He was also in constant touch with the British ambassador and embassy staff, acting as a semi official courier by passing information and confidential letters on his journeys between the UK and Russia.
He was effectively carrying their diplomatic bags, although he insisted only “as a matter of courtesy and not in an official capacity”.
Nerve-wracking ten day journey
Stopford left Petrograd on September 26, 1917 carrying Maria Pavlovna’s extraordinary jewellery collection, for a nerve-wracking ten day journey.
He travelled by train through Finland, which was in Russian hands, and into Sweden before arriving in Aberdeen by boat on October 6, where he professed himself “delighted to see policemen again”.
Meanwhile, the Grand Duchess made arrangements for the cigarette boxes and cufflinks in the Vladimir Palace to be retrieved and taken to Swedish embassy staff before plotting her own escape from Russia, eventually landing in Paris. She was one of the last Romanovs to escape revolutionary Russia.
On arrival in London, Stopford put the jewels in a bank’s safety deposit box where they remained for at least two years.
When the Grand Duchess reached Europe, it was agreed that the valuables should be taken to Cartier in Paris to be valued.
However, in September 1920, the Grand Duchess died and the jewels were eventually divided between her descendants.
Vladimir tiara sold to Queen Mary for £28,000
Among the pieces in the collection was a grand diamond tiara with removable pearl drops that was originally made in 1874 by Bolin, the Russian court jeweller, for the royal.
It was inherited by her daughter, Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna, who sold it to Queen Mary, the Queen’s grandmother, in 1921 for £28,000.
It has been in the royal collection ever since and has been worn frequently by the Queen, both with and without the pearl drops – or with emerald drops, which were an addition commissioned by Queen Mary.
The brooch and earrings will form part of Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels sale in Geneva.