The Russian Connection
Over the centuries, the Eliots of Port Eliot have had a number of connections to the large Imperial nation called Russia, the first documented instance beginning in 1769 with an extended visit to St. Petersburg and the surrounding area by Mrs. Harriot Neale (sister of Edward, 1st Lord Eliot). She stayed in Russia nearly a whole year, spending much of her time painting watercolour views of the country (now hiding in a long-forgotten spot at Port Eliot). More than seventy-five years later, eighteen-year-old Edward John Cornwallis Eliot (commonly called Lord Eliot) visited Russia as part of his Grand Tour. He stayed in Moscow and St. Petersburg; visited the Kremlin, Tauride Palace and the Winter Palace; and sent many letters home to his mother describing his trip. Near the end of June 1845, Edward was even introduced to Tsar Nicholas I and his wife, the Empress Alexandra.
Once again (July 1867) an Eliot set off for a visit to the Tsar of all the Russias, but this time it was Edward's younger brother, Henry Cornwallis Eliot who went. As a clerk in the Foreign Office, he had been chosen to serve as secretary to the special mission proceeding to St. Petersburg to invest Emperor Alexander II with the British "Order of the Garter". The connection doesn't stop here, though. Just weeks before Henry's arrival in Russia, his cousin, Eleanor Pringle, had married Sergei Nikolaevich Plaoutine, a Colonel in the Imperial Russian Army and A.D.C. to the Tsar. There's a good chance that the cousins met during Henry's sojourn in St. Petersburg, since the relationship between Edward Granville Eliot (3rd Earl of St. Germans) and his Pringle cousins was strongly established. Whether or not Henry and Eleanor's generation continued in this vein is unknown, but the murder of many of the Plaoutine children and grandchildren during the Russian Revolution brought the familial connection to a final close.
Before moving on to specifics of the Eliots' most intriguing connection to Russia (the Plaoutine cousins), it's interesting to note that – even at as late a date as 1914 – the family still had social connections with the Imperial family. When Montague (later 8th Earl of St. Germans) and Nellie Eliot's second child and first son was born, he was given the impressive name of Nicholas Richard Michael, his godfathers being Great Uncle Henry (5th Earl of St. Germans) and the Grand Duke Michael of Russia (the then exiled younger brother of Tsar Nicholas II). That Grand Duke Michael knew the Plaoutine cousins of his Eliot friends is undeniable, but it's doubtful that any of the parties involved were aware of the connection.
From St. Germans to St. Petersburg
Edward James Eliot's grandson, John Henry Pringle, was an officer in the Coldstream Guards who travelled a good deal, spending a lot of time in France. His fourth child, Eleanor, was born in London in 1843. Undoubtedly, she spent a good deal of time in France, and by the 1860s she was described as one of the "reigning blonde beauties of London".
Just how Eleanor met Serge Plaoutine is unknown, however it seems that probable that it was through her maternal aunt. This aunt was Emma Ramsbottom, widow of Sir Stewart Bruce. In 1849, Emma married Colonel Bernard Ernest Jule de Koetteritz. He was, presumably, German-born, as his father was a General de Koetteritz of Leipzig. Bernard was, at the time of his marriage, a Colonel in the Imperial Guard of Russia. They lived in Florence, Italy, also spending some time in Baden-Baden. It would seem natural if Eleanor Pringle was introduced to Serge Plaoutine through her aunt and uncle's connections in Russia.
Eleanor and Serge Plaoutine were married at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Nice, France, on 30 Apr 1867. Their first child, Nikolai, was born there on 2 Feb 1868. Three more children, two daughters and another son (all born in Russia), followed during the next seven years.
Eliot Descendants in Imperial Russia
The Plaoutines and their children were members of the highest society in Russia before the Revolution and the introduction of the Bolshevik regime. Serge was one of the wealthiest land owners in the country before 1917. He was retired as a General in the Army, having served as A.D.C. to the Tsar for some time. He was an avid collector of art, as well as having a large collection of mounted Russian birds. The well-known miniature of St. George and the Dragon (attributed to Rogier van der Weyden), on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., was part of General Plaoutine's collection and one of the few pieces he brought out of Russia. Together, Eleanor and Serge also shared a common interest in paleontology and discovered more than eight species of fossils which bear the name of "plautini".
The Plaoutines had two sons, Nikolai (Nicholas) and Mikhail (Michael), both of whom served in the Russian Army.
Nicholas became a Major-General and commanded the Tersko-Dagestansky Cavalry Regiment and the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Combined Cossack Division.
Michael was a first-grade officer in the Russian Horse Artillery and served as A.D.C. to Tsar Nicholas II up to 1918.
The Plaoutines two daughters married well. The oldest, Vera, was the wife of Serge Denissieff, a mining engineer. The youngest, Elizaveta "Lily", was the wife of Prince Sergei Borisovich Scherbatoff. It is said that Eleanor and both of her daughters occupied positions in the Russian Imperial Court. While this seems highly likely, I have not been able to find any clues as to the nature of the positions.
That the Plaoutines were connected with the Romanovs is without doubt. Aside from the military aspect of their relationship, the family preserved a photo and story of their nursery maid. Fanny Coster, an Englishwoman, was employed by Eleanor Plaoutine as a nursery maid (and later as a nurse), while Fanny's sister, Jane, was a Nurse to Grand Duchess Xenia's family. The Empress asked for Fanny to nurse Grand Duchess Olga, which Fanny did. Later, Fanny returned to the Plaoutines as house keeper.
Serge and Eleanor (and their children) owned quite a few houses in Russia, but their most prominent houses were in St. Petersburg at 25 Millionnaya Street and 24 Quai de la Cour (Winter Palace Embankment). The former house was owned by Serge Plaoutine during his career, with the surviving building having been constructed in 1913 by his orders. In 1894, the year of his retirement, Serge and Eleanor moved to a house the Winter Palace Embankment. This stands next to the Palace of Grand Duke Vladimir and can still be seen today.
Eliot Descendants in the Russian Revolution
Since 1907, Eleanor and Serge had rented a flat in the Chateau St. Laurent in Nice, France, and in 1914 they decided to leave Russia and settle there permanently. Serge believed that Russia was a young country with a future, so he did not bring money or property out of the country. His son, Michael, continued to manage the estates in Russia and sent money to support his parents every month until the Revolution.
Sadly, the Plaoutine's children never escaped the Revolution. Vera died of pneumonia in May 1917, but the three other children were all murdered by the Bolsheviks. Vera's three daughters were safely sent to live with their grandparents in Nice, but their brothers and father stayed in Russia. Some of Lily's children were killed, while two or three managed to live under assumed identities in Russia. They never had contact with any of the remaining family. Nicholas had four sons, three of whom survived and escaped to France.
How sad that Serge and Eleanor Plaoutine lived to see so many members of their family killed. After the start of the Revolution no money or support could be sent out of Russia to France, so Serge sold off his few pieces of art one at a time. Even that was not enough to live on, and it was through the generosity of Sir Ronald Lindsay (a son of Eleanor's cousin) that they were able to continue on at the Chateau St. Laurent. Eleanor died there in 1924, and Serge died in 1926.
The Plaoutine Family Survivors
Tracing families in Imperial Russia and through the Revolution is tricky at the best of times. Records are almost non-existent, and the few that are available tend to be confused or contradictory. It is thanks to family stories and memories that many of the facts about the Plaoutines are known today, and there are still large gaps in the story.
Surviving members of the Plaoutine family lived (and live) all over the world. Some in Russia or Algiers. Others in France, Switzerland Scotland or the USA.
So far, two family members have written their memoirs. Eleanor Violet Jauncey (niece of Eleanor Plaoutine) spent many holidays in Russia, Italy and France with her "Russian cousins". When she was in her nineties, Eleanor wrote down her memories of those trips and her cousins. She never forgot the sorrow of their fate.
Vera's youngest daughter, Mariamne, also wrote some of her memories. She was quite young when she lived in Russia, but each story is a treasure.