Memories of Russia: 1916 - 1919 by Princess Paley

Chapter VI

The Tsar Abdicates

La liberte - c' est le droit de des autres se meler des affaires - L' ABBE GALIANI.

On the 2nd/15th March, Miliukoff delivered an interminable speech in the Duma. He said that the Emperor was going to be forced to abdicate in favour of his son, with the Grand Duke Michael as Regent. A brawler of the Left shouted out to him:

"That is still the same dynasty! "

"Yes," replied Miliukoff, "it is the same dynasty which you do not like, and which perhaps I do not like either, but for the moment one cannot wish for more."

The word" abdicate" was heart-breaking to us. The idea seemed to us monstrous, impossible - it horrified us. We passed a very mournful evening, crushed down by the gravity and the rapidity of events.

At 4.15 on the morning of March 3rd/16th the Grand Duke's valet came knocking at the door to say that an officer belonging to the Emperor's escort wanted to speak with him most urgently. We got up, and having put on our dressing-gowns we received this officer, who was as pale as death. He was a faithful soul. He said that General Ressine, in command of the Svodny-Polk (the regiment founded by the Emperor) had sent him to the Grand Duke to announce that the new, Commandant of the town of Tsarskoe had tried in vain to telephone to the Grand Duke and desired to see him at once. The officer was sobbing. We realised that all was finished. The Grand Duke was very pale. He replied that he was ready to receive the new Commandant, and five minutes later a colonel of artillery, of the name of Boldeskul, with an enormous scarlet bow on his chest, made his way in to us, accompanied by an orderly officer, who wore a red bow also. After saluting in military fashion, the colonel apologised for the unduly early hour (4.30 a.m.), and read to us the following Manifesto:

Pskoff, 3rd/16th March, 1917

By the Grace of God, we, Nicholas II, Emperor of all the Russias, Tsar of Poland, Grand Duke of Finland, etc., to all our faithful subjects, we make it known:

In the days of the great struggle against the enemy from without who has been for three years exerting himself to subjugate our country, it has pleased God to send Russia a new and painful ordeal. Interior troubles threaten to have a fatal reaction upon the further development of the persistent war. The destinies of Russia, the honour of our heroic army, the happiness of the people, the whole future of our beloved country demand that the war be brought at all costs to a victorious conclusion.

Our cruel enemy is putting forth his last efforts and the moment is near when our valiant army, in concert with our glorious allies, shall finally crush the enemy. In these decisive days for the life of Russia, we have thought we owed it to our conscience to facilitate a close union for our people and the organisation of all its forces for the rapid realisation of victory.

That is why, in accord with the Duma of the Empire, we have recognised it as well to abdicate the Crown of the State and to lay down the supreme power. '

Being unable to sever ourselves from Our loved son we bequeath our heritage to our brother, the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovitch, bestowing our blessing on him on this occasion of his accession to the tlu'one of the Russian State. We bequeath to our brother the duty of governing in full union with the representatives of the nation sitting in the legislative institutions and that of taking a solemn oath to them in the name of the beloved country.

We make an appeal to all the faithful sons of the country, calling upon them to fulfil their sacred and patriotic duty by obeying the Tsar at this painful moment of national ordeals and to help him with the representatives of the nation to lead the Russian State in the way of prosperity and glory.

May God aid Russia!



The Grand Duke and I were thunderstruck. I had woke up with a start and was shivering and my teeth were chattering. However much we had been prepared for this break-up of everthing that was dear to us, we could not believe in it, and yet this sheet of parchment was there before us, and showed forth the truth in letters of fire.

The colonel having left, we did not even think of going to bed again. The fall of the Empire - for we realised that it was the fall - stood out before us in all its horror. It was in vain for us to say that the Grand Duke Michael would cotinue the tradition, we knew that he was a feeble creature and that his wife, Mme. Brassoff, would exercise a pernicious influence, and then we loved "our" Emperor, the chosen of God, the anointed of the Lord, and we wished to have none other.

On that same day, March 3rd/16th, the Grand Duke went to visit the Empress at eleven o'clock. It may seem improbable, but the poor woman did not know of the abdication of her husband!

None of all those around her had had the courage to deal this blow to her. The five children were ill, the two elder girls and the youngest were, recovering from measles, but the third, the Grand Duchess Marie, and the Tsaritza were at their worst. The Grand Duke went very quietly into her room and kissed her hand very slowly, . " finding it impossible to utter a word. His heart was palpitating. The Empress, attired like an ordinary hospital nurse, struck him by her calm and the serenity of her gaze.

"Dear Alix," the Grand Duke said at last, " I wanted to be with you at this painful moment."

The Empress looked him straight in the eyes.

"Nicky? " she asked. .

"Nicky is well," the Grand Duke hastened to make answer, "but be brave, as brave as he has been! To-day, the 3rd of March, at one 0' clock in the morning, he signed his abdication for himself and for Alexis."

The Empress trembled and bent down her head, as though she were uttering a prayer. Then, drawing herself up again, she said:

"If Nicky has done that, it is because he had to do so. I have faith in the Divine Mercy. God will not abandon us."

But while saying these words large tears were rolling down her cheeks."I am no longer Empress," she said with a sad smile, "but I remain a Sister of Charity. As it is Micha who is Emperor, I shall look after my children and my hospital. We shall go to the Crimea."

The Grand Duke remained with her until lunch, about an hour and a half. She wanted to know details of what had been happening at the Duma. On the subject of the Grand Duke who had gone there two, days previously, she said in English:

"And X--- , what a horror! "

The Grand Duke returned home with his nerves all excited. I did what I could to calm him and give him courage. Meanwhile the Grand Duke Michael was at the Winter Palace in Petrograd. Few people are aware of this detail, that the officer in command of the troops, General Habaloff, seeing the mass of people rushing along towards the Winter Palace, proposed to the Grand Duke' to fire upon the crowd, answering for it that certain regiments still remained faithful. The Grand Duke Michael opposed this energetically, "not wishing," he declared, "to spill a drop of Russian blood." He quitted the palace in clandestine fashion and took refuge in the Rue Millionala with a friend, Prince Pontiatine, cousin of the one of whom I have spoken. Some moments later, a mob of soldiers forced their way into the cellars of the palace, and for three days there was an appalling orgy. More than ten drunkards were drowned in the wine.

A proof that this revolution had been long thought out and prepared for, was the circumstance that from the first day all the private automobiles in Petrograd were requisitioned within a few hours. Our beautiful car was one of the first to disappear and after serving the purpose of the members of the Provisional Government, it was accorded the honour of receiving Lenin on his arrival at the Finland Station!

On arriving at Prince Pontiatine's, the Grand Duke Michael, Emperor since one o'clock that morning, received a visit from Prince Lvoff, Gutchkoff, Rodzianko, Miliukoff, Kerensky, and other individuals who came to persuade him to renounce the throne in favour of the people who, later, would elect either him or someone else. After some moments of hesitation, this weakling of a prince gave in, to the joy of the traitors to the country. Kerensky, whom people made the immense mistake of taking seriously for a moment, went off into a fit of hysterics.

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