This Week in the News – The Romanovs and Imperial Russia


Empress Maria Feodorovna holding her son, the future Emperor Nicholas II (1868)

150th anniversary of the birth of Emperor Nicholas II 18 May (O.S. 6 May) 1868

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This Week in the News includes a link and brief summary to full-length articles published in the past week from English language media and internet sources.

This initiative is a courtesy to those who do not have a Facebook account, or for some reason cannot view the Royal Russia Facebook page – now, with more than 143,000 followers from around the world!

Royal Russia is pleased to offer our dedicated followers with the following full-length articles, on a variety of topics covering the Romanov dynasty, their legacy, monarchy, and the history of Imperial and Holy Russia, for the week ending 19 May 2018:


ARTICLES – click on the red headline text below to read the respective articles

#Romanovs100 marks 150 years since Nicholas II’s birth with rare images

Exactly 100 years ago to the day, Russia’s last Tsar, Nicholas II, celebrated his 50th birthday. RT’s multi-platform history project #Romanovs100 marks the date in digital.

Party like the last emperor: how Nicholas II squandered the nation’s wealth on celebrations

May 18, 2018 marks 150 years since Nicholas II, Russia’s last emperor, was born. His court boasted probably the most lavish ceremonies, and sometimes they partied like the world was going to end, which ironically it did for them. We commemorate the Tsar’s jubilee, remembering how he truly partied “like a Russian.” Georgy Manaev writes in RBTH.

Note: Personally, I take issue with the title of this article – “squandered the nation’s wealth” is a bit strong. Georgy Manaev, like most modern-day journalists likes to embellish, ie. Nicholas II was no drunk, this has been clearly documented by General Alexander Spiridovitch and Semyon S. Fabritsky in their memoirs – PG

12 pictures of Russia’s most impressive royal weddings

While the world awaits the royal event of the year, the wedding of Prince Harry and Megan Markle, let’s take a glimpse at how their relatives, the Russian tsars and dukes, celebrated their marriages.

Just for fun . . . #Romanovs100: Join digital colorization contest judged by renowned artist Marina Amaral

#Romanovs100 has teamed up with Brazilian artist Marina Amaral for a photo colorization contest open to social media users. The competition is part of RT’s history project dedicated to Russia’s last reigning family – the Romanovs.

Russian honours: Emperor Nicholas II of Russia

This article considers the centenary of two important honours that were conferred on Emperor Nicholas II of Russia during World War 1 – the rank of field marshal, and his appointment to be a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. Russell Malloch writes in ‘The Gazette’

Profound Examples of Holiness: The Royal Martyrs in Their Own Words and Through the Words of Those Who Knew Them

An excellent article by Ryan Hunter, published on the web page. Well done, Ryan, congratulations!

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A lovely photo of the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, seated on the balcony of the old wooden Large Livadia Palace (architect Ippolit Monighetti). The Empress looks calm and at peace, enjoying the warm breezes coming in off the Black Sea.

The beautiful detail of the neo-Byzantine Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross can be seen in the background. The old wooden Large Palace was demolished in 1910, and replaced with the New Livadia Palace (architect Nikolai Krasnov) in 1911.

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Disclaimer: the links published on this page are for information purposes only,
and may not reflect the opinions of Paul Gilbert and/or Royal Russia

State Duma drafts statement condemning the murder of the Tsar’s family


Earlier this week, Russian State Duma deputy Vitaly Milonov told a press conference that a statement had been drafted in the Lower House of the State Duma, condemning the murder of the Tsar’s family by the Bolsheviks in July 1918 as an “unacceptable and unjustifiable crime.” 

The deputy said that the shooting of the Imperial family was “an act of unjustified violence, when people were being murdered due to their political beliefs.” According to Milonov, Tsar Nicholas II and his family did not pose any danger to the new Soviet power. “I think it was demonstrative political action, unjustified in its cruelty. But Russia is not built on blood, and today must show – we have the courage, strength, greatness to admit our own mistakes. Not for crucifying ourselves, but for ascertaining a sober assessment of our own history,” added Milonov.


Russian State Duma deputy Vitaly Milonov

The legislator told the Parliamentary Newspaper (Парламентская газета) that the draft statement will be submitted to the State Duma in the very near future. “I hope that a decision can be made before July 17th, that is, the date marking the centenary of the deaths of the Imperial family,” said Milonov.

In Milonov’s opinion, “one can not deny the miscalculations of some of the Emperor’s policies, however, Nicholas II was canonized by the Church not the government. He suffered throughout his reign, endured deprivation and humiliation during his captivity, thus preserving the dignity of his faith.”

Political scientist Leonid Polyakov  believes that the draft’s proposal in Russia’s parliament is symbolic – “it was the State Duma in its time that effectively deprived the tsar of power, while violating the laws of the Russian Empire. This should be remembered, and do not be afraid to address it.” 

It should be noted that ten years ago, in 2008, the year marking the 90th anniversary of the murders of the Imperial family, a similar draft prepared by Deputy of the Lower House Igor Barinov, was presented to the State Duma. Sadly, the draft was not passed.

In January 2016 Russian President publicly denounced Lenin and his government for brutally executing Russia’s last tsar along with all his family and servants, killing thousands of priests.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 19 May 2018


Duma Deputy Proposes Monument to Nicholas II for Central Moscow


The first deputy chairman of the Duma Committee for Public Associations and Religious Organizations, Ivan Sukharev, has prepared a request to Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin for permission to establish a life-size monument to Nicholas II in the center of the Russian capital.

Sukharev believes that perpetuating the memory of the last Russian emperor will help restore historical justice. The parliamentarian noted that a monument was installed in the center of Belgrade in November 2014, while in central Moscow there is not even a memorial plaque [Note: this is not entirely correct, please see my list of monuments to Nicholas II in Moscow and surrounding region at the bottom of this article – PG].

In turn, the Moscow Monumental Art Commission announced that they are ready to consider the proposal to install a monument to Nicholas II in Moscow, if the artist of the initiative can prepare the necessary documents for the Commission to evaluate.

Meanwhile, the head of the Commission on Culture and Mass Communications, Yevgeny Gerasimov believes that a monument to Nicholas II should be established in St. Petersburg instead of Moscow. 

“I do not see any significant place in Moscow for this monument, from my point of view, it might be possible to establish it in St. Petersburg,” Gerasimov told RIA Novosti. He noted that the Moscow City Duma had not yet applied for the installation of the monument to Nicholas II in the capital.

Nikolai Svanidze, member of the commission of the Human Rights Council under the President of the Russian Federation for Freedom of Information and Journalists’ Rights, publicist and journalist, also supports the initiative to establish a monument to the last Russian emperor, but noted that it would be more logical to do this in St. Petersburg.

“Nicholas II had no ties to Moscow, but to the capital St. Petersburg. Nicholas II and Moscow are bound only by the Khodynka Field. This is the tragic connection between the two.” Svanidze, however, agrees that Nicholas II, deserves a monument in his honour, even despite the controversy which haunts his reign.

Meanwhile, the monuments has already angered the leaders of radical left-wing groups, such as the Left Front and Yabloko, who spoke out against the idea of ​​perpetuating the memory of the last tsar, who make the absurd comparison towards sympathizers of Nicholas II as “Nazi collaborators”.


There are currently four outstanding monuments to Nicholas II in the Moscow region, they include a magnificent equestrian monument to Nicholas II on the Frunze Embankment (center); another at the Novospassky Monastery (below); and two monuments established in suburban Moscow: at Mytishchi in the north (top left) and Podolsk in the south (top right). There are also a number of busts to Nicholas II: the Petrovsky Palace, the Church of the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the former Lazarev Cemetery, the Church of St. Nicolas, Saint Nicholas Berlyukovsky Monastery, situated on the outskirts of Avdotyino, and the Armenian Center in Moscow. 


© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 19 May 2018

Царебожники / Tsarebozhniki – Nicholas II Discussion Group


Today, marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Russia’s last emperor and tsar Nicholas II. 

Nicholas Alexandrovich Romanov was born 18 May [O.S. 6 May] 1868, in the Blue Boudoir of his mother, situated in West wing of the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. Nicholas was the eldest son of Emperor Alexander III (1845-1894) and Empress Maria Feodorovna (formerly Princess Dagmar of Denmark, 1847-1928). He had five younger siblings: Alexander (1869–1870), George (1871–1899), Xenia (1875–1960), Michael (1878–1918) and Olga (1882–1960).

In honour of this historic day, I am pleased to announce the launch of my new discussion group Царебожники / Tsarebozhniki on the Royal Russia Facebook page.

My idea for the name was inspired by an article ‘Inside Russia’s secretive cult of Tsar worship: How royalism is thriving 100 years after murder of Nicholas II‘, published in the November 3, 2017 edition of The Independent

Oliver Carroll, who is the Moscow correspondent for The Independent writes: “The Russian Orthodox Church’s inflexible position has given rise to a culture of ignorance and hysteria around the Romanovs . . . and at its extremes is a movement that has come to be known as tsarebozhniki or Russia’s “tsar worshippers”, who go one step further to sanctify everything the tsar did.”

While my discussion group falls short of the above description, I felt that the term Tsarebozhniki was an appropriate snub towards Nicholas II’s detractors. 


Monument to Nicholas II  in the town of Mytishchi, near Moscow

For more than a century, the life and reign of Nicholas II has been smeared by historians and biographers. The negative portrait which they created of Nicholas II is largely based on the seeds of descent planted during his reign from 1894-1917. These were cultivated from a variety of sources: malicious gossip in the salons of St Petersburg’s nobility, anti-monarchist, revolutionary, Bolshevik sentiment and propaganda; the memoirs of White Russian and even members of the Russian Imperial family in exile.

Since the release of Robert K. Massie’s bestselling Nicholas and Alexandra in 1967, a plethora of books have been published on the life and reign of Nicholas II in both Russia and the West. It is the Western historians and biographers in particular, who have remained content in upholding the popular Soviet myths and lies about Nicholas II.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, a cache of new documents have been unearthed in archives, museums, and from private collections across Russia. A new generation of Russian historian has since taken it upon themselves to research these new resources, making many new discoveries and shattering many old myths. 

Over the past 25 years, I have often been accused of hagiography or whitewashing the life and reign of Nicholas II. These accusations, plus the books and documentaries produced in the United States and Great Britain over the past two decades compelled me to address the issue.

In 2015, I launched Sovereign, a bi-annual periodical dedicated to the life and reign of Nicholas II. I wanted to give Russian historians and other experts an opportunity to have their say, by translating their works and thus making them available in English for the first time. Their works are based on new documents, diaries, including first hand and eye witness accounts of the events which shaped the reign of Emperor Nicholas II (1894-1917). Not only do their works challenge those of their Western counterparts, they provide facts and sources which dispute many popular held myths on some of the more controversial events of Nicholas II’s reign: the Khodynka tragedy (1894), Bloody Sunday (1905); the infamous bread “shortages” (1917), and many more.


Tsarebozhniki is a discussion group for adherents of Russia’s last emperor and tsar Nicholas II (1868-1918). It is for those of us who wish to take a stand against the popular negative image which has been held in the West for the past century. It is important to stress that Tsarebozhniki is not attempting to sweep history under the rug. There are no conspiracy theories, nor is my discussion group attempting to white wash Russia’s last emperor and tsar.

The Tsarebozhniki will discuss the life and reign of Nicholas II, current news, review books and documentaries, share photos, videos, and more. This group is open to Russophiles, Romanovphiles, Orthodox Christians, monarchists, and others who share an interest in Russia’s last sovereign and Christian monarch.

On October 27th 2016, I announced that I would semi-retire, noting that I would be devoting more time to pursuing issues which are important to me personally, particularly the life and reign of Emperor Nicholas II. My promotion of Sovereign (watch for my full page ad in the July 2018 issue of Majesty Magazine), the launch of the Tsarebozhniki discussion group and the Nicholas II Conference which I will host in Colchester, England, are just the beginning!

Click HERE to join my new discussion group Царебожники / Tsarebozhniki, and take part in the discussions, and sharing of information, opinions, photos, and more! Please note that you must have a Facebook account to join this discussion group.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 18 May 2018

The Russian Interior Decoration of the 19th – Early 20th Centuries in the Winter Palace


Karelian Birch Tree Room, Winter Palace

Arranged in the chronological order, from the time of Alexander I until the reign of Nicholas II, the exhibition traces the development of interiors from the Art Nouveau to the Empire styles.

The permanent exhibition entitled “The Russian Interior Decoration” is based on the materials collected by the History of Russian Culture Department and comprises nearly 400 exhibits dating from the 19th – early 20th centuries. A considerable part of the items were used for the Winter Palace decoration. The comprehensive display of items, characteristic of their specific historical period and being extremely various both in their respective functions and techniques, make it possible to vividly demonstrate the most distinctive features of Russian decorative and applied art. Arranged in the chronological order from the time of Alexander I until the reign of Nicholas II, the exhibition represents different stylistic trends reflecting the evolution of the interiors, ranging from the Art Nouveau to the Empire styles. 


The Library of Nicholas II, Winter Palace

Every part of the exhibition bears the stamp of its own time. The items displayed in the exhibition partially recreate the panorama of the mode of life of the aristocracy, nobility and the middle class of Russian society. Every function was given its own room: the Living Room, Music Saloon, Private Office, Boudoir and others. One of the halls (Room 178) represents the original palace interior – the Library of Nicholas II, whose private rooms were accommodated in this part of the Winter Palace. 

The prominent place in the exhibition is occupied by the furniture which plays an important role in any interior decoration. The rich collection of Russian furniture in the Hermitage allows to demonstrate the impressive range of forms, design and artistic decoration, as well as the important role of the leading architects and masters of decorative and applied art who created it.


Furniture from the Pompeian Dining Room, Winter Palace

The exhibition Russian Interior Decoration of the 19th – Early 20th Centuries, is on permanent display in the State Hermitage Museum, the Winter Palace, Floor 2, Rooms 187 – 176. 

© State Hermitage Museum. 17 May 2018

The Romanovs Under House Arrest: From the 1917 Diary of a Palace Priest



Archpriest Afanasy Belyaev served as priest and confessor to the former Russian Imperial family. On the occasion of the Tsarevich’s thirteenth birthday in July 1917, he wrote this description of their faith and piety:

. . . for the last time the former rulers of their own home had gathered to fervently pray, tearfully, and on bended knee, imploring that the Lord help and intercede for them in all of their sorrows and misfortunes.


The interior of the Alexander Palace chapel (1930s)

These selected excerpts from the chaplain’s diary open a window into the souls of the now sainted Romanov family and vividly recall the struggles they endured during the first five months of their confinement following the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II. One sees the love and independence of a family whose life was centered on Christ; whose very existence was bound up with the defense of the Orthodox Faith. In the spirit of the Gospel the Tsar conveyed to the Russian people from his captivity “that it is not evil which conquers evil, but only love . . .”

Of particular interest are Fr Afanasy’s personal impressions of Nicholas II, members of his family and retinue, all of whom were under house arrest in the Alexander Palace. Fr Afanasy not only served as priest and confessor to the Imperial family, but also had opportunities to chat with the Tsar. This first English translation of Fr Afanasy’s diary is of immense historic value. It presents his personal observations of the Imperial family’s daily life during their house arrest at Tsarskoye Selo.

Russian cultural historian Marilyn Pfeifer Swezey sets Fr Afanasy’s diary in its historical context and offers an epilogue to complete the story of the Romanov’s journey to martyrdom at the hands of a Bolshevik firing squad in a Siberian basement in July 1918. Also included is a short life of Fr Afanasy and biographical information regarding the various persons appearing in the work. This anniversary edition has been illustrated throughout with colour and black and white photos (some rarely or never published before) as well as charts and maps.

An excerpt from the diary is also available at Orthodox Life or click HERE to order your copy of The Romanovs Under House Arrest 136 pages, $29.95 USD, published by Holy Trinity Publications, Jordanville, NY.


Archpriest Afanasy Ivanovich Belyaev 1845-1921

Archpriest Afanasy Ivanovich Belyaev was the scion of a St Petersburg priestly family who became the rector of the Tsar’s Feodorovsky Cathedral at Tsarskoye Selo, and subsequently the father confessor of the Russian Imperial family during their first five months of confinement following Nicholas II’s abdication in early 1917.

Marilyn Pfeifer Swezey is a specialist in Russian cultural history and decorative arts. Her previous works include The Romanov Family Album, Fabergé Flowers and museum exhibitions At Home With the Last Tsar and His Family and The Tsar and the President, Alexander II and Abraham Lincoln.

Director of Holy Trinity Publications Nicholas Chapman sat down with Russian cultural historian Marilyn Swezey, editor and contributor to the new release, The Romanovs Under House Arrest: From the 1917 Diary of a Palace Priest. Watch the 15-minute interview below! 

Note: Marilyn Pfeifer Swezey is one of five speakers at the Nicholas II Conference on Saturday, 27th October 2018, at St John’s Orthodox Church in Colchester, England.

Click HERE for more information on this historic conference marking the 150th anniversary of the birth and the 100th anniversary of the death and martyrdom of Russia’s last emperor and tsar. 

© Holy Trinity Publications, Jordanville, NY / Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 16 May 2018

The Imperial Russian Navy Under Nicholas II 1894-1917

The above video presents a collection of vintage newsreels from the Russian State Documentary Film & Photo Archive at Krasnogorsk (RGAKFD), which show Emperor Nicholas II with the Imperial Russian Navy as he reviews the squadrons, talks to the Russian sailors, officers and admirals, and participates in the other naval events.


Emperor Nicholas II wearing the First Class Captain’s uniform

The Chief of Staff of the guards troops and Petersburg military district Lieutenant General Baron A.P.  von den Brinken wrote about Nicholas II’s affection for the navy and sailors: “The Tsar, always so kind and gentle, at anyone’s attempt to say something negative against the navy becomes literally furious, thumps his fist on the table, and stops listening”.

Formally established in 1696 under Emperor Peter I, the Imperial Russian Navy served as the navy of the Russian Empire. It was expanded in the second half of the 18th century and by the early part of the 19th century, it reached its peak strength, behind only the British and French fleets in terms of size.

The navy then went into a period of decline in the first half of the 19th century, due to Russia’s slow technical and economic development. It had a revival in the latter part of the century during the reign of Emperor Nicholas II (1894-1917), but lost most of its Pacific Fleet along with the Baltic Fleet, both of which were sent to the Far East and subsequently destroyed in the disastrous Russo-Japanese of 1904. The second phase of Nicholas II’s military life was marked by his participation in the reorganization of the navy after the catastrophic Russo-Japanese War. 

The Imperial Russian Navy had mixed experiences during the First World War, with Germany generally gaining the upper hand in the Baltic Sea, while Russia established its absolute dominance on the Black Sea. The February Revolution of 1917 marked the end of the Imperial Russian Navy; its officers had mostly aligned with the Tsar, and the sailors split to fight on either side. The surviving ships were taken over by the Soviet Navy when it was established in 1918 after the Revolution.



Ships of the Russian Imperial Fleet

During the reign of Emperor Nicholas II the Imperial Russian Navy continued to expand in the later part of the century, regaining its position as the third largest fleet in the world after Britain and France. The expansion was notably accelerated under Nicholas II who had been influenced by the American naval theoretician Alfred Thayer Mahan. Russian industry, although growing in capacity, was not able to meet the demands of the burgeoning Imperial Navy and some ships were ordered from Britain, France, Germany, USA, and Denmark. French naval architects in particular had a considerable influence on Russian designs.

At the end of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, Russia had fallen from being the third greatest naval power to sixth place. It was then that the focus of Russian naval activities shifted back from the Far East to the Baltic. The task of the Baltic Fleet was to defend the Baltic Sea and St Petersburg from Imperial Germany.

On 19 March 1906, by decree of Emperor Nicholas II, the Maritime General Staff was organized with the Main Naval Staff, which assumed the functions of the operational body of the Imperial Navy. At first, attention was directed to the creation of mine-laying and a submarine fleet.  In the same year, a new program for naval shipbuilding, the Russian Armed Forces Development and Reform Program, known as the “Small Shipbuilding Program”, which was approved by Emperor Nicholas II on June 6, 1907, began to be developed and actively discussed, but later the amount of appropriations was reduced, and the program itself was renamed the “Distribution of allocations for shipbuilding” (before 1911 it was planned to finish the ships already started for the Baltic Fleet – 4 battleships and 3 submarines, as well as a new naval base, and for the Black Sea Fleet – 14 destroyers and 3 submarines) and was partially approved by the State Duma in the spring of 1908. 

VIDEO: ships of the Russian Imperial Fleet 1894-1917

The Bosnian Crisis in 1909 again raised the issue of the expansion of the fleet and new battleships , cruisers, and destroyers were ordered for the Baltic Fleet. It is worth noting that, on the personal orders of Emperor Nicholas II, new battleships were laid, which had previously rejected by the State Duma.

A worsening of relations with Turkey meant that new ships including the Imperatritsa Mariya-class battleships were also ordered for the Black Sea Fleet. The total Russian naval expenditure from 1906-1913 was $519 million, in fifth place behind Britain, Germany, the United States and France.

From 1909, active preparation and discussion of a new shipbuilding program took place. The “Ten Year Shipbuilding Program (1910-1920)” – the so-called “Great Shipbuilding Program”, which in its final version envisaged the construction for the Baltic Fleet: 8 battleships, 4-linear cruisers, 18 destroyers and 12 submarines; for the Black Sea Fleet – 9 Novik type destroyers and 6 submarines; ships for the Pacific Fleet, as well as the rearmament and modernization of several battleships – Tri SviatiteliaDvenadsat Apostolov, and Georgii Pobedonosets. The program was approved on March 25, 1910 by Emperor Nicholas II, but was not reviewed by the State Duma until 1911.


PHOTO: the white and blue ensign or Andreyevsky flag,and the red, blue and white naval jack of the Imperial Russian Navy

The re-armament program included a significant element of foreign participation with several ships (including the cruiser Rurik) and machinery ordered from foreign firms. After the outbreak of World War I, ships and equipment being built in Germany were confiscated. Equipment from Britain was slow in reaching Russia or was diverted to the Western Allies’ own war effort.

By March 1918, the Russian Revolution and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk made the Germans masters of the Baltic Sea and German fleets transferred troops to support newly independent Finland and to occupy much of Russia, halting only when defeated in the West. The Russians evacuated the Baltic Fleet from Helsinki and Reval to Kronstadt during the Ice Cruise of the Baltic Fleet in March 1918.

The Black Sea was the domain of the Russians and the Ottoman Empire but it was here that the Imperial Russian Navy established its absolute dominance. It possessed a large fleet based in Sevastopol and it was led by two skilled commanders: Admiral Eberhart (1856-1919) and Admiral Kolchak (1874-1920) (who took over in 1916). 


Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich and Admiral S.O. Makarov watch the newly constructed battleship Oslyabya, during maneuvers on the Baltic Sea, 1899

After Admiral Kolchak took command (August 1916), the Imperial Russian fleet mined the exit from the Bosporus, preventing nearly all Ottoman ships from entering the Black Sea. Later that year, the naval approaches to Varna were also mined. The greatest loss suffered by the Russian Black Sea fleet was the destruction of the modern dreadnought Imperatritsa Mariya, which blew up in port on 7 October 1916, just one year after it was commissioned. The sinking of the Imperatritsa Mariya was never fully explained; it could have been sabotage or a terrible accident.

The Revolution and subsequent civil war devastated the Russian Navy. Only the Baltic fleet based at Petrograd remained largely intact, although it was attacked by the British Royal Navy in 1919. Foreign Interventionists occupied the Pacific, Black Sea and Arctic coasts. Most of the surviving Black Sea Fleet warships, with crews loyal to the White Russian movement, became part of Wrangel’s fleet under the control of commander Pyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel (1878-1928) and after evacuating White forces and civilians from the Crimea were eventually interned in Bizerta, Tunisia. Russian sailors fought on both sides in this bloody conflict. The sailors of the Baltic fleet rebelled against harsh treatment by the Soviet authorities in the Kronstadt Rebellion of 1921.

The surviving ships formed the core of the Soviet Navy on its 1918 establishment, though the remnants of Wrangel’s fleet never returned to Russia. 


Imperatritsa Mariya

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 16 May 2018


Monument to Emperor Alexander II Divides Bulgarian City


Russian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli (left), stands beside the controversial monument to Alexander II

Controversy over a proposal to install a monument to Emperor Alexander II has divided the Bulgarian city of Svishtov for over a year now.

In February 2017, public opinion in Svishtov was aggravated by a decision of the city council to erect a monument to the Russian Emperor Alexander II. The monument, created by the famous Russian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, was presented to the city on the initiative of the Balkan Center for Development and Restoration.

Almost immediately two groups: “for” and “against” the monument were established. The “for” group includes Russophiles – a recent poll shows that 78% of the Bulgarian population consider themselves Russophiles – who recognize Alexander II as a hero, while the “against” group includes many Russophobes – a group of radical nationalists who are vehemently anti-Russian. 


The Monument to the Tsar Liberator, Sofia, Bulgaria

Emperor Alexander II is considered a legendary figure in the history of Bulgaria. The Bulgarians refer to him as the “Tsar Liberator” not for the same reason that the Russians do for the emancipation of serfs; but because of the liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78.

An equestrian statue of Alexander II stands in the center of the capital, opposite the parliament buildings. This is the most famous monument in Bulgaria, immortalized in numerous photographs, postcards, posters, and postage stamps. Any visit to Sofia would be incomplete, if one did not include this monument in one’s itinerary. The commemorative plaque reads “Tsar Liberator / Grateful Bulgaria” in gold lettering. The height of the emperor’s figure is 4.5 meters. 

In many Bulgarian cities there are streets and boulevards named after the “Tsar Liberator”. So on this issue there is no dispute that Alexander II of Russia is a historical figure who deserves a monument in Bulgaria to perpetuate his memory.

Organizers acknowledge that there are only two possible places for the new monument in Svishtov – the Central Square or, the City Garden. 

Tsereteli’s statue is made of bronze. It stands 8.5 meters high and is over 2.5 meters wide, making it the world’s largest monument to Tsar Alexander II. The sculpture is valued at 1 million leva ($600,000 USD).  

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 15 May 2018

Christina Robertson’s Romanov Legacy


Christina Robertson self portrait (1822)

The Scottish-born artist Christina Robertson RSA (née Christina Sanders) was the first woman honorary member of the Royal Scottish Academy, who became a famous portraitist at the Court of Emperor Nicholas I (reigned 1825-1855). In addition to her portraits of the Imperial family, Robertson painted a large number of ceremonial and chamber portraits of representatives of Russia’s most distinguished families. 

She was considered by contemporaries to be one of the most talented artists of her day, a remarkable achievement for a woman and mother of a large family in the male-dominated world of 18th Century portrait painting. It is also remarkable — and unfortunate — that, despite her great success and popularity, very little is known about the artist’s life.

She was born in Klinghorn in Fife (near Edinburgh) on 17 December 1796. She came from an artistic family, and showed considerable early talent herself. She is thought to have been trained by her uncle, George Sanders (1774-1846), from whose house in London, she launched into her career.

Christina Sanders was a successful portrait painter and she rapidly established a flow of commissions initially from Scottish patrons for her miniatures but later for oil and watercolour paintings.

In 1822, she married fellow artist James Robertson, their wedding was held at the Marylebone Church in London. Christina gave birth to eight children, four of whom lived to adulthood: two sons, John and William, and two daughters, Agnes and Mary.


Christina Robertson: A Scottish portraitist at the Russian Court (1996)

In 1823, she began exhibiting at the Royal Academy in London, and later with the Society of British Artists (starting from 1824) and the British Institution (from 1833), all of which her work was lauded by critics. By 1828 she had her own studio in London’s prestigious Harley Street.

Her work was used as the basis for engravings for magazines including The Court Magazine, La Belle Assemblée, Heath’s Book of Beauty and John Burke’s Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Females.

In 1837 she visited Paris where she painted portraits of a number of members of the Russian aristocracy. It was not long before her fame spread to the Russian nobility in St. Petersburg. Christina Robertson visited Russia on two extended periods: 1839-1841 and 1847-1854. 

In 1839, Robertson participated in an exhibition at the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg, to great critical and public acclaim. As a result, in 1840, she was commissioned to paint for two full-length portraits, one of the Emperor Nicholas I and one of the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.

It is believed that Robertson was also summoned to the Russian capital, where she was commissioned to replace some of the paintings which were lost in the fire that destroyed the Winter Palace in 1837. From 1839 to 1841 Christina Robertson carried out some of her finest portraits of members of the Russian Imperial family and nobility, which included full length portraits of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and her three daughters – the Grand Duchesses Maria, Olga and Alexandra Nikolaevna. In 1841, in recognition of her talent, she was made an honorary member of the Imperial Academy of Arts. Count M.D. Buturlin recalled in his memoirs that Robertson received “about one hundred thousand rubles in silver” for her work.

She remained in Russia for two years before returning to London, but St. Petersburg beckoned again, and in 1849, she returned to the Russian capital, where she established a studio, and continued to paint portraits at the Imperial Court. 

In 1850, she painted several portraits of the Emperor’s daughters-in-law Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna (future Empress Maria Alexandrovna), and Grand Duchess Maria Iosifovna (wife of Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich). The portraits were rejected by Nicholas I, and in September 1851, the Court ordered the custodian of the Hermitage Museum Fyodor Bruni to return all copies to Robertson without payment.

At the end of her life she was poor, and could not return to England due to lack of money. There is evidence that several of her noble clients had refused to pay her. The death of Robertson during the Crimean War (1853-56), during which the majority of the British colony in St Petersburg left Russia, sadly went unnoticed.

She died in St. Petersburg on 30 April 1854, and was buried in the Volkhov Lutheran cemetery in the Russian capital.

Roberstson left dozens of paintings that are important if only because they record the portraits of members of the Russian Imperial family. She is thought to be less well known that she might be as of the deterioration of the relationship between the British and Russian empires.

After the October Revolution, portraits of Robertson’s work, kept in private collections, were nationalized and sent to provincial museums. Thirteen of Robertson’s works are currently stored in the collection of the State Hermitage Museum. These include seven portraits of the Russian Imperial family, four portraits of members of the Yusupov family from the Yusupov Palace collection in St Petersburg, a portrait of Yu. F. Kurakin, and one of Robertson’s finest works – Children with a Parrot. Three portraits, which caused the discontent of Nicholas I in 1850, are kept in the collection of the Peterhof State Museum Preserve.


Portrait Gallery of the Romanov Dynasty, State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

The largest collection of her work remains in the State Hermitage Museum to this day, where her portraits of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, and her three daughters, the Grand Duchesses Maria, Olga and Alexandra Nikolaevna, currently hang in the Portrait Gallery of the Romanov Dynasty of the State Hermitage Museum. 

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 15 May 2018

Barton Manor to Host the Cross of the Romanovs Events this Summer


The Grand Duchess Elizabeth Romanov Society (UK) will be hosting a Centenary Commemorative Programme on 6th – 8th of July 2018 in East Cowes, Isle of Wight. 

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the brutal murder of the Russian Imperial Family. The programme includes the unveiling of a monument to the memory of Tsar Nicholas II and his family, including the Grand Duchess Elizabeth, widow of the Grand Duke Sergius of Russia.

The Russian Imperial Family was closely related to the British Royal Family and paid several visits to Cowes. The Town Council of East Cowes is co-organizing the commemoration.

Apart from the unveiling of the monument to the Imperial Family, who have been glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church as “New Martyrs and Passion-Bearers”, which will take place near Osborne House in East Cowes.

The packed and varied programme will include an exhibition – The Cross of the Romanovs – dedicated to their last days and to their connections and exchange of visits with the Windsors. The exhibition at Barton Manor, which the Romanovs visited in 1909, will include many Romanov personal belongings, photographs and holy objects on loan from different countries. 

You are cordially invited to join us at this historic event. For further information on these events, please contact the Society at the email and/or telephone number shown in the poster above. 

© Grand Duchess Elizabeth Romanov Society (UK). 14 May 2018