Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich

Born: 1878, St Petersburg
Died: 1918, Motovilikha (Perm Province)

Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich was the fifth child and fourth son of Alexander III and Maria Fyodorovna. He was born at the Anichkov Palace in St Petersburg on 22 November/4 December 1878.

After Tsar Alexander II was present at the birth of her first child, Maria Fyodorovna and her husband attempted to wait as late as possible, before informing the emperor and empress that she had gone into labour, so that the grandparents might arrive only after the birth. When Maria prepared to give birth once again, towards the end of 1878, she was afraid that, this time, she would not succeed in avoiding the presence of her father-in-law, who had just returned to St Petersburg.

Maria Fyodorovna was writing to her mother on 22 November 1878, when she suddenly felt the contractions start: “The only – and greatest – unpleasantness is that the emperor arrived today and is coming to dine with us. And this, in my opinion, will be worse than awful. For if he is told that I am not well, he will probably come up here, and I cannot abide all these exhortations. It will soon be dinnertime and he is on his way, but we have not told him anything and now the pains are continuing and growing more frequent. If only I could hold out while he is here – truly, I am simply in despair at this visit.”

After dinner, Maria Fyodorovna continued her letter to her mother: “The meal is over. Thank God, everyone has left; I was not at the table – I complained of a migraine. That’s all for now, can’t write any more. Farewell, mama, if only you were here right now!” She managed to trick the emperor. An hour and a quarter after finishing the letter, she gave birth to a baby boy, who was called Mikhail.

Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich was the heir to the throne between the death of Grand Duke Georgy Alexandrovich in 1899 and the birth of Nicholas’s son Tsarevich Alexis in 1904. He married Natalia Sheremetevskaya in 1912.

Mikhail commanded the Wild Division and the Second Cavalry Corps during the First World War. On 29 November 1914, Mikhail wrote an emotional letter to his mother from Lviv: “In a few days, I am leaving on a campaign from which I may not return, therefore I want to tell you what is on my heart. I am afraid that you think that, by returning to Russia, I have shown you all that I have forgotten about the guardianship and everything... All these measures only repel me from all of you, and it cannot be any other way.”

Mikhail was made a lieutenant general in 1916. He refused the throne after the abdication of Nicholas II in 1917.

In his memoirs, Alexander Kerensky describes the last meeting between Mikhail and Nicholas II: “The night before the long journey, under my own authorisation, I allowed the tsar to see his brother, Grand Duke Mikhail… Both were visibly and deeply shaken at their first meeting after the fall of the monarchy. For a long time, they were silent, not finding the words, then they plunged into that fragmentary, irrelevant small-talk, which is so characteristic of short meetings. How is Alix? How is Mother? Where are you living now? and so on. They stood opposite each other, shuffling their feet in curious embarrassment, sometimes getting hold of one another’s arm or coat button... Finally, they began to say farewell. Who could have thought that the brothers were seeing each other for the last time.”

Nicholas II wrote in his diary on 31 July 1917: “Our last day at Tsarskoe Selo. After dinner we waited for the time of our departure, which kept being put off. Kerensky suddenly appeared and announced that Misha was coming. And sure enough, at about 10.30, dear Misha walked in, accompanied by Kerensky and the captain of the guard. It was wonderful to see him, but awkward to talk in front of outsiders.”

Count Benckendorff wrote in his memoirs: “The interview lasted ten minutes… The Grand Duke went out in tears and told me that he had not even been able to notice whether the Emperor was looking well or not.” This was the last time the two brothers saw each other. Nicholas was transported to Siberia, while Mikhail was shot by the Bolsheviks in Motovilikha near Perm on 13 June 1918.

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