In 2008, Saint James Church in Sydney’s CBD had a visiting choir from Russia (the Danilov Monastery Choir of Moscow). On the night of their performance, there were a lot of people in the crowd. One man around eighty years of age sat down at the front in the audience. During the performance, one of the choir members recognised this old man, and next thing you know, the choir spontaneously burst into a rendition of ‘God Save the Tsar’.
Who was this old man?
Prince Michael Andreevich of Russia was the grand-nephew of the last Tsar of Russia, and was in fact a Sydneysider (well, he’d been here sixty years). As his mother, Donna Elisabetta Ruffo, had not inherited the aristocratic titles of her parents, the marriage to Prince Andrei Alexandrovich of Russia was not dynastic and therefore Michael Romanoff (as he was known in Australia, with the traditional spelling of ‘Romanov’) was not permitted sucession rights to the throne. However, he remained perhaps the closest blood relative to the Tsar living in the 21st century.
When he was very little, he and other members of the Romanov family, including his grandmother Xenia (sister to the Tsar) and the Empress Maria Feodorovna (mother to the Tsar), were rescued from the Crimea when King George V sent HMS Marlborough to bring them to Malta and then onto England where he offered them sanctuary.
Michael Andreevich Romanoff was brought up living in the grounds of Windsor Castle with ‘Uncle George’ (King George V) and ‘Aunty Mary’ (Queen Mary) as he called them. He was educated at the Imperial College and then the College of Aeronautical Engineering in London.
When World War Two arrived, he joined the Royal Navy and, as Lieutenant Romanoff, he found himself in Australia with the Fleet Air Arm as Japan surrendered. His repatriation was delayed, and by the time he was able to go home, he decided he wanted to stay in Sydney, working at first for QANTAS and then as an all-rounder (painter/decorator/carpenter).
He was known by his workmates as ‘Mike’ and rarely spoke about his lineage or cared for titles, after seeing so many pretenders to the Russian throne emerge. He recalled his family’s relief at a DNA test proving the famous Anna Anderson as not the real Anastasia, and how his grandmother Xenia ”looked upon Anderson and the three-ringed circus which surrounded her, creating books and movies, as a vulgar insult to the Imperial family,” he said in a past interview.
Children of the Tsar – Michael’s second cousins
“A great many people invent titles for themselves,” the late Prince Michael’s friend, Professor David Flint, said at his funeral. “Michael had the highest of titles but he was always too humble to use it.”
He only returned to Russia twice: for the reburial of the Tsar in 1998, and the reburial of the Empress Maria Feodorovna; both in Saint Petersburg.
He maintained a deep tan throughout the year, loved mornings at Nielsen Park and regular swims at Bondi Beach. He is buried in Botany Cemetery and is survived by his brother, Andrew.