Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine began her journey to becoming Empress of Russia when she met her future husband the Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia at her sister’s wedding reception in 1884. The pair fell deeper in love in 1889 when Alix took a six-week-long trip to St Petersburg which gave them a chance to get to know each other. Alix’s grandmother Queen Victoria had wished her to marry her cousin the Duke of Clarence, but the determined Alix refused his proposal. Still, the couple faced opposition from Nicholas’s father Alexander III and Alix herself was hesitant about having to abandon her Protestant faith for the marriage. Despite all of these issues, the couple were finally married on the 26 November 1894 just weeks after the death of Nicholas’s father. This meant that the new couple had little time to settle into married life as they had become the Emperor and Empress of Russia. Alix was known as Alexandra Feodorovna from this point on.
Alexandra was loved deeply by her husband from the start of their marriage up until the very end, but unfortunately, her subjects did not share his love. As the couple was married while the nation was still in mourning for Emperor Alexander III, Alexandra was seen as a bad omen. The public saw the early death of the late Emperor and the emergence of Alexandra as Empress as a sign of changing times and the bringing of misfortune. Another reason for her unpopularity early on was the fact Nicholas’s mother, Dowager Empress Maria was still alive, and it was a tradition in Russia that the Dowager Empress should have more power than her reigning son’s bride. This tradition meant that people compared Alexandra with her mother-in-law who had always been very popular with the people, causing Alexandra to live as a recluse.
Shortly following the wedding came further problems which blackened Alexandra’s name; to celebrate their coronation, Tsar Nicholas and Alexandra organised food, drinks and gifts to be given out at public parties which were held to mark the occasion. Sadly, this kind act ended in disaster when almost 1500 were killed after the crowds began to stampede upon hearing rumours that there was not enough food to hand out. The Khodynka Tragedy was a devastating blow to the country and the royal couple, and it is believed that because of this event and by not cancelling a ball they were due to attend in the evening, the couple had set in stone their ill-fated destiny that day.
In her family life, Alexandra fulfilled all of the duties required of her as a royal consort. She was a loving and dutiful wife, assisted her husband when he needed her, and she also provided children; four girls Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia and finally a son and heir Alexei who was born in 1904. The population was overjoyed to finally have an heir to the throne, but the jubilation did not last long as the child was born with haemophilia and despite trying his parents trying to hide this fact, eventually, rumours began to circulate.
It was Alexei’s condition that led to another drop in Alexandra’s popularity, but not because the child was ill, although the Empress did blame herself for passing on the condition from her side of the family. It was Alexandra’s methods of preserving her precious son’s life that again lowered her popularity, firstly just because she was always by Alexei’s side or in prayer which meant she was rarely present at functions and secondly because of her choice to rely on mystics and holy men. In desperation, after little progress with medical doctors, Alexandra looked for men of religion or mystics to help her son, knowing that even a small fall could kill him; she was willing to try anything. This search for a healer for her son led to Alexandra becoming reliant upon a man named Grigori Rasputin who was apparently a mystical healer. Rasputin had a terrible reputation for drinking and leading a debauched lifestyle, he also started rumours about having an affair with the Empress, but in her eyes, he could do no wrong. Alexandra believed that Rasputin had saved her son’s life on a number of occasions and allowed the man political power in return for his services. The involvement of Rasputin in politics got out of hand until one day in 1916 he was assassinated by members of the Romanov family. His interference had reportedly undermined Tsar Nicholas’s efforts during WWI and threatened the survival of the dynasty as a whole. Alexandra was, of course, seen as the one to blame for allowing Rasputin into their family, and she was also widely accused of having had a sexual relationship with him.
By the time Russia was in the midst of the First World War, Alexandra was despised more than ever. The issues over Rasputin, combined with Alexandra’s German heritage, led to suspicion of her. While Nicholas trusted Alexandra enough to leave her in charge of the government when he went to the front line, the public did not and believed she was in collaboration with her cousin Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany.
By the time of the family’s execution by firing squad on 17 July 1918, Alexandra was deeply mistrusted and misunderstood by her own subjects. It was not until in 1981 that the Russian people recognised Alexandra’s martyrdom and she was declared a saint in 2000 by the Russian Orthodox Church.