tsaritsa Alexandra (1872-1918)
Alexandra was born in May 1872 into the German aristocratic family of Hesse. When she was a year old, her older brother Frederick, known to the family as "Frittie" and three years old at the time died as a result of a fall and complications coming from his underlying Haemophilia. Later on two of her nephews were born with the disease, one of them, Prince Henry of Prussia, died in 1904, not long before the birth of the Tsarevitch. The condition of these children from the German Imperial Family was kept a secret and this policy may later have had some influence on how Alexandra dealt with the case of her own son's illness.
Alexandra’s mother died when she was small. This led to her being brought up under the influence of Queen Victoria, whom she ever after referred to as “Granny”. Although nominally a constitutional monarch in a democratic state, Victoria was at heart a very autocratic character with very definite ideals of what it meant to be Royal and someone who was very conscious of her own exalted position. This was something that in her later years, when Alexandra knew her, had been made more pronounced by the pretensions of her sycophantic Prime Minister Disraeli who reinforced Victoria’s illusions by having Victoria created Empress of India. As a result, Alexandra, who was growing up in a privileged environment herself, inherited a rather unrealistic picture of monarchs having more influence and power than they actually had. Victoria also reinforced this view by having all the members of the European Royal Families intermarry, creating an unofficial institution that she referred to as “The Firm”. Alexandra herself became an integral part of the Firm when she married Alexander III’s son Nicholas II in 1894.
Her marriage had an unfortunate start, in that it began under the cloud of the death of Nicholas’s father Tsar Alexander III. The rather superstitious Russians referred to her as “The Coffin Bride”, because their first sight of her was dressed in mourning at the Tsar’s funeral. This was not seen as an auspicious beginning. Things were made worse when at the Coronation in 1896, following a terrible accident when many people died in a stampede trying to get Coronation souvenirs, the Tsar and Tsarina were observed going to the French Ambassador’s Ball, apparently without a care for those who had died. In the first, but not the last misunderstanding of the reign, Alexandra and Nicholas had wanted to cancel the Ball and have mass said for the dead, but were persuaded otherwise by the Tsar’s uncles, lending the Royal Couple an unfortunate air of callousness, which became very hard to shake off.
This was later made worse by two factors. First, although the family’s nickname for Alexandra was “Sunny”, in public she was anything but. She was in fact a very shy person, someone who only blossomed in private. At public functions she was very nervous and this led her to seem very awkward and distant to those who did not know her personally and understand her condition. Second, the illness of the Tsarevitch and Alexandra’s feeling of personal responsibility for it led to her and the family becoming very withdrawn and secretive after the heir’s birth in 1904. Public balls and social functions came to revolve around the Tsar’s mother Empress Marie Feodorovna, whose personal dislike for Alexandra, freely communicated to anyone who would listen, led to the Dowager Empress becoming almost an Empress by default in the absence from the social scene of Nicholas, Alexandra and the immediate family.
As time passed and a succession of religious figures and healers came and went in the circle of the immediate family, eventually including Rasputin, talk began to circulate that there was something wrong with the heir. The family’s greatest mistake was in not communicating what was actually going on. In the absence of facts, people naturally speculate and the greater the secrecy, the more extreme become the speculations.
All of this exploded during the First World War. Alexandra, already disliked enough came under suspicion as a German spy by the general public. This and the wild speculations about her relationship with Rasputin, which were not exactly helped by the starets’ public behaviour led eventually to a group from the Imperial Family’s wider circle, led by Grand Duke Dmitri, a cousin of the Tsar, Prince Felix Yusupov and a man form British Inteligence, recently identified as Oswald Rayner, assassinating Rasputin on the early morning of December 30th 1916 (December 17th OS). Following this came the final collapse of the regime and the Tsar’s abdication in February 1917 in favour of Prince L’vov and the new Provisional Government.
Alexandra had always believed in the Autocracy and the rule of the Tsar through the consent of his people. More than her husband, she failed to understand the currents which were directing Russia towards constitutional change since before Alexander II’s death in 1881. In her reactionary attitude and her husband’s love for her lay some of the seeds of her and her family’s catastrophic demise, a demise she seems to have known would happen before she married Nicholas – she initially refused him due to a deep feeling of “fatedness” surrounding the match. Her love led her to overcome that feeling – and the “fatedness” is now a matter of historical record.
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