On This Day: Russian Empire State Emblem and State Seal Approved Topic: Imperial Russia
Note: this article has been edited and updated from its original by Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia
On 23 April (O.S. 11 April), 1857 Emperor Alexander II approved the detailed description of the State emblem and seal.
The double-headed eagle became the Russian state symbol at the end of the 15th century. The emblem’s composition and design continued to change repeatedly over the centuries.
The images of the double-headed eagle in the first half of the 19th century were quite varied. It could bear one or three crowns, hold a sceptre and orb, a wreath or Peroun, a torch in its claws; with raised or spread wings.
During the reign of Emperor Nikolai I two designs of the state eagle were officially established. One had spread wings, bore one crown over two heads, a sacred image of St. George on his chest and sceptre and orb in his claws. The second type had raised wings bearing the titular emblems: of Kazan, Astrakhan and Siberia on the right; of Poland, Taurida and Finland – on the left.
In 1856 in the course of heraldic reform conducted under the guidance of Baron Bernhard Kohne the design of the state eagle was changed under the influence of German models. At the same time the direction of the image of St. George depicted on the eagle’s chest was turned to the right in accordance with the West-European rules of heraldry. The design of the Lesser Emblem of Russia was made by artist Alexander Fadeyev and approved by the Emperor on 20 December (O.S. 8 December), 1856. This variant of the emblem differed from the previous ones not only by the eagle’s design but also by the number of titular emblems on its wings. The right wing bore the shields with emblems of Kazan, Poland, Chersonesos Taurica and the united emblem of Kiev, Vladimir and Novgorod; the left wing contained the shields with the emblems of Astrakhan, Siberia, Georgia and Finland.
On 23 April (O.S. 11 April), 1857 the Emperor approved the whole set of emblems: the Great one, the Middle one and the Lesser State Emblem; titular coats of arms of the Emperor’s family members and the patrimonial coat of arms of the Emperor. Also approved were the designs of the Great, Middle and Lesser State Seals, seals boxes and the seals of higher and lower offices and persons. The Minor State Emblem – the double-headed eagle with all the attributes –was the one for general use. The Great and Middle Emblems represented complicated compositions with the Lesser Emblem at the center of it and the emblems of all the lands under the Emperor’s title around it including other supplementary elements (holders for shields, pedestal, etc.). These two Emblems were used in particular cases of especial importance.
On 12 June (O.S. 31 May), 1857 the Senate issued the Decree with the description of the new Emblems and norms for their use. In total the document approved of 110 designs lithographed by the artist A. K. Beggrov. The act was followed by a series of other acts establishing new models of the State Emblem. At that time the first stamp appeared with the double-headed eagle on it.
The State Emblem of Russia adopted in 1857 remained practically unchanged up to 1917.
The Presidential Library Will Digitize Tsar's Marches Topic: Imperial Russia
Note: this article has been edited from its original by Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia
The Russian Institute of Art History has provided scores of the marches approved by Nicholas II to the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library in St. Petersburg for digitization. This unique material from the special collection of the Institute will join the digital collection of the Presidential Library, will be made fully available on the website and in electronic reading rooms in Russia and abroad.
Military or parade march as a genre has its roots in the age of Peter I. The regular march music appeared with the development of the regular army: in 1711, a decree was issued on the staff of regimental bands. The Preobrazhensky Life Guards Regiment, founded in 1691 by Peter the Great, was the first to have a march raising the spirits for parades, see to the war and support the soldiers' spirits during the long tedious marches. When the legs of soldiers failed, they were supported by music. Before the appearance of march this function was performed by a marching song. By 1716, the Preobrazhensky Regiment orchestra included 40 musicians, and from 1722 all the regiments were obliged to have orchestras - wind or mixed type.
File from the manuscripts room, Russian Institute of Art History, which includes the marches, is an unpublished album of notes containing 252 sheets of musical notations of marches with the author's marks and blots. The best works of this genre were selected for the regiments personally by Emperor Nicholas II and were supposed to raise the morale of the Russian army.
Muses, alas, fell into silence when guns spoke and the revolutionary broke out. As a result, the album was not published. And only now, owing to the innovative technologies of the Presidential Library, it got a chance to be published in electronic form.
Among the scores, which are being digitized, there are such marches as, "Martial Spirit" by Fr. Von Blon, "A Dashing Unit" by Yu. Lengardt, the famous march of 1914 by I. Walch "Marching into Paris," which glorifies the victory over Napoleon. Most of the scores were written for brass bands of mixed composition.
Basically, the Russian Institute of Art History delivered to the Presidential Library military marches, which, according to the Emperor Nicholas II, who select them, “would give moral support the soldiers going up the line.”
The extensive collection of scores, which are currently digitized by the Presidential Library, will also feature "Montenegrin" march by L. Minkus from the ballet "Roxanne" and Cesare Pugni's march from the ballet "The Little Humpbacked Horse."
On This Day: State Council of the Russian Empire Established Topic: Imperial Russia
The centenary session of the State Council in the Mariinsky Palace on May 7, 1901 is represented
on Ilya Repin's huge canvas, now exhibited in the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg
Note: this article has been edited from its original by Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia
The State Council appeared in Russia after the liberal reforms of Emperor Alexander I. On 7 April (O.S. March 26), 1801 the emperor abolished the Council under the tsar’s court established by the Empress Catherine II in 1768. Under his decree of 11 April (O.S. 30 March 30), 1801 was created a deliberate body named in the decree “The Indispensable Council”. At the same time M.M. Speransky, a statesman, was charged with preparation of the liberal reforms program for the entire state bodies’ system.
According to Speransky the project “at the top of the whole state system and its last link” should be the State Council “that will consolidate legislative power, judicial and executive authorities which will ascend to the supreme power through it”. Speransky’s explanatory note said that up to now: “the ideas on the law execution were the subject of personal trust and passing from hands to hands they were never unified or respected”. Later the note “On the necessity of the State Council establishment” made the basis for the emperor’s speech that he delivered at the Council grand opening.
The history of the State Council dates back to 13 January (O.S. 1 January), 1810 when Emperor Alexander I issued a manifesto on its establishment. It would become the supreme state advisory body to the sovereign in Imperial Russia.
The State Council was the supreme state advisory legislative body in Imperial Russia. It investigated the bills introduced by ministers before the emperor’s approval, budgets and staffs of the state establishments, complaints about the Senate departments’ decisions. For these purposes the Council had a Commission for laws’ execution, and the State office headed by the state secretary. The State office along with records management was in charge of the edition of bills’ texts that were brought up for the discussion and executed the laws. The bills were first investigated by the departments and then were brought up at the State Council general meeting and after the emperor’s approval took effect as laws. At the same time the emperor could second the opinion of majority as well as of minority or reject both.
The Mariinsky Palace on St. Isaac's Square was the seat of the State Council of the Russian Empire up until February 1917
The State Council had played an important role in the preparation and the issue of the first Complete code of laws and the Russian Empire Code of Laws. Under the reign of Alexander II it participated in the development of the reforms’ legislative basis of 1860-1870.
Originally the State Council consisted of 35 persons assigned by the emperor, in 1890 there were 60.. The emperor presided the State Council. During his absence the president was a Council member assigned by the emperor annually. From 1812 to 1865 the State Council chairman was also the chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers.
After the manifesto of 29 October (O.S. 17 October), 1905 the State Council was transformed into the upper chamber of the Russian parliament. Half of its members were appointed by the emperor, another half was elected from various categories of society such as clergy, Zemstvo, Assemblies of Nobility, Academy of Science and Universities as well as manufacturers and traders (partly by indirect elections). The State Council also investigated the bills adopted by the State Duma before they were approved by the emperor. Since the Duma and the Council had equal legislative rights for emperor’s consideration were submitted only those bills which were approved by both chambers of the parliament.
After the February revolution of 1917 the State Council of the Imperial Russia ceased to exist due to the changes in the Russian political system.
On This Day: The Order of St. Catherine Established Topic: Imperial Russia
The Order of St. Catherine was established in the memory of an unsuccessful Pruth march in 1711 when a small and poorly equipped Peter’s army was encircled by the enemy’s superior forces. According to the legend, the future wife of Peter I the Great, Catherine Skavronskaya, who shared with the emperor all the burden of the field life, bribed the Turkish pasha with her jewels. Owing to a successful battle and the bribe of the Turkish commander, the tsar and the army were saved.
In the Order’s statute published back in 1713 on behalf of Catherine it was noted that the award had been established in gratitude to her patroness, the saint great martyr Catherine, for liberation from a possible Turkish captivity. On the day of this saint, 5 December (O.S. 24 November), 1714 Peter I decorated with his own hands the future empress with the just established order of Saint Catherine or Liberation.
The Order of St. Catherine became the highest decoration for women in Russia. During Peter I lifetime Catherine was the only holder of the order. When she took the throne after her husband’s death, she started to grant the award to the highest nobles. The first to receive the order were Peter’s daughters Anna and Elisabeth followed by seven more women. In total during 200 years of the order’s existence it was awarded 734 times.
The Order was of two classes – big cross and a smaller or dame cross. The big cross was awarded to the ladies of the emperor family, other state families and 12 dames of the empress closest milieu; the smaller cross could be hold by 94 dames. The order of the First Class was worn on the white ribbon put over the right shoulder accompanied with the eight-point star covered with diamonds. The dames wore the award on the white bow embroidered with the devise: “For love and fatherland”.
On 16 February (O.S. 5 February) 1727 the order of St. Catherine was awarded to the only male, a young count A.A. Menshikov who was very shy.
In 1797 Paul I legalized the tradition according to which every new born grand duke became a holder of the St. Andrew the First-Called and every new born great duchess received the order of St. Catherine. After the christening the child was girdled with a blue Andrew’s ribbon or a scarlet Catherine one.
On This Day: Tsarskoye Selo Railway Opened in Russia Topic: Imperial Russia
Arrival of the first train from St. Petersburg to Tsarskoye Selo on 11 November (O.S. 30 October) 1837
On 11 November (O.S. 30 October 30), 1837 in St. Petersburg was officially opened Russia's first passenger railway between St. Petersburg, Tsarskoe Selo and Pavlovsk.
On 27 April (O.S. 15 April), 1836 was promulgated the Decree of Emperor Nicholas I on the approval of the “Regulations on the establishment of cooperative association for the construction of a railroad from St. Petersburg to Tsarskoe Selo with extension up to Pavlovsk”. The founders of the association were: master of ceremonies of the Imperial Household Count Alexei Bobrinsky, merchants Benedikt Cramer and Ivan Conrad Plit and an Austrian nobleman Franz von Gerstner.
The construction of the railway commenced on 13 May (O.S. 1 May), 1836. It was led by an Austrian engineer, professor of Vienna University of Technology Franz Gerstner.
The entire route, except for the area adjacent to St. Petersburg, which was not acquired by the association, was divided into sections given over to contractors and artels of 30-40 people. Technical construction management was performed by 17 engineers, five of which had already carried out similar work on the railways of Britain. Excavation works carried out by hand, long-distance transportation was made by carting.
In the midst of the construction about 1,800 workers were engaged on the track (peasants of Petersburg Province, Vologda Province and other surrounding provinces) and 1,400 soldiers of the paramilitary construction battalions of the General Directorate of Railways.
Rolling stock, rails and rail fasteners were purchased abroad, but some cars for freight, steam machines for water supply, water pipes, travel arrangements were made in St. Petersburg. Originally the railroad was built from St. Petersburg to Tsarskoe Selo but was later extended to the suburban town of Pavlovsk, the total length of the route rose to 27 km.
The first test journey of a horse-drawn train from Tsarskoye Selo to Pavlovsk took place on 9 October (O.S 27 September), 1836.
15 November (O.S. 3 November) the first steam engine was brought to the railroad from England and 18 November (O.S. 6 November) took place test drives of a steam locomotive on the stretch between Tsarskoe Selo - Pavlovsk. By the time of the opening of the road Russia obtained 6 locomotives, 44 passenger and 19 freight cars bought in Britain and Belgium. Steam locomotives were created on the basis used in Europe for the types of locomotives being in use, but the some changes were made to their structure due to the increased track width (1829 mm). At the request of Gerstner, steam locomotives were required to have the power of 40 horsepower and be able to move several cars with three hundred passengers with the speed of 40 versts per hour.
Grand opening of the Tsarskoe Selo Railway took place on 11 November (O.S. 30 October 30), 1837. Distinguished guests and numerous residents of the capital gathered at the newly constructed building of the station on Zagorodnyj prospectus. F. Gerstner got on the locomotive and at 12:30 a. m. a train of 8 cars moved away from the platform. 35 minutes later the train arrived at Tsarskoe Selo. On the way back Gerstner, willing to demonstrate all the opportunities of the railroad and locomotive, developed a fantastic speed for the time, bridging all the way from St. Petersburg to Tsarskoe Selo in 27 min. The average speed was 51 km/h, at times it exceeded 60 km/h. St. Petersburg Gazette wrote the next day: “Sixty miles per hour, terrible to think ... Meanwhile, you sit quietly, you do not notice this speed, terrifying imagination, only the wind whistles, just a horse blazes with a fiery lather, leaving behind a white cloud of steam. What is the force that carries all these huge crews with the swiftness of the wind in the desert, which destroys the power of space, consumes time? This force is a man’s intellect!".
After the opening of the road the completion work began, and trains (one or two pairs) circulated only on Sundays and public holidays. From 12 February (O.S. January 31), 1838 began the daily circulation of the two pairs of horse-drawn trains. From 16 April (O.S. 4 April) 1838 only the locomotive-drawn trains were used. In 1838, the St. Petersburg Institute of Technology created a locomotive "Agile" for Russia's first railway.
Rates at Tsarskoye Selo railway, established in 1838, did not change significantly until the second half of 1870. The fare for a journey from the capital to Tsarskoe Selo in the first class coach was 75 kopecks in silver, in the second class – 50 kopecks, in the third class – 35 kopecks and in the fourth - 20 kopeks. Travel tickets were made of brass and called "cans." They were reusable, so the administration did not spend anything for their reproduction. From April 1860 the railway administration replaced "cans" with paper tickets of different colors: for the 1st class coaches they were white, for the 2nd class - pink and the 3rd class - green.
At the grand meeting of the Imperial Russian Technical Society which marked the 50th anniversary of the start of construction of railways in Russia, it was noted that "Tsarskoe Selo Railway in respect of its general importance for the network of Russian railways and the purpose of its construction, will be regarded as a memorable Poteshny Regiment and the boat of Emperor Peter I, which provided Russia with glorious and victorious Guard, Army and Navy".
On This Day: Russia Established Diplomatic Relations With USA in 1809 Topic: Imperial Russia
Note: This article has been edited and updated by Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia
On 5 November (O.S. 24 October 24), 1809 John Quincy Adams, the future U.S. President and U.S. Secretary of State as well as the first U.S. Ambassador in Russia presented his credentials to the Emperor Alexander I, which marked the formal establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and the United States.
In the first half of the 18th century Russian traders started to actively develop the lands in North America. Many Russian settlements were founded in the Aleutian Islands, mainland of Alaska, in what is now the Canadian provinces of Yukon and British Columbia and American states of Washington, Oregon and California. Gradually the Russian Empire proclaimed its sovereignty over the territory occupied by Russian settlers.
In late 1790s London hosted the first official meeting of Russian and American diplomats – the U.S. envoy in Britain Rufus King and the Russian ambassador at the court of St. James S. R. Vorontsov. At this meeting there was talk about the conclusion of a trade treaty between Russia and the United States, as well as about the appointment of an American envoy to St. Petersburg. In 1799 followed the opinion of the Emperor Paul I: «We are more willing to establish the mutual missions, since their government by its behavior in the present circumstances has won our every respect ... thus, as soon as the abovementioned States appoint their Minister, we will do the same. " In April of 1803 Levett Harris was appointed the American consul in St. Petersburg.
Despite the fact that consular relations between Russia and the U.S. had already been established, formal contacts continued to be made via the diplomatic representatives of the two countries in London. Therefore, in June of 1806 in Washington, the issue of appointment of an envoy to St. Petersburg was raised. In October 1807 the Head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia Nikolai Rumyantsev expressed the willingness of the Russian government to exchange diplomatic representatives with USA.
The first American envoy to Russia was appointed John Quincy Adams, the future sixth president of the United States. His candidacy was proposed by President James Madison and received the approval of Senate in July, 1809. J. Q. Adams, son of the second U.S. President John Adams, had once been in Russia. In addition, he had acquired a significant diplomatic experience being the U.S. envoy in Netherlands and Prussia. The main purpose of the American mission was all-round development of friendly relations and mutual understanding with Russia, as well as providing a favorable environment for the development of trade between the two countries. 13 (25) October J. Q. Adams arrived in the capital of the Russian Empire and October 24 (5 November) presented his credentials to the Russian Emperor. Following the ceremony, a lengthy private conversation took place between Adams and Alexander I, who expressed his firm intention to promote Russian-American trade. "There should not be any conflicting interests or reasons for rupture between the United States and Russia, while the trade between the two countries could be very useful for each of them," said the emperor.
During the World War I Russia and the United States were Allies. However, after the revolution of 1917 the United States refused to recognize the Soviet government. In 1918-1920 American troops took part in a foreign intervention supporting the White Army and at the domestic front the U.S. started a struggle against communist and socialist movement.
Impetus for a new political dialogue between the USSR and the U.S. were the trade relations which established between the two countries in late 1920s - early 1930s. A significant role in the normalization of relations with the Soviet Union played the interest of the U.S. business circles in trade with the Soviet state.
October 10, 1933 U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt sent a message to the chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR Mikhail Kalinin on the establishment of diplomatic relations between the USSR and the USA. A reply message was sent to the U.S. on October 17, 1933. November 16, 1933 People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the USSR Maxim Litvinov and President Roosevelt exchanged notes on the establishment of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The first Soviet Ambassador to the United States was appointed Soviet diplomat A. Troyanovsky, and the first U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Russia was William Bullitt.
Ukraine's Parliament to Ban Geographical Names Dating Back to Tsarist Russia Topic: Imperial Russia
Relations between Russia and Ukraine continue to deteriorate
Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) on Thursday registered a bill prohibiting the names of cities and streets that date back to the times of Tsarist Russia, that is, before March 1917, the parliamentary secretariat said.
The bill was initiated by deputies of all the four factions of the ruling nationalistic coalition - the Petro Proshenko bloc, the People’s Front, Samopomich, and Batkivshchina.
The bill prohibits giving the names or pseudo-names of Russian monarchs, statesmen, politicians, or military of the Russian state of the period from the 14th through to the 20th century or the names derived from them, as well as the names consonant with or including the elements of the titles of Russian monarchs to geographic objects on the territory of Ukraine.
"To bring the laws concerning totalitarian regimes and fighters for independence into conformity with European practices, it stands to reason to ban the geographic names linked to the propaganda of Russian imperialism, the Russian Kingdom and Muscovy, the Russian Empire of the 14th through to the 20th century, and the period of Ukraine’s colonial depends, as they may be fueling the plans to misappropriate Ukrainian territories," the bill says.
Experts say the bill aims to prevent the return of the historic name Yelisavetgrad to Kirovograd, which the incumbent Ukrainian politicians think to be alluding to Empress Elizabeth, who ruled in Russia from 1741 through to 1762. The true fact of history, however, is the city’s original name relates to St Elizabeth.
In April, the Verkhovna Rada passed a law banning the symbols of Communism. It demands that the local authorities rename the regions, districts, cities, villages, and other geographic objects having Soviet names.
Archive for Materials Relating to Russian Emigres Opens in Paris Topic: Imperial Russia
A new centre for the storing of historical documents relating to the emigration of Russians to France in the years following the 1917 revolution opened on 24 September, in the Parisian suburban town of Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois. The cemetery of the town, which is located at a distance of 23 kilometres from the centre of Paris, contains the graves of members of the Russian Imperial family, as well as many famous Russian writers and artists. The Russian government took an active role in creating the new archive and memorial-research centre, which has been laid out on the territory of the Maison Russe.
Russian financing has ensured the documents are kept in top condition, and the staff at Maison Russe will help academics access material necessary for their research.
Maison Russe director Jean de Boyer expressed his sincere thanks to the Russian president for supporting the project. Russian Ambassador Alexander Orlov noted the huge cultural and intellectual contribution the Russian emigres made to the life of their new adopted homelands, and especially to France. He also thanked the Paris authorities for helping to keep this memory alive. "The Maison Russe is a testament to the dreams of those, who always dreamt of going home, but never could", he said.
A memorial plaque in honour of the founder of the Maison Russe, Princess Mescherskaya, was also unveiled today.
On This Day: The Ministry of the Imperial Court was Established Topic: Imperial Russia
The Main Office of the Ministry of the Imperial Court was located at 39 Liteiny Avenue, St. Petersburg. Structural units of
the Ministry were situated in the Winter Palace at 32 Dvortsovaya Embankment and 20 Fontanka River Embankment.
On 3 September, (O.S. 22 August) 1826, Emperor Nicholas I issued a decree establishing the Ministry of the Imperial Court to serve the needs of the emperor, his family and the imperial court. It brought together all the administration of the court office that had existed since the beginning of the 18th century.
The Ministry was headed by Minister of Court, which was beyond the control of the Senate and other senior government bodies and reported to the emperor only. The Minister received all the commands directly from the Emperor regarding the issues which demanded the imperial resolution, and also had the right to enter with a report directly into emperor’s chambers. This specific state of the ministry was due to the fact that the subjects of its activities were not of national character, and focused exclusively on the royal family. The first minister of the Imperial Court was Adjutant General, General of Infantry, Prince P. M. Volkonsky.
Under the jurisdiction of the Ministry was management of the personal property of the emperor and the imperial family, including land property; financial control over all agencies under the Ministry; superintendence of imperial palaces, gardens, parks; organization of court ceremonies, arrangement of ceremonies, coronations; ensuring of the imperial family’s security, sanitary supervision of the state of the imperial palaces and palatial cities. Also, the Ministry was in charge of awarding orders and medals and decorations; of censorship of works, performed at the Imperial Theater and Choir; of maintenance of the court clergy. The Office of His Imperial Majesty was also in submission to the Minister.
From 1852, the Minister of the Imperial Court was appointed to perform all the duties of Chancellor of the Chapter of Russian imperial orders: he was authorized to sign letters in the absence of the emperor to award the Order of White Eagle, St. Vladimir 2nd class, St. Anne 1st class and St. Stanislaus 1st and 2nd class with a star.
In 1858, the Ministry of the Imperial Court included the Dispatch Office of ceremonial affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the next year - Imperial Archaeological Commission. In 1882, based on Jagermeister office was established the Imperial hunting, and on the basis of the Court of His Imperial Majesty's Office were established the Chief palace office.
In April 1893 was issued a new establishment of the Ministry under which the Minister was appointed chief captain over all departments of the court offices and at the same time the Minister and Chancellor of the Imperial and Royal Orders. In his charge also were the Imperial Academy of Arts and the Moscow Art Society. That same year was created the position of Assistant Minister of the Imperial Court, who had the rights and duties of deputy minister.
In Western Europe, the creation of institutions of the Ministry of the Imperial Court was not universal. In Russia after the February Revolution, the Ministry of the Imperial Court was abolished. In March-April 1917 the properties of the offices and apanages were declared state property and handed over to the Ministry of Agriculture; industrial enterprises - to the Ministry of Trade and Industry; palaces – to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. With the establishment of Soviet power after the October Revolution, the property of the Ministry of the Imperial Court and principalities was given over to the People's Commissariat of property of the Soviet Republic.
Note: Count Vladimir Frederiks is probably the most famous Minister of the Imperial Court. He served at the Court of Emperor Nicholas II from 1897 to 1917, and is often seen in vintage photographs with the sovereign. He is easily recognized by his signature white moustache. For more information on this highly respected personalities, please refer to the following article:
Obituary - Kyril Zinovieff 1910-2015: Witness to the Bolshevik Revolution Topic: Imperial Russia
Kyril Zinovieff born September 11 1910, died July 31 2015
A Russian émigré who, as a child, glimpsed Rasputin and saw Tsarist officers being shot by their men. Read about the fascinating life of Kyril Zinovieff, including his early years in St. Petersburg before the 1917 Revolution, published in The Telegraph on 30 August, 2015
Kyril Zinovieff, who has died aged 104, was a first-generation Russian émigré who served in the British Army, spent his working life as a British civil servant, and became an acclaimed translator of works by Russian writers; as a child he caught sight of a laughing Rasputin and remembered Tsarist officers being shot outside his bedroom window in 1917 during the Russian Revolution.
The youngest of four children, Kyril Lvovich Zinovieff was born in St Petersburg on September 11 1910 into one of Imperial Russia’s most illustrious families. Their association with St Petersburg had begun soon after the city first became the capital of Russia under Peter the Great. They shared with Pushkin descent from Peter’s African slave, Hannibal, and Kyril could also claim descent from the plotters who brought Catherine the Great to the throne by murdering her husband Peter III. The main instigators of the coup were the Orlov brothers: their mother was a Zinovieff, and the wife of Grigory Orlov (one of Catherine’s lovers) was also a Zinovieff.
From then until the Revolution of 1917, Zinovieffs were a constant presence in the city’s administration. Kyril’s father Lev (Leo) was Marshall of the Nobility for the Peterhof district and his grandfather was the last Tsarist governor of the province of St Petersburg. After the introduction of a constitution in 1905, Lev Zinovieff was elected to the Fourth Duma as a member of the liberal Octobrist party, while his father became a member of the upper house, the Council of State. Other relatives included Kyril’s great aunt Lydia Zinov’eva-Annibal (1866-1907), wife of the poet Viacheslav Ivanov and (among other things) the author of Thirty-Three Abominations, a novella which dealt with the then taboo subject of lesbianism.
Kyril’s mother, Olga Baranova, was the daughter of a cavalry general who became Minister of the Court of Tsar Nicholas I’s son, Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolayevich. Before her marriage, Olga had served as Maid of Honour to the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna and the Empress Alexandra. Both the Baranov and Zinovieff families had estates in Estonia.
Kyril and his siblings spent their early years among the elite of imperial St Petersburg and he and his older sister Elena, who died in 2013 aged 104 (a brother, Leo, died in a railway accident in Britain in 1951 and a sister, Olga, died in 1981), had magical memories of watching the ballet from their grandfather’s box at the Mariinsky Theatre, with butlers serving dinner in the interval.
Although the family fled into exile after the Revolution, when Kyril was seven years old, both he and Elena retained vivid memories of the last days of Tsarism — including a chance encounter with the “Mad Monk”, Grigori Rasputin, in 1916. Kyril recalled how, when walking in St Petersburg with their nurse, they saw a tall figure in black, “white teeth gleaming in a black expanse of beard”, emerge from a carriage. “ 'Look,’ said my nurse, 'Rasputin — smiling at us!’, ” Zinovieff recalled. “ 'Who,’ I asked, 'is Rasputin?’ ” By the end of the year Rasputin was dead, murdered by nobles who hoped to save Tsarism by ending his sway over the royal family. It did no good: A few months later the Bolshevik Revolution put an end to the imperial regime.
In an interview with The Independent in 2010 Kyril and Elena recalled watching from their nursery window as a military parade being held near the Winter Palace suddenly came to a halt. As an officer separated himself from the ranks, Kyril asked his mother and nurse: “Why aren’t they marching? Why is he talking to them? What’s happening?” Then, without warning, a shot rang out and the officer fell to the ground; to the end of his life Kyril recalled the way his arms flew back as he fell into the snow. The family realised then that the men were shooting their own officers.
As mutiny turned to massacre, Kyril recalled their nurse shouting down to the soldiers, and being told to mind her own business. “I thought, my God, they’re brave! To speak to my nurse like that! ” That night, for the first time, the family slept on the floor to avoid stray bullets.
As food supplies dwindled in the months that followed, the Zinovieffs kept going on supplies of dried vegetables brought to St Petersburg by peasants from their estates, all of whom were later shot by the Bolsheviks for helping the “enemies” of the revolution. When the arrangement began to fail, the Zinovieff children began to suffer from such severe starvation that when they were eventually inspected by an English doctor, he told their mother that they would never be healthy again. In addition they witnessed frequent acts of random violence during the early part of the period known as the Red Terror.
One day in July 1918 the family received a tip-off that their father Leo was “on the list”. That night the family, with the children’s beloved nurse (who hid the family jewels under her ample embonpoint), slipped away from St Petersburg and made their way, by tram, train and donkey cart, to the family estates in Estonia . The next day the border crossing was closed.
The Zinovieffs found themselves unwelcome in Estonia, nervous of its eastern neighbour, and in 1920 the family moved to London, where they made ends meet by selling family assets in Estonia, taking in paying guests and giving Russian language lessons.
Kyril was educated at St Paul’s School, then at the London School of Economics. After working briefly as a film extra at Ealing Studios during the Depression, he was recruited by the Foreign Office.
In 1938 he was sent to Prague, where he witnessed Hitler’s triumphal tour of the city in March 1939 and recalled a Jewish friend begging him to look after his prize possession, an engraved fob watch, until the end of the war. The man, a doctor, somehow survived Auschwitz and later wrote asking for the watch to be returned. Sadly Zinovieff had had to leave the watch behind in Prague when he received a coded message instructing him to evacuate after Britain declared war on Germany. He remained dogged by the memory of having to break the bad news to a man who had lost everything else in the Holocaust.
With Britain now at war, the Foreign Office advised Zinovieff to change his name, on the grounds that it might be an embarrassment to have a Russian name at the time of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. He chose the name FitzLyon (son of Leo), a name by which he was known to many for the rest of his life, not realising that the prefix “Fitz” implied “bastard son”.
Called up for military service in June 1940, Zinovieff spent the war in Military Intelligence in the Middle East, mainly in Egypt, but with stints in Iraq and Persia, and was heavily involved in liaising with Russian troops and then German prisoners-of-war around Alexandria.
Kyril Zinovieff with his wife April
In 1941 he had married April Mead, who would who would become a distinguished writer and translator under the name April FitzLyon. Returning to Britain after the war, he joined the Joint Intelligence Bureau of the Ministry of Defence where he worked until 1971. Thereafter he devoted himself to teaching, writing and translating, sometimes in collaboration with his wife.
His Before the Revolution (with Tatiana Browning, 1983), used photographs to present a picture of a Russia that is irretrievably lost. His introduction to his translation of Dostoevsky’s Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, was considered by Isaiah Berlin to be “a major contribution to the understanding of influences on Dostoevsky”. He also translated the Memoirs of Princess Dashkova and the Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky.
Later, he worked for an American organisation smuggling banned books into Russia and Eastern Europe.
During the 1980s, and less often in the 1990s, he made regular visits to Russia and eastern Europe. His memory, he liked to joke, stretched from Rasputin to Putin.
After his wife’s death in 1998 Zinovieff began a new phase in his life, shared with Jenny Hughes, whom he had first met in the Foreign Office and with whose family he and April had forged a close friendship.
In 2003 he and Jenny published The Companion Guide to St Petersburg, part guidebook, part family memoir, to coincide with the city’s tercentenary. They also published new translations of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (2008) and Khadji Murat (2011), and Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground (2011).
A compulsive and brilliant talker (his voice was once described as “a charming mix of 1920s BBC announcer and the occasional Slavic rolled 'r’ ”) Zinovieff had a wide circle of friends who loved him for his wisdom and self-deprecating sense of humour.