L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Misha - Part I

Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich of Russia (4 December/22 November 1878, St. Petersburg – 13 June 1918, Perm), the youngest son of Emperor Alexander III of Russia. At the time of his birth, his paternal grandfather, Emperor Alexander II, was still living, and Michael was therefore fourth in line to the throne, following his father and elder brothers Nicholas and George. But by 1899, after the assassination of his grandfather, and the deaths of his father and brother George, he was heir presumptive. Five years later, his brother Nicholas II's son Alexei was born, moving Michael back to second in line. But, famously, Alexei was afflicted with haemophilia, and wasn't given much hope for living into adulthood, so his young uncle was still looked on - by those few aware of the Tsarevich's condition - to become the next Tsar. In 1917, at the beginning of the Russian Revolution, the Tsar abdicated, for himself and for his twelve year old son, and proclaimed his younger brother the next "Emperor of all the Russias". But the next day, Michael issued a manifesto acknowledging the power of the Provisional Government and deferring his acceptance of the throne until the "will of the people" was democratically shown. He neither abdicated nor refused the throne, and though the flood of history soon proved such questions irrelevant, many consider him, Tsar Michael II, Russia's actual "Last Tsar".


Michael was born at the Anichkov Palace in St. Petersburg, the youngest of three sons and youngest child save one of the Tsarevich Alexander of Russia and his wife, the Tsarevna Marie Feodorovna, before her marriage Princess Dagmar of Denmark, and called Minnie in the family. After the assassination of Michael's grandfather, the new Tsar Alexander III moved his family to the greater safety of Gatchina Palace, which was twenty-nine miles southwest of St. Petersburg. There, the conditions in the nursery were surprisingly spartan: the children slept on hard camp beds and rose at dawn, they washed in cold water, and their food was plain in the extreme. Much time was spent in outdoor activity in Gatchina's large surrounding estate, often with their father. Michael was always known as Misha by his parents and older brothers and sister, but the youngest sibling, his sister Olga - only four years his junior, and his closest companion throughout his childhood - called him "Floppy". Michael, like all the children, was looked after by an English nanny, Mrs. Elizabeth Franklin, and taught by private tutors. Through his Danish mother, he was related to the royal families of Denmark, Great Britain, and Greece, the vast extended family was extremely close and would gather en masse each summer in Denmark.

With his parents, older brothers, and elder sister Xenia at Gatchina.
Wearing a sailor cap emblazoned with the name of the Imperial yacht, Tsarevna.
With his sister Olga.  (Four images.)

When Michael was fifteen his father fell fatally ill, and died on the first of November, 1894; he was only forty-nine. After her husband's death, the Dowager Empress resumed residence at the Anichkov Palace in St. Petersburg with her two youngest children. (Her eldest son, the new Tsar Nicholas II, had married only days after his father's death; her middle son, George, was ill with tuberculosis and, for his health, lived by himself in the Caucasus; and her elder daughter, Xenia, had married the previous year.) Like most male members of the Russian Imperial family, Michael was enrolled in the military, eventually becoming a member of the Horse Guards Artillery. He attained his majority in 1898 and was now financially independent, with sizable capital and estates at Otrovo in Russian Poland and Brasovo near Orel, some two-hundred and fifty miles from Moscow. Only eight months later his brother George died and, since his sister-in-law the Empress Alexandra had only given birth to daughters thus far, Michael became heir presumptive to the Russian throne.

With his mother and two sisters.
His sister Olga is in the background.

The Grand Duke was a quiet, good-natured, unremarkable young man, much loved by his family. He performed the many public duties expected of someone in his position, attending openings and unveilings and launchings. In 1901, he represented Russia at the funeral of Queen Victoria and was given the Order of the Bath, and the following year he was made a knight of the Garter in King Edward VII's (his uncle by marriage) coronation honors. In private, his activities and interests were far from extravagant. His hobbies were cars and photography and watch collecting. He always craved physical exercise, and his tastes in food and drink were extremely plain. His one great love was music, and he played the piano and several other instruments. He loved to spend quiet evenings making music, alone or with friends; it appears he even composed.

On his mother's yacht, The Polar Star.
Dressed for the famous Boyar Ball, held in the Winter Palace in 1903.

In June 1902, Michael transferred to the Blue Cuirassier Regiment and moved to Gatchina, where the regiment was based. That same year he began a romance with Princess Beatrice of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. But Michael's father and Beatrice's mother, born a Russian grand duchess, were brother and sister, and the Orthodox church forbid marriage between cousins; Beatrice would later marry a Spanish prince. Michael next fell in love with a lady-in-waiting to his sister Olga. Alexandra Kossikovskaya, known as "Dina", was a commoner, the daughter of a lawyer. Michael refused to take her as his mistress, and in 1906 asked his brother the Tsar for permission for them to marry. Nicholas refused on the grounds that, marrying a commoner, Michael would have to be removed from the line of succession; he was threatened with loss of his army commission and exile if he married Dina anyway. Dina was dismissed as Olga's lady-in-waiting, put under surveillance by the Okhrana - the Tsarist-era secret police - and prevented from travelling, while the Dowager Empress took Michael with her to Denmark. Unable to see Dina, by the next summer he was resigned to the situation, though she appears to have never gotten over the romance, and would never marry.

With his sister Olga.  Olga's first husband, Duke Peter of Oldenburg, is directly behind her.
Escorting his relative, the Dowager Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, born Grand Duchess Anastasia Mikhailovna.
At Brasovo, with his beloved terrier, Jack.

At the beginning of 1908, Michael began a friendship with Natalia Sergeyevna Wulfert, the wife of a fellow officer; she was previously divorced and had a young daughter by her first husband. Their relationship deepened, and by the summer of the following year, they were lovers. By that winter, Natalia was separated from her husband and living in an apartment in Moscow paid for by Michael. When the Tsar became aware of the situation, he had his brother transferred to the Chernigov Hussars at Orel, but Michael traveled from Orel to Moscow several times a month to visit Natalia. She gave birth to their son in July of 1910. (As this occurred - before - her divorce from Wulfert, the eventual divorce decree was back-dated.) The baby George - named after Michael's dead brother - was given the surname "Brasov" derived from the name of Michael's estate Brasovo, in acknowledgement of his paternity. The following year the Tsar permitted Natalia to move to Brasovo, granting her the surname "Brasova".

With Natalia.
With Natalia and Jack.
Celebrating Natalia's birthday at Brasovo in 1911.  Notice the chair decorated with daisies, and
the portrait of Michael, a gift, based on his appearance at the Boyar Ball of 1903.  (See above.)
Michael and Natalia are at center, and composer Sergei Rachmaninov is third from
left; the music lover Grand Duke and the great Rachmaninov were good friends.
Natalia and Rachmaninov are seated at far right.

In May 1912, Michael went to Copenhagen for the funeral of his maternal uncle, King Frederick VIII. There he fell ill with a stomach ulcer that was to trouble him for the rest of his life. Natalia joined him there and, after a holiday in France - all the while trailed by the Okhrana - he was transferred to St. Petersburg to command the Chevalier Gardes. Natalia accompanied Michael to the capital but, because of her very uncertain position, within a few months he had moved her to a villa in Gatchina.

In September, the couple again went abroad, again followed by the Okhrana. While in Berlin, they announced that they would drive to Cannes. But, eluding the secret police, they made a diversion to Vienna, where they were secretly married in the Serbian Orthodox Church, on October 16th. A few days later, they arrived at Cannes, where they were joined by the two children. Two weeks after the wedding, Michael wrote to his mother and brother to inform them; they were, not surprisingly, horrified and angry. The Tsar was particularly upset as his son was in the midst of his most serious haemophiliac episode, and Michael had explained that it was just that dire situation that had spurred his decision to marry: his actions would remove him from the succession and, should the young Tsarevich die, he couldn't be separated from Natalia and their child. In a series of decrees between December and January 1913, Nicholas relieved Michael of his command, banished him from Russia, froze all his assets there, and seized control of his estates.

In Venice.

Michael and Natalia - who would not be styled Grand Duchess, but called Madame or Countess Brasova - lived in French and Swiss hotels for the next six months. They were visited by sympathetic friends and relatives, including his sister Xenia. In July they met the Dowager Empress in London; according to the Grand Duchess Xenia's diary, her mother told Natalia "a few home truths". Not long after, Michael took a one-year lease on Knebworth House, a furnished and staffed estate twenty miles north of London. Michael's finances were nonetheless uncertain since he had to rely on funds released at the Tsar's command, as his brother still controlled all his estates and assets.

At Knebworth House. Natalia is seated at center with Michael behind her. Natalia's daughter Natalia - called
"Tata" - is seated at her feet; Jack is a blur at her side. Michael's secretary, Nicholas Johnson, stands at right.
With Tata and George
With Jack and a Borzoi.
With Jack.
With Natalia and George.

Continued in tomorrow's post.

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