Nicholas II and the British Monarchs

*This title is available from AMAZON in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia,
France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and Japan


English. 164 pages, 36 black & white photos

Romanov historian and royal expert Coryne Hall writes about the relationships between Emperor Nicholas II with the three British monarchs who ruled during his 22-year reign.

The author has researched the relationships between Russia’s last Tsar with those of Queen Victoria – from 1894 to 1901; King Edward VII – from 1901 to 1910; and King George V – from 1910 to 1917. Her research is complemented with letters, diary entries and photographs.

The four essays presented in this volume were originally published in four successive issues of Sovereign, the semi-annual publication dedicated to the study of the life and reign of Emperor Nicholas II. They are presented here for the first time in one volume.

© Paul Gilbert. 19 March 2023

Watercolours by Pavel Shipov returned to Alexander Palace

Watercolours by Pavel Dmitrievich Shipov (1860-1919)
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

A pair of watercolours by Pavel Shipov – believed to have been lost during the Great Patriotic War (1941-45), have been returned to the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum. Up until 1941, these works hung in the Working Study of Emperor Nicholas II in the Alexander Palace, which at the time was a museum[1].

During the Nazi occupation of Tsarskoye Selo (1941-44), the Alexander Palace was used as headquarters for the German military command. Following the Nazi retreat in 1944, many items from the palace were destroyed, lost of stolen[2].

The provenance of Shipov’s watercolors are confirmed by the inventory numbers on the works (A-2033, A-2035), which match those found in the inventory book of museum items of the Pushkin Palaces-Museums of 1940.

The watercolours were in the possession of Björn Kohler-Svendsen, who received them from Horst Kohler-Svendsen, a relative who was in the Pushkin [Tsarskoye Selo] during the Nazi occupation. It was during the German retreat from Pushkin, that Horst discovered the watercolours and took back them to Germany. The watercolours were presented to the Russian Embassy in Berlin, who subsequently arranged for them to be returned to Tsarskoye Selo.

Both watercolours are pasted on cardboard and edged into frames, while on the reverse side there are inscriptions written in German with a ballpoint pen.

The watercolor seen on the right in the above photo depicts the presentation of the deputation of the Vologda province to Emperor Nicholas II on 29th January 1910, which features three members of the deputation, two of whom are holding icons. In the center of the composition the Tsar is depicted, leaning forward to kiss the icon. Two officers are depicted standing behind the Tsar.

On the back of the frame, Horst wrote: “I brought this painting from the city of Pushkin near Leningrad. It was lying on the floor of the Alexander Palace when the palace was destroyed by grenade explosions. I survived, and brought it with me in 1941.”

The second watercolor seen on the left in the above photo depicts a private of the Life-Guards 4th The Imperial Family’s Rifle Regiment. The artist has signed his name P. Shipov in the lower right corner, and in the lower left corner is written Tsarskoye Selo / 29 Jan. 1910.

On the back of the frame, Horst wrote: “This picture fluttered in the wind when, in the winter of 1941, the Catherine/Alexander Palaces in Pushkin, Russia (Leningrad) was bombed and damaged. I picked it up, and brought it with me.”

Pavel Dmitrievich Shipov (1860-1919)

Pavel Dmitrievich Shipov (1860-1919) served as Lieutenant General in both the Russian-Japanese and First World Wars. On 21st February 1908, he was appointed Wing-Adjutant to the Retinue of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Nicholas II, with the post of commander of the regiment. 

He was also an artist, educated at the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg. During the war, he specialized in military portraiture, making pencil sketches and watercolor portraits of soldiers and officers, observing them in battles and on leave.

Shipov was shot by the Bolsheviks on 23rd July 1919, although according to other sources he was shot in 1923.

These two watercolours now bring a total of five works by this artist in the collection of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum. Both watercolors will be returned to their historical place in the Working Study of Nicholas II in the Alexander Palace.


[1] In June 1918, the Alexander Palace was established as a museum and opened to the public. It was closed in 1941.

[2] The fate of the contents of the Alexander Palace in the 20th century

© Paul Gilbert. 16 March 2023

Nicholas II’s telephone sold at auction for $2 million USD

On Friday 10th March, a telephone belonging to Emperor Nicholas II was sold at a Sotheby’s auction. The Romanov Week auction featured more than 100 items belonging to members of the Russian Imperial Family.

The most expensive lot was a telephone belonging to Emperor Nicholas II, which sold for a staggering 2 million US dollars, almost five times over the estimate.

“It’s a unique device made in 1915 at the Russian-Baltic Wagon factory in Petrograd. The telephone was presented it to the Tsar during the First World War, who used it for communicating with the Empress at Tsarskoye Selo during his trips to General Headquarters (Stavka) at Mogilev,” said Sotheby’s representative Robert Jefferson.

Following the February 1917 Revolution the telephone was confiscated on the order of the Provisional Government and transferred to the custody of the chief of the Petrograd garrison.

Following the riots that swept the capital in July 1917, the telephone was later stolen during the Russian Civil War and smuggled to Europe.

NOTE: In 1896, the Swedish manufacturer of telecommunications equipment Ericsson, installed the first telephone for Emperor Nicholas II in the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow.

© Paul Gilbert. 11 March 2023

The ghost of Anna Anderson continues to haunt us

PHOTO: Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna (center) and Anna Anderson (left and right)

Russian historian and author Robert K. Massie coined it best when he wrote: “The mysterious disappearance of the Russian Imperial Family in July 1918 created fertile soil for the sprouting of delusion, fabrication, sham, romance, burlesque, travesty and humbug,” when he referred to the “long, occasionally colourful, frequently pathetic line of claimants and imposters” that has glided and stumbled across the last century.

It was a US lab who confirmed the true identify of one of history’s greatest impostors: Anna Anderson, who claimed to be Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna. Thanks to DNA technology, however, science was able to prove that she was not the youngest daughter of Emperor Nicholas II, but that of a Polish peasant girl Franziska Schanzkowska.

A sample of Anderson’s tissue, part of her intestine removed during her operation in 1979, had been stored at Martha Jefferson Hospital, Charlottesville, Virginia. Anderson’s mitochondrial DNA was extracted from the sample and compared with that of the Romanovs and their relatives. It did not match that of the Duke of Edinburgh or that of the bones [Ekaterinburg Remains], confirming that Anderson was not related to the Romanovs.

The sample, however, matched DNA provided by Karl Maucher, a grandson of Franziska Schanzkowska’s sister, Gertrude (Schanzkowska) Ellerik, indicating that Karl Maucher and Anna Anderson were maternally related and that Anderson was Schanzkowska. Five years after the original testing was done, Dr. Terry Melton of the Department of Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University, stated that the DNA sequence tying Anderson to the Schanzkowski family was “still unique”, though the database of DNA patterns at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory had grown much larger, leading to “increased confidence that Anderson was indeed Franziska Schanzkowska”.

Similarly, several strands of Anderson’s hair, found inside an envelope in a book that had belonged to Anderson’s husband, Jack Manahan, were also tested. Mitochondrial DNA from the hair matched Anderson’s hospital sample and that of Schanzkowska’s relative Karl Maucher, but not the Romanov remains or living relatives of the Romanovs.

Many of us were relieved that this case had finally been put to rest. It was hoped that science would appease Anna Anderson’s supporters and thus bringing closure to this popular conspiracy theory. It was not to be . . .

PHOTO: this comparison on the side profiles of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna and Anna Anderson, created by Pierre Gilliard, provide evidence that they were two different women

The claimants

Over the past 30+ years, I have been contacted by Anna Anderson’s supporters who insist that she was the real Anastasia. They argue the same “facts” from books on the subject written by Peter Kurth, Greg King and Penny Wilson, Michel Wartelle among others. In addition there have been numerous imposters claiming to be the children or grandchildren of either Nicholas II or one of his five children. In the 1990s I received a parcel from a man in Vancouver, who claimed that he was the son of Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich. The box was filled with photocopied documents, letters and photographs, the cover letter read: “Mr. Gilbert, I dare you to prove me wrong!”

And if that wasn’t enough: during a lecture which I hosted in Chicago in 1997, an American man showed up insisting that he was the “reincarnation” of Emperor Nicholas II. He even grew a beard and trimmed it to the likeness of that of the Tsar. Still to this day, I receive emails from people who demand a DNA test to prove their “Romanov ancestry”.

Anna Anderson became the subject of films, documentaries and countless books – even in post-Soviet Russia. In 2014, Candidate of Historical Sciences Georgy Nikolaevich Shumkin released his book Кто Вы, госпожа Чайковская? К вопросу о судьбе царской дочери Анастасии Романовой:архивные документы 1920-х годов [Who are you, Mrs. Tchaikovskaya? On the fate of the tsar’s daughter Anastasia Romanova], in which the Ural scientists tries to unravel the mystery of the false daughter of Nicholas II. The book proved so popular, it was reprinted in 2022.

Testimonials by those who personally knew the real Anastasia . . .

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna – aunt of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna cherished her connection to her brother Tsar Nicholas II’s four daughters. She especially took a liking to the youngest of Nicholas’s daughters, her god-daughter Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna. “My favourite god-daughter she was indeed! . . . Anastasia or Shvipsik (“little one”), as I used to call her. . . . She was such a generous child,” recalled Olga.

In 1925, Grand Duchess Olga travelled to Berlin to meet Anna Anderson in person. She was met by Pierre Gilliard and his wife who accompanied her to the Mommesen Nursing Home where Anna was being treated for tuberculosis. Olga also said she was dismayed that Anderson spoke only German and showed no sign of knowing either English or Russian, while Anastasia spoke both those languages fluently and was ignorant of German, a language which was never spoken in the Imperial Family.

“My beloved Anastasia was fifteen when I saw her for the last time in the summer of 1916. She would have been twenty-four in 1925. I thought Mrs. Anderson looked much older than that. Of course, one had to make allowances for a very long illness and the general poor condition of her health. All the same, my niece’s features could not possibly have altered out of all recognition. The nose, the mouth, the eyes were all different.”

The Grand Duchess remarked that the interviews were made all the more difficult by Mrs. Anderson’s attitude. She would not answer some of the questions put to her, and looked angry when when those questions were repeated. Some Romanov photos were shown to her, and there was not a flicker of recognition in her eyes. It was obvious that she greatly disliked M. Gilliard and little Anastasia had been devoted to him. The Grand Duchess had brought a small icon of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of the Imperial Family. Mrs. Anderson looked at so indifferently that it was obvious the icon said nothing to her.

“That child was as dear to me as if she were my daughter. The spiritual bond between my dear Anastasia and myself was so strong that neither time nor that ghastly experience could have interfered with it.

But although the Grand Duchess put no credence in Mrs. Anderson’s story, she was deeply sorry for the woman.

“Somehow or other she did not strike me as an out-and-out impostor. Her brusqueness warred against it. A cunning impostor would have done all she could to ingratiate herself with myself. But Mrs. Anderson’s manner would have put anyone off. My own conviction is that it all started with some unscrupulous people who hoped they might lay their hands on at least a share of the fabulous and utterly non-existent Romanov fortune. . . . I had a feeling she was ‘briefed,’ as it were, but far from perfectly. The mistakes she made could not all be attributed to lapses of memory. For instance, she had a scar on one of her fingers and she kept telling everybody that it had been crushed because of a footman shutting the door of a landau too quickly. And at once I remembered the real incident. It was Maria, her elder sister, who got her hand hurt rather badly, and it did not happen in a carriage but on board the Imperial Train. Obviously someone, having heard something of the incident, had passed a garbled version of it to Mrs. Anderson.”

The Grand Duchess spent nearly four days by Anna Anderson’s bed. Hour by hour, Olga went on searching for the least clue to establish the woman’s identity. “I had left Denmark with something of a hope in my heart. As soon as I sat down by that bed in the Mommsen Nursing Home, I knew I was looking at a stranger. I left Berlin with all hope extinguished,” she told her biographer Ian Vorres.

Source: The Last Grand Duchess. Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna. by Ian Vorres. Charles Scribner & Sons (1964)

Charles Sydney Gibbes – tutor to the Imperial Children, including Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna

It was in April 1928, when Charles Sydney Gibbes heard from a friendly journalist about a woman taken very seriously in America as Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, the youngest daughter of the late Tsar, and even by some members of the Imperial Family. In December 1928, Gibbes wrote from Oxford to Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich in Paris, about his impressions of the claimant:

“In my opinion, there is, unfortunately, no room for doubt that the Grand Duchess Anastasia perished at Ekaterinburg at the same time as the Emperor, the Empress, the Tsarevich, and her three sisters, the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, and Marie, with Mlle Demidova, and the rest. This fact, of itself, disposes of the claim now made by Mme Tchaikovsky [Anna Anderson]. Additional facts of refutation are now wanting, but the essential point is found in the sad fact of the Grand Duchess’s death . . .

“As soon as the way was open, after the retreat of the Bolshevik Government, I hastened to Ekaterinburg. Nothing beyond vague rumour, however, could be learned. It was not until the following summer, 1919, when a full investigation was made by Mr Sokolov, that the extent and horror of the tragedy was learnt. I visited the clearing in the forest outside Ekaterinburg and saw what had been recovered. Months of toil were involved in pumping out and washing the contents of the deep mine shaft into which the remains from the bonfire had been thrown . . . All who actually took part in the investigation and inspected the remains were obliged to abandon hope that anyone had survived.

“Only a few, of course, were able to form an opinion under these conditions which presented all the facts of the case. There were, however, plenty of interested persons who had nothing but rumour and garbled accounts to build upon. Among these the most extraordinary tales were circulated. Various Pretenders actually appeared while I was still in Siberia. Not being obsessed by any great faith in themselves, these people’s courage quickly failed and they were easily confuted and exposed.

“The first legends concerning the Imperial children were in circulation as early as 1917 while we were still all living together in Tobolsk. At the end of that year the Daily Graphic printed a fantastic paragraph stating that the Grand Duchess Tatiana, one of the Tsar’s daughters, had gone to America, etc., etc.; she was then actually sitting with me in a drawing-room in Tobolsk reading the news of herself. If such things happened in creditable newspapers in 1917, while they were still alive, what could not happen with credulous people after they were dead?

“I have not had the advantage of seeing Mme Tchaikovsky in person but her photographs failed to invoke in me the slightest belief in her story, however much I wish that it were true. The evidence supplied by Mons. Bischoff is one of irrefutable force to anyone who has intimately known the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna. There is one point, however, in which I can speak with paramount knowledge and authority. Mme Tchaikovsky has affirmed that I limp. Had I been dead, it might have been difficult to prove, but being yet alive and happily in full possession of both my legs, I am able to demonstrate that I limp only in the imagination of Mme Tchaikovsky.”

Source: The House of Special Purpose: An Intimate Portrait of the Last Days of the Russian Imperial Family. Compiled from the Papers of their English Tutor Charles Sydney Gibbes by J. C. Trewin (1975)

For the record . . .

Emperor Nicholas II, his wife Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, their four daughters Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia Nikolaevna, and their only son and heir to the Russian throne Tsesarevich and Grand Duke Alexei Nikolaevich were ALL brutally murdered by the Bolsheviks in the basement of the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg on 17th July 1918.

There were NO survivors! There were NEVER any sons and daughters born to any member of the Imperial Family, let alone any grandchildren. Surely, it is time to let these Holy Martyrs rest in peace.

© Paul Gilbert. 11 March 2023

St Catherine’s Chapel: the final resting place of Nicholas II and his family

PHOTO: view of St. Catherine’s Chapel, the final resting place for Emperor Nicholas II and his family

The 18th century Chapel of the Holy Great Martyr Catherine (aka St. Catherine’s Chapel or Catherine Chapel) is situated in the southwestern part of the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg. On 17th July 1998, it became the final burial place for Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, three of their five children and four faithful retainers.

PHOTO: the iconostasis of St. Catherine’s Chapel in 1890


The Chapel of the Holy Great Martyr Catherine was arranged in the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral at the end of the 18th century. During the restoration of the cathedral after the fire of 1756, an additional wall was erected inside the church hall, separating a small space in its western part. As a result, two new rooms were formed to the right and left of the main entrance. An iconostasis was installed, and on 24th November 1779, the altar was consecrated, in honour of the Holy Great Martyr Catherine – the patron saint of Empress Catherine II (1729-1796).

The chapel has a length of 8.1 meters (27 ft.), and a width of 6.3 meters (21 ft.), with one window and two doors facing directly into the cathedral. It was here in St. Catherine Chapel, that officials of the St. Petersburg Mint were sworn in. During Great Lent soldiers and officers of the garrison of the Peter and Paul Fortress and their families went for confession and took communion. On several occasions, funeral services were held here for the deceased minor grand-ducal children. The chapel operated as a church until the closure of the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral by the Bolsheviks in 1919.

PHOTO: the eastern entrance to St. Catherine’s Chapel in 1890

The first burial in the chapel was that of Tsarina Marfa Matveevna (1664-1716), the widow of Tsar Feodor III Alekseevich (1661-1682). The funeral took place on 7th January 1716 in the presence of Tsar Peter I, the royal family, and members of the clergy. During the ceremony of transferring the body, a platform on the ice of the Neva was used for the first time. Since the funeral procession took place in the evening, torchbearers were placed on both sides of the path, adding solemnity to the mourning procession. A completely new element of the mourning ritual was the prohibition of mourners and ritual weeping, which had previously been an indispensable element in Russian funerary culture.

The burial of Marfa Matveevna was one of the first to be held in Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral. Her tomb is located at the western wall under the bell tower in the south-western part of the current St. Catherine Chapel. In 1732 the tombstone over her grave was removed and the grave was partially closed, to make room for the foundations of the furnaces which heated the Catherine Chapel.

In the 1860s a copper plaque with an epitaph was installed on the western wall above the grave, and restored in 1908. During the opening of the floor in the St. Catherine’s Chapel during the restoration in 1993, the crypt of Marfa Matveevna was discovered and examined by scientists, who confirmed that her grave had remained untouched.

PHOTO: the Head of the Russian Imperial House Prince Nicholas Romanovich (1922-2014) throws a handful of earth into the grave

Burial of the remains of Emperor Nicholas II and his family

On 17th July 1998, the remains, according to the conclusion of the state commission, belonging to Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana and Anastasia Nikolaevna were buried in St. Catherine’s Chapel. Together with them were buried the family-physician Dr. Eugene. Botkin, the footman Alouis Troup, the cook I. M. Kharitonov, and the maid Anna Demidova. These remains were not recognized by the Moscow Patriarchate.

  • Please refer to the ‘Exhumation of the remains’ section below for information on the remains of Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich and Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna

Before the burial, a complete reconstruction of the chapel was carried out. In 1997, specialists from the Restorer and Olko firms carried out the work, which included painting the walls and plafond of the chapel. A two-tiered crypt (depth 1 m 66 cm, length 2 m 70 cm, width 1 m 70 cm) was built near the only window in the southern part of the chapel. The seal-tight crypt was waterproofed, thus providing ideal conditions for the preservation of the remains.

On the lower tier are the coffins of the family’s four faithful retainers, and on the upper tier are the coffins of the Emperor, Empress and their three daughters. An openwork lattice divides the crypt into two parts. The coffins were made of Caucasian oak, their surface is covered with a wax-turpentine mixture. Inside, the coffins are upholstered with copper sheet, and on top – a cover of white velour on silk white cords. On the lid of the coffin of Emperor Nicholas II there is a cypress cross (grown in the garden of the Livadia Palace in Crimea) and a model of a sword based on a 1909 model. The rest of the coffins of members of the Imperial Family have lids decorated with bronze, gilded, crosses. The coffins of the servants are decorated with silver-plated eight-point Orthodox crosses. As the valet Aloysius Trupp was a Catholic, a four-point cross decorates his coffin. The side decoration of the coffins consisted of: a brass board engraved (on which the names, title, place of birth and place of death (according to the Julian calendar) and the date of burial are embossed), as well as double-headed eagles for the seven coffins of members of the Imperial Family. Each coffin was secured with brass (non-oxidizing) screws. Lead plates were laid in the lid and in the coffin itself along the perimeter at the place of their connection, making them airtight after closing the coffin.

PHOTO: Russian president Boris Yeltsin (1931-2007) bows his head in front of the grave of the last Russian Emperor

The coffins were made in strict accordance with the historical traditions of the burial rites of Russian monarchs. After burial, the crypt was covered with reinforced concrete slabs, through the rings of which a steel chain closed on the lock was threaded. A temporary wooden tombstone was erected over the grave, and later replaced by a marble one. Memorial plaques with epitaphs were placed on the walls of the chapel. Later, the historical coating of the aisle, Mettlach tiles – was also restored.

At the present time, there are two crypts in the Catherine Chapel holding a total of 10 coffins:

  1. Tsaritsa Marfa Matveevna (buried on 7th January 1716)
  1. Emperor Nicholas II Alexandrovich (burial of remains on 17th July 1998)
  2. Empress Alexandra Feodorovna (burial of the remains on 17th July 1998)
  3. Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna (burial of the remains on 17th July 1998)
  4. Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna (burial of the remains on 17th July 1998)
  5. Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna (burial of the remains on 17th July 1998)
  6. family-physician Dr. Eugene Botkin (burial of remains on 17th July 1998)
  7. maid Anna Demidova (burial of remains on 17th July 1998)
  8. valet Aloysius Trupp (burial of remains on 17th July 1998)
  9. cook Ivan Kharitonov (burial of remains on 17th July 1998)

PHOTO: Members of the new ROC investigation inspect the Ekaterinburg remains

Exhumation of remains

In 2015 the Russian Orthodox Church announced that the investigation into the Ekaterinburg remains had been reopened. The investigation would include a new series of genetic studies, and a comprehensive review of the evidence accumulated since 1918 into the murders of the last Russian Imperial family. With the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill and at his request to the Investigative Committee a new team of experts was formed. A complex examination would be carried out for the first time – a historical, anthropological and genetic one – one in which the ROC would be involved in all aspects of the investigation.

As part of the resumption of the criminal case on the investigation of the death of the Imperial Family, the remains of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna were exhumed on 23rd September 2015, in the Catherine Chapel at the request of the Russian Orthodox Church. About 20 people were present at the exhumation, which included representatives of the Investigative Committee, the Peter and Paul Fortress, the Russian Orthodox Church, and members of the government commission. Taking into account the position of the church, the investigative bodies allowed geneticists and anthropologists to work. After the removal of two concrete slabs from the crypt, the coffins of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna were raised for prayer. During the procedure, samples were taken from their skulls and vertebrae. Upon completion, the remains were returned to their coffins, sealed and lowered back into the crypt.

PHOTO: arks containing the remains of Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich and Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna are carried to the Lower Church of the Transfiguration Cathedral of the Novospassky Monastery in Moscow in December 2015

In February 2016, a second exhumation took place, but this time all the remains. After taking samples, the remains were returned to their coffins, sealed and lowered back into the crypt and re-covered with slabs.

According to media reports at the time, the investigation should have been completed by the summer of 2017, after which the remains of Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich and Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna would be buried with the rest of their family in the Catherine Chapel.

For years, the boxes containing 44 bone fragments of Alexei and Maria remained on dusty shelves in the Russian State Archives. On 24th December 2015, their remains were transferred to the Lower Church of the Transfiguration Cathedral at the Novospassky Monastery in Moscow, where they remain to this day.

In 2021, one unconfirmed report claimed that the remains of the last Imperial Family were no longer entombed in the Catherine Chapel of the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral. According to the report when their remains were exhumed for further testing by the new ROC commission in 2016, they were never returned to the crypt, however, there is no evidence to support this claim.

PHOTO: Queen Sirikit of Thailand’s Wreath

Offerings in St. Catherine’s chapel

In 2005, an icon of the Holy Royal Passion-Bearers was presented to the Catherine Chapel, made by the nuns of the Novo-Tikhvin Monastery in Ekaterinburg. In 2007, Queen Sirikit of Thailand paid an official visit to Russia on the occasion of the 110th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Thailand. The official offering was a wreath, which can be seen today in the Catherine Chapel. On the tombstone there is also a charoite box with earth taken from the grave of Anna Vyrubova, who buried in the Orthodox cemetery in Helsinki.

© Paul Gilbert. 6 March 2023

Romanov archives of Charles Sydney Gibbes

It has been almost 50 years since the publication of The House of Special Purpose by John Courtenay Trewin was published in 1975 by the US publisher Stein & Day. It was also published the same year in the UK by Macmillan, but under a different title Tutor to the Tsarevich.

Trewin’s book is a collection of letters, journal entries, photographs and memorabilia diligently kept by the English tutor to the Russian Imperial Family – Charles Sydney Gibbes (1876-1963). Described as “An Intimate Portrait of The Last Days of the Russian Imperial Family compiled from the papers of their English Tutor” this carefully produced record is also an enchanting, touching glimpse into the private world of Emperor Nicholas II and his family.

Gibbes story really began on 9th June 1908, during a meeting of the Russian Imperial and British Royal families in Reval [today Tallinn, Estonia]. The historic meeting marked the first visit to Russia by a British monarch: King Edward VII. It was during this visit that the King remarked to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna that neither of her elder daughters possessed a very good English accent. This prompted the Empress to get an English tutor for the girls and shortly thereafter Charles Sydney Gibbes found himself, most unexpectedly, appointed English tutor to the Tsar’s children.

For ten years, from the autumn of 1908 until their deaths in July 1918, Charles Sydney Gibbes was a member of the household of Emperor Nicholas II and his family. During much of that period, Gibbes served as the English tutor to the Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich, as well as teaching his sisters, the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia Nikolaevna..

PHOTO: John Courtenay Trewin —photograph published in The Illustrated London News (London, England) of Saturday 11th January 1958

Gibbes became an intimate friend of the family, first in the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, and then during the family’s exile to Tobolsk from August 1917 to April 1918. He followed them to Ekaterinburg, where he was separated from them before they were brutally murdered by the Ural Soviet in the early morning hours of 17th July 1918. Their death and martyrdom would have a profound effect on him, he honoured their memory until the end of his life

During his years spent with the Imperial Family, Gibbes kept notes and diaries recording the Tsesarevich’s illness, the books which the children read and the plays which they acted during their time in exile. He collected a mass of souvenirs, exercise books, menus, letters, sketches, official permits and other documents, from all of which British journalist, writer and drama critic John Courtenay Trewin (1908-1990) has constructed a fascinating and highly personal narrative. This book was written from Gibbes’ surviving archives of letters, photos and other memorabilia relating to the last Imperial family of Russia which are now kept in Oxford.

Gibbes managed to preserve it all throughout his extraordinary subsequent career, first as an Inspector of the Chinese Maritime Customs at Harbin and latterly as a priest, and finally as an archimandrite, in the Russian Orthodox Church in Oxford, where he left his remarkable collection to his adopted son George Gibbes[1], who provided the material for this fascinating book.

Gibbe’s depositions form an important part of the official reports on the fate of the Imperial family, but none of the rest of this material has been published before, nor even been consulted by writers on the subject.

PHOTO: Charles Sydney Gibbes collection of Russian possessions were left with his adopted son, George, in Oxford. In this photo we see George Gibbs at this home surrounded by photos of the Imperial Family.

A year after the regicide, Gibbes found himself at the “House of Special Purpose” [Ipatiev House] where the tragedy took place, and he was at the Four Brothers where he assisted Nikolai Sokolov in his investigation into the deaths of the Emperor and his family. He witnessed the recovery of numerous items from the mine, which belonged to members of the Imperial Family, and assisted in getting them safely out of Russia in a sealed blue box[2].

In addition, the collection of precious Romanov artifacts that Gibbes brought back with him from Russia – including an icon from the Tsaritsa, a pair of Nicholas II’s felt boots, the Tsesarevich’s pencil case and exercise books belonging to his sisters Maria and Anastasia, and the beautiful Italian Murano glass chandelier of red and white lilies that he retrieved from the Grand Duchesses’ room of the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg were later on display at his chapel dedicated to St Nicholas the Wonderworker in Oxford.

Following his death in 1963, Gibbes’ collection of Russian possessions were left to his adopted son, George, in Oxford, and George subsequently donated them to the museum at Luton Hoo[3]. A small chapel was built there to house the collection, consecrated by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh. The museum was later moved from Luton Hoo to the Wernher Collection in Greenwich. Sadly, the collection was sold and is now in the hands of a private collectior, including the Murano glass chandelier, which is now in the private collection of the Butters Family in England.

In 1986, George Gibbes, sold off two of the most important Romanov pieces in his father’s collection made by Fabergé: a pair of monogrammed cufflinks given to Gibbes by the tsar’s eldest daughter, Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna, and a miniature gold Easter egg pendant with a diamond in the A note, that belonged to Anastasia.  The latter was bought by film maker Steven Spielberg as a gift for his then wife, Amy Irving, when she finished filming at TV mini series in which she played the role of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna.

PHOTO: in 2022, a blue plaque was unveiled in Rotherman, which incorrectly notes that Gibbes “identified remains of the Tsar’s family following their murder in 1918”. As Trewin records in his book, Gibbes took part in Sokolov’s investigation and helped identify relics belonging to the Imperial Family found at the Four Brothers Mine, near Ekaterinburg, in 1919

Charles Sydney Gibbes died at St Pancras Hospital, London, on 24th March 1963. His open coffin was displayed in the cellar (or crypt) of Saint Nicholas House in Oxford before his funeral. He is buried in Headington cemetery, Oxford, Oxfordshire, England.

A blue plaque, unveiled in 2022, marks Gibbes’ father John’s workplace at the former Sheffield and Rotherham bank, where he worked as the manager, from 1870 until around 1901. The plaque was organised by The Rotherham District Civic Society, and funded by the Rotherham Grammar School Old Boys Association, where Charles Sydney Gibbes was educated.

Bernard Fletcher, of the Rotherham Civic Society said that the process had taken about 18 months, and that he is “relived and glad” the plaque is up to commemorate the life of Mr Gibbes.

In his speech during the plaque unveiling, Tim Mumford, president of the Rotherham Grammar School Old Boys Association paid tribute to Gibbes: “He was born here, he went to Grammar School, we think in the late 1880s, and left there about 1895.


[1] In 1922, during his stay in Harbin, China, Charles Sydney Gibbes met a 16-year-old orphan, Georges Paveliev [born 16th June 1906], whom he adopted. In the early 1990s, I had the pleasure of corresponding with George Gibbs in whose letters he shared numerous anecdotes about his father. The regular exchange of letters came to a stop, and it was only after making enquiries that I learn of George’s death on 11th May 1993.

[2] During his investigation, Sokolov discovered a number of personal items at the Four Brothers Mine, which belonged to the Imperial Family, including a severed finger believed to be that of the Empress. Today, the box is stored in the Russian Orthodox Church of Saint Job in Uccle, Brussels.

[3] On a personal note, I am very grateful that I had an opportunity to visit Luton Hoo in the 1990s, and had an opportunity to see with my own eyes the Gibbes collection. I was delighted, yet again, to see the Murano glass chandelier on display at The Last Tsar: Blood and Revolution exhibition in September 208 at the Science Museum in London, England – PG.

© Paul Gilbert. 5 March 2023

ROC preparing to build memorial church at Porosenkov Log

PHOTO: entrance to the Romanov Memorial at Porosenkov Log

According to Ilya Korovin, the director of the Ekaterinburg based Romanov Memorial Charitable Foundation the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is preparing the construction of an Orthodox church at Porosenkov Log, the site where the remains of Emperor Nicholas II and his family were discovered in two separate graves in 1991 and 2007 respectively.

If there is any truth to this disclosure, then it proves that the ROC have already unofficially[1] recognized the Ekaterinburg Remains as those of the Russian Imperial Family and their four retainers, however, the final decision on the official recognition of the Ekaterinburg Remains by the ROC will be made by the Bishops Council Bishops Council meet this summer.

Korovin claims that plans for the construction of the church is evidenced by a document in which Vasily Boyko-Veliky, the president of the St. Basil the Great Russian Educational Foundation, concluded an agreement in 2021 with the director of Geoincart Alexander Sokovnin to drill 40 wells on the territory of the Romanov Memorial. The illegal drilling was carried out, despite the fact that Porosenkov Log was recognized as an object of cultural heritage in 2014. “The terms of reference for the production of engineering and geological surveys indicate “new construction of a memorial church” on the territory of the Romanov Memorial,” said Korovin, who was successful in halting any further drilling and development.

According to Korovin, the Department of State Protection of Cultural Heritage Sites (UGOOKN) of the Sverdlovsk Region is preparing changes which will provide additional protection to the cultural heritage site on the Old Koptyakov Road near Ekaterinburg.

PHOTO: in the 1920s, the murderer Pyotr Zakharovich Yermakov returned to Porosenkov Log. On the reverse of this photo, he wrote: “I am standing on the grave of the Tsar”.

Alexey Shamratov, head of the department of legal and organizational work of the Regional State Educational Institution, however, claims that he was not aware of any preparation of changes to the subject of protection of the cultural heritage site. It is interesting to note that the press service of the Ekaterinburg Diocese declined comment on the matter.

A criminal case was initiated against Vasyl Boyko-Velikiy on suspicion of embezzlement of funds of the Credit Express Bank. In 2021, the Moscow City Court transferred him from jail to house arrest. In January 2023, Vasily Boyko-Velikiy declared bankruptcy.

Emperor Nicholas II and his family, together with four servants, were all shot by the Bolsheviks in the Ipatiev House Ekaterinburg on 17th July 1918. The regicides first tried to destroy the bodies at the Four Brothers Mine [Ganina Yama], then reburied them 3.8 km away at Porosenkov Log, where they were officially discovered in 1989. The remains of Tsesarevich Alexei and Grand Duchess Maria were found in 2007. The Romanov Memorial Foundation was established in 2021 with the aim of preserving the historic site.

The Moscow Patriarchate canonized Nicholas II and his family members in 2000. However, since the discovery of the remains, the ROC has not recognized their authenticity due to what they consider “a lack of evidence”. Despite this, in 2009, the Russian Orthodox Church received a land plot of 15 hectares in the area of Porosenkov Log from the Sverdlovsk regional government. There were plans to build a church complex – similar to the one at Ganina Yama – which included an Orthodox cemetery. However, in 2010, the charter court of the Sverdlovsk region ruled the decision on the allocation of the land illegal.

PHOTO: Paul Gilbert standing at the entrance to the Romanov Memorial in July 2018


[1] Ever since the discovery of the Ekaterinburg Remains, the Russian Orthodox Church refuses to accept DNA tests confirming their authenticity. The ROC maintains that the Bolsheviks put the burnt bodies of their 11 victims in a pit in a forest in the Urals region, where the ROC has built a large monastery complex: the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs at Ganina Yama.


104 years on, Orthodox Church still split over murdered tsar’s remains by Paul Gilbert 6th April 2021

The fate of Porosenkov Log and Ganina Yama by Paul Gilbert, 14th February 2022

Will the Bishops Council’s decision on the Ekaterinburg Remains cause a schism within the ROC? by Paul Gilbert, 20th September 2021

30th anniversary of the exhumation of the remains of Nicholas II and his family by Paul Gilbert, 7th July 2021

Bones of Contention: The Russian Orthodox Church and the Ekaterinburg Remains by Paul Gilbert, 23rd November 2021

© Paul Gilbert. 4 March 2023

SOVEREIGN to resume publication in 2023

After an absence of nearly four years, I am pleased to announce that my semi-annual periodical Sovereign: The Life and Reign of Emperor Nicholas II will resume publication next year. The next issue – the No. 12 issue – will be published later this year.

Between 2015 and 2019, I published a total of 11 issues of this unique publication, dedicated to the study of the life and reign of Russia’s last Tsar. The last issue, No. 11, was issued in February 2019, and the series was cancelled later that year.

Many readers could not understand, why I cancelled SOVEREIGN, so let me explain . . . I did not cancel the series because it was unpopular, on the contrary, I was forced to cancel the series due to the rising costs of printing this product here in Canada, in addition to Canada Post’s outrageous foreign shipping rates. For example, the rate to ship a single copy of SOVEREIGN to the United States was $12, while the rate to UK, Europe, and other international countries was a whopping $22!

Now, thanks to my publishing venture with AMAZON, I can resume publication, and make it available worldwide through AMAZON, while taking advantage of their much more affordable postage rates.

The No. 12 issue, which will be published in 2023, will feature the following 8 full-length articles – including new first-English translations of works by Russian historians:

[1] Nikolai Sokolov’s Official Report to Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna on the Investigation into the Deaths of Emperor Nicholas II and his Family

[2] Emperor Nicholas II and His Family Visit Novy Svet in Crimea, 1912

[3] Perceiving the Sanctity of Saints: The Spiritual World of Emperor Nicholas II and His Family

[4] Mikhail Rodzianko: Gravedigger of the Russian Empire by Andrei Ivanov

[5] Memorial Museums to Nicholas II in Post-Soviet Russia by Paul Gilbert

[6] They Were the Last to Help the Tsar’s Family in Ekaterinburg by Abbess Dominica (Korobeinikova)

[7] Loyal to Their Sovereign: Generals Who Did Not Betray Nicholas II in 1917 by Paul Gilbert

[8] Family Disloyalty: Nicholas II and the Vladimirovichi by Paul Gilbert

SOVEREIGN No. 12 will be issued in the same 8-1/2″ x 11″ paperback format, 130+ pages, English text and richly illustrated with black and white photographs. The price of each new issue will be $20 USD – a savings of $5 over previous issues.

It is important to note, that the revival of SOVEREIGN, is an integral tool in my personal commitment to help clear the name of Russia’s much slandered Tsar. Not only is the publication of this unique periodical, a project which is near and dear to my heart and soul, SOVEREIGN will continue to be a valuable resource for Western historians and researchers, and to those who share an interest in the life and reign of Russia’s last Tsar.

For those of you, who are unfamiliar with SOVEREIGN: each issue features first English translations of new works by a new generation of post-Soviet Russian historians. Since the opening of the Romanov archives in 1991, they have managed to unearth previously unknown historic diaries, letters and documents on the life and reign of Nicholas II. Their research is now helping to debunk the many popular held negative assessments of Nicholas II, which continue to endure in the West, more than a century after his death and martyrdom.

NOTE: the only remaining copies of back issues of SOVEREIGN, Nos. 1 to 11, can still be purchased from (United States) and Booksellers van Hoogstraten (The Hague, Netherlands).

© Paul Gilbert. 1 March 2023

Museum of Emperor Nicholas II in Moscow

PHOTO: Museum of Emperor Nicholas II in Moscow

In the spring of 2008, art historian Alexander Vasilyevich Renzhin donated his collection dedicated to Emperor Nicholas II, as a gift to the Nikolo-Ugreshsky Monastery. It was during the 1990s that Renzhin began to collect bit by bit everything related to Emperor Nicholas II and his family. During that time, he managed to amass a collection of more than 3,000 items: postcards and photographs, books and portraits, personal belongings and household items – which reflect on the private lives of the Imperial Family and their tragic deaths in July 1918.

In 1913, Russia solemnly celebrated the 300th anniversary of the House of Romanov. Renjin’s collection features many unique items created for the anniversary. Among them is a carved decorative panel with portraits of Tsar Mikhail Feodorovich, Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, and their son Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich and the date 1613-1913. The scene of the election of Mikhail Feodorovich Romanov in 1613 is depicted on a woven woolen carpet made by the Zavidov carpet factory. Candy boxes produced for the anniversary by the Einem confectionery factory with portraits of the Romanovs have been preserved.

Of particular interest are coronation memorabilia: earthenware glasses and plates decorated with the coats of arms and monograms H II [Nicholas II] and AF [Alexandra Feodorovna], miraculously preserved fine crystal glasses with engravings and paintings, cups, plates and saucers from the service with the new coat of arms introduced in 1856.

VIDEO: click on the image above to watch a 3-minute video tour of the museum at the Nikolo-Ugreshsky Monastery, before it was closed in February 2021, and moved to its current location in central Moscow

This service, made at the Imperial Porcelain Factory in St. Petersburg in 1882 specifically for the coronation of Emperor Alexander III, consisted of 19 thousand pieces. For the coronation of Emperor Nicholas II, the service was repeated, consisting of 47 thousand pieces. According to tradition, the Imperial table for the coronation dinner was served with a gold service, bearing the coat of arms. The service was complemented by snow-white damask linen napkins with the personal coat of arms and monogram of Nicholas II. The most important part of Renzhin’s collection are icons of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker and St. Alexandra – the heavenly patrons of the Emperor and Empress – painted for the coronation in1896.

In 1896, some 300 icons were ordered from the famous workshop of Osip Chirikov, of which Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna presented to the most honoured guests at the coronation celebrations in the Kremlin.

Of particular value are historic documents bearing autographs collected by Renzhin: the petition of the Empress Maria Feodorovna addressed to the Minister of War V.A. Sukhomlinov dated March 10, 1914 on the transfer of the building of the Main Directorate of Military Educational Institutions to the Museum of Old Petersburg; a note from Empress Alexandra Feodorovna to Adjutant General F.V. Dubasov and a prayer memorandum signed by her to a soldier walking on the battlefield. Numerous photographs, postcards, prints, books testify to life in peacetime and during the First World War.

In February 2021, the Museum of Emperor Nicholas II was forced to close its doors, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and almost 9 million rubles (more than $13,000 USD) in arrears of rent.

A Russian businessman Konstantin Malofeev, and founder of the Tsargrad TV channel, came to the rescue by providing Renzhin’s rare collection with a new venue in which to display his collection. The Museum of Emperor Nicholas II re-opened in the Museum of Russian Art, the former manor house of Nikolai Eremeevich Struisky (1749-1796) – situated in Moscow’s historical district – on 10th February 2021.

The Museum of Emperor Nicholas II is open daily to visitors.

© Paul Gilbert. 1 March 2023

Imperial Yacht Standart: Nicholas II’s Palace on the Seas

Elegant style yachts were once the norm among many of the world’s most important rulers. The British, the Royal Houses of Europe, and even the Americans have all at one time or another provided their leaders with beautifully appointed yachts that served for both recreational as well as official purposes. But few of these highly specialized ships can compare with the Imperial Yacht Standart, reserved exclusively for the use of Russia’s last emperor Nicholas II.

This handsome “ship of state” was a graceful seagoing vessel and was considered the most perfect ship of her type in the world. She was named after the famous frigate of Peter the Great, launched in 1703. Built to the Tsar’s own specifications, she was constructed in Copenhagen in 1895 by the Danish firm Burmeister-Wain. The shipyard still maintains a thriving existence but the plans no longer exist for the Standart due to the destruction of the shipyard brought on by two world wars.

Across the North Sea, however, a copy of the plans for the former Imperial Yacht are held in the archives of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. After a visit to Cowes, the future King Edward VII asked for the plans of the Standart. The plans had been preserved in 1895 by the Admiralty Office when plans for a new British royal yacht were under construction.

PHOTO: plans for the Imperial Yacht Standart

The Standart was a superb, black-hulled 5557-ton yacht measuring 401 feet in length and 50 feet wide, making it the largest private ship in the world. She was much larger and faster than that of the other Imperial Yacht’s, the Alexandria and the Polar Star reaching speeds of up to 21.18 knots. Anchored in a Baltic cove or tied up at Yalta, the Standart was as big as a small cruiser. She had been designed with the graceful majesty of a great sailing ship. She combined elegance and comfort and met all the requirements of a floating palace. A large gilded bowsprit in the shape of a double-headed eagle, lunged forward from her bow and three tall masts towered above her two white funnels. White canvas awnings stretched over smooth decks shielding the passengers from the sun, while informal wicker furniture on the main deck invited relaxation. Also on the main deck was a large dining saloon that could seat up to seventy-two guests at one long table for luncheon or dinner.

PHOTO: the Imperial Yacht Standart at Yalta (above), and Sebastopol (below)

Below deck was found a formal reception salon and drawing rooms panelled in mahogany, polished floors, brass and elegantly hung crystal chandeliers and velvet drapes. The Imperial Yacht even had its own chapel for the private use of the Imperial Family.

The Tsar’s Private Study was furnished in dark leather and simple wooden furniture. The Tsarina’s drawing room and boudoir were done in her favourite English chintz. On the walls could be found the indispensible icons or “windows to heaven” along with many photographs of her relatives and family.

Today there are hundreds of photographs in existence of the Standart taken by the Tsar and his family, their relatives and aides, whom at the time were making the most of the latest craze of Russia’s upper classes–photography.

PHOTO: a large bowsprit, covered with gold leaf, lunged forward from her bow

PHOTO: view of the deck of the Imperial Yacht Standart

Many of these photographs were family photos and never meant for public viewing. They were stuck neatly in old family albums and memory books. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, hundreds of these “windows on the past” have been published in handsome coffee-table books. To date, the most luxurious of these books has to be Русские императорские яхты каталог 17-20 век (Russian Imperial Yachts: 17th-20th Century) containing nearly 400 photographs [published in 1997, this Russian language book is now out of print].

Among these “pioneer” photographers was General Count Alexander Grabbe, who was often asked to accompany the Imperial Family when they sailed on the Standart to the Crimea and the islands of the Finnish archipelago. A selection of his photographs of the Imperial Yacht were published in 1984 by his son Paul Grabbe in The Private World of the Last Tsar: The Photographs and Notes of General Count Alexander Grabbe. A keen photographer, Grabbe’s photographs show the Tsar and his family onboard the Standart as a happy and carefree family, relaxing, playing games, dining with royalty, roller-skating and dancing.

Just before sailing and prior to the arrival of the Imperial Family, the ship was polished and cleaned from top to bottom. Sailors busied themselves above and below deck, checking the lifeboats and adjusting the awnings on the main deck. Officers and crew assembled on deck, all of whom saluted the Tsar as he came on board.

PHOTO: Nicholas II’s study (above) and chapel (below)

On the Standart, Tsar Nicholas II followed a daily routine. Early each morning he came on deck to check the weather. He also liked to make the rounds of the ship’s company as well as greet the Imperial Yacht’s warrant officers. It was not uncommon to see the young Tsesarevich Alexis, wearing a sailor’s uniform, accompany his father during these rounds. The Tsar was interested in navigation and he liked to discuss this subject with his Flag Captain, Admiral Nikov or as well as checking the yacht’s course with Captain Zelenetsky. The Tsar worked for two days each week while at sea, receiving and sending dispatches by the courier boats that arrived daily from the mainland.

When the Standart sailed, she was a glorious and spirited vessel and she attracted attention wherever she went. When the Tsar and his family were on board, a large household staff of footmen, stewards, butlers and cooks attended to their every need, in total she carried a crew of 275. The yacht was manned by a crew from the Russian Imperial Navy. Also on board was a platoon of marines as well as a brass band and a balalaika orchestra. In order to communicate with the mainland and other ships of the Russian Imperal Navy, the Standart was also equipped with radio, a novelty in 1912.

“This relationship of the Imperial Family to its entourage was very friendly and informal,” Count Grabbe recalls. “They were especially cordial with the officers of the Standart. These young men were exemplary–charming, modest, possessed of a great deal of dignity and tact, and incapable of intrigue.”

PHOTO: Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna relaxing on the deck of the ‘Standart

PHOTO: the Imperial Family in the dining room of the Imperial Yacht ‘Standart

The yacht was commanded by Rear-Admiral Lomen, who was responsible for the safety of the Tsar from the moment Nicholas II set foot on board any vessel, whether a yacht, a dreadnought or a launch. “The whole of the naval administration stood in mortal fear of the Admiral,” recalls A.A. Mossolov. “It is true that he asked a great deal, and if he was annoyed he could be extremely rude. He claimed that onboard the yacht the Tsar himself was under his orders! Off duty he was pleasant and sociable.”

The actual Commanding Officer of the Standart was Captain Tchaguin, and the second in command, Commander Nikolai Sablin. Both had the satisfaction of being thought of very highly by Their Majesties. In the letters which she wrote to the Tsar when he was at General Headquarters, the Tsarina frequently mentions Sablin.

Life at sea seemed to bring the best out in all the members of the Imperial Family. A.A. Mossolov recalls in his memoirs, “The Empress herself grew gay and communicative onboard the Standart. She joined in the children’s games, and had long talks with the officers.”

PHOTO: Empress Alexandra with her four daughters on the deck of the ‘Standart

PHOTO: Minister of the Imperial Court (1897-1917) Count Vladimir Frederiks with
Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich, on the deck of the Imperial Yacht ‘Standart’. 1911

The officers were certainly in an exceptional situation. Almost daily, the Tsar invited these officers to dinner and after the meal liked to play billiards with them or enjoy a game of dominoes. In return the Imperial Family accepted invitations to tea in the mess. On such occasions the Empress usually sat nearby, sewing, the Tsesarevich ran about with his playmates, while the Grand Duchesses, surrounded by all the young men, scattered throughout the yacht. “We form a united family,” the Empress used to remark on these memorable and happy voyages.”

The family vacations to the Crimea and their cruises on the Standart were a welcome change for the children in particular.

When the Imperial Family went onboard the Standart, each of the five children was assigned a diadka, a sailor charged to watch over the the child’s personal safety. The children played with these diadkas, played tricks on the them and teased them. Gradually the young officers of the Standart joined in the children’s games. As the Grand Duchesses grew older, the games changed into a series of flirtations, all very innocent of course. “I do not, of course, use the word ‘flirtation’ quite in the ordinary sense of the term,” remarks Mossolov, “the young officers could better be compared with the pages or squires of dames of the Middle Ages. Many a time the whole of the young people dashed past me, but I never heard the slightest word suggestive of the modern flirtation.” Moreover, the whole of these officers were polished to perfection by one of their superiors, who was regarded as the Empress’s squire of dames. As for the Grand Duchesses, even when the two eldest had grown up into real women, one might hear them taking like little girls of ten and twelve.

PHOTO: Nicholas II relaxing on the deck of the Imperial Yacht ‘Standart

“The girls loved the sea,” Count Grabbe comments, “and I well remember their joyful anticipation of these cruises on the Standart, which opened broader horizons for them, brought them new contacts, and permitted an intimacy that was other wise impossible. To be at sea with their father–that was what constituted their happiness.”

The Tsesarevich Alexis also loved the excursions on the Standart as well. He enjoyed accompanying the Tsar while he carried out his duties on board the Imperial Yacht. He loved to play games such as shuffleboard. On sunny afternoons it was not uncommon to find an exhausted Alexis stretched out and fast asleep under one of the many lifeboats on the main deck. At times, his haemophilia restricted his movements severely and photographs show the young Tsesarevich walking with the aid of a cane. Due to his illness, a favourite sailor was assigned to watch over Alexis. At first it was the sailor Andrei Derevenko who for some time was patient and conscientious in watching over his Imperial charge; his behaviour toward Alexis, however, became excessively mean after the Revolution. Fortunately, the Tsesarevich also had another sailor-attendant–the loyal Klimenty Nagorny. This sailor was later killed by the revolutionary army that overran Russia after World War I.

PHOTO: view of the Imperial Yacht Standart

PHOTO: the Imperial Yacht Standart on the Neva, St. Petersburg

So it was, that when the warm months of the summer rolled around that the Tsar and his family set sail on the Standart for their vacation off the coast of southern Finland. For the Tsar, there was no greater relaxation than these restful, seaborne excursions on his beloved Standart. Here his family and found a secluded bay surrounded by small islands where they could relax and enjoy their time together away from the palaces and rigid rules that governed the Russian court. This charming spot was such a favourite of Nicholas II and his family, that they returned to it every year and the children even nicknamed it the “Bay of Standart.”

While anchored in the bay, the Imperial Family lived on board the Standart but every day they would get into small launches and head for their chosen island. The island was uninhabited, which offered them complete freedom to picnic, relax, and enjoy the out-of-doors without fear of being observed by prying eyes. It was also on this little island that a tennis court was built for the Imperial Family, tennis being a favourite of the entire Imperial household.

PHOTO: “the wreck of the Standart“, 1907

In 1907, an unfortunate incident took place that was later known as “the wreck of the Standart.” The incident occurred on a fine day in the Finnish fjords when all of a sudden the Imperial yacht was shaken by a jolt at a moment when there was not the slightest reason for expecting anything of the sort. Immediately afterwards the yacht was heeled over. It was impossible to tell what might be coming next. The Empress rushed over to her children. She found them all expect the Tsesarevich, who was nowhere to be seen. The anguish of the two parents may only be imagined; they were both beside themselves. It proved impossible to move the yacht. Motor-boats started off towards her from every direction.

The Emperor hurried up and down the yacht, and gave the order for everybody to go in search of the Tsesarevich. It was only after some time that he was discovered safe and sound. At the first alarm his diadka, Derevenko, took him in his arms and very sensibly rushed to the “hawse-pipes,” since they offered the best chance of saving the boy if the vessel should be a total loss.

The panic subsided, and all onboard descended into the boats. An inquiry followed. The whole responsibility fell on the pilot, an old Finnish sea-dog, who was in charge of the navigation of the vessel at the moment of the disaster. Charts were hurriedly consulted and showed beyond any possible question that the rock on which the yacht had grounded was entirely uncharted.

There remained His Majesty’s Flag Captain, who was responsible in principle for the safety of the Imperial Family. At the time of the accident the post was held by Admiral Nilov, the only master, under God, of the fate of the yacht.

He was in such a state of mind after the accident that the Tsar felt bound to go to him in his cabin. Entering without knocking, the Tsar saw the Admiral bending over a chart, with a revolver in his hand. The Emperor tried to calm him. He reminded the Admiral that under naval regulations he would have to go before a court of inquiry, but, the Tsar added, there could be not a shadow of doubt that he would be acquitted, for the accident was entirely unforeseeable. The Tsar carried away the Admiral’s revolver.

“There was an immediate conspiracy of silence at Court about the wreck of the Standart, recalls Mossolov. “Everybody knew that the slightest criticism of the officers of the yacht would have brought down punishment on the head of anyone who ventured to utter it.”

“The officers were chosen for special gifts; their task was to create an atmosphere of a fairytale, a charming idyll. It may be that in technical knowledge they were not absolutely up-to-date.”

Many a royal personage was made welcome on board the Standart, including Queen Alexandra, sister of the Dowager Empress Marie, accompanied by her husband, King Edward VII, King Gustav of Sweden and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany.

Despite the relaxed atmosphere of the excursions on the Standart, the safety and protection of the Imperial Family was still a top priority. The Tsar was so fearful of assassination that he had several cruisers accompany the yachts at all times. A warning, published in a Finnish newspaper in 1911, reads as follows;

“Notice to all mariners concerning seafaring regulations when the Russian Imperial Yacht is in Finnish waters: Fire will be opened on all commercial shipping and all yachts–whether motor, sail or steam-that approach the line of guard ships. All ships wishing to put to sea must seek permission not less than six hours in advance. Between sundown and sunrise, all ships underway may expect to be fired upon.”

Early in June 1914, as usual at this time of the year, the Tsar and his family went on a voyage to the Finnish fjords. The weather was hot, and stifling heat was interspersed with pouring rain. This year, Tsar Nicholas II was not to enjoy the picturesque landscape and relax with the serene joys of family life; since the end of June one piece of bad news had followed another. The assassination of the Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand–whom Nicholas and Alexandra had known very well–and the attempt on the life of Rasputin, disrupted the mental equilibrium of the Imperial couple. Within weeks, war was declared and the Standart, by order of the Tsar was placed in dry-dock, and he never again returned to the tranquility of the Finnish or Crimean coastline’s.

After the Revolution, the former Imperial Yacht was destined to be stripped of all its former elegance. In 1917, the Standart was renamed Vosemnadtsate Martza. In 1932, she was renamed Marti. Between then and December 1936, she was refitted as a drab, grey minelayer at the Marti Yard in Leningrad for service in the Soviet Navy. The heavy gun armament was fitted, as were mine rails. There were 4 rails on the mine deck, and 2 more on the upper deck. The mine deck could carry 580 mines, and 200 could be accommodated on the upper deck.

With the German invasion of Russia, the Marti laid some 3159 mines, and bombarded shore positions near Leningrad. On 23rd September 1941, Marti was damaged in an air attack at Kronstadt, but was quickly repaired to resume action on the 26th of the same month. In autumn 1941, some of her guns were used ashore at Leningrad.

After the war, Marti was refitted and converted to a training ship, renamed Oka. During the refit, the steam engines were replaced by diesels. She was scrapped at Tallinn in Estonia in 1963.

PHOTO: Nicholas II looking out to sea from the deck of the Imperial Yacht ‘Standart

FURTHER READING + additional photos and videos:

The Soviet Navy’s use of the Imperial Yacht “Standart” during WWII

The Fates of the Russian Imperial Yachts ‘Standart’ and ‘Polar Star’

125th anniversary of the first voyage of the Imperial Yacht “Standart”

© Paul Gilbert. 28 February 2023