This article was written by Carol.
Alexandra, known to her family as Alix, was born in 1872, the daughter of Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine and Princess Alice, a daughter of Queen Victoria. When she was six years old, tragedy struck the family in the form of diphtheria. One of her sisters died as did her mother who had nursed the entire family through the illness. After that the children frequently spent time in England with their Grandmother Queen Victoria. Victoria was particularly fond of Alix and closely oversaw her upbringing.
In 1884, Alix met Nicholas, heir to the throne of Russia, at the wedding of her sister Elizabeth to Nicholas’ uncle Sergei. Although both families opposed the match, eventually the engagement was announced in 1894. A lavish wedding was planned in St. Petersburg which was marred by the unexpected death of Nicholas’ father, Alexander III. Nicholas was now Emperor. Alexander III was buried on 19 November, and the wedding took place on 26 November.
The coronation took place sometime later in May, 1896. The day after thousands of people were crushed to death in a field where they had gathered for the celebrations. Nicholas’ uncles insisted on going ahead with a celebratory ball that had been planned by the French for that very evening. The spectacle of the royal family, and particularly Alix, dancing and glittering in jewels on the night so many were killed, cast a shadow over the Russian people’s view of Alix.
From the beginning, Alix struggled to fit into her new role of Empress. She did not know the language, and her shyness made her appear cold in public. Her private life, however, was very happy. Nicholas and Alexandra enjoyed a very close and loving marriage, and their happiness was only troubled by the fact that after 9 years of marriage she had given birth to only girls – Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, The Russian empire could only be inherited by a male heir, and Nicholas and Alexandra desperately wanted a son. In fact, after the birth of the fourth daughter, Nicholas had to go for a walk before being able to visit his wife.
In 1904, Alix gave birth to her son named Alexei, but almost immediately joy turned to dread as it became clear that Alexis suffered from haemophilia. From this point forward Alix’ almost singular focus became her son – looking for cures and methods to alleviate his pain and hiding his illness from the general public. With no knowledge of the true situation, Alix’ failure to play the traditional role of Empress added to the Russian people’s distrust of her.
Around 1905, Alix was introduced to a peasant who claimed to be a mystic – Gregory Rasputin. Wille most of Russia saw a charlatan with outrageous behaviour and no morals, Alix saw only a “friend” who she believed was the only person who was able to alleviate the pain and suffering of her son. Alix believed that Rasputin had in fact saved Alexei’s life on certain occasions. As tensions in Russia mounted, and Nicholas was burdened by the start of the First World War, Alix turned to Rasputin more and more. Nicholas was often away at the front, leaving Alix to handle affairs of state and it soon became clear that Rasputin was making state decisions, particularly in regard to high-level personnel appointments. Alix’s German birth, however, made her even more unpopular and many thought she was a spy of the Kaiser. In the Duma, speeches were made claiming that Russia would no longer be ruled by a peasant (Rasputin). Alix meanwhile believed in the autocratic rule and wanted to save her son’s heritage as Emperor. She resisted all suggestions for reform.
Alix’ insistence on following Rasputin’s advice, and Nicholas’ inability to oppose his wife resulted in Rasputin’s murder in December 1916 by a group of noblemen and exacerbated the conditions that led to the Russian Revolution. In March 1917, Nicholas was forced to abdicate.
Alix and her family were initially held in captivity in the Urals in some comfort. They hoped to be offered asylum by Nicholas’ cousin King George V, but political considerations in England caused King George and/or the Prime Minister to back away from this plan. Later they were moved to Ekaterinburg which was home to a more radical group.
In the summer of 1918, this group grew worried that the White army was approaching and they would be overrun. In the early morning hours of 17 July 1918, the family and their servants were ordered to the basement and executed. Their graves were discovered in the early 1990’s and reburied in 1998 in St. Petersburg. In 2000 Alexandra was made a Saint and Passion-Bearer of the Russian Orthodox church.
The story of Alexandra is very much a story of what if – what if she had not been a carrier of haemophilia, what if she had not believed so fervently in Rasputin, what if Nicholas had been able to say “no” to her. Would Nicholas have held on to his throne? Would the Russian Revolution have happened? Many believe that Alexandra’s obsession with Rasputin directly led to the loss of the throne and the Russian Revolution and thus ultimately to her murder in July 1918. 1