In The Romanovs: One Last Dance Novel:
Her Imperial Majesty Tsarina Aleksandra Feodorovna of All the Russias, consort and wife of Tsar Nicholas II.
The future Russian Empress was born in the small German duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt on 6 June 1872 to Princess Alice, a daughter of Queen Victoria, and her husband, Prince Louis. The couple's sixth child and youngest daughter, she was christened Victoria Alix Helena Louise Beatrice, for her mother and four aunts, but she was to be known simply as Alix. Her older siblings included Victoria (1863), Elisabeth (Ella, 1864), Irene (1866), Ernst-Ludwig (Ernie 1868) and Friedrich (Frittie, 1870). She was joined in the nursery by a sister, Marie in 1874.
In 1873, Alix was barely a year old. Her brothers Frittie and Ernie were playing in their mother's bedroom, when the younger prince fell through a plate glass window. The boy suffered for two agonizing hours from internal bleeding until his death. He wasn't yet three years old. A black cloud seemed to hover over the Hessian children as a diphtheria epidemic hit the whole of Germany in 1878. Only a year before, Alice and Louis had become the Grand Duke and Duchess of Hesse-Darmstadt, as Louis' uncle, Grand Duke Ludwig III, had passed away. But their reign together was to be short-lived, as their six remaining children quickly became ill and Alice, being the loving mother she was, did her best to nurse all of them back to health. All save for Ella, who was sent away to live with her grandmother. Victoria, the eldest, Irene and six year old Alix swiftly recovered, while Ernie and May, the youngest daughter, remained in bed, still sick. While nursing Ernie back to health, Alice lovingly bent down and kissed her boy's forehead; this would prove to be her end. In November 1878, little May succumbed to the disease; she was barely four years old. In the meantime, Grand Duchess Alice grew weaker. Her struggle ended on December 14, 1878, seventeen years to the day after the death of her own father, Prince Albert. She was thirty-five.
Queen Victoria quickly did her best to fill the role of surrogate mother to her five remaining Hessian grandchildren; At six, Alix was the youngest. Practically raised by the queen, Alix grew to be one of her grandmother's favorites as well as considerable beauty, destined to always be compared to her older sister, Ella. At sixteen Alix attended her first ball - just the beginning of her public life that would cause her nervousness for the whole the rest of her life. She and her siblings, like most of their cousins, always referred to Queen Victoria as "dear Grandmamma".
The flamboyant Queen Marie of Romania, Alix's maternal first cousin, later described the future tsarina to a friend: "Her attitude to the world was perpetually distrustful, strangely empty of tenderness and, in a way, hostile...She held both great and small at a distance, as though they intended to steal something which was hers." Another cousin, Princess Marie-Louise of Schleswig-Holstein, a daughter of Princess Helena, grew tired of Alix's constant gloomy attitude, "Alix, you always play at being sorrowful; one day, the Almighty will send some real crushing sorrows and then what will you do?"
Marie-Louise's warning would prove to be all too true.
FALLING IN LOVE
On 30 April 1884, Alix's eldest sister Victoria wed their father's cousin, Prince Louis of Battenberg (his older brother Henry married their aunt, Beatrice in 1885). Grand Duke Louis was not present at the ceremony. No one knew until later that he too had married on April 30, against the Queen's wishes, to his long-time German mistress, Alexandrine Hutten-Czapska (Alix and her siblings simply knew her as "Madame Kolemine"). Being a divorcee, Madame Kolemine was less than welcome into the family...especially by the Queen. A morganatic marriage to a divorced woman was unacceptable in those days. The marriage was annulled by year's end.
A month and a half after her father's marriage scandal, Alix's next sister, the cold, and calculating Ella married the Grand Duke Sergei of Russia at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Sergei was in fact a distant cousin of the Hesse family through Maria Alexandrovna, the Tsar's late wife. It was at Ella's wedding that Alix met her future husband. He was the Tsesarevitch Nicholas Alexandrovich, Sergei's nephew. The oldest of Alexander III's five surviving children, he was destined to rule Russia, although he lacked the education for such a task.
A mere girl of twelve, Alix fell hard for the then-sixteen year old heir upon their first meeting. During their stay at Peterhof for Ella and Sergei's wedding celebration, he carved his and Alix's initials into one of the palace windows with a knife. Alix and Nicky's youngest sister Olga became good friends, and the future empress held Olga in the highest regard both as sister-in-law and a friend for the rest of her life...even after her marriage to a common soldier.
COURTING & ENGAGEMENT
Nicky and Alix saw each other again during a mutual family visit to Coburg in 1886. After he returned home that summer, the two began writing letters back and forth; long letters expressing their love and affection for each other. In the meantime, under pressure from his parents, Alexander III and the Danish-born Maria Feodorovna (whom were also Alix's godparents) Nicky was introduced to the Imperial Ballerina Mathilde Kschesschia, and embarked on a four year affair with her, beginning in 1890. Meanwhile, Ernie had become grand duke of Hesse upon his father's death in March of 1892. And since Alix's brother had not yet married, She was considered Landsmutter. With Nicky away on tours and fulfilling his duties, the world began to wonder if Alix would ever marry. Upon refusing the proposal of her cousin, Eddy, the dimwitted Duke of Clarence, everyone thought for certain Queen Victoria's favorite granddaughter was headed for the life of a spinster.
But Alix's feelings for Nicky had yet to fade. He too, must have felt it, and ended his philandering with Kschesschia 1894, when he decided to ask his Hessian cousin for her hand in marriage. A fervent believer in religion, Alix was not keen on giving up her Lutheran faith for the Russian Orthodox that Nicky had been born into and his mother, the Germanophobic Empress Maria preferred that he marry someone else but Nicky's mind was made up.
Deliberately ignoring the request of his parents, Nicky told them he would either marry Alix...or no one. While his first proposal to Alix in 1889 proved a failure, Nicky tried again, this time during a family gathering in Coburg in April of 1894. Everyone had gathered to witness the marriage of Alix's brother, Ernie to his first cousin, Ducky of Edinburgh. This time, Alix accepted, unknowingly sealing her fate upon deciding that she would devote herself to the ways of the Orthodox Church in place of her much cherished Lutheran faith. Their engagement was announced on April 20, in the midst of Ernie and Ducky's wedding celebrations. Alix and Ducky had never really liked each other to begin with, so Ducky, as the bride, was less than pleased upon hearing of her cousin's engagement amidst her own wedding. Alix thought Ducky jealous, as her engagement to the Russian heir seemed to have overshadowed Ducky's wedding day. Queen Victoria was disgusted at the idea of losing another granddaughter to Russia, as she thought all Russians were cold and aloof, like Sergei. She feared for her granddaughters' safety, knowing just how dangerous the Russian Imperial court could be...especially for a young woman as shy as Alix.
MARRIAGE & MOTHERHOOD
Alix and Nicky arrived to St. Petersburg in late September, shortly after they had received word that his father was dying. Upon her arrival, Alix was accepted into the Russian Orthodox Church as the Grand Duchess Aleksandra Feodorovna, upon Nicky's request, since as Tsar and Tsarina, the couple would honour his great-grandparents: Tsar Nikolai I and his Prussian-born wife, Charlotte, who also took the name Aleksandra. Soon after her first meeting with him, the Emperor Alexander III died only fortnight later, on 1 November. Nicky was now Tsar Autocrat of All the Russias. Aleksandra's new mother-in-law, the Dowager Empress Maria requested that the Imperial wedding be postponed, out of respect for the dead. While both Nicky and Alix thought it the sensible thing to do, the funeral services put quite a damper on their wedding celebrations. Two weeks after the funeral, Nicky and Alix were married at the Winter Palace on 26 November 1894. The ceremony was a grand affair and very long - Alix's robes were so heavy that she could barely stand, let alone walk the aisle. Having arrived in Russia at such a sad time, word on the streets told that the new tsarina had "arrived behind a coffin."
Not long after the wedding, Alix became pregnant. With women barred from the succession, from the beginning, Alix was pressured to have a son, although at the time she and the tsar weren't worried. A son would come in time...or so they thought. Their first child arrived on 3/15 November 1895. It was a girl, whom Alix named Olga, followed by Tatiana, who arrived on 11 June/29 May 1897; she and Olga, whom Alix's named for the heroines of Alexander Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, were known as "The Big Pair", while Maria, who arrived on 1/14 June 1899 and Anastasia on 5/18 June 1901, were "The Little Pair".
Three years after giving birth to a fourth grand duchess, on July 30/August 12, 1904, the long-awaited male heir arrived. Nicky had chosen the name Alexei in honour of his most favored ancestor, Tsar Alexei I, the son of Peter the Great. To the world he would be the Tesarevitch Alexei. But to his doting parents, he was simply their 'Baby Tsar'. Only months after Alexei's birth, his nannies began to notice dark bruises on his elbows and knees. After consulting the family physician, Dr Eugene Botkin, it was confirmed; the heir had hemophilia, a blood disease passed down from Queen Victoria, thus inherited by Alix through her own mother, Princess Alice. In 1912, Nicky's cousin, Stana, introduced the Imperial couple to Grigory Rasputin. A self-proclaimed healer with questionable hygiene and a thirst for sex and alcohol, Rasputin was looked upon with disdain by everyone except for Alix. The czarina faithfully believed that he alone possessed the power to heal her sickly son whenever one of his attacks of internal bleeding would strike. After falling in the bath tub during the family's annual visit to Spala in 1912, Alix and Nicky feared certain their only son would die. A desperate and guilt-ridden Alix quickly telegrammed Rasputin who had returned to his home in Siberia. The 'monk' replied: "The little one will not die. He will stop hemorrhaging tomorrow morning." Upon waking, Alexei's internal bleeding ceased.
In 1913, the Imperial family celebrated 300 years on the throne. This was to be the last time Nicky and Alix would be able to show off their jewels and power amid the splendour of their palaces and royal relatives from throughout Europe. The next year, Nicky found himself at odds with Germany and Alix's bombastic cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm II, as the Great War began. Nicky left for the front, taking Alexei with him against Alix's wishes. However, Nicky had confidence, leaving his wife in charge of the decisions in Russia until the czar and his heir returned home. The people were begging Nicky and Alix for a Parliament (Duma) that would grant the Russian people basic human rights that they had been denied since the days of Nicholas I. But so firm was Nicholas and Aleksandra's shared belief in the Romanovs' divine right to rule, and so lacking in will power was Nicholas, while his wife was too quick to stick her nose in politics she barely understood. Alix told her husband to be strong and firm with his people, "Be Ivan the Terrible; be Peter the Great." But so weak was the czar, and so dependent on his wife for suggestions against giving his people rights, that Alix, Nicky and their children -"we seven" - would eventually pay with their lives.
In April of 1918, Nicky, Alix and their third daughter Maria were taken from the Governor's Mansion in Tobolsk to the Ipatiev House; a small worn down home, in the mining town of Ekaterinburg. Anastasia, Tatiana and Olga remained behind with Alexei while his leg healed, following a sledding-down-the-stairs incident that left the tsesarevitch once again seemingly at death's door. Out of the four grand duchesses, Maria was chosen to accompany her parents because of the true strength she showed in the those last days. The ride to what was to be their final home was anything but what the former tsar and tsarina had been accustomed to; Nicky had abdicated in March 1917, first in favor of his son and heir, but a mere boy of twelve, and a sickly one at that, was seen as unfit to rule. So Nikolai passed his divine right to rule down to his youngest brother, Grand Duke Mikhail. The favorite son of Aleksandr III, Mikhail refused to take the throne, and so was only czar for a day. Following the abdication, Nicholas and his family were put under house arrest. Once the family were reunited in Ekaterinburg, they were closely guarded by Bolshevik soldiers who watched their every move; the girls were not even allowed to use the bathroom in private. Alexei seemed to have an ill feeling that he and his family would never return to Petersburg alive...
On the night of July 17, 1918, the Imperial family was awakened by Dr. Eugene Botkin, their physician. All seven members, and four servants were lured down to the cellar room of the Ipatiev House and executed. During the shooting, Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia seemed to be protected; they and the empress had sewn the Romanov jewels into their corsets, but this did not protect them for long; soon after, they too were shot dead. After the massacre, their bodies were wrapped in bed sheets and thrown into the back of a waiting truck. From there, the remains of the last Imperial family were driven into the Katopki Woods and thrown into a mine shaft. It wasn't until 1991 that the bones of the last czar's family were found, not far from where they had originally been buried. But out of the eleven people that were led down to the cellar that night, only nine skulls were found. Scientists know that the body of Tsesarevitch Alexei was not present in the grave, but still cannot agree on which grand duchess is missing, Tatiana, Maria or the youngest daughter, Anastasia. The two missing bodies have never been found. The family's remains were brought back to St. Petersburg, and buried there in 2000 when the family was made Saints of the Russian Orthodox Church. As recently as August 2007, the remains of what appear to be a 10-14-year-old male and 18-23-year-old female have been found via metal detector, close to where the remains of the imperial family were cremated. DNA testing has proved that the remains are indeed those of Alexei and one of his sisters.
In The What If? Story line:
It is December 1924. With The Big Pair and Anastasia having returned to their perspective homes, and Alexei moved away to the Catherine Palace with his new bride Elisabeth, Alix is once again left alone.
Alix's eldest daughter, Olga, wed her second cousin, Edward, The Prince of Wales on 15 April 1921. Upon converting to the Anglican faith, the grand duchess has since become known as Alexandra, in honour of her mother. She and David have two daughters, Catherine (born 1922) and Louise Elizabeth ('Ella', born 1924), latter of whom arrived in the midst of her uncle's wedding celebrations.
Tatiana, Alix's ever-loyal companion, married her father's cousin, Prince Christopher of Greece in July 1919; while the couple remained living in Russia so Tatiana could remain at Alix's side, they have since become parents to Alexandra ('Sandra, born 1920) and Michael ('Mikhos', born 1922) and now reside in Vilnius. Christopher was chosen, in 1923, to take his place as King of the newly-independent Lithuania. Much to Alix's disappointment, Tatiana had to leave her mother's side. All the same, she is a Queen at last! Unknown to all but her very inner circle, Tatiana is expecting her third child.
Maria was the first to marry, at a mere nineteen years old. On 8 June 1918, she became the wife of Russian soldier, Ivashko Tarkhan. The couple has three children: Natalia (born 1919), Nikolai ('Kolya, born 1921) and Grigory ('Grisha', born 1923). Ivashko was made Count Tarkhan-Romanovsky in 1922, at the request of his imperial father-in-law, the Tsar.
The youngest grand duchess, Anastasia, somehow made a shining marital union of her own! In November 1922, she married Crown Prince Leopold of Belgium, and gave birth to the couple's first child, Philippe, in October 1923.
With the conclusion of a grand Imperial Wedding, Tsesarevitch Alexei is a married man, at all of twenty years. His new bride is the former Princess Elisabeth of Greece and Denmark. The couple plan to make their home at the Catherine Palace.