`For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the message was lost. For want of a message the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.’

By Harry Dickens

The 301 gun salute that thundered over St Petersburg from the Peter and Paul Fortress on a hot summer’s day in 1904, proclaimed the birth of a son and heir to the reigning Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias, Nicholas II. The birth of an heir apparent, a Naslednik to a reigning Tsar for the first time in almost 250 years, was hailed as a positive omen throughout an empire beset by violent internal unrest and embroiled in international conflict in the Far-East.[i] For the deeply religious and fatalistic Tsar Nicholas II and his increasingly mentally and physically fragile wife, the Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna, the birth of a son and Heir brought pure unalloyed joy and deep spiritual fulfilment.

Nicholas, Alexandra and their four young daughters, the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, had moved to the Lower Dacha at Peterhof to enjoy the cooling coastal breezes whilst awaiting the birth of the Empress’ fifth child. Alexandra’s older sister Ella and her husband ‘Uncle Gega’, Nicholas’ paternal-uncle Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich, joined the Imperial family for lunch[ii]. Within a few minutes, the Empress had to excuse herself and hurry to her rooms. Alexandra’s fifth labour was swift and within half an hour, at 1.15pm on the 30th July 1904 the Empress gave birth to a son, an Heir.[iii]

The massive 5.2kg golden-haired Naslednik exuded robust good health, and already possessed, according to the Tsar’s sister the Grand Duchess Kseniya Aleksandrovna “… the air of a Warrior-Knight…”[iv]  It was a moment of supreme happiness for the proud parents who had waited ten increasingly tense years for this moment.

*

Heirs are always important in ruling dynasties. Even in England, although unaffected by the provisions of Salic law for agnatic succession to the throne, there was little that Henry VIII baulked at in pursuance of a legitimate male heir. In Russia, the emperor Paul I had abolished Peter the Great’s law giving the sovereign the prerogative to choose their own successor and in 1797 enacted Fundamental Laws for the Empire and the Imperial family.[v] From that date, accession to the throne was by strict male-line agnatic primogeniture; the throne could only pass to a female or female-line cognatic dynast if there were no legitimate agnatic dynasts. Throughout the nineteenth-century the dynasty produced so many male heirs that even the occasional death of a Tsetsarevich, though it caused family distress, it did not interrupt the Romanov succession.[vi]

At the time of his accession on the 20th October 1894 Nicholas II seemed to have plenty of agnatic heirs to secure the Romanov dynasty. More importantly, hastily planning their marriage within a few weeks, Nicholas and his twenty-two year old fiancée, Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine, fully expected to have their own Sovereign Heir-Tsetsarevich safe in their nursery soon.[vii] The day after Alexander III died, the Lutheran, German grand-daughter of Queen Victoria was received into the Russian Orthodox Church as Her Imperial Highness “…the truly believing Grand Duchess Alexandra Fyodorovna…” fulfilling the requirement for the mother of the Heir to be of the Russian Orthodox Faith at the time of her marriage.

With so many members of the intertwined royal families of Europe already present in St Petersburg for Alexander III’s funeral, Nicholas’ and Alexandra’s wedding was hurriedly arranged in the chapel of the Winter Palace for the 14th November, the forty-seventh birthday of the Tsar’s mother, now the Dowager-Empress, Maria Fyodorovna.

As one newspaper reported after their engagement “…Love in royal circles is not an epidemic affection…”[viii] yet Nicholas seemed to have triumphed over every opposition, every obstacle for this moment.[ix] Bound up in their passion for each other and both deeply religious, they believed God had smiled on them and brought them together. They foresaw only happiness in their future life together. Yet a coupling that seemed well suited in private life, could not have been more disastrously ill-equipped psychologically to face the problems that would soon engulf the young Tsar. If Nicholas were not the Autocrat, the obsessive dynamic of their relationship, their individual characters and psychological flaws and above all how they coped with adversity, would have remained personal and private matters. Fate decreed otherwise and their obsessive love and personalities wrought havoc and ultimate ruin on their family, their dynasty and their empire.

No-one would expect the Heir of the Emperor of all the Russias to want for much in regard to material comforts, but Romanov tsars had not always enjoyed happy relationships with their eldest sons. In 1894 however, it seemed that the children that Nicholas and Alexandra hoped would soon fill the nurseries in the modest East wing of the Alexander Palace in the Imperial Park at Tsarskoe Selo, where they chose to make their family home, would live exceptionally privileged lives.[x] Not only would they be blessed with material comfort, but with overwhelming love and emotional support from parents who were passionately in love and who wanted more than anything to live “…a quiet life of love…” engrossed in each other, the children they longed for and their religion.[xi] That Alexandra ever imagined such a life would be possible as the Autocrat’s wife would have confirmed all the suspicions of many in their families, including the Dowager-Empress Maria Fyodorovna and Queen Victoria, about Alexandra’s ability to fulfil the role of Empress.

*

In November 1894, after his accession and marriage, Nicholas II presided over a vast empire of over 1/6th of the land-surface of the Earth. globe with 125,000,000 subject that was rapidly industrializing, with a healthy treasury, massive profits accruing from the excellent grain harvests across the Ukraine and the prospect of massive mineral riches in the vast Siberian plains beyond the Urals to be exploited now that his father’s ablest minister, Sergius Witte, had succeeded in driving the Trans-Siberian Railway project to completion.[xii]

Nicholas and his bride Alexandra were a handsome young couple and Petersburg society looked forward to the end of official court mourning and the debut of the new young Empress at the glittering round of Court balls, Grand Ducal receptions, soirées, operas and ballets that enlivened the cold dark winter months until Lent, for the fabulously rich of the capital’s fashionable society. In Russia, all honours and positions technically were in the gift of the autocrat and the Emperor needed to appoint his ministers from the nobility and upper echelons of society. In the rigid, highly structured Imperial Russian court, they were the only Russians the Autocrat would generally socialize with.

After the assassination of his liberal father,[xiii] Alexander III clung to his reactionary political and social views and to his Russophile xenophobic ideal of a Muscovite tsardom. Thanks mainly to Witte, he realized that his treasury now relied to a large extent on the emergent mercantile class, railway magnates, textile manufacturers that were forming a new rich and influential urban bourgeoisie. Yet instead of courting them as his brother-in-law The Prince of Wales did in England and Bismarck encouraged the Kaiser to do in Germany to provide a solid professional and upper middle-class loyal to the crown, Alexander III still excluded them from government, persisting with appointments based on the Table of Ranks.[xiv]  Ministers and officials looked to the mildly spoken young Tsar, to embrace new ideas and lead them into the rapidly approaching new century, away from the reactionary, 300 year old, Muscovite vision of Tsardom, which his father Alexander III had clung to.

Millions of Nicholas’ subjects were at most a generation removed from serfdom. Many lived in urban squalor, being born, living, working and dying in the same place, in conditions that had scarcely changed since the foundation of Peter the Great’s ‘Venice of the North’ almost two hundred years ago; or in similar wooden shanty houses in the outer suburbs of great cities like Moscow and Kiev. The overwhelming majority of millions of his subjects lived and died in villages and hamlets scattered throughout Nicholas vast territories with few schools or hospitals. For most, their main solace in their hand-to-mouth existence was religion, some still believed in the mystical trinity between God, Batyushka Tsar and his subjects; that the Tsar would help them in their troubles if only they could reach him and tell him, yet as the Russian proverb said, “… God is far up high and the Tsar is so far away…[xv]

*

The new Tsar was an exquisitely well-mannered, diffident but sociable young man who had inherited a great deal of his mother’s famous charm. Unlike his father, Nicholas was highly self-controlled in public, seemingly placid and calm with gentle eyes and charming smile, he was inscrutable even to his own family. Nicholas almost pathologically avoided disagreement and particularly confrontation with people, even with his wife, yet his equanimity hid a high degree of determination and cunning in getting his own way.

Despite his exalted position as the eldest son of the Tsetsarevich, ‘Nicky’ enjoyed a very happy, secure, relatively simple childhood. Although somewhat diffident, overawed by the physical strength of his imposing father, he adored both his parents and they in turn were loving and involved though somewhat concerned that Nicholas was naïf. The whole family relished the normality of private family holidays with his maternal grand-parents, the King and Queen of Denmark.[xvi] Nicholas was only twelve-years old when his grandfather, the liberal, reforming ‘Tsar-Liberator’ Alexander II was assassinated in 1881 and Nicholas stood with his parents, praying and watching his grandfather’s sightless eye as blood seeped ever more slowly from the ripped and torn body, and drop-by-drop his father became Tsar and Nicky became the Heir. Although undoubtedly traumatic, his parents moved their family to the palace at Gatchina for safety and Nicky’s happy childhood continued.

The new Tsetsarevich displayed valuable qualities suited to his future position. He was diligent and conscientious, combining an excellent memory for facts with a passion for history and he exhibited an exceptional natural flair for languages.[xvii] However his study of politics, economics and philosophy were limited both by his father’s reactionary, Slavic, anti-Semitic, xenophobic political, religious and social views and particularly by his chief tutor, the ultra-reactionary Procurator of the Holy Synod Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev.[xviii] By the end of his formal education Nicholas, though not as narrowly suspicious as his father, was by inclination conservative. His favourite tutor was Charles Heath was English but Nicholas viewed liberalism and democracy as enemies, not just of the autocratic principle, but he believed that they threatened the national and religious unity of God, Tsar and the Russian people encapsulated in his romantic ideas of old Muscovy.

Since 1887 he had been a popular officer in the elite Preobrazhensky Regiment, well-liked by his brother officers for his “…diligence, humour and modesty…”[xix] He revelled in this time spent in the army, feeling secure among his fellow officers to enjoy getting ”owlish…”on champagne and like many Grand Dukes, acquiring a mistress from The Imperial Ballet.[xx]

Nicholas did not lack intelligence, but Pobedonostsev ensured that he lacked breadth of vision, imagination, flexibility and adaptability to change. Unlike his grandfather Alexander II who recognized that the autocracy needed to engage pro-actively in politics to respond to change, Alexander III and Pobedonostsev ensured that Nicholas, like his father, regarded himself as divorced from and above mere politics. The biggest lacuna in his education was due to his father, Alexander III, still vigorous and only in his forties thought Nicky immature and that there would be ample time to train Nicholas in statesmanship, but at the prompting of his wife Maria Fyodorovna, Alexander III allowed Nicholas to attend meetings of the State Council and Committee of Ministers from his 21st birthday. In 1891. Alexander’s astute finance minister Sergius Witte suggested that the Tsetsarevich be appointed Chairman of the Trans-Siberian Railway committee, Alexander III laughed dismissively and asked “Have you ever had a serious conversation with the Heir? … “He is still absolutely a childhe has only infantile judgments…”[xxi] Nevertheless the Tsar who admired and valued Witte’s judgement agreed.

Nicky’s parents sent him on an educational and diplomatic Grand Tour from Egypt to Japan with his brother the Grand Duke Gyeorgi Aleksandrovich and their first-cousin Prince George of Greece. The tour was long and arduous, and worryingly Gyeorgi Aleksandrovich had to return home suffering from tuberculosis, but thankfully Nicholas had inherited a great deal of his mother’s charm and the tour was a success despite Nicholas being attacked whilst in Japan.[xxii]  However at the time of his succession, Nicholas was certainly seemed aware of his lack of experience for the task ahead, as he cried and embraced his friend and brother-in-law “Sandro what am I going to do? What’s going to happen to me, to you, to Kseniya, to Alix, to Mother, to all of Russia? I’m not ready to be tsar. I never wanted to become one. I’ve no idea of how to even talk to the ministers. Will you help me Sandro?”[xxiii]

*

Her Grand Ducal Highness Princess Alix Viktoria Helena Luise Beatrix of Hesse and by Rhine had enjoyed a very modest but happy childhood until the death of her mother the Grand Duchess of Hesse (née HRH the Princess Alice, the second daughter of Queen Victoria). Alix, called ‘Sunny’ by her family was only six when diphtheria killed not only her mother but her playmate her younger sister May. Her grandmother, Queen Victoria took “my sweet Alicky”[xxiv] under her wing.  Victoria, herself morbidly obsessed with death and grief after the death of her husband Albert, the Prince-Consort, loving and concerned that Alicky appeared to have inherited her mother’s sickly physique and highly-strung neurotic disposition, advised her favourite ‘cure’ of rest and seclusion. From childhood on, the lonely and unhappy Alix not only became prone to bouts of withdrawn depressive behaviour, hysterical outbursts, she suffered from debilitating headaches, stomach cramps, nervous rashes and crippling sciatica. In her late teens, Alicky spent much of her time with her grandmother, absorbing the contradictions in Victoria’s domineering streak as Queen and the middle-class hausfrau values Victoria had enjoyed in private life with her beloved Albert. Neurotic, inhibited and shy, she developed a somewhat chilly royal manner which she felt appropriate to her position as the grand-daughter of the Queen. Shy and sensitive she may have appeared but like her grandmother, Alicky was also obstinate and believed she was always right, developing formidable will-power unfortunately not informed by particular intelligence, education or experience. The Queen hoped she would marry the Prince of Wales’ eldest son, ‘Eddy’ the Duke of Clarence, and eventually become Queen-consort of England. Even after Clarence’s premature death, the old Queen hoped she would take his younger brother the Duke of York.[xxv]

Alix did not want to marry anyone other than Nicky the Tsetsarevich, whom she had met at her sister Ella’s wedding. Although they met again five years later and exchanged letters, Nicky’s future wife had to be of Orthodox faith at the time of her marriage and Alix felt herself a deeply pious Lutheran and would not countenance changing her faith.[xxvi] Alix was happy presiding over her father’s quiet court in Darmstadt and when he died she had continued to act as hostess for the new Grand Duke her brother Ernst Ludwig. However after Ernie’s wedding the fiercely proud Alix, at almost twenty-two a dependent spinster, would have no role and would have to cede precedence to her cousin ‘Ducky’, Ernie’s bride. Whatever the reason, she had felt able to sweep aside her “…irrevocable…” objections to changing her Lutheran faith and to accept Nicky’s timely proposal the day after her brother’s wedding.

Life in Darmstadt and England had not prepared Alix in any way for life in Russia, but Alix was undaunted. Within only two days of arriving at Livadia to receive the formal blessing of the moribund Tsar Alexander III, and despite having only spent less than eight weeks in Russia in her entire life, Alix was certain that she understood the bond between Tsar, the divine nature of the Autocrat and his people completely and was determined that everyone should revere her Nicky. Oblivious to the grief of the dying Emperor’s wife, Nicholas’ mother Maria Fyodorovna, Alix was badgering Nicky to make the doctors report to him first and not to the Empress, “…be firm and make the doctors come to you alone every day and tell you how they find him so that you are always the first to know….Show your own mind and don’t let others forget who you are…”[xxvii]

It was the first intimation of Alix’s mission to instil her iron-will and total self-belief into her diffident and gentle fiancée. Throughout their marriage the Empress would routinely bombard her husband with flowery love letters and coded sexually passionate letters, but the vast majority of them included exhortations to behave more “…like Peter the Great, make the ministers fear you….Russia needs to feel the knout…”. Alexandra fundamentally misunderstood the nature of autocracy and the Russian people. Even though she embraced Orthodoxy more and more fervently as the longed for blessing of an Heir eluded her, obsessively collecting relics and icons, particularly those depicting the Mother of God, her intellect and instincts remained rooted in England and Darmstadt.

The young Empress Alexandra was a striking woman. Slightly taller than her husband, with a mass of red-gold hair and fine blue-grey eyes, her rather long nose and thin-lipped mouth added to her regal air in the magnificent formal Russian court dress and spectacular glittering jewels she now enjoyed. In the strict etiquette of the Imperial Russian court, the Dowager-Empress Maria Fyodorovna took precedence and walked on Nicholas’ arm with Alexandra following behind on the arm of a Grand Duke and Alexandra resented it. Her charming and sociable husband and his mother moved graciously through balls and receptions with a smile and a word for everyone. The intensely self-conscious Alexandra broke out in ugly red blotches as the extended Romanov family and Petersburg Society examined their new Empress and she judged them by her Balmoral and Darmstadt standards. Neither was impressed. Speaking only rudimentary Russian was scarcely a handicap, but the Empress command of French and her accent were deemed poor. Alexandra’s social intercourse was neither intellectual, witty nor humorous. Her tight-lipped silences, unsmiling face and blotchy complexion made her appear grim and humourless particularly in contrast to the smiling and gracious Dowager and the modest, affable and charming Emperor. Poor Alexandra could not compete in the glittering Imperial Russian court. Her frequent bouts of sciatica made Alexandra hold herself stiffly and dance poorly, unlike the irrepressible Maria Fyodorovna who even at 61 wrote “…I danced and danced and danced…it was so delightful…”

Alexandra never felt comfortable around witty, fashionable society and preferred to choose companions from the upper-middle class who would defer to her superior social standing. Feeling humiliated and misunderstood Alexandra decided that St Petersburg was not the real Russia. Alexandra’s oft repeated opinion that “…Saint Petersburg is a rotten town, and not one atom Russian…” did not help endear her to Society.[xxviii] The real Russians were the peasants around millions of simple muzhiks who worshipped their Tsar and knelt in front of his image though they would never even see him.  From the very first Season in the winter of 1895 Alexandra reacted not only by avoiding as many public appearances as she possibly could but avoiding family dinners too. Scarcely a day passed without an entry in Nicholas’ diary alluding to another of Alix’s headaches.

In the first ten years of her marriage before Aleksei’s birth, the Empress’ underlying emotional instability and withdrawal from public deepened with every year that passed without the birth of an Heir. The loneliness and losses she sustained as a young child from the death of her mother and younger sister when she was only six and her beloved father’s death, to the loss of her position as hostess of the little court in Darmstadt, left her both intensely self-absorbed, fiercely proud and inflexible. Most of all, her obsessive jealousy and possessiveness towards her husband and total belief in the validity of her own judgement un-sustained by either knowledge or experience, effectively ensured that she alienated her husband’s family and friends, his ministers and all levels of Russian society.  It was natural to Nicholas to ask his mother for advice but Alexandra began to resent her mother-in-law, regarding herself as more spiritual and better able to see into people’s souls and judge who was good, i.e. who agreed with her opinions.[xxix]

Unfortunately, Nicholas was incapable of saying no to his wife and her increasingly damaging withdrawal from her public duties and mental fragility was of concern to her own family as well as the extended Romanov dynasty. Alexandra’s own brother Ernie said “The Tsar is an angel, but he doesn’t know how to deal with her. What she needs is a superior will that can bridle and dominate her…” [xxx]

Queen Victoria herself had withdrawn from public engagements after the premature death of the Prince Consort, using her grief and ailments as excuses. Nevertheless she grew so concerned about her favourite granddaughter’s ‘invisibility’ after less than three years on the throne that she felt impelled to write to “…gentle simple Alicky…” about her withdrawal and the resentment it caused among subjects. “There’s no harder craft than our craft of ruling, I’ve ruled more than 50 years…..and nevertheless every day I think about what I need to do to retain and strengthen the love of my subjects…..it is your first duty to win their love and respect…”

Alexandra, was an inexperienced Empress-consort, whose command of Russian was rudimentary and whose experience of her husband’s vast Empire was limited to the palaces she liked to withdraw to, a few Cathedrals and the Imperial train she travelled in. Her response to her grandmother, a Queen regnant with over fifty years’ experience shows how totally deluded Alexandra’s understanding of her role was, how completely disconnected she was from her husband’s subjects and the arrogance of her self-belief. “You are mistaken my dear Grandmamma; Russia is not England. Here we do not need to earn the love of the people. The Russian people revere their Tsars as divine beings….As far as Petersburg society is concerned, that is something one may wholly disregard.”

A stance which, compounded by Alexandra’s absence from public life, her ill-informed meddling and advice in the choice of ministers and her exhortations to her husband to maintain the principles of autocracy unchanged, damaged her husband’s prestige and popularity and undermined the throne itself. She encouraged her husband to believe his reign was a holy mission that justified any intrigue. She encouraged him to dissemble and actively deceive his family and ministers. Witte who had said of Nicholas as Tsetsarevich “I had rarely come across a better-mannered young man…” was appalled when he discovered how Nicholas had deceived his ministers over his dealings with the Kaiser about Japan described him as “…100% Byzantine…full of timid dishonesty…”

Worst of all Alexandra exhorted Nicholas to dissemble with his family when questioned about the dubious faith healers and mystics he and Alexandra were consulting about the lack of an heir. For Nicholas, as a Guards office to be less than straightforward with his own mother and sister was almost unbearably dishonourable – only for Sunny’s sake could he endure the shame.

For want of the self-awareness of her own shortcomings and the humility to acknowledge she did not understand her new country, for want of the willingness to make herself agreeable, Alexandra forfeited the goodwill of Society, the mainstay of the Table of Ranks, the people she would have to work with when the Tsar went to war.

*

For Nicholas, although he adored his wife and their four “…little girlies…”, the last ten years under the deepening mistrust and paranoia of his wife towards his relatives had left him increasingly isolated and estranged from his once close-knit family and old friends. He wrote to his mother about his constant worry about Alexandra’s declining physical and emotional health as she cancelled engagements and increasingly withdrew from public life, seeking the aid of a variety of dubious mystics to help her conceive an heir. The boyish-looking Nicholas at his father’s death-bed had long gone, worn down not just by the workload required of an Autocrat but by Alexandra’s increasingly hysterical and bitter hectoring that he change the Fundamental Laws to permit their eldest daughter, the Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna to inherit if they did not produce a male heir.[xxxi] Disdainful of her husband’s ministers and worried that he lacked her strength of purpose to rule, Alexandra exhorted him to use private correspondence with her cousin Kaiser Wilhem II of Germany to conduct Imperial policy, circumventing even his council of ministers.

Encouraged by his wife and the Kaiser, Nicholas sought to expand his empire eastwards through Manchuria and Korea.[xxxii] Alexandra ensured that he ignored the advice of his most senior and experienced ministers such as Witte and the concerns of his family including his mother, the Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna, his paternal uncles and even one of his few close friends, his cousin and brother in law ‘Sandro’, the Grand Duke Aleksandr Mikhailovich.[xxxiii] Several times the Japanese offered terms to settle but the vacillating Tsar seemed incapable of coherent negotiation let alone honouring a treaty. Nicholas’ uncharacteristic arrogance, fuelled by his wife and the Kaiser left him enmeshed in an expensive and escalating conflict with Japan, international disapproval, a stagnating economy and painful family estrangements. Little wonder the Tsar had developed a nervous habit of stroking his moustaches with the back of his hand and chain-smoking cigarettes in a pipe-shaped holder.[xxxiv]

Yet the timely birth of his precious Naslednik filled the devout Tsar with renewed optimism, “…now I face the future calmly and without alarm; knowing that by this sign the war will be brought to a happy conclusion…”[xxxv] The proud parents named the baby Aleksei after Nicholas’ favourite tsar, the pious second Romanov Muscovite Tsar, Aleksei Mikhailovich.[xxxvi] As well as acquiring a string of Royal god-parents, the Heir and his future subjects were to be symbolically bound to each other, when Nicholas made all the soldiers of the Russian Army fighting in Manchuria, god-fathers of their future Emperor. Punctilious and regular in his habits as always, even amidst the excitement of the day, Nicholas recorded the momentous event in his diary in his customary laconic fashion, “…an unforgettable, great day for usthere are no words to thank God enough for sending us this comfort in a time of sore trials…[xxxvii]

*

By 1904 after four difficult pregnancies, delivering four large babies, and at least one molar pregnancy in the past ten years, Alexandra had virtually retired from public life and most Romanov family contact, self-diagnosing and nursing an ever lengthening list of physical, psychosomatic and psychological symptoms. She was becoming increasing emotionally fragile, withdrawn, paranoid and difficult because she suspected the minister, society and even the Romanov family, were plotting to get rid of her because of her failure to provide an heir. Now in July 1904 none of that mattered to Alexandra because she had succeeded in producing an heir. Aleksei Nikolaevich’s birth filled the Empress with profound spiritual joy, for a brief time she lived up to Nicholas’ pet-name for her ‘Sunny’ as smiling and utterly transfused with happiness, she fed her precious son[xxxviii].

For Alexandra, Aleksei was proof of God’s blessing on her, her marriage and on Russia. This precious boy was her reward for the long hours spent on her knees in prayer and the years spent consulting doctors, seers, starets, mystics, submitting to their instructions about every aspect of her life from her diet to bathing in ‘magic’ springs and rivers, badgering her husband into interfering in canon law and insisting on creating saints.[xxxix] The opinion of her husband’s family, fashionable society, politicians, intellectuals and even her own grandmother, brother and sisters had never mattered to her if they disagreed with her. She was certain that she alone understood that it was only the devout, devoted, simple muzhiki who had bowed so respectfully to her when she first visited Russia twenty years ago for Ella’s wedding who were “…the true soul of Russia…”[xl] They would revere and adore her darling Nicky as Batyushka-Tsar, their ‘Little Father’ the mystical union under God between the Tsar and with his devout Orthodox subjects.

As Mother of the Heir, she would be Matushka of Russia. No longer would the Dowager-Empress and the Tsar’s uncles treat her husband as an inexperienced child and her as of no importance.[xli] God had given her a son to confound her enemies within the Romanov family who would take advantage of her “…too gentle and trusting…”[xlii] Nicky. As mother of the Heir, her position was unassailable and God would show her how to imbue her husband with her strength, together they would guard little Aleksei’s inheritance as Emperor and Autocrat.

*

Yet as the guns thundered and church bells rang, from Peterhof to Kronstadt and through villages to the heart of the capital, no-one could have foreseen that the want of a microscopic protein in this golden baby, would set in train emotions and a series of events which would cement the isolation of Aleksei’s parents from all strata of society, from even their own family, end three centuries of Romanov rule and effectively ensure that a vast empire was lost.

*

Within moments of his birth, after the umbilical cord was cut, His Imperial Highness, the Sovereign-Heir Tsetsarevich Aleksei Nikolaevich began to bleed from the navel. It took two days for the eminent surgeon Dr Sergei Fyodorov to control the bleeding.[xliii] Nicholas wrote to Grand Duchess Militsa that the doctors had estimated the total blood loss “…in 48 hours was from 1/8th and 1/9th of the total quantity of blood.”

For about a month Nicholas and especially Alexandra, utterly in denial of all they knew about ‘bolezn gessenskikh’ the Hesse Disease, allowed themselves to hope that the initial bleeding was the result of the Russian tight swaddling of the baby.[xliv] As was customary in Russia, they did not attend the Heir’s magnificent christening but at the receptions held afterward, the Empress lay on her couch, beaming with happiness as she and the proud father revelled in their miraculous good fortune. By early September, spontaneous bleeding form the navel and unexplained bruising confirmed the suspicions of Dr Fyodorov and the specialists he had consulted. The huge, beautiful, golden Warrior-Knight, Sovereign-Heir Tsetsarevich had haemophilia.

Far from becoming a great Tsar, Emperor and Autocrat ruling over more than one-sixth of the world and 125,000,000 subjects, Aleksei would be fortunate to survive childhood. Just five months before Aleksei was born, his four-year old cousin Prince Heinrich of Prussia, one of the two haemophiliac sons of one of Alexandra’s older sister Irene, had bled to death after falling off a chair. Aleksei could never be the devout, mighty Muscovite warrior Tsar riding at the head of his people that his parents had dreamt of, Aleksei would never be able to ride a bike.

*

Alexandra had grown up surrounded by the blight of haemophilia as it spread far and wide in Queen Victoria’s descendants.[xlv] Her own little brother Prince Friedrich of Hesse ‘Frittie’ had bled to death after falling out of a window when Alix was still a baby. In 1884 when she was 12 years old, her maternal-uncle, Leopold, the Duke of Albany had died of a cerebral haemorrhage after slipping and banging his knee and head aged 30. Both deaths had seemed quite remote to Alix but the birth of two little cousins to her youngest maternal-aunt Beatrice, Princess Henry of Battenberg and then two haemophiliac sons to her sister Irene, Princess Heinrich of Prussia in 1889 and 1896, and the death of the younger just months before Aleksei’s birth, affected her deeply.

Although the symptomology of uncontrollable haemorrhage, haematomas, joint damage etc was obvious, the lack of platelet formation, specific blood-clotting Factors etc was so completely misunderstood until the 1920s, that patients like Aleksei at the beginning of the C20th were often given aspirin, an anti-coagulant that worsened the problem. Effective coagulant treatment was not available until the 1960s and even then the variant types of haemophilia were still not completely understood.

By the mid-19th century haemophilia was known to pass from the mother to son, although the recessive sex-linked X-chromosome transmission mechanism of the disease to generally male sufferers and female carriers was not fully understood until the 1930s. Although some sufferers lived to early adulthood, the general life expectancy of a haemophiliac at the turn of the century even with medical care was about 13.[xlvi]

One thing Alexandra knew for certain about this most terrible and cruelly capricious of diseases was that it was passed from mother to son, it was she who had given this terrible disease to her son. Within weeks of her glorious triumph and the intense spiritual joy of her precious son’s birth, ‘Sunny’ entered a sunless world from which she would never fully emerge. Early in September she wept bitterly to her maid-of honour, Mariya Geringer “…if only you knew how fervently I have prayed for God to spare my son from our inherited curse…”[xlvii]

Nicholas’ own disappointment and grief were subsumed in his worry for his wife’s mental state. As always, no-one could tell from the Tsar’s demeanour what he was thinking in the autumn of 1904, yet those who knew him well noticed an increasing sense of depressive fatalism in his deep faith. He alluded often to the fact that he was born on the Day of Job in the Russian liturgical calendar and observed to his sister the Grand Duchess Olga Aleksandrovna and several people “I have a secret conviction that I am destined for a terrible trial… I shall not receive my reward in this world…”  [xlviii]

*

The long years of waiting and the savage blow of dashed hopes had taken their toll on both Aleksei’s parents. Alexandra’s already self-absorbed, morbid pre-disposition and inclination to withdraw from public, were intensified by knowing she was responsible for her precious son’s condition.  She was hysterical, not just at the thought of her child suffering and dying, but at the thought of the wider Romanov family knowing. In her despair she imagined them watching and waiting for the Aleksei to die.

Nicholas’ own disappointment and grief were subsumed in his worry for his wife’s physical and mental state. As always, no-one could tell from the Tsar’s demeanour what he was thinking in the autumn of 1904, yet those who knew him well noticed an increasing sense of fatalism in his deep faith. He alluded often to the fact that he was born on the Day of Job in the Russian liturgical calendar and observed to several people “I have a secret conviction that I am destined for a terrible trial… I shall not receive my reward in this world…”

Alexandra was adamant that Aleksei’s condition must be kept secret from the rest of the family,[xlix] in the seclusion of Tsarskoe Selo they could keep him safe from prying eyes and protect him. Her own uncle Leopold, Duke of Albany, had live to be 30 and fathered a healthy son and daughter. God had sent them ‘Our Friend’ Phillipe and they had listened to him, followed his advice and God had sent them a beautiful son. Phillipe had told them before he died that one day another Friend would come to them and talk of God. Surely soon their new Friend from God would come and help protect ‘Tiny’ so that he could grow up to be a great Tsar? The corrosive effect of the secrecy surrounding Aleksei’s condition inflicted the massive damage to the Tsar’s relationship with his family, his government and his people.

For want of sound judgement and openness by the Tsaritsa, truth and trust within the family was lost and rumour and speculation flooded in to fill the void. For want of the ability to say “No” to his wife, the Tsar’s personal honour was lost as he deceived even his closest family. For want of straight-dealing and resolution in decision making by the Tsar, the confidence of his most able ministers was lost. For want of courage to trust their subjects, empathy and support for the stricken parents was lost.

The battle was not yet lost, but now it could no longer be won on the Imperial couple’s terms.

*

Only five months later, by January 1905, Russia was in crisis. The great joyful celebrations of five months previously were long forgotten, not just by the Aleksei’s grieving parents. Aleksei’s god-fathers in the Russian Imperial Army, denied their easy victory, were demoralized. Nicholas had been so certain of destroying the “little macaques….the monkeys”[l] even he became dispirited as the war with Japan dragged on. Far from an easy victory, the cost of supplying the army in Manchuria with a single track railway publicly exposed Russia’s great military logistics weakness and was bankrupting an already failing economy. Even the ludicrous level of press censorship internally and of foreign papers, could not stop news filtering from the front back to Petersburg rather faster than supplies got from the capital to Manchuria.[li]

On the 6th January 1905, larger than usual crowds lined the embankments for the traditional ritual of the Blessing the Waters, on the frozen Neva, outside the Winter Palace. The crowds hoped to see a large contingent of the Imperial Family at this first official function of the year, perhaps even the sweet young Grand Duchesses or even a glimpse of the Heir. The crowds were to be disappointed, Alexandra yet again had absented herself and remained secluded with the children at the Alexander Palace whilst the Dowager-Empress presided over the reception inside the palace as the Tsar walked onto the ice to receive the blessed water. When the battery on the opposite embankment fired the celebratory gun salute, three of the charges were live not blank. They thundered over Nicholas on the ice and crashed into the Winter Palace, showering Nicholas and his mother with grapeshot and glass but neither of them moved except to cross themselves. No one was hurt but Nicholas told his mother afterward he believed that it had been intentional but it seems unlikely since the guns were not aimed at Nicholas exposed as he stood on the.[lii]  Like many old saws, the expression ‘…as superstitious as a Russian grandmother…’ is not without foundation, and the babushki in their black shawls muttered, every mishap was further proof that this Tsar was unlucky, doomed by his Empress, the Nemka who came to Russia ‘behind a coffin’.[liii]

Far worse was to come, on Sunday 9th January 1905. Industrial and political unrest had been fomenting in St Petersburg for months as economics conditions had worsened with the economic downturn at the turn of the century, and landless peasant came to the cities looking for work. The short term news of Russia’s humiliation in the East was getting through to the capital despite draconian censorship.[liv] The old relationship of an autocrat Batyushka –Tsar who knew what was best for his subjects who obeyed him without question; the type of Tsardom that Nicholas and Alexandra so romanticized and wanted to bequeath Aleksei was about to be put to the test.  About 150,000 un-armed workers, women and children, many dressed for and church carrying icons and pictures of the Tsar, converged on the Winter Palace. Believing that their troubles were caused by the exploitation of Tsarist ministers and officials they thought that if they could only see their ‘Little Father’ Tsar and tell him their troubles, all would be well. The Tsar was not at the Winter Palace, knowing the deputation was coming he had been advised to return to the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo the night before.[lv] Instead of using the Cossack regiments who were well disciplined and used to close crowd control using horses and knout, the garrison infantry commanded by Nicholas’ uncle, the Grand Duke Vladimir were deployed. Around 1,000 petitioners were killed and up to 2,000 were wounded. “A terrible day! Lord how painful and sad…“ Nicholas recorded in his diary that night.

Yet, as the Dowager-Empress, Nicholas’ brother Misha and other members of the Imperial family joined Nicholas and Alexandra in the safety of Tsarskoe Selo at the Alexander Palace for lunch they could not have realized the orgy of violence and terror that would be unleashed throughout 1905. The Social Revolutionary Party death-squads dressed as cabbies, stalked government minsters, Grand Dukes, generals and security officers. On 5th February, Nicky’s uncle ‘Gega’, Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich, the ultra-reactionary Governor of Moscow would finally be cornered and his body half-vaporized by a terrorist bomb, less than a month after Bloody Sunday. The Tsar forbade his mother and his uncle ‘Pitz’ Pavel Aleksandrovich from going to the funeral. Neither the Emperor nor the Empress dared travel to Moscow even to comfort her sister Ella who had scrabbled with her bare hands in the blackened snow outside the Kremlin, desperately collecting gobbets of her husband’s flesh in her skirt, then placing them on an army stretcher.[lvi]

As soon as the Okhrana destroyed one terrorist cell, another sprang up. In 1905 more than 1,000 government officials were assassinated. To the muzhiks, God had deserted the doomed Tsar and his ‘Nemka’ as the grain harvests failed and starving peasants attacked land-agents and tax-collectors.

As Nicholas vacillated between repression and concession, he blamed everyone except himself and his wife, berating his ministers “One would think you are afraid a revolution will break out.” His council, stupefied by the magnitude of his incomprehension were silent until Aleksandr Bulygin his new Minister of the Interior said quietly, but firmly “Your Majesty, the Revolution has already begun.” Ivan Durnovo, loyalist to his very marrow was appalled, warning his colleagues “Mark my words, Nicholas II will prove a modernised version of Paul I.[lvii]

Unaware of Nicholas’ preoccupation and secret agony about the health of both his son and his wife, for want of understanding of the additional psychological pressures the Autocrat faced as a father and husband, even Nicholas’ most loyal, conservative ministers began to lose confidence in his ability to rule.

*

Whatever ministers, friends or even family told him about the desperate need for reform to save the monarchy, even if Nicholas believed them, it was irrelevant. Alexandra was determined that Aleksei would inherit his empire intact as an absolute autocrat. Since childhood, Alexandra had used her physical health to avoid public events and duties wherever possible, she used it to manipulate her worried husband and even her little daughters. She complained of constant pains in her heart, breathlessness and poor circulation, communicating with her daughters by notes and informing them of how well or ill she felt. Only thirty-three years old she lay for days on her sofa in her boudoir, or sat in her bath-chair being wheeled around the park or onto her private verandah. She dosed herself with the opiates, barbiturates, cocaine, valerian drops etc, that she demanded her doctors prescribe for her,[lviii] as she and Nicky prayed for their Baltic Fleet to reach the East and the undoubted victory against Japan that Monsieur Phillipe had foretold and they and the Kaiser had planned.

The great victory over Japan would restore the autocrat’s prestige, signal the beginning of the glory of Nicholas reign, securing an even greater empire for his son. The ‘traitors’ amongst the ministers, the doubters in the Romanov family, the cowards amongst the nobility, the scheming industrialists and intellectuals, all those who had doubted their Emperor would be exposed. Above all the honest, loyal muzhiks would never again be misled by Jewish intellectuals and doubt their Batyushka-Tsar.

News came, less than a fortnight after they celebrated Nicky’s thirty-seventh birthday. While picnicking at Gatchina with his mother, his sister Kseniya, ‘Sandro’ and their children, a messenger arrived. The Baltic fleet had been annihilated at Tsushima on the 27/28th May [NS].[lix] Nicholas kept his usual composure, “…said nothing…went deathly pale, and lit another cigarette…” [lx]

The easy but popular victory that Nicholas had gambled would distract the masses and prove the foundation of his holy mission of a new greater Russia, lay rotting under the ocean in the Straits of Tsushima alongside the tatters of autocracy. It would be almost a further twelve years before the Tsar recognized that the real battle was lost. As the General-Admiral of the Russian Imperial Navy, Nicholas’ favourite uncle ‘Beau’ the Grand Duke Aleksei Aleksandrovich had to resign. [lxi]  That night, Nicholas wrote in his diary “Terrible news!”

*

The Dowager-Empress begged her son to send for the only man she believed could salvage anything from Nicky’s Far-East adventures and more importantly save the Dynasty. Nicholas demurred, encouraged by Alexandra who detested Witte, recognizing that his intelligence, ability, experience and willpower far outstripped her own. Now delusional and paranoid, she was terrified that Witte might influence her husband to give away any part of ‘Tiny’s’ inheritance.

On 29th June, after news from Odessa of the mutiny in the Black Sea Fleet of the ‘Potemkin’, the Tsar sent for Witte. Teddy Roosevelt, the US President offered to mediate a treaty.[lxii] Nicholas, still in denial about what he had caused, ordered Witte to broker a deal but “…he would not pay a kopek or cede an inch of territory…” Even hamstrung by the delusional Nicholas, Witte with “…democratic simplicity…” wooed the press, and Jewish leaders concerned with the anti-Semitic Tsar’s encouragement of pogroms.[lxiii]  On 5th September [NS] in Portsmouth, Maine in a masterly exposition of diplomacy and tact, Witte and Lamsdorf, the Russian foreign minister secured an outstandingly good treaty for the vanquished Russia. When they returned to Russia, Nicholas grudgingly acknowledged “…it was probably good…” and made Witte a Count. Witte implored the Tsar “Your Majesty, will you now cease to doubt my loyalty and believe I’m not a revolutionary?”  The Tsar reassured Witte that “… I entirely trust you, and pay no attention to all those calumnies…” [lxiv] Yet again the Tsar was dissembling.

*

While Witte and Lamsdorf prepared to try and salvage the Autocrat’s international prestige, Nicholas and his family were ostensibly enjoying a holiday cruising the Finnish skerries aboard their refuge, the magnificent Imperial yacht, ‘Shtandart’. On 10th July, by pre-arrangement with the Kaiser they rendezvoused with his yacht ‘Hohenzollern’ off Björkö. The following morning, after breakfasting aboard the ‘Shtandart’, Cousin Willy[lxv] told Nicky “…I happen to have in my pocket…” and produced a Russo-German Treaty “Will you sign it?” The Kaiser was determined to break the 1894 Franco-Russian entente that Nicky’s father, the xenophobic, autocrat Alexander III had worked so hard to foster with republican France, because it threatened Bismarck’s Triple Alliance by encircling Germany and creating two possible fronts in the event of war. Nicholas signed the document and he and the Kaiser celebrated the new Russo-German Treaty of Björkö. Pleased with his negotiating success in dealing monarch-to-monarch, it would be more than a month before the Emperor eventually deigned to inform his ministers that he had signed a treaty with the Kaiser.

Witte and Lamsdorf were appalled.  The Tsar’s escapades in Manchuria had drained a depleted Treasury and Russia’s stagnating economy and stuttering industrialization and infrastructure depended heavily on French loans and investment.  Not only immersed in negotiations with Japan, Witte would need all his skill, cunning and charisma just to save the very existence of the monarchy. Witte and Lamsdorf told the Tsar that if he dissolved the Franco-Russian Entente for his treaty with the Kaiser they would be unable to save even the monarchy, even if he agreed to some form of constitutional government. Nicholas, deeply humiliated had to explain to ‘Cousin Willy’ that he would be unable to ratify the Treaty of Björkö, it “…will not be applicable…”  Nicholas and especially Alexandra never forgave Witte.

Unrest, strikes and violence continued to spread throughout the Empire and by August before Witte left for Maine, Nicholas finally agreed that his ministers could announce a compromise, The Tsar would permit an elected assembly, but it would be consultative only. It was far too little and far too late to stem the violence, strikes and demonstrations. Nicholas appointed General Dmitri Fyodorovich Trepov, the former Police Governor of Petersburg who had so ruthlessly dealt with the aftermath of Bloody Sunday as his deputy interior minister. Trepov was an ultra-reactionary and devoted to the Tsar, he advised Nicholas to create a dictatorship.

Witte tried yet again to get the Tsar to agree to a legislative assembly, a Duma. Alexandra totally oblivious to the realities of the situation was frantic that any concessions to a Duma would undermine her son’s position as Autocrat and pressed Nicky to follow Trepov’s advice.  Nicholas’ mother, the Dowager-Empress realizing the danger to the survival of the monarchy in any form begged her son to listen to Witte the man her husband had trusted so much,”…the only man who can help you now – a man of genius, energetic and clear-sighted…[lxvi] The choice was constitutional government or dictatorship and “…rivers of blood…”

Nicholas sent for Trepov, gave him command of all troops in Petersburg with orders to deal with any disorder. Trepov immediately ordered all troops “…not to use blanks, and not to spare bullets…” Meanwhile Nicholas, Alexandra and their children waited in Peterhof to see what would happen.

Witte went to the Tsar at Peterhof on the 14th, while they were busy talking about possible parliaments for the constitutional reform, Nicholas’ court minister Baron Frederik’s was sending a telegram from the Tsar to his chosen candidate as Dictator, his first-cousin once-removed the Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich ‘Nikolasha’ – it read, “Come, Nicholas”. When Nikolasha arrived at Peterhof, Witte outline his proposals for a constitution to the Tsar and the Grand Duke, but still Nicholas prevaricated, he made Witte leave without any instructions.

When he left, Nicholas asked his cousin to become Dictator. The Grand Duke, an excitable but die-hard monarchist,[lxvii] believed that the Tsar’s power was given to him by God, therefore the Emperor was to be obeyed implicitly. Yet he refused absolutely, taking out his service pistol and threatening to blow his brains out there and then if the Tsar did not agree to Witte’s plans to save the throne.[lxviii] Nicholas was finally persuaded to grant a constitution by his loyal strongman Trepov who recognized that Witte’s plans just might save the Tsar’s throne. Nicholas had no gratitude towards the exhausted Witte who had laboured so long and hard to save his throne offering him only “…evasion, unworthy games and secret meetingsinterlaced with blindness, craftiness and stupidity[lxix]

At 5.00pm on 17th October 1905 in the presence of Witte and Nikolasha, Nicholas II signed a Manifesto imposing civil rights for all, a bicameral parliament with a lower-house Duma elected by almost universal suffrage and a half-appointed, half- elected State Council. [lxx]

Witte warned the Tsar that results would not be instantaneous, the unrest had built momentum in the last year “…we shall be tossed about…” Nicholas and Alexandra continued to complain at every turn, especially when Witte appointed men of ability, not for their manners or obsequiousness to the Tsar and Empress. Nicholas complained Witte was arrogant, appointing Pyotr Durnovo as interior minister but Witte knew he was astute, ruthless and decisive and even the Tsar eventually acknowledged his acumen in dealing with mutinies and riots. Nicholas was particularly keen to organize Jewish pogroms,[lxxi] believing this would demoralize many of the intellectual political agitators but he was careful to ensure that his name did not appear on any order to interior ministry to print anti-Semitic propaganda.

Feeling undermined and belittled, on the 1st November 1905, Nicholas and Alexandra went to tea with the Montenegrins, Militsa and Stana and met their latest spiritual acquisition a Siberian starets and strannik “…a man of God – Grigori…”who soothed Nicky and Alix’s injured pride with his “…simple devotion…

*

Nicholas demanded that the constitution be a hybrid autocratic-parliamentary system, insisting that he remained the autocrat, with the power to prorogue the Duma, to appoint and dismiss ministers and above all he wanted to be rid of Witte but he needed Witte to secure a loan of 2.25 billion roubles to fund his Treasury that he had bankrupted with his Far-East escapades. As soon as the new constitution was signed and the loan negotiated Witte resigned telling his wife “Russia is one vast madhouse…[lxxii]

On the 27th April 1906 from the steps of the throne in the Winter Palace, Nicholas hailed “…this great moment…” as the Constitution came into effect. Dominated by the liberal-left Kadet party, the Duma did not last long. The ineffectual new Prime Minister Goremykin resigned on the 5th July and on the 8th July, Nicholas ordered his new Prime Minister to shut the Duma down. With Witte gone there was one man left that could have saved the monarchy.

*

Pyotr Arkadyevich Stolypin was an intelligent, loyal and pragmatic monarchist. Rich, cultured, young, strong and energetic Stolypin was also resilient and resourceful, and unlike his Emperor and most of his class he was pro-Semitic understanding their value to the Russian economy and emergent middle-classes. He did not want to be Prime Minister but accepted Nicholas’ direct order. Stolypin cracked down on rebels and dissident political groups; but still assassinations of officials spread through the empire, 3,600 from October 1905 to September 1906. The Tsar ordered 48 hour summary executions for terrorism a clear breach of the process of law that became known somewhat unfairly as ‘Stolypin’s Necktie’.

Stolypin was steadfast as he fought for his Tsar against revolution but he also tried to impress on Nicholas the need for a strong nationalistic monarchy supported by a parliament, though not parliamentary government similar to Bismarck’s plans for a united Germany. Unfortunately Stolypin did not know the reason for the frequent visits the monarchs made to Anna Vyrubova’s little house just outside the Imperial Park to meet the Siberian starets Rasputin.

The Second Duma was even more radical in composition than the first but Stolypin faced them down trying to prevent them giving the Tsar an excuse to prorogue it again. Realizing the Duma would not give way Stolypin decided to reform suffrage to guarantee a more conservative Duma. On 1st June Stolypin told the Duma to expel the extremists but they refused. On the 3rd June Stolypin sent in troops arrested Bolshevik and Menshevik members. He then ordered new elections with targeted suffrage electing a 3rd Duma dominated by noblemen and businessmen in which the Octobrists had a majority.[lxxiii]

Both Nicholas and Stolypin did not realize was how far the Tsar had become isolated from his traditional support amongst the nobility. The traditional relationship had become irreparably damaged over the past ten years and although the Third Duma lasted for five years, it continued to lobby for reform.

The revolutionary parties were broken, their leaders in exile or hiding abroad but this was only one part of Stolypin’s plan to secure the monarchy. As a conservative reformer he cultivated right-wing nationalists, especially in the press but he also wanted to challenge Nicholas’ most deeply ingrained bigotry concerning his Jewish subjects. He started with some modest proposals but received no answer from the Tsar for two months. Eventually when Stolypin persisted Nicholas refused saying “…the heart of the Tsar is in God’s hands. So be it…”

Stolypin, like Witte was to find just how disingenuous the superficially charming Tsar could be. The foreign minister Izvolsky had been having secret negotiations with the Austrian foreign minister von Aehrenthal about Bosnia. Nicholas had known about the negotiations and approved them but the first Stolypin knew was when Austria announced it had annexed Bosnia. There was uproar in the press and in the council of ministers as Stolypin berated Izvolsky for taking them to the brink of war. Nicholas pretended that he knew nothing about it. Stolypin was increasingly worried about the duplicity of the Tsar, his lack of competence and worried that the contact with Rasputin, about whom he was receiving increasingly worrying police reports would become public knowledge, Stolypin tried to resign but Nicholas would not permit it.

Stolypin knew that “…without war, the revolutionists can do nothing…” and was determined to avoid war at all costs, appointing his brother-in-law Sergei Sazonov as foreign minister, but by March 1911, even Stolypin’s prodigious energy was flagging, sapped by Nicholas’ dishonesty, vacillation and intransigence. Again Nicholas refused to accept his resignation. Again and again Stolypin explained to the Tsar the importance of forging a new closeness and foundation of support between the sovereign and the lower middle and  working-classes to safeguard the throne. The Tsar, encouraged by Alexandra believed it was for the proletariat to seek the Tsar’ approval, moreover Alexandra was bitterly jealous of Stolypin’s brilliance as a statesman, feeling he overshadowed Nicky. They also worried about how much he knew about their new Friend, but Stolypin persisted and said if the Tsar would not support him, he must resign.

Once again, seeing the danger to the throne, the Dowager-Empress summoned her son and told him Stolypin alone possessed the strength and ability to save Russia. Nicky wept in frustration but did as his mother instructed and wrote a 16-page letter to Stolypin “…to retain you at all costs…”

The Tsar listened politely to Stolypin’s ideas about engaging with the vast majority of his rural poor subjects and addressing their problems, he ignored Stolypin’s advice them. He listened when Stolypin delivered police reports about Rasputin’s degeneracy saying “…I agree with you Pyotr Arkadyevich, but better ten Rasputins than one of the Empresses hysterical fits…” Stolypin disagreed and banished Rasputin from the capital for five-years and Nicholas promised not to see him again, a promise he soon broke. From now on Alexandra was Stolypin’s implacable enemy.

Nevertheless Stolypin believed that if he could restore the visibility of the monarchy, the loyalty of the minorities that actually formed the majority of the Tsar’s subjects, remove restriction on Jewish subjects and provide a basic healthcare scheme for workers, he could bind them to the throne. He also planned a visit to America to forge a Russo-American Alliance. Returning from a family holiday at the end of August 1911 he met the Tsar and his family in Kiev for the unveiling of a statue to the Tsar-Liberator Alexander II. On 1st September Nicholas and his two older daughters, Olga and Tatiana watched a performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera ‘Tale of Tsar Sultan’. During the interval Stolypin was shot twice by a police double-agent. He died four days later, Alexandra remarked to the Tsar’s cousin Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich (who would help murder Rasputin five years later) “…those who have offended God in the person of our Friend may no longer count on divine protection…”

With the death of Stolypin, the empire was lost, though its death-throes took another five and a half years. There was no one left with the vision, strength, energy and ability to save it, least of all the Emperor himself.

Just over a year later in October 1912, at the Imperial hunting lodge in Spala, Poland, Aleksei suffered the most serious bleeding episode of his life. Falling against the edge of a bath tub Aleksei seemed initially to have escaped injury. A few days later it was apparent that he was haemorrhaging internally forming a massive haematoma from his legs through his abdomen. The specialists came from Petersburg but there was nothing they could do to help the child. Alexandra would not even let them ease his agony with the morphine she took on a regular basis. Finally, after the obsessive secrecy of the past eight years Nicholas was forced to issue bulletins to prepare the empire for the death of the Heir. Aleksei was given the last rites. As she waited for her son to die Alexandra asked Anna Vyrubova to contact Rasputin at his home in Pokrovskoye, Siberia. Rasputin replied by return telegraph that night assuring Alexandra, “…God has seen your tears and heard your prayers. Do not grieve. The Little One will not die. Do not allow the doctors to bother him too much…” [lxxiv]Reassured, Alexandra relaxed and the following morning 10th October 1912 the haemorrhage ceased. For more than a year, Aleksei had to be photographed seated or standing on steps to disguise his damaged knee. To his parent’s despair during the tercentenary celebrations of the Romanov dynasty which climaxed in June 1913 in Moscow, Aleksei had to be carried by a Cossack. Pitiably small and still thin after Spala, the crowds murmured shocked at the appearance of the frail Heir, the future of the Dynasty.

Alexandra never recovered, physically or psychologically. After Spala, the Empress was absolutely convinced that the only person who could keep her son alive was Rasputin. No-one was permitted to criticize him and she became the implacable enemy of anyone who did. Addicted to a powerful cocktail of opiates and powerful barbiturates such as Veronal, “…I am literally saturated with it…[lxxv]she remained on the sofa in her famous Mauve Boudoir for weeks, often communicating with her daughters by notes, seeing only her husband and her friend Anna Vyrubova and ‘Our Friend’.

The Tsar was increasingly isolated especially from his once close, happy family. The Dowager-Empress spent more time either in Kiev or in Denmark with her now widowed sister Queen Alexandra, his only surviving brother Grand Duke Mikhail Aleksandrovich was in disgrace having married his mistress, a twice-divorced commoner and lived abroad. Nicholas’ best friend from his army days General Aleksandr Orlov had died in 1909 and increasingly Nicholas, encouraged by Alexandra found relief in talking to their simple peasant Friend. Anyone who spoke against Rasputin, even family such as Nicky’s old friend and brother-in-law Sandro or even Alexandra’s own sister Ella, now a nun, the Empress refused to speak to them.

Isolated from family and friends, living a quiet secluded life at Tsarskoe and Livadia to protect the Aleksei’s health and Alexandra’s mental well-being,[lxxvi] coupled with her paranoia and embarrassment among fashionable society meant that Nicholas knew almost nobody from amongst the class that filled the majority of government and administrative posts throughout his empire.[lxxvii]

They had a few upper middle-class friends, mainly officers from the Tsar’s entourage and the ‘Shtandart’. Alexandra felt comfortable with their wives such as the sensible and loyal Lili Dehn. However they were totally isolated from the commercial, professional men, intellectuals, business and even artistic circles, many of whom were disenfranchised. There was no mass support for autocracy here.

Worst of all, Alexandra had drawn her husband into her deranged, delusional world, her arrogant self-belief unsupported by experience or intelligence, her absurd romantic dreams of the faithful simple muzhiks who venerated her husband second only to God and who would willingly give their life for their Tsar like millions of Ivan Susanins.[lxxviii]  More than half of her husband’s subjects were not even Russian, many were persecuted for religious or ethnic reasons. The tie between muzhik and Batyushka-Tsar was rent asunder on Bloody-Sunday for want of a Tsar willing to listen to his people.

That Alexandra and Nicholas came under the influence of Rasputin was disastrous since Alexandra with her self-absorbed, arrogant yet morbidly retiring personality and Nicholas with his diffident but stubborn personality and religious fatalism were both vulnerable to a clever flatterer.  They had already met one in M. Phillipe and were primed by him to expect another who would “…come from God…”  Rasputin undoubtedly deceived Alexandra about his piety, and like Dr Botkin, he unashamedly pandered to her vision of herself, flattered her and told her what she wanted to hear. Similarly with the Tsar, he was a good listener and massaged the Tsar’s ego. He understood the psychology of the Imperial couple and exploited his spiritual standing as a strannik and starets to gain their trust. Yet he did no personal harm to anyone, other than telling the Empress when he sensed dislike from someone or that they were seeking to get rid of him. It was Alexandra that removed people from Nicky’s government if she felt they threatened Rasputin, because to her mind that meant they endangered her son. Unlike so many Imperial favourites, Rasputin did not accumulate great wealth, he had little use for money after he bought a house in his home village and put his daughters through school.

His psycho-babble and calming, hypnotic manner helped Nicholas and especially Alexandra even at her most hysterical. Above all he seemed able to induce psychosomatic effects with Aleksei, calming him and lowering his blood-pressure allowing a precious clot to form and the bleeding to cease.

Rasputin caused great direct harm to the personal prestige of Nicholas and Alexandra when he drank, he enjoyed shocking people, especially Petersburg high society, with his crude behaviour exposing himself even showing personal correspondence from Alexandra written in her usual gushing, florid way. All sorts of ridiculous lewd rumours circulated about their relationship and about the young Grand Duchesses.[lxxix] Yet the greatest harm he did was indirect. In September 1915 with the war going badly on the Eastern front, Nicholas went to the Stavka to replace Nikolasha and lead his army. This terrible misjudgement cut him off from the building discontent in the capital and was compounded by leaving his German-born, ailing and mentally fragile wife in charge of domestic government. Having successfully isolated herself from family, influential friends and all strata of Russian society, Alexandra turned to Father Grigori to could obtain God’s help for her. The ‘Nemka’ and the ‘Libertine’ were a gift not just to a lasciviously gossiping society but to revolutionaries.

Rasputin was not evil, but he was not stupid either and he certainly was not going to advise Alexandra to appoint men he knew would like to get rid of him.[lxxx]  At the Stavka, Nicholas while trying to concentrate with General Alekseyev on saving what was left of his army, was also allowed to enjoy one of the happiest periods of his life. With Alexandra busy enjoying being the first Empress to run Russia’s government since Catherine the Great, she allowed Aleksei to go and stay with Nicholas at Stavka. The Tsar’s diaries and letters to his wife express the joy he found in having his son with him even in the middle of a desperate phase of WWI. They shared a small bedroom and ‘Baby’ complained to his mother about his father’s farting in bed “…Papa made smells much and long this morning. Too naughty…[lxxxi] Alexandra bombarded Nicholas with gushing love letters, advice from ‘Our Friend’ including blessed artefacts like an apple for him to eat, or Grigori’s own comb to use before he made important decisions. Away from Alexandra presence, occasionally Nicholas listened to the sensible advice from his Generals and ministers and refused to ratify some of Alexandra’s more ludicrous and incompetent appointments. When that happened she would fire off increasingly, desperate hysterical letters and telegrams hourly. If Nicholas ignored them Alexandra would order the Imperial train and pursue him to Mogilev to confront him to prevent him de-railing her holy mission to save Russia for ‘Baby’. In one instance they argued for more than two days but Nicholas gave in and Alexandra returned to Tsarskoe triumphant.

Rasputin understood the psychology of Nicholas and Alexandra and the dynamics of their relationship better than anyone else and was in a position to exploit that knowledge to make a comfortable living. Yet given the personality of Alexandra in particular, if they had not met Phillipe or Rasputin, they would have found others. Even Queen Victoria sought comfort in spiritualism in the immediate aftermath of her grief at her husband’s death. In Russia, superstition, mysticism and the incense of religion were a powerful amalgam for the desperate and there were holy men, seers, starets and stranniks aplenty.

*

Chain reactions can be stopped, even reversed before they reach critical mass, even in the presence of a catalyst. The want of that tiny molecule of protein in a much loved child did not start the end of the Romanov dynasty but it was a catalyst in a reaction caused by two people whose personalities and relationship dynamic were toxic for the purpose of ruling Russia. Even though Nicholas and Alexandra did not have the ability and strength to save even their throne themselves, in Witte and Stolypin they had men with such capacities. Yet again, the ignorance and overwhelming self-belief of the Tsar and Empress and their destructive jealousy intervened. Alexandra deliberately isolated her husband and herself from his family and from influential society and her disastrous lack of understanding of the nature of the Russian people isolated her husband from all his subjects.

Refusing to acknowledge that the autocracy was lost with their fleet in 1905, Nicholas and Alexandra did not recognize that their empire was moribund with the death of Stolypin. With the imperial couple’s self-imposed isolation, critical mass was almost reached and there was no-one strong enough to stop it. The combined catalysts of Rasputin and WWI delivered the coup de grâce.

*

Almost a century after his death in the semi-basement of the ‘House of Special Purpose’ in Yekaterinburg, the remains of Aleksei and one of his sisters lie in the State Archives awaiting the day when the bells of the St Peter and Paul Cathedral that greeted his birth will ring out for him once more, sounding his knell when he is finally interred with the rest of his family.[lxxxii]

NOTES:

 

[i]  Nicholas’ encouraged by Alexandra and her cousin Kaiser Wilhelm II sought to expand eastwards into Manchuria and Korea triggering the disastrous Russo-Japanese War 8th February 1904 – 5th September 1905 [NS]. The idea meshed with Nicholas’ dreams of returning his empire to a romantic Muscovite-style Tsardom.

 

[ii]  It was at the wedding of her sister Ella (née Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine) to Nicky’s paternal-uncle, the Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich in St Petersburg in 1884 that Nicky first met and he was attracted to Alix, although he noted in his diary he was even more attracted to her sister, the bride Ella. When they met again five years later Nicky decided he wanted to marry Alix. Ignoring Queen Victoria’s instructions to her Hesse granddaughters (Viktoria, Princess Ludwig of Battenberg, Ella and Irene, Princess Heinrich of Germany) to discourage the romance, Ella encouraged Alix to accept Nicky, soothing her objections to changing her religion. Though not marrying a direct heir, Ella voluntarily converted to Orthodoxy as Grand Duchess Yelizaveta Fyodorovna and became as devoutly Orthodox as her husband. Queen Victoria and Nicholas’ parent’s wished to discourage the match, concerned at how Alix’s morbid personality, physical problems and emotional fragility would affect her ability to fulfil the role of Empress-consort of Russia.

 

[iii]  Russia did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 14th February 1918. For clarity all the dates in this article pre-14th February 1918 for events occurring solely in Russia adhere to the Old Style i.e. Julian calendar. For international events the New Style Gregorian calendar is used. Where there is possibility of confusion dates are marked OS or NS to distinguish the relevant calendar. The Julian calendar was 12 days behind the Gregorian calendar during the C19th increasing to 13 days in the C20th when Russia adopted the Gregorian calendar.

 

[iv]  Grand Duchess Kseniya, the older of Nicholas’ two sisters married her first-cousin once-removed and Nicholas boyhood friend ‘Sandro’ the Grand Duke Aleksandr Mikhailovich. Kseniya wrote to her mother, the Dowager-Empress Maria Fyodorovna on 4th August 1904 [OS] in Maylunas, Andrei and Mironenko Sergei, A Lifelong Passion: Nicholas and Alexandra, Their Own Story, (New York, 1997), 245

 

[v] Emperor Paul I had been raised primarily by the Empress Yelizaveta Petrovna and loathed his mother, the future Catherine the Great, blaming her for the murder of his father Peter III and usurping the throne. Paul abolished Peter the Great’s law which permitted the sovereign to choose their successor, establishing a semi-Salic succession to the Russian throne of strict male-line primogeniture. Only if there were no legitimately born male heirs could a female or female (cognatic) line dynast inherit. The Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire covered the Establishment of the Imperial Family, the rights to succession to the Throne of Russia, marriages and their various aspects and consequences, styles & titles etc.

Chief among the succession laws were that to be eligible in the line of succession the Heir must born in of a marriage of equal rank i.e. the bride must belong to a ruling sovereign house and she had to belong to the Russian Orthodox faith at the time of her marriage. The marriage must have the approval of the sovereign.

After the 1905 October Manifesto, Nicholas II issued a ukase separating the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire and others in the Statute of the Imperial Family in the codification of 1906, as amended in 1911.

 

[vi]  Nicholas II’s father, Emperor Alexander III had become Heir because of the death of his older brother Nikolai Aleksandrovich ‘Nixa’, inheriting not only his title as Tsetsarevich but his fiancée, Princess Dagmar of Denmark.

Dagmar, known as ‘Minnie’, was a younger sister of the Princess of Wales (née Princess Alexandra of Denmark ‘Alix’). She took the name Maria Fyodorovna on her conversion to Orthodoxy shortly before her wedding in 1866. NB since Peter the Great, Emperors had married non-Russian women who adopted Russian names on their conversion to Orthodoxy. Fyodorovna was commonly used as their patronymic in honour of Fyodor Romanov the father of the first Romanov tsar, Mikhail in 1613.

 

[vii]  Alexander III died of nephritis at Livadia, a much loved retreat in the Crimea.  The long journey of the Imperial train back from Yalta to the capital St Petersburg via Moscow, was extended by numerous stops for prayers to be said over the dead Emperor’s coffin. He was interred in the Romanov vault in the cathedral within the Peter and Paul Fortress on 6th November 1894.

 

[viii]  Article on the Royal engagement, Weippart, G W, Davenport Daily Leader, 8th July 1894 quoted in Rappaport, Helen, ‘Four Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses, (London, 2014) 16

 

[ix]  Although Tsar Alexander III was one of Alix’s god-fathers, neither he nor his Danish wife the Empress Maria Fyodorovna ‘Minnie’ wanted Nicholas to marry the sombre unsmiling, crippling shy but dogmatic and obstinate Alix. Already suffering from crippling sciatica, nervous headaches and stomach cramps in her teens, they believed she did not possess the qualities needed by a Tsaritsa.

 

[x] Tsarskoe Selo (the Tsar’s Village) was a quiet town 15 miles south of St Petersburg, A favourite retreat for Peter the Great’s daughter Empress Yelizaveta Petrovna, succeeding generations of rulers had enjoyed and developed the large imperial parklands. Yelizaveta commissioned Rastrelli’s ebullient roccoco Catherine Palace. Later, Catherine the Great built Quarenghi’s restrained neo-classical Alexander Palace for her grandson Alexander I. Nicholas and Alexandra valued the Alexander Palace feeling secure and private in a semi-rural haven away from the dangers of revolutionaries and Alix could retreat from sophisticated louche St Petersburg society. Quite unlike their grand imperial apartments in the Winter Palace and the public rooms, Alexandra had the rooms in the east wing, remodelled and decorated in the modern Jugendstil (Art nouveau) style patronized by her brother ‘Ernie’ Grand Duke Ernst of Hesse, the nurseries were modestly furnished with chintz and catalogue furniture from Maples of London. It became their family home for 22 years until they were exiled to Tobolsk in August 1917 by Kerensky’s Provisional Government.

 

[xi] Letter from Alexandra to Nicholas, 20th September 1898.Maylunas, Andrei and Mironenko Sergei, ‘A Lifelong Passion: Nicholas and Alexandra, Their Own Story’, (New York, 1997), 174.

 

[xii] Alexander III like many devout Orthodox Russians especially the nobility was virulently anti-Semitic, His younger brother Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich refused to take up his appointment as Governor of Moscow unless he was allowed to clear the city of Jews. However Alexander III was also pragmatic and when Witte offered to resign because he wanted to marry a divorced Jewess, the tsar admired his chivalry and refused his resignation. Witte was too valuable to him.

 

[xiii]   The Tsar-Liberator who emancipated the serfs in 1861, Emperor Alexander II had been assassinated by revolutionaries in 1st March 1881 [OS] Exactly six years later a plot was laid to assassinate Alexander III on 1st March 1887 as he visited churches near the scene of his father’s assassination. The plot leaders were arrested and five of them hung including Aleksandr Ilyich Ulyanov. His younger brother Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov was better known to history as Lenin, and would order the execution of Nicholas II and his family.

 

[xiv]  Peter the Great had established the Table of Ranks to organize the old nobles’ hierarchy mestnichestvo into a bureaucracy capable of servicing his autocratic empire and linking the boyars’ promotion to personal and military service to the sovereign, to ensure loyalty of the elite and political stability. Theoretically progress through up the 14 ranks was based on merit and service but it but Peter III abolished the compulsory military service element and in 1767, needing the support of the bureaucracy, Catherine the Great allowed promotion through each rank after only 7 years regardless of merit, The Imperial bureaucracy littered with unqualified, time servers. Achieving a particular level in the table, automatically granted the holder a certain level of nobility. Ilya Nikolaevich Ulyanov was a Schools Inspector who reached the 4th rank, thus becoming an ‘active state councillor’ which gave him the privilege of hereditary nobility. His second son Vladimir Ilyich is better known as Lenin.

 

[xv]   Little Father, Batyushka-Tsar who would intercede for them with God. Many still believed that at for the Tsar his coronation was a sacrament from God. Not only was he anointed, and received communion as a priest for the only time in his life, but God directly imbued him with the knowledge and gifts he needed to be Tsar to his people.

 

[xvi]  Away from the ever present threat of revolutionary violence in Russia, Nicholas and his parents relaxed in large gatherings of an extended family that included the families of the Prince and Princess of Wales, the King and Queen of Greece as well as Nicky’s parents the Tsetsarevich and Tsetsarevna of Russia. Far from being intellectual or sophisticated social gatherings, the favourite holiday activity for most of these august Imperial and Royal adults and children alike, involved practical jokes, preferably employing water to soak the unwary, and posing for humorous photographs. Chief among the practical jokers was ‘Sasha’ the future Tsar Alexander III who relished the relaxation, fun, privacy and safety for himself and his family.

 

[xvii]  Nicholas spoke Russian, English, French and German fluently and could converse and read well in Italian and Danish. In contrast the Empress spoke her native German and English, but her French was considered poor in fashionable society. She started to learn Russian after her engagement but she and Nicky usually conversed and corresponded in English. Their children usually wrote and spoke to the Empress in English but spoke Russian with their father.

 

[xviii]  Referred to as ‘Torquemada’ by more open-minded politicians, Pobedonostsev was an ultra-reactionary, anti-Semite who believed in strict civil and religious censorship and forcible Russification of territories.

 

[xix]   Romanov, HIH Grand Duke Aleksandr Mikhailovich, ‘Once a Grand Duke’, (New York, 1932).

 

[xx]   Nicholas’ mistress was the vivacious, petite, brunette ballerina Matilda Kschesinskaya, a rising star of the Imperial Ballet. She remained his mistress for three years until his engagement to Princess Alix in April 1894. However she retained her imperial connections as she was simultaneously the mistress of Nicholas’ cousin Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich and Nicholas 1st-cousin once-removed Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich. Kschesinskaya gave birth to a son ‘Vova’ in 1902, and the child was baptized Vladimir Segeievich implying that Grand Duke Sergei was his father. However following the death of his mother the Grand Duchess Vladimir (Maria Pavlovna the elder) in 1920, Grand Duke Andrei married Matilda in 1921 and claimed paternity of Vova. They lived quietly in Paris, Matilda dying a few months before her 100th birthday in 1971.

 

[xxi] Witte, S., ‘The Memoirs of Count Witte’, (New York, 1990)

@https://archive.org/stream/memoirsofcountwi00wittuoft/memoirsofcountwi00wittuoft_djvu.txt

 

[xxii]  While in Japan Nicholas was attacked and wounded by a man who struck Nicholas on the head with a samurai sword, causing a large flesh wound. Fortunately, Prince George of Greece was able to parry a second blow at the stricken Tsetsarevich with his walking cane until the assailant was overpowered. Nicholas’ tact with his Japanese hosts prevented a diplomatic incident but thereafter Nicholas invariably referred to Japanese people as “…monkeys…” Even his wife and little daughters habitually referred them as “Japs, monkey and horrid little people…” during the Russo-Japanese War according to the little Grand Duchesses nurse/governess Margaret Eagar.

Durland, Kellogg, Royal Romances of To-day, (New York, 1911)

 

[xxiii] Romanov, Aleksandr Mikhailovich, Grand Duke, “Once a Grand Duke”, (New York, 1932)

 

[xxiv] Alix was called Alicky by Queen Victoria and the British royal family to avoid confusion with the Princess of Wales, who was known as Alix by the family.

[xxv] Later to become George V. Oddly George did inherit the Duke of Clarence’s fiancée, ‘May’, Princess Mary of Teck.

 

[xxvi] The 1797 Fundamental Laws which governed the Romanov family marriages succession etc., demanded that the mother of an Emperor must have been of Russian Orthodox faith at the time of her marriage.

 

[xxvii] Massie, R.K., ‘Nicholas and Alexandra’, (New York, 1967).

 

[xxviii] Radziwill, Princess Catherine, Nicholas II, The Last of the Czars, (London, 1931), pp158-9

@  http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/author/6815

 

[xxix]   The Empress Friedrich, Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter ‘Vicky’ and Alexandra’s maternal aunt wrote to Queen Victoria that “Alix has become very Imperious and will always insist on having her own way; she will never yield one iota of power she imagines she wields…” King, Greg,  ‘The Last Empress: The Life and Times of Alexandra Feodorovna, Tsarina of Russia’, (New York, 1994), p93

 

[xxx] Maylunas, Andrei and Mironenko Sergei, ‘A Lifelong Passion: Nicholas and Alexandra, Their Own Story’, (New York, 1997)

 

[xxxi] Immediately after his succession, Nicholas had named his younger brother Grand Duke Georgi Aleksandrovich as heir, in accordance with the 1797 Fundamental Laws governing succession until such time as he and Alexandra had a son of their own, who would automatically become Naslednik. Less than two months after the birth of their 3rd daughter Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna in June 1899, Nicholas’ brother Georgi died of TB. Nicholas grieving deeply at the loss of his brother and the closest companion of his carefree youth capitulated to Alexandra’s demand that his remaining brother Grand Duke Mikhail Aleksandrovich ‘Floppy’ should not be given the formal title of Heir-Tsetsarevich. Since the birth of a third daughter she became increasingly paranoid about the possibility that she might never give birth to an Heir and the throne would pass to Nicky’s brother or even worse to his uncle the Grand Duke Vladimir Aleksandrovich and his sons.

In October 1900, holidaying at Livadia in the Crimea, Alexandra was in the early stages of yet another pregnancy when Nicholas fell ill with typhoid fever. Alexandra nursing her seriously ill husband was distraught that in the event that Nicholas died, neither her daughters nor the child she was carrying would become sovereign. Alexandra became so upset at the prospect of them being ‘disinherited’ that she insisted that the Council of Ministers appointed her Regent until the birth of her child in case it was a boy. Although he was desperately ill, Alexandra insisted that Nicholas instruct his Council to appoint her Regent, unable to say no to his wife Nicholas agreed. His ministers convened in Yalta and agreed with Witte’s assessment that quite aside from her lack of experience and constant withdrawal from public life, there was no precedent for a pregnant consort to rule in anticipation of producing a male heir. The Council agreed that if Nicholas died they would swear allegiance to the Tsar’s remaining brother, Grand Duke Mikhail, in certain that in the event the Empress did give birth to a boy, the Grand Duke would renounce the throne in favour of his nephew. Although Nicholas recovered well in the warmth of the Crimea, Alexandra became increasingly psychologically fragile and aggressive by turns, hectoring her husband to change the Fundamental Laws so that their daughter could succeed if they did not have a son; depressed and tearful, frightened that she was surrounded by plotters in the family who would take the throne from her unborn son.

The child born the following June 1901 was another girl, the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna.

 

[xxxii]   In many of the pre-May 1905 letters of the famous ‘Willy-Nicky’ correspondence, Kaiser Wilhelm II addressed Nicholas as ‘Admiral of the Pacific’ and signed himself as ‘Admiral of the Atlantic’. @https://archive.org/stream/Willy-nickyLettersBetweenKaiserWilhelmAndTheCzarnicholasIi/WillyNickyLetters_djvu.txt

[xxxiii]   Sergei Yulyevich Vitte, aka Count Sergius Witte was one the most able, pragmatic and experienced ministers to serve both Alexander III and Nicholas II. Although Alexander III was virulently anti-Semitic he valued Witte’s capacity to secure international investment to drive Russian rail expansion and industrialization so much that when Witte married a Jewish divorcée, knowing it would probably ruin his career, Alexander III praised his moral courage to his own wife and told her that he considered Witte “…truly, the ablest of my ministers…”

 

[xxxiv] Witte had warned Nicholas’ that the Empress’ and his ideas were dangerous “…child’s play which will end disastrously…”  Alexandra loathed Witte and encourage Nicholas to continue with their plans, corresponding with Wilhelm II and confiding in personal friends rather than the imperial ministers.

 

[xxxv]    Rappaport, Helen, ‘Four Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses’, (London, 2014) p75.

 

[xxxvi]   The previous year 1903 Nicholas and Alexandra had held a rare court ball to celebrate the bicentennial of the founding of Peter the Great’s modern, European capital, St Petersburg. Nicholas & Alexandra, divorced from the reality of modern Russia and dreaming of a romanticized peasantry who venerated the Tsar as in the days of the old Muscovy tsars dressed up as Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich and his first wife Tsaritsa Maria Miloslavskaya and the guests came dressed as boyars. The extraordinarily lavish jewels, cloth of gold, sables and silver tissue worn by the Imperial couple and their guests only served to accentuate how divorced and isolated Nicholas and Alexandra were from the reality of ordinary Russian people.

 

[xxxvii]  The Presidential Library archive, The Diaries of Nicholas II .

 

[xxxviii]  Grand Duchess Kseniya wrote to her mother that when she called to congratulate the over-joyed parents, her brother Nicky took her to the Empress’ boudoir where “…the wet-nurse was feeding darling Aleksei whilst Alix was very successfully feeding the wet-nurse’s baby……..it was just too funny and sweet…” KA to MF 4th August 1904 [OS]

Maylunas, Andrei and Mironenko Sergei, A Lifelong Passion: Nicholas and Alexandra, Their Own Story, (New York, 1997).

 

[xxxix]  The biology of conception was not clearly understood even at the beginning of the C20th.  In Russia, steeped in superstition and mysticism where the Orthodox Church stressed the power of prayer, miracles and the intercession of saints, some of the bored upper echelons of Society especially in St Petersburg were drawn to mysticism and the occult. In the great palaces of the fabulously rich great families along the Moika and the Fontanka, no soirée was complete without a mystic or a peasant starets to relieve fashionable society’s ennui. Even among some members of the imperial family it became commonplace, notably the Montenegrin Princesses Militsa and Anastasia ‘Stana’, sisters who married the brothers, the Grand Dukes Pyotr and Nikolai Nikolaevich ‘Nikolasha’. It was Militsa who introduced the dubious rich French mystic-cum-faith-healer Monsieur Phillipe to the imperial couple and Stana who brought the even more invidious influence of Rasputin into their lives’. Nicholas and Alexandra were utterly captivated by his quasi-mystical medical advice he doled out, and the Empress soon became pregnant again, delivering her fourth daughter Anastasia and then distressingly miscarrying a molar pregnancy. Phillipe left Russia but told the Imperial couple to pray to St Seraphim of Sarov, although no such saint existed. After frantic searching records showed a monk in a nearby monastery had been called Seraphim. At Alexandra’s prompting Nicholas ordered his old tutor Pobedonostsev now Procurator of the Holy Synod, to canonize Seraphim. Pobedonostsev refused as Seraphim did not fulfil the requirements for sainthood and told Nicholas that the Tsar could not create saints but Alexandra snapped that the “…Emperor can do anything”.

 

[xl]  Kleinpenning, Petra H., ed., ‘The Correspondence of the Empress Alexandra of Russia with Ernst Ludwig and Eleonore, Grand Duke and Duchess of Hesse. 1878-1916’, (Norderstedt, 2010).

[xli] The froideur between Alexandra and Maria Fyodorovna began as soon as Alix arrived at Livadia. Alexandra always addressed the Dowager-Empress as ‘Mother-dear’, although from the engagement Minnie had asked Alix to call her Mamma “…I was touched by her letter but tell Alicky she must call me Mamma ….for that is what I shall be to her from now on…” . Bing, Edward J., The Secret Letters of the Last Tsar: Being the Confidential Correspondence between Tsar Nicholas II and the Dowager Empress Marie, [MF to Nicky Gatchina 8th April 1894].

 

[xlii] Kleinpenning, Petra H., ibid.

 

[xliii]   Dr Fyodorov was the first doctor to treat Aleksei and he was the doctor consulted in March 1917 when deciding if he should abdicate for Aleksei as well as himself.

 

[xliv]   Known also as the Curse of the Coburg’s, the English Disease due to its association with Queen Victoria and the members of her family who inherited a defective X-chromosome from her. Since her father The Duke of Kent did not suffer from haemophilia, Victoria’s defective chromosome is assume to be one of the 30% of haemophilia carrier & sufferers caused by a spontaneous genetic mutation.

 

[xlv]  Of Queen Victoria’s youngest son Leopold, Duke of Albany suffered from haemophilia and died aged 30, having passed the gene to his daughter Princess Alice, later Countess of Athlone, her 2 sons were haemophiliac and died without issue but her daughter was not a carrier. Queen Victoria’s 2nd daughter Alice married the Grand Duke of Hesse and had two sons, one of whom Frittie was haemophiliac and died young; two of her daughters were carriers, Irene married into the Prussian royal family and had two haemophiliac sons who died without issue and Alix married into the Russian imperial family and produced one haemophiliac son Aleksei. Victoria’s youngest daughter Beatrice was a carrier and had two haemophiliac sons, and her daughter Eugenie was a carrier producing two haemophilia sons when she married into the Spanish royal family.

 

[xlvi] If like Alexandra’s uncle Leopold, Aleksei had lived to adulthood, assuming the woman he married was not a carrier and they had been able to have children, all Aleksei’s sons would NOT have had haemophilia but all his daughters would have been carriers.

 

[xlvii] Rappaport, Helen, ‘Four Sisters’, ibid. 80.

 

[xlviii] Vorres, Ian, ‘The Last Grand Duchess’, (London, 1964).

 

[xlix] At the time Aleksei was born only the Montenegrin Militsa and her husband Grand Duke Pyotr Nikolaevich who had introduced Monsieur Phillipe to the imperial couple knew that Aleksei had haemophilia, Alexandra would not permit Nicholas to tell even his sisters Kseniya and Olga until 1912 after Spala.

 

[l]  Nicholas II diary 1905 @ http://www.prlib.ru/en-us/Lib/pages/item.aspx?itemid=66453

 

[li]   Nicholas lack of negotiating skill and candour with his ministers had embroiled Russia in the war with Japan, Not only had his senior minsters advised him against it but he refused to listen to his mother, uncles or any of his family, except Alix and her cousin the Kaiser. They convinced him that it would inspire confidence and Russian patriotism regardless of the human or financial cost of fighting on the Pacific coast. Alexandra was so deluded that she convinced him that there would be no war, the Japanese would not dare attack Russia. Nicholas believed her maintaining the Japanese were racially and therefore militarily inferior. Even after the attack on Port Arthur, Nicholas & Alexandra both in denial about what they had done, still believed Russia would ultimately be victorious.

 

[lii] The following year the ceremony took place in the Imperial Park at Tsarskoe Selo, on the canal outside the Catherine Palace.

 

[liii] Babushka = grandmother, or general term for elderly peasant woman, Nemka = a German woman. The first sight most Russians had of Alexandra was as part of Alexander III’s funeral cortège.

 

[liv] The Tsar’s first-cousin once-removed Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich (KR) noted in his diary that “…as if a dam has been broken………Russia has been seized with a thirst for change…….Revolution is banging on the door…”

 Maylunas, Andrei and Mironenko Sergei, A Lifelong Passion: Nicholas and Alexandra, Their Own Story, (New York, 1997) p251

 

[lv] Although the Empress had finished refurbishing their rooms and had a garden built, Nicholas and Alexandra never again spent the winter Season in the Winter Palace after Aleksei’s birth and the dramatic events of 1905, they considered it safer to stay away from the capital, only visiting for the day for events they could not avoid. It was also easier to conceal Aleksei’s condition from the family and the public.

 

[lvi] The beautiful Ella, who the Kaiser had fallen in love with as a student, visited her husband’s assassin in his prison cell giving him an icon and offering to intercede for him. In 1908 she founded the Convent of Saints Martha and Mary in Moscow and HIH the Grand Duchess Elizaveta Fyodorovna became its Abbess Mother Elizaveta. Occasionally seen at public ceremonials such as the Tercentenary celebrations in 1913 she travelled to Tsarskoe Selo to tell her younger sister the Empress the dangers of allowing Rasputin to influence her. Alexandra bridled and refused to listen, the sisters never saw each other again. Both were placed under house arrest after the Revolution and Ella wrote to her sister and nieces sending treats such as coffee. The Kaiser tried unsuccessfully to negotiate with Lenin to release her as a Princess of Hesse. On July 18th 1918, the day after her sister Alexandra and family were murdered, Ella, with Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich, the young sons of KR and Uncle ‘Pitz’ and their companions, were taken to a mineshaft in forest outside Alapayevsk less than 150km NNE of Ekaterinburg. Sergei, another lover of Nicky’s mistress Kschesinskaya and his secretary tried to protect the women and boys and were shot then thrown into the mine-shaft, the rest were beaten with rifle butts then thrown into the shaft with grenades, heavy pit-props and burning branches to finish them off. Their bodies were found about a month later as the Whites advanced under Kolchak. Most had died slowly of their injuries and dehydration.

 

[lvii] Witte, S., Memoirs, ibid.

 

[lviii]  Alexandra’s misplaced confidence in her abilities and ill-informed arrogance extended to disputing treatments with various specialists called in to help Aleksei. Although she routinely dosed herself with amongst other things morphine, opium, cocaine and barbiturates for period pain and toothache, she would never allow the little Tsetsarevich be given any of these to relieve his excruciating pain in case he became addicted to them.

 

[lix]   The statistics were appalling:
Russia lost 4,380 men dead, 5,917 captured, 6 battleships sunk, 1 coastal battleship sunk, 14 other ships sunk, 7 ships captured and 6 ships disarmed.
Japan lost 117 men dead, 583 injured and 3 torpedo boats sunk.

 

[lx]Sandro’ the Grand Duke Aleksandr Mikhailovich, “Once a Grand Duke” ibid.

 

[lxi]  An naval officer himself the Grand Duke Aleksandr Mikhailovich ‘Sandro’ had once remarked that the Tsar’s ‘Uncle Beau’ the Grand Duke Aleksei Aleksandrovich, a notorious gourmand and womaniser, as head of the Russian Imperial Navy was famous for his “… slow ships and fast women…” When new reached Saint Petersburg of the catastrophe at Tsushima, Aleksei Aleksandrovich’s current ballerina mistress was booed and heckled at the Opera, the audience pointing at the lavish jewels ‘Beau’ had bestowed on her shouting “You’re wearing our battleships!”

 

[lxii] Theodore Roosevelt was awarded the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize for his mediation work in brokering the Portsmouth Treaty.

http://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org/Research/Digital-Library/Record.aspx?libID=o286139

 

[lxiii]  Both Nicholas and Alexandra routinely referred in public and private to Jewish people as “Yids” and “… the murderers of Christ…” Anti-Semitism was endemic in many parts of the empire particularly amongst urban aristocratic society in the ethnically Russian areas (44%) of the empire. Unlike the UK under the Tsar and Empress’ uncle Edward VII there was no recognition by the Tsar of the importance of Jewish magnates, financiers and mercantile entrepreneurs both to strengthening his ailing economy and to supporting the throne.

 

[lxiv] Witte, S., Memoirs, ibid.

 

[lxv]  Wilhem was a first-cousin of Alexandra and third- cousin of the Tsar.

 

[lxvi] MF to N 10th October 1905

 

[lxvii] The Dowager-Empress, ‘Minnie’ thought that Nikolasha was “…a good soldier at heart…” but she found his spiritualist ideas rather silly, saying “…He suffers from an incurable disease…he’s stupid…”

 

[lxviii] From that point Alexandra never forgave Nikolasha, calling it blackmail and treachery, she called the constitution “…Witte’s doing …and Nikolasha’s fault…” She hated the way the 6’ 5” tall Grand Duke towered over her husband. Her enmity would peak in 1915 when Rasputin at Alexandra’s suggestion offered to go to the Stavka (HQ) and bless the troops. Nikolasha telegraphed Rasputin “Come by all means and I will hang you”. Alexandra persuaded the Tsar to place himself at the head of his army at Stavka (HQ) replacing Nikolasha as C-in-C.

 

[lxix] Witte, S, ibid.

 

[lxx] The October 1905 Manifesto Nicholas read granted freedom of conscience, speech, meeting and association. He also promised that in future people would not be imprisoned without trial. Finally it promised that no law would become operative without the approval of the State Duma.

 

[lxxi] 800 were murdered in Odessa alone.

 

[lxxii] Witte S. memoirs ibid.

 

[lxxiii] The Union of 17th October was established as a political association for the purpose of assisting the Russian government to implement the October Manifesto. Members of this association became known as Octobrists.

Led by Aleksandr Guchkov the Octobrists commanded the greatest number of seats during the Third Duma (1907-1912). They initially supported Pyotr Stolypin and his government but became increasingly disillusioned by his reactionary policies. During WWI the Octobrists were critical of the way the country was run and in September, 1915, they joined with the Constitutional Democrat Party lobbying for reforms.

 

[lxxiv] Vyrubova, Anna, ‘Memoirs of the Russian Court’ (New York, 1923).

 

[lxxv] Dehn, Lili, ‘The Real Tsaritsa’ (London, 1922).

 

[lxxvi] Alix only told Nicky’s sisters Olga and Kseniya that Aleksei had haemophilia in 1912 after he almost died from an extensive haemorrhage in October 1912 at the Imperial hunting lodge in Spala.

 

[lxxvii] On the 13th February 1914, the Dowager-Empress held a ball at the Anichkov Palace the official debut of her granddaughters Olga and Tatiana. Normally this would have been done by the Empress at the Winter Palace but Alexandra had neglected it, not wanting her daughters to mix in what she considered irredeemably decadent society. However the Dowager-Empress was a popular and charming hostess who and the ball was the highlight of the Season.  Alexandra, uncomfortable speaking French, only managed to stay for an hour and a half, but the Tsar remained with his daughters until 4.30am. His paternal-aunt Olga, (married to Queen Victoria 2nd son Alfred) was scandalized that her great-nieces spent the ball dancing with officers of Nicholas’ entourage and from the ‘Shtandart’ but they simply did not know anyone else. The charming, sociable, fun-loving Nicky was long gone, and the Tsar spent the evening looking uncomfortable and lost, he confided to one of his cousins as they danced “…je ne connais personne ici…

 

[lxxviii] Ivan Susanin reputedly saved the life of the young Tsar-elect Mikhail Romanov the founder of the dynasty in 1613. His descents were by tradition invited to the coronation of a new Tsar, including Nicholas II’s in 1894.

 

[lxxix]  Alix had always written in a florid, gushing way to family and friends and whilst her letters show her emotional immaturity and gullibility, they certainly show no sexual content, quite unlike her correspondence with her husband during the war that was full of private sex-talk. As for the Grand Duchess, rather touchingly they wrote candidly to him about their innocent first crushes and loves.

 

[lxxx]  Sometimes his advice was extremely sensible. He had advised the Tsar initially not to mobilize, knowing that the muzhiks would bear the brunt of the misery of war and it could help trigger revolutionary unrest. He also told the Empress that it was important to give priority occasionally to food transports for the cities where hunger was causing rising discontent as in 1905.

 

[lxxxi] AF to the Tsar, 7th October 1915. Fuhrman, Joseph T., ed., The Complete Wartime Correspondence of Tsar Nicholas II and the Empress Alexandra, April 1914-March 1917.

 

[lxxxii] After the DNA testing in 1998 the remains of the Tsar, the Empress and three of their daughters the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana and either Maria or Anastasia, were interred in the St Catherine Chapel of the St Peter and Paul Cathedral on 17th July 1998, eighty years after they were killed in the House of Special Purpose. The DNA testing confirmed that the Empress and at least one of her daughters were carriers of the defective X-chromosome for the rarer, more dangerous factor IX deficient Type B Haemophilia. In August 2007 partial remains thought to be that of Aleksei and a sister, either Maria or Anastasia were discovered near Yekaterinburg and DNA testing confirmed their identity in April 2008 though some controversy remains about which of the Tsar’s younger daughters was buried with Aleksei.

 

 

NOTES:

[1]  Nicholas’ encouraged by Alexandra and her cousin Kaiser Wilhelm II sought to expand eastwards into Manchuria and Korea triggering the disastrous Russo-Japanese War 8th February 1904 – 5th September 1905 [NS]. The idea meshed with Nicholas’ dreams of returning his empire to a romantic Muscovite-style Tsardom.

 

[1]  It was at the wedding of her sister Ella (née Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine) to Nicky’s paternal-uncle, the Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich in St Petersburg in 1884 that Nicky first met and he was attracted to Alix, although he noted in his diary he was even more attracted to her sister, the bride Ella. When they met again five years later Nicky decided he wanted to marry Alix. Ignoring Queen Victoria’s instructions to her Hesse granddaughters (Viktoria, Princess Ludwig of Battenberg, Ella and Irene, Princess Heinrich of Germany) to discourage the romance, Ella encouraged Alix to accept Nicky, soothing her objections to changing her religion. Though not marrying a direct heir, Ella voluntarily converted to Orthodoxy as Grand Duchess Yelizaveta Fyodorovna and became as devoutly Orthodox as her husband. Queen Victoria and Nicholas’ parent’s wished to discourage the match, concerned at how Alix’s morbid personality, physical problems and emotional fragility would affect her ability to fulfil the role of Empress-consort of Russia.

 

[1]  Russia did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 14th February 1918. For clarity all the dates in this article pre-14th February 1918 for events occurring solely in Russia adhere to the Old Style i.e. Julian calendar. For international events the New Style Gregorian calendar is used. Where there is possibility of confusion dates are marked OS or NS to distinguish the relevant calendar. The Julian calendar was 12 days behind the Gregorian calendar during the C19th increasing to 13 days in the C20th when Russia adopted the Gregorian calendar.

 

[1]  Grand Duchess Kseniya, the older of Nicholas’ two sisters married her first-cousin once-removed and Nicholas boyhood friend ‘Sandro’ the Grand Duke Aleksandr Mikhailovich. Kseniya wrote to her mother, the Dowager-Empress Maria Fyodorovna on 4th August 1904 [OS] in Maylunas, Andrei and Mironenko Sergei, A Lifelong Passion: Nicholas and Alexandra, Their Own Story, (New York, 1997), 245

 

[1] Emperor Paul I had been raised primarily by the Empress Yelizaveta Petrovna and loathed his mother, the future Catherine the Great, blaming her for the murder of his father Peter III and usurping the throne. Paul abolished Peter the Great’s law which permitted the sovereign to choose their successor, establishing a semi-Salic succession to the Russian throne of strict male-line primogeniture. Only if there were no legitimately born male heirs could a female or female (cognatic) line dynast inherit. The Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire covered the Establishment of the Imperial Family, the rights to succession to the Throne of Russia, marriages and their various aspects and consequences, styles & titles etc.

Chief among the succession laws were that to be eligible in the line of succession the Heir must born in of a marriage of equal rank i.e. the bride must belong to a ruling sovereign house and she had to belong to the Russian Orthodox faith at the time of her marriage. The marriage must have the approval of the sovereign.

After the 1905 October Manifesto, Nicholas II issued a ukase separating the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire and others in the Statute of the Imperial Family in the codification of 1906, as amended in 1911.

 

[1]  Nicholas II’s father, Emperor Alexander III had become Heir because of the death of his older brother Nikolai Aleksandrovich ‘Nixa’, inheriting not only his title as Tsetsarevich but his fiancée, Princess Dagmar of Denmark.

Dagmar, known as ‘Minnie’, was a younger sister of the Princess of Wales (née Princess Alexandra of Denmark ‘Alix’). She took the name Maria Fyodorovna on her conversion to Orthodoxy shortly before her wedding in 1866. NB since Peter the Great, Emperors had married non-Russian women who adopted Russian names on their conversion to Orthodoxy. Fyodorovna was commonly used as their patronymic in honour of Fyodor Romanov the father of the first Romanov tsar, Mikhail in 1613.

 

[1]  Alexander III died of nephritis at Livadia, a much loved retreat in the Crimea.  The long journey of the Imperial train back from Yalta to the capital St Petersburg via Moscow, was extended by numerous stops for prayers to be said over the dead Emperor’s coffin. He was interred in the Romanov vault in the cathedral within the Peter and Paul Fortress on 6th November 1894.

 

[1]  Article on the Royal engagement, Weippart, G W, Davenport Daily Leader, 8th July 1894 quoted in Rappaport, Helen, ‘Four Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses, (London, 2014) 16

 

[1]  Although Tsar Alexander III was one of Alix’s god-fathers, neither he nor his Danish wife the Empress Maria Fyodorovna ‘Minnie’ wanted Nicholas to marry the sombre unsmiling, crippling shy but dogmatic and obstinate Alix. Already suffering from crippling sciatica, nervous headaches and stomach cramps in her teens, they believed she did not possess the qualities needed by a Tsaritsa.

 

[1] Tsarskoe Selo (the Tsar’s Village) was a quiet town 15 miles south of St Petersburg, A favourite retreat for Peter the Great’s daughter Empress Yelizaveta Petrovna, succeeding generations of rulers had enjoyed and developed the large imperial parklands. Yelizaveta commissioned Rastrelli’s ebullient roccoco Catherine Palace. Later, Catherine the Great built Quarenghi’s restrained neo-classical Alexander Palace for her grandson Alexander I. Nicholas and Alexandra valued the Alexander Palace feeling secure and private in a semi-rural haven away from the dangers of revolutionaries and Alix could retreat from sophisticated louche St Petersburg society. Quite unlike their grand imperial apartments in the Winter Palace and the public rooms, Alexandra had the rooms in the east wing, remodelled and decorated in the modern Jugendstil (Art nouveau) style patronized by her brother ‘Ernie’ Grand Duke Ernst of Hesse, the nurseries were modestly furnished with chintz and catalogue furniture from Maples of London. It became their family home for 22 years until they were exiled to Tobolsk in August 1917 by Kerensky’s Provisional Government.

 

[1] Letter from Alexandra to Nicholas, 20th September 1898.Maylunas, Andrei and Mironenko Sergei, ‘A Lifelong Passion: Nicholas and Alexandra, Their Own Story’, (New York, 1997), 174.

 

[1] Alexander III like many devout Orthodox Russians especially the nobility was virulently anti-Semitic, His younger brother Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich refused to take up his appointment as Governor of Moscow unless he was allowed to clear the city of Jews. However Alexander III was also pragmatic and when Witte offered to resign because he wanted to marry a divorced Jewess, the tsar admired his chivalry and refused his resignation. Witte was too valuable to him.

 

[1]   The Tsar-Liberator who emancipated the serfs in 1861, Emperor Alexander II had been assassinated by revolutionaries in 1st March 1881 [OS] Exactly six years later a plot was laid to assassinate Alexander III on 1st March 1887 as he visited churches near the scene of his father’s assassination. The plot leaders were arrested and five of them hung including Aleksandr Ilyich Ulyanov. His younger brother Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov was better known to history as Lenin, and would order the execution of Nicholas II and his family.

 

[1]  Peter the Great had established the Table of Ranks to organize the old nobles’ hierarchy mestnichestvo into a bureaucracy capable of servicing his autocratic empire and linking the boyars’ promotion to personal and military service to the sovereign, to ensure loyalty of the elite and political stability. Theoretically progress through up the 14 ranks was based on merit and service but it but Peter III abolished the compulsory military service element and in 1767, needing the support of the bureaucracy, Catherine the Great allowed promotion through each rank after only 7 years regardless of merit, The Imperial bureaucracy littered with unqualified, time servers. Achieving a particular level in the table, automatically granted the holder a certain level of nobility. Ilya Nikolaevich Ulyanov was a Schools Inspector who reached the 4th rank, thus becoming an ‘active state councillor’ which gave him the privilege of hereditary nobility. His second son Vladimir Ilyich is better known as Lenin.

 

[1]   Little Father, Batyushka-Tsar who would intercede for them with God. Many still believed that at for the Tsar his coronation was a sacrament from God. Not only was he anointed, and received communion as a priest for the only time in his life, but God directly imbued him with the knowledge and gifts he needed to be Tsar to his people.

 

[1]  Away from the ever present threat of revolutionary violence in Russia, Nicholas and his parents relaxed in large gatherings of an extended family that included the families of the Prince and Princess of Wales, the King and Queen of Greece as well as Nicky’s parents the Tsetsarevich and Tsetsarevna of Russia. Far from being intellectual or sophisticated social gatherings, the favourite holiday activity for most of these august Imperial and Royal adults and children alike, involved practical jokes, preferably employing water to soak the unwary, and posing for humorous photographs. Chief among the practical jokers was ‘Sasha’ the future Tsar Alexander III who relished the relaxation, fun, privacy and safety for himself and his family.

 

[1]  Nicholas spoke Russian, English, French and German fluently and could converse and read well in Italian and Danish. In contrast the Empress spoke her native German and English, but her French was considered poor in fashionable society. She started to learn Russian after her engagement but she and Nicky usually conversed and corresponded in English. Their children usually wrote and spoke to the Empress in English but spoke Russian with their father.

 

[1]  Referred to as ‘Torquemada’ by more open-minded politicians, Pobedonostsev was an ultra-reactionary, anti-Semite who believed in strict civil and religious censorship and forcible Russification of territories.

 

[1]   Romanov, HIH Grand Duke Aleksandr Mikhailovich, ‘Once a Grand Duke’, (New York, 1932).

 

[1]   Nicholas’ mistress was the vivacious, petite, brunette ballerina Matilda Kschesinskaya, a rising star of the Imperial Ballet. She remained his mistress for three years until his engagement to Princess Alix in April 1894. However she retained her imperial connections as she was simultaneously the mistress of Nicholas’ cousin Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich and Nicholas 1st-cousin once-removed Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich. Kschesinskaya gave birth to a son ‘Vova’ in 1902, and the child was baptized Vladimir Segeievich implying that Grand Duke Sergei was his father. However following the death of his mother the Grand Duchess Vladimir (Maria Pavlovna the elder) in 1920, Grand Duke Andrei married Matilda in 1921 and claimed paternity of Vova. They lived quietly in Paris, Matilda dying a few months before her 100th birthday in 1971.

 

[1] Witte, S., ‘The Memoirs of Count Witte’, (New York, 1990)

@https://archive.org/stream/memoirsofcountwi00wittuoft/memoirsofcountwi00wittuoft_djvu.txt

 

[1]  While in Japan Nicholas was attacked and wounded by a man who struck Nicholas on the head with a samurai sword, causing a large flesh wound. Fortunately, Prince George of Greece was able to parry a second blow at the stricken Tsetsarevich with his walking cane until the assailant was overpowered. Nicholas’ tact with his Japanese hosts prevented a diplomatic incident but thereafter Nicholas invariably referred to Japanese people as “…monkeys…” Even his wife and little daughters habitually referred them as “Japs, monkey and horrid little people…” during the Russo-Japanese War according to the little Grand Duchesses nurse/governess Margaret Eagar.

Durland, Kellogg, Royal Romances of To-day, (New York, 1911)

 

[1] Romanov, Aleksandr Mikhailovich, Grand Duke, “Once a Grand Duke”, (New York, 1932)

 

[1] Alix was called Alicky by Queen Victoria and the British royal family to avoid confusion with the Princess of Wales, who was known as Alix by the family.

[1] Later to become George V. Oddly George did inherit the Duke of Clarence’s fiancée, ‘May’, Princess Mary of Teck.

 

[1] The 1797 Fundamental Laws which governed the Romanov family marriages succession etc., demanded that the mother of an Emperor must have been of Russian Orthodox faith at the time of her marriage.

 

[1] Massie, R.K., ‘Nicholas and Alexandra’, (New York, 1967).

 

[1] Radziwill, Princess Catherine, Nicholas II, The Last of the Czars, (London, 1931), pp158-9

@  http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/author/6815

 

[1]   The Empress Friedrich, Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter ‘Vicky’ and Alexandra’s maternal aunt wrote to Queen Victoria that “Alix has become very Imperious and will always insist on having her own way; she will never yield one iota of power she imagines she wields…” King, Greg,  ‘The Last Empress: The Life and Times of Alexandra Feodorovna, Tsarina of Russia’, (New York, 1994), p93

 

[1] Maylunas, Andrei and Mironenko Sergei, ‘A Lifelong Passion: Nicholas and Alexandra, Their Own Story’, (New York, 1997)

 

[1] Immediately after his succession, Nicholas had named his younger brother Grand Duke Georgi Aleksandrovich as heir, in accordance with the 1797 Fundamental Laws governing succession until such time as he and Alexandra had a son of their own, who would automatically become Naslednik. Less than two months after the birth of their 3rd daughter Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna in June 1899, Nicholas’ brother Georgi died of TB. Nicholas grieving deeply at the loss of his brother and the closest companion of his carefree youth capitulated to Alexandra’s demand that his remaining brother Grand Duke Mikhail Aleksandrovich ‘Floppy’ should not be given the formal title of Heir-Tsetsarevich. Since the birth of a third daughter she became increasingly paranoid about the possibility that she might never give birth to an Heir and the throne would pass to Nicky’s brother or even worse to his uncle the Grand Duke Vladimir Aleksandrovich and his sons.

In October 1900, holidaying at Livadia in the Crimea, Alexandra was in the early stages of yet another pregnancy when Nicholas fell ill with typhoid fever. Alexandra nursing her seriously ill husband was distraught that in the event that Nicholas died, neither her daughters nor the child she was carrying would become sovereign. Alexandra became so upset at the prospect of them being ‘disinherited’ that she insisted that the Council of Ministers appointed her Regent until the birth of her child in case it was a boy. Although he was desperately ill, Alexandra insisted that Nicholas instruct his Council to appoint her Regent, unable to say no to his wife Nicholas agreed. His ministers convened in Yalta and agreed with Witte’s assessment that quite aside from her lack of experience and constant withdrawal from public life, there was no precedent for a pregnant consort to rule in anticipation of producing a male heir. The Council agreed that if Nicholas died they would swear allegiance to the Tsar’s remaining brother, Grand Duke Mikhail, in certain that in the event the Empress did give birth to a boy, the Grand Duke would renounce the throne in favour of his nephew. Although Nicholas recovered well in the warmth of the Crimea, Alexandra became increasingly psychologically fragile and aggressive by turns, hectoring her husband to change the Fundamental Laws so that their daughter could succeed if they did not have a son; depressed and tearful, frightened that she was surrounded by plotters in the family who would take the throne from her unborn son.

The child born the following June 1901 was another girl, the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna.

 

[1]   In many of the pre-May 1905 letters of the famous ‘Willy-Nicky’ correspondence, Kaiser Wilhelm II addressed Nicholas as ‘Admiral of the Pacific’ and signed himself as ‘Admiral of the Atlantic’. @https://archive.org/stream/Willy-nickyLettersBetweenKaiserWilhelmAndTheCzarnicholasIi/WillyNickyLetters_djvu.txt

[1]   Sergei Yulyevich Vitte, aka Count Sergius Witte was one the most able, pragmatic and experienced ministers to serve both Alexander III and Nicholas II. Although Alexander III was virulently anti-Semitic he valued Witte’s capacity to secure international investment to drive Russian rail expansion and industrialization so much that when Witte married a Jewish divorcée, knowing it would probably ruin his career, Alexander III praised his moral courage to his own wife and told her that he considered Witte “…truly, the ablest of my ministers…”

 

[1] Witte had warned Nicholas’ that the Empress’ and his ideas were dangerous “…child’s play which will end disastrously…”  Alexandra loathed Witte and encourage Nicholas to continue with their plans, corresponding with Wilhelm II and confiding in personal friends rather than the imperial ministers.

 

[1]    Rappaport, Helen, ‘Four Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses’, (London, 2014) p75.

 

[1]   The previous year 1903 Nicholas and Alexandra had held a rare court ball to celebrate the bicentennial of the founding of Peter the Great’s modern, European capital, St Petersburg. Nicholas & Alexandra, divorced from the reality of modern Russia and dreaming of a romanticized peasantry who venerated the Tsar as in the days of the old Muscovy tsars dressed up as Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich and his first wife Tsaritsa Maria Miloslavskaya and the guests came dressed as boyars. The extraordinarily lavish jewels, cloth of gold, sables and silver tissue worn by the Imperial couple and their guests only served to accentuate how divorced and isolated Nicholas and Alexandra were from the reality of ordinary Russian people.

 

[1]  The Presidential Library archive, The Diaries of Nicholas II .

 

[1]  Grand Duchess Kseniya wrote to her mother that when she called to congratulate the over-joyed parents, her brother Nicky took her to the Empress’ boudoir where “…the wet-nurse was feeding darling Aleksei whilst Alix was very successfully feeding the wet-nurse’s baby……..it was just too funny and sweet…” KA to MF 4th August 1904 [OS]

Maylunas, Andrei and Mironenko Sergei, A Lifelong Passion: Nicholas and Alexandra, Their Own Story, (New York, 1997).

 

[1]  The biology of conception was not clearly understood even at the beginning of the C20th.  In Russia, steeped in superstition and mysticism where the Orthodox Church stressed the power of prayer, miracles and the intercession of saints, some of the bored upper echelons of Society especially in St Petersburg were drawn to mysticism and the occult. In the great palaces of the fabulously rich great families along the Moika and the Fontanka, no soirée was complete without a mystic or a peasant starets to relieve fashionable society’s ennui. Even among some members of the imperial family it became commonplace, notably the Montenegrin Princesses Militsa and Anastasia ‘Stana’, sisters who married the brothers, the Grand Dukes Pyotr and Nikolai Nikolaevich ‘Nikolasha’. It was Militsa who introduced the dubious rich French mystic-cum-faith-healer Monsieur Phillipe to the imperial couple and Stana who brought the even more invidious influence of Rasputin into their lives’. Nicholas and Alexandra were utterly captivated by his quasi-mystical medical advice he doled out, and the Empress soon became pregnant again, delivering her fourth daughter Anastasia and then distressingly miscarrying a molar pregnancy. Phillipe left Russia but told the Imperial couple to pray to St Seraphim of Sarov, although no such saint existed. After frantic searching records showed a monk in a nearby monastery had been called Seraphim. At Alexandra’s prompting Nicholas ordered his old tutor Pobedonostsev now Procurator of the Holy Synod, to canonize Seraphim. Pobedonostsev refused as Seraphim did not fulfil the requirements for sainthood and told Nicholas that the Tsar could not create saints but Alexandra snapped that the “…Emperor can do anything”.

 

[1]  Kleinpenning, Petra H., ed., ‘The Correspondence of the Empress Alexandra of Russia with Ernst Ludwig and Eleonore, Grand Duke and Duchess of Hesse. 1878-1916’, (Norderstedt, 2010).

[1] The froideur between Alexandra and Maria Fyodorovna began as soon as Alix arrived at Livadia. Alexandra always addressed the Dowager-Empress as ‘Mother-dear’, although from the engagement Minnie had asked Alix to call her Mamma “…I was touched by her letter but tell Alicky she must call me Mamma ….for that is what I shall be to her from now on…” . Bing, Edward J., The Secret Letters of the Last Tsar: Being the Confidential Correspondence between Tsar Nicholas II and the Dowager Empress Marie, [MF to Nicky Gatchina 8th April 1894].

 

[1] Kleinpenning, Petra H., ibid.

 

[1]   Dr Fyodorov was the first doctor to treat Aleksei and he was the doctor consulted in March 1917 when deciding if he should abdicate for Aleksei as well as himself.

 

[1]   Known also as the Curse of the Coburg’s, the English Disease due to its association with Queen Victoria and the members of her family who inherited a defective X-chromosome from her. Since her father The Duke of Kent did not suffer from haemophilia, Victoria’s defective chromosome is assume to be one of the 30% of haemophilia carrier & sufferers caused by a spontaneous genetic mutation.

 

[1]  Of Queen Victoria’s youngest son Leopold, Duke of Albany suffered from haemophilia and died aged 30, having passed the gene to his daughter Princess Alice, later Countess of Athlone, her 2 sons were haemophiliac and died without issue but her daughter was not a carrier. Queen Victoria’s 2nd daughter Alice married the Grand Duke of Hesse and had two sons, one of whom Frittie was haemophiliac and died young; two of her daughters were carriers, Irene married into the Prussian royal family and had two haemophiliac sons who died without issue and Alix married into the Russian imperial family and produced one haemophiliac son Aleksei. Victoria’s youngest daughter Beatrice was a carrier and had two haemophiliac sons, and her daughter Eugenie was a carrier producing two haemophilia sons when she married into the Spanish royal family.

 

[1] If like Alexandra’s uncle Leopold, Aleksei had lived to adulthood, assuming the woman he married was not a carrier and they had been able to have children, all Aleksei’s sons would NOT have had haemophilia but all his daughters would have been carriers.

 

[1] Rappaport, Helen, ‘Four Sisters’, ibid. 80.

 

[1] Vorres, Ian, ‘The Last Grand Duchess’, (London, 1964).

 

[1] At the time Aleksei was born only the Montenegrin Militsa and her husband Grand Duke Pyotr Nikolaevich who had introduced Monsieur Phillipe to the imperial couple knew that Aleksei had haemophilia, Alexandra would not permit Nicholas to tell even his sisters Kseniya and Olga until 1912 after Spala.

 

[1]  Nicholas II diary 1905 @ http://www.prlib.ru/en-us/Lib/pages/item.aspx?itemid=66453

 

[1]   Nicholas lack of negotiating skill and candour with his ministers had embroiled Russia in the war with Japan, Not only had his senior minsters advised him against it but he refused to listen to his mother, uncles or any of his family, except Alix and her cousin the Kaiser. They convinced him that it would inspire confidence and Russian patriotism regardless of the human or financial cost of fighting on the Pacific coast. Alexandra was so deluded that she convinced him that there would be no war, the Japanese would not dare attack Russia. Nicholas believed her maintaining the Japanese were racially and therefore militarily inferior. Even after the attack on Port Arthur, Nicholas & Alexandra both in denial about what they had done, still believed Russia would ultimately be victorious.

 

[1] The following year the ceremony took place in the Imperial Park at Tsarskoe Selo, on the canal outside the Catherine Palace.

 

[1] Babushka = grandmother, or general term for elderly peasant woman, Nemka = a German woman. The first sight most Russians had of Alexandra was as part of Alexander III’s funeral cortège.

 

[1] The Tsar’s first-cousin once-removed Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich (KR) noted in his diary that “…as if a dam has been broken………Russia has been seized with a thirst for change…….Revolution is banging on the door…”

 Maylunas, Andrei and Mironenko Sergei, A Lifelong Passion: Nicholas and Alexandra, Their Own Story, (New York, 1997) p251

 

[1] Although the Empress had finished refurbishing their rooms and had a garden built, Nicholas and Alexandra never again spent the winter Season in the Winter Palace after Aleksei’s birth and the dramatic events of 1905, they considered it safer to stay away from the capital, only visiting for the day for events they could not avoid. It was also easier to conceal Aleksei’s condition from the family and the public.

 

[1] The beautiful Ella, who the Kaiser had fallen in love with as a student, visited her husband’s assassin in his prison cell giving him an icon and offering to intercede for him. In 1908 she founded the Convent of Saints Martha and Mary in Moscow and HIH the Grand Duchess Elizaveta Fyodorovna became its Abbess Mother Elizaveta. Occasionally seen at public ceremonials such as the Tercentenary celebrations in 1913 she travelled to Tsarskoe Selo to tell her younger sister the Empress the dangers of allowing Rasputin to influence her. Alexandra bridled and refused to listen, the sisters never saw each other again. Both were placed under house arrest after the Revolution and Ella wrote to her sister and nieces sending treats such as coffee. The Kaiser tried unsuccessfully to negotiate with Lenin to release her as a Princess of Hesse. On July 18th 1918, the day after her sister Alexandra and family were murdered, Ella, with Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich, the young sons of KR and Uncle ‘Pitz’ and their companions, were taken to a mineshaft in forest outside Alapayevsk less than 150km NNE of Ekaterinburg. Sergei, another lover of Nicky’s mistress Kschesinskaya and his secretary tried to protect the women and boys and were shot then thrown into the mine-shaft, the rest were beaten with rifle butts then thrown into the shaft with grenades, heavy pit-props and burning branches to finish them off. Their bodies were found about a month later as the Whites advanced under Kolchak. Most had died slowly of their injuries and dehydration.

 

[1] Witte, S., Memoirs, ibid.

 

[1]  Alexandra’s misplaced confidence in her abilities and ill-informed arrogance extended to disputing treatments with various specialists called in to help Aleksei. Although she routinely dosed herself with amongst other things morphine, opium, cocaine and barbiturates for period pain and toothache, she would never allow the little Tsetsarevich be given any of these to relieve his excruciating pain in case he became addicted to them.

 

[1]   The statistics were appalling:
Russia lost 4,380 men dead, 5,917 captured, 6 battleships sunk, 1 coastal battleship sunk, 14 other ships sunk, 7 ships captured and 6 ships disarmed.
Japan lost 117 men dead, 583 injured and 3 torpedo boats sunk.

 

[1] ‘Sandro’ the Grand Duke Aleksandr Mikhailovich, “Once a Grand Duke” ibid.

 

[1]  An naval officer himself the Grand Duke Aleksandr Mikhailovich ‘Sandro’ had once remarked that the Tsar’s ‘Uncle Beau’ the Grand Duke Aleksei Aleksandrovich, a notorious gourmand and womaniser, as head of the Russian Imperial Navy was famous for his “… slow ships and fast women…” When new reached Saint Petersburg of the catastrophe at Tsushima, Aleksei Aleksandrovich’s current ballerina mistress was booed and heckled at the Opera, the audience pointing at the lavish jewels ‘Beau’ had bestowed on her shouting “You’re wearing our battleships!”

 

[1] Theodore Roosevelt was awarded the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize for his mediation work in brokering the Portsmouth Treaty.

http://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org/Research/Digital-Library/Record.aspx?libID=o286139

 

[1]  Both Nicholas and Alexandra routinely referred in public and private to Jewish people as “Yids” and “… the murderers of Christ…” Anti-Semitism was endemic in many parts of the empire particularly amongst urban aristocratic society in the ethnically Russian areas (44%) of the empire. Unlike the UK under the Tsar and Empress’ uncle Edward VII there was no recognition by the Tsar of the importance of Jewish magnates, financiers and mercantile entrepreneurs both to strengthening his ailing economy and to supporting the throne.

 

[1] Witte, S., Memoirs, ibid.

 

[1]  Wilhem was a first-cousin of Alexandra and third- cousin of the Tsar.

 

[1] MF to N 10th October 1905

 

[1] The Dowager-Empress, ‘Minnie’ thought that Nikolasha was “…a good soldier at heart…” but she found his spiritualist ideas rather silly, saying “…He suffers from an incurable disease…he’s stupid…”

 

[1] From that point Alexandra never forgave Nikolasha, calling it blackmail and treachery, she called the constitution “…Witte’s doing …and Nikolasha’s fault…” She hated the way the 6’ 5” tall Grand Duke towered over her husband. Her enmity would peak in 1915 when Rasputin at Alexandra’s suggestion offered to go to the Stavka (HQ) and bless the troops. Nikolasha telegraphed Rasputin “Come by all means and I will hang you”. Alexandra persuaded the Tsar to place himself at the head of his army at Stavka (HQ) replacing Nikolasha as C-in-C.

 

[1] Witte, S, ibid.

 

[1] The October 1905 Manifesto Nicholas read granted freedom of conscience, speech, meeting and association. He also promised that in future people would not be imprisoned without trial. Finally it promised that no law would become operative without the approval of the State Duma.

 

[1] 800 were murdered in Odessa alone.

 

[1] Witte S. memoirs ibid.

 

[1] The Union of 17th October was established as a political association for the purpose of assisting the Russian government to implement the October Manifesto. Members of this association became known as Octobrists.

Led by Aleksandr Guchkov the Octobrists commanded the greatest number of seats during the Third Duma (1907-1912). They initially supported Pyotr Stolypin and his government but became increasingly disillusioned by his reactionary policies. During WWI the Octobrists were critical of the way the country was run and in September, 1915, they joined with the Constitutional Democrat Party lobbying for reforms.

 

[1] Vyrubova, Anna, ‘Memoirs of the Russian Court’ (New York, 1923).

 

[1] Dehn, Lili, ‘The Real Tsaritsa’ (London, 1922).

 

[1] Alix only told Nicky’s sisters Olga and Kseniya that Aleksei had haemophilia in 1912 after he almost died from an extensive haemorrhage in October 1912 at the Imperial hunting lodge in Spala.

 

[1] On the 13th February 1914, the Dowager-Empress held a ball at the Anichkov Palace the official debut of her granddaughters Olga and Tatiana. Normally this would have been done by the Empress at the Winter Palace but Alexandra had neglected it, not wanting her daughters to mix in what she considered irredeemably decadent society. However the Dowager-Empress was a popular and charming hostess who and the ball was the highlight of the Season.  Alexandra, uncomfortable speaking French, only managed to stay for an hour and a half, but the Tsar remained with his daughters until 4.30am. His paternal-aunt Olga, (married to Queen Victoria 2nd son Alfred) was scandalized that her great-nieces spent the ball dancing with officers of Nicholas’ entourage and from the ‘Shtandart’ but they simply did not know anyone else. The charming, sociable, fun-loving Nicky was long gone, and the Tsar spent the evening looking uncomfortable and lost, he confided to one of his cousins as they danced “…je ne connais personne ici…

 

[1] Ivan Susanin reputedly saved the life of the young Tsar-elect Mikhail Romanov the founder of the dynasty in 1613. His descents were by tradition invited to the coronation of a new Tsar, including Nicholas II’s in 1894.

 

[1]  Alix had always written in a florid, gushing way to family and friends and whilst her letters show her emotional immaturity and gullibility, they certainly show no sexual content, quite unlike her correspondence with her husband during the war that was full of private sex-talk. As for the Grand Duchess, rather touchingly they wrote candidly to him about their innocent first crushes and loves.

 

[1]  Sometimes his advice was extremely sensible. He had advised the Tsar initially not to mobilize, knowing that the muzhiks would bear the brunt of the misery of war and it could help trigger revolutionary unrest. He also told the Empress that it was important to give priority occasionally to food transports for the cities where hunger was causing rising discontent as in 1905.

 

[1] AF to the Tsar, 7th October 1915. Fuhrman, Joseph T., ed., The Complete Wartime Correspondence of Tsar Nicholas II and the Empress Alexandra, April 1914-March 1917.

 

[1] After the DNA testing in 1998 the remains of the Tsar, the Empress and three of their daughters the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana and either Maria or Anastasia, were interred in the St Catherine Chapel of the St Peter and Paul Cathedral on 17th July 1998, eighty years after they were killed in the House of Special Purpose. The DNA testing confirmed that the Empress and at least one of her daughters were carriers of the defective X-chromosome for the rarer, more dangerous factor IX deficient Type B Haemophilia. In August 2007 partial remains thought to be that of Aleksei and a sister, either Maria or Anastasia were discovered near Yekaterinburg and DNA testing confirmed their identity in April 2008 though some controversy remains about which of the Tsar’s younger daughters was buried with Aleksei.

 

 

 

 

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