Protecting the Tsar – Part 2: the security of Nicholas II in the Alexander Palace

PHOTO: security at the main gate leading to the Alexander Palace

This is the second of a two-part article, which explores efforts to ensure the safety and security of Russia’s last Tsar. Click HERE to read Part 1: How Nicholas II was Protected – PG

Following his father’s assassination in March 1881, Emperor Alexander III was advised that it would be difficult for him to be kept safe at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. As a result, he relocated his family to the Gatchina Palace, located 30 kilometres (20 mi) south of St. Petersburg. The palace was surrounded by moats, watch towers, and trenches, and soldiers were on guard night and day. Under heavy guard, he would make occasional visits into St. Petersburg, but even then he would stay in the Anichkov Palace on Nevsky Prospect, as opposed to the Winter Palace.[

In November 1894, Nicholas II ascended the throne. He had spent his youth in Gatchina Palace, however, he did not really like the fortress-like building, and returned to the capital, where, according to tradition, he settled in the Winter Palace.

In 1904, Russia was at war with Japan, and the newborn Tsesarevich Alexei was secretly ill; Nicholas and Alexandra permanently abandoned the Winter Palace, for the greater comfort, security and privacy of Tsarskoye Selo, where they settled into the Alexander Palace.

PHOTO: Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, review His Imperial Majesty’s Own Convoy – the Cossack unit which served as the Tsar’s elite guard – on the parade ground in front of the Alexander Palace

External security of the Alexander Palace

Up until 1917, the Alexander Park (and the palace on its territory) was guarded along the outer contour by 26 round-the-clock and 3 temporary (daytime) posts. In addition, 5 Cossack patrols constantly covered the palace from nearby villages (Aleksandrovka and Bolshoye Kuzmino).

The intersections of the streets of Tsarskoye Selo which faced the park were also subject to constant surveillance; during the day, agents of the Palace Police dressed in civilian clothes walked along them, always on the alert for suspicious activity. In total, there were 13 additional such “hidden” posts (although all the locals were well aware of them).

If any members of the Imperial Family wanted to go for a walk in the Alexander Park, any employees (gardeners, etc.) were removed, and 3 more additional posts from staffed by local police officers were set up along the fence.

From 1906, at night, guard dogs began to be released into the Alexander Park from a specially created dog kennel in the village of Aleksandrovka. It turns out that even members of the Imperial Family could not just leave the palace during the evening, because the park was full of aggressive security dogs.

PHOTO: the Imperial Bedroom, situated in the eastern wing of the palace

Internal security of the Alexander Palace

The most important post of the internal security of the Alexander Palace was a secret guard post, located in the basement directly under the bedroom of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna. An alarm was installed in the Imperial Bedroom, which linked it to the guard room below. If the alarm was pressed, it triggered a signal in the guard post below. The guard on duty, regardless of any circumstances, had to immediately break into the room.

Until 1917, only two panic button signals were received by guards at their post: on the first occasion, the Empress accidentally placed a book on top of the alarm bell, and the other time, a curious Grand Duchess Anastasia pressed it. On both occasions, the guard immediately acted according to the instructions (and subsequently received the highest gratitude for vigilance).

In total, by 1914, there were 13 permanent (round-the-clock) guard posts inside the Alexander Palace, and at night an additional post was set up at the entrance to the private rooms of the August couple. A hidden security unit of 15 non-commissioned officers of the guard regiments also operated in the palace, disguised as palace servants.

PHOTO: plan of the underground tunnel, connecting the palace with the kitchen building, used by palace employees

PHOTO: the tunnel, through which palace employees used before the Revolution, it was filled in during the Soviet era and is now in the process of restoration

Palace employees entered the Alexander Palace only through a special underground tunnel (built during the time of Empress Catherine II), connecting the main residence with the kitchen building. The appearance of each employee who entered the palace was first checked against a photograph in a special catalogue (which was kept by security officers), and then thoroughly searched.

More senior visitors to the palace (officials, persons close to the Imperial Family, etc.) entered the building through the main palace entrances, but 95% of these people were also searched (even the personal dressmaker of the Empress Madame Bezac).

In order for a visitor to the palace not to be searched, a personal order of the Emperor or the Empress (temporary or permanent) was necessary. The privilege to enter the palace without being searched was, however, limited to few, for example, the court jeweller Peter Carl Faberge (1846-1920) and the court architect Roman Meltzer (1860-1943).

The security system turned out to be quite effective, and from 1906 until 1917 there were no special incidents in the Alexander Palace and Park.

© Paul Gilbert. 27 February 2022