The Emperor After Leaving Headquarters
What happened after the Emperor's departure from Headquarters 'under arrest,' with two representatives of the temporary Government in charge, on the 21st March is more or less a matter of surmise, but the records of M. Pierre Gilliard, the Swiss tutor of the Tsarevitch (whom I knew well as a devoted friend of the charge he had under him), are pretty clear evidence of the events which succeeded, leading up to the final tragedy.
His work, now published, Le tragique destin de Nicolas II et de sa famille, gives an account of the life led at Tsarskoye Selo and Tobolsk, etc., and brings out many points of interest showing the unfailing devotion to the cause of the Allies of both Emperor and Empress.
On his departure the Emperor addressed the following message to his comrades of the army:
8 (21) March 1917.
I address you for the last time, soldiers so dear to my heart.
Since I have renounced in my name, and that of my son, the throne of Russia, the powers I exercised have been transmitted to the Provisional Government which has been formed on the initiative of the Imperial Duma.
May God help it to lead Russia on the path of glory and prosperity.
May God help you also, glorious soldiers, to defend our native land against a cruel enemy. For two and a half years you have in every hour undergone the fatigues and strain of a wearing campaign, much blood has been spilt, great efforts have been crowned with success, and already the hour is at hand when Russia with her splendid Allies will finally crush by one joint and dashing effort the last resistance of the enemy.
A war such as this unknown in history must be continued to the final and definite victory. Whoever dreams of peace or desires it - at this moment - is a traitor to his country and yields it to the enemy.
In this I know that every soldier worthy of the name agrees with me.
Carry out your duty, protect our beloved and glorious country, submit yourselves to the Provisional Government, render obedience to your chiefs, and remember that any slackness in your service means a gain to our enemies.
With the firm conviction that the boundless love that you have for our great country will ever remain in your hearts, I pray that God may bless you, and that St George the great martyr may lead you to victory.
(Signed) NICOLAS. (Countersigned) ALEXEIEFF, C.G.S.
For reasons of risk of some reaction, I suppose, this message was not allowed to reach the troops.
The Emperor reached Tsarskoye Selo on the following day, the 22nd, to find additional trouble in the illness of his children. Prince Dolgorouky (faithful to the end) accompanied him. Others would have gone as well if permitted, but I know that it was the Emperor's own wish that as few as possible should remain in his service, as he considered everyone available should now render services which had been personal to him to the army or the country in some form.
During their first period of captivity the Imperial family were no doubt buoyed up by the hope of their removal to some place at a distance from the turbulent seat of trouble at Petrograd, possibly out of the country altogether, or to the spot to which the Emperor himself told me he wished to go - the Crimea.
It was not till mid-August, however, that they were warned to start for a destiny unknown to them, but which turned out to be Tobolsk.
Meanwhile the days, dreary and terribly sad as they must have been, were passed with courage and fortitude by the whole party. Monsieur Gilliard shows how the Emperor, keen as always on exercise and outdoor life, dug in the gardens, chopped and sawed wood, while the rest of the family as soon as they were once more out of the doctor's hands joined him in some of these forms of occupation, the Tsarevitch continuing his lessons under the friendly tutor, the Emperor and Empress assisting in some of them.
On the 15th April, Easter Sunday, it is noted that the Emperor specially joined in the prayers for the temporary Government.
Out of doors all the time they were followed by armed sentries.
Later on, however, Kerenski, whose first attitude towards the Emperor was reported as brusque and rude, appears to have been more sympathetic, though, on being asked whether they could all be removed to Livadia, he said that was for the moment impossible.
Baroness Buxhoeveden, Mlle Schneider, and Doctor Botkine remained of the party.
Newspapers, of kinds, reached them from time to time, and early in May the Emperor seems to have learned to his great grief of the intrigues of the extremists to withdraw from the war, of the increasing desertions in the armies, all pointing to a general debacle which it seemed doubtful if the Provisional Government would be able to arrest.
He is spoken of as following the march of affairs as closely as possible, his special anxiety being that his country should remain faithful to the Allied cause-no thought of self, all the time considering loyalty to the great cause.
'Roussky has resigned,' he says. 'On asking the men to take the offensive they refused. If true, that is the end. What disgrace and shame. We shall leave it to our Allies to be overwhelmed, and then it will be our turn.'
Next day he is somewhat more hopeful again; what gives him hope is the Russian 'love of exaggeration.' He finds it impossible to believe that in two months the army can have gone utterly to pieces like this.
The little boy's gun (which I remember his playing with so well at Headquarters, and his leaving the dining-room one evening, a tremendous shout of laughing and talking upstairs, when it was found that he had put on the little toy bayonet and cornered two orderlies attending on him with it) is taken away from him.
This kind of foolish and unnecessary acts of spite might well have been spared them.
Meanwhile Bolshevism was making way in Russia.
The July offensive, of which so much was expected, and which started well, suddenly became a disgraceful collapse.
The powers of evil had gained their way.
At the end of July come rumours of a move from Tsarskoye Selo.
On 13th August Kerenski, then leader of the Government, warns them of their departure that night.
It is possible that the rapidly increasing signs of Bolshevist ascendency induced Kerenski to take a step which humanity urged upon him as making a better provision for the safeguarding of the Imperial family. It was probably, by now, hopeless to attempt a removal from Russia, possible as that might have been in the early days, and the alternative was to get them as far as possible from the seat of everlasting troublePetrograd.
About now and by degrees the shouts of those that triumphed over a Russia renewed and refreshed by the sweeping out of autocracy and pro-Germanism began to fade into whispers of discontent at the developments which were unexpectedly - to them - taking place.
Was it credible that this free and rejuvenated people should talk with the enemy in the gate? Where is Brest-Litovsk? Why, surely it must be a station somewhere in Germany, they said.
'What is Bolshevism?' they asked. 'Oh,' said some of its friends, 'it is the saving of society.'
But gradually when this devil-fish began to spread its ugly tentacles over other lands, including our own, they began to look about for the proofs of its good work.
Famine, misery, pestilence, encouragement and use of alien and coloured men to do some of the dirty work that they could not get their own to do, and then, after completing every devilish task of their own, acknowledged failure.
The purifying stage of which so much was said and written has brought about a queer state of purity.
Give it time, say its supporters.
But people are a little tired of giving time.
Tobolsk was reached on the 19th August, and the circumstances surrounding the incarceration there were more or less similar to those of Tsarskoye Selo, though they suffered from want of space for the exercise and occupations which were so necessary to help them.
The Empress throughout the sad story appears as a devoted wife and good mother, brave in her affliction, and, whatever may have been her thoughts as to the causes of disaster, determined to do all she could for the husband and children whom she loved.
To the Emperor the inevitable collapse of Russia as a fighting factor for the Allies became a source of terrible grief and anxiety.
The reported hope of Korniloff's offer to fight the growing power of the Bolshevists proved a false hope, as the offer was discarded.
He suffered still more because his sacrifice of himself by at once abdicating was proving to be of no service to Russia, and there was worse to follow than any of the mistakes or failures of autocracy.
No newspapers and little news made the time still more difficult to bear, and by the middle of November Bolshevism was reigning supreme.
It must have been a sad Christmas indeed which followed, though all tried their best to help one another.
February brought with it the great cold of these regions, and continually depressing news. The Germans advancing everywhere and the Russians putting up no resistance.
Both Emperor and Empress appeared, according to M. Gilliard's account, about now to have some faint hopes of prospects of escape, but each was anxious not to leave their own country.
In mid-March the report of the BrestLitovsk treaty reached their ears. This to the Emperor was an additional disgrace, and he scoffed at the idea of accepting the reported offer of the Germans to take charge of him and his family.
'A disgrace to Russia,' as he called this treaty, 'and equivalent to its suicide. How can the Germans have treated with the scoundrels who have betrayed their own country? But I am sure such actions will bring them no success. They will never save them from ruin.' (A pretty true prophecy as things turned out.) 'If their offer is not a plan to discredit me, it is simply an insult that is offered to me.'
And the Empress (the much talked-of pro-German) added: 'After the way they have ruined the Emperor, I would rather die in Russia than be saved by the Germans.'
On the 26th March any hopes of escape appeared finally to be removed by the arrival of a detachment of 'red guards' from Omsk. The guarding became more strict, and meanwhile the Tsarevitch had a fresh attack of illness.
The party now (18th April) consisted of Countess Hendrikoff, Mlle Schneider, General Tatichtcheff, Prince Dolgorouky, and Mr Gibbs, the English tutor to the Tsarevitch, in addition to those previously mentioned.
On the 25th April the Bolshevist Commissary, Yakovlef, announced the intention of removing the Emperor. He at the same time assured the anxious party that no harm would come to him, and that no opposition would be placed in the way of someone accompanying him.
The Empress, torn between anxiety for her husband and her children, and especially the little son who lay ill, finally decided to accompany the Emperor.
A veil may be drawn over the tragedy of parting that must have been theirs as they passed out into the darkness and cold of a Russian night in two little country carts.
The Empress, always delicate in health, faced all this, degradation, separation from her children and terrible grief, with but one thought - not to allow her beloved husband to be exposed to risks and dangers which she also could not share.
On the 8th May the sad and anxious watchers for news received information of the arrival of their Majesties at Ekaterinburg.
News of their own departure now came, and on arrival at Ekaterinburg M. Gilliard was not permitted to rejoin his charge. His story closes with the sad evidences, which have since been gathered and published, of one of the most brutal crimes which history can produce.
It was obviously my duty to make no attempt to communicate with the Emperor once he had left Headquarters, and I made none, constantly as he and all his were in my thoughts.
I had hoped that some means would be found for their protection, and the Government at first formed, and that of Kerenski afterwards, took, and intended to take, every precaution possible for the safeguarding of the Imperial family - according to all the information one can gather.
It was not till the reins fell into other hands that it was thought well to bring to an end the lives of not only those to whom fault was falsely attributed, but also of perfectly innocent children.
Of one thing I feel sure, if all the history one reads of their end is true -I feel sure that Nicholas H. went to his death with no trembling of his heart for himself, but only for those near and dear to him, and for the country which no enemy and no detractor could say but that he loved it well.
The published telegram from the Emperor to me, which became, of course, public property, is referred to in The Fall of the Romanoffs, by the author of Russian Court Memoirs, on page 188, thus:
'The only time the arrested ex-Tsar asked to infringe the regulations of not sending any letters or telegrams was to send a wire to General Williams at Headquarters, with whom the former Monarch had always been on the friendliest terms. The request was granted, and the following telegram, in English, was sent to Mohilev:
'"The children are recovering. Self feeling better. Greetings. - NICHOLAS II
The same work on page 150 says, referring to the hurricane of abuse hurled at the Romanoffs past and present, and the way the papers spoke of the Tsar's intemperate habits:
'This statement is flatly repudiated by all those who knew him intimately. The British General W., who was a constant inmate of the Stafka, and had daily intercourse with the Sovereign, frequently sharing his repasts, declares that in all these months he never once saw the Emperor in a state of inebriation.'
The General W. referred to is, of course, myself, and the statement is perfectly true.
I have described him in the pages above as a 'fresh-air man,' a true description.
Never in the whole course of a long and close acquaintance did I see him exceed in the very slightest degree, and I know perfectly well that all those of my colleagues who served with me would bear me out in this statement.
Apart from the perfectly clear evidence I have given, it is obvious that no man could work and play, as I saw him do so long and so often, if he suffered from the defects mentioned. I saw him constantly, late at night, early in the morning, and frequently met him on his long walks.
However, I think that I have said enough in these pages to refute these and other malicious statements about a monarch who, even granted faults of character which may have been attributed to him, never failed to be a gentleman-and the kindest of friends.
To those who knew him it is but a superfluity to say this.
To those who did not know him, but criticised him as if they did, I beg to tender the hope that they will-if not to the fullexercising the privilege of 'De mortuis, etc.,' anyhow spare his memory from accusations which are as unjust as they are untrue. I speak of what I saw, and what I knew. And I have knocked about the world sufficiently to keep my eyes pretty wide open.
The influence of the Grand Duke Nicholas, as Commander-in-Chief, and of the Emperor afterwards, in the same post, was entirely and absolutely for simple, plain and sober living.
During the whole of my long service in Russia I never saw a drunken soldier, till after the revolution. My old comrades of the Russian Army would, I think, stand by me in giving full justice to the statements I have made.
Surely there has been sufficient tragedy in remembrances of Russia without an additional act being staged, with not the slightest foundation for fact.
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