Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Technically, the Last Tsar

Grand Duke Michael of Russia had appeared in the cavalcade of royalty in Edward VII's funeral cortege as the representative of his brother and sovereign, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. He and Nicholas were the King's nephews. Two years later, Michael married morganatically and set himself outside the social and royal pale of the time. He settled abroad with his wife, Countess Brasova, and son, George. It was the Great War that brought him back to his country and, ultimately, his execution.

Michael served with distinction in the war, commanding the "Savage Division" (Caucasian Native Cavalry Division, made up of Muslim volunteers) on the Galician and Carpathian fronts as well as in the Brusilov offensive of 1916. Michael was technically Tsar Michael II for several days in 1917 upon the abdication of Nicholas and his son, Alexei, but he chose to reign only as a freely elected monarch under a constitutional government, which was not forthcoming. It was Grand Duke Michael who arranged through his Danish royal relatives the passport enabling Alexander Kerensky to escape westward from the Bolsheviks in November 1917.

In the early hours of 13 June 1918, Michael was shot, together with his loyal British secretary, Nicholas Johnson, outside Perm, Russia, by a Bolshevik execution squad. Their bodies were never found. 

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