Protecting the Tsar: how Nicholas II was guarded – Part I

PHOTO: Emperor Nicholas II with members of His Imperial Majesty’s Own Convoy – the Cossack unit which served as the Tsar’s elite guard – set against the backdrop of the Imperial Train.

This is the first of a two-part article, which explored efforts to ensure the safety and security of Russia’s last Tsar. Click HERE to read Part 2: the security of Nicholas II in the Alexander Palace – PG

Fate entrusted the Russian Empire to Nicholas II during very troubled times – terrorists, political unrest, revolution and war. Under such conditions, the life of the sovereign was constantly in danger, and therefore his protection was a priority.

PHOTO: Tsuda Sanzo attacks the Tsesarevich in Otsu, Japan, on 11th May 1891

First of all – safety

While he was Tsesarevich [from 1881-1894], Nicholas Alexandrovich experienced first-hand the danger of not only being a member of the Imperial Family, but also as heir to the Russian throne. During a trip to Japan in 1891, he was attacked by one of his escorting policemen Tsuda Sanzō (1855-1891), who swung at the Tsesarevich’s face with a sabre, leaving a 9 cm. long scar on the right side of his forehead. The quick action of Nicholas’s cousin, Prince George of Greece and Denmark (1869-1957), who parried the assassin’s second blow with his cane, saved his life. While revolutionaries were constantly plotting to assassinate the Tsar during his reign [1894-1917], the incident in Otsu turned out to be the first and last attempt on his life.

In March 1881, Nicholas remembered all to well the risks of wearing the crown, as he stood at the bedside of his grandfather, Emperor Alexander II, who lay bleeding on a sofa in the Winter Palace—the victim of revolutionaries. This lesson of history had not been in vain. The Tsesarevich received his first guard in 1889, when he took command of a company of the Preobrazhensky Regiment. But after his accession to the throne in 1894, the safety of His Majesty’s life acquired special significance. The new Emperor used the well-established methods of protection which had developed under his father Alexander III, following an attempt on his life in 1887.

PHOTO: Emperor Nicholas II and Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich with officers of His Imperial Majesty’s Own Convoy

Protection methods

During Nicholas II’s reign, his personal bodyguards were not enough to protect him from the political terror which was gaining strength in the country, therefore, a complex security system had to be developed, the main task of which was to prevent an attempt on the life of the Tsar. A Cossack convoy, an infantry company, a railway regiment, the Palace Police, a Special Security Detachment, as well as a large number of civilian agents were entrusted with the safety and security of the Imperial Family day and night.

Each of the security units formed their own methods to ensure the Tsar’s safety. Take the Palace Police. Within the Imperial Residences, they were posted in the palace corridors in such a way that members of the Imperial Family leaving their private quarters always fell into the field of view of the guards. If the Tsar embarked on a long walk, he remained within the field of view of a string of guards strategically placed along the route.

Moreover, specially trained dogs, German Shepherds and Dobermans, guarded the park areas, and additional guard posts were located along the perimeter of the palaces, dachas and hunting lodges. Anyone who came to the Imperial residence or its environs, when the Tsar was in residence, was required to report to the Registration Bureau within 24 hours to confirm their identity.

The men who served in the Imperial Guard were carefully selected. For example, before recruiting a Cossack into a convoy, the commanders traveled around the Kuban and Terek villages in the Caucasus, looking for the most suitable candidates. The following physical and personal qualities were required: a strong physique, height not less than 180 cm. [5 ft. 9 in.], a quick wit, devotion to the Tsar and the ability to get along with officers and fellow guards.

Service in the Imperial Guard was considered a very prestigious position, however, it came at a price. By the time of retirement, it was common that a former guard had developed a whole range of occupational diseases – rheumatism, tuberculosis, chronic broncitis or nerve disorders.

PHOTO: a group of policemen at the Small Entrance of the Winter Palace. Early 1900s.

Close to the person

Innate qualities were not enough to get enlisted into the ranks of the Palace Police – candidates were required to undergo extensive gendarmerie training. A specialist in the field of security and investigation, Alexander Ivanovich Spiridovich (1873-1952), had developed an excellent school of gendarmerie training.

Spiridovich, who served as the personal security chief for the Tsar and his family from 1906-1916, and who was also responsible for the security of the tsar’s residences. He is considered perhaps the most important figure who ensured the safety and security of Nicholas II.

The Palace Police could not always guarantee the safety of the Tsar, especially in the period which followed the 1905 Revolution. To accompany the Emperor on his trips in 1906, by order of the Palace Commandant Major General Dmitry Fedorovich Trepov, a Special Guard Detachment was created, headed by Spiridovich. Trepov died on 2nd September 1906, he was replaced by Vladimir Alexandrovich Dedulin.

The duties of the head of the Special Detachment included a detailed study of the proposed route to be taken by the Sovereign. Spiridovich sent his men ahead, making it very clear to make their presence along the route unnoticed by the Tsar – as he knew the negative attitude of Nicholas II to the obvious appearance of representatives of the Secret Police.

Spiridovich was also aware of the operational work of the Social Revolutionary terrorist groups. He acted calmly and prudently so as not to frighten away the most active and dangerous members. His most successful operation was the uncovering of a conspiracy to assassinate the Emperor. The terrorists intended to carry out a boldly bold plan – to detonate a bomb under the office of Nicholas II, but its result was the execution of the main instigators of the conspiracy.

The Emperor, treated Spiridovich with great respect and confidence. This is evidenced by a whole series of photographs taken by the head of the Special Detachment – he practically became the Imperial Family’s official photographer. In gratitude for his faithful service, Nicholas II awarded Spiridovich the rank of colonel.

PHOTOS: Major General Dmitry Fedorovich Trepov (left); Adjutant General Vladimir Alexandrovich Dedulin, commandant of the Winter Palace from 1906 to 1913 (center); Police chief of the Winter Palace I. A. Dobrovolsky (right)


In a vintage newsreel, which depicts Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna, during a procession in the Moscow Kremlin in 1912, one cannot fail to notice a tall Cossack, carefully carrying Tsesarevich Alexei in his arms. This is Alexei Petrovich Pilipenko (1887-????), who served in His Majesty’s Own Convoy, and was also an orderly and personal bodyguard of Nicholas II.

With the outbreak of the First World War, the devoted servant Pilipenko, along with a platoon of Cossacks, accompanied the Emperor when visiting Stavka the General Headquarters of the Imperial Russian Armed Forces. He turned out to be the last of the guards entrusted to protecting Nicholas II. From December 1916 he was constantly with the Emperor in the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, but on 1st April 1917 – during the Tsar’s house arrest – they were destined to say goodbye forever.

Another well-known person protecting the Tsar was the Cossack and well-aimed shooter Timofey Ksenofontovich Yashchik (1878-1946), who for two years – from 1914 to 1916 – served and travelled with the Sovereign during the latters visits to the front-line. In early 1916, he became the personal bodyguard for the Dowager Empress Dowager Maria Feodorovna.

PHOTOS: Alexei Petrovich Pilipenko carrying Tsesarevich Alexei (left); Timofey Ksenofontovich Yashchik (center); Alexander Ivanovich Spiridovich (right)

“I’m not afraid of anything”…

After the abdication of the throne, Nicholas II did not lose his guard, but a guard of a completely different kind was assigned to him – their task was not so much to protect the former Tsar from assassination attempts, but to protect him from the raging and unpredictable crowds of the revolutionaries and their supporters.

With the advent of Soviet power, the main task of the guards was to prevent the release of the Tsar, which they feared could lead to the restoration of the monarchy. Once in 1905, Nicholas II was present at the fireworks at the Winter Palace, which was made from the guns of the Peter and Paul Fortress. The buckshot, which accidentally turned out to be loaded with one of the guns, landed next to the pavilion where the Emperor was standing. The clergy, retinue, guards, who were located near the Tsar, were quite shaken by the incident. Only the Emperor himself turned out to be imperturbable, saying: “I am not afraid of anything.” Surprisingly, with such fatalism, Nicholas II was absolutely calm about all the security measures taken during the period of his reign.

Further Reading

The most comprehensive study of the security of Tsar Nicholas II, his family, and the Imperial Residences, are the personal memoirs of Alexander Ivanovich Spiridovich (1873-1952), Last Years of the Court at Tsarskoe Selo, in two volumes. Copies of the first English translation of these volumes are avaailable from AMAZON – CLICK on the LINK(S) below for full details and to order copies:

Volume One, 1906-1910 and Volume Two, 1910-1914

© Paul Gilbert. 13 February 2022