Full Details for Lot 1000



Main Sale - March 2011

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Sale A1052 Lot 1000 - S5




circa 1902, with fully scroll-engraved sighted 6in. barrels signed 'P. WEBLEY & SON, LONDON & BIRMINGHAM', fully scroll-engraved six-shot fluted quick-release cylinders, fully scroll-engraved frames, the left hand sides engraved with the letters 'MM' above a crown, smooth mother of pearl grips, both pistols remaining in outstanding order and appearing unfired, TOGETHER WITH an oak and leather travelling case with brass corners, lined in blue crushed velvet with English-style compartments and retaining all the original accessories including a turn-screw and oil-bottle, the case lid with cut corner rectangular brass plaque bearing the same crown and initials as the revolvers (external leather lightly worn, handle detached)

Provenance: Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich was born of noble descent on 16th October 1861. He was to live a colourful and highly eventful life, spent mostly away from his native Russia, before contracting influenza and dying on 26th April, 1929. During his life he was to bear several 'sea-changes', in much the same manner that his mother country was forced to, in a world that changed greatly for both of them.

He was born the third child and second son to Grand Duke Michael Nicolaievich and Grand Duchess Olga Feodorovna at the Palace of Peterhof, just outside St. Petersburg. A year after his birth, his father was created Viceroy of the Caucasus and so the family moved to Tiflis, Georgia, where the family were to spend the next twenty years. His formative years were hard and he was not to enjoy the closest of relationships with his parents; his father being a fine but rather distant figure, and his mother a strict disciplinarian to whom, reportedly, he was a disappointment and considered the least gifted of her seven children.

He was schooled at home by private tutors before beginning his military career. He served in the Chasseur Egersky Regiment of the Guards and became a Colonel during the Russo-Turkish War, he was an excellent horseman and the military life suited him well. In 1882, now aged twenty, he returned with his family to St. Petersburg when his father was appointed Chairman of the Council of Ministers. He was apparently thought rather shallow and not overly bright, but he was a tall and handsome man who became a key member of the capital's social circuit, enjoying seemingly endless dancing and gambling engagements.

It was during this period that the Grand Duke decided it was time for him to wed, and he had a large residence built to house his proposed family in the Imperial Capital. However, whilst his overtures to marriage were numerous, they were initially unsuccessful, being foiled either by the recipient of his affection, or by his parents who took a dim view of his attentions. However, in 1891, while in Nice, he fell in love with Countess Sophie of Merenberg, daughter of Prince Nikolaus of Nassau. Her maternal grandfather was the celebrated poet and author, Alexander Pushkin, and through him she had black African ancestry, being a direct descendant of Peter the Great's protégé, Abram Petrovich Gannibal. The Grand Duke was well aware that neither the Tsar or his parents would grant permission for the marriage, but he pressed ahead regardless and married the Countess in San Remo without their prior knowledge.

Apart from being regarded as morganatic, the marriage was also illegal under the statute of the Imperial Family and caused a great scandal at the Russian court, in spite of the fact that his new wife enjoyed dynastic paternal ancestry. He was immediately deprived of his military rank, and also of his position as Adjutant to the Imperial Court. More extreme was his banishment for life from his mother country. It was reported that his mother, upon hearing the news of his marriage, collapsed in shock and had to repair to the Crimea in order to recover. Unfortunately though, she was then to suffer a heart attack and die, for which Michael Mikhailovich was inevitably blamed. He was not allowed to return to Russia for her funeral.

Following his exile, he took his wife to live in Nassau, where the Countess' family had once reigned. It was here that two of their three children would be born. Later, in 1899, they settled rather more permanently in Cannes where they lived in some comfort. In addition, two years later, Michael Mikhailovich took Keele Hall in Staffordshire where his family entered the English social circuit of the countryside. His life was now split between two residences, and back in Cannes he was to meet several of his immediate family, particularly his sister, Anastasia, who owned a villa nearby. Their father was to suffer a stroke in 1903, and ironically, also moved to Cannes whilst he recovered. He was reportedly charmed by his daughter-in-law and his Torby grandchildren, although the Countess never fully forgave her father-in-law for the earlier slights made upon her, and her marriage to the Grand Duke. Indeed, Michael was to write a book, published in 1908, about a morganatic marriage that was borne without doubt from the privations he had endured. In the preface of "Never Say Die" as the book was entitled, he wrote rather movingly, "Belonging, as I do, to the Imperial blood, and being a member of one of the reigning houses, I should like to prove to the world how wrong it is in thinking, as the majority of mankind is apt to do, that we are the happiest beings on this earth. There is no doubt that we are well situated, but is wealth the only happiness in the world?" His father died in Cannes in December 1909 and Michael was permitted to return to Russia for the funeral, although his wife refused to accompany him.

The family quit Keele Hall after ten years, and moved instead to a fine house overlooking Hampstead Heath that was owned by the Earl of Mansfield. The philanthropic side to his nature was to greatly help local causes and the family enjoyed their place in English society living in some splendour at their new house. They also paid many visits to King Edward VII, sometimes at his personal residence at Sandringham.

As the various nations of Europe mobilised themselves for war, the Grand Duke applied to return to Russia and serve in her army. His request was denied, even though he had been permitted to attend, in 1912, the centennial commemoration of the Battle of Borodino, and had had his rank of honorary Colonel restored to him at the same time. Instead, he was to head a commission to consolidate Russian orders abroad. He wrote to Tsar Nicholas II in October 1916, in connection with reports from British secret agents who had unearthed plans for a revolution. In it, he beseeched the Tsar to consider his peoples' demands before it was too late to halt civil unrest.

Following the end of the war, and the Russian revolution, the Grand Duke's financial situation deteriorated rapidly. A good deal of his wealth had been tied up with the Romanovs' fortunes, and he was forced to move his family to a more modest house at Regent's Park. His children were to marry well and, to an extent, this alleviated the financial constraints he found himself in, although he was not to live in the splendour he had once enjoyed.

He returned, with his wife, to Cannes in 1924. By this time he had become a rather difficult man, although much of his angst had been caused by news of the murder of so many friends and close relatives during, and following, the revolution. The Countess, his wife, died at the age of fifty-nine in 1927, and her funeral was attended by the then Prince of Wales. Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich was to survive her for less than two years, and he died in London aged sixty-seven. He is buried alongside his wife in Hampstead Cemetery.

Estimate £8,000-12,000


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