A. The Minister of the Court, 'The Old Gentleman'
This work is not concerned with the political history of Russia. Thus I cannot enter here into the general problem of the Tsar's relations with his Ministers, the men who were primarily responsible for the national policy.
I have spoken above of certain resignations of Ministersresignations which excited disapproval and bitter comment. In order to judge the situation in his Empire, the Tsar received reports from his Ministers. But where could he get the necessary material for judging his Ministers? It has been said over and over again that it was the Tsar's entourage (in Russian, Okrujenie) that furnished the Tsar with the material for forming his personal 0pinion. The influence of the Okrujenie has often been grossly exaggerated. To show the true situation, I shall follow the same plan as with the Grand Dukes, in the preceding chapter, and shall try to delineate each of the men who surrounded the Tsar.
I must begin with Count Freedericksz, Minister Of the Court, 'the old gentleman', as the Imperial couple called him. They knew his devotion in the performance of his exacting duties. Some of his tasks, such as that of watching over the relations between the Tsar and the members of the Imperial family, were of a peculiarly difficult and delicate nature.
THE APPOINTMENT OF BARON FREEDERICKSZ
Count Freedericksz was descended from a Swedish officer who had been taken prisoner by Russian troops and interned at Archangel. -One of his ancestors had won distinction as banker to Catherine II, and had been ennobled with the title of Baron. The Count's father, a soldier, went through many campaigns: he was present at the capture of Paris, and was for a long time Officer Commanding the 13th Regiment at Erivan, in the Caucasus, at the beginning of the nineteenth century. He ended his career as General A.D.C. to Alexander II.
Freedericksz-then Baron Vladimir Borisovitch Freedericksz-began his career as an officer in the Horse Guards. Alexander III appointed him first Master of the Horse and later assistant to the Minister of the Court. The Minister was then Count Vorontzov. After the disaster at Hodynka Count Vorontzov sent in his resignation: he had been charged with making insufficient provision for the public safety. The Tsar considered the Minister entirely free from responsibility for the disaster, and asked him to remain at his post.
But Vorontzov made one great mistake. He had known Nicholas II since he was a baby, and took up a protective attitude towards him, the attitude, as it were, of an older relation. Nicholas himself regarded this as entirely natural; but the young Empress did not. She could not permit a Count Vorontzov to be on familiar terms with her husband. One day, when nothing could have been farther from the Count's mind, he was notified that his resignation, which had 'so often been offered to His Majesty', was accepted; later on he was sent as Viceroy to the Caucasus.
Freedericksz took his brother officer's place, at first as Acting Minister and afterwards as Minister. The appointment created a great sensation at the Court. Freedericksz did not belong to the highest ranks of the nobility, and none of his family had ever been in close association with the Throne, except his father, as General A.D.C. It was plain that the Tsar had known how to appreciate his simplicity, his tact, and his unsullied integrity. Freedericksz retained his post until the final catastrophe.
Count Freedericksz (he had received the title of Count from Nicholas II) was very rich, and that gave him the sense of independence that was so necessary amid the intrigues and the raging appetites that surrounded him.
Some people alleged that he was miserly. He was merely methodical in his expenditure. He certainly refused to lend money to people who were capable of making a bad use of it. But I have known him to incur expenditure, when he thought it necessary, on a scale that was out of proportion even to his nabob's fortune.
I recall the incident of Mr. E., an extremely rich man with a liking for little short-term usury deals. This gentleman had asked Count Freedericksz to admit his son into the Horse Guards as a volunteer. Freedericksz agreed, but warned Mr. E. that his son must not expect to become an officer in this very exclusive regiment, A year later young E. successfully passed his examinations for officer of the Guards. His father came again to see Count Freedericksz, and asked that his son should be admitted after all into the family of officers. Freedericksz, as Officer Commanding, refused as gently and considerately as he could. Thereupon Mr. E. announced that all the overdue bills signed by officers of the regiment and held by him would be protested next day. That meant, in default of immediate payment, the forced resignation of all the officers concerned.
Freedericksz showed Mr. E. the door. Then he sent for his officers and asked each one of them how much E. had lent him. The total, if I remember rightly, came to something like 79,000 roubles, an enormous sum at that time-about 8,000 pounds. There and then each officer received from Freedericksz's hands a cheque enabling him to free himself from his debt. Young E. went into another regiment of the Guards.
I remember as well as if it were yesterday my first visit to my old fellow-officer-twenty years after I had left the regiment-in my new capacity of Head of the Chancellery.
The Count's private residence was in the Potchtamtskaya, exactly opposite the Horse Guards' barracks. These barracks occupied an enormous area in the centre of the capital, with a drill ground surrounded on three sides by yellow and white buildings.
Count Freedericksz had steadily refused to leave this house. The Countess often said that she found herself cramped for want of room, having only five small drawingrooms for her use. She would have preferred to have a ballroom and to occupy the fine residence that the Court was supposed to place at the Minister's disposal in accordance with the law.
'Yes,' the Count would reply. 'That would have enabled us to organize grand receptions like all the other Ministers. But, on the other hand, when I am asked to resign you will not have to move out; you will go on receiving your friends in your five little salons. Don't you think it is better to have an assured future than gala receptions?'
An assured future! He did not dream that his house was to be the first to be destroyed on the morrow of the revolution, and that none of his staff would have an assured future after 1917!
The moment I entered the spacious room in which the Count had installed his desk, I saw that nothing had changed, nothing had been moved. The only new thing was a large picture on the wall-the parting present from the officers of the regiment he had commanded. It represented the drill ground that could be seen from his windows, and his regiment deployed in parade formation, with shining helmets and breastplates; in the foreground was Count Freedericksz, on foot, talking to his officers.
The Count's big easy chair was in its old place of twenty years ago, near the window; facing it was another chair, for his visitor. In between was a small table at which Freedericksz worked. The desk itself had been kept unchanged, with all the presents and portraits of members of the Imperial family placed in position once for all.
I sat down in the second chair. From then on I was the Count's 'right arm'; he gave the title of 'left arm' to Count Heyden, head of the Emperor's military secretariat.
THE MINISTER'S WORKING DAY
Count Freedericksz began work every day about 10 a.m. It was my duty to be the first to go to his room. I began by opening the letters on his desk.. Usually they were requests for grants. The Count wanted to know at once why this widow or that orphan needed help; often I was able to secure the passing of these applications through the regular official channels, but not without some difficulty: the Count was thoroughly humane and kind-hearted, and insisted on learning every possible detail of each case; he was very methodical.
The conversation continued unhurriedly. Sometimes the Minister would interrupt me:
'Look! There they are exercising in the square' (the Horse Guards' drill ground, as I have mentioned, was just in front of the Count's house). 'The third man from the left is tugging at the bit and irritating his horse for nothing. His fool of an N.C.O. doesn't notice anything.... Well, let us get back to work. I know you, too, are a keen cavalry officer.'
The Count would light his enormous morning cigar, and we went on to important matters, above all the report to be presented to His Majesty. Freedericksz had a special gift for drawing up the reports in a form which could not annoy His Majesty; I too learned this difficult art before long.
The Minister made a practice of letting me know everything His Majesty had said during the presentation of the report; this enabled me to get a good knowledge of the Sovereign's wishes. The Minister knew that he could count implicitly on my discretion. For his part, he asked me never to retail to him any of the little stories or bits of gossip current in town and at Court..
'I am as transparent as a crystal,' he said; 'you can see through me. I can never keep back anything. I am full of discretion so far as affairs of state are concerned, but little bits of scandal are always liable to slip out of my mouth; it is better for me to know nothing about them.'
Another of my tasks was to transmit the Count's criticisms to the staff; he was afraid of going too far, of saying more than he had intended. He reserved for himself the cases that called for his approval or congratulation, a task which he performed with a tact that excited my admiration.
Soon the cigar would be finished and the report completed. We went on to the signature of the papers that I had brought in. The Count considered that those of his Ministerial colleagues who scrawled almost illegible initials had no manners. For him the affixing of his signature was a ritual practice. He wrote his name with an ordinary pen, and then underlined it with a fine flourish made with a quill. Whatever carried his signature became an important document, and it was also important that future generations should be able to admire the perfection of calligraphy. On the days on which there were new appointments to be made there might be a hundred letters to sign; it was, need I say, no small trial of secretarial patience!
My morning's duty with the Count usually ended about 1 p.m. After lunch with his family the Count went to his barber, 'Pierre', in the Bolshaya Morskaya; this visit to the Figaro of Petrograd was part of the invariable programme of every day; the Count made a point of being shaved at Pierre's and nowhere else.
The rest of the day was marked out with an equally unvarying routine. At 3 p.m. the Minister saw one by one the heads of departments of the Court, and those people who had been granted interviews with him. The evenings, if there was no urgent business, were devoted to his family; if there was business Freedericksz sent for me about 10 p.m., and we worked together, sometimes late into the night, refreshed with a bottle of good Bordeaux and some biscuits. Towards the end of his life the doctors had the cruelty to forbid the Count this innocent little pleasure!
THE MINISTER AND THE TSAR
The Minister 'reported' to the Tsar twice a week. The first audience was on Saturday mornings, and lasted an hour; the second) of about half an hour, was on Thursdays.
But the Minister saw Their Majesties much more often than this. When the Emperor was at Tsarskoe Selo he would receive an invitation every two or three days, either to lunch or to be present at a reception or a review of some regiment. Freedericksz was also regularly invited to all the intimate festivals of the Imperial family, children's birthdays, Christmas trees, and so on.
As soon as he returned from the Palace, the Minister sent for me to give me all His Majesty's orders. It was touching to hear him tell of the many kindnesses which the Tsar and the Empress showered on him.
If the Minister was prevented by illness from going to Tsarskoe Selo, the Empress would send him little presentssomething that she had made herself. They would be accompanied by a little note saying that Their Majesties hoped that he would soon be well again. Nobody else was made much of in this way by the Imperial couple, and I am sure that no one else would have appreciated these attentions so much as Freedericksz did.
The little gifts and notes were the subject of conversation with the friends of the family for weeks afterwards.
The Tsar was fond of a talk with his Minister of the Court. The Minister was the only man to whom the Emperor confided his difficulties in dealing with Ministers and Grand Dukes. The Count had a special flair for the discovery of a good solution which brought all concerned into agreement with one another. The Tsar, timid and reserved, also entrusted Freedericksz with the duty of conveying his dissatisfaction to those who had incurred it. That was the most trying of the Count's duties.
The Tsar knew his Minister of the Court to be a man of high character, of noble ideals, and of absolute integrity. He knew the depth of his Minister's devotion to him. He also appreciated the delicacy with which Freedericksz put the truth, even the disagreeable truth, before him. The Count had a special gift for always avoiding any injury to his master's feelings.
And he never interfered in matters that were not connected with his duties as Minister, unless the Tsar expressly asked his opinion.
For myself, I always had a veneration for the Count, as a chief full of delicacy and charm. In him I have lost my best friend.
THE MINISTER'S POLITICS
With his ideals of order and discipline and his monarchist principles, Freedericksz considered that Russia ought to maintain the best possible relations with Germany. Prussia, in his view, was the last stronghold of the monarchical idea: we needed her just as she needed us. He admitted that Berlin's activities had made a Russo-French rapprochement necessary, in order to recall the Kaiser to the realities of foreign policy. But he considered that no alliance with republican France ought to entail any permanent weakening of the dynastic relations between Berlin and St. Petersburg.
'Neither France nor Britain,' he said to me one day, would come to the assistance of our dynasty. They would be very glad to see Russia turned into a republic. They know what happened to Samson when Delilah caused the seven locks to be shaven off his head.'
When Isvolsky was trying to induce His Majesty to go to Cowes, Freedericksz pointed out to the Tsar that the visit might embroil us irremediably with the Kaiser and bring a war which would be equally dangerous for both dynasties. When the voyage was definitely decided on, he talked to me for a long time of the danger which might threaten Russia; he considered that Britain would never be a loyal ally, and he predicted the worst perils for our country.
'I am not a professional diplomat,' he said to me again and again. 'I have not the necessary material'.
It would be too long a story to tell of all the tricks of which I was made the victim by these persons. I need only say that I had to 'sack' several of them for submitting to me for signature official documents in the diametrically opposite sense of the instructions which I their chief, had given..
There were countless malpractices in connexion with appointments as 'Purveyor to His Majesty'. This title was greatly coveted by manufacturers and sellers of luxury articles, and very large gratuities were to be had by any one who procured an appointment of this sort, perhaps for persons with very doubtful credentials. I had to keep under lock and key all correspondence concerning the Purveyors to His Majesty.
Gradually, taking my time about it, I replaced the whole of these people by young men of good family who had studied at the Law School and the Imperial Alexander School (where the future diplomats and high officials were educated). The old staff were transferred, one by one, to posts in which they could do no serious harm.
There were some outbursts of Grand Ducal irritation; in fairness I must say that they were fewer than I had expected.
My deputy was a Mr. Zlobin. For a long time he could not forgive me for my appointment; he was older than I, and at one time had regarded himself as the obvious candidate for the post of Head of the Chancellery. He was a very good fellow for all that; and a good musician, perhaps too good, as the following story will show.
One day when he was reading to me a draft reply to an important communication, he delivered the concluding passage in a sort of triumphal chant.
'But, Zlobin,' I objected, 'that sentence surely contradicts all that you said before?'
Quite so, Your Excellency,' he replied without turning a hair, 'quite so; but did you perceive the wealth of musical rhythm in the phraseology?'
I was driven at last to the conclusion that the rhythmical phrasing of urgent papers was taking up too much of his time. Zlobin was a favourite of Freedericksz; the Count was flattered by the respect that my deputy showed him: as soon as he came into the Count's presence he seemed to be in danger of swooning, such was his awe of 'the old gentleman'! I profited by Freedericksz's interest in Zlobin to get him transferred to a most distinguished position, that of Head of the Imperial Decorations Office. He filled this post with dignity and success, convinced that he was in charge of state business of the utmost importance. When the revolution came he was the most decorated man in all the Empire.
The most disagreeable of my duties was the reception of visitors. Freedericksz hated to have anything to do with strangers; he did not like refusing favours -he was too good-hearted - and he did not like promising to grant them, for they might prove later on to be contrary to the law and so produce endless difficulties. Accordingly he issued a standing instruction that nobody was to be admitted to the Minister's presence without having first been received by the Head of the Chancellery, who would go into their case. This enabled me to get rid of the majority of the visitors, and to prepare the Minister as necessary whenever one of them had to be admitted to his presence.
Most of them-such is the general impression that I got after talks with thousands and thousands of applicants for favours of every sort-most of them wanted something which was not authorized by law or, still more often, was flatly against the law. To this day I can hear the constantly repeated phrase:
'If it had been permissible under the law I should not have come to trouble His Majesty.'
My day for receiving visitors was Saturday. But highly placed personages considered that I ought to receive them on days other than those fixed for the common crowd! It will easily be imagined how much useless waste of time this cost me. It should be mentioned that the Grand Dukes were not the only ones to consider themselves entitled to treatment as highly placed personages. This privilege belonged, it appeared, to all the Court dignitaries-and, God knows, there were plenty of them! - to members of the Imperial Council (our Upper Chamber), and, I am not too clear why, to the members of the Imperial Yacht Club.
These distinguished visitors never opened up at once with the object of their visit. One might have supposed that they thought it bad form to fail to waste at least twenty minutes of my time on preliminary gossip about society and the Court. The older personages had a litany of their own to recite; the same litany in every case. They told me at length of the infirmities with which they were afflicted; they recommended me their family doctor; and they described to me the methods of cure that they had had the good fortune to discover, infallible methods against troubles which fortunately I had been spared. It was useless to try to cut short these therapeutical confidencesthe story would only grow longer still, and the sufferer would go away ill-humoured into the bargain. Once the litany had been completed, the visitor would suddenly remember what he had called about; he would begin to sing the praises of some relative. That was all-but what a plague in the midst of my work!
For that matter, requests for promotions and appointments dogged me wherever I went. One day, at the New Club, the Head of the Prisons Department
sat down next to me, and said, for once without any beating about the bush:
'A splendid man! Young! Rich! with a fine education! Put him into Court dress and he will be an ornament of your balls. My word, he will be better than that baboon X whom you allowed into the last promotion list-that man's Court dress sits on him like a strait waistcoat on a cow.'
'Well, what is the name of your protege?'
'Name? His name? Here, steward, what's the name of that young man who lost to me three times yesterday at billiards?'
'Prince Karageorgevitch, Your Excellency.'
'No. no. I know Prince Karageorgevitch well. Besides, the Prince beats me, and this other fellow lost three games. How can you be ignorant of the name of a member of the club?'
'My dear chap,' I said, 'send me a little note and tell me who the young man is.'
'Yes, yes. Don't forget what I've been telling you!'
THE CROWN OF THE PRINCESS OF GEORGIA
The industry that was expended at times on waylaying the Head of the Chancellery, as the officer in charge of the distribution of Imperial favours, is almost beyond belief. The story of the princess of Georgia is worth telling.
Mlle Bezobrazova had married a prince of Georgia, a subaltern in a regiment of the Guards. She attached an altogether undue importance to her husband's title. She claimed to be considered as a 'reigning' princess (her husband's great-grandfather had been King of Georgia), which would have given her the right to go in processions alongside the Imperial family.
Year after year she complained of Masters of Ceremonies who failed in her opinion to show her due reverence. An old law of sixty years before, completely forgotten, had to be unearthed in the end to dispose of her claim: descendants of reigning princes from the third degree onwards are entitled to precedence only if it is justified by the functions with which they are entrusted by the Russian Government. The prince was a subaltern; there could, then, be no question of his being placed alongside the Grand Dukes.
The princess had recourse then to another stratagem. She sent in a request that the Tsar should be godfather to her second child. Freedericksz reported; the Tsar did not refuse - he considered it his duty to show favour to large families.
To have the Tsar as godfather brought certain privileges: there was a grant for the boy's education; the mother was entitled to a present from Court funds; on attaining his majority the young man could claim a post in the Ministry of the Court, and there were certain other grants in case of need. The Georgian princess knew how to make the most of this manna, by repeatedly declaring that she was destitute.
It was the present that ultimately brought disaster to the writer of these lines.
The value of the present was determined by the lady's 'rank'. One day I said to the keeper of Imperial presents:
'Fix up something to please her; the grant is 600 roubles; you can go a bit beyond that if necessary, but not beyond 1,000.'
A few days later I was informed that the princess wanted a 'diadem'. It was impossible to get one for so small a sum.
'Explain that to her,' I said.
'I have done, but do you think she is going to give way? She says she agrees to have Ural stones in the diadem.' (Ural stones are semi-precious coloured gems.)
semi-precious coloured gems.)
'If that will please her, get her a diadem with Ural stones.'
That was all she wanted.
Count Pourtales, the German Ambassador, was giving a ball. The princess telephoned to him and pointed out that as a reigning princess she was entitled to an invitation. 'The Tsar himself has just sent me my crown." A crown! Pourtal's was profuse in apologies and sent the invitation demanded of him.
The princess telephoned to the Court Stables office: 'Count Pourtales has invited me to his ball as a reigning princess. Please send me one of the Court carriages.'
The request was refused.
The princess telephoned again to Pourtales and explained to him why the Embassy must put a car at her disposal. That made the Ambassador suspicious. He telephoned to the Master of Ceremonies, and the cat was out of the bag..
The Tsar asked Freedericksz for explanations. The rumour was going about that I was 'distributing crowns '.
I had to have the unlucky diadem photographed and to draw up a report several pages long to explain the case of the Georgian princess.
I may end this section as I began it: my post was no sinecure. A good part of my day was taken up by conversations with the Minister; the rest of the time was largely spent in receiving visitors; and every day there was a steady flow into my office of reports from my staff. In the evenings I worked on the most important of the reports, and read the printed matter sent to the Minister in his capacity of member of the Imperial Council, in order to keep him constantly in touch with what was going on in our Upper House; the Tsar was in the habit of asking him for information on this subject. I brought my day to an end by signing papers and going through my correspondence.
It took me a good many years to master my duties. Some of the 'tricks of the trade' could only be acquired in the course of experience and professional training. Shall I give an example? The Imperial family was, let us say, expecting what the newspapers call 'a happy event'. The Chancellery had to prepare in advance the manifesto which the Tsar would sign (writing in himself, in a space left blank, the name decided on for the baby), to inform the country of what had happened.
A manifesto? Surely two, the careful reader may say: one for a boy and the other for a girl. The careful reader will still be far from the truth. Under the law Freedericksz had to be present in the next room at the happy event; and every time he went off for that purpose he took in his dispatch-case five-I say five--different manifestos: one for a boy, one for a girl, one for two boys, one for two girls, and one for a boy and a girl. This last case has not occurred, so far as I am aware, in any reigning family since the world began.
In sixteen years I scarcely had one free night. The work came in unendingly, like the water for the millwheel. If friends came to see me and I spent a few hours in their company I had to start the next day's work without having closed my eyes for one moment. My nerves stood this infernal grind fairly well.
MY DEPARTURE FROM PETROGRAD
I left my post of Head of the Court Chancellery against the will of Count Freedericksz. To satisfy him the Tsar had signed a decree sending me to Jassy as Minister Plenipotentiary while retaining me nominally in the position which I had held for more than sixteen years. In 1913 Freedericksz had expressed the desire that I should be given the rank of Deputy Minister of the Court, but another person was appointed. From that moment I knew that the Rasputin clique would end by 'downing' me. My authority progressively declined, and his illness made it impossible for Freedericksz to support me with the necessary energy.
In December 1916, when I was in Petrograd, the Empress offered me the post of Deputy Minister of the Interior. She said to me on that occasion:
'Everybody is criticizing; nobody is ready to give any help.'
I shall tell of this incident later, in the chapter dealing specially with Rasputin. At that moment my appointment might have meant one of two things: either an attempt to cover the activities of the Rasputin clique, or the offer of the opportunity to assist in righting the helm of State. If in talking to me the Empress had touched on the problem of Rasputin, and if I had had the least hope that it was not already too late to combat her mysticism (and all that it involved), I should have accepted; I should even have asked for another audience, in order to offer my services.
I did not do so. I had not the heroic quality such a step would have called for. I left for Jassy; I do not know whether history will justify me.
When I first entered on my duties at Court I had set before myself the purpose of restoring the pedestal on which the Tsar ought to stand; of assisting the Tsar in making justice and order prevail; of seeing to it that the Tsar's subjects should enjoy all the blessings that can be showered upon them from a throne. My chief collaborated with me in that purpose, himself entirely imbued with these same ideals. I was surrounded, moreover, with members of the suite who were thoroughly honourable men and ready, as I was, to worship the Tsar and to die for the dynasty. Each one of these men did his duty. But every one of us felt that we had never succeeded in inspiring in the Sovereign the confidence without which the difficulties of our task inevitably became more than mortal man can overcome.
C. The Tsar's Immediate Suite
IT WAS OF NO GREAT SIZE
The Tsar's immediate suite was composed of a small number of dignitaries holding definite posts.
First of all I must mention the Marshal of the Court, Count P. C. Benckendorff. He was an old officer of the Horse Guards, and had become the supreme arbiter of all that concerned the traditions of the Russian Court. Thoroughly well-up in his job, eventempered and hardworking, he was most punctual in the execution of his rather complicated duties.
Their Majesties treated him with great respect and entirely as a personal friend. He could also boast the friendship of the Grand Dukes and of all the sovereigns who came on visits to the Russian Court. (His brother was for a long time our Ambassador in London.)
Count Benckendorff was a man of principle. He abstained from any sort of political activity and would not even discuss politics. It was a matter of tactics, and there was much to be said for it.
He did not follow the Tsar to Siberia, for at that time he was confined to his bed, seriously ill. His place was filled by his son-in-law, Prince Vassily Dolgorukov, formerly of the Horse Guards. Dolgorukov was too young and too modest to venture to offer political advice to the Tsar. He preferred to go into exile and die with his master under the fire of the Bolsheviks.
Next came the Commander of the Palace, head of the Court police. This post was held first by General Hesse, A.D.C., and later, after various changes, by General Voyeikov.
The first of these two dignitaries kept rigidly to his specific duties. The second tried to play an important part at the Tsar's side.
Voyeikov, who had married the daughter of Count Freedericksz, was friendly with Mme Vyrubova, Rasputin's great admirer. It was on her recommendation that the Empress proposed the General for the post of Commander of the Palace after the death of General Dediulin. Freedericksz felt that it would be entirely impossible for him to work in harmony with his son-in-law; their temperaments were utterly dissimilar. He begged Alexandra Feodorovna to put forward another candidate, but his resistance was broken down. Voyeikov obtained the post he had coveted. He was very ambitious, and his tactics consisted in gradually alienating from the Tsar everybody who could interfere with his (Voyeikov's) plans. There was a time when I thought that Voyeikov and I would be able to work together in entire agreement; but a thing happened that made our collaboration impossible. Voyeikov presented to Freedericksz a report addressed to the Tsar which the Tsar sent back to the Minister, because the proposals made in the report ran counter to the existing laws. Freedericksz, greatly alarmed, said that in future all reports from Voyeikov must first be passed by me; and that, naturally, was enough to make Voyeikov hate me.
At the moment of the Tsar's abdication Voyeikov, owing to a succession of unfortunate circumstances, was at the head of the Tsar's suite, which at that time included only four other persons, Admiral Nilov, Prince Dolgorukov, Count Grabbe, and Naryshkin (Freedericksz being ill). What I have here to relate suffices to show that these people were incapable of giving proper advice to the Tsar. Among the Tsar's immediate suite, Voyeikov bears the chief responsibility for what happened after the arrival of the deputies from the Duma on their baneful mission.
There is little to say of Admiral Nilov, His Majesty's Flag Captain, who represented the Imperial navy, and who accompanied the Tsar on all his journeys. The Admiral owed his appointment to the intervention of Grand Duke Alexis, whose A.D.C. he had been for many years. Nilov had habits of intemperance which made him incapable of efficient work. He was very devoted to the Tsar, and after the revolution he remained at the Stavka until summoned away by the Tsar's express order.
The post of Head of the Emperor's military secretariat was held successively by Count Heyden, Prince Orlov, and, finally, Naryshkin. The Count had been in a privileged situation because he had been a friend of Nicholas II in their childhood; he sacrificed his post, his wife, and his children to a transient passion.
Prince Vladimir Orlov, a former officer of the Horse Guards, and an exceedingly rich man, soon became one of the intimates of the Imperial family. He was a highly cultivated man, sarcastic, with a dry humour, and enjoyed great social prestige. In 1915 he advocated the formation of a Ministry 'that could inspire public confidence', as the phrase went at the time. His whole policy was directed primarily to enabling Russia to escape from the disaster that he could see approaching; he was able to appreciate its premonitory symptoms at their true import. With no thought whatever for his personal career, he was devoted to the Tsar and to the cause of the Russian monarchy, devoted in the highest sense in which the word can be used. He was in regular correspondence with certain leading statesmen; he was the only one among the members of the suite who had any real political ability. Unfortunately he was no admirer of the Empress, and showed his feelings towards her in the presence alike of adherents and opponents of Rasputin, and even in audiences with the Empress herself.
I shall tell later, with all necessary detail, how this remarkable man's career was broken the very day the Empress decided to get rid of him. The Tsar had to take his wife's side (probably against his will, for he had a great regard for Prince Orlov); otherwise he would have been publicly sacrificing her prestige.
Orlov's place was taken, towards the end of the regime, by Naryshkin, a son of the Mistress of the Robes. Naryshkin made no attempt to share the captivity of Their Majesties after the revolution.
Three officers were attached to the military secretariat, Drenteln, Sablin, and Count Vorontzov Dashkov. They were the only officers attached to the person of the Tsar who were constantly at the Palace; they were regarded as assistants to the Head of the military secretariat. The rest of the officers (aides-de-camp, Generals 'in the suite', and even Generals A.D.C.) could only present themselves to the Tsar after obtaining authorization from Count Freedericksz.
Drenteln was a straightforward and intelligent man with a strong personality, and a man of culture. I found him thoroughly well qualified to be in the immediate and intimate entourage of the Tsar. He was a courtier in the good sense of the word, a man of good judgment and full of tact; apart from Freedericksz he was probably the only man to whom the Tsar was attached. The Sovereign greatly appreciated his company, and in the course of time Drenteln might have been able to render very valuable service through his good judgment of character and his ability to recognize straightforward people who were honestly devoted to His Majesty: he would not have been one to try to lure them away from his master!
Then, however, came the Orlov incident. Drenteln had been Orlov's right hand, and his position was badly shaken. To fill the cup to overflowing, there came one more incident: Djunkowsky, the officer in command of the gendarmerie, felt impelled to seek out the Tsar and tell him the whole truth about Rasputin. The whole truth! He was at once relieved of his office, and fell into disgrace. But he had belonged to the same regiment as Drenteln, on whom some of his disgrace fell accordingly. Drenteln was put in command of the Preobrajensky regiment. It was a promotion; but it meant leaving the Court.
Sablin, the Empress's protege, was not of sufficient calibre to be able to give political advice to the Tsar. He would have been unable to impose his point of view.
Count Vorontzov-Dashkov played no part of any importance.
Finally, there was the commander of His Majesty's personal escort, Count Grabbe. This officer failed to arouse in the soldiers forming the escort the indispensable sentiment of fidelity to the Sovereign, and proved personally unequal to his task when the final catastrophe came.
There was one more member of the Tsar's immediate suite, his physician-first Hirsch, afterwards Botkin and Feodorov.
Botkin was notoriously cautious in the extreme. Nobody in the suite had ever been able to get him to say what was the matter with the Empress or what treatment the Cesarevitch and his mother were being given. Feodorov was a man of great intelligence. He watched particularly over the health of the Cesarevitch; at the Stavka he was considered to have a great deal of influence with the Tsar. It was on the strength of his final diagnosis that the Tsar abdicated the throne in his son's name as well as his own: Feodorov had said definitely that Alexis would always be an invalid.
These were the principal personages in the Tsar's immediate suite. The aides-de-camp went on duty only for twenty-four hours at a time, in rotation; they would never have dreamed of submitting memoranda on general policy to His Majesty. Freedericksz, moreover, was jealous of his own function of adviser, and would never have tolerated such an abuse of influence. And it was well known that the Tsar himself detested those who attempted to discuss matters that did not come directly within their province.
The Head of the Apanages, the Grand Masters of Ceremonies, the Head Librarian and the Director of the Imperial Theatres only presented themselves in order to report on their respective spheres of duty.
I will say little on the subject of the Tsar's entourage at the time when he was at the Stavka his headquarters, as Generalissimo. Persons who were there for many months have often told me that these officers (I deliberately say nothing whatever about them in their military capacity) produced an impression of lifelessness and apathy, of people drifting and resigned in advance to whatever catastrophe might be approaching: 'petty bureaucrats in the service of a sovereign faced with an unexampled crisis'. All the new appointments seemed to have been dictated by some malignancy of fate: good men went, and their places were taken by careerists. The cleavage between the Tsar and the rest of the country continued to grow while he was at headquarters. Ministers rarely came, and when they did they showed no solidarity with their colleagues in the Cabinet. There was a total lack of unity in action and policy alike in the Cabinet and between Government and G.H.Q.: 'We were living on another planet'.
The Tsar saw only what the Empress allowed him to gather from her personal letters; and these letters were, of course, neither objective nor even informative.
The 'wall' of which I write in the next section suddenly grew and converged above the Tsar's head, turning into a cavern without air or light.
Here I will allow myself one single quotation, the only one in this work. On page 537 of the 1928 volume of the Revue des Deux Mondes there is this passage in the article 'Memoires du comte Benkendorf', dated March 21st 1917:
'It was on this day that our detention in the Alexander Palace began. Our company consisted of Mme Naryshkin, my wife, Baroness Buxhoewden, Countess Hendrikov, Drs. Botkin and Derevenko, Count Apraxin (who left us at the end of a week), and myself Next day, in the Emperor's train, my son-in-law Prince Dolgorukov arrived. We were also expecting General Naryshkin, Head of His Majesty's military secretariat; Count Alexander Grabbe, commanding the Cossack escort, and Colonel Mordvinov, A.D.C. to the Emperor; but they did not come. In addition, Mme Vyrubova, an invalid, and Mine Denn were in the Palace, but apart from the rest.'
In all, six women and five men, one of whom left March 25th.
THE SUITE PLAYED NO POLITICAL PART
It is clear from what I have written that the Tsar's immediate suite could have had no part in determining His Majesty's policy. It was made up of specialized officials who kept to the tasks for which they were responsible..
Their principal concern was to maintain their position amid the whirlwind that surrounded them. The best policy for each one of them was to confine himself to his own restricted province, not to go beyond his orders, and on no account to embark on any political adventure, for fear of the exceedingly unpleasant results that it might bring. 'Keep out of trouble' became the general motto, 'lie low', 'do nothing on your own responsibility if you can help it'.
Moreover, these officials were quite unfitted for playing any political part. Almost all the important members of the suite owed their positions to earlier service in the Horse Guards. Count Freedericksz, a former Commanding Officer of that distinguished regiment, felt it his duty to seek candidates for any vacancy that he had from among its officers, that big family to which he belonged and which provided the indispensable guarantees of correctness, tact, and perfect training. There was a very close solidarity between all those who had worn the white and gold uniform; that solidarity also constituted an important guarantee.
But none of the ex-officers of the Horse Guards had had any sort of preparation for playing any important political part. They all belonged to the high Russian nobility, a category of Russians who had kept a little apart from the other classes; they came to the Palace with a military education acquired in the schools for pages or cadets and completed by ten years or so passed in an elegant and socially brilliant regiment. Among them there were some very well-educated men; but most of them were without the special training through which it is necessary to pass, by one means or another, before having anything to do with affairs of state.
6. THE WALL'
The Tsar's immediate suite was incapable of bringing him fresh ideas concerning what was going on in his country, of suggesting political ideas independently of the reports from his Ministers. But an autocrat can only exercise his sovereign functions if he has the means of personal judgment, investigation, and supervision. In order to be an autocratic sovereign, Nicholas II required independent sources of information as a check on his Ministers.
We touch here on the problem which was the origin of the great tragedy of the last of the Romanovs; it is best described by its Russian name, Sredostenie. Throughout the reign of Nicholas II the Sredostenie was the principal subject of political discussions.
Sredostenie means literally a wall. It was virtually a technical term in Russian politics. The explanation that follows will indicate the theory underlying the term.
At the head of all stands the Sovereign, the autocrat. Below him, teeming and inchoate, is the struggling mass of his subjects. In order that Russia may live in entire tranquillity and content, all that is necessary is that there shall be direct relations between the Sovereign and his subjects.
The Tsar can do no wrong; he stands above classes, party politics, and personal rivalries. He desires the good of his people, and has practically unlimited means for assuring it. He seeks nothing for himself; he has a profound love of all those whom God has confided to his supreme care. There is no reason why he should not be the benefactor of each and all. All that is wanted is that he should know exactly what his people need.
The subjects love the Tsar, for he is the source of all their well-being. They cannot fail to love the Sovereign, for no other feeling is possible toward Beneficence personified. The subjects are not always happy, for the resources of the State are not unlimited and not everybody can be wealthy. But they have the consolation of knowing that the Sovereign does all that he can and everything that his essentially good heart dictates, in order that each one of them may have his share of well-being. Does not the idea of
being constantly the object of the solicitude of an almost allpowerful being constitute the greatest possible consolation?
I repeat: in order that this idyllic picture may be complete, the sole link needed to complete the chain is thisThe Tsar must be in possession of sound information.
Where is this information, indispensable for the proper working of any system of autocracy, to be sought?
Two political elements are interested in keeping the Tsar in more or less complete ignorance of what is passing in the minds of his subjects. The bureaucracy (including the Ministers) forms one of the sections of the 'wall' which surrounds the Sovereign. The bureaucracy is a caste with its own interests, interests that are not necessarily the same as those of the Tsar. In an empire with a hundred and fifty millions of inhabitants, an empire stretching from Warsaw in the west to Vladivostok in the east, it is impossible to do without a bureaucracy. It is essential to appoint supervising and executive agents. But these agents tend to substitute their own influence for that of the Tsar. How many times have certain Ministers represented the rigours of their administration as proceeding from the pitiless severity of the Sovereign, and any mitigation of those rigours as the fruit of pressure put upon the Tsar by themselves, the Ministers! The bureaucracy is interested, moreover, in keeping the Tsar in ignorance of what is going on: it is in this way that it makes itself more and more indispensable.
The second part of the 'wall' is formed by the fomenters of disturbances, the Intelligentsia (intellectuals), a name which the Russians borrowed from the French language and which subsequently spread back over Europe with a special connotation. The intellectuals are those who are not the bureaucracy that is at work and would like to become the bureaucracy of a different regime, a regime that can only be introduced into Russia at the cost of revolutionary convulsions.
The intellectuals are interested in attacking the bureaucracy and the Tsar whenever and wherever they can, blaming both for all the mistakes of the Ministers. The tactics of the intellectuals, the 'Third Estate' (in a slightly changed sense), are to misrepresent the relations between Beneficence personified and the mass of the people. With their newspapers., their pamphlets, their lectures, their teaching in the universities, their doubtful foreign connexions, their money, the intellectuals are tireless in weaving a fabric of venomous lies. They tell the people the opposite of what ought to be told them in order to prevent them from becoming too agitated; they declare that the Tsar has no love for his subjects and no concern for their fate. Knowing how false all this is, the Tsar detests the intellectuals, the agitators, the disturbers, the revolutionaries.
Bureaucracy-intellectuals: those who had arrived and those who wanted to take their places. Two enemies, working together in one respect-in their tendency to reduce the personal prestige of the Tsar. Brick by brick, lie by lie, between them they built up a veritable prison wall around him, confining him to his palace and preventing him from leaving it to speak directly to his good subjects and to tell them as man to man how he loved them. That wall was equally effective in concealing the extent to which the true subjects of the Tsar, those whose natural sentiments had not been perverted by propaganda, those simple subjects with open hearts ready to accept his beneficence and grateful for it, loved their Little Father Tsar.
The peasant masses loved the Tsar. The soldiers loved the Tsar. The townspeople, who crowded to see him pass and huzzaed from the moment when his motor-car came into sight, loved the Tsar. He would have been loved still more if the 'wall' had not prevented him from doing his work as autocrat.
Towards the end of his reign Nicholas II seems to have felt that he had succeeded in destroying the accursed 'wall', the Sredostenie. I remember a very significant conversation that I had with him on February 14th 1917, fourteen days before the end of the regime.
In discussing with the Tsar a measure that was to be adopted, I was unable to refrain from saying:
'That will do a great deal to assure the position of the dynasty!'
In spite of his reserve, the Tsar replied with heat, plainly disturbed at what I had said:
'What! You, Mossolov, are you too going to tell me of the peril that menaces the dynasty? People are continually harping on this supposed peril. Why, you have been with me and have seen how I was received by the troops and the people! Are you too, even you, panicking?'
'I have seen all that, Sire, but I also see them when they are not in Your Majesty's presence. Forgive my freedom of speech.'
The Tsar controlled himself, and went on, with a smile:
'I am not put out-far from it. Let us go in to dinner. The Empress will be waiting for us already.'
That, I repeat, was on February 14th 1917. Did the Tsar realize the danger, and was he merely trying to keep up the courage of those who were around him?
That is a possible explanation. But I think the truth is that the Tsar did not see the danger, or did not see that it was already at the Palace gates.