Legitimist Addresses Succession Issues
by Nicholas B.A. Nicholson
Head of the Russian Imperial House, HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna
Head of the Russian Imperial House, HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna
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In the February, March, April, and May issues of the Russian émigré journal “Russkaya Mysl’” (Russian Thought), a series of “Conversations on the Succession” were published with several prominent aristocrats of the first emigration in exile in Paris.
Count Cheremetieff, Prince Lobanov-Rostovsky, Prince Troubetskoy, Count Capnist, and several others each weighed in with their unique opinions on the Russian Succession and its ramifications today. What was interesting to see was that while they collectively agreed that Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna did not have a clear right to the throne, individually they provided diverse and inconsistent reasons as to just why this was the case. The issues ranged from divorce, marriage in violation of Imperial and/or Canon law, punishments which might or might not have had legal efficacy before the revolution, the nature of international dynastic law, and finally resorting to attacks both personal and slanderous. Nicholas B.A. Nicholson, a legitimist responded to their objections with a general editorial letter which focused exclusively on facts, and which was published in the August 2015 issue.
Since the original publication of the “Conversations," the main four men in question further addressed a letter detailing their objections to Sergei Naryshkin, Chairman of the State Duma, as well as to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The four then leaked extracts of this letter -- together with a false accusation that Grand Duke Vladimir was a Nazi collaborator -- to the Russian press, and have since spoken to reporters on the topic, creating a flurry of debate.
Oleg Shcherbachev, the president of the Russian Assembly of the Nobility, made it very clear in a public letter that these opinions are unique to these four men, and not reflective of the position of the nobility as a whole, or held officially by any noble group.
Copy of the Russian original article, published in Russkaya Mysl’, August 2015 issue, pages 48-49.
To the Editors of Russkaya Mysl
I read with interest the three part series “Conversations on the Succession” (Беседы о престолонаследии) which was so carefully compiled by your journalist Oksana Karnovich. Karnovich has done something useful by gathering all of the ill-conceived arguments against the Legitimist succession to the throne of Russia in one place. Unfortunately, by presenting them through the mouths of men who bear some of the most famous names in Russian history, Russkaya Mysl’ has lent these arguments a certain degree of authority. These men are truly noble, well-educated, and well-intentioned, but I am afraid not one of them is an authority on the Russian Laws of Succession or International Dynastic Law, and, mercifully, they do not represent themselves as such. They simply repeat the same stories that they heard as children from their parents and grandparents, later erroneously confirmed by Nicholas Romanov and other non-dynastic members of the extended Romanov family, and now present them as fact.
I was also privileged to have Nicholas Romanovich Romanov kindly explain to me his highly original interpretation of the laws of succession and the dynastic law of the House of Romanov -- but that does not mean any of his version reflected legal truth. It was the unique opinion of his branch, which had actively campaigned against legitimism since the revolution.
The emigration has to its fullest extent preserved the faith, language, culture, and customs of Imperial Russia in exile intact. They have also preserved its prejudices and myths without any subsequent reëxamination. Like prehistoric insects trapped in amber, these émigré “truths” may only be seen obscurely through the ossified golden haze that surrounds them. To examine the subject more clearly, the beautiful resin that holds everything together would have to be smashed, and that, no one in the emigration dares to do.
The arguments presented in the three conversations cover all the most famous distortions perpetuated by the émigrés in exile. As Karnovich rightly noted, the opinions of these few members of the émigré aristocracy are hardly universal -- even within the emigration. There are many other Russians who fully support the claims of Maria Vladimirovna and her son George, but the vast majority simply do not care at all, which is to their discredit.
The tendency of members of the émigré aristocracy to feel that with the abdication of Nicholas II and the subsequent deferral of power by Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, the laws of succession and the Dynastic Laws of the House of Romanov were somehow magically suspended is a unique and false view made popular only in the last two generations. In no other country that has lost its monarchy has this ever been the case, and no provision for this was ever enshrined in the fundamental laws of the Russian Empire.
The formerly regnant Houses of Austria, France, Prussia, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Greece (to name a few) continue to apply their dynastic laws within their own Houses, and those dynastic laws have been rigorously observed by their members. Simply because non-dynastic descendants of the Russian Imperial House and émigré aristocrats have decided collectively to ignore dynastic law because they do not like it does not mean that it no longer exists.
The arguments against Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna are myriad, changeable, complex, political, and frequently hostile -- but the facts that support her claim are very simple, as the truth always is.
The headship of the House of Romanov and the attendant right to the throne is determined not by opinion, but by the law of succession itself. The law clearly states that the throne passes by right of primogeniture to the senior most dynastic male until the extinction of all male dynasts, after which it passes to the senior most dynastic female in relation to the last Dynastic Head.
Vladimir Kirillovich was the last universally acknowledged Dynastic Head, and in 1969, at the moment when it became apparent to him that none of the other then-living dynastic males would produce a dynastically valid heir in accordance with the laws of succession, he proclaimed his daughter would ultimately succeed him. This angered some of the remaining male dynasts and created the existing family rift.
After Vladimir Kirillovich’s death in 1992, his decision regarding the succession was accepted by all major monarchist groups including the International Monarchist League and the Russian Imperial Union-Order. Maria Vladimirovna’s dynastic right to award the Russian Honours is accepted by Burke’s World Orders of Knighthood and Merit as well as the International Commission of Orders of Chivalry. The Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as the Head of the Russian Orthodox Church abroad acknowledge Maria Vladimirovna as the Head of the Imperial House, and her son as her heir. Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich was buried in the Peter and Paul Fortress. His august Father and Mother were reburied there. His wife was buried there as a Grand Duchess. For monarchists, for other Royal families related to the Russian Imperial House, and in Russia itself, these arguments are long over.
All of this seems to bother the remaining non-dynastic descendants of the Romanov family, all of whom are now closely related to the highest ranking families of the exiled aristocracy – the Orlovs, Cheremeteffs, Golenishchev-Kutuzovs, Galitzines, Woronzow-Dashkows and others are all cousins through the marriages not in conformity with the laws of the House contracted in emigration. It is no wonder the aristocracy supports anti-legitimist arguments and contributes to the division within in the Romanov family we all see today—they see themselves as having “married in” to the Imperial family, when in fact, their Romanov relatives actually “married out”. Through these marriages, the Romanov family has been pulled back into the medieval morass of aristocratic clan rivalries that tore Russia apart in the 15th and 16th centuries, and which the fundamental laws were, in fact, designed to eliminate.
The new arguments you covered were designed to discredit Vladimir Kirillovich himself -- the legitimacy of his own dynastic status, the legitimacy of his marriage, the dynastic status of his wife and of his daughter. The assertion that Grand Duke George is a Hohenzollern and cannot be heir has appeared (It is true that George Mikhailovich is also a Hohenzollern -- but was not Peter III a Schleswig-Holstein?). Now the “Kirillovsky Document” is quoted out of context, and its terms brandished by those untrained in Imperial law to discuss them. The émigré aristocrats defy their own Church and announce condescendingly that the Patriarch was “misinformed” and that everyone on earth is mistaken but they, because they are the self-annointed curators of these “truths“ trapped in amber.
There is a plurality of opinion on the succession, but there is only one hard fact: while some of the morganatic descendants of the Romanoff family and some members of the Russian aristocracy seem united only in their efforts to discredit Maria Vladimirovna, in the past 25 years, she and her son have made over 75 visits to Russia, formed functioning organizations and charities both there and in Europe, supported the efforts of the Orthodox Church, worked hard to maintain the Honours and functions of the Imperial House, travelled extensively throughout Russia and its former territories, and have worked with and worshipped beside Russians who continue to look to the Imperial House for inspiration and support.
I hope that one day, perhaps in the next generation, everyone will be able to put generations old half truths, speculations, and insults aside -- and realize through working together that helping Russia is the only thing that matters. It is the only thing that has ever mattered to any of us.
NICHOLAS B.A. NICHOLSON
3 August, 2015