Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Elegiac Last Day for Queen in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG -- Queen Elizabeth II, winding up her groundbreaking visit to Russia on Thursday, spared only a few brief moments for the tombs of her Romanov cousins, whose dynasty was ended by the killing of the last tsar and his family on Lenin's orders 76 years ago.


The old imperial capital shone in autumn sunshine as the queen toured the palace and the resting place of the old Russian tsars. But she continued to tiptoe around mention of the last Russian imperial family.


As the cannon of the Peter and Paul Fortress boomed midday, the royal couple crossed the Neva by boat. Bells tolled, and an enthusiastic crowd of locals and schoolchildren waved Union Jacks distributed by the British Consulate. The queen, wearing the nervous smile she has had for the last four days, passed through the crowd, chatted to a few children, and went into the Peter and Paul Cathedral.


The royal couple spent only a few minutes amongst the cathedral's green and pink columns looking at the tombs of their distant cousins. The queen barely paused next to the pink jasper sarcophagus of Alexander II, while her husband, hands in pockets, gave the tombs of his ancestors only a cursory glance.


Outside in the sunshine, royal fever was rampant for a second day.


Galina Soboleva, a pensioner, said she was proud to witness the return of a monarch to her city.


"We are definitely a more monarchist city" she said, comparing St. Petersburg and Moscow. "We have preserved all our traditions."


But Soboleva said an opportunity had been missed to commemorate the murder of the Romanov family in 1918.


"To my mind, I think everyone should repent,' she said, adding that the British side bore its share of responsibility for refusing Nicholas II asylum in 1917.


The queen has made no mention of her dynastic connections to the Russian monarchy during her visit, and one Buckingham Palace aide called the assassination of the tsar's family "an episode" which would not be referred to.


The last tsar and his family are due to be reburied in a side chapel of the Peter and Paul Cathedral in March next year but it has not yet been announced if any of the British royal family will attend the ceremony.


The queen and the Duke of Edinburgh began the day with a tour of the tsars' residence, the Winter Palace, and the Hermitage.


The had lunch at the Mariinsky Palace, the former Leningrad City Communist Party headquarters, as guests of Mayor Anatoly Sobchak.


Then they went north to the Piskaryovskoye cemetery where more than half a million of Leningrad's war dead are buried.


It was a bright, still, frosty afternoon. Eleven veterans of the British Arctic Convoy, which shipped supplies to Leningrad during the 900-day siege, stood silently at the far end of the long cemetery by the statue of Mother Russia.


President Boris Yeltsin, who had flown in specially from Moscow, met the queen at the gate and they walked slowly down between the mass graves marked with a star to commemorate dead soldiers, or a hammer and sickle for civilian dead.


One of the British veterans, Tom Horton, said he was glad the men of the convoys were now receiving recognition. After the war, he said, they had not even been given a campaign medal.


A Buckingham Palace spokesman, putting a brave face on a trip marred by fresh controversies in the royal family back home, said the queen's visit had been a great success and "underlined the close relations in all fields" between the two countries.


The queen's final day was crowned with a return banquet on the royal yacht Britannia with the president and his wife as chief guests.


Then, under a full moon, a band of royal marines beat a retreat on the quayside before the Britannia set sail for Helsinki and home.