Crown Prince's spaniel saw the Romanov family gunned to death before his epic escape.
Joy, Crown Prince Alexei's spaniel has not only cheated death but, though scarred by the shootings, escaped Yeketerinburg across Siberia and eventually to England. Picture: Zlatoust City Museum
Under house arrest in Siberia, the abdicated last tsar Nikolai II, his empress Alexandra, and their five children had all clung to the hope that they could find a safe home in England. Their execution in Yekaterinburg at the hands of Bolshevik revolutionaries on the fateful night of 16 and 17 July 1918 ended all such dreams, as well as any lingering ambitions that the Russian monarchy could be restored.
The story of the fate of the royal family is well known; likewise the bogus claims that two of the royal children, Anastasia and Alexei, somehow escaped the hailing bullets and fled the scene in the Ipatiev House. Two dogs belonging to the princesses were also shot dead in the mayhem that sealed the fate of a dynasty that had ruled Russia for more than three centuries.
Less well known is the remarkable survival of Crown Prince Alexei's dog, who not only cheated death but, though scarred by the shootings, made his epic escape from Yeketerinburg across Siberia and eventually to England where he lived in the shadow of Windsor Castle, the favourite home of the British royals who deposed Tsar Nikolai had hoped would give his family a safe haven.
Crown Prince Alexei with Joy. Pictures: Zlatoust City Museum
This dog - Joy - was familiar to the Russian people in the final years of the country's monarchy. The spaniel appeared on photographs of the royal family and was a much-loved companion of the heir to the throne who suffered from haemophilia, which meant he was often prevented from playing with other children amid fears he would suffer injury.The faithful Joy would even accompany the Tsar and his son to the front during the First World War as Alexei recounted in his diary:
August 19, 1916 in Mogilev: 'This morning had 2 lessons. Wrote mama before breakfast and walked. Was eating breakfast with everyone in the tent. Afternoon was a walk along the Dnepr river. Joy is in hospital. Has worms'.
November 5: 'Since yesterday, there is no pain. Remained still in bed. Before breakfast wrote mama. Spent the day the way I did yesterday: played the sea game and cards, listened to the French and English reading. Joy is constantly with me'.
November 9 : 'Finally, I was allowed to leave the bed. Woke up early and drunk coffee at a common table. Wrote a letter to mama. Rode to the station and back, taking Joy with me...'.
The following year the Tsar abdicated, and Joy followed the gypsy royals on their odyssey of exile eastwards from the royal capital of St Petersburg, then Petrograd. In November 1917 in Tobolsk, in the west of Siberia, Grand Duchess Olga recorded in a letter to her teacher that Joy and two other dogs were with the royal exiles.
'We have to drive the first two from the yard, where they enjoy the damp and eat all the garbage ... ', she wrote, referring to Joy. From the historic town of Tobolsk, Russia's first settlement in Siberia, the dogs accompanied the royal family on its last journey to Yekaterinburg.
In Omsk, a former lady-in-waiting to Empress Alexandra came to examine the animal. 'I went to see Joy, and he, evidently connecting me in his dog's brain with his masters, imagined that my coming announced theirs. Never did I see an animal in such ecstasy'. Picture: Zlatoust City Museum
One of the marksmen who shot the royal family, wrote: 'Mikhail Medvedev shot Nicholas II dead with the first bullet;...I also shot into the prisoners'.
He recounted 'the dogs barking very loud' and that after the frantic shooting only Alexei - despite his reputation for being a sickly child - remained alive, albeit wounded. 'I recommended to kill him with a knife and slay the royal dogs that were barking so much', he said, and there is evidence that the other dogs were indeed expunged. In the event, Alexei - the boy born to rule all Russia - died aged just 13.
One of the guards in the Ipatiev House described the scene after the execution.
'The door from the hallway to the room where the royal family lived was closed, but the room was empty. Not a single sound was heard from there. Previously, when the royal family lived there, one could hear the life in their rooms: voices, footsteps. Now there was no life. Only the dog stood in the hallway near the door into the room where the royal family lived and waited to be let in these rooms. I remember thinking at the time: you're waiting in vain'.
It is believed that Joy - having witnessed the family as they were mercilessly gunned to death - escaped from the scene when the bodies were carted outside to be covered in acid, then burned and buried in woodland near the city.
One of the guards then took pity and cared for the spaniel. Eight days after the execution, the Soviet soldiers had to withdraw as White forces entered the city. They soon found the animal - 'half-starved' - running around the yard. He was seen as 'the sole survivor of the Imperial Family'.
The royal dog was in the home of an Ipatiev House guard, Mikhail Letemin.
Colonel Pavel (Paul) Rodzianko - then serving with the British Expeditionary Force in Siberia - assumed care of Joy who by that time was blind.
'After Joy was rescued, Paul looked after him. The spaniel came, wagging his tail uncertainly, stumbling a little, finally bumping his nose into Rodzianko's leg.
'He was totally blind. He seemed to be always looking for his master, and this had made him so sad and dejected that he would scarcely touch his food even after he was lovingly cared for,' wrote Marion Wynn in 'The Final Resting Place of Joy', an article in Royalty Digest (2004).
The colonel travelled with Joy eastward and into Siberia, to Omsk, where a British military mission was stationed.
'Every time I pass my garden at Windsor I think of the dog's tomb with the ironical inscription 'Here lies Joy'. Picture: Zlatoust City Museum
How do we know this was really Joy, the Crown Prince's dog? In Omsk, a former lady-in-waiting to Empress Alexandra came to examine the animal.
'I went to see Joy, and he, evidently connecting me in his dog's brain with his masters, imagined that my coming announced theirs,' wrote Sophie Buxhoeveden in her book 'Left Behind: Fourteen Months in Siberia December 1917-February 1919'.
'Never did I see an animal in such ecstasy. When I called him he made one bound out of the carriage and tore down the platform towards me, leaping in the air and running to me with his forepaws, walking upright like a circus dog.
'General Dietrichs said that he had never given such a welcome to anyone before, and I attributed this solely to the fact that my clothes, which were the same that I had worn at Tobolsk, had still kept familiar smell, for I had never specially petted him. When I left, Joy lay for a whole day near the door through which I had gone. He refused his food and relapsed again into his usual despondency.'
She, and other royal retinue had earlier tried to intervene with the Soviet authorities to permit to royals to flee to the West - to no avail.
She asked in her 1929 book: 'What had little Joy seen on that terrible night of July 16? He had been with the Imperial Family to the last. Had he witnessed the tragedy? His brain had evidently kept the memory of a great shock, and his heart was broken. It was pathetic seeing this dumb friend, who brought back the memory of the Tsarvich so vividly. Little Joy was well cared for.
'He was taken to England by Colonel Rodzianko and spent the last years in the utmost canine comfort, but still never recovered his spirits.'
Crown Prince Alexei with Joy. Picture: Zlatoust City Museum
As the White forces collapsed, and the Reds surged their way across Siberia, the British were ordered home - via the Russian Far East. 'With heavy hearts we sailed away from Vladivostok. Joy, the little ill-named spaniel who had seen his master murdered, that fateful night, travelled with me. I have never seen Russia again,' wrote Rodzianko in his book Tattered Banners in 1939.
Joy was described as 'happy enough in his new home' at Sefton Lawn in Windsor.
Had history turned out differently, his Russian royal family might have been entertained in the nearby castle by their cousins, the British monarchs. Yet Joy was the only one to make it. And the truth is that King George V was not keen to allow them to Britain; fearing they would provoke revolutionary sentiment in a country ravaged by World War One.
'Staring into his limpid brown eyes, Paul often wondered how much the dog could remember,' wrote Wynn. 'He had been through such a traumatic time in Yekaterinburg, he was such a gentle and faithful friend to his young master. How could he forget such horrors? Joy died at Sefton Lawn and was buried in the garden.'
Rodzianko himself added: 'Every time I pass my garden at Windsor I think of the small dog's tomb in the bushes with the ironical inscription 'Here lies Joy'. To me that little stone marks the end of an empire and a way of life'.
The garden and Joy's modest grave is now believed to have been concreted over as a car park. Yet this spaniel's story deserves to live on as testimony to the loyalty of a remarkable dog who sensed a great wrong had been done to his masters.
* The Siberian Times would like to thank and salute blogger Maja Proescholdt for her research in bringing the story of Joy to a new generation. You can read her superb account here.
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