Grand Duke George Romanov of Russia, Countess Torby, Prince of Nassau, Countess Merenberg - Antique Photo Cannes 1890


Fine antique snap shot style photo of Grand Duke George Mikhailovich of Russia (1863-1919), Countess Sophie von Merenberg created Countess Torby upon her marriage to Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich of Russia (1868-1927), Prince Nikolaus Wilhelm of Nassau (1832-1905), his wife Countess von Merenberg nee Natalya Alexandrovna Pushkina (1836-1913), Madame Bashmakoff and another identified as M.C.B., seated on the steps of Villa La Provence in Cannes January 1890.

George was the fourth child of Grand Duke Michael Nikolaevich of Russia and a first cousin of Emperor Alexander III. He was a General in the Russian army in World War I. During the Russian Revolution, he was imprisoned by the Bolsheviks and shot by a firing squad, along with his brother, Grand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovich, and his cousins Grand Dukes Paul Alexandrovich and Dmitry Konstantinovich.

In his youth, George had some permanent damage to his leg, which prevented the active military career he would have wanted; nevertheless, he served in some limited capacity in Her Majesty’s Lancers. When World War I broke out, he went back into the army as a lieutenant general. In 1915, he was appointed as aide-de-camp to the commander in chief and Nicholas II employed him as supervisor of operations. In this position, he had to report to the Emperor about the general situation on the front. He found terrible disorganization in all levels, particularly at the rear of the army, he exposed a lot of corruption, making some enemies with his reports. To help with the war effort, he also organized a private hospital in his palace in St Petersburg.

In March 1915, George Mikhailovich was appointed patron of the 4th Kabansky Sentry Battalion. In the same year, he was sent in a mission to Japan, then an ally in the war against Germany. First, he visited Korea and from there, he took a ship to Japan.  At the beginning of 1916, he returned to Russia by Vladivostok, and on his way back inspected the situation in the Far East. Later, he was sent to visit German and Austrian prisoners of war. Early in 1917, he was sent to visit the Russian army corps in Bessarabia and Romania; on his way he visited Empress Maria Feodorovna in Kiev and in Bucharest, Queen Maria of Romania, whom he had once wanted to marry. He came back to Mogilev, the headquarters of Nicholas II. He was in St Petersburg at the start of the revolution.

In 1916, convinced of the imminence of the Revolution, George tried to persuade Nicholas II of the need to grant a constitution. He was at Gatchina when Nicholas II abdicated. With the fall of the monarchy he resigned from his military post on 31 March 1917. He wanted to go to England but the British government had forbidden the entrance of any Russian Grand Duke. Prince L'vov, the first post-imperial prime minister of Russia, refused George's request to let him leave the country. Three months after the fall of the Romanovs, George was allowed by the provincial government to leave for Finland, whence he hoped to escape to Sweden and find his way to his family in England.

In June 1917, he managed to get permission to go to Finland and rented a villa at Retierve, a small village. In the winter of 1917, he left Retierve because the house was too cold and went to live in Helsingfors. In January 1918, he was informed that Nicholas II and his family were sent as prisoners to Tobolsk. Eventually the situation took a turn for the worse in Finland. Desperate to escape and be reunited with his family after four years of separation, he made the mistake to ask for a new passport and permission to leave the country to the new Soviet government. This eventually sealed his fate. On 3 April 1918, he was arrested and brought back to Petrograd under the escort of Red Guards.

Initially he was just required not to leave the city. Because his palace had been occupied by the Red Army, he went to live in the house of his former secretary. The following month the Petrograd newspapers published a decree ordering all the Romanovs to report to the Cheka, the Soviet secret police. Grand Duke George went with his secretary and had an interview with Moisei Uritsky, one of the Bolshevik leaders of Petrograd. He was allowed to remain free, but shortly thereafter the Bolsheviks decided to send the members of the Romanov family, who had complied with the previous registration, into internal Russian exile. George was summoned again now to be sent to Vologda.

When he arrived at Vologda, he was met at the station by a commercial agent in whose house he was to live. It was a tiny house and George felt in the way of his host who lived with his wife and four children. He found another house that belonged to a rich merchant and was well treated by the owner. He shared his exile with his brother Nicholas and with his cousin Dmitry Konstantinovich. They could move freely around town and visited each other frequently. On the morning of 14 July, two days before the murder of Nicholas II and his family, a car with four heavily armed men arrived and collected the Grand Dukes from their lodgings; they were arrested and interned in a small, walled village prison, where they could be more easily guarded. Rumors of the assassination of the tsar reached them while they were there. During these months George Mikhailovich frequently managed to smuggle letters to his wife, the last one dated 27 November 1918. His wife unsuccessfully tried to buy out his freedom and that of the other three Grand Dukes for fifty thousand pounds through the Danish minister in St Petersburg.

Grand Duke George wrote to his wife in England, “We were each given a cell, and later on were joined by Dmitry. I saw him arriving through the iron bars of my window, and was struck by his sad expression. The first twenty-four hours were hard, but after that, they luckily allowed us to have our camp beds and also our clothes. There is no one in the prison but we three”. He informed that they were guarded, by soldiers from the Baltic provinces. “They treat us like comrades, and have not locked our cells after the second day, while they allow us to walk in the small garden in the courtyard. Our food is brought from outside. ”  While imprisoned, rumors of the tsar's assassination reached them; this seemed to indicate the worst and Grand Duke George was, of the three Grand Dukes, the more pessimistic. On 21 July, all of the exiled Grand Dukes in Vologda were again transferred back to Petrograd. In the former Imperial capital, the men were quickly imprisoned with six other detainees in a cell at Cheka Headquarters.

Upon arrival, George Mikhailovich and the other Grand Dukes were questioned at length by Moisei Uritsky, the Chairman of the Petrograd Cheka. Grand Duke George wrote "Dmitry asked Uritsky why we were imprisoned, and his answer was that it was to save us as the people intended shooting us at Vologda, an explanation hard to believe." The prisoners were photographed, and then moved to the Kresty prison. Shortly thereafter, they were transferred to Shpalernaya prison, where they would remain for most of their incarceration. Here each had his own private cell, if only seven feet long and three feet wide. Their only furniture was a hard iron bed. The Grand Dukes were permitted to exercise a half-hour to 45 minutes twice a day, although the personal contact allowed in Vologda was denied them here at first. Their wardens, all of whom were soldiers, treated them well; they even helped George Mikhailovich to smuggle out letters. After several days, they were all allowed to gather in the courtyard and were permitted some provisions from the outside such as fresh linens and cigarettes. Their day began at 7am when they were awakened by the steps in the hall of their jailers and the clank of their keys in the door. Lunch was served at noon, which consisted of dirty hot water with a few fish bones on it and black bread. The lights were turned on in the cells at 7pm, although as the winter approached, the prisoners had to sit in darkness until that time. The meetings of the Grand Dukes during exercise gave them opportunity to exchange a few words.

Some of their relatives made frantic efforts on their behalf to obtain their release through Maxim Gorky who was sympathetic and asked Lenin to set them free, but the order for the Grand Dukes release came too late.

There are no eyewitness accounts of the execution. What is known is based on versions that are derived from second hand information. Whilst they vary on the details, and some have an overly dramatic air about them, they are similar in content.  At 11:30 pm on the night of 27/28 January, guards awoke George Mikhailovich, his brother Nicholas and his cousin Dmitry in their cells at Shpalernaya prison, telling them that they were going to be moved and they had to pack their belongings. They initially assumed that they were going to be transported to Moscow. Grand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovich even thought that they might be set free, but George told him, that more likely they were heading to another place to be shot. They had an ominous hint of what was going to happen to them, when at the time of departure, they were told to leave their luggage.

The Grand Dukes were loaded into a truck that already held four common criminals and six Red Guardsmen. At 1:20 am on 28 January, they left the prison. They drove towards the river by the Field of Mars, where the truck stalled. While the driver was trying to restart it, one of the convicts tried to run and was shot in the back as he fled. The truck eventually began running again, and they drove to the Peter and Paul Fortress. The prisoners were roughly pushed from the truck into the Trubetskoy bastion. They were told to remove their shirts and coats, despite the fact that it was almost 20 degrees below zero. By then they had no doubt what was about to occur and the Grand Dukes embraced each other for the last time.

Soldiers appeared carrying Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich on a stretcher. They were then each escorted, with a soldier on each side, towards a trench that had been dug in the courtyard. As they passed the cathedral of St Peter and St Paul where their ancestors were buried, the Grand Dukes blessed themselves. The prisoners were lined up before the ditch, in which there were already thirteen bodies, Nicholas Mikahilovich, who had been carrying his cat, handed it to a soldier, asking him to look after it. All of the Grand Dukes faced death with the greatest courage. George and Dmitry prayed quietly. Grand Duke Paul, who was very sick, was shot on his stretcher. Grand Dukes Nicholas, George and Dmitry were killed by the same blast. The fusillade of shots sent them reeling into the trench, joining the other bodies in the mass grave.

Countess Sophie of Merenberg, Countess of Torby, was the eldest daughter of Prince Nikolaus Wilhelm of Nassau and Natalya Alexandrovna Pushkina. As the marriage of her parents was considered morganatic she was ineligible to bear her father's title or rank. Her paternal grandparents were William, Duke of Nassau and Princess Pauline of Württemberg. Her maternal grandparents were the renowned Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin, and Natalya Pushkina. She married morganatically, in 1891, Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich of Russia, grandson of Nicholas I of Russia at Sanremo, Italy. Sophia was later created Countess de Torby by her uncle, Adolphe, Grand Duke of Luxembourg; the title was extended to all three of her children.

Nikolaus Wilhelm, Prince of Nassau, was the only son of William, Duke of Nassau by his second wife Princess Pauline of Württemberg. He married morganatically in London in 1868 Natalya Alexandrovna Pushkina, she is seen photographed next to him on the right hand side. She was the daughter of Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin and wife Natalya Nikolaevna Goncharova, and a descendant of Abram Petrovich Gannibal and Petro Doroshenko, Hetman of Ukrainian Cossacks, in turn grandson of Mykhailo Doroshenko. She was divorced from Russian General Mikhail Leontievich von Dubelt, by whom she had a daughter. In 1868, George Victor, Prince of Waldeck and Pyrmont created her Countess von Merenberg.

Size of Photo: 10.5 x 7.5 cm approx
Size of Mount: 12.5 x 9.5 cm approx

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