Memories of Russia: 1916 - 1919 by Princess Paley

Chapter VIII

How the Abdication Came About, The Tsar's Pathetic Move

Towards six in the evening on March 3rd/16th, the Commanders of the Regiments of Reserve who were at Tsarskoe-Selo met together at the Grand Duke's, in order to discuss the new situation created by the abdication of the Grand Duke Michael. That Emperor of the day before had issued the following manifesto:

A very difficult task has been imposed on me by my brother by his transmission to me of the Imperial Throne of Russia in a year of a war without any parallel and of internal troubles.

Inspired like the entire people by the idea that what is most important is the welfare of the country, I have taken the firm decision to assume the supreme power only if such be the will of our great people which must, by universal suffrage, by its representatives in the Constituent Assembly, decide as to the form of Government and the new fundamental laws of Russia.

Invoking the blessing of God, I beg all the citizens of Russia to submit themselves to the Provisional Government, which has had its origin in the Duma and which has all powers until the Constituent Assembly convoked with the least possible delay by universal suffrage, direct, equal and secret, by its decision on the form of Government shall manifest the will of the People.

3rd/16th March, 1917, Petrograd.
Signed.. MICHAEL.


The military council at the commanders who had met in Grand Duke's, foresaw that, once the Monarchy had fallen, it would be extremely difficult to keep the troops in hand and to enforce obedience. Several entire companies had passed over to the rebels. In Petrograd a Provisional Government had been formed and it was decided at the Grand Duke's to follow the last instructions given by the Emperor, which were to submit to this Government, to help it in everything and to have only one aithat of bringing the war to a satisfactory coclusion. In all this, it could be seen that the Emperor was thinking no longer of himself and that he had only his beloved Russia at heart. It is but recently, and thanks to a publication made by our former Minister at Lisbon, M. Pierre Botkine, that we came to know the admirable message of the Emperor to the armies after his abdication, when he returned from Army Head-quarters. Here is this message which gives proof of the noble and beautiful soul of the unfortunate Sovereign.

It is the last time that I address myself to you, my beloved troops. After the abdication I have made in my own name and in that of my son, the supreme power has passed into the hands of the Provisional Government, formed in accordance with the initiative of the Duma of the Empire. May God aid it to lead Russia on the way of glory and prosperity May God aid you also, valiant troops, to defend successfully our country against the implacable foe!

During two years and a half you have undergone unceasingly a military service full of hardship: much blood has been shed, many efforts have been made and the hour is now at hand when Russia, united to its valiant allies by the same desire of victory, shall triumph over the last efforts of the enemy. This unparalleled war has to be conducted to a definitive and complete victory. He who at the present moment thinks of peace, he who desires it, is a traitor to the country. I know that every honest soldier feels the same!

Therefore do your duty, defend valiantly your great country, obey the Provisional Government, remember that every weakening in the order of the service gives an advantage to the enemy. I believe firmly that the boundless love for your great country is not extinct in your hearts. May God bless you and the great martyr Saint George lead you to victory!

Signed: NICHOLAS.

I venture to borrow from M. Pierre Botkine some reflections upon this message expressed in his book - Les Morts sans Tombes:

This historic document was to appear on March 2Ist, 1917, in the order of the day to the Army Number 371; but the Minister of War of the Provisional Government, M. Goutchkoff, forbade by telegraph its being shown to the troops. The aide-de-camp General of the Emperor, Alexeieff, who was Chief of his General Staff, obeved M. Goutchkoff's orders. " This message, therefore, remains unknown still to the majority of Russians.

Instead of the Sovereign's noble words, the army heard the famous prikaz Number I of the new War Minister, M. Goutchkoff, which gave the signal for indiscipline, let loose anarchy and led naturally to the collapse of the front.

Meanwhile, the Provisional Government which Nicholas II in a sublime impulse of self-abnegation and love of country exhorted his subjects to serve well, this same Provisional Government had the Emperor arrested in his Tsarskoe-Selo Palace and, soon afterwards, deported him with the Imperial Family into Siberia.

As for the Ambassadors of the Allied Powers accredited to the Emperor Nicholas II they hastencd to congratulate the Provisional Government, presenting themselves on March 24th, 1917, to M. Miliukoff "to greet the new era of prosperity, progress and glory which is opening for Russia." This new era began for the generous Sovereign - the true, faithful, irreproachable Ally- with captivity, and, after more than a year of suffering, was to end with a horrible assassination.

And to think that, down to his last day, this martyr Sovereign, whom the more indulgent in Allied countries treated as a weakling, put forth a superhuman force of character to endure without murmuring, without even offering I know that every honest soldier thinks the a complaint, the atrocious calumnies and insults from which even death has not altogether delivered him!

There is something infinitely tragic and melancholy in the murder of the Imperial Family in the presence of a Europe impassive and almost indifferent.

One could almost believe that the moralitv of the world must have been changed from top to bottom for a man of such greatness of. mind as the Emperor Nicholas II, a Sovereign so desirous of achieving the welfare of his people, to be suddenly abandoned with all his family, pure and innocent, and handed over to the mercies of wild beasts!

On the evening of March 3rd the Grand Duke went to visit the Empress again; he found her calm, resigned, infinitely beautiful and noble. Already a semblance of imprisonment was making itself felt, for the courtyard of the Alexander Palace was full of soldiers, with white brassards on their arms. They were there by order of the Provisional Government for the alleged security of the Empress and her children, but in reality for fear faithful supporters should enable them to escape. The Empress had at least had news of the Emperor, who had set out again for Mohileff in order to take farewell of his armies and also to meet the Empress Dowager, who had left Kiev and who wanted to see her son.

When the Grand Duke, after leaving the Empress, reached the flight of steps which overlooks the court-yard of the Palace, he addressed the following words to the crowd of soldiers gathered there:

"Bratzy! (My Brothers!) You know already that your beloved Emperor has renounced the throne of his ancestors for himself and for his son in favour of his brother, who has likewise renounced power in favour of the people. At present, in this Palace over which you are keeping guard, there is no longer any Empress or Heir to the Throne. There is only a woman, a nurse who is lookjng after her own children. Promise me, your former. Chief, to keep them safe and sound! Let there be no noise, no disturbance! Remember that the children are still very ill. Do you promise me ?"

A thousand voices were to be heard exclaiming;

"We promise your Imperial Highness, we promise! Batiouchka velicki kniaz! (Little Father Grand Duke!) Be at ease in your mind! Hurrah! . .

And the Grand Duke entered his car, his heart a little soothed. Nevertheless, next day, March 4th/17th, a complete change of things had come about. A spirit of revolt had breathed over these men. An anti-national propaganda, supported by the adventurers of the Provisional Government, was muttering faintly round the Palace. I went for a stroll with Vladimir round the Palace in order to observe the mood of the soldiers, and to make sure whether it was in complete safety. It was with a sinking heart that I heard a Cossack of the Escort, riding about on a spirited mount, cry out to another:


"What say you to that, comrade? I think it's all right. They have had their comfortable, jolly life quite long enough (Dovolno potechiliss). Now it's our turn! "

One could note the mentality of these men changing from hour to hour. Nervous and careful yesterday, they were bold and insolent to-day. In their thoughtless way they just followed the direction given by the members of the Provisional Government. These obscure persons, intoxicated by applause, raised suddenly to power, were in the depths of their mean hearts, frightened by what they 'had done. The revolution having been achieved by the Intelligentsia of the country, it was to this class that redounded the glory of the massacres, of the assassinations, of the thefts, of the famine and of all the ruin that had been wreaked. The Tsardom, during the three hundred and three years that the House of Romanoff had reigned, had done nothing but construct, build up, consolidate and enrich the country. The great Emperors like Peter the Great and Catherine II, and all the glorious line which followed them, created a great, majestic Russia made up of honour and power and glory. Everything was based on Order, without which no country can live. All order involves discipline and obedience. Thus, when the incapables who seized the power granted all possible forms of freedom in order to make themselves popular and please the masses, anarchy sooner or later became inevitable. I often think of a conversation which I had once with M. d'Haussonville.

"Believe me, my dear friend," he said to me, "order avenges itself. . . ."

Ah, would to God that all-powerful Order could avenge itself in Russia! How was it possible that anyone could beHeve for a moment that a Kerensky could master and control. the masses? The psychology of the crowd soon devised what the puppet and his acolytes were worth. Their moral level must have been low indeed to allow of their undertaking the anti-national revolution in the midst of the war, the outcome of which was the collapse of the Russian front and thousands of victims on the French front.

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