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Section: PAPERS

The Cyrillist Claim

Author: Michael Yu. Medvedev / Publication date: 2010-09-11

The Cyrillist ClaimThe genealogically senior branch of the Romanovs is, after the extinction of the male-line posterity of Alexander III, the branch of Grand Duke Cyril (Kirill), famous for its claim to the dynastical headship. This claim was accepted by many, and criticised by many as well. Some well-known arguments against the Cyrillist claim are no less erroneous than the claim itself, and/or legally irrelevant (“belated” conversion of Cyril’s mother to Orthodoxy, revolutionary activities of Cyril, the fact that he joined conventional “abdication” of Grand Duke Michael etc); but there is a fact which is truly decisive: the legal consequences of Cyril’s marriage.

In 1900-ies, Cyril decided to marry his first cousin and a long-time object of cordial affection, Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Cobourg (aka Princess Victoria of Edinburgh, in her British dynastical capacity; she married firstly Ernest Louis, the Grand Duke of Hesse and by the Rhine, but divorced in 1901 on the grounds of “invincible mutual antipathy”). Ernest Louis’ two sisters being an Empress and a Grand Duchess of Russia, Nicholas II took the matter very much to heart, sided his brother-in-law in the conflict, and warned Cyril in writing (letter from 26.II.1903) that there will be no Imperial approval for the Grand Duke’s union with Victoria Melita, and that, if contracted in contradiction to the Emperor’s wish, this marriage will cause heavy punishment of Cyril, including the deprivation from the Grand Ducal rank. After some hesitation, Cyril married Victoria Melita on 8 October 1905 in Tegernsee, Bavaria. Nicholas II stripped Cyril of his offices and pension, and banished him from Russia, but was inclined towards avoiding a public scandal. Cyril’s loss of a dynastical rank or title would be made known to everyone (as all the House members, by name and title, were prayed for in all the Russian churches).

To discuss the problem caused by Cyril unlawful marriage, Nicholas II summoned in the end of 1905 an extraordinary commission presided by the charismatic Prime minister P. Stolypin and comprising also three other ministers (the minister of the Court, Baron [later Count] Freedericksz, and the ministers of foreign affairs and justice) as well as the procurator of the Synod. The commission decided that both the State laws and ecclesiastical canons (specifically the 54th canon of the Quintisexta as officially interpreted by the Synod in 1810 and 1885) were violated most blatantly, and that the marriage is to be considered as null and void, the possible posterity being illegitimate. The commission’s decision was: to suggest a non-recognition of the marriage, and the regularisation of the standing of the potential posterity (which, being illegitimate, could not inherit any degrees and honours, but, due to the degree of the parents, deserved some proper marks of Imperial attention). One of the commission members, the minister of foreign affairs, suggested a compromise: the posterity may be granted the dynastical titles – but without the right to succeed anyhow.

The Emperor’s resolution written on the commission’s memories (which resolution was duly counter-signed and became a law immediately, on 15 of January 1907) was tripartite. Nicholas II announced
- that he cannot recognise the marriage of Grand Duke Cyril;
- that the Grand Duke and his eventual posterity are banned from the succession;
- and that the posterity to come is granted the name of Princes Kirillovsky, the stile of Serene Highness, and a pension.

It worth noticing that the Emperor specified that Cyril’s posterity is ineligible for the succession. This seems unnecessary as the illegitimate children had no succession rights to be deprived of. But it is clear from the context that, taking in consideration different potential scenarios, Nicholas II wished to secure – and secured – the ban by a separate statement.

Another extraordinary commission was summoned in the same January of 1907 to effectuate the deprivation of the Grand Duke from his successon rights. The commission consisted of nine high officials (ministers and State Council members). It was members’ common opinion that the Grand Duke must be deprived of his right to succeed but there was a discord as to the method.

Five members (including the chairman, President of the State Council E. Frisch; one may conventionally call them “constitutionalists”) believed that the Grand Duke may lose his succession right, firmly established by the Fundamental Laws, only via the voluntary abdication, to make which he has to be persuaded. They also suggested making a public announcement regarding this abdication.

Four members (including Stolypin and Freedericksz; one may call them “absolutists”) were of opinion that any abdications and announcements are unnecessary as the recent resolution, being as much a law as any law, already solved the problem.

The commission’s business was not to vote but to discuss; so it submitted both opinions for the Emperor’s consideration who, in his turn, declined from making any instant decision. Meanwhile Cyril and his father used all possible ways to obtain Imperial recognition of the disputed marriage. On 15 of July 1907 Nicholas II issued a decree in which, “in condescending to the request” of Cyril’s father, Victoria Melita was defined as Cyril’s spouse (thus implying the recognition of the marriage) and she, as well as the newborn daughter, were accorded the appropriate dynastical titles. This was not only a grant of titles analogous to the dynastical ones, but an act of acceptation into the dynasty. However this acceptation affected neither Cyril’s succession status nor that of the Cyrillides.

According to the Fundamental Laws, any norm of any earlier law remains valid until an explicit revocation by a later law. The “act of pardon” resulted only in a partial revision of the norms imposed by the “act of punishment”. The marriage was recognised. The non-dynastical pensions and titles became not topical, so they were forgotten and never claimed. As to the deprivation of the succession rights (both of Cyril and of his line), it was by no means abrogated by the later decree, and thus remained fully valid.

Returning the two opinions of the second commission: the adherents of the “Cyrillism” insist on the validity of the “constitutionalist” opinion, that is, on the constitutional status of Cyril’s succession rights, which allegedly could not be withdrawn by the Emperor. But this opinion is of little help to the Cyrillist claim. To follow this logic further, the Emperor was unable to “pardon” Cyril and to recognise his marriage, because the Fundamental Laws provide no possibility for such a recognition post factum, and mentions a prior consent of the Sovereign as a necessary condition for any union to be dynastical.

Theoretically, the “constitutionalists” may believe that Cyril kept his right to the throne and the “absolutists” may disagree; but, apart of this ambiguity, within both logical systems it appears that Cyril’s posterity never was entitled to succeed.

However practically (that is, historically), there was no ambiguity at all. The Senate, the government and the State church appeared to be “absolutist” as they followed the Emperor in recognition of the dynastical status of Cyril’s spouse and children, making apparent that in the dynastical administration the Emperor’s decisions made ad personam and ad hoc may trespass (or rather augment) the constitutional outlines.

When the Bolshevist revolution decapitated the dynasty, Cyril declared himself the throne keeper and then, the Emperor (avoiding titles of incognito, and implying that the Empire remains a subject of international law, and legally the throne still exists). The Headship was de jure vested in his rather inactive, privacy-minded brother Boris who would never seriously oppose Cyril’s ambitions and recognised him as the Head – but without writing any act which could constitute a formal abdication in favour of the elder brother, together with the latter’s simultaneous restoration to the succession rights. The next in the line of succession was yet another brother of Cyril, Grand Duke Andrew(1)… The situation gave to Cyril’s opponents no opportunity to appeal to the strictly legal reasons; meanwhile many dynasty members preferred to see Cyril as the rightful heir, emotionally accepting the “1907 act of pardon” as a real full, all-restoring discharge.
(1) Only in 1956 the headship passed to Prince Vsevolod, then to Prince Andrew and his brother Basil, who was the last dynastically successorable male Romanov. Basil, in his turn, was succeeded in the Headship by Princess Vera, who happened to be the last successorable Romanov (her niece Princess Catherine remained a dynast but was bound by an abdication made long ago). After Vera’s death, in accordance of the Pauline principle of proximity, the headship appeared to be vested in the HM the King of the Hellenes.

Despite of the unlawfulness of Cyril’s claim, many purely administrative acts of him (such as maintaining of the old dynastic orders, or even elevation of Prince Gabriel to the Grand Ducal degree) may be seen as an instruments of the dynastic consent, although some prominent dynasts (Empress Dowager Mary and Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolayevich the Younger) never ceased to oppose him as a pretender, and the obedience of other dynasty members often was somehow relativist (thus Grand Duke Dimitry applied to Cyril for a grant of a title for his morganatic posterity; the name and title approved by Cyril was “Serene Princes Romanovsky-Ilyinski”; nevertheless Dimitry considered this “Romanovsky” as a humiliating misnomer and his children became known as “Romanoff-Ilyinski”). It in this sense that, with various reservations, one may define Cyril’s position within the House as that of a de facto regent. It was during his son’s “reign” that the Cyrillides gradually lost the family’s support.

A separate problem was caused by the marriage of Cyril’s son, Prince de Sang (aka Grand Duke) Vladimir. His spouse Leonida, née Princess Bagration of Moukhrani, despite of her obvious Royal roots, was not “equal” within the Russian Imperial legal system (as to the Georgian Royal Houses, see a correspondent paper on this site); and as to the Russian dynastical unions, it is the Russian legal system that matters. Vladimir was prudent enough to “correct” the status of the Moukhranis vis-à-vis the Imperial law, but, being only a cadet of the dynasty, he could not make this reform valid. Thus Prince Vladimir’s marriage was morganatic, and his spouse and daughter never enjoyed true Russian dynastical honours, being entitled to the name of Serene Princes Kirillovsky only. Thus with Vladimir’s death the branch of Cyril was completely separated from the Imperial house of Russia.

Finally, it is open to a debate if the Imperial orders of chivalry maintained by the Cyrillist branch should be seen as merely illegal, or as real orders operating under a temporary administration of usurpers. In any case the two orders founded by the branch in exile (those of St. Nicholas and St. Michael) do not deserve even such a consideration.

© 2006 The.Heraldry.Ru / M. Medvedev