Nicholas and Alexandria: A Tragic Love Story
First a Ballerina
In Saint Petersburg the social season of the Russian aristocracy began in January and ended the first day of Lent. During the season, a favorite pastime of Nicholas was to attend the Saint Petersburg Ballet. Ballerinas and aristocrats were perfectly acceptable liaisons.
Everyone involved knew that marriage could not and would not be a result of such friendships. Nonetheless, for the time at hand such relationships could be enjoyed and gifts exchanged. For Nicholas, the ballerina was named Mathilde Kschessinska.
Kschessinska was no ordinary ballerina. She was a star among stars, dancing lead roles in Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty. At the age of nineteen she was one of the premiere ballerinas of pre-revolutionary Russia.
Mathilde and the Tsarevich rendezvoused in carriages along the Neva. Later in 1892, Mathilde rented a house in Saint Petersburg and Nicholas would arrive on horseback in the evenings for supper and games.
In 1894 Nicholas confided to Mathilde that he hoped to make Alix his fiancé. Nicholas and Mathilde parted later in 1894. He literally rode off into the sunset while Kschessinska sat in her carriage.
In 1902, Kschessinska had a son with Grand Duke Andrei, a cousin of the Tsar. In 1921 in Cannes, Mathilde married Grand Duke Andrei. By the time of their wedding, the aristocracy no longer existed, the title of Grand Duke was only words, and Tsar Nicholas along with the love of his life and his five children were considered martyrs.
Alix was a younger sister of Grand Duchess Elizabeth, an aunt by marriage to Nicholas. In 1890, Princess Alix, seventeen years old, came to Saint Petersburg to visit her sister. Nicholas socialized with the German princess at the home of his aunt.
Alix was neither gay nor charming nor witty. She was shy and serious. Russian society determined her to be haughty without a reason for haughtiness. She neither danced well nor laughed. The Tsar Alexander III and Empress Marie, Nicholas's parents, would never allow such a match.
According to Robert K. Massie, author of Nicholas and Alexandria published in 1967, "Alix burned with inner fires." The Tsarevich was immediately attracted to the young woman, and spent many evenings in her company. Unfortunately, she lived in Hesse-Darmstadt, a great distance away.
In October 1890 Nicholas was sent on a nine month voyage from the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez to India and Japan. This journey separated Nicholas from Kschessinska. Though he would resume that relationship, his heart apparently belonged to the Princess from his first meeting.
In his diary he noted his desire to marry the princess and wondered how he would ever achieve his dream. His parents continued to discourage his romance. Empress Marie attempted a match with a more suitable choice, but Nicholas resisted.
Nicholas was not the only suitor for the hand of the princess. She was the favorite granddaughter of Queen Victoria of Britain. in 1889 she rejected the proposal of Prince Albert Victor, the oldest son of the Prince of Whales, and after him, the heir to the British throne. Alix preferred the quiet and unassuming heir to the Russian throne.
What did it matter if the society of Saint Petersburg considered her a bit of an English educated, awkward prude? Not at all. She was destined to be an Empress of the vast and powerful Russian empire.
She first met Nicholas at her sister's wedding, she loved the seventeen year old Tsarevich. He pressed a broach into her hand at the age of twelve.
In the spring of 1894 Alix's older brother was to be married. The wedding in Coburg, Germany attracted Europe's royalty including Queen Victoria. Nicholas traveled for two days to arrive by train where Alix met him at the station.
After long persistent years of devotion, the Tsar and Empress had at last given their permission for Nicholas to propose to the princess. The proposal took days. Princess Alix at first declined through her tears. The reason for this was religion. Alix was a devout Lutheran. If she married Nicholas she must convert to Russian Orthodoxy.
Of course, religious principles were a well known factor. Nicholas had to convince Alix that converting from German Lutheran to Russian Orthodox was not so very different. In the end, Alix's sister convinced her.
Long before the wedding took place, the proposal of Nicholas to Alix had overshadowed all of the festivities. Queen Victoria favored the match. Grand Dukes waited in one room while Nicholas talked for long hours with Alix in another room. After visits and consultations among various interested parties, Alix consented.
Nicholas wrote to his mother. "We were left alone and with her first words she consented. . . I cried like a child and she did too, but her expression had changed: her face was lit by a quiet content. . . the whole world is changed for me: nature, mankind, everything, and all seem to be good and loveable. . ." (quoted from Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandria)
It is suitable that such an engagement of momentous proportions should take days to complete. This marriage would change the world. And it was a match made of love.
Tsar Nicholas II
Nicholas and Alexandria by Robert K. Masse
The Experience of World War I by J.M. Winter
Ah, The Wedding
"I am yours," Alix had written, "you are mine, of that be sure. You are locked in my heart, the little key is lost and now you must stay there forever."
But it was not to be an easy journey from engagement to matrimony. Nicholas's father, Tsar Alexander III, was ill. He was moved to the summer palace at Livadia in the Crimea. Nicholas went with his father. He asked Alix to join him. His father was dying.
Kneeling before the Tsar, Alix received his blessing as was due a future empress of Russia. Ten days later, November 1,1894, the Tsar of Russia died. Nicholas, unprepared and perhaps unsuited, was now the ruler of Russia.
Alix wanted her conversion to Orthodoxy to be immediate. The following day in a private ceremony attended by Nicholas, Alix, and Empress Marie, Alix was welcomed into the Russian Orthodox church.
In his first Imperial Decree, Nicholas stated that Alix had become the truly believing grand duchess Alexandra Fedorovna. That necessary hurdle was crossed. Nicholas then also wanted for the wedding to take place quietly and quickly. In this he was denied.
The wedding of a Tsar belonged to the people. First the family would conduct the long rituals and ceremonies of the funeral for a beloved Tsar. Then the new Tsar would marry in front of all of Russia.
The wedding took place on November 26, one week after the funeral. The ceremony was four hours long. Empress Alexandra wrote to her sister, "Our marriage seemed to me a mere continuation of the masses for the dead with this difference, that now I wore white address instead of black."
On the last day of 1894, Nicholas wrote, "At the same time that He has sent me irreparable grief, God has sent me a happiness of which I never dared to dream, in giving me Alix."
The courtship and wedding of Nicholas and Alexandria was a Russian fairy tale come to life. The minor princess marries the man of her dreams who is also the Tsar of Russia who loves her and fought for her.
Through the horror and tragedy of war and revolution, they loved each other. Through the illness of hemophilia suffered by the heir, Alexis, and an Imperial Court destroyed by Rasputin, Nicholas and Alexandria loved each other.
History scrupulously records their last days, their last hours, their last minutes together as prisoners of the Bolsheviks. Perhaps there was a survivor of that massacre. Perhaps love lived.