Grand Duke Kirill’s act of treason against Emperor Nicholas II

PHOTO: Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich (1876-1938)

It is a well known fact, that under the command of Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich (1876-1938), the Marine of the Guard, the most loyal and elite troops of the Alexander Palace, had marched to the Tauride Palace to declare their allegiance to the Provisional Government. At the Tauride Palace, two revolutionary organs had formed under one roof in a single day: the Provisional Committee of the State Duma and the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers Deputies.

In the Winter 2017 issue of Royal Russia, I published my 18-page interview with Princess Maria Vladimirovna [1], which consisted of 20 questions, one of which addressed her grandfather’s [Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich] alleged betrayal of Emperor Nicholas II. Prior to the interview, I was required to submit my questions to one of her legal advisors, who expressed doubt that she would answer this question, BUT she did!

PG: “Your grandfather, Kirill Vladimirovich, was accused of disloyalty and treason against Emperor Nicholas II. His detractors claim that in 1917, he swore allegiance to the new Provisional Government and that he wore a red armband on his uniform, even though he firmly denied these accusations in his memoirs [2]. Can you comment on these accusations?

MV: “Slander has always been one of the most effective weapons of the unprincipled politician.

“There are no authoritative witnesses or reliable evidence of any of the alleged actions some claim my grandfather took during the Revolution.

“My grandfather and his uncle, Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich, in February and March 1917. . . that they together strove “with all their strength and in every way possible to preserve Nicky [that is, Emperor Nicholas II] on the throne.”

“Neither my grandfather nor Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich served the Provisional Government. They resigned their official positions and offices after the illegal arrest of the Imperial Family [3].

“This fiction about the “red armband” and other slanderous claims began to spread only after my grandfather assumed the responsibilities that he legally inherited for the fate of the dynasty in exile [4].”

Vladimir Nikolaevich Voeikov, writes in his memoirs [5]:

The sailors in the Marine of the Guard, which at that time formed part of the security troops [for the Alexander Palace, where Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and her five children were in residence], began to evaporate. In the end, only officers remained, and the deserting sailors headed off to Petrograd to their barracks, where on the morning of March 2 they held a meeting to which they invited their commander, who at that time was Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich.

The grand duke explained to the sailors the import of the events taking place. The result of his explanation was not the return of the deserting sailors to fulfill their duty but a decision to replace their highly esteemed banner with a red rag, under which the Marine of the Guard followed their commander into the State Duma.

Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich with his tsarist monogram on his epaulettes and a red ribbon on his shoulders, appeared on March 1, at four-fifteen in the afternoon, at the State Duma, where he reported to Duma Chairman M.V. Rodzianko. “I have the honour of appearing before Your Excellency, I am at your disposal, as is the entire nation. I wish Russia only good.” Then he stated that the Marine of the Guard was at the complete disposal of the State Duma . . . In reply, M.V. Rodzianko expressed confidence that the Marine of the Guard would help them deal with their enemy (but he didn’t explain which one).

Inside the State Duma, the grand duke was received quite graciously, since even before his arrival at the commandant’s office in the Tauride Palace it was generally known that he had sent notes to the heads of the units of the Tsarskoye Selo garrison announcing:

“I and the Marine of the Guard entrusted to me have fully allied ourselves with the new government. I am certain that you, too, and the unit entrusted to you will also ally yourselves with us.”

“Commander of the Marine of the Guard, His Highness, Rear Admiral Kirill.”

PHOTO: Grand Duke Kirill (left) with officers and sailors of the Guards crew

Following the October 1917 Revolution, no member of the Romanov family living in exile made any claim to the title of heir to the throne of the Russian Empire; rather, they shared the view once expressed by the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna and Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich, that the final arbiter of whether there is a monarchy in Russia, and who would reign, must be the Russian people.

The Association of the Family of the Romanovs found themselves in conflict with the fifth branch of the Romanov family, the Vladimiroviches. The source of the conflict goes back to the 1920s, when Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich, who illegally [3] left Russia in mid-1917, declared himself the “guardian of the Russian throne” on August 8, 1922 and “Emperor of All the Russias” on September 13, 1924, thereby causing not merely a scandal, but a schism in monarchist circles of the Russian emigration. Opposing him were the most active members of the emigration, who had retreated from Russia with weapons in hand and who had united around the former supreme commander, Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich. They accused Kirill Vladimirovich of abandoning his honour and dignity. The Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, her daugthers Grand Duchesses Xenia and Olga Alexandrovna, among other Romanov family members also opposed Grand Duke Kirill. Grand Duke Peter Nikolaevich supported his brother Nicholas, as did others. Eventually, the Association of the Family of the Romanovs was formed, which opposes the claims of the Vladimiroviches to this day. Nearly a century has passed, and yet no end to the schism is in sight.

The issue of the Vladimiroviches is ambiguous and multi-layered. According to Emperor Paul I’s “establishment,” when an emperor dies and his brother and his son also die in short order, the eldest of his male cousins becomes the heir to the throne. Indeed, the eldest male cousin of Nicholas II was Kirill Vladimirovich. Had this happened during ordinary times, and had the eldest cousin been someone other than Kirill Vladimirovich, he would have been recognized as heir to the throne without objections. However, in 1924 there was neither empire nor throne, and it was not appropriate to demand an “automatic” succession without taking into account the opinions of the empire’s defenders.

On March 1, 1917, before the emperor’s abdication, Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich was one of the first Russian officers to commit an act of betrayal to his oath of loyalty and to his dynastic duty. While commanding the Marine of the Guard, which was responsible for guarding the Imperial Family at Tsarskoye Selo, Kirill Vladimirovich marched them into Petrograd to declare their allegiance to the Duma. If this does not qualify as treason, then his emigration in June 1917 when he was a rear admiral in active military service in a country at war cannot be called anything but desertion. It is not difficult to understand why military men may have refused to recognize a man of such high “valour” as their monarch.


[1] Maria Vladimirovna is a Princess, not a Grand Duchess. The last grand duchess of Russia was Nicholas II’s younger sister Olga Alexandrovna, who died on 24th November 1960, in Toronto, Canada

[2] My Life in Russia’s Service – Then and Now, London: Selwyn & Blount, published posthumously in 1939

[3] In June 1917, Grand Duke Kirill was the first Romanov to flee Russia with his pregnant wife and their two children. Not only was his departure “illegal”, Kirill who was serving as a rear admiral in active military service in a country at war, had thus abandoned his honour and dignity. It is interesting to add, that the Kirillovich were the only branch of the Imperial Family who managed to escape the Bolsheviks, without losing any family members.

[4] Please refer to: The Russian Imperial House ended with the murder of Nicholas II


PHOTO: Emperor Nicholas II and Major General Vladimir Nikolaevich Voeikov at the Headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief in Mogilev. c. 1915

[5] Vladimir Nikolaevich Voeikov (1868-1947) was a member of His Imperial Majesty’s Retinue, and served as Palace Commandant from 1913 to 1917. During his years in exile, Voeikov wrote his memoirs “С царём и без царя: Воспоминания последнего дворцового коменданта» (With and Without a Tsar: Memories of the Last Palace Commandant”, published in in Helsinki in Russian in 1936.

© Paul Gilbert. 26 May 2021

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