Alexandra Feodorovna (Alix of Hesse): Wikis


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Alexandra Feodorovna
Empress consort of All the Russias
Tenure 1 November 1894 – 15 March 1917
Coronation 14 May 1896
Spouse Nicholas II of Russia
Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna
Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna
Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna
Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna
Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich
Father Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse
Mother Princess Alice of the United Kingdom
Born 6 June 1872(1872-06-06)
Darmstadt, Germany
Died 17 July 1918 (aged 46)
Yekaterinburg, Russian SFSR
Burial Peter and Paul Cathedral, Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation
Religion Eastern Orthodox
prev. Lutheran

Alix von Hessen und bei Rhein (later Alexandra Feodorovna Romanova (Russian: Императрица Александра Фёдоровна Романова Imperatrica Aleksandra Fyodorovna Romanova) (6 June 1872 – 17 July 1918), was Empress consort of Russia as spouse of Nicholas II, the last Emperor of the Russian Empire. Born a granddaughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, she was given the name Alexandra Feodorovna upon being received into the Russian Orthodox Church, which canonised her as Saint Alexandra the Passion Bearer in 2000.

Alexandra is best remembered as the last Tsaritsa of Russia, as one of the most famous royal carriers of the haemophilia disease, as well as for her support of autocratic control over the country. Her notorious friendship with the Russian mystic Grigori Rasputin was also an important factor in her life.


Early life

Alexandra was born on 6 June 1872 at the New Palace in Darmstadt as Princess Viktoria Alix Helena Luise Beatrice of Hesse and by Rhine[1][2], a Grand Duchy that was then part of the German Empire. She was the sixth child among the seven children of Grand Duke Louis IV of Hesse and by Rhine, and Princess Alice of the United Kingdom, the second daughter of Queen Victoria and Albert, Prince Consort.

Alix was baptized on 1 July 1872 according to the rites of the Lutheran Church and given the names of her mother and each of her mother's four sisters, some of which were transliterated into German. Her godparents were the Prince of Wales, the Princess of Wales, the Tsarevich of Russia, the Tsarevna of Russia, Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom, the Duchess of Cambridge and Anna of Prussia. Her family nicknamed the girl "Sunny," a practice picked up later by Nicholas.

In December, 1878, diphtheria swept through the grandducal house of Hesse. Alix, her three sisters and her brother Ernst fell ill. Elizabeth, Alix's older sister had been sent to visit her paternal grandmother, and escaped the outbreak. Alix's mother Alice tended to the children rather than abandon them to doctors. Alice herself soon fell ill with diphtheria and died on the anniversary of her father's death, 14 December 1878, when Alix was only 6 years old. Alix, Victoria, Irene, and Ernst survived the epidemic, but Princess Mary did not.


Tsarevich Nicholas, in hussar uniform, and Princess Alix of Hesse. Engagement photograph, 1894

Alix was married relatively late for her rank in her era, having refused a proposal from Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence (the eldest son of the Prince of Wales) despite strong familial pressure. It is said that Queen Victoria had wanted her two grandchildren to marry, but because she was very fond of Alix she accepted that she did not want to marry him; The Queen even went on to say that she was proud of Alix for standing up to her, something many people, including her own son the Prince of Wales did not do. Alix however, had already met and fallen in love with the Tsarevich of Russia, whose mother was the sister-in-law of Alix's uncle, the Prince of Wales and whose uncle Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich was married to Alix's sister Elizabeth. They were also second cousins as they were both great-grandchildren of Princess Wilhelmina of Baden. Nicholas and Alix had first met in 1884 and when Alix returned to Russia in 1889 they fell in love. "It is my dream to one day marry Alix H. I have loved her for a long time, but more deeply and strongly since 1889 when she spent six weeks in Petersburg. For a long time, I have resisted my feeling that my dearest dream will come true." Nicholas wrote in his diary;[3] and Alix reciprocated his feelings. At first, Nicholas' father, Tsar Alexander III, refused the prospect of marriage.[3] Society sniped openly at Princess Alix, safe in the knowledge that Tsar Alexander III and Maria Feodorovna (Dagmar of Denmark), both vigorously anti-German, had no intention of permitting a match with the Tsarevich. Although Princess Alix was his godchild, it was generally known that Alexander III was angling for a bigger catch for his son, someone like Princess Helene, the tall dark haired daughter of Philippe, comte de Paris, pretender to the throne of France.[3] The approach to Helene did not please Nicholas. He wrote in his diary, "Mama made a few allusions to Helene, daughter of the Comte de Paris. I myself want to go in one direction and it is evident that Mama wants me to choose the other one." [4] Fortunately Helene also resisted. She was Roman Catholic and unwilling to give up her faith to become Russian Orthodox. The Tsar then sent emissaries to Princess Margaret of Prussia, daughter of German Emperor Frederick III and sister of German Emperor Wilhelm II. Nicholas flatly declared that he would rather become a monk than marry the plain and boring Margaret. Margaret stated that she was unwilling to give up her Protestant religion to become Russian Orthodox. As long as he was well, Alexander III ignored his son's demands. He only relented as his health began to fail in 1894.[5] Alix was troubled by the requirement that she renounce her Lutheran faith, as a Russian Tsarina had to be Orthodox; but she was persuaded and eventually became a fervent convert.

She and Nicholas became engaged in April 1894 in Coburg, Germany.

Empress of Russia

Alexander III died on 1 November 1894 and Nicholas became Emperor of all the Russias at the age of twenty-six. The marriage was not delayed. Alexandra and Nicholas were wed in the Grand Church of the Winter Palace of Saint Petersburg on 14–26 November 1894. The marriage that began that night remained unflawed for the rest of their lives. It was a Victorian marriage, outwardly serene and proper, but based on intensely passionate physical love.[6]

Her older sister Ella was not only her sister, but her aunt by marriage. In fact, she, like Nicholas was a first cousin to Britain's King George V; Nicholas was a first cousin to three other kings as well: Christian X of Denmark, Constantine I of Greece, and Haakon VII of Norway.

Portrait by L. Tuxen of the wedding of Tsar Nicholas II and the Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt, which took place at the Chapel of the Winter Palace, St. Petersburg, on 14/26 November 1894. To commemrate their engagement the couple bought a pet, a short nosed wolf hound, called Greggori. Among those also depicted in this portrait, against the wall and to the right of the window, from left to right – King Christian IX of Denmark, Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna, Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, Olga Konstantinovna, Queen of the Hellenes, the future King Edward VII, Grand Duke Georgy Alexandrovich (son of Tsar Alexander III) and Prince Heinrich of Prussia (son of Kaiser Friedrich III). Today this portrait hangs at Buckingham Palace.

Alix of Hesse accompanied the Imperial family as they returned to Saint Petersburg with the body of the Tsar, and it is said that the people greeted their new Empress-to-be with ominous whispers of "She comes to us behind a coffin." [7]



Alexandra Feodorovna became Empress of Russia on her wedding day. It was not until 14 May 1896, that the coronation of Nicholas and Alexandra took place inside the Kremlin in Moscow.[8] The following day, tragedy struck the coronation celebrations when the deaths of several thousand peasants became known. The victims were trampled to death at the Khodynka Field in Moscow when they believed there was not enough food for everyone. By the time the police and more cossacks arrived, the meadow resembled a battlefield. By afternoon the city's hospitals were jammed with wounded and everybody knew what had happened. Nicholas and Alexandra were stunned. He declared he could not go to the ball being given that night by the French Ambassador, the Marquis da Montebello. The Tsar's uncles urged him to attend not to offend the French. Nicholas gave in and he and Alexandra attended the ball. Sergius Witte commented, "We expected the party would be called off. Instead it took place if nothing had happened and the ball was opened by Their Majesties dancing a quadrille." [9] It was a painful evening. "The Empress appeared in great distress, her eyes reddened by tears" the British Ambassador informed Queen Victoria.[9] Masses of simple Russians took the disaster at Khodynka Meadow as an omen that the reign would be unhappy. Other Russians, more sophisticated or more vengeful used the tragedy to underscore the heartlessness of the autocracy and the contemptible shallowness of the young Tsar and his 'German woman'.[10]

Rejection by the Russians

Alexandra was unpopular at court and with the Russian people. An intensely shy person,she literally froze up at public appearances,and when she appeared she was silent, seemingly cold, haughty and indifferent.[11] She was hurt by their unenthusiastic reception, and declared herself to be tired of the loose morals and etiquette of the Russian court. Alexandra, in turn, was called provincial, uninteresting, and haughty. Alexandra's failure to produce an heir to the Russian throne in her first four attempts was a source of great disappointment, and embarrasment,throughout the empire, and after she did bear a son in 1904 he was found to suffer from hemophilia. The tsaritsa's obsessive worry over her son's health, and her determination to protect him from possible harm, thereafter isolated her from society even further. Rather than associate with members of the highest Russian aristocracy, she sought friendships with other marginal figures such as Anna Vyrubova and the invalid Princess Sonia Obeliani. Aristocratic ladies who were accustomed to regular invitations to Tsarskoe Selo or the Winter Palace became indignant at being ignored by the Tsar's wife, and that indignation cost the monarchy much sympathy among the class that might have offered the Tsar urgently needed support later on.

The Russian aristocratic circle said many hurtful things toward Alexandra before her marriage: "schoolgirl blush, bad french accent" and "bad dancer." (Massie, R. p. 184) These early actions helped to freeze the negative reactions between the future Empress and society.

Later, when she tried to cross the divide, the haughty actions of her relatives, obviously, made her feel that the effort was not worth her time,and thus Alexandra made few attempts to forge bonds with the other members of the large Romanov family and generally attended as few court occasions as possible. She was unfavourably compared to the popular Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark and younger sister of the Princess of Wales.[12] In Russia, dowager empresses outranked empress consorts, unlike other European royal courts, and Marie commonly insisted on exercising this privilege, which meant that she entered formal occasions first, on the Tsar's arm, while Alexandra had to follow in second place. For her part, Alexandra resented Maria's continuing influence over Nicholas, which waned only with the passage of time and the births of his children, especially Alexei, as late as 1904. Alexandra's stubbornness, moreover, did not allow her to learn from her more experienced mother-in-law who was, however, displeased with Nicholas' choice of a German bride and probably would not have helped her daughter-in-law even had Alexandra sought her advice. The Dowager Empress had lived in Russia for seventeen years before coming to the throne; and in all fairness, Alexandra had barely a month between her arrival and her marriage to learn the court protocol, and how to be an Empress, rather than a relatively minor princess. Alexandra knew better than to publicly criticise "Mother dear". Alexandra associated willingly only with Nicholas' siblings and a very small number of the otherwise closely-knit Romanov family: Grand Duke Alexander Michailovich (husband of Nicholas' sister Xenia), Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich (the most artistic of the imperial house) and his family, and Grand Duke George Michaelovich (married to Nicholas' maternal first cousin, Maria of Greece). Alexandra abhorred in particular the family of Nicholas' senior uncle, Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich, and his wife Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, who openly criticized, and, during the war openly criticized the Empress; she considered, quite accurately, their sons, Kyrill, Boris and Andrei to be irredeemably immoral and in 1913 refused Boris' proposal for the hand of Grand Duchess Olga. Ultimately the empress' attitude toward most of the Romanovs, as well as her notorious reliance on Rasputin in World War I, lost Nicholas his relatives' support when the final crisis came early in 1917. A plot among the Grand Dukes to remove Alexandra from power and exile her to the Crimea was well known in St Petersburg society in 1916, and Grand Duke Vladimir's widow Marie openly told a member of the government that the tsaritsa "must be annihilated." Had the Imperial House been willing to act in unison in 1917, the worst consequences of the Russian Revolution might have been averted; but Alexandra had proved too polarizing a figure for that to happen.

Alexandra was fiercely protective of her husband's role as Tsar, and actively supported his rights as an autocratic ruler. She was a fervent advocate of the divine right, and believed that it was unnecessary to attempt to secure the approval of the people. Her aunt,German Empress Frederick, wrote to Queen Victoria that "Alix is very imperious and will always insist on having her own way; she will never yield one iota of power she will imagine she wields..." [12] During the first world war, with the national passions aroused, all the complaints Russians had about the Empress – her German birth, her coldness, her devotion to Rasputin – blended into a single, sweeping torrent of rejection [11]

Relationship with her children

Directly above the Mauve Boudoir at the Alexander Palace were the nurseries of her children. In the morning, Alexandra could lie back on her couch and through the ceiling hear the footsteps of her children and the sound of their pianos. A private elevator and private staircase led directly to the rooms above.[13] Alexandra, to the Russian people, was a cold-hearted German woman, with no ability to see the needs of those around her, unless they were family. This was true to a certain extent, as Alexandra was, like her husband, very focused on family. The empress, from her childhood, was painfully shy; she hated public appearances and neglected them and only appeared when absolutely necessary. Alexandra preferred to retreat to the sidelines, giving way to her mother-in-law; something which by custom was Maria Feodorovna's right. This shyness and desire to be alone had a deep impact on her five children and the empire.

The Russian imperial family, 1913. Left to right: Grand Duchess Maria, Tsarina Alexandra, Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana, Tsar Nicholas II, and Grand Duchess Anastasia. Tsarevich Alexei sits in front of his parents.

Almost one year after her marriage to the Tsar, Alexandra gave birth to the couple's first child: a girl, named Olga, was born on 15 November 1895. Olga could not be the heir presumptive due to the Pauline Laws implemented by Tsar Paul I: only a male could succeed to the Russian throne, although there were four female monarchs of Russia before Paul. Olga was well-loved by her young parents. Three more girls followed Olga: Tatiana on 10 June 1897, Maria on 26 June 1899 and Anastasia on 18 June 1901. Three more years passed before the empress gave birth to the long-awaited heir. Alexei Nikolaevich was born in Peterhof on 12 August 1904. To his parents' dismay, Alexei was born with hemophilia, an incurable bleeding disease.

With her eldest daughter, Olga, Alexandra sometimes had a difficult time. Perhaps this was due the fact that Olga was the first born. Olga was most like her father. Shy and subdued, she impressed people with her kindness, her innocence and the strength of her private feelings. As she grew older, Olga read widely, both fiction and poetry, often borrowing books from her mother's own tables before the Empress had read them. "You must wait, Mama, until I find out whether this book is a proper one for you to read." [14] Alexandra understood her second daughter, Tatiana much better. In public and in private, Tatiana surrounded her mother with unvarying attention. If a favor was needed, all the imperial children agreed that "Tatiana must ask Papa to grant it." [14] During the family's final months, Tatiana helped her mother move from place to place, pushing her about the house in a wheelchair. The next daughter, Maria, liked to talk about marriage and children. The Tsar thought she would make some man an excellent wife. Maria was considered the angel of the family. Anastasia, the youngest and most famous daughter, was the "shvibzik," Russian for "imp." [15] She climbed trees and refused to come down unless specifically commanded to come down by her father. Her aunt and godmother, Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, once recalled a time when Anastasia was teasing so ruthlessly that she slapped the child.[16] When they were children, Alexandra dressed her daughters as pairs, the oldest two and the youngest two wearing matching dresses.[17] As Olga and Tatiana grew older, they played a more serious role in public affairs. Although in private they still referred to their parents as 'Mama' and 'Papa' in public, they referred to 'the Empress' and 'the Emperor'.[17] Nicholas and Alexandra intended that both their older daughters should make their official debuts in 1914 when Olga was nineteen and Tatiana seventeen. The first world war intervened and the plans were canceled. By 1917, the four daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra had blossomed into young women whose talents and personalities were, as fate decreed, never to be unfolded and revealed.[18]

Alexandra doted on Alexei. The children's tutor, Pierre Gilliard wrote, "Alexei was the center of a united family, the focus of all its hopes and affections. His sisters worshiped him. He was his parents' pride and joy. When he was well, the palace was transformed. Everyone and everything in it seemed bathed in sunshine." [18]

Having to live with the knowledge that she had given him the bleeding disease, Alexandra was obsessed with protecting her son; she kept a close eye on him at all times and consulted a number of mystics who claimed to be able to heal him during his nearly fatal attacks. Alexandra spoiled her only son and let him have his way. She seemed to pay more attention to him than to any of her daughters. In 1912, Alexandra finally revealed the truth about Alexei's illness, in confidence, to her mother-in-law and Nicholas' sisters, but the knowledge soon reached a limited circle of courtiers and relatives. The revelation backfired on Alexandra, since she was now blamed for Alexei's frail health and, because it had first appeared among Queen Victoria's children, his condition was known to some as "the English disease," adding to the element of foreignness that clung to Alexandra. Increasingly, she became an unpopular figure with the imperial family, the aristocracy and the Russian people. During Great War, her German birth further inflamed this hatred and made her the immediate and primary focus for almost any aspect of opposition to the monarchy.

Despite the attention she lavished on her son, and the careful watch she kept over her four daughters, Alexandra was close only to Tatiana. Olga in particular resented her mother's control, and the two younger Grand Duchesses, Maria and Anastasia, felt they were unwanted as their parents had expected sons when they were born. Alexandra dealt with Maria's feelings in characteristic fashion by writing notes rather than talking to her personally, another strong indication of the empress' emotional detachment from others and lack of parental skills to deal effectively with her daughter's emotional upset. Not surprisingly, the belief that they were unwanted adversely affected their behavior, especially in Anastasia's case; she was combative and resentful, and took out her frustrations on the few cousins with whom she was allowed to associate. In fact all four Grand Duchesses, as well as their brother, were kept as virtual prisoners at Tsarskoe Selo, prevented from forming friendships with others of their own age. All of them remained immature and socially inept, with manners that were called harsh and inappropriate by adult courtiers. Alexandra's mistress of the household wrote that "in general, [the Grand Duchesses] behaved like young savages," and a military official of the Tsar's household remarked that even when Olga and Tatiana were grown women, they still spoke to each other like girls ten or eleven years old. After luncheon with the Tsar's family, Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich wrote that Alexei's appalling table manners embarrassed even the Tsar; Alexandra, rather than discipline him herself, chided Olga (who was seated next to her brother) for not controlling him, though the girl was too young to have managed him.


Image Name Birth Death Notes
Olga1910.jpg Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna 15 November [O.S. 3 November] 1895 17 July 1918 shot at Yekaterinburg by the Bolsheviks
Tatiana in court gown 1910.jpg Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna 10 June [O.S. 29 May] 1897 17 July 1918 shot at Yekaterinburg by the Bolsheviks
Maria Nikolaevna.jpeg Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna 26 June [O.S. 14 June] 1899 17 July 1918 shot at Yekaterinburg by the Bolsheviks
Anastasia1909.jpg Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna 18 June [O.S. 5 June] 1901 17 July 1918 shot at Yekaterinburg by the Bolsheviks
Alexei Nikolaievich circa 1917 Army uniform.jpg Czarevich Alexei Nikolaevich 12 August [O.S. 30 July] 1904 17 July 1918 shot at Yekaterinburg by the Bolsheviks

In addition to her five live-born children, Alexandra suffered miscarriages in the summer of 1896, presumably because she became physically exhausted during her coronation festivities, and in August 1902. According to the Empress' dresser, Marta Mouchanov, the pregnancy in 1895 was far enough advanced that her doctor said the child was male. Some writers state that the 1902 pregnancy was psychological, inspired by the chicanery of the French mystic Philippe Vachot (the first man whom Alexandra dubbed "Our Friend"), but a miscarriage was officially announced and the Tsar's sister Xenia described it as "a minor miscarriage."

Alexandra's health was never robust and her frequent pregnancies exacerbated the situation. Without exception, however, her biographers, including Robert Massie, Carrolly Erickson, Greg King and Peter Kurth, ascribe the semi-invalidism of her later years to nervous exhaustion from obsessive worry over the fragile Tsarevich. She spent most of her time in bed or reclining on a chaise in her boudoir or on a veranda. This immobility let her avoid the social occasions that she found distasteful, and it contributed to her remote and generally unsatisfactory relationships with her children.

Hemophilia and Rasputin

Empress Alexandra Feodorovna with her son, the Tsarevich Alexei, 1913

Alexei was born during the height of the Russo-Japanese War on 12 August 1904. The Tsarevich was the Heir Apparent to the throne of Russia, and Alexandra had fulfilled her most important role as Tsarina by bearing a male child. At first the boy seemed healthy and normal, but in only a few weeks' time it was noticed that, when he fell and bumped himself, his bruises did not heal, but became worse and his blood was slow to clot. It was soon discovered Alexei suffered from Hemophilia, which could only have been transmitted from Alexandra's side of the family.[19] Hemophilia was generally fatal in the early 20th century, and had entered the royal houses of Europe via the daughters of Queen Victoria, who herself was a carrier. Alexandra had lost a brother, Friedrich, to the disease, as well as an uncle, Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany; her sister Princess Irene of Hesse and by Rhine was also a carrier of the gene and, through her marriage to her cousin Prince Heinrich of Prussia, spread it into a junior branch of the Prussian royal family. Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, another of Queen Victoria's granddaughters and a first cousin of Alexandra, was also a carrier of the hemophilia gene. She married King Alfonso XIII of Spain and two of her sons were hemophiliacs. As an incurable and life threatening illness, suffered by the sole male heir, the decision was made to keep the heir's condition secret from the Russian people. As a carrier of the hemophilia gene, Alexandra was not a hemophiliac but she likely produced lower-than-normal clotting factor, having only one normal copy of the gene instead of two. Her status as a carrier, in addition to her worry over her son's health, might have been one reason for her reportedly poor health. Alexandra generally suffered from poor health.

At first Alexandra turned to Russian doctors to treat Alexei. Their treatments generally failed as there was no known cure. Burdened with the knowledge that any fall or cut could actually kill her son, Alexandra herself did even more charity work. She also turned toward God for comfort, familiarizing herself with all the Orthodox rituals and saints and spent hours praying in her private chapel for deliverance.[20] In desperation, Alexandra increasingly turned to mystics and so-called holy men. One of these, Grigori Rasputin, appeared to have a success.

Rasputin's debauched lifestyle led Nicholas at times to distance him from the family. Even after Alexandra was told by the director of the national police that a drunk Rasputin exposed himself at a popular Moscow restaurant and bragged to the crowd that Nicholas let him top his wife whenever he wanted, she blamed it on malicious gossip. "Saints are always calumniated." she once wrote. "He is hated because we love him." [21] Nicholas was not nearly as blind, but even he felt powerless to do anything about the man who seemingly saved his only son's life. One minister of Nicholas wrote, " He did not like to send Rasputin away, for if Alexis died, in the eyes of the mother, he would have been the murderer of his own son." [21]

From the start there were persistent murmurs and snickers behind Rasputin's back. Although some of St.Petersburg's top clergy accepted Rasputin as a living prophet, others angrily denounced him as a fraud and a heretic. Stories from back home in Siberia chased him, such as how he conducted weddings for villagers in exchange of sleeping the first night with the bride. In his apartment in St.Petersburg, where he lived with his daughter Maria, Rasputin was visited by anyone seeking his blessing, a healing or a favor with the Tsarina. Women, enchanted by the monk's crude mystique, also came to Rasputin for more 'private blessings' and received a private audience in his bedroom, jokingly called the 'Holy of Holies'. Rasputin liked to preach a unique theology, that one must first become familiar with sin before one can have a chance in overturning it.[22]

In 1912, Alexei suffered a life-threatening hemorrhage in the thigh while the family were at Spala, Poland. Alexandra and Nicholas took turns at his bedside and tried in vain to comfort him from his intense pain. In one rare moment of peace, Alexis was heard to whisper to his mother, "When I am dead, it will not hurt any more, will it, Mama?" [23] Devastatingly, it seemed to Alexandra that God was not answering her prayers for her son's relief. Believing Alexei would die, Alexandra in desperation sent a telegram to Grigori Rasputin. Right away he sent a reply, "God has seen your tears and heard your prayers. Do not grieve. The Little One will not die. Do not allow the doctors to bother him too much." [23] Rasputin's advice just happened to coincide with signs of a recovery. From 1912 onwards, Alexandra came to rely increasingly on Rasputin, and to believe in his ability to ease Alexei's suffering. This reliance enhanced Rasputin's political power, which was seriously to undermine Romanov rule during the First World War.

Rasputin's perceived interference in political matters eventually led to his murder in December 1916. Amongst the conspirators was a noblemen Prince Felix Yusupov, married to Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna's daughter, Princess Irina of Russia, and a member of the Romanov family Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich.

World War I

The outbreak of World War I was a pivotal moment for Russia and Alexandra. The war pitted the Russian Empire of the Romanov dynasty against the much stronger German Empire of the Hohenzollern dynasty.[24] When Alexandra learned of the Russian mobilisation, she stormed into her husband's study and said: "War! And I know nothing of it! This is the end of everything." [25]

The Grand Duchy of Hesse and by Rhine, ruled by her brother, formed part of the German Empire. This was, of course the place of Alexandra's birth. This made Alexandra very unpopular with the Russian people, who accused her of collaboration with the Germans.[26] The German Emperor, Wilhelm II, was also Alexandra's first cousin. Ironically, one of the few things that Empress Alexandra and her mother-in-law Empress Maria had in common was their utter distaste for Emperor Wilhelm II.

Portrait of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. Livadia, 1907

When the Tsar travelled to the front line in 1915 to take personal command of the Army, he left Alexandra in charge as Regent in the capital Saint Petersburg. Her brother-in-law, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich recorded, "When the Emperor went to war of course his wife governed instead of him." [27] Alexandra had no experience of government, and constantly appointed and reappointed incompetent new ministers, which meant the government was never stable or efficient. This was particularly dangerous in a war of attrition, as neither the troops nor the civilian population were ever adequately supplied. She paid attention to the self-serving advice of Rasputin, and their relationship was widely, though falsely, believed to be sexual in nature. Alexandra was the focus of ever increasing negative rumours, and widely believed to be a German spy in the Russian court.


World War I put what proved to be unbearable burden on Imperial Russia's government and economy, both of which were dangerously weak. Mass shortages and hunger became the daily situation for tens of millions of Russians due to the disruptions of the war economy. Fifteen million men were diverted from agricultural production to fight in the war, and the transportation infrastructure (primarily railroads) were diverted towards war use, exacerbating food shortages in the cities as available agricultural products could not be brought to urban areas. Inflation was rampant which, combined with the food shortages and the poor performance by the Russian military in the war, generated a great deal of anger and unrest among the people in Saint Petersburg and other cities.[28]

The decision of the Tsar to take personal command of the military against advice was disastrous as he was directly blamed for all losses. His relocation to the front, leaving the Tsaritsa in charge of the government, helped undermine the Romanov dynasty. The poor performance of the military led to rumours believed by the people that the German-born Tsaritsa was part of a conspiracy to help Germany win the war. The severe winter of 1916–17 essentially doomed Imperial Russia. Food shortages worsened and famine gripped the cities. The mismanagement and failures of the war turned the soldiers against the Tsar. . The mood of the army is perhaps captured well by one scene in Jean Renoir's movie, La Grande Illusion. Alexandra sends boxes to Russian prisoners of war. Thrilled to think they are receiving vodka, they open them to discover bibles, and promptly riot.

By March 1917, conditions had worsened. Steelworkers went out on strike on 7 March, and the following day, International Women’s Day, crowds hungry for bread began rioting on the streets of Saint Petersburg to protest food shortages and the war. After two days of rioting, the Tsar ordered the Army to restore order and on 11 March they fired on the crowd. That very same day, the Duma, the elected legislature, urged the Tsar to take action to ameliorate the concerns of the people. The Tsar responded by dissolving the Duma.[29]

On 12 March soldiers sent to suppress the rioting crowds mutinied and joined the rebellion, thus providing the spark to ignite the February Revolution (like the later October Revolution of November 1917, the Russian Revolutions of 1917 get their names due to the Old Style calendar). Soldiers and workers set up the "Petrograd Soviet" of 2,500 elected deputies while the Duma declared a Provisional Government on 13 March. Alexander Kerensky was a key player in the new regime. The Duma informed the Tsar that day that he must abdicate.

In an effort to put an end to the uprising in the capital, Nicholas tried to get to Saint Petersburg by train from army headquarters at Mogiliev. The route was blocked so he tried another way. His train was stopped at Pskov where, after receiving advice from his generals, he first abdicated the throne for himself and later, on seeking medical advice, for himself and his son the Tsarevich Alexei.[30] Alexandra was now in a perilous position as the wife of the deposed Tsar, hated by the Russian people. Nicholas finally was allowed to return to the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo where he was placed under arrest with his family. Despite the fact he was a first cousin of both Nicholas and Alexandra, King George V refused to allow them to evacuate to the United Kingdom, as he was alarmed by their unpopularity in his country and the potential repercussions to his own throne.[31]


The last photograph ever taken of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, on the balcony of the Governor's Mansion, Tobolsk, in Siberia, spring 1918. With her are her daughters Olga and Tatiana

The Provisional Government formed after the revolution kept Nicholas, Alexandra, and their children confined in their primary residence, the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, until they were moved to Tobolsk in Siberia in August 1917, a step by the Kerensky government designed to remove them from the capital and possible harm. From Tobolsk, Alexandra managed to send a letter to sister-in-law, Xenia Alexandrovna, in the Crimea,

"My darling Xenia, My thoughts are with you, how magically good and beautiful everything must be with you – you are the flowers. But it is indescribably painful for the kind motherland, I cannot explain. I am glad for you that you are finally with all your family as you have been apart. I would like to see Olga in all her new big happiness. Everybody is healthy, but myself, during the last 6 weeks I experience nerve pains in my face with toothache. Very tormenting ...

We live quietly, have established ourselves well [in Tobolsk] although it is far, far away from everybody, But God is merciful. He gives us strength and consolation ...." [32]

Alexandra and her family remained in Tobolsk until after the Bolshevik Revolution in November 1917, but were subsequently moved to Bolshevik controlled Yekaterinburg in 1918. Nicholas was ordered to Ekaterinburg. Alexandra and their daughter Maria went with him arriving at the Ipatiev House on 30 April 1918. On entering their new prison, they were ordered to open all their luggage. Alexandra immediately objected. Nicholas tried to come to her defence saying, "So far we have had polite treatment and men who were gentlemen but now -" [33] The former Tsar was quickly cut off. The guards informed him he was no longer at Tsarskoe Selo and that refusal to comply with their request would result in his removal from the rest of his family; a second offence would be rewarded with hard labour, Fearing for her husband's safety, Alexandra quickly gave in and allowed the search. On the window frame of what was to be her last bedroom in the Ipatiev House, Alexandra scrawled a swastika, her favourite good luck symbol, and pencilled the date 17/30 April 1918.[33] In May, the rest of the family arrived in Ekaterinburg. They had not been able to travel earlier due to the illness of Alexis. Alexandra was pleased to be reunited with her family once more.

Seventy-five men did guard duty at the Ipatiev House. Many of the men were factory workers from the local Zlokazovsky Factory and the Verkh-Isetsk Factory. The commandant of the Ipatiev House, Alexander Avadeyev was described as "a real Bolshevik". The majority of witnesses recall him as coarse, brutish and a heavy drinker. If a request for a favour on behalf of the family reached Avadeyev, he always gave the same response, "Let them go to hell!!" The guards in the house often heard him refer to the deposed Tsar as "Nicholas the Blood-Drinker" and to Alexandra as "The German Bitch".[34]

For the Romanovs, life at the Ipatiev House was a nightmare of uncertainty and fear. The imperial family never knew if they would still be in the Ipatiev House from one day to the next or if they might be separated or killed. The privileges allowed to them were few. For an hour each afternoon they could exercise in the rear garden under the watchful eye of the guards. Alexei could still not walk, and his sailor Nagorny had to carry him. Alexandra rarely joined her family in these daily activities. Instead she spent most of her time sitting in a wheelchair, reading the Bible or the works of St. Seraphim. At night the Romanovs played cards or read; they received little mail from the outside world, and the only newspapers they were allowed were outdated editions.[35]

We now know that Lenin personally ordered the execution of the imperial family. Although official Soviet accounts place the responsibility for the decision with the Ural Regional Soviet. Leon Trotsky, in his diary, makes it quite clear that the assassination took place on the authority of Lenin. Trotsky wrote,

"My next visit to Moscow took place after the fall of Ekaterinburg. Talking to Sverdlov I asked in passing, "Oh yes, and where is the tsar?" "It's all over," he answered. "He has been shot." "And where is his family?" "And the family with him." "All of them?" I asked, apparently with a touch of surprise. "All of them," replied Sverdlov. "What about it?" He was waiting to see my reaction. I made no reply. "And who made the decision?" I asked. "We decided it here. Ilyich (Lenin) believed that we shouldn't leave the Whites a live banner to rally around, especially under the present difficult circumstances." [36]

On 4 July 1918, Yakov Yurovsky, the chief of the Ekaterinburg Cheka, was appointed commandant of the Ipatiev House. Yurovsky was a loyal Bolshevik, a man Moscow could rely on to carry out its orders regarding the imperial family. Yurovsky quickly tightened security. From the imperial family he collected all of their jewellery and valuables. These he placed in a box which he sealed and left with the prisoners. Alexandra kept only two bracelets which her uncle, Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, had given her as a child and which she could not take off. He did not know that the former Tsarina and her daughters wore concealed on their person diamonds, emeralds, rubies and ropes of pearls. These would be discovered only after the murders. Yurovsky had been given the order for the murder on 13 July.[37]

On Sunday, 14 July 1918, two priests came to the Ipatiev House to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. One of the priests, Father Storozhev later recalled, "I went into the living room first, then the deacon and Yurovsky. At the same time Nicholas and Alexandra entered through the doors leading into the inner room. Two of his daughters were with him. I did not have a chance to see exactly which ones. I believe Yurovsky asked Nicholas Alexandrovich, "Well, are you all here?" Nicholas Alexandrovich answered firmly, "Yes, all of us." Ahead beyond the archway, Alexandra Feodorovna was already in place with two daughters and Alexei Nicolaievich. He was sitting in a wheelchair and wore a jacket, as it seemed to me, with a sailor's collar. He was pale, but not so much as at the time of my first service. In general he looked more healthy. Alexandra Feodorovna also had a healthier appearance. ...According to the liturgy of the service it is customary at a certain point to read the prayer, "Who Resteth with the Saints." On this occasion for some reason the deacon, instead of reading the prayer began to sing it, and I as well, somewhat embarrassed by this departure from the ritual. But we had secretly begun to sing when I heard the members of the Romanov family, standing behind me, fall on their knees ...." [38]


Tuesday, 16 July 1918 dawned hot and dusty in Ekaterinburg. The day passed normally for the former imperial family. At four o'clock in the afternoon, Nicholas and his daughters took their usual walk in the small garden. Early in the evening Yurovsky sent away the fifteen year old kitchen boy Leonid Sedinev, saying that his uncle wished to see him. At 7pm, Yurovsky summoned all the Cheka men into his room and ordered them to collect all the revolvers from the outside guards. With twelve heavy military revolvers lying before him on the table he said, "Tonight, we shoot the entire family, everybody." Upstairs Nicholas and Alexandra passed the evening playing bezique; at ten thirty, they went to bed.[39]

The former Tsar and Tsaritsa and all of their family, including the gravely ill Alexei, along with several family servants, were executed by firing squad and bayonets in the basement of the Ipatiev House, where they had been imprisoned, early in the morning of 17 July 1918, by a detachment of Bolsheviks led by Yakov Yurovsky.[40] In the basement room of the Ipatiev House, Nicholas asked for and received three chairs from the guards. Minutes later, at about 2:15 a.m., a squad of soldiers, each armed with a revolver, entered the room. Their leader Yurovsky ordered all the party to stand; Alexandra complied "with a flash of anger," and Yurovsky then casually pronounced, "Your relations have tried to save you. They have failed and we must now shoot you." Nicholas rose from his chair and only had time to utter "What...?" before he was shot several times, not (as is usually said) in the head, but in the chest; his skull bears no bullet wounds, but his ribs were shattered by at least 3 fatal bullet wounds.[41] Standing about six feet from the gunmen and facing them, Alexandra watched the murder of her husband and two menservants before military commissar Peter Ermakov took aim at her. She instinctively turned away from him and began to make the sign of the cross, but before she could finish the pious gesture, Ermakov killed her with a gun shot which, as she had partly turned away, entered her head just above the left ear and exited at the same spot at her right ear. After all the victims had been shot, Ermakov in a drunken haze stabbed Alexandra's body and that of her husband, shattering both their rib cages and even chipping some of Alexandra's vertebrae.[42]

Identification of remains

Yekaterinburg's "Church on the Blood," built on the spot where the Ipatiev House once stood.

After the execution of the Romanov family in the Ipatiev House, Alexandra's body, along with Nicholas, their children and some faithful retainers who died with them, was stripped and the clothing burnt according to the Yurovsky Note. Initially the bodies were thrown down a disused mine-shaft at Ganina Yama, 12 miles (19 km) north of Yekaterinburg. A short time later they were retrieved, their faces were smashed and the bodies dismembered and disfigured with sulphuric acid were hurriedly buried under railway sleepers with the exception of two of the children whose bodies were not discovered until 2007. In 2007, the bodies missing were those of a daughter—Maria or Anastasia—and Alexei.[43] In the early 1990s, following the fall of the Soviet Union, the bodies of the majority of the Romanovs were located along with their loyal servants, exhumed and formally identified. A secret report by Yurovsky, which came to light in the late 1970s, but did not become public knowledge until the 1990s, helped the authorities to locate the bodies. Preliminary results of genetic analysis carried out on the remains of a boy and a young woman believed to belong to Nicholas II's son and heir Alexis, and daughter Maria were revealed on 22 January 2008.[44] The Ekaterinburg region's chief forensic expert said, "Tests conducted in Yekaterinburg and Moscow allowed DNA to be extracted from the bones, which proved positive," Nikolai Nevolin said. "Once the genetic analysis has been completed in Russia, its results will be compared with test results from foreign experts." [44] Nevolin said the final results would be published in April or May 2008.[44] Certainty about the remains will finally put an end to the story of Anna Anderson having any connection with the Romanovs as all remaining bodies will be accounted for.

DNA analysis represented a key means of identifying the bodies. A blood sample from Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (a grandson of Alexandra's oldest sister, Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine) was employed to identify Alexandra and her daughters through their mitochondrial DNA. They belonged to Haplogroup H (mtDNA). Nicholas was identified from DNA obtained from among others his late brother Grand Duke George Alexandrovich of Russia. Grand Duke George had died of tuberculosis in the late 1890s and was buried in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St.Petersburg.[45][46]

Burial and sainthood

St. Catherine Chapel in the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in the Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul, Saint Petersburg

Alexandra, Nicholas and three daughters were reinterred in the St.Catherine Chapel of the Peter and Paul Cathedral at the Fortress of St.Peter and St.Paul in St.Petersburg in 1998, with much ceremony, on the eightieth anniversary of the execution.

In 2000 Alexandra was canonised by the Russian Orthodox Church together with her husband Nicholas II, their children and others including her sister Grand Duchess Elizabeth and her fellow nun Varvara.



  • The episode Love and Revolution devoted to the fall of the Romanov dynasty is featured in the Danish television A Royal Family, a series about the descendants of King Christian IX of Denmark.

Titles and styles

  • Her Grand Ducal Highness Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine (1872–1894)
  • Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia (created in 1894 by Alexander III prior to her marriage)
  • Her Imperial Majesty The Empress of all the Russias (1894 – February 1917) – title lost at the time of the abdication of her husband.



  1. ^ Gelardi, Julia, Born to Rule, p.5
  2. ^ Buxhoeveden, Baroness Sophie, Life and Tragedy of Alexandra Feodorovna, p.1
  3. ^ a b c Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.49
  4. ^ Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.50.
  5. ^ Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.50
  6. ^ Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.45
  7. ^ King, G, The Last Empress, p.76
  8. ^ Coronation of Tsar Nicholas II at Google Video (Adobe Flash video)
  9. ^ a b Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.80
  10. ^ Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.81
  11. ^ a b Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.186
  12. ^ a b King, G, The Last Empress, p.93
  13. ^ Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.153
  14. ^ a b Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.154
  15. ^ Vorres, I, The Last Grand Duchess, p.108
  16. ^ Vorres, I, The Last Grand Duchess, p.109
  17. ^ a b Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.157
  18. ^ a b Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.158
  19. ^ Denton, C.S, Absolute Power, p.574
  20. ^ Denton, C.S, Absolute Power, p.374
  21. ^ a b Denton, C.S, Absolute Power, p.577
  22. ^ Denton, C. S, Absolute Power, p.576
  23. ^ a b Denton, C.S, Absolute Power, p.575
  24. ^ The Last Tsar by Virginia Cowles, p.4
  25. ^ King, G, The Last Empress, p.213
  26. ^ The Last Empress by Greg King p.223
  27. ^ King, G, The Last Empress, p.244
  28. ^ Tames, R, Last of the Tsars, p.52
  29. ^ Tames, R, Last of the Tsars, p.53
  30. ^ Tames, R, Last of the Tsars, p.55
  31. ^ Tames, R, Last of the Tsars, p.57
  32. ^ Van der Kiste, J & Hall, C, Once A Grand Duchess: Xenia, Sister of Nicholas II, p.121
  33. ^ a b King, G, The Last Empress, p.344
  34. ^ King, G, The Last Empress, p.345
  35. ^ King, G, The Last Empress, p.346
  36. ^ King, G, The Last Empress, p.358
  37. ^ Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.539
  38. ^ King, G, The Last Empress, p.361
  39. ^ Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p,540
  40. ^ Tames, R, Last of the Tsars, p.63
  41. ^ Denton, C.S., Absolute Power, p.588
  42. ^ King, G, The Last Empress, p.364
  43. ^ "Remains of Czar Nicholas II's Son May Have Been Found". Fox News. 21 August 2007.,2933,294360,00.html. Retrieved 22 November 2009. 
  44. ^ a b c YEKATERINBURG, 22 January 2008 (RIA Novosti)
  45. ^ Identification of the remains of the Romanov family by DNA analysis by Peter Gill, Central Research and Support Establishment, Forensic Science Service, Aldermaston, Reading, Berkshire, RG7 4PN, UK, Pavel L. Ivanov, Engelhardt Institute of Molecular Biology, Russian Academy of Sciences, 117984, Moscow, Russia, Colin Kimpton, Romelle Piercy, Nicola Benson, Gillian Tully, Ian Evett, Kevin Sullivan, Forensic Science Service, Priory House, Gooch Street North, Birmingham B5 6QQ, UK, Erika Hagelberg, University of Cambridge, Department of Biological Anthropology, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3DZ, UK –
  46. ^ Once A Grand Duchess: Xenia, Sister of Nicholas II by John Van Der Kiste & Coryne Hall, p.174

See also


  • Denton, C.S., Absolute Power, London: Arcturus Publishing, 2006. ISBN 9781841934235
  • Finestone, Jeffrey, The Last Courts of Europe, London: J M Dent & Sons, 1981. OCLC 7554764
  • Hall, Coryne, Little mother of Russia, Holmes & Meier Publishers, 2001. ISBN 0-8419-1421-4
  • Hall, Coryne & Van Der Kiste, John, Once A Grand Duchess Xenia, Sister of Nicholas II, Phoenix Mill: Sutton Publishing, 2002. ISBN 9780750927499
  • King, Greg, The Last Empress, Citadel Press Book, 1994. ISBN 0-8065-1761-1.
  • King, Greg The Court of the Last Tsar, John Wiley & Sons, 2006. ISBN 13 978-0-471-72763-7.
  • Kurth, Peter, Tsar: The Lost World of Nicholas and Alexandra, Allen & Unwin, 1995. ISBN 9781863738996
  • Lyons, Marvin, Nicholas II The Last Tsar, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974. ISBN 9780710078025
  • Massie, Robert, Nicholas and Alexandra, London: Pan Books, 1967. OCLC 405885
  • Massie, Robert, The Romanovs The Final Chapter, New York: Ballantine Books, 1995. ISBN 0-345-40640-0
  • Tames, Richard, Last of the Tsars, London: Pan Books, 1972. ISBN 9780330029025 OCLC 821663
  • Vorres, Ian, The Last Grand Duchess, London: Finedawn Publishers, 1985 (3rd edition) OCLC 18254268

External links

Alexandra Feodorovna (Alix of Hesse)
Cadet branch of the House of Hesse
Born: 6 June 1872 Died: 17 July 1918
Russian royalty
Title last held by
Dagmar of Denmark
Empress consort of Russia
1 November 1894 – 15 March 1917
Empire abolished in 1917
Grand Duchess consort of Finland
1 November 1894 – 15 March 1917
Title next held by
Margaret of Prussia
as Queen of Finland
Titles in pretence
Empire abolished in 1917 — TITULAR —
Empress consort of Russia
15 March 1917 – 17 July 1918
Title next held by
Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha


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