Military Wiki

Lunin in 1822

“My nickname changed during my imprisonment and exile, and with each change it became longer. Now, in official documents, I am referred to as: “A state criminal in exile.”... My sole weapon is my thought…”[1]
“As an aged man he used to say that, though he had only one tooth left in his mouth, even that one was directed against Nicholas.”[2]''

Mikhail Sergeyevich Lunin (Russian: Михаил Сергеевич Лунин; December 29, 1787 - December 3, 1845 ) was a Russian political philosopher, revolutionary, Mason, Decembrist, a Lieutenant of the Grodno Life Guards regiment and a participant of the Franco-Russian Patriotic War of 1812. After a successful career in the military during the Napoleonic invasion, he became involved with multiple liberal Russian secret societies in the early 19th century, including the Union of Salvation and the Union of Welfare, as well as the Northern Society and the Southern Society. After the Decembrist Revolt took place in 1825, he was arrested due to his affiliations with the men responsible, and was subsequently exiled to a labor camp in Siberia. Lunin spent time in Finnish jails, three different prisons in Siberia, and lived on a farm under the watchful eye of the government during his life as an exile. Known for keeping good spirits and maintaining a firm defiance of autocratic rule, Lunin was eventually imprisoned again for writing in "opposition" to the Russian government, and lived out the rest of his life in a cell.

Early life[]

Mikhail was born December 8, 1787, in Saint Petersburg, Russia. His father, Sergei Mikhailovich Lunin, was Actual Civil Councellor to the tsar, the fourth rank in the civil service division of the Russian government, and his mother was Fyeodosiya Mykytychna Lunina née Muravyova, the daughter of a wealthy family. Fyeodosiya died in 1792 while giving birth to a daughter, leaving Sergei to raise her and his two sons, Mikhail and his brother, Nikita. To ensure the boys got a proper education, Sergei hired several tutors and governors to come live with the family and train the boys in various subjects. Due to the fact that these men either were often dismissed for being unsatisfactory or left of their own accord, Mikhail’s education was at times uneven and inconsistent. Even when there was a tutor or governor on hand, Mikhail did not experience much in the way of discipline, as his father was an often-distant figure, in accordance with the norms of the time. Nevertheless, Mikhail’s basic education—history, mathematics, literature, some French and Latin—was befitting of his station, but otherwise not unusual. The hobbies he cultivated as a young man—dancing, fencing, horseback riding—were similarly suited to his background.[3]

Few details are known about Mikhail’s home life as a child and as a young man, but there are some important takeaway points from this early period of his life. First, Mikhail was a child of opulence and wealth. The education his father was able to afford him, as well as the kind of home he lived in for several years and its many accouterments (such as servants, sculpted busts of Roman emperors, a music room with a piano, an orangery, and others), all indicate this. In his impressionable years, Mikhail came to accept this degree of wealth as an expected part of life. Second, one of the principal tutors in Mikhail’s life, Abbé Vouvillier, was not just Catholic, he was a devoted Jesuit. This likely occurred because, for a period of time, it was common among the Russian elite to hire Jesuit exiles from France following the Revolution in the 1790s. Although this practice died out by 1800, Vouvillier had already been hired in 1797. As would be expected of a Jesuit, he expressly hoped to convert people (like his charge, Mikhail) in Russia to Catholicism while he was there, a desire which Sergei, though aware of it, apparently did not take as any kind of threat, at least initially. Considering Mikhail became a Catholic later in life, Vouvillier’s early influence on him should not be understated.[4]

Military career[]

Lunin first joined the military in September 1803 in order to defend Russia against Napoleon’s invasion. Because he was such a proficient swordsman and rider, he quickly advanced through the ranks, becoming a kornet in the winter of 1805-06. Over the course of his time in the military, Lunin had a tendency to be eccentric and brash, but he was capable nonetheless, demonstrating his bravery and courage on multiple occasions. In one distinctive incident, his regiment was being held in reserve behind the front lines, but he decided to ride off by himself and fight simply because he did not want to stay idle while a battle was going on. By 1815, his reputation was such that the imperial family knew him personally and spoke highly of him, anticipating that he would rise even higher in the ranks. However, due to a combination of events and circumstances—trouble with personal debts and a desire to see more action among them—he wished to transfer to a regiment that was outside the capital. After Lunin challenged a man of greater influence than he to a duel, though, the subsequent fallout compelled Lunin to retire from the military altogether.[5]

Conversion to Catholicism[]

After leaving the military, Lunin sailed to France in 1816 to live privately for a while with a friend, Hippolyte Auger. While there, Lunin engaged in a variety of pursuits, including writing a novel and lessons in French, English, algebra, and piano. In 1817, Auger introduced Lunin to Father Fidèle de Grivel, another Jesuit like Vouvillier. It was after becoming acquainted with Grivel as well as an abbé named Thirias—whom Lunin met as part of the social circle he and Auger entered into while in France—and having many opportunities to speak with them at length that Lunin became openly Catholic. This conversion sheds light on his views of both religion and politics. His opinion of Orthodox Christianity was that it had become too diminished by the impositions and arbitrariness of man, and that the divine was thus neglected. Protestantism subjugated faith to human reason, and he would not consider atheism, so he settled on Catholicism. This faith in the Catholic Church, as well as its hierarchy, inspired him in his political thinking such that he believed in the necessity of order and the rule of law. These beliefs proved instrumental in his later involvement in secret societies plotting to overthrow the tsar.[6]

Return to Russia[]

After hearing that his father had died, Lunin arrived back in Russia in April, 1817 to take charge of his estate. He quickly found that he had inherited a sizeable amount of debt in addition to various assets, so he began to set about paying it off. During this process, Lunin completed a draft of his last will and testament, which stated that after his death the serfs of his estate would be freed and granted a portion of land, which would be increased over time. The legality of this decision was questionable, but that did not matter to Lunin. Originally, he intended to leave the estate to his sister, but in a later draft of his will he changed the beneficiary to his younger cousin, Nikolaj Aleksandrovi. This was because if the estate went to Lunin’s sister she would exercise only nominal control over it, while the real power would lie in the hands of her husband and Lunin’s brother-in-law, A.F. Uvarov. This was a problem because Lunin feared that Uvarov would not respect Lunin’s wishes and keep the serfs in bondage. Interestingly, another significant change in Lunin’s second draft of his will was that the serfs would still be freed, but they would not be granted any land. The explanation for this is uncertain, but it seems to be the case that Lunin underwent some kind of change in attitude toward private property. However it happened, he had come to feel that individual ownership of land often meant that the land was not used to its full potential, and certainly not to everyone’s benefit. In his eyes, because the land was crucial to Russia’s ability to produce agriculture and enforce any kind of stability via a government, it was imperative that all land either be fully owned or partly owned by the government so that peasants would not be able to take advantage of each other depending on who had land and who did not. This attitude, extended to the noble classes in Russia, constituted a definite threat to the status quo of the Russian state, and was a kind of signal for his future activity in societies whose goal it was to fundamentally transform the Russian government.[7]

The Masons[]

Another important influence in Lunin’s early life was the Masons. At the time when he was a young man, they were more prominent in Saint Petersburg than they had ever been, even to the point where royal family members were joining lodges. In general, lodges were distinct from other spheres of society because they allowed freedom of expression and often adhered to Enlightenment idealization of the power of human reason to enact continuous progress, a notable contrast to the spirit of autocracy that otherwise pervaded Russia. Lunin first joined a lodge in 1817, Loge des Trois Vertus, which translates roughly to “Lodge of Three Virtues.” It is significant that the lodge he joined was more French or English in its style as opposed to, say, German, for lodges in the latter tradition were more likely to engage in mysticism, whereas the former tended to engage more with practical issues relating to the economy and, after 1815, politics on some occasions. Furthermore, the Lodge of Three Virtues just happened to be the most politically oriented in all of Russia. Its members’ understanding of the Masonic creed, according to their own time and context, dictated that the equality of mankind was paramount and that this fact should be successfully disseminated throughout the world as much as possible. It stood to reason that if this were the case, then such autocratic governments as that of Russia ought to be changed.

As a member of the “Lodge of Three Virtues,” Lunin was naturally sympathetic to these ideals, but he soon realized that there was little chance of any concrete action ever being taken to actually realize them. In addition, he began to feel torn between his membership in the Masons and his ties to the Catholic Church. Both organizations were distrustful of each other, with the Masons even accusing the Church of corruption. Ultimately, his loyalty to Catholicism prevailed and he left the Masons altogether. Lunin soon found other groups, though, secret societies that shared his desire for action.[8]

Involvement With Secret Societies[]

Lunin was partly responsible for the creation of the first Decembrist society, the “Union of True and Faithful Sons of the Fatherland.” However, his decision to depart for France in the fall of that year meant that he was absent from the group’s deliberations for as long as he was out of the country, although he was still connected to it and others, like the Union of Salvation. This came back to haunt him after the actual Decembrist Revolt took place and many people were arrested, in that he was later questioned about his knowledge of various groups’ stated plans and goals. The group’s stated goals of transitioning Russia into a constitutional monarchy, abolishing serfdom and reducing the influence of foreigners in the government probably would have been alone enough to alarm the government, but some members went even further.[9] For example, F.P. Šaxovskoj of the Union of Salvation suggested that the group should attempt to assassinate the tsar, an idea that Lunin was accused of initially endorsing and then subsequently supporting. Lunin, for his part, insisted that he had known nothing of this proposal prior to arriving in Moscow. Conversely, he was also suspected of collaborating with the Union of Salvation (later the Union of Welfare) because of his presence in Moscow, not his absence. With regard to Lunin’s support for assassinating the tsar, though, the record of his attendance and participation in a particular meeting seem to indicate this was not the case. During the discussion of a paper on the merits of monarchic and republican governments, Lunin actually voiced his support for a limited monarchy and claimed that a Russian republic would be undesirable, thereby voicing tacit, if qualified, support for the tsar.[10]

Nevertheless, it is still the case that Lunin maintained ties with various secret political groups for a number of years—albeit not always the same ones—even when, at times, he professed not to. This was particularly in evidence when he rejoined the army and was posted in Poland. At the time, there was a portion of Poland that desired greater autonomy in handling its own affairs, which was embodied in the Polish Secret Patriotic Society. Because it and another Russian group, the Southern Society, had some goals in common—namely the tsar’s ouster—they established a kind of liaison, with Lunin—at one time a member of the latter group—acting as a kind of go-between. In summary, he remained connected to different societies, but his actual participation was often not what it once was.[11] (In the case of the Southern Society, this might have been because its members were too radical for Lunin’s taste.[12] )

There seem to have been multiple reasons for Lunin’s decreased activity in the groups. One is that he grew tired of the societies’ inability to come to an agreement on what should be done and take decisive action.[13] He may also have come to doubt the possibility of successful, meaningful change taking place without the active participation and outcry of Russia’s millions.[14] Whatever the case, even though some of Lunin’s connections were perhaps not particularly strong as time went on, taken together they were sufficient evidence for the imperial court to find him guilty and sentence him to exile in Siberia. All this occurred, however, only after the actual Decembrist Revolt took place.

Arrest and Trial[]

Lunin was not personally involved in the uprising at Senate Square in Saint Petersburg. Furthermore, he was not immediately arrested even after his involvement with such groups as the Union of Salvation, the Union of Welfare and the Northern and Southern Society was verified. Apparently, Tsar Nicholas preferred to let Lunin incriminate himself—or let his captured associates testify against him and bring decisive evidence that would allow the tsar to arrest him without pause. However, Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich, the brother of Tsar Nicholas and the man whom Lunin had been serving as an aide-de-camp, was equally determined that Lunin should not be arrested or implicated in any manner. He defended Lunin in multiple letters to the tsar, but Nicholas continued to move forward by questioning those who had already been arrested about Lunin’s involvement in the various societies. What he was really after was decisive evidence against Lunin that not even the Grand Duke would be able to rationalize or explain away. Nicholas got his wish after extensive interrogation of Pavel Pestel, a man whom Lunin had become acquainted with through multiple societies over the years, compelled the prisoner to confess—perhaps inaccurately, as the interrogation methods of the Russian government were geared more toward confessions than the truth—that Lunin had himself suggested a particular plot in 1816 to assassinate Tsar Alexander. With his decisive evidence in hand, Nicholas had Lunin arrested on April 9, 1826.[15]

Despite the fact that Nicholas had found his pretense to have Lunin arrested in the first place, the case against him was still not very strong. There was no proof that he had joined the army in Poland with any ulterior motive in mind, and the ties he had with the different societies were either relatively weak or had been broken altogether, as with the Northern Society. The court felt it could only find Lunin guilty if it were established that he himself had at some point suggested assassinating Tsar Alexander or at least attended meetings wherein such a suggestion was made. Nikita Murav’ev, another of Lunin’s imprisoned associates, finally made an admission to this effect after undergoing a great deal of pressure and advanced interrogational tactics. Encouraged by this, the court brought Lunin in for direct questioning in the hope that he would confess, but he consistently denied that he had ever suggested or plotted the death of Alexander, or been part of a similar plan originated by anyone else. Besides, as Lunin pointed out, Russian plots against the life of the tsar were hardly a novelty in the country’s history, and in fact had been justified as replacing someone incompetent with a more capable ruler.[16] Regardless of whether Lunin actually endorsed or was involved with a plan to assassinate the tsar, it does seem to be the case that he had supported Grand Duke Konstantin for tsar instead of Nicholas, provided that the former lived up to his professed liberal views and enacted genuine reforms once in power.[17] In the end, the court found him innocent of advocating regicide, but thanks to his connections to various societies and his alleged association with a regicidal plot by Pestel, he was found guilty under the categories of sympathizing with or proposing revolt as well as spreading propaganda and causing sedition or agitation. He was originally sentenced to lose all his constitutional rights as a person and be permanently exiled to a location to be determined, but this was commuted to twenty years of hard labor followed by exile to a distant location.[18] According to eyewitness accounts, Lunin was surprisingly sanguine upon hearing the verdict, perhaps fitting for a man of his religious conviction.[19]

The closing chapter of Lunin’s pre-exile life again raised the issue of what was to be done with his assets. Since nothing he owned would be his any longer, all of his possessions—as well as the debts he still had incurred—had to be dealt with accordingly. An auction was held to sell off enough of his former goods to pay the debt off. His will still dictated that his cousin, Nikolaj Aleksandrovi?, receive the estate and the serfs that came with it, but his sister Uvarova, despite having been previously disinherited in 1819, contested this. The Supreme Court in Saint Petersburg initially ruled in favor of Nikolaj, but Uvarova continued to fight, prolonging the battle for a number of months, to the point where it became a public issue of sorts. In December 1827, the Minister of Justice decided that Lunin, having no other heirs, was entitled to name whomever he wished as his beneficiary. However, he also ruled that the serfs could not be freed, as doing so would be illegal. About a month later, though, the case was reopened again after it emerged that Uvarova’s position had not been adequately explained. As it turned out, the Minister of Justice reversed his previous decision, granting Lunin’s estates and goods to her. None of this made any impact on Lunin, however, for he was already miles away, en route to his future as a prisoner in a labor camp.[20]

Exile to Siberia[]

Nicholas I and his government planned to send the Decembrist exiles to two camps in eastern Siberia: Chita and Petrovskij Zavod, both in relative proximity to the Nercinck Mines. Neither Chita nor Petrovskij Zavod were prepared to take over a hundred prisoners right away, so it was decided that the prisoners should be kept in Finland until further arrangements could be made. Lunin and seven other Decembrists were taken to a Swedish-built stone fortress known as Sveaborg Fortress, on Longgern Island.[21]

As the exiled Decembrists made their way eastward across Siberia, the local people along the way met them with sympathy and good nature. A man is recorded to have approached the exiles in a town called Kostrama saying, “Gentlemen, be brave, you are suffering for the most beautiful, the most noble cause. Even in Siberia you will find sympathy.” Respect for the Decembrist failed cause came mostly from the upper echelons of society. Most of the people living in Siberia knew little of who the exiles were, or were under the impression that they were simply military officers who had refused to acknowledge the new czar. However, whatever they believed about the Decembrists, the attitude across the board of the Siberians was one friendly acceptance, and many of the exiles received much needed care from the locals during hard times.

Nicholas I seems to have been obsessed unnecessarily with the Decembrists. This can be seen in the way he often oversaw their treatment and punishment personally. For example, many have wondered at the way the Decembrists were kept together in groups, when isolating them from their comrades would have done far more to break their spirits and crush their belief in the ideals of their cause. Even though most of Russia had little or know understanding of the Decembrist Revolution, Nicholas was paranoid of a “general uprising in eastern Siberia,” and followed his generals’ advice that guarding the exiles in groups would be more effective.[22] As much as he felt he could, however, Nicholas did attempt to break the spirits of his exiles, ordering the separation of Lunin and close companion Nikita Murav’ev.[23]

Lunin remained at Sveaborg Fortress for a little over half a year, but the government never fully approved of the prisoner situation there. Steps had been taken to improve the security of the fortress, but the government remained unsure, and was displeased with the conversation and socializing between prisoners afforded by the construction of the prison cells. Thus the prisoners at Sveaborg were transported to various other prisons. Lunin and two others were sent to Vyborg Castle. Prison conditions at Vyborg were rough, and the cells had suffered a good deal from major floods a few years prior.[24] Apparently water continually seeped through cell walls and kept everything damp. The other two exiles fell sick with caries, but Lunin maintained a characteristically strong physical and mental disposition. He replied famously to a question of whether he had all he needed with “I am quite satisfied with everything. I lack only an umbrella.”[25] After eighteen in Vyborg, Lunin and three other exiles were escorted eastwards through Irkutsk to Chita, which contained the largest group of Decembrist exiles in Siberia at the time. The guards pressed as rapidly as possible on the journey, which was hard on the prisoners, and at times very dangerous. One of the exiles, Mixail Bestuzev, was nearly killed in a coach accident in which he was thrown off the coach sliding down a steep bank. His chains were caught in the coach, and Bestuzev was dragged a good distance.[26]


Lunin arrived in Chita at the end of June in 1828, two years after he had been sentenced there. Three hundred kilometers southeast of Lake Baikal, Chita sat in a beautiful valley at the junction of two rivers (the Chita and the Ingoda). Many of the Decembrists who spent time there spoke of the natural beauty of the area, writing of its varied plant species, the vibrant colors, stunning views, “golden pastures and fragrant meadows,” and calling it the “Garden of Siberia.”[27] In general, as they had found during much of their journey through Siberia, the local people living in Chita were amiable and hospitable towards the exiles, and in several cases gave excellent care to sick Decembrists, as can be seen by the way Decembrists often left something for a local family in their will. The general in overseeing the exiled Decembrists also tended to be humane in his treatment of the prisoners, a quality by no means over common in prison leadership at the time.[28]

For all these things, however, life was still hard on Decembrists. Many struggled to recover from exhaustion or illness from their journey east, and many, Lunin included, struggled especially in the beginning to stretch the meager allowance from the government to cover all their basic needs.[29] In addition to physical stress, the Decembrists also had to deal with the doubts as to the validity of their cause, and many wrestled with whether it was worth all their pain and heartache in exile. Lunin, however, “was not daunted, and remained cheerful,” if rather withdrawn.[30] During his time at Chita, Lunin kept largely to himself, spending the vast majority of his time alone in his room, in the little chapel he had set up. Though quite the recluse, Lunin still managed to remain on pleasant terms with his fellow exiles and with the local people. He attended the lectures hosted by the Decembrists in the evenings (the Decembrists concerned themselves with educating and refining the cultural tastes of the local people around them[31] ), occasionally played guitar for an evening of music with the other exiles,[32] worked extensively on an escape plan (first for everyone, then for himself), and whenever he was in contact with people, he struck those around him with his clever wit and cheerful spirit.[33]

Some of the exiled Decembrists began to crack under the stress of living in Chita, and wrote to the czar requesting pardon, asking that they be allowed to serve as privates in the Russian army, which was at the time engaged in fighting in the Caucasus. For example, Alexander Bestuzhev wrote:

To the noble soul trained in battles are understandable the sufferings of a military man destined to rot in idleness, when the glory of the Russian arms thunders over the cradle of the ancient world, over the grave of Mohammed. Asking you this grace, I do not seek advantages nor distinction: I only seek an opportunity to shed my blood for the glory of the Sovereign and honorably end the life granted to me, in order that after it the name criminal shall not be known.[34]

Lunin responded to the plea of his fellows in a letter with characteristic disdain for those who cheapened themselves by abandoning so noble a cause as theirs, writing:

I hear that some of our political exiles have expressed their desire to serve as privates in the Caucasian army, hoping to make peace with the government. In my opinion it is unwise for them to do so before subjecting themselves to some slight scrutiny. The first day one should request that he be flogged fifty times, the second day a hundred, and the third day two hundred times, so that altogether it would make three hundred and fifty times. After such a scrutiny one could proclaim: dignus, dignus est intrare in isto doctor corpore.[35]

Twenty-six months after his arrival, when the barracks at Petrosvskij Zavod had been built to hold all of the Decembrists at Chita (as well as a group of Polish exiles), Lunin and the rest of the Decembrists at Chita were forced to make the seven hundred verst journey westward to their new home. Lunin hired a covered wagon with the money his sister had been so careful to keep him provided with, which eased somewhat the strain of the journey and gave him the privacy he so cherished.[36] Because he spent so much of his time inside his carriage during the journey, the Siberian guides (of the Buriat tribe) believed that he must be the most important criminal. At one point the a crowd of Buriats surrounded his carriage and they asked to know why he was being exiled. Lunin explained that he had tried to cut the “Great Khan’s” (Tsar Nicholas I) throat, and was thus being exiled, which greatly impressed the Buriats gathered there.[37]

Petrosvskij Zavod[]

In Petrosvskij Zavod, Lunin began slowly to flex his powerful mind once again. Whatever religious texts he could get his hands on, he read avidly. Because he had decided to restrict himself from non-religious texts, he didn’t read them to himself. Instead, still hungry for news of the world and of politics, he had others read for him and share with him what the books and papers said. Lunin, while not completely abandoning his reserved and secluded way of life, used his time at Petrosvskij Zavod to think and to explore and to glean everything he could from the people around him. The prison (for unlike Chita, which was merely a fortified “strongpoint,” Petrosvskij Zavod was a real prison[38] ) contained men from a wide range of backgrounds, and Lunin pressed many of them for information on a wide range of subjects, from thoughts about Russia’s political future to information about Poland and the Americas. Spending more time with his fellow prisoners, he established yet again his reputation for being a unique, quirky, and yet pleasant man.[39] Baron A.E. Rozen, a fellow exile, wrote of him later:

M.S. Lunin lived in the most curious manner. He lived in No. 1, a totally dark cell in which no window had been pierced – a guard-room being built beside it. He did not share our common table, and kept his fasts after the custom of the Roman Church, which he had joined some years before when in Warsaw. One third of his cell was shut off by a curtain behind which, elevated on some steps, was a large crucifix blessed by the Pope, which his sister had sent him from Rome. All day long, loud Latin prayers would be audible in his cell…when he strolled among us he was invariably witty and agreeable. Whenever we called on him in his ell we always found him ready to converse in a secular and often jocular strain. He was greatly provoked by Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris, I recall, which penetrated even our wilds and was read avidly; he had the patience to burn the whole book with a candle…[40]


In the middle of June 1835, Lunin arrived in Urik, a small town close to Irkutsk. His sentence to twenty years hard labor had been shortened to just under ten, and he had been sent along with several other Decembrists to live an work on a plot of land provided by the government. Lunin proved himself to be very industrious, building his house quickly and carefully, clearing the land around it, draining the bogs and creating a pretty little garden complete with smooth pathways, flowers, garden vegetables, and a summerhouse. He also grew corn fairly successfully. In addition to his manual labor, Lunin also continued to stretch himself intellectually. He stuck to his intense habit of spending time in prayer and study of the Bible, and also began building a library for himself with the help of his friend Nikita Murav’ev and his sister Urarova.[41] Here in Urik, Lunin received permission to write letters to family and friends, marking the beginning of a series of letters that he wrote in name to his sister Urarova, but in intent he was actually writing to the world at large. He told his sister, “I rejoice that my letters…engage you. They serve as an expression of those convictions for which I was led to the place of execution, to a cell, and to exile. The publicity enjoyed by my letters through their numerous copies turns them into a political weapon” “which I must use for the defense of freedom.”[42][43] In these letters, Lunin addressed everything from his own personal story as a political exile to the pressing need for the emancipation of the serfs.

Exile to Akatui and Death[]

Lunin admitted frankly that his design in writing his contentious letters was in part “to tease the white bear,” so it was only a matter of time before the authorities became upset and put a stop to his letters.25 In September 1838 Lunin had lost his letter writing privileges for a year after repeated instances of material deemed inappropriate by the government. Once this year ban was lifted, Lunin continued to write not merely in the same manner as he had before, but this time in an even more blatantly taunting manner.[44] His hope in affecting change for Russia even as an exile living in Siberia is echoed in his words, “From the sighs of those living under thatched roofs storms are born which destroy palaces.” [45]

In 1841 the authorities over Lunin discovered a manuscript of his “A Glance at Russian Secret Societies from 1816 to 1826,” which infuriated Tsar Nicholas I. Not surprisingly, for it contained such statements as the following describing the Decemberists: “They are stripped of everything: their social status, their property, their health, their homeland, their liberty…But no one can rob them of popular sympathy towards them…The Russian mind may, for a while, be led astray, but Russian popular sentiment is not to be deceived.”[46] and the government retaliated by ordering copies of the article be collected immediately and sent back to St. Petersburg. Lunin was arrested in at home in Urik and his house was thoroughly searched. Lunin dodged questions in his interrogations to protect his friends by claiming he could only answer adequately in French, which the officers in charge of the arrest did not understand.[47] Lunin was sentenced to isolated imprisonment at the Akatui mine,[48] an area where it was said that even birds could not live because of the contamination in the air from the mines. Needless to say the conditions in the prison were severe.[49] Lunin was kept in a cell with “water oozing from the walls” and high temperatures. Outbreaks of disease were common in such a climate, and the food was for the most part just bread and water.[50] Lunin’s words sum up his Akatui experience: “the architect who built the prison of Akatui must have inherited Dante’s imagination.” [51] For all hardship he endured, Lunin managed to maintain a relatively happy disposition. He maintained his habits of prayer and was visited by a Catholic priest from time to time. Once again, he demonstrated a natural way with people: the other prisoners accepted him well, and though their contact with each other was minimal, Lunin attempted to intervene for fellow prisoners on several occasions, either for more humane treatment or for better medical care.[52] His sister Uvarova pleaded in every way she could that Lunin be released or transferred to a more healthy environment, but to no avail. Lunin died after four years of imprisonment at Akatui, and the exact circumstances of his death remained unclear. Some believe he died at the hands of an angry prison guard, some from charcoal poisoning, and others that he died in his sleep from a stroke.[53]


  1. Obolonsky, Alexander V. (2003). The Drama of Russian Political History. College Station: Texas A&M University Press. pp. 81. 
  2. Mazour, Anatole G. (1937). The First Russian Revolution. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 223. 
  3. Barratt, Glynn (1976). M.S. Lunin: Catholic Decembrist. The Hague: Mouton. pp. 1–2. 
  4. Ibid. pp. 2–5. 
  5. Ibid. pp. 8–16. 
  6. Ibid. pp. 21–28. 
  7. Ibid. pp. 38–40. 
  8. Ibid. pp. 5–7. 
  9. Ulam, Adam (1981). Russia's Failed Revolutions: From the Decembrists to the Dissidents. New York: Basic Books, Inc.. p. 7. 
  10. Barratt 1976. pp. 44–47. 
  11. Ibid. pp. 49–55. 
  12. Raeff, Marc (1966). The Decembrist Movement. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.. pp. 119–120. 
  13. Trigos, Ludmilla A. (2009). The Decembrist Myth in Russian Culture. New York: St. Martin's Press LLC. p. xvi. 
  14. Eidelman, N. (1985). Conspiracy Against the Tsar: A Portrait of the Decembrists. Moscow: Progress Publishers. p. 7. 
  15. Barratt 1976. pp. 58–65. 
  16. Anthony Anemone, ed (2010). Just Assassins: The Culture of Terrorism in Russia. Illinois: Northwestern University Press. p. 26. 
  17. Gentes, Andrew A. (2010). Exile, Murder and Madness in Siberia, 1823-61. New York: St. Martin's Press LLC. p. 117. 
  18. Barratt 1976. pp. 66–70. 
  19. Payne, Robert (1967). The Fortress. New York: Simon and Schuster. pp. 55–56. 
  20. Barratt 1976. pp. 71–74. 
  21. Barratt, Glynn (1976). M.S. Lunin: Catholic Reformer. The Hague: Mouton and Co.. pp. 72–73. 
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