I’ve just set aside everything to read a new book about the Romanov family.
It’s only about the thirtieth book on the Romanovs to capture my imagination over the years.
A friendly chat with friends from all over the country reveals they, too, have long been intrigued by the family and the story.
For the few people on the planet who don’t know the story, Nicholas II, a grandson of Queen Victoria, married the beautiful Alix of Hesse shortly after he became tsar in 1894. They had four daughters in a row and finally a son–who had hemophilia. Alix, known as Alexandra, was in poor health and worried constantly about the heir to the throne–who was unlikely to live to adulthood.
The Imperial doctors tried everything and then a mysterious “priest” from Siberia came to see them, Rasputin, and he was able to calm the boy’s bleeding.
He also unduly influenced the nervous Alexandra and his meddling in Russian affairs was part of what led to the dynasty’s ultimate downfall, though he was murdered a few years before.
The Romanov family celebrated 300 years of dynastic rule in 1913. Four years later following the February Revolution, Tsar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate. Owing to Alexei’s ill health, he abdicated for both himself and his child. The crown went to his brother, but not for long.
Held under house arrest for over a year at the Alexandra Palace outside of St. Petersburg, the entire family savored their time together, sustained by their devotion to the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1918, the family was moved to Ekaterinburg in western Siberia. They were kept under close guard in the Ipatiev House and finally shot to death in a horrific nightmare of a basement room on July 17, 1918.
Not content to have simply murdered the family, the Bolsheviks took the bodies to a pit outside of the city. They poured sulfuric acid over the bodies and set them on fire.
Stories abound for many years that the youngest daughter, the spirited Anastasia, had been smuggled away and survived. When a mysterious woman named Anna Anderson was found many years later following a drowning attempt, she claimed to be the long lost Anastasia. Many believed her–family members perhaps because they wanted to believe her–but when DNA testing became available, she was proved to be a Polish peasant.
In 1991, the Romanov bodies were found, exhumed, and DNA testing was performed proving who they were (Prince Philip of England was among several still alive relatives provided DNA for that testing). In 2000, the Romanov family as individuals were proclaimed passion-bearers by the Russian Orthodox Church. (According to Wikipedia, a passion-bearer is a saint who was not killed because of his faith like a martyr but died in faith at the hand of murderers.)
What a story!
But why would an average girl of Sicilian-British-French-Danish nationality who grew up in Los Angeles be fascinated by the Romanov family? Click to Tweet
What would intrigue her so much she would write a story about them (in which Anastasia survives) and win a national writing contest in high school?
And why am I still reading about them now?
The Romanov story has all the elements of an opera with the added sadness of being true: kings, doomed empire, beautiful young daughters, cruel politicos, fabulous jewelry and heartbreaking illness, not to mention a world war. Click to Tweet
Perhaps its the lot in life for teenage girls to become passionate about love stories that transcend time or even logical thought. Perhaps it was the pageantry, the gorgeous girls (my then-age) impeccably dressed in matching white, or even the tragedy of a boy who could die from falling while playing a game?
I’m not so enraptured with the beauty of the story now that I’ve read more of the history of the times. When my mother asked me if I named my son Nicholas in honor of the tsar, I was appalled.
“I’d never name a child for him. While well meaning, he was a weak autocrat whose choices doomed his national to seventy years of Communism.”
My mother and I were both surprised at my vehemence!
Still, the fascination continues.
Tonight I’m reading Helen Rappaport‘s The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg. I thought I knew everything about this story, but Rappaport is providing insights about Ekaterinburg I’d missed. Beautifully written, heartfelt and headed to that horrible ending, I’ll be savoring this one for a few days.
UPDATE: Finished the book in two days. Excellent. Well written, full of a different angle and insight, I learned a lot. Well worth reading.
Still pondering, though, why the story continues to capture my attention.
What do you think?
Why are we still sobbing over the Romanov story nearly 100 years after their death?
You can hear Tsar Nicholas speak here.
You can watch the Tsar and three daughters enter a carriage here.