Loyal General: Prince Grigori Dmitrievich Yusupov

In their family myth, the Princes Yusupov claimed descent from Tamerlane and the Prophet Mohammed. To explain their fabulous wealth, they claimed descent from the rulers of the Khanate of Crimea. While Wikipedia and Russian tourist guides treat this as history, the myth only gained a wider audience with the writings of Prince Felix Felixovich Yussupov in the 20th century. 

Tsar Peter The Great of Russia


In the 17th century, Abdul Mirza defected from the Khanate of Crimea to the Russian tsar. He received the title Prince Yusupov for his pains by way of thanks from Tsar Feodor III.

The Yusupovs were foreigners, newcomers, and did not form part of the old Boyar Russian nobility. What might look like a handicap in acquiring wealth and position was contrariwise paying dividend with the upstart Romanov dynasty which was into its third generation with Tsar Feodor III. When the Romanov line died out with the death of Tsarina Elisabeth Petrovna, the German House of Holstein-Gottorp took over and assumed the name of Romanov; they were a junior branch of the House of Oldenburg ruling Denmark and Norway. These foreign (German) Romanovs looked upon the Yusupovs as their natural allies.

Abdul Mirza, now Prince Dmitri Seyushevich Yusupow, died in 1694. He had served Tsar Feodor III and the regent Sofia Alexeyevna faithfully and closely as well as the new Tsars Ivan V and Peter I. The closeness didn’t come from any particular friendship they might have shared. Prince Dmitri was a traitor to his Khan and might become one to his Tsar anytime, too. Keeping him close was the easiest way to keep an eye on him.

His two sons, Prince Matvei and Prince Grigori Dmitrievich Yusupov both served in public functions like their father. While Prince Mitvai died young, his brother Grigori served under Ivan V, Peter I, Catherine I, and Peter II. He rose to become General-in-Chief under Peter I and was an instrumental supporter of Peter’s policy in building a large Russian navy fleet. The building of this fleet would shape the future policy of Russia’s expansion to the South to reach the Black Sea and possibly gain control of the Bosporus.

It was the quaint custom that after the death of a tsar the most powerful nobles in positions of trust and importance would receive considerable gifts from the new incumbent in recognition of services rendered and to assure their support for the future. These give-aways took the form of palaces in Moscow and later Petrograd, or in land. The most available land was in Siberia which was explored and annexed bit by bit.

Serving under so many changing regimes, the Yusupovs acquired large swathes of unexplored Siberian forest and tundra. With exploration, these lands would yield precious stones, precious metals, and many raw materials that would become precious in the starting industrialisation.

Staying close to one tsarist regime after another was no mean feat; it shows the exceptional adaptability and diplomacy that the first two generations of Yusupovs displayed. They managed to come out of the various squabbles over the succession not only unscathed, but actually richer and more influential than before; and they always emerged on the winning side without really taking sides in the dispute. 


Further reading
Prince Valdemar of Denmark and Too Many Thrones
Evacuation From Yalta 1919
Princes: Not All That Glitters