A Romanov in a Pau Garden: A Glorious Last Moment in Living History

One sunny morning in Pau, one of the neighbors came to take some plants for his garden.  The elderly gentleman in the photograph on the right is Monsieur Romanov — a  descendant of the Romanov family, rulers of Russia from 1613 until the Russian Revolution in 1917.

Here’s a brief history of The Romanovs:

Romanov Dynasty, rulers of Russia from 1613 until the Russian Revolution of February 1917. Descendants of Andrey Ivanovich Kobyla (Kambila), a Muscovite boyar who lived during the reign of the grand prince of Moscow Ivan I Kalita (reigned 1328–41), the Romanovs acquired their name from Roman Yurev (d. 1543), whose daughter Anastasiya Romanovna Zakharina-Yureva was the first wife of Ivan IV the Terrible (reigned as tsar 1547–84). Her brother Nikita’s children took the surname Romanov in honour of their grandfather, father of a tsarina. After Fyodor I (the last ruler of the Rurik dynasty) died in 1598, Russia endured 15 chaotic years known as the Time of Troubles (1598–1613), which ended when a zemsky sobor (“assembly of the land”) elected Nikita’s grandson, Michael Romanov, as the new tsar. (For the Romanovs’ predecessors, see Rurik dynasty; Troubles, Time of.)

After he had collected his plants, we had a very touching — but bizarre — conversation which included another neighbor. They both spoke Russian and pidgin French, and a little Spanish and Italian — Mr P and his mother speak French and Portuguese but no Russian — and I speak English with a little French and even less Portuguese and NO Russian.

However, what we managed to convey to each other in the space of about 20 minutes by means of gesticulating , body language and guesswork was nothing short of remarkable.

Monsieur Romanov very graciously allowed me to ask questions through Mr and his mother.

Yes, he was related to, and descended from, the Romanov family.  No, he could never return to Russia.  His name alone would target him in an unsavory manner.  He would also be expected to undertake National Service in the army, even at his age, because the fact that he served in the French army would not be recognized.

Yes, he had some small family heirlooms and artifacts .  His words and had memories of living in Siberia where his part of the family were exiled before they came to France.  There was a sadness and wistfulness when he spoke of his home country and of long-lost family whom he had not seen for decades and will probably never see again.

His parting words before he left were to express his delight in learning some English, his thanks for the plants and for the “remarkable” conversation “which went beyond time and language.”

I was left with a sense of wonder and gratitude for the time I spent “Living History.”

4 comments

  • Thanks for the wonder Living History lesson!

  • It is still incomplete ! It is very hard to get past the execution of the the Tsar and his family in 1918 and to cherry pick 300 years of history into something easily digestible. They are a most remarkable dynasty, they bred like rabbits, they were sickly, often mentally as well as physically afflicted and quite happy to bump one another off, or throw them into monasteries – or worse. One generation would stabilize the country and the next two would spend all their time undoing all the good that had been done.

    Child monarchs would have regents, grown up monarchs would be restricted by their Privy Councils. There were very few truly independent monarchs in their own right. They were however responsible for the building of St Petersburg, and for uniting and then going to war with Europe and for dragging Russia into the modern age.

    • Ah! Love and appreciate that update! I’m so glad you were able to memorialize the details for us here! That’s one great thing about blogging that no other social platform offers — in-depth commentary that adds resolution and detail to a proper article!

  • My first draft would have been worth about three long form posts – have been thinning it down more and more -and refining it best I can – but you have the pertinent details there !

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