Monday, February 18, 2013

Klementy Nagorny and The Russian Royal Family, a tale of character and courage.

 Klementy Nagorny(1889-1918) was a sailor on the Russian Imperial Yacht Standardt.  A good man and reliable, competent sailor, he was also well known among the officers and men aboard ship for being a good father to his children(one source said he had three children) and a good  husband. Nagorny had served aboard the Standardt for about 10 years and had won the respect and friendship of all aboard. He became a special favorite of the Royal Family.  With the coming of the Revolution he chose to share the fate of Nicholas II, his wife, Alexandra, and their children, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and Alexei, in their journey from the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo, to the Governor's Palace at Tobolsk and then finally to the Bolshevik's "House of Special Purpose"(Ipatiev House) in Yekaterinburg.  Nagorny acted as a companion and protector of the sick Russian Tsarevitch.
Standardt Sailor Klementy Nagorny

Je dédie ce livre à l'héroïque marin-paysan, Clementi Grigorivitch Nagorny qui, jusqu'au sacrifice de sa vie, défendit le tsarévitch.

It is incredibly insensitive when people confuse Klementy Nagorny and Andrey Eremeyevich Derevenko the other companion for the young Tsarevitch. Both men when confronted by the apocalypse which was the Russian Revolution but chose different paths. Nagorny chose honor and death, "the road less taken" and remained loyal to the Imperial Family, while  Deverenko chose self preservation, an understandable but an un-courageous decision.

Alexei(H), Deverenko(D) and Klementy Nagorny(KH)

From Chapter XV of Memories of the Russian Court, by Anna Vyrubova:

"Shaken though I was with that experience, I had one more agony to bear. When my chair was being wheeled back along the corridor I passed the open door of Alexei's room, and this is what I saw. Lying sprawled in a chair was the sailor Derevenko, for many years the personal attendant of the Tsarevich, and on whom the family had bestowed every kindness, every material benefit. Bitten by the mania of revolution, this man was now displaying his gratitude for all their favors. Insolently he bawled at the boy whom he had formerly loved and cherished, to bring him this or that, to perform any menial service his mean lackey's brain could think of. Dazed and apparently only half conscious of what he was being forced to do, the child moved about trying to obey. It was too much to bear. Hiding my face in my hands, I begged them to take me away from the sickening spectacle."

Anya was Empress Alexandra's best friend and confidant, she was arrested with the fall of the monarchy, but later was able to flee to Finland.

The one great strength of Nagorny was his good cheer, he was able to revive the spirits of his charge, the Tsarevitch, but also of other members of the family as well. All of them genuinely liked and appreciated his good spirit and company. The atmosphere at Tsarskoe Selo was unsettled and dark, at Tobolsk it became ominous, especially after the replacement of regular army soldiers and their commander Colonel Kobylinski with revolutionaries on April 22, 1918. Colonel Kobylinski fought to maintain order and discipline among the troops. Colonel Kobylinski was an honorable man who acted honorably, even in those extraordinary times, when far less might be expected or excused. He tried to maintain military discipline among "his" troops. But as the revolution progressed, his men began to refuse to obey his orders and showed barely disguised contempt for him and open hostility and hatred for the Royal Family. Nicholas made a comment in his diary describing him as "our good commandant".

 Colonel Kobylinski, commanding officer of the guard detachment at Tsarskoe Selo and Tobolsk

One story gives you an idea of the kind of man Colonel Kobylinski was. 12-year-old Alexei had a favorite toy rifle which was made of wood. At one point it was seized by his guards. The Colonel retrieved it, but warned Nicholas and Alexei that it must only be brought out behind closed doors when only the family was present. Colonel Kobylinski was later killed fighting for the White Russians under Admiral Kolchak against the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War.
It was during this dark period at Tobolsk, that Alexei took a sled and attempted to slide down the main stairway at the Governor's House. Having hemophilia, the subsequent injury became a catastrophe for the heir. (Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert Massie, 1968)

While in Siberia, he rode a sled down the stairs of the prison house and injured himself in the groin. Because of his hemophilia, he began massive hemorrhaging. The hemorrhage was very bad, and he was so ill that he could not be moved so the Bolsheviks only transferred his parents and older sister Maria to Yekaterinburg in April 1918. Alexei and his three other sisters remained behind in Tobolsk until he was well enough to travel. They  joined the rest of the family weeks later. He was confined to a wheelchair for the remaining weeks of his life.

 The stairway on which Alexei slid down on his sled.

The pain was so horrendous, that Alexei would beg to die and be put out of his misery.  His mother, The Empress Alexandra, was in pure agony, listening to the suffering of her son.  A shy woman, which most people interpreted as arrogance or an imperious nature, without her friend Anya and lady's in waiting from the court, her life had become beyond most people's endurance. Then to be separated by the Bolsheviks...

Olga and Alexei on board the Steamer Rus on the way to Yekaterinburg from Tobolsk. During the trip Alexei and Nagorny were locked in their cabin. One story told afterwards was that Alexei's sisters were heard screaming at night during the trip from Tobolsk, when Nagorny tried to investigate, he was severely beaten by their Bolshevik guards.

Once Colonel Kobylinsky was replaced with the Bolshevik Yurovsky, the situation degenerated quickly. One of Colonel Kobylinski last acts as commander was to apologize to Nicholas Romanov(II) for his inability to do more for his charges. Though a Social Democrat and ambivalent about the Monarchy, he nonetheless chose to be a decent, civilized human being. After his departure things got progressively worse, Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia were forced to use to the latrine accompanied by armed guards, who made vulgar and suggestive comments along the way to humiliate the Grand Duchesses. The guards also covered the outhouse in obscene graffiti. They demeaned and insulted the Tsar at every opportunity. At Yekaterinburg things only got worse.

Nagorny and Citizen Nicholas Romanov, working in the Gardens at Tsarskoe Selo.

Nagorny was the target for special mistreatment by the Bolsheviks, being beaten repeatedly, once for attempting to assist Tatiana Romanov who was struggling to carry her luggage from the train station at Yekaterinburg. Prince Lvov tells a story repeated in the movie "Nicholas and Alexandra"(1970):

On May 26, 1918 one of the guards tried to steal a thin gold chain and crucifix from Tsarevitch Alexis. Nagorny tried to stop him, but he in turn was seized by the guards and arrested. Nagorny was thrown in to the Yekaterinburg jail and shot either on May 31 or June 1st. Without Nagorny,  Nicholas and Dr. Botkin had to assume care of the injured Tsarevitch. Including carrying him through the garden of Ipatiev House(The House of Special Purpose).
One of the ironies of history is that the first Romanov Tsar, Michael Romanov, had been proclaimed Tsar of all the Russias at the Ipatiev Monastery at Kostroma, Russia(He was crowned on July 22, 1613) and the last Tsar murdered at Ipatiev House on July 17, 1918. in Yekaterinburg. Only a few years before, The Romanovs celebrated the 300th Anniversary of their rule of Russia.

Things took an ominous turn when the kitchen boy, 14-year-old Sednev, failed to show up for work one day in July 1918, a few days before the family was murdered. Apparently, Yurovsky's men made it clear that they wouldn't kill the boy. He was a poor kid who had done nothing wrong. The Bolsheviks put him on a train to relatives out in the country. With the approaching of the Whites and the Czech fighters, the Bolsheviks murdered the Royal Family July 16, 1918, including the children. Sednev would live until 1925, though one version of events says he lived until 1941. He quietly shared his experiences with Romanovs, whom he had come to love. He is rumored to have written his experiences in a booklet, which is apparently lost to history.

Found among the papers and possessions of the Russian Royal Family at "The House of Special Purpose" in Yekaterinburg by  the White Russian Army which captured the city from the Bolsheviks is this letter from the Tsarevitch Alexei to his best friend Kolya. Oddly, Alexei ended the undelivered letter with "the end" as a closing, not a conventional choice and not one which Alexei had ever used before.  Kolya lived until the 1990's and gave an interview for Russian TV in which he discussed his friendship with Alexei.
Transcript of Alexei's last letter:


Dear Kolya,

All of my sisters send greetings to you, your mother and
grandmother. I feel well myself. My head was aching
all day, but now the pain has gone completely. I
embrace you warmly. Greetings to the Botkins from all of

Always yours


Konets(The END in Russian)

Kolya is to the left in this picture taken in the winter of 1916. Left to right, Kolya, Alexei, Tatiana, Maria, Olga, Anastasia and Nicholas II.

From the Alexander Palace Forum, translation of an interview with Koyla Deverenko in the 1990's. Available on Youtube

I was a little boy, just 12 years old...I didn't know anything about people's evil.....We lived in Popov house, very close to Ipatiev house. In the middle of summer 1918, I was afraid, and I was preoccupied about Aleksei.I wanted to see him. And, I am sure, he wanted to see me. Until that sad 17th july 1918. My father, Gilliard, Gibbes and other...they knew everything, but I NOTHING....Something terrible was going to happen, but I didn't know what....In the last week of july 1918, I , my father, Gilliard, Gibbes,etc. entered at Ipatiev house.Terrible scene....House was in completelly chaos. Diaries, letters, albums, and others items was all around in house. 'But where is Leskela?'-I asked my father, but I he didn't answe me. Leskela's diary...was taken by one guard,I think his name was Nemetkin,I don't know. But Leonid Sednev....I saw him. He cried. His cried so aloud, so aloud!!!!!
'Papa, where is my Leskela?'-I cried.
'They killed him'-he cried
'they killed tsar, tsarina, and GDs also.All are dead."-said my father.
"I don't understand','where...where are bones'
'We don't know, maybe we'll never discover them'
My world was destroyed.They destroyed Russia, no more illusions...I found Leskela's last letter written to me.Especially one sentence in that letter-'I hug you warmly'-made me cry..I thought 'And I hug you warmly, too, my dear friend, and my tsar...'
I was in shock.In later years, I think just about him. 'Why did they killed you? In USSR wassn't a little space for my Leskela......We'l be forever friends, my dear tsesarevich....I want to see you just ONE more time, and I can die in peace......

From a Russian website, reposted:,9716.msg273644.html#msg273644


Anonymous said...

Nagorny showed himself to be an honorable and good man and died a true hero. He clearly loved the poor Tsarevich. They were all good people and didn't deserve to be murdered. I never knew Kolya gave an interview about Alexei. What a sweet man. It brought tears to my eyes. Reading an innocent child's account of the tragedy somehow makes it even greater. The injustice of it all makes one sad.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful article.

I would just like to point out two errors:

a) it would have been KOLYA (not "Koyla"", an abbreviation of Nikolay.

b) I believe the final word is not German (KAPUTT) but rather Russian: KONETS. It still means "the end".

Brian Keith O'Hara said...

Thanks, I will fix the error.

Anonymous said...

Klementy Nagorny morreu na casa ipatiev junto com a família em 17 de julho de 1918? Não vejo ele ser mencionado como morto neste local.

Anonymous said...

Em filmes Sednev é confundido com Kolya, ambos acompanharam a família no cativeiro. Sednev é representado como um garotinho menor que Alexei, quando na verdade ele era maior, já era um rapaz.

Unknown said...

Nargony foi morto em outro local.

Ray Green/Ireland said...

We all need a Nagorny in this life against the knaves and false friends we meet in our journey through this strange world

GWHawkins said...

There is no primary evidence that Alexei's haemorrhage in Tobolsk was due to sledding down the stairs. In both letters and diary entries by the Tsar and Tsaritsa, they write that the haemorrhage was caused by a coughing fit.

Brian Keith O'Hara said...

We only know what happened from secondary sources, of course, the Romanovs and their staff were murdered and the Bolsheviks, Yurovsky and crew, only told us what they wanted us to know. We know he had a serious bleeding incident, there are reports that Alexei blamed himself for the family's troubles. And the family saw keeping Alexei's moral up as an important task in those dark days. So it fits the circumstances but remains unproven. In the end, you can either believe it or not, no one will ever know with absolute certainty either way. Unless another record is found in Soviet Archives, like Yurovsky's report which was discovered a few years ago.

GWHawkins said...

I would say that the diaries and letters of the Imperial couple are primary sources. The haemorrhage, according to them, was from severe coughing. As a translator and researcher of Romanov primary sources from the Russian State Archives, I have never found any evidence to show otherwise, let alone anything that suggests Alexei blamed himself for their troubles.

Michael Scott said...

Alexei's comment was written in Russian and reads "konets". Had he wanted to write "kaputt" he could have done in Cyrillic but he did not. He used Russian. Nonetheless, he sensed what was coming, and conveyed that succinctly.

GWHawkins said...

I do believe it is a lot to read into the word 'konets' and suggest from that that Alexei sensed what was coming, considering the rest of the letter showed him to be in good spirits. He in fact used 'konets' in several chatty letters letters to his mother during the war writing to her from Mogilev, as per the letters on 15 and 19 August 1916 (GARF 640-1-77), [also from the same fund "konchayu - I am ending (the letter) on 9 August 1916], 'konets' again used on 7 September 1916 (GARF 640-1-79) and 10 December 1916 (GARF 640-1-80). When he didn't write konets, he generally wrote 'pora konchat', or 'time to end'. It was just his way of finishing letters and nothing else.

EHarms said...

The first photo is not of Nagorny but of Ivan Sednev, who shared his fate. I believe you may also have mixed up Nagorny & Derevenko's family situations; I believe it was Derevenko who had the wife & 2 or 3 children.

Brian Keith O'Hara said...

They both had children, the second photo on this page has handwritten notations. A for Alexei, D Derevenko and K for Klementy Nagorny. I am aware of Leonid Sednev the servant who Alexei was friends and was sent away immediately before the family was executed.

EHarms said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
EHarms said...

I didn't say Leonid Sednev; the photo you have posted is Ivan Sednev, Leonid's uncle. I'm referring to the first photo, not the one of Nagorny, Derevenko, & Alexei busting ice in 1917. Also, that is not an "A" under Alexei, but the Cyrillic letter for "N", referring to "naslednik": heir. Nagorny never had children. It's well documented. He wasn't married, and no man with children out of wedlock would have been allowed to hold the position Nagorny held.