Author Topic: Admiral Nilov  (Read 3844 times)

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Offline Lucy

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Admiral Nilov
« on: March 12, 2005, 11:03:11 PM »
I'm interested in finding out anything about Admiral Nilov of the Imperial yaht Standart.I've seen pictures of him, and a few references in letters, but I haven't learned very much. Any information about him would be appreciated. Thanks!  --Lucy

Offline Daniel Briere

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Re: Admiral Nilov
« Reply #1 on: March 20, 2005, 11:54:05 PM »
Hi Lucy! General-Adjutant Admiral Konstantin Dimitrievich Nilov (1856-1919) was His Majesty’s Flag Captain, a member of Nicholas II’s entourage and one of his friend.

In his memoirs, Head of the Court Chancellery Mossolov writes that “His Majesty’s Flag Captain was responsible for the Sovereign’s safety from the moment when the Monarch set foot in any vessel, whether a yacht, a Dreadnought, or a launch. In this last case, the Flag Captain himself took the helm.”

Nilov entered Naval School in 1871 and graduated in 1876 at twenty years old. Soon after graduating he was enrolled in the élite Garde Equipage (which provided crews for the Imperial yachts and their escort ships). When war with Turkey broke out he was sent to the Balkans. He served on various ships and, still only a sub-lieutenant, his military exploits earned him a St. George’s Cross (June 1877).

Later he served on a number of ships and various Imperial yachts. This gave him the opportunity to get to know members of the Imperial Family and in 1890 he was promoted to the rank of Captain and appointed as aide-de-camp to the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy General-Admiral Grand Duke Alexis Alexandrovich, no doubt an enviable post. In 1894 he was appointed as C.O. of the Grand Duke’s yacht “Strela”.  In 1900 he was given command of a battleship, the cruiser “Svetlana”. In January 1903 he was appointed as Commanding Officer the Garde Equipage and three months later, promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral. He also served as Head of Baltic Sea Coastal Defence. On July 22, 1905 he was appointed to His Majesty’s Military Suite and later to the post of His Majesty’s Flag Captain  (October 8, 1905). From then on he served on the Imperial yachts “Polar Star” and “Standart”. General Mossolov wrote that he owed his new post to the intervention of Grand Duke Alexis: although it may only be Court gossip,  it is possible that, upon retiring (after the disastrous war with Japan) the General-Admiral recommended his aide-de-camp to his nephew the Tsar.

Two years later, an incident in the Finnish fjords almost put an end to his naval career. On August 29, 1907, during its annual summer cruise, the Imperial yacht “Standart” hit a rock. No one was hurt, but all passengers – including the IF – had to be evacuated. Although the “Standart” was under the command of Captain Tchaguin, Admiral Nilov was responsible for the Imperial Family’s security and could have been blamed for the accident. According to Mossolov, Nilov “was in such a state of mind after the disaster that the Tsar felt bound to go to him in his cabin. Entering without knocking, the Tsar saw the Admiral bending over a chart, with a revolver in his hand. The Emperor tried to calm him.” Mossolov adds that the Tsar took away the Admiral’s gun. The Tsar believed the accident had been unforeseeable and didn’t blame Nilov.  According to Mossolov, it “created a touching friendship between the Tsar and the Admiral, a friendship that was an enigma to all who were uinfamiliar with the details of this tragedy, since the character, education, and culture of the Tsar and the Admiral were so dissimilar.”

Indeed, Nilov was quite a character and seemed almost out of place in a world of stuffy courtiers. He was a raconteur extraordinaire and regaled the Emperor and his entourage with an inexhaustible reserve of jokes and anecdotes. As most sailors, he loved a good drink: Mossolov wrote that he had “habits of intemperance which made him incapable of efficient work” and recalls that at tea on board the Imperial train, no alcohol was served “except when Nilov (…) was present; he could not do without rum or brandy and asked the servant for it.”  General Spiridovich, Head of His Majesty’s Security Service, is less harsh in his judgement: while ADC to Grand Duke Alexis, Nilov had acquired a taste for whisky-soda, drinking more than most sailors (!!) but never failing to perform his duty extremely well. Spiridovich adds that Their Majesties knew he was quite fond of alcohol but that they forgave him. Nicholas II even joked about it: Mossolov recalls how Court Minister Freedericksz and Grand Marshall of the Court Benckendorff were tricked by some members of the Suite into taking some great vintage wines from the Tsar’s cellar for dinner by pretending there was a special family occasion. When he saw that special glasses had been laid on the table, the Emperor smiled and asked: “Another niece coming of age to-day? I would like to know who remembered it first, Nilov or Troubetzkoy?”

In April 1908, he was promoted to Vice-Admiral and on October 5, 1908 - the Tsarevich’s namesday- Nicholas II rewarded his friend with the highest rank in his Military Suite: “General-Adjutant” (General Aide-de-Camp). Finally on March 25, 1912 he was promoted to the Naval rank of (Full) Admiral.

During the War, the Imperial Family didn’t do much sailing so as Flag Captain, Nilov would have been almost out of a job. But Nicholas II kept him in his immediate entourage and he accompanied the Emperor on most of his travels by train to the Front and to Headquarters. Although he held the rank of General-Adjutant, at Headquarters he had no other duty apart from being the Tsar’s friend and entertainer. By the end of 1916, few people there felt like laughing though. Fear of Revolution was spreading, rumours of various plots against the Emperor were circulating and in December Rasputin was killed. Members of Nicholas II’s Suite knew that they were not to discuss politics with him. Nevertheless, according to French Ambassador Paléologue, Nilov tried to warn his friend about the impending catastrophe. Here is what Paléologue wrote in his diary on January 25, 1917:

« The most devoted servants of tsarism, and even some of those who form the monarch's ordinary entourage, are beginning to be alarmed at the pace of events.
To take one example, I have just learned from a very reliable source that Admiral Nilov, A.D.C. General to the Emperor and one of his closest personal friends, quite recently had the courage to point out to him the whole peril of the situation; he actually went so far as to beg him to send the Empress away - as being the only thing which could still save the empire and the dynasty. Nicholas II, who is chivalrous and worships his wife, rejected the suggestion with intense scorn:
"The Empress is a foreigner," he said, "she has no one to protect her but myself. I shall never abandon her, under any circumstances. In any case, all the charges made against her are false. Wicked lies are being told about her. But I shall know how to make her respected!"
Admiral Nilov's intervention is particularly impressive because until quite recently he has always sided with the Empress. He was a close friend of Rasputin and intimately associated with the gang; he always arrived punctually for the famous Wednesday dinners at the house of the financier Manus and is therefore largely responsible for the discredit and disgrace into which the imperial court has now fallen. But at bottom, he is honest and patriotic. At long last he has seen the abyss which is opening at Russia's feet, and he is trying - too late - to clear his conscience.»

As Paléologue wrote, it was too late. Despite all warnings he had received, one month later Nicholas walked straight into the abyss. Nilov was on the Imperial train when the Emperor was forced to abdicate and he went back to Moghilev with him. On March  8/21, four Commissars from the Provisional Government arrived to escort the former emperor back to Tsarskoe Selo. They requested a list of all passengers accompanying Nicholas on his last voyage aboard his Imperial train. They barred the members of his military suite from leaving with him. Unknown to the aide-de-camps, the Provisional Government had just placed Nicholas II under arrrest. The Commissars were probably afraid that members of His Majesty’s Suite might attempt to free him. At the train station, Admiral Nilov was seen running after the Emperor to bid him farewell: he took his hand and kissed it. Nicholas II is said to have told him: “What a pity, Constantin Dimitrevich, that you can’t come to Tsarskoe with me.” They were never to meet again…

A few weeks later he was retired from the Navy. Apparently he was arrested after the October Revolution and died in 1919. In 1885 he had married a former Maid of Honour, Princess Mariamna Mikhailovna Kochubey who was ten years younger than he was. They had no children. His wife was able to leave Russia; she died in Paris in 1954.
Daniel Briere

Offline matushka

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Re: Admiral Nilov
« Reply #2 on: March 22, 2005, 04:19:35 PM »
Cher Monsieur Briere,
Thank you for this very interesting biography of admiral Nilov. I know some Kochubey, will ask them about Mariamna Mikhailovna. That could be interesting. You notice that noone of the Tsar s close friends never spoke of politic with him. I read that in the so interesting Memories of priest Chavelsky. He relate that in case of politics conversation Nicolas II answered always something about the wheather... I read also the Memories of Paleologue and would like to ask you: are this memories reliable. I have always the impression he just related les rumeurs de salon de l epoque. He has "reliable sources". But wich sources?

Offline Lucy

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« Reply #3 on: March 22, 2005, 07:25:23 PM »
Thank you so much, Daniel, for the excellent (and extensive) information on Admiral Nilov! You clearly know quite a lot about him. Could you recommend any reading?