Alexandra Fyodorovna

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Alexandra Fyodorovna

June 6, 1872
Darmstadt, Hesse, Germany
July 16, 1918
Yekaterinburg, Russia

Empress of Russia

Alexandra Fyodorovna was czarina, or empress, of Russia during a very turbulent time in history. Her husband, Czar Nicholas II, was a weak ruler with little interest in matters of state, and he was easily influenced by his strong-willed wife. Because Alexandra influenced the czar, who had absolute power over the lives of millions, the mistakes she made were magnified to huge proportions. Many people say that Alexandra was shallow and conceited. They blame her for prolonging the suffering of the Russian people and causing the fall of the czars of Russia. Others say that she was the product of a weak and corrupt system of royal families, but that she was basically a good woman who tried desperately to care for her family.

The Tragic Young Princess

Alexandra Fyodorovna had royalty on both sides of her family. She was born Alix Victoria Helene Luise Beatrix, the daughter of Princess Alice of Great Britain and Ireland and Grand Duke Louis of HesseDarmstadt, Germany. Little Alix was the sixth of seven children, and her early childhood was a happy one. Her mother was one of the daughters of Queen Victoria. Although Princess Alice had left England to live in her husband's country, she never abandoned her British roots. She passed her love of her homeland on to her children, who relished visiting their grandmother the queen in her castles in London and Scotland.

Alix's carefree childhood came to a sudden end when she was six years old. Her younger sister, May, died in a diphtheria (a serious contagious disease caused by bacteria) epidemic. Then, after nursing the rest of the family through the disease, Alix's mother died of diphtheria as well. Little Alix had been very attached to her mother and younger sister, and she was deeply affected by both deaths. Though she was still warmly devoted to her family, she withdrew into herself somewhat and from then on tended toward seriousness and deep thoughts. She was shy and mistrustful of those outside her own family and stayed that way the rest of her life.

Alix was educated at home by governesses and tutors. Her mother had been a generous woman who had worked for charitable causes, and Alix continued her mother's work helping the poor. She also became deeply religious and she joined the Lutheran faith when she was sixteen. Shortly afterwards, she was formally presented to society and stepped into the role of princess of Hesse (a southwestern region of Germany). In 1892, misfortune visited Alix's family once again. Her father died of a heart attack at the age of fifty-five, leaving the young princess an orphan.

A Royal Marriage

Alix was twenty the year her father died, and the search was soon on among her royal relatives to find her a suitable husband. Her grandmother, Queen Victoria had hoped that Alix would marry Alix's wild young English cousin Prince Albert or Prince Maximilian of Baden, a member of the German royal family. However, Alix refused to cooperate. She had no interest in those princes or in anyone else her family suggested. Her eyes were turned toward another second cousin, much farther away, in Russia.

The royal families of Europe had many connections, by blood and by marriage. Among Alix's godparents were the czar and czarina of Russia, and Alix's sister Elizabeth had married Serge, the czar's brother. At the wedding, Alix met the young czarevich, or prince, Nicholas Aleksandrovich of the noble Romanov family. In 1889, she saw Nicholas again when she went to Russia to attend a winter ball and stayed through the summer. As Alix's affection for Nicholas grew, so did her grandmother's distress. Both Queen Victoria and Nicholas's father, Alexander III, the Russian czar, were determined that Alix and Nicholas should not marry. Alix's family felt that the Russian state was too far away and too unstable. Alexander II, Nicholas's grandfather, had been assassinated by rebels, and Queen Victoria worried that Alix might be in danger if Alix became a member of Russian royalty. The czar's family, on the other hand, felt that Alix's position as princess of Hesse was not high enough for her to become the empress of Russia. For both families, the question of religion also made the situation seem hopeless: Alix was a devout Lutheran; but the state religion in Russia was Russian Orthodoxy, and the wife of a future czar had to be Orthodox.

One by one, these objections were overcome. Alexander, the old czar, grew very ill. As it became obvious that he was dying, Alexander became anxious to see his son married and settled. Nicholas was a spoiled, rich young man, with little preparation to take leadership of his country; his father felt that Nicholas needed at least a wife and family to support him, even if that wife was not quite as royal as the czar might have wished. On April 20, 1894, Nicholas proposed to Alix, who accepted and agreed to convert to the Orthodox religion (Alexandra Fyodorovna was the name she took when she converted). Once the engagement was settled, Queen Victoria finally gave the couple her blessing.

Nicholas and Alexandra were married on November 26, 1895, only a week after the funeral of Nicholas's father, Czar Alexander III. But even that solemn circumstance could not conceal the fact that they were very much in love.

The Empress

At her new Russian home in the capital city of St. Petersburg, Alexandra would always be more successful as a wife and mother than as an empress. She loved and supported her husband as he took on the new role of czar, but she did not get along with the other members of the royal family. She also

did not make a good impression on Russian noble society or on the peasants she ruled. Though warm by nature, she was cool and distant with those outside her family. She immediately began to isolate herself and her husband from the people, refusing to appear in public and discouraging Nicholas from doing so. Because her shyness was interpreted as pride and snobbishness, she quickly grew unpopular.

As Queen Victoria had feared, Russia was experiencing revolutionary change during this period. While the Russian court lived in extravagant luxury, in lavish castles filled with rich furs, gold, and jewels, the majority of Russian peasants and workers lived in poverty. To make matters worse, the working people of Russia suffered greatly when the Japanese defeated the Russian army in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. The war losses triggered a series of bloody riots that were the beginnings of a revolution against the absolute rule of the czars. The revolution of 1905 ended when the czar signed an imperial manifesto, or statement, promising an elected parliament and other freedoms to the Russian people. These changes did not come quickly enough, however, and the seeds of a greater revolution took root throughout Russia.

Alexandra had been a softhearted girl, sympathetic to the poor, but the longer she lived in the imperial court of Russia, the more she changed. She became convinced that a strong hand was needed to rule, and she encouraged her husband to deal harshly with those who rebelled against his authority. Nicholas remained a weak and reluctant ruler, and he was only too happy to look to his wife for advice. Alexandra's harsh attitudes made her even more unpopular with the Russian people.

Alexandra and Nicholas had five children: four girls— Olga, Tatiana, Marie, and Anastasia—and one boy, Alexis. Alexis was born last, in August 1904, and he was welcomed with delight by his parents and sisters. However, even this happy event was shadowed with difficulties. Alexis had hemophilia, a hereditary disease in which the blood does not clot. Sometimes called "bleeders," hemophiliacs suffer extreme pain and loss of blood at the slightest bruise or cut. Alexandra was heartsick over her son's illness, and she hovered over him protectively. She took him to doctors and to priests, looking for help.

In 1905 the desperate empress thought she had found the help she sought: A noblewoman introduced her to a Siberian peasant holy man who supposedly had healing powers. The man's name was Grigory Rasputin (1872–1916). Rasputin was a dramatic figure. A large man with shaggy black hair and beard, he had a powerfully hypnotic presence. Many people have thought that Rasputin was a sort of con man, but his presence and his prayers seemed to have had a healing effect

on the young Alexis. The grateful empress made Rasputin an important part of her household and looked to him for advice on all things, even governmental decisions. This governmental advice she passed on enthusiastically to her husband, the czar. As Alexandra became more and more dependent on the man people called "the mad monk," she isolated herself even further from the Russian people.

War and Revolution

In 1914, Germany declared war on Russia. World War I was a very unpopular war in Russia, and it brought Alexandra's popularity to its lowest level. Because she had come from Germany, the Russian people suspected her of treason and scornfully called her "the German woman." Poorly led and in political confusion, Russia was not prepared for war, and things went badly for the Russian armies. Thousands were killed, and commoners and nobles alike grew angrier at the interference of Alexandra and Rasputin in government affairs.

By 1917, things had only gotten worse. Supply routes had been cut off by the fighting, and peasants and workers had little money and almost no food. On International Women's Day, March 8, 1917, striking workers joined with starving peasants to protest the war and demand food. The protests grew as peasants and workers were joined by soldiers who had rebelled against their officers. Soon the rioters had taken over St. Petersburg and stormed the czar's palace. By March 15, Nicholas abdicated, giving up the role of czar for himself and any hope of his son's future rule. Alexandra was no longer empress.

The revolutionaries arrested the royal family. Nicholas, Alexandra, and their children were first held in the castle of Tsarskoye Selo, south of St. Petersburg, then moved to the Siberian town of Tobolsk. Finally they were moved to the town of Yekaterinburg, where they were held in a merchant's house that had been taken over and renamed the "House of Special Purpose." Here they tried to maintain a family life, reading and playing games. Alexandra kept a daily journal and, always the loving mother, worried over Alexis.

Russia was in a civil war, as the supporters of the aristocracy (the White Army) tried to defeat the peasants and workers (the Red Army). The White Army approached Yekaterinburg, and it appeared that they might capture the town. Before fleeing Yekaterinburg, the Reds who were holding the royal family prisoner took the whole family into the basement of the House of Special Purpose and shot them, bayoneting the children to make sure they were dead. Though there are conflicting reports of the actual executions, it is certain that Alexandra was killed on that terrible night in 1918.

For More Information


King, Greg. The Last Empress. New York: Birch Lane Press, 1994.

Kurth, Peter. Tsar: The Lost World of Nicholas and Alexandra. Boston: Little, Brown, 1995.

Massie, Robert K. Nicholas and Alexandra. New York: Atheneum, 1967.

Meyer, Carolyn. Anastasia, the Last Grand Duchess. New York: Scholastic, 2000.

Mouchanow, Marfa. My Empress: Twenty-Three Years of Intimate Life with the Empress of All the Russias. New York and London: John Lane, 1918.


Smith, Kyle. "Tragic Child: Anastasia's Story Is Out of Toon with the New Film." People, 12 January 1998, 67–70.


Nicholas and Alexandra. Produced by Simon Welfare and Michael Beckham and directed by Michael Beckham. New York: Granite Film, Granada Television Production, in association with A&E Network, 1994.

Web sites

Buxhoeveden, Baroness Sophie. "Aleksandra Feodorovna." Russian History Websites. [Online] (accessed February 2001).

The Romance of Anastasia

Not long after the assassination of the royal family in Yekaterinburg, rumors spread in Russia and throughout Europe that one or two of Nicholas and Alexandra's children had survived. One reason for these rumors was that those who killed the royal family had hidden their bodies. When the bodies were finally found in 1979, the bodies of Anastasia and Alexis were not among them, and some people began to hope that the czar's two youngest children might have lived. One rumor told of a kindhearted soldier who had hidden the young grand duchess and helped her escape the fate of her family. This romantic story has been the basis for plays, novels, and movies.

Over the years, several women have claimed to be the lost grand duchess Anastasia. One such woman, Anna Anderson, even convinced several members of the Romanov family that she was one of them. However, after she died in 1984, scientists developed DNA testing as a way of proving blood relationships. In 1993, when Anna Anderson's DNA was compared to that of England's Prince Philip, a distant Romanov cousin, it was finally proven that she could not have been Anastasia.

Most historians feel certain that Anastasia died along with the rest of her family, but the story of her escape still has appeal for many.

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