THE DOWAGER EMPRESS 'A CHARMER'
The Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna, Princess of Denmark, was descended collaterally from a line of princes of Schleswig-Holstein. The atmosphere of Holstein was patriarchal and thoroughly 'provincial'; but she had learned there to attach no very great importance to questions of etiquette, and to show indulgence for the little failings of those around her. Marie Feodorovna considered that her chief function as Empress was to charm those who came into contact with her. She had every quality needed for doing so, and was venerated alike at Court and by the great mass of the people.
She was particularly indulgent to all her suite. I recall the incident of the coachman who had drunk so much that he fell asleep on his seat, leaving the horses to their own devices; it was only with the utmost difficulty that they were brought to a stop. Marie Feodorovna had only one concern-to treat the incident as a joke and to make sure that it did not reach her husband's ears.
She went frequently to Copenhagen, having the yacht Pole Star at her disposal. On these voyages her servants used to buy considerable quantities of foreign goods.
That was forbidden alike by the Customs regulations and by those of the Court. On one occasion, on the return of the yacht to Russia, Freedericksz had all the baggage searched. There were cigarettes and playing-cards and silks in profusion. But the purchasers were neither prosecuted nor even required to pay the duty on all this contraband: Marie Feodorovna, with her charming smile, declared that she wanted everything, duties and fines alike, charged to her personal account. The personal account of the Dowager Empress was in charge of Freedericksz, so that the Minister of the Court himself paid the sums due from the persons whom he had set out to catch redhanded.
Marie Feodorovna could not refuse anything to the members of her suite.. And Nicholas II agreed to everything that his mother asked.
The consequence was that most of the appointments at Court were made through the channel of the Empress Dowager's Court. She had a Lady in Waiting, Mme Flotow. This lady was officially responsible for the care of her mistress's jewels and wardrobe; but she had succeeded in gaining a position of altogether extravagant influence. As soon as the name of Mme Flotow was to be found in the papers of an applicant it was a foregone conclusion that the Tsar would grant the request, even if at first he was for rejecting it.
Somehow, I do not know how, Mme Flotow would know all about the Sovereign's decisions, at times well before the writer of these pages!
LONG STAYS IN COPENHAGEN
Did the Dowager Empress intervene directly in affairs of state? As regards foreign policy, I believe that at the outset of her son's reign she gave him advice which must have influenced him, since Marie Feodorovna was the sister of Queen Alexandra. Later, I know, Nicholas II consulted his mother more and more rarely on foreign policy. In any case she was without ambition, except the ambition to be loved and admired.
In regard to home policy I can be much more definite. Even when she occupied the throne by the side of her husband, Alexander III, Marie Feodorovna never had either the occasion or the desire to delve into the delicate and complex questions of Russian internal politics. She considered that she had no concern with that; as a royal lady she occupied herself only with what came within the province of a personage in the highest society. Agrarian problems, the Duma, the country's finances-all this simply did not interest her.
The Dowager Empress soon began to make her visits to Copenhagen longer and longer; and well before the end of her son's reign her influence over him in matters of state had been reduced to nothing.
THE GRAND DUKES
When I took up my duties at Court in 1900, the Imperial family was numerous and active. At that time the Tsar had a great-uncle, four uncles, ten 'uncles of the second degree', as they are called in Russia (sons of his greatuncles), a brother, four male cousins, and nine male 'cousins of the third degree' (sons of uncles of the second degree)-in all twentynine men; enough to form a good bodyguard who would die, if the call came, sword in hand around the threatened head of the family. Were they not all interested in defending their privileges?
I am deliberately leaving the women members of the Imperial family out of account. My purpose in this chapter is to show how far, if at all, the members
of the family played any part in politics. The Tsar never discussed politics willingly with ladies; he made an exception now and again of the Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna, of whom I shall write later, for he knew that she was well acquainted with the intentions of Emperor William II, through her German relatives. The two Montenegrin princesses, Militza and Stana, were ready to act as advisers to the throne; they were constantly putting forward political proposals, and hot discussions were frequent in their two Courts on all the current problems. But the Tsar kept these two princesses at a distance. They were advocates of the cause of Montenegro, and that gave the principality an importance in our Balkan policy which was out of proportion to the part it was able to play. But if ever they ventured to approach the Sovereign it was most likely to be with a request, preferably by letter, for subsidies for their father, Prince Nicholas of Montenegro.
The Tsar's two sisters were entirely withdrawn from public life. Many of the Grand Duchesses had married foreign princes and lived outside Russia; they were thus entirely eliminated from the life of the Grand Court.
Of these twenty-nine men, who were bound to the head of the family by the dynastic principle and even by interest, how many rallied to the support of the Tsar at the tragic moment of his abdication? Not one.
In Pskov, where the abdication took place, the Tsar had no member of his family at his side. The Grand Dukes were faced with the fact of his abdication; they were not consulted either before or after the event. The Imperial family had been put in a position in which it could do nothing to alter what had been done. Nicholas II and Michael Alexandrovitch, after the Tsar's abdication, acted on their own responsibility without attempting to get into touch with their relatives, without even consulting one another. The flood of the revolution had been so sudden that it had been impossible from the first to arrange any discussion. But on that tragic day of his abdication the Tsar was unable to consult his family not only because of practical obstacles but also for personal reasons, resulting from the relations which had gradually grown up between them. One single initialling by him cost the lives of seventeen members of his family in less than two years. (Most of the members of the Imperial family had remained in Russia for no other reason than that their flight might have aggravated the Tsar's situation.)
I shall try to explain how these relations had developed and how they stood in 1917; I shall show the personal position in which each of the Grand Dukes who come into question stood at the moment of the abdication.
Dimitri Pavlovitch had been sent to the Persian front a few weeks before as a punishment for his part in the murder of Rasputin, though he had regarded his action as a means of saving the Imperial family.
Grand Duke Cyril had gone to the revolutionary Duma at the head of the naval detachment under his command. He thought that that gesture would be sufficient to calm opinion in the capital, to restore some sort of order, and to save the dynasty. But his effort was entirely abortive.
Grand Duke Nicholas, the Tsar's representative in the Caucasus, had implored the Tsar 'on his knees', as he said in his telegram, to abdicate. Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna, with her son Andrew, was at Kislovodsk, in the Caucasus.
The Grand Dukes at the front were passive witnesses of the revolution. And when Michael Alexandrovitch, the Tsar's brother, became Emperor through the Tsar's abdication (on his own part and on that of his son Alexis), those Grand Dukes who were in Petrograd failed to rally round him.
The people who made up 'society' in Petrograd had hastened events, and had, indeed, precipitated the abdication by their irresponsible talk. They accepted the collapse of the throne with indifference, some of them with joy. In Jassy, in my Legation, I received whole packets of enthusiastic, frenzied letters which gave me the impression that everybody in the capital had gone mad.
In the pages that follow I shall deal in turn with each of the Grand Dukes, and try to explain the personal reasons that account for their strange attitude towards the Tsar; but I must preface that analysis by some general considerations.
DISSENSIONS IN THE ROMANOV FAMILY
The first blow at the solidarity of the family of the Romanovs was struck by Tsar Alexander II.
He had contracted a morganatic marriage with the young and radiant Princess Dolgorukaya (after her marriage she became Princess Yurievskaya). This was the second morganatic marriage contracted in violation of the Statute of the Imperial family, the fundamental code of the house of Romanov; the first was the marriage of Constantine, the brother of Nicholas I. That union was indirectly the cause of the revolt of the Decabrists in 1825
The marriage of Alexander II brought forth protests from all the members of the family; the protests were all the livelier for being made behind his back.
Two scenes remain graven on my memory. In the spring of 1877 the Emperor asked the Cesarevitch (afterwards Alexander III) to give a grand ball at Peterhof in honour of certain German princes who had come on a visit. By the Tsar's desire Princess Dolgorukaya was invited. I remember how I was struck by the majestic figure of the Emperor as he waited under the colonnade leading to the ball-room; the princess stood in her splendour a few feet away from the Sovereign. After supper a cotillion was announced. The Tsar left the room and was escorted to his carriage by the Cesarevitch. When the Cesarevitch re-entered the room-it will be remembered how headstrong, almost violent, was his character; he crossed straight through the dancers till he came below the balcony in which the band of the Preobrajensky Regiment was playing a lively air. There he shouted at the top of his voice:
'Thank you, you Preobrajensky fellows! You can go now.'
The dancers-the wife of the Cesarevitch among themstopped abruptly. The heir to the throne left with his wife; the guests hurriedly went home.
The second scene was witnessed almost in front of the coffin of Alexander II, who had perished a few days before, a victim of Nihilist bombs. In the hall of the Saltykov entrance of the Winter Palace, at the foot of the monumental staircase, the company had assembled for attendance at a funeral mass and were waiting for Their Majesties' appearance. To the right I saw the Grand Dukes and Grand Duchesses; at the left, in a corner, stood a pitiable group, Princess Yurievskaya and her three children, two girls and a boy, all in deep mourning. On their arrival Their Majesties turned to the group on the right. Then the Tsar took a few measured, resounding steps towards Princess Yurievskaya, who had lifted her veil. The Empress also took a few steps towards her, but stopped a little way off. After a few words with the Tsar, Princess Yurievskaya turned to Marie Feodorovna. The two women remained facing one another for a few moments that seemed to me an eternity. If Marie Feodorovna had held out her hand it would have been the princess's duty to make a deep obeisance and kiss the extended hand.( I have witnessed this ceremony in my capacity of head of the escort of Prince Alexander of Bulgaria.) But suddenly Her Majesty fell into the arms of her mother-in-law, and the two women burst into tears. The memory of the man who had adored his morganatic wife swept away the rules of etiquette.
It was not for long. Their Majesties left the building, followed by the Grand Dukes. Princess Yurievskaya and her three children remained in their comer of the hall, a small, deserted group. A funeral mass was to be celebrated an hour later for those who did not belong to the Imperial family!
GRAND DUKES WHO WERE AND WERE NOT
The second blow to the Imperial family came from Alexander III. He saw that the family was growing too large, and feared for the prestige of the title of Grand Duke; accordingly he took a step which must be regarded as dictated by the circumstances, though it was not at all to the taste of the Grand Dukes.
Under the Statute of the Imperial family, each Grand Duke was entitled to an annual allowance of 280,000 roubles (28,000 pounds gold). This sum was paid to the holder of the title by the 'Apanages', a sort of trust administration of domains which existed purely in order to provide funds, outside the general Budget of the Empire, for the Grand Ducal pensions. The simple princes of the blood, great-grandsons of an Emperor, had the right only to a single lump sum payment, fixed once for all, of a million roubles (100,000 pounds).
Alexander III modified the Statute by laying down that only sons and grandsons of an Emperor should benefit in future from the Apanages. It was only natural that the distant relatives of the Tsar should be aggrieved at this totally unexpected reform, the economic consequences of which were anything but negligible. But Alexander, headstrong and energetic as he was, inspired all the members of his family with veritable terror; no protest was made aloud. The resentment was none the less intense.
When Nicholas II succeeded Alexander, it was hoped that it would be possible to breathe more freely: the new Tsar was young, and his uncles ought to be able to bring pressure on him in the interest of all his relatives.
They failed, however. The family attributed their failure to the influence of the Empress. I showed above how much animosity she could entertain towards her uncles and aunts. The ideas which had been instilled into her mind in her childhood were well adopted to reinforce her inclination for stern measures. She had grown up in an Anglo-German environment in which energies were restricted by constitutional limitations and were accordingly concentrated on relatives, on the other members of each family. She was all for the application of iron discipline to all the Grand Dukes without exception.
The Grand Dukes also complained of the Tsar's attitude to decisions of the Family Council. These decisions, in accordance with the law, could only reach the Tsar through the Minister of the Court. The Tsar did not consider it necessary to confirm them all without exception, and he would not change the law, lest he should have to have personal discussions with his relatives or their representatives. The impossibility of bringing family affairs directly before the Sovereign without the intervention of Count Freedericksz wounded the amourpropre of the Grand Dukes and increased their resentment against the Tsar and his Ministers.
Finally, there was Rasputin the Sinister. The family inevitably divided into two camps-those in the coterie, and the rest. After the banishment of Grand Duke Dimitri for his part in the assassination of Rasputin, the Grand Dukes sent a collective letter to the Tsar. I know of no other such collective ive communication, and this one was mortifying for the Empress. Grand Duke Dimitri's action was described in the letter as 'dictated by his conscience'. The disintegration of the family could not have been more complete.
THE PATRIARCH OF THE FAMILY
In studying the disintegration of the Romanov family it will be best to take separately each of the three generations of Grand Dukes. The first is that of Alexander II, the grandfather of Nicholas II.
Alexander II, the Liberator as he was called., was a monarch of very liberal views. His principal acts were the freeing of a hundred million serfs, the creation of a justiciary independent of the administration, and the liberation of the Bulgars from the Mussulman yoke. He was assassinated on March 1st 1881, on the eve of the day on which he was to have signed a Constitution which had been drawn up by Count Loris-Melikov, the Prime Minister. Only one of his brothers was still active in 1900, Grand Duke Michael Nicolayevitch, great-uncle of Tsar Nicholas II.
Grand Duke Michael Nicolayevitch was not particularly gifted. He had nobility and equanimity of character and a courtesy such as is rarely to be seen in our day. He had passed most of his life in the Caucasus, where he had been sent as Viceroy. During the war Of 1877 he was Commander-in- Chief of the Russian troops; he was promoted Marshal of Artillery and decorated with the Grand Cordon of the military order of St. George; and until his death he occupied the important post of President of the Imperial Council.
He played no part of any importance in politics; he was too old (born in 1832), and preferred his villa, 'Wenden', at Cannes to the palaces he possessed in St. Petersburg; he died on the Cote d'Azur, carrying into his tomb all the traditions of a past epoch. As the patriarch of the family he was venerated by all his relatives; none of them would ever have risen against the old man's authority; his tactful interventions smoothed away the petty jealousies between the Romanovs almost as soon as they broke out.
The death of Michael Nicolayevitch was an irreparable loss, for the unity of the dynasty no longer existed except in name; from 1910 onwards the rifts steadily widened.
IN DIRECTOIRE STYLE
Grand Duchess Alexandra Iossifovna, nee Princess of Saxe-Altenburg, also belonged to the generation of Alexander II. She held ultra-monarchist ideas, and kept away from St. Petersburg, where the society seemed to her too modern and advanced. She preferred her manor house at Pavlovsk, a veritable museum.
This house, a little antiquated and demode, formed a setting worthy of the old lady. It is the only palace in the world in which everything is, or was, decorated entirely in the Directoire style: furniture, tapestries, chandeliers, china, everything at Pavlovsk belonged to an age that is no more. There was no difficulty in keeping up, for instance, the tapestries; towards the end of the eighteenth century the Comtesse du Nord, wife of Emperor Paul I, had, ordered while in Paris such quantities of precious damask that the palace still had large stores in reserve even at the time of the 1917 revolution. Not until 1910 or perhaps even later, was electricity installed in the palace, and the electric bulbs took the place not of gas or even oil but of wax candles.
Alexandra lossifovna was like her palace of Pavlovsk: she lived entirely in the past; her own day did not interest her. er.
'ONE OUGHT TO KNOW ONE'S JOB'
The second generation, that of Alexander III, the nationalist, authoritarian, reactionary Tsar, was represented in 1900 by his four brothers and ten cousins.
The four brothers of Alexander III - the four uncles of Nicholas II - were Vladimir, Alexis, Serge, and Paul. Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovitch and his wife, Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna, call for the most particular consideration.
Of ruddy complexion, endowed with a voice that carried to the farthest corners of his club, a great hunter, a refined gourmet (he had a collection of menus covered with his 'annotations', and signed immediately after the meal they referred to), Vladimir was the one among the Grand Dukes who profited most from his privileged situation.
He was President of the Academy of Fine Arts, and a lover of art and literature; he surrounded himself with actors, singers, and painters. He spoke as one having, authority, and would not allow any contradiction except in the privacy of a tete-a-tete. His authority was respected both in the outside world and among the Grand Dukes.
Vladimir was the eldest of the uncles of Tsar Nicholas. He was entitled to exercise an unquestioned leadership, and he could have done so. He was twenty-one years older than the Tsar and might, alongside Michael Nicolayevitch, have become the leader of the family, the guardian of its unity and traditions. But it happened otherwise.
The Grand Duke's strong personality almost struck terror into Nicholas II. His uncle felt this from the beginning of the Tsar's reign, and steadily held aloof from all affairs of state.
The final rupture came in 1905, on the occasion of the marriage of the Grand Duke Cyril, Vladimir's eldest son. On October 8th 1905 Cyril, without the Tsar's consent, married abroad Grand Duchess Victoria Melita, of SaxeCoburg-Gotha, the divorced wife of a prince of Hesse. This marriage, contrary to the existing laws, deeply grieved the Tsar.[ The Russian law required the Tsar's consent to any marriage of a member of the Imperial family; and it prohibited marriages between cousins. (Cyril's father and Victoria's mother were brother and sister.)]
Some time passed; then Cyril left for St. Petersburg. His parents felt sure that the young prince would have to listen to remonstrances from the head of the family, remonstrances which he had certainly earned, but that then he would be pardoned.
He arrived about 8 p.m. and went at once to his parents' palace. At 10 p.m. he was told that Count Freedericksz had come and wanted to speak to him 'in accordance with instructions' received from the Tsar. Freedericksz conveyed to the Grand Duke his Sovereign's decisions: he must leave Russia at once, must never set foot again on the soil of his country, and must await abroad the intimation of the further penalties that would be imposed.
That same night, at midnight, the Grand Duke left St. Petersburg by train.
This rigour revolted Grand Duke Vladimir. He was outraged at his son being given such treatment, and without any prior communication with him. He went next day to the Tsar and resigned all the positions that he held in the Russian army. That was the most vigorous protest that he was in a position to make.
The Tsar's drastic decision was attributed to the influence of the Empress. It was whispered that she wanted to be revenged on Grand Duke Cyril for daring to marry a woman who only a little while before had abandoned her husband, the Grand Duke of Hesse., the Empress's own brother.
There were other causes of friction between the Grand Court and the court of Marie Pavlovna, Vladimir's wife. I have already related how Marie Pavlovna failed to impose herself on the young Empress as her initiator into the petty social details which in the aggregate determine the success or failure of every woman, even the wife of a Tsar. When she found herself cold-shouldered, Marie Pavlovna, overbearing and irascible by nature, gave full vent to her spleen in acid comment on everything that her niece did or did not do.. The Court-her Court-followed the example set to it. It was from the immediate entourage of Marie Pavlovna that the most wounding stories about the Empress emanated. This counted all the more since that Court had none of the exclusiveness of the Grand Court; all the artists in vogue at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century had access to the Court of the President of the Academy of Fine Arts, a post which the Grand Duchess assumed after her husband's death. Marie Pavlovna kept up a regular correspondence with many statesmen and authors in Europe and the United States, and her views were echoed in the four quarters of the globe.
To quote only one out of a thousand instances of the Grand Duchess's capacities-Grand Duke Vladimir was sent to Bulgaria in 1907 as representative of the Emperor of Russia on the occasion of the unveiling of the monument to Alexander II at Sofia. Marie Pavlovna went with him. On the day of the grand banquet given in honour of the Russian guests, I had scarcely more than a few minutes for the necessary explanations to the Grand Duchess about the outstanding personalities in Bulgar society who would be at the banquet and at the reception that was to follow it. For three hours the Grand Duchess was the centre of animated and brilliant conversation. She was talking with persons whom she had never before met; and she did not make a single mistake. Later in the evening I congratulated her on her diplomatic adroitness; she replied:
'One ought to know one's job. You may pass that on to the Grand Court.'
It must be admitted that she knew her job to perfection.
Her Court entirely eclipsed the Empress's. An appointment as maid of honour to Marie Pavlovna would have carried with it the best of opportunities for becoming a Beauty Queen if beauty competitions had been organized in Russia in those days. The charity bazaars which the Grand Duchess opened at Christmas in the salons of the Nobles' Assembly in St. Petersburg were the event of the season. Snobs who would have no other chance of access to this exalted realm of society crowded round the Grand Duchess's stand, adding large sums to her fund for her charitable works. If they showed sufficiently lavish generosity they would subsequently receive a gracious invitation to a reception at the Palace. Marie Pavlovna presided in St. Petersburg over everything connected with high society, every social event. Here, too, her sayings spread all over the town.
Ineradicable jealousies, constantly fed by fresh incidents, alienated the two Courts. I have already told how the Empress treated her aunt towards the end of the regime (the incident of the Livadia hospitals). In such conditions any sort of family friendliness had long become impossible between the Empress and her uncle and aunt.
GRAND DUKES ALEXIS AND SERGE
The second son of Alexander II was named Alexis Alexandrovitch. He had a fine athletic figure and gave the impression of strength, allied-that had been the special gift of some of the Romanovs of earlier generations-with infinite charm. rm. I recall how one day in Paris I was walking along the Grands Boulevards behind a man in civilian dress, tall and finely proportioned. Passers-by turned round and I heard some exclaim:
'What a fine man!'
Coming up with him, I recognized Grand Duke Alexis.
Alexis Alexandrovitch was the High Admiral of the Russian navy, and was one of the organizers of the circumnavigation of Africa and Asia by Rodjestvensky's armada, which ended with the attack on the Japanese fleet off Tsushima and utter disaster in a glorious but unequal combat. That enterprise destroyed the Grand Duke's career; he gave up his post and settled in Paris. He died there in 1909.
The third son, Serge, came to a tragic end: he was assassinated by a Russian terrorist in the Kremlin Square.
Smart, elegant, graceful, Serge had been the Commanding Officer of the Preobrajensky regiment, and had been adored by his officers. His private life was the talk of the town, and made his wife, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, very unhappy. He was reactionary as few others; and he was fond of discussing political problems with the Tsar. Nicholas II listened with visible pleasure to his uncle's exposition of his Die-hard ideas; he never contradicted his uncle and brother-in-law (they had married sisters), but had too much good sense to follow the advice of this representative of the ideas of a past age. When the Grand Duke was appointed Governor-General of Moscow-a post to which he would have been well suited a century earlier-he was pursued by the terrorists, who had marked him down as their principal victim. Elizabeth Feodorovna visited the assassin in his prison, interceded for his life with the Emperor, and then took the ror, and then took the veil.
THE MORGANATIC MARRIAGE OF GRAND DUKE PAUL
Nicholas's fourth uncle was Paul (Alexandrovitch). The relations between Grand Duke Paul and the Emperor were broken off when the Grand Duke contracted a marriage abroad with Mme von Pistohlkors, nee Karnovitch, the divorced wife of one of the aides-de-camp of Grand Duke Vladimir. The marriage took place at Leghorn in 1902. I was a very old friend of Mme von Pistohlkors; I had, indeed, been her witness at her first marriage. How many times we discussed her plans! I advised her not to let the Grand Duke proceed to a legal ceremony, for I was sure that the consequences would be terrible. Mme von Pistohlkors replied that the Tsar was very fond of his uncle and would not want to destroy his future for regularizing a situation which was no secret to anybody.
What happened was more painful than the worst I had feared. The Tsar gave the order for the maximum penalties provided by law to be applied against his uncle; that meant banishment for life, the loss of all his posts and functions, and the confiscation of his revenues. It was said, and it was the opinion of my friend Mme von Pistohlkors, that the Empress's influence had entirely overcome the sympathy which the Head of the House professed towards his unclewho Was scarcely eight years older than the Tsar himself
Later the Grand Duke was pardoned, on condition that he returned to Russia unaccompanied by his wife. There followed a long-drawn-out correspondence between St. Petersburg and Paris, where the Grand Duke had settled. In the end the Countess of Hohenfelsen (this title had been granted to Paul's morganatic wife by the King of Bavaria) was given permission to cross the Russian frontier.
The problem of precedence remained still to be settled. Grand Duke Paul had formulated his claims on behalf of his morganatic wife in six paragraphs. The Empress intervened personally and had the principal paragraphs struck out. The Countess of Hohenfelsen received the rank of wife of a General A.D.C.; but she was granted the right of being presented to her new relatives, the Grand Duchesses, not through their Mistresses of the Robes but directly by her husband. She also received the right of not signing the books in the palace ante-rooms but leaving her card.
All this bargaining produced friction between uncle and nephew and especially the nephew's wife (the Empress). Ostensibly their relations had become normal; in actual fact resentment and injured dignity robbed them of all cordiality. Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna seized her opportunity; she loaded her new sister-in-law with attentions and favours. Grand Duke Paul's Court quickly won distinction and popularity throughout St. Petersburg society. During the war the Countess of Hohenfelsen received the title of Princess Paley; her son Vladimir, a remarkable poet and a fascinating man, was one of the centres of attraction for all that was brilliant in the capital.
These were not circumstances that could allow of good relations between the Grand Court and the Court of Grand Duke Paul; the Grand Duke had no opportunity of giving advice to his nephew; and the part played by his son Dimitri in the assassination of Rasputin completely put an end to the friendship between the Tsar and his uncle.
I am bound to add that the two long talks that I had with Grand Duke Paul after his return from Paris produced rather a painful impression on me. Exile had brought him no well-thought-out political creed. It was impossible that he should be a useful counsellor for his nephew. And the coolness with which he was received in the Grand Court hurt and angered him...
IF IT HAD ONLY MEANT LOOKING AFTER HORSES
Keeping still to the generation of the father of Nicholas II, let us pass now to the sons of Nicholas's great-uncles. Strictly they were second cousins; in Russia these relations were called 'uncles of the second degree'.
There were ten of them: three sons of the late Constantine Nicolayevitch; two sons of the late Nicholas Nicolayevitch (called the Elder, to distingush him from Nicholas Nicolayevitch the Younger, his son, the Generalissimo during the world war); and five sons of Michael Nicolayevitch (to whom reference has already been made). The eldest of this group was fifty in 1900 the youngest thirty-one- one year younger than the Tsar although he was his uncle.
We will consider them one by one.
The eldest son of Constantine Nicolayevitch was named Nicholas Constantinovitch. His story may be told in very few words. A life of dissipation brought him very serious illness and he had to be put under restraint through incurable mental trouble. He passed his life at Tashkent, in Central Asia. Thus there could be no question of his influence on affairs of state.
The second son was named Constantine Constantinovitch. He was a highly cultured man and a writer of verse; his poems were highly thought of by the Russian public. He signed them with the initials K. R:, a pseudonym treated with great respect by Russian reviewers. His life was peaceful and patriarchal. Towards the end of it he was promoted to the modest post of head of the military schools. There he showed some directing ability. He always held aloof from the Grand Court where he found none who shared either his outlook or his tastes.
The third son was Dimitri Constantinovitch, a man of, wide sympathies, modest, and full of good sense. ood sense.
I can declare without fear of contradiction that he never took any active part in affairs of state-on principle, and from conviction, a conviction based on thoroughly prudent considerations.
'The Grand Dukes,' he said to me one day, when in a confidential mood, 'should begin their apprenticeship as simple lieutenants, and incognito. If they show aptitude for the Service, they can be promoted in accordance with the rules laid down for everybody. But they should never be permitted to reach positions of command or posts of great responsibility. Any mistakes they made would at once involve the Tsar, and that might diminish the Sovereign's prestige.'
'Does your brother' (Constantine Constantinovitch, see above) 'express the same opinions?'
'He does. These principles were instilled into us by our mother; our father rarely discussed things with us. My brother would admit, however, that there have been exceptions among the Grand Dukes; some of them have shown great capacity in command. For these exceptional cases he would have laid down severe rules defining penalties for neglect of duty; penalties far heavier than for plain subjects of the Tsar.'
'What penalties did he envisage?'
'Immediate dismissal for any Grand Duke who proved unworthy of the post he occupied. It is at that point that I disagree with my brother. The necessity of dismissing a near relative might be productive of very great difficulties for the Tsar; and we are all grouped round the throne in order to facilitate the tasks of its occupier.'
One day he told me of his first entry into official life. He was a lover of horses and wanted to join a cavalry regiment. His father, High Admiral of the Russian navy, gave his decision:
'You have got to represent our family in the navy.'
He was sent with cadets of the naval college to serve for a period on a warship. He proved unable to endure the sea. His sufferings were terrible. On his return he prayed for a long time in front of his icon, and then, gathering up all his courage, went to his father. He threw himself at his feet and begged to be freed from the naval service.
'Go away, and do not let me see you again,' his father answered. 'Admiral Nelson himself suffered from seasickness, but that did not prevent him from becoming a famous sailor!'
His mother had to intervene; in the end he was permitted to join a regiment of Horse Guards. His elder brother had ruined his health by excessive libations; and his mother made him swear that he would never drink a single glass of wine. He was conscientious in the extreme, and never let anything induce him to break the promise he had given.
Later, when he became Commanding Officer of the Grenadier Guards, he found that the 'dry' regime to which he was bound interfered with cordial relations with the officers of his regiment. In spite of his age and situation, he went to his mother and asked her to free him from the solemn promise he had made. Up to that moment he had never allowed himself to touch a bottle.
It may fairly be said that Dimitri Constantinovitch was the one among all the Grand Dukes who was most deeply imbued with the sense of his duty as a Prince and a cousin of the Emperor. One day he turned over to me a very considerable sum for the maintenance of a little village church.
'If you make gifts everywhere on this scale,' I said, your revenues from the Apanages will not last out.'
'The Apanages,' he replied gravely, 'are not intended to enable us to live as sybarites; this money is put into our hands in order that we may augment the prestige of the Imperial family.'
In spite of all his qualities, this Grand Duke never Played a part of any importance. His timidity was beyond imagining. When his train arrived at a station he would hide in his compartment so as not to be seen by people on the platform. But if a deputation or some officials had come to greet him, the first breath of a suggestion that it was his duty as a Grand Duke to receive them was sufficient for him to stifle his feelings and receive his visitors with the utmost amiability.. Then he would go back and lower the blinds of his compartment lest he should be asked to meet anyone else.
Like so many timid people, he imposed a fixed regime on himself, a time-table to which he kept religiously; so many hours for his official duties, so many for prayer, and the rest for endless reading 'to improve his knowledge'. He even made difficulties about accepting the modest post of State Studmaster. When the post was offered to him he said to me, with touching sincerity:
'I should gladly have accepted the appointment if it had only meant looking after horses. But it means control of men as well. I think I might have been able to be of use in this field, but I am afraid I shall never get on properly with officials. In any case, I shall make one condition for my appointment: I shall reserve the right to resign the moment I feel that I am unable to be useful to my country.'
This remarkable man, educated and cultivated in the best sense of the word, never had his talents made use of in Russia. He even gave up the Studmastership, for he came to the conclusion that he ought to work at the improvement of the breeds of the equine race as a simple private individual, within the modest limits of his private stud at Dubrovka.
The two sons of Grand Duke Nicholas Nicolaye vitch the Elder, Field-Marshal of the Russian army, were named Nicholas and Peter. Nicholas Nicolayevitch the Younger was probably the only one of all the Grand Dukes who tried to play any important political part. He was also the only one who might, if circumstances had aided him,, have become the leader of a movement dangerous to Nicholas II. I am bound to say that my confidence in this Grand Duke was greatly shaken, especially after the events of 1905; I never felt satisfaction in his appointment as Generalissimo of the Russian army in 1914; may God pardon him for certain of his errors which we, his contemporaries, find it hard to pardon!
His mother was descended from one of the daughters of Emperor Paul (married to a prince of Oldenburg); that Emperor's mental instability was notorious. Nicholas had inherited a nervous morbidity from both his parents. Like his mother, he was very intelligent, but excitable and violent, and liable to uncontrollable fits of temper. He was an extreme mystic; his mother had left her husband well before 1880 and had gone to Kiev, where she surrounded herself with nuns and fanatical priests; in the end she took the veil.
The first impressions that I had of this Grand Duke confirmed what I knew of his unfortunate heredity. It was in 1888, during the grand manoeuvres at Rovno.
Thirty squadrons of cavalry on either side-such was the main element in these military exercises. General Strukov was the Grand Duke's 'enemy'. I had no difficulty in securing permission to watch the final battle alongside the Grand Duke.
He was visibly worried by the importance of his task, and above all by the presence of his father, the Field-Marshal. He had about ten orderly officers, and -kept sending them off right and left. They had to go at a full gallop even if there was not the slightest apparent necessity for it. If the Grand Duke thought
an officer was not pushing on sufficiently he shouted after him 'On! on!'-all the time striking his own charger, which was covered with lather and foam..
The exercises proceeded in accordance with all the rules of the military art, and produced a very good impression.
At nightfall the Strukov cavalry appeared on the far side of the valley separating the forces. This was the moment of the decisive attack. Our troops deployed with spirit. The Grand Duke, however, thought they were behindhand.
'An orderly officer!' he shouted.
They had all gone off on one side or the other. I approached the Grand Duke; he said to me:
'Do you see that group? They are not deploying quickly enough. Go off and tell them to go at a full gallop.'
'Might I venture to point out that an orderly officer is already on his way to that group and another officer has gone in the same direction? But I am at Your Highness's Service.'
'No, quite right, there is no use in going.'
He made a grimace that betrayed his annoyance at having lost control of himself.
'Would it not be best,' I then said, 'for me to go over to join the reserves? They hardly have time to fill up the gap that is growing in the centre of our front.'
'You're right. Quick, go along!'
After the manoeuvres were over General Strukov spoke about me to the Grand Duke. He mentioned that I had fought at his side in the Russo-Turkish war (at the capture of Adrianople). His Highness said:
'Experience of active service always shows itself. Mossolov was the only one to call my attention to the problem of the reserves. It is thanks to him that I was pronounced the victor.' My own confidence in the Grand Duke was particularly shaken, as I said above, during the events Of 1905
The month of October 1905 was marked by grave disorders. There were demonstrations and rioting in the streets of the capital, and the Emperor was on the point of taking one of the gravest political decisions of his lifetime. Count Witte had been received by the Tsar on October 9th, and the rumour spread that he had recommended the Sovereign to grant a Constitution and had undertaken personally to see that it was given practical effect. Some people added that Witte had told the Tsar that there were only two possible solutions-a Parliament, or a military dictatorship.
It was learned almost at the same moment that Grand Duke Nicholas (who was then hunting on his estate of Pershin, in the Tula Government) had been asked urgently to return to Peterhof, the residence of the Imperial family.
The Die-hards were exultant; they already saw a Dictator putting an end to all the disorders. Count Freedericksz had expressed the same hope, that the Grand Duke would bring the revolutionaries to heel; after that it would be possible to think about the granting of political liberties.
I was with the Minister of the Court when the Grand Duke was announced (October 15th).
I took the Grand Duke into Freedericksz's room, and withdrew to an adjoining one. Almost at once I heard raised voices; the Grand Duke was shouting. A little later he rushed out, jumped into his motor-car, -and went off. Freedericksz followed, saying as he got into his car:
'I could not have believed it!'
He told me later what had happened.
He had been delighted at the Grand Duke's arrival, and had told him that it had been looked forward to in order that he might take the responsibility of setting up a dictatorship. At that the Grand Duke had suddenly and unaccountably lost all control of himself; he whipped out a revolver and shouted:
'If the Emperor does not accept the Witte programme, if he wants to force me to become Dictator, I shall kill myself in his presence with this revolver. I am going on to the Tsar; I only called here to let you know my intentions. You must support Witte at all costs! It is necessary for the good of Russia and of all of us!"
Then he went off like a madman.
'He suffers more and more from the hereditary hysteria of the Oldenburgs.'
I was struck by this unusual behaviour on the part of the Grand Duke, and was curious to learn how he could have acquired his sudden sympathy for Witte. I made a few inquiries among the personages of the Grand Duke's Court..
It seems that on the day of his arrival in the capital he had had a long talk with an employee in the State printing works, a man named Ushakov. This man was regarded as the leader of those workers who had remained faithful to the monarchical principle. What he had to tell the Grand Duke had deeply impressed His Highness and had given him the idea of supporting Witte.
On October 17th 1905 Witte gained a complete victory; the manifesto granting a national representative body was published in accordance with the plan which he had elaborated.
The Grand Duke had been the decisive factor in the promulgation of the manifesto of October 17th; but he did not long remain a supporter of Witte and his liberal policy. The day came, I do not know how or why, when he came out as leader of the extreme Right, in diametrical opposition to everything that Witte did and to everything connected with the manifesto of 1905
The extreme Right contended that the manifesto had been wrung from the Sovereign by force; for this capital reason it was null and void, and it must be so interpreted that it abated not a jot or tittle from the autocratic powers of the Tsar. The Duma must be reduced to the role of a consultative assembly, with no direct influence on the course of affairs of state. If necessary force must be resorted to in virtue of the supreme prerogative of the Sovereign.
Grand Duke Nicholas was temperamentally inclined to violence, and was the first to advise the Tsar to go counter to the Constitution which he had granted. If the Tsar had listened more to him, the abyss between the representatives of the people and the Sovereign would have grown yet more rapidly and the final collapse would have come yet sooner.
The Grand Duke was under the influence of his wife, Anastasia (Stana) Nicolayevna, the divorced wife of Duke George of Leuchtenberg. She was surrounded by clairvoyants, and believed herself to be destined to a glorious career. She made her husband share this outlook; filled him with aggressive ideas in foreign policy; and all but inveigled the Empress into a circle of shifty 'spirits'. It was under her direct influence that the Grand Duke plunged into what he called high policy.
The Grand Duchess's influence at the Grand Court was, of course, only felt through the Grand Duke. I do not know whether this ambitious princess ever intended to carry any of her plans further than simply working upon her husband.
At the time of the Tsar's abdication the Grand Duke wrote him a letter which he must have bitterly regretted after the fall of the dynasty. In exile in France, Grand Duke Nicholas was unsuccessful in gathering the Russian monarchists around himself, and was unwilling to recognize the authority of Grand Duke Cyril. His attitude did much to make the group of Russian legitimists impotent through depriving them of a common centre.
GRAND DUKE PETER NICOLAYEVITCH
The younger brother of Nicholas Nicolayevitch junior was named Peter. He was much better balanced and less like his mother. His health was very poor-he was almost consumptive; and he lived in retirement, without showing signs of any particular ambition. He had great abilities, but was never able to take the close interest in his duties as Inspector General of Military Engineers that his elder brother took in the cavalry, in which he held an analogous post.
Grand Duke Peter was married, as I have already mentioned, to Militza Nicolayevna, Princess of Montenegro. This lady was extremely active in everything connected with politics, but never gained the ear of her husband's nephew, the Tsar.
THE FIVE SONS OF MICHAEL
We come finally to the sons of Grand Duke Michael Nicolayevitch. There had been six, but one died at an early age. The other five had no common trait of character.
The eldest was named Nicholas Michailovitch. Fairly good-looking and very intelligent, he spun intrigues wherever he went. He began his military service in the Horse Guards, but left his regiment on the ground that his military duties prevented him from devoting his whole time to historical studies, for which he had a taste and a marked aptitude. He was always criticizing, but never did anything himself He wrote numberless letters to the Tsar; they show that he knew how to please and to make himself amusing. But one would search in vain through the letters for a single practical idea.
Nicholas Michailovitch remained in Petrograd when the Tsar went to the front. In his club, where he was always the centre of a group, his mordant criticisms, essentially destructive, did much damage to the regime; sarcasms coming from so high a quarter affected society with a morbid tendency that helped to deprive the Sovereign of all moral authority. The Empress whole-heartedly detested him. It was this Grand Duke who was one of the protagonists of the collective letter (written after the murder of Rasputin) which made the final breach between the Tsar and his relatives.
The second of the brothers, Michael Michailovitch, was unable to play any political part. In 1891, after the failure of an attempt at morganatic marriage in Russia, he went abroad and married the Countess of Merenberg, daughter of the Duke of Nassau and granddaughter of Pushkin, our great poet. She received the title of Countess of Torby, and never showed the slightest intention of returning to Russia.
The third son, George Michailovitch, was not one who carried any weight. The Tsar entrusted him with the duty of visiting the troops to hand their decorations to them. At the last moment, I have been told) George took his stand entirely on the side of his eldest brother, Nicholas.
The fourth son, Alexander Michailovitch, married Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna, the sister of Nicholas II; he thus occupied a privileged situation at Court as the Tsar's brother-in-law. He was intelligent and ambitious, but not as intelligent as his eldest brother. For a short time he held office as Minister of the Merchant Marine, a post specially created for him. During the war he devoted himself to the problem of military aviation, and had successes which were not generally acknowledged. He published a book in which he advanced a bold contention -that the Tsar of Russia ought to put his nearest relatives at the head of all the important departments of government. One of our Ministers of War often spoke to me of the incredible difficulties that were created by the pressure at the head of the military air service of a man with access to the Tsar, himself accountable to nobody.
Alexander Michailovitch was always inclined to mysticism; towards the end of his life he became the apostle of a religious theory inspired by 'divine intuition', resembling the doctrines of Count Tolstoi; this, he claimed, would serve in some occult fashion to rid Russia of the Bolsheviks. He had many women admirers. His lecture tours in the United States will be remembered.
The fifth son, Serge Michailovitch, was an enthusiastic artillery officer. The result was some serious failures in our supplies of guns and munitions. As he was at the front throughout the war he was more or less free from the disastrous influence of his brother Nicholas. He could not have been of any service to the Tsar during the critical moments Of 1917, for, from what I know, His Majesty would certainly not have asked his advice.
THE THIRD GENERATION
I shall have little to say of the third generation, that of Nicholas II himself. It consisted of a brother, three cousins, sons of Grand Duke Vladimir, and another cousin, son of Grand Duke Paul, and nine sons of 'second degree uncles', 'third degree cousins' as they are called in Russia. These cousins had not the title of Grand Duke, being only great-grandsons of an Emperor (Nicholas 1). The eldest of them was four years old in 1900, the youngest was born on January 4th 1900. It is only necessary here to consider, from a political point of view, the five Grand Dukes.
The Tsar's brother was named Michael (Alexandrovitch). He was ten years younger than Nicholas II. His great defects were considered to be his excessive good nature and credulity. Tsar Alexander III, his father, often said that Michael believed everything he was told, without taking the trouble to consider the reasons that his interlocutor might have for deliberately deceiving him.
Witte, who hated the Tsar, sang the praises of Grand Duke Michael's 'abilities'. He gave him instruction in political economy, and never tired of praising his straightforwardness-an indirect way of attacking the Tsar. I am entirely ready to credit his uprightness, for he was very like his sister Olga.
But he had no influence at all over his brother. During the time when the Tsar had no male descendant, Michael was the heir to the throne, as the nearest relative of the reigning sovereign. His brother had not even conferred on him the title of Cesarevitch, a purely honorary title usually given to all heirs to the throne. The Empress was too impatiently awaiting the birth of a son!
Grand Duke Vladimir had three sons-Cyril, Boris, and Andrew. I have already told of Cyril's marriage, in explaining the causes of the final rupture between Vladimir and the Tsar.
[Grand Duke Michael was morganatically married to Natalia Sergueevna Sheremetyevskaya. Their son George was granted by the Tsar the name of Brassov, from one of His Highness's estates. Later, in emigration, the Grand Duke Cyril, in his capacity of head of the Romanov dynasty, created him Prince Brassov, and this title was recognized by the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna.
Prince Brassov died from injuries received in a motor-car accident, at the early age of twenty. He was a handsome and accomplished youth. He was debarred under the fundamental laws of the Empire from access to the Crown, but through his father he was one of the persons nearest to the throne of Russia.]