I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction about the Romanovs recently. I think they’re my favorite dynasty and they ruled my favorite country (which is the Russian Empire), aside from my native country, of course.
Last night I was reading about the Romanovs on the internet (because apparently reading books about them isn’t enough!) and came across a photo of Tsar Alexander III and his family. Alexander III was the father of the last tsar of Russia, Nicholas II. Here’s the photo.
When I read the caption on the original site of who everyone was, it kind of made me sad. I just finished reading Virginia Rounding’s excellent book Alix and Nicky in which all of these people were talked about. The photo was taken in 1888. Thirty years later, by 1918, many of these people were dead.
Alexander III is the man seated in the middle with the little girl on his lap. He died unexpectedly of a kidney disease in 1894 at the age of forty-nine, leaving his eldest son Nicholas to become the tsar of Russia. By all accounts, poor Nicholas didn’t feel up to the job. Alexander’s wife, Maria Fyodorovna, is standing behind him. She’s the woman on the left with her hair piled on top of her head. Surprisingly, she survived the Russian Revolution and ensuing Civil War and returned to her native Denmark (she was a Danish princess before she married Alexander). She died 1928 at the age of eighty.
Now we come to the tsar’s children. The boy on the left standing in front of Maria Fyodorovna is Mikhail (or Michael, if you prefer the English version of the name). He had a bit of a falling out with the family when he married a woman he wasn’t supposed to marry (she was married to someone else when he began having an affair with her and eventually she got divorced so she could marry Mikhail). I can’t fault him too much, though, since her name was Natalia! Anyway, poor Mikhail was executed on Bolshevik orders in 1918, about a month before his doomed older brother, the tsar, was executed.
Standing behind Alexander III is Nicholas (Nikolai in Russian, but everyone in the English-speaking world seems to call him Nicholas). He was the oldest son (and oldest child) of the tsar and therefore inherited the throne. I was thrilled to see him in this photo because I’ve never seen him this young! He’s nineteen or twenty here and doesn’t have that characteristic facial hair he had later in life. He also died in 1918, along with his wife, children, and four very loyal servants. They were victims of the Bolsheviks too, of course. He was fifty years old.
The little girl sitting on Alexander’s lap is Olga, his youngest child. She survived the Revolution and ended up living in Canada, where she died in 1960 at the age of seventy-eight. Her sister, Ksenia, who’s standing next to Nicholas in the photo, also survived. Ksenia ended up in England and died there in 1960, aged eighty-five.
Finally, the young man seated on the right is Georgy. As Nicholas’ younger brother, he was tsarevich (heir to the throne) until Nicholas had a son, which wasn’t for a while. (Remember, Nicholas had four daughters before he finally had a son.) Unfortunately, poor Georgy died of tuberculosis in 1899 when he was twenty-eight. Nicholas found out the news and had to tell his mother, who was understandably devastated.
Anyway, I hope that sheds a bit of light on this photo. It’s just sad to think that when they posed for it, the family didn’t have much longer to be together—and obviously, they didn’t even know it.