The Exiled Last Tsar, Grand Duke Michael Lived in the UK at Knebworth House

Michael Romanov, Knebworth’s most Royal resident?

Russia’s last ever Emperor was a popular resident in Knebworth. But Michael was not always destined for the throne and in fact spent the year before World War One exiled at Knebworth House near Luton in the UK
Grand Duke Michael Romanov, the story goes, was Emperor for just a day after his brother Nicholas abdicated in March 1917 amid internal turmoil.
The church bells rang, and soldiers were informed of the new emperor, who had been fighting in the First World War where he conducted his campaign from the trenches with his men. His popularity contrasted with his brother Nicholas, being loved by the army and the Russian population.
He was charming, tall, handsome and looking good in uniform, he travelled all over Europe and became a leading social figure finally settling at Knebworth House where it has been discovered he paid rent of £3,000, which was very expensive; in today’s money you’re looking at around £1.5 million to £2 million per year.
Russians loved England at that time, but why would he prefer Knebworth over Russia, after all he was a leading member of the Russian nobility.
Michael was a very eligible bachelor and had gone through several relationships on the journey to find his true love. As is the norm, he was expected to marry into the European courts circuits and was introduced to many aspiring princesses, none of which enamoured Michael so he remained available for longer than expected.
Michael broke the norm for a royal and fell in love with a twice married divorcee, Natalia Wulfert who had a daughter called Tata. Michael and Natasha also produced a son George out of wedlock. Michael`s mother Alexandra described the match as “unspeakably awful in every way.”
He had given his brother Nicholas his word he would not marry her, but he never earned his sibling’s trust, who had them shadowed by secret police.
Their isolation reached breaking point, and they went off to Vienna in 1912 to marry in secrecy but only after being followed by the Secret Police `Okrana` and giving them the slip.
Nicholas was enraged and immediately exiled Michael from the courts and Russia whereupon he was forced to live abroad, excommunicated as it were from any heritage and finances from the Crown. This was the reason which brought the couple to live in England at Knebworth House in Hertfordshire.
Here their story fast tracks to our own Monarch (who was never crowned) in 1938, where in similar circumstances Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson, were vilified, rejected and exiled for the sake of Edward marrying a twice divorced commoner.
Four hundred years ago, in 1613, the reign of the Romanov dynasty began in Russia with 16-year-old Mikhail Romanov, and celebrations in Russia were taking place for the third centenary whilst his banished younger brother Grand Duke Michael was renting Knebworth House.
The year Michael and his new wife spent at Knebworth was described by his wife Natasha ,(Now of Brasova) as the happiest year of her life, and many photos in the Knebworth House Archive (many taken by Michael himself) show relaxed groups of family and friends (including members of the recently formed Ballets Russes) enjoying Knebworth House and Gardens.
At the outbreak of World War 1 Michael asked his brother tsar Nicholas II to be repatriated to Russia. Permission was granted putting aside all the past difficulties and Michael was given the rank of Major General of `the Savage Army` (principally Cossacks) where he earned distinction and was applauded by his fellow soldiers with whom he brought success on the battlefields.
In 1917 The Russian Revolution had gathered momentum, but a bid to retain the country as a constitutional monarchy, Nicholas abdicated his throne in March and handed the crown to Michael instead of his son Alexie, meant there was briefly space for one last emperor. Nicholas ruled for 23 years before giving up the throne for fear of exile, which could have separated him from his haemophiliac son.
He was proclaimed to the soldiers and the people; the church bells rang. He was the last emperor Russia had, albeit for a very short time. He was given the throne in difficult circumstances; it was touch and go if he would keep it.
Despite his brother’s grievances, Michael took over but was quickly warned taking the throne could lead to further violence, so he decided he would only take the crown if the people supported him. That mandate to the Russian people was never promoted as political matters were very fluid and prime minister Kerensky was soon overthrown by Lenin.
But things didn’t go to plan as according to the history books, Michael was shot dead by a group of Bolsheviks, but his body was never found – and rumours persisted that he was alive well into the 1920s.
In the Siberian city of Perm, recently this century after several intensive searching excavations, no trace of his body, nor that of his loyal friend and Secretary Nicholas Johnson, who chose to follow his master to the place of their assassination…. have ever been found.
At the murder scene, the first to be shot was his secretary Nicholas Johnson, Michael rushed over to him trying to save him, but then he was shot twice by Andrei Marcov, a member of the Bolshevik gang.
Today the house itself is still owned by the Lytton family, and is open to the public attracting tourists to its gardens, classic car rallies and even concerts.
The Grand Duke is not the only famous resident with royal connections, with Victorian author and politician Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who was once offered the throne of Greece, staying there in the previous century.
A commissioning is sought to adapt the new novel about Michael called “The Two Lives of Grand Duke Michael” written by Michael Roman into a TV series.


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