The Romanovs
HIH Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich

The Royal Contemporary of the Revolution

by Alexander N. Zakatov © Российский Императорский Дом

HIH Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich

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This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Death, and the 95th Anniversary of the Birth, of H.I.H. Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich, the former Head of the Russian Imperial House from 1938-1992.

On the 20-th Anniversary

Twenty years have passed since the death, and 95 since the birth, of the former Head of the Russian Imperial House, Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich. The tragic history of Russia in the twentieth century is inseparable from the life story of this remarkable man, who was born during the revolutionary upheaval and spent his entire life in exile and who, in the twilight of his days, saw the first steps in the return of his homeland to its traditional path of historical development.

His father was Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich, the grandson of Alexander II the Tsar-Liberator, and the first cousin of Nicholas II. He was a famous naval officer, a hero of the Russo-Japanese War, who nearly shared the fate of Vice-Admiral S. O. Makarov, next to whom he stood on the bridge of the Dreadnought “Petropavlovsk” at the moment the ship took a direct hit on March 31, 1904; He was the commander of the Marine Guards regiment; and during the revolution, Rear Admiral Grand Duke Kirill was the third in line to the throne after the Tsesarevich Aleksei and after Nicholas II’s brother, Grand Duke Mikhail. Together with his uncle, Grand Duke Pavel Aleksandrovich, Kirill Vladimirovich in February-March, 1917, attempted to save the monarchy and to preserve the throne of his cousin. But on March 2, the emperor abdicated the throne, and already on March 8 was arrested together with his entire family on the treacherous order of the Provisional Government. On the very same day, Kirill Vladimirovich resigned his commissions; and in June, 1917, he and his pregnant wife Victoria, and daughters Maria and Kira, left for the Grand Duchy of Finland, which at that time was part of the Russian Empire. There, in the city of Borgo, on August 17, 1917 (old style), Vladimir Kirillovich was born.

Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich's parents: Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich and
Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna (born Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha)

His parents baptized him in the baptismal font of the Imperial House, brought especially for that purpose from Petrograd by the spiritual father of the royal family, Archpriest Alexander Dernov. At that time, it was, despite all the troubles, still possible to make such arrangements. After the October Revolution, the situation became far more complicated. Finland was not exempt from the Civil War. And although, unlike the rest of the Empire, the Reds in the final analysis were defeated there, all the members of the Romanoff Dynasty in 1918 had the Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. Grand Duke Georgii Mikhailovich, who was living in Helsingfors (modern-day Helsinki) was captured, returned to Petrograd and was there shot during the course of the Red Terror. The estate of General Etter in Haikko, where Kirill Vladimirovich’s family lived, was also subject to attacks and searches. Their lives hung by a thread, but they were saved by one of the Bolsheviks—a sailor who had once served under the command of Kirill Vladimirovich on the cruiser “Oleg.” Despite his own revolutionary convictions, he continued to respect and have sympathy for the grand duke and interceded on his behalf. This “human factor” also played a role during a visit from the Finnish Reds to the estates of General Etter. During the civil war, the Imperial Family stood above the fray, not wishing at all to grab for itself the power that Nicholas II had just laid down. This meant nothing to the Bolsheviks, however, who made the total, physical liquidation of the dynasty their goal; but perhaps it was understood by the simple people, even if they had become caught up in the revolutionary flourish.

Shortly afterward, the combined efforts of the German General P. von der Holtz and of the White General K. Mannerheim had smashed the resistance of the Reds in Finland. Having lived for a time in Borgo, Kirill Vladimirovich and his family moved to Western Europe: to Switzerland, to the French Riviera, to Coburg in Germany—such were the first destinations of the royal wanderers.

In 1922, while still uncertain about the deaths of those ahead of him in the order of succession to the throne, but recognizing his own responsibility to serve the dynasty, Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich, as the most senior member of the Imperial House, assumed the title of “Guardian of the Imperial Throne.” In 1924, after it had become clear that no hope remained that both sons and the grandson of Alexander III were still alive, Kirill Vladimirovich, in accordance with the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire, assumed the title of emperor. In so doing, he normalized the situation of the Russian Imperial House in exile and guaranteed its preservation as a historical-juridical institution existing independent of the changes in the political regime at home. The seven-year-old Vladimir Kirillovich thereby became the heir and tsesarevich.

(left) Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna with her new son, Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich (born at Borgo,
on August 17 [O.S.], 1917), Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich and their daughter, Grand Duchess Maria Kirillovna.
(right) Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna with Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich

He spent his childhood in Coburg and in St. Briac in the northwest of France, in Brittany, to which the Imperial Family finally moved in 1928. The tsesarevich was educated at home, with tutors, and was raised in the Orthodox Faith and in the best patriotic traditions of the Romanoff Dynasty. He took a variety of courses, including courses in the Academy of the General Staff under General N. Golovin, and spoke English, French, Spanish, and German fluently. Vladimir Kirillovich had from his youth a passion for mechanical things. He collected working model airplanes and ships, and studied the mechanics of automobiles. He had a particular liking for his first motorcycle, given him as a gift in 1933, on the occasion of his reaching his legal majority according to the dynastic laws, by Grand Duke Dmitrii Pavlovich, who was also a great lover of mechanical things and an avid sportsman.

Outside their home at Saint-Briac, France (from left to right) Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich,
Grand Duchess Kira Kirillovna, Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich, and Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna

Vladimir Kirillovich lost his parents while still relatively young. In 1936, his mother, Empress Victoria Fedorovna, having gone to Amorbach to visit her oldest daughter, Maria, Princess of Leiningen, unexpectedly died at the age of 59 from complications from influenza. On October 12, 1938, in a hospital near Paris, his father, Emperor Kirill Vladimirovich, died of gangrene, a complication of the arteriosclerosis he suffered from since the sinking of his ship, the “Petropavlovsk,” in freezing water in 1904. Thus, at the age of 21, Vladimir Kirillovich became the head of the Russian Imperial House—the successor to the Russian tsars and emperors. He decided not to adopt the title emperor, deeming it unnecessary since his father’s assumption of the title had already secured the legal position of the dynasty in exile.

Vladimir Kirillovich articulated his understanding of his inherited duties in the following moving and noble words: “I have but one goal, one desire—to give myself over to the service of Russia, for the sake of the happiness and prosperity of the Russian people, who can find justice and freedom only under the protection of the imperial throne.”

With the death of Emperor Kirill, many of the conflicts in the émigré community faded into memory, conflicts that were at once contrived and false, but also insurmountable and firmly linked with Kirill. For the émigré organizations on the extreme right, which would have liked to unite around the dynasty but could not do it during the lifetime of Kirill Vladimirovich because of a range of political issues and because of the inertia generated by previous conflicts, his death provided an ideal opportunity to reconcile with the Imperial Family. And for those who perhaps did not want to submit to Vladimir Kirillovich, it became quite difficult to remain on the sidelines of a process that was embracing the larger part of the emigration, since that was a course that led only to isolation. One after another, the Russian General-Military Union, the Subreme Monarchist Council, the Union of the Nobility, and other leading emigration organizations recognized Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich as the undisputed center of Russian national unity in his capacity as the legitimate head of the Russian Imperial House. The First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, Metropolitan Anastasii (Gribanovskii) continued the tradition initiated by his predecessor Metropolitan Antonii (Khrapovitskii), and unreservedly subported the young sovereign. The Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad of 1939 sent greetings to Vladimir Kirillovich in a special epistle: “Only a tsar, anointed by God as the subreme head and leader of the Russian land, can satisfy the ancient expectations of the Russian Orthodox people.” Recognition and subport to the grand duke was also given by the head of the Constantinople (Paris) Russian Church Jurisdiction of Metropolitan Evlogii (Georgievskii).

HIH Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich in his study at Saint-Briac

The press of the political right, under the leadership of “Vozrozhdenie [Rebirth]”, which formerly did not refrain from attaching the former head of the dynasty, now joined together to offer praise of his successor and to spread the idea of consolidating all the nationalist elements abroad around the new head of the dynasty.

This unification was made possible by a slight change in the direction of the Imperial House. Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich, despite his youth, was in his social-political views more conservative than his father. He distanced himself from the Mladoross Party (Young Russians Party), which stood for the time being for monarchist positions, but which went beyond the position held by the rightist emigration by bantering the shocking slogan “Tsar and Soviets.” In this matter, Vladimir Kirillovich, following the example and experiences of Emperor Kirill, did not permit his name to become attached to this would-be political movement. He asserted: “As the legitimate head of the Russian Imperial House and as the impartial advocate of the aspirations of the Russian people,” “as the successor of the rights and responsibilities of my sovereign ancestors (…) I cannot and will not be seen as the head of any sort of political group. The Lord has blessed me to serve all the Russian people, and all the interests of our great state.”

In 1929, with the goal of better understanding the lives of working people, Vladimir Kirillovich, incognito, went to Great Britain and took a job in a factory that manufactured diesel motors under the name of Peter Mikhailov, the name that Peter I the Great had taken during his incognito travels to the West. The head of the house of Romanoff received a worker’s wages, rented an apartment, and few of his co-workers ever knew that they were working next to Russian royalty. And, given the famous British sense of courtesy, anyone who figured it out never said so.

His work in the factory and his efforts to complete in England his university education were interrupted by the Second World War, which began on September 1, 1939. The grand duke was in St. Briac when the Germans occupied France. Making the most of his acquaintances with the aristocratic elements of the German officer corps (such as the German commander of the military district around St. Malo, General von Aulock, and others), many of whom, by the way, had anti-fascist leanings, Vladimir Kirillovich succeeded in easing the hardships of Soviet prisoners-of-war confined in concentration camps around St. Malo and on the Isle of Jersey. The grand duke remarked in the following way about this period:

At the very height of the war, I learned that some Russian prisoners were being held on the mainland, and some others on the British coastal islands occupied by the Germans, and that their condition was quite difficult. Other prisoners of war received aid from their countries via the Red Cross, plus letters and packages from home, but Russian prisoners received no such assistance whatsoever. As is well known, in Russia these prisoners were considered traitors or defectors, and one can imagine the dreadful conditions under which these prisoners lived. To the extent that I had some contacts among German officers, I was able to offer assistance to them. When I raised the issue, they looked into matters and, as far as I am aware, the situation of our prisoners improved little by little. For the most part, the prisoners were used on the construction of defensive works. Those on the islands I never met, but some of those working on the mainland I was able to meet several times, and when we were able to talk, they enjoyed telling me about themselves. It was not possible to do a lot for them, but even the little we did do, when they found out that at least somebody did care about them, was for them a bright moment in their otherwise sad situations. I don’t know what happened to these prisoners later. When, after the start of Perestroika had made it possible to send letters back and forth to Russia, I began to receive an unimaginable amount of letters from Russia, and I always hoped that one of these former prisoners would still be alive and would write to me; but, I’m afraid, none ever did because any that were returned home were put in concentration camps and a great many of them died there.

The grand duke’s assistance also included sending food, games, and candies for the children in the concentration camps, and organizing worship services, for which Fr. Ioann Grigor-Klochko from Paris was enjoined to serve.

No matter how the situation around him changed, one idea informed all of the grand duke’s statements and utterances during the Second World War. They were never pro-French (at the beginning of the war), or pro-German (during his years living under German occupation), or pro-Soviet (during the fall of Germany). These statements and utterances all show the same sharp distinction between Russia and the Communist regime, and they reflect his continuing faith in the Russian national strength and hope for liberation from Communism. In this tragic, conflicting situation, the head of the Imperial House could not hope for the destruction of his homeland, but nor could he link his hope for victory with the Marxist dictatorship. The grand duke was convinced that the Russian people would find in themselves the strength to defeat both its internal and external enslavers. Vladimir Kirillovich carried himself with honor during the war years, being stained neither with collaborationist nor pro-Communist sympathies.

In 1944, as a result of the German retreat from the advancing Allies, the Fascist authorities forced the grand duke to move first to Paris, then to Germany. There he took up residence in Amorbach, where his sister, Maria, princess of Leiningen, lived. This was perhaps the most dangerous period in the grand duke’s life, since, on the one hand, things were coming to a head with the Fascists, and, on the other, there was a real danger of his being repatriated to the USSR, in which case the grand duke would surely fall victim to the state’s security agencies. The Lord spared the life of the heir of the Russian tsars. After the end of the war, Vladimir Kirillovich, with the help of officers of the French Foreign Legion, fled arrest by Soviet occupation authorities in Austria and came through Switzerland to Spain, where his aunt, the Infanta Beatrice, lived.

(left) Princess Leonida as a young girl in 1920. (right) Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna.

On 5 December 1946, at the request of the Spanish Royal House, the grand duke published an official decree giving historical justice to the Georgian Royal House of Bagration, recognizing and affirming its status as a royal dynasty. This event turned out to be providential. Shortly thereafter, Vladimir Kirillovich met Leonida, the daughter of the head of the House of Bagration, Prince Georgii Aleksandrovich Bagration-Mukhranskii. They fell in love and on 13 August 1948, they contracted a legally equal marriage. Thanks to this, the Russian Imperial House became related to the most ancient royal house in Europe, the royal house of Bagration, which, according to legend, descended from King David and thereby is related to our Lord, Jesus Christ. Vladimir Kirillovich and Leonida Georgievna had a long and happy life together. In the words of the grand duke’s widow, they never wrote each other a single letter because, simply, they never were apart.

Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna to a significant degree helped her husband to reestablish the activities of the dynasty after the disruptions of the war, which had destroyed the former system of Russian institutions and organizations in the emigration. The chancellery had to be established anew; trips were made across the world to establish ties with relatives from other European royal houses, with monarchs and presidents, and with representatives of society, science, and culture; charitable activities emerged; and life returned to the villa “Ker Argonid” in St. Briac. In all of this, the contribution of Leonida Georgievna is inestimable.

Letter of congratulations from H.M. Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain to Grand Duke Vladimir
Kirillovich on his marriage to Princess Leonida Bagration de Moukhrani in 1948, and further to the
birth of their daughter, Grand Duchess Marie in 1953. The letter is dated 15th October, 1954.

In 1953, in Madrid, the couple’s only daughter, Grand Duchess Maria, was born. With her birth, the continuation of the Romanoff dynasty was guaranteed. The fact of the matter is that all remaining male members of the Imperial House in emigration had entered into morganatic (unequal) marriages, and therefore their children did not have rights of succession to the throne. In the event that Vladimir Kirillovich and Leonida Georgievna had not had any children, the headship of the dynasty would have gone through the female line to a foreign dynasty. Formally, this would have conformed to the norms of dynastic law. But in the circumstances of exile, the devolution of the succession of the House of Romanov to a European prince, raised in completely different traditions and in a different ethos and not having the opportunity to go to Russia and attempt to acculturate Russian values, would have been a most disastrous thing for the idea of monarchy in Russia.

All his life, Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich waited and believed that Russia would free itself from totalitarianism and from militant state-sponsored atheism and would return to its historical path. Naturally, he welcomed the fall of the Communist regime in August, 1991. Rejoicing over the emancipation of his country from the godless authorities, Vladimir Kirillovich at the same time grievingly lived through the subsequent dismemberment of the once great empire, and the sorrow, the suffering, and the devastation of millions of his countrymen. “The collapse will not bring good things to the separate parts of the empire which now seek independence,” he prophetically said even before the signing of the Belovezh Treaty. “It would be better for everyone if some sort of federal state could be devised because the territory of Russia is expansive and rich such that there would be resources enough for everyone.” By the term “territory of Russia” Vladimir Kirillovich of course meant all the territory that formally constituted the USSR. “Independence unavoidably will force the new sovereign states to request Western aid, but this aid will have strings attached to it. It is difficult to begin one’s independence with a series of debts.” All the peoples of the Russian Empire were dear to him, and he never lost hope for the reestablishment of the unity that was lost. “Our Motherland is quite rich,” Vladimir Kirillovich said immediately after the collapse of the August Putsch of 1991, “and if it is really to stand on its own two feet and regain a measure of normalacy, then all those republics that are now striving for independence will have to turn back to it because they have existed for so many centuries as one state—because it is more to their advantage, more expedient to have economic, trade, and cultural ties with Russia than with overseas countries.” Of one thing he was certain: “We must not decide things by force. Not under any circumstances. Already too much blood has been spilt. It is time for violence to stop.”

Having lived his entire life in the West and knowing personally many of the “powers of this world,” the head of the Romanoff dynasty understood better than anyone that “one should be very cautious about accepting the West’s help.” “The grand duke would not want our country to fall into economic dependence on foreign powers.”

Grand Duke Vladimir and Grand Duchess Leonida with Aleksei II, (right) Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia
(1990-2008), and Archbishop Kirill (left), who succeeded as Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia in 2008.

It was during “Perestroika” in the USSR that the first rumblings of a possible visit of the head of the Romanoff dynasty were heard. After the August Putsch of 1991, the idea came closer to a reality. True, there were those who were for and those who were against the idea, both on the political right and the left. The Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad sent a delegation led by Archbishop Antonii of Los Angeles to Paris to dissuade the grand duke from making the trip. The reason for this unusual action on the part of the Church Abroad was to prevent a meeting between the grand duke and Patriarch Aleksei II. But Vladimir Kirillovich and his consort were resolved. The grand duke set but one condition: he would not agree to apply for a visa to visit his own homeland. To the credit of the Russian authorities, they complied with the condition set by the head of the Imperial House. But behind the scenes, there was a serious dispute over the grand duke’s visit. A memorandum from G. Kh. Shakhnazarov to the president of the USSR, Mikhail S. Gorbachev, reveals the disquiet the very presence of Vladimir Kirillovich in Russia produced, a nervous agitation about the political risks were there to be a meeting between the grand duke and the leader of Russia, and a desire to avoid the question entirely if the head of the dynasty “requests to be given citizenship.” “Tell the grand duke,” Shakhnazarov, among other things, advised Gorbachev, “that unfortunately a meeting with him is at the present time not possible. If he wants to come to Moscow as a private person, then we can just close our eyes to the whole affair.” How petty these worries and concerns look today against the backdrop of the great upheaval that was about to come. And how much did our rulers lose in refusing the chance, given them by Providence, to have contact with the personification of Russian history.

Despite all this, on November 5, 1991, the first visit of the head of the Russian Imperial House to Russia since the revolution of 1917 began. Vladimir Kirillovich and his wife, Leonida Georgievna, arrived in St. Petersburg at the invitation of the city’s mayor, Anatoly Sobchak, for the celebrations of the city resuming its historic name. The grand duke and grand duchess visited the graves of their royal predecessors in Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral, the monuments to the victims of the Blockade of Leningrad at the Piskarevskii Cemetery, venerated the relics of saints, and visited many of the traditional sites of the city.

At the St. John Convent on the Karpovka rivulet, Vladimir Kirillovich and Leonida Georgievna met with His Holiness, Patriarch Aleksei II of Moscow and All Russia, with whom the grand duke had corresponded previously. In this conversation—the first between a Russian sovereign and a patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church since the death in 1700 of Patriarch Adrian—the subject was raised of the unity of all Russian Orthodox jurisdictions abroad under the Omophorion of the Moscow Patriarchate. Vladimir Kirillovich related to the patriarch his own efforts to heal the schisms abroad and his ideas about how best to bring about unity in the Church. It will be remembered that, at that time, the hierarchy of the Church Abroad had adopted a very firm posture with respect to the Moscow Patriarchate, and that unification seemed at that time very unlikely. But now we are all witnesses to the signing of the formal act of canonical unity between the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church. That happy event, for which Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich so long worked, took place 15 years after his death, in the very year his 90-th birthday would have been celebrated.

The organizers of the visit tried to keep to a minimum all contacts between the grand duke and his countrymen. Meetings with journalists were, despite the enormous popular interest, severely limited. The majority of the people who came to show their affection and respect were prevented from getting close to him, and this was not at all, of course, the grand duke’s doing. Vladimir Kirillovich himself wanted nothing more than to interact with the common people. The fact that everyone around him was speaking Russian, something we all are completely used to, was, to him, something he had long-awaited and found utterly pleasing.

“He listened attentively, and was very distressed and, it seemed, worried. He smiled very little. He did not at all look like the gentlemen who had accompanied him, with their contented, “Western” expressions on their faces. For some reason he was quite sad,” wrote the journalist I. Stepanova. “No, he did not come to celebrate his return with us. He saw everything through the eyes of a man who’s come to his homeland for the first time, the very thought of which has been the very aspiration of his entire life.”

Grand Duke Vladimir and Grand Duchess Leonida praying at the tombs of their ancestors at the Peter and Paul
Cathedral in St. Petersburg (left); Grand Duke Vladimir sitting at the private study and library of his grandfather,
the Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich, at the latters palace situated on the Neva in St. Petersburg (right)

For everyone who was fortunate enough to see the grand duke and the grand duchess, and in some cases to stand not very far from them, these were moments to be remembered their entire lives. The grand duke gave the impression of a wise, spiritual man who keenly and deeply understood people. Around him there was noticed a genuine, physical atmosphere of nobility of spirit. His mannerisms, speech, and gestures were filled with simple dignity. This remarkable, royal, Romanoff simple dignity elicited respect and fascination even among those who considered themselves to be the opponents of Vladimir Kirillovich and the ideas he embodied.

During the course of their visit, Their Imperial Highnesses visited the magnificent cathedrals, majestic palaces, theaters, and museums of the city. But when the grand duke was ever asked what during his visit made the most lasting impression on him, he said that it was the residence church [podvor’e] in St. Petersburg of the Iosifo-Volokolamsk Monastery. This half-ruined church with temporary planking for floors, which had only just begun to be restored at that time, became for Vladimir Kirillovich a kind of icon of the recovery of all of Russia from ruins. When the rector, Fr. Andronik (Trubachev) asked the grand duke to say a few words after the completion of the Divine Liturgy, the voice of Vladimir Kirillovich trembled out of sheer emotion.

Departing the Fatherland on 11 November 1991, the grand duke was already thinking about his next visit, this time to Moscow, which was planned for May of the following year. But sensing in his heart the possibility of his own death before then, he told his wife: “When I die, bury me here, in my homeland.”

(left) St. Petersburg mayor, Anatoly Sochak, Grand Duke Vladimir, Grand Duchess Leonida, and L. B. Narusova; (right) Grand Duchess Leonida, A. P. Radashkevich, Personal Secretary to H.I.H., and Grand Duke Vladimir.

In February, 1992, President Yeltsyn was in Paris. In the Russian embassy, there took place then a meeting between the current head of the Russian government and the head of the Russian Imperial House. After this meeting, all members of the Imperial Family, who had never held the citizenship of any other country and had always categorized themselves legally as Russian refugees, received at last passports as citizens of Russia. On the cover of these first passports there still was imprinted the emblem of the USSR—the would-be starting point for a “Global Republic of Soviets,” which would have been the outcome of a “world-wide revolution.” But these were now in fact the passports of a new Russia, which left behind a bloody Utopia, at a cost of tens of millions of lives.

Indeed, Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich would not again see his homeland. On 21 April 1992, on the eve of Great and Holy Wednesday, during a visit to the USA which he undertook to attract friendly business groups in the West to get more involved in the rebirth of the Russian economy, the grand duke unexpectedly died in Miami, Florida during a press conference. Even now, the first news reports and the photograph published in Izvestiia capturing the moment when the heart attack struck, still call to mind again the feelings of grief and sadness.

(left) Grand Duke Vladimir meets Aleksei II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia (1990-2008);
(right) Grand Duke Vladimir and Grand Duchess Leonida meet with Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

The coffin containing his body was brought to Russia on April 29, 1992 and placed in St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg, where the funeral for the head of the Russian Imperial House took place, served by His Holiness, Patriarch Aleksei II of Moscow and All Russia. In a touching sermon, the patriarch underscored what a deep impression the grand duke’s “deep faith and love for Russia and its people” had made on him. “May the Lord give peace to the soul of the newly departed servant of God, Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich, in the heavenly abode,” the partriarch said at the end of his sermon, “and grant him to be a partaker of the eternal joy in the unending day of the Kingdom of Christ!” “The splendor of the service in St. Isaac’s Cathedral is impossible to describe,” said one journalist from Nevskii Times who shared his impressions. “The grandeur of the ceremony affected probably everyone who was in the cathedral. And thus was fulfilled the will of the heir of the Russian rulers, a man who was forced to live in a foreign land, but always remembered the Russian people, always took a most active part in aiding them. Vladimir Kirillovich never took citizenship from any other country, but remained to the end of his life a Russian patriot.”

The funeral for the Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich took place
at St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg on 29th April, 1992.

Thousands of people came to bid farewell to the grand duke. The enormous St. Isaac’s Cathedral could not contain the multitude that came, and so they filled the square and nearby streets. The general feeling of the citizens of Russia, regardless of how they felt about monarchy or other political convictions, was summed up by a correspondent from the newspaper Nevskii Prospekt:

All that can be, has already been said, written, and thought about Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich. His right to be head of the Russian Imperial House was debated. His title was by some doubted. And so on and so forth. But the death of Vladimir Kirillovich definitively ended all doubts and resolved all problems. Vladimir Kirillovich Romanoff was our countryman, a patriot of Russia, and a Christian. After a certain period of indecision, the leaders of Russia and St. Petersburg gave their permission for the burial in St. Petersburg. In this way, the natural rights of the man to be buried in his chosen location and next to his relatives were upheld. This location is the grand-ducal mausoleum of Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral. And the funeral there signifies the recognition de jure of all the rights of the grand duke. And having that funeral presided over by the patriarch of all Russia gives him as much legitimacy as if he have been anointed to the throne.

On May 29, 1992, the head of the Russian Imperial House, Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich (de jure Emperor Vladimir III) was buried in the family mausoleum of the Romanoff Dynasty in the Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg.

Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich was buried with full pomp and splendour at the Grand Ducal Mausoleum of
the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg, the first Romanov to be honoured so much since the revolution.

The great ascetic of our time, St. Archbishop John of Shanghai and San Francisco, placed Vladimir Kirillovich in the same company as St. Vladimir I Equal-to-the-Apostles, and with Vladimir II Monomach, pointing to the importance of the service given to the Motherland by this Orthodox Russian sovereign. Now, his place and life’s work are being continued by the new head of the Russian Imperial House, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna. Her son and heir, Tsesarevich Georgii Mikhailovich, is more and more actively taking part in the affairs of the dynasty. He maintains a reverential and grateful memory of his grandfather: “I am indebted to my grandfather for a great deal. It was he that instilled in me the foundations of my character. He opened to us the path to Russia. When he died, I was still young and did not entirely understand, but the important things he imparted to me I will remember forever. My grandfather was a man of enormous faith in God, enormous love for Russia, and boundless kindness to all. He lived his life honorably, worthy of his ancestors and an example to his descendants.”

Vladimir Kirillovich believed that monarchy in Russia had a future. On this topic, the grand duke always said that he and his heirs were ready to answer the people’s call, but he serves and will continue to serve Russia in any case, whether or not he occupies the throne. “For me the throne is not as important as my desire to be of some use to my country,” he said.

In his first interview published in the USSR, Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich affirmed that “Monarchy is the only form of government compatible with any political system, inasmuch as the role of the monarch is to be a highest arbiter in the land.” The grand duke was convinced that monarchy had not outlived its time, but was a fully modern system that had no less a right to exist today than republics. Probably, he had not read the similar sentiment of a certain political figure: “Monarchy in general is not a one-dimensional nor immutable thing, but a very flexible and capable institution that is suited to a variety of forms of government.” One might find it odd to be able to compare these two quotations, given the authorship of the second one. The name of the political figure who made such a surprising admission about monarchy was—Vladimir Il’ich Lenin. This man who hated to his very depths the spirit of the Russian monarchy, the hereditary nobleman V. I. Ul’ianov (Lenin), who came to power when Vladimir Kirillovich was only two months old, and on whose command all Romanoffs then still in Russia were executed. In our day, we Soviet people did not study Lenin very well. Or, at least, much of what he wrote we should have understood much sooner. Perhaps then the inevitable fall of Communism would have happened sooner and with fewer harsh consequences.

The life of Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich almost entirely coincided with the Communist experiment in Russia. He was born just before the October Revolution, and he outlived the totalitarian regime by exactly eight months. In his country he was born, and in his declining years he returned to it. In all this there is something Providential. The bonds of time have not been broken. The place of the eternal rest of Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich in the family mausoleum of the Romanoff dynasty is a symbol of the triumph of Divine Justice and of respect for all the periods of our long history.

Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich (1917-1992).

Alexander N. Zakatov is the Director of the Chancellery of the Russian Imperial House in Moscow.
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