The story of the Romanov ruling dynasty spans several hundred years from when they first came to rule Russia and her territories way back in 1613. Over three centuries eighteen Romanovs have taken the Russian throne, including Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Alexander I and Nicholas II.

This is the story of the last ruling family, the empire of Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia. It is presented in two formats. Originally released as a series of 162 slides, one or more were posted on the author’s facebook timeline as well as in other forums. You can download and re-post the series of slides as you wish. The material is also presented on this page.

The release of this series coincided with exhibitions in London about Russia and in particular one called ‘The Last Tsar – Blood And Revolution,’ dedicated exclusively to the family of Nicholas II and the anniversary of the Romanov family’s untimely murder. This exhibition inspired the research and presentation of these slides.

To think of Russia at the turn of the twentieth century one brings to mind Communism, the Bolsheviks, autocracy, seclusion from the West, Stalin, Lenin, Rasputin, Siberia. The Romanov family were at the centre of all of that, their story marks the end of an era and the beginning of modern history for Russia.

THE LAST TSAR – Blood & Revolution

In 1894, 26-year old Nicholas Romanov ascended to the Russian throne. With his new German wife Alexandra, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, he ruled a sixth of the world’s land surface.

Finding comfort in the closeness of their family they withdrew from court life and retreated to their countryside residence near St Petersburg – the Alexandra Palace.

By distancing themselves from their subjects, the Romanovs triggered a chain of events that would lead to their tragic end.

Queen Victoria and her grandchildren
(c) Royal Collection Trust

Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Victoria had nine children with her consort, Prince Albert. As the result of her efforts to marry her children to princely families across the European continent, she became known as ‘the grandmother of Europe’.

Queen Victoria was one of the first to learn about the engagement between her granddaughter Alix (nicknamed Alicky) and Nicholas (Nicky), the heir to the Russian throne.

She noted in her diary:

‘Friday 20th April 1894. Ella came in, much agitated to say that Alicky and Nicky were engaged, & begging they might come in. Saw them both. Alicky had tears in her eyes, but looked very bright & I kissed them both.’

Prince Albert had been diagnosed with typhoid fever and died on 14 December 1861 in the Blue Room at Windsor Castle, in the presence of the Queen and five of their nine children. After Albert’s death, Victoria’s relationship with her daughters became oppressive.

The Princess Slice was Queen Victoria’s third child and second daughter. She married into a German Imperial family, the Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine, in 1862.

In 1877 he became Louis IV of Hesse and by Rhine (a grand duchy in western Germany that existed from 1806 to the end of the German Empire in 1918.) Therefore their daughter Alix was the Princess of Hesse and by Rhine from birth.

Alix was born on her parents tenth marriage anniversary and was just five years old when her father became king. However a year later the Hesse household would suffer terribly at the hands of the disease diptheria.

Alice tended to the children herself and soon fell ill and died. To cement who she was in the royalty tree, she is great-grandmother to Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and grandmother of Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India.

Another casualty would follow, Alice’s daughter, the Princess Marie of Hesse and by Rhine.

Princess Alice of Hesse and by Rhine

It’s easy to sympathise with Princess Alix having lost her sisterMarie and then her mother in 1878, but she was thankfully unaware of her brother Friedrich’s death when Alix was one year old.

Diptheria had struck down her family and devastated her, she had been notably a beautiful and happy child and then became shy and withdrawn with a depression that would ensue for the rest of her life. Alex had been closest to Marie of all her siblings. It is recorded that they were inseparable. And this event caused irreparable damage. to Alexi’s mental health.

Whereas diptheria was the disease of blame in her life, Friedrich had died after falling 20 feet from a window. Although he regained consciousness, the internal bleeding could not be stopped as he happened to be a haemophiliac.

Alice was the first of Queen Victoria’s children to die and Queen Victoria took it upon herself to surrogate the grandchildren. The nurse prepared monthly reports on the girls, and it was a close and loving relationship. For Queen Victoria, who had been at odds with her children since the death of her husband, the passing of
Alice brought about a resurgence of love in her family.

Alice’s children were now at Osborne House living with their grandmother Queen Victoria. Therefore Alix was brought up in an austere English manner. She was said to be Queen Victoria’s favourite grandchild. In 1884 when she was 12, she went to St Petersburg and there she met Nicholas for the first time.

She was renowned as one of the most beautiful princesses in her youth. And rejected a proposal from her first cousin, the Duke of Clarence and Avondale in 1890. Queen Victoria had intentions for Alix to be Britain’s future queen, but instead, Alix had fallen in love with Grand Duke Nicholas, heir to the throne of Russia. And this is where the story of the last Tsar of Russia begins.

Princess Alix when she was a young girl.

Although Alix had refused her first cousin, this is the grand world of the European royals and Nicholas was in fact her second cousin. Also Nicholas’s mother the Empress Maria Feodorovna was a Danish Princess who had married a Russian Emperor and was the sister of the British Princess of Wales. And if that wasn’t enough, Maria Feodorovna was the niece of the Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich who was married to Alix’s sister Elizabeth.

Indeed, it was at the wedding between Sergei and Elizabeth in St. Petersburg that Alix and Nicholas had first met back in 1884. When a seventeen year old Alix returned to St. Petersburg in 1889 to visit her sister Ella and again bumped into Nicholas, during those six weeks they both realised that they were interested in each other.

However it was not to be at that time because both sides opposed any arrangement of the kind. Maria Feodorovna viewed Alix as the product of a mediocre German family (the Hesse connection,) and Queen Victoria saw the liaison as a dangerous throne to occupy.

Empress Maria Feodorovna.

Alix was the most desirable princess in Europe, the daughter of a German king and grandfather of an Empress. On the other hand Nicholas was the son of an Emperor, a dynasty that had ruled since Mikhail Romanov, the first Romanov Tsar of Russia in 1613. You might think that it was the perfect match.

The Russian Emperor Alexander III was looking for a better catch. He did not trust Nicholas to determine a suitable arrangement. In fact he looked at his son as a lost cause so far as the succession and that he didn’t take the responsibilities of kingship particularly serious enough for someone who was destined to be the richest ruler in the world.

Nicholas was stubborn and wrote in his diary of 1892 that he had loved Alix for so long and dreamt of one day marrying her. In 1894 he begged for permission to marry her and succeeded. At once he proposed to Alix who sought advice from Queen Victoria on the question of their differing religions. Queen Victoria persuaded her to convert to Russian Orthodoxy. And so Alix accepted Nicholas’s proposal.

From here on their lives would change direction. When they should have been preoccupied with their wedding arrangements and starting a future together, world affairs where thrust upon them when Nicolas’s father dies suddenly from nephritis aged just 49.

1894 was probably the most notable year in the lives of Alix and Nicholas. Alexander II’s health took a rapid decline with a terminal kidney disease from which he died in November and the engaged couple found themselves in England until Nicholas was summoned to his father’s death bad before inheriting the title Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. Then there was the wedding. What a year.

Russia in 1894 was a vast empire caught between the medieval and encroaching modern world. Most people were in poverty but rapid industrialisation was progressing against a government that remained in slow motion.

In June Nicholas travelled to England to visit Alix which coincided with the birth and christening of their mutual cousin Prince George the Duke of Cornwall and York (later to become King George V). They were both godparents to Edward Prince of Wales, the boy that would inherit the British throne briefly in 1936 as Edward VIII.

Earlier in the year in April of 1894, the royal wedding of the year took place in Coburg, Germany, between Alix’s brother Ernest Ludwig and their mutual first cousin the Princess Victoria Melita. The European royalty descended on this event that Queen Victoria had arranged and it was here that Nicholas proposed to Alix and they became engaged.

Alexander III died on 1 November 1894 with Nicholas at his side. He was confirmed within hours as Tsar Nicholas II. On the following day Alix was received in to the Russian Orthodox Church and she took the name Alexandra Feodorovna.

The next affair of the state was the funeral of Alexander III on 19 November and then on 26 November the royal wedding took place. Seeing as Nicholas was now Emperor this wedding outdid that of Ernest and Victoria earlier in the year. Emperor Nicholas II recorded the following in his diary:

“Every hour that passes, I bless the Lord from the bottom of my soul for the happiness which He has granted me. My love and admiration for Alix continually grows. There are no words capable of describing the bliss it is to be living together.”

When Alix married Nicholas, she became Empress of Russia but it would not be until 14 May 1896 that the coronation of Nicholas and Alexandra took place. By which time they had their first child and daughter Olga.

The House of Romanov made rules for the Russian Empire about succession. These rules established by Tsar Paul I in 1797 were known as the Pauline Laws, in which were stated that priority in the order of succession to the Russian throne belonged only to male members of the Romanov dynasty, no matter how distant.

The Tsarina’s ability to produce an heir to the throne was a matter of state interest. The pressure to produce an heir dominated their first ten years together. Her pregnancies and a miscarriage were publicly announced and a huge focus placed on employing obstetricians with the latest medical equipment and methods.

With all efforts and hopes placed upon her, she succeeded in having four healthy daughters. It was incontrovertible evidence of her fertility. However they could not inherit and so the family resorted to the advice of mystics. One such person being Monsieur Philippe who in 1902 promised her a son, but this only resulted in her famed phantom pregnancy.

Alexandra Feodorovna’s constant anxiety was treated with remedies and spas prescribed by physician Eugene Botkin as she grew ever more trusting in spiritual healers.

PART TWO – Kingly relations

Tsar Nicholas II and Britain’s King George V were first cousins. When Nicholas II took to the throne in 1894, Prince George was not yet king. Photos of the two men are often admired for their physical similarity. Their mothers were sisters which explains why they look so alike. But in a most remarkable change of circumstances, it would be King George that one day would be responsible for ending the Romanov line.

The beginning of Nicholas II’s reign was marked by social unrest resulting in a wave of arrests and charges on political grounds. The Tsar believed in the link between him and god, a tsarism ideology going back to medieval times. This model of governing proved to be unfit in a rapidly changing and modernising society.

Nicholas II and cousin George V
Can you tell who is who?

The Tsar’s power was regarded as sacred, universal and complete. Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna strongly believed in the concept of autocracy and the foundation stone of Russian society, and upheld their divine and incontestable right to rule. Nicholas II would prove to be a very reluctant reformer.

The first line of his official title was ‘By the Grace of God Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias’. He maintained the archaic Slavic title of ‘Tsar’. And he held absolute power over the country and its subjects – politically, legally and even spiritually. In the questionnaire of the first Russian census in 1897, Nicholas II stated his occupation as ‘Owner of Russia’.

The Russian Empire in 1900

The death of Alexander III really turned things upside down for Nicholas II and Alexandra. They married just six days after the funeral and so there was a duty to keep in mourning. Alexandra stated that it all passed so quickly and that her wedding felt like an extension of the funeral.

The Russian court was incredibly opulent with more rules than in the British system, far more intolerant with more formality. Even Queen Victoria believed the Russians were a bit over the top. And even a granddaughter of Queen Victoria’s was ill prepared for the grand court of St. Petersburg.

As the future Tsar and heir to Alexander III, Nicholas was adored by his mother Maria Feodorovna. When it came time for arranging a suitable wife for him, she was totally against the suggestion for Alix and probably was the main reason why Alexander III refused his blessing right to the end.

The Tsarina Maria hated the Germans and saw Alis as pro-German and the daughter of a minor German prince. Although Queen Victoria came to approve of the pairing, Tsarina Maria did not and she made life quite difficult for Alix.

Alix had a number of illnesses in early adulthood, including sciatica. She found socialising and the formal duties and ceremony of the imperial court strenuous and tiresome, and Tsarina Maria resented her perceived laziness.

Nicholas with mother Maria Feodorovna in 1870.

As the future Tsar and heir to Alexander III, Nicholas was adored by his mother Maria Feodorovna. When it came time for arranging a suitable wife for him, she was totally against the suggestion for Alix and probably was the main reason why Alexander III refused his blessing right to the end.

The Tsarina Maria hated the Germans and saw Alis as pro-German and the daughter of a minor German prince. Although Queen Victoria came to approve of the pairing, Tsarina Maria did not and she made life quite difficult for Alix.

Alix had a number of illnesses in early adulthood, including sciatica. She found socialising and the formal duties and ceremony of the imperial court strenuous and tiresome, and Tsarina Maria resented her perceived laziness.

NEXT SLIDE 18