Wednesday, 16 January 2013

16 January 1913 - Russia's Grand Duke

On this day in 1913 Russia's Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich was stripped of his rank as officer in the Russian Army by his brother, the Tsar Nicholas II.
Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich of Russia
Michael [22 November 1878 – 13 June 1918) was the youngest son of Emperor Alexander III of Russia. His paternal grandfather, Emperor Alexander II of Russia, was assassinated on 1 March 1881, and as a result Michael's parents became Emperor and Empress of All the Russias before his third birthday. When Michael was 15 his father fell fatally ill, and died and Michael's eldest brother, Nicholas, became Tsar.
Like most members of his family, Michael was enrolled in the military, completing training at a gunnery school and joining the Horse Guards Artillery. In November 1898, he attained legal adulthood, and just eight months later became heir presumptive to Nicholas as the middle brother, George, was killed in a motorcycle accident, and Nicholas did not yet have a son and his three daughters were ineligible.
Nicholas II, Alexandra, and their children. c. 1910
In 1901 Michael represented Russia at the funeral of Queen Victoria, and was given the Order of the Bath. The following year he was made a Knight of the Garter in King Edward VII's coronation honours, and transferred to the Blue Cuirassier Regiment in Gatchina.
Michael’s assets at the time included the largest sugar refinery in the country, capital amounting to millions of roubles, a collection of motor vehicles, and country estates .  When Nicholas and Alexandra had a baby boy in August 1904, Michael again became second-in-line to the throne.

Princess Beatrice of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
In 1902, Michael met and fell in love with Princess Beatrice of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, but both the  Orthodox Church and Nicholas refused to allow the marriage as they were first cousins.  She alter married into the Spanish royal family.
Michael then looked at marrying Alexandra Kossikovskaya, “Dina” who was his sister Olga's lady-in-waiting and wrote to his brother in July 1906 for permission, as she was a commoner. According to Russian house law any royal that married outside of royalty was removed from the line of succession, and  Nicholas also threatened to revoke Michael's army commission and exile him from Russia if he married without his permission.  Michael was sent to Denmark until mid-September, and when he returned it was announced that he was to marry Princess Patricia of Connaught,  but it appeared to be a plot by his mother to marry someone suitable, and did not eventuate.  Dina, who was under surveillance by the Tzars secret police, finally went to live abroad, but never married.Three-quarter length portrait photograph of Natalia wearing an Edwardian-style dress and hat with furs
Natalia Brasova
In early December 1907, Michael began a relationship with the wife of a fellow officer, Natalia Sergeyevna Wulfert, and when she separated from her second husband Michael organised an apartment for her and her daughter in Moscow.  Their son and only child George was born in July 1910, before her divorce from her second husband was finalised, but Nicholas issued a decree giving the boy the surname "Brasov", taken from Michael's estate at Brasovo, acknowledging Michael as the father.  Natalia was allowed to move to the estate in May 1911, and granted the surname "Brasova" by Nicholas.  After months of travel under the constant watch of the secret police, they were finally married in Vienna on 16 October 1912.  .
Natalia Brassova and Grand Duke Michael Aleksandrovich of Russia.  source
Two weeks after the marriage Michael wrote to his mother and brother to inform them, and they were   both horrified,   and his brother was shocked that his brother had "broken his word ... that he would not marry her’.  Nicholas was particularly upset because his heir and son, Alexei, was gravely ill with haemophilia. Michael had feared that he would become heir presumptive again on Alexei's death, and would never be able to marry Natalia, so he married her and took himself out of the line of succession.
In a series of shocking and severe decrees over December 1912 and January 1913, Nicholas relieved Michael of his command, banished him from Russia, froze all his assets in Russia, seized control of his estates, and removed him from the Regency.   The couple lived in hotels in France and Switzerland for six months before moving to Knebworth House near London.
West facade of Knebworth House, Hertfordshire, England source
With the start of WWI, the couple returned to Russia and Michael was promoted from his previous rank of colonel to major-general, and given command of a newly formed division: the Caucasian Native Cavalry, which became known as the "Savage Division".  For his actions commanding his troops in the Carpathian mountains in January 1915, Michael earned the military's highest honour, the Cross of St. George, although he hated the horrific nature of the war and felt guilty and ashamed that he had failed to prevent the war and protect his country. 
Classically handsome Michael in wearing military uniform
Michael in military uniform
In 1915 Michael regained control of his estates and assets from Nicholas, who agreed to legitimize Micheal’s son George, with the title “Count Brossov”.  In February 1916 Michael was given command of the 2nd Cavalry Corps, which included the Savage Division, a Cossack division, and a Don Cossack division, and they fought in the Brusilov Offensive, earning Michael a second gallantry medal, the Order of St. Vladimir with Swords, for his part in actions against the enemy, and promoting him to adjutant-general.

Despite his active participation in the war, Michael knew his brother was facing a loss of loyalty from the people – there was growing public unrest, and people felt that Nicholas was unduly influenced by his German-born wife Alexandra and the self-styled holy man Rasputin.  Rasputin was killed in December 1916, and an attempt was made to assassinate Alexandra shortly after.  Public unrest grew, and in February 1917 soldiers joined demonstrators and revolutionaries patrolled the streets, rounding up people connected with the Tzar.
On 1 March Michael signed a document proposing the creation of a constitutional monarchy, which was rejected by the newly formed Petrograd Soviet .  Nicholas then abdicated, in favour of his son, Alexei, with Michael as Regent, but then amended that to make Michael emperor, as Alexi was gravely ill. The new government did not agree, and after much discussion it was agreed that Michael would defer to the will of the people and acknowledged the Provisional Government as the de facto executive, but neither abdicate nor refused to accept the throne.  This marked the end of the Tsarist regime in Russia.
Head and shoulders black-and-white portrait of an elderly Lvov with pale eyes and a large grey beard
Prince Lvov, Prime Minister of Russia, March – July 1917
Michael returned to Gatchina, and discharged from military service.   In August Michael and Natalia were placed under house arrest by the new prime minister, Alexander Kerensky, who also ordered ex-Emperor Nicholas sent to the remote Urals.  Michael and Natalia were given permission to return to England, but the British were not prepared to accept them as the people had little sympathy for the Romanovs.
Head and shoulders black-and-white photograph of a clean-shaven Kerensky in his late-thirties/early-forties with dark eyes and hair
Alexander Kerensky, Prime Minister of Russia from July – October 1917
On 1 September 1917, Kerensky declared Russia a republic, and two weeks later, Michael's house arrest was lifted briefly  until the Bolsheviks seized power from Kerensky.  On 3 March 1918 the Bolshevik government signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which effectively ceded vast areas of the former Russian Empire to the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire.  On 7 March 1918, Michael and his secretary Nicholas Johnson were re-arrested and imprisoned at the Bolshevik headquarters, before being sent to Perm, a thousand miles to the east.  This was done on the order of the Council of the People's Commissars, which included both Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin.
The information card on Joseph Stalin, from the files of the Tsarist secret police in St. Petersburg, c. 1905  source
Meanwhile Natalia arranged for Michael's son George to be smuggled out of Russia by his nanny with the help of Danish diplomats.  In May, Natalia was granted a travel permit to join Michael at Perm , and they spent about a week together. 
On 12 June 1918 a team of former prisoners of the Tsarist regime lead by Gavril Myasnikov and approved by Lenin,  took Michael and his secretary into the forest outside Perm and shot them.  Michael was the first of the Romanovs to be executed by the Bolsheviks, but he would not be the last.  Neither Michael's nor Johnson's remains were ever found.
The Perm authorities distributed a concocted cover story that Michael was abducted by unidentified men and had disappeared.   The Germans, hoping that when he returned Michael would side with Germany,  arranged for Natalia and her daughter to escape to Kiev in German-controlled Ukraine. On the collapse of the Germans in November 1918, Natalia fled to the coast, and she and her daughter were evacuated by the British Royal Navy.
Michael's son George, Count Brasov, died in a car crash shortly before his 21st birthday in 1931.  Natalia died penniless in a Parisian charity hospital in 1952. His stepdaughter Natalia Mamontova married three times, and wrote a book about her life entitled Stepdaughter to Imperial Russia, published in 1940.
On 8 June 2009, four days short of the 91st anniversary of their murders, Russian State Prosecutors stated, "The analysis of the archive material shows that these individuals were subject to repression through arrest, exile and scrutiny ... without being charged of committing concrete class and social-related crimes."


Cheery stuff, Deb xx

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