30th anniversary of Prince Nikolai Romanovich’s first visit to Russia

PHOTO: Prince Nikolai Romanovich and his wife Countess Sveva della Gherardesca

Thirty years ago, in June 1992 the Head of the House of Romanov (1992-2014) and president of the Romanov Family Association, Prince Nikolai Romanovich (1922-2014), visited Russia for the first time.

The trip had been arranged by a group of Italian entrepreneurs, friends of Nikolai Romanovich, who decided to take him together with his wife Princess Zveva, with them to Russia as a guide, giving him an opportunity to talk about the country that occupied such a special place in his life.

Nikolai Romanovich dreamed of coming to Russia through Finland, a symbolic journey in the opposite direction to those who fled from Bolshevik Russia following the 1917 Revolution and later the Civil War after 1918, towards the young independent Finnish state, symbolizing the hope of salvation. But his Italian friends chose a different route: first Moscow, and then St. Petersburg.

Later, Princess Zveva recalled their first journey home to Russia: “It was an incredible journey in terms of emotional intensity. It lasted three days, and during this time Nikolai Romanovich did not sleep, so as not to miss anything. We went from Moscow to St. Petersburg by train. I watched him sitting in the compartment, already an elderly man, eagerly looking out the window – at the forests, at the fields, villages, absorbing all the images that flashed before him. Thus, at the age of 69, he discovered this great country, which had always occupied a central place in his life.”

Their first visit to the Motherland was not accompanied by a media frenzy, there were no flashes of cameras or media crews documenting their every word and filming their every move. For Russia, their visit simply passed unnoticed. Nikolai Romanovich and his wife arrived quietly, without any pomp or ceremony, nor meetings with officials.

Nikolai Romanovich later spoke about his first impressions of Russia: “What surprised me? Nothing! As if it was meant to happen and it did. I remember when the plane landed. I didn’t kiss the asphalt at the airfield. I had my passport in hand. There was an official, I showed him my passport, he said “go” in Russian. All around me, I heard Russian voices. I am in Russia. I always said: “I will return to Russia.” I never said: I will come. It was always “I’ll be back”. And I returned. Because I never really left it. You see, we have always had the feeling that we belong to Russia, but Russia does not belong to us.”

Once in St. Petersburg, the Prince wasted little time and immediately ordered a taxi, telling the driver to drive along the Neva River. Stopping, the Prince got out of the taxi and walked down to the bank, he put his hand into the water, while saying to himself with a smile: “Now my Neva!”. He had been waiting for this moment all his life.

Prince Nikolai Romanovich continued to visit Russia, including July 1998, where he led 50 descendants of the Romanov family for the interment of Emperor Nicholas II and members of his family in the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg. It was during this visit that I met Prince Nikolai in the lobby of the Astoria Hotel. I was permitted to travel in the coach with members of the Russian Imperial Family to the historic burial that day.

The legitimate Head of the House of Romanov

Prince Nikolai considered that following the death of Prince Vladimir Kirillovich in 1992 that he was head of the House of Romanov and his rightful successor. With the exception of Princess Maria Vladimirovna and her mother Princess Leonida, Prince Nikolai was recognized by the rest of the family as head of the Romanov family.

The official position of the Romanov Family Association has always been that the rights of the family to the Russian Throne were suspended when Emperor Nicholas II abdicated for himself and for his son Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich. * Please read my article “The Russian Imperial House ended with the murder of Nicholas II”, originally published on 17th February 2021

While he never had any aspirations of claiming the Russian throne, there is no question that Prince Nikolai Romanovich would have made a worthy and highly respected Tsar!

* * *

Prince Nikolai was born on 26th September 1922 in Cap d’Antibes near Antibes, France, the eldest son of Prince Roman Petrovich (1896-1978) and his wife Princess Praskovia Dmitrievna (née Countess Sheremeteva, 1901-1980), and a descendant of Emperor Nicholas I (1796-1855).

In 1950, Prince Nikolai and the Countess Sveva della Gherardesca (b. 15 July 1930), daughter of Count Walfred della Gherardesca and Nicoletta de Piccolellis, met at a party in Rome. Sveva is a member of the Italian della Gherardesca noble family from Tuscany and a direct descendant of Count Ugolino della Gherardesca. They were married in Florence in a civil ceremony on 31 December 1951 followed by a religious ceremony on 21 January 1952 in the Russian Cathedral at Cannes

On 15th September 2014 – Prince Nikolai Romanovich Romanov died in Tuscany, Italy at the age of 91. He was survived by his wife, their three children, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

© Paul Gilbert. 12 June 2022