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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Britain Hands Russia Papers on Tsar's Death

LONDON -- Britain presented Russia on Thursday with a selection of copied documents from its diplomatic archives dealing with the fate of Tsar Nicholas II, shot by Bolsheviks in July 1918 and finally buried last year.

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, in exchange for the copies, received from his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov original papers belonging to British World War II prisoners of war.

The documents were taken to Moscow with other material seized by the Red Army and the Soviet secret police after the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945.

The British documents, most of which are familiar to historians and have been published, include a short telegram sent from Moscow on July 17 by British consul Robert Bruce Lockhart reporting the first news of the Tsar's murder the previous day in Yekaterinburg.

Headlined "Ex-Emperor of Russia, Nicholas," it says: "Reports that he was shot on July 16 by order of Ekaterinburg Local Soviet in view of his possible capture by Czechs. Central Executive at Moscow approve action."

As Lockhart wrote in his memoirs, he was told the news by Lev Karachan, a Bolshevik diplomat. "I believe that I was the first person to convey the news to the outside world," he wrote.

In fact, Lockhart's coded telegram to London failed to arrive at the Foreign Office until July 28, by which time the Bolshevik government had already announced the news to the outside world.

Another document in the collection is a long hand-written despatch from Sir Charles Eliot, the top British diplomat in Siberia during the Russian Civil War, who visited the house where the tsar and his family were shot and spoke to the White Russian investigators at the scene.

He cast doubt on rumors that the family had escaped but said there was no conclusive proof they were dead.

The collection contains exchanges between the Foreign Office and King George V's private secretary Lord Stamfordham, who was kept informed each time information arrived about the mystery of the tsar's fate. George and Nicholas were cousins.

Though White Russian forces found personal effects and large quantities of evidence clearly pointing to the family's murder, the bodies remained missing until 1979 when they were found not far from Yekaterinburg by amateur historians, who kept their discovery secret for more than a decade.

The remains were exhumed in 1991 and DNA analysis, carried out by British and Russian scientists, confirmed they were indeed those of the tsar and most of his family.

The British collection, beginning only in July 1918, leaves out documents from the previous year which show George V in an unflattering light.

Historians say the British monarch, nervous about the threat of left-wing revolution in Britain and popular anger, personally intervened with the government to withdraw an offer of asylum made to Nicholas II shortly after his abdication.

According to one account, the Foreign Office flatly denied for years that the asylum offer had ever been withdrawn, but finally owned up in the 1930s.