Kirill Vladimirovich, Grand Duke of Russia

Kirill Vladimirovich
Grand Duke of Russia
Head of the House of Romanov
Tenure 31 August 1924 – 12 October 1938
Successor Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich of Russia
Born 12 October [O.S. 30 September] 1876
Tsarskoye Selo, Russian Empire
Died 12 October 1938(1938-10-12) (aged 62)
Neuilly, France
Burial Friedhof am Glockenberg, Coburg (1938–1995)
7 March 1995
Peter and Paul Fortress, St. Petersburg, Russian Federation
Spouse Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
(m. 1905–36; her death)
Issue Maria Kirillovna, Princess of Leiningen
Kira Kirillovna, Princess of Prussia
Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich of Russia
House Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov
Father Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia
Mother Duchess Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
Religion Russian Orthodoxy

Grand Duke Kirill (Cyril) Vladimirovich of Russia, RE (Russian: Кирилл Владимирович Рома́нов; Kirill Vladimirovich Romanov; 12 October [O.S. 30 September] 1876 – 12 October 1938) was a son of Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia, a grandson of Emperor Alexander II and a first cousin of Nicholas II, Russia’s last Tsar.

Grand Duke Kirill followed a career in the Russian navy serving during twenty years in the Naval Guards. He took part in the Russo-Japanese War, barely surviving the sinking of the battleship Petropavlovsk at Port Arthur in April 1904. In 1905, he married his paternal first cousin, Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. They wed in defiance of Tsar Nicholas II prohibition. In retaliation, the Tsar stripped Kirill of his offices and honors, also initially banishing the couple from Russia. They had two daughters and settled in Paris before being allowed to visit Russia in 1909. In 1910 they moved to Russia, where Nicholas II recognized their marriage. During World War I, Grand Duke Kirill was appointed Commander of the Naval Depot of the Guards in 1915 and in 1916, he achieved the rank of rear Admiral in the Imperial Navy. During the February Revolution of 1917, Kirill marched to the Tauride Palace at the head of the Naval Guards swearing allegiance to the Russian Provisional Government.

During the rule of the provisional governmental in the summer 1917, Kirill escaped to Finland where his wife gave birth to the couple's only son. In exile they lived for some years among his wife's relatives in Germany, and from the late 1920s on an estate they bought in Saint-Briac. With the execution of his cousins Tsar Nicholas II and Grand Duke Michael, Kirill assumed the Headship of the Imperial Family of Russia and, as next in line to the throne as the Guardian of the Throne in 1924. Kirill proclaimed himself emperor in exile in 1926. He worked for the restoration of the monarchy from exile for the rest of his life, but his claims were contested by some factions of the monarchy movement in a division that subsists until today. He wrote a book of memoirs, My Life in Russia's Service, published after his death. His granddaughter, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, is the current claimant to the headship of the House of Romanov.

Early life

Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich of Russia was born on 12 October [O.S. 30 September] 1876 in Tsarskoye Selo, at his parents country residence, the Vladimir Villa.[1] His father was Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich, the third son of Tsar Alexander II of Russia. His mother was Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, née Duchess Marie Alexandrine of Mecklenburg. As a grandson in the male line to a Russian Tsar, he was titled Grand Duke, with the style Imperial Highness. Kirill's parents, wealthy and sophisticated, were influential figures in Russian society. Grand Duke Vladimir was cultured and a great patrons of the arts, while Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna was a renowned hostess in the Imperial capital.[2] Both had imposing personalities and left a big imprint in the lives of Kirill and his siblings.[3]

Grand Duke Kirill was six months old when his eldest brother, Alexander, died in childhood.[4] He also had three younger siblings: Boris, Andrei, and Elena. The four surviving children were close to each other and to their parents, who were devoted to them.[4] Kirill Vladimirovich grew up between his parents residence in St Peterburg, the Vladimir Palace, and their country retreat, the Vladimir Villa in Tsarkoe Selo.[5] Until he was fourteen years of age, Grand Duke Kirill was educated at home by private tutors. His education was supervised by General Alexander Daller, a retired artillery officer.[5] He received military training, religion instruction and learned the languages spoken by the Romanovs: Russian, English, French and German. During breaks from his daily lessons, he trained in a gym with his brothers at the Vladimir Palace.[1] He traveled extensible with his parents visiting many European countries, including Spain.[6] A love for music and carpentry work would remained in him for the rest of his life.[6]

From an early age, Grand Duke Kirill had a love for the sea and his parents destined him to follow a career in the Imperial Navy. At age fifteen, in the autumn 1891, he began his training for the naval college.[6] He began his naval career as a midshipman on the ship Moriak in the summer of 1892.[7] He returned to his home in Tsarkoe Selo in the winter 1892 and spent the following year studying for his examinations at the naval college.[8] Between the summer 1893 and the autumn 1893, he was back at sea training in the sip Prince Pojarsky.[8] After joining his father on a long trip to Spain, in the summer 1894, he joined his third training ship, the frigate Vovin.[8] He concluded his training on the ship Vernyl on the Baltic sea in the summer of 1895.[9] Grand Duke Kirill's uncle, Tsar Alexander III, died on 1 November [O.S. 20 October] 1894 and Kirill's cousin, Nicholas II, became the new Tsar. During the coronation festivities in Moscow, Kirill fell in love with his paternal first cousin, Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. They flirted with each other at the balls and celebrations, but Victoria Melita was already married to Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse, the only brother of Tsarina Alexandra.

After graduating from the Sea Cadet Corps and Nikolaev Naval Academy, on 1 January 1904, Kirill was promoted to Chief of Staff to the Russian Pacific Fleet in the Imperial Russian Navy. With the start of the Russo-Japanese War, he was assigned to serve as First Officer on the battleship Petropavlovsk, but the ship was blown up by a Japanese mine at Port Arthur in April 1904.[10] Kirill barely escaped with his life, and was invalided out of the service suffering from burns, back injuries and shell shock.

Marriage and children

Grand Duke Kirill married his divorced first cousin, Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha on 8 October 1905 without any consent from Tsar Nicholas II.[11] Victoria's father was Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the second eldest son of Queen Victoria. Victoria's mother was Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia, a daughter of Tsar Alexander II and Kirill's paternal aunt.

The marriage caused a scandal in the courts of European royalty as Princess Victoria was divorced from her first husband, Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse, also her first cousin. The Grand Duke of Hesse's sister was Tsarina Alexandra Fyodorovna, the wife of Nicholas II. The Tsarina already disliked her former sister-in-law and first cousin, being instrumental in leading the opposition to the marriage in the Russian court. She was not alone in her opposition. Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna was also appalled at the effrontery of Kirill's marriage. Shortly after Kirill's return to Russia, the Tsar stripped Kirill of his imperial allowance and title of Imperial Highness, his honours and decorations, his position in the navy and then banished him from Russia.[12][13] Kirill's marriage was in open defiance of the Russian Orthodox Church ruling that first cousins were not permitted to marry. Kirill knew that the Tsar's brother Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich had been forbidden to marry his first cousin, Princess Beatrice of Edinburgh and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

In 1908, after the death of Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich had put Kirill third in the line of succession to the Imperial Throne, Nicholas II restored Kirill to his rank of Captain in the Imperial Russian Navy and his position as aide de camp to the emperor.[14] He was given the title Grand Duke of Russia and from then on his wife was styled as Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Viktoria Feodorovna. From 1909–1912, Kirill served on the cruiser Oleg and was its captain in 1912. In 1913, he joined the Maritime Division of the Imperial Guard and was made Commander of the Naval Guards in 1915.

Grand Duke Kirill and Princess Victoria Melita had three children:

All the children were born to the rank of Prince and Princess of Russia as they were not entitled to the rank of Grand Duke or Grand Duchess as they were not children or grandchildren in the male line of a Russian Emperor according to the Imperial Family Statutes that became law under Tsar Alexander III. In accordance with Imperial statutes, Kirill raised his children to the rank of Grand Duke and Grand Duchess after assuming the position of senior male of the Romanov family, and Head of the Imperial House. This elevation was openly denounced by Grand Duke Nicholas Nicolaevich when he published a private letter of the Dowager Empress in 1924 in which she stated that Kirill's assumption of the position was "premature." The Dowager Empress believed that her sons and grandsons might still be alive in Russia. Grand Duke Kirill wrote to Grand Duchess Xenia "Nothing can be compared to what I shall now have to endure on this account, and I know full well I can expect no mercy from all the malicious attacks and accusations of vanity."[15]


During the February Revolution of 1917, Kirill marched to the Tauride Palace at the head of the Garde Equipage (Marine Guard) to swear allegiance to the Russian Provisional Government, wearing a red band on his uniform.[10][16] Kirill had authorised the flying of a red flag over his palace on Glinka Street in Petrograd and in correspondence with a Romanov relative claimed credit for "saving the situation by my recognition of the Provisional Government".[17] It is probable that he had hoped that by ingratiating himself with the Provisional Government he would be declared regent after Nicholas II was made to abdicate[18]

In June 1917 Kirill and Victoria moved to Finland and then escaped to Coburg, Germany in 1920. The exiled family subsequently moved to a small residence in the tiny French fishing village of St. Briac.

Life abroad

Grand Duke Kirill with his wife Grand Duchess Victoria and children Kira and Vladimir.

After a London court order in July 1924 recognized Grand Duke Michael to be legally dead, Kirill first declared himself "Guardian of the Throne" on 8 August 1924 and then on 31 August 1924 he assumed the title Emperor of all the Russias.[11] By the laws of the Russian Empire he was the heir to the throne. However, his claim caused division within the family; his principal rival, and the only one to reject his claim was Grand Duke Nicholas. In 1926 at a (Russian) monarchists congress in Paris the delegates voted to recognize Grand Duke Nicholas as their leader; however, with Nicholas's death in 1929 Kirill became the undisputed leader of the monarchists.[19]

After claiming the throne, Kiril became known as the "Soviet Tsar" because in the event of a restoration of the monarchy, he intended to keep some of the features of the Soviet regime.[10] While living in exile, Kirill was supported by some emigres who styled themselves "legitimists" (legitimisti, in Russian легитимисты), underlining the "legitimacy" of Kirill's succession. The opponents of Kirill were known as the "un-predetermined" (nepredreshentsi, in Russian непредрешенцы); they believed that in the wake of the radical revolutionary events that the convening of a Zemsky Sobor was necessary in order to choose a new monarch for Russia.

Kirill found his strongest support among a group of legitimists known as the Mladorossi, a Russian emigre monarchist organization that ultimately became heavily influenced by fascism – although it distanced itself from other fascist movements. The organization began to exhibit pro-Soviet sympathies, arguing that the monarchy and the Soviet Bolshevik system could peacefully coexist (their slogan being "Tsar and the Soviets", a socialist version of the traditional "Tsar and People" ). Kirill became more wary of the organization when he learned that its founder, Alexander Kazem-Bek, was spotted meeting with an OGPU agent. Kirill accepted Kazem-Bek's voluntary resignation.

Kirill was succeeded by his son Vladimir Kirillovich who styled himself 'Grand Duke and head of the Russian Imperial House.

Kirill was buried at the ducal mausoleum at Friedhof am Glockenberg, Coburg.[20]:47 Following the fall of the Soviet Union, the remains of Kirill and his spouse were transferred from Coburg to the Grand Ducal Mausoleum of the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1995 after negotiations conducted by his granddaughter Maria Vladimirovna.



Sir Rex Harrison portrayed Kirill as an embittered and dangerous enemy to Anna Anderson, who notoriously claimed to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia in the 1986 miniseries Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna.


See also



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  1. 1 2 Korneva & Cheboksarova, Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna, p. 53
  2. Sullivan, A Fatal Passion, p. 167-168
  3. Korneva & Cheboksarova, Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna, p. 54
  4. 1 2 Sullivan, A Fatal Passion, p. 168
  5. 1 2 Sullivan, A Fatal Passion, p. 169
  6. 1 2 3 Sullivan, A Fatal Passion, p. 170
  7. Sullivan, A Fatal Passion, p. 171
  8. 1 2 3 Sullivan, A Fatal Passion, p. 172
  9. Sullivan, A Fatal Passion, p. 173
  10. 1 2 3 "Grand Duke Cyril Dies In Paris Exile". New York Times. 13 October 1938. p. 23.
  11. 1 2 Almanach de Gotha (182nd ed.). Almanach de Gotha. 1998. p. 214.
  12. "Czar Furious With Cousin". New York Times. 15 October 1905. p. 6.
  13. "Grand Duke Degraded". New York Times. 17 October 1905. p. 1.
  14. "Death Wins Pardon For A Grand Duke". New York Times. 19 November 1908. p. 6.
  15. Romanov, Kirill V. "My Life in Russia's Service," London: Seleyn & Blount, 1939., p.222
  16. "Duke Cyril Prompt To Side With Duma". New York Times. 17 March 1917. p. 2.
  17. Massie, Robert. Nicholas and Alexandra. p. 433. ISBN 0 330 02213 X.
  18. Crawford, Rosemary and Donald Michael and Natasha: The Life and Love of the Last Tsar of Russia Weidenfeld and Nicholson (1997) p276
  19. Shain, Yossi The Frontier of Loyalty: Political Exiles in the Age of the Nation-State University of Michigan Press (2005) p69
  20. Klüglein, Norbert (1991). Coburg Stadt und Land (German). Verkehrsverein Coburg.
  21. "Court circular". The Times (36659). London. 8 January 1902. p. 4.


Kirill Vladimirovich, Grand Duke of Russia
Cadet branch of the House of Oldenburg
Born: 12 October 1876 Died: 12 October 1938
Titles in pretence
Title last held by
Nicholas II
Emperor of Russia
17 July 1918 – 12 October 1938
Reason for succession failure:
Empire abolished in 1917
Succeeded by
Vladimir Cyrillovitch
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