"In the Service of The Imperial House of Russia 191 7 -- 1941"

The Memoirs of H.G. Graf, Commander of the Russian Imperial Navy

Printed in the United States of America 1998-1999

Pages 178 - 187

The Death of the Dowager Empress, Maria Fedorovna

On the same evening all the newspapers announced the death of the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna. His Majesty immediately contacted Victoria Feodorovna over the phone. They decided that he should attend the funeral. He cabled His decision to the King of Denmark Christian the Tenth. I proceeded to the Danish and German Consulates to obtain visas.

On October 16, 1928, we left by the route Liege-Koln-Hamburg Lubeck-Warnemunde-Gesa. Travelling on the same train were Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich and his son Nikita Alexandrovich, and the former minister and chairman of the Imperial Government, A F. Trepov, presently the highest authority in the ranks of the monarchistic followers of Grarnd Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich. Due to the state of his health Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich could not come. Alexander Mikhailovich and Nikita Alexandrovich spent much time in our compartment talking with Kirill Vladimirovich. Alexander Mikhailovich's conversation was continuous yet interesting. His son was taciturn. Trepov also came to visit His Majesty but Trepov called him pointedly "Highness," so His Majesty was disinclined to talk with him.

We arrived at 6 a.m. on October 17 in Hamburg. Since departure of the next train was about 9 a.m., we had to wait for three hours. To pass the time we strolled through the station halls which were completely deserted at this early hour. At 8:45 we left for Warnemunde. At 12:45 our coaches were loaded on a steam ferry for the channel crossing. There was a good restaurant on the ferry so Kirill Vladimirovich invited Alexander Mikhailovich and Nikita Alexandrovich to lunch. We spent a pleasant time listening to the stories of Alexander Mikhailovich about the life of the Dowager Empress in Copenhagen. He also told us that his wife, Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna, was planning to settle permanently in London and that arrangements with the King were in process. Since Kirill Vladimirovich was unfamiliar with Copenhagen, he asked Alexander Mikhailovich's advice on where to stay. Alexander Mikhailovich said that he was going directly to Villa Hvidor where the Empress and his family were living. He expressed regret that he couldn't offer accommodations to Kirill Vladimirovich, then recommended the best hotel.

At 7:05 p.m. the train entered the main railroad station of Copenhagen. As His Majesty descended to the platform, a loud voice could be heard asking in German, -Where is the Grand Duke Kirill'? When His Majesty turned around he recognized Crown-Prince Frederick who welcomed him joyfully and conveyed the King's invitation to be his guest. We passed through the station's rooms reserved for VIPs and went to the car bearing the Crown Prince insignia. In a short while we arrived at the Amalienborg Palace.

His Majesty was quartered in the apartment reserved for royalty. I had a suite of two rooms in a wing reserved for the attendants. Barely had I settled down when there was a knock on the door and a footman solemnly announced; "The King invites you, Captain, for dinner at 8 p.m. A dinner jacket is the required dress." As flattering as this invitation was, it created a dilemma; I had neither a dinner jacket nor formal dress. I had not expected that, during the funeral, I would become the King's guest and would need such attire. With only half an hour before dinner, I rushed to ask His Majesty what he wished me to do. His Majesty advised me to send the footman to the gentleman in attendance of the court to inform him about the situation so that there would be re awkward empty space at the dinner table. It was out of the question to attend the dinner in improper attire. I dined alone in my room that evening, but the next day I acquired both a dinner jacket and formal evening wear.

The other guests of the King at the funeral were: the King of Norway Haakon, the Swedish Crown Prince, the Duke of York, George (the future King George Vl of England) and the brother of the Queen, the Archduke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. All but the Archduke were accompanied by their aide-de-camps. Following the example of our superiors, we all exchanged cards. Kirill Vladimirovich, in his capacity as Head of the Dynasty, was the only member of the Russian Imperial Family to be the Danish King's guest.

The next morning at 10 a.m. our Representative in Denmark, Captain G .0. Gadd, presented himself to His Majesty. Then His Majesty visited the Family of the deceased Empress at the Villa Hvidor located in the close outskirts of the city. Kirill Vladimirovich was met by the Grand Duchesses Xenia and Olga Alexandrovna (daughters of the deceased Empress) and by their husbands Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich and Colonel Kulikovsky.

I very much liked the sight of Villa Hvidor. The rooms which I could observe were cozy, crammed with soft furniture, tables and shelves on which frames with family pictures and bric-a-brac were placed, likely the cherished souvenirs of the deceased Dowager Empress. To be in the rooms inhabited so recently by the Empress had a strong effect. She was an outstanding woman, of great intelligence, and with an exceptional charm and tact. She had played an important and beneficial role in the destinies of the Imperial Family and perhaps even in the destinies of the Russian Empire during the last forty years of its existence. Undoubtedly Maria Feodorovna was also a positive factor during the last period of monarchy, which is not to be said of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. She understood very well her position as Russian Tsarina. Although not Russian by birth, she immediately grasped the psychology of Russians and conquered their hearts. By avoiding politics, she avoided provoking the discontent of anybody. She was an excellent wife and mother. She helped the Emperor skilfully unite the rapidly growing Imperial Family and averted all displays of animosity. Unfortunately, without realising it Empress Alexandra Feodorovna contributed to the division of the Family.

Princess Dagmar of Denmark (her name before becoming Russian Orthodox) was initially betrothed to the Tsarevich, Grand Duke Nicholas Alexandrovich, the eldest son of Emperor Alexander II. They were a remarkably good looking and happy pair, but the betrothal was short-lived. The Tsarevich died of tuberculosis while undergoing a cure in Nice and while still her fiance. His brother Alexander Alexandrovich, the future Emperor Alexander III, became the Heir Apparent to the Russian Throne.

Princess Dagmar was deeply grieved by the loss of her fiance. This was her first personal tragedy. She was soon betrothed to Alexander Alexandrovich. This marriage was not based exclusively on dynastic considerations, for Alexander Alexandrovich and Maria Feodorovna were very much in love to the end of their rather short twenty years of marriage.

Maria Feodorovna suffered many tragedies in her life; the death o her fiance, the death of her second son George, the death of her husband Alexander III, the difficult years of reign of her son, Emperor Nicholas Alexandrovich, the tragic death of his entire family, and the loss of her youngest son Mikhail Alexandrovich.

Princess Dagmar endured much grief from the moment she left her native Denmark and her parents' house, young and full of expectations. Sixty years later she returned a fugitive and an eighty-year-old lady, crushed by the terrible sorrow and full of painful memories.

The service was performed at noon at the Alexander Nevsky Russian Church where the coffin had been placed. Metropolitan Euloge performed the service. All members of the Dynasty were present: Xenia and Omega Alexandrovna, Alexander Mikhailovich with his four sons: Andrey, Nikita, Rostislav and Basil, and Gabriel and George Konstantinovich. Several members of the Danish Royal Family were also attending. During the service His Majesty was accompanied by Captain Gadd and me.

At 1 p.m. His Majesty and I were invited for lunch by the King and Queen at the castle Zorgenfri. The luncheon was attended by the King, the Queen, the Crown Prince and the gentlemen in waiting of the court. After luncheon His Majesty made courtesy visits to the Danish Prince Waldemar, to Prince George of Greece, and to the Princess of Cumberland. I accompanied him on these visits.

A second funeral service took place at 6 p.m. attended by those who were present in the morning and by the recent arrivals Grand Duke Dimitry Pavlovich and his sister Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna.

After the church service, His Majesty returned to the palace. He had just made himself comfortable in the living room, engaging me in conversation, when the King entered and presented him with the insignia of the Danish Dynastic Order of the White Elephant. His Majesty felt that this was a fine gesture on the part of the King toward the head of a non ruling dynasty. Pleased, he thanked the King for his kindness. The King then presented me with the Officers Cross of the Danish Order of Daneborg, one of the oldest decorations in Europe.

Since a formal dinner was scheduled for 8 p.m., His Majesty went to his bedroom to put on a dress coat. I followed his example. A few minutes before dinner I stopped at His Majesty's room so that we might proceed together to the dining room. There l met the Duke of York, Albert. They were involved in a discussion on decorations prompted by the granting of the Danish order to Kirill Vladimirovich. When His Majesty noticed that I was wearing around my neck the Order of Saint Anne of Second Degree with Swords, he said to the Duke, "Look, my adjutant is wearing the Russian order of Saint Anne." The Duke stepped closer to me to examine the decoration, turning it between his fingers and praising the workmanship and the grace of the design. No wonder, since my order was not a standard government issue but had been made specially by the world famous jeweller Faberge.

This small incident gave me the chance to see dose up the future King of England, George Vl. His comportment was less regal and majestic than that of Kirill Vladimirovich, but he was sympathetic and pleasant. No one could have imagined at the time that the Duke of York would soon have to carry the British Crown.

After more discussion of decorations, we proceeded upstairs to wait in the vestibule for the arrival of the King and Queen. The table was oval. Kirill Vladimirovich was seated to the left of the Queen and the Duke of York to her right. King Haakon of Norway was sitting to the right of the King and the Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwering to his left. Then by order of precedence came the King's uncle Prince Waldemar of Denmark, the Danish Crown Prince Frederick and his youngest brother Cnut. I was placed between these last two. Across from me was the gentleman in attendance of the court. Initially I felt ill at ease, but then the Crown Prince engaged me in a pleasant conversation and I became more relaxed.

Suddenly, I heard the King calling my name and raising his glass to drink to my health. I was quite unprepared for such attention and didn't know how to react. The Crown Prince understood my embarrassment and helped me out by whispering, "Stand up, bow and drink a little bit from your glass." I did as told, sat back down and heartily thanked my saviour. After dinner we smoked and drank in the adjacent living room. Then the King and the Queen took leave and invited Kirill Vladimirovich and the Duke of York to spend the evening with them at the Zorgenfri Castle where they lived. I returned to my room to find several Russians waiting for me.

Friday, October 19, 1928, arrived, the day of the funeral of the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna. At about 9 a.m. the Danish General-Staff Colonel Eric van Witt presented himself to His Majesty and placed himself at his service. At 10 a.m. His Majesty, with Colonel van Witt and me, drove to the church to be there at the beginning of the funeral service. Upon entering the church His Majesty placed a wreath on the coffin of the deceased Empress on behalf of the Russian Imperial Family. All the members on hand of the Russian Dynasty, the members of the Dutch Royal Dynasty, the Russians who in one way or another were attached to the Empress, and many Dutch were gathered in the church. The church was overcrowded.

The funeral service, conducted by Metropolitan Euloge, started at 12:30. At 1 p.m. the Marshall of the Royal Court, Baron Meiendorf approached Kirill Vladimirovich, as the chief of the Russian Dynasty, and reported that the royal car with the King and the Queen was approaching His Majesty immediately stepped out on the church porch to meet them.

The funeral service ended at 2 p.m. The coffin was placed on a gun carriage. Everybody accompanied the coffin on foot to the railroad station. The funeral procession was headed by Metropolitan Euloge with clergy and the choir. At the station the coffin was placed on a special funeral railroad car guarded by officer sentries. All those attending the funeral had seats on the same train. l was seated in the coach reserved for the escort. Suddenly a Danish naval officer approached me and asked me whether I was the author of the book "On the Novik". When I replied affirmatively, he invited me to join a group of naval officers seated at the other end of the coach. I met them all and they eagerly asked me questions about the war on the Baltic Sea.

After about an hour the train entered the station of the small city of Roskilde where the royal burial vaults were located. The coffin was removed from the railroad car by the battalion of the guards and placed on the hearse. Everybody alighted from the coaches and the funeral procession started to move towards the ancient Lutheran cathedral Domkirke. The brass band, at the front of the procession, played funeral marches. The service, according to the Lutheran rite, started in the cathedral and lasted about 45 minutes. Then the coffin was lowered into the royal vault. When the coffin was at rest, the King addressed Kirill Vladimirovich with the following words: You can be assured that we shall take the greatest care of the remains of your Empress in her native land until you will be able to take her to Russia." His Majesty expressed his heart-felt thanks to the King, and to all the Danes who had responded so warmly to the Russian grief.

After the funeral service, Kirill Vladimirovich, in the company of von Witt and me, was driven back to the palace in an official car of the court. At 8 p.m. a funeral banquet was held. The members of the Russian Imperial Family, the Russians formerly associated with the Empress, Metropolitan Euloge, the royalty who had attended the funeral and, of course, the members of the Danish Royal Family were all invited. The banquet was served to more than two hundred guests.

I was seated next to the Father Superior of the local Church of Saint Alexander Nevsky, Archpriest Kolichev. I was glad to be next to him because he was assigned to Copenhagen before the Revolution and was well informed about the last years of the Empress in exile. Metropolitan Euloge was sitting almost opposite me. One should note that Metropolitan Anthony wanted to perform the funeral service for the Dowager Empress, being the chairman of the Carlovatsky Council and the highest ranking priest in exile who personally had known the Empress. Metropolitan Euloge was aware of this so he had rushed to arrive first in Copenhagen Metropolitan Anthony was in Berlin when he was informed about the action of Metropolitan Euloge. He decided to wait there until the departure of the Metropolitan Euloge since he viewed it inadmissible for him to serve with a priest covered by an interdiction of the Council. He arrived in Copenhagen after Euloge's departure and performed the funeral service at the Cathedral of Roskilde on the site of the coffin of the deceased Empress.

The memorial banquet was a tradition at the Royal Courts. In this way the host King was able to express his gratitude to those who had come to attend the funeral and to commemorate the deceased during the meal. In this case, the King, on behalf of the Danish Royal Family and the Russian Imperial Family, thanked aH those who had come to share their grief.

The solemn funeral of the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna was the last and largest family event attended by almost all the members of the Russian Imperial Dynasty. It was not only a farewell to the deceased Empress but also a farewell to the splendour and grandeur of the Russian Imperial House and to its equivalents in reigning houses. The Russian imperial Family never again participated as a unit in family events of other reigning dynasties.

The next morning, on October 25, 1928, His Majesty received the visit of former Adjutant-General of Cavalry Besobrazov, who was then the Chairman of the Association of the Guards, and the visit of Colonel of the Cavalier- Guards, Regiment Baron Rosen.

At 11 a.m. Kirill Vladimirovich, accompanied by me, drove to Villa Hvidor to take leave of the Grand Duchesses Xenia and Olga Alexandrovna. He spoke at length alone with them. He was always pained by the fact that in a letter to Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich the Empress had written that the action of Kirill Vladimirovich, regarding the imperial title, gave her a "bitter aftertaste." His Majesty took this opportunity to clarify whether the Empress had, in fact, experienced bitterness when she was informed that he had assumed the title.

As has been suspected, it had not been the Empress herself who composed the letter, since at the time she was very weak and largely oblivious to what was happening around her. The letter had been written and presented to her for signature by someone in attendance with close ties to Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich. The Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna assured Kirill Vladimirovich that her mother had felt no bitterness whatsoever with regard to him. To the contrary, Xenia Alexandrovna related how the Empress was always remembering him with warm feelings and believed that he should affirm his rights to the throne.

This clarification made Kirill Vladimirovich very happy. He regretted that instead of coming personally to see the Empress he had merely written a letter. In a personal conversation with her he would have been in a better position to explain his motives for assuming the title and in obtaining her opinion directly. The feasibility of such a trip had been discussed in Coburg, but since any undue excitement would be detrimental to the Empress' health, and since all reminders of the loss of her son and grandson were quite distressing to her, the matter was dropped.

From Villa Hvidor we went to the Amalienborg Castle where the King had invited Kirill Vladisnirovich for lunch. It was an interesting lunch because the King expounded the political situation in his country and expressed his thoughts on the role of a monarch in a modern constitutional-democratic state. After lunch the King took Kirill Vladimirovich on a trip to visit historic castles and I was free to return to my quarters.

His Majesty returned around 5 p.m. and laid down to relax. At 6 p.m. Grand Duke Dimitry Pavlovich arrived. He advised that the notorious Supreme Monarchist Council, apprised of the imminent death of Nicholas Nikolaevich, was requesting Dimitry Pavlovich to assume the overall leadership of the monarchist movement. At the time the council consisted of A. Krupensky, Prince Gorchakov, Markov the 2nd, Talberg, Prince Shirinsky-Shikhmatov, Kepken and several others.

In response to this proposal Dimitry Pavlovich had answered: "Why are you making me this offer? You should know that my leadership would compel you to submit to His Majesty Kirill Vladimirovich." Displeased with this reply, the subject was dropped.

Dimity Pavlovich inferred that they not only were seeking his leadership but had hopes of later persuading him to dispute the rights of Kirill Vladimirovich to the succession of the throne. After the death of Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolacvich, on their own initiative, they expressed their "subservience" to His Majesty, only to later attempt to come up with their own pretender to the throne in the person of Prince Nikita Alexandrovich.

At 7:30 p.m. Crown Prince Frederick picked us up and drove us to the Castle Zorgenfri for the farewell dinner. Besides the Danish Royal Family, the dinner was attended by the King of Norway and by the Archduke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. His Majesty and the King of Norway were seated next to the Queen and the Archduke and the Crown Prince next to the King. I was seated next to the Archduke. There was also a gentleman in attendance, the officer on duty of the battalion of the guards and the adjutant of the King of Norway.

At the beginning of the meal the conversation touched upon Finland. His Majesty mentioned that he lived there through the years of revolution and then pointing towards me added: "My adjutant is a native of Finland and knows the country well." The King began asking my questions about Finland and recounted his recent trip and official visit to Helsingfors. He was a great admirer of Finland, which had managed so heroically to protect its independence from the Reds. He also liked the topography of the country and held its people in high esteem. He mentioned smilingly that, during the official reception in his honor, the wives of the Finnish officials were so shy that they wouldn't talk to him. When he asked questions, they didn't know what to answer. The King became so carried away that he spoke about Finland almost during the entire dinner, addressing himself mostly to me, since I was the only Finlander present.

After dinner the royalty drank coffee separately from their suite. The suite, with the gentleman in attendance acting as host, spent a pleasant time in the adjacent living room partaking of excellent coffee, liqueurs and cigars. There were five of us. The gentleman in attendance was quite attentive to me, probably because I was the only true foreigner and, perhaps, also because the King had addressed me for such a prolonged time.

At 11 p.m. His Majesty took leave. The entire Royal Family accompanied him to the stairs for the final farewell, since early the next morning we were leaving.

It was sad to leave Copenhagen. The King had received His Majesty with a marked cordiality and was himself such a pleasant man. He was a wise and experienced monarch, a true leader of his country. I was delighted that I had had the opportunity to become acquainted with him.

During the latter part of the visit the Russian colony of Copenhagen had come to sign His Majesty's register. It should be mentioned that His arrival had gone unnoticed by many. The belated attention given Him can only be attributed to the King’s recognition of him as the Head of the Dynasty….


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