Friday, February 17, 2012

The Last Tsar & Tsarina of Russia, a Tragic Fairy Tale

Alexandra & Nicholas's engagement photograph, these amazing colored
photographs are by artist Marie Velkoknezna.

As so many of you already know, I am a huge history buff.
I love history, but what I love even more then history it's self,
is Royal History. Kings & Queens & courtesans, 
jewels & plots & murderous intrigue.
These stories come to life at grand palaces in far off places,
but of them all, there is not a sadder tale then that of the
Last Tsar & Tsarina of Russia.

It was the reign of Queen Victoria, the princess who became
a Queen at the tender age of 18. That's an entire story on it's own,
but for now I'll try & stick to the facts of this story. lol
Queen Victoria married Albert of Saxe Coburg  & they had 9 children. 
Victoria, Alice, Alfred, Helena, Louise, Arthur, Leopold, Beatrice
 & Edward who would become the next King of England.

Alix of Hesse in the pink

The Princess Alice married Louis IV of Hesse & they had 7 children,
Princess Alix of Hesse being the second to the last. She was a favorite
grandchild to the Queen of England who nicknamed her Sunny.

Queen Victoria with her daughter Alice's children.
Her favorite grandchild Alix seats by her knees,
each of them touching each other fondly.

At this time in history, due to too much inter~family marriages among the
monarchs, the royal blood was tainted. Sadly, sweet & shy Alexandra
would become one of the most famous royal carriers of the hemophilia
disease & she would pass that disease onto her only son.

Empress Maria Feodorovna & Nicholas

Since everyone in the empire at that time was related in one way or another,
the genealogy of Alix & Nicky is quite fascinating!
Edward VII, King of England & son of Queen Victoria,
married princess Alexandra of Denmark.
{their son would become King George V, the English King who was reigning
in 1918 at the time of the tragic murders of the Russian Imperial family}

Alexandra's sister Dagmar of Denmark or Maria as she would later
be called, married Tsar Alexander III & together they had 5 children.
Their eldest son Nicholas was Russia's Tsarevich, he would be
known as Nicholas II & the Last Tsar of Russia.

Tsar Nicholas II & King George V in Berlin, 1913

So here's the part of the story that just doesn't make any sense to me...
the Tsar of Russia & the King of England were 1st cousins,
their Mother's were sisters. Look at the two of them, they could be brothers. 
Alix was also King George V's 1st cousin, her Mother & his Father
were brother & sister, both children of Queen Victoria.
And they were both 1st cousins to the Emperor of Germany,
Wilhelm II who's Grandmother was also Queen Victoria.
The family power of the Tsar & Tsarina reached far & wide.
Why did they not leave Russia at the outbreak of the revolution?
Why did they not seek exile in another country?
Why didn't someone in their powerful & royal family,
 insist that the Imperial family get out of Russia?
These are the questions that are still haunting after 94 years.

Their Union
Nicholas & Alix first met in 1884, but it was when Alix returned
to Russia in 1889 that they truly fell in love. Nicholas wrote in his diary,
'It is my dream to one day marry Alix H.'

Alix VictoriaHelena Louise Beatruce of Hesse & by the Rhine

She was a stunningly, beautiful Princess...

Nikolay Alexandrovich Romanov

he, a handsome Prince Charming & soon to be Emperor of Russia.
It sounds like what should have been the perfect fairy tale.
But, just like in most of the fairy tales we've been told, there is
something dark & tragic looming in the background of this love
story that no one, not even they, could have ever imagined.

Wedding of Nicholas II & Alix of Hesse, this
portrait by Laurits Tuxen currently hangs in Buckingham Palace.

Nicholas's dream came true when he & Alexandra were wed on
November 14th, 1894 at The Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg.
Alexandra Feodorovna became Empress of Russia on her wedding
day, but it was not until May 14th, 1896 that the official coronation of
Nicholas and Alexandra took place inside the Kremlin in Moscow.

{Empress Alexandra Feodorovna}

The Tsar's Mother, the Russian aristocrats & her subjects
disliked their new Empress. They thought her cold & curt,
 although according to her and many other close friends, she was
only terribly shy and nervous in front of the Russian people.

She had a hard time learning the Russian language & an even
harder time adopting much of the Russian culture. To this
German & English princess who was a devote Lutheran,
their way of life was very foreign, but she adored her new
husband & their love & passion lasted a lifetime.

Tsar Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra, Grand Duchess Olga,
Queen Victoria & Prince Edward

As their family grew, the Tsar & the Empress left Saint Petersberg for
the solitude of the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo.
Over the next few years four beautiful daughters were born
to Nicky & Alix & then, finally to the delight of everyone
came a son, Tsarevich Alexei.

Empress Alexandra Feodorovna Romanov in 1906

Angels, they look like precious angels.
Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria & Anastasia Romonov
Russia 1906

11 year old Grand Duchess Olga

2 year old Tsarevich Alexei

The Russian Imperial children in 1911

At the very moment this photograph was taken, who could have imagined that
in a few short years...the Tsar would be forced to abdicate his throne, he &
his family would be taken into captivity & brutally murdered & that the
Bolshevik revolution would bring three centuries of  the
Romanov's dynasty's rule to an end.

The Fall of the Russian Empire
Beginning in the first days of Nicholas II reign, tragic events were
taking place throughout the empire that would eventually lead to the
fall of the monarchy.  A few days after his coronation, a banquet was
planned as a gift to his people in celebration of their new Tsar. They were
to be given bread, sausage, pretzels, gingerbread & a cup. A rumor surfaced
that there was not enough food for the thousands that had attended & a
catastrophic crush ensued killing 1,400 Russians & injuring another 1,300.
The night of this event the new Tsar & his Tsarina attended a gala ball,
setting in motion a dissatisfaction of the monarchs by their subjects.

Rasputin was a Russian Orthodox Christian who was also a mystic
& was said to have the abilities to heal. For the Imperial Family, the
joy of the birth of Alexei, the future Tsar of Russian, was over shadowed
by the sadness & worry they felt upon finding out he had hemophilia.
His mother Alexandra & his Great~Grandmother Queen Victoria, were both
carriers of this horrible genetic disease. In their desperation to heal their
son, they sought counsel with the notorious Rasputin who many in Russia
thought was a charlatan & a fraud. To a frightened mother, he seemed
to be able to help her son & relieve his discomfort which made her a
complete believer in Rasputin's methods & ability to heal. Due to the
close bond developed between Rasputin & the Tsar & Tsarina, their
subjects felt he had undue political domination over the Royal family.

Nicholas II holding a holy card in front of his troops

The Great War
Here, I'm going to make a very long story, short. This truly was the
beginning of the end for the Russian Empire. Initially, the Tsar did not
want to enter into the war, but when in 1914 Austria invaded Serbia,
he felt that he must. The Russian army was at that time the largest army
in the world, but it was also one of the most ill equipped armies in the
world. As an example, in December of 1914 the Russian army had
6,553,000 men, but only 4,652,000 rifles. In most of their battles they
had superior numbers & yet had few successes. In 1915 Russia suffered
2 million casualties & by 1916 the Russian people were starving. Prices
of goods had risen 400%, food & fuel shortages made life unbearable
for the majority of the monarchy's subjects. By 1917 strikes & rioting
were rampant & by March the Tsar was forced to abdicate his throne.
Again, an unbelievable truth about this war was that 3 of the sovereign's
who were "playing war" were first cousins, King George V, Wilhelm II
Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia..  

The Tsar in captivity

After the abdications, Nicholas was brought back to his family at the
Alexander Palace & was told by the provisional government, that they
were being held in protective custody, but as history has shown us, they were
really under house arrest. A few months later they were evacuated to the
governor's mansion in Tobolsk where they lived in considerable comfort.
 Nicholas & Alix fully expected to able to leave Russia & seek sanctuary in
England with their cousin & ally King George V, but tragically, this was not to
be. If the Imperial Family had left immediately they may have survived, but the
children came down with smallpox & by the time of their recovery
sentiments had changed around the world. In France & England, crowds
were cheering the fall of the Romanov Empire & the United States congress
joined in the congratulations & the idea of 'making the world safe for
democracy'. The Prime Minister was instructing the King not to allow
the Tsar & his family to seek asylum in England for fear of the 
consequences by their people & with that, the offer of sanctuary was
withdrawn. The royal houses throughout Europe were shocked at this
decision. Even Kaiser Wilhelm II had offer safe passage through German
waters for any British warship that would rescue his cousins {& enemy}
from captivity, but the invitation was not to come. They were abandoned
by all & tragically the Romanov's were left to their fate.

The End
Even to the end, the Romanov's believed that plots were in effect to free them
& smuggle them to safety. In March of 1918 they were put on solider's rations &
had to part with 10 of their devoted servants. A month later they were transferred to
their final destination, the Ipatiev House. Rumors had circulated that armies loyal
to the Tsar were heading towards Yekaterinburg to rescue the Imperial Family,
which was a huge threat to the Bolshevik's & the revolution. In the early morning
of July 17th, 1918, Nicholas, his wife Alexander, their 5 children, 4 staff & the
family dog, were taken down to the basement where they were informed that they
had been condemned to death by the Ural Soviet Workers Deputies. The Tsar
yelled, "What? What?" & then shots rang out. It was the end of an empire,
the end of a monarchy that had lasted 300 years & the end of innocence. 

Nicholas & George V...cousins

What could have been a fairy tale, ended like a Shakespearean
tragedy. It is said that the greatest sorrow of King George V's life, was
the deaths of the Imperial Family & the guilt he forever carried for
abandoning them when they needed him most. To have the blood
of those beautiful children on your hands, I can't even
imagine that kind of pain.