His soul with tired wings
Will fly up, murdered, to the Creator.
All that used to interest me formerly, those brilliant ballets, those decadent paintings, that new music—all seems dull and tasteless now. I seek the truth, the real truth, the light, and what is good…
Prince Vladimir Pavlovich Paley, 28 December 1896/9 January 1897–18 July 1918
Prince Vladimir Pavlovich Paley was the firstborn child of his parents’ relationship, though each had children from previous marriages. His father, Grand Duke Pavel Aleksandrovich (a son of Tsar Aleksandr II), was married to Princess Alexandra of Greece and had a girl and a boy, Mariya and Dmitriy. “Greek Alix,” as his first wife was known, died shortly after Dmitriy’s premature birth, but miraculously, Dmitriy survived without any apparent health issues.
Prince Vladimir’s mother, Olga Valerianovna Karnovich, was married to Erich Gerhard von Pistohlkors, and had four children, Aleksandr, Olga (died in infancy), a second Olga, and Marianna. In 1893, Olga and Grand Duke Pavel became acquainted, and they began an affair while she was still legally married to her first husband.
The ridiculously out of touch Nicholas II typically refused to approve their morganatic marriage (since the draconian House Laws crafted by an inept Tsar in 1797 were working out SO well for the Imperial Family), so they moved to Paris. Vladimir, called Volodya, was born in 1896, and his sisters Irina and Natalya were born in 1903 and 1905, respectively.
Young Volodya, far right, with his parents and sisters
In 1902, Olga and Grand Duke Pavel married in Livorno, Italy, and in 1904, Prince Regent Luitpold of Bavaria created Olga and Vladimir Countess and Count of Hohenfelsen. Grand Duke Pavel was severely punished for marrying for love and not kowtowing to the House Laws, and was removed from all his military commissions, had his assets and properties seized, and lost custody of his older two children to his brother, Grand Duke Sergey (the anti-Semitic governor of Moskvá, who was later assassinated).
At age thirteen, Volodya became a poet, and showed great talent, skill, depth, and creativity. Everything spoke to him in poetry, no matter how seemingly silly or insignificant, like the scent of a flower or the way the sunlight fell across the grass. He loved Nature, and transmitting that love into poetry. Volodya was also very gifted in music, art, and languages. He published volumes of his poetry in 1916 and 1918, wrote several essays and plays, and translated The King of the Jews, a play by Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich the elder, into French.
Eventually, the family got permission to return to Russia, and in 1915, Vladimir and his mother were created Prince and Princess Paley, with the style Serene Highness. His little sisters were also created princesses. Though he was really a Romanov, he was forbidden to use his own family name because his parents’ marriage was morganatic.
Volodya entered the esteemed Corps des Pages military academy attended by most other male Romanovs, and in December 1914 entered the Emperor’s Hussars regiment. He served bravely in the Great War, and his poetry turned to the ugliness, suffering, devastation, and destruction of war, the deaths of his friends, and the kindness of the nurses. Volodya became a lieutenant and was decorated with the Order of St. Anne.
Volodya as a baby, 1898
He and his family were briefly under house arrest in summer 1917, after he wrote a poem about Aleksandr Fyodorovich Kerenskiy. Then, in March 1918, he fell into Bolshevik hands. Volodya could’ve been spared because he was morganatic, but he bravely, wordlessly refused Bolshevik orders to deny his belovèd father. During his captivity, he lost interest in all the things he’d previously enjoyed, like ballet, music, and art, and focused only on his faith and the real things in life.
Volodya was initially held in Yekaterinburg and then moved to nearby Alapeyevsk, along with Princes Ioann, Igor, and Konstantin Konstantinovich; Grand Duke Sergey Mikhaylovich and his secretary; and the Tsaritsa’s sister Ella and one of her nuns. On 18 July 1918, the day after the Imperial Family’s murder, the Alapayevsk prisoners were taken to an abandoned mineshaft full of water, blindfolded and hands bound, and thrown in alive. Most of them died of starvation and their injuries.
After the White Army came too late to Alapayevsk and discovered the bodies, Volodya and the others were buried in an Orthodox cemetery in Beijing. Sadly, the cemetery was bulldozed during the Cultural Revolution, and now a parking lot is on top of it. Only Ella and Sister Varvara were spared this fate, having been moved to Jerusalem.
Volodya, second from right, with his family, about 1914
In my alternative history, the Alapayevsk martyrs are rescued, and Volodya becomes Grand Duchess Tatyana’s husband.