Natalia Brasova - Revolution


After the February Revolution in 1917, Nicholas abdicated in Michael's favour, but Michael refused to accept the throne until ratified by the will of the people. By naming Michael as his successor, Nicholas effectively reversed the long-standing law that morganatically married dynasts forfeited rights of succession, but his actions were ultimately irrelevant. Power lay with the revolutionaries, not with the Tsar, whether it was Nicholas or Michael. Michael and his family were placed under house arrest in Gatchina.

In September 1917, the house arrest was lifted. At the end of the following month the Prime Minister, Alexander Kerensky, was deposed in the October Revolution and the Bolsheviks seized power. With a permit to travel issued by Peter Polotsov, a former army colleague of Michael's who held a command in Saint Petersburg, the family planned to move to the greater safety of Finland. Valuables were packed and the children were moved to an estate south of Gatchina owned by Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov, the brother of one of Natalia's closest friends (Nadine Vonlyarlarskaya) and the father of the famous writer, Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov. The Bolsheviks discovered their plan, however, and their escape was blocked. The children returned to Gatchina, and they were once again under house arrest. Natalia managed to gain access to her safety deposit box, by claiming that she needed to examine some papers at the bank, and thus retrieved as much of her jewellery as she could conceal without arousing suspicion. The house arrest was lifted in November, but on 7 March 1918 Michael and Nicholas Johnson—who had been his secretary since December 1912—were re-arrested on the orders of Moisei Uritsky, the Head of the Petrograd secret police. They were imprisoned at Bolshevik headquarters in the Smolny Institute.

Natalia visited Michael the next two days, 8 and 9 March 1918, with their friend Princess Putyatina. On 9 March, she barged her way into Lenin's office, which was in the same building, to remonstrate with him. In the evening, the Council of the People's Commissars decided to send Michael and Johnson into internal exile. On 11 March, they were sent a thousand miles eastwards to the remote city of Perm.

Concerned for her entire family's safety, Natalia made plans for the children to be taken abroad. With the help of the Danish embassy, which was next-door to Princess Puyatina's apartment, George was smuggled out of the country to Denmark by his nanny, Miss Neame. The Danes extended diplomatic protection to the villa in Gatchina by pretending to rent it and flying the Danish flag over the house. Natalia wanted to join Michael in Perm, and after repeated pleading received a travel permit to join him. They spent about a week together, until an army of disgruntled Czechs advanced on Perm. The Bolsheviks had attempted to ship prisoners-of-war from Austria–Hungary out of Russia, ethnic Czech troops amongst them. The Czechs, however, were not going home to fight once more for the Austrian empire, but to fight for a separate independent homeland. The Germans demanded that the Bolsheviks disarm the Czechs, with the result that the Czech forces joined with the White Army, fighting against the Bolsheviks. With the approach of the Czechs, Michael and Natalia feared that she would become trapped in Perm, possibly in a dangerous situation, and so on 18 May she left for Moscow.

In Moscow, Natalia continued to badger Bolshevik Commissars, including Lenin, Trotsky and Sverdlov, for Michael's release, but to no avail. In June 1918, her husband and Johnson were murdered on the outskirts of Perm. To cover their tracks, the Perm authorities distributed a concocted story that Michael was abducted by unidentified men and had disappeared. Natalia went to Uritsky in a quest for an explanation, but Uritsky ordered her arrest and incarceration. The Soviet disinformation about Michael's disappearance led to unfounded rumours that he had escaped and was leading a successful counter-revolution. Natalia heard the rumours in prison, and chose to believe them. Ten weeks after her imprisonment, in early September, Natalia pretended that she had developed tuberculosis, and was moved to a nursing home. Once there, she escaped and took refuge in the apartment above her brother-in-law's with family friend Princess Vyazemskaya. Uritsky had been murdered in late August, and bands of Bolsheviks were terrorising Petrograd in what was later called the Red Terror. Natalia's daughter, "Tata", was arrested and imprisoned, but released after a few days when it became apparent she had no knowledge of her mother's whereabouts. With no money or food, "Tata" made her way to her uncle's apartment, and so was fortuitously re-united with her mother.

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