Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Last Tsarevich

Alexis (Alexei Nikolaevich) was the youngest child and only son of Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra. He was born at the height of the Russo-Japanese War, on August 12 (O.S. July 30), 1904, the long-awaited imperial heir. Nicknamed "Baby," he was the pride and joy of his parents and sisters. He was an intelligent, capable boy, with delicate features, coppery hair, and grey-blue eyes. Tragically afflicted with hemophilia, he suffered severe bleeding spells. Several times, he nearly died. His fragility made him all the more precious to his family, and his parents rarely had the heart to discipline him. They appointed two sailors from the Imperial Navy to serve as his nannies and prevent him from injuring himself. As any bump or bruise might kill him, his activities were severely restricted.

Yet, Alexis was a lively, energetic, mischievous child, prone to rambunctious behavior. He sometimes greeted those who bowed to him by punching them in the face, giving them a bloody nose. He enjoyed playing pranks on dinner guests. On one occasion, he ducked under the table, snatched a lady's shoe, and presented it to his father. Nicholas sternly rebuked him, whereupon the little prince returned the shoe to its owner- after placing a strawberry inside it. For several weeks afterwards, he was forbidden to attend dinner parties. Nonetheless, Alexis also possessed a sympathetic heart. His own sufferings, courtiers reported, made him compassionate towards others.

Alexis' hemophilia was the main reason for his family's reliance upon Grigori Rasputin, the infamous Russian preacher. Despite many reports of his corrupt lifestyle, Rasputin gained the trust of the Empress, as he claimed to be a mystic and holy man able to heal Alexis during severe bleeding spells. The source of this ability is uncertain. It is unclear whether Rasputin hypnotized Alexis, treated him with special herbs, or whether his advice to Alexandra to prevent the doctors from interfering with Alexis' condition truly aided his healing. In any case, as the doctors could do little to help Alexis and his mother was naturally desperate to keep him alive, she came to rely increasingly on Rasputin. She also seemed to genuinely believe in his sanctity, dismissing the lurid tales of his debauched ways as malicious gossip. "Saints are always calumniated," she wrote, "he is hated because we love him." Alexis and his sisters were taught to view Rasputin as a friend and spiritual counselor. Unfortunately, the Tsar's enemies seized upon the connection to spread subversive propaganda, even accusing the Empress and her four daughters of having affairs with Rasputin. This, of course, was sheer slander, but it aided in discrediting the imperial family and contributing to their downfall.

Like all Romanov boys, Alexis grew up wearing sailor uniforms and playing war games. To prepare his son for his future role as Tsar, Nicholas invited him to attend government meetings. During World War I, he visited his father at army headquarters in Mogilev for extended periods of time, becoming familiar with military life. Despite his preparations for rulership, Alexis realized he might not survive to adulthood, and tried to live in the moment, enjoying whatever time he had. At age 10, as he was lying on his back and looking at the clouds, his eldest sister, Olga, asked what he was doing. "I like to think and wonder," Alexis answered. "What about?" Olga inquired. "Oh, so many things," the boy responded. "I enjoy the sun and the beauty of summer as long as I can. Who knows whether one of these days I shall not be prevented from doing it?"

Yet, ironically, it was not hemophilia that cut his life short, but the Russian Revolution. Only two weeks before his fourteenth birthday, he was murdered, together with his family, by the Bolsheviks. It was a cruel, tragic end to the young, promising life of this sensitive, thoughtful and courageous boy.

More information HERE.


Ms. Lucy said...

I am so thankful for these posts Matterhorn...I've wanted to learn more about this great family but needed interesting insights to get me motivated. Now I'm sure |I want to read more. Can you recomend a good read onthis family (even in historical fiction) anything with Rasputin as well. Thanks:)

Matterhorn said...

Of course, perhaps you have read it already but there is "Nicholas & Alexandra" by the famous Robert K. Massie, which I believe is considered the definitive biography of the imperial couple. Apparently, there is a sequel "The Romanovs: the Final Chapter."

Also, the Alexander Palace Time Machine, which I linked to on my sidebar- you may have seen this too, but it is a real goldmine of information on the whole family, people who knew them, the revolution, Rasputin, etc.

Ms. Lucy said...

Thank you! I shall definitely look for these books- I just checked my Chapters Indigo site here and it is available...
Your side bar link is great too- was created by that first American who was priveleged to be the first to visit the palace- Wow! thanks so much:)

Matterhorn said...

You're welcome!