In Episode 10 we head back to Imperial Russia to conitnue our Romanovs Miniseries:

  • The coronation
  • Four Gils and a Tsarevich
  • Bloody Sunday

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The Coronation

Nicholas, Alexandra, and Olga

The mourning period for Alexander III is finally over, and now the young Tsar and Tsaritsa can finally be crowned in May 1896.

Olga is six months old at this point, but while mom and dad were on their way to Moscow for their coronation, little Olga was left behind. 

The coronation was big and spendy and took place within the Kremlin, at Uspensky Cathedral. It was as lavish, especially for the richest monarch in the world. During the ceremony, he was anointed with holy oil, and then took his oath. Once this was done, Nicholas crowned himself.

As the Autocrat, Nicholas held the power and thus could crown himself, and his wife. He took the crown off, placed it on Alexandra’s head, before returning it to his head. Alexandra then got to wear her own crown. Long live the Tsar and Tsaritsa, Emperor and Empress of all Russia!

Nicholas’s full title: Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias, Tsar of Moscow, Kiev, Vladimir, Novgorod, Kazan, Astrakhan, of Poland, of Siberia, of Tauric Chersonese, of Georgia, Lord of Pskov, Grand Duke of Smolensk, of Lithuania, Volhynia, Podolia and Finland, Prince of Estonia, Livonia, Courland and Semigalia, Samogotia, Bialostock, Karelia, Tver, Yougouria, Perm, Viatka, Bulgaria, and other countries; Lord and Grand Duke of Lower Novgorod, of Tchernigov, Riazan, Polotsk, Rostov, Yaroslav, Belozero, Oudoria, Obdoria, Condia, Vitebsk, Mstislav and all the region of the North, Lord and Sovereign of the countries of Iveria, Cartalinia, Kabardinia and the provinces of Armenia, Sovereign of the Circassian Princes and the Mountain Princes, Lord of Turkestan, Heir of Norway, Duke of Schleswig Holstein, of Storman, of the Ditmars, and of Oldenbourg, etc.

With the coronation over, it was time to party like it was 1896. Thousands of people were standing outside, waiting for Nicholas and Alexandra to show their faces after being crowned. When they did, the people went nuts.

People were cheering, cannons were booming. It was a moment of triumph. Over 7,000 people were guests at the coronation banquet. This included grand dukes, princes, ambassadors from foreign countries. 

Video of the Coronation

A few days later, the people of Russia had the chance to celebrate Nicholas and Alexandra as well. Grand Duke Sergey, Nicholas’s uncle and the Governor General of Moscow, had planned a day of feasting and merrymaking for the peasants. 5,000 people showed up for free food, free beer, and free souvenirs.

Each person who came could go home with a limited collector’s edition cup with the Imperial seal on it. They walked throughout the night, from all over Russia, to get to Khodynka Field. 

Khodynka

And then, tragedy struck. Someway, somehow, people got wind that there wasn’t enough beer, food, souvenirs, etc. for everyone who showed up. Was it a rumor or a fact? We don’t know. What we do know is that a day that was meant to be filled with happiness, and laughter, and the Russian people filling their bellies, turned into a stampede.

People were pushing, trying to get whatever food and gifts were available. Men, women, and children, young and old, were caught beneath frantic feet – trampled to death. By the end of this, about 1400 people were lost.

When Nicholas and Alexandra were told about Khodynka Field, they were horrified. Nicholas was ready to send the French ambassador his regrets that they can’t attend the ball, which was the right thing to do.

But his Uncle Sergey wouldn’t hear of it. Nicholas and Alexandra made their first huge mistake as rulers. They dressed up, showed up at the ball, and danced a bit. One reporter basically said that they were dancing on top of the dead. 

A day late, the tsar and tsaritsa tried to show their people that they cared. They went to the hospitals, they shelled out money for the funerals, with the dead given their own graves instead of being buried in a mass grave. They also made sure the families got 1000 rubles as compensation.

We start seeing the first signs of discontent and revolution. To them, this tragedy was the perfect example of how vain and uncaring the Imperial family and their court truly were.

When Olga was 10 months old, September 1896, the little imperial family went on a lovely Highland vacation to Balmoral Castle in Scotland. Here they were able to relax and enjoy family time with each other and, of course, with Queen Victoria and her children and other grandchildren. And everyone was in love with baby Olga. 

So while Alexandra was having a blast being back in England, Nicholas was not. He was experiencing neuralgia pain and his face had become swollen due to a rotten tooth. And he spent most of his days away from Alexandra, outside, in the cold, rainy weather. All thanks to his Uncle Bertie, the Prince of Wales.

Eventually, the Russian royals left England and traveled to France, where they received a very hearty welcome. As Nicholas and Alexandra’s carriage went by people were cheering and waving like crazy. And the carriage carrying Olga got just as big of a rousing welcome. People were screaming “Vive le bebe!” and “Vive la Grand Duchesse!”. Even the nanny got cheers of “Vive la nounou!” 

One Grand Duchess, Two Grand Duchess, Three Grand Duchess, Four

Nicholas and Alexandra received other happy news in September 1896. Baby number two was on the way! And like pregnancy number one, Alexandra was having a rough time. She was bedridden for 7 weeks since her nausea was so bad and her legs became swollen.

A miscarriage had to be prevented. And after those 7 weeks, Alexandra could finally get out of bed to go outside. But this happened in a wheelchair.

Tatiana, Maria, and Olga

Just as it had been when Alexandra was pregnant with Olga, any and all news regarding Alexandra and her condition were kept firmly under wraps.

It wasn’t until 1897 that it was made public knowledge. Even Nicholas’s own family members didn’t know until that point.

Towards the end of May 1897, Nicholas and Alexandra headed off to Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg. And on June 10, 1897, Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna came into this world. Tatiana weighed in at 8 ¾ pounds. And apparently, she looked very much like Alexandra.

Another girl? People were upset by this. Even Alexandra was, not upset really, but put off is probably the best way to put it. She loved her second daughter, but now she really had to bring a boy into the world. The only person who seemed thrilled by Tatiana’s arrival was Nicholas. In his diary he wrote: “The second bright day in our life … the Lord blessed us with a daughter—Tatiana.” 

No one can say that Nicholas and Alexandra weren’t trying, because by the fall of 1898 Alexandra was sporting a new accessory. Baby number 3. And yet again, Alexandra was both anxious about giving Russia an heir and suffering through the pregnancy.

Alexandra had to spend most of the pregnancy in bed. And if she wanted to go out and about, someone had to push her around in a bath chair.

On June 26, 1899, little Maria Nikolaevna was born, weighing in at 10 pounds. This little girl was named for her grandmother, Maria Feodorovna. Nicholas came to the conclusion that this was God’s will. God wanted them to have three daughters. A third girl is a blessing. Good for Nicholas, even worse for the Russian people. Another girl? 

Anastasia

Alexandra started praying harder, hoping that God would grant them a son. In come Nicholas’s cousins, Grand Duchesses Militsa and Anastasia.

They recommended Nicholas and Alexandra meet with Dr. Phillippe, a mystic who was very much not a doctor. Naturally, Nicholas and Alexandra had a meet and greet with Dr. Phillippe.

At this point, Alexandra was pregnant with baby number 4. This mystic gave them a set of instructions to follow to ensure this baby would be a boy: praying more, chugging herbal drinks, and taking moonlit baths on astrologically lucky days. 

At the end of October 1900, Nicholas came down with a case of the flu, followed by some form of typhus. The tsar was incredibly sick at this time, and so the question arose.

What will happen if the tsar dies with only three young daughters left behind? If he died, and Alexandra wasn’t carrying a boy, he wanted Olga to become Empress of Russia. So he ordered his government ministers to create a document stating this. If Nicholas died, and there was no boy on the scene, Olga would rule.

But on to happier endeavors. On June 18, 1901, baby number four came into the world. Anastasia Nikolaevna was born at the Lower Dacha in Peterhof, weighing in at 11 ½ pounds.

At this point, Nicholas was disappointed. Another child is a blessing, but she wasn’t the long hoped for son. But again, God had willed this child to be born a girl. So he moved on, and planned a christening with all the bells and whistles to show everyone that Anastasia was very much wanted. 

Winter Ball at the Winter Palace, 1903

The tsar and tsaritsa of Russia were throwing a costume ball on February 12, 1903 at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Members of the Imperial family, and members of the 870 noble families of Russia, would be at this ball.

Most of these families dated back to the time of princes and kings, before the Romanovs reigned. When they received the invitation to Nicholas and Alexandra’s ball they were over the moon. 

This was a very special celebration. It was St. Petersburg’s birthday! 200 years ago the capital of St. Petersburg was founded. As a result, high society had to arrive dressed in their best 17th century clothing.

Nicholas arrived dressed as Alexei I, the tsar Nicholas most admired. Both his, and Alexandra’s costumes, were beautiful and elaborate. Alexandra’s costume, made with gold brocade, diamonds, pearls, and emeralds, cost about one million rubles, which is roughly 10 million dollars today.

Wanna know what their outfits for the ball looked like? Check out this amazing article in The Vintage News!

Just the Six of Them

By 1903, with four little girls running around, learning discipline was an absolute must. As Nicholas had done when he was a boy, the girls slept on army beds. Narrow as the beds might have been, the girls were allowed satin comforters. A little pampering wouldn’t get in the way of the lessons they were learning. 

“The Big Pair” – Olga and Tatiana

Normally, the girls were split into two pairs when it came to their sleeping arrangements. “The Big Pair”, as they were known, – Olga and Tatiana – shared a room.

Then there was “the Little Pair” – Maria and Anastasia – who shared a room with each other. However, around Christmas time, things were a little different.

Several trees were set up throughout the family’s living quarters, and one of those trees was in the girls’ playroom. At night, the girls would drag their cots into the room and fall asleep together looking up at the tree. 

The army cots weren’t the worst of it. Two words: cold baths. At least in the morning. Probably not as bad during the summer, but think about the winter. Don’t fret though, the girls did get to bathe in warm water at night.

Fashion, though, that was an entirely different animal. There was no way Alexandra was going to skimp on what the girls were wearing. Only the best for her girls. Beautiful white dresses and blue ribbons for their hair. Alexandra had a habit of dressing them in matching outfits. 

Their day to day lives were pretty much the same. They’d be woken up by their nanny and then, while still in their bed clothes, would head into their parents’ room to kiss Alexandra good morning. Nicholas wouldn’t be there, though, as he was already up and about.

Then the girls would get dressed and eat breakfast. This was done in their playroom, rather than down at the dining room table. Then the girls were off to see Dr. Botkin. Every day, he would check them out, make sure no medical issues had popped up in the last 24 hours. 

But midmorning was when the fun started. It was time to go to the park, obviously with nanny and guards in tow. The girls could ride their bikes or they could play on what was called “Children’s Island.” In the park there was a tiny little island that had a playhouse built on it, with a drawbridge and everything. There was even tiny furniture. And in the winter, like all children, what’s more fun than building a snowman and sledding?

After playing and maybe even wearing themselves out a little, it was lunchtime! Now, unlike breakfast, this was an entire affair. The court gathered to dine with the Tsar. All four girls sat beside Nicholas at the head of the table as they were served foods like cabbage soup and boiled fish.

Bellies full, Nicholas returned to work and the girls went back to their playroom or to visit their mother. Alexandra and the girls would sometimes go on carriage rides through the park or out and about town. During these outings, there would be guards, policemen, etc., placed everywhere. The family’s security was no joke. 

The first time in the day the family came together as a whole was for teatime, which was in Alexandra’s lilac sitting room. This was around 4 in the afternoon. Tea and biscuits were served by Alexandra instead of having someone from the household staff do it for her.

This was the family’s time together to relax and decompress, though they were often doing different things. Nicholas often read, sometimes smoked, Olga and Tatiana worked on their embroidery skills, and Maria and Anastasia entertained themselves by playing on the floor.

Birth of Tsarevich

It was August 12, 1904, a day like any other when, just as lunch was about to be served, Alexandra went into labor. After a relatively easy birth, a baby boy was born.

Finally, Alexandra had provided an heir for Nicholas. This was the first time since the 1600s that an heir had been born to the Tsar rather than the Tsarevich. Up until this point, Tsars were crowned with an heir or a few already waiting in the wings.

After four children, the cannons could finally fire the 300-gun salute from the Peter and Paul Fortress to announce and celebrate the birth of the Tsarevich. Just as the people had done before, they stopped what they were doing to listen for the 102nd cannon.

It took five minutes, but when it sounded, the people of St. Petersburg were ecstatic. Work was done for the day, there was celebrating to do! It was such an important day for the Russian people. 

Alexei

He was named Alexei Nikolaevech, after the Romanov Tsar Alexei I, who ruled from 1645-1676. Alexei I was the second Tsar in the Romanov Dynasty and he was the father of Peter the Great.

Alexei’s full title was His Imperial Highness Alexei Nicolaievich, Sovereign Heir Tsarevich, Grand Duke of Russia. And he was perfect from his head to his toes.

Twelve days after his birth Alexei was christened at Peterhof Chapel, the same chapel all the girls had been baptised in. Princess Mariya Golitsyna was the lucky lady in charge of carrying Alexei for the occasion. Almost the entire family was in attendance, including the 87 year old King Christian IX of Denmark, Alexei’s great-grandfather. 

Most of our research says that after six weeks of joy, love, and merriment, Alexei started bleeding from his belly button. However, Helen Rappaport, author of “The Romanov Sisters”, mentions that the bleeding from his belly button actually started the moment they severed the umbilical cord.

It took two days to stop the bleeding in both instances. And at the end of the second bout, Nicholas and Alexandra were freaking out. It was the most horrific diagnosis: hemophilia. 

The average lifespan of a child with hemophilia at the time was 13 years. That’s not to say they couldn’t live longer. Prince Leopold, Queen Victoria’s son, had died when he was 30.

On the other hand, Alexandra’s brother Friedrich died when he was only 2. This was devastating news. Nicholas and Alexandra decided the people of Russia couldn’t know. Even their own relatives were kept out of the loop. 

After 10 years hoping for a son, they finally had one. The people were hopeful about the future. If they knew about Alexei’s condition, it could destabilize the line of succession.

Alexei might be passed over for Mikhail, Nicholas’s younger brother, because Alexandra probably didn’t have another pregnancy left in her. Alexei was the rightful heir and Alexandra and Nicholas wanted to make sure he would grow up and become the tsar.

Why was hemophilia such an issue? It’s a debilitating disease that can kill someone from something as small as slamming a knee into a table. Alexei could be fine one minute, healthy as can be for months at a time, and then something could happen to change all that. Then for days or weeks, Alexei would be bedridden.

The reason for that is a hemophiliac’s blood doesn’t clot the way it’s supposed to. After bashing a knee into a table, the body bleeds internally for hours or days, getting into the muscles and in between joints. When something like this would happen to Alexei, he would be in agony.

To make sure something like this didn’t happen to Alexei, he was treated with the utmost care and was under constant supervision. Nicholas and Alexandra wanted to make sure he was safe.

Nurses watched him at all times until he was five years old when two sailors from the Imperial Navy were charged with watching him. Their names were Andrei Derevenko and Klementy Nagorny. They would act as his protection, as friends and, when Alexei was sick, as nurses as well. 

Nicholas took comfort in God, believing it to be God’s will. But that’s not to say he was okay with it.

He wasn’t the same man he was before, he was becoming more fatalistic.

And those who knew him well noticed a change in him after Alexei was born; unfortunately, most of those same people didn’t know about Alexei’s condition so they couldn’t understand what may have caused such a change in their Tsar. 

Alexandra was suffering twice over — she blamed herself. There was a reason the Russian people called it “the Curse of the Coburgs” or “the Hesse disease.” Because the disease ran in her family.

While Nicholas “accepted” Alexei’s illness, Alexandra wondered why God had turned his back on her. She believed that if she prayed more often and for longer periods of time, then God would step in and help Alexei.

The Imperial family, determined to keep Alexei’s condition a secret, closed themselves off from the rest of Russia and holed up in Tsarskoe Selo. This retreat from the world they were required to be a part was one of the worst decisions Nicholas and Alexandra ever made.

The Year of Nightmares

In 1904, before Alexei was even born, a war broke out between Russia and Japan after Nicholas wanted to expand into southern Manchuria. By 1905, the people’s faith in the war pretty much disappeared. Russia wasn’t doing well; the troops were tired and ready to go home. Hard to keep trekking on when you keep losing the battles.  

Unfortunately, the war was having a really negative impact on the four Romanov sisters. The way they spoke about the Japanese was horrible, saying awful things, like how they wanted all the Japanese to die.

Their nanny Margaretta literally had to explain to them that the Japanese were people just like the Russians, and only then did the girls understand. 

Because of the Russo-Japanese War, Alexandra couldn’t work with all the charities she normally did, but she was able to help with war relief. She tried to make sure there were enough supplies — in the end, there weren’t enough, but she tried. The people weren’t even a little bit happy. Not with the war, and most definitely not with the Tsar.

On January 6, 1905, Nicholas was present for the Blessing of the Waters, which was a ritual to bring the Christmas season to a close. During this event, when the gun salutes went off, badness ensued. Normally, the gun salute would mean firing blanks.

However, that day, three of the shots were very much not blanks. One of the shots broke through a window leading to the Nicholas Hall at the Winter Palace. Thankfully, no one was hurt, Nicholas even smiled a little afterwards. 

Only 6 days into the year and things were just about to get a whole lot worse. Literacy had been a problem in Russia for laborers. But by 1905 most of those city dwellers could read and those who couldn’t were the odd men out.

Things were beginning to change, but the people wanted more. More pay. Better working conditions. A work day that was no longer than 8 hours. Housing that wouldn’t bleed them dry and education available to all. 

So to make sure their demands were met, they went on strike. Men, women, children. And there was no way any of them were going to go back to work until the government listened to them and gave them everything they asked for.

Leading the charge was Father George Gapon. He wanted to go directly to the Tsar. The Tsar was the Batiushka, the Father of the Russian People. Once he knew their problems, Nicholas would take care of them. 

Gapon in front of the marchers on January 22, 1905

On January 21, Gapon had himself a little talk with some of the members of the government. He wanted to make sure that Nicholas was there to receive them at the Winter Palace at 2 pm the next day.

Unfortunately, Nicholas and his family were already at Tsarskoe Selo. There would be no one there to greet the marchers, unless you counted a full contingent of soldiers.

Meaning 12,000 men. With loaded rifles. Aimed at the marchers. Nicholas had ordered the soldiers to stand outside the Winter Palace gates once he heard about the march.

On Sunday, January 22, 1905, with Gapon in front, the workers, all 120,000 of them, gathered on the streets and made their way to the Winter Palace. The marchers had split into a couple groups, taking different paths that would let them meet at their final destination.

They were dressed in their best, waving Russian flags, singing “God Save the Tsar,” overall excited to bring their troubles to the Tsar so he could make them all go away. 

The men, women, and children would never get that far. Soldiers stood in their way all over the city. The people were confused. If the soldiers didn’t move, they’d be late for their meeting with the Tsar.

The marchers continued to move forward, trying to get to the Winter Palace. When they tried to get past the soldiers, the soldiers started shooting. It was a massacre. 

And just like that, the idea of the Batiushka tsar was no more. Nicholas wasn’t going to help them. His people were dying and to them, Nicholas had become a cold ruler who cared little for them. The image of the loving tsar was destroyed. January 22, 1905 became known as “Bloody Sunday.”

The march had begun in the morning, but it wasn’t until the evening that Nicholas learned about what had happened. He was upset by the news, but he placed the blame firmly on the shoulders of the workers.

Afterall, they were the ones marching. They must have mobbed the soldiers. They should be the ones who are sorry for their actions, not him, not his troops. He didn’t see how it was his fault. 

And when Nicholas’s government went to him and asked him to take a step back from the massacre by denying he told the soldiers to shoot, Nicholas said no.

Instead, the man asked some of the workers to come to the palace so that he could chew their ear off about how revolutions are bad and that they shouldn’t get involved with such things. A lecture was the last thing his people needed.

Nicholas refused to believe that things needed to change. He figured that since he’d accomplished some good things, such as the railroad and the creation of jobs from all the factories that were built, that things were fine.

He believed that things would get better for the lower class. After all, there are always a few bumps along the road when it comes to changes.

Bloody Sunday was only the first domino to fall. Nicholas’s mother called it “the year of nightmares.” In February, the Imperial Family took a hit. Nicholas’s uncle, Grand Duke Sergey, was assassinated by bombing in Moscow when he was leaving his home at the Kremlin.

This is the same Serge who was married to Ella, Alexandra’s sister. Sergey was hated. He was in favor of autocracy and despised the revolutionaries who tired to put an end to his family’s dynasty.

Ella and Sergey

Ella’s life was completely different after that. After a few years, she retreated from the world as much as she could while still living in Moscow.

She became the abbess of an abbey she had built called “the Convent of Mary and Martha.” 

By the Fall of 1905, there had been over 1,600 strikes. But the people kept striking. They wanted to make a change and if Nicholas wasn’t going to listen voluntarily, they would make him.

In October, one by one, workers in different professions walked off their jobs. Wouldn’t be surprised if they were wokring one second, dropping a malet the next, and peacing the fuck out. The country was coming to a dead stop.

No more printers. No more railway workers. No more teachers, doctors, lawyers, dancers, and so many others. Millions of people joined the strikes. 

What did the people want? A Duma. The idea of the Duma came from the St. Petersburg Soviet, which is an organization that appeared out of thin air in the beginning of 1905. One day it didn’t exist, the next it did. Led by Marxist Leon Trotsky, it was a council of people elected to represent each 1000 workers and organize all the strikes.

The St. Petersburg Soviet inspired other cities to create soviets of their own, but they were eradicated as quickly as they formed. Nicholas didn’t like these Soviets. He saw them for what they were – a threat to his autocracy. So he used his authority to make the soviets illegal and had the leaders of these organizations arrested. 

The steps Nicholas took to suppress these soviets didn’t sit well with Prime Minister Witte. So he did the only logical thing, he went to the Tsar and told him the truth, forcing Nicholas to listen to reason.

Russia was standing on a precipice. Either things changed or Nicholas was going to have a full-blown revolution on his hands. Nicholas had to choose. Does he kill his own people to put an end to the strikes or does he make the concessions the people are clambering for? 

Witte drafted a document that sanctioned the concessions. But no. Nicholas wouldn’t sign it. He was going to stand his ground at the cost of his people.

Having had enough, his cousin Grand Duke Nicholas, who was also commander of the St. Petersburg Military District, barged into Nicholas’s office on October 30 and told him he either signed the document or the Grand Duke was going to blow his own brains out right then and there. 

And so Nicholas signed Witte’s document the very same day. It became known as “The October Manifesto.” The manifesto granted the people the equivalent of the US first amendment. They could say what they wanted. They could meet with whoever they wanted. They could join whatever organization tickled their fancy.

Nicholas also signed off on the creation of a Duma, which gave the people a voice in their own government. As a part of that, the Duma was granted full authority over the laws created.

There was no oversight. Robert K. Massie said it best in “Nicholas and Alexandra,” the manifesto “transformed Russia from an absolute autocracy into a semi-constitutional monarchy.” And even more, people from the lower class could be elected and serve in the Duma.

To say the people were happy is an understatement. The strikes stopped. People started singing, letting their voices be heard. The people believed this was the beginning of a new and better Russia. Now, their lives would finally change for the better.

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*Music: Initial classical piece that’s a part of the intro is Concerto for 2 Oboes in F Major Op9 no3, 3 Allegro by Advent Chamber Orchestra under the Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.*

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