Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, The Last Royal Family of Imperial Russia

During my college years I became obsessed with the last royal family of Russia. I spent hours in the library reading anything it had to offer on Nicholas II. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that Leslie Carroll include a section all about the last Tsar in "Notorious Royal Marriages". Reading the section on Nicholas and his wife Alexandria from a lovers point of view was a whole new aspect for me. One that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The family that was doomed from the beginning shared a unique quality that as Leslie stated "They were exemplary spouses and parents who lovingly raised their five sweet-natured children in a cozy domestic environment". Their marriage being a true love match they never cheated and truly loved each other.

Almost every living person knows of the story of Nicholas daughter Anastasia. She was labeled as the "lost princess". Rumors were fueled by the fact that the location of her burial was unknown during the decades of Communist rule. 20th Century Fox even went as far as to make a cartoon movie about her in 1997 where Rasputin was chasing her as an undead sorcerer fulfilling his promise of "The Romanov Curse". Through out the years after the families demise many women came forward claiming to be the lost princess, one in particular named Anna Anderson stood out from the rest. Some even believed she really was Anastasia. Later DNA test would prove that Anna had no relation to the Romanov family.

Initially I was drawn to their story because of a story my professor had told me. I am really unclear if it is true or not but the story goes that when the Tsarina was being held with her children and they knew that it was all over, she had sewn into their clothing precious gems mostly diamonds just in case they need money for an escape in the future. When the family was to be executed the bullets from the assassins ricocheted off of the gems and that they had to be executed up close. Here is what the wiki says:
"The executioners drew revolvers and the shooting began. Nicholas was the first to die; Yurovsky shot him multiple times in the head and chest. Anastasia, Tatiana, Olga, and Maria survived the first hail of bullets; the sisters were wearing over 1.3 kilograms of diamonds and precious gems sewn into their clothing, which provided some initial protection from the bullets and bayonets. They were stabbed with bayonets and then shot at close range in the head."
Morbid fascination I know... but then I discovered Faberge eggs. As an artist I was baffled. The detail of craftsmanship is impeccable nothing is even comparable to them. Each one was unique and given for a reason, even if that reason was a just a token of affection for the Easter holiday. The saddest part to me is that to this day there are many missing eggs. Many of them disappeared when the palace was looted. The missing eggs are in chronological order of creation: Hen with Sapphire Pendant, Cherub with Chariot, Nécessaire, Alexander III Portraits, Mauve, Empire Nephrite, Royal Danish.

It would come to be that in our life time the remains of the entire royal family would be found and DNA tested and the family could finally have their peace. Here is the timeline of discovery for the families remains:

1979: The bodies of Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra, three of their daughters, and those of four non-family members killed with them, were discovered near Yekaterinburg by an amateur archaeologist.

1998: The remains excavated from underneath the dirt road near Yekaterinburg were officially identified as those of Nicholas II and his family excluding one of the sisters, and Alexei. After the testing the remains were finally interred at St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg on 17 July 1998, eighty years after they were murdered.

2007: Builder Sergei Pogorelov (part of a team from an amateur history group who spent free summer weekends looking for the lost Romanov's) said that after stumbling on a small burned area of ground covered with nettles near Yekaterinburg he had discovered bones that belonged to "a boy and a young woman roughly the ages of Nicholas’ 13-year-old hemophiliac son, Alexei, and a daughter whose remains also never have been found. Acting on standard procedures, prosecutors reopened the investigation surrounding the deaths of the Imperial Family.

2008: DNA tests performed by a U.S. laboratory proved that bone fragments exhumed in the Ural Mountains belonged to two members of the Imperial Family, Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich and Grand Duchess Maria, according to Russian news agencies. Russia's Supreme Court ruled that Nicholas II and his family were victims of political repression and should be rehabilitated.

2009: Results of the DNA testing were published, confirming that the two bodies discovered in 2007 were those of Alexei and his sister Maria. Details relating to the forthcoming burial procedure will have to be discussed by a Russian State commission and by the Moscow Patriarchate.

I have never read a historical fiction read on the family but I would be very interested if one happened to cross my path. In the meanwhile check out the section in "Notorious Royal Marriages" about Nicholas and Alexandra by Leslie Carroll. Leslie even included the couples love entries in Nicholas journal which will just melt your heart and make you fall in love this royal family. Be sure to check out Arleigh's interview with Leslie on Historical Fiction, it is a good one too!


  1. Ms. Carroll's book sounds better and better. But what a tragic story about Nicholas and Alexandra and their five children. I have heard it before, of course, but for some reason, the re-telling here seems especially sad.

  2. Ms. Carroll's book does look good. I've always had a fascination with the Romanovs as well, I think because their story is so morbid and tragic. If you haven't already read it, The Romanovs by Robert K. Massie is very good and has been acclaimed as the definitive biography of them. Also, a good historical fiction novel, is The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander; while it may not be the most accurate is still entertaining.

  3. If memory serves you are in Portland. Have you ever gone to the Marhill Museum to the East of you on the Washington side? If not I think you'd like it, http://maryhillmuseum.org/

    Makes for a nice long weekend trip. After winter's over of course :)

  4. Lizzy, this is a fantastic post! I love all the information about the Faberge eggs, as well as your timeline.

    I have to say that during my research I did not come across the tidbit that the family had sewn precious jewels into their garments, and if I had, I would have mentioned it in my chapter, because it's very dramatic and intriguing. Nor did I read any mention of the bullets ricocheting off their garments, as they pinged off the gemstones. I've never fired a gun before, but I can check with someone who has; however, it seems highly improbable.

    And as for the gems being hidden in their clothes, frankly, the family was watched so closely during their house arrests that it would have been unlikely that the women would have had the opportunity to hide their jewels.

  5. Hi, Whitney,

    I did read Massie's bio for my research, and I agree with you about it being the definitive one.

    Nicholas and Alexandra were one of my favorite couples because their's was a true love story, though it's important not to lose sight of the fact, as we sigh over true romance, that Nicholas was an autocrat, and a disastrous ruler. If he'd been a wiser one, would there have been a revolution in 1917? I wonder. And consequently, would there have been a Stalin?

  6. Lizzy~this was a beautiful post! I loved how you set it up with the timelines and pictures. Great job! I read Massie's bio as well. I have often thought as Leslie points out that if Nicholas would have better adept at ruling and relating to the people who were literally starving and eating one anothers corpses to survive would there have been a revolution?

  7. Great post. I have always been obsessed with the Romanov family. I actually think the whole Fox animated movie set me onto it when I was a little girl. After watching it I began scouring the libraries and internet for anything to do with them.

    I do remember reading about the jewels sewn into the corsets, therefor acting as a shield through the first round of bullets. I actually remember reading that bit to my grandparents b/c I thought it was so interesting!

    Thanks for the post, it's nice to know someone else who is also fascinated by them. Have a great day!

  8. Here is a little something for you! Come on over and check it out :)


  9. This was a really interesting post! Thanks for sharing.

  10. I think the reason the families story is so tragic is that they were a "real" family. They just wanted to be together and their son being a hemophiliac really made them a solid unit. Unconditional love was a rarity in Royal family history.

    Whitney thank you so much for the reads I am going to add them to my amazon wish list asap!

    Misfit, I am so going there! Not far away at all and they have some really cool exhibits. Maybe I can lure the husband into going for my birthday in August. Thank you for sharing.

    Leslie, I have to say that since you did not include it and did not come by anything about it in your research that maybe it just is not true. Like an urban Russian myth. Maybe you have the know how it verify it. I would like to know if it really did happen or not because it is a very freaky thing. My professor was way more graphic about it saying "When the bullets were flying they were running around like chickens with their heads cut off", gross. I defiantly have fired a gun in my life, you know living in the sticks guns sometimes come in handy. My family has always been firm believers in the right to bear arms. I was thinking though that it might have been possible for the bullets to bounce since the gun technology back then was so different from today. If diamonds can cut glass why not reflect bullets? Were are the Myth Busters when you need them? Or more like the history myth busters. I am going to ask my gun totting military brother to see what he thinks. He love gun history. I figured since you did not include it in your chapter on them it must not be true.

    I have to agree they are one of my favorite couples. Maybe the reason he was a bad ruler is because he was a family man at heart and maybe just maybe that is how Stalin got his foot in the door. The door was opened for Rasputin that way. He was a piece of work he still scares me, his picture, he is CREEPY.

    Susie I really need to read that bio now. Maybe Nicholas II did not relate to the people because he was too busy relating with his family, pretty much oblivious to what was going on outside his niche. When it all went down more than likely it was a "Oh, I had no idea it was that bad".

    Muse ha I am not the only one who watched the movie too. I think I still have it my kids wont watch it they say "it is scary". Too funny.

  11. Thank you Ash I did have fun writing it, Leslie was a great source of inspiration.

  12. Massie also wrote a followup called The Romanovs: The Final Chapter which details how the families remains were found and the interesting (and often petty) legal and political fighting that went on as a result. It also spends a considerable amount of time on Anna Anderson. I highly recommend it!

  13. This was my favorite royal family that was included in this book. So fascinating. A great post Lizzy - I enjoyed the timeline - really put things into perspective.

  14. Great post, Lizzy! I have always been somewhat confused by the Romanov family story, and never really read about it in detail since high school world history class, until I read Leslie's chapter in NRM. This is a very fitting intro, and I love seeing the timeline breakdown. Very helpful in understanding all the facts! Thanks for posting this, Lizzy! So interesting.

  15. This family.. and Anastasia.. were always intriguing to me. I remember searching for information when the 1998 results came out. I also have Massie's book and need to re-read it. I read it long ago, and need to revisit it.
    Lovely post!!

  16. My gunshot expert says that the bullets would take the path of least resistance ... so if there really were gemstones sewn into the women's corsets, the bullets wouldn't have richocheted off the corsets, they would have just lodged a few millimeters away.

    Lizzy, I have to say that in my humble opinion your professor was trying to get his class interested in the history by being as entertaining as possible. I certainly haven't read anywhere that the Romanovs ran around that small room like "chickens with their heads cut off." True, some didn't die right away, but they were in a small room and there was nowhere to run. However, Nicholas, for example, was killed with a single shot, as were other members of the family and their entourage.

    What also breaks my heart is the image of some hideous hired assassin stoving in the dog's head with his rifle butt.

  17. I went through a phase of fascination with the Romanovs myself not all that long ago. I too would recommend Robert Alexander's book for a fictional take on the last days. His other two books set around that time are also very interesting.

  18. Your post is excellent Lizzy! I never knew that about the bullets and the diamonds. So sad. I LOVE this family- and like you Lizzy, I want to read more about them. I was delighted that Leslie included them in her book. It was a real treat to be able to read so many details of their lives in NRM. If I come across something non-fiction I'll let you know (and you do the same!)

    Have you ever visited the blog The Cross of Laeken? There is so much history about them there.

    You should check out The Sword and the Sea blog- there's a lot on Russian royals and the Romanovs.



  19. I too have always been very interested in the Romanov family and their terrible fate. I always hoped that at least one of them survived, but, alas, the harsh realities always seem to win out. =O(

  20. One of your best posts, Lizzy. I actually didn't know that there had been a conclusive DNA decision about "Anastasia."

    And now I can read more about Tsar Nicholas and his family in Leslie's book. Which I'm hoping will arrive in the mail very soon...

  21. Daphne, I had that book in my hands I wanted it so so bad but the book police showed up and it was confiscated. Was there not a movie in the 80's about Anna too?

    I see that many of you enjoyed the timeline, I have been following it for some time and when the most reccent devlopent showed up in the news I piped up and told my husband "they found them". He acted like he was interested. They deserve to be together and be a family even in death.

    I really enjoyed Leslie's section on them I had no idea they truly passionately loved each other or that she was Queen Victoria's granddaughter.

    As to Leslie, I too have to humbly agree that my history teacher was a quack but it worked and inspiration is something that can not be taught. I loved history before that but did not really know it until that moment. It was like a light bulb turn on or the mac comercial "bing:bu.bu.bum". Cool that you had someone look into it I found it a pretty gruesome story I could not forget at the time.

    The Romanov family makes for good reads non fiction and fiction. I am going to have to get my hands on one of the books now no matter what.

    Thank you Everyone for you wonderful insight I am ecstatic that everyone else finds the family so interesting too!

  22. Maybe you read a book I am looking for. I read it in the late 70's or early-mid 80's (I think). It was a fictional account narrated by a man who was close to the family and fell in love with Olga, the eldest daughter. It was a fairly short book. Ring any bells? Thanks so much. I've been searching for this title for months now.

  23. Yogurt, the only book I can think of would be The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander. It is short and narrated by someone who was close with the family. I am not sure about the love with Olga part because I have not read it but I do own it because it has been highly praised. It is real short only 229 pages, I hope that is one the one you are looking for.


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