Friday, August 12, 2011
Interview with long forgotten Grand Duke Nicholas Constantinovich
The New York Times reports today on one of the "strangest tales of secret murder and banishment" that has hit the Russian Imperial Family. Grand Duke Nicholas Constantinovich is the "lost and forgotten member of the house that has ruled Russia with an iron hand" for several hundred years. For the past thirty years. the Grand Duke has lived in exile, "guarded day and night by a detachment of soldiers."
Nicholas has, however, found contentment and comparative happiness in his banishment. He has reconciled himself to his "desolate environment" and wants to be alone, "to live his life of simplicity with those he lives."
In St. Petersburg his name is never spoken. Officially is he "dead." Nicholas had incurred Alexander III's displeasure, and he "disappeared as if by magic." His offense was the "harboring of revolutionary ideas." Nicholas was 30 years old when he was banished to Orenburg, for an "indefinite exile." He lived "under guard" in modest quarters. His identity was kept secret.
It was is Orenburg when he met the "charming daughter" of the local Police Commissioner. It was only after Nicholas "wooed and wed" the charming young woman did his identity become known. This marriage took place without the Emperor's knowledge, and was, of course, morganatic.
Alexander III's wrath knew no bounds. He banished Nicholas to the wilds of Turkestan, and "issued an order" that Nicholas's name be struck from the family roll. Nicholas and his wife have apparently remained in Turkestan, largely forgotten by the Romanovs and the Russian public.
An American, Capt. Harvey, who was recently in Odessa, confirmed that the Grand Duke has never been permitted to leave Turkestan. He knows this because several weeks ago, he met the Grand Duke while on a hunt in Russian Turkestan, near Tashkent "before the British frontier."
Nicholas addressed the American in Russian. Harvey replied in English, which "brought a quick response in that language. The two men "fell into conversation," and Harvey "was graciously invited to spend the night."
Harvey was curious about his host's identity, after being taken to Nicholas' home on the edge of town: a "spacious park in the middle of which stood a palace worthy of any potentate." The palace was well hidden by forests. As the reached the terrace, Nicholas' wife came out to greet them.
In the evening, Harvey rose to leave, but his host and hostess would not allow it, and insisted he stay the night. "Besides I fear your exit from the part gates would be hard after dark," Nicholas said.
Harvey asked why, and Nicholas responded: "Because there is a strong guard outside." He "quickly changed the subject."
The American then thought he had been kidnapped and would be held to ransom, but his host was "calmly smoking," and his wife's "eyes were downcast." Harvey thought it "weird and uncanny."
Dinner was served "in a spacious dining room," the food and wine were excellent." Nicholas talked of everything but himself, and his wife said very little. After she had gone inside, Nicholas turned to his guest: "You are wondering what it all means. I am the Grand Duke Nicolai Konstantovich."
Capt. Harvey, who knew a bit about the Imperial family," sputtered ''But-but-you-he-died thirty years ago!"
"That's what my cousin, Alexander III, circulated in Petersburg, and in a way it is true. Politically, I died thirty years ago. My existence came to a sudden end. You will no longer find my name in the lists of the Czar's uncles, cousins and brothers. At the age of 30 I was brought here to the wilds of Turkestan at the behest of the Dowager Empress, Alexander II's widow. Alexander III, my first cousin, would have given me other punishment for my liberal ideas; the present Czar, his son, has forgotten all about me -- so much the better.
"I have not spoken to a foreigner since I left St. Petersburg. I cannot say how glad I was to meet you in the forest this afternoon, for, when a young man, I had what were then called 'Western ideas.' They nearly brought me solitary confinement for life in a cell of Schusselberg Palace, for I proclaimed my views in the drawing rooms of St. Petersburg, regardless of the fact that my father had been exiled for that very offense. So the Czar determined to get rid of me, as his father had rid himself of my father before me.
"At first Alexander III thought to send me to a dungeon of one of our castles and keep there for life -- not much of a life for a young man of 30, with a taste for shooting and outdoor life. Even today, after thirty years of exile, I believe my cousin thought he was doing the best thing for the country when he sent all who had Western ideas to Siberia."
It was Alexander's mother who persuaded him to send Nicholas to Turkestan. "There was no railway station thirty years ago, so Turkestan was as remote as the north pole today. Most of my fortune was confiscated, but the Dowager Empress helped me in this as well, and after a year's good behavior, I was allowed to enjoy a comfortable revenue.
Nicholas noted that he was watched closely by the Governor General of Tashkent. The Governor was under strict orders to not allow Nicholas to leave the house or grounds.
But "after some years I built this house, in pattern of the one I was born in. It helped me to forget many weary days. Of course, no letters were allowed to reach more from the outer world, and I learned I had by the Czar's orders been struck off the lists of his relatives and army; and the mention of my name was forbidden."
Capt. Harvey said he had been in the area for more than a month, and had never heard the Grand Duke's name mentioned.
"The fact that I am forgotten has for a long time been in my favor. Gradually, the military surveillance has ceased, except that nobody is allowed to leave my park gates after nightfall. A picket of soldiers in always stationed there. Had you left us when you wished, you would have been arrested and taken before the Governor General. The present Czar, who has forgotten my existence and is probably quite as reactionary in his ideas as his father who exiled me, might have been reminded of my presence and made things uncomfortable for me. I wish to remain forgotten at Court."
Nicholas paused to reflect on his "shadowy Court life." "On the other side of the Atlantic you know what freedom means. I hoped, as did my father before me, that Russia would know, too. Like him, I was born too early. My son, who has not the right to be called a Romanoff, may live to see it. He is a woodsman life myself, and has gone hunting, otherwise you would have met him. My daughter is married to an officer here. They are as happy as I have been in my marriage."
Captain Harvey left the next morning. Later that day, he had lunch at a local hotel with an official he knew, and after several glasses of wine, and "a little diplomatic questioning," the official confirmed Grand Duke Nicholas' story. He also learned that Nicholas' father, Grand Duke Konstantine Nicolaivich, spent the final fifteen years of his life in exile, "for holding too liberal views about the Government." Konstantine's wife, Grand Duchess Alexandra Pavlovna, was never permitted to "share her husband's exile in the Crimea." She remained at her villa at Petrovsk. It was only during her final illness that Konstantine was permitted to visit her. He died not long afterward.
Nicholas II ordered Konstantine's home in Crimea to be "searched for revolutionary documents," but before the soldiers arrived, the place "was burned down, it was said, by a trusty servant who had pledged his word to guard the secrets of his dying master."
For more about the scandal that sent Nicholas to Tashkent: The scandalous Mrs. Blackford
(Mrs. Blackford was the American woman who was involved with the Grand Duke, and play a role in the scandal that led to Nicholas' banishment.)