At the time, I worked in the National Archives of the Russian State, in an immense sinister building, badly lit but redeemed by the boundless kindness of the employees. We discussed my family with these extraordinarily cultivated ladies.
I told them about the four brothers of my grandmother Queen Olga.
“No, one of them said to me, they were five.”
“You mean a child that did not survive.”
“Not at all, he became an adult and lived for a long time.”
She would not tell me more, but I was intrigued, for I believe I knew my family by heart.
Some time later, I consulted my cousin Nicolas of Russia. He was the eldest, the patriarch of the imperial family, and more importantly, the indisputable authority on all matters concerning the Romanov. He welcomed me with his usual kindness and humours. I questioned him. “Indeed, there was a fifth brother, Nicolas Constantinovitch. He was so scandalous that I did not want to tell you about him.”
And so he recounted the story of this elder brother of my grandmother’s. He was a playboy, a womanizer, very intelligent, very talented but unstable. He had stolen from his mother’s icons the big diamonds to support his American lover, Fanny Lear. The cat was let out of the bag.
The Tsar had been less horrified by his nephew’s theft then by the fact that he had let his valet be accused. Poor valet who had then been sent to Siberia. That, the Tsar could not pardon.
He had Nicolas sent in exile forever, far from the capital, very far, in Uzbekistan which, a few decades earlier had become Russian. In Tashkent more precisely, a minuscule township. And there, Nicolas had waned away his entire life, until his death during the Revolution, without ever being allowed to return to Saint Petersburg.
I found the subject interesting and decided to conduct my own research to write the bibliography of this strange great-uncle. And I undiscovered a truth far from legend. The diamonds had indeed been stolen, but Nicolas was not responsible. He had been framed as the culprit by the real culprits. His American lover was in large part guilty, but more than that, he had the bad habit of proclaiming secrets of the imperial family, which they would have rather kept in the dark at any cost.
He had indeed been sent in exile in Tashkent, and there had continued to lead an unbridled life to the point of being trinogamous but also, as he still earned the income of a Grand Duke, he had greatly contributed to the development of the city and the region. He had modernised agriculture, opened the city to commerce and industries, he had made Tashkent a jewel, and had his collection of paintings and sculptures brought there. He had built a palace, today destined for the Chief of State’s parties. He died in the midst of the Revolution, honoured by a solemn service led by the priests as a great-duke of Russia and equally honoured by the soviet authorities as a victim of the tsar.
I wrote his biography, which deeply interests me, and although I searched every nook and cranny of the sources and archives, there remain many grey zones surrounding this mysterious great-uncle.