The Romanovs were in power for more than three centuries but the story of their tragic doom turned them into martyrs and mythical figures. Take a look at the most intimate figures of this legendary family.
There’s something undeniably fascinating about royal characters throughout history. No matter where you stand regarding monarchies, you can’t deny that all the stories behind them and the sumptuosity around their lives bring a sort of myth-like vibe to history. When I was about seven and my parents took me to the movies to watch the animated Anastasia film, my mind was blown away. But more than the story of the poor girl that loses her family due to the evil curse of a resentful monk, what attracted me the most was the grandeur with which the empire was presented. I soon discovered that it was all a load of BS and that nothing in the movie, but the names and the dates, are correct. I started researching in some books only to find out that what really happened was actually far more interesting than what the movie portrayed.
Naturally, as I grew up and became acquainted with history, I realized that for an American film company, showing the story of how the people rebelled against the royal family and murdered them didn’t really go hand in hand with the anti-communism that, I bet, still prevails around them. So, how to show this part of the story without meddling too much with the real political events? Easy, transform that creepy monk people hated into a real wizard capable of putting a hex on millions to overthrow the monarchy. Entertainingly inaccurate, the first sequences of the film are a short account of what, according to the executives and creators, was appropriate for children. Now, they do mention that the entire imperial family was murdered, and they even repeat it in the first musical sequence, not to mention the strong, though subtle, statement against the communist government.
It took some time for me to understand why they decided to tell such a lame story when the real one is filled with legendary stories, mysticism, and the classic royal stories everybody likes. In the introduction of his book, The Romanov, Simon Sebag-Montefiore makes a very interesting point regarding the last generation of the Romanov Family: timing was crucial for the mythification of their story. The Romanovs were probably the royal family that ruled the longest, and in one of those curious patterns in history, the Romanov’s dynasty started and ended in a quite similar way. Both in exile, sixteen-year-old Mikhail and thirteen-year-old Alexei were abruptly awakened in the middle of the night with news that would mark the beginning and end of a great dynasty of emperors, the royal period of the tsars that covered most of Russia’s history. Both boys lived in two of the most turbulent moments in the history of their country, the only difference was that Mikhail was disturbed on a night of 1613 to become tsar, while Alexei, sadly, woke up with the announcement of his family's imminent death.
Somehow, the murder of the royal family has been romanticized in literature, biographies, and movies, and it’s probably due to the fact that they were all killed. Think about other cases where the monarchs have been executed. It was always the ruler the one to be murdered, but the fact that in 1918 they decided to kill not only Nicholas II but also his wife Alexandra and his five children created this sort of martyrdom legend of poor victims under the claws of a savage type of government.
Since the nineteenth century, Russia started going downhill in terms of the popularity of its monarchs. Alexander I was, perhaps, the last monarch to enjoy a full acceptance of his people after his great victory over Napoleon. He started making reformations on every single aspect of Russia, but most of his successors didn’t pay too much attention to these and focused on following their dynasty’s government pattern, an absolute autocracy. So, to be fair with Nicholas and the many victimized representations of his tragic story, the idea of ending with the monarchy wasn’t exactly derived from this particular government. It was a chain of events that for the last century had increased people’s discontent and hatred towards the royal family. In fact, Nicholas’ grandfather, Tsar Alexander II, was assassinated on what was called the first Russian Revolution.
So, if you ask me, I believe that while Nicholas had a big responsibility on his imminent fate, it was actually his lack of strategic game and his inability to see the obvious that sparked a well constructed bomb against the monarchy. When his father died, he even said that he didn’t feel he was fit to rule such a big empire, and he proved to be right about that. So, what was his big mistake? To start with, he turned most of his attention to the health of his youngest son and only heir to the throne, Alexei, who had inherited the royal disease, hemophilia. When he was just three years old he injured himself severely while playing and none of the best doctors was able to ease his pain and help him recover. Enter Rasputin, the mysterious and dark figure blamed for the destruction of the family.
Legend has it, with just a few words and some prayers he managed to calm the young tsarevich. It was kind of obvious that the monarchs wanted to have him near their son and favored him because they were grateful. The problem really began with the emergence of World War I and Nicholas’s insistence of participating in it. About 12 million Russian soldiers were sent to the battlefield, and Nicholas, wanting to follow his ancestor Alexander I moves in the war against Napoleon, decided to go with them. Rasputin, being the ambitious man that he was, kind of took over his role and people didn’t like that. There were even rumors that he and Empress Alexandra had an affair, which only made people even angrier. Rasputin was murdered in 1916 by one of the royal members of the family, Prince Félix Yusúpov, husband of Nicholas’s niece. But this didn’t calm the anger of the Russian people. It’s said that during the war, three out of four soldiers died, and the fact that Nicholas returned home only to seclude himself with his family for long periods of time only made things worse.
So, in 1917, when he was forced to abdicate in favor of his brother, who wisely didn’t accept the offer, the new provisional government took over, sending the Romanovs to exile at a palace in Tobolsk. Actually most of the pictures you’ve been seeing belong to their personal family album, and some of them were taken during their exile, which shows that they were allowed to continue their luxurious lifestyle, at least for a while. Finally, in 1918 after being denied the help of his cousin King George V of Great Britain (grandfather of Queen Elizabeth), they were sent to their last destination in Yekaterinburg, where they were all assassinated under Lenin’s approval. Now, why all the alternative legend?
There’s something true about most of these films and stories, and it’s the fact that Nicholas’s mother, Empress Maria, never believed what had happened with her son and grandchildren. She was sure they were still alive and hidden, since no one (besides the murderers) had seen the bodies. And from this denial, the legend of the lost royal family began. Actually, the story of Anastasia wasn’t something Hollywood invented. In fact about 10 young women claimed to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia being Anna Anderson the one that for many years was believed to be the real duchess. When the bodies of the Nicholas, Alexandra, and three of their daughters were found in 1991, the idea of the lost princess increased (it was only a few years later that the animated version appeared). However, as soon as they exhumed the bodies they analyzed the DNA and compared it to Anderson's, proving that she had nothing to do with the Romanov family. Still, it wasn’t until 2007 that the remains of young Alexei and the missing daughter were found, so it was assured that all the family was killed.
History, myth, or legend, the Romanov dynasty will always be of great interest, not only for the long time of their reign, but for the many stories around the family that still intrigue and fascinate many. If you want to know more about them, take a look at these: