PHOTO: obituary notice on the death of Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich (1876-1938)
On 12th October 1876, Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich was born. Ironically, on 12th October 1938, he died in exile, aged 62.
Kirill was born on 12th October [O.S. 30th September] 1876, at the Vladimir Villa, the country residence of his parents at Tsarskoye Selo. He was the second of five children born to Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich (1847-1909) and his wife Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna (1854-1920), born Duchess Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin.
Kirill was a grandson of Emperor Alexander II (1818-1881) and a first cousin of Emperor Nicholas II. He was also the uncle of Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark (1906-1968) and great-uncle of Prince Michael of Kent (born 1942).
In the service of the Fatherland
After graduating from the Sea Cadet Corps and Nikolaev Naval Academy, in January 1904, Kirill was promoted to Chief of Staff to the Pacific Fleet in the Imperial Russian Navy. With the start of the Russo-Japanese War, he was assigned to serve as First Officer on the battleship Petropavlovsk, but the ship was blown up by a Japanese mine at Port Arthur in April 1904. Kirill barely escaped with his life, and was invalided out of the service suffering from burns, back injuries and shell shock.
From 1909–1912, Kirill served on the cruiser Oleg and was its captain in 1912. In 1913, he joined the Maritime Division of the Imperial Guard and was made Commander of the Naval Guards in 1915. He achieved the rank of rear admiral in the Imperial Navy in 1916, a position which he later abandoned.
PHOTO: Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich and Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna
An unholy alliance
During the festivities marking the Coronation of Emperor Nicholas II, held in Moscow in May 1896, Kirill fell in love with his paternal first cousin, Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1876-1936). They flirted with each other at the balls and celebrations, but Victoria Melita was already married to Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse (1868-1937), the only brother of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.
Victoria’s father was Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1844-1900), the second eldest son of Queen Victoria. Victoria’s mother was Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna (1853-1920), a daughter of Emperor Alexander II and Kirill’s paternal aunt. Victoria Melita scandalized the royal families of Europe when she divorced her husband in 1901.
On 8th October 1905, Kirill entered into an incestuous marriage [forbidden by the Russian Orthodox Church] with the divorced Victoria Melita. The marriage caused a scandal within the Russian Imperial Family, as well as in the Royal Courts of Europe and Great Britain.
The couple wed without the formal approval of Britain’s King Edward VII (as the Royal Marriages Act 1772 would have required), and in defiance of Emperor Nicholas II by not obtaining his consent. Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna wrote that she felt “responsible for having arranged the marriage of Ducky and Kirill,” a decision she regretted.
Nicholas II punished Kirill, by stripping him of his offices and honours, also initially banishing the couple from Russia. Together with their two daughters, the family settled in Paris before they were allowed to visit Russia. In 1910, they returned to Russia, whereupon the Emperor recognized Victoria Melita as Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna.
Despite the family reconciliation, the strained relationship which had already existed for many years between Nicholas and Alexandra with Kirill and Victoria, would remain strained and even hostile.
Revolution and betrayal
Even before Emperor Nicholas II’s abdication, Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich was one of the first Russian officers to commit an act of betrayal to his oath of loyalty to the Sovereign and to his dynastic duty.
While commanding the Marine of the Guard, which was responsible for guarding the Empress Alexandra and her children at Tsarskoye Selo, Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich with his tsarist monogram on his epaulettes and a red ribbon on his shoulders, under which the Marine of the Guard followed their commander, appeared on 1st March, 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. Kirill then authorized the flying of a red flag over his palace on Glinka Street in Petrograd.
Prior to that, the Grand Duke sent notes to the chiefs of the military units at Tsarskoye Selo, with a proposal “to join the new government”, following his own example.
In June 1917, Grand Duke Kirill was the first Romanov to flee Russia, along with his pregnant wife and their two children. Not only was his desertion “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.
In exile, on 8th August 8, 1922, Kirill declared himself “guardian of the Russian throne”. On 13th September 1924, he proclaimed himself “Emperor of All Russia” to the now non-existent Russian throne under the name of “Kirill I”. He became known as the “Soviet Tsar” because in the event of a restoration of the monarchy, he intended to keep some of the features of the Soviet regime.
In addition, is Kirill’s shameful infidelity—an affair which involved his behaviour or relationship far more sensational and unorthodox than a simple casual affair with another woman—a possible homosexual liaison perhaps?
Not only was Grand Duke Kirill a coward, he was clearly a man who lacked a moral compass and a traitor to his Sovereign and to Russia. His acts of treason and desertion, and later his support of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis during his years in exile, thus deprived his descendants any rights to the Russian throne.
PHOTO: the tomb of Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich, in the Grand Ducal Mausoleum of the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg
Grand Duke Kirill was initially buried at the ducal mausoleum at Friedhof am Glockenberg, Coburg. Following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the remains of Kirill and Victoria were transferred from Coburg to the Grand Ducal Mausoleum of the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg on 7 March 1995 after negotiations and great expense, thanks to the efforts of his Spanish-born granddaughter Princess Maria Vladimirovna.
84 years after his death, Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich remains one of the most despised members of the Russian Imperial Family. While some believe that he was a beacon for a restoration of the monarchy in Russia, his record of treason simply cannot be overlooked or swept under the rug, by those who work so diligently to whitewash his legacy.
During the 1920s until his death in 1938, his only adherants, were known as the Kirillists. Today, they are known as Legitimists – a small group of zealots – most of whom are American, and have no say whatsoever in the monarchist debate in modern day Russia. They work tirelessly to keep Kirill from falling from the pedestal, which this insignificant group of nutters has placed him on.
Despite what the Legitimists claim on their blog and social media, neither Kirill, nor his descendants Maria Vladimirovna and her pompous arrogant son George Mikhailovich, are very popular in post-Soviet Russia. Most Russians – including monarchists – dismiss their claims as “pretenders” to the non-existent Russian throne. Their activities in Russia attract a lot of media attention, in particular the wedding of George Mikhailovich to Rebecca Bettarini in St. Petersburg on 1st October 2021.
Under no pretext can we admit to the throne those whose ancestors belonged to parties involved in the 1917 revolution in one way or another. Nor can we admit those whose ancestors betrayed Tsar Nicholas II. Nor can we ignore those who ancestors openly supported the Nazis. Thus, without any reservations, the right to the succession to the throne of the Kirillovich branch should be excluded!
Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich is the subject of my forthcoming book ‘Traitor to the Tsar! Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich and Nicholas II‘, the first comprehensive study to examine the relationship between Grand Duke Kirill and his first cousin Tsar Nicholas II. It is based primarily on documents and letters retrieved from Russian archival and media sources, many of which will be new to the English reader.
My book was scheduled for publication this year, however, my cancer diagnosis, followed by surgery, recovery at home and six months of chemotherapy combined, put this new book project on hold. In recent months, I have acquired some new documents from Russian sources – at great expense, I might add! – which I am now having translated into English, in order to incorporate some of their findings in my book.
© Paul Gilbert. 12 October 2022