Episode 33: The Romanovs, Part Two

Part One of our discussion ended with the very deadly coronation events of Nicholas II and Alexandra. Russia was heading into a dire economic crisis and Nicholas stated that he intended to continue his reign in the  same manner of his father, Alexander III.  Will the new Tsar and Tsarina turn the country around? Will Nicholas lead his country to recovery? Will Alexandra ever get away from the meddling eyes of her Mother-in-law? Will she produce that male heir that is so necessary to the future of the Romanov dynasty?

It really does sound a little like a soap opera, doesn’t it? Sadly, the scenes that played out- while filled with glitz and drama like a movie- were very real.

The family circa 1913

What Nicholas and Alexandra thought of as strong traditions, others viewed as old fashioned and not at all in touch with the needs of the people.  Politics aside, the couple did have a very beautiful life and were very much in love. They settled in Tsarkoe Selo, creating as cozy a home as they could in a corner of a very large, very opulent palace.  Their entire life was filled with extravagant homes, jewels, and living. (For more detailed information on the palaces, Faberge eggs, and other peeks into the lifestyle of this family and Russia during their reign, please see the shownotes for Part One of this series, or start at Alexanderpalace.org)

Oh, this little place? Home base- Tsarkoe Selo just outside of Saint Petersburg

The Tsar and Tsarina got busy building a family ever yearning for the male heir to carry on the family business, so to speak.

Grand Duchess Olga, the first born in 1895 was followed by Tatiana two years later. Two years after that, Maria and right-on- time-child number four- Anastasia. While all of the children were loved by there parents, and very much wanted- they were not the desired male child and Alex started to freak out just a little. As always we go into greater detail on the podcast, but she went to some extreme methods (and you know how much we love to talk extreme fertility methods) to conceive a son.

Finally, in 1904, Alexandra gave birth to Alexei,Tsarevich of Russia. The family was complete.

The family was finally complete

Unfortunately, Alexei’s mother passed down to her son a trait that she had inherited from her grandmother, Queen Victoria- hemophilia. Early in his life he was diagnosed, and Nicholas and Alexandra chose to keep his condition secret. Desperate for a cure from the painful and life threatening condition, Alexandra turned to a rather unorthodox measures, including befriending and entrusting the services of Grigori Rasputin- a sham sham mystic with questionable ethics. But it seemed as if he was able to help young Alexei’s bleeding, and for reasons that perplexed many Alexandra trusted him with her family and often called upon him for guidance and counsel. Rasputin’s unusual relationship with the family, as well as his scandalous  lifestyle would draw harsh criticism from the Russian people. His violent murder the result of some thinking that he had undue, and misguided influence over the Imperial family. (Basically, he didn’t play well with everyone)

Grigori "Mad Monk" Rasputin

Stranger Danger... Grigori Rasputin

As the children grew, Alexei’s condition caused Niki and Alex to protect him not only from injury, but to help protect the secret. The family became more withdrawn from society, cloistering themselves in their various residences. Educated at home with the best tutors, the girls adored their baby brother and were each other’s besties. The family traveled, from one palace to the next- creating a sort of annual migration between them all.  While the family hobby of photography left us with an abundance of pictures, the family themselves participated in as few official functions as possible and spent most time with each other. We see  far more of them now than their contemporaries did at the time.

A rare smile on the face of Alexandra, with Olga rollerskating on the deck of The Standart

"Would you like eggs for breakfast, my Dear?" "Oh yes, but from a chicken, not a jeweler." *Insert regal laughter* Ok, made that up. But Niki and Alex being chill on the royal yacht

The idyllic and private life that the family created for themselves was not to last long. With the outbreak of , and Russia’s entrance into, World War I-Nicholas left for the front. Alexandra and the older two girls became nurses, and the younger two were given a small officers hospital to “oversee”. As war efforts go, they all were very hands-on participants, not afraid of a little blood and very attentive to those in their care.

Alexandra, however, didn’t do so well with Nicholas gone. And as World War I sort of morphed (overly simplified version, we know- we do go into more detail in the podcast) into a Revolutionary War- Nicholas’s absence from the family made her a little, well, nutty. To add to her Worry List, by 1917 serious plots were forming to overthrow the government. Revolts were getting organized and the people who supported the Tsar were becoming fewer and clashed with those who demanded change.

Eventually, Nicholas was asked to abdicate the throne- a position that he never had the training, skill, or temperament for but felt God had place him in.  Thinking that he could walk away, sort of retire- Nicholas abdicated, not just for himself but also for his son, Alexei.

But a peaceful retirement was not in the future for this former Tsar. His family was put under house arrest at Tsarkoe Selo. As two different armies- White and Red- strengthened and jockeyed for power, the family was moved from their home to increasingly less opulent, then downright meager surroundings.

One of the last images of the Romanov sisters-Maria, Olga, Anastasia and Tatiana in captivity at Tsarskoe Selo in 1917

On July 17th, 1918 as Vladimir Lenin was gaining power, his Red (Bolshevik) Army battled the White Army that was still in support of the Tsar.The only way to guarantee a victory was to not have the Tsar rise back into power. The only way to do that, was to execute Nicholas.

Late at night, the family was awakened, told they would be moving again and to gather in a basement room. They did. And, in that room, the entire family was executed.

But the story doesn’t exactly stop here. The bodies were moved and hidden. With no bodies, the whereabouts of the family could not be determined. For many years people came forward claiming to be members of the Imperial Family, the most notable being Anna Anderson. All were found to be fraudulent.

All but two of the bodies were discovered in 1979- with confirmed identification not taking place until 1991. The final two, Alexei and Maria- were not found and the identities were not confirmed until 2007. (More detailed information about the last days, the house where the murders took place, as well as the discovery, exhumation and identification of the bodies can begin here, at Romanov-memorial.com)


For other media recommendations, please see the shownotes for Part One of this series because we are about to go book-tastic all over this space.

This is by no means a fully inclusive list of books about these women, this family, this dynasty, this country- this is simply a list of the ones that we would recommend based on our research.

This is the book that Beckett specifically mentioned in the episode (and the title is one that we felt we were living while getting this two part episode to you.)

The Curse of the Romanovs, Straton Rabin

The rest are in alphabetical order based on book title…it was the only fair and orderly way we could think of.

One of Beckett's Favorites:Alexandra: The Last Tsarina byCarolly Erickson

One of Susan's faves: A Lifelong Passion by Andrei Maylunas and Sergei Mironenko

Alix and Nicky: The Passion of the Last Tsar and Tsarina by Virginia Rounding

Before the Revolution by Kyril Fitzlyon

Chronicle of the Russian Tsars by David Warnes

Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert Massie

Nicholas and Alexandra: The Family Albums by Prince Michael of Greece

One of Beckett's Faves:The Court of the Last Tsar by Greg King

The Last Tsar by Larissa Yermilovna

One of Susan's Favorites: The Lost World of Nicholas and Alexandra by Peter Kurth

The Riddle of Anna Anderson by Peter Kurth

As always our music comes courtesty of Music Alley, visit them at music.mevio.com