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Excavations underway for graves of 'tsar for a day’ Mikhail Romanov and faithful British servant

By The Siberian Times reporter
08 June 2018

A century after their were slain, new hopes of finding the remains of missing royal, who ‘rejected’ his brother Nikolai II’s throne.

Mikhail Romanov and Nicholas Johnson pictured in exile. 

An American-Russian team is digging at sites in Perm region hoping to find the remains of Grand Duke Mikhail Romanov and his secretary Nicholas Johnson, slain by the Bolsheviks on the night of 12-13 June 1918.

It is believed that as Johnson lay dying, Mikhail said to the assassins: 'Let me say goodbye to my friend.' 

Moments later, he too was dead. 

Excavations site


Excavations site


Excavations site

Excavations site

Excavations site

An American-Russian team is digging at sites in Perm region hoping to find the remains of Grand Duke Mikhail Romanov and his secretary Nicholas Johnson. Pictures: SEARCH Foundation, PermNews

Mikhail was the younger brother of Nicholas II who abdicated the absolute  Russian throne amidst revolutionary turmoil the previous year in a proclamation dated 15 March 1917.

He did so not in favour of his young and sickly haemophiliac son Alexei, the Crown Prince or Tsarevich, then aged 12, but instead offered his throne to Mikhail. 

A day later Mikhail did not - as often believed - totally reject the crown. 

Instead, aware of the ‘heavy task’ entrusted on him by Nikolai,  he issued a declaration penned by Johnson stating he would accept it only if this was ‘the desire of our great people’ shown ‘by means of a plebiscite, through their representatives in the Constituent Assembly’.

Nikolai and Mikhail Romanov and Natalia Brasova

from left to right: Mikhail Romanov, Natalia Brasova and Nicholas II. 

Meanwhile, he said, Russians should ‘obey’ the provisional government. 

With the First World War raging and draining Russia’s resources, and the Bolsheviks sensing power, the constituent assembly he envisaged never happened - so in effect he was tsar for only a day or even a matter of hours before the country became a republic. 

He was initially exiled to Gatchina, and from August 1917, Mikhail was under house arrest, his faithful bagman Johnson - often seen as being British - with him throughout. 

In March 1918, the Bolsheviks exiled Mikhail to Perm region.

Mikhail Romanov Nikolas Johnson

Mikhail Romanov (left) and Nicholas Johnson (right). Pictures: The Siberian Times, Lyubov Markova

The pair had hoped to reach Britain but it was never to happen. 

History records that on the night of 12-13 June 1918 he and Johnson were kidnapped and killed by a group of Cheka - secret police - and militia officers. 

One month later Nikolai and his family, by now exiled in Yekaterinburg, also in the Urals, were shot dead. 

After exhaustive archive searches, and a number of probing excavations over several years, three sites in district Vyshki-2 are being examined in the hope of discovering the remains of Mikhail and his secretary.  

Natalia Brasova, Mikhail Romanov, unknown woman and Nicholas Johnson

From left to right: Natalia Brasova, Mikhail Romanov, unknown woman, Nicholas Johnson pictured in Cannes. Picture: Lyubov Markova

The searchers believe ‘with a high degree of probability’ that they found the bleak spot where the pair were executed, and the next task is to locate the burial site. 

A Perm official said: 'A test trench will be laid to determine the level of the earth in 1918. 

‘During the excavations, various scientific methods will be used to identify anomalies that may indicate the location of human remains.’

If remains are discovered they will be handed to the Russian Investigative Committee.

In 2009, Mikhail and his servant were officially rehabilitated, having been earlier branded ‘enemies of the people’.

Nicholas Johnson


Nicholas Jonson, is mother and sister

Nicholas Johnson (top) pictured with family (bottom) - mother Luisa-Henrietta Johnson-Missievich, his sister Elisaveta Bhaktikul. Picture:Lyubov Markova

'The analysis of old archive materials leads to the conclusion that these persons were subject to persecution in the form of arrest, exile and surveillance by the Cheka without being charged with any specific crime, on account of their class and social status,' said officials at the time.

Mikhail was struck by the first bullet, then Johnson was shot and mortally wounded, according to accounts from revolutionaries.

After going to Johnson's aid, the wounded Mikhail was shot in the head at point blank range.

The servant's antique watch was stolen by his killer, Andrei Markov.

Years later, he said: 'I took it as a memory of him after I shot him dead.

'Since that moment, I haven't taken it off. It hasn't required any repair work.’

Perm in 1918


Modern Perm

Perm in 1918. Modern Perm. Picture: The Siberian Times, fpv.perm.ru

The murders were the first in an orgy of Romanov killings.

In all, 18 members of the Imperial Family were executed.

Johnson, known as Johnny at the Russian court, was 'round faced, not very tall, and speaking three languages’.

While often referred to as British - and sometimes called Brian Johnson - there is evidence he was Russian but his family had connections both to Britain and Thailand. 

The US team hunting for the graves are from the SEARCH Foundation, led by Captain Peter Sarandinaki, who has Russian roots. 

Others have been named as criminal investigator Brooke Schaub, forensic geophysicist Clark Davenport, historian Stephen Jackson, and forensic botanist Crystal Strouse.

Russian members of the team are archaeologist Dmitry Zenyuk, a member of the Historical Cultural Foundation Obretenie, Lyubov Markova, and Nelli Zenkova.

Mikhail's resignation

Declaration from the Throne by Grand Duke Mikhail

How Grand Duke Mikhail was offered the Russian throne, and how he set an impossible condition on taking it: 


Abdication of Nikolai II, March 15, 1917

By the Grace of God, We, Nikolai II, Emperor of All the Russias, Tsar of Poland, Grand Duke of Finland, and so forth, to all our faithful subjects be it known:

In the days of a great struggle against a foreign enemy who has been endeavouring for three years to enslave our country, it pleased God to send Russia a further painful trial.

Internal troubles threatened to have a fatal effect on the further progress of this obstinate war. The destinies of Russia, the honour of her heroic Army, the happiness of the people, and the whole future of our beloved country demand that the war should be conducted at all costs to a victorious end.

The cruel enemy is making his last efforts and the moment is near when our valiant Army, in concert with our glorious Allies, will finally overthrow the enemy.

In these decisive days in the life of Russia we have thought that we owed to our people the close union and organisation of all its forces for the realisation of a rapid victory; for which reason, in agreement with the Imperial Duma, we have recognised that it is for the good of the country that we should abdicate the Crown of the Russian State and lay down the Supreme Power.

Not wishing to separate ourselves from our beloved son, we bequeath our heritage to our brother, the Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich, with our blessing for the future of the Throne of the Russian State.

We bequeath it our brother to govern in full union with the national representatives sitting in the Legislative Institutions, and to take his inviolable oath to them in the name of our well-beloved country.

We call upon all faithful sons of our native land to fulfil their sacred and patriotic duty of obeying the Tsar at the painful moment of national trial and to aid them, together with the representatives of the nation, to conduct the Russian State in the way of prosperity and glory.

May God help Russia.

Declaration from the Throne by Grand Duke Mikhail, March 16, 1917:

A heavy task has been entrusted to me by the will of my brother, who has given me the Imperial Throne at a time of unprecedented war and domestic strife.

Animated by the same feelings as the entire nation - namely, that the welfare of the country overshadows all other interests - I am firmly resolved to accept the Supreme Power only if this should be the desire of our great people, which must, by means of a plebiscite, through their representatives in the Constituent Assembly, establish the form of government and the new fundamental law of the Russian State.

Invoking God's blessing, I therefore request all citizens of Russia to obey the Provisional Government, set up on the initiative of the Duma and invested with plenary powers, until, within as short a time as possible, the Constituent Assembly, elected on a basis of universal, equal, and secret suffrage, shall express the will of the nation regarding the form of government to be adopted.

Nikolai Romanov pictured in train after resignation. 

Nikolai Romanov after resignation

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