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Posts Tagged ‘Tsar Alexander III’

Tsar Nicholas II of Russia

The reign of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (1894-1918) was doomed from the start. To begin with, “Nicky” never wanted to succeed his father as tsar. So when his 49-year-old father, Tsar Alexander III, died suddenly in November 1894, thrusting him onto the throne,  Nicky was ill-disposed to rule. Instead of grabbing the reins of power, Nicky, 26, was consumed by grief. He wrote of his late father:

“It was the death of a saint! Lord, help us in these terrible days!” 

 

Shown here with his wife Marie, Tsar Alexander III of Russia was built like a peasant. Tall and hulking, his huge body swayed when he walked. Within the palace walls, he privately dressed like a lowly laborer, wearing baggy trousers, soft blousy shirts, and a sheepskin jacket. He wore his clothes until the seams ripped only to turn around and have them patched by his royal valet. He possessed the strength of Hercules, able to bend a solid silver ruble using only his thumb.

Nicky could not collect his thoughts and act – and action was desperately needed. His first actions as tsar would set the tone of his reign. The Russian people – some of whom had been dangerously agitating for the abolition of the monarchy – needed to be told of the passing of the tsar. A funeral needed to be planned. Ministers needed to be consulted, meetings held.

Pressing as these matters were, Nicholas attended to none of them. Swallowed up in self-pity, he openly bemoaned his fate as the new tsar, pathetically begging others to help him.  So lost was he in his own personal fugue that he consoled neither his mother nor his sisters.  Sinking under the crushing weight of his weakness, he hid in the comfort of his fiance, Princess Alix of Hesse, and did nothing.

The German princess Alix of Hesse, engaged to Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. She was his rock.

Meanwhile,  Mother Nature was on the move.  The tsar’s corpse, still in the Livadia Palace on the Black Sea, stank horribly and had to be carried by Nicky and his uncles out of the house and into “a little corner” where it could be embalmed. Strangely,

the face of the dead tsar, which was turning black with corruption, appeared to be smiling, as if it were about to laugh”

at his firstborn son’s idiocy. Tsar Alexander had wanted to pass on the crown to his second son, Michael, whom he considered the only one of the three imperial sons to possess the self-confidence of one born to rule. The old tsar knew that his son Nicky was soft and easily swayed by others.

Alas, Nicky’s weaknesses would be his – and his family’s – downfall.

Source:  Erickson, Carolly. Alexandra: The Last Tsarina. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001

Readers: For more on Nicholas and Alexandra on this blog, click here.

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Peterhof Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia

They first met at the 1884 wedding of his uncle to her sister. She called him Nicky; he called her “Alix” or “Sunny.”  Although Alix was only 12, she knew at that moment that Nicky was “The One.” It was on this occasion she carved their names on the window of the Peterhof Palace.

Alix of Hesse as a young girl ca. 1878

After the wedding, Alix bid her sister and Nicky goodbye, returning to the Darmstadt Palace in Germany which was her home. Alix was a royal princess.

Alix of Hesse ca. 1888

Young Nicholas II of Russia, before he ascended the throne in 1894

Five more years would pass before Princess Alix would return to Russia and see Nicky again. During that visit, the two fell even more deeply in love. Nicky was determined to make Alix his bride.

But Nicky’s parents wouldn’t hear of Nicky marrying a German princess. They hated Germans as did almost every Russian. But Nicky’s parents weren’t just any Russians.  Nicky’s parents were the Romanov rulers of Russia: Tsar Alexander III and Tsarina Marie Feodorovna . They were the Royal Emperor and Empress. Nicky – Nicholas Alexandrovich- being their oldest son – was the Tsarevitch – the heir to the Russian throne.

Alix returned to Germany.

Princess Alix of Hesse, seated, prepares for her first ball. 1889.

More years passed. Love letters written in English flew back and forth between the lovesick pair.

Meanwhile, Nicky carried on a torrid and scandalous three-year affair with the famous Russian ballerina, Mathilda Kschessinska.

Mathilde Kschessinska (1872-1971)

Nevertheless, Nicky’s heart still belonged to Alix.  He wrote in his diary:

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.”

Nicky’s parents continued to wage a fierce campaign to find Nicky a suitable bride. The Tsar hoped to land a bigger catch for his son than Princess Alix (even though she was his godchild!), parading a series of royal princesses in front of his son. But Nicky stood firmly against each proposed match, declaring flat out to his folks that he’d become a monk rather than marry anyone ugly and boring when he could have the tall and lovely blue-eyed beauty Princess Alix as his wife and royal consort.

Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom comforts her German granddaughters, the Princesses of Hesse; left to right, Victoria, Ella, and, the youngest, Alix. Their mother, Princess Alice, had just died. Alice was Victoria's second daughter.

Meanwhile, alone in Germany, Alix was equally resolute to marry Nicky, doing her own bit in  turning down royal suitors. She even stood up to her domineering grandmother, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, when the Queen tried to marry her off to her grandson, the Duke of Clarence. Alix declined to marry the Duke stating to “Granny” that she did not love him. Victoria – notorious for her royal matchmaking – surprisingly

“was proud of Alix for standing up to her, something many people, including her own son, the Prince of Wales did not do.”

 
For five years, Tsar Alexander III had stood firmly against his son’s wishes. But, in 1894, he became ill and relented, the couple announcing their engagement in April of 1894.

1894 official engagement photo of Princess Alix of Hesse (later Alexandra Feodorovna) and Tsarevitch Nicholas (later Tsar) of Russia

Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt and by Rhine & Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich, London, 1894

Alix, as a requirement for the engagement, converted from Lutheranism to the Russian Orthodox religion and took the Russian name “Alexandra Feodorovna” to strengthen her appeal to the Russian people. Nicholas and Alexandra planned a spring 1895 wedding.

But their plans were thrown in disarray by Alexander’s sudden death in November and Nicholas’s subsequent ascension to the throne as His Imperial Majesty, Tsar Nicholas II. Nicholas insisted that the wedding date be moved forward, as he wanted Alix by his side to help him rule. They married a swift three weeks later. He was 26.  Alix, now called Empress Alexandra,was 22.

Wedding of Russian Emperor Nicholas II (1868-1918) and Grand Princess Alexandra Fedorovna (1872-1918) by Laurits Tuxen, 1895

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