While most Monachists in exile preferred advocated either Grand Prince Nikolai Nikolaevich Romanov, grandson of Tsar Nicholas I, or Grand Duke Dmitry Konstantinovich, the son of Michael Alexandrovich, without consultation Grand Duke however Kirill (Cyril) Vladimirovich on 31 August 1924 assumed the title Emperor of all the Russias. A move that split the Romanov family, as it still divides them today. Of the sixteen Grand Dukes who had been alive at the start of the war, only six lived long enough to get out of Russia. Of these, Kirill’s two brothers, Boris and Andrew unsurprisingly recognized him as Tsar. Others, like the 68-year-old former army supreme commander Nikolasha, his younger brother Peter, and Dimitri, did not. It also divided the huge numbers of monarchists then living in exile, in France, Britain, Germany, the Balkans and the United States, after the Red Army finally crushed the Whites in 1922 to become masters of all Russia. The Dowager Empress was scathing in her condemnation. She protested to Nikolasha from her home in Denmark:
I was most terribly pained when I read Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich’s manifesto proclaiming himself EMPEROR OF ALL THE RUSSIAS. To date there has been no precise information concerning the fate of My beloved Sons or My Grandson and, for this reason, I consider the proclamation of a new EMPEROR to be premature. There is still no one who could ever extinguish in me the last ray of hope. I fear that this manifesto will create division. This will not improve the situation but, quite the opposite, will worsen it, while Russia is tormented enough without such a thing. If it has pleased THE LORD GOD, as he acts in HIS mysterious ways, to summon My beloved sons and grandson to HIMSELF, then, without wishing to look ahead, and with firm hope in the mercy of GOD, I believe that HIS MAJESTY THE EMPEROR will be elected in accordance with Our Basic Laws by the Orthodox Church in concert with the Russian People… I am sure that, as the senior member of the HOUSE OF THE ROMANOVS, You are of the same opinion as Myself. MARIA.
Kirill had expected bitter opposition. The attacks on him were, however, founded on more than malice and charges of self-aggrandizement. The greatest practical objection to Kirill’s action was that the “White Russians” were united only in their opposition to the Bolsheviks and in their belief that their enemy would not rule for long, and come that day they would all return home.
Even among those who favored a return to the crown, many wanted that to be a decision settled by a constituent assembly — the same terms as those set out in Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich ’s manifesto of March 1917 when Emperor Nicholas II abdicated in favor of Michael as Regent.
A constitutional monarchy might follow the downfall of the Bolshevik regime, and monarchists naturally hoped that it would, but the critical need was to overthrow the Bolsheviks, not divide the opposition Grand Duke Nikolay Nikolayevich, still widely respected as the former Supreme Commander, gave voice to that view when he issued his own manifesto in the wake of Kirill’s. The aim, he said, was to re-establish the rule of law in Russia without stipulating the form of government — in effect, another restatement of Michael’s manifesto. Kirill had jumped the gun. In any case, why Kirill as Emperor? The so-called Supreme Monarchist Council, which claimed to represent majority monarchist opinion, before he died, favored Grand Duke Dmitry Konstantinovich the son of Michael Alexandrovich (who had been appointed by Nicholas II) — and as it happened, so did the British government. Clinging to the small print of imperial laws, the high-minded Council held that Kirill — and his two younger brothers —were excluded from the succession because their German-born mother had not converted to Orthodoxy at the time of her marriage, as required by law. It did not help that Kirill had married not only a divorcée but, contrary to the law of the Russian Orthodox Church, his first cousin. Moreover there was also the abiding memory for many monarchists of the red flag on the tower of his palace in Petrograd in March 1917 and his arrival at the Tauride Palace wearing a red bow as he marched his marines to pledge their support to the Duma, in breach of his oath of allegiance.(1) Kirill would never admit fault then, nor fault now as he named himself Emperor, and wife “Ducky” as the Empress. He also promoted his son Vladimir from prince to ‘Grand Duke’ and “Tsarevich”— a move which would further cement the divisions in the Romanov family. To be a Grand Duke under the imperial law meant that you were the son or grandson of a Tsar; Vladimir was a great-grandson of Alexander II and as such was entitled to be styled only as a prince. As for making him the Tsarevich and next-in-line to the throne — for many the door was then not only shut but slammed in his face. It has never been opened since. The division among the Romanovs which followed Kirill’s grasp for the crown persists to this day, with his grand-daughter Marie’s claim to be “Head of the House of Romanov” mocked by most. Kirill attempted to buy his place in the sun by handing out titles to those who did support him.
1) Kirill, like every other Grand Duke, had sworn an oath of loyalty to “serve His Imperial Majesty, not sparing my life and limb, until the very last drop of my blood” yet on Wednesday, March 1, 1917 he joined the revolution, whilst Nicholas was still Tsar, and raised a red flag flying on its roof. Later in Germany, he would mingle with the Nazi’s. Anticipating his arrival in Germany, Walther Nicolai agreed to establish an anti-Bolshevik intelligence agency so that General Ludendorff, Kirill, and Hitler, would have a reliable source of information on events in the Soviet Union. The money for the intelligence service, code-named Project S, came from Kirill.