Emperor Nicholas II and King Edward VII meet at Reval, 1908

PHOTO: Pyotr Stolypin, Queen Alexandra, Emperor Nicholas II, King Edward VII, Vladimir Frederiks, Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, and Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich, on the deck of the Russian Imperial Yacht.

On 9th June 1908, a meeting of the Russian Imperial and British Royal families took place in Reval [today Tallinn, Estonia]. The historic meeting marked the first visit of a reigning British monarch to the Russian Empire, although Edward had previously visited Russia as His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales in 1866, when he attended the wedding of the future Russian Emperor Alexander III in St. Petersburg. The meeting at Reval in 1908, served as an important diplomatic purpose in the aftermath of the 1907 Anglo-Russian Entente, which settled colonial disputes and instigated the Triple Entente.

King Edward VII arrived on the royal yacht Victoria and Albert roadstead of the port of Reval. He was accompanied by his wife Queen Alexandra (sister of the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna) and daughter of Princess Victoria of Great Britain. They were met by the Emperor, the Empress, their five children, Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich, Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, and Queen Olga of the Hellenes (nee Russian Grand Duchess Olga Konstantinovna). In addition, the Emperor was accompanied by prominent members of his retinue, including Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin, and the minister of the Imperial Court, Vladimir Frederiks.

On the morning of 9th June 1908, the hills and the wooded shores of the bay were crowded with thousands of well wishers. At 7 o’clock, the Imperial Train arrived in Revel from Peterhof. Crowds of children lined up to greet the Emperor and his family: “It is impossible to describe the delight of the children when the Imperial Family passed by. Their Majesties … were very touched,” the head of Nicholas II’s secret personal guard Alexander Spiridovich recalled. Passing the cheering crowds, the Imperial family proceeded from the train station to the port, where they boarded the Imperial Yacht Standart. Two other Russian Imperial Yachts were also in port, including the yacht of the Dowager Empress, the Polar Star and the smaller steam yacht Alexandria.

PHOTO: Nicholas dressed in the uniform of Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Scots Greys, on the deck of the Imperial Yacht Standart. His son and heir Tsesarevich Alexei is standing beside him. 9th June 1908

Prior to meeting the British king, Nicholas dressed in the uniform of Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Scots Greys. Nicholas II was appointed an honorary member of the distinguished regiment by Britain’s Queen Victoria in 1894, after he became engaged to Princess Alix of Hesse (Alexandra Feodorovna), who was Victoria’s granddaughter. King Edward, in turn, put on the uniform of the Russian Imperial Army, but it turned out to be clearly too small for him, but despite this, the king looked by no means impressive.

The British yacht Victoria and Albert anchored in the roadstead between the Standart and the Polar Star. The Imperial and Royal yachts were surrounded by British and Russian warships, also lying in the roadstead.

On board Nicholas greeted the British King by saying, “It is with feelings of the deepest satisfaction and pleasure that I welcome your Majesty and her Majesty the Queen to Russian waters. I trust that this meeting, while strengthening the many and strong ties which unite our Houses, will have the happy results of drawing our countries closer together, and of promoting and maintaining the peace of the world.”

An eyewitness recalled: “While the guests were very cordial towards one another, it was felt that Edward showed some condescension towards his nephew – he seemed to patronize him … he warmly hugged and kissed the Empress, and then carefully looked at the grand duchesses, who looked a little embarrassed. Then he went up to the heir [Alexei], took him in his arms and kissed him.”

The Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna was delighted to once again meet her beloved sister Alexandra, the British Queen, with whom she maintained a prolific correspondence throughout her life. A luncheon was served on the Dowager Empress’s yacht, the Polar Star, but no speeches were made at this affair. The menu was traditional for such occasions: Toulouse consommé, pâté, champagne lobster, truffle and grouse rolls, vol-au-vents, Nantes duck, vanilla peaches and frozen strawberry puree.

At five o’clock, tea was arranged on the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert. The Tsar arrived without his wife, since the Empress suffered from another attack of sciatica.

PHOTO: Imperial hosts and Royal guests gather for a state banquet in the dining hall of the Imperial Yacht Standart. Empress Alexandra Feodorovna can be seen in the center of the photograph, seated between King Edward VII [on the left], and His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales [future King George V, on the right]

At 8 pm, the hosts and guests gathered together for a state banquet on the Imperial Yacht Standart. During dinner, the orchestra played works by Borodin, Wagner, Liszt, Grieg, Glazunov and Gounod, while the monarchs made official speeches, both in English. The King thanked the Emperor for the warm welcome, recalling his previous visit to Russia, when he was still Crown Prince, and expressed hope for the Anglo-Russian alliance to be strengthened: “I believe that this will serve to closer uniting the ties that unite the peoples of our two countries, and I am sure that this will contribute to a satisfactory peaceful settlement of certain important issues in the future. I am convinced that this will not only contribute to a closer rapprochement between our two countries, but will also help maintain peace throughout the world,” Edward VII said. The emperor answered in the same spirit.

Early in the evening, boatloads of German and Russian residents steamed about in the roadstead and serenaded the Imperial and Royal visitors with national folk songs. After the sun set and darkness set in, the warships were all illuminated, and the Imperial Yachts Polar Star and Alexandria displayed special electrical effects.

The following day, the Emperor and Empress received a delegation from Reval, after which they again received British guests at lunch, during which a misunderstanding occurred. The King turned to the Empress and joked about the terrible accent with which the Grand Duchesses spoke English. The criticism hurt the Empress, especially since the King himself spoke English with a clear German accent. But the conclusions were made and soon the Grand Duchesses were appointed a new English tutor – Charles Sidney Gibbes, who after the revolution would follow the Imperial Family into exile to Siberia.

The inevitable exchange of gifts took place that day. The King presented his nephew with a sword made by Wilkinson, on which were engraved the words: “To His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of All Russia from His Loving Uncle Edward, Revel 1908.” The Emperor, in turn, presented his uncle with a jade vase with cabochon moonstones and chalcedony.

PHOTO: King Edward VII and and Emperor Nicholas II, Reval. 1908

That evening, dinner was served on the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert. Shortly after the arrival of the Imperial couple, the King was faced with a dilemma. Who will accompany him to dinner: the Queen or the Dowager Empress? English protocol required that the Sovereign’s wife should precede the Dowager Empress, but this could offend Maria Feodorovna, who was also his wife’s sister. On the other hand, if the Empress was forced to take second place, she might well take the opportunity to leave. The King handled the situation with his usual aplomb. Taking both ladies by the arms, he declared: “Tonight I will enjoy the unique honour of inviting two Empresses to dinner.” After dinner, the King and his Imperial guests sat in comfortable chairs, coffee and liquors were served. There were also dances during which the Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna danced with the British Admiral John Fisher (1841-1920). Around midnight, the Imperial couple, having said goodbye to the guests, left the Victoria and Albert and returned to the Standart.

At 3 o’clock in the morning, the Victoria and Albert weighed anchor and arrived in Port Victoria in Kent three days later.

CLICK on the IMAGE above to view an album of photographs of the meeting of the Russian Imperial and British Royal families at Reval, on 9th June 1908

© Paul Gilbert. 9 June 2022