20. The coronation of Tsar Paul I in the Kremlin (1797)

(Count Feodor Golovldn (1766-1823) was sent to Berlin to study in 1778. He was an ADC to I.P. Saltykov in the Swedish Campaign, and then became Ambassador to Naples in 1794 for one year. In 1800 he was disgraced by Paul I. After Alexander I came to power, he left Russia for Paris. He was Master of Ceremonies at Court again in 1812.)

April 1: In the morning the Emperor brought the colours of the guards to the Kremlin, and came to live in this ancient palace.

April 2: Washing of the feet; preparation of the holy oils.

April 3: Rehearsal of the coronation ceremonies. The Emperor attended. This rehearsal was not the least piquant of the scenes we witnessed until exhausted by heat. The Emperor behaved like a child, delighted with the pleasures prepared for him, and with the docility you would expect of a child. It took a strong dose of fear or of caution not to allow anything more than surprise to show on one's face. In the afternoon he wanted a second rehearsal in the throne for the instruction of the Empress. When he told her to come and sit beside him on the dais, the Princess, either through ignorance or calculated modesty, took the side steps. But he said to her, `Madam, that is not how one ascends a throne. Go back down and come up the front steps.' There was not a moment for simple and natural acts. From morning till night one was always in the presence, and as Moscow is enormous and all the members of the court lived very far from the Kremlin, no one had the physical time to absent himself. I know that, for myself, during the three days before the coronation I only had a few hours at night to rest, and the innumerable changes of clothes were performed in the corridors of the convent, or in the countless recesses of this ancient dwelling of the Tsars.

April 4: Their Imperial Majesties attended a Mass at the Tchoudov convent.

April 5: Easter and Coronation Day. Towards 8 o'clock the procession set out. The distance between the palace and the cathedral is so short, that to stretch it a little it went around the great belfry. The Emperor was in uniform and booted. The Empress wore cloth of silver embroidered with silver, and was bare-headed. The Emperor was attended by the two Grand Dukes, and the Empress by the Grand Chancellor and Marshal Count Saltikov.

The ceremony was long, and followed by a hundred others which the Emperor and the grand master of ceremonies invented according to their whim. After the coronation there was a dinner below the dais, during which we were ordered to curtsey like women, as one used to in France crossing the floor of the Parlement room. The dishes were brought by colonels accompanied by two horse-guards who presented arms when they were placed on the table. After dinner we had the ceremonial distribution of honours. These were truly princely. Count Bezborodko and the Princes Kourakin were given millions ...

Annoyed that the ceremonies had come to an end, the Emperor invented such an indecent one that I was on the verge of requesting an audience to have it put off. It consisted in taking apart piece by piece the honours of the Empire before taking them back in a procession to the treasury. Their Majesties appeared in full order of coronation and seated themselves upon the throne. The grand officers removed successively the crowns, the sceptre, the orb, the necklaces of the order, the mantles. They were left there so denuded that in a rush of emotion, which I could not describe today, I found my eyes full of tears.

They had brought back great panniers for the ladies and taken away all the seats in the Kremlin apartment, and the Court was so overwhelmed by fatigue that one saw the great of the land, men and women, leaning against the walls with barely the strength to speak. On the last day I could not resist making a joke in the audience chamber. While we were waiting for Their Majesties to come out, I slid along the walls thus draped with people, bowing deeply and saying as I did so, 'I flatter myself that I will not be seeing you again very soon.' If any one had dared to laugh in this court, it would have produced great guffaws, especially when Field-Marshal Repnin's wife said aloud with an icy expression, 'Just see how little one can trust court gossip. We had been assured that Count Golovkin was forbidden to make witticisms under His Majesty's reign.'

One thing one did not dare discuss during those days, but which could have profound results and gave cause for deep thought, was that the Emperor in his capacity as head of the church wanted to say Mass. Not daring to risk such a startling innovation in the heart of the capital, he decided to say the first in Kazan, where he was ready to go. Magnificent vestments were made. He felt sure he would establish himself as confessor to his family and ministers, but the Synod saved him from this absurdity with admirable presence of mind. At the Emperor's first mention of his plan, without showing the least surprise (and it was great) they told him that the canon of the Greek Church forbade the celebration of the Holy Mysteries by a priest who had remarried. As this had not occurred to him, and either he did not dare to or did not choose to alter the law of the priesthood, he had to give up the project. He contented himself by appearing at his devotions in a short crimson velvet dalmatic, all embroidered with pearls, which turned him into one of the most curious sights one could see, with his uniform, his boots, his long wig, his great three-cornered hat, and his puny figure. Having heard of this plan to officiate, and finding myself one morning in the Kremlin alone with Metropolitan Platon, I said to him, 'Your Excellency must be delighted, we have on the throne a highly religious prince.'


`How is that, My Lord? Don't you believe in it?'

`How can I not believe it? But unfortunately his religion instead of being here,' putting his hand on his heart, 'is here,' putting his hand on his forehead.

Without denying the truth of this observation, it must be said in praise of Paul I that he had a great propensity for religion.