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The Coronation of Tsar Alexander II, 1855

THE sky favored the celebration of the day by the finest weather. At seven in the morning the city was already deserted, for the crowd had flowed to the Kremlin, whose gates were still closed; they opened to us at eight o'clock.

We found in Their Majesties' antechamber an army of gold-embroidered chamberlains, the high court functionaries with their eight-foot-long golden maces, and all the ladies in the national dress. The color of the manteaux is different at different courts---scarlet with gold, silver, blue, amaranth, etc., so that even with the uniform cut there is an agreeable variety in the colors. The headdress is ornamented according to the wealth and taste of the individual---with gold, diamonds, stones, or pearls. The only chair was occupied in turn by several very old ladies, who had been standing since seven o'clock, and, from their rich toilets, may have been dressing since four.

At nine o'clock the doors of the imperial rooms were opened; the flock of the chamberlains set itself in motion; the empress-mother appeared, supported by her two youngest sons. She wore a close crown entirely of diamonds, an ermine mantle of gold material, the train of which was borne by six chamberlains, and which was fastened by a magnificent diamond chain. The slight figure, the cameo profile, the majestic carriage of the illustrious woman, the joyful seriousness of her features, called forth the unconscious admiration of every one. On the previous evening she had assembled all her children and blessed them. She was followed by the hereditary grand duke, the grand dukes and grand duchesses, Prince Frederic William, Prince Frederic of the Netherlands, Alexander of Hesse, and the other royal princes, then their suites, and after us the ladies. The procession passed through the halls of Alexander, Vladimir, and George, which together make a length of about five hundred feet. On the left paraded the Palace Grenadiers, the Chevalier Guards, the Cuirassiers, with shining breastplates, deputations from the other cavalry and infantry regiments---all with standards and flags and bright arms. To the right were all the officers.

Upon the Krasnoi Krytzow, the great outside steps, covered with scarlet cloth that leads from the old Palace of the Czars into the Court of Relics, a baldachin of gold brocade was awaiting the empress. It was supported by eight poles borne by chamberlains and adjutant-generals. It was a beautiful sight in the sun. Behind the troops stood the bearded populace, with heads uncovered, close together, but without crowding.

The court is surrounded by three principal churches---the Ascension, Archangel, and Annunciation churches; then of Ivan Veliki and a high railing. The tribunes for the spectators rose nearly to the height of the building, where were seated ladies and gentlemen in their best clothes. All the innumerable bells of Moscow were ringing; but the roaring of the great Wetschewoi (the giant bell of Novgorod), the clashing of the trumpets, and the endless rejoicings of the multitude inside and outside of the court, prevented us from hearing them. The noise of the cannons alone penetrated through the hubbub.

When we reached the bottom of the stairs, I was enabled to turn and get a view of the beautiful procession of ladies descending. When we reached the Uspenski Sabor, we found the diplomatic corps assembled, and took our standing-places on the tribune prepared for us, which rose upon three sides of the cathedral. The fourth side is occupied by the ikonostase, behind which the altar is situated. Opposite to this was the throne on a carpeted platform, with two seats under a magnificent baldachin. The empress-mother took a seat especially arranged for her to the right of the throne. The princes stood up on the left. The church, as I have mentioned before, is small, only able to accommodate a limited number of spectators, and there was perfect order. The sun shone brightly through the windows, and was reflected by the gilding that covered all the walls and pillars up to the dome. So it was bright, and I was near enough to see all the principal transactions.

Then the regalia were brought in by the highest military and civil officials---the imperial banner with the double-eagle of Byzantium, the great seal (a great steel plate without any other ornament), the sword of the Empire, the coronation robes of both Their Majesties, the imperial globe with a cross belt of great diamonds (Severin served it upon a drap-d'or cushion), the scepter with the well-known great Lazaref diamond---which stands second in size only to the Kohinoor (mountain of light), the Prince Regent, and perhaps one or two others---and, finally, the two crowns. The large one of the emperor is formed by a bow from front to back of diamonds, and trimmed with a row of very great pearls. The bow has a cross in which is a ruby of inestimable value. This stone is an inch long, about half an inch wide, and a quarter of an inch thick, but irregular and not cut. From the band around the head rise on either side two covers which fasten on to the bow, so that one sees nothing of the velvet cap that is inside. The band and the sides are entirely of diamonds, of considerable size and the finest water. It glitters with every color in the sun. The empress's crown is similar, but smaller, and it did not seem easy to keep it on the top of her head, where it was fastened with diamond hairpins.

Now the cross was carried from the church toward the approaching emperor, and the Metropolitan of Moscow sprinkled his path with holy water. Their Majesties bowed three times toward the gate of the sanctuary, and then took their seats upon the throne; the high church dignitaries filled the space from the throne to the middle door of the ikonostase; and the choir struck up the psalm "Misericordiam." I have already written you of the affecting beauty of the Russian church songs, executed by male voices without instrumental accompaniment. They are very old, and have been collected from the East, and differ widely from the poor hymns of the Protestant and from the opera-music of the Catholic Church. The singers are extraordinarily trained, and one hears almost incredible bass voices, which echo with imposing strength from the firm walls and domes of this limited space.

Since Peter I incorporated the patriarchal power, the metropolitan is the highest priest of this great empire, at this time the handsome but already decrepit old Philaretes, who crowned the Emperor Nicholas I. It is of great importance for a high priest to have a strong bass voice: the voice of the old metropolitan could scarcely be heard, when he requested the emperor to say the creed. As soon as this was done, the emperor was invested with the coronation mantle, consisting of the richest gold brocade lined with ermine. He bowed his head, and remained in this position while the metropolitan laid his hands on his head and gave two long benedictions. Then the emperor called for the crown, placed it himself upon his head, took the scepter in his right hand, the imperial globe in his left, and seated himself upon the throne. Thereupon the empress stood before him and knelt down. The emperor takes the crown from his head and touches the empress with it, after which she is also invested with mantle and crown, and seats herself on the throne to the left of her spouse.

It was beautiful to see the intense interest with which the stately old empress-mother followed all the ceremonies. Meanwhile her youngest son was always at her side, supported her, wrapped the ermine about her that she might not take cold. The wife of a North American diplomat fainted near me, the Grand Duchess Helene fell into the grand duke's arms, but the old mother of the emperor remained steady. Then she arose and firmly ascended the steps of the throne, the glittering crown upon her head and her gold brocaded mantle trailing behind her. Before all the world she embraced her first-born son and blessed him. The emperor kissed her hands. Then followed the grand dukes and princes with low bows; the emperor embraced them. Meanwhile the Domine salve fac imperatorem was sung, all the church-bells were ringing, and hundreds of cannon made the windows tremble. All present bowed low three times. Then the monarch divests himself of the imperial robes, descends from the throne, and kneels to pray. After he has risen, all present kneel or bow their heads to pray for the welfare of the new emperor.

No mortal man has such power in his hands as the absolute monarch of the tenth part of all the inhabitants of the earth, whose scepter reaches over four quarters of the globe, and who rules over Christians and Jews, Mussulmans, and pagans. Why should one not pray to God heartily to enlighten the man whose will is law to sixty millions of people, whose word commands from the Chinese wall to the Weichsel, from the Arctic Ocean to Mount Ararat; for whose call a half-million soldiers wait, and who has just given peace to Europe? May he be successful in the innumerable conquests still to be made in the interior of this great empire, and may he always remain a strong supporter of lawful regulations!

Now followed the Te Deum and the long mass after the Greek ritual. At the close of the mass, the emperor descends the steps of the throne without ornaments or arms, and enters the sanctuary through the czar's gate, where he receives the communion exactly as the priests. The empress receives it afterward outside of the door. Then follows the anointment with oil on the forehead, eyelids, lips, ears, breast, and hands, by the Metropolitan of Moscow, from a costly vessel. The Bishops of Novgorod and Moscow wipe off the traces. Their Majesties take their seat again on the throne, and resume their crowns, robes, and the great diamond chain of the Alexander Nevsky Order. From this moment they are the anointed of the Lord, and the ceremony is over.


From: Eva March Tappan, ed., The World's Story: A History of the World in Story, Song and Art, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), Vol. VI: Russia, Austria-Hungary, The Balkan States, and Turkey, pp. 201-207.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

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