07 August 2022

2022-08-08 100th Anniversary of the Proclamation by Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich of the Curatorship of the Imperial Throne of Russia (26 July/8 August 1922)

Transferring the Flag


Alexander N. Zakatov, PhD.




On the 100th Anniversary of the Proclamation by Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich of the Curatorship of the Imperial Throne of Russia (26 July/8 August 1922)



According to the Naval Regulations of the Russian Empire: In the event of the death in battle of the commanding admiral of a fleet or squadron, or when his wounds received in battle are such that he is no longer capable of exercising his command, his place is to be taken over for the entire duration of the battle by his executive officer, remaining under the flag of the killed or incapacitated commander. If the executive officer is also killed, then command over the fleet or squadron falls to the next most senior of the remaining officers, who either transfers his flag to the ship of the former fleet commander, or, if this is not possible, raises the flag of command over his own ship” (1).


This same principle applies to dynastic law. Monarchs may die or be killed, thrones may be overthrown, empires may topple—but the ideal of royal service and the principle of monarchy nonetheless lives on. And the legal heirs of the monarchy remain its custodians, heirs who, in the words of the last will and testament of Grand Prince Simeon Ioannovich (ruled 1340–1453), are obliged to ensure that the memory of our parents and of us may not die, and so that the candle may not go out.

The integrity and regularity of the Imperial succession, and its complete freedom in this earthly world from the interference of any persons or parties, were achieved in Russia thanks to the Law of Succession to the Throne promulgated by Emperor Paul I in 1797, which he issued so that the State should never be without an Heir; that the heir should be determined by the law itself; that there should never be the least doubt as to who is to succeed; that the rights to the succession of the branches [of the Imperial Family] should be maintained without violation of birth rights, and that difficulties which might occur in the transition of the succession from one branch to another may be avoided” (2).


Despite the fact that the Imperial lawmaker did not, of course, foresee a situation in which the monarchy would be overthrown and the dynasty exiled, the clarity, harmony and precision of the Law of Succession succeeded in creating a legal mechanism that allowed for the preservation of both the Russian monarchical tradition and the Imperial House of Romanoff in the conditions brought on by this terrible catastrophe of the twentieth century.

However, law, which represents a set of norms that define reciprocal relations in human society, is not workable without a conscious and responsible manifestation of the will of people. Understanding the necessity of the Law, respecting it, and observing it at all times are recognized as both a duty and a virtue that prevent social chaos. Therefore, not only is the very existence of Law itself vitally important, but also who enacts it and how, and also that the law is respected and followed.


The Revolution of 1917 turned out to be the most catastrophic event in the entire history of the Russian state. In previous times of upheaval, turmoil, and foreign invasion, no matter how bloody and devastating they may have been, the underlying system of basic human and cultural values was nonetheless always preserved. Having gone through these trials, Russia was always reborn like a Phoenix rising from the ashes: renewed, but, at the same time, still indissolubly linked with its core traditions. This time, however, the victors aimed precisely at the destruction of these traditions, of the entire former civilization, which they declared to be a “world of oppression” appropriately subject to “utter and complete destruction.”


This goal of destruction, fortunately, was never fully realized. Faith in God was preserved thanks to the spiritual struggles and sacrifices of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, and to the courage and steadfastness of followers of other traditional religious confessions in Russia. And, what is more, the spiritual, legal and cultural foundations of the 1000-year-old historical Russian state were preserved by the legitimate Heads of the Romanoff dynasty and by those who remained loyal to them.


At the very inception of this mission to preserve the nation’s spiritual, legal and cultural foundations stood the Imperial admiral—Emperor-in-Exile Kirill Vladimirovich—the “most senior of the remaining officers who “raised the flag of the commander over his own ship,” though circumstances preventing him from “transferring his flag to the ship of the former fleet commander.”


In the days of the February Revolution of 1917, Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich, as commander of the Marine Guards, along with his uncle Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich, attempted with all their strength and in every way possible to preserve Nicky [that is, Emperor Nicholas IIANZ] on the throne(3). But neither their concerted efforts in those days, nor other attempts to extinguish the uprising proved successful, alas. On March 2/15, 1917, the Holy Passion-Bearer Emperor Nicholas II, who was blocked at every turn by conspirators surrounding him, signed a manifesto abdicating the Throne for himself and for his heir in favor of the next in the line of succession—Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich (4). On the next day, Michael Alexandrovich, who would have been known as Michael II, himself signed a manifesto delaying his acceptance of the Throne until such time as the Constituent Assembly should decide the form of Russias future government (5).


Grand Duke Michael’s manifesto in fact violated the Fundamental Laws of the Empire. But for contemporaries, it was not and could not be possible to know fully in what ominous direction events were about to go in. Many, including most members of the Imperial House, believed that Mikhail Alexandrovich’s action, taken under extreme duress, would bring peace to Russia, and would enable the people to choose a future path of development for their country when conditions were calm and stable, free of civil war. Therefore, all the Grand Dukes supported the decision by Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, assuming collectively a position expressed best, perhaps, by Grand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovich: Regarding our rights, in particular my own, of succession to the Throne, I, fervently loving my Motherland, fully subscribe to the position that has been expressed in the act of refusal of Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich” (6).


Time has shown that all these sacrifices and compromises could not prevent the fratricidal conflict that was about to be unleashed. The Provisional Government treacherously and illegally, and certainly without any formal charges, detained Emperor Nicholas II and members of his family, and then, in a demonstration of their complete legal nihilism, proclaimed Russia a republic before the convocation of the Constituent Assembly. When in October 1917 the Bolsheviks came to power as the result of a second coup, the country was swept up in an orgy of terror and violence. Millions of Russians became victims of the coup, including all the members of the Russian Imperial House who had remained in the country.


Even for many of those who welcomed the “great bloodless” February Revolution, there were clear and terrible consequences for their betrayal not only of their oaths to their sovereign, but also of the most the sacred vow of loyalty “for generations of generations” made by the Great Local Church Council and Assembly of the Land in 1613 declaring loyalty to the House of Romanoff (7).


But no one can change the past. One can only reap the fruits of what has been sown with one’s own hands. That does not, however, mean that one cannot seek repentance or make an effort to preserve what can be saved of the past, or correct the mistakes that have been made.


In November 1921 in the Serbian town of Sremski Karlovci, the First All-Diaspora Russian Church Council gathered and adopted the Resolution To the Children of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Diaspora or in Exile,” which called for the restoration in Russia of the Orthodox legitimist monarchy (8): And now may our prayer flame up unsleepingly and may the Lord show us the path of salvation and of the restoration of our native land. May He defend the faith and the Church and all Russia. May He protect the peoples hearts from evil and may He restore to the Russian Throne the Lords Anointed, strong in the love of His people the legitimate Orthodox Tsar of the House of Romanoff(9). Previously, in the summer of the same year, a Congress For the Economic Restoration of Russiaof émigrés convened in Bad Reichenhall in Bavaria, Germany, a gathering of former Imperial government officials and leaders in the diaspora and which included a number of Orthodox clergy. Its public Statement declared that “the only way to revive a great, powerful and free Russia is to restore the monarchy, headed by a legitimate monarch from the Romanoff dynasty, in accordance with the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire” (10).


Even such a particular and singular gathering as the so-called “Trans-Amur Assembly of the Land,” which met in July 1922 in Vladivostok, for all its exoticism and convoluted ideology, and the unconventional attitude toward law and justice of many of its delegates, nonetheless confirmed that “the right to exercise the Supreme Power in Russia belongs to the dynasty of the House of Romanoff” (11).


Thus, as traditionalist groups began to consider the impact and implications of the Revolution that had just taken place (before political intrigues, personal ambitions, provocations and other negative tendencies sowed new seeds of discord in the monarchist movement), none of the more or less serious social and political organizations and knowledgeable figures on the political right questioned in the slightest that the monarchy in Russia could only be restored with the House of Romanoff at its head, and not just with “any one of the Romanoffs” (12) but only with “the legitimate monarch from the house of Romanoff, in accordance with the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire.”


And as St. John of Shanghai (13) correctly points out in his book “The Origin of the Law on Succession to the Throne in Russia,” the legitimate monarch is none other than “the most senior member of the Imperial Family by order of birth” (14).


After the execution in 1918 by the Bolsheviks of the Holy Passion-Bearers Emperor Nicholas II and his son Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich, and also the emperor’s brother, Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich—that is, the entire male issue of Alexander III—the senior member of the senior surviving line of the dynasty (descending from Alexander II) was Nicholas II’s first cousin, Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich.


Still very much hoping that at least one of his relatives more senior to him in the order of succession had survived, and, at the same time, cognizant of his responsibility for the fate of the dynasty and its ideals, foundations and principles, Kirill Vladimirovich issued two Addresses on July 26 / August 8, 1922, in the French town of Saint-Briac, which charted the future role of the Russian Imperial House in exile.


In the first Address, “To the Russian (15) People” (16), the Grand Duke announced that, until such time as the fates of Emperor Nicholas II, Tsarevich Alexei, and Grand Duke Michael were fully and accurately determined, he, “as the most senior member of the Imperial House in the order of succession to the throne,” considers it his duty “to take upon Himself the leadership of the Russian liberation efforts as the Custodian of the Imperial Throne.”


Kirill Vladimirovich disregarded the Manifesto of Abdication by Nicholas II and instead took the position that, should the emperor still be alive, he should without question return to the Throne (17).


Given the “Assembly illusions” of a significant segment of monarchists—that is, a hope that it would be possible to convene in Russia a representative assembly of all territories and social classes, modeled on the Assemblies of the Land in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which would not serve as a kind of false cover for one or another political party but be a genuine “voice of the entire country,” guided by law and tradition—the Curator of the Throne at that time entertained the possibility of convening an Assembly of the Land, which “will proclaim the legitimate Sovereign.”


Of course, even if this debatable idea from the point of view of strict legitimism were to be acted upon, Kirill Vladimirovich’s Address was precisely about the proclamation of the lawful sovereign. That is, the Grand Duke believed an Assembly of the Land could be convened to put its stamp of approval on the strict operation of the dynastic law of succession, and in no way contemplated a “change of dynasty” or the “election of a new Tsar”, as some misinformed or malicious people have tried to claim (18).


In the second Address, “To the Russian army” (19), the Curator of the Throne outlined the core of the Imperial House’s vision of the idea of national reconciliation. Directing his words to the soldiers of both the Red and White armies, he exhorted: “There are not two Russian armies! There is only one unified Russian Army on both sides of the Russian border, selflessly devoted to Russia, to its centuries-old foundations, to its age-old goals. It will save our long-suffering Motherland.”


Two years passed, and having by then become convinced of the deaths of all the descendants of Alexander III in the male line, Kirill Vladimirovich issued a new manifesto in which he adopted the title of Emperor in exile. This manifesto completed the process of constituting the Russian Imperial House in the post-revolutionary realities of the day. Can one properly call this the “restoration of the monarchy?” Of course not. The restoration of the monarchy requires not only the readiness of legitimate heirs to the throne to fulfill their duty and their faith in the relevance of their ideals, but also certain political conditions and, most importantly, a clear expression of the popular will, manifested in accordance with historical laws and modern legal institutions. On the other hand, those who seek to dismiss the significance of the activities of the Russian Imperial House after the Revolution or try to discredit the Heads of the Imperial House since 1918 are also quite wrong. The achievements of the Heads of the House of Romanoff in exile amount to no more, and certainly no less, than this: the preservation of the dynasty’s continuity to our own day and beyond. And Emperor Kirill Vladimirovich can rightfully be considered an adherent of the Orthodox doctrine of royal power and of the idea of legitimate hereditary Russian monarchy, as he transferred and courageously unfurled its flag, which had been overthrown and trampled down by the Revolution.




(1) Morskoi ustav 1885 g. (St. Petersburg: Tiopgrafiia Morskogo ministerstva, v Glavnom admiralteistve, 1885), 82.


(2) Polnoe sobranie zakonov Rossiiskoi imperii, series 1, 6:588, no. 17.910 (5 April 1797). At the same time the Law of Succession was issued, Emperor Paul I issued the Statute on the Imperial Family, which was later included in Section 2 of the Fundamental Laws. A revised edition of the Statute was confirmed by Emperor Alexander III on 2 July 1886. In the published 1906 edition of the Digest of Laws (Svod zakonov), the Statute on the Imperial Family is found in Articles 126-223.


(3) Correspondence between Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich and Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich (Gosudarstvennyi arkhiv Rossiiskoi Federatsii / State Archive of the Russian Federation [hereafter GARF], f. 601, op. 1, d. 2098).


(4) GARF, f. 601, op. 1, d. 2101-b, l. 1; Vestnik Vremennogo Pravitelstva, 1917, 5 March, 1 [46].


(5) Birzhevye Vedomosti, № 16120, 5 March 1917.


(6) Birzhevye Vedomosti, № 16134, 14 March 1917; GARF, f. 601, op. 1, d. 1263, l. 3.


(7) See: Alexander N. Zakatov, Utverzhdennaia (Utverzhennaia) gramota Velikogo sobora 1613 goda kak istochnik prava,” in Sistematizatsiia zakonodatelstva v fokuse istoriko-pravovoi nauki (k 740-letiiu priniatiia Sudebnika 1550 g.). Sbornik nauchnykh trudov, ed. D. A. Pashentsev (Moscow: Institut zakonodatelstva i sravnitelnogo pravovedeniia pri Pravitelstve Rossiiskoi Federatsii – INFRA-M, 2021), 110-19.


(8) The Resolution was adopted at the Council by a majority of fifty-one votes, led by the Chairman of the Council, Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky). Thirty-three members of the Council, led by Archbishop Evlogii (Georgievsky), who were obviously ignorant of or discounted as irrelevant the contents of the Confirmation Charter of the Great Local Church Council and Assembly of the Land of 1613, and, furthermore, of the circumstances surrounding its adoption, abstained from voting, but they did not openly reject the fundamental principles of Orthodox teaching on the Divine Right and sacral nature of monarchy. They did, however, issue a dissenting opinion: “We the undersigned,” it reads, “declare that the question of the restoration of the monarchy, and in that regard also the restoration of the Dynasty, as approved in the Resolution by a majority of the Department for the Spiritual Revival of Russia, is a question of a completely political nature and, as such, is not properly a subject for discussion by the Church Council; therefore, we do not consider it possible to take part in the discussion of and vote on this issue.” Acts of the Russian All-Diaspora Council, held on November 8-20, 1921 (November 21-December 3) in Sremski Karlovci in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (Sremski Karlovci: Serbian Monastic Press, 1922), 50. Despite their “dissenting opinion,” these members of the Council merely abstained from voting, and did not vote against the adoption of the text of the Resolution, since they objected (solely out of their lack of knowledge) only to the proposed Orthodox-Legitimist language in the Resolution, not to the issue of monarchy as such.


(9) Acts of the Russian All-Diaspora Council, held on November 8-20, 1921 (November 21-December 3) in Sremski Karlovci in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (Sremski Karlovci: Serbian Monastic Press, 1922), 50-52. [See also the full English translation at: https://www.rocorstudies.org/2016/03/10/appeal-of-pan-diaspora-for-restoration-of-monarchy/?fbclid=IwAR2xM428VTyG-cpVRLJZPjgBThRf8KVZCBhj97Yb58X9u9d_HNAKv8EwKzI.]


(10) GARF, f. 5853, op. 1, d. 5, l. 331.


(11) Recently, among some monarchists, the “Trans-Amur Assembly of the Land” has acquired a kind of mythological, “sacred” status. They declare its Resolutions amounted to a “restoration of the monarchy in Russia” (?!). Of course, the small scale of this gathering, its rather staged and contrived rituals, and its insignificant outcomes give absolutely no grounds for such an exaggerated assessment of its importance, which can hardly be compared to that even of the émigré Congress in Bad Reichenhall.


(12) As, for example, some who participated in theTrans-Amur Assembly of the Landfantasized.


(13) St. John of Shanghai and San Franciscos first university degree was in the law.


(14) Archbishop John (Maximovich), Proiskhozhdenie zakona o prestolonasledii v Rossii (Podolsk, 1994), 78-80. The author firmly and clearly formulated the ONLY legal basis upon which someone may assume the position of Head of the Imperial House, emphasizing that all attempts to impose any other preconditions or stipulations on the senior Orthodox member of the dynasty have no legal foundations.


(15) By the term Russian people,Kirill Vladimirovich of course meant not only Great Russians or even even only Slavic peoples of the Russian Empire. But, as was typical in the Russian lexicon before the Revolution, he meant all the peoples of the entire [Rossiiskii] nation.


(16) G. K. Graf, Avgusteishii bliustitelgosudareva prestola gosudarvelikii kniazKirill Vladimirovich (Munich, 1922), 25-27.


(17) See: Alexander N. Закатов, “Otrechenie ot prestola i obespechenie dinasticheskie preemstvennosti v rossiiskkom prave,” in Sistematizatsiia zakonodatel’stva i dinamika istochnikov prava v istoricheskoi retrospektive (k 370-letiiu Sobornogo ulozheniia): sbornik nauchykh trudov, ed. D. A. Pashentsev, M. V. Zaloilo (Moscow: Institut zakonodatel’stva i sravnitel’nogo pravovedeniia pri Pravitel’stve Rossiiskoi Federatsii – INFRA-M, 2020), 100-16.

(18) See Zakatov, “Stanovlenie dinastii Romanovykh v izgnanii,” pt. 1, Istoricheskii vestnik 3 (150) (April 2013): 208-53; pt. 2, Istoricheskii vestnik 6 (153) (December 2013): 146-237.

(19) G. K. Graf, Avgusteishii bliustitel’ gosudareva prestola gosudar’ velikii kniaz’ Kirill Vladimirovich (Munich, 1922), 27-28.

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