The story of what happened to Tsar Nicholas II, his family and his closest retainers is well-known, though none the less chilling for being so often retold. But what about the rest of the dynasty? At the time of Nicholas’s abdication in 1917 there were more than fifty recognised Romanovs living in Russia, plus a number of semi-detached scions, principally morganatic wives and their children. Romanov men were never afraid to follow their heart rather than the rule book on suitable brides. Of these fifty or so Romanovs the majority escaped into exile. But eleven of them suffered the same fate as the Imperial Family, and a recurring theme struck me as I researched their deaths: the Bolsheviks always executed their enemies in the dead of night.
A month after Misha’s death, on July 17th 1918, in Yekaterinburg, the Imperial Family were woken from their sleep and murdered. The following day, in the town of Alapaevsk, a further six members of the Romanov family were killed: Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna (the Tsarina’s elder sister) with one of her fellow nuns, Varvara, three Grand Dukes from the Konstantinovich branch of the dynasty, and 22 year old Vladimir Paley, a young poet and one of the morganatic offspring of Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich. Here is a photograph of Vladimir in his cadet uniform.
In the dead hours of the early morning they were bundled into a cart, driven to an abandoned iron working and thrown down one of its shafts. What the fall failed to accomplish was finished off with grenades and bundles of burning brushwood. None survived.
There was then a six month hiatus before the final Bolshevik cull of Romanovs. Grand Dukes Paul Alexandrovich, Dmitri Konstantinovich, Nicholas Mikhailovich (aka Bimbo) and George Mikhailovich aka Gogi) had at first been detained under a fairly lenient form of house arrest in Vologda, free to associate with one another, but after the assassination of Nicholas and his family they were transferred to the Shpalernaya House of Detention in Petrograd (now St Petersburg).
On January 29th 1919, long before dawn, they were brought by truck to the Peter & Paul Fortress. Grand Duke Paul was so frail he had to be carried to the place of execution and was shot where he lay on a stretcher. The other Grand Dukes had the briefest moment to embrace each other on the edge of the trench that had been dug to receive their bodies. For me one of the most poignant details of that scene - four elderly men, taken from their beds, stripped of their shirts in sub-zero temperatures, and shown the grave that awaited them - is that Grand Duke Bimbo, the Romanov’s oddball intellectual, botanist, historian, enthusiast and prankster, had brought his cat with him from jail and his very last act was to entrust it to one of his executioners and ask him to care for it.
THE GRAND DUCHESS OF NOWHERE, Quercus Books, will be published on October 2nd.