Memories of Russia: 1916 - 1919 by Princess Paley

Chapter VII

How abdication came about

Although the details of the abdication of the Emperor Nicholas are known, I am anxious to recall them here so that it may not be forgotten that all the misfortunes which have come to Russia had their startingpoint in this abdication. Woe and eternal shame to them who provoked and supported it! Having quitted the Head-quarters of the Army on February 27th/March 12th, to return to Tsarskoe, the Emperor learnt that the trains for Petrograd were no longer getting through. It was decided that he should go to Pskov, where the Imperial train arrived on March 1st/14th, and, where the Emperor received a telegram from General Alexeleff, telling him of the progress of the Revolution and begging him to make all possible concessions. General' Russky, who commanded the Army of the North, and who was just then at Pskov, urged the Emperor strongly to fall in with the advice in Alexeieff's telegram. This telegram had reached Pskov before the Emperor's arrival, but an hour afterwards Russky received another from Rodzianko saying that all concessions were too much belated, that the only means of saving the dynasty was abdication.

Evidently Rodzianko had sent telegrams to the same effect to the officers in command of the armies, for the Grand Duke Nicholas and Generals Broussiloff and Evert all telegraphed to the Emperor, and all three, in different terms, advised him to yield. . . . Simultaneously with these telegrams the Emperor learnt that his dear escort (le Konvoi) had betrayed him and gone over to the rebels. This was a painful blow to him. 'When one remembers how the Emperor and Empress favoured these people of the escort, what interest they took in their families, in their children, how they showered presents upon them, one can understand that such black ingratitude must have affected them painfully.

On the afternoon of March 2nd/15th Russky returned to the Emperor, who was staying in his railway compartment, and continued to persuade him to abdicate. He kept repeating unceasingly the words: "Non, Vache Velitchestvo, rechailess" -" Come, Sire, decide!" At last the Emperor yielded. He drew up a telegram to Rodzianko, saying to him that he made this sacrifice for his beloved country and abdicated in favour of his son, on condition that the latter should not quit him until he came of age. He handed the message to Russkyand went back into the railway carriage. Russky, noticing that the Emperor in this telegram made no allusion to the Regency of the Grand Duke Michael, added what he considered necessary and begged Count Frederics, Minister of the Court, to show the telegram to the Emperor. Frederics brought back the telegram with its correction, as well as another to General Alexeleff in which the Emperor announced the nomination of the Grand Duke Nicholas as Generalissimo and also his own abdication. Frederics added that the Emperor wished to await the arrival of Gutchkoff and Choulguine, whom the Duma were sending to see him, before dispatching these telegrams. Twenty minutes later, the Emperor changed his mind and sent an aide-de-camp to get these telegrams back from Russky, who would not hand them over, but who gave his word of honour (honour !) not to dispatch them until the two spokesmen should have arrived.

When they did arrive the Emperor had them called in, and announced to them his abdication for himself and for his son, which came as a surprise to the Duma's envoys for their instructions contemplated only the Emperor's own abdication and not that of the heir. It was not until much later that we learnt what decided the Emperor to make the double abdication. He sent for his doctor and said to him: " At any other time I would not have asked you such a question, but to-day the moment is grave and I beg of you to answer me with complete frankness: is it possible that my son may live and reign some day? " 

"Sire," replied Fedoroff, "I am obliged to acknowledge to Your Majesty that His Imperial Highness cannot attain to his sixteenth year. . . ."

Having received this stab in his heart, the Emperor's decision became unshakable. This Monarch who had hesitated so much over the granting of a Constitution or even over appointing a responsible Minister, signed with a stroke of his pen an' Act of immense gravity, the disastrous effects of which for Russia have been incalculable, At one in the morning, Gutchkoff , . and Choulguine carried off the Act of double abdication in favour of the Grand Duke Michael, a favour which the latter yielded under the pressure of the Revolutionaries and which led to the disasters from which we are suffering to-day! Dreadful disasters which have carried off so many innocent victims and plunged Russia in grief and ruin.

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