Thirteen Years at the Russian Court Thirteen Years at the Russian Court Thirteen Years at the Russian Court

Five Months Captivity at Tsarskoe - Pierre Gilliard - Thirteen Years at the Russian Court


The Imperial family remained at Tsarskoe-Selo until the month of August, 1917. During the five months of this internment with them I kept a diary of our life together. It will be understood that delicacy of feeling prevents me from reproducing it in its entirety. I wish to avoid as much as possible bringing in people who are still alive. I shall, however, break through this reserve when it is a question of dealing with incidents which throw light on the character of the Tsar and his family or their feelings during these long months of trial.

Sunday, April 1st - Aleksey Nicolaievich feeling much better. We went to church this morning, where we found Their Majesties, the Grand-Duchesses Olga and Tatiana, and the various members of the suite who are sharing our captivity. When the priest prayed for the success of the Russian and Allied armies the Tsar and Tsarina knelt down, the whole congregation following their example

A few days ago, as I was leaving Aleksey Nicolaievich's room, I met ten soldiers wandering about in the passage. I went up to them and asked what they wanted.

"We want to see the Heir"

"He's in bed and can't be seen."

"And the others?"

"They are also unwell."

"And where is the Tsar?

"I don't know."

"Will he be going out?"

"I don't know; but come, don't hang about here. There must be no noise because of the invalids!"

They went back, walking on their toes and talking in low voices. These are the soldiers depicted to us as wild revolutionaries hating their ex-Tsar.

Tuesday, April 3rd - Today Kerensky came to the palace for the first time. He went through all the rooms and noted all the sentry-posts, wishing to assure himself in person that we are well guarded. Before leaving he had a fairly long conversation with the Tsar and Tsarina.

Wednesday, April 4th - Aleksey Nicolaievich related to me yesterday's conversation between Kerensky and the Tsar and Tsarina.

The whole family was collected in the apartment of the Grand-Duchesses Kerensky entered and introduced himself, saying

"I am the Procurator-General, Kerensky."

Then he shook hands all round. Turning to the Tsarina, he said:

"The Queen of England asks for news of the ex-Tsarina."

Her Majesty blushed violently. It was the first time that she had been addressed as ex-Tsarina. She answered that she was fairly well, but that her heart was troubling her as usual. Kerensky went on:

"Anything I begin I always carry through to the bitter end, with all my might. I wanted to see everything myself, to verify everything so as to be able to report at Petrograd, and it will be better for you."

He then asked the Tsar to go with him into the next room as he wished to speak to him in private. He went in first and the Tsar followed.

After his departure, the Tsar told us that no sooner were they alone than Kerensky said to him:

"You know I've succeeded in getting the death penalty abolished?... I've done this in spite of the fact that a great number of my comrades have died, martyrs to their convictions."

Was he trying to make a display of his magnanimity, and insinuating that he was saving the Tsar's life, though the latter had done nothing to deserve it?

He then spoke of our departure, which he still hopes to be able to arrange. When? Where? How? He did not know himself, and asked that the matter should not be discussed.

This has been a hard blow for Aleksey Nicolaievich. He has not yet realized their new situation. It was the first time he had seen his father receive orders and obey like a subordinate.

It is worthy of note that Kerensky arrived at the palace in one of the Tsar's private cars, driven by a chauffeur from the Imperial garage.

Friday, April 6th - The Tsar told me today of the distress the papers cause him. It is the ruin of the army; no more hierarchy or discipline. The officers are afraid of their men and are spied upon by them. One feels the Tsar is hard hit by the collapse of the army which is so dear to him.

Sunday, April 8th - After Mass, Kerensky announced to the Tsar that he was obliged to separate him from the Tsarina - that he will have to live apart, only seeing Her Majesty at meals, and that on condition that only Russian is spoken. Tea, too, may be taken together, but in the presence of an officer, as no servants are present.

A little later the Tsarina came up to me in a great state of agitation, and said:

"To think of his acting like this to the Tsar, playing this low trick after his self-sacrifice and his abdication to avoid civil war; how mean, how despicable! The Tsar would not have had a single Russian shed his blood for him. He has always been ready to renounce all when he knew that it was for the good of Russia."

A moment later she went on:

"Yes, this horrible bitterness must be endured too."

Monday , April 9th - I learn that Kerensky had intended at first to isolate the Tsarina, but it was pointed out to him that it would be inhuman to separate a mother from her sick children; it was then that he decided to isolate the Tsar.

April 13th, Good Friday. - In the evening the whole family went to Confession.

Saturday, April 14th - In the morning, at half-past nine, Mass and Holy Communion. In the evening, at half-past eleven everyone went to church for the midnight service. Colonel Korovitchenko, the Commandant of the palace and friend of Kerensky, and the three officers of the guard were also present. The service lasted until two o'clock, when we went to the library to exchange the traditional greetings. The Tsar, according to Russian custom, embraced all the men present, including the Commandant and officers of the guard, who had remained with him. The two men could not hide their emotion at this spontaneous act.

We then took our places at a round table for the Easter meal. Their Majesties sat facing one another. There were seventeen of us, including the two officers. The Grand-Duchesses Olga and Marie were not present, nor Aleksey Nicolaievich. The comparative animation which marked the beginning soon relapsed and conversation flagged. His Majesty was particularly silent. Was it sadness or fatigue?

Sunday, April 15th, Easter Day - We went out for the first time with Aleksey Nicolaievich on the terrace in front of the palace. A superb spring day.

In the evening at seven o'clock a religious service upstairs in the children's apartments. There were only fifteen of us. I noticed that the Tsar crossed himself piously when the priest prayed for the Provisional Government.

On the following day, as the weather was still very fine, we went out into the park, where we are now allowed to take the air, followed by officers of the guard and sentries.

Wishing to take a little physical exercise, we amused ourselves by clearing the sluices of the pond of the ice which was blocking them. A crowd of soldiers and civilians soon lined up along the park railing and watched our work. After some time the officer of the guard went up to the Tsar and told him that the Commandant of the Tsarskoe-Selo garrison had just warned him that he feared a hostile demonstration or even an attempt on the lives of the Imperial family, and he would ask us not to remain where we were. The Tsar answered that he had no fear, and that the good people were not annoying him in any way.

Wednesday, April 18th - Whenever we go out, soldiers, with fixed bayonets and under the command of an officer, surround us and keep pace with us. We look like convicts with their warders. The instructions are changed daily, or perhaps the officers interpret them each in his own way!

This afternoon, when we were going back to the palace after our walk, the sentry on duty at the gate stopped the Tsar, saying:

"You cannot pass, sir."

The officer with us here intervened. Aleksey Nicolaievich blushed hotly to see the soldier stop his father.

Friday, April 20th - We now go out regularly twice a day: in the morning from eleven till noon, in the afternoon from half-past two to five. We all collect in the semi-circular hall and wait for the officer commanding the guard to come and open the gates into the park. We go out; the officer on duty and soldiers fall in behind us and take station round the place where we stop to work. The Tsarina and Grand-Duchesses Olga and Marie are still confined to their rooms.

Sunday, April 22nd - We are forbidden to go to the pond; we have to keep near the palace and not go outside the radius which has been fixed for us. In the distance we saw a crowd of several hundred people curious to see us.

Wednesday, April 25th - Kerensky returned to the palace. Dr. Botkin has taken advantage of this to ask if it would be possible to transfer the Imperial family to Livadia on account of the children's health. Kerensky replied that it was quite impossible for the moment. He then went to see Their Majesties, and remained some time. Kerensky's attitude towards the Tsar is no longer what it was at the beginning; he has given up his judicial bearing. I am convinced that he is beginning to understand what the Tsar is and yielding to his moral ascendancy like all who come near him. Kerensky has requested the papers to put an end to their campaign against the Tsar, and more especially the Tsarina. These calumnies simply pour oil on the flames. He feels his responsibility towards the captives. But not a word about our departure abroad. That proves his powerlessness.

Sunday, April 29th -In the evening a long conversation with Their Majesties on the subject of Aleksey Nicolaievich's lessons. We must find a way out since we have no longer any tutors. The Tsar is going to make himself responsible for History and Geography, the Tsarina will take charge of his religious instruction. The other subjects will be shared between Baroness Buxhoeveden (English), Mlle. Schneider (Arithmetic), Dr. Botkin (Russian) and myself.

Monday, April 3oth. - This morning the Tsar greeted me with "Good morning, dear colleague" - he has just given Aleksey Nicolaievich his first lesson. Always the same serenity, the same anxiety to be agreeable to those who share his captivity. He is an example and an encouragement to us.

I have given Tatiana Nicolaievna the article in the Journal des Debats of April 18th, 1917, signed A. G. (Auguste Gauvain) for her parents to read.

It is apparent that the regime to which we are being subjected is becoming continually more severe.

Tuesday, May 1st - For the first time Russia celebrates May 1st. We hear the bands and see the processions of demonstrators pass along the park railings.

This evening the Tsar returned to me the copy of the Journal des Debats dealing with his abdication. He told me it had given the Tsarina pleasure to read this article, which tried to be fair to him. Its tone was a contrast to that of the English papers.

Thursday, May 3rd - The Tsar told me this evening. that the news has not been good for several days. The Extremist parties demand that France and England should declare themselves ready to make peace without annexations or indemnities." Deserters axe becoming more and more numerous and the army is melting away. Will the Provisional Government be strong enough to continue the war?

The Tsar is following events with acute interest; he is anxious, but still hopes that the country will pull itself together and remain faithful to the Allies.

Sunday, May 13th - This is the second day we have spent making a kitchen garden on one of the lawns of the park. We began by taking up the turf, carrying away the sod on barrows and arranging it in heaps. Everyone helped: the family, ourselves, and the servants, who for some time have been going out with us. Several soldiers of the guard even have come to help us!

The Tsar has looked very preoccupied during the last few days. As we were coming back from our walk he said to me:

"It seems Russky has resigned. He had asked that an offensive should be undertaken. (One asks now; one no longer gives orders!) The Soldiers' Committees refused. If this is true it is the end! What humiliation! To remain on the defensive and not attack is suicide! We're going to let our allies be crushed, and then it will be our turn."

Monday, May 14th - The Tsar returned to our conversation of yesterday, adding:

"What gives me a little hope is our love of exaggeration. I can't believe that our army at the front is as bad as they say; it can't have fallen to this extent in two months."

Thursday, May 17th -It appears that the -end has been reached of the serious Government crisis that has lasted a fortnight. The -news from Petrograd seems less bad. The new Council of Ministers, reconstituted with the addition of a few representatives of the soldiers and workmen, will perhaps succeed in establishing its authority. Meanwhile anarchy is everywhere gaining ground.

Saturday, May 19th -The Tsar's birthday. (He is forty-nine.) Mass and congratulations.

Sunday, May 27th - For some time we have been allowed only a very small supply of wood, and it is intensely cold everywhere. Mme. Narishkina (Grand Mistress of the Court) has been taken ill, and was sent away to-day, the state of her health demanding care which cannot be given here. She was in despair at the idea of leaving us, for she knows she will not be permitted to return to the palace.

Saturday, June 2nd - We are still working everyday at the kitchen garden. We are watering it from a tub which we take turns to drag.

Sunday, June 10th - A few days ago the children were playing on their island (an artificial islet in the middle of a little lake). Aleksey Nicolaievich was practising handling his little gun which he thinks a lot of, as it was given to the Tsar when he was a boy by his father. An officer came up to us. He told me that the soldiers had decided to take the gun away from the Tsarevich, and were coming for it. When he heard this, Aleksey Nicolaievich put down his toy and joined the Tsarina, who was sitting on the grass a few yards from us. A moment later the officer on duty came with two soldiers and demanded that the "weapon" should be given up. I tried to intervene and make them understand that the gun was not a weapon but a toy. It was no use: they took possession of it. Aleksey Nicolaievich began to sob. His mother asked me to make another attempt to convince the soldiers, but I did not succeed any better than the first time, and they went off with their prize.

Half an hour later the officer on duty took me aside and asked me to tell the Tsarevich that he was greatly distressed at what he had had to do. After trying in vain to dissuade the men, he had chosen to come with them to prevent any discourtesy on their part.

Colonel Kobylinsky (Colonel Kobylinsky shortly before had replaced Colonel Korovitchenko as Commandant of the palace) was annoyed to hear of the incident, and brought back the little gun to Aleksey Nicolaievich piece by piece. Since then he has only played with it in his room.

Friday, June 15th - We finished our kitchen garden some time ago and it is now in splendid condition. We have every imaginable kind of vegetable, and five hundred cabbages. The servants, too, have made a garden on their side of the palace, where they can cultivate what they like. We went to help them dig it - the Tsar too.

To occupy our leisure now that we have finished our work on the garden, we have asked and obtained permission to cut down the dead trees in the park, so we go from place to place, followed by a guard which moves when we move. We are beginning to be quite skilful woodcutters. This will give us a supply of wood for next winter.

Friday, June 22nd - As the Grand-Duchesses were losing all their hair as the result of their illness, their heads have been shaved. When they go out in the park they wear scarves arranged so as to conceal the fact. just as I was going to take their photographs, at a sign from Olga Nicolaievna they all suddenly removed their headdress. I protested, but they insisted, much amused at the idea of seeing themselves photographed like this, and looking forward to seeing the indignant surprise of their parents. Their good spirits reappear from time to time in spite of everything. It is their exuberant youth.

Sunday, June 24th - The days follow one another, all alike, divided between lessons and walks. This morning the Tsar told me of a rather amusing incident which has broken the monotony of our seclusion.

He was reading aloud yesterday evening in the red hall to the Tsarina and Grand-Duchesses. Suddenly, about eleven o'clock, a servant entered in a great state of agitation and announced that the Commandant requested an immediate interview with the Tsar. The latter thought that something very serious must have happened at Petrograd - a great armed demonstration by the Bolsheviks against the Provisional Government was expected - and he gave orders for him to be shown in. The officer entered, accompanied by two non-commissioned officers. He explained that he had been summoned by a shot from a sentry, who, from the park, had noticed signals with red and green lights from the room in which the family were sitting. General amazement. What signals? What did it all mean? Great excitement on the part of the Tsarina and Grand-Duchesses. The officer then gave orders for the curtains to be closely drawn - it was stiflingly hot - and was about to retire. At this moment one of the N.C.O.'s came forward and explained the mystery. The Grand Duchess Anastasia Nicolaievna was sitting on the window-ledge doing needlework. Each time she bent forward to pick up from the table the things she required for her work she was covering and uncovering in turn two lamps with green and red shades by which the Tsar was reading. The officer retired in confusion.

Monday, July 2nd - We have learned that an offensive has been launched in the direction of Tarnopol, and is being successfully developed.

Tuesday, July 3rd - A Te Deum for the military successes which seem to presage a great victory. The Tsar, radiant, brought Aleksey Nicolaievich the evening paper and read him the communiques.

Thursday, July 12th - The news from the front is not good. The offensive which had begun so well is turning against the Russians.

Sunday, July 15th - Nothing new in our captivity. The only distraction is going out. It is very hot, and for some days Aleksey Nicolaievich has been bathing in the pond round the children's island. It is a great joy to him.

Wednesday, July 25th - The check is becoming more and more serious, the retreat deeper. The Tsar is greatly affected.

Thursday, August 9th - I learn that the Provisional Government has decided on the transfer of the Imperial family. The destination is kept secret ; we are all hoping it will be the Crimea.

Saturday, August 11th - We have been told that we must provide ourselves with warm clothing. So we are not to be taken south. A great disappointment.

Sunday, August 12th. (July 30th O.S.) - Aleksey Nicolaievich's birthday (he is thirteen). At the request of the Tsarina, the miraculous ikon of the Holy Virgin has been brought from the church of Znamenia. Our departure is fixed for tomorrow. Colonel Kobylinsky has confided to me as a great secret that we are to be transferred to Tobolsk.

Monday, August 13th - We were told to be ready by midnight; the train was ordered for one o'clock. Final preparations. Farewell visit to the children's island, kitchen garden, etc. Shortly before one in the morning everyone collected in the semi-circular hall, which full of luggage. The Grand-Duke Michael arrived with Kerensky and had an interview with the Tsar, who was delighted to see his brother again before his departure.

The train which was to take us had not yet arrived there appears to have been some difficulty with the railway men in Petrograd, who suspected that city to be the destination of the Imperial family. The hours passed in waiting, which grew more and more trying. Should we be able to start? It began to seem doubtful (this incident showed up the powerlessness of the Government). At last, about five o'clock, we were told that all was ready. We took leave of those of our fellow-captives who could not leave with us.

GILLIARD NOTE: These were Count and Countess Benckendorf, whom their great age and uncertain state of health prevented from following us; Baroness Buxhoeveden, who was kept back by illness and was to join us at Tobolsk as soon as she could, and a certain number of servants. Kerensky had asked the Tsar whether he wished Count Benckendorf to be replaced. The Tsar had replied that he would be very glad for General Tatichtchev to come and share his captivity. On learning his Tsar's wish General Tatichtchev only allowed himself time to put his affairs in order, and a few hours later started, valise in hand, for Tsarskoe-Selo. We found him in the train at the moment Of departure. General Tatichtchev held no Court appointment; he was one Of the Tsar's numerous aides-de-camp.

Our hearts were wrung at the thought of leaving Tsarskoe-Selo, to which we were bound by so many memories, and this departure for the unknown was marked by great sadness. just as our cars were leaving the park we were surrounded by a detachment of cavalry, which escorted us as far as the little station of Alexandrovka. We took our places in the compartments, which are very comfortable. Half an hour passed and then the train slowly moved away. It was ten minutes to six.

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