Alexandra Feodorovna, the last Tsarina of Russia.
Things you discover in junk shops.
‘L’ Imperatrice de Russie, Alexandra Feodorovna et la Grande Duchesse, Anastasie’, the caption on the postcard reads, 16th August 1901. The postcard, bought in France as part of a collection of postcards from a well travelled Frenchman has been lying in a box for several years. The lightly stained image of a mother holding her baby, a baby who stares directly at the camera lens was taken in a time of innocence, before the great Russian Revolution that would see both mother and daughter murdered.
Alexandra Feodorovna was born Princess Alix Viktoria Helene Luise Beatrix of Hesse and Rhine. Her mother was Princess Alice, the daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. She lost her mother when she was just six years old and spent much of her time with her English nanny and with her cousins in the British royal household. Born in 1872, Alix did not marry until she was twenty two years old and then it was to the man of her choosing, the man she had fallen in love with, the Grand Duke Nicholas, heir to the Russian throne. She was a well educated young woman and supported by her grandmother Queen Victoria. She studied philosophy at Heidelberg University. She seemed to know her own mind and was evidently used to asserting herself as she refused to marry her first cousin the Duke of Clarence in opposition to the desire of Queen Victoria.
It wasn’t just Queen Victoria’s concern that Alix had to contend with over her choice of Nicholas as a future husband. The royal households of both Germany and Russia were also suspicious of such a match and in turn as countries, were disdainful of one another and it seemed unlikely that such a match would be considered suitable by either side. Alix had met Nicholas when she was just twelve years old and the two of them slowly fell in love. Queen Victoria opposed the match, she was worried by the state of the Russian nation and feared for the life of her grandaughter Alix. It is interesting to note that Queen Victoria, although in her younger years was quite entranced by Russia’s Tsars, was not a fan of Nicholas’s father Alexander III. She did not consider him to be a gentleman and although she liked his son Nicholas, she also considered him to be a weak ruler of a powerful nation. The Queen however noted that ‘no two people were ever more devoted than she or he are and this is one consolation I have, for otherwise the dangers and responsibilities fill me with anxiety’ maybe she relented remembering her own passion for her prince Albert but her initial instincts were allowed to be swayed, had they not been, one of her favourite grandaughters life would have been spared. The young couple were eventually allowed to marry.
The determination of Alix to get her way was maybe was an early warning that she would be seen by Russians as someone who could and would use considerable influence to get what she wanted and maybe such an approach was one that could change the Russian peoples perception of their royal household for the worse.
From Princess Alix to Alexandra Feodorovna.
The marriage between Alix and Nicholas took place on the 26th November 1894. Baptised a Lutheran, Alix agreed to change to the Russian Orthodox faith once she was married and when she was accepted by the Orthodox church she took the name Alexandra Feodorovna.
The wedding would forge together the royal households of Germany, Britain and Russia. It took place just twenty five days after the death of Tsar Alexander III. He had given the couple his blessing to marry earlier that year. The funeral of Alexander III took place on the 19th November 1894 and it is little wonder that the Russian people looked on the marriage so soon after his death as something odd. Indeed even Alix herself was forced to admit that her wedding seemed to be an extension of the funeral, exchanging a black dress for a white one. It was not a good omen for the couple.
The coronation disaster.
The coronation of the couple did not take place until the 14th May 1896 and it became a moment in time when the relationship between the royal household and the people broke down. Thousands of Russian people turned out for the event, massing in the Khodynka Meadow, expecting to be given free food. As rumours spread that there would not be enough food, the crowd surged forward, a thousand people lost their lives, trampled under foot by their fellow countrymen as the hungry population lost control. Alexandra and Nicholas were said to be devastated by the news but were persuaded to continue with their plans to attend a ball given by the French ambassador. The Russian people were unimpressed by such heartless behaviour even though it was apparent that Alexandra was deeply shocked by the loss of life, their visit to the injured the following day did little to quell the growing dislike for their weak Tsar and his German wife.
The progress of the marriage.
Alexandra and Nicholas had four beautiful and talented daughters, Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, much loved by their parents but the Russian people wanted to see a male heir born. They blamed Alexandra for the inability to bear a son, it was just another stick with which to beat the woman of whom they had little good to say. When one looks at the postcard, the tender love the mother has for her child Anastasia is apparent for all to see.
Alexandra had few friends at court either. Her inability to produce a male heir was used as further proof that this marriage was cursed with ill omens. Alexandra began to visit mystics who she hoped would ensure a male heir, this put her in the field of vision of that ‘turbulent priest’ Rasputin. When Alexandra finally did give birth to a son, Alexei in 1904, he was born with hemophilia. She was a carrier of the then fatal disease, many members of the European royal households would die of the condition, passed down from Queen Victoria and her daughters. Devastated by the news Alexandra sought to keep her son’s condition a secret and eventually, shunning conventional doctors, turned to her new Orthodox religion and sort the help of so called ‘mystics’.
Rasputin was one such mystic, an out of control priest who used the fear, panic, sexual exploitation and much else besides to influence Alexandra. She in turn was terrified of the disease that she had lain at her sons door and was soon under the Rasputin spell. She gave him incredible access to the family, he wielded power in an already fractured court and Nicholas, in his weakness, allowed the situation to explode inside the royal his household. Rasputin, Alexandra believed, held the cure to her son in his hands and she came to rely on the man more and more. This reliance would have a devastating affect on the Romanov household.
Was Rasputin the lover of the Russian Tsarina? Is it possible that in her wild panic to keep the death of her only son at arms length that she did succumb to Rasputin’s dominant personality, not just as a mystic but as a lover as well. Rasputin’s reputation would suggest this is a distinct possibility but her love of Nicholas seems to shine through and if she did succomb to Rasputin she remained truly in love with her husband. Nicholas tried to distance his family from Rasputin’s growing notoriety but was met with the fury of Alexandra who insisted that Rasputin was necessary to the survival of their son and she would put him first at all costs.
Alexandra must have been in torment, if she was behaving in an erratic and domineering way, could it be because she was isolated and terrified by the thought of the death of her only son?
Alexandra Feodorovna and WWI.
It must have seemed as if all the bad luck in the world came to be heaped around Alexandra when war broke out between the Russian Empire and the German Empire. Alexandra was already distrusted by the Romanov family and the Russian people because she was a German and her cousin Wilhelm II was the German emperor. Ironically she is said to have despised him but her obvious dislike of him did nothing to quell the stirring of even greater animosity in Russia towards her.
Nicholas alone seems to have stood by Alexandra and although described as a weak ruler he surely showed strength when he left for the front line to command his troops leaving Alexandra in charge as Regent.
This move was in one stroke the worst thing that could have happened for Russia and its imperial household. With no experience at all in politics Alexandra managed to wreck havoc within government. Appointing and sacking ministers at will, ably led by the still constant Rasputin, troops and the wider population were left exposed to political indecision and ultimately ensuring that all were inadequately supplied with food, shelter and munitions. It was a disaster and was surely the turning point for the all the horror that would unravel towards the end of the war.
Many tried to stem the open wound and have Rasputin removed from the household once and for all and for Alexandra to be replaced as Regent but neither Alexandra nor Nicholas would give way. Coups were planned to topple Nicholas. Perhaps the most incredible and surely shows just how desperate things had become, was the proposed coup by Nicholas’ mother, Maria Feodorovna, in which she planned to remove her son from the throne and place herself upon it. The gravity of the situation within the Romanov household cannot be underestimated. Her plan, it is said was uncovered and Nicholas forced his mother to leave St Petersburg, which she did and never returned. How very different the outcome for the family might have been if Maria had been successful. How desperate the situation must have become for her to even contemplate such a move?
Let the revolution begin.
Is it possible that locked in the Imperial Palace in St Petersburg, largely confining herself to her bed and couch as she became increasingly unwell, that Alexandra did not realize the appalling conditions of the people of Russia? Had people stopped telling her just how bad things were for both Russia’s troops and the general population, after all they considered her a German spy? Or did Alexandra refuse to engage, blinded by her own imperious position and stubbornness and led by the hand of Rasputin?
Tsar Nicholas had taken control of the military and as it failed so did he. It was believed that Nicholas was collaborating with his wife to bring about a German victory, his weak decision making seen as being directed from the sidelines by Alexandra and Rasputin.
Russia saw one of its most severe winters in 1916 – 1917, the food shortages grew, bread was scarce and people were starving and still Nicholas hung on insisting on ruling as an imperious autocrat.
In March 1917, the people took to the streets of St Petersburg, unable to control the crowds of rioters, Tsar Nicholas ordered the troops to fire into the crowd. The politicians, the Duma begged the Tsar to put the people first and help them, he refused and instead dissolved the Duma. The army responded by joining the rioters. Nicholas was ordered to abdicate.
The future for the Tsar and his family.
At first it seemed there would be a positive outcome for Alexandra and her family. Interviewed by the newly formed Provisional Government, they seemed convinced by her assurances that she was not a German spy and that she had openly supported Nicholas in all his efforts and that she had not been unduly persuaded by Rasputin. The family however would not be tolerated in Russia by the Bolsheviks and the Government had no wish to displease them as it hung onto a fragile power, a new home would have to be found for them.
They looked to the royal households of Europe to take in the family, after all, Alexandra and Nicholas were closely related to both the German and the British royal households. King George V refused them asylum, scared of problems within his own population in the post war years. The French were not interested and the Germans were in no fit state to offer them anything.
So it was that the family were removed to Siberia.
After the Bolshevik Revolution.
The Provincial Government were doomed to fall under the steam rolling might of the Bolsheviks. The Bolshevik Revolution took place in November 1917 and the the family of Alexandra and Nicholas had new jailers and a new jail. The Bolsheviks paid the family no respect and in their new prison in Ekaterinburg. Hated by their guards the family were allowed no privileges. They must have been terrified. Alexandra it is said, turned to her bible, possibly already accepting of their fate. Although the white army were prepared to do battle with the Bolsheviks and restore Nicholas to his former position, the Bolsheviks were never going to allow such a thing.
The threat to the new Russian state of the family remaining alive was too much for the Bolsheviks to bear so, on 17th July 1918, with the White Army approaching, the family and their attendant servants were ordered into the basement of Ipatiev House and murdered, shot and bludgeoned and bayoneted to death by the Red Guard. Thus ended the rule of the Romanovs.
Many have suggested that it was Vladamir Lenin who gave the order to murder the family and then cover up the deed. Much speculation surrounded who exactly had been murdered and who might have escaped. Anastasia, that beautiful baby who grew into an ‘imp’ of a child and then into a beautiful young woman, whose image stares out of the postcard, was one who it was thought might have escaped along with her brother Alexi. In the last decade however following the discovery of a grave containing seven members of the family, another grave was discovered nearby with the remains of the young people. DNA evidence was able to corroborate what was thought to be the truth, that all members of the Romanov family had died.
In the end then, Alexandra Feodorovna was abandoned by the Russian people and her own greater family, all of whom turned their back on her when she and her family needed them most. She and Nicholas were in the end, left to fight for themselves. It seems as if the love affair that drew Alexandra and Nicholas together in the first place did after all sustain them to the end and maybe the fact that so many had turned their back on Alexandra created a situation, a vacuum that she filled with Rasputin. Naive and inexperienced and in control of a vast nation, the last of the ruling Romanovs were doomed to failure.