He was dressed in a blue shirt buttoned to the neck, with no cuffs or collar, big boots, and he affected the air of a workman in his Sunday clothes. His manner was abrupt and nervous. He did not walk, but ran through the rooms, talking very loudly, and even his expression was shifty, and his whole physiognomy, although energetic, disagreeable.
Right: Anna Vyrubova in the Mauve Room
He introduced himself and said, "I have come here to see how you live, to inspect your Palace, and to talk to Nicholas Aleksandrovich (The Emperor). The Alexander Palace has been sequestrated, and has passed from the jurisdiction of the Ministry of War into mine, as I am General Procurator, and I have brought with me the new Commandant, Colonel Korovichenko, who has been appointed by me in the place of Captain de Kotzebue, who has this day been relieved of his duties." Knowing that their Majesties were still at luncheon, I proposed that he should begin by inspecting the Palace. He had the Emperor's private rooms opened; and all the doors, drawers and cupboards searched, and told those who accompanied him to look in every corner and under the furniture. We afterwards went through all the rooms of the left wing of the Palace, passing the chapel, as far as the fourth entrance. The search continued everywhere. He sent some of his attendants to examine the basement, and when he learned that the first floor was inhabited by the ladies and us, he took with him only a few people and sent the others back to the first entrance. After having made a thorough search in the rooms of the Empress-Mother and of the English apartments, he went upstairs into my wife's room, where he found Madame Narishkina, introduced himself, and without saying a word entered Baroness Buxhoeveden's room, where the other ladies were. After having searched all their rooms, he had himself conducted to Madame Vyrubova. Madame Vyrubova, although convalescent from measles, had gone to bed when she heard of Kerensky's arrival at the Palace. She had foolishly kept all her papers until the last moment, which she was at that moment burning in the fireplace. It was full of ashes of burnt paper. This did her a lot of harm. She at first refused to receive the Minister, but he insisted on an entry. After having asked after her health, he told her, without waiting for an answer, that she was to dress, take some luggage and follow him to the town. I could hear all that was said from the adjoining room. She answered in a trembling voice that she was ill and could not go out. He replied that he would talk to the doctors, but that in the meantime she was to get ready. He give the task of conducting her to the station to Colonel Kobylinsky, Commandant of the garrison of Tsarskoe; she took her maid, who was indispensable to her, for she was still walking on crutches; she was injured in the railway accident of January 1916. He told the Colonel to get into the motor-car with her, to place a soldier in the carriage and another next to the chauffeur, both of them armed with rifles. After taking these precautions, he continued his peregrination through the Palace, and stopped in Dr. Derevenko's room, where he ordered Dr. Botkin to be summoned. He told me that after having spoken to the doctors, he wished to see Nicholas Alexandrovich and Alexandra Feodorovna. I ran to the Emperor to warn him and to inform him of the arrest of Madame Vyrubova. His Majesty told me that he would receive Kerensky with the Empress in the children's schoolroom. During this time, Kerensky questioned Drs. Botkin and Derevenko about Madame Vyrubova's health, and asked them whether they thought she could be taken to St. Petersburg. Both of them answered that,, from the medical point of view, there was nothing to prevent her leaving the Palace, and so the question was settled. As he passed M. Gilliard's room he went in and, knowing him to be of Swiss nationality, he said to him familiarly, "All is going well," doubtless thinking that the establishment of a republic would give him real pleasure.
Left: The classroom were the Imperial Family met Kerensky
I went in first to the schoolroom to see if their Majesties were ready to receive him; the Emperor and the Empress were already there with the Tsarevich. Kerensky went in alone. One of the officers remarked that he had orders never to leave him. As Kerensky entered he made a sort of bow and introduced himself as the Procurator-General. He was in a state of feverish agitation; he could not stand still, touched all the objects which were on the table and seemed like a madman. He spoke incoherently, and to relieve his embarrassment he begged me to have Colonel Korovichenko admitted, and to send for Dr. Botkin. The Colonel entered first and was presented to their Majesties as the new Commandant. The Emperor said a few words to him and questioned him about his past service. As soon as Dr. Botkin arrived Kerensky told him that the Queen of Denmark had telegraphed to the Provisional Government to enquire after the health of the Empress, and that he wished to ask the doctor to tell him what answer he could give. Botkin replied that Her Majesty had suffered for several years from an enlarged heart, that this condition was maintained, but that for the moment Her Majesty was as well as could be expected under the present circumstances, after the anxiety which the illness of her children had caused her. The Empress did not seem satisfied with the optimistic tone of this answer. Kerensky then asked the Emperor to go into the next room, for he had to speak to him alone. I then left the schoolroom with Colonel Korovichenko and awaited the departure of the minister in the corridor with the other officers. I learned later that he told the Emperor that the ministers and the ex-ministers who had been arrested often alluded in their evidence before the Court of Enquiry to reports and orders from the Supreme Command of which there was no trace in the Archives of the Ministry, and that he begged His Majesty to see whether these reports were not still in his possession, and to tell him at his leisure if he had any recollection of such orders. No other subject had been mentioned. The Emperor was not, it seemed, struck by this conversation, but it was evident to us that it was a means of bringing the Emperor into the enquiry which might easily end in bringing him to trial. We succeeded - Dolgorukov and myself - in persuading the Emperor to sort his papers at once, which he began to do the same day, and to think of choosing a counsel to defend him in case it should be necessary for him to give evidence before a Court of Enquiry. We proposed to put his defence in the hands of A. F. Koni, and His Majesty seemed to approve the choice. When Kerensky joined us, he seemed more agitated than before. He asked me whether he had inspected the whole of the Palace. I told him that all that remained to be seen were the Empress's private apartments. He told me that he would enter alone with myself, but when he arrived at the door he thought better of it, and refused to go in. When he reached the antechamber, he again spoke a few high-sounding words to the servants, took leave of us, and hastily left the Palace.
Left: Alexander Kerensky
The impression of this visit was painful. Besides the arrest of Madame Vyrubova, which profoundly grieved the Empress, we felt that there would be a change in the regime, for we had already noted the great difference that there was between the personalities of Guchkov and Kornilov and that of Kerensky. But it was the new Commandant especially who inspired us with feelings of distrust and dislike. As a young infantry officer he had entered the military academy of jurisprudence and, after having followed the course to the end, had resigned and gone to the bar, where, like Kerensky, he had specialized in the defence of political offenders. This had often brought him into conflict with the authorities and even to prison. He was a man who was profoundly soured, of moderate intelligence and a social revolutionary. He was bursting with joy at seeing the revolution succeed and of being able to play a part in it. During this time Madame Vyrubova was slowly dressing and a motor-car had been brought to take her to the station. Colonel Kobylinsky affixed seals on her papers and her property that remained in the Palace, and, later, the doors of her rooms were sealed. I was bidden to give to the Empress a few images and objects which she did not wish to leave in her apartment, and to tell her that in a quarter of an hour Anna Alexandrovna would be brought to a room next door to take leave of her. This interview took place in the presence of Colonels Korovichenko and Kobylinsky.
The Emperor took no part in it.
They exchanged but a few words, and after extremely tender farewells, Madame Vyrubova, on her crutches, and supported by two servants,, was taken to her car. At St. Peters burg she was taken to the Duma. Her incarceration in the fortress lasted several months, and the enquiry which had begun came to nothing. In the evening they came to arrest her friend, Madame Dehn: she was set at liberty in a few days.
Before dinner I received a visit from the new Commandant, who requested me to give him information about the habits of their Majesties and the organization of the service in the Palace. The next day, the 22nd of March, the eldest of my step-sons, Dolgorukov, obtained permission to visit us in the room of the officer on duty in the kitchen house in the presence of an officer and a soldier. We were only allowed to speak Russian. My wife and all of us were greatly moved at meeting again, after such sorrowful events. In spite of the illusions which were being fostered in the town, we felt convinced that we had not reached the end of our trials.
On Saturday, the 25th of March, the vigil of Palm Sunday, Vespers were celebrated in the chapel, and on that day the clergy and the singers slept at the Palace. Every day in Holy Week there were two services a day in the chapel. There were sentries at the entrance and a sentry behind the altar; the officers and the soldiers who were not on duty rarely attended. Later the surveillance was still further increased. Nearly all the servants were present.
On the 27th of March during Mass, Kerensky arrived once more at the Palace. He first sent for Madame Narishkina and said that when the service was finished he wished to speak to Nicholas Alexandrovich. He told Madame Narishkina that feeling was running high in the town, and that the extreme parties demanded the removal of the Emperor to a fortress to liberate him from the influence of the Empress who, it was everywhere said, was at the head of the so-called counterrevolutionary movement. He wished to try and arrange matters, but in order to do this it was imperative that the Empress should be separated from the Emperor and the children and moved into the other wing of the Palace; so that all communication between them should be cut off and that they should only meet at Divine service and at meals, in the presence of the officer on duty. Madame Narishkina answered that if anybody was to be separated from the children it was the Emperor, for it would be cruel to prevent a mother from looking after her sick children. Kerensky approved of this and asked Madame Narishkina to help him to persuade their Majesties to accept the plan that they were not to meet save at stated hours. When Mass was ended the Emperor received him. He entered accompanied by the Commandant. The Emperor wished me to take part in the conversation, but Kerensky would not allow this. He explained his idea to the Emperor, and it was decided that His Majesty should remain in his apartments, the Empress in hers, and that they should only meet at meals in the presence of the children, never alone, and that the children who were convalescent could go from one to the other. We were allowed free access to their Majesties. After the departure of the minister I went in to the Emperor, who was outraged by this ridiculous precautionary measure which had been taken to pander to the worst elements, and which was nothing but an odious farce because it would be the means in itself of establishing a system of espionage inside the Palace. The precaution was maintained until the 12th of April, and then matters reverted to their old footing. This time the Minister of justice was more civil, and had made a pretence of mitigating the conditions. From that day he tried to make their Majesties believe - and he succeeded - that he was their sole protector and that he was the only man who could save them from the dangers which threatened them. During the first days of Holy Week the work of digging a trench near the Chinese Theatre was begun to bury the pretended victims of the revolution at Tsarskoe. The place chosen was where the Great Avenue which starts from the Grand Palais crosses with the avenue which faces the Alexander Palace, about 300 feet from the front. On Maundy Thursday at 1 o'clock in the afternoon, the solemn funeral of the pretended victims took place. They were, in reality, six or seven drunkards who had died of drink on the day when the wine shops had been looted. There was a great display of troops, red flags, bands playing the "Marseillaise" and other revolutionary tunes. The ceremony, followed by a march past, lasted several hours, and on this day we were forbidden to go out. The choice of this place, so near the windows of their Majesties, was a fresh insult to them. On Maundy Thursday, and the Saturday of Holy Week, the inhabitants of the Palace fulfilled their Easter duties. The Emperor, the Empress, their children and the suite received Holy Communion on Holy Saturday. On Good Friday the procession was made as usual through the rooms of the Palace. These ceremonies under the circumstances were moving. Midnight Mass was sung on the night of Saturday Easter Sunday, and their Majesties assembled us all after Mass to eat the blessed bread in the small library. The Commandant and the Chief of the Guard were invited. The latter, who was engaged, sent as a substitute a young officer, who was so moved and so much embarrassed that he was unable to eat anything. His hands trembled and he was as pale as death. After supper he told me that, having seen the Emperor at G.H.Q. several months beforehand, he had not been able to master his emotion on seeing him again under circumstances so different and so dramatic.
On Easter Sunday at mid-day, their Majesties received the congratulations of all those who were on duty in the Palace in the Empress's drawing-room, and distributed Easter eggs. On Good Friday, as the Palace was too full of people, authorization had at last been obtained to dismiss all such servants as were not indispensable. The number was fairly considerable. Their Majesties received all of them and gave them little medals. The question of the servants became more and more difficult. Many did their duty willingly and well. Others could no longer endure their enforced seclusion and wished to see their families and regain their freedom. We were never able to establish a regular roster of leave. The commandants and the authori ties were alarmed at these comings and goings, not because they thought they were dangerous but because the soldiers looked upon them with displeasure, and because they occasioned endless talk and difficulties in the Soviets in the barracks. The relations between the servants and the soldiers who treated them with abuse and sarcasm were a cause of trouble and anxiety right up to the end.
The snow had melted and the weather was fine once more. The Empress and the ladies began to take part in the walks which were allowed at stated hours. The Empress's balcony remained open, but after the first time that they drank tea on the balcony, the soldiers protested and it was locked and sealed.
Left: Nicholas breaking up ice on the canals of the Imperial Park
On the 8th of April the corps of the Guard of the 2nd regiment of rifles was more ill-disposed than usual. The arrogance of the soldiers was boundless and vexations, began as soon as they arrived at the Palace. The officers were no better. From the first, the commandants of the corps of the Guard had insisted, on taking over this duty, on being able to see the Emperor and the Empress, basing this on the regulation that an officer who takes charge of a prisoner should have the right to see him to make sure of his presence. It had thus been laid down that the commandants who went on guard and were relieved should present themselves at 1:30 to the Emperor after lunch. Their Majesties received them together, talked a few minutes to them, and generally all went off well. On this day, the officer commanding the incoming Guard was a former sergeant-major who, as soon as he had arrived at the Palace, had made himself conspicuous by his violence and his revolutionary opinions. He wished to search the Palace, threatening every one with worse treatment if he found anything suspicious. When the Emperor held out his hand, he moved a step back, and said, "Not for anything in the world.." Then the Emperor advanced a step and said, "What have you got against me?" He remained open-mouthed, turned on his heel and left the room. When it was time for the walk this man and his officers were in the round room, their caps on their heads, and did not show any sign of saluting. During the walk there were altercations between the officers and Dr. Derevenko, because it was said that he did not walk quick enough, and with M. Gilliard because he spoke French with one of the Grand Duchesses. That evening we learned that this Guard consisted of officers and non-commissioned officers who were really deputies from the Council of Workmen and Soldiers, and who were disguised as soldiers of the 2nd regiment so that they should be able to see themselves what was happening in the Palace. The Commandant himself was incensed at this trickery. In the evening he made them a long speech, and it was decided that the next day they should be shown over the whole Palace. Dolgorukov himself conducted them, and it appeared that they were more or less appeased, as the visit was confined to an inspection of the pictures in the reception rooms and in our rooms. They did not enter the apartments of their Majesties or of the children. A change came about in their attitude, and we never knew what had caused it.
The quartermaster-sergeant, Skabinsky, received permission to leave, and his duties were taken over by Zhuravsky, who took charge of the personnel. Later on, he left in this capacity with the Emperor for Siberia, and up to the present no news has been received of him nor of any of those who accompanied their Majesties.
On Easter Sunday, the Queen of Greece stopped at the door, sent for the officer on duty and asked him to give an Easter egg to the Empress, which she had brought for her.
At the Easter supper, wine had been distributed as usual to the servants, one glass for every person. This gave rise to fresh trouble with the soldiers. They began by asking for wine for themselves and ended by threatening to loot the cellar. To put a stop to this, the Commandant took the key and ordered the distribution of wine to the servants to cease, and after that he distributed himself a ration of wine for the Imperial family and the suite. This ration consisted of half a bottle per head per day ; but whenever he went into the town the Emperor and the suite had to go without wine.
On the 12th of April, between 2 and 3 o'clock in the afternoon, Kerensky came to the Palace. The Emperor was already out walking. He had the Empress warned that he wished to speak to her alone and begged her to come to the Emperor's study. The Empress answered that she was dressing and that she would receive him in her drawing room. Her Majesty at once informed Mme. Narishkina, and asked her to assist at the conversation. In the meantime, Dr. Botkin had rather a long conversation with Kerensky in the antechamber. As a doctor, he thought it his duty to tell him that it was necessary for their state of health that the Emperor and Empress should have a prolonged stay in a better climate, in a quiet place removed from actual events. If it was not possible for them to go abroad, he mentioned Livadia as being a suitable spot. At this time the Crimea was still perfectly quiet. The minister agreed with him absolutely and gave him to understand that a sojourn in the Crimea would be arranged in a short space of time. This gave us great hopes which, unfortunately, were never realised.
Kerensky went into the Empress's room with Colonel Korovichenko, and seeing Mme. Narishkina he asked her to leave him alone with Her Majesty, and she was obliged to leave with the Colonel. The conversation lasted about an hour and Her Majesty was not unfavorably impressed. He was civil and temperate. The conversation dealt with the part the Empress had played in politics, her influence on the Emperor in the choice of ministers whom she often had received in the absence of the Emperor. Her Majesty answered that the Emperor and herself were the most united of couples, whose whole joy and pleasure was in their family life, and that they had no secrets from each other: that they discussed everything, and that it was not astonishing that in the last years which had been so troubled, they had often discussed politics. As the Emperor was nearly always with the army and only rarely saw his ministers, he had sometimes asked her to discuss unimportant matters with them, but that more often she had sent for them to talk of questions which concerned her especially, such as the Red Cross, the prisoners and numerous works of charity which had been started during the War. Her political role was confined to these, and she felt certain that she had done her duty. It was true that they had discussed the different appointments of ministers, but this could not be otherwise in a marriage which was as united as theirs. I learnt afterwards that he was struck by the clarity, the energy and the frankness of her words.
Alexandra in the Imperial Park during their imprisonmentDuring this time the Emperor had come back from his walk and waited for her in his study. The Commandant took part in the conversation. It was on the subject - as on the first occasion - of the evidence of ex-ministers who referred often to his orders. The Emperor allowed some one to go to his study which contained all his business papers and to take those which might be of use for the enquiry, and this was done the next day by Colonels Korovichenko and Kobylinsky, to whom, unfortunately, the Emperor had entrusted his key without insisting that one of us should be present at the search. It lasted several hours, and they took a great number of documents and also several letters, which compromised several persons, among them General Gurko, who, after the abdication, had written a very fine and very energetic letter to His Majesty.
Kerensky asked for information as to the causes and reasons which had led to such frequent changes of ministers, of the appointment of Sturmer and of Protopopov and of the dismissal of Sazonov. The Emperor did not go into any details and let the conversation drop. The Commandant was greatly astonished by this reserve. The confidence which the Emperor felt in Kerensky increased still more after this conversation, and the Empress, deceived by certain flattering remarks which he had made, shared this confidence. On that day the measures taken on the 27th of March were cancelled and their Majesties were able to resume their ordinary life. Enquiries about the past were confined to these two conversations which had been so much talked about in the press and in revolutionary circles. There was no question of anything further, and the relations between Germany and the Empress and her part in the so-called negotiations for a separate peace were never alluded to.
Life in the Palace continued monotonous and calm. The children recovered from their illness and it was thought that they might resume their lessons, which had been interrupted. As the ordinary masters could not be brought to the Palace, an attempt was made to distribute the various subjects among the persons present in the Palace. The Emperor undertook to give lessons in arithmetic and Russian to the Tsarevich and in Russian history to the Grand Duchesses. The Empress instructed her son in religion. M. Gilliard naturally retained the lessons which he was in the habit of giving and directed the studies in general. Baroness Buxhoeveden gave lessons in English to the Grand Duchesses, and Countess Hendrikov gave them a course in art. Mlle. Schneider gave them Russian lessons. Besides this, the Emperor from time to time examined his daughters in their different subjects. The library of the Palace, which was a very good one, was thrown open. Little by little these occupations were co-ordinated. On the 23rd of April, the Empress's birthday, we went at 10:45 to offer our congratulations. At 11 o'clock Mass was celebrated in the chapel.
On the 28th of April, we began to make a kitchen-garden in that part of the garden which was allotted to us for work. All the servants who wished to, took part, and they were happy to have the opportunity of working for a few hours in the fresh air. This work continued every day until we left, from 2 to 5 o'clock. It was an occupation which pleased everybody, and we worked seriously at getting the soil in good order. When this was finished and seeds had been sown, the Emperor, Dolgorukov and some of the servants began to cut down the dead trees and to saw them, to make a provision of firewood in case we should have to spend the winter in the Palace. We already foresaw that there might be a shortage of fuel. In the month of July we already had vegetables from the kitchen-garden on our table. During the hours when the Emperor and his children were sawing wood, the spot where they worked was surrounded by sentries, and those soldiers who were not on duty walked about there too, in spite of all the officers did to keep them away. Some of them, however, showed signs of humanity. When it was fine, the Empress used to sit under a tree near the pond. Often soldiers would come up to her. One of them sat down next to her and began to speak to her. Her Majesty answered and he questioned her at length on the public events. He was civil and seemed to be interested in the fate of the royal family. The Empress spoke to him at length on religious questions, and in spit of his revolutionary ideas, he seemed touched.
Other soldiers approached, and stated at Her Majesty and at the Grand Duchesses, working, without embarrassment. One day two soldiers came into my wife's room: she asked them what they wanted. They said they wished to see the Emperor whom they had never seen, and that they had been told he could be seen from this window. My wife told them that it was impossible to see anything from her room, but she took them into the room in which we had our meals. They looked at the pictures with great interest and asked my wife many questions on many matters. They were young and seemed sincere in their wish to see the Emperor, and to take an interest in his lot. Commandant Korovichenko's manners while this work was going on in the kitchen-garden were very bad. I saw him shake hands one day with a soldier across the Empress who was reclining in an easy-chair.
When the Emperor left the Palace, all the Corps de Garde, except the sentinels, was assembled in front of the door, unarmed and in most slovenly uniforms. At first the Emperor used to say "Good morning" they answered negligently. Later, the Emperor was asked not to do this and not to shake hands with the officers in front of the men. The men accused the officers of being too respectful towards their former sovereign. One day they raised a question which lasted a long time and got as far as an enquiry by a judge. A soldier on duty reported that he had seen two officers, whom he named, kiss the hand of one of the Grand Duchesses. The "Soviet" of this regiment made a fuss about it; the officers were accused of being counter-revolutionaries, and they, having had enough of the business, demanded an enquiry. All the servants and gardeners and those who were present at the walk were examined. The enquiry never came to anything, but the two officers were transferred to another corps. From this day onwards the Empress and the Grand Duchesses never gave their hand to the officers. The Tsarevich was guarded by two former non-commissioned officers of the marine guard: they continued to wear their uniform. One day, as the Empress's servant was absent, these two ex-sailors pushed the wheeled chair in which the Tsarevich went everyday to the garden. This caused great indignation among the soldiers. The Soviets demanded the arrest of these two men who, they said, had been proved unworthy, by their base and servile conduct, to wear a uniform. It was necessary to dress them in livery. One day the Tsarevich went out, carrying on his shoulder a little toy gun which had been given him a few years before. He carried in his belt a pouch full of wooden cartridges. This caused great indignation. Groups were formed and orators began to gesticulate wildly. The officers were seriously alarmed. The soldiers demanded that this toy gun should be immediately taken away from the child and given to them, for they said it constituted a serious danger. The Commandant, who was at that time Colonel Kobylinsky, ended by taking it away. He took it to. his rooms, took it to pieces, and brought back the different pieces one by one, hiding them in his clothes. The walks which were allotted to the royal family for exercise changed every day, nobody knew why. Orders were given with such carelessness that every day there was some unpleasantness. The soldiers - with rare exceptions - were so rude that it was impossible to speak to them. We could, at fixed hours, telephone, but only in the presence of the officer on duty, and a soldier. They often asked us to explain what we were saying. On the 1st of May we learned that Guchkov had retired from the Ministry of War and the Admiralty, and that his place had been taken by Kerensky. Also that Milyukov had retired from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and had been succeeded by Tereshchenko, Minister of Finance. The circumstances which had brought about these changes had caused serious disorders in the town and much agitation and anxiety in our Guard. The precautionary measures against us were redoubled. Kerensky maintained his control over the Palace and the Commandant was hence forward subordinate to the Commander-in Chief of the Ministry of War. General Kornilov resigned his post and was replaced by General Polovtsov.
On the 6th of May, the Emperor's birthday, the ladies, the suite and the servants waited upon His Majesty with their congratulations, after Mass. These anniversaries were moving. Memories of the past were present in our minds and in our hearts. Father Belyaev said a few words after Mass which made a profound impression upon us.
The weather was wet and cold. We suffered a great deal from the cold in our rooms, because we were given no more wood. My wife and Madame Narishkina fell ill with severe bronchitis, and the latter asked if she might leave the Palace. On the 12th of May an ambulance from the Red Cross was brought and she was carried to it. The luggage had already been sent to the big Palace and the soldiers subjected it to a searching examination before they allowed it to go. Every piece of linen was unfolded, everything was turned upside down. They did the same with everything that was brought in or taken out of the Palace. When we asked why this work was not entrusted to officers or more competent persons, the answer was that the soldiers did not trust any one save themselves and mistrusted their officers. Their Majesties and the children were with Madame Narishkina when she left and they accompanied her to the ambulance. The good-byes were very sad; we thought that she was suffering from a mortal illness. Happily she recovered, but remained at the Grand Palais.
On the 14th of June, Lieut. Kuzmin appeared; he was a former revolutionary who, in 1905, had been at the head of a revolutionary movement at Krasnoyarsk. He had just been appointed - in spite of his tank - to the post of second Commander-in-Chief of the army of St. Petersburg and of Finland. He walked for a little while around the kitchen-garden without speaking to anybody, inspected the sentries, said nothing to them with regard to the seats and the easy chairs which they had arranged, and then left.