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

This is the story of Nicholas II the last tsar of Russia. This work coincided with exhibitions held in London (2019) about Russia and in particular at the Science Museum called ‘The Last Tsar – Blood And Revolution,’ which was dedicated to the anniversary of the their assassination.

To perceive Russian life at the turn of the twentieth century one thinks about Bolsheviks, autocracy, Rasputin, Lenin, Communism, and Siberia. The end of Romanov rule indeed marked the beginning of modern history for Russia.

THE LAST TSAR – The assassination of a ruling dynasty

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

Finding comfort in the closeness of their family the Romanovs withdrew from court life and retreated to their countryside residence near St Petersburg at Alexandra Palace. In so doing, by also distancing themselves from their people the Romanovs triggered a chain of events that would lead to their tragic end – this is their story.

Queen Victoria and her grandchildren
(c) Royal Collection Trust

PART ONE – The royal marriage

Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland 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’.

She was one of the first to learn about the engagement of her granddaughter Alix (nicknamed Alicky) and the heir to the Russian throne Nicholas (Nicky), Queen Victoria’s daughter Elizabeth was nicknamed Ella. 

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.’

Victoria’s husband Prince Albert was diagnosed with typhoid fever and subsequently 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.

Princess Alice was Victoria’s second daughter and third child, who married in to a German Imperial family in 1862, to the Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine. Hesse was a grand duchy in western Germany that existed from 1806 to the end of the German Empire in 1918.

The daughter of Alice and the Grand Duke of Hesse was Alexandra, commonly called Alix, She was born a Princess of Hesse and by Rhine on her parents tenth marriage anniversary. Five years later in 1877 her father became King Ludwig IV but just one year on the household suffered terribly at the hands of the disease diphtheria which claimed the life of Alice and other daughter Marie.

Princess Alice of Hesse and by Rhine
great-grandmother to Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and grandmother of Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India

Alix had lost a brother Friedrich when she was one year old and now her mother and sister had followed in 1878. By all accounts Alix was notably a beautiful and happy child but her losses devastated her and she withdrew with a depression that would ensue for the rest of her life. Of her siblings Alix had been closest to Marie and it’s recorded that they were inseparable. Her death caused irreparable damage to Alexi’s mental health.

Friedrich had died after falling 20 feet from a window. He regained consciousness but the internal bleeding could not be stopped as he was a haemophiliac, a condition that first occurred with Queen Victoria. Alice was the first of Victoria’s children to die and following her death Victoria by means of surrogacy brought the grandchildren to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight to live.

Their nurse prepared monthly reports on the grandchildren and it is said to have been a loving relationship, in contrast with the distance that Victoria had maintained with her own children since Albert had passed away.

Alix is said to have been Victoria’s favourite grandchild and it was intended that she should be the future queen of England. She became renowned as one of the most beautiful princesses in her youth and she was raised in an austere English manner.

In 1884 when she was 12, she went to St Petersburg and there she met the Grand Duke Nicholas for the first time, he was 16 years old. Later in 1890 she rejected a proposal from her first cousin, the Duke of Clarence and Avondale as she had fallen in love with Nicholas, the heir apparent to the throne of Russia.

The very young Princess Alix

Their first meeting in 1884 had been at the wedding of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich and Princess Elizabeth of Hesse and by Rhine. Sergei was an uncle to Nicholas and Elizabeth was the sister of Alix. They met again when Alix returned to St Petersburg in 1889 to visit her sister Ella. During those six weeks, Alexi and Nicholas realised that love had blossomed. Again they met in April 1894 at the wedding of Alix’s brother.

Both families opposed any arrangement between them. The Empress of the British Empire saw the liaison as a dangerous throne to occupy and remarked of Tsar Alexander III that he was a sovereign whom she did not look upon as a gentleman. The Empress of Russia, Maria Feodorovna viewed Alix as the offspring of a mediocre German family and being a Princess of Denmark was opposed to everything German.

Empress Maria Feodorovna.

Maria Feodorovna was a daughter of the King and Queen of Denmark, sister of the King of Greece, sister of the wife of King George V of England, wife of the Emperor of Russia Alexander III, and mother of the heir apparent Nicholas II. Before her husband died in 1894 she was the Empress Tsarina of Russia and after that became known as ‘the dowager Maria Fyodorovna’.

Her first name was Dagmar which she changed to Maria on her conversion to the Russian Orthodox Church immediately before marrying the soon to be Alexander III in 1866. Prior to making the move from Denmark to Russia her title was Princess Dagmar of Denmark.

She was highly intelligent, composed, charming and good looking with deep piercing eyes. It was said she was the best dressed woman in Europe and very stylish. She put family and charity at the heart of her life and many around her idolised her and the public loved her.

Siblings:

  • Frederick VIII King of Denmark 1906-1912
  • George I King of Greece 1863-1913
  • Alexandra of Denmark spouse of Edward VII (effectively Queen of England 19.01-1910)
  • Princess Thyra of Denmark spouse of the exiled heir to the kingdom of Hanover Ernest Augustus. Deprived of the thrones of Hanover upon its annexation by Prussia.

Maria’s strong anti-German sentiment was because of the annexation of Danish territories by Prussia in 1864 known as the Second Schleswig War (aka Prusso-Danish War). It was over two southern territories, Schleswig and Holstein that wanted to be incorporate into the German empire. Denmark cared not too much about Holstein but Schleswig they were prepared to defend and war ensued. Denmark failed and ceded both territories.

It was a national disgrace; Danish borders pushed back by 200km, the land reduced by 40%, the population reduced by a third, But it has to be said that King Christian IX, Maria’s father, far from being honourable was partly to blame for the war.

Schleswig and Holstein had no representation in the Danish government .This was was being addressed in the constitution but Christian IX signed it in 1863 for Schleswig but not Holstein which violated the London Protocol of 1852 and gave the Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck justification for war. Furthermore he surreptitiously tried to secure Schleswig in exchange for joining the German empire – which Otto von Bismarck rejected.

Opposition to a union between Nicholas and Alexi seems strange considering their lineage. He the son of the Russian Emperor and she the granddaughter of the British Empress. In addition the sister of the Russian Empress (Elizabeth) was soon to become queen married to the English Prince of Wales. Alix being the most desirable princess in Europe held no sway evidently.

It would seem that Nicholas’ father, Alexander III, was the real obstacle in wanting a better political match. He neither trusted Nicholas to determine the future of a dynasty that had ruled since the first Mikhail Romanov in 1613 nor had any belief that Nicholas took the responsibilities of ruling seriously, for someone who was destined to be the richest ruler in the world.

Nicholas was stubborn though and wrote in his diary of 1892 that he had loved Alix for so long and dreamt of one day marrying her. In 1894 following another meeting with Alexi at the wedding in Coburg, Germany, he begged his father the Emperor for permission to marry and eventually succeeded. At once he proposed to Alix in Coburg.

Entry in Nicholas’ diary following the Coburg wedding April 1894:

‘My dream is to one day marry Alix. I have loved her for a long time, and still deeper and stronger since 1889, when she spent six weeks in St. Petersburg. For a long time, I resisted my feeling that my dream will come true.’

Aside from the initial opposition to their union, a very real problem existed concerning religion. Alix was a devout Lutheran yet could not occupy a position in Russia unless she was aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church. Despite Nicholas’ persuasions to convert, Alexi remained unmoved. Indeed Nicholas’ mother the Empress, a Danish princess had converted from the Lutheran to Russian Orthodox. Alexi’s sister Elizabeth had also faced the same issue when she married Alexander III’s younger brother, Grand Duke Sergei. Finally Queen Victoria persuaded her to convert without denouncing Lutheranism and only then did Alix accept the proposal.

Following the Coburg wedding the next major event came in June in England when they visited their mutual cousin George the Duke of Cornwall and York (later to become King George V). The occasion was the christening of his son Edward, Prince of Wales, the boy that would inherit the British throne briefly in 1936 as Edward VIII. Edward was a nephew to Alix and Nicholas and they were also both godparents.

They arrived at Walton-on-Thames then on to Windsor as guests of Queen Victoria. They made brief visits to Sandringham, the Norfolk residence of the Prince of Wales and Marlborough House, the London residence of the Prince and Princess of Wales on the Mall. Nicholas had visited Marlborough House just the previous year to attend the wedding of the prince and princess of Wales but Alix had declined that invitation. Then Nicholas had toured the sights, such as visiting Westminster Abbey but this time around he was pretty much alone with Alix and extremely surprised and delighted to find themselves unchaperoned. Nicholas wrote on 11 July, departing on the the Imperial Yacht the Polar Star “A sad day – parting – after more than a month of blissful existence!

They were planning to marry in the Spring of 1895 and so far 1894 was gearing up to be maybe one of the the happiest of their lives but from here on their lives would change direction governed by world affairs and family matters that were thrust upon them. Alexander III’s health had deteriorated due to nephritis, a kidney disease and he was moved to the Livadia Palace in the Crimea to convalesce. As his condition worsened Alexi and Nicholas were summoned to Livadia.

Despite painful ill health Alexander III insisted on receiving Alexi in full regalia which he did on 21 October 1894. Alexi was just 22 years old could speak hardly any Russian and poor French, but her youthful looks made a good impression and it was obvious to Alexi that the frail Emperor did not have long. Just ten days passed when Alexander III died on 1 November aged 49. The funeral procession was on 13 November and the burial service on 19 November.

As heir apparent, the eldest son Nicholas immediately became Emperor of Russia Tsar Nicholas II. It was confirmed to him that he was the Tsar about two hours after the death. In this time he was utterly distraught having worshipped his father and having the greatest fears for picking up the mantle. Fortunately his cousin Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich was with him to share the bereavement. His cousin wrote in his diary:

I saw tears in his blue eyes. He took me by the arm and led me downstairs to his room. We embraced and cried together. He could not collect his thoughts. He knew that he was Emperor now, and the weight of this terrifying thought crushed him.

Most recounting of this event tells that Nicholas said that he was ‘not prepared to be a Tsar,’ and that he ‘never wanted to become one.’ This is taken from Mikhailovich’s diary but it has to be noted that whatever Nicholas did say just minutes following the death of his father is emotional babble at worst. Also these quotations were first published in Mikhailovich’s memoirs ‘Once a Grand Duke,’ in New York in 1932, thirty-eight years after the event.

Later that evening from the lawn at Livadia could be heard from their naval base to the East of Sevastopol, the Russian Black Sea fleet firing volleys of gun salutes. On the lawn, the Romanov family members committed their allegiance to the new Tsar Nicholas II. On the following morning the first thing Nicholas did was receive his fiancée in to the Russian Orthodox Church and by decree proclaimed her Grand Duchess Alexandra Feodorovna.

Alexandra was the name Alix chose when she converted. Nicholas wanted to get married without delay but was advised that his father’s funeral should precede the wedding and the funeral should take place where previous Romanov tsars lay at the St Peter and Paul cathedral in St Petersburg. Alexandra’s father, Grand Duke Ludwig IV of Hesse had died two years earlier so the couple were on par emotionally and supported each other.

.Following the burial service on 19 November Nicholas insisted on a wedding and it went ahead on 26 November 1894 three weeks after the death of his father, at the Grand Church of the Winter Palace in St Petersburg, the main residence of Russian Emperors. Seeing as it was an Imperial wedding it far outdid the summer wedding of their mutual cousins Ernest and Victoria in Coburg. Nicholas wrote 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.

Imperial wedding Nicholas and Alexandra, Winter Palace
26 November 1894

Once Alexandra and Nicholas were married, she became the Tsarina, Empress of Russia. But the coronation would not be held until 14 May 1896, by which time they had their first child and daughter Olga. Although St Petersburg was the capital of Russia, traditionally coronations were held in the Cathedral of the Dormition inside the Moscow Kremlin.

Nicholas and Alexandra’s mutual uncle Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, and his wife Duchess Louise Margaret, formerly Princess of Prussia (wearing Queen Victoria’s Turkish diamonds,) attended the coronation representing Queen Victoria.

From this early time Alexandra’s ability to produce a male heir was a matter of state interest and it dominated the first ten years. Her pregnancies and a miscarriage were publicly announced and she was swamped by court obstetricians with the latest medical equipment and methods.

The House of Romanov had rules of succession. They were established by Tsar Paul I in 1797 and 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. This was Paul I’s reaction to previous rulers Catherine I and Elizabeth I that had seized the throne by overthrowing weak male monarchs.

Alexandra suffered with constant anxiety and with all efforts and hopes placed upon her, she succeeded in having four healthy daughters. It was incontrovertible evidence of her fertility but they could not inherit under the Pauline Laws and so she started seeking spiritual methods and mystics for guidance. Monsieur Philippe was one, who in 1902 promised her a son, but it led only to a phantom pregnancy.

PART TWO – Coronation

Tsar Nicholas II and Britain’s King George V were first cousins. When Nicholas II inherited the throne in 1894, Prince George was not yet the king of England. Photos of the two men are often admired for their physical similarity. Their mothers were sisters which explains the resemblance. Nicholas II’s rule would be through a period of great social and political unrest in which his own beliefs in a tsarism ideology from medieval times proved to be unsuited in a rapidly changing and modernising society.

The tsar was the link to god and therefore his power was sacred and complete. Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna strongly believed in this model of autocracy as the foundation of Russian society and strongly upheld their divine and incontestable right to rule.

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 of 1897, Nicholas II stated his occupation as ‘Owner of Russia’.

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

The Russian court was incredibly opulent and much more formal and intolerant than in the British system. Queen Victoria believed the Russians were a bit over the top which must have seemed to her as a bit behind the times, or non-progressive. This was the rigidity behind Nicholas’ rule and he proved to be a very reluctant reformer not least because he was not in touch with modernity.

The death of his father turned Nicholas’ world upside down and he did not comprehend the brutality of his father’s reign and affect on the empire. Instead of looking to repair or move forward in a new direction, Nicholas seem to take the view that his role was simply to exist and enjoy the position without much involvement other than produce an heir, an arrogant belief in the divine right to rule.

Nicholas’ grandfather Alexander II as heir apparent was well prepared when the time came in 1855. He was probably the greatest reformer since Peter the Great, known as ‘Alexander the Liberator’ for reforms that facilitated the emancipation of Russian serfs in 1861. He was the ruler that sold Alaska to the US in 1867 because he realised he couldn’t defend it and he fought wars that gave Bulgaria, Montenegrin, Romania and Serbia their independence. He was proposing reforms to counter anarchistic movements when he was assassinated in 1881.

Nicholas’ father Alexander III received not the education of a tsarevich as he was not the heir apparent, but the less regal schooling of a Grand Duke. Yet he was suitably ready when his brother died and he became ruler. Like his father he continued to counter anarchistic disorders but opposed reforms that would limit his autocratic rule and produced counter-reforms for those laws he judged too liberal.

Maria Feodorovna and Alexsander III Aleksandrovich
Emperor of Russia, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Finland

With any new ruler people expect a change however small, a break in continuity and a ray of hope for better times. Unlike his father and grandfather Nicholas was constantly bullied by his father who thought his disposition too feeble to mould into a viable ruler. Nicholas received hardly no schooling for his future purpose. Instead of leadership Nicholas had nothing to offer the people.

Had Alexander III not reversed the reforms set by Alexander II Russia may have moved closer towards a constitutional monarchy but in strengthening the autocracy so brutally it only paved the way for a revolution left for Nicholas II to deal with and which ultimately lead to the end of Russian autocracy.

It must have been quite daunting when the young couple finally betrothed in the summer of 1894 were still seeking blessings from on both sides. Nicholas brought in tutors to teach his fiancée the Russian language and had her schooled in Russian orthodoxy in preparation for her conversion, And they were planning their wedding for the following summer – When all at once, they find themselves in the centre of world events when Nicholas becomes tsar.

Whether or not Nicholas actually told people that he did not want to rule is immaterial because the fact is he was wholly unprepared for the role and therefore unsuited to it. This was something picked up on from an early stage in his dealings with his administration and the government. Indeed it would come to be viewed that his wife was the real ruler and much later that Rasputin was also overly influential.

When the new tsar and tsarina took up their positions at the grand court in St Petersburg it was also a place where even the granddaughter of Queen Victoria was ill prepared as an Empress consort of Russia, she was just 22 years old and he was 26. They were rulers of an empire that covered one sixth of the world’s surface, 120-150 million subjects. They did not have the might of the British Empire at sea but certainly the represented a closer relationship between the two largest empires on Earth.

The Russian Empire in 1900

The first thing to address following the wedding was their relationship with the grieving widowed Maria Feodorovna. As is customary for aristocratic widows that hold titles, she became known as the Dowager Empress of Russia, or simply ‘the Dowager Feodorovna’. Before her marriage she had been Princess Dagmar of Denmark. Her sister Alexandra shared a hatred for Germany and as queen consort of George V of Great Britain she was shielded from foreign affairs for this very reason.

It would be many years later that their warnings about Germany would be realised by England and Russia when in 1914 the countries joined against Germany in war. In Russia, Maria Feodorovna’s aversion for everything German extended to her daughter-in-law the new tsarina Alexandra, who she saw as being a product of the German House of Hesse-Darmstadt.

To unravel why the Danish sisters held such an anti-German sentiment we must look to their mother the Queen of Denmark during the Second Schleswig War. After all, Alexandra Feodorovna married a German, George V of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Maria Feodorovna married Alexander III who was half German due to the preceding two tsars having German wives.

Danish sisters Maria Feodorovna & Alexandra of Denmark

Maria Feodorovna in mourning with Alexandra of Denmark

There is no escaping the Danish and Russian lines having 50% German running through them, as might be expected for dynastic gene diversification. The Queen of Denmark was known as ‘the mother-in-law of Europe’. Like Queen Victoria, she had distributed her dynasty (i.e. her children) connecting Denmark to Great Britain, Russia, Greece and Sweden and Norway but she steered clear of Germany.

It’s known that her offspring were affected by her anti-German sentiments, but as they were all as much German as anything else the hatred stemmed from elsewhere. Many Danish rulers were centred in Schleswig, which Germany took, and which essentially cut Denmark off from much of its historical past.

Denmark was directly confronted with Germany in a state of war to defend invasion of the southern territories Hosltein and Schleswig. The Queen of Denmark witnessed first hand the horrors that war inflicted on her country and people in a needless invasion. The Second Schleswig War in 1864 remains significant to this day regarded as the birth of modern Denmark.

Queen Victoria came to approve of the pairing of Alexandra and Nicholas but Maria Feodorovna did not. Some commentators have suggested that it was Maria that prevented her husband Alexander III from giving his blessing right up to the end until he decided to give it. For the young Tsarina Alexandra, Maria Feodorovna made life extremely difficult for her.

The planned grand wedding for mid 1895 was cut down to the bare minimum out of respect for the death of Alexander III but brought forward at Nicholas’ insistence to follow the funeral. Alexandra tried to control some of the arrangements but Nicholas relented in favour of his mother judging it prudent not to interfere with her while she was in mourning.

The two years from the wedding to the coronation was testing for Alexandra who believed that Nicholas’ role should not be dictated by his mother. Alexandra counselled him, as she did for the rest of their lives, and the had a system of regularly passing notes between them. But with the Dowager Feodorovna calling the shots it was hard for Alexandra to get a foot in the door and she said that it had all happened so fast and that her wedding was an extension of a funeral.

Emperor crowning the Empress 1896

On the day of the coronation onlookers observed that the cheers for the young Tsar and Tsarina were muted by comparison with those for the Dowager Feodorovna as an object of sympathy in her widowhood and a popular figure among the walks of society while her son and daughter-in-law were largely unknown.

The coronation was lavish and in an era when such ceremony no longer existed in much of Europe, no other ruler had claimed by virtue of birth such absolute authority as Nicholas II. He outdid his predecessors with new procedures and much symbolism. With a deep-seated dynastic arrogance he proclaimed that he alone, as god’s representative, knew best what was good for Russia.

His uncles Gran Dukes Vladimir, Sergei, Pavel and his brother Mikhail Aleksandrovich were responsible for placing a gold-brocaded imperial mantle upon his shoulders and securing it with an emerald studded diamond clasp. Then they placed a diamond chain around the collar but Vladimir missed a catch and it fell to the floor, which got interpreted by witnesses as an ill omen for the reign.

The Coronation consisted of three weeks of pageantry, starting with the tsar’s official entry to Moscow and continuing with galas, parades, balls, concerts and other spectacles. Gifts were given to everyone which included a commemorative cup and basic food items wrapped in a scarf. And free beer was promised for all. At the centre of the field a large pavilion was erected for the Emperor and his guests.

Four days after the coronation the new Emperor and Empress were scheduled to appear at Khodynka Meadow, five kilometres outside of Moscow. The field was generally used for military training so was full of pits, trenches and other obstacles. For the ceremony old wood was used to fill in gaps and the trenches were covered over with wood. Across the uneven surface stalls were erected to distribute the commemorative bundles.

400,000 people were expected but it was estimated that 500,000 amassed there, many camped on the site overnight. It was a stifling hot day but not enough water was provided. Stalls were too close to each other to manage the crows. People fearing the gifts would run out started to cross the field towards the stalls in the early morning even before they were open.

The crowd began to stumble on the uneven field and fall through the flimsy covered pits, A dust storm was created and many that were already dehydrated collapsed under the stampede. At the stalls people were forced into the narrow sidings between stalls and fell into the trenches. Those behind kept pushing forward until hundreds of victims had been trampled to death or suffocated.

By 11.00 they were still removing hundreds of bodies from the field. The tragic crush at Khodynka Meadow claimed just under 1400 lives and about 1300 injured people. Instead of cancelling the day’s event the organisers decided to continue with the celebrations and ignore the tragedy.

The Emperor and Empress arrived as scheduled around 1pm (or 2pm depending which account you read,) and appeared to the crows waving from the pavilion. Bodies were still being carried away while the orchestra played on in oblivion and some accounts say bodies were being stored under the pavilion.

Coronation cup 1896

Maria Feodorovna a much more experienced and astute observer advised Nicholas to cancel all appointments and address the Khodynka crisis head on but Nicholas unwisely took advice to continue as if nothing had happened. Later when the full details of the tragedy emerged the cover story would be that Nicholas was unsuspecting at the event that anything was wrong and that he was not informed about what had happened there just a few hours earlier.

Following the afternoon at the Khodynka pavilion, they went to the Kremlin and Alexandra lit 200,000 electric light bulbs that illuminated the Kremlin and painted the illusion that its walls and towers were outlined with jewels. And later that evening they attended a ball of the French ambassador and ate and danced until 2am.

Most versions recount that Nicholas and Alexandra were deeply upset by the deaths at Khodynka. That they were hugely affected cannot be in doubt considering how devoutly religious they were. But once again they were unwisely led by their advisors who pointed out that France was their only strong European ally and that cancelling the ball would be seen as an insult.

Of course Nicholas knew what had happened at Khodynka it’s recorded in his diary how moved and distraught he was with it all, He states clearly that he was told about 10.30am, thirty minutes after the deaths began and three hours before he stood on the pavilion.

A lot of preparation had gone in to the ball of the French ambassador, many things at huge expense were sent from France, for example 200,000 flowers had been prepared and sent at the very last minute. But the decision to prioritise this pomp above the deaths of so many people who had come to celebrate their coronation with them cast an shadow over them. It was the first real sign that the new tsar did not know how to take control of a public situation.

What outraged Moscow society was how Nicholas had been so indifferent at Khodynka and later at the French ambassador’s ball. The decision not to stop the celebrations was seen as highly disrespectful to the victims and their families. Moscow reporter Vladimir Gilyarovskiy noted one headline waiting at his office for the press: “This means trouble! This reign will bring no good!”

No one was ever held responsible for the disaster. A few minor officials were held responsible for the shoddy policing and safety arrangements and dismissed. Perhaps a reason was that one of the officials in charge of the coronation celebrations was Nicholas’ uncle, Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, General-Governor of Moscow.

Sergei Alexandrovich’s opponents pushed for his resignation from office but he stubbornly held out and was even appointed commander of the troops of the Moscow military district. His own aide Vladimir Dzhunkovskiy described Khodynka simply: ‘The whole field was thickly covered with people’. A stronger ruler would have dismissed Sergei Alexandrovich uncle or not.

The Khodynka disaster ruined the reputation of Sergei Alexandrovich who was thereafter known as the Duke of Khodynka. Years later following yet another public event disaster known as Bloody Sunday, the militant organisation of the Socialist Revolutionary Party pronounced the death sentence on Sergei Alexandrovich in January 1905 for his part in using armed soldiers to disperse the crowds; however in February 1905 he was assassinated by Ivan Kalyaev (a poet who hanged for the murder in 1905).

By way of getting back on track in the aftermath of the disastrous public relations decisions of the previous day, presumably having finally taken heed of Maria Feodorovna’s counsel, the Imperial couple visited local hospitals in the morning to talk with some of the wounded.

They still received criticism for taking only half a day to make amends, but it was a start. And  Nicholas declared that the state would take care of burying the dead and he would pay 1000 rubles of aid, from his own purse, to each of the families of the dead,

But irreparable damage had been done which had a great negative impact on the perception of Nicholas and the monarchy. Shortly after Khodynka, Leon Trotsky began Marxist political activity against Imperial Russia which again makes the bad handling of the Khodynka tragedy a contributing factor towards the revolution that deposed the Romanov dynasty.

Victims of Khodynka 30 May 1896

With the coronation over, Nicholas saw it as a return to normal life and to pick up on where things were originally heading, like carving out a remote sanctuary where they could start a family secluded from the horrors and pains of the outside world. Alexandra was instrumental in arranging their reclusion. She found socialising and the formal duties and ceremony of the Imperial court strenuous and tiresome.

Alexandra had a number of illnesses in early adulthood, including sciatica. Nicholas felt duty bound to attend to her during her weak spells and so they withdrew increasingly from court life. Maria Feodorovna saw this as laziness and neglectful of duty. Nevertheless they made a comfortable home at their countryside residence Alexander Palace. just fifteen miles from the court at St Petersburg, far enough the be untroubled by their ministers.

Alexander Palace, close to St Petersburg

PART THREE – The girls of Alexander Palace

There are several palaces near the town of Tsarskoe Selo, present day Pushkin. Their construction are attributed to an age when Russia was seeking to equal the architectural magnificence of the Palace of Versailles and Peter the Great (Peter I – Pyotr Alekséyevich) began great ambitious projects. He was the ruler that elevated the title of tsar to emperor.

Peter I acquired some land and a manor house at Sarskoe Selo in 1717 for his second wife Catherine I (Marta Helena Skavronsky). She ruled Russia for two years after her husband’s death and having no heir of her own, recognised as her successor the grandson of her husband’s first wife Eudoxia, the last male Romanov, who would become Peter II (Pyotr Alexeyevich), after she died.

What had started as a manor house for Catherine I in 1717 was greatly improved over the following seven successions until Catherine II (aka Catherine the Great – originally Sophie Frederike Auguste, princess of Anhalt-Zerbst, Germany,) came to the throne in 1762. She developed it in the French Rococo style and lavished it with a rich art collection. This was the majestic Catherine Palace in Tsarskow Selo.

Catherine Palace, Tsarskoe Sele

Towards the end of the reign of Catherine II, in 1792 she built Alexander Palace, also in Sarskoe Selo for her grandson the future Emperor Alexander I (Alexander Pavlovich). It was smaller than Catherine Palace but similarly was designed by Italian architects, albeit in the slightly differing Baroque style (a mite less flamboyant in design than Rococo).

Alexander I whom the palace was named after did use it but preferred to stay at Catherine Palace and gave over Alexander Palace to his brother, who would succeed him as Nicholas I in 1825, and  from which time the palace became the official summer residence of successive tsars.

Alexander Palace was a beautiful neo-classical building on the outside but not remarkable on the inside, it did not have the grandeur and opulence of other palaces available and it was smaller. But it was functional and Nicholas had been born there and spent his childhood in the right wing.

Maria Feodorovna preferred to stay there when she visited the Imperial couple, in the room she had shared with her late husband. But the visits faded as the estrangement with her daughter-in-law Alexandra Feodorovna became more apparent.

The architect Roman Meltser was commissioned to design new halls, studies and private rooms in the French Art Nouveau style which Nicholas and Alexandra favoured. One of the best examples being the Maple Room where the family would gather for activities. Alexandra modernised the interior but history cannot be extinguished, such as Russia’s first telegraph apparatus that had been installed for Nicholas I’s study in 1843, linking the palace with St Petersburg.

From the start of their marriage it was evident that they were in love and the nation had high expectations of them, in terms of producing an heir and strengthening the monarchy following the damage done by the preceding tsar Alexander III. Their coldness at Khodynka had cast the dye for them in terms of public opinion.

They could not evade all their public engagements but after the coronation things felt less demanding and they withdrew completely to Tsarskoe Selo. But Maria Fyodorovna was having none of it. She believed that the Imperial rulers should be visible and thought that Alexandra was not performing her principle functions and interfering with those of Nicholas.

Alexandra didn’t like her husband being out of her sight and it was reciprocated. They had an absolute longing for one another that not even Maria Feodorovna could come between. Their single purpose was to produce a male heir and the sooner it happened the sooner they could get back to their lives and as fate had it they produced four successive daughters before a son was born in 1904.

  • 1895 Olga (15 November – Alexander Palace)
  • 1897 Tatiana (10 June – Peterhof Palace)
  • 1899 Maria (26 June – Peterhof Palace)
  • 1901 Anastasia (18 June – Peterhof Palace)
  • 1904 Alexis (12 August – Peterhof Palace)

The first two daughters were known as ‘the big pair’ and the second two as ‘the little pair’. They called themselves collectively OTMA, using the first letter of each of their names.

Olga was strong minded and hot tempered with an ear for music and received much attention but was determined to marry a Russian and stay in Russia. Tatiana looked most like their mother and was the sensible one and was deeply religious like their mother. They often shared a room and dressed alike.

Maria and Anastasia also shared a room and dressed similarly. Maria was stubborn and had a talent for drawing. Anastasia was the mischievous sister and Maria would apologise after her when Anastasia had played a prank on someone.

Following the birth of Olga, Tsar Nicholas is reputed 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 Olga was one year old in 1896 the family visited Queen Victoria at Balmoral. It was the last time Alexandra would see her grandmother as she would not attend the funeral in 1901 on account of being pregnant with a fourth child.

The sisters always spoke Russian between themselves and their father, English to their mother, and French to Pierre Gilliard the children’s French tutor. Their only experience of foreign countries had been in short visits to Darmstadt, and once to England. They hardly saw life outside of the palace gates and the public referred to them as being kept in their gilded cage.

They seldom saw other children and no young girls were ever asked to the palace. Sometimes their cousins would visit or there would be an occasional outing for tea at aunt Olga’s or aunt Xenia’s. Alexandra was devoted to Nicholas’s two sisters, the Grand Duchesses Olga and Xenia. By far the childrens’ favourite was their aunt Olga who visited often and held Sunday parties at her town house.

Alexandra was the boss in that household, Her daughters were brought up to look after themselves. She had seen her peers have no notion of how lesser classes live and took a thrift approach in their schooling. For instance each child received a small amount of pocket money which they had to manage and have to save up to buy things. Clothes were handed down from the big sisters to the little sisters after a little stitch-work here and there.

They had no maids or governesses for the children and few members of court were retained. The girls made their own beds and repaired their own clothes. Alexandra wanted to raise them in a normal way and delayed passing them to a wet-nurse or teacher for as long as possible. She saw to their initial education herself giving them spelling lessons and instructing them on how to pray.

The children joined their parents for meals and were taught impeccable manners. They would all gather around the table rather informally and without attendants. Some people were appalled to learn that the Empress of Russia was breastfeeding her children.

At the turn of the 20th century Alexandra was not well liked and the pressure of producing an heir had made her retreat further and deeper into a negative mental state. She focused on her ailments and used it as an excuse to distance herself from her children, the wider family and her state duties.

In a letter Queen Victoria wrote to Nicholas II dated 2 July 1899 (O.S.), following the birth of third daughter Maria, she said:

“I am so thankful that dear Alicky has recovered so well, but I regret the 3rd girl for the country.”

Alexandra sent a letter to her closest friend at that time Princess Marie Bariatinsky on New Year’s Eve 1900, two weeks before Queen Victoria died, closing with these words:

An entry made in the diary of her sister-in-law, the Grand Duchess Xenia on 5 June 1901 (O.S.) reads:

“Alix feels splendid – but my God! What a disappointment … a fourth girl! They have named her Anastasia. Mama sent me a telegram about it, and writes, ‘Alix has again given birth to a daughter!”

In contrast to the comparison made between Alexandra and Maria Feodorvna by the public, Alexandra was more drastically compared to sister-in-law Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna which made the pressure to produce an heir ever more demanding.

Age in 1901:-
Alexandra: 29 / Xenia: 26

Date father died:-
Alexandra: 13 March 1892 / Xenia: 1 November 1894

Engagement:-
Alexandra: 20 April 1894 / Xenia: 6 August 1894

Marriage:-
Alexandra: 26 November 1894 / Xenia: 6 August 1894

Children in 1901:-
Alexandra: 4 daughters / Xenia: 1 daughter, 3 boys and pregnant with 4th son. Two more sons would follow in 1902 and 1907.

1901 – The sisters at Alexander Palace with newborn Anastasia

During the years 1897-1905 the family did move around other residences. Up to 1905 they went every year to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg for the winter season. And from 1900 they revived the ancient custom of spending Easter in Moscow, even though Alexandra did not trust the high society there and said of it “St Petersburg is a rotten town, and not one atom Russian. They were abroad nearly every second year or received state visits in Russia

What started out a very close-knit and ordinary family was turning into something else, sometimes seemingly uncaring and even harsh. The girls became more attached to their father than to their mama whom they realised they had to treat with kid gloves. She sent her husband some very critical letters and would almost immediately apologise for writing them, stating that it was important that she aired what she did.

Soon the girls too would be communicating with their mother with notes. Alexandra used a code system numbered 1 to 3 to describe her state or pain level of her illnesses. She would lock herself away and pass messages to them that her heart was at number two which might imply that she didn’t want to receive visitors that day. The children would reply with things like I’m sorry to hear that your heart is at number two, I miss you so much and long to see you.

The girls were all healthy and beautiful but their confinement was arguably cruel and compounded by their mother’s abandonment. The girls had a loneliness visited upon them by their mother who as a result of her depression had made herself very lonely too. It’s perhaps surprising that the girls did not develop mental health issues, although they did have each other.

The girls have been portrayed as bland and a bit boring and of little interest but in fact when you look closer it would have been very exciting to have been in their company. with all their energies and each child having very different and entertaining qualities.

They had the world’s first portable Kodak cameras making them pioneers of photography. They created a photographic collection detailing every aspect of their daily life. A crate of twenty-two albums was discovered in 2018 by the Science Museum, Bradford, UK and these were the centre piece of the Blood and Revolution exhibition at the Science Museum, London in 2019.

Throughout the grounds of the palaces they were always taking photographs of each other, it was a family thing that they all participated with. Alexandra was also hooked, she ordered equipment from England and professional photography services which was a significant part of their expenditures.

Olga with a portable Kodak camera

One of the most impressive clairvoyants of the 19th century was the son of a French butcher in Lyon called Philippe Anthelme Nizier. Master Philippe as he was known was rejected in France. The medical society there said of him “he performs occult medicine and is a veritable charlatan”. But he was favourably accepted on the continent notably in Italy.

In September 1900, Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich, Nicholas’ uncle, was one of several Russian nobles that visited Master Philippe in Lyon and called for him to come to the Russian court, which he duly did leaving France with his daughter on 29 December 1900 and staying in Russia for two months.

Following that visit, when other members of the Russian household were in France they would seek to visit Master Philippe. A friend of Alexandra’s was Grand Duchess Militza Nikolaevna, (daughter of King Nicholas I of Montenegro,) known for her interest in the alternative. She put Master Philippe on the radar and Alexandra made several visits to him in 1901.

Master Philippe was one of many mystics who had been to the Russian court hoping to secure a male heir through spiritual healing. He was clairvoyant and soothsayer but most notably practised healing. He believed a healthy mind would maintain a healthy body and that focusing on the body alone would never lead to any real or lasting healing,

Nicholas became very attached to him and sought his opinion on many things. He had an uncanny reputation for predicting the future and on 21 September 1901 he announced the birth of a son would come in 1904. Although he was proved right this intervention in Alexandra’s psyche it’s thought only served to trigger a phantom pregnancy in 1902.

Nicholas and Alexandra referred to Master Philippe as ‘Our Friend’ – the same term they later would use to refer to Grigori Rasputin when he replaced Master Philippe after his death in 1905. Not all family members were accepting of mystics and Alexandra had plenty of advice not to be involved with mysticism.  

On 23 July 1902 Alexander wrote to Nicholas that her sister Ella had:-

This letter was on display at the Blood & Revolution exhibition on loan from the State Archive of the Russian Federation.

Alexandra’s mental health under the pressure to produce a son took its toll. She displayed signs of pregnancy despite her doctors telling her she was not. A phantom pregnancy is a condition where a woman who is not pregnant shows some of the physical signs of pregnancy like amenorrhea, a lack of menstruation. Today it’s better understood as pseudocyesis.

In August 1902 Alexandra was vomiting and having headaches. Nicolas’ uncle wrote that these occurrences were symptoms of anaemia which came from her rigid belief that she was pregnant. Grand Duchess Xenia recorded in her memoir that it was a phantom pregnancy.

Since the late 17th century it was known that the symptoms of pseudocyesis had its origin in the mind. Within a few years of the phantom pregnancy it was observed that a woman’s perception of herself can dry the milk supply and the study suggested that the opposite was also true.

That Alexandra was suffering from a somatic disorder is apparent. She had known mostly back pain, headaches and fatigue through most of her life and the incredible stress she was under to produce an heir could have manifested into pseudocyesis with renewed hope from the meetings with Master Philippe.

It’s known today that two thirds of women that have false pregnancies have a desperate desire for a child. Common factors are depression and chronic stress. In a nutshell the mind and body are connected by the pituitary gland, the part that controls hormones. Biochemical changes in the brain from strong emotions such as stress produce increased hormone release that can produce physical changes consistent with pregnancy.

On display at the Blood & Revolution exhibition
Alexandra Feodorovna’s maternity dress (1903-1904)

If Alexandra had any respite from her agonies then Master Philippe was the tonic that brought it. Since his arrival, notwithstanding the false event of 1902, the records show a remarkable turn around in her energies. In 1901 alone Nicholas and Alexandra received state visits from the King of Italy and the French President Loubet. The Imperial couple visited the King of Denmark (Alexandra’s father Christian IX), the German Emperor at Danzig, Prince Henry of Prussia at Kiel, and sailed to Dunkirk for a return visit with President Loubet.

From 1901 to 1903 Grand Balls were given, a great Russian tradition. The 1903 season was marked by an especially beautiful costume ball at which hosts and guests attended in costumes of the period of Peter the Great’s father, the Tsar Alexei. The Empress at this time was at her best and most beautiful.

Nicholas dressed as Alexei I and Alexandra as his first wife and consort Maria Miloslayskaya. She wore gold brocade, emeralds, pearls and diamonds and a mitre studded with jewels. She discovered when they sat to eat that her headdress was so heavy she could not bend her head to eat.

In any case under her influence it was the last of the spectacular Russian Grand Balls. There were in more balls again such as in 1913 to commemorate the Romanov dynasty 300 year anniversary but none again ever as grand as that in 1903.

February 1903 Winter Palace Grand Ball
Alexandra Feodorovna dressed as Maria Miloslavskaya
Photo L. Levitsky

Unlike other European courts in Russia for official gatherings the position of Dowager Empress was more senior than that of Tsarina which Nicholas supported wholeheartedly. To her frustration Alexandra according to protocol, had to walk behind Nicholas and his mother on his arm. This included the Grand Ball of 1903.

Friedrich Kaulbach served as the court painter to King George V and in 1903 (the year he died,) he painted a portrait of Alexandra Feodorovna looking superbly young and healthy and said to be an excellent likeness as her face was always naturally sad looking, It was Nicholas’ favourite image of her. heir apparent to the throne of the Russian Empire.

Alexandra Feodorovna 1903
portrait by Friedrich Kaulbach

PART FOUR – Arrival of an heir

As early as 1901 the French healer Master Philippe had made his acquaintance with the Russian court and advised Alexandra to submit to providence and strive for spirituality. He even told her that she would have a son in 1904. On 25 August 1904 a son and heir was born at the Peterhof Palace in St Petersburg.

The labour lasted for less than an hour and in the early afternoon all her expectations subsided and she gained renewed self-confidence. Her lady-in-waiting, Anna Vyrobouva, described the boy as ‘beautiful, healthy, normal’. He was eleven pounds in weight and when his umbilical cord was cut it took several hours for the bleeding to finally stop.

Nicholas wrote in his diary: today was a great and unforgettable day for us. There are no words to thank God enough for sending us this comfort in a time of sore trials.

Alexandra having finally performed her primary duty felt the previous criticism of her subside and the new Tsesarevich was shown off to the public whatever the occasion. He appeared well developed and went through teething and was developing as normal.

A few weeks after the birth the boy was found to be bleeding continuously from his navel. It was about six weeks in that that his parents began to notice bruises on his arms and legs and as the weeks rolled on, they noted that he suffered terribly from the faintest of tumbles. The awful realisation came to them that Alexei had the ‘royal disease’.

The exaggerated bruising and swelling and tummy bleeding were due to haemophilia, a blood clotting condition passed through the family from Queen Victoria. Doctors confirmed the diagnosis adding that the boy had a milder form of it.

At that time, what we would call the Edwardian period, there was no treatment for haemophilia and little way of alleviating the pain and it was regarded as an early death sentence with an expected age of survival of about sixteen.

It’s known today that about one third of haemophilic cases occur by spontaneous mutation, and this is believed to have been the case with Queen Victoria, and so it started from her and passed to the European royal houses through marriages. The disease impairs the ability to make blood clots necessary to stop bleeding resulting in bleeding for longer, easier bruising, and being at serious risk from internal haemorrhaging.

In years to come after the family were executed, the bodies were lost for decades until remains were located in the Ural mountains in 2007 of what was believed to be Alexei and one of the grand duchesses, likely Anastasia. The bones were sampled in 2009 and a mutation was found showing haemophilia B which is far more rare than haemophilia A, confirming the bones belonged to the Romanov children.

Between Alexandra and Alexei sickness would now be a constant affair for the rest of their lives. Of course they had a staff of nurses, several Russian nurses with an English head nurse and Alexei had a nurse of his own. In the Russian wars to come all females would become nurses as well as having access at home to the latest medical technology including an x-ray machine. And not even Master Philippe had succeeded in healing Alexei when he died in 1905.

Master Philippe de Lyon

There were whispers in the palace but no one really understood the reason for Alexei’s sudden illnesses as it had been decided to keep all aspects of the future heir’s health secret. The Dowager Empress was not told until Alexei was around two. The truth was hidden from the world.

Alexei was quite normal between episodes, and the Empress always hoped that in the intervals Divine Providence would intervene. Once, two whole years passed without a single episode but alas it returned eventually.

While the daughters were treated un-pompously, Alexei was allowed to behave how he pleased. Some accounts say that he was spoilt rotten whereas other accounts say that he was quite well behaved. He would have known he was being treated differently because he was the Tsarevich and also because of his condition. He was not allowed to ride a horse or play with his cousins to avoid potentially injury.

Alexei with his very own camera and sister Anastasia.

PART FIVE – Revolution and war

Since the last Grand Ball of 1903 until the arrival of the Tsarevich Alexei, Russia was steering through some of the major historical events in its history, having just come through a financial crisis and now looking at general strikes and the prospect of a war with Japan.

Master Philippe had predicted the birth of Alexei but he also said that revolution would follow. Both revolution and war Nicholas would see two times in his reign. Known as the First Revolution of 2005, it would come about not entirely of his making but in part due to him not bending at all on the concerns of lobbying petitioners, rendering the government powerless to introduce reforms.

The birth of the First Revolution 1901 – 1904

The Russian financial crisis of 1899-1902 was self-inflicted by the large-scale investments made by banks in loans to heavy industrial companies as working capital in the 1890s. These loans had high interest rates but could not be readily liquidated when urgently required. Between 1899 and 1904 a worker’s wealth increased by nearly 10% but almost 40% of that was wiped away by inflation.

The response by government was to work with banks to prop up the large industries where necessary, to protect the initial investments. This limited credit for smaller companies. Between 1900 and 1904 large industrial companies prospered while smaller companies declined. In 1900 the huge mining industry increased output by 5.3%. Yet over the same period the price of coal fell by 35.3% (oil by 57.3%, cast iron by 33.7%). In response to rising inflation and decreasing prices the larger companies downsized their labour and maximised efficient

How could large industry increase output and profit when prices fell so much and while they were reducing labour by an average of 3% per year? It’s not surprising that between 1897-99 coal mines became over six times more dangerous for workers and the first legal unions appeared in 1903 following the financial recession. Strikes took place in 65 of the 78 Russian provinces. They started in the south and became general strikes in 1903 and 1904.

Employers refused the demands initially but as regional strikes became general strikes with increasing demands, employers were compelled to negotiate and workers received a wage rise and better conditions. Unlike in the past when protesting was met with a wall of soldiers, these strikes did a lot of good. However the hard liners gave it a political character by using slogans like ‘down with autocracy’ or ‘long live the democratic republic’.

Normal people don’t protest against oppressive regimes for fear of their lives, that’s where activists come in. Having much success in collective bargaining the hard-liners had a short-lived momentum that they would take to the Red Square and the Tsar himself in the form of a letter addressed directly to him from the people. There were around 2.3 million industrial workers in Russia and the majority did not seek to bring down the tsar or to bring in socialism. In their minds the tsar was not associated with the government and its policies and their own every day lives. At the same time a revolution was in the making, war was looming to the East far away from St Petersburg and Moscow.

War with Japan 1904 – 1905

The Russo-Japanese War lasted for eighteen months starting on 8 February 1904 when Japan attacked Russia. In the words of the Russian Minister of Internal Affairs, Hold back the revolution, we need a small victorious war. Overtime working became compulsory when manufacturers had military orders to fulfil and the number of strikes fell drastically because the government sent rebellious workers to the war front.

War with Japan is one of the six or seven major contributing factors that historians of Russian events say contributed to the first Russian revolution. The front was in Manchuria (northeastern China today). Despite thousands of casualties on the ground it was primarily a naval war that played out around the Korean peninsula.

In 1904 three quarters of Russian land was in Asia. Most of the Empire, namely Siberia, is frozen during winter including the Baltic Sea. The Russian fleet was only operational at the shipping base at Vladivostok and from the warmer waters of Port Arthur, Chinese land on the Liaodong Peninsula that had been leased from China in 1897 for 25 years. Manchuria and Korea are natural buffer zones between China, Russia and Japan, yet Japan and Russia were prepared to go to war for control.

Trans-Siberian Railway

Japan had not long finished a war with China in 1895 in which Russia had given military support to china, so Japan knew that Russia would oppose any Chinese aggression in Korea. Therefore Japan offered Russia complete control in Manchuria in exchange for control over Korea. Russia refused consequently Japan surprise attacked Port Arthur in the night.

The Japanese crippled three of the largest Russian naval vessels with torpedoes; Tsesarevich, Retvizan, and Pallada, and prevented the Russian navy from coming out to engage them at sea. The port was repetitively under bombardment while ships attempted to break out of port without success.

On 10 August 1905 the tsar commanded six battleships, four cruisers, and fourteen destroyers to make a break for the open sea and engage the blockading fleet of four battleships, ten cruisers, and eighteen destroyers. This was the first major naval battle between steel battleships, known as the Battle of the Yellow Sea. Casualties were Russian 444 – Japanese 226. The Russians did break out but were scattered and so battered that they turned back to port.

Flagship of the Russian fleet Petropavlovsk hits a mine returning to Port Arthur and sinks 13 April 1904 taking 599 casualties.

By the end of 1904 every ship in Russia’s Pacific fleet was sunk and Russia looked to their Baltic Fleet to bring to the depleted region which after several delays departed on 15 October 1904, a 20,000 nautical miles journey that would take 8 months to reach the Sea of Japan in May 1905. On the way they mistook some British trawlers in the North Sea for Japanese vessels and sunk them. This meant the British Suez Canal was no longer open to them and so they had to sail around the Cape of Hood Hope,

Russia counted on delay tactics as the Baltic fleet was going the long way around and reinforcements and supplies to Manchuria were restricted to the Trans-Siberian Railway for transportation. But Japan was receiving intelligence from Britain under the Anglo Japanese alliance of 1902 and were waiting for them to arrive, sinking 24 of the 27 ships of the Russian task force causing 5000 casualties and only losing 3 ships and 116 casualties.

In Manchuria the Battle of Mukden was the last major land battle of the war and possibly the largest ever fought on land at that time in terms of munitions. The Japanese surrounded the Russians who retreated to the north. It was a bitterly cold battle with 8,705 Russian and 15,892 Japanese casualties.

It was the Tsar that had marched unprepared into the Manchurian south and sent the aging Pacific and Baltic fleets to face a far more modern adversary. This had all happened with the world watching. The Crimean War (1853-1856) was the first time daily coverage appeared in the media, and the Russo-Japan War was no exception. The world’s press witnessed Russia’s defeat.

Russia had to pull out of Port Arthur and recognise Japan’s claim on Korea. In Russia people knew of the blunders that had cost so many lives and the hardship it had brought them. While the people were braving strikes to improve their lives, the tsarist regime had hugely overspent and the costs affected the economy for years after the war ended.

Not just Russia but the West also, saw Japan as under developed. Nicholas II was not prepared to entertain the notion that such a small land mass like Japan, could stand up to let alone defeat the huge Russian Empire. However Japan had the 6th largest army in the world and their navy had some modern British ships. A major part of the total cost for the war (38%) was borrowed from Britain, Canada and the US.

It was a gross under-estimation that marked the first time in modern history that an Asian nation had defeated a European one. It also marked the beginning of Japan’s power on the world stage. In the meantime Russian people were being told how superior they were, cossacks were slaying whole villages in Manchuria, and the government’s policy of russification forbade the use of local languages and religious customs, not to mention there were 5 million jews and 23 million muslims living in Russia that received their share of abuse. People had quite simply had enough persecution.

The March Revolution 1905

Bloody Sunday – Russian Revolution 1905. Tsarist troops wait outside the Winter Palace, St Petersburg.

At the start of 2005 in the far reaches of the 23 square miles of the Russian Empire, war with Japan was raging on sea and land and would continue until September that year. News from the front had been enough to kindle the revolution. Many factors were culminating at this moment when unarmed protestors approached     

On 17 February 1905 (0.5.), the Emperor’s uncle and brother-in-law Grand Duke Serge, was blown up in Moscow. The troubles of 1905 seemed to be a general rehearsal of the revolution to come in 1917.

The Emperor was asked by the Ministers not to undertake any journeys by land in the years between 1905-1909. The court moved from Alexander Palace to Tsarskoe Selo and then to Peterhof.

Duma –

Tsar Nicholas II attempted to Stave the Russian Revolution by creating an elected semi-representative body In 1905 known as a Duma (assembly’ in Russian). But the revolt would not go away and disorders were increasingly more violent.

The country was weary of the war and the preliminaries for peace were discussed In America, and peace with the Japanese was signed by Count Witte at Portsmouth, U.S., on 5 September 1905.

In a letter of 27 January 1905 (0.5.) to her cousin Princess Louise of Battenberg, the Empress Alexandra writes the following:

All over the country, of course, it is spreading. The Petition had only two questions concerning the workmen and all the rest was atrocious: separation of the Church from the Government, etc., etc. Had a small deputation brought, calmly, a real petition for the workmens’ good, all would have been otherwise. Many of the workmen were In despair when they heard later what the petition contained, and begged work again under the protection of the troops.

SPACER

PART FOUR – The Rasputin years

A rare photo of a pregnant Tsarina Alexandra Fyodorovna alongside Tsar Nicholas II – 1904.

It was against the backdrop of all that was happening in Russia and the fears the Tsarina had for her son that Grigori Rasputin was revealed to her. She trusted him from the outset, that his prayers might cure her son. It’s said that from 1905 she raised her daughters in the shadow of her son but one should appreciate his importance and significance for the Imperial family.

Evidently Alexel was the most needing of attention and protection. But let us consider that daughters Olga and Tatiana had typhoid and Anastasia had Diphtheria and that their mother nursed them all through these diseases.

She had the stronger character In the family, and the Emperor left all matters concerning the household and the education of the children to her. If anyone enquired about such things, the Emperor would simply say, “It is as Her Majesty desires.

However, In the backdrop of Rasputin’s arrival at the Imperial court, the Tsar had become very attached to Monsieur Philippe and is known to have often sought his opinion. On 21 September 1901, on first arriving at court, Philippe predicted the birth of a son in 1904, which would be followed by a Revolution.

So the Tsar understandably was totally convinced in the workings of mysticism and shared the same hopes with his wife, that the right person would one day be found to cure their son and heir.

It is one of those oddities in life that the most precious thing to Monsieur Philippe, was his daughter Jeanne Victoire who passed away before him In August 1904, in the same month and year that the most precious thing had come to the Tsar, his son.

Many photos of Alexei In his early years show him on ships, along with his sisters, always running about having fun or posing for photos. As we have seen, the Tsar’s interest in photography was shared with his children the private life of the Romanov is well documented because of it.

The Siberian peasant Rasputin was an illiterate man from a small Russian village called Pokrovskoye who married at 19 and fathered four children. He left his family to travel widely outside of Russia and landed back in 1903 at St. Petersburg, where he was welcomed by mystics and healers alike. This led to a brief introduction in 1905 to the Imperial rulers. And in 1908 he was summoned to the palace during one of Alexei’s episodes.

When the Empress first heard about a promising mystic in St Petersburg she would have been advised about Grigori Yefimovich Novykh, the ‘Rasputin’ he had to earn, it means in Russian ‘debauched one’. That nickname followed him on account of his licentious behaviour, his dishevelled appearance and his primitive manner.

In those times people believed strongly in the strength of prayer. Rasputin once prayed for a Madame Lochtina and she was cured of a disease and so it started that he was called on by admirers to pray for them, believing in the power of his prayers.

The unbalanced ladies of St. Petersburg adored him, and it was they who taught him to dress properly, comb his hair, and wash.

Rasputin and his devotees at one of their regular salon sessions.

What made Rasputin remarkable was his ability to foresee events, his hypnotic and penetrating eyes and his suggestive force to bring about change in people. He slowly integrated with the richer and highly placed people. Under the influence of his conversations he realised he could control people, and believed his destiny was to be the spiritual adviser to the Tsar.

Rasputin prayed with his lady admirers, went to church with them, preached and instructed them on holy life. Little by little, he dropped his first lady admirers of humble position and would only entertain very great ladies. They became his spiritual slaves, and one might describe it as a cult.

His greatest admirer was Madame Vyroubova, a friend of the Empress, whom she saw every day. In their talks the Empress came to realise that Rasputin may be the answer of her prayers for Alexei. This would always be the source of his power with the Imperial family, his role as a healer to the child.

Rasputin requested an audience with the Romanov family at Peterhof. The Emperor sought advice and his Archbishop advised the Imperial couple to receive the pilgrim. Rasputin met them on 1 November 1905 at the Peterhof Palace where he presented them with a hand-painted wooden icon of Saint Simeon. The Tsar recorded the event writing that he and Alexandra had made the acquaintance of a man of God.

Tsarina Alexandra’s first idea was for Alexi but she also believed he had been sent to her to alleviate her journey as Empress and to impart wisdom to the Emperor.

Despite various writings about the shenanigans at the palace between Rasputin and the Tsarina, at first Rasputin saw their Majesties not more than three or four times a year. These visits aroused curiosity within the court but every visit was known about by dozens of people. It’s easy to speculate whether they became lovers, but false to assume that they were.

Rasputin with Alexandra and children.

Following the audience with the Tsar and Tsarina, Rasputin met them again on 18 July 1906 and again in October, when some accounts say, this is when he first met their children, but the exact time in not known for sure. The Tsar appointed him as his lamp-lighter and it was his job to keep the lamps burning in front of religious icons in the palace and thus he had free access to the royal residence.

It was from here on that Rasputin started to use his status to expand his influence, accepting bribes and sexual fav-ours from admirers. Accusations of heresy and rape were among a few from the enemies he was creating. It got so out of control that rumours of an affair with the Tsarina were circulating around the country and by 1914 even the most vulgar images were commonplace.

The influence Tsarina Alexandra and Rasputin had over political affairs gravely tainted the Tsars, rule. From the beginning, the public did not have a positive image of either the Tsarina or Rasputin. It got so ridiculous that they were even seriously thought of as German spies because of the Tsarina’s German origin.

When Tsarina Alexandra and the children met with Rasputin it was seldom at the palace. They arranged to meet at a nearby house.

If the Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna’s impression of the Empress Alexandra had mellowed in the years since she married the Tsar, then the acceptance of Rasputin reversed all of it. The Tsar’s mother was horrified that the Imperial couple had put their trust in a pilgrim.

The wider family also became unnerved. The Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna visited her brother the Tsar n 1907 and he took. her to the nursery to see the children, they were all in their nightgowns, with Rasputin sitting among them. That was the first time she had met him and she recalled of it that the children appeared to be completely at ease with him.

Rasputin with Alexandra, the children and their nurse Maria Ivanova Vishnyakova 1908 (colour by Klimbin)

The Tsar liked simple food unlike what the nobility might enjoy. Towards the end of their lives they were forced to eat soldier rations. Not one family member complained.

This photo shows Alexei in the centre surrounded by the women of the Imperial family; Empress Alexandra, with her sister, and sister-in-law, and the Imperial children.

Left to right – women : Empress Alexandra of Russia, Princess Victoria (elder sister of Empress), Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna (younger sister of Nicholas II)

Left to right – children : Grand Duchess Marie, Tsarveitch Alexei, Grand Duchesses Olga, Anastasia, Tatiana

The Romanov family always enjoyed eating happily together.

Another of the Tsar’s sisters, Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna strongly disapproved of Rasputin’s familiarity with the Imperial family. She learned from the governess Sofia lvanovna Tyutcheva that Rasputin was visiting the nursery when the grand duchesses were not decent. She wrote:

…the attitude of the Tsarina and the Grand Duchesses to that sinister Grigory, whom they consider to be almost a saint. He’s always there, going to the nursery, he sits there talking to them and caressing them. They are careful to hide him from Sofia Ivanovna, and the children don’t dare talk to her about him. It’s all quite unbelievable and beyond understanding.

The children were under strict instructions not to discuss Rasputin with anyone. Grand Duchess Tatiana writes in a note to the Tsarina warning of the trouble brewing bet-ween the governess and Rasputin and fearing that the governess might disclose something bad about him to their nurse Maria Ivanova Vishnyakova.

The Tsarina sacked the governess for that breach of confidence. In the past weeks the Tsarina had encouraged the nurse to go to Pokrovskoe, Rasputin’s home town. The nurse on her return accused Rasputin of raping her but no one would believe her. This is more than likely the reason why the nurse wasn’t talking fondly of Rasputin.

Like many spiritually minded Russians, Rasputin spoke of salvation as depending less on the clergy and the church than on seeking the spirit of God within. This was in line with the Tsarina’s beliefs as she had converted to the Russian Orthodox church when married and before that she had been a Lutherian. Lutherianism is a Protestant religion which also cuts out the middle man. In this shared similarity between them, they were moving unwittingly slightly out of sync with the Christian church that preach that you can only talk to God through their clergy.

Together, the Tsarina and Tsar were highly devout and their children had a pure Orthodox upbringing. During the Tsar’s reign the Church reached her fullest development and power. The number of churches increased by more than 10,000. The number of monasteries increased by 250. Ancient churches were renovated and the Emperor himself laid the cornerstones of many churches.

The Romanov family together in open prayer.

Rasputin’s importance at the palace became ever greater-. when on several occasions he was called to alleviate Alexei’s suffering and he did so. Therefore the Tsarina believed that he really had effective healing powers where others had failed. On one occasion Rasputin simply spoke to the boy over the phone and the pain went away. The Emperor believed that in the end all would go well and he was glad to see the comfort the Empress derived from her trust in Rasputin’s healing powers.

The grand duchesses called Rasputin and referred to him as – Father Gregori. They asked his advice on everything and trusted him implicitly. It had some to do with their father being away more frequently, involved more with the government and the military and also with their mother, who although she had suffered from sciatica since 15, now had arthritis and a developing heart condition.

In December 1908 Grand Duchess Olga had a crush with an officer and poured her heart out to Rasputin saying that she loved him. Such was the level of trust given to Father Gregori.

Her heart began to trouble the Tsarina in 1908. For the most part she lay on a couch in her room or in the garden, with one of her sisters or one of her old friends to keep her company. She was often not able even to come down for meals. She did not know her life was about to get more busy, first a trip on the royal yacht to England and then to Romania, and then the Tsar would ask her to run the government.

The family, not allowed to travel by land for their safety, took to sea aboard the imperial yacht Standart. It was to form a large part of their lives. In younger days at the Winter Palace the girls knew little of the world beyond the gates. Their only experience of foreign countries had been in short visits to Darmstadt.

In the late summer of 1909 they sailed to England as guests of King Edward VII for the Isle of Wight regatta and arrived on 2 August. They were kept moored at Cowes due to the high level of security. The Tsar was made an honourary member of the Royal Yacht Club, he greeted the Lord Mayer of London aboard the Standart, a. he a. the Tsarina boarded the royal yacht Victoria & Albert to inspect the British fleet and attend the races. In the evening they paid a visit to the Empress Eugenie de Montijo, widow of Emperor Napoleon III, on her yacht.

The children went to Osborne and played on the beach. After lunch Olga d Tatiana set of. into the town and went shopping. But as soon as they wanted to buy something they had to ask how to make a purchase. I was a revelation for them which they thoroughly enjoyed. They left Cowes on 6 August.

The Standart – This elegant ‘ship of state’ yacht was considered the most perfect ship of her type in the world.

The Standart was a 5,557 ton yacht measuring 401ft in length by 50ft – making it the largest private ship in the world and much larger than other Imperial yachts. It could reach up to21.18 knots

The ship met all the requirements of a floating palace combining elegance with comfort. On the main deck was a huge dining saloon that could seat up to seventy-two guests at one long table. Whenever it sailed, it attracted lots of attention.

Onboard the Standart with the Romanov family 1909.

The Tsar worked for two days each week while at sea, receiving
and sending dispatches by the courier boats that arrived daily from the mainland. Later on in 1912 the Standart was equipped with radio to communicate with the mainland and other ships.

When the Tsar and his family were on board, a large household staff of footmen, stewards, butlers and cooks attended to their every need, in total she carried a crew of 275 from the Russian Imperial Navy. Also on board was a platoon of marines, a brass band and a balalaika orchestra.

The Imperial Yacht even had a private chapel for the family.

Dinner onboard the Standart at the Isle of Wight Regatta – 1909

In summer the Tsar and his family set sail on the 5tandart for the coast of southern Finland. A secluded bay with a little island that the children nicknamed the Bay of Standart. While anchored in the bay, they lived on the Standart but each day launches would take them to their island. It was uninhabited, and offered complete freedom to enjoy the space without being observed.

The Empress was herself and awake when she sailed on the Standart with the family. She joined in the children’s games, and had long talks with the officers.

One member of the Imperial Navy was assigned to each of the children to protect them. Being on the Standart was far more adventurous and fun than being cooped up at the palace.

In the photo below Edward VII had only about six months to live. He died 6 May 1910 at Buckingham Palace, ending the short-lived Edwardian era (b901-1910), and ushering in the Georgian period. His son, a young Prince of Wales standing far left, would succeed the throne as George V. Queen Alexandra of of Denmark was Maria Fyodorovna’s sister and Nicholas ll’s aunt. Nicholas II and the soon to be George V were first cousins. This really is a grand family photo.

Seated LTR: Princess of Wales, Tsar Nicholas II, King Edward VII, Tsarina Alexandra, and the Prince of Wales, Queen Alexandrs stands to the left of Nicholas II and the future Edward VIII stands far left

Tsar Nicholas II and King Edward VII with their families at Cowes – 1909

The famous photo of cousins Nicholas and George displaying a remarkable resemblance. Posing with their heirs Edward and Alexei. LTR: Edward, George, Alexei, Nicholas.

PART FIVE – The downfall of Rasputin and Nicholas

The Empress was suffering from exhaustion when she returned from Cowes having all sorts of physical ailments like migraine and pains and she worried constantly about her son and her husband. Other than her sciatica, it was mostly attributable to hypochondria. She is then seen in a wheelchair rarely moving around under her own steam.

When these bouts of illness occurred, the Tsarina retreats into herself using ill health as a tool or perhaps a weapon to keep others at bay or manipulate them. This leads many accounts of her life to suggest that she spent most of her life as a recluse. This is not true of course, as we have seen the Tsarina can get active when needs must. The first World War was yet to come when she would be tested to her fullest.

But before 1914, she was in ‘illness mode’. Unfortunately for the children it meant she shut herself away and not allowing them to see her. The only form of communication were notes passed between them and through these she started to manipulate the girls to behave as good children, in a selfish way so that they ‘did not distress their mother’.

Life in Russia was superseded by events in England with the death of Edward VII 1010, and the coronation of George V and Mary of Teck that followed at Westminster Abbey on 22 June 1911. Back in Russia it was a time for concern for the Romanovs.

There were always concerns of the relationship between the debauched Rasputin and the four grand duchesses. There was concern over the rumours that were circulating as Rasputin started bragging that he had slept with the Tsarina. The Tsar and Tsarina heard of it but refused to believe that Rasputin would do such a thing and reasoned that it must be an imposter set out to defame Rasputin and slur the Romanovs.

Palace aides had advised the Tsar that Rasputin was in the rooms of the two eldest girls Olga and Tatiana at bed-time. But it was in March 2010 that the Tsarina learned that Rasputin had taken advantage of them.

The Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana.

The wider Romanov family now knew what the Tsar and Tsarina were choosing to ignore, being anxious not to endanger their son, upon whom Rasputin had a beneficial effect.

Initially it was the Grand Duchesses Militsa and Anastasia of Montenegro, wives to Grand Dukes Peter and Nicholas Nikolaevich who had introduced Rasputin to the Romanov family. Now, in 1911 the Montenegrin sisters, went to Tsarskoe Selo to warn Tsarina Alexandra about Rasputin’s illicit liaisons with various women around St. Petersburg, but the Tsarina refused to believe them.

The Bishop Theophan advised the Tsarina that he was hearing confessions from the women who had been with Rasputin. This time she confronted Rasputin about it and he simply denied the allegation and Bishop Theophan was promptly dispatched to the Crimea for speaking out against Rasputin. Similarly, concerned parties approached the Tsar but he just told them not to be concerned with the private interests of his family.

The written confessions of women describing their suffering at the hands of Rasputin Include:

The nurse of the imperial children Miss Maria Vishniakova; Miss Timofeyev; Chionia Berlatzkaya, an officer’s widow; the nun Xenia Goncharova; Helen, a coachman’s wife; A. Vostrikova, a priest’s wife and her sister Madame Bourkova and her daughter Madame Vargoun; Madame Golovkova; A. M. Lebedeva, a shopkeeper; Madame Lochtina’s daughter Lada; and others.

With women and girls he seemed to have an unlimited field for his ‘exploits,’ as they came to be called.

Sister Barbara, God save you from having anything to do with Gregory Rasputin. He is a true disciple of the devil.” – Bishop Theophanes

In those times most people were peasants and illiterate and mystics. prophets and healers were a large part of life and this included the Imperial family. Nicholas II was an obsessive believer in soothsayers and portents. He carried all sorts of relics of saints with him. Once the Empress sent him a loch oh Rasputin’s hair and he carried that too believing in its magic.

Many mystics had visited the Emperor’s palace but Rasputin had penetrated much deeper than anyone before and the problem with that was that advice stretched across matters oh the church and the government.

1906 – LTR: Rasputin, Fr Hermogenes and Iliodor. Within a few tears these three men would become enemies.

Rasputin’s story is dominated by sexual liaisons but how did an unkempt pilgrim seduce the women of nobility. One theory is that Rasputin was a gifted hypnotist. His persona was one of a very simply man, a godly man. In fact within the palace and his supporters he was thought of and referred to as a saint incarnate.

But saintliness does not command physical attraction, but trust placed into the subconscious does. Rasputin employed his form of hypnotism to exert control over people and presumably to seduce women.

Hypnotism offers the only explanation how blood can be controlled In a haemophiliac. Rasputin could relax Alexei, alleviate his pain, and put him to sleep and thus decrease the bleeding. On one occasion Rasputin is known to have done this over the telephone.

Franz Anton Mesmer (b1734-d1815) was an Austrian physician.

Mesmer established a theory of illness that involved internal magnetic forces, which he called animal magnetism, the beginnings of hypnosis – Rasputin would have probably been interested in Mesmer’s wort, His power of persuasion was his gift. More recently, hypnotherapist Judith Prager, in an interview talked about how suggestion can be used to stop blood flow.

A medical perspective comes from D. Tocantins M.D. (901- 1963), Director of the Cardeza Foundation for Haematologic Research and internationally known for his work on haemophilia. He accepted the use of hypnosis for haemophilic patients, where he found hypnotism caused vascular constriction.

On one occasion Rasputin begged the monk Iliodor to persuade Bishop Hermogenes for an audience. The bishop replied: “Let him come in but I shall not face him. I shall speak to him with my back turned toward him. I shall not let the curse come near me.

In his book, IIiodor describes how he ushered Rasputin into the room where the bishop received him and that: “Hermogenes stood with his back toward him with his face almost squeezed into the corner where the icons hung, he stood chewing a wafer and drinking holy water.

Hermogenes’ behaviour may seem a bit exaggerated but almost certainly the ‘curse’ that he mentions is the persuasiveness of Rasputin, and why he didn’t want to look him the eyes.

Doctor Botkin, the Imperial court physician was certain that Rasputin was hypnotising Alexei.

5ergei Michailovich Trufanov was a one time ally of Rasputin that eventually turned against him and recorded many of his misdeeds. He studied at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy and in 1903 was ordained as a ‘hieromonk’; i.e. a monk that is also a priest in the Orthodox Church – and he took the name Iliodor.

Iliodor

Iliodor’s memoirs describe in detail events surrounding the life of Rasputin, including a short biographical account dictated by Rasputin to his secretary and letters between Rasputin and the Imperial family as well as some diaries. In the foreword he states that everything he writes has been seen and heard by himself or produced from the evidence held in his possession.

He documents conversations with Rasputin almost verbatim giving a valuable insight of him. “… the whole story of which in all its details he described to me in the most shameless way.

Some of the religious leaders lured and confronted Rasputin about the alleged rape of the nun Xania in Tsaritsyn. Hermogenes questioned him: “Oh, you ungodly man, why did you torture so that poor, innocent girl, the nun Xenia?” To which Rasputin replied “I did not torture he, I relieved her.

Iliodor was a controversial preacher who fell out of favour with the Synod and was defrocked and exiled. In 1909 he travelled with Rasputin who boasted of kissing the Tsarina. lliodor didn’t believe it, but he was presented with letters from the Tsarina and her children. Modal- took some of the letters and three years later they were published and seen as proof that Rasputin and Tsarina Alexandra were lovers.

Tsarina Alexandra had failings but being Rasputin’s lover was hardly one of them. The letters were innocent enough, as this example published in 1912 demonstrates:

I kiss your hands and lay my head upon your blessed shoulders. Al/ want is to sleep, sleep forever on your shoulder, in your embrace.”

Rasputin and lliodor journey to Pokrovshoye – November 1909

Rasputin began to tell me the most monstrous, fabulous stories of his life, every one of which I found subsequently to be true and corroborated by facts. Here is what he told me on our journey.

Their treasury is always open to me. But the Tsarina is stingy. If take a thousand roubles, she does not mind. She always gives it, but if I ask her for ten thousand, she hesitates, and begins to inquire: ‘What do you want the money for? Where is it to go?’ However, once I satisfactorily answer her questions, she gives me as much as twenty thousand at a time.

Listening to Rasputin’s unaffected narration of his extraordinary adventures, I was filled with wonder. We reached Tumen, where we stopped at Dmitri Dmitrievitch’s, the trunkmaker. There Rasputin met an old acquaintance, a nun with a sly smile on her pretty face, whom he had met during one of his pilgrimages, and whom he kissed without much ado. Then he disappeared, and it was not until afterward that I found out that he had spent hours with the trunkmaker’s daughter, a very good-looking young married woman.

Gregory disappeared for the night. He did not go to church, although it was Saturday evening. I observed, Gregory prayed nowhere, neither at Saratoff nor at Tsaritzin nor at any monastery where we stopped. He was constantly running after women and girls and ‘lecturing’ them.

It’s easy to see how Iliodor came to despise the mad monk Rasputin. He started a slander campaign and saw to it that his ‘letters’ were handed to the Tsar. He met the Tsarina at the house of her lady-in-waiting Anna Vyrubova and threatened to publish his book on Rasputin.

In 1912 he renounced the Russian Orthodox Church. Together with the politician Alexei Khvostov they concocted a plan to .11 Rasputin in early 1916. His offensive against Rasputin was largely ineffective and in lune 1916 he sailed to New York.

LTR: Macarius, Bishop Theophane, Rasputin. (Theophane was one time spiritual advisor to the Imperial family.)

To get a sense of how Rasputin behaved with the Tsar and the sort of advice that he offered, Father Theophane tells a story of Easter 1905 when he and Rasputin visited the Tsar and Tsarina.

Once the Tsar, the Tsarina with the heir apparent on her arms, Rasputin, and I sat down in the palace dining room. We were talking about the political situation in Russia. Suddenly Rasputin jumped up, knocked his fist on the table, and stared straight at the Tsar. The Tsar was startled, I was frightened, the Tsarina got up, the heir apparent burst out crying, and Rasputin asked the Tsar “Where do you feel a throbbing, here or there.

Pointing with his finger first to his forehead and then to his heart. The Tsar replied, pointing to his heart. “Here. My heart is beating fast.” “Good,” exclaimed Rasputin. “When you are about to do something for Russia, consult your heart, and not your brain. The heart is more certain than the brain.” The Tsar said, “Excellent!” and the Tsarina kissed Rasputin’s hand and said, “Thanks, teacher.

Having achieved the confidence of the Tsar and Tsarina and enjoyed the luxury of court, Rasputin was careful not to lose it. Another revealing passage taken from the boat of lliodor is:

As the tsarveitch grew up, the Tsarina became less devoted to his eccentricities. Rasputin engaged with two other court members that also wanted to remain in favour; Anna Vyrubova, the Tsarina’s lady-in-waiting, and Doctor Badmaeff, a wealthy physician renowned for Tibetan medicines. Whenever the need required it, they administered to the tsarveitch a yellow powder that made him ill without endangering his life. Badmaeff provided the powder while Rasputin and Vyrubova found opportunities to administer it.

Rasputin once told me, with a laugh, that the Tsar and Tsarina had neglected him of late, but that the ‘little yellow powder’ would restore their faith in him. As soon as the tzarveitch became ill, Vyrubova would remind the Tsarina that Rasputin alone could restore him to health. Rasputin would appear, and the illness would immediately vanish, the powders having been discontinued. Then Rasputin would be in high favour again, and would be allowed everything he desired.

If the above account is true, as we only have Iliodor’s word for it, it would explain unequivocally, how Rasputin seemingly knew when the boy was ill and relieved the pain.

In 1912 Rasputin’s behaviour had become a public scandal. The Prime Minister Kokovtzev sent the Tsar a report on his misdeeds advising that the stories of Rasputin’s visits were damaging to the Imperial household; so the Tsar expelled Rasputin back to his village.

During the summer of 1912 the eight year old Alexei mis-calculated stepping into a boat and hit the inside of his leg on the oar lock. Doctor Botkin noticed a swelling on the inside of the thigh. Alexei was put to bed for a couple of weeks until the swelling diminishing. They then went to the Byelovvyezh Hunting Lodge in Spala, but Alexei complained of pain and he found himself back. in bed.

A haemorrhage had developed in his left thigh, he had torn vessels in his leg, and blood was flowing into his abdomen. Doctor Botkin sent for the best doctors but they were un-able to do anything to control the bleeding.

The Inmperial Hunting Lodge, Spala, Russian Poland – 1912.

It appeared that Alexei was close to death. In desperation the Tsarina asked Anna Vyrubova to send Rasputin a telegram and ask him to pray for Alexei. Rasputin, in exile in Siberia, responded immediately:

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.

The next day Alexei’s condition did not change but on the day after the bleeding stopped. The Tsarina was left in no doubt that Rasputin had saved her son’s life. She placed her total faith in him and had him returned to St. Peters-burg, just months after he had been banished by the Tsar.

Before leaving Spa la in 1912 the Tsarina had the road from the train station to the palace at Tsarskoe Selo smoothed over. Then they travelled on the train at just 15 miles per hour so that nothing would disturb Alexei. Arriving back at the palace on 5 November, he was given mud baths to alleviate the pain and it took. a whole year before Alexei lost his limp.

The medicinal mud came from Lake Moynaki near Evpatoria in Sevastepol. When Alexei was at Alexandra Palace the mud was shipped to Tsarskoe Selo and stored in a tank in the basement of the palace.

From November 1912 to March 1913 there were twenty-seven visits to the palace by Dr. Federov, fifteen by Dr. Vreden and one hundred and twenty-four by the neurologist Dr. Dmitriev.

For all of Russia 1912 was the centenary celebration of the French invasion and retreat. The Imperial family visited Moscow for the inauguration of the monument to Alexander III, then the site of the Defenders of Smolensk to that commemorates a key battle against Napoleons Army and then to the battlefield of Borodino to erect the monument of 1812, where the battle that was fought during the invasion left around 70,000 casualties, making it the deadliest day of the Napoleonic Wars.

PART SIX – The end for Rasputin and the last Tsar

The Imperial family moved to the Winter Palace on 19th February 1913 to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the House of Romanov.

A special edition of Russian styled playing cards was printed in 1913 to commemorate the great period dress ball of 1903. The jack of clubs was copied from Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich’s apparel; the jack of diamonds came from Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich, the queen of clubs from Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feorovna, and the queen of hearts was the tsar’s sister, Ksenia Alexandrovna.

In 1913 the House of Romanov celebrated publicly 300 years of rule. It was a huge propaganda operation. In the background they were politically cut off, had no idea of the reforms needed, they had allowed Rasputin to poison their name from within, and had not yet acknowledged the revolution that had been rising since 1905.

While the Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna attended the baise-main (hissing of hands with the ladies,) Nicholas II received the elders in the lower corridor where a dinner was arranged for them.

The Russian ter-centenary official date marking the 300th anniversary of the House of Romanov was 21st February 1913. On the following day there was a solemn ceremony at the Winter Palace and on 23 February a reception dinner held at the Winter Palace and then a great ball presented by the nobility of St. Petersburg at the Assembly Hall on Mikhailovskaya street. The celebrations lasted from February until the Autumn.

and Tsarina arrived. The orchestra opened with music from the polonaise dances from the opera Life For the Tsar by M.I.Glinka to which Nicholas II opened the dance with the wife of the St. Petersburg district marshal and the Empress danced with the district marshal.

The ball of 1913 had been an opportunity to involve the older daughters Olga and Tatiana who danced at the ball. It had been a long day and became too much for the Empress and the family left at eleven. On the following day, 24 February, the sixteen years old Grand Duchess Tatiana fell ill with typhoid and was moved bath to Tsarskoe Selo where the Empress nursed her bath to health.

Photo below: Grand Duchess Tatiana resting at Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo with Alexei at her bedside (1913). Later she would have to shave her head due to the illness, and her siblings also shaved theirs in support of their sister.

For the rest of the country, whilst the army had stayed loyal to the Tsar since the revolt of 1905 and the population at large had moved on and enjoyed the recent celebrations; much of the nobility, Government ministers and activists alike, were gripped by a fear of the immediate future, and daily concerns of what the next day would hold. They watched global events unfold that would bring the German army to their gates in 1914 as the French had done in 1812.

In Spala, for the first time Alexei’s illness had been publicly announced in anticipation of his death, but thankfully he had survived against all odds. Such intense social and public pressure had a severe impact on the Empress’s health.

In July 1914 anti-government sentiment peaked with a general strike in St Petersburg. During the ‘July Crisis of 1914’, former Prime Minister Sergei Witte joined with the current Minister of the Interior Pyotr Durnovo and Rasputin in an attempt to dissuade the Tsar from a war with Germany.

The Tsar had promised support to Russia’s Balkan ally Serbia against aggression due to the threat from Austria-Hungary and Germany, following the assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28 lune 1914. Austria blamed Serbia and Austria-Hungary and Germany declared war on Serbia on 28 July 1914. They bombarded Serbia’s capital Belgrade and so it was that on 30 July 1914 the Tsar mobilised forces to threaten Austria-Hungary if it invaded Serbia.

Then it all got rather messy: Germany declared war on Russia and France. Britain declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary. Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia. France declared war on Austria-Hungary. Japan declared war on Germany. All declarations happening in the first month, August 1914.

The immediate effect of the outbreak of war was to strengthen support for the Imperial family which doused the flames of the general strikes on 1913. But Russia was not prepared for an ‘unorganised’ war effort as it still lagged a long way behind other major powers. Commentators have blamed the Tsar’s ineffectiveness but ever since the revolt of 1905, the Tsar had increased heavy industry considerably; production of iron and steel rose by 50 per cent and by 1914 Russia was the fourth largest producer of steel, coal and iron in the world.

In 1913 the Tsar had approved a ‘Great Army PRogramme’ increasing the army by nearly 500,000 men and 11,800 officers. He boasted the largest army in the world made up of 115 infantry and 38 cavalry divisions.

The blame for being unready for war was down to the ministers and the militaryt and the problem was with logistics and their complete ineptitude. ~It’s why in August 1915 he announced that he was taking personal commend of the army.

Ex Prime Minister Sergei Witte believed that because of Russia’s economic situation it would lose a war with any of its rivals. Yet despite such large industrial production power, the industry employed not much more than 5% of the entire labour force and contributed only about one-fifth of the national income. The blame lay with ministers.

Due to poor communication, there was a problem in the supply of ammunition and food. Untrained troops were ordered into battle without adequate arms and ammunition.

By December the Russian army had 6,553,000 men but only 4,652,000 rifles. It had one surgeon for every 10,000 men, with medical staff spread across a 600 mile front.

The likelihood of a soldier receiving medical treatment was close to zero. Many soldiers died from simple wounds and the army began to suffer defeats in which many thousands lost their lives. The blame lay with the military.

At Tannenberg (26-28 Aug) on the Eastern Front and the First Battle of the Masurian Lakes in 1914, Russia lost two entire armies, over 250,000 men. In the first week 150,000 soldiers were dead or wounded. The battle ended with a German victory and the capture of 125,000 Russians. Following their success, the Germans drove the Russians out of East Prussia with heavy casualties.

In the years leading up to World War I, Rasputin repeated some prophecies like a mantra to the Tsar and Tsarina, subliminally implanting the messages. The main point was that their son Alexei would live only while Rasputin was involved in his life, and another point was that the Russian army would suffer defeat after defeat until the Tsar took over control of the military.
Tsar Nicholas II on horseback blessing Russian troops 1915.

The battle of Tannenberg was between the Russian and German Empires, fought in the first days of World War I, between the Russian Second Army and the German Eighth Army. It’s estimated that on the first day over 42,000 Russian soldiers were killed and 100,000 taken prisoner.

The Germans had intercepted Russian communications and lured them into a trap then annihilated them. Russia had attempted to invade Prussia and were sent packing. On their retreat the great military leader the Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaievich, commander of all the armies fighting Germany and Austria-Hungary, was removed from command by the Tsar.
Tsar Nicholas II at the Front along with the six-foot-six tall Russian Commander-in-Chief Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaievich (standing in car).

Tsar Nicholas II would be off to war for two Years leaving the Empress at home in charge of the government. The Imperial government had protested because whilst the Empress was in charge they knew that Rasputin was in control. It was the time at which Rasputin was at the height of his power in Russia.

The Empress would do anything that Rasputin desired. He wasted no time in appointing his preferred church ministers and public officials and then he turned to government ministers. Between September 1915 and February 1917 Russia went through four Prime Ministers, three War Ministers and five Interior Ministers — It was a regret-able period in Russian history that seriously destabilised the country in a time of war, and no doubt cost lives.

The Tsar had taken direct control of the military at the behest of the Empress and Rasputin. unwittingly to the Imperial family it meant Rasputin was in control of the monarchy. But you cannot dredge the ocean bed for pearls without filling your net with unwanted items. And so having achieved the pinnacle of his ambition, Rasputin found himself hated by the Russian people and at odds with the government.

Rumours circulated that the German-born Tsarina and Rasputin were German agents. That she was selling food supplies to the Germans through an intermediary; and that she had a radio transmitter under her bed to communicate with Berlin. It was nonsense and they should have been more concerned with Rasputin than the dear Empress.

Once the Tsar had gone, all focus was on the Tsarina and Rasputin. In fact the Empress’s letters demonstrate beyond a doubt that she was completely devoted to Russia and as a French Ambassador once said of the Empress: “her education, her intellectual formation and her morals were entirely English.”

When Rasputin expressed an interest in going to the front to bless the troops early in the war, the Commander-in-Chief, Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaievich promised to hang him if he dared to show up there.

As soon as war had broken out The Dowager Empress, mother of Tsar Nicholas II, became the head of the Red Cross and the Empress Alexandra, wife of Tsar Nicholas II and the four Grand Duchesses became nurses. Nearly all the male members of the Russian Imperial Family were with the army.

The Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo was seconded as a hospital for wounded soldiers, and they all worked long hours. Imagine the Empress of Russia in an operating room assisting in operations, handling amputated limbs and handling bloody dressings. That’s what she did, in her own home! She also founded and supported two excellent schools for training nurses especially in the care of children, and enormously increased the efficiency of the hospital system in Russia.

The Imperial women were busy like you would not believe working flat out for weeks getting just five hours sleep if they were fortunate. Almost 15 million soldiers served in the Russian Army during the First World War. Casualties totalled an estimated 1.8 million killed and 2.8 million wounded.

Below: The Tsarina Alexandra on a hospital visit to injured servicemen.

For all the bravery of the Tsar rushing to the front and dealing with morale and supply issues for his troops, he could not see the damage that was un-folding at home.

The Empress was elated at the challenge of running government; as we have seen, her health improves when needs must. Had it not been for Rasputin in the mix she may well have commanded admiration and respect, but as it was, Rasputin seeded hate among ministers and the people.

Some apologists say Rasputin is falsely believed to have had great sway. However, through his influence on the Empress, he appointed the church leaders and ministers of the day which brought about unpopularity.

What mattered was what the people believed and they thought that Rasputin had influence over the Imperial family and on affairs of State. Even loyal monarchists despaired of the situation so by November 1916 Russia’s 1,700,000 military dead and 5,000,000 wounded were attributed to the stupidity and treason of the Tsarina.

Rasputin had to go and several attempts were made on his life, then on 29 December 1916 (NS) he was murdered. He allegedly predicted his murder and the Romanovs. fate in a letter to the Tsarina of 7 December 1916; just 23 days later he was killed and 19 months later the Imperial family were murdered and the House of Romanov removed.

The existence of Rasputin’s prophetic letter comes from one of Rasputin’s associates Aron Simanovich, claiming in his memoirs published in the 1920s, that he had come into possession of the letter shortly after the Tsarina’s death.

I feel that I shall leave life before January 1st. wish to make known to the Russian people, … , what they must understand. … if it was your relations who have wrought my death then no one of your family, that is to say, none of your children or relations will remain alive for more than two years. They will be killed by the Russian people.

The details in that letter came true but it is simply too accurate and presumably it helped to sell Simanovich’s book. The assassination was interpreted in various ways in the newspapers but the de facto account comes from the memoirs of Prince Felix Yusupov, one of the conspirators.

The Yusupov family was far richer than the Romanovs, so undoubtedly this is a fabricated account written by a murderer to justify and mitigate the deed. Indeed Yusupov published several versions that have since been discounted.

The conspirators were: Felix Yusupov (husband of the Tsar’s niece Princess Irina Alexandrovna of Russia), Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovich (the Tsar’s cousin), Vladimir Mitrofanovich Purishkevich (right-wing politician and monarchist), Stanislaus de Lazovert (an assistant) and Mikhail Sergeevich Sukhotin (army officer husband of Leo Tolstoy’s daughter Tatiana Tolstoy). Even the Dowager Empress allied with the conspirators and wanted the Empress Alexandra banished.

THE MURDER OF RASPUTIN

On 29 December 1916 (NS), conspirators gathered at the Moika Palace, residence of Prince Felix Yusupov, to murder Rasputin. They prepared a soundproof room in the basement and lured him there to hill him. He thought he was attending a party and was enticed there by the prospect of meeting the host’s attractive wife, the Princess Irina of Russia. Yusupov had a score to settle as Rasputin had once tried to compromise her.

The standard version is from Felix Yusupov who tells how Rasputin was poisoned, beaten, shot and yet survived, then was dumped into the River Neva while still breathing. It portrays the victim as inhuman and a beast that needs to be slain. Yusupov and Purishkevich each shot Rasputin, but there’s no mention of a head shot; or a third shot.

There were three shot wounds on Rasputin’s body. One bullet entered his left chest and penetrated the stomach and liver; a second penetrated the kidneys. Then there was the third bullet. Fired first and death would have been instantaneous, fired last and Rasputin may have been in severe pain for up to 20 minutes before the headshot.

Sukhotin put on Rasputin’s clothes and left with Pavlovich and Lazovert in Purishkevich’s car in order to give the impression that Rasputin had left the house. then they disposed of the corpse from Bolshoy Petrovsky Bridge into an ice hole on the River Neva.

Eventually Yusupov and Dmitri were placed under house arrest in the Sergei Palace. Legends of Rasputin spread far beyond Russia and have fascinated people ever since.

At Tannenberg (26-28 Aug) on the Eastern Front and the First Battle of the Masurian Lakes in 1914, Russia lost two entire armies, over 250,000 men. In the first week 150,000 soldiers were dead or wounded. The battle ended with a German victory and the capture of 125,000 Russians. Following their success, the Germans drove the Russians out of East Prussia with heavy casualties.

In the years leading up to World War I, Rasputin repeated some prophecies like a mantra to the Tsar and Tsarina, subliminally implanting the messages. The main point was that their son Alexei would live only while Rasputin was involved in his life, and another point was that the Russian army would suffer defeat after defeat until the Tsar took over control of the military.
Tsar Nicholas II on horseback blessing Russian troops 1915

At Tannenberg (26-28 Aug) on the Eastern Front and the First Battle of the Masurian Lakes in 1914, Russia lost two entire armies, over 250,000 men. In the first week 150,000 soldiers were dead or wounded. The battle ended with a German victory and the capture of 125,000 Russians. Following their success, the Germans drove the Russians out of East Prussia with heavy casualties.

In the years leading up to World War I, Rasputin repeated some prophecies like a mantra to the Tsar and Tsarina, subliminally implanting the messages. The main point was that their son Alexei would live only while Rasputin was involved in his life, and another point was that the Russian army would suffer defeat after defeat until the Tsar took over control of the military.
Tsar Nicholas II on horseback blessing Russian troops 1915

At Tannenberg (26-28 Aug) on the Eastern Front and the First Battle of the Masurian Lakes in 1914, Russia lost two entire armies, over 250,000 men. In the first week 150,000 soldiers were dead or wounded. The battle ended with a German victory and the capture of 125,000 Russians. Following their success, the Germans drove the Russians out of East Prussia with heavy casualties.

In the years leading up to World War I, Rasputin repeated some prophecies like a mantra to the Tsar and Tsarina, subliminally implanting the messages. The main point was that their son Alexei would live only while Rasputin was involved in his life, and another point was that the Russian army would suffer defeat after defeat until the Tsar took over control of the military.
Tsar Nicholas II on horseback blessing Russian troops 1915

At Tannenberg (26-28 Aug) on the Eastern Front and the First Battle of the Masurian Lakes in 1914, Russia lost two entire armies, over 250,000 men. In the first week 150,000 soldiers were dead or wounded. The battle ended with a German victory and the capture of 125,000 Russians. Following their success, the Germans drove the Russians out of East Prussia with heavy casualties.

In the years leading up to World War I, Rasputin repeated some prophecies like a mantra to the Tsar and Tsarina, subliminally implanting the messages. The main point was that their son Alexei would live only while Rasputin was involved in his life, and another point was that the Russian army would suffer defeat after defeat until the Tsar took over control of the military.
Tsar Nicholas II on horseback blessing Russian troops 1915

At Tannenberg (26-28 Aug) on the Eastern Front and the First Battle of the Masurian Lakes in 1914, Russia lost two entire armies, over 250,000 men. In the first week 150,000 soldiers were dead or wounded. The battle ended with a German victory and the capture of 125,000 Russians. Following their success, the Germans drove the Russians out of East Prussia with heavy casualties.

In the years leading up to World War I, Rasputin repeated some prophecies like a mantra to the Tsar and Tsarina, subliminally implanting the messages. The main point was that their son Alexei would live only while Rasputin was involved in his life, and another point was that the Russian army would suffer defeat after defeat until the Tsar took over control of the military.
Tsar Nicholas II on horseback blessing Russian troops 1915

PART SEVEN – House Arrest

ABDICATION OF TSAR NICHOLAS II

In March 1917 (NS), riots broke out in St Petersburg, and a week later Nicholas II heard that a hastily assembled provisional government had decided that he must abdicate. The army favoured the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich (brother of Nicholas II) but he refused. Without the support of government or the army, the Tsar had to submit and at 3pm on 2 March 1917 the last Tsar abdicated the throne of the Russian Empire.

Britain and France were watching closely as a central demand of the people was to withdraw from the war. The February Revolution began on 8 March when 120,000 people held anti-war demonstrations and strikes. The next day the people doubled and the situation escalated so that by the October Revolution, the following month the Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace on 7 November 1917.

On the day of the abdication the Emperor was not permitted to meet the Empress. On 9 March 1917 he returned to Tsarkoye Selo and joined his family under house arrest. All the children were ill; Alexei, Olga and Maria had the measles and were bedridden; Tatiana and Anastasia had painful ear abscesses. Maria developed double pneumonia and was at death’s door with a temperature of 104F.

It was almost immediately that people realised the Bolsheviks were not their friends. Lenin issued a Decree on the Press legitimising the suppression of publications. The provisional government had abolished censorship, when Pravda had first appeared, only to see the Bolsheviks now requisitioning printing assets. By July 1918, all opposition publications had been closed.

During their house arrest the Romanov family were to discover the sheer disrespect from the Bolshovick soldiers. They were deplorable and the royal family suffered physically no less than had they been in a state prison. There are so many stories that will make you weep, enough that could be made into a book.

One example is of Nicholas II who liked to ride a bicycle in the grounds for exercise. One day as he was cycling past a sentry, the guard thrust out his rifle into the wheel spokes and laughed as the former Emperor tumbled off his bicycle; he never rode the bicycle again.

The Romanov family were moved from Tsarksoye Selo on 31 July 2017 arriving by ship at Tobolsk on 19 August (NS). ToboIsk is a small town in Tyumen far off in the most deserted part of Siberia. In March the new Provisional Government led by liberals and moderate socialists were pursuing a path for the Romanovs to exile to England but now it seemed their view differed as the provisional government began to collapse amidst the Bolshevik pressure.

The royal family wanted to be allowed to stay in Russia but it was always in Nicholas II’s mind that his cousin the King of England would extract them if it became necessary. When the Standart had left the Isle of Wight in August 1909, their family ties had been much strengthened. In due course Nicholas II would not receive letters from George V because they were addressed to the Emperor of Russia.

We know from documents today that the Russian government did try to send the Romanov family to England but the king blocked it. There were two significant events which sealed the fate of the Romanovs. The first being when Nicholas ll’s brother was offered the throne – If he had accepted then it’s unlikely his family would have been placed under house arrest.

The second event was the withdrawal of sanctuary in England by George V, which delayed matters enough for the Bolsheviks to toppled Kerensky and take power in the October Revolution – thereby assassination being the likeliest outcome. Writing on 19 March 1917 to Tsar Nicholas II, King George V said:

Events of last week have deeply distressed me. My thoughts are constantly with you, and shall a/ways remain your true and devoted friend as you know l have been in the past.

King George V and Prime Minister Lloyd George had initially offered asylum to the Romanov family. The king had thought that hatred of the monarchy in Russia would develop into the same thing in Britain, so he left them to their fate. It was that simple for him.

The British Foreign Office in 1918 was persuaded to permit Grand Du. Dmitri Pavlovich (one of the Romanov conspirators that assassinated Rasputin) to live in England despite several previous rejections. Dmitri was the only Romanov permitted to live in England.

Fifty-three Romanovs were living in Russia when Nicholas II abdicated. Thirty-five managed to escape.

The unsealing of Cabinet papers from the tenure of Lloyd George in 1986 revealed it was indeed King George V who decided not to give the Tsar and his family refuge in Britain. But interestingly, according to the royal author Lady Colin Campbell, it was Queen Mary who most strongly persuaded her husband, King George V, not to grant asylum to the Romanovs, despite his fondness for Nicholas II.

An interesting story by American writer Eugene Gore Vidal went that George V and Mary’s son Edward, Duke of Windsor, and future King Edward VIII, was having break-fast at Buckingham Palace in 1917 with his parents when an aide suddenly entered the room carrying a folded note and handed it to the king. The king read it then handed it to his wife. She read it, turned to her husband and said, “No.” He then handed the note to the aide and declared, “No.

Later on Edward asked his mother what the note was about and she told him that his father’s government was ready to send a battle ship to rescue the former Tsar and his family, but she didn’t think it would be good for them to have their Russian relatives in Britain.

Apparently Queen Mary did not like Empress Alexandra.

Another story from an Anglican chaplain the Reverend G.V. Vaughan-James, of Warminster, England. He was on a British ship sent to a port on the Black Sea to rescue the Tsar and his family and bring them to England. The crew were very excited by the mission.

When they arrived at this port, he was told that a telephone message had come from London ordering the ship to return to England without the Tsar and his family. No reason was given. On the way home all the crew were depressed, and while they were still at sea it was announced on the radio that the Tsar and his family had been killed.

The Romanov royal family had spent five months under house arrest in their home at Alexander Palace. They were loaded on to a train, destination unknown, and taken on a thirty-six hour journey to the remotest parts of Russia at Tobolsk, where they ended up 1,700 miles from Petrograd.

St. Petersburg was renamed from 31 August 1914 until 26 January 1924, when the city was renamed to Leningrad after Lenin – and finally returned to St. Petersburg after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Nicholas II recorded in his diary on 7 August 1917: We got over the Ural Mountains and felt the cold air. The train passed Vekaterinburg in the small hours of morning. it dragged on and on incredibly slowly, so that we arrived in Tyumen only at 11:30 pm. The train pulled in almost to the quay and the only thing we had to do was to board a ship. We departed from Tyumen by the river at 6 am.

Along the journey they passed few villages and one of them was Pokrovskoye, the birthplace of Rasputin. He had prophesised to the Empress once that ‘willingly or unwillingly’, they would pass his house some day.

The train terminated at the district centre of Tyumen. From there they transferred to a ship and sailed 186 miles to Tobolsk, once the capital of Siberia. This location was chosen for its remoteness. It was simply too distant and remote for anyone to rescue or assassinate the royal family.

They were not permitted to leave the house, but allowed only a couple of hours each day in a small space in the outside courtyard. Nicholas II used to pace up and down continuously and do chin-ups on a rail for exercise and they would often huddle together to take in the fresh air.

Colonel Kobylinsky in charge of the guard at Tobolsk brought 350 men from the Tsarskoe Selo Rifles. The house had once been a governor’s residence and was later used as a barracks. There had been no preparations made and the house was initially declared as uninhabitable.

Nicholas II complained that the toilets didn’t flush and there was no clean water. Eventually remedial work was done to the house and some carpets and pictures were brought from Tsarskoe Selo and it became slightly comfortable.

It was freezing cold with no heating; at night the temperature fell to -50 degrees Celsius and during the day the rooms never rose above 7 degrees Celsius. They wore whatever clothing they could get and their fingers would often freeze and stop them doing things like writing in a diary.

Many of the guards were embarrassed for the royal family and ashamed by their disrespectful treatment. Some asked for transfers to the Front and eventually it whittled down to the rudest and roughest guards that remained. Guards spat and swore around the house. They would sit on the bed when Alexandra was still in it. A guard was placed outside her bedroom window so that she had to be quite agile in finding a blind spot while she dressed.

They were expected to pay for their housekeep, their energy costs, food etc. When their finances got a bit low, their loyal staff secured a loan of 20,000 rubles so for a while longer, they may continue living beyond their means They brought their dentist Kostritski from the Crimea to check their teeth and allowed staff to take food home to their families. They were not allowed to engage with anyone outside, for example with any passers by when the family were exercising in the courtyard.

Their life was mundane and restricted within the house and courtyard. They were allowed at first to attend Sunday Service but Father Aleksei Vasiliev on the service on Christmas day 1917 gave up prayer for the long life of the ‘Imperial Family’. For that crime he was banished to a monastery and Mass after that was only permitted at the house. The new priest Vladimir Khlynov, was more discrete with his wording. Alexandra converted the ballroom hall in to a chapel.

The Romanovs’ time under house arrest is full of horrendous examples of human indignity and distressful actions against a family that at its core was wholly Christian and good. Not one instance is found where they have upset anyone. They were totally at peace with themselves and needed only each other’s company. In captivity they went about their indignations with their heads held high.

Alexei was allowed a visit from his best friend Kolya Derevenko once a week to play. Later on Alexei would be moved to 1patiev House for execution, and that’s where his best friend Kolya lived, at the Popov house near Ipatiev House.

I was a little boy, just twelve years old. I did not know of the evil in people, souls. … In the middle of the summer of 1918, I was afraid and worried for Alexei.” – Kolya Derevenko.”

Alexei wrote to his grandmother Maria Fyodorovna “In the daytime Papa saws wood with my sisters or clears the pathways.” Alexandra spent days in her chair reading or sewing. The girls continued to use their cameras photo-graphing everything.

Anastasia wrote to her friend Ekaterina Zborovskaya “It is not too bad, but we spend most of the time searching for balls in the ditch. We sit on the window sills and entertain ourselves watching the public passing by.

Considering things from Colonel Kobylinski’s perspective, he felt the atmosphere was less strained than it had been at the Alexander Palace. Indeed he had managed their transport and living arrangements adequately.

Alexandra was fanatical about illness. She recorded everyone’s temperature daily. On the Celsius scale a normal temperature is 37 degrees, the equivalent of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Here Alexandra records temperatures at the beginning of 1918:

The rubella recorded was likely contracted from Alexei’s friend Kolya. Note the last book that Nicholas would read is recorded in her entry for 2 January.

Coming back to the nest of his family home in Russia after years of fruitless endeavours away from his roots, Lavretsky decides to turn his back on the vacuous salons of Paris and his frivolous and unfaithful wife Varvara Pavlovna. Then with news of her death his life changes.

Coming back to the nest of his family home in Russia after years of fruitless endeavours away from his roots, Lavretsky decides to turn his back on the vacuous salons of Paris and his frivolous and unfaithful wife Varvara Pavlovna. Then with news of her death his life changes.

The family created a little farm in Tobolsk, with several farm animals including turkeys and pigs. In April 1918 the family was separated – This is from the letters that passed between the sisters Olga and Maria between Tobolsk and Yekaterinburg:

Olga: Tobolsk, 28 April 1918 “Today was warmer than yesterday and the windows are wide open. We took the evening tea in the dining room. Yesterday, we ate the poor turkey. Mama, you would have said ‘one should not,’ dear little soul.

Maria: Yekaterinburg, 2 May 1918 “This morning we heard the church bells. That was the only pleasant and agreeable event. We were happy to learn that the pigs sold so well. What is he going to do with the piglets? Mama, speaking about the turkey, said you should not have.

Nicholas had always expressed an interest in farming, that natural connection with nature that comes from chopping wood, growing things and looking after animals. King George V once remarked to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany that Nicholas was best at ease when he was tending the land, whereupon Wilhelm replied that Nicholas was only good for growing turnips.

On 22 April 1918 a Bolshevik revolutionary named Vasily Vasilyevich Yakovlev, arrived in Tobolsk with one hundred and fifty horsemen and handed Colonel Kobylinsky a letter from the Kremlin in Moscow telling him to cooperate fully on pain of death. Yakovlev had been appointed in March to transfer the Romanov family from Tobolsk to Moscow where Nicholas was to be put on trial.

Alexei was seriously ill, so Yakovlev decided to take only Nicholas, Alexandra, daughter Maria with Dr. Botkin, the maid and the two male servants. The others remained in Tobolsk. They left on 25 April travelling 186 miles to the hub of Tyumen. They travelled all day stopping several times for a stretch then they stayed at a peasant’s house overnight.

PART EIGHT – The Final Journey

On the journey from Tobolsk to Tyumen, someone saw them at one of the stops and said that when Maria got out of the coach to arrange her mother’s cushions, her hands were so cold that she had to rub her numbed fingers for a long time before she could use them at all. The ladies were nearly frozen. They had to get over several rivers where the ice was so unsafe that they had to lay planks and cross on foot. At one place Nicholas had to wade knee-deep in ice-cold water, carrying Alexandra in his arms.

A train was waiting at Tyumen. Yakovlev avoided heading towards Yekaterinburg and instead went eastwards to Omsk where he could then go direct to Moscow. When they reached the station before Omsk, the authorities prevented any further movement east afraid that they might escape, and turned the train back towards Yekaterinburg.

When they arrived at Yekaterinburg, Yakovlev handed the Romanov family over to the Soviet authorities. They were taken in cars to the house of a local engineer named Ipatiev where they were imprisoned. Alexandra was hardly able to stand when she got out of the car. Responsible for the Romanov’s now was Yakov Mikhailovich Yurovsky,

The two-storey house house was built towards the end of the 1880s in the Russian style. In 1908, mining engineer Nikolai Ipatiev purchased this house and converted the first floor into his workplace. In April Ipatiev was ordered to vacate the house and it became designated by the Ural Soviet headquarters as a ‘House of Special Purpose’.

After the October Revolution had removed the monarchy, a group of Communists led by Vladimir Lenin known as the Bolshevik’s, overthrew the government in November and created a Communist government. They withdrew from World War One almost immediately and the country fell into a bloody civil war between the Bolshevik, (Reds) and the conservative White Guard (Whites).

The reds constantly feared that the whites would rescue the royal family. It was the reason the train from Tyumen took an elaborate route and why the family ended up in Yekaterinburg at Ipatiev House instead of going to Moscow for trial.

Filipp Goloshchyokin. was the Bolshevik War Commissar, and the man that would make the final descision with Lenin to execute the royal family. He announced in the following:

“All those under arrest will be held as hostages, and the slightest attempt at counter-revolutionary action in the town will result in the summary execution of the hostages.”

Prince Vasily Alexandrovich Dolgorukov, as you may recall was the advisor of Nicholas II that accompanied the family into exile, he arrived at Ipatiev House, on 30 April 1918. Alexandra received a telegram from Olga that Alexei’s health had improved and soon afterwards the rest of the children left Tobolsk to join their parents at Ipatiev House.

They children arrived in Yekaterinburg on 23 May 1918. They were rudely ordered to carry their own luggage. When Alexei’s aide Klementy Grigorievich Nagorny tried to assist them, he was swept aside by the guards.

When word spread that the Romanov children had come to Yekaterinburg they flocked to see them. As they were being escorted by guards, the people threw flowers in their path, but the soldiers brushed the people aside.

The Romanovs were being held by the Red Army at the House of Special Purpose where they would spend the last 78 days of their lives. Nearly a month had passed from 26 April to 23 May, since the parents and children had been parted. The family at Ipatiev were not updated about the children, so one can imagine the elation they felt when Alexei, Olga, Tatiana and Anastasia walked in one day.

At first the intention was to put the ex-tsar on trial but as civil war continued these plans changed. It became too risky to transport the family as the Whites controlled the Trans-Siberian Railway. The White Army forces of the Czechoslovak Legion were fast approaching Yekaterinburg in mid-July 1918, and pressure was on to resolve this issue.

The Bolshovik Red Army Controlled Moscow and the government and the seat of power. However, the White Army controlled territory across the Urals including the Trans-Siberian railway. The reds decided to execute the royal family instead of risking transporting them to Moscow, for fear that they would be rescued by the whites, and used for their own political means.

The Bolsheviks just wanted it over and done with. According to historian David Bullock, they believed the Czechoslovak Legion approaching Yekaterinburg were on a specific mission to rescue the royal family. The White Army was a loose alliance of anti-Communist forces and they just wanted to take the city. But the reds had to act — just one week after the executions, on 25 July 1918, the whites took Yekaterinburg.

Ipatiev House was much smaller than ToboIsk, Guards boarded it up SO that only the top windows could be seen from the street. The family had use of three rooms at first and were given another three when Me children arrived. They were not permitted to move about freely as they had done at Tobolsk. The doors were removed so that guards could see everything, there was no privacy, not even for the toilet.

The house was very damp. No beds were at first provided for the children when they came and they had to sleep on rugs. Marie gave up her bed to Alexei before camp beds were eventually brought in. They were stripped of all possessions, their money was confiscated so that they were unable to get any supplies in.

Lunch was brought in from a Soviet restaurant. It was so bad the Empress could hardly touch it. Lunch time was whenever it occurred to the guards and at irregular hours. They often had no tea for breakfast, as the guards used up all the hot water, and dinner consisted of lunch left-overs. Before meals were served the guards would often pick at the food and even during meals, reach in with a fork and help themselves, even from their plates while the family were eating.

When the children arrived from Tobolsk, security at Ipatiev increased. A second paling was erected around the house and the windows were painted so that no daylight entered the house. No newspapers. No letters.

Their new Kommissar at Ipatiev was Alexander Avdeev, a factory worker and a drunkard. All the guards were from the nearby factories and not regular soldiers. They would appear at any moment without warning, not allowing for any privacy. Avdeev could not be reasoned with when he was drunk. All the guards were in fact always drinking.

Their great friend Dr Botkin acted as s sort of go-between but his complaints to Avdeev were ignored. Minor requests were ignored. In fact the guards at Ipatiev were to testify in the future at a White Army inquest that Avdeev took great pleasure in denying requests from the royal family.

On one occasion Anastasia asked for a second pair of shoes out of one of the boxes in the loft but she was bluntly told that those she had on would last for the rest of her life. The guards rummaged through their possessions and stole a lot of things. But Botkin’s protests about the thieving and the vulgar remarks and disgusting behaviour of the guards were totally ignored.

At the end of May 1918 a priest was allowed to come to 1patiev House and say Mass. He reported that Alexei was so thin as to seem nearly transparent. Nuns from a local convent brought eggs and milk for him every day after that. By June, Nicholas and Alexandra were poorly too. Nicholas was laid up for several days with kidney trouble while Alexandra lay fully dressed on her bed for most of the day.

At the start of July Avdeev was replaced by the Bolshevik representative Yakov Mikhailovich Yurovsky. Not because Avdeev was an incompetent drunk but rather because Yurovsky had been sent to decide the ultimate fate of the royal family.

Yurovsky was a jew from Tomsk in Siberia, who had converted to Lutherianism. So he hated the regime that had repressed the jews and saw Alexandra as a fake, for having turned away from Lutherianism when she converted to Russian Orthodox.

If the family thought Avdeev was bad, the new Kommissar was the devil himself. His first act was to strip the family of all their jewellery. And indeed he had them stripped naked. Nicholas’ diary referred to the constant tightening of restrictions on his family by Yurovsky, simply: ‘We like this man less and less‘.

Alexandra recorded on 10 July that for a couple of days the guards did not bring them their meals at all, and that the family had to live on macaroni that the cook had brought from Tobolsk in May. On the next day she hails with joy at some eggs brought by the nuns for Alexei.

At church services on 14 July 1918, the priest reported that they all looked sad and dejected, and this time the young girls did not sing. This priest was the last reliable person to see the royal family.

On the morning of 16 July 1918 the royal family rose at 9am as usual, and gathered for morning prayers. They had breakfast of black bread and tea. The day went like any other. That evening Alexandra made this diary entry:

Three hours after Alexandra and Nicholas went to bed they would all be lured to the basement and executed. The boy Sednev did not visit his uncle, who had been shot two weeks earlier. Instead he was taken to prison, along with the faithful Nagorny where both men were shot.

Yurovsky advised Moscow that the time was right to execute the prisoners. The Ural Soviet had already agreed on 29 lune that the Romanov family should be executed. A few weeks earlier, Nicholas’s brother Michael was shot in a Siberian wood. The day after that Nicholas’s sister-in-law, Elizabeth and his cousin Sergei had been killed along with other family members.

On 14 July Yurovsky had visited the disposal site, an abandoned mine in the Koptyaki Forest, about ten miles from Yekaterinburg and cached petrol, sulphuric acid and firewood. The basement room of Ipatiev House was chosen for the execution place and a barred window was nailed shut.

At 12.30pm on 16 July 1918 Yurovsky told his assistant that the executions would take place that evening. He had personally selected eleven men, one for each of the victims.

At 4pm Yurovsky returns to Koptyaki Forest for a final inspection. At 8pm he tells his chosen assassins that the order is to kill the whole family. Two of the killing squad refuse to shoot the girls and drop out.

Filipp Goloshchyokin carne out to Yekaterinburg to oversee proceedings. He told Yurovsky that a truck would arrive at midnight to collect the corpses. Yurovsky arranged for rolls of canvas to wrap the bodies. The truck was to park close to the basement entrance with its engine running to mask the noise of gunshots.

PART NINE – Executing The Romanov Family

On the late evening of 16 July 1918, Nicholas, Alexandra and Alexei were asleep in one room and the four girls and their maid were sleeping in the room next door. Over the past few nights the guards repeatedly walked through the girls’ bedroom making them scream in fright. Tonight was to be different.

At 10pm Yurovsky initiates his plan to execute the family. Summer nights in the Urals are short so he has only about seven hours to accomplish the deed. While the family are saying their prayers and getting ready for bed, ten men silently enter the house and wait impatiently and drink.

At 11pm Yurovsky assigns them one family member each and instructs them to shoot straight at the heart to avoid excessive blood. Because of the guards that pulled out, Yurovsky and Ermakov, the man charged with disposing of the corpses afterwards, have two members each to shoot. Yurovsky hands out the weapons.

He takes a Mauser and Colt to shoot Nicholas and Alexei and Ermakov arms himself with three Nagants, one Mauser and a bayonet to dispose of Alexandra and Doctor Botkin. He intends to execute the family at 11.30pm but the truck has not yet arrived.

Neither Yurovsky nor any of the planners went into the logistics of how to efficiently kill, transport, destroy and dispose of eleven bodies. Although the White Army were just days away, and the goal was to ensure there was no evidence of the family left behind, considering the importance of it, it is extraordinarily bewildering how chaotic the execution, transportation, destruction and disposal were all handled.

The truck did not arrive until half past one in the moving. The assassins were told to wait in a room in the basement in an adjoining room to the intended room for execution. Yurovsky went to the room of Dr Botkin and told him to awaken the royal family and inform them that they must instantly leave Ipatiev House as the White Army was almost upon them.

While Yurovsky waited in his office, Ermakov crept along the upper corridor and listened through the closed doors. “l heard them walking around in the bedrooms, putting on their clothes and talking.

It took. them 30-40 minutes to pack. lust after tam they left their rooms. No one said anything, and no one seemed alarmed. First to go downstairs were Nicholas and Alexei, followed by Alexandra hobbling on her cane with her hair ruffled slightly at the hour, then the daughters wearing ,white blouses and dark skirts – Dr Bothin, Alexei Trupp (the valet) and Ivan Kharitonov (the cook) followed them downstairs.

Nicholas apparently said, according to a biography by Greg King called The Fate of the Romanovs: “Well, we’re going to get out of this place.

When the family had gathered downstairs they followed Yurovsky out of the double doors into the courtyard at the side of the house. However Yurovsky opened a second set of double doors and gestured them down a wide but short flight of stairs into the basement.

They were led through a corridor, and were seen passing by the waiting execution squad. Then at the southern end of the building Yurovsky opened a final set of double doors and motioned them inside. They entered in silence totally un-aware of what was happening. They had been lured into the basement for their execution as Rasputin had once been lured into a cellar for his.

Some of the killing detail would suggest later in their accounts of the event that the order coming from Moscow had been to execute just Nicholas. But the local Soviet Ural authorities were far more radical than the Bolsheviks in the Kremlin. There is no substantive evidence that Lenin or other Bolshevik/ leaders ordered the whole family to be executed other than from the testament of Yurovsky. It has to be noted that those in the outer parts of Russia had been at the end of years of propaganda about the tyranny of the Tsars.

It all came down to this moment. The family entered the empty room. Every one was waiting for the signal to dep-art. Alexandra asked if it was forbidden to sit on chairs, whereupon Yurovsky brought in two chairs. Alexandra sat on one and Nicholas placed Alexei on the other. Nicholas stood in the centre of the room between the chairs with the servants standing behind him and the girls standing behind their mother.

Yurovsky told the family they had to wait for the truck to be brought to the house so it could transport them away. He then went upstairs to check that the truck was in position with the engine running, then returned to the basement with the execution detail.

After an intense period of waiting, Yurovsky returned with many guards. One of the killers, called Kudrin, recalled: “Nicholas, Alexandra and Doctor Botkin stared at us, watching us closely. We were new faces unfamiliar to them.” Yurovsky stood in front of Nicholas and Alexei – and Ermakov in front of Alexandra. The other assassins were spread about behind them.

It was 2.15am, the truck was roaring so loudly in the courtyard that the windows in the execution room were rattling. Yurovsky ordered everyone to stand and then he read aloud the order given to him:

Nikolai Alexandrovich, in view of the fact that your relatives are continuing their attack on Soviet Russia, the Ural Executive Committee has decided to execute you.

Nicholas was totally stunned, he shouted “Oh my God! No!” Doctor Botkin added, “So we’re not going to be taken anywhere?” A shocked Nicholas addressed Yurovsky, “I can’t understand you … read it again please.” Yurovsky again read out the message from his orders whereupon Nicholas muttered in disbelief “What? What?

This!” Yurovsky answered, then without further delay pulled out his pistol and shot Nicholas in the chest. The assassins started firing, mostly at Nicholas first who received at least three shots near the heart as he fell forward on to the floor.

Contrary to Yurovsky’s instructions for everyone to fire on their own designated target, the rabble of men chosen was such that they all fired at Nicholas – Kudrin alone fired five rounds into him. Once the frenzy started it couldn’t be stopped. The assassins in the rear were firing over the shoulders of Yurovsky and Ermakov.

The propellant gases from the chambers filled the air with acrid clouds of smoke so that it was hard to see. Through the smoke were heard the screams of the ladies and children. The drunken assassins fired randomly into the smoke. Another assassin would later described it as ‘complete chaos’.

Having blasted at Nicholas such a large volley, the bullets that missed or got through him hit the men standing behind. Dr Botkin received two shots to the abdomen, then his kneecaps where shattered so that he was unable to stand and he crashed to the floor. Trupp received two bullets then a fatal one to the head. Kharitonov was hit by several bullets at once and dropped where he stood.

The result of this unorderly firing left the rightmost of the room untouched. Now as screams were heard, the women stood there frozen with fear. They huddled together screaming for help. Ermakov turned to Alexandra, just six feet in front of him and raised his Mauser to her; she turned away and did the sign of the cross, but before she had finished a bullet entered the left side of her skull.

The smoke was so thick that the assassins looked under it, firing indiscriminately. Eventually the plaster and noxious fumes forced them to leave the room, and the doors were thrown open to try and air the room.

Waiting in the doorway of the execution room at Ipatiev House, for the smoke to clear, the assassins could heard the moans of injured victims on the edge of death. For all their firepower only Nicholas, Alexandra, Trupp and Kharistonov were dead. Even Doctor Botkin who had been cut almost in half was trying to get to his feet when they went back into the room to finish the job.

Yurovsky stood over Dr Botkin and put a fatal shot into his head. Nikulin stood in front of Alexei, still sitting in his chair and covered in his father’s blood, ashen faced and terrified – and fired five bullets from his Browning pistol. Yurovsky also fired several bullets into Alexei, who slipped from the chair onto the floor. Alexei was still alive and writhing in agony and was finished off with an eight-inch bayonet.

Next the assassins’ attention turned to Olga and Tatiana, still alive and relatively unscathed. Yurovsky and Ermakov moved towards them through the smoke, and seeing them approach Olga and Tatiana wrapped their heads around each other, crouched down and covered their heads with their arms, screaming and crying.

Yurovsky shot Tatiana in the head, blowing her brains out over her sister. As Olga tried to get up, Ermakov kicked her sending her reeling back as he shot and killed her.

Ermakov then heard the screams from Maria and thrust his bayonet into her several times but she did not die so he shot her in the head. The drunk Ermakov next turned to Anastasia plunging his bayonet into her repeatedly but she wouldn’t die either, so he shot her in the head.

What should have been an orderly execution ended as a bloody slaughter that took around ten minutes to execute eleven people. The Romanov Imperial Family was now completely extinguished. Their bodies lay together on the cellar floor, with brains and faces blown off, limbs broken and shot off, torsos bludgeoned and stabbed, with blood lapping around them.

Their love strengthened each other and made their confinement bearable. It was the greatest mercy of their last months that, right up to the terrible end, they were, at the very least, all together.

The bodies of the eleven dead were loaded onto a Fiat truck which left Ipatiev House at 3am. It struggled for nine miles on a boggy road to reach the Koptyaki Forest. Ermakov had only brought along one shovel but along the route 25 of his men were waiting with carts and the bodies were transferred from the truck to the carts.

Ermakov’s men were drunk, and furious that the bodies were dead as they were expecting live prisoners and had intended to rape the women and be part of the execution squad. It didn’t stop some of them from sexually molesting the female corpses. Yurovsky threatened to shoot them if they didn’t stop. But that was to achieve his task of disposing the bodies, not because he thought the actions offensive or disgusting.

The burial party went to the disposal site where Yurovsky kept five men and sent the rest away. The five men laid out the corpses on the grass, undressed them and burned the clothes. The bodies were thrown down the disused mine and acid poured over them to disfigure them beyond recognition. Then explosives were detonated to collapse the mine.

PART TEN – The Disposal Of The Bodies

Unfortunately for the burial party the hand grenades had no effect on deepening the pit and the bodies were not buried deep enough. Yurovsky advised his superiors and it was decided to move the bodies to a deeper copper mine some miles away. So the next day at 4am on 18 July 1918, Yurovsky and Goloshchyokinhe returned to Koptyaki with some men and carts and hastily removed the bodies.

By 10pm that day the corpses were loaded on carts. They travelled during the night but along the way they got stuck in the mud. As dawn approached, Yurovsky decided to bury the corpses right there on the road.

A shallow grave was dug just 6×8 ft and 2ft deep in the road and the bodies were crammed in and made to fit with rifle butts. Sulphuric acid and quicklime was once more used. Having run out of time due to the encroaching day-light and dug such a shallow grave, Yurovsky decided to lay railway sleepers on the top. He ran a truth across the sleepers to bed them in so that it might look like part of the road had been strengthened for the passage of carts.

Yurovsky took one simple precaution, he kept the bodies of Alexei and one of his sisters to bury elsewhere so that if the mass grave was discovered then only nine bodies would be found and thereby shed doubt that this might not be the eleven known to have been killed at Ipatiev House.

The two remaining Romanov bodies were burned and the bones smashed up as best they could. Then the remains were buried in a smaller grave some 50ft further on and in from the road. In 2007 when the grave was eventually discovered, only 44 partial bone fragments were recovered. In the early morning on 19 July 1918 the disposal of the bodies was complete.

Pyotr Lazarevich Voykov, a Bolshevik. and Commissar for Supply in the Ural Region Soviet, and elected chairman for Yekaterinburg, said after the executions: “The world will never know what we did with them.

Image Below: The burial pit on Staraya Koptyakovskaya Road as it looks today. On 10 June 2014 the Sverdlovsk regional government entered this place on the national cultural heritage list, where it will be saved for future generations.

Voykov’s involvement in the executions has been under-estimated. Following the capture of Yekaterinburg by the White Army, Voykov’s role was investigated by a commission led by Nikolai Solokov who decided that Voykov was just the guy who arranged for the distribution of sulphuric acid and gasoline in an administrative capacity for the district authorities.

One of the assassins, Besedovsky, testified that Voykov was the very person that insisted to the Ural Soviet that the entire Romanov family should be killed, not just the Tsar. However, Besedovsky was a proven liar in things and so his testimony was discounted.

Yet — Voykov was an ‘avid’ Bolshevik, He knew Nicholas Ipatiev and had secured Ipatiev House as the House of Special Purpose for the Bolsheviks.

He is also said to have participated in the fake letters sent to entrap Alexandra. And although not mentioned any-where else, there is a faint connection between him and Yurovsky (the man in charge of the executions.) Not mentioned thus far are the jewels of the royal family which they moved with them in secret.

At Ipatiev House, those jewels that Yurovski did not find when he searched the family and their possessions, were discovered when he later stripped the bodies for disposal. Yurovsky apparently gave the jewellery to his superiors. Voykov is also known for the sale of the treasures from the Tsar’s collections, so could Yurovski (the procurer) have colluded with Voykov (the fence) over the Romanov jewels — it would seem very likely.

Voykov went on to serve as the Soviet ambassador to Poland in 1924 and was assassinated on 7 lune 1927 by a Russian monarchist in Warsaw.

The men who were directly complicit in the assassinations by and large survived in the immediate months after the murders. Filipp Goloshchyokin was shot in October 1941. Yurovsky never expressed regret or remorse and prior to his death in 1938 donated the guns he used in the murders to the Museum of the Revolution in Moscow.

In the last week of July 1918, Kolya Derevenko, Alexei’s best friend, and his father and others entered the Ipatiev house. Kolya in his later years recalled the experience:

There was a terrible scene. The house was in complete chaos; diaries, letters, albums, and other things were strewn all around in the house. ‘But where is Alexei?’ I asked my father, but he stayed silent. I was confused. ‘Papa, where is my Alexei?’ I asked. ‘They killed him,’ he said, and I started to cry. ‘But how?’ I replied. ‘They killed the Tsar, the Tsarina, and the Grand Duchesses too. They are all dead.’ said my father. ‘But I don’t understand. Where are their bodies, ‘We don’t know, maybe we will never find them’.

The Countess Anastasia Vasiliyevna Hendrikova, the devoted Lady in Waiting to Alexandra who had followed the family into exile before being separated from them in Tobolsk was asked if she had willingly followed the family. She replied that she had. When asked if she would return and continue to serve them if she were set free, she said: “Yes! Up to the last day of my life!” On 21 August 1918 (OS) she was taken to the woods with others, and shot.

Over the course of 84 days after the executions at Yekaterinburg, 14 more Romanovs with 13 of their friends and servants were murdered by the Bolsheviks. About a dozen Romanovs managed to escape.

The Tsar’s mother Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna, his sister Grand Duchess Xania and her husband Alexander were rescued from the Crimea by a warship sent by George V.

Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, one of those who left Russia successfully, wrote in his memoirs: “Two of my relatives owe their lives to an astonishing coincidence. A Bolshevik commander who ordered to shoot them was once a painter whose paintings one of them had once bought. So he couldn’t kill them and helped them flee to the White Army.

Husband and wife Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich and Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna (first cousins one removed), were rescued and consequently are the ancestors of most of the current Romanov descendants living today.

The investigation led by Nikolai Sokolov was the only official report providing evidence that the royal family had been executed and was published in French and Russian. It remained the only historical explanation until 1989 and the opening of Soviet archives.

He wrongly concluded that the victims had died instantly and that the bodies were destroyed in a massive bonfire.

In February 1919 the Sokolov Commission visited the site at Koptyaki Forest where the truck had got stuck in the mud and was unaware of its significance. They photographed and dug around the site but did not disturb the railway sleepers under which, the bodies were effectively hidden.

In the Spring of 1919 Solokov inspected the mineshaft where the first and unsuccessful attempt was made to dispose of the bodies. In and around the mineshaft he found lots of the Romanovs’ belongings that had been carelessly overlooked by Yurovsky’s men. Dr Botkin’s upper dentures and glasses, part of a severed female finger, congealed fat, dismembered and burned bone fragments, shoes, keys, spent bullets and even pearls and some diamonds.

The return of the Red Army to Yekaterinburg put and end to the investigation and Sokolov fled to France taking with him the items he had recovered. But because he had not located the remains, rumours spread that one or more members of the imperial family were still alive.

The best known of several imposters was a woman called Franziska Schanzkowska who was rescued from a Berlin canal in 1920, had no identification and insisted she was Grand Duchess Anastasia up until she died in 1984. She moved to America and changed her name to Anna Anderson living for years on the financial support of those that had believed her. DNA testing after her death proved that she was unrelated to the Romanovs.

The Romanov family hired a detective who revealed that she was in fact a Polish factory worker who’d worked in an arms factory during WWI. During a shift, a grenade had fallen out of her hand and exploded, causing injuries to her head and another worker’s death. She became severely depressed and had been declared insane.

CHRONOLOGY

1938 — Josef Stalin officially suppressed discussion of the Romanovs’ fate.

1940s — Books referring to ‘acts of revolutionary justice’ against the Romanovs were taken out of circulation. The executioner Yurovsky’s account was removed from display in Moscow’s Museum of the Revolution.

1977 — Ipatiev House demolished in September as Soviets declared it had no historical value.

1979 — Over 30-31 May The first remains were discovered in a shallow grave in Yekaterinburg by locals Alexander Avdonin and Geli Ryabov after years of research. Three skulls were removed from the grave, but after failing to find any laboratory to help examine them, and worried about the consequences of finding the grave, they were reburied in the summer of 1980 and remained interred until the end of the Soviet Union.

1981 — The Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia proclaimed Nicholas II and his family saints. On the spot that Ipatiev House once stood, the Church on the Blood is built to honour those victims who were executed.

1989 — On 10 April, Geli Ryabov revealed the Romanovs’ location to The Moscow News following the presidency of Mikhail Gorbachev that ushered in the era of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (reform).

1991 — The remains of nine people were recovered by Soviet officials on the Koptyaki Road.

1993 — An investigation was carried out aided by a blood sample given by the Duke of Edinburgh which proved through analysis of mitochondria] DNA inherited through the maternal line, that the remains found in 1991 included those of the Romanov family.

1998 — On 17 July the remains of Nicholas II, Alexandra, Olga, Tatiana, Anastasia, and four of their servants were interred in the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St Petersburg – exactly 80 years after their execution by the Bolsheviks.

2000 — The Russian Orthodox Church in the U.S.S.R. proclaimed Nicholas II and his family saints.

2007 — On 29 July another amateur group found the smaller pit containing the remains of Alexei and Maria. Sergei Plotnikov and his friend Leonid stumbled on a small hollow surrounded by silver birch trees and covered with nettles, when Sergei’s prodder hit something hard. They found several bone fragments; a piece of pelvis, a fragment of skull from a child and also pieces of Japanese ceramic bottles – used to carry sulphuric acid, seven teeth, three bullets of various calibres and a fragment of a dress.

The discovery and identification of the Remains in 1991 and 2007 finally proved that there had been no survivors of the execution. Although geneticists identified them as Alexei and Maria, the remains are stored in the state archives to this day, because the church does not believe the evidence provided, or recognise the expert findings.

2008 — American and Russian experts re-affirmed that the remains unearthed in 1991 belonged to Nicholas II by rnatching DNA samples from the skeletons with those from living relatives and from objects such as a blood-stained shirt worn by Nicholas II.

2015 — At the insistence of the Russian Orthodox Church, Russian investigators exhumed the bodies of Nicholas II and Alexandra Fyodorovna, for additional DNA testing, which confirmed that the bones were of said Romanovs.

– Newly appointed Curator for Russian Art at the Science Museum, Natalia Sidlina, unearthed 22 albums of Romanov photographs by chance when searching for Russia-related material at the National Science and Media Museurn in Bradford for the 2015 Cosrnonauts exhibition.

“What amazed me was how alike those albums were to any other family albums we have … the Romanovs looked just like any middle-class family.”

2018 — On the centenary of the executions over 100,000 pilgrims took part in a procession in Yekaterinburg, marching from the city centre where the Romanovs were murdered to a monastery in Ganina Yama. However, the centenary was overlooked by the Russian government, which did not organise any official commemorations.

Tsar Nicholas II

To have regret in hindsight on such a magnitude and at such personal expense, must have stupefied Nicholas beyond comprehension when he eventually realised that it was all over for him and his entire family. Due to latency his image has become one of gentleness, slow on the uptake, unaffected by events outside of the family circle and perhaps even as a bungling and inefficient ruler that lived through challenges that were way over his head.

It’s also asserted that he was a weak-willed man that allowed himself to be ruled by his wife in matters of State, and Alexandra in turn to be manipulated by the nefarious Rasputin. A joke making the rounds in St. Petersburg then was that the two most powerful people in Russia were the Tsar and whomever had spoken to him last.

Yet: Laws were enacted in Nicholas’ reign that transformed the country and brought it into the new century. William Howard Taft the 27th President of America (1909-1913) commented in 1993:

The Russian Emperor enacted labour legislation which not a single democratic state could boast of.

The days of monarchs going to battle and risking personal injury were long over. So too were times when a monarch had absolute power of life and death over their subjects and had full control and ownership of the treasury.

On 1 November 1894 when Nicholas II became Emperor. Russia was still thought of as a medieval country by the rest of the world. In 1897, working hours were limited and night work was forbidden for women and minors under seventeen years of age, at a time when the majority of countries had almost no labour legislation at all.

Following the first revolution of 1905, Russia entered into 3 period of great prosperity seeing such agricultural and industrial growth that had World War One not occurred, Russia could have become the leading nation of the world.

In 1908 Nicholas was presented with an industrialisation plan that would require far more money than was available and cost between 10 and 15 million premature deaths and was advised that the success of future wars depended upon industrialisation. His response was:

We will hope in God. If the war is short, we will win, but if it is long, then such is our fate.

He could have averted a revolution when the head of the police promised him that there would be no revolution in Russia for a hundred years if he would permit 50,000 executions. Nicholas refused.

Yet after the revolution the Bolsheviks thought nothing of butchering millions of people. Should he have said yes?

Perhaps the most striking legislation was for women, rights. The campaign for women, suffrage and equality in Russia gained momentum during the 1905 Revolution and by July 1917, women over 20 had been given the right to vote and hold public office.

The loss of the war against Japan was largely attributed to Nicholas not having involved himself enough. Yet in 1914 he immediately rushed to the front. He had already seen to it that industry was ready, but when he saw shortages at the front he took control of the military in mid-1915. Every military failure was directly associated with him after that and history has recorded that his poor handling of that war led to his abdication and execution.

Despite the economic growth in Russia, the war took its toll on the urban working class who were hit particularly badly as purchasing power decreased — for example, from 1914-1917, the price of flour increased fivefold. This is an example of how government, not the Emperor, failed the people. And likewise the military logistics failed the army.

That Nicholas let Rasputin influence matters of state is also nonsense. Rasputin had influence only in spiritual matters and the church. Perhaps Nicholas should be blamed for allowing a revolution to take hold, believing in the capabilities of his ministers, and for not denouncing Rasputin.

General A.I. Spiridonovich, having mentioned the empress’ insistence on not trusting anybody but Rasputin, Anna Vyrubova (Lady in Waiting) commented:

The Emperor understood all this well and very frequently acted against her advice, guided by his own experience. Sometimes his decisions coincided with the Empress’ wishes. But to claim indiscriminately that the Emperor acted in state matters only according to the Empress’ wishes is a great mistake. This means ignoring the facts as well as the character and principles of the Emperor. Emperor Nicholas was far from being as simple-minded and weak-willed as many thought.

When Nicholas was ten, he was instructed in the languages Russian, French, English and German and studied history ardently. Someone capable of mastering four languages and coping with the historians Karamzin and Solovyov in his adolescence cannot have been without due intelligence.

The Romanov dynasty ruled Russia from 1613 to 1917. The end of the last Tsar and of a dynasty can be attributed succinctly to one fatal decision, expressed adequately in Nicholas’ own words:

I can in no way forgive myself for having given up power. I never expected that power would fall to the Bolsheviks. I thought that I was giving up power to the representatives of the people.

The heir & Grand Duchesses

Peter the Great (1672 – 1725) was born in Moscow and died in St. Petersburg. He gave his name to, and founded the new capital city of Saint Petersburg in 1712. He ordered all the noble Russian families to move there.

The Romanov dynasty of tsars have resided there since and owned not only the complex of buildings which comprise the modern Hermitage, but also many other lavish palaces in the city. The nobles built similarly sumptuous residences there such as: Pavlovsk., Oranienbaum, Peterhof, Tsarskoye Selo, Gatchina and Krasnoye Selo.

This was the backdrop against which the Imperial children were born in to. They knew mostly court life within palace walls and of course the Imperial floating palace, Standart. What they saw of the outside world was when they were taken by their father to a ball or to the theatre.

It can be no bad thing that the Empress Alexandra wanted to shield them from the maladies of the wider world. Why should they have to encounter it, when a life of splendour is at hand; that was her reasoning. The only one they had a duty to prepare for state was their son Alexei and in this respect Alexei is often seen in uniform alongside his father, equally relaxing or inspecting the troops. That they were overly protective of their daughters was their judgement call to make, who can say that it was too restrictive or not, considering they did not survive much past adolescence.

In Yekaterinburg they suffered increasing stages of harassment and humiliation. The guards were heartless and cruel, subjecting them to insults, and stripping away their dignity.

Yet they bore it all with great fortitude, as a Christian family with absolute faith and humility in acceptance of the will of their god. They sought solace in prayer and in each other. Such was the greatness of their family spirit.

Sigmund Freud once remarked that a family tends to org-anise itself around its most damaged member. For the Romanovs that was Alexandra and Alexei on either side of the fulcrum, each one dependant on the other.

Alexei (1904): The heir apparent, was special from the moment he was conceived. The long awaited heir to the Imperial throne. The whole nation prayed, asking god to provide an heir after the Empress had borne four daughters previously. He was born with the dreaded illness of haemophilia, which showed up when he was six weeks old, and which caused him great pain and suffering.

Despite it, he lived with the disease with great fortitude, and without grumbling. He enjoyed games, rode horses and went on boats, and sleds. Most of all he loved sailing with his father and teasing his sisters. He made models from paper and joined in with the family’s passion for taking family photographs.

Olga (1895): She had blue eyes and the lightest golden-brown hair in the family. She was modest, sincere and kind. She liked simplicity and paid little attention to dress. She was the most intelligent with a greater sense of awareness than the others.

She had a bright smile and her inner joy radiated from her and had an uplifting effect on those around her. When faced with marriage to a foreign prince, she flat out refused saying, “I do not want to ever leave Russia. I am Russian and wish to remain so.

Tatiana (1897): Tall and thin she had a darker complexion than the others. She was somewhat reserved, dutiful and pensive; she was often more decided in her opinions than her sisters. She played the piano, painted and did embroidery. Tatiana is said to have been her mother’s favourite and had a sense of discipline, the other sisters nicknamed her ‘the Governess.’

Maria (1899): Strong and broadly-built and good looking, with light grey eyes. She painted and played the piano. She was fond of children and was at ease in all her surroundings, and probably the reason why she was the one chosen to go to Yekaterinburg with her parents.

Anastasia (1901): She was a bit of a tomboy and the family joker who made everyone laugh. She was the shortest of them all, had a straight nose and grey eyes. She had a small dog of Japanese breed, which the whole family loved and which she carried in her arms to the basement at 1patiev House where the dog was murdered with her.