Who would have thought that 97 years after the Russian Revolution which saw the end of the Russian Empire and downfall of the Romanov Dynasty we would be back at square one. Yes folks, believe or not the news this week from Russia is for the re-instatement of the Imperial Family on the Throne of all the Russias. This news comes from a Member of the Russian Parliament and a supporter of Vladimir Putin, President of Russia.
I know that if you took a passing interest in Russian History you would believe that according to the movie Dr. Zhivago and all other Soviet propaganda movies, the Romanovs were dead and gone, end of story, the country is now run by the little people. Well not quite, it’s complicated as they say.
It is true that the Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra and their children and servants were shot in July 1918 in Yekaterinburg at the Ipatieff House. BUT! because there is a but, the rest of the family all fled in exile, thanks to their cousins in the various Royal Houses of Europe. Many left including the mother of Tsar Nicholas on war ships sent to the Crimea by King George V of England. That is quite a few uncles and aunts and nieces, nephews, cousins etc. with their servants and the sister of the Tsar, Grand Duchess Olga who ended up in Toronto with her husband and children.
On top of that, for all their rhetoric Lenine and other revolutionaries kept everything they found in the Palaces including the personal objects left in the Ipatieff house by Tsar Nicholas and his wife and kids. All of it which includes, children’s toys, clothing, personal diaries and all manner of other personal items, preserved in vaults at the Kremlin or in other locations. It is one of those contradictions of history that is very difficult to explain. In France when the revolutionaries arrested Louis XVI and his wife Marie-Antoinette and the children, the palaces were emptied and everything that could be sold was put on the auction bloc. You can see much of it nowadays in London in museum like the Wallace Collection at Hertford House. The French would love to have it back now, too late.
The Soviets were a little more thoughtful, thinking that the people had to see what the revolution was all about and artefacts from the past was an important reminder, though ghoulish given the fate of the Tsar and his family.
So fast forward to 1990 and the fall of Communism and the collapse of Soviet Russia. First, Boris Yeltsin then President opens a special enquiry on the fate of the remains of the Tsar’s Family, will follow 10 years of DNA examination and expertise with numerous scientists in Forensic Pathology and historians. Members of the Royal Families in Europe were involved, Prince Philip who with other Princes is a close family relative gave blood for DNA matching. The results confirmed the grave site in an abandon field as those of the Tsar, his family and servants. In turn President Yeltsin arranged an elaborate State National Funeral for the Tsar and his family for their remains to be returned to St-Petersburg with a guard of Honour, 21 gun salute, broadcasted on Russian TV. He also invited the Romanov Family to come as his guests to the Cathedral in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St-Petersburg to witness the internment in a chapel amongst all the other Romanov Tsars and Grand Dukes. Many other governments also sent delegations and Queen Elizabeth II was represented by a personal family member. Suddenly the Romanovs are back in style and well the Bolcheviks and Lenin are criminals and terrorists.
Funeral Chapel and Mausoleum in the Cathedral of the Peter and Paul Fortress in St-Petersburg. The Imperial family is interred below the floor.
Now when the Romanov family departed Russia in 1918 for various countries in Europe and Canada a deep division occurred amongst them. You had the main branch the Alexandrovich who were headed at the time by Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna who was originally a Danish Princess and widow of Tsar Alexander III father of Tsar Nicholas II.
Today the Alexandrovich branch is headed by Prince Andrew Andreyevich Romanov who lives in California and is 93 years old. He belongs like all Romanovs to a German-Danish Princely House, the Holstein-Gottorp House. There are no Russian Romanovs since the days of Tsarina Catherine II the Great who was a Prussian Princess and married the heir to the Throne of Russia, Peter III who himself was a Holstein-Gottorp. This family is linked to the Romanov by marriage and Law of Succession.
Coat of Arms of the Holstein-Gottorp Romanov Family used by the Romanov Family Association to this day.
So when the news of a possible return of the Monarchy was broadcasted on Russian news outlets and around the world the old Feud between the two branches of the family came back full force.
The other branch is the Vladimirovich Branch headed today by Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovich who also styles herself as Her Imperial Highness and Head of the Imperial House, she has a son George.
Her great grandfather Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich, the direct male-line patrilineal descendant of Alexander II of Russia, claimed the headship of the defunct Imperial House of Russia, and assumed the pretender title “Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russians” in 1924 when evidence that all earlier claimants had been killed was final. He was followed by his only son Vladimir Kirillovich. Vladimir’s only child, Maria Vladimirovna, is the current pretender; her only son from her marriage with Prince Franz Wilhelm of Prussia, George Mikhailovich, is her heir apparent, dynastically about to found a new branch Hohenzollern-Romanov, while other descendants of junior side branches of the Holstein-Gottorp-Romanovs are still living.
The Romanov Family Association, a private association of most of the remaining descendants of Emperor Paul I of Russia, makes no claim to the defunct throne, and disputes the current headship of the house. These two groups continue to have differences of opinion. Maria Vladimirovna is treated/described coldly as that other cousin of ours. Kirill Vladimirovich is seen as a traitor since he was in charge of the Regiment guarding the Alexander Palace where the Tsarina Alexandra and children lived. He deserted his post to join the revolution and make a claim for the Throne Nicholas had just vacated. By doing so he sealed the fate of the Imperial Family who were arrested.
Maria Vladimirovna has been very active by forming alliances with the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia and organizing events to promote herself and her cause. She is often photographed with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church and supports the Church’s agenda. She visited Pope Benedict at the Vatican, she also met with Putin and other Russian Politicians. Putin has been watching this evolving situation and what he has in mind is to use a possible restoration of the Monarchy to enhance his own position. The new Sovereign would be a titular head, a living symbol of Russia and have a ceremonial role only. Already a suitable palace is being scouted in the St-Petersburg region, there are quite a few palaces available. President Putin has been since 2000 restoring many palaces and historical sites. A forest of Statues to former Tsars are sprouting up everywhere quickly replacing Bolchevik monuments. Always in attendance at the unveiling are members of the Romanov Family and representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church, on display the old Imperial Flag and of course military band to play God Save the Tsar. This reunification with the past does not stop at the Romanov it also includes all the other old aristocratic families and they too are being wooed to return to Mother Russia. The Tolstoy family has returned and now manage their old estates. The Fabergé are not aristocrats but still everyone loves their creations. Putin also offers to any Romanov Princes to be buried in Russia in the Crypt of the Grand Dukes with their ancestors. Each funeral is given an Official sanction. The Church has made the Tsar and his family Saints and Martyrs, they are now venerated. Each year on 17 July marking the date of their execution, hundreds of thousands of Pilgrim attend the special Mass for the Nicholas II and his wife and family in the new Cathedral in Yekaterinburg built on the site of their execution.
The Russian government is betting that Russians will feel a bond with the old days and since religion and ruler in Russia has always been a uniting factor this might just be the thing for Putin. Tourism wise, having a Romanov to show to the tourists is not a bad thing, look at England, it brings hard cash. As for World Opinion, for purely sentimental reasons might just see such a return to the old ways as a softening up of that hard regime image Russia has, how bad can they be if they return the Romanov to the Throne? All is forgiven and not quite forgotten. This could be quite the game changer.
Imperial Coat of Arms used by HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna.
So stay tuned folks more to come on this evolving story line.