Alexandra Feodorovna (Alix of Hesse)
Alix of Hesse and by Rhine, later Alexandra Feodorovna (Russian: Императрица Александра Фёдоровна Imperatritsa Aleksandra Fyodorovna) (6 June 1872 – 17 July 1918), was Empress consort of Russia as spouse of Nicholas II, the last Emperor of the Russian Empire. Born a granddaughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, she was given the name Alexandra Feodorovna upon being received into the Russian Orthodox Church, which canonized her as Saint Alexandra the Passion Bearer in 2000.
Alexandra is best remembered as the last Tsaritsa of Russia, as one of the most famous royal carriers of the haemophilia disease, and for her support of autocratic control over the country. Her friendship with the Russian mystic, Grigori Rasputin, was also an important factor in her life.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Engagement
- 3 Empress of Russia
- 4 Revolution
- 5 Imprisonment
- 6 Death
- 7 In popular culture
- 8 Titles and styles
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Sources
- 12 External links
Alexandra was born on 6 June 1872 at the New Palace in Darmstadt as Her Grand Ducal Highness Princess Viktoria Alix Helena Luise Beatrice of Hesse and by Rhine, a Grand Duchy that was then part of the German Empire. She was the sixth child among the seven children of Grand Duke Louis IV of Hesse and by Rhine, and Princess Alice of the United Kingdom, the second daughter of Queen Victoria and Albert, the Prince Consort.
Alix was baptised on 1 July 1872 according to the rites of the Lutheran Church and given the names of her mother and each of her mother's four sisters, some of which were transliterated into German. Her godparents were The Prince and Princess of Wales, the Russian Tsarevich and Tsarevna, The Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom, The Duchess of Cambridge, and Princess Anna of Prussia. Her family gave her the nicknames of "Alicky" (in order to distinguish her from her aunt, the Princess of Wales, who had the family nickname of Alix) and "Sunny," a practice picked up later by Nicholas.
In December 1878, diphtheria swept through the Grand Ducal House of Hesse. Alix, her three sisters, and her brother Ernest fell ill. Elisabeth, Alix's older sister, had been sent to visit her paternal grandmother, and escaped the outbreak. Alix's mother Alice tended to the children rather than abandon them to doctors. Alice herself soon fell ill with diphtheria, and died on the anniversary of her father's death, 14 December 1878, when Alix was only six years old. Alix, Victoria, Irene, and Ernst survived the epidemic, but their youngest sister, Princess Marie, did not.
Alix and her surviving siblings grew close to her British cousins, spending holidays with Queen Victoria. With her sister Princess Irene, Alix was a bridesmaid at the 1885 wedding of her godmother and maternal aunt, Princess Beatrice to Prince Henry of Battenberg.
Alix was married relatively late for her rank in her era, having refused a proposal from Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale (the eldest son of The Prince of Wales) despite strong familial pressure. It is said that Queen Victoria had wanted her two grandchildren to marry, but because she was very fond of Alix she accepted that she did not want to marry him. The Queen even went on to say that she was proud of Alix for standing up to her, something many people, including her own son the Prince of Wales, did not do.
Alix had already met and fallen in love with Grand Duke Nicholas, heir to the throne of Russia, whose mother was the sister-in-law of Alix's uncle, The Prince of Wales, and whose uncle Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich was married to Alix's sister Elisabeth.
Alix and Nicholas were related to each other via several different lines of European royalty and nobility: the most notable was their shared great-grandmother Princess Wilhelmina of Baden, making them second cousins via this line; and King Wilhelm II of Prussia, who was simultaneously the great-great-grandfather of Alix and the great-great-great-grandfather of Nicholas, which in this line made them third cousins, once removed.
Nicholas and Alix had first met in 1884 at the wedding of Nicholas's Uncle Grand Duke Sergei to Alix's sister, Elizabeth, in St. Petersburg. When Alix returned to Russia in 1889 they fell in love. Nicholas wrote in his diary: "It is my dream to one day marry Alix H. I have loved her for a long time, but more deeply and strongly since 1889 when she spent six weeks in Petersburg. For a long time, I have resisted my feeling that my dearest dream will come true." Alix reciprocated his feelings. At first, Nicholas's father, Tsar Alexander III, refused the prospect of marriage.
Alexander III and his wife Maria Feodorovna (Dagmar of Denmark), both vigorously anti-German, had no intention of permitting a match with the tsarevich. Although Princess Alix was his godchild, it was generally known that Alexander III was angling for a bigger catch for his son, someone like Princess Hélène, the tall dark-haired daughter of Philippe, comte de Paris, pretender to the throne of France. The prospect of marrying Hélène did not appeal to Nicholas. He wrote in his diary, "Mama made a few allusions to Hélène, daughter of the Comte de Paris. I myself want to go in one direction and it is evident that Mama wants me to choose the other one." Fortunately for Nicholas, Hélène also resisted. She was Roman Catholic and her father refused to allow her to become Russian Orthodox. She also rejected a proposal from Albert Victor because she was not willing to join the Church of England. The tsar, despite his anti-German sentiments, then sent emissaries to Princess Margaret of Prussia, daughter of German Emperor Frederick III and sister of German Emperor Wilhelm II. Nicholas flatly declared that he would rather become a monk than marry the plain and boring Margaret. Margaret stated in any case that she was unwilling to give up her Protestant religion to become Russian Orthodox.
As long as he was well, Alexander III ignored his son's demands. He only relented as his health began to fail in 1894. Alix was troubled by the requirement that she renounce her Lutheran faith and become Orthodox, but she was persuaded and eventually became a fervent convert. Alexander III and Marie Feodorovna were not the only ones opposed to the match: Queen Victoria was also opposed to the march, writing to Alix's sister Victoria of her suspicions (which were correct) that Sergei and Elizabeth were encouraging the match. The Queen's opposition stemmed not from personal feelings about the Tsarevich, whom she personally liked, but her misgivings about Russia, including past political experiences, her personal dislike of Nicholas's father, and fears over her granddaughter's safety.
In April 1894, Alix's brother, Ernst Ludwig was to be married to his cousin, Victoria Melita of Edinburgh, bringing numerous relatives to Coburg, Germany, including Queen Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm II, the Empress Frederick (mother of the Kaiser and eldest daughter of Queen Victoria) the Prince of Wales, and, of course, the bride's parents, Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, the second son of Queen Victoria, and his wife, Marie Alexandrovna, who was the daughter of Tsar Alexander II. Tsarevich Nicholas headed up the Russian delegation, which included Sergei and Elizabeth, and Nicholas's aunt, Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna.
The day after his arrival in Coburg, Nicholas proposed to Alix and she turned him down, on the grounds of her refusal to convert to Orthodoxy. However, after pressure from the Kaiser, who had told her that it was her duty to marry Nicholas, and her sister Elizabeth, who tried to point out the similarities between Lutheranism and Orthodoxy, she accepted Nicholas's second proposal.
Following the engagement, Alix returned to England with her grandmother. In June, Nicholas traveled to England to visit her, bringing with him his father's personal priest, Father Yanishev, who was to give her religious instruction. Along with visiting Alix and the Queen, Nicholas's visit coincided with the birth and christening of the eldest son of Nicholas and Alix's mutual cousin, George, Duke of York and his wife, Mary of Teck, and both of them were named as godparents of the boy, who would reign briefly as King Edward VIII.
Later that fall, as Tsar Alexander's health began to further deteriorate, Nicholas obtained the permission of his dying father to summon Alix to the Romanov's Crimean palace of Livadia. Escorted by her sister, Elizabeth, from Warsaw to the Crimea, she was forced to travel by ordinary passenger train. The dying tsar insisted on receiving Alix in full dress uniform and gave his blessing.
Empress of Russia
Alexander III died in the early afternoon November 1, 1894, at the age of forty nine, leaving Tsarevich Nicholas the new tsar of Russia, who was confirmed that evening as Tsar Nicholas II. The following day, Alix was received into the Russian Orthodox as "the truly believing Grand Duchess Alexandra Feodorovna," yet as a dispensation, she was not required to repudiate Lutheranism or her former faith. Alix apparently expressed a wish to take the name Catherine, but on Nicholas's suggestion, she took the name Alexandra.
Alexandra, along with her and Nicholas's mutual aunt and uncle, the Prince and Princess of Wales (the Princess of Wales being the favorite sister of Nicholas's mother), and some of Nicholas's relatives from Greece, accompanied the coffin of Alexander III first to Moscow, where it laid in state in the Kremlin, and then to St. Petersburg. The funeral of Alexander III occurred on November 19.
The marriage with Nicholas was not delayed. Alexandra and Nicholas were wed in the Grand Church of the Winter Palace of St Petersburg on 26 November 1894, the birthday of Nicholas's mother, now Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna, when court mourning could be somewhat relaxed. The marriage that began that night remained exceptionally close until the pair was assassinated simultaneously in 1918. The marriage was outwardly serene and proper but based on intensely passionate physical love.
Alexandra Feodorovna became Empress of Russia on her wedding day, but it was not until 14 May 1896 that the coronation of Nicholas and Alexandra took place inside the Kremlin in Moscow. The following day, tragedy struck the coronation celebrations when the deaths of several thousand people became known. The victims were trampled to death at the Khodynka Field in Moscow when rumours spread that there would not be enough of the food being distributed in honour of the coronation for the thousands who had gathered there. The relatively small numbers of police in attendance could not maintain order and thousands were crushed in the ensuing stampede. In light of these events the tsar declared he could not go to the ball being given that night by the French Ambassador, the Marquis de Montebello. Nonetheless, his uncles urged him to attend so as not to offend the French. Nicholas gave in, and he and Alexandra attended the ball. Sergius Witte commented, "We expected the party would be called off. Instead it took place as if nothing had happened and the ball was opened by Their Majesties dancing a quadrille." It appears Alexandra was upset by the loss of life, "The Empress appeared in great distress, her eyes reddened by tears" the British Ambassador informed Queen Victoria. Many Russians took the disaster at Khodynka Meadow as an omen that the reign would be unhappy. Others used the circumstances of the tragedy and the behaviour of the royal establishment to underscore the heartlessness of the autocracy and the contemptible shallowness of the young tsar and his "German woman".
That fall, Nicholas, Alix, and the infant Grand Duchess Olga, who was approaching one, traveled to Scotland to spend time with Queen Victoria at Balmoral Castle. While Nicholas was in somewhat of a bad mood due to spending days with his "Uncle Bertie" (the Prince of Wales) shooting in bad weather, as well as due to suffering from a toothache, Alexandra relished in the time with her grandmother. It was in fact, the last time that grandmother and granddaughter would see each other, and when Queen Victoria died in January 1901, pregnancy prevented Alexandra from attending the funeral in London.
Rejection by the Russian people
Unlike her predecessor Maria Feodorovna (spouse to Alexander III), Alexandra was heartily disliked among her subjects. She came off as very cold and curt, although according to her and many other close friends, she was only terribly shy and nervous in front of the Russian people. She felt her feelings were bruised and battered from the Russians' "hateful" nature. She was also frowned upon by the wealthy and poor alike for her distaste for Russian culture (her near-fanatical embrace of Orthodoxy notwithstanding), whether it was the food or the manner of dancing. Her inability to produce a son also incensed the people. After the birth of the Grand Duchess Olga, her first-born child, Nicholas was reported to have said, "We are grateful she was a daughter; if she was a boy she would have belonged to the people, being a girl she belongs to us." When her "sunbeam" Alexei the tsarevitch was born, she further isolated herself from the Russian court by spending nearly all of her time with him; his haemophiliac disorder did little to distance their close relationship. She associated herself with more solitary figures such as Anna Vyrubova and the invalid Princess Sonia Orbeliani, rather than the "frivolous" young Russian aristocratic ladies. These women were constantly ignored by the "haughty" tsarina.
Historian Barbara W. Tuchman in The Guns of August writes of Alexandra as tsarina, "Though it could hardly be said that the Czar governed Russia in a working sense, he ruled as an autocrat and was in turn ruled by his strong-willed if weak-witted wife. Beautiful, hysterical, and morbidly suspicious, she hated everyone but her immediate family and a series of fanatic or lunatic charlatans who offered comfort to her desperate soul."
Along with her association with Vyrubova and Orbeliani, Alexandra associated herself with Grand Duchess Militza Nikolaevna of Russia, who was a Montenegrin princess by birth and wife of a relative of Nicholas. Through her, Alexandra was introduced a mystic by the name of Philippe Nizier-Vachot in 1901. Philippe enjoyed a brief influence over the imperial couple, until he was exposed as a charlatan in 1903 and was expelled from Russia. In 1902, it was also suggested that if Nicholas and Alexandra were to sponsor the canonization of Seraphim of Sarov, Alexandra would give birth to a son. Imperial pressure from the tsar led to the church canonizing him in 1903. Imperial interference in the canonization process, which forced the Church to disregard the established rules regarding canonization, led to an outcry from both laity and clergy alike.
Alexandra lived mainly as a recluse during her husband's reign. She also was reported to have had a terrible relationship with her mother-in-law, Maria Feodorovna. Maria had tried to assist Alexandra in learning about the position of Empress, but was shunned by the younger woman. Unlike other European courts of the day, in the Russian court, the position of Dowager Empress was senior in rank and precedence to that of the tsarina—a rule that Maria, with the support of Nicholas II, enforced strictly. At royal balls and other formal Imperial gatherings, Maria would enter on her son's arm, and Alexandra would silently trail behind them according to court protocol. It didn't help that Maria tended to be extremely possessive of her sons. In addition, Alexandra resented the ostentatiously considerate treatment of Maria by her husband the tsar, which only slightly evaporated after the birth of their five children. For Maria's part, she did not approve of her son's marriage to a German bride and was appalled at her daughter-in-law's inability to win favour with the Russian people. Also, Maria had spent seventeen years in Russia prior to her coronation with Alexander III; Alexandra had a scarce month to learn the rules of the Russian court (which she seldom ever followed), and this might have contributed to her unpopularity. Alexandra at least was astute enough not to criticise openly the woman she publicly referred to as "Mother dear."
Alexandra's only real associations were with Nicholas's siblings and a very small number of the otherwise close-knit Romanov family: Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich (husband of Nicholas's sister Xenia), Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich (the most artistic of the Imperial house) and his family, and Grand Duke George Mikhailovich, who was married to Nicholas's maternal first cousin, Maria of Greece). Alexandra, like her mother-in-law, disliked in particular the family of Nicholas's senior uncle, Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich, and his wife, Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna, who, during the war, openly criticized the Empress. She considered their sons Kyrill, Boris and Andrei to be irredeemably immoral, and in 1913 refused Boris's proposal for the hand of Grand Duchess Olga.
Alexandra was very supportive of her husband Nicholas, yet she often gave him bad advice. She was a fervent advocate of the "Divine Right To Rule" and believed that it was unnecessary to attempt to secure the approval of the people. Her aunt, German Empress Frederick, wrote to Queen Victoria that "Alix is very Imperious and will always insist on having her own way; she will never yield one iota of power she will imagine she wields..." During World War I, with the national citizens aroused, all the complaints Russians had about the Empress–-for instance, her German birth, her poor ideals, her devotion to Rasputin—circled and twisted around the deadly designs that claimed her entire family.
Relationship with her children
Almost one year after her marriage to the tsar, Alexandra gave birth to the couple's first child: a girl named Olga, who was born on 15 November 1895. Olga could not be the heir presumptive due to the Pauline Laws implemented by tsar Paul I: only a male could succeed to the Russian throne, although there had been four female monarchs of Russia before Paul. Olga was well loved by her young parents. Three more girls followed Olga: Tatiana on 10 June 1897, Maria on 26 June 1899 and Anastasia on 18 June 1901. Three more years passed before the Empress gave birth to the long-awaited heir: Alexei Nikolaevich was born in Peterhof on 12 August 1904. To his parents' dismay, Alexei was born with hemophilia, an incurable bleeding disease.
Grand Duchess Olga was reportedly shy and subdued. As she grew older, Olga read widely, both fiction and poetry, often borrowing books from her mother before the Empress had read them. "You must wait, Mama, until I find out whether this book is a proper one for you to read," Olga wrote. Alexandra was close to her second daughter, Tatiana, who surrounded her mother with unvarying attention. If a favour was needed, all the Imperial children agreed that "Tatiana must ask Papa to grant it." During the family's final months, Tatiana helped her mother move from place to place, pushing her about the house in a wheelchair. The third Grand Duchess, Maria, liked to talk about marriage and children. The tsar thought she would make some man an excellent wife. Maria was considered the angel of the family. Anastasia, the youngest and most famous daughter, was the "shvibzik," Russian for "imp." She climbed trees and refused to come down unless specifically commanded to come down by her father. Her aunt and godmother, Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, once recalled a time when Anastasia was teasing so ruthlessly that she slapped the child.
When they were children, Alexandra dressed her daughters as pairs, the oldest two and the youngest two wearing matching dresses. As Olga and Tatiana grew older, they played a more serious role in public affairs. Although, in private, they still referred to their parents as "Mama" and "Papa", in public, they referred to them as "the Empress" and "the Emperor". Nicholas and Alexandra intended that both their older daughters should make their official debuts in 1914 when Olga was nineteen and Tatiana seventeen, but The First World War began, and the plans were cancelled. By 1917, the four daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra had blossomed into young women whose talents and personalities were, as fate decreed, never to be unfolded and revealed.
Alexandra doted on Alexei. The children's tutor Pierre Gilliard wrote, "Alexei was the centre of a united family, the focus of all its hopes and affections. His sisters worshiped him. He was his parents' pride and joy. When he was well, the palace was transformed. Everyone and everything in it seemed bathed in sunshine."
Having to live with the knowledge that she had given him the bleeding disease, Alexandra was obsessed with protecting her son; she kept a close eye on him at all times and consulted a number of mystics who claimed to be able to heal him during his nearly fatal attacks. Alexandra spoiled her only son and let him have his way. In 1912, Alexandra finally revealed the truth about Alexei's illness, in confidence, to her mother-in-law and Nicholas's sisters, but the knowledge soon reached a limited circle of courtiers and relatives. The revelation backfired on Alexandra, since she was now blamed for Alexei's frail health and, because it had first appeared among Queen Victoria's children, his condition was known to some as "the English disease," adding to the element of foreignness that clung to Alexandra. Increasingly, she became an unpopular figure with the Imperial Family, the aristocracy and the Russian people. During the Great War, her German birth further inflamed this hatred and made her the immediate and primary focus for almost any aspect of opposition to the monarchy.
|Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna||15 November [O.S. 3 November] 1895||17 July 1918||22 years, 8 months and 3 days including the day of her death|
|Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna||10 June [O.S. 29 May] 1897||17 July 1918||21 years, 1 month and 8 days including day of death|
|Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna||26 June [O.S. 14 June] 1899||17 July 1918||19 years and 22 days including day of death|
|Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna||18 June [O.S. 5 June] 1901||17 July 1918||17 years and 1 month including day of death|
|Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich||12 August [O.S. 30 July] 1904||17 July 1918||13 years, 11 months and 6 days including day of death|
In addition to her five live-born children, Alexandra allegedly suffered a miscarriage in the summer of 1896, presumably because she became physically exhausted during her coronation festivities, and another in August 1902.
Alexandra's health was never robust and her frequent pregnancies exacerbated the situation. Without exception, however, her biographers, including Robert Massie, Carrolly Erickson, Greg King and Peter Kurth, ascribe the semi-invalidism of her later years to nervous exhaustion from obsessive worry over the fragile tsarevich. She spent most of her time in bed or reclining on a chaise in her boudoir or on a veranda. This immobility enabled her to avoid the social occasions that she found distasteful. Alexandra regularly took the herbal medicine known as Adonis Vernalis in order to regulate her pulse. She was constantly tired, slept badly and complained of swollen feet. She ate little but never lost weight. She may have suffered from a very rare form of high levels of the thyroid hormone which can lead to atrial fibrillation.
Haemophilia and Rasputin
The tsarevich Alexei was born during the height of the Russo-Japanese War on 12 August 1904. He was the Heir Apparent to the throne of Russia, and Alexandra had fulfilled her most important role as tsarina by bearing a male child. At first the boy seemed healthy and normal, but in only a few weeks' time it was noticed that when he bumped himself, his bruises did not heal. He would bleed from the navel and his blood was slow to clot. It was soon discovered that Alexei suffered from haemophilia, which could only have been transmitted from Alexandra's side of the family. Haemophilia was generally fatal in the early 20th century and had entered the royal houses of Europe via the daughters of Queen Victoria, who herself was a carrier. Alexandra had lost a brother, Friedrich, to the disease, as well as an uncle, Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany. Her sister Princess Irene of Hesse and by Rhine was also a carrier of the gene and, through her marriage to her cousin Prince Heinrich of Prussia, spread it into a junior branch of the Prussian Royal Family. Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, another of Queen Victoria's granddaughters and a first cousin of Alexandra, was also a carrier of the haemophilia gene. She married King Alfonso XIII of Spain and two of her sons were haemophiliacs. As an incurable and life-threatening illness suffered by the sole male heir to the Russian throne, the decision was made to keep his condition secret from the Russian people.
At first Alexandra turned to Russian doctors to treat Alexei. Their treatments generally failed as there was no known cure. Burdened with the knowledge that any fall or cut could actually kill her son, Alexandra herself did even more charity work. She also turned toward religion for comfort, familiarising herself with all the Orthodox rituals and saints and spent hours praying in her private chapel for deliverance. In desperation, Alexandra increasingly turned to mystics and so-called holy men. One of these, Grigori Rasputin, appeared to have a cure for her son.
Rasputin's debauched lifestyle led Nicholas at times to distance him from the family. Even after Alexandra was told by the director of the national police that a drunk Rasputin exposed himself at a popular Moscow restaurant and bragged to the crowd that Nicholas let him top his wife whenever he wanted, she blamed it on malicious gossip. "Saints are always calumniated," she once wrote. "He is hated because we love him." Nicholas was not nearly as blind, but even he felt powerless to do anything about the man who seemingly saved his only son's life. One minister of Nicholas wrote, "He did not like to send Rasputin away, for if Alexei died, in the eyes of the mother, he would have been the murderer of his own son."
From the start there were persistent murmurs and snickers behind Rasputin's back. Although some of St Petersburg's top clergy accepted Rasputin as a living prophet, others angrily denounced him as a fraud and a heretic. Stories from back home in Siberia chased him, such as how he conducted weddings for villagers in exchange for sleeping the first night with the bride. In his apartment in St Petersburg, where he lived with his daughter Maria, Rasputin was visited by anyone seeking his blessing, a healing or a favour with the tsarina. Women, enchanted by the monk's crude mystique, also came to Rasputin for more "private blessings" and received a private audience in his bedroom, jokingly called the "Holy of Holies". Rasputin liked to preach a unique theology that one must first become familiar with sin before one can have a chance in overturning it.
In 1912, Alexei suffered a life-threatening haemorrhage in the thigh while the family was at Spała, Poland. Alexandra and Nicholas took turns at his bedside and tried in vain to comfort him from his intense pain. In one rare moment of peace, Alexei was heard to whisper to his mother, "When I am dead, it will not hurt any more, will it, Mama?" Devastatingly, it seemed to Alexandra that God was not answering her prayers for her son's relief. Believing Alexei would die, Alexandra in desperation sent a telegram to Grigori Rasputin. Right away he sent a reply, "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." Alexei recovered after Rasputin's advice was followed. From 1912 onwards, Alexandra came to rely increasingly on Rasputin and to believe in his ability to ease Alexei's suffering. This reliance enhanced Rasputin's political power, which was seriously to undermine Romanov rule during the First World War.
Rasputin's perceived interference in political matters eventually led to his murder in December 1916 (Saturday December 30, 1916). Amongst the conspirators was the nobleman Prince Felix Yusupov, married to Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna's daughter, Princess Irina of Russia, and a member of the Romanov family Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich. Newspaper reporter Michael Smith wrote in his book that British Secret Intelligence Bureau head Mansfield Cumming ordered three of his agents in Russia to eliminate Rasputin in December 1916.
World War I
The outbreak of World War I was a pivotal moment for Russia and Alexandra. The war pitted the Russian Empire of the Romanov dynasty against the much stronger German Empire of the Hohenzollern dynasty. When Alexandra learned of the Russian mobilization, she stormed into her husband's study and said: "War! And I knew nothing of it! This is the end of everything."
The Grand Duchy of Hesse and by Rhine, ruled by her brother, formed part of the German Empire. This was, of course the place of Alexandra's birth. This made Alexandra very unpopular with the Russian people, who accused her of collaboration with the Germans. The German Emperor, Wilhelm II, was also Alexandra's first cousin. Ironically, one of the few things that Empress Alexandra and her mother-in-law Empress Maria had in common was their utter distaste for Emperor Wilhelm II. Alexandra's sister, Irene, who was married to Kaiser Wilhelm's brother, Heinrich, was also on the German side.
When the tsar travelled to the front line in 1915 to take personal command of the Army, he left Alexandra in charge as Regent in the capital Saint Petersburg. Her brother-in-law, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich recorded, "When the Emperor went to war of course his wife governed instead of him." Alexandra had no experience of government and constantly appointed and re-appointed incompetent new ministers, which meant the government was never stable or efficient. This was particularly dangerous in a war of attrition, as neither the troops nor the civilian population were ever adequately supplied. She paid attention to the self-serving advice of Rasputin, and their relationship was widely, though falsely, believed to be sexual in nature. Alexandra was the focus of ever-increasing negative rumors, and was widely believed to be a German spy at the Russian court.
World War I put what proved to be unbearable burden on Imperial Russia's government and economy, both of which were dangerously weak. Mass shortages and hunger became the daily situation for tens of millions of Russians due to the disruptions of the war economy. Fifteen million men were diverted from agricultural production to fight in the war, and the transportation infrastructure (primarily railroads) was diverted towards war use, exacerbating food shortages in the cities as available agricultural products could not be brought to urban areas. Inflation was rampant. This, combined with the food shortages and the poor performance by the Russian military in the war, generated a great deal of anger and unrest among the people in Saint Petersburg and other cities.
The decision of the tsar to take personal command of the military against advice was disastrous, as he was directly blamed for all losses. His relocation to the front, leaving the Empress in charge of the government, helped undermine the Romanov dynasty. The poor performance of the military led to rumours believed by the people that the German-born Empress was part of a conspiracy to help Germany win the war. The severe winter of 1916–17 essentially doomed Imperial Russia. Food shortages worsened and famine gripped the cities. The mismanagement and failures of the war turned the soldiers against the tsar.
By March 1917, conditions had worsened even more. Steelworkers went out on strike on 7 March, and the following day, International Women’s Day, crowds hungry for bread began rioting on the streets of St Petersburg to protest food shortages and the war. After two days of rioting, the tsar ordered the Army to restore order and on 11 March they fired on the crowd. That very same day, the Duma, the elected legislature, urged the tsar to take action to ameliorate the concerns of the people. The tsar responded by dissolving the Duma.
On 12 March soldiers sent to suppress the rioting crowds mutinied and joined the rebellion, thus providing the spark to ignite the February Revolution (like the later October Revolution of November 1917, the Russian Revolutions of 1917 get their names due to the Old Style calendar). Soldiers and workers set up the "Petrograd Soviet" of 2,500 elected deputies while the Duma declared a Provisional Government on 13 March. Alexander Kerensky was a key player in the new regime. The Duma informed the tsar that day that he must abdicate.
In an effort to put an end to the uprising in the capital, Nicholas tried to get to St Petersburg by train from army headquarters at Mogiliev. The route was blocked so he tried another way. His train was stopped at Pskov where, after receiving advice from his generals, he first abdicated the throne for himself and later, on seeking medical advice, for himself and his son the tsarevich Alexei. Alexandra was now in a perilous position as the wife of the deposed tsar, hated by the Russian people. Nicholas finally was allowed to return to the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo where he was placed under arrest with his family. Despite the fact he was a first cousin of both Nicholas and Alexandra, George V refused to allow them to evacuate to the United Kingdom, as he was alarmed by their unpopularity in his country and the potential repercussions to his own throne.
The Provisional Government formed after the revolution kept Nicholas, Alexandra, and their children confined in their primary residence, the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, until they were moved to Tobolsk in Siberia in August 1917, a step by the Kerensky government designed to remove them from the capital and possible harm. From Tobolsk, Alexandra managed to send a letter to sister-in-law, Xenia Alexandrovna, in the Crimea,
"My darling Xenia, My thoughts are with you, how magically good and beautiful everything must be with you – you are the flowers. But it is indescribably painful for the kind motherland, I cannot explain. I am glad for you that you are finally with all your family as you have been apart. I would like to see Olga in all her new big happiness. Everybody is healthy, but myself, during the last 6 weeks I experience nerve pains in my face with toothache. Very tormenting ...
We live quietly, have established ourselves well [in Tobolsk] although it is far, far away from everybody, But God is merciful. He gives us strength and consolation ..."
Alexandra and her family remained in Tobolsk until after the Bolshevik Revolution in November 1917, but were subsequently moved to Bolshevik controlled Yekaterinburg in 1918. Nicholas, Alexandra and their daughter Maria arrived at the Ipatiev House on 30 April 1918. On entering their new prison, they were ordered to open all their luggage. Alexandra immediately objected. Nicholas tried to come to her defence saying, "So far we have had polite treatment and men who were gentlemen but now -" The former Tsar was quickly cut off. The guards informed him he was no longer at Tsarskoe Selo and that refusal to comply with their request would result in his removal from the rest of his family; a second offence would be rewarded with hard labour. Fearing for her husband's safety, Alexandra quickly gave in and allowed the search. On the window frame of what was to be her last bedroom in the Ipatiev House, Alexandra scrawled a swastika, her favourite good luck symbol, and pencilled the date 17/30 April 1918. In May, the rest of the family arrived in Ekaterinburg. They had not been able to travel earlier due to the illness of Alexei. Alexandra was pleased to be reunited with her family once more.
Seventy-five men did guard duty at the Ipatiev House. Many of the men were factory workers from the local Zlokazovsky Factory and the Verkh-Isetsk Factory. The commandant of the Ipatiev House, Alexander Avadeyev was described as "a real Bolshevik". The majority of witnesses recall him as coarse, brutish and a heavy drinker. If a request for a favour on behalf of the family reached Avadeyev, he always gave the same response, "Let them go to hell!!" The guards in the house often heard him refer to the deposed tsar as "Nicholas the Blood-Drinker" and to Alexandra as "The German Bitch".
For the Romanovs, life at the Ipatiev House was a nightmare of uncertainty and fear. The Imperial Family never knew if they would still be in the Ipatiev House from one day to the next or if they might be separated or killed. The privileges allowed to them were few. For an hour each afternoon they could exercise in the rear garden under the watchful eye of the guards. Alexei could still not walk, and his sailor Nagorny had to carry him. Alexandra rarely joined her family in these daily activities. Instead she spent most of her time sitting in a wheelchair, reading the Bible or the works of St. Seraphim. At night the Romanovs played cards or read; they received little mail from the outside world, and the only newspapers they were allowed were outdated editions.
Dmitri Volkogonov and other Soviet historians believe that indirect evidence indicates that Vladimir Lenin personally ordered the execution of the Imperial Family, although official Soviet accounts place the responsibility for the decision with the Ural Regional Soviet.Leon Trotsky, in his diary, makes it quite clear that the assassination took place on the authority of Lenin. Trotsky wrote,
"My next visit to Moscow took place after the fall of Ekaterinburg. Talking to Sverdlov I asked in passing, "Oh yes, and where is the tsar?" "It's all over," he answered. "He has been shot." "And where is his family?" "And the family with him." "All of them?" I asked, apparently with a touch of surprise. "All of them," replied Sverdlov. "What about it?" He was waiting to see my reaction. I made no reply. "And who made the decision?" I asked. "We decided it here. Ilyich (Lenin) believed that we shouldn't leave The Whites a live banner to rally around, especially under the present difficult circumstances."
On 4 July 1918, Yakov Yurovsky, the chief of the Ekaterinburg Cheka, was appointed commandant of the Ipatiev House. Yurovsky was a loyal Bolshevik, a man Moscow could rely on to carry out its orders regarding The Imperial Family. Yurovsky quickly tightened security. From The Imperial Family he collected all of their jewellery and valuables. These he placed in a box which he sealed and left with the prisoners. Alexandra kept only two bracelets which her uncle, Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, had given her as a child and which she could not take off. He did not know that the former tsarina and her daughters wore concealed on their person diamonds, emeralds, rubies and ropes of pearls. These would be discovered only after the murders. Yurovsky had been given the order for the murder on 13 July.
On Sunday, 14 July 1918, two priests came to the Ipatiev House to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. One of the priests, Father Storozhev later recalled, "I went into the living room first, then the deacon and Yurovsky. At the same time Nicholas and Alexandra entered through the doors leading into the inner room. Two of his daughters were with him. I did not have a chance to see exactly which ones. I believe Yurovsky asked Nicholas Alexandrovich, "Well, are you all here?" Nicholas Alexandrovich answered firmly, "Yes, all of us." Ahead beyond the archway, Alexandra Feodorovna was already in place with two daughters and Alexei Nicolaievich. He was sitting in a wheelchair and wore a jacket, as it seemed to me, with a sailor's collar. He was pale, but not so much as at the time of my first service. In general he looked more healthy. Alexandra Feodorovna also had a healthier appearance. ...According to the liturgy of the service it is customary at a certain point to read the prayer, "Who Resteth with the Saints." On this occasion for some reason the deacon, instead of reading the prayer began to sing it, and I as well, somewhat embarrassed by this departure from the ritual. But we had secretly begun to sing when I heard the members of the Romanov family, standing behind me, fall on their knees ..."
Tuesday, 16 July 1918 passed normally for the former imperial family. At four o'clock in the afternoon, Nicholas and his daughters took their usual walk in the small garden. Early in the evening Yurovsky sent away the fifteen-year-old kitchen boy Leonid Sedinev, saying that his uncle wished to see him. At 7 p.m., Yurovsky summoned all the Cheka men into his room and ordered them to collect all the revolvers from the outside guards. With twelve heavy military revolvers lying before him on the table he said, "Tonight, we shoot the entire family, everybody." Upstairs Nicholas and Alexandra passed the evening playing bezique; at ten thirty, they went to bed.
The former tsar and tsaritsa and all of their family, including the gravely ill Alexei, along with several family servants, were executed by firing squad and bayonets in the basement of the Ipatiev House, where they had been imprisoned, early in the morning of 17 July 1918, by a detachment of Bolsheviks led by Yakov Yurovsky. In the basement room of the Ipatiev House, Nicholas asked for and received three chairs from the guards. Minutes later, at about 2:15 a.m., a squad of soldiers, each armed with a revolver, entered the room. Their leader Yurovsky ordered all the party to stand; Alexandra complied "with a flash of anger", and Yurovsky then casually pronounced, "Your relations have tried to save you. They have failed and we must now shoot you." Nicholas rose from his chair and only had time to utter "What...?" before he was shot several times, not (as is usually said) in the head, but in the chest; his skull bears no bullet wounds, but his ribs were shattered by at least three fatal bullet wounds. Standing about six feet from the gunmen and facing them, Alexandra watched the murder of her husband and two menservants before military commissar Peter Ermakov took aim at her. She instinctively turned away from him and began to make the sign of the cross, but before she could finish the gesture, Ermakov killed her with a gunshot which, as she had partly turned away, entered her head just above the left ear and exited at the same spot above her right ear. After all the victims had been shot, Ermakov in a drunken haze stabbed Alexandra's body and that of her husband, shattering both their rib cages and chipping some of Alexandra's vertebrae.
Identification of remains
After the execution of the Romanov family in the Ipatiev House, Alexandra's body, along with Nicholas, their children and some faithful retainers who died with them, was stripped and the clothing burnt according to the Yurovsky Note. Initially the bodies were thrown down a disused mine-shaft at Ganina Yama, 12 miles (19 km) north of Yekaterinburg. A short time later, the bodies were retrieved. Their faces were smashed and the bodies, dismembered and disfigured with sulphuric acid, were hurriedly buried under railway sleepers with the exception of two of the children whose bodies were not discovered until 2007. The missing bodies were those of a daughter—Maria or Anastasia—and Alexei. In the early 1990s, following the fall of the Soviet Union, the bodies of the majority of the Romanovs were located along with their loyal servants, exhumed and formally identified. A secret report by Yurovsky, which came to light in the late 1970s, but did not become public knowledge until the 1990s, helped the authorities to locate the bodies. Preliminary results of genetic analysis carried out on the remains of a boy and a young woman believed to belong to Nicholas II's son and heir Alexei, and daughter Anastasia or Marie were revealed on 22 January 2008. The Ekaterinburg region's chief forensic expert said, "Tests conducted in Yekaterinburg and Moscow allowed DNA to be extracted from the bones, which proved positive," Nikolai Nevolin said. "Once the genetic analysis has been completed in Russia, its results will be compared with test results from foreign experts." Nevolin said the final results would be published in April or May 2008. Certainty about the remains would definitively put an end to the claim that Anna Anderson could be connected with the Romanovs, as all remaining bodies would be accounted for.
DNA analysis represented a key means of identifying the bodies. A blood sample from The Duke of Edinburgh (a grandson of Alexandra's oldest sister, Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine) was employed to identify Alexandra and her daughters through their mitochondrial DNA. They belonged to Haplogroup H (mtDNA). Nicholas was identified using DNA obtained from, among others, his late brother Grand Duke George Alexandrovich of Russia. Grand Duke George had died of tuberculosis in the late 1890s and was buried in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg.
Burial and sainthood
Alexandra, Nicholas and three daughters were reinterred in the St. Catherine Chapel of the Peter and Paul Cathedral at the Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul in St Petersburg in 1998, with much ceremony, on the eightieth anniversary of the execution.
In 2000, Alexandra was canonised as a passion bearer, by the Russian Orthodox Church together with her husband Nicholas II, their children and others including her sister Grand Duchess Elizabeth and the Grand Duchess' fellow nun Varvara.
In popular culture
- A rather romanticised version of Alexandra's life was dramatized in the 1971 movie Nicholas and Alexandra, based on the book by the same title written by Robert Massie, in which the tsaritsa/Empress was played by Janet Suzman.
- Rasputin and the Empress (1932), an MGM film that is less famous than the lawsuit it spawned. Alexandra was portrayed by Ethel Barrymore.
- The highly fictionalized 1966 film Rasputin, the Mad Monk, in which Renee Asherson portrayed the Empress.
- 1974's Fall of Eagles, a BBC series dramatizing the demise of Europe's ruling families. Alexandra, portrayed by Gayle Hunnicutt, is a prominent character in the series.
- Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny is a 1996 HBO TV film for which Greta Scacchi won an Emmy for her portrayal of Empress Alexandra.
- Rasputin: The Mad Monk, (1997) is a biographical documentary.
- The Lost Prince, a BBC mini-series in which she is played by Lithuanian actress Ingeborga Dapkūnaitė.
- The episode Love and Revolution devoted to the fall of the Romanov dynasty is featured in the Danish television A Royal Family, a series about the descendants of King Christian IX of Denmark.
Titles and styles
Alexandra Feodorovna, Empress consort of all the Russias
|Reference style||Her Imperial Majesty|
|Spoken style||Your Imperial Majesty|
Titles and styles
- 6 June 1872 – 1894: Her Grand Ducal Highness Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine
- 1894: Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia (created in 1894 by Alexander III prior to her marriage)
- 26 November 1894 – 15 March 1917: Her Imperial Majesty The Empress of All the Russias – title lost at the time of the abdication of her husband.
- 15 March 1917 – 17 July 1918: Her Grand Ducal Highness Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine – reverted to original title until death
|Ancestors of Alexandra Feodorovna (Alix of Hesse)|
- Gelardi, Julia, Born to Rule, p.5
- Buxhoeveden, Baroness Sophie, Life and Tragedy of Alexandra Feodorovna, p.1
- King, Greg Twilight of Splendor: The Court of Queen Victoria in Her Diamond Jubilee Year (John Wiley & Sons, 2007) pg. 52
- [NPG: Prince and Princess Henry of Battenberg with their bridesmaids and others on their wedding day http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw145863/Prince-and-Princess-Henry-of-Battenberg-with-their-bridesmaids-and-others-on-their-wedding-day?LinkID=mp89748&role=art&rNo=2]
- Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.49
- Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.50.
- Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.50
- King, Empress, pgs. 51 & 52
- King, Greg The Court of the Last Tsar: Pomp Power and Pageantry in the Reign of Nicholas II (Wiley & Sons, 2006), pgs. 36 & 37
- King, Greg The Last Empress (Wiley & Sons, 1994) pgs. 55-56
- King, Empress, pg. 70
- King, Empress, pg. 73
- King, Empress, pg. 73
- King, Empress pgs. 74 & 75
- King, Court, pg. 329
- King, Court, pg. 344
- Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.45
- Among those also depicted in this portrait, against the wall and to the right of the window, from left to right – King Christian IX of Denmark, Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna, Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia, Olga Konstantinovna, Queen of the Hellenes, the future Edward VII, Grand Duke Georgy Alexandrovich (son of Tsar Alexander III) and Prince Heinrich of Prussia (son of Kaiser Friedrich III). Today this portrait hangs at Buckingham Palace.
- Coronation of Tsar Nicholas II at Google Videos (Adobe Flash video)
- Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.80
- Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.81
- Twilight of Splendor pg. 175
- Tuchman, Barbara, The Guns of August 1962, Ballantine Books reprint 1994, p. 8
- King, Empress, 153
- King, Empress, pg. 153
- King, G, The Last Empress, p.93
- Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.154
- Vorres, I, The Last Grand Duchess, p.108
- Vorres, I, The Last Grand Duchess, p.109
- Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.157
- Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.158
- Banks, ECS, “Road to Ekaterinburg: Nicholas and Alexandra’s Daughters 1913–1918. SilverWood Books 2012. Page 11. ISBN 978-1-78132-035-8
- Denton, C.S, Absolute Power, p.574
- Denton, C.S, Absolute Power, p.374
- Denton, C.S, Absolute Power, p.577
- Denton, C. S, Absolute Power, p.576
- Denton, C.S, Absolute Power, p.575
- How Britain's first spy chief ordered Rasputin's murder (in a way that would make every man wince), by Annabel Venning, Daily Mail, July 22, 2010
- The Last tsar by Virginia Cowles, p.4
- King, G, The Last Empress, p.213
- The Last Empress by Greg King p.223
- King, G, The Last Empress, p.244
- Tames, R, Last of the Tsars, p.52
- Tames, R, Last of the tsars, p.53
- Tames, R, Last of the tsars, p.55
- Tames, R, Last of the tsars, p.57
- Van der Kiste, J & Hall, C, Once A Grand Duchess: Xenia, Sister of Nicholas II, p.121
- King, G, The Last Empress, p.344
- King, G, The Last Empress, p.345
- King, G, The Last Empress, p.346
- Volkogonov, Dmitri (2006). Lenin: A New Biography. Free Press. p. 212. ISBN 0-02-933435-7
- Russia exonerates Tsar Nicholas II – the Telegraph
- King, G, The Last Empress, p.358
- Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.539
- King, G, The Last Empress, p.361
- Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p,540
- Tames, R, Last of the tsars, p. 63
- Denton, C.S., Absolute Power, p.588
- King, G, The Last Empress, p.364
- "Remains of Tsar Nicholas II's Son May Have Been Found". Fox News. 21 August 2007. Retrieved 22 November 2009.
- YEKATERINBURG, 22 January 2008 (RIA Novosti)
- Identification of the remains of the Romanov family by DNA analysis by Peter Gill, Central Research and Support Establishment, Forensic Science Service, Aldermaston, Reading, Berkshire, RG7 4PN, UK, Pavel L. Ivanov, Engelhardt Institute of Molecular Biology, Russian Academy of Sciences, 117984, Moscow, Russia, Colin Kimpton, Romelle Piercy, Nicola Benson, Gillian Tully, Ian Evett, Kevin Sullivan, Forensic Science Service, Priory House, Gooch Street North, Birmingham B5 6QQ, UK, Erika Hagelberg, University of Cambridge, Department of Biological Anthropology, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3DZ, UK – http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/v6/n2/abs/ng0294-130.html
- Once A Grand Duchess: Xenia, Sister of Nicholas II by John Van Der Kiste & Coryne Hall, p.174
- Denton, C.S., Absolute Power, London: Arcturus Publishing, 2006. ISBN 978-1-84193-423-5
- Finestone, Jeffrey, The Last Courts of Europe, London: J M Dent & Sons, 1981. OCLC 7554764
- Hall, Coryne, Little mother of Russia, Holmes & Meier Publishers, 2001. ISBN 0-8419-1421-4
- Hall, Coryne & Van Der Kiste, John, Once A Grand Duchess Xenia, Sister of Nicholas II, Phoenix Mill: Sutton Publishing, 2002. ISBN 978-0-7509-2749-9
- King, Greg, The Last Empress, Citadel Press Book, 1994. ISBN 0-8065-1761-1.
- King, Greg The Court of the Last Tsar, John Wiley & Sons, 2006. ISBN 978-0-471-72763-7.
- Kurth, Peter, Tsar: The Lost World of Nicholas and Alexandra, Allen & Unwin, 1995. ISBN 978-1-86373-899-6
- Lyons, Marvin, Nicholas II The Last Tsar, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974. ISBN 978-0-7100-7802-5
- Massie, Robert, Nicholas and Alexandra, London: Pan Books, 1967. OCLC 405885
- Massie, Robert, The Romanovs The Final Chapter, New York: Ballantine Books, 1995. ISBN 0-345-40640-0
- Tames, Richard, Last of the Tsars, London: Pan Books, 1972. ISBN 978-0-330-02902-5 OCLC 821663
- Vorres, Ian, The Last Grand Duchess, London: Finedawn Publishers, 1985 (3rd edition) OCLC 18254268
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Alexandra Fyodorovna of Hesse.|
- (Russian) The Murder of Russia's Imperial Family, Nicolay Sokolov. Investigation of murder of the Romanov Imperial Family in 1918.
- FrozenTears.org, A media library on the Last Imperial Family.
- Alexander Palace Time Machine
- God in All Things, the Religious Beliefs of Russia's Last Empress by Janet Ashton.
- Nicholas and Alexandra Exhibition
- Hemophilia A (Factor VIII Deficiency)
- The Romanovs in Film, a complete filmography.
- A short biography of Alexandra
Alexandra Feodorovna (Alix of Hesse)
Cadet branch of the House of HesseBorn: 6 June 1872 Died: 17 July 1918
Title last held byDagmar of Denmark
|Empress consort of Russia
1 November 1894 – 15 March 1917
|Empire abolished in 1917|
|Grand Duchess consort of Finland
1 November 1894 – 15 March 1917
Title next held byMargaret of Prussia
as Queen of Finland
|Titles in pretence|
|Empire abolished in 1917||— TITULAR —
Empress consort of Russia
15 March 1917 – 17 July 1918
Title next held byVictoria of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha