His Majesty Alfonso XIII, King of Spain

On March 15 of this year, the One Hundred Anniversary of the abdication of Nicolas II of Russia was celebrated. Perhaps in those moments in which the Tsar ceded the power to a Provisional Government led by Georgy Lvov and Alexander Kerensky, the Imperial Family failed to see the magnitude of what was going to happen.

Immediately after the abdication, negotiations began for the evacuation of the Romanov family, especially from the two countries that were strong enough to negotiate with the new Russian government: the United Kingdom and Germany. The monarchs of these countries were related by blood to the Romanovs: on the one hand, George V of the United Kingdom was first cousin of the tsar (their mothers were sisters) and also cousin of the tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna (both were grandchildren of Queen Victoria I ); William II of Germany was the cousin to the Tsarina, and his brother, Prince Henry Albert, was married to Princess Irene of Hesse-Darmstadt, sister of the Tsarina.

The government of London, through the Foreign Office, quickly sent a statement to Russia: “Any violence inflicted on the Emperor or his family would have an extremely deplorable and indignant effect on the public opinion of this country.” Conversations began between London and Moscow on the fate of the Imperial Family after the abdication of Nicholas. It seems that at first glance the Provisional Government of Russia wanted to exile the Romanovs in order to prevent a counterrevolutionary movement from forming and that the former Tsar be used as the head of the turk. On March 22, 1917, a meeting of the Council of Ministers took place as well as another meeting of Prime Minister Lloyd George, the Secretary of the King, Lord Stamfordham, and the Deputy Secretary of the Foreign Office, Lord Hardinge. From the meetings, and after each discussion, an official communiqué was sent to Russia: “In response to the request made by the Russian Government, the King and His Majesty’s Government are quick to offer the Emperor and Empress asylum in England which is expected that they take during the war.”

But the Government of George V gave exact orders to George Buchanan, British Ambassador to Russia “in order to avoid any doubt that may arise in the future about the reason for granting asylum … should emphasize that this offer entirely responds to the initiative of the Russian Government.”

What they wanted was that at all times it seemed like  the political asylum they offered to Nicholas II and his family was by a request made by the government of Russia. In those times of war, the United Kingdom was interested in rescuing the family, not only because of the request by George V, but because a possible counterrevolution against the Russian government  could favor Germany, the enemy of England  in World War I. The Tsar was on Russian soil, and that counterrevolutionary movement would be more alive.

While these negotiations were taking place, the Imperial Family remained locked in Tsarkoie Tselo. The Provisional Government, already led by Kerensky, wanted to exile the Romanovs for fear of an attack by the Petrograd Soviet, as extremists refused to exile the Imperial Family. But in those moments several things happened that paralyzed the negotiations: the grand duchesses became ill with measles and saw an immediate transfer impossible; but the worst thing was the sudden and strange refusal of the King of England to welcome his cousins. George V’s motives for this sudden change are not really explained, it was very upsetting, mostly because he was the first to pressure his government to negotiate with Russia. It has been suggested that perhaps the opposition of the Labor Party or the fear to public opinion polls, which felt repugnant towards everything  German  for being enemies of war (remember that the British Royal Family itself had to replace their surname “Saxe-Coburg-Gotha ” to  “Windsor”  by that German phobia that prevailed in the United Kingdom). The fear to compromise by  George V, who pressed all what he could within his constitutional powers to his Government, caused that the exile in other countries was considered, shuffling two possibilities: France and Spain.

The British Government asked its Ambassador in Paris, Lord Bertie, whether the French people would welcome the Romanovs, and the ambassador’s response could not be more negative: “I do not think the ex-Emperor and his family were welcome in France. The Empress is not only a boche by birth, but also by feelings. She did everything she could to come to an understanding with Germany. Here she is considered a criminal or a mad criminal, and the Emperor, a criminal for his weakness and his submission to her mandates. ”


King Alphonse  XIII and his wife Eugenia of Battenberg

Perhaps few people know that King Alfonso XIII tried with all his strength to rescue the Russian sovereigns. Spain remained neutral during World War I and King Alfonso vindicated the humanitarian efforts, creating a special office in which 50 employees worked, specializing in finding missing victims of war and offering them help (it is estimated that he helped some 136,000 prisoners of war and repatriated more than 70,000 civilians). This caused the King of Spain to receive the Great Cross of the Order of Charity and he said the famous phrase: “I am not the one who should receive this decoration, but Spain.”

Then, it is not surprising that Alfonso de Borbón was interested in the fate of the Romanov family. It should be remembered that he was married to Victoria Eugenia of Battenberg, first cousin of the Tsarina, and also that both sovereigns were carriers of the hemophilia gene that they transmitted to their children:  the Tsarina to Tsarevich  Aleksei and Victoria Eugenia to  the Infantes Alfonso and Gonzalo (only Don Juan, grandfather of the current King of Spain, was born healthy). This special circumstance between the two Royal Houses was so important that when Neklioudov, the new Ambassador of the Provisional Government of Russia in Spain presented his credentials to His Majesty, the King expressed his personal wishes about the fate of the Romanovs.

But Spanish history seems to have forgotten the great effort that the King of Spain made at that time on behalf of Nicholas II and his family. Not only did he make his request to the Russian ambassador, but he requested Arthur Hardinge, the United Kingdom’s Ambassador to Spain, to speak with Buckingham Palace and with the Government of London to protect the Romanovs. This petition of the Spanish King was made just by the time when the Government of the United Kingdom suggested that it was better for the Romanovs to go to another country.

On April 13, 1917, Lloyd George, in a meeting with his Cabinet, reported that Spain would be a much better country for the asylum of the Imperial Family, since Spanish neutrality was advantageous for both the Russians and other countries. Immediately, King Alfonso XIII requested his ministers to reach to an agreement with their British counterparts so that, together with the Provisional Government, the initial preparations for the evacuation of the Romanovs could begin by way of Finland,  then to Sweden and finally to England.

He wrote directly to the Kings of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, proposing that a Spanish warship be sent to the North Sea to rescue the family. King Haakon VII of Norway was first cousin of Tsar Nicholas, as well as the King Cristian X of Denmark. Gustav V of Sweden and his wife, Queen Victoria, were also very interested in the departure of the Romanovs from Russia.

So far this is what the official story speaks of this entire rescue plan. After this, in October of 1917 the Provisional Government of Kerensky fell and shortly after Lenin rose to the power. In July 1918, the Romanovs, who were prisoners at Ekaterinburg, disappeared from the face of the earth, according to the “official version” shot in the basement of the Ipatiev House.

That is why it is strange that, even though the entire Imperial Family was supposedly killed, the King of Spain would continue with his efforts to rescue them. Alfonso XIII continued to make an unprecedented diplomatic effort, maintaining contact with several members of the European royalty to devise a plan that would allow the Romanovs to escape and take refuge in Madrid. Witness to this are the letters which he continued to send to Princess Victoria of Milford Haven, sister of Tsarina Alexandra, grandmother of the current Duke Philip of Edinburgh, husband of Queen Elizabeth II of England.

Also a few days after the date of the supposed murder of the Imperial Family, the Government of Spain informed the Quai d’Orsay (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France) that the Spanish mediators were already in contact with the Bolsheviks.

Historian Carlos Seco Serrano, professor of Contemporary History and “Dean of the Royal Academy of History”, spent some time investigating the personal archive of Eduardo Dato, Minister of Foreign Affairs during the time of King Alfonso XIII. In a letter written by Alfonso Merry de Val, Spanish Ambassador  in London from 1913 to 1931, and sent to Eduardo Dato, there are facts that suggest that even in August at least the Empress and her children were still alive and that Spain  wanted to rescue them at all costs. It is worth saying that Alfonso Merry de Val, who had direct contact with King George V, was also brother of Cardinal Rafael Merry de Val, who was Secretary of State of the Holy See under the mandate of Pope Pius X. He was therefore a man with multiple contacts in the highest diplomatic spheres and their words had to be taken into account. The letter reads as follows:

“August 4, 1918.

My dear friend and chief, the interruption of our conversation yesterday prevented me from submitting to you an idea of ​​some importance and urgency in connection with your diligences in favor of the widow and daughters of the unfortunate former Emperor of Russia.

The mother of the former sovereign has been left in the hands of the Soviets, and what is worse, of the Bolshevik soldiery. About three or four weeks ago, I telegraphed to you that since the month of February we did not have any news about the old princess. At that time it was known that she was exposed to daily insults on the part of the unruly soldiers who guarded her and who daily burst into her rooms, where she was the object of the rudest treatment, while she was reduced to the greatest misery despite her years and  unblemished past.

Would there be a way of including this noble lady in the planned negotiation? It is, as you know, Queen Alexandra’s sister, the mother of King George V, and an administration in her favor would make more acceptable to the British royal family and the English people who are preparing for the release of Empress Alicia.

The latter, I know by direct testimony, is very badly seen not only in the palace but also by the public opinion. She is considered as a conscious or unconscious agent of Germany, and the principal, though certainly involuntary, cause of the revolution, by the bad advice that she gave to her husband, whom she completely dominated, by avoiding the concessions that were supposed to have saved the Imperial throne and Russia itself.

So profound and alive is the hatred towards the unfortunate Empress in England, that an exclusive action in her favor could easily be interpreted as inspired from Berlin with the desire to protect the well-served German interests.

Of course, the voice of humanity and the consideration for the unfortunate and threatened women are not silenced and there is no opposition to the beautiful Spanish initiative, but of course it must be more pleasant and less suspicious if it is given in the way that I allow myself to suggest.

I must add that the resentment founded or unjustified, but extremely strong against Empress Alice, goes so far as to exclude any possibility of her residing in the United Kingdom.”

[…]                          Signed: Alfonso Merry de Val, Ambassador of Spain in London.

But things do not stop here. On August 8, about twenty days after the alleged murder of the Russian Imperial Family, newspaper ABC of Spain, published the following news: “THE RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT AGREES THAT THE EX-ZAR’S FAMILY COME TO SPAIN: Paris, 7, 6 afternoon. Telegraph from Amsterdam that the Hamburger Frendemblatt says that the Bolsheviks have consented to the departure to Spain of the ex-Tsarina and her daughters. The negotiations regarding the requested guarantees are ongoing.

King Alfonso XIII remained in contact with Kings and Presidents of several countries for the transfer. On  August 13th he sent a cable to the Emperor William II of Germany, where he asked him to join forces to rescue them. Germany, which had a very large number of spies in Russia, confirmed that at least the tsarina and her children were still alive in the Autumn of 1918. On August 16th the following communiqué from Berlin arrived in Spain: “in conversation today with the Acting Secretary of State, tells me that the Imperial Government has no objection to the fact that the former Empress, the Imperial Prince of Russia and sisters, avail of hospitality offered by His Majesty the King”.


Empress Alexandra with her five children: Olga, Tatiana, María, Anastasia and Aleksei

As seen in the previous message, Berlin was certain that Tsarina Alexandra as well as the Tsarevich Aleksei and his sisters were still alive in August.

The good thing that Spain offered for moving them there was that it was very  far from Russia and remained neutral through the war, offering guarantees that the Romanovs would not be involved in any political activity by Russian exiles or White Russians.

But, if all this was not enough, we also see how The Vatican also entered the game. On August 11, 1918, the Osservatore Romano reported: “The Pontiff has offered to pay for all expenses incurred by the transfer from Russia to Spain of the family of Nicholas II, having asked the Cabinets concerned to dispatch the matter as soon as possible,  for humanitarian reasons.”  Giovanni Pacelli (future Pope Pius XII), who was then Apostolic Nuncio in Bavaria, received orders from Pope Benedict XV to inform the Government of Germany that the Holy Father supported all negotiations for the release of the Tsar’s family.

Giovanny Pacelli was Nuncio in Bavaria when the negotiations to evacuate the Tsarina and children took place.  In this picture taken in 1922 he was in Germany.


In an official bulletin, on August 19, 1918, it was published in Berlin: “In the last deliberations held in the Kremlin, the petition from  the Pope was presented by the metropolitan Freiherr Dr. Repp, requesting the liberation of the Tsarina with her four daughters. According to reports from Stockholm, it seems that the national Commissars were in agreement to  accede to the wishes of the Pope, with certain conditions. The resistance to the freedom of the Tsarina has been almost defeated “.

So vehement and extensive was the intervention of King Alfonso XIII in the matter of the rescue of the Romanovs, that he even came to unite the two branches of the Bourbons, who were confronted by the throne of Spain: the Legitimist and the Carlist, because Alfonso XIII was in contact and asked for help from his cousin, Carlist Jaime de Bourbón, who had been a member of the tzarist army and at that time lived in Vienna. From the Telegraph Office of the Royal Palace, the following communiqué was sent: “I thank you for the support to diligences for Imperial family. Greetings from your cousin.  Alfonso R.”

In September 1918, Justo Garrido Cisneros, Spanish Chargé d’affaires in Petrograd (St. Petersburg), sent a statement to Polo de Bernabé, the Spanish Ambassador to Berlin, informing him that he had met with the Foreign Affairs Commissioner of Russia, Deputy of Georgi Chicherin, Minister of Foreign Affairs to address the issue of the Romanov women. At all times, the representative of Spain was accompanied, as a witness, by the Ambassador of the Netherlands in Russia. The telegram that Polo de Bernabé sent to Spain, said the following:

“September 6.

Chargé d’Affaires Petrograd please asked me to convey to you the following telegram:

 ‘Nº111. Commissary of the People has received us an hour late of the appointment in a filthy place that serves as Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accompanied by another Israelite who is his deputy. I expressed to him the humanitarian aspiration of our Sovereign, assuring him that it was not a matter of intervening in matters of Russia, but that the Imperial Family will remain in Spain far from any counterrevolutionary movement… He discoursed that our country would become the focus of the counterrevolutionary reaction of the proletariat that they expect from one moment to another. Representative of The Netherlands and I protested against this absurd proposition, trying to convince him that nowhere would be the Imperial Family more incapable of political action… After a very difficult discussion and great efforts, I obtained that he would submit our petition to the first session of the Executive Central  Council.” […]

King Alfonso XIII, months after the alleged massacre, was certain that the Tsarina Alejandra and her children were still alive. Proof of that is all the diplomatic efforts he made from Madrid to bring them to Spain. This contradicts the official version that affirms that the assassination took place in the early hours of July 17, 1918.  Unfortunately, there is very little that has been written about all this. Cortes Cavanillas, in his book “Alfonso XIII and the War “, mentions something in some of its chapters. In more recent years, a group of historians and researchers from Europe and the United States have worked hard to get all the documents on the case, both in The Vatican Archive and in the historical records of Spain. Marie Stravlo, one of the founders of the  Russian Imperial Family Historical Society contacted  historian Seco Serrano and obtained a large number of documents, demonstrating all these diplomatic efforts made by King Alfonso XIII and his minister Eduardo Dato.

Currently, there is great controversy surrounding the true fate of the Imperial Family. The Russian Orthodox Church does not recognize the alleged Romanov bones that were buried in 1998 at the Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg. These remains are still being analyzed scientifically. The Historical Archive of King Alfonso XIII on this case and the documents available in The Vatican could be of great help in clarifying the events that occurred in the last days of the Romanov dynasty.


Marie Stravlo, co-author and translator, April 2017.



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