Cover image for Imperial legend : the mysterious disappearance of Tzar Alexander I
Imperial legend : the mysterious disappearance of Tzar Alexander I
Troubetzkoy, Alexis S., 1934-
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Arcade Pub. : Distributed by AOL Time Warner Book Group, [2002]

Physical Description:
xiv, 300 pages, 12 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


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DK192 .T767 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development will be held in Cairo, Egypt, September 5-13. The draft declaration for the conference reports on the emerging consensus that population policy objectives should be integrated with broader social development goals and that population program strategies should build on the linkages between demographic behavior and social and economic progress. The report points to five key messages * The slowing of population growth is still a high priority in the poorest countries * Population policy should be integrated with social policies that address a range of poverty reduction and human development objectives * Population programs should focus on providing the poor with access to high-quality, user-oriented services that offer choices for addressing fertility regulation and other reproductive health needs * Country-specific strategies are required that will take account of individual country needs, cultural values, and financial and institutional constraints * There are demographic issues beyond the scope of this report that have taken on increased social, economic, and political significance: urbanization, international migration, and aging. The report provides a framework for developing country-specific, integrated strategies for population policies and programs. It underlines the World Bank's support for population programs and outlines the Bank's agenda for addressing the issues. The main conclusions are that major demographic challenges remain, that public sector interventions are warranted, that integrated approaches are needed, and that the World Bank has a role to play in these efforts.

Author Notes

Alexis S. Troubetzkoy was born in Paris in 1934 into a Russian princely family and emigrated to the United States at an early age. He and his family currently live in Toronto, Canada

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

One hundred years of Russian history should be taught using three recent books. Henri Troyat's Terrible Tsarinas (LJ 11/1/01) fills in nearly 50 years of court intrigue from the death of Peter the Great in 1725 to Catherine the Great; S. Sebag Montefiore's Prince of Princes: The Life of Potemkin (LJ 10/1/01) covers Catherine's reign until 1796; and now Troubetzkoy's book does a credible job of taking the story up to 1825, when Tsar Alexander I, grandson of Catherine the Great, either died or mysteriously disappeared. Troubetzkoy, born in Paris to a noble Russian family and now living in Toronto, presents the 1801 murder of Alexander's father, Paul I, in a plot to put Alexander on the throne as the catalyst for Alexander's ongoing sense of religious guilt. The imperial cover-up surrounding Alexander began with his reputed death and continued through the Russian Revolution. As with most recent legends, such as Billy the Kid and Nicholas, Alexandra, and family, the solution seems to be in DNA sampling. Was the starets (a Russian Orthodox religious teacher) known as Feodor Kuzmich, who first surfaced in 1836 in Siberia, really Alexander I? Strange machinations were used to hinder research after his death in 1864 strange enough to fuel the legend for more than 100 years. This intriguing and well-researched story is recommended for public libraries. Harry Willems, Southeast Kansas Lib. Syst., Iola (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Troubetzkoy, writer and member of one of Russia's oldest noble families, is uniquely qualified by education and social connections to investigate one of history's most baffling mysteries, the death of Tsar Alexander I in November 1825. The consensus of specialists is that the tsar in fact died, and did not resurface as the Siberian holy man Fedor Kuzmich. But "this supposition," to quote Nicholas V. Riasanovsky's A History of Russia (1963; 2nd ed., CH, Oct'69), "needs further proof, although it cannot be entirely dismissed." Troubetzkoy comes to much the same conclusion after sifting through all of the surviving evidence, reading all of the major sources in their original languages, and interviewing knowledgeable persons such as the late Grand Duchess Olga Aleksandrovna. His study has compelled him to abandon his original skepticism in favor of the view that the legend is probably true, and he ends by calling for forensic archaeology including DNA testing. The first half of the book is an engaging and colorful biography of the tsar; the last half, in addition to an investigation of the mystery, gives all that can reliably be known about Fedor Kuzmich himself. General readers and college undergraduates should love this book and even specialists will want to consult the more scholarly chapters. E. A. Cole Grand Valley State University



Chapter One Paris, 1814-- Tomsk, Siberia, 1864 PARIS: MARCH 31, 1814. It was a brilliant day. A cloudless sky stretched over the city, and the rays of early spring warmed the huge animated crowds that had gathered in the streets. Boulevards flowed with humanity and cafés buzzed with excited chatter. In the early hours that morning Marshal Marmont had signed the official document of capitulation: France had surrendered to the allied forces; Napoleon had been vanquished. Russian, Prussian, and Austrian armies were mustered on the city's eastern fringes and were about to enter in a grand victory parade.     By eleven o'clock, the first of the Russian cavalry came into view, a troop of massive Cossacks, mustaches flowing, wearing bright red tunics, chests covered with cartridges. They sat tall in shiny saddles, and from their black Persian lamb caps the gold of the double-headed imperial eagle flashed in the sun. Immediately after the Cossacks came the hussars and cuirassiers of the Prussian Royal Guard, followed by the hussars and dragoons of the Russian Imperial Guard -- thousands of men in order of rank. Then, at last, came the three conquering heroes: on one side, the king of Prussia; on the other, Prince Schwarzenberg, representing the emperor of Austria. At the center rode Alexander I, Tsar of All Russia, mounted on a dark Arab mare -- ironically, a gift from Napoleon. The sovereigns were accompanied by a retinue of a thousand generals, and in their wake a multinational force passed by -- Prussians, Austrians, Croats, Hungarians, and among the Russians, Tartars, Circassians, and others from the empire's multitudinous minorities.     Alexander was wearing the dark-green-and-red tunic of his beloved Semeonovsky Regiment. White kid trousers clung tightly to his muscular legs and polished black boots came to the knee. The massive epaulettes and collar gleamed with gold, and the dark blue sash of the Order of St. Andrew conspicuously crossed his chest. Even as a boy, Alexander had been strikingly handsome, but now, at thirty-six, with his aquiline nose and delicate features, he looked like the reincarnation of some god out of classical antiquity. The rays of the spring sun lit Alexander's face, a smile of contentment seemingly carved on it, while his deep blue eyes flashed proudly. Cries echoed in the streets. " Vive Alexandre! Vive les russes! Vive les alliés! " (Long live Alexander I! Long live the Russians! Long live the allies!) At one point he halted the procession and, waving his huge white plumed hat, answered the cheering throng in fluent French: "I have come to you not as an enemy but as a friend! I bring you peace." After nearly two decades of wars and bloodshed, the French were exhausted; they were pleased to see the last of Napoleon's adventurism and they were ready to welcome a restored Bourbon monarchy. The crowd continued to roar in approval; Alexander was at his pinnacle.     "After Bonaparte, Alexander is the greatest historical figure of the era," wrote Chateaubriand. By 1812, Napoleon had successfully conquered and annexed virtually all of Europe. Only Britain and Russia remained free of his grasp. And then he went for Russia and there suffered a resounding defeat. Now, two years later, the tsar paraded his troops through the streets of the French capital, down the Champs Elysées. "The Agamemnon of the people," they. were calling him. The French offered to change the name of the Bridge of Austerlitz to Alexander Bridge. He declined, saying, "It is enough that it be known that the emperor of Russia has passed over it with his armies." Clearly, Paris was in the palm of his hand.     And who was this impressive conqueror, this Tsar Alexander I? At the time, he ruled the world's largest country, a vast expanse that covered nearly one-seventh of the earth's habitable surface. For over four centuries Russia had grown at a rate of almost twenty square miles a day. Within that territory lived some 44 million subjects, over whom he ruled as an absolute monarch. "God is master of the universe," wrote the eighteenth-century Russian historian Ivan Pososhkov. "The tsar is master of his country. In the domain assigned to him he can, like God, create what he wills." The emperor was the alpha and the omega of his nation's well-being.     Some 30,000 troops paraded in Paris that day. It took six hours for the massive assembly to complete its route, which was lined with cheering crowds. The days that followed were a glorious cornucopia of balls, receptions, honors, and state visits. Still, the tsar found time one afternoon to call on the aging widow of his childhood teacher and mentor, Frédéric La Harpe. The two had tea in her humble residence and, before leaving the house, Alexander showered her with gifts.     Nearly ten weeks after his triumphant entry into Paris, Alexander left France and traveled to England, where he was received almost as enthusiastically. "Your nation has every right to my esteem," he declared in fluent English. "I have always shown myself a faithful ally of Great Britain, and in peace I shall be her constant friend." All were enchanted by the handsome, charming monarch, so regal and straight in bearing. His manner was simplicity itself; particularly striking was his habit of inclining his head slightly toward the person with whom he was speaking, conveying an impression of warm sincerity. Actually, the emperor was simply deaf in one ear, the result of his being quartered in childhood close to where the cannons roared to celebrate feast days. The climactic event was the dazzling banquet by the city of London, offered at Guildhall, which, declared the Annual Register, was "a dinner as sumptuous as expense or skill could make it." Later, in a colorful and traditional ceremony, Oxford University conferred on the tsar a Doctorate of Civil Laws. Seven especially written odes were recited at that occasion: two in Greek, one in Latin, and the remainder in English.     The festivities and celebrations over, Alexander returned home, following a brief stopover in Holland. Napoleon had been exiled to Elba, and the tsar and other European statesmen now gathered in the glittering Congress of Vienna to define a lasting peace. Over the next seven years, these leaders met repeatedly, as they came to terms with one crisis or another that threatened continental harmony.     Alexander continued to reign over his vast country, and then, suddenly and quite unexpectedly, having contracted a mysterious illness, he died on November 19, 1825, in Taganrog, a backwater port on the Sea of Azov, in the empire's remote southernmost reaches. The sovereign was only forty-eight years old. He had always been active and vigorous, in the best of health; his death came as a complete shock to the nation. After an autopsy, the body was embalmed, then slowly transported, through hundreds of towns and villages, back to St. Petersburg for interment in the imperial crypt of the Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul.     And herein lies the mystery. Did Alexander really die, as reported? Many believe he did not. But that is not totally surprising, considering the emperor's relative youth, his strong constitution, and the remote setting of his sudden and unexpected passing. The pages of history contain several accounts of imperial deaths that allegedly did not occur as reported -- King Philip of Macedonia and Louis XVII are but two examples. The untimely and singular circumstances of Tsar Alexander's death are without doubt controversial, riddled with unresolved questions. Despite the presence of qualified physicians at his deathbed, why was the puzzling illness never properly diagnosed? And why did the tsar find himself in such a spot as Taganrog in the first place? Above all, if the death was staged, what led Alexander to resort to such an extreme measure? If he did shed the throne, where did he go and what happened to him? These and scores of other tantalizing questions combine to nurture one of the great mysteries of history, which has come to be known as the Imperial Legend. * * * TOMSK, SIBERIA: JANUARY 1864. The inverted bowl of winter pallor, stretching limitlessly across the frozen landscape, hangs heavy in Siberia in January. Communities of skeletal birches blend effortlessly into the white landscape, while heavy pines, burdened by winter's weight, sag in welcome contrast. Snow, ice, and silence ruthlessly blanket slumbering earth; sighs of spring are yet far off. But breaking the apparent monotony of frozen gray are the not infrequent days of brilliant sunshine and dazzling blue sky -- nature's respite, a gift to a grateful world.     It was on such a day in 1864 that death hovered over the little wooden cabin in which a frail old man lay on his narrow cot. Shortly after New Year's, he had come down with a serious fever and taken to his bed. Since then, his condition had deteriorated alarmingly, and with every passing day his breathing grew more labored. To occasional visitors, it was obvious that the fragile figure on the sickbed was not long for this world. The years had been difficult for him. The recently developed stoop in his shoulders seemed to derive as much from the weight of untold spiritual burdens as from his advanced age, for he was in his mid-eighties. The ascetic mode of the old man's life did little to enhance his health. His was an existence of seclusion and spare diet, of material modesty, meditation, and prayer. Large calluses marked the man's knees, from the long hours he had spent on the hard wooden floor in prayer.     He called himself Feodor Kuzmich, but few people believed that was his true name. He never spoke of his past and revealed nothing of his background. He was, however, well-educated and refined in speech, as familiar with Russian history as he was with politics and government, and fluent in at least two languages. His bearing was military, and when meeting strangers he frequently paced the room, as if he were accustomed to giving orders. He was slightly deaf and sometimes bent down, the better to hear the other, which made his stoop appear more pronounced.     For over twenty years Kuzmich had wandered throughout Siberia, but in 1858 he finally settled on the outskirts of Tomsk, where one of the city's more prosperous merchants, a certain Simeon Khromov, constructed for him a small hut on his property -- "a cell," it was called. From the beginning, Khromov was enchanted by this remarkable old man -- by his piety, manner, and bearing -- but above all he was fascinated by the aura of mystery that enveloped him. He was certainly a starets, one of the many genuine ascetic wanderers, penitents who moved about from place to place living off charity and offering support and comfort to those in need -- not a spiritual wise man, not a hermit, but more of an untonsured monk. This particular starers was unlike scores of others who found refuge in the Siberian expanse -- unfrocked priests, escaped prisoners, fundamentalists, messianic prophets, monks gone wild, or a host of others, insane or on the fringes of lunacy.     Within a fortnight of taking to bed that January, Kuzmich was refusing all food, sustaining himself on only milk and water. On the nineteenth it became clear that the end was near, and Father Raphael, the abbot of a neighboring monastery, was summoned to hear his confession and to administer the sacraments. In his memoirs, the monk recalls that, following the religious rite, Khromov's wife approached the sickbed and tearfully asked Kuzmich, "Father, tell us at least the name of your angel so we might remember it in our prayers."     The dying man shook his head and quietly muttered, "This God knows."     An attending Khromov family friend pursued, "Then, Father, at least tell us the names of your parents, so that we might pray for them."     "This too is not for you to know." Kuzmich sighed. "The Holy Church prays for them." Even on his deathbed, Feodor Kuzmich refused to reveal his identity.     Khromov became so concerned about the worsening condition of the starets that he moved into the man's tiny hut. The next few days passed in relative silence, and then, on the night of January 31, Kuzmich raised his head and announced in a firm, clear voice, "The end is near." At this point, Khromov recalled, "having prayed to God, I fell on my knees before the starets and said, 'Bless me, Father, in asking you one important question.'     "'Ask it,' replied Kuzmich, 'and God will bless you.'     "'Rumor has it,' I continued, 'that you, Father, are none other than Alexander the Blessed. Is that true?' At these words, the starets crossed himself and replied, 'A wondrous inquiry yours is, my friend ... there is no secret which does not unlock.' And thus ended our conversation."     Kuzmich awoke briefly and motioned for a candle, which was given him. He held it in a trembling hand for a few fleeting moments and then let it fall. He inhaled one deep breath and then sighed in surrender -- "his soul had departed."     On February 4, the starets, clad in a simple white shirt of unbleached linen, was interred in the cemetery of Tomsk's seventeenth-century Bogoroditsko-Alexeyevsk Monastery. Three ranking clergymen officiated at the service, and a large crowd of mourners was in attendance. The grave was unpretentious, eventually enclosed by a small white picket fence, at the four corners of which small cedars were planted. A simple wooden cross was erected at the head, bearing the inscription, "Here lies the body of the Great and Blessed starets Feodor Kuzmich." Soon thereafter, on the orders of Governor Mertsalov of Tomsk and for reasons unknown, the words "Great and Blessed" were painted over. But in time the weathered paint faded and they became legible again.     Just as those words defied obliteration, so the rumors that swirled about the life and death of the mysterious recluse refused to die. In the decades that followed, even to this day, the identity of this enigmatic person has remained a puzzle. Historians and commentators of every ilk record vignettes in which Kuzmich, by his words or actions, gave pointed or oblique hints of his past. Some of these anecdotes are on good authority, others are of questionable provenance. But over the years the rumors not only persisted but grew.     Was the "Great and Blessed" none other than Tsar Alexander I, called "the Blessed"? Is it possible that the Autocrat of All Russia did not really die in 1825 on the remote shores of the Sea of Azov? Could the sovereign have indeed suceeded in engineering his own disappearance by substituting another's body for interment in the imperial crypt in St. Petersburg?     The freshly covered grave in the cemetery of that remote Siberian monastery contained the remains of the starets. The man had been a wandering vagabond, penniless and dependent on the goodness of others. Once, he had been arrested and flogged. Sent into exile into the interior of the vast country, he had labored in a vodka distillery and in the gold fields. He had lived out his years in modest, if not primitive, circumstances. Was the humble starets Feodor Kuzmich in fact the beloved tsar? Had Alexander successfully shed the weight of the imperial crown he had felt pressing on him insufferably and realized his declared ambition "to resign my functions and retire from the world"? Could this possibly be the same person who, some fifty years earlier, had paraded his army down the Champs Elysées after defeating the mighty Napoleon?     For almost four decades, Kuzmich's grave remained unchanged, save for the steady growth of the four stately cedar trees. In 1902, State Secretary Galkin-Vraski, acting "on orders from on high," oversaw the erection of a modest chapel over the grave, and a white marble slab replaced the wooden cross. No documentation has come down to us regarding who commissioned the chapel. There is reason to believe, however, that the order to have it built emanated from no less a personage than Tsar Nicholas II himself. In 1890-91, as the twenty-two-year-old heir to the throne, the tsarevich was sent on a tour of India and Japan. On July 5 and 6, 1891, during his return home through Siberia, Nicholas made a stop in Tomsk, where he visited Bogoroditsko-Alexeyevsk Monastery. Under the darkening sky of a midsummer night, he returned to the monastery and went directly to its cemetery, to the grave of Feodor Kuzmich. There he stood in silence, immersed in deep contemplation. The inscription the young man read on the marble slab before him was identical to that of the original wooden cross. The word "Blessed" stood out poignantly.     The image of a youthful, bareheaded Nicholas pondering the Siberian grave of an unknown starets conjures up an even more haunting scene. One sees, on March 13, 1826, the solemn funeral procession of Tsar Alexander slowly wending its way through the frigid, windswept streets of St. Petersburg -- the muffled drums, the cadence of marching troops, the clatter of horses' hooves on the cobblestones, the quiet sobbing of the populace, and, walking behind the cortege, the deceased's brother, another Nicholas -- the First -- newly acceded to the throne. If Alexander's death was a fabrication, there is little possibility that the charade could have taken place without his successor's knowledge. One wonders what thoughts might have passed through the new tsar's mind as he followed the casket in which, perhaps, lay the earthly remains not of his brother but of some stranger. But for the peace of Russia, and above all for the preservation of the throne's legitimacy, there was no way that the terrible secret could be divulged. Nobody but the trusted few who were personally involved in the drama could ever know, not even the closest members of the family. The truth must be buried in the cathedral crypt of St. Peter and St. Paul Fortress. And on that March day, after the coffin had been lowered and the tomb sealed, Emperor Nicholas I no doubt took satisfaction in believing that the secret was indeed buried as well.     Who was this Feodor Kuzmich, and why had he gained such notoriety in the Siberian hinterland? Qualified historians of impeccable credentials have written about him. Grand Duke Nikolai Mikhailovich, for example, chairman of the Imperial Historical Society (granduncle to Nicholas II) and Prince Vladimir Bariatinsky, also of the historical society and an honorary member of Britain's Royal Society -- both men examined firsthand official records of Kuzmich's presence in Siberia and researched his life. Numerous memoirs about this singular person by contemporary witnesses have also come down to us, as have a collection of stories and anecdotes from secondary sources. For well over a century and a half, the starets has been the subject of speculation and conjecture.     Even the great novelist Leo Tolstoy took an active interest in the Legend. Researching Kuzmich's life and Alexander's death, he intended to develop the Legend into a book, and labored on the subject off and on for over fifteen years. "Feodor Kuzmich captivates me more and more," reads his diary entry for October 15, 1905. By that time he was well into the subject, but then he abruptly stopped. "Not only shall I not complete it, but I am unable even to continue. Not ever -- for I must now prepare myself for the ultimate transition." And then, in November 1910, he died.     Before his death, however, Tolstoy wrote to Grand Duke Nikolai Mikhailovich that "whatever was hidden behind the name of the hermit Feodor, the drama of that life is profoundly familial with deep and intimate connections to the national soul. So let historical evidence fail to connect Alexander with Kuzmich, the legend lives in all its beauty and sincerity."     In the grand duke's treatise The Legend of the Death of Alexander I in Siberia in the Person of Feodor Kuzmich , published in 1907, he analyzes for himself the evidence available at the time and then takes a firm stand against the Legend. "Let us hope," he concludes, "that someday somebody will solve this riddle and determine the true identity of Feodor Kuzmich." It should be noted, however, that before he was murdered in 1919 by a Bolshevik firing squad, the grand duke had reversed his position and had become a believer in the Legend. * * * As a young naval officer in 1958 I was briefly stationed in Hamilton, Ontario, not far from where Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna lived. She was the sister of Nicholas II, daughter of Alexander III. In early 1920, she and her commoner husband, Colonel Nikolai Kulikovsky, with their two infant sons, managed to escape the Russian revolution. Their journey took them out through the Black Sea, to Belgrade and to Denmark, whence they immigrated to Canada. The couple bought a farm in rural Ontario, and there, with their two sons, lived a life of exile. After the colonel's death, the grand duchess moved to what is now Mississauga, where she died in 1960.     I visited Her Imperial Highness on a number of occasions. She and I got along famously, and with the brashness of youth, I asked her scores of questions about Russian history and her own past. With candor and charm she replied patiently to all my inquiries. During our third or fourth meeting, I broached the subject of Feodor Kuzmich. Here she visibly blanched and then declared rather curtly, "In our family Feodor Kuzmich was not a subject for discussion." I was much taken aback by this frigid and uncharacteristic reaction. A pregnant silence followed, but then she took my hand into hers and, with a touch of a smile, said, "We really didn't discuss it. But I am old and not long for this world; you are young and apparently have understanding of these things. You should know that we have no doubt that Feodor Kuzmich was the emperor." Excerpted from IMPERIAL LEGEND by Alexis S. Troubetzkoy. Copyright © 2002 by Alexis S. Troubetzkoy. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Author's Notep. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xiii
Genealogyp. xv
1. Paris, 1814-Tomsk, Siberia, 1864p. 1
2. Conspiracy at Mikhailovsky Castlep. 13
3. Tsar Paul's Revengep. 33
4. Courage from the Cognac Bottlep. 47
5. The Crowned Hamletp. 59
6. A Riddle Wrapped in a Mysteryp. 77
7. The Defeat of the Grande Armeep. 91
8. The Crown: An Increasing Burdenp. 109
9. God Is Punishing Us for Our Sinsp. 119
10. Retreat to Taganrogp. 133
11. The Fatal Illnessp. 145
12. A Time for Mourningp. 163
13. From Taganrog to St. Petersburgp. 173
14. The Life and Death of Feodor Kuzmichp. 189
15. The Core of the Mysteryp. 205
16. Elizaveta and Alexanderp. 227
17. The Mystery That Will Not Diep. 237
18. The Unknown Yachtp. 249
19. The Final Testimonyp. 257
Appendix Ap. 267
Appendix Bp. 271
Reference Notesp. 275
Bibliographyp. 285
Indexp. 291