Memories of Russia: 1916 - 1919 by Princess Paley

Chapter V

Manifesto of the Grand Dukes - Miliukoff's Comment

The sittings in the Duma were becoming more and more turbulent. Its members no longer hesitated to assail the Government, while constantly hitting at the Sovereigns through the attacks on their Ministers. We were living in absolute retirement in the calm of Tsarskoe, the Grand Duke being enabled, by his appointment as Inspector of the Guard, to live where he liked. Nevertheless, we kept au courant with the perilous evolution which was in progress, and the reading of the newspapers made us nervous and anxious. The revictualling of Petrograd was becoming more and more infrequent. The queues outside the bakers' shops in the intense cold were causing the populace to murmur. All this had been thought out and arranged for by the Revolutionaries long before.

The Emperor was at the Stavka, and we were nearing the fatal days of the end of February. Already, on February 23rd, at the excited sitting of the Duma, Chingareff and Skobeleff, the one a cadet, the other a Revolutionary Socialist, were clamouring against the Government and calling on it to clear out if it could not feed the population. The Government did not move, put in no appearance at the Duma, and to all seeming paid no attention to it whatever. On February 24th/March 9th strikes broke out and the workers demonstrated in masses, walking through the streets, but all was calm, and the populace, in its good-humoured way, laughed and joked with the squads of Cossacks, who kept traversing the town. It was on this day that the first red flag, that rag of infamy, made its appearance. In spite of the ominous tidings which one heard over the telephone, the newspapers spoke neither of the strikes nor of the disorders which were beginning. On February 25th, seditious cries of Doloi pravitelstvo (down with the Government!) and the first gunshots were heard. There were disorders in certain streets, repressed by the troops which were still faithful to the Government; but already on February 26th/March 11th, a Sunday, veritable battles took place. The regiments held their own, and in the evening we were telephoned that all was well and that only the patrols were perambulating the streets.

On the Monday, February 27th/March 12th, the total absence of all newspapers made us fear the worst. At Tsarskoe we lacked nothing, but in St. Petersburg there was a shortage of bread. All this, I repeat, had been organised by the revolutionaries. My daughters telephoned from the capital that the firing was growing worse and worse, and that some of the regiments were beginning to join the rioters. Towards two o'clock there arrived from Petrograd a certain Ivanoff, a notary's clerk, a young man of great intelligence, brave and ambitious. I knew him through having worked with him on a War, Prisoners' Committee of which I was President and he Vice-President. I shall have more to say of him presently. He came to make us acquainted with the seriousness of the situation and to beg the Grand Duke to make the Emperor return from Mohileff as speedily as possible.

"All is not lost," he declared. "If the Emperor would but mount a white horse at the Narva Gate and make a triumphant return into the town, the situation would be saved. How can you remain quietly here? "

At this moment Prince Michel Pontiatine, administrator of the Tsarskoe palaces, entered the room. He and I agreed that the Emperor must assuredly be au courant with the position of things and that he knew what had to be done and that it was better to leave it to him to take his own initiative. Alas! alas! Were we right?

The telephone bell now began ringing. The insurgents had just taken the arsenal by assault, and at the very moment we felt the earth shake beneath our feet! The jail had been opened, too, and the escaped prisoners were taking a lead in the movement. By the close of the day of February 27th/March 12th, the fortress of Sts. Peter and Paul was in the hands of the revolutionaries. Bit by bit, the regiments were going over to our enemies, and it was being declared at Tsarskoe that the 1st Tirailleurs, who were quartered there, had gone off to join the rebels.

On February 28th/March 13th, the Law Courts, the Commissariat Office and the mansion of Count Frederics, the Minister of the Court, were in flames. All this time the Government could think of no other solution than to dissolve the Duma until after Easter. They made the Emperor sign the decree - he was still at the Headquarters of the Army. Another decree issued by the Revolutionaries announced: "The Imperial Duma will not dissolve. All the Deputies remain in their places." Rodzianko, one of the insurgents and one of the men most responsible for the misfortune of Russia, decided to acquaint the Emperor with the gravity of the situation, and he called for the appointment of someone having the confidence of the people. The Duma took a step further in its revolutionary audacity. It established a Committee of Public Order, made up of Rodzianko, Kerensky, Choulguine, Miliukoff, Tcheidze and other instigators of disorder who were to deliberate with the Council of Workmen-Deputies which was to be formed at once.

On that Tuesday, February 28th/March 13th, towards ten o'clock in the morning, the French Ambassador called me up on the telephone: "I am anxious about you, my dear friend," he said. "Here we are in an inferno, cannonading all round us! Are things quiet out with you at Tsarskoe?" I replied that everything was perfectly quiet with us. Then I glanced out of the window: a pure blue sky, the snow sparkling and scintillating in the sun's rays, not a sound to disturb the calm of nature. . . . This was not to last long.

I went out after lunch to make my way to the, dear little church of Znamenia, where, every day throughout the entire war, I sought to derive a little hope and to soothe my anguished feelings. I observed that there was an unwonted air of excitement 'about. Soldiers with their uniforms in disorder, their helmets on the back of their heads, their hands in their pockets, were saunter: ing hither and thither and laughing. Workmen were prowling about wearing fierce looks on their faces. I returned quickly, my heart weighed down, eager to see again the Grand Duke and my children. I found the Grand Duke extremely disturbed, The uncertainty of the fate in store for the Emperor whom he cherished gave his mind no rest. He was walking up and down in his study, pulling nervously at his moustache. He was just considering whether he ought not to go and visit the Empress, whom he had not seen since the departure of his son, when a telephone message from the Palace brought him a request from her that he should go to her at once. It was four o'clock The moment the car was ready he started. She gave him an unfriendly reception. After asking for details as to what was happening in Petrograd, she said to him, in a somewhat hard voice that if the Imperial family had supported the Emperor instead of giving him bad advice, all this would not have happened. The Grand Duke replied that neither the Emperor nor she had the right to doubt his fidelity and his loyalty, that there was no time now to discuss old disputes and that it was essential at all costs that the Emperor should return as quickly as possible. The Empress replied that he would return next day, March 1st/14th. The Grand Duke promised to meet him at the station, and he left the Empress after satisfying himself that neither she nor her children, who were all ill, would be running any risks and that they were well protected.

Towards seven o' clock in the evening the report spread that a dangerous-looking mob of workers, all shouting and yelling, had left the Kolpino factories and were advancing on Tsarskoe. A little alarmed, the Grand Duke and I decided to go to the house of Mme. de Speyer, the widow of our former Minister to Persia, a friend who during the previous three years had helped in the workroom and who, in view of possible trouble, had frequently offered me hospitality. Vladimir, my two daughters and their French maid, Jacqueline, were to go to the house of M. and Mme. Michalloff, who were unsparing in their efforts to make everything nice and pleasant for them. We left the house towards nine o'clock. Patrols, wearing white brassards on their left arms, were making their way through the streets. \Ve could no longer tell whether they belonged to the troops still faithful to us or to those which had gone over to the rebels. Twice they stopped our automobile, but when they saw it was the Grand Duke they saluted and allowed us to pass. Mme. de Speyer gave up her own bedroom to us, and there were no attentions and kindnesses she did not lavish on us while we were under her roof, We could scarcely sleep ; gun-shots kept ringing out from time to time, and I imagined our palace in flames and all our lovely collections robbed, and sacked. Alas! later, after the Emperor had been exiled to Tobolsk and when there was nothing to keep us any longer at Tsarskoe, it was our splendid collections which were the undoing of us, for instead of taking flight while there was yet time, we remained tied to those belongings which we cherished so much! Could I then imagine that my most precious treasure, what was dearest of all to me, the lives of the Grand Duke and of Vladimir, would be sacrificed? Could I believe that the Russian people would lift up sacrilegious hands against innocent beings?

Next morning at eight o'clock the car came to take the Grand Duke to the Imperial Pavilion to meet the Emperor, who was to arrive at 8.30. After waiting some time he returned to Mme. de Speyer's, extremely disturbed-the Emperor had not arrived! At a point half-way from Mohileff to Tsarskoe-Selo, the Revolutionaries stopped the Imperial train and turned it towards Pskov. And to think that these infamous assassins of the Emperor are now at large in Paris in impunity, fraternising with the group of anti-Bolshevist exiles, and that there is no one among all the Russians there to spit our scorn in their faces!

We returned home towards eleven in the morning. I felt quite astonished to find our palace standing, our servants in their livery and our collections intact, My daughters remained another couple of days with the Michalloffs. They had gone off in tears, but came back in high spirits over what they called their escapade.

Meanwhile, grave events had taken place at Petrograd. The Taurida Palace, in which the Duma was sitting, was flooded all the time with people. Officers and soldiers, who went over to the rebels, called in to offer their services. Thus it came about that a member of the Imperial family, the Grand Duke X--, arrived at the head of his regiment to place himself at the disposal of the rebels and waited more than an hour in the court-yard, until M. Rodzianko was good enough to receive him and shake hands with him. When he returned home the Prince had a red flag hoisted on the roof of his house.

The former Ministers, Sturmer, Goremikine, Stcheglovitoff, Suckomlinoff, General Kourloff, the Metropolitan Pitireme were brought along to the Duma and were pushed about, insulted and ill-treated generally. Protopopoff had hidden himself and could not be found, but he was made a prisoner next day. Countess Kleinmichel, whose salon had been the centre of society and of the Diplomatic Corps, was carried brutally to the Duma, and her house was broken into and pillaged. Mme. Helene Narischkine, nee Countess Tole, who was living at the Hotel Astoria, was taken to the Duma on a motor-wagon. Both ladies were kept there for twenty-four hours.

Towards four o' clock in the afternoon on the same day, . March 1st/14th, there came to our house Prince Michel Pontiatine, M. Birioukoff, of the Ministry of the Court, and that Ivanoff of whom I have spoken already. On Vladimir's type-writing machine a Manifesto was drafted by which the Emperor greeted the Constitution. The Grand Duke was of opinion that effort must be made to save the throne - that ballast must be thrown out. . . . As soon as this Manifesto had been drafted, Prince Pontiatine hastened to the Palace and requested General Groten, second-incommand at the Palace, to beg the Empress to sign it in the absence of, and pending the arrival of, the Emperor. There was not a minute to spare. Despite the entreaties of Groten, who, it is said, went on his knees to her, the Empress refused her signature. Then the Grand Duke Paul, as a matter of urgency, signed the Manifesto, and Ivanoff carried it off to Petrograd, where he secured the signatures of the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovitch and the Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovitch. The Manifesto was then taken at once to the Duma and handed to Miliukoff, who glanced through it, put it in his portfolio and remarked: " This is an interesting document,"

He must have kept it until now, for this State Paper, so important at the moment, has never seen the light. Bad fortune decreed that this document should fall into the hands of such a man as Miliukoff. An incident which I shall narrate presently will show the kind of man he is.In despatching this Manifesto to the Duma the Grand Duke wrote to Rodzianko, whom he had known formerly and who, being of good family, seemed more likely to be capable of loyal feelings. In his letter the Grand Duke begged him to do everything he could to save the Emperor, of whom nothing was known except that his train had had to return from the station of Dno to Pskov. Rodzianko, Chamberlain of the Court (as he was), never acknowledged receipt of this letter. Indeed, his whole conduct during the Revolution was detestable. Abandoned by all, . he is now living in Serbia, saying of himself that he is "a political corpse in a state of putrefaction."

I wrote that day to the Empress to tell her that in these times of trial I was with her, heart and soul, and I asked for news of her children, all of them seriously ill with measles and with a high temperature. In her pencilled reply in Russian she thanked me for my devotion, gave me news of the children and added: " I have no news of him" - the Emperor. And she ended by placing her faith and hope in the Divine Mercy.

When I was writing this book in June, 1922, I was not in possession of the texts of the letters which I addressed during these tragic days to Her Majesty, the Empress, Since then, a certain Storogew has published an article entitled "The Revolution of February, 1917" in the formal Nouvelles Scientijiques, recently issued in Moscow. In this article he has got together and placed in order the materials and documents which fell into the hands of the Bolshevist usurpers, and to which he refers as "archives." Stogorew has published also the diary which the Emperor Nicholas II was keeping at this period, day by day, and taking as his basis my letters to the Empress, he has proceeded to deduce conclusions as to the mentality which prevailed in the immediate surroundings of the Court. In the issue of December 28th, 1922, of the Dernieres Nouvelles, given out in Paris by Miliukoff, the latter reproduces these letters, not without certain ironical comments on the fact that we could have hoped for a moment to preserve the throne for the Emperor Nicholas. Feeling that these letters are all to the honour of the Grand Duke Paul, I think it desirable to insert them here and to demonstrate once more that my husband strove to the end to keep the throne for his legitimate Sovereign.

First Letter to the Empress.

Tsarskoe-Selo, 2nd/15th March, 1917


Yesterday evening the Grand Duke was greatly disturbed by the report current of the regency of the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovitch. YesteIday, throughout the whole day, he wa.s in a state of extreme depression, The trains were not working, the telephone was silent. The confidential agent who has been keeping us in touch with the Duma of the Empire did not put in an appearance. At last in the evening we sent a servant on foot (all the autos are at present requisitioned in town) with a letter to the Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovitch thus worded:

1st/14th March, 1917

You know that I am in contact through N. I . . . with the Duma of the Empire. The new disposition to make Mlcha Regent displeases me greatly. It is inadmissible and it is possible that it may be merely intrigues of the Brassowa or simply talk. Nevertheless we must be on our guard and do all that is in our power to preserve the Throne for Nicky. If Nicky signs the Constitution Manifesto which we have sanctioned, the demand of the people and of the Provisional Government will have been satisfied thereby. Speak of this to Rodzianko and show him this letter. I embrace you.

Your uncle, PAUL.

Our man got to Petrograd in the morning and, as the trains are working again to-day, here is the reply which he has just brought back from the Grand Duke Cyril :

Petrograd, 2nd/15th March, 1917.

With regard to the matter which is troubling you I can only echo your sentiments. I am absolutely of your view but in spite of my entreaty to work together and in conformity of ideas with the family, Micha sneaks away and communicates secretly with Rodzianko. I have been left absolutely alone these days to bear responsibility towards Nicky and the country and to save the situation, while recognizing the Provisional Government. I embrace you.


Second Letter to the Empress.

Tsarskoe-Selo, 3rd/16th March, 1917 9 o'clock in the morning.

It is with a feeling of intense emotion that I have decided to send you this morning's paper, for I consider that at such a moment your Majesty ought to know everything, whatever the insolences and the horrors that may be in question (above all the speech of Miliukoii yesterday to the Duma). After reading this sheet the' Grand Duke and I composed the following letter to Rodzianko, to whom we have sent it by our palace guard:

Tsarskoe-Selo, 3rd/16th March, 1917


Being the sole survivor of the sons of the Liberator Tsar, I address myself to you with the urgent entreaty to do what is in your power to preserve the Constitutions Throne for the Emperor. I know that you are ardently devoted to him and that each of your acts is stamped by patriotism and love of country. r should not disturb you at such a moment had r not read in the Ivestia the speech of Minister for Foreign Affairs Miliukoff and his words on the subject of the Regency of the Grand Duke Michael. The idea of the complete setting aside of the Emperor obsesses me. By means of the constitutional regime and a regular provisioning of the armies the Emperor, without any doubt, will lead his troops to victory. r should have come to you myself to say this but my town automobile has been requisitioned and I lack strength to come in on foot. May God assist you and may He please to save our dear Emperor and our country. Believe in my esteem and devotion,


As soon as we have a reply from Rodzianko I shall communicate it to your Majesty. Meanwhile I entreat you on my knees to be calm and to believe that to our last drop of blood, to the utmost limit of our strength, we shall be with you. I kiss your dear hands, I beg you to excuse my handwriting, my hand is trembling. Do not forget that I am yours with my whole heart and with all my thoughts.


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