The myth that Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich was Russia’s last Tsar

The question of whether Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich (1878-1918) was the last Emperor of Russia, remains a subject of debate among many historians and monarchists to this day.

A heartbeat from the throne

Mikhail Alexandrovich was the youngest son and fifth child of Emperor Alexander III and Empress Maria Feodorovna, and youngest brother of Emperor Nicholas II.

At the time of his birth, his paternal grandfather Alexander II was still the reigning Emperor. Mikhail was fourth-in-line to the throne after his father and elder brothers Nicholas and George. After the assassination of his grandfather in 1881, he became third-in-line and, in 1894, after the death of his father, second-in-line. His brother George died in 1899, leaving Mikhail as heir presumptive. The birth of Nicholas’s son Alexei in 1904 moved Mikhail back to second-in-line.

In 1912, Mikhail shocked Nicholas II by marrying Natalia Sergeyevna Wulfert, a commoner and divorcee. In a series of decrees in December 1912 and January 1913, Nicholas relieved Mikhail of his command, banished him from Russia, froze all his assets in Russia, seized control of his estates and removed him from the Regency.

After the outbreak of World War I, Mikhail returned to Russia, assuming command of a cavalry regiment. When Nicholas abdicated on 15 March [O.S. 2 March] 1917, Mikhail was named as his successor instead of Alexei. Mikhail, however, deferred acceptance of the throne until ratification by an elected assembly. Nicholas was appalled that his brother had “kowtowed to the Constituent Assembly” and called the manifesto “rubbish”.

Mikhail was never confirmed as Emperor and, following the Russian Revolution of 1917, he was imprisoned and subsequently murdered by the Bolsheviks near Perm on 13 June 1918 (aged 39).

Would Mikhail have made a good Tsar?

While many of Nicholas II’s detractors insist that Russia’s last Tsar was unprepared for the throne, his brother Mikhail was even less prepared. Mikhail had no aspirations for the throne, instead he preferred the life a playboy, and his gentle disposition would have made him an easy target for manipulative ministers and generals in helping nurture their own selfish interests.

His letters to his brother the Emperor reveal a rather devious and conniving side of Mikhail. In one such letter dated 7th November 1912, Nicholas writes to his mother:

“What revolts me more than anything else is his reference to poor Alexei’s [the Tsesarevich’s] illness which, he [Mikhail] says, made him speed things up. [Mikhail is referring to his marriage. In the event of Alexei’s death, Mikhail would have become heir to the throne]. And then the disappointment and sorrow it brings to you and all of us and the scandal of it all over Russia mean absolutely nothing to him! At a time, too, when everyone is expecting war, and when the tercentenary of the Romanovs is due in a few months! I am ashamed and deeply grieved.”

Many believe that Mikhail’s ascension to the throne would have ushered in a constitutional monarchy and that this in itself would have preserved the dynasty and saved Russia. Russia, however, was not prepared for a constitutional monarchy, nor would it have preserved the dynasty nor would it have saved Russia. A constitutional monarchy would not have appeased the socialists and revolutionaries, and most certainly driven the radical elements such as the Bolsheviks to extreme measures. It has been argued that Russia should have adopted a European style monarchy. There is little similarity. Holy Russia did not need to adopt a Western style monarchy. For centuries Russia had been led by mystic forces. Monarchy was the social system that fit Russia best.

The legality of Nicholas II’s act of abdication 

Some historians further argue that Nicholas II’s act of abdication on 15 March 1917 (O.S. 2 March) 1917 was invalid for two reasons: one, because it was signed in pencil, violating all the necessary legal and procedural methods and format, and thus had no legal force; and two, because the instrument of abdication was never officially published by the Imperial Senate.

In his scholarly book ‘Russia 1917. The February Revolution,’ historian George Katkov, throws yet another interesting coal into the fire:

“ . . . when the Tsar abdicated, and later on behalf of his son, he was accused of having done so in contravention of the law of succession and with the aim of introducing a legal flaw into the instrument of abdication that would later allow him to declare it invalid.”

If this is true, it was a very clever move on the part of Nicholas II, not realizing the terrible fate which awaited him and his family 15 months later in Ekaterinburg.

One thing, however, is certain—Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich was NOT Russia’s last tsar! Nicholas II remained Emperor and Tsar of Russia until the day of his death and martyrdom on 17th July 1918.

As God’s Anointed, Nicholas II could not be displaced during his lifetime. Since the will of God was nowhere manifest, neither in the naming of his brother Grand Duke Mikhail to the throne, nor in the Tsar’s signing of the instrument of abdication, his status as Tsar remained inviolate and unassailable.

© Paul Gilbert. 6 November 2020

 

15th March: Reigning Icon of the Mother of God Revealed

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The original Reigning Icon of the Mother of God in the Church of Our Lady of Kazan, Kolomenskoye (near Moscow)

On this day in 1917, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated from the throne. That same day, the Reigning Icon of the Mother of God was revealed to a peasant woman in Kolomenskoye. Many believe the reappearance of the icon was an indication that the Virgin Mary was displeased with Russia for dethroning Tsar Nicholas II during the February 1917 Revolution.

The Reigning Icon of the Mother of God is believed to date from the 18th century. It is considered one of the most revered both inside Russia and in Russian emigre circles. 

The icon was originally venerated in the Ascension Convent, in the Chertolye neighborhood near the Moscow Kremlin. In 1812, as Napoleon Bonaparte’s Grande Armée approached Moscow during the French invasion of Russia, the icon was taken to the village church in Kolomenskoye for safekeeping and subsequently forgotten until 1917.

At the end of the February Revolution of 1917, on 15 March (O.S. 2 March) 1917, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia abdicated the throne. That same day, Evdokia Adrianova, a peasant woman in the village of Pererva in Moscow Province, dreamed that the Blessed Virgin appeared and spoke to her. She was instructed to travel to the village of Kolomenskoye, where she would find an old icon which, “will change colour from black to red.”

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The Church of Our Lady of Kazan in Kolomenskoye has been preserved to the present day

Upon her arrival, the parish priest Father Nikolai Likhachev took Evdokia at her word and together they searched until they found, in an old storage room located in the basement, an icon covered with candle soot. When they took the icon outdoors, the sunlight revealed that the Mother of God was wearing the scarlet robes of a monarch. She also wore the Imperial crown and held a sceptre and orb — the symbols of royal regalia.

Since all this took place on the same day as the Tsar’s abdication from the throne, the appearance of the icon was immediately thought to be connected with that event. What is more, the priest was given to understand that the Crown that had fallen from the head of the Tsar had been taken up by the Theotokos, the Mother of God: henceforth, She would be the reigning Tsarina of the Russian State. Thus the icon was named the ‘Reigning’ icon and became widely revered among the Russian people”

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A copy of the Reigning Icon of the Mother of God is carried in a Moscow procession

Russian monarchists believe the reappearance of the icon was an indication that the Virgin Mary was displeased with Russia for dethroning Tsar Nicholas II during the February 1917 Revolution. They believe that She will hold the Imperial Crown for safekeeping until the House of Romanov is restored.

In Soviet times, the icon was kept in the vaults of the State Historical Museum in Moscow. On 27th July 1990, the Reigning Icon of the Mother of God  was returned to the Church of Our Lady of Kazan in Kolomenskoye. After the reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in August 2007, the icon was taken to Russian parishes in Europe, the United States and Australia

© Paul Gilbert. 15 March 2019

Archival documents regarding the murder of the Imperial family in Ekaterinburg

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The State Archive of the Russian Federation have disclosed documents on the history of the murder of the Imperial family, from its funds, as well as the funds of the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History (RGASP), the Russian State Archive of Modern History (RGANI), the Archive of the President of the Russian Federation, and the State Archive of the Sverdlovsk Region. 

A total of 281 documents were published on their web site [по-русски / in Russian only], revealing the circumstances of the Tsar’s arrest, his transfer to Tobolsk and Ekaterinburg, the deaths of the Imperial family, including the materials of the investigation by Nikolai Alekseevich Sokolov (1882-1924).

Among the documents is the Act of the Abdication of Emperor Nicholas II, signed by the tsar with a simple pencil. Telegrams on the movements of Nicholas II and his family; as well as telegrams with a request to report the accuracy of the rumors spread in Moscow about the murder of Nicholas II; a telegram to Lenin and the chairman of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee Yakov Sverdlov, that the former tsar had been shot on the night of 16th July 1918, and the family evacuated; and the Ural Regional Commissar of Supply Pyotr Voikov orders three jugs and five pounds of sulfuric acid from the
warehouse. According to investigator Sokolov, the acid was delivered to the mine on 17th and 18th of July, to help the murderers destroy the bodies of the Imperial family.

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(1) Photo: State Archive of the Russian Federation

(1) The Act of Abdication of the Emperor Nicholas II. Script. Typescript. Nicholas II has signed the document with a pencil, and countersigned by the Minister of the Imperial Court, Count Vladimir B. Fredericks (1838-1927).

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(2) Photo: State Archive of the Russian Federation

(2) Telegram of the Kolomna district organization of Bolsheviks to the Council of People’s Commissars (Sovnarkom) demanding the immediate execution of “the entire family and relatives of the former tsar.”

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(3) Photo: State Archive of the Russian Federation

(3) From the protocol number 3 of the meeting of the Presidium of the Central Executive Committee, paragraph 11 – “Message on the protection of the former tsar.” Decided: to ask the special purpose detachment to remain at their post until reinforcements arrive, to strengthen the supervision of those under arrest, to supply the detachment with money, machine guns and grenades.

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(4) Photo: State Archive of the Russian Federation

(4) An excerpt from the diary of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna: “April 12 (25). Thursday. Tobolsk. Baby had a better night, 36 °. […] After lunch, Commissioner Yakovlev came, because I wanted to organize a visit to the church during Holy Week. Instead, he announced the order of his government (the Bolsheviks) that he should take us away (where?). Seeing that Baby was very sick, he wanted to take Nicky alone (if not willing, then obliged to use force).

I had to decide whether to stay with  ill Baby or accompany him [Nicky]. Settled to accompany him, as can be of more need and too risky not to know where and for what (we imagined Moscow). Horrible suffering. Maria comes with us. Olga will look after Baby, Tatiana – the household, and Anastasia will cheer all up. We take Valya [Dolgorukova], Nyut [Demidov], and Evgeny Sergeyevich Botkin offered to go with us […]

Took meals with Baby, put few things together, quite small luggage. Took leave of all our people after evening with all. Sat all night with the children. Baby slept, and at 3 o’clock I went to him before our departure. We went at 4 o’clock in the morning. Horrid to leave precious children. […] “

(5) Telegram No. 6707 (above) from Ekaterinburg, Chairman of the Ural Regional Council A.G. Beloborodov to Moscow, Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars Vladimir Lenin and the chairman of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee Yakov Sverdlov, about the acceptance from Commissioner Yakovlev of the “former tsar” Nicholas II, the “former tsarina” Alexandra Feodorovna and their daughter Maria Nikolaevna, and about moving everyone into the mansion [Ipatiev House] under guard.

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(6) Photo: State Archive of the Russian Federation

(6) Telegram of A. G. Beloborodov, Chairman of the Ural Regional Council, from Ekaterinburg to Moscow, to the Chairman of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee Yakov Sverdlov on the delivery of Olga, Tatiana, Anastasia and Alexey by Commissioner Khokhryakov from Tobolsk to Ekaterinburg.

(7) Telegram No. 2729 (above) of Vladimir Bonch-Bruyevich, who managed the affairs of the Council of People’s Commissars in Ekaterinburg, to the chairman of the Ural Regional Council with a request to report on the accuracy of the rumors spread in Moscow about the murder of Nicholas II; on the back is the answer, recorded by Secretary Korobovkin, that the rumors “are another provocative lie.”

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(8) Photo: State Archive of the Russian Federation

(8) From the diary of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna: “Ekaterinburg. 3 (16). July. Grey morning, later lovely sunshine. Baby has a slight cold. All went out for a walk in the morning for ½ hour. Olga and I arranged our medicines. Tatiana read Spiritual reading. They went out. Tatiana stayed with me, and we read Book of prophet Amos and prophet Audios. Tatted. Every morning the Kommandent comes to our rooms, at last after a week brought eggs for Baby again.

Suddenly, Lenka Sednev was fetched to visit her uncle, and he flew off – wonder whether it is true and we shall see the boy back again! […] “

(9) Telegram (above) of the Presidium of the Ekaterinburg Council to the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars V. I. Lenin and the Chairman of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee Yakov Sverdlov about the shooting of the former tsar on the night of 16 July and the evacuation of the family.

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(10) Photo: State Archive of the Russian Federation

(10) Encrypted telegram of A. G. Beloborodov, Chairman of the Ural Regional Council, to Secretary of the Council of People’s Commissars N. P. Gorbunov with the message: “Tell Sverdlov that the whole family has suffered the same fate as the head. Officially, the family will die during the evacuation.”

(11) The orders (above) of the Ural Regional Commissar of Supply Pyotr Voikov and a note on the issuance of three jugs and five pounds of sulfuric acid from the warehouse.

The declassification of the Russian archives was carried out between 1992-1998. It was during this period that thousands of documents of Chekists, participants in the murder of the Imperial family, including the leader of the firing squad, Yakov Yurovsky, surfaced for the first time. 

Click HERE to review all the archival documents on the history of the murder of the Imperial family [по-русски / in Russian only]

© Paul Gilbert. 15 March 2019

Copy of Nicholas II’s Abdication Sells at Moscow Auction

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The signature of Nicholas II is located in the bottom right, and co-signed by Count Vladimir Frederiks, who served as Imperial Household Minister (1897 – 1917), is located in the bottom left

A copy of the act of abdication of Russia’s last emperor Nicholas II went under the hammer during an auction held on 19th February at Sotheby’s Moscow. 

The document refers to the era of “damned days”, one of the most interesting for Russian historians. Therefore, experts had no doubt that there would be a buyer.

“Any document signed by a member of the Imperial family, particularly the last Russian emperor Nicholas II, is always popular with collectors and lovers of Russian history,” explained Dmitry Butkevich, an expert in the antique market.

“This is a very important historical document, previously such things have never been put on the market by private individuals,” Butkevich explained.

“In the state archives there are several versions of the act of the abdication of Nicholas II from the throne, and all of them are considered authentic,” added Butkevich, who explained the circumstances of this phenomenon.

“There were a lot of people who wanted to destroy this act, so a tricky move was invented: several originals were created, all with the tsar’s handwritten signature,” he explained. “Then they made copies of them — for example, the lot that was exhibited was copied using a glass scanner. Then these samples served as the basis for other reproductions of the document.

The starting price of the lot, which includes a copy of the act of the abdication of Nicholas II was 90 thousand Rubles ($1,400 USD). It sold for ten times the amount at 900 thousand rubles ($13,000 USD). Click HERE to read The Document That Ended an Empire by Charles G. Palm, from the collection of the Hoover Institute.

© Paul Gilbert. 25 February 2019