PHOTO: Emperor Nicholas II and Prince Vladimir Orlov
This is the first in a series of biographical essays about the men who served Emperor Nicholas II between 1894 to 1917, researched primarily from Russian sources by Independent Researcher Paul Gilbert
Prince Vladimir Nikolayevich Orlov was born in Brussels, Belgium on 13th January 1869 (O.S. 31st December 1868). He was one of two sons born to Prince Nikolai Alekseevich Orlov (1827-1885) and Princess Ekaterina Nikolaevna Trubetskaya (1840-1875). Vladimir had one brother Prince Alexei Nikolaevich Orlov (1867-1916),
Vladimir’s father served as adjutant general, cavalry general, and diplomat in Brussels, Paris and Berlin, as well as a military writer. His great grandfather was Count Fyodor Grigorievich Orlov (1741-1796), who along with his brothers Counts Alexis and Grigory Orlov, took part in a coup which placed Catherine the Great on the Russian throne in 1762.
In 1887 Vladimir entered the junior special class of the Corps of Pages in St. Petersburg, from which he graduated in 1889 as a cornet in the Life Guards Horse Regiment. He held numerous distinguished ranks during his life, including Lieutenant (1893), Staff Captain (1899), Captain (1901), Colonel (1904), Major-General (1909, enrolled in the suite), and Lieutenant-General (1915).
In 1900 Orlov participated in the Summer Olympics held in Paris, competing in equestrian sports: the four-in-hand competition which is a carriage driven by four horses, with the reins arranged so that one driver can control all four horses. Very little is known of the 1900 event, which had at least 28 carriages entered. The title was won by Belgian Georges Nagelmackers.
PHOTO: Emperor Nicholas II and Prince Vladimir Orlov
On 7th January 1901, he was appointed Assistant Chief, and he received his first post as Adjutant, thanks to the patronage of the Minister of the Imperial Court Baron Vladimir Borisovich Fredericks (1838-1927). It was on this date, that he entered the close circle of the emperor and empress. The prince recalls in his diary as follows: “While on duty, I often dined and had breakfast with the sovereign; at first it was very difficult for me, because I was terribly shy, but then little by little it began to pass”.
Orlov, who bore the nickname “Fat Orlov,” was an exceedingly rich man. He was a highly cultivated man, sarcastic, with a dry humour, and enjoyed great social prestige. He was “a witty and charming man with a great knowledge of the world, he was a typical representative of aristocratic culture and, in addition to his native language [Russian], he spoke English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Serbian.”
For many years he was one of the most trusted people of Nicholas II. With no thought whatever for his personal career, he was devoted to the Tsar and to the cause of the Russian monarchy, devoted in the highest sense in which the word can be used.
Prince Vladimir Nikolayevich Orlov also served as one of Nicholas II’s closest advisors, and on 26th August 1906, he was appointed Chief of the Military Campaign Chancellery of His Imperial Majesty. a position he held until 1915. As the head of the military cabinet, Orlov was a keen technologist interested in military applications of the motor car.
PHOTO: Orlov dressed as a 17th falconer for the
1903 Costume Ball in the Winter Palace
Prince Orlov married twice. His first wife Princess Olga Konstantinovna Beloselskaya-Belozerskaya (1872-1923), goddaughter of Princess E.P. Trubetskoy and Count P.P. Shuvalov, maid of honour, daughter of Prince K.E.Beloselsky-Belozersky and N. D. Skobeleva. In society, she was known as the first fashionista and the most elegant woman in St. Petersburg. In her salon, playing cards and dancing reigned. In 1917, their son Nikolai (1896-1961) married Princess of the Imperial Blood Nadezhda Petrovna (1898-1988), they had two daughters.
His second wife Countess Elizaveta Alexandrovna Luders-Weimarn (1883-1969).
It was Prince Orlov who seems to have integrated automobiles into the life of the Imperial Family. In 1904 he drove his own Delaunay-Belleville to the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo Then, as described by court official Alexander Mosolov (1854-1939), “Orlov placed his automobile at the Tsar’s disposal, and driving excursions became an almost daily diversion… After that, he never relinquished his role as chauffeur”.
“We never had a single accident on any of our excursions; of course, I was always extremely careful. I didn’t consider it appropriate for a subject to crush his Tsar,” said Orlov.
In the autumn of 1905 Nicholas himself decided to acquire some automobiles. “I can no longer impinge upon Orlov’s good will. Buy two or three cars, but let Orlov choose them. He knows better than any professional”.
As the Emperor’s collection of automobiles grew, the construction of Imperial Garages begun at Tsarskoye Selo, Peterhof, St. Petersburg (Winter Palace) and Livadia. On 18th February 1907, a fleet administration, with Prince Orlov at its head, was officially established within the Ministry of the Imperial Court.
Prince Orlov encouraged the Imperial Family’s interest in automobiles in every way he could. It was he who arranged for Tsesarevich Alexis to be presented with a small, two-seater Bébé Peugeot, which measured 2445 x 1140 mm. This little car had debuted at the Paris Auto Show in 1904.
The automobile trips became more frequent, which helped to bring Vladimir Nikolaevich closer to Nicholas II. They had long conversations, the emperor took an interest in the opinion of the prince. From that moment on, the family’s attitude toward the prince changed significantly. He became especially close. The Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna affectionately called him “Vladi”.
PHOTO: Orlov chauffeuring Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna
in a Delaunnay-Belleville, 1905
Subsequently, the role of chauffer was transferred to 25-year-old Adolphe Kégresse (1879-1943), a Frenchman with impeccable references specially assigned to this position by Orlov himself. This was done, and Orlov was entrusted with the organization of the Imperial Garage at Tsarskoye Selo.
Like many who served the Emperor, Orlov held a negative view on Rasputin. On 19th August 1915, after an unsuccessful attempt to discredit Rasputin in a newspaper, both he and Vladimir Dzhunkovsky (1865-1938), First Deputy Interior Minister, were discharged from their posts.
Upon learning of Orlov’s dismissal, the Empress Dowager Maria Feodorovna wrote to Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich: “This was not done by my dear boy. He is too kind to do such a thing. He loved both of them [Orlov and Dzhunkovsky] very much. No, this is her [Alexandra Feodorovna] doing. She alone is responsible.”
On 25th August 1915, Orlov was banished by the Tsar in 1915 to the Caucasus, where he served under the Viceroy Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich (1856-1929).
On 16th November 1915, Orlov was appointed assistant of civil affairs of the Viceroy in the Caucasus. On 31st March 1917, he was dismissed from service due to illness with a uniform and a pension.
PHOTO: Chateau Belfontaine in Samois-sur-Seine, where Orlov lived in exile
After the October Revolution of 1917, Orlov lived at Tchair, the Crimean estate of Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich. He followed members of the Imperial family into exile, settling in France, where he lived until the end of his days. Prince Vladimir Nikolayevich Orlov died on 29th August 1927 at his estate Chateau Belfontaine, situated near Paris. He was buried in the Samois-sur-Seine cemetery, Seine-et-Marne, Ile-de-France, France.
Dear Reader: It is always a pleasure for me to present new articles based on my own research from Russian archival sources, as well as offering first English translations of new works from Russian media sources on my Nicholas II blog and Facebook pages. Many of these articles and topics seldom (if ever) attract the attention of the Western media. Please note that I personally translate the articles, and complement them further with additional materials, photographs, videos and links.
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© Paul Gilbert. 1 December 2020