Since the time of Christ and the Apostles, Christians have selflessly served people, carried out charity work, cared for the sick and the needy, observing the Lord’s commandment “love thy neighbour.” As a true Christian, Tsar Nicholas II, adhered to the centuries-old tradition of mercy, considering it his sacred duty to help his subjects in need.
The financial affairs of the Russian Emperor were handled by the Cabinet of His Imperial Majesty [housed in the Anitchkov Palace, situated on the corner of the Nevsky Prospekt and the Fontanka in St. Petersburg] which was part of the Ministry of the Imperial Court, whose officials kept records of the receipts and expenses of all members of the House of Romanov. The Cabinet annually released 200 thousand rubles from the State Treasury for the personal needs of the Emperor. From this amount, some 20 thousand rubles was spent on wardrobe and other personal expenses. The Tsar’s income was further supplemented by income from his estates.
PHOTO: The Cabinet of His Imperial Majesty in 1894
As Tsesarevich he received an inheritance of 4 million rubles in gold, from his great-grandmother [Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, born Princess Charlotte of Prussia, 1798-1860] of which, he spent most of it on helping the starving during the Russian famine of 1891-1892. At that time he headed the “Special Committee of the Heir Tsesarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich” for the fight against hunger.
By the time of his coronation, Nicholas II had 1,320,000 rubles in his account. Not wanting to burden the state treasury, the Emperor paid for almost his entire coronation at his own expense (898 thousand rubles).
The first act published on his behalf after his accession was a rescript addressed to the Moscow Governor-General Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich (1857-1905): 15 thousand rubles for distribution, “among the residents of Moscow who most needed help.” In addition, several hundred thousand rubles were distributed to the victims of the Khodynka Tragedy [30th (O.S. 18th) May 1896]. The sovereign “ordered the issue of 1000 rubles for each orphaned family, and that the funeral expenses be paid.” The families of the victims received annual state benefits until February 1917.
Most of the Emperor’s personal money went to donations, pensions, the maintenance of boarders, hospitals, educational institutions, charitable organizations, for benefits, gifts and monetary awards. The courtiers received expensive gifts from the Tsar twice a year. Gifts were also distributed to the heads of the railways, the chiefs of the gendarme units who ensured the protection of the Imperial family, the gamekeepers after the end of a hunt in Białowieża or Spala, etc.
One of the long-standing myths spread by revolutionary circles and aimed at discrediting the tsarist dynasty was that of “Romanov capital” stashed in foreign banks. The legend has it that Nicholas II had over 600 million gold rubles in the Bank of England.
Emperor Alexander III (1845-1894), in fact, deposited his personal capital (about 90 million gold rubles) in the Bank of England, which he inherited from his father Emperor Alexander II (1818-1881). Emperor Nicholas II, however, did not want to keep this money in England. He found it necessary to transfer the funds to Russia and place them in Russian loans. This transaction, however, was hampered with great difficulties: in an effort to keep the vast fortune in Britain, the Bank of England put up all sorts of obstacles to stop the funds from being returned to Russia. It took the exceptional tact of the Head of the State Bank of the Russian Empire Eduard Pleske (1852-1904), who was forced to personally travel to London to resolve the matter. The money was transferred to Russia, and from that time the Tsar did not have any capital abroad. This helps explain the difficult financial situation of the members of the Russian Imperial family, who managed to flee after the revolution and settle abroad.[ 1 ]
The proceeds from the Bank of England were spent on charity. According to Russian historian and writer Ivan Lukyanovich Solonevich (1891-1953), the tsar had a civil list of 30 million rubles a year. These funds helped to offset a variety of projects, including funding Russia’s finest theaters, the irrigation of lands which resulted in the suitable land for farming and cultivation of new crops, etc.[ 2 ] Money was also used to pay pensions and other requests for financial assistance. Every day the sovereign received a large number of letters asking for help, and no one was refused.
PHOTO: Women’s Medical Institute, St. Petersburg
Donations to various charitable purposes from Nicholas II ‘s “own funds” were significant. The emperor, according to the tradition established in the Imperial family, supported the activities of the Red Cross. In July 1896. 400 rubles were transferred to the Committee for the Care of Sisters of the Red Cross on behalf of Nicholas II. In 1896, he supported the idea of opening a women’s medical institute in St. Petersburg, and ordered the allocation of 65 thousand rubles from the funds of the Cabinet of His Imperial Majesty. for the purchase of a plot of land for the construction of a hostel for students from other cities .[ 3 ] Quite often, the Tsar acted anonymously. In 1901 he ordered to transfer 50 rubles to the editorial office of the Russian Invalid magazine – as a donation from an “unknown person”.
Throughout his reign, the Tsar generously supported the construction of new churches from his personal funds. An impressive amount from the personal budget of Nicholas II was donated for the construction of the Orthodox church of St. Mary Magdalene in Darmstadt, home of his wife Alexandra Feodorovna. In 1898-1899 194,732 rubles were spent on the construction of this church, and an additional 23 thousand rubles for the decoration of the interiors. Another major donation by Nicholas II was associated with the canonization of Seraphim of Sarov (1754-1833). For the Diveyevo Monastery, the Tsar allocated 44,424 rubles from his own funds in 1903. and an additional 11,434 rubles in 1904. Among other churches funded from the Tsar’s personal funds, the magnificent Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral in Tsarskoye Selo, consecrated in 1912, should be noted. In addition to the upper church, the cathedral had a lower church – the Cave in the name of St. Seraphim of Sarov. This cathedral was built with large funds provided by the Sovereign.[ 4 ] In 1913, the Tsar donated 1,000 rubles for the construction of an almshouse in memory of his personal confessor, Protopresbyter Father Ioann Yanyshev (1826-1910).
Emperor Nicholas II ‘s concern for the Russian Orthodox Church extended far beyond the borders of his Empire. Thanks to the sovereign’s generous donations, 17 new Russian churches were built in European cities, each distinguished by their own beauty. In 1898. he donated 5,000 rubles for the completion of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Orthodox churches in Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, Montenegro, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Palestine and the United States, all benefited from donations made by Nicholas II. The Tsar also paid for entire sets of silver vestments, icons and liturgical books, which were sent to the dioceses of Serbian, Greek, Bulgarian, Montenegrin, Antioch, Constantinople and Jerusalem Autocephalous Orthodox Churches, not to mention the generous subsidies for their maintenance and upkeep.
PHOTO: Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral, Tsarskoye Selo
The Tsar’s spiritual activity was inextricably linked with charity, guardianship, caring for the poor and the needy. Compassion and heartfelt concern were characteristic of all members of the Imperial Family. Many hospitals, orphanages and schools for the blind were dependent on Imperial philanthropy.
Nicholas II also donated significant sums to support education, science and art. In the period from 1896 to 1913. he provided assistance to various educational institutions in the amount of 66,157 gold rubles. From the beginning of his reign, the Tsar donated 2 million rubles annually to support Russian art. Thanks to the personal financial support of Emperor Nicholas II, the Russian Museum of His Imperial Majesty Alexander III [renamed the State Russian Museum in 1917], the country’s first state museum of Russian fine arts, was opened in St. Petersburg in 1895. The State Memorial Museum of A.V. Suvorov – the first memorial museum in Russia – was also founded by Nicholas II. The Tsar’s personal funds supported the Academy of Arts, three theaters in St. Petersburg and two in Moscow, the imperial ballet and students of the ballet school.
In 1900, the tsar, using his own money, built the People’s House in St. Petersburg, a leisure and cultural centre built with the intention of making art and cultural appreciation available to the working classes of the Imperial capital. A colossal building, it featured an opera house with 7,000 seats, a theater hall with 1,500 seats, concert halls where the best orchestras and the best artists performed. The People’s House had a library, a reading room and an amusement park. The entrance fee to the People’s House was purely symbolic (10 kopecks).
PHOTO: Nicholas and Alexandra attend the opening of the Russian Museum
of His Imperial Majesty Alexander III in St. Petersburg on 17th March, 1898
The Emperor, being an excellent athlete, supported projects related to the development of sports in Russia . In 1911, the tsar allocated 5 thousand rubles to the Bogatyr Physical Education Society from his own funds.
Nicholas II continued the traditional donations of his father Alexander III for the arrangement of charity trees and annually allocated several hundred rubles “for a Christmas tree for poor children”… In 1913, the Romanov Committee, a state-run charitable institution under the patronage of the Emperor, was organized “to provide charity to the orphans of the rural state”. The committee allocated 500,000 rubles for 1914; 5,000 given personally by the Emperor. In 1913, the All-Russian Guardianship for the Protection of Motherhood and Infancy was established by a personalized imperial decree, with the goal of reducing infant mortality in Russia, setting up shelters for mothers and children, Russia’s first dairy kitchens, children’s hospitals, maternity hospitals, etc. The Tsar allocated capital in the amount of one million ten thousand rubles for the establishment of the “Guardianship”, donated by St. Petersburg and Moscow private commercial banks at his disposal in commemoration of the 300th anniversary of the House of Romanov (1613-1913).
The Emperor often traveled across Russia. For example, there are memories of his visit to the Bryansk province in 1915. While visiting the families of workers of a mechanical plant in the village of Bezhitsa, Nicholas II left expensive gifts. The master, who greeted him with the traditional bread and salt, was presented with a gold watch. The Emperor also gave money to the children of workers who met him at the Bryansk plant.
According to the memoirs of Anatoly Alexandrovich Mordvinov (1870-1940), aide-de-camp to Nicholas II: “His kindness was not of a superficial quality, did not show itself outwardly and did not diminish from countless disappointments. He helped as much as he could, out of his own funds, without thinking about the amount requested, including people to whom, I knew, he was personally not disposed”.
PHOTO: the People’s House of Nicholas II, St. Petersburg
The Bolsheviks created the myth that Nicholas II and his family lived in decadent luxury, that the Tsar and his family spent lavish sums of money on their own needs, although in fact they lived rather modestly in their residences at Tsarskoye Selo [Alexander Palace] and Peterhof [Lower Dacha]. Nicholas II was thrifty and modest in his personal habits, tastes and dress. Colonel Eugene Stepanovich Kobylinsky (1875-1927) said: “He was very modest in his needs. I saw him at Tsarskoye Selo wearing worn-out trousers and boots.” To support this or that charity, the Tsar was often forced to curb his own personal expenses. Sometimes he would tell members of his family to live modestly for 2 or 3 months. Nicholas II donated so much that he sometimes had to ask for an advance from the amount that was annually assigned him by the Cabinet of His Imperial Majesty.
Prince Dmitry Dmitrievich Obolensky (1844-1931) recalled: “In my Tula estate, the village of Shakhovskoye, a stone church was being built, and on the occasion of the war there was a hitch in the construction. And so, thanks to the generosity of the Tsar, it was possible to complete the construction, and in 1915, during the consecration of this church by the Tula Archbishop Parthenius, to proclaim many years for the beloved Monarch.[ 5 ]
Once, when the Tsar and his family stopped at one of the railway stations, a local official turned to him, complaining that his small salary was not enough for his large family. The generous Tsar promised that he would give him 30 rubles a month, and Tsesarevich Alexei said that he would add another 40 from his own funds.
Mrs. O.P. Ollengren , the headmistress of the Vasileostrovskaya Women’s Gymnasium, said that often in the evenings the Tsar invited her to his study and, despite being very busy and tired, asked to present him with lists of the most needy children who were under her care. The sums that the Emperor donated from his personal funds were sometimes very large. Once Mrs. Ollengren dared to say that the sum was too much, that he could not find enough for everyone, to which the Emperor firmly answered: “The Tsar must provide for everyone.” At the end of the audience, always in a whisper, he asked her “not to say a word to anyone” about his help.
PHOTO: Nicholas II visiting wounded Russian soldiers. 1914
At the beginning of the First World War, Emperor Nicholas II, donated 200 million rubles for the needs of the army, to help the wounded, the crippled and their families. During the war, the expenses of Nicholas II provided funds for medical equipment to numerous hospitals and institutions, and increased many times over. In 1916 and 1917. for these purposes the Emperor spent 427,763 and 431,583 rubles, respectively .[ 6 ] The donation on behalf of the Emperor and his wife to the Charity Committee of the Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna “for providing temporary assistance to victims of hostilities” amounted to 425 thousand rubles. From his personal funds, the tsar donated 100 thousand rubles to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva to help Russian prisoners of war who were in concentration camps of those nations at war with Russia.
As a result of all the expenses associated with the war, the treasury was empty. In March 1917, an audit by the Provisional Government revealed that the former tsar, instead of the supposed millions, had only 908 thousand rubles in his account.
As Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich recalled: “Looking back at the life that the Imperial Family led, I must admit that this way of life could not be compared with the life of the wealthy tycoons of the capital. I doubt whether the kings of steel, cars or oil would have been content with such a modest yacht that belonged to the Tsar. And I am convinced that not a single head of any large enterprise would have retired from business as poor as the Tsar was on the day of his abdication.”
Yes, the tsar became financially impoverished, but until the last minute of his life he remained a highly spiritual person, devoted to the Orthodox faith, the Fatherland and his people. In 2000, by the decision of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, he and his family were glorified in the rank of holy royal passion-bearers in the host of new martyrs and confessors of Russia.
It is impossible to list all the acts of mercy and charity of Holy Tsar Nicholas II, but let his selfless acts of charity serve as an example for the new Russian capitalists and for all of us Orthodox Christians.
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[ 1 ] Prince Dmitry Obolensky. Emperor Nicholas II and his reign (1894-1917). “Tsar and Russia”, publishing house “Otchiy Dom”, M., 2017, p. 163.
[ 2 ] I.L. Solonevich. The myth of Nicholas II. “Tsar and Russia”, M., 2017, p. 493.
[ 3 ] A. Sokolov, I. Zimin. Charity of the Romanov family. Х1Х – the beginning of the XX century. Everyday life of the Russian imperial court. M., St. Petersburg. Tsentropolygraph. Russian Troika – St. Petersburg. 2015. – URL: https://www.litmir.me/br/?b=266759&p=1 .
[ 4 ] E.E. Alferyev. Emperor Nicholas II as a man of strong will. Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, 1983. Reprint. edition 1991, p. 80.
[ 5 ] Prince Dmitry Obolensky. Emperor Nicholas II and his reign. Decree. cit., p. 164.
[ 6 ] A. Sokolov, I. Zimin. Decree. op. – URL: https://www.litmir.me/br/?b=266759&p=1 .
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© Paul Gilbert. 12 December 2020