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Her story, like that of the fate of her brother, Tsar Nicholas II and his family were to have a profound impression on me as a child, one which many years later would fuel my fascination with the Romanov dynasty and the rich history of Tsarist Russia even further.
Even though I was baptized into the Church of England, I have a great interest and respect for the Russian Orthodox Church. While travelling in Russia, I make a point of visiting as many churches that I possibly can, and return to personal favourites on each successive visit. When I step into a Russian Orthodox Church, I feel transported back in time. The architecture, old world traditions, icons, the smell of incense mixed with the sound of angelic choirs is very peaceful and comforting to me. It is in the churches of Russia that I find an inner peace that I do not find any where else. It is also important to remember the significance that the Russian Orthodox Church had in Russian history and the day-to-day lives of members of the Russian Imperial family. As noted at the top of this page, Andrei Psarev wrote an article about me and my fascination with Imperial Russia for Orthodox Russia in 1994. It was in this article that he referred to me as a "son of Old Russia". For me personally, this was an enormous compliment because my goal has always been to keep the memories of Old Russia alive.
I am often asked “are you Russian?” or “how did you get so interested in this subject?”. To my knowledge, I have no Russian roots and yet, I believe that my interest in the Romanovs and Imperial Russia began with a simple book that I received as a gift many years back.
Books have always been one of my greatest passions, so it only seemed natural that I should pursue a career in the book industry. I have spent more than 30 years in publishing and bookselling in Canada and Great Britain. Today, my full-time occupation has greatly expanded and now includes: independent Romanov historian and researcher, publisher, bookseller, writer and public speaker.
In 1990, I began publishing a simple newsletter dedicated to the Romanov dynasty and Imperial Russia. Four years later, I launched the Imperial Russian Journal, the only publication of its kind dedicated to the Romanovs and Tsarist Russia.
That same year, I launched my own publishing house which has evolved into Gilbert’s Books. My goal was to specialize in the publication of books on the Romanov dynasty and Imperial Russia. These included out-of-print titles, translations and new titles. To date, Gilbert’s Books has published over 35 titles in hard cover and trade paperback editions.
In 2009, Gilbert’s Books published the first English edition of The Diary of Grand Duchess Olga Nicholaievna 1913(Edited by Raegan Baker). The publication of this diary was a joint publishing project in cooperation with the State Archives of the Russian Federation – GARF. One title which I am particularly proud to have been a part of is the publication of The Murder of Grigorii Rasputin: A Conspiracy That Brought Down the Russian Empire by Margarita Nelipa, in July 2010. This massive, informative book rewrites one of the most misunderstood periods of the final days of Rasputin, his association with the last tsar of Russia and the downfall of the monarchy. In May 2012 I published a new edition of A Romanov Diary: The Autobiography of Grand Duchess Marie Georgievna in cooperation with Prince David Chavchavadze and Alexandra Wynkoop. In 2014, I will publish an English language edition of Last Years of the Court at Tsarskoe Selo, 1910-1914, the second volume of General Alexandre Spiridovich's monumental memoirs in the service of Tsar Nicholas II. I had previously published the first volume in 2010, and am most grateful to General Spiridovich's descendants for permission to translate and publish these memoirs.
I made my first visit to Russia in 1986, while I was living in London, England, where I was working for Penguin Books at the time. My introduction to Russia was one of shocking contrasts. Statues of Lenin, Marx and Stalin stared down at me. Banners screaming heavy handed propaganda oppressed me. Soviet ideology was firmly imbedded in the psyche of most Russians, but they were getting tired and restless of the tyranny they had been forced to live for nearly 80 years. It was still taboo to discuss the Romanovs. I recall one Soviet guide who, when asked where the Alexander Palace was, claimed that it “no longer existed." Later, while touring Leningrad, I asked her about Rasputin’s murder in the Yusupov Palace. This time she laughed, saying “Rasputin was not murdered!” Needless to say, the gloves were off!
Since then I have returned to Russia year after year, always in search of the Romanov legacy. As an independent historian, these visits have allowed me to see Russia through my own eyes and I have attempted to unravel the mystery of this once vast and proud empire and its rich history and culture which Winston Churchill referred to in his famous quote in 1939: “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”.
In the 1990s, I had had the honour of hosting slide and talk presentations on the Romanovs, as well as wine and cheese evenings in Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco and Toronto. These events allowed me to meet many others who share my passion for the Romanovs and Imperial Russia.
In 1996 I started to offer tours to Russia. I have hosted more than a dozen specialty tours that have allowed others to rediscover the Romanov legacy. Past tours have included St. Petersburg, Moscow, Yalta and the Crimea, Ekaterinburg, and Helsinki and Langinkoski in Finland. It is interesting to note that we were the first group from the West to visit the Alexander Palace in 1997 and the Grand Kremlin Palace in 2000. Through my contacts in Russia, I have taken some of these groups to the Romanov Archives located in the State Archives of the Russian Federation (GARF) in Moscow, the Russian State Film & Photo Archive at Krasnogorsk, the Russian State Historical Archives (RGIA) and the National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg.
Russia continues to beckon and stir my imagination from the warmth and comfort of my arm chair at home. There are still many undiscovered places that I long to visit, such as the Golden Ring and a much anticipated journey aboard the Trans-Siberian Express all the way from Moscow to Vladivostock. In the spring of 2014, I will return to Ekaterinburg, where I will also journey to Alapaevsk, Pokrovskoe and Tobolsk.
I have had the good fortune to have met many fascinating historians, curators, directors, authors, etc who have shared their time and resources on the Romanovs with me. In Moscow and St. Petersburg they have opened doors for me which would have been impossible otherwise. Through them I have personally visited the Romanov Archives in the State Central Archives in Moscow on more than one occasion. It was on one such visit that I held in my hands the personal letters between Nicholas II and Alexandra, the diaries of their children and the numerous personal photo albums of the Russian Imperial family. The photo albums in particular intrigued me, revealing photographs of members of the last Imperial family, including grand dukes and grand duchesses, that to this day have yet to be published in a glossy coffee table book.
In July 1998, I journeyed to St. Petersburg to witness one of the most important historical events to take place in 20th-century Russian history: the burial of Tsar Nicholas II, his wife, three of their children, and four of their faithful servants. It was here that I met many descendants of the Romanov dynasty.
1991 – The remains of Tsar Nicholas II, his family and four retainers are found outside of Ekaterinburg, but two of the children’s remains were still unaccounted for.
Personally, I support a restoration of the monarchy in Russia. I believe that a devout Christian monarchy must rule Russia. Holy Russia has no need of Western democracy. It is a country moved by mystical forces. Monarchy is the political form best suited to Russia. The country needs a monarch, the mother of the nation, one that is above the nations laws. I acknowledge HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna as Head of the Russian Imperial House and the rightful claimant to the Russian throne.
I am currently working on an extensive essay in two parts: The Russian Imperial Succession and The Future of the Monarchy in Russia. While my essay supports a restoration of the monarchy in Russia, I also acknowledge that any such restoration will be based solely on the will of the Russian people themselves.
In 2004, I launched a new web site, Royal Russia: A Celebration of the Romanov Dynasty & Imperial Russia in Words and Photographs. In 2012, it welcomed over 1.2 million visitors from all over the world, making it one of the most popular sites dedicated to the Romanovs. It currently offers over 50 full-length articles, over 500 news articles, over 300 videos, over 1,000 photographs, and an online bookshop offering over 100 titles on the Romanovs, including many imported from Russia, surely making it one of the finest and largest selections in the world!
In 2011, I launched a blog, Royal Russia Bulletin. Updated daily, it currently contains more than 900 short news clips and videos on the Romanovs and Imperial Russia.
In October 2011, after nearly two years of planning, I launched a new magazine, Royal Russia Annual. This publication is now the largest English language periodical of its kind dedicated solely to the study and appreciation of the Romanov Dynasty and Imperial Russian history with a new volume published once a year.
Beginning in 2013, and in honour of the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty, I will launch a new series of Royal Russia Collectors Editions devoted to the Russian Imperial family and their legacy.
The first such Collectors Edition will be OTMAA: A Photobiography,Scheduled for publication in late 2013, this tribute to the children of Tsar Nicholas II tells the story of the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, and their brother, the Tsesarevich Alexei through a rich collection of photographs.
My career as an author is just about to begin with several books in the works. I am currently doing research on several former palaces of the Russian Imperial family that no longer exist, the working title is Lost Legacy of the Romanovs: Palaces & Residences of the Russian Imperial Family.
I currently live about 75 km east of Toronto, Ontario. I feel a sense of privilege to have grown up in a city with a Romanov connection. The tiny house in Cooksville, where Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna lived for so many years with her husband, Nikolai Kulikovsky and their two sons, Tikhon and Yuri still stands on Camilla Road, though Cooksville has been swallowed up by Mississauga, a city of nearly 800,000 people. The old barber shop on Gerrard Street in the east end of Toronto where the grand duchess passed away in a second-floor apartment also stands, but it is now a travel agency that caters to Toronto’s Chinese community. I doubt that passers-by even know of the famous woman who breathed her last breath on the upper floor some 50 years ago. The Christ the Saviour Russian Orthodox Church on Glen Morris Street, which the grand duchess and her family were active members moved to a new location in 1966. Olga created icons for the church and they can still be seen today in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral on Manning Street in Toronto. But it is the monument that marks where she is buried in York Cemetery that truly recognizes her stature in life. I have visited her grave on numerous occasions, leaving flowers and prayers.
In the coming years I shall continue to publish books, both reprints and new titles, as well as further issues of my magazine. I am really enjoying the work that I put into my web site Royal Russia, as it gives me the opportunity to share my interest in the Romanov dynasty and Imperial Russia with people all over the world. I anticipate that my web site will continue to grow in both size and interest, continuing to welcome growing numbers of visitors from all over the world. I also have a dream to eventually open an office in St. Petersburg where I can take my goals to a new level.
My work has been reviewed in numerous magazines and newspapers in Canada, the United States and Russia, including Newsweek Magazine, Paper Magazine, The Toronto Star, The Mississauga News, The Hurontario News, Clarington Weekly and Orthodox Russia. I have also offered my assistance to numerous authors, historians and producers for books and documentaries about the Romanovs and Imperial Russian history.
In recent years I have given talks and power point presentations on such topics as the life of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, the Romanovs in exile and the succession question.
Thanks to the success of an annual calendar published by Royal Russia I am now able to "give something back to Russia." Earlier this year I made donations to the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Preserve and Peterhof State Museum-Preserve. These donations go towards restoration work and the acquisition of items for the palace-museum collections. I am very proud that I have been given the opportunity to make at least a small contribution to each museum. I am committed to helping to preserve the Romanov legacy when and where I can, and will continue to make ongoing donations in the years ahead.
"The Order is being given in recognition of a lifetime of service to the Russian Imperial House. Gilbert is best known for his Royal Russia web site and blog, the publisher of more than 30 books and magazines on the Romanov dynasty, his support of the Russian monarchy, and his personal dedication to distributing accurate information about the House of Romanov and to highlighting the importance of the Russian Imperial House in today's Russia."
The edict was signed by HIH on January 7th, 2013. The date for the presentation ceremony is expected to take place in Moscow in October 2013.
It is truly a rare privilege for non-Russians to receive one of the historic Imperial orders of knighthood. To be recognized for my efforts by the Head of the Russian Imperial House is indeed the greatest honour of my lifetime of work, one that I am so pleased to share with so many other people.
It is my fervent hope, that through my work that I can leave behind a legacy, one that will in some small way have made a contribution to a better understanding and appreciation for the Romanov dynasty and the immense contribution that they have made to the history of Russia.
In her essays, The Sentimental Traveller, Vernon Lee wrote of her emotion for Italy thus: ”There are moments in all our lives, most often, alas! during childhood, when we possess the mystic gift of consecration, of steeping things in our soul's essence, and making them thereby different from all others, forever sovereign and sacred to us.” So Italy became to her--so Russia is to me.
My personal library is a unique collection that has spanned a lifetime and consists of more than 2,000 books on the Romanovs and Imperial Russia in both English and Russian. For anyone who shares an interest in the Romanovs, I would like to suggest the following list of books. These are some of my current favourites;
Bokhanov, A., The Romanovs: Love, Power and Tragedy (1993)
An Appeal from Royal Russia Founder Paul Gilbert |||