One area of history that has always interested me was Russian History. After having the pleasure of taking a Russian History course taught by a professor from Russia, my interest grew. A very fascinating period of Russian History is that of the Romanov Dynasty. For decades, people have been intrigued by the last Romanov Tsar and his family and asked many "what if" questions. Many people claimed to be a surviving member of the family and even a children's movie (Anastasia) was made to tell the story.
In this post, I will share details from the early life of Nicholas and Alexandra and leave the drama of the Russian Revolutions and their subsequent arrest, imprisonment, and execution to a future post.
Youths Meet and Fall in Love
Nicholas and Alexandra first met in 1884. Princess Alix of Hesse – called "Sunny" by her family – was 12 years old while Nicholas (her second cousin) was 16 years old.
Sunny had a happy and pleasant disposition but was often shy and quiet. Her early years had been marked by sadness. In 1873, her 3-year-old brother fell from their mother's bedroom window. He died within hours of internal bleeding. Her mother died when she was only 6 years old.
Alix's mother was the daughter of Queen Victoria and Alix could trace her lineage back to Charlemagne.
Nicky was an outdoorsman – enjoying hiking, hunting, shooting, walking, and riding. He was tutored in mathematics, geography, science, and history but preferred spending time outside rather than in the classroom. He spoke five languages – 3 fluently – English, French, and Russian. Nicky was described as "full of quiet" and very gentle.
Unfortunately, Nicky was not trained in politics. He had little interest in politics and did not understand it. When he was only 13 years old, Nicky witnessed his grandfather, Alexander II, die after a terrorist's bomb blew him up. This led to repression under the rule of Nicky's father, Alexander III and the idea of absolute control by the Romanovs. Nicky's father kept him out of politics so when he came to the throne, he was quite unprepared for the task.
Winter Season and Young Love
In 1889, Alix arrived in St. Petersburg for the winter social season. During the time Nicky and Alix would see each other at numerous grand balls, dinners, and other social outings. The two quickly fell in love. When Alix left the city, Nicky soon pasted a photo of her in his diary.
There were reservations regarding the match between Nicholas and Alexandra. Queen Victoria, who had been instrumental in the rearing of Alix and her siblings since the death of their mother, was not pleased with the match. Queen Victoria wanted them placed in marriages she approved of and Russia was not one of those locales. Alexander III did not want Queen Victoria involved in Russian affairs any more than necessary and was looking for a match between his son and France to cement an alliance.
For a brief period, Nicky had a relationship with the ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska but he still loved his Prussian Princess – Alix of Hesse – and there is no way that he would be able to marry a ballerina anyway as he was the heir to the Romanov dynasty. In the fall of 1890, Nicholas was sent on a tour of the Far East. He traveled with his brother and their cousin through Egypt, India, Thailand, and Japan.
The Otsu Mark
While visiting Japan, Nicholas and his brother Grand Duke George and his cousin Prince George visited the town of Otsu. While walking along a crowded street, Nicky was attacked by one of the policemen, Tsuda Sanzō. The policeman swung a saber delivering a blow to Nicky's forehead. Prince George stopped the assassination attempt by going after the attacker with a bamboo cane. (The first blow left a mark on Nicky's forehead.) The Russians returned soon after and Nicky resumed his affair with his ballerina, Kschessinska.
In 1892, Alix's father died and she became lady of Hesse with her brother the Grand Duke of Hesse. It appeared that she might be content to remain the hostess of Hesse but things were to change when Nicky's father, Alexander III, grew sick in 1894. With his illness, he finally let go of his opposition to a marriage between his son, Nicholas, and Alix of Hesse.
The final piece that was needed was Alix's conversion from Lutheranism to Russian Orthodoxy. Originally, she was very firm in the fact that religion was "not a thing to be slipped on and off 'like a glove'" but her resolve began to weaken with the conversion of her sister and the marriage of her brother.
In April 1894, while attending the wedding of Alix's brother, Ernest – Ernie – and Princess Victoria of Edinburgh, Nicky proposed to his love. While she loved him, she did not want to give up her religion. But this wasn't to be the end of the proposal. Everyone seemed to have an opinion. Queen Victoria was still opposed to the match between Nicky and Alix but Kaiser Wilhelm I (Cousin Willy) said it was Alix's duty to marry Nicky. However it was Alix's sister, Ella – who had converted earlier, who spoke of the personal experience. Her reassurance of the new faith persuaded Alix to accept Nicky's proposal.
In a touching scene, Nicky and Alix became engaged while a thunderstorm raged outside. (Foreshadowing of the troubles to come? Probably just a sad coincidence.) Both cried tears of happiness and there was great rejoicing among Alix's family.
Six Months of Happiness
Both Nicky and Alix spent time in England together where they would grow in their love. Alix began reading Nicky's diary and writing in the margin her own notes. They traveled to visit Queen Victoria at Windsor where she entreated Nicky to call her Granny. A Russian language teacher, Catherine Schneider, and Father John Yanishev, the Romanov's confessor, arrived to school Alix in language and religion.
Happiness was soon ended when the failing health of Alexander III led to his death on November 1, 1894. Nicholas II was in no way ready to rule Russia. He was never trained in how to rule for Alexander III had ruled with an iron fist and did not involve his son and heir.
The following weeks were filled with ceremonies and funerals leading up to the wedding of Nicholas and Alexandra on November 26, 1894. Unfortunately, Alexandra wrote that the wedding seemed to be a continuation of the masses for the dead with the only difference being she was wearing a white dress instead of a black one. What had started as a happy time – both Nicky and Alix were so in love – would be overshadowed with the death of a Tsar and the problems that would come with Nicholas II as the new leader of Russia.
Things would never really be normal for the couple. Times were greatly changing with advancements in technology and changes in leadership across Europe. War would soon come and with it revolutions that would bring about the end of the Romanov Dynasty completely and totally. For only a short while, Nicky and Alix were happy as a couple.
References and Resources
Images from WPClipart, Openclipart, and Stock Free Images.
Winter Palace image credit: © Valuykins | Stock Free Images
I own both this book and the movie (which I really enjoy!).