Tsarevich Alexei – The boy with haemophilia

(public domain)

Alexandra Feodorovna was under immense pressure to produce an heir to the throne, and after four healthy daughters, the relief at the birth of Alexei must have been tremendous. On 12 August 1904 (O.S. 30 July), Alexandra gave birth to a son. Nicholas wrote in his diary, “A great never-to-be-forgotten day when the mercy of God has visited us so clearly. Alix gave birth to a son at one o’clock. The child has been called Alexis.”1 His christening was performed in the Peterhof chapel as he lay on a pillow of cloth of gold in the arms of Princess Marie Golitsyn.2 The parents were not present, as this was tradition, but Nicholas had been waiting anxiously outside, hoping that the aged Princess Marie would not drop the boy.3

Six weeks later, the first signs of trouble presented themselves. Nicholas wrote, “Alix and I have been very much worried. A haemorrhage began this morning without the slightest cause from the navel of our small Alexis. It lasted with but a few interruptions until evening. We had to call the surgeon Fedorov who at seven o’clock applied a bandage. The child was remarkably quiet and even merry, but it was a dreadful thing to have to live through such anxiety.”4 Within months, the diagnosis was confirmed. Alexei had haemophilia. This meant that he lacked a protein needed for blood clotting. The slightest bump could create a potentially fatal bleeding, and it was expected that Alexei would not grow old.

The haemophilia was kept a secret at the request of Nicholas and Alexandra. Even within the Imperial Household, there were many who did not know for many years what exactly was wrong with Alexei. Naturally, this led to incredible rumours, such as that he might be intellectually disabled. Nicholas and Alexandra tried to go on as if nothing had happened, but it was clear to all that that something terrible was looming.5 Pierre Gilliard, the French tutor, wrote of Alexei, “Alexis was the centre of this united family, the focus of all its hopes and affections. His sisters worshipped him. He was his parents’ pride and joy. When he was well, the palace was transformed. Everyone and everything in it seemed bathed in sunshine.”6

For Alexis, the worst pain came from the bleeding in the joints. This caused pressure on the nerves and brought on immense pain. He was never given any pain medication. When the boy was five, doctors suggested that he be given a pair of male companions and bodyguards. Two sailors from the Imperial Navy named Derevenko and Nagorny were assigned to him. They carried him when he could not walk.7 Nevertheless, Alexei grew up to be an active child, who could not play like the others. He would often cry, “Why can other boys have everything and I nothing?”8 He loved the military pageantry and grew up dreaming of leading his troops into battle.9

Despite being often ill, Alexei went with his father to the front. Meanwhile, his mother had become infatuated with Rasputin, a mystic whom she believed was the only man who could save her son.

May 1918 (public domain)

In March 1917, Nicholas abdicated the throne. At first, he intended to do so in favour of Alexei, but realising that they would probably be separated, he amended the abdication in favour of his brother Michael.10 The family were held captive as Tobolsk and were due to be transferred to Yekaterinburg. However, Alexei was too ill to be moved. While his parents and sister Maria departed, he and his other three sisters remained behind until he was well enough to travel. They were reunited in Yekaterinburg a few weeks later.

Alexei died in the arms of his father as the family were executed during the night of 17 July 1918. He survived the initial gunfire and was shot in the head as he lay on the floor.11


  1.  Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra p.112
  2.  Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra p.112
  3.  Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra p.113
  4.  Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra p.113
  5.  Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra p.162
  6.  Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra p.136
  7.  Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra p.138
  8.  Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra p.139
  9.  Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra p.140
  10.  Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra p.418
  11.  Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra p.517

About Moniek Bloks 2592 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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