The Senseless Murder of Grand Duke Dmitry Konstantinovich of Russia

Grand Duke Dmitry Konstantinovich

In early 1917, Russia officially left World War I to concentrate on looming home problems. The rise of Russian revolutionists known as the Bolsheviks.

Soon, the imperial Romanovs, the last ruling family of the Russian impire, would suffer heavily at the hands of the Bolsheviks.

The Fall of the Empire

Until then Russia was one of the most powerful empires in the world. But in March 1917, its glorious existence would be doomed.

Tsar Nicholas II, who was criticized for being weak and incompetent, was forced to abdicate and the imperial rule was replaced by the provisional government led by Alexander Kerensky.

Though the new government wasn't entirely harsh to the imperial family, the emperor, his empress and their five children, nonetheless, were put under house arrest.

However, by November that year, fate started to move against the Romanovs. The provisional government was defeated by the Bolsheviks and the Romanovs were treated as criminals that should be eliminated.

The emperor's family and their servants were brought to the mountain of Ekaterinberg. Feared they will be rescued by the advancing Allied soldiers, the Bolsheviks decided to execute them on July 17, 1918.

The senseless murder

Nicholas II, his wife, Empress Alexandra and their five children, were not the only members of the imperial Romanovs who were unfairly executed during the Russian revolution.

There were many other imperial family members who were put to death by merely relatives of the emperor.

One of them was Grand Duke Dmitry Konstantinovich, grandson of Emperor Nicholas I, and paternal great uncle of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

He was best remembered as an introvert grand duke, deeply religious, decent and the most morally upright of all the grand dukes of Russia in his time who was not involved in any scandal.

How and why this imperial grand duke, considered by his nephews and nieces as the kindest of all uncles, was murdered? Here's the story of his life.

Born a Russian imperial grand duke

He was born on June 13, 1860 as the fifth child of Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich of Russia (son of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia and Princess Charlotte of Prussia) and Princess Alexandra of Saxe-Altenburg.

His older sister, Grand Duchess Olga, married King George I of Greece, when she was only 16 years old.
Grand Duke Dmitry with his cousin, Tsar Alexander III, in front

He was known as intensely shy and introvert and preferred a quiet life than being in the crowd.

He developed a talent in music and learned to play the piano at an early age. He would also sing at church with the choir during church service.

But as an imperial grand duke, Dmitry knew he had a duty to fulfill. As with all male members of the ruling Romanovs, he was groomed to take a military career.

His father, Grand Duke Konstantin, an Admiral of the Russian fleet, expected him to serve in the Russian navy.

As a preparation, Grand Duke Dmitry, at 15, was given lessons in naval warfare and tactics with his younger brother, Grand Duke Vyacheslav. They were also sent to board a navy ship as part of their navy training.

But the grand duke's interest was not in the navy but in the army. He later abandoned a prospective naval career to serve in the Russian imperial army of his uncle, Tsar Alexander II. He was given the rank of a Fligel-adjutant. 

In 1881, Alexander II was assassinated, his son inherited the imperial throne as Alexander III whose wife, Princess Dagmar of Denmark, was a sister of King George I of Greece and Princess Alexandra, the Princess of Wales.

Grand Duke Dmitry moved to serve the Horse Guards Regiment as lieutenant then later promoted to a rank of a commander.

A deeply religious man

He went on to become a popular military commander, admired for his fairness and concern over the welfare of his soldiers.

While most of his male relatives were embroiled in controversies, either having mistresses, or being notorious grand dukes, Dmitry maintained a relatively low profile and scandal-free existence.

He also devoted his life to his passion for horses and religious activities. The church of the Apparition of the Virgin near his birthplace in Strelna became the regimental church of his regiment, the Horse Grenadier. 

He assumed full responsibility of the church and paid its extensive renovation from his personal money. And would give more for other church's maintenance.

The nicest of all the Russian grand dukes

Grand Duke Dmitry, by most account, was best remembered as "the nicest and most decent of all the Russian imperial grand dukes", very refined in his manners and dedicated to his imperial duty. 

His nephews and nieces also remembered him as their kindest uncle, almost like a father, cheerful and fond of playing music to them.

Dmitry was not married and no children of his own so he doted his nephews and nieces.

During the reign of his cousin, Tsar Nicholas II, he received several military promotions, raised to the rank of a major-general and appointed as Adjutant General to the emperor.


However, despite his devotion to the military, his passion was on raising horses.

In 1904, his vision was rapidly failing, which forced him to leave active military service. He gave up his Horse Grenadier Regiment and spent his life away from the glamour of an imperial court.

After leaving military service, he devoted his time in rearing horses and established Dubrovsky Stud Farm in the Poltava province. He also became the president of Imperial Society of Horse Racing.

Intensely shy, Grand Duke Dmitry preferred a life in the countryside and towards the end of 1907, he purchased a land in Crimea near the Black Sea where he built a beautiful villa designed in Moorish architecture. He would spend much of his time at this quiet sanctuary, watching many sunsets in the seaside.

However, his relatively quiet life would change at the outbreak of war.

In 1914, Europe plunged into the Great War, later known as World War I. Though it ended in 1918, Russia just began a terrifying civil war lorded by the revolutionists known as Bolsheviks, determined to wipe out the imperial Romanovs.

The Fall of the Imperial Russia

At the onset of World War I, Grand Duke Dmitry was almost blind, which kept him away from serving his cousin's army in the battle field.

He also kept himself away from meddling politics and was not heard participating with the activities of other imperial grand dukes during the war. He kept himself shun away from trouble.

He chose to stay in Crimea and Petrograd where he bought a large parcel of land and built a house.

Even after the forced abdication and arrest of his cousin, Tsar Nicholas II, in 1917, he remained silent and just confined in his mansion in Petrograd.

After the fall of the Romanovs and the house arrest of Tsar Nicholas II and his entire family, Grand Duke Dmitry remained in obscurity.

Almost blind, his daily needs were mostly catered by his loyal aide, Colonel Alexander Koronchentzov, and his niece, Princess Tatiana Constantinovna, whose husband already died in war.

By then the Provisional Government was established in Russia and the emperor, his family and servants were brought to the mountain of Ekaterinberg as prisoners. The Bolsheviks had taken over Russia as the civil war intensified.

The senseless arrest

It was just a matter of time before the fate of the imperial relatives became worse.

In November 1917, after the provisional government was replaced by the Bolsheviks under Vladimir Lenin, fear of their lives commenced.

It was published in newspapers in Petrograd that all members of the Romanovs needed to report to Cheka, the dreaded secret police of the Bolsheviks. Initially, they were just told not to leave the city.

But towards March 1918, things were almost a nightmare to the imperial grand dukes. Including Dmitry, who by then could not almost see due to his very poor eyesight.
Grand Duke Dmitry

Their exodus to their final destination sounded like a roar of an approaching train. Anytime, they would jump aboard.

They were summoned again by the Cheka. Sensing a terrible event that might unfold, Grand Duke Dmitry's loyal aide, Colonel Koronchentzov, and niece, Princess Tatiana, insisted to accompany him as he could no longer clearly see things in his environment and he might be hurt by the secret police.

There was no clear reason why they needed to be exiled or imprisoned or be closely guarded and treated as criminals. It was never explained. The only clear to them was that they were relatives of Tsar Nicholas II.

For Grand Duke Dmitry's fate, the arrest sounded pointless as he was no longer actively participating in the activities of the imperial court. In fact, he lived a quiet life away from the Romanovs. 

The Exile

The Bolsheviks leaders decided to send the imperial grand dukes into exile and were given a choice which city among the stronghold of the revolutionists they want to be sent. Grand Duke Dmitry chose Vologda.

On April 18, 1918 Grand Duke Dmitry packed his suitcase and left Petrograd for Vologda aboard a train, accompanied by his niece, her children, and his loyal aide.

In Vologda, he was put in a house with two rooms near a river. Later he learned that his two cousins were also in the same town, Grand Duke Nicholas and Grand Duke George, both sons of his uncle, Grand Duke Michael.

The cousins, though lived in separate quarters, would meet in a day for a walk and dined together but with a small freedom to enjoy. They also required to report to the Cheka headquarter once a week.

The chance to escape

However, Grand Duke Dmitry had a chance to escape to Finland where his other cousin, Grand Duke Kiril, his wife, Princess Melita of Edinburgh (granddaughter of Queen Victoria) and their daughters, Olga and Kira, were living in exile.

His former Adjutant, Colonel Alexander von Leiming, came to visit him in his quarter in Vologda, and secretly told him about the plan, but foreseeing the worst event that might happen to his other cousins, his niece, Princess Tatiana and her children who came with him in exile, should he attempt to escape, Grand Duke Dmitry gallantly refused to accept the offer of escape and preferred to stay in Vologna.

At that time, it was thought possible Grand Duke Dmitry never had in his mind their situation will get worst. He had high hopes that one day, he and his cousins, will be freed by the Bolsheviks.

It did not happen. And his chance to escape Russia vanished into thin air.

The worst to come

In June 13, 1918, the emperor's only surviving brother, Grand Duke Michael, was murdered by the Bolsheviks. This event was the hint of what was about to come for the Romanovs.

A month later, the Romanov massacre unfolded in succession. Tsar Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra, their five children and their servants were massacred in Ekaterinburg on July 18, 1918.

It was followed by the execution of Grand Duchess Elisabeth (sister of the empress who already entered the convent since 1905 and had devoted her life in charity works), Grand Duke Sergei Mikhaelovich and three nephews of Grand Duke Dmitry, Princes John, Konstantin and Igor. All had no offense except that they were relatives of the emperor.

Two days later, Grand Duke Dmitry and his cousins were collected from their quarters by heavily armed men and were transferred to a small village.

Grand Duke Georgy through the recollection of his wife, who by then living in England, recalled the time he saw his cousin through the iron bars, "I was struck by his sad expression", denoting that Dmitry was always known for his light character and happy disposition.

In the new prison cell, the first 24 hours was hard for the grand dukes, but after that, the jail guards gave them camp beds and allowed them to walk in the small garden.

It was in this small village that they learned the murder of their imperial relatives. And the grand dukes knew there would be worse to come and they would never be freed again.

Their theory proved true. In July 21, they were moved back to Petrograd and were quickly imprisoned at the Cheka's headquarter.

Prisoners without a crime

In the headquarter, the grand dukes were interrogated by the Bolsheviks leader, Moisei Uritsky. Grand Duke Dmitry asked him as to why they were imprisoned.

Uritsky's response was as blurred as the circumstance of their captivity, "to save you from people who were planning to shoot you in Vologda". An explanation that seemed hard to believe.

However, the action taken against them was the opposite to the idea of "saving them". They were treated as criminals. They were photographed, like taking mugshots of prisoners, and were thrown in prison shared by other detainees.

Later, they were transferred to Shpalernaya prison and were allowed to have their own private cell. They were also permitted to go outdoor for a walk for less than an hour.

In the letter sent by Grand Duke Georgy to his wife in England, he said that the prison guards were kind to them, treated them well and even helped them smuggled letters.

They were also permitted to meet at the courtyard and allowed them provisions from outside like  food and cigarettes.

Grand Duke Dmitry would regularly receive meal provisions sent by his loyal adjutant, Colonel Alexander von Leiming.

Nonetheless, they were treated like prisoners. Their lunch meals were the simplest of all, fish bones,  black bread and dirty hot water.

The clanking of the jail guard's heavy boots on the hallway of their prison cells every the morning and the rattling of keys of their cell doors were the ominous sounds that would wake them up.

Keeping their spirits high

Gradually, the horrible circumstances of their imprisonment without a crime committed, took away the gaiety that Grand Duke Dmitry had once known. However, he tried to appear calm and cheerful for the sake of his relatives in the adjacent cells.

Dmitry's nephew, Prince Gavril (brother of John, Igor and Konstantin who were already executed) occupied a cell in the center. He recalled how his uncle would send him letters of encouragement through the jail guard.

Always a cheerful uncle, who was fond of telling jokes during happier days with his nephews, Grand Duke Dmitry would bribe jail guard just to carry his letters to his nephew and cousins in nearby cells.

Prince Gavril would be eventually saved from this terrible ordeal, as he became very ill, the Bolsheviks decided to free him. He quickly made his way out of Russia and settled with his family in France.

Most of their relatives tried vainly to save them and made frantic efforts to obtain their release from prison, and sought the help of Maxim Gorky who asked Vladimir Lenin to set them free. But nothing was heard and no result was come out of the negotiation.

Death by Firing Squad

Close to midnight on January 28, 1919, Grand Dukes Dmitry, Nikolai and Georgy were awaken by the jail guards and told them to pack their belongings because they will be moved to another prison cell.

Initially, the grand dukes thought they would be brought to Moscow to be freed. However, after they finished to pack their things, they were told to leave their luggage.

Grand Duke Georgy knew what it was. He had an intuition they would be brought to a place to be murdered.

Shortly after one in the early morning, they were taken outside and loaded to a truck with other prisoners and heavily-armed Red guardsmen.

The truck crunched towards the river where it stalled. While the driver tried to restart the vehicle, one of the prisoners ran and was shot at the back by the Red Guard.

Then they drove towards the fields until they reached the fortress set up at the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Cathedral. It was in Petrograd wall.

Upon arrival, the grand dukes and other prisoners were pushed out of the truck to the bastion. It was a very cold early morning of the January winter and Grand Duke Dmitry barely saw his footsteps due to his rapidly failing eyesight.

Later, they would be joined by another cousin, Grand Duke Pavel Alexandrovich, (also a son-in-law of Queen Olga of Greece, sister of Grand Duke Dmitry. Pavel was the husband of Olga's daughter, Princess Alexandra, also the older sister of Prince Andrew, father of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh) brought by the Red guardsmen from out of nowhere.
Queen Olga of Greece, grandmother of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh
and older sister of Grand Duke Dmitry

Grand Duke Pavel was already very sick. He was put in a stretcher and joined his cousins. As the guards told them to remove their coats and shirts, the grand dukes knew it was the end of the road. They embraced tightly for the last time.

The guards let them walked arm in arm toward the trench. It had been dug up near the courtyard to throw bodies of murdered detainees. With it, were already dead bodies piled up.

As the grand dukes passed through Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral where their ancestors had been buried for generation, they bowed and crossed themselves.

According to some accounts, Grand Duke Nikolai kept himself in high spirit during the captivity by bringing along his favorite cat. When they headed to the trench, he handed the cat to the soldier and told him to take care his pet.

The grand dukes were told to line up side by side above the trench. As they waited to be shot, Grand Duke Dmitry who was known to be a religious man, uttered this line, "forgive them for they know not what they do". It seemed to be his last words.

They were killed by a single blast, sending their bodies reeling into the trench. The soldiers then thrown their bodies into a mass grave within the fortress.

Grand Duke Dmitry was 58 and partially blind at the time of the murder. He and his cousins faced death courageously. Despite having not committed any crime against the country.

Upon hearing the execution, Grand Duke Dmitry's adjutant, Colonel Alexander von Leiming, went to the grave site on the following morning and secretly collected his body. He rolled it in a rug and brought to a garden house in Petrograd for a private burial.

Grand Duke Dmitry's grave can still be found in that house until today.

Remembering his life 

Grand Duke Dmitry, by most account, was a relatively shy man, deeply religious and the nicest, most decent of all grand dukes of Russia in his time.
He lived a quiet life without any scandal and controversies. He was best remembered by his nephews and nieces as the kindest of all uncles who was very cheerful and fond of telling them jokes and stories.

He was also one of the grand dukes of the Romanovs who was devoted to his duty until poor eyesight forced him to take a backseat.

He retreated to obscurity away from the glamour of the imperial court and devoted his time cultivating his passion for horses and supporting churches.

He was musically-inclined and learned to play the piano at an early age. He often sang in the church's choir in Strelna.

After several failed attempts to find a royal bride, Grand Duke Dmitry was not heard pursuing any romance again.

He then devoted his life to military service and in later years, to his various estates until the Russian revolution interrupted his quiet life.
Prince Philip, Grand Duke Dmitry's great nephew
Prince Michael of Greece and Denmark, great nephew of Grand Duke Dmitry

He did not have any children also, thus, no direct offspring. His nearest relatives that are still living now are Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Michael of Greece and Denmark whose grandmother, Queen Olga of Greece, was his older sister.

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