The Year of the last Romanovs – Pierre Gilliard’s 13 years at the Romanov Court

Romanov Collection, General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

On 16 May 1879, Pierre Gilliard was born in Switzerland. He may not be royal (nor a woman!) but he was an important person for the Romanovs.

Pierre Gilliard came to Russia in 1904 to teach French to the family of George Maximilianovich, 6th Duke of Leuchtenberg. He was then recommended as a French tutor to the children of Nicholas II. He began teaching the elder daughters, Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana in 1905. In 1912, he also became the French tutor of the Tsarevich whom he described as, “rather tall for his age… a long finely chiselled face, delicate features, auburn hair with a coppery glint, and large grey-blue eyes like his mother. He had a quick wit and a keen, penetrating mind. He surprised me with questions beyond his years which bore witness to a delicate and intuitive spirit.”1 He would soon learn of Alexei’s devastating disease and his memoirs from his years at the Russian court give us a unique glimpse into a lost world. He earned the trust of the family, and after reading to a suffering Alexei one night, Alexandra wrote to her husband, ” Mr G is so gentle and kind with him, knows exactly how to be with him.”2

After the Tsar’s abdication, Pierre Gilliard was among a small group of people who remained with the Romanovs. His tutoring continued while the group was held captive. He wrote, “The Tsar accepted all these restraints with extraordinary serenity and moral grandeur. No word of reproach ever passed his lips. The fact was that his whole being was dominated by one passion, which was more powerful even than the bonds between himself and his family – his love of country. We felt that he was ready to forgive everything to those who were inflicting such humiliations upon him so long as they were capable of saving Russia.”3

In August of 1917, the family was moved to Tobolsk, and Pierre Gilliard was among those chosen to go with them. To entertain the young Grand Duchesses somewhat, Pierre Gilliard directed them in scenes from plays, and soon the rest of the family joined in.4 As time passed, he began to worry about the fate of the Romanovs, “We feel we are forgotten by everyone, abandoned to our own resources and at the mercy of this man. Is it possible that no one will raise a finger to save the Imperial Family? Where are those who have remained loyal to the Tsar? Why do they delay?”5 The family were soon separated, with the Tsar, Tsarina and Grand Duchess Marie departing for Yekaterinburg, while Pierre Gilliard remained behind in Tobolsk with the others. Alexei was only just recovering from a recent injury and could not be moved. The Tsarina entrusted him to Pierre Gilliard’s care. By May, Alexei was considered to be well enough to travel, although Pierre Gilliard protested.

The group was taken on board the Rus, which had brought them to Tobolsk. At the Tyumen rail station, Pierre Gilliard and Alexei were separated as Pierre Gilliard was placed in a fourth-class carriage at the rear of the train. They reached Yekaterinburg in the middle of the night. Of his last glimpse at the children, Pierre Gilliard wrote, “Several carriages were drawn up alongside our train, and I saw four men go towards the children’s carriage. A few minutes passed and then Nagorny the sailor…passed my window carrying the sick boy in his arms; behind him came the Grand Duchesses, loaded with valises and small personal belongings. I tried to get out but was roughly pushed back into the carriage by the sentry. I came back to the window. Tatiana Nicolaievna came last, carrying her little dog and struggling to drag a heavy brown valise. It was raining, and I saw her feet sinking into the mud at every step. Nagorny tried to come to her assistance; he was roughly pushed back by one of the commissars. A few minutes later the carriages drove off with the children. How little I suspected that I was never to see them again.”6

While in Yekaterinburg, Pierre Gilliard made several calls on the British consul, urging him to help the family. Just a few days later, he would be forced to leave Yekaterinburg. He was astonished when he learned of the execution, exclaiming, “But the children – the children?”7  He remained in Siberia for three years, assisting with the investigation into the execution. He married in 1919 to Alexandra Tegleva, who had been Grand Duchess Anastasia’s nurse. He returned to Switzerland and became a professor of the French language at the University of Lausanne and was awarded the French Legion of Honor. He continued to defend the memory of the Imperial Family.8

Over the years, dozens of claimants stepped forward, claiming to be a member of the Imperial Family. Pierre Gilliard met a man who pretended to be Alexei and saw him. The man spoke only Russian, though he did vaguely look like Alexei. He later admitted to being an imposter. Most famous was Anna Anderson, who claimed to be Grand Duchess Anastasia. He did not believe her and even wrote articles disclaiming her.

Pierre Gilliard died on 30 May 1962.

  1. Massie, Robert K. – Nicholas and Alexandra p. 142-143 (UK & US)
  2. Massie, Robert K. – Nicholas and Alexandra p. 331
  3. Massie, Robert K. – Nicholas and Alexandra p. 448
  4. Massie, Robert K. – Nicholas and Alexandra p. 481
  5. Massie, Robert K. – Nicholas and Alexandra p. 496
  6. Massie, Robert K. – Nicholas and Alexandra p. 508
  7. Massie, Robert K. – Nicholas and Alexandra p. 519
  8. Massie, Robert K. – Nicholas and Alexandra p. 527-528



About Moniek 982 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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