The vacillations of King George

From support to opposition to denial


The first reaction

Bad news from Russia, practically a revolution has broken out in Petrograd and some of the Guards regiments have mutinied and killed their officers. This rising is against the Govt. not against the war.
George V Diary 13 March 1917

I fear Alicky is the cause of it all and Nicky has been weak… I am in despair.
George V, Diary, 15 March 1917

Events of the last week have deeply distressed me. My thoughts are constantly with you and I shall always remain your true and devoted friend, as you know I have been in the past.
George V, Telegram to Nicholas, 21 March 1917

The change of mind

The King has been thinking much about the Government’s proposal that the Emperor Nicholas and his family should come to England. As you are doubtless aware, the King has a strong friendship for the Emperor and therefore would be glad to do anything to help him in this crisis. But His Majesty cannot help doubting, not only on account of the dangers of the voyage, but on general grounds of expediency, whether it is advisable that the Imperial Family should take up residence in this country.
Lord Stamfordham, Private Secretary to the King, to Arthur Balfour, Foreign Secretary, 30 March 1917

.. while His Majesty’s ministers quite realize the difficulties to which you refer in your letter .. they do not think that, unless the position changes, it is now possible to withdraw the invitation which has been sent and they therefore trust that the King will consent to adhere to the original invitation which was sent on the advice of His Majesty’s Ministers. Balfour to Stamfordham 30 March 1917

Every day the king is becoming more concerned about the question of the Emperor and Empress coming to this country. His Majesty receives letters from people of all classes of life, known or unknown to him., saying much the matter is being discussed, not only in clubs but by working men, and that Labour Members of the House of commons are expressing adverse opinions to the proposal… I feel sure that you appreciate how awkward it will be for our Royal Family who are closely connected with both the Emperor and Empress … The King desires me to ask you whether after consulting the Prime Minister, Sir George Buchanan should not be communicated with a view to approaching the Russian Government to make some other place for the future residence of their Imperial Majesties.
Stamfordham to Balfour, 6 April 1917

He must beg you to represent to the Prime Minister that from all he hears and reads in the press, the residence in this country of the ex-Emperor and Empress would be strongly resented by the public, and would undoubtedly compromise the position of the King and Queen from whom it would generally be assumed the invitation had emanated… Buchanan ought to be instructed to tell Miliukoff that the opposition to the Emperor and Empress coming here is so strong that we must be allowed to withdraw from the consent previously given to the Russian Government’s proposal.
Stamfordham to Balfour 6 hours later

The Ambassador hears the news

Just as hope seemed in sight, a telegram arrived from England! It was the 10th April (N.S), and the memory of that day has remained vividly in my mind. There had been a certain amount of desultory shooting during the night, but my father had gone as usual to the Foreign Office, and when he had not come up for luncheon at one o'clock my mother, who never knew a moment's peace of mind when he was out of the house, grew anxious, and rang for William to ask if anything had happened. "His Excellency came in a few moments ago," William replied. "He went straight into the Chancery, as he was told that there was an urgent telegram from England." . . .

There were, after all, telegrams from England every day, and there was no reason why this one should be of any special importance, and yet those moments of waiting stand out in my mind with a peculiar and unforgettable distinctness. Then at last the big white doors were flung open and my father came into the room, and seeing his look, my mother gate a little exclamation of dismay. "Are you ill?" she exclaimed. "Has anything happened?" He had sunk down in the chair in front of his desk, and put both hands to his forehead, in a gesture that was habitual to him when he was worried and anxious. "I have had news from England," he said, and his voice sounded flat and lifeless. "They refuse lo let the Emperor come over!"
Meriel Buchanan, The Dissolution of an Empire

The aftermath

I attended a service at the Russian Church in Welbeck Street in memory of dear Nicky, who I fear was shot last month by the Bolshevists. I was devoted to Nicky who was the kindest of men, a thorough gentleman: loved his country and people.
George V, Diary, 25 July 1918
(The King decreed a month of court mourning)

Was there ever a crueller murder and has this country ever before displayed such a callous indifference to a tragedy of this magnitude. What does it all mean? I am so thankful that the King and Queen attended the memorial service. I have not yet discovered that the PM .. [was] even represented, Where is our national sympathy, gratitude, common decency?
Stamfordham to Lord Esher

I hear from Russia that there is every probability that Alicky and the four daughters and the little boy were murdered at the same time as Nicky. It is too horrible and shows what fiends these Bolshevists are. For poor Alicky, perhaps it was best so. But those poor innocent children!
George V, Diary, August 1918

The murder shook my father’s confidence in the innate decency of mankind….. My father had personally planned to rescue him with a British cruiser but in some way the plan was blocked. In any case it hurt my father that Britain had not raised a hand to save his Cousin Nicky. “Those politicians.” he used to say, “If it had been one of their kind they would have acted soon enough.”
Duke of Windsor (Edward VIII), A Kings Story, 1951