Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovich of Russia (Russian: Кирилл Владимирович; Kirill Vladimirovich Romanov; 12 October [O.S. 30 September] 1876 – 12 October 1938) was a member of the Russian Imperial Family. After the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the deaths of Tsar Nicholas II and his brother Michael, Cyril assumed the Headship of the Imperial Family of Russia and later the title Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias.
Grand Duke Cyril was a member of the Order of the Crown of Thorns. He was responsible for the bestowal of several honours upon Prince-Abbot Edmond I, including the Commander’s Cross with Plaque of the Imperial Russian Order of St Stanislas “for foreigners” (22 February 1922), Grand Cross of the same Order (1936), member of honour of the Association Patriotique Russe “Nicholas II”, category Section Armes Imperiale (1936), Commander with plaque, Order of St Vladimir of Kiev, with the first class ribbon of Romanov (1935) (the order was under High Protection of King Alexander of Serbia with the supreme approval of Grand Duke Cyril), Hereditary Knight with Cross of the Order of the Compassionate Heart (1936) (Russian Veterans’ Society) with, by order of Grand Duke Cyril, the Medal “pour zele et assistance” in gold, on the ribbon of the Order of St Andrew, 1st class.
Grand Duke Cyril was born in Tsarskoye Selo. His father was Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich, the third son of Tsar Alexander II and Maria Alexandrovna of Hesse. His wife was Duchess Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (later known as Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna), the daughter of Friedrich Franz II of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Princess Augusta Reuss-Köstritz. As a grandson in the male line to a Russian Tsar, he was titled Grand Duke, with the style Imperial Highness.
After graduating from the Sea Cadet Corps and Nikolaev Naval Academy, on January 1, 1904, Cyril 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, the ship was blown up by a Japanese mine at Port Arthur in April 1904. Cyril 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 Cyril married his first cousin, Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha on 8 October 1905. 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 Cyril’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. Shortly after returning to Russia, the Tsar stripped Cyril of his imperial allowance and style Imperial Highness, his honours and decorations, his position in the navy and then banished him from Russia.
However in 1908, after the death of Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich had put Cyril third in the line of succession to the Imperial Throne, Nicholas II restored Cyril to his rank of Captain in the Imperial Russian Navy and his position as aide de camp to the emperor. His wife came into favour, and was given the title Grand Duchess of Russia and from then on was styled as Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Viktoria Feodorovna. From 1909-1912, he served on the cruiser Oleg and was its captain in 1912. In 1913, he joined the Maritime Division of the Imperial Guards and was made Commander of the Naval Guards in 1915.
Grand Duke Cyril and Princess Victoria Melita had three children:
- Grand Duchess Maria Kirillovna of Russia (2 February 1907 – 27 October 1951) who married Friedrich Karl, Prince of Leiningen
- Grand Duchess Kira Kirillovna of Russia (9 May 1909 – 8 September 1967) who married Louis Ferdinand, Prince of Prussia
- Vladimir Kirillovich, Grand Duke of Russia (30 August 1917 – 21 April 1992) who became the claimant to the title ‘Emperor of Russia’ upon the death of his father
During the February Revolution of 1917, Cyril came with his regiment to swear allegiance to the Russian Provisional Government, wearing a red band on his uniform. This caused grave offence to some in the Imperial Family and led to some members shunning him as legitimate heir to the Throne.
After the October Revolution, Cyril and Victoria fled to Finland, then Coburg, Germany. Eventually the exiled family moved to France where they stayed for the rest of their lives.
Life in exile
On 8 August 1922 Cyril declared himself “Curator of the Russian Throne,” a title which he had devised himself. Two years later, on 31 August 1924, he went a step further and assumed the title Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias. Though by the laws of the Russian Empire, he was the prime claimant after the execution of Tsar’s family by the Bolsheviks, his claim to the throne was met with opposition because at his birth his mother was a Lutheran and not yet a member of the Russian Orthodox Church. After claiming the throne, he 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.
While living in exile, Cyril was supported by some emigres who styled themselves “legitimists” (legitimisti, in Russian легитимисты), underlining the “legitimacy” of Cyril’s succession. The opponents of Cyril were known as the “un-predetermined” (nepredreshentsi, in Russian непредрешенцы); they believed that in the wake of the radical revolutionary events, the convening of a Zemsky Sobor was necessary in order to choose a new monarch for Russia. (In 1922, Nicholas II’s cousin Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich was proclaimed “Emperor of all Russia” by a “Zemsky Sobor of the Amur Region”, convened by General Mikhail Diterikhs. However, Grand Duke Nicholas had no children.)
Cyril’s son Vladimir Kirillovich succeeded him as head of the Romanov dynasty, although this was contested by some members of the Romanov family. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, the remains of Cyril and his spouse were transferred from Coburg to the Grand Ducal Mausoleum of the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg, Russia.