king george and the murder of tsar nicholas II -- 9/11/18

Today's selection -- from The Race to Save the Romanovs by Helen Rappaport. When the Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra and their five children were brutally murdered in Ekaterinburg, Russia, in 1918, King George V of England, who was Nicholas's cousin, was in a quandary on the most superficial matters of funeral protocol. Complicating matters, the Bolsheviks would not even acknowledge they were dead. Further complicating matters emotionally was how little King George had done to help his cousin:

"Although the British government was yet to issue any official pronouncements, the King and Queen were privately informed [of the Romanovs' murder], even though the details were uncertain. Queen Mary noted in her diary on the 24th that 'The news were [sic] confirmed of poor Nicky of Russia having been shot by those brutes of Bolsheviks last week, on July 16th'. It was, she concluded 'too horrible & heartless'. ...

"British officialdom ... swung into action over the matter of how his demise should be formally acknowledged. A clinical debate thus ensued within the Royal Household over the correct protocol to be observed by the King in mourning his cousin. In an internal memorandum of 23 July, Lord Stamfordham discussed the precedents that should be taken into account:

A. On the death of the Ex-Emperor Napoleon III in 1873 Queen Victoria was represented at the funeral, no member of the Royal Family attended, though the Prince of Wales was present at the lying-in-state at Chiselhurst. There were ten days of court mourning.

B. On the occasion of the assassination of King Carlos of Portugal, King Edward attended a Requiem Mass, which was held in London, and there were four weeks of Court Mourning.

In A there was no relationship between the Sovereign and the deceased and in B there was a distant family relationship.

In the present case the King is a first cousin.

"Nicholas may have been a first cousin, but for all that -- and let alone the violent circumstances of his murder -- British officialdom was far more concerned about the public response. 'Any notice on the part of the King of the Emperor's death might provoke criti­cism from a small minority that His Majesty was sympathetic towards Czardom, and in favour of Reactionary Government,' Stamfordham argued. On the other hand, Nicholas had been 'a faithful Ally and friend of this country' and 'any lack of respect to his memory would be resented'. Only that day, Stamfordham had sat next to Lord Burnham at a Lord Mayor's Luncheon:

He was most outspoken in deprecating the want of sympathy shown by the Press and by public opinion in this tragedy, and declared most distinctly that in his opinion it would be a great mistake were the King not to observe in the usual manner the Emperor's death. ...

George V (right) and his physically similar cousin Nicholas II of Russia in German uniforms before the war.

"After another day's hesitation, in order to be certain of at least the Tsar's death, an announcement was published on 25 July in the Court Circular of The Times:

"The King Commands that the Court shall wear mourning for four weeks, from July 24, for his late Imperial Majesty Nicholas II, first cousin to His Majesty. The Court to change to half-mourning on Wednesday, August 14, and on Wednes­day, August 21, the Court to go out of mourning. ...

"Whatever opinion their government had in the matter, King George and Queen Mary were most anxious to attend the memo­rial service for the Tsar, which was held the day after a similar one was conducted at the Russian Church on the Rue Daru in Paris. ...

"Dressed in the most sombre black, the congregation at the Russian Chapel heard the priest and choir sing the powerful prayers for the dead. 'Their wonderful deep-toned voices broke the silence,' recalled Baroness de Stoeckl, lady-in-waiting to Grand Duchess George; the responses sung a cappella by the choir were intensely moving:
"The beauty of the liturgy was too much for the loyal Rus­sians who had come to pay their last homage to their beloved Emperor and all that he represented. They broke into sobs. We tried to restrain our emotions but we, in turn, gave way. ...

"The old Russia, which so many of those gathered there had known and loved and been forced to flee, was gone. 'With the Emperor so much went that was dear to us in life,' recalled [Baroness] de Stoeckl, and it was a feeling that transmitted itself also to King George and Queen Mary. 'When the choir sang a prayer to the Virgin in farewell to the soul which had fled, tears were running down the Queen's face.'

"Never one to record his innermost feelings, even in the privacy of his diary -- a characteristic he shared with his cousin Nicholas -- George struggled to find something to say that evening. 'It was a foul murder. I was devoted to Nicky, who was the kindest of men and a thorough gentleman,' he wrote. Whatever his faults, his cousin had 'loved his country and people'.

"What more could he say? George knew that he had failed Nicholas."



Helen Rappaport


The Race to Save the Romanovs: The Truth Behind the Secret Plans to Rescue the Russian Imperial Family


St. Martin's Press


Copyright 2018 by Helen Rappaport


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