A Friend of the Romanovs – the Pierre Gilliard story

A Friend of the Romanovs – the Pierre Gilliard story

On 7th November 1917 one of histories turning points occurred when Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin led a revolution against the provisional Government of Russia – the culmination of an extended period of intense discontent that had fermented across Russia during the First World War.

Lenin’s action led to the establishment of the Soviet Government followed by the Russian Civil War soon after. The infamous murders of the Russian Imperial Romanov family, including Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Tsarina Alexandra followed in July 1918, all at the hands of Bolshevik troops.

A fascinating story concerning the Romanovs later emerged, involving a Swiss academic Pierre Gilliard (1879-1962) who had been employed by Tsarina Alexandra as a French tutor to the Romanov children after 1905. During a thirteen-year period he became a friend and confidant to the Romanovs, and was able to take many intimate family photographs during this time.

Gilliard followed the Romanovs to Siberia during their Soviet- imposed exile in 1917 and was with them during their last few months, up until just before their deaths on 17 July 1918.

Following this, Gilliard returned to his home country of Switzerland and in 1921 published a book “Le Tragique Destin de Nicholas II et de sa famille”, that provided unique detail into the last days of the Romanovs before their murder.

Because of his intimate knowledge of the Romanov family Gilliard was asked to investigate the 1925 case of a woman located in Berlin – who claimed to be one of the Romanovs thought murdered – the Grand Duchess Anastasia. Gilliard was convinced that she was a fake, and DNA tests carried out seventy years later confirmed she was indeed not a Romanov. Gilliard died in 1962 at 83 years of age.

In 2015 his descendants donated the camera he used to photograph the Romanovs to the Tsarskoe Selo museum, near St. Petersburg.


Image: This 1911 image shows Pierre Gilliard with the Grand Duchesses Tatiana and Olga Nikolaevna at Livadia, the summer palace of Tsar Nicholas in Crimea. From the Romanov Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.