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Why Czar Nicholas II and the Romanovs Were Murdered

Why Czar Nicholas II and the Romanovs Were Murdered

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When Nicholas Romanov was crowned czar of Russia in 1894, he seemed bewildered. “What is going to happen to me…to all Russia?” he asked an advisor when he assumed the throne. “I am not prepared to be Czar. I never even wanted to become one.”

Twenty-four years later, he seemed just as bewildered as a group of armed thugs, members of the Bolshevik secret police, moved in to assassinate him. Though he had been deposed months earlier, his crown and his name stolen from him and his family imprisoned, he did not expect to be murdered.

But unlike Czar Nicholas, historians have pieced together the exact reasons why the Romanov family was brutally assassinated and the context that led to their downfall.

Russians turn against Nicholas II after a series of unpopular decisions

The roots of the Romanov family’s murder can be found in the earliest days of Nicholas’ reign. The eldest son of Emperor Alexander III, Nicholas was his father’s designated heir. But Alexander did not adequately prepare his son to rule a Russia that was wracked with political turmoil. A strict autocrat, Alexander believed that a czar had to rule with an iron fist. He forbade anyone within the Russian Empire to speak non-Russian languages (even those in places like Poland), cracked down on the freedom of the press, and weakened his people’s political institutions.

As a result, Nicholas inherited a restless Russia. A few days after his coronation in 1894, nearly 1,400 of his subjects died during a huge stampede. They had gathered on a large field in Moscow to receive coronation gifts and souvenirs, but the day ended in tragedy. It was a disturbing beginning to Nicholas’ reign, and his bungled response earned him the nickname “Nicholas the Bloody.”

Throughout his reign, Nicholas faced growing discontent from his subjects. He fought a war the people weren’t behind. His government massacred nearly 100 unarmed protesters during a peaceful assembly in 1905. And he struggled to maintain a civil relationship with the Duma, the representative branch of the Russian government.

World War I catastrophes and Rasputin’s reputation erode Nicholas’ public support

Nicholas’ son, the crown prince, Alexei, was born with hemophilia. But the family kept his disease, which would cause him to bleed to death from a slight cut, a secret. The Empress Alexandra, his wife, became increasingly under the thrall of Grigori Rasputin, a mystic whom she believed had saved Alexei’s life. Rasputin’s growing influence within the family caused suspicion among the public, who resented his power.

Then, in 1914, Russia was drawn into World War I, but was unprepared for the scale and magnitude of the fighting. Nicholas’ subjects were horrified by the number of casualties the country sustained. Russia had the largest number of deaths in the war—over 1.8 million military deaths, and about 1.5 million civilian deaths.

The war eroded whatever semblance of control Nicholas still had over the country. Without men at home to farm, the food system collapsed, the transportation system fell apart, and the people began to riot. At first, Nicholas refused to abdicate, but in March 1917, he stepped down.

During the October Revolution, Bolsheviks imprison the imperial family in remote house

In November 1917, Bolshevik revolutionaries led by Vladimir Lenin took over the government. Nicholas tried to convince the British and then the French to give him asylum—after all, his wife was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria. But both countries refused, and the Romanovs found themselves in the hands of the newly formed revolutionary government.

The Romanovs new life was dramatically different from the regal, opulent life they had lived in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Both Nicholas and the Empress Alexandra were in denial and refused to give up hope that they’d be saved. Instead, they were shuffled from house to house. Finally, they were imprisoned in a home that the Bolsheviks called “the house of special purpose.”

The family that had once lived in a regal home now camped out in the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg, a house with no bed linens, lots of dust, and not enough plates or silverware. Soldiers hassled them, drawing lewd images on the walls of the bathroom and covering them with obscene poems about Alexandra.

After months of plotting, the Romanov family is assassinated by their Bolshevik captors

Finally, late at night on July 17, 1918, the Romanov family was awoken and told to get ready for another move. Still hoping to escape, the women packed up their things and put on clothing into which they had sewn precious jewelry, religious icons and a large amount of money. Then, unexpectedly, their captors turned on them, attacking them first with bullets, then with the butts of guns, bayonets and even their own heels and fists. All seven of the Romanovs—and the last gasp of the Russian monarchy—were dead.

What may have looked like an impromptu murder was in fact a carefully planned act of violence. For days, the Romanovs’ Bolshevik captors had been preparing the house for the murder, including stocking up on benzene with which to burn the corpses and sulfuric acid with which to maim them beyond recognition.

Yakov Yurovsky, who had coordinated and led the killings, was personally recognized by Lenin, the head of the Bolsheviks, for the murders. But while the country was informed of the Czar’s assassination, the public was left in the dark about the rest of the family’s gruesome fate—and the location of their bodies—until the fall of the Soviet Union.

Lenin, Yurovsky, and the revolutionaries all saw Nicholas and the monarchy he stood for as a cancer that made it impossible for the working class to rise. But ironically, the assassinations they orchestrated to murder the monarchy for good had consequences for their cause. News that Nicholas had been assassinated almost completely overshadowed the political victories Lenin and his fellow revolutionaries had achieved, and pushed the Russian Revolution off the front page of newspapers. And, ironically, the deaths of Nicholas, Alexandra and their five children made many Russians yearn for the monarchy.

Even today, there is a contingent of Russian society that wants to restore the monarchy, including an oligarch who funds a school designed to prepare rich Russians for a future monarchy. Nicholas may not have known how to rule Russia, but the monarchy he felt so ambivalent about has maintained some of its pull even 100 years after his murder.


Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.

When Nicholas Romanov was crowned tsar of Russia in 1894, he seemed bewildered. “What is going to happen to me…to all Russia?” he asked an advisor when he assumed the throne. “I am not prepared to be Tsar. I never even wanted to become one.”

Twenty-four years later, he seemed just as bewildered as a group of armed thugs, members of the Bolshevik secret police, moved in to assassinate him. Though he had been deposed months earlier, his crown and his name stolen from him and his family imprisoned, he did not expect to be murdered.

But unlike Tsar Nicholas, historians have pieced together the exact reasons why the Romanov family was brutally assassinated and the context that led to their downfall.

Tsar Nicholas II and empress Alexandra in coronation robes, 1894.

Russians turn against Nicholas II after a series of unpopular decisions

The roots of the Romanov family’s murder can be found in the earliest days of Nicholas’ reign. The eldest son of Emperor Alexander III, Nicholas was his father’s designated heir. But Alexander did not adequately prepare his son to rule a Russia that was wracked with political turmoil. A strict autocrat, Alexander believed that a tsar had to rule with an iron fist. He forbade anyone within the Russian Empire to speak non-Russian languages (even those in places like Poland), cracked down on the freedom of the press, and weakened his people’s political institutions.

As a result, Nicholas inherited a restless Russia. A few days after his coronation in 1894, nearly 1,400 of his subjects died during a huge stampede. They had gathered on a large field in Moscow to receive coronation gifts and souvenirs, but the day ended in tragedy. It was a disturbing beginning to Nicholas’ reign, and his bungled response earned him the nickname “Nicholas the Bloody.”

Throughout his reign, Nicholas faced growing discontent from his subjects. He fought a war the people weren’t behind. His government massacred nearly 100 unarmed protesters during a peaceful assembly in 1905. And he struggled to maintain a civil relationship with the Duma, the representative branch of the Russian government.

World War I catastrophes and Rasputin’s reputation erode Nicholas’ public support

Nicholas’ son, the crown prince, Alexei, was born with hemophilia. But the family kept his disease, which would cause him to bleed to death …read more

DNA Analysis Confirms Authenticity of Romanovs’ Remains

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the execution of Nicholas II and his family, an event that toppled Russia’s Romanov dynasty. Yesterday, as the country was preparing to commemorate their deaths, Russian investigators announced that new DNA testing had confirmed that remains attributed to last tsar and his family are in fact authentic—a finding that may pave the way for the deceased royals to be buried with full rites by the Orthodox Church, according to Agence France-Presse.

The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, which is responsible for probing serious crimes, said DNA analysis “confirmed the remains found belonged to the former Emperor Nicholas II, his family members and members of their entourage.” As part of the new tests, investigators exhumed the body of Nicholas' father, Alexander III to prove that the two are related, and also took DNA samples from living members of the Romanov family, according to the Moscow Times.

The new findings are the latest development in a tangled dispute over the remains of the Romanovs, whose downfall was nigh after Nicholas II was forced to abdicate the throne in the midst of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Radical Bolsheviks took power and formed a provisional government, and the tsar, his wife, Alexandra and their five children were imprisoned in the city of Yekaterinburg. In 1918, civil war broke out between the communist government’s Red Army and the anti-Bolshevik White Army. As the White Army advanced on Yekaterinburg, local authorities were ordered to prevent the rescue of the Romanovs, and in the early hours of July 17, the family was executed by firing squad. Those who remained alive after the bullets stopped flying were stabbed to death.

The Romanovs’ bodies were thrown down a mineshaft, only to be retrieved, burned and buried near a cart track. The remains of Nicholas, Alexandra and three of their daughters— Anastasia, Olga and Tatiana—were found in 1979, though the bodies were only exhumed in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, according to the AFP. As Tom Parfitt of the Times reports, DNA testing carried out at the time confirmed that the remains were authentic.

Orthodox Church officials, however, contested these findings. In 1998, the remains that had been uncovered some 20 years earlier were interred in Saint Petersburg, but the Church refused to give them full burial rites. In 2007, archaeologists discovered the bones of two more individuals, whom they believed to be the missing Romanov children: Maria and Alexei, the tsar’s only son and the heir to the throne.

“Their bones were also analyzed and scientists took the opportunity to repeat tests on the whole family using new technology,” Parfitt writes. “Evgeny Rogaev, a molecular geneticist, found there was one in a septillion chance that the remains thought to be of the tsar were not his.”

Still, the Church refused to recognize the remains. The bones of Maria and Alexei have never been buried.

Church officials explained their recalcitrance by saying that they need to be “extra sure” of the validity of the remains, since the tsar and his family were canonized in 2000, reports Alec Luhn of the Telegraph. This means that the Romanovs’ bones are relics—holy objects worthy of veneration.

But politics—and conspiracy theories—may have also come into play. The AFP reports that the Church clergy “felt sidelined” by an investigation into the remains that took place under former Russian president Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s. In 2015, the Church ordered yet another investigation, but critics have accused Church officials of stalling the proceedings because they are reluctant to admit their mistakes in handling the remains. Last year, for instance, a Church commission involved in the probe floated the anti-Semitic theory the Romanovs were killed as part of a Jewish ritual.

“There is absolutely no reason to examine these absurd theories about the deaths and the veracity of the remains when we know the circumstances, and scientists have proved beyond doubt they are real,” Viktor Aksyuchits, who fronted a state advisory group on the remains in the 1990s, tells the Times’ Parfitt.

The latest DNA analysis is part of the criminal investigation ordered by the Church. According to the AFP, Church spokesman Vladimir Legoida said in a statement that officials will review the latest findings “with attention.” The Romanovs may finally receive a full Church burial—though it will not come in time for the centenary of their deaths.

Could the British Royal Family Have Saved the Romanovs?

In 1909, 10 years before the assassination of the tsar and his family, two kings and their families gathered for a final meal. Could their bonds have changed history?

Two families sat down to dinner aboard the yacht Victoria and Albert on August 2nd, 1909, to be served an exquisitely prepared meal: cold quail, timbales of pear, and glace. The table, set for 44 guests, was dotted with vases of red roses. Such a presentation was only to be expected.

Not one but two crowned monarchs were dining that evening: England&rsquos King Edward VII and his nephew, Russia&rsquos Czar Nicholas II. It was a seismic summit. The British Empire held sway over some 400 million people Nicholas ruled one-sixth of the world. But it was also a deeply personal event.

That very morning, the Russian Imperial family&mdash41-year-old Nicholas, his wife, 37-year-old Czarina Alexandra, and five children, ranging from 13-year-old Olga to the 5-year-old Tsarevich Alexei&mdashhad arrived at the rendezvous off the Isle of Wight on their own yacht, the Standart.

The two families were intertwined twice by blood: Nicholas&rsquos Danish mother, Marie, was the sister of Edward&rsquos wife, Queen Alexandra, while Czarina Alexandra's mother was the favorite granddaughter of Queen Victoria, King Edward's mother.

The four-day visit was far from the first meeting of these two royal families. For a generation, various members had gathered in England, Russia, Germany, and Denmark for weddings and funerals and summer holidays, just like any other set of relatives. But this was to be the last such coming together of the two full groups.

The Romanovs&rsquo 1909 journey, when they all made a point of going ashore to the Isle of Wight to see Queen Victoria&rsquos once-beloved Osborne House, took place towards the end of the Edwardian Long Summer, a time marked by leisurely teas and emerald-lawn garden parties and novels by E.M. Forster. But storm clouds were gathering on this summer visit. In addition to growing tensions within their respective countries, Russia, Edward VII and Nicholas II did not have the easiest relationship.

The 1909 meeting was not purely personal&mdashit was also designed to solidify an alliance. In the early part of his reign, despite family ties Nicolas thought of England as Russia&rsquos sworn enemy. It was only after years of diplomatic courting that Russia signed an agreement allying itself with England. The real reason the two families had to meet at the Isle of Wight, two miles off the coast, was the security nightmare presented by the Romanovs&ndashthe autocrat czar was hunted by assassins in Russia and across Europe.

The underlying tensions that evening, though, went well beyond politics. &ldquoWeak as water&rdquo was the private opinion Edward VII held of his nephew, while the shy and reserved Nicholas felt that the gregarious King Edward patronized him. At the very least, Edward came on too strong. &ldquoUncle Bertie is in very good spirits and very friendly, almost too much so,&rdquo Nicholas once complained in a letter to his mother, the Dowager Czarina Marie.

Nicholas did, however, enjoy a genuine friendship with Edward&rsquos son and heir, George, who was close in age. "I look upon you. as one of my oldest and best friends," George wrote Nicholas in 1894.

Not only did the two men share many interests they were eerily similar in appearance. Standing side by side, the first cousins could be mistaken for twins&mdashfive foot seven inches tall, they sported dark trimmed mustaches and van dyke beards. &ldquoNickie&rdquo and &ldquoGeorgie&rdquo jokingly commemorated their resemblance on the Isle of Wight, photographed side by side and arm in arm, wearing yachting suits.

The harrowing tragedies and trials of the coming century were unforeseeable when the Standart arrived on that breezy, cloudy morning at the Isle of Wight, escorted by Russian cruisers and greeted by bands playing and crowds cheering on the shore. Prince George, arriving with his parents on the Victoria and Albert, brought his wife, Mary of Teck, their daughter, Mary, and their oldest son, 15-year-old David. The future Duke of Windsor thought that the second oldest daughter of Nicholas, Grand Duchess Tatiana, was pretty, leading to a series of tantalizing &ldquoWhat Ifs.&rdquo

Nicholas and Alexandra had visited Balmoral in 1896 with baby Olga, but this was the first visit to England by all five Romanov children. The daughters were photographed wearing their favorite white dresses and large hats. On the second day, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia were determined to go to the island, and would not take no for an answer.

Completely cut off from the &ldquoordinary&rdquo world in their heavily guarded St. Petersburg palace of Tsarkoe Selo, the girls took pleasure in digging for shells and building sandcastles on the beach. Trailed by anxious detectives, the two oldest, Olga and Tatiana, even ventured into the town of Cowes, buying postcards and trinkets in local shops. Everyone found them &ldquomodest and charming,&rdquo wrote Helen Rapaport in her book The Race to Save the Romanovs.

Such down-to-earth delights were not to be enjoyed by their mother, the Czarina Alexandra, who had a bad headache on and off during the visit, and also suffered from a &ldquoweak heart.&rdquo But perhaps her greatest source of discomfort was her nerves. The Czarina was obsessed with worry for her son Alexei, who had hemophilia, a hereditary blood disease&ndashone of Queen Victoria&rsquos sons had died of it at age 30 and various grandchildren exhibited the illness, which caused excruciating pain.

Back in Russia, the devout Alexandra had already come under the influence of the monk Grigori Rasputin, a &ldquoholy man&rdquo who alone seemed able to bring Alexei relief when he was in an acute phase. Some historians have theorized that Rasputin, with his hypnotic voice, could calm the overwrought Czarina, which eased the tension suffered by her dependent son and thus reduced his pain.

Nicholas and Alexandra were keeping Alexei&rsquos hemophilia a secret from everyone outside the immediate family, including their English relatives. The extended family were puzzled by Alexandra&rsquos controversial attachment to Rasputin, but the Russian couple would hear no criticism of Father Grigori.

There was not a speck of hysterical mysticism in Prince George&rsquos wife, Mary. She, too, could come across as aloof, but hers was a pragmatic nature. While George and Nicholas were close friends for years, no such affinity ever seems to have existed between Alexandra and Mary, themselves cousins. What may have played a part was that Alexandra, when young, was an ethereal beauty with blonde hair tumbling down to her waist.

Mary, intelligent and bookish, was no beauty and was never a favorite of Queen Victoria&rsquos ether. She was a poor relation until, in something of a Cinderella story, she became engaged to the oldest son of Edward VI, the Duke of Clarence, and, after he died suddenly of pneumonia, married the second son, George.

Mary adapted to the simple tastes of her husband and to the difficult demands of her in-laws. England's Queen Alexandra smothered George and criticized Mary. Her adoring letters to her son make startling reading today. &ldquoWith a great big kiss for your lovely little face,&rdquo she wrote George when he was a naval officer. He called her &ldquoMotherdear&rdquo and never seems to have craved an emotional boundary. After he married, it was his mother, not his wife, who picked out all the furniture for &ldquoYork Cottage,&rdquo the house George and Mary, who had six children, lived in for 33 years. But Mary devoted herself to her husband and supported him however she could.

A faithful husband, George was obsessed with stamp collecting and shooting birds. Even after his father died in 1910, the year after the family summit, and he became King of England, he was a passionate hunter. In 1913, a party led by George V killed 3,937 birds in a single day. Rather than gamble, consume nine-course meals, and chase women, as his father did, George, shy and conservative, preferred the life of a country gentleman.

This is something Czar Nicholas doubtless empathized with. To some, the Romanovs personified wealth and privilege, with their palaces, art collections, and Faberge eggs. But recent biographies have taken a closer look at the complex man who was Nicholas II and come away with a different perspective.

&ldquoThere was an ascetic aspect in Nicholas&rsquos character, and even on winter nights he left the windows open," historian Robert Service wrote in his book The Last of the Tsars. "He loved the fresh air in any season and spent at least two hours in daily exercise out of doors&mdashfour if he had the chance. The emperor, mild of manner, was tough as old boots. He was indifferent to luxury. When in civilian dress, he wore the same suit he had used since his bachelor days. His trousers were on the scruffy side and his boots were dilapidated. For food, he favored simple Russian dishes like beetroot soup, cabbage soup, or porridge&hellip.&rdquo

The Isle of Wight visit may have called for grander meals than Nicholas liked and more family demands than Alexandra could easily cope with. But they were clearly glad they came. &ldquoThey left, to our great regret,&rdquo Mary wrote to her absent son Bertie, the future George VI, who was in bed with whooping cough and had to miss it all.

George and Nicholas saw each other one more time. They both attended the wedding of Kaiser Wilhelm&rsquos daughter in 1913 in Berlin. Neither of them much liked Wilhelm, and their countries were formally allied against Germany. But Wilhem was the grandson of Queen Victoria. Family was family.

Five years almost to the day that the Standart anchored off England, certain family connections crumbled forever. World War I broke out. "The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime," British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey remarked on the eve of their entry into war on the side of Russia. It was a war that inflicted untold horrors on both countries.

King George V was deeply distressed when he heard that the Russian Revolution led Nicholas to abdicate in 1917 and the family to be placed under house arrest. Proposals were floated for the Russian royals to go into exile and settle in England. However, the invitation was later withdrawn. The Romanovs were forced to go to Siberia, and there they died. Even had the invitation not been withdrawn, historians agree that it&rsquos doubtful the Bolsheviks would ever have allowed Nicholas to leave Russia.

It was long assumed that the British government had overruled George V, who was a constitutional monarch. But papers released in the 1980s showed that it was George himself&mdashfearing that the British monarchy was losing support&mdashwho felt he could not take the risk of welcoming to England a man whom the public decried as a blood-stained tyrant. His friendship gave way to the needs of the Windsors. It is highly unlikely he thought a firing squad awaited his cousin. Nonetheless, it is a sensitive subject in the royal family to this day.

In 2018, a century after the murder of the Romanovs, a commemorative monument was unveiled on the Isle of Wight in East Cowes, close to Osborne House. Its organizer, David Hill, said to the BBC, "History hasn't always portrayed him well, but we thought it was important history is remembered and that the Tsar was recognised here in Cowes where he spent happy times."

The monument stands tall, not too far from where the four Romanov sisters gathered shells and bought postcards, and where two men so alike they were mistaken for twins linked arms and posed for the camera.

Who was Yakov Yurovsky, the man behind the murder of Nicholas II?

Yakov Yurovsky surely loved tea - In one of few photos we have he is portrayed with a large glass.

As you may know, Russia&rsquos last emperor, Nicholas II, was executed on July 17, 1918, when the Bolshevik guards opened fire on him and his entire family: wife, four daughters and a son, as well as five servants. This grisly event happened in the cellar of the so-called &ldquoHouse of Special Purpose&rdquo in Yekaterinburg (a major city in the Urals, 1,700 km east of Moscow), where the former imperial family was held since April 1918.

The Ipatiev House, where Nicholas II was executed along with his family.

Yekaterinburg History Museum

The Bolsheviks, led by Yakov Yurovsky, a rigid black-bearded man who worked in the local Cheka (secret police), acted in cold blood, finishing off those who didn&rsquot die right away with knives and bayonets. That&rsquos what Yurovsky himself wrote in a note, calling himself in third person, &ldquocommander,&rdquo which indeed was his post in the &ldquoHouse of Special Purpose&rdquo:

&ldquoThe commander told the Romanovs that, as their relatives in Europe keep on attacking Soviet Russia, the Bolshevik government in the Urals gave a verdict to shoot them. Nicholas turned to the family, then turned back to the commander, asking: &lsquoWhat? What?&rsquo The commander repeated&hellip then the firing started, which lasted for two or three minutes. It was the commander who killed Nicholas instantly.&rdquo

The last sentence, however, might be incorrect, and to this day it is still disputed who exactly among the firing squad shot and killed the ex-emperor. Yurovsky&rsquos testimony, however, shows his ruthlessness and brutality. What turned him into an executioner?

From a watchmaker to a Bolshevik

Actual Yakov Yurovsky vs. portrayed by Duncan Pow.

Adrian J. McDowall/Netflix, 2019 Getty Images

In The Last Czars, a 2019 show by Netflix, Yurovsky, portrayed by Duncan Pow, plays a crucial role as an antagonist to Nicholas II. The emperor was (according to the show) a kind but weak man who didn&rsquot want to reign in the first place. Yurovsky, on the contrary, was shown as a devoted person who would do anything for the cause he believed in &ndash making ordinary people&rsquos lives better.

One of the scenes shows Yurovsky speaking to Nicholas days before his execution. The two men are sharing a cigarette and Yurovsky recalls how they met each other once before. &ldquo1891, I was 10. You were completing your Far East tour. You stopped in Tomsk&hellip I had a little flag, waving it. Just one of the little ants you were nodding and waving at.&rdquo

In reality, Yurovsky wouldn&rsquot have bothered to speak with Nicholas II unless it was necessary, let alone share childhood memories. Born into a poor Jewish family in 1878 near Tomsk (3,600 km east of Moscow) &ndash so he certainly wasn&rsquot 10 in 1891 &ndash Yurovsky was eighth among 10 siblings, He often changed his place of residence and occupation early in life, frequently wandering around Russia as a watchmaker&rsquos apprentice.

In 1905, Yurovsky became acquainted with revolutionaries. Knowing quite well the hardships that Russians faced on a daily basis, he turned into an ardent anti-monarchist, spending several years in exile. Then, 12 years later he welcomed the October Revolution of 1917, which gave power to his comrades &ndash the Bolsheviks.

New appointment

Nicholas II after his abdication.

While Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and other prominent communist leaders were ruling Soviet Russia from Moscow, Yurovsky was among those working in the Russian hinterland, namely in Yekaterinburg, an important citadel and industrial city in the Urals with a powerful workers&rsquo movement. Loyal to the Communist Party, Yurovsky dutifully performed everything his bosses told him to do.

When he was appointed the commander of the &ldquoHouse of Special Purpose&rdquo it meant the Bolsheviks wanted to harden conditions for their royal prisoners. &ldquoThey put a steel bar on the only window we had,&rdquo ex-empress Alexandra wrote in her diary soon after meeting Yurovsky. &ldquoObviously, they are constantly afraid of us escaping.&rdquo On the other hand, Yurovsky, a man of principle, stopped the guards from stealing food from the prisoners, which happened often under his predecessor.

Sloppy execution

Reconstruction of the massacre of Nicholas II. Frontpage of French newspaper Le Petit Journal Illustre, July 25, 1926.

Yurovsky had no sympathy towards his prisoners. Later, in his memoirs, he would write: &ldquoMy general impression was the following: an ordinary, I would say a bourgeois family&hellip Nicholas himself looked like a petty low-ranking officer&hellip No one would say that the man used to be Czar of such an enormous country for many years.&rdquo

Throughout his life, he never showed any signs of guilt for executing the royal family, including the children. His report is laconic: &ldquoOn July 16, 6 p.m. Filipp Goloshchyokin [Yurovsky&rsquos boss] ordered to execute the prisoners.&rdquo By 1 a.m. the next day the Romanovs and their servants were dead.

The cellar where the royal family was shot, after the execution.

Yurovsky and his men, however, failed completely in terms of disposal of the bodies &ndash their first plan was to throw the bodies in a deep mine outside the city but it turned out not deep enough, so they had to move the bodies to another site. The weather conditions were severe, and cars couldn&rsquot reach the place &ldquoNothing was prepared, no shovels, nothing&hellip&rdquo Yurovsky wrote later. In the end, they partly burned the bodies and buried them in a shallow grave.

Later life

There was a reason why the Bolsheviks executed the Romanovs in July 1918 - at that time the anti-Bolshevik White Army was close to Yekaterinburg, and there were concerns that the imperial family would be freed and taken out of the country. Soon after plotting the infamous execution, Yakov Yurovsky, along with many other Bolsheviks, had to flee the city. However, he returned later when the Bolsheviks finally defeated the Whites in 1922. Later, in Moscow and in Yekaterinburg, he worked at many posts - none connected with executions. Yurovsky died in 1938 of a peptic ulcer.

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Why was Russia ruled by so many non-Russians?

Emperor Nicholas II of Russia and his wife, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, cosplaying the 17th-century Russian ruling couple during the celebrations of the 300th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty, 1913.

Although there are still doubts and uncertainties about the exact details surrounding the summoning of the Varangians, historians agree that whoever Rurik, the Varangian prince was, he wasn&rsquot Russian by birth.

The Rurikids assimilated

Rurik, from a 17th-century Russian manuscript

We can safely assume that the first princes of the Russian lands were Nordic. They even bore Scandinavian names &ndash Igor, Oleg, Olga. However, with the arrival of the 10th century, they were assimilated into and became one with the Russian population.

Vladimir the Great, the Kievan prince who baptized Russia, was a born Rurikid, Rurik&rsquos great-grandson. He sought to establish dynastical ties with foreign countries. In pursuit of this mission, he arranged marriages of some of his daughters to foreign princes and kings &ndash although we can&rsquot tell for certain how many exactly, due to insufficient historical sources.
His daughter Premislava (d. 1015), for instance, became the spouse of Hungarian Prince Ladislas the Bald (997-1030), while Maria Dobroniega (1012-1087) was the wife of Casimir I the Restorer, Duke of Poland (1016-1058). However, none of Vladimir&rsquos daughters or their offspring returned to Russian lands.

The Rurikids continued to rule Russia until the early 17th century, when, after the Time of Troubles, the Romanov dynasty took the Russian throne.

Peter the Great ties the Romanov bloodline to foreign ones

Duke Friedrich Wilhelm of Courland, and Anna Ioannovna

Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich (1629-1676), Peter the Great&rsquos father, was very rigorous about issues of tradition when it concerned dynastic marriages. He didn&rsquot approve of his daughters marrying foreign princes, most likely because he didn&rsquot want a foreign dynasty to have rights to the Russian throne.

Unlike Alexey Mikhailovich, his son Peter used his daughters and nieces as pieces in a great European dynastic game. He managed to arrange the marriage of his niece, Anna Ioannovna (1693-1740), to Frederick William, Duke of Courland (1692-1711), who unfortunately died shortly after the marriage, perhaps because of the heavy drinking at the Russian court. Anna and Frederick William had no children.

Meanwhile, the daughter of Peter and his second wife Catherine (1684-1727), Anna (1708-1728), who was born even before Peter married Catherine, became the wife of Charles Frederick, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp (1700-1739). Anna moved to Kiel, the capital of the German land of Schleswig-Holstein. And although she died young, just three months before her death, she gave birth to Charles Peter Ulrich of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp (1728-1762), who would become the Russian Emperor under the name of Peter III.

The German Romanovs

Russian Emperor Peter III

Elizabeth Petrovna (1709-1762), another of Peter&rsquos and Catherine&rsquos junior daughters, was the last Russian ruler to have at least half Russian blood coursing through her veins (Catherine was Livonian by birth). Peter III, who became her successor, was overthrown by his wife, Catherine (1729-1796), born Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst.

The only son of Peter III and Catherine II, Paul I of Russia (1754-1801), married twice, both times to German princesses. His first wife, Princess Wilhelmina Louisa of Hesse-Darmstadt (1755-1776), died in childbirth, together with her stillborn son, while his second, Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg (1759-1828), became Maria Feodorovna after adopting Russian Orthodox faith.

Maria Fyodorovna and Paul I of Russia

Vladimir Borovikovsky Stepan Shchukin

All of Paul&rsquos and Maria&rsquos children, including Alexander (1777-1825) and Nicholas (1796-1855) &ndash who would become Russian Emperors consequently, were fully German by birth, and all of their offspring were, too, because in the 19th century, Russian Emperors, remarkably, didn&rsquot marry any Russian princesses &ndash there were simply no matches for them in a dynastic sense, and the Romanovs of the 19th century strictly adhered to the rules of succession to the throne, established in Russia. These rules stated that heirs to the Russian throne must only marry women who were close or equal to them in royal status &ndash and in Russia, there were no other dynasties that could match the Romanovs. They simply had no choice but to marry European princesses &ndash preferably German, because of the long-lasting ties that started with Peter&rsquos daughter Anna marrying the Duke of Holstein-Gottorp. Eventually, that led to the Romanovs and the House of Windsor (formerly, German House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha) becoming closely related.

Nicholas II in 1913, wearing a traditional costume of Russian Grand Princes of the 17th century

By the end of the 19th century, the Russian Emperors barely knew Russian: Alexander III (1845-1894) spoke Russian with a thick German accent, while his son Nicholas II (1868-1918), the last Russian Emperor, preferred to communicate in English even with his wife, Alexandra Feodorovna (1872-1918), born Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine.

Although, in 1913, Nicholas and Alexandra dressed themselves and all of the royal Russian court in traditional Russian clothes &ndash modeled after the garments of the 17th century, to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty &ndash they were merely cosplaying Russians.

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A god named Grigori

The emotionally detached Empress Alexandra, known for her glacier demeanour, adored anyone who she thought was a genuine healer and on November 1st 1905 Rasputin was introduced to her and her husband Tsar Nicholas II at a private dinner. Later Nicholas wrote in his diary ‘We have made the acquaintance of a man of a god named Grigori’. The Romanovs believed that simple peasant types were more holy than cosmopolitan and St Petersburg people. The unkempt, strange-looking, foul-smelling wanderer with a reputation as a clairvoyant and healer fitted the bill. They also hoped that such a holy man may be able to cure the young heir to the throne of his incurable haemophiliac condition.

Romanov Exiles: How Britain Betrayed the Russian Royal Family

Coryne Hall is a historian and broadcaster specialising in Imperial Russia and European royalty, her books include Little Mother: A Biography of the Empress Marie Feodorovna, 1847-1928 and Once a Grand Duchess: Xenia, Sister of Nicholas II. We spoke to her about her latest book, To Free the Romanovs: Royal Kinship and Betrayal in Europe, 1917-1919, to discover how Britain’s George V left the Imperial family high and dry, and the pivotal role she played in laying an empress to rest.

The British royal family were placed in an awkward position by the Romanov requests for help, who was it deemed politically acceptable for Great Britain to assist and who was deemed unacceptable?

It was unfortunately not considered acceptable to offer asylum to the Tsar or any male members of the Russian Imperial family. The British government needed to keep Russia in the war as allies and did not want to upset the Provisional government, who they had already recognised as the legitimate rulers of Russia. The Petrograd Soviet and other extremists were against any members of the Imperial family going abroad, as this might give them access to funds to stage a counter revolution.

In early 1919, at the request of his mother Queen Alexandra, who was the sister of the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna, George V did rescue members of the Imperial family who were stranded in the Crimea. The only members of the Imperial family who were permitted to come to England were the Dowager Empress, her daughter Xenia and some of Xenia’s sons (but only because, as the British government said, the boys ‘did not possess Grand Ducal rank or title’). They were allowed to come to England (with a fairly low-key welcome) on what was described as a ‘family visit.’

At the end of 1918 Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, the Tsar’s cousin, slipped into England with a British diplomatic mission from Tehran. He was not made very welcome, and nor was his sister Marie who soon joined him. Both left fairly quickly to live in Paris.

Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaievich and Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna leaving Crimea on the HMS Marlborough, 1919

What was life like for those of the Romanov family who settled in Britain? How many stayed close to the British royal family and how long did their use of royal apartments last?

It was only Grand Duchess Xenia and some of her sons who remained in England for any length of time. The Dowager Empress left for her native Denmark in the summer of 1919.

Xenia was George V’s favourite cousin and he gave her Frogmore Cottage as a grace and favour home in 1925. She used to go up to Windsor castle to see the King and Queen, and King George helped her with various difficulties.

However, after he died in January 1936, Edward VIII said he wanted Frogmore as a sanctuary for the royal family and, reluctantly, Xenia had to leave. She was offered Wilderness House, Hampton Court, and moved there in March1937, remaining until she died in 1960.

Most of the other exiled Romanovs settled abroad. They were not wanted in Britain.

Of the other European monarchies on the throne in 1917, which came the closest to providing support to the Tsar’s immediate family?

Although he could do nothing to help the Tsar, King Christian X of Denmark (Nicholas’s cousin) and his ambassador Harald Scavenius did the most to help members of the extended Romanov family. They constantly lobbied for the release of the Dowager Empress and her family, as well as better conditions for them. They also tried to negotiate the release of the four Grand Dukes held in the SS Peter & Paul Fortress in 1918. Unfortunately, just as a ransom was being negotiated the Danish Government recalled Harald Scavenius under pressure from France. The four Grand Dukes were shot in January 1919.

Queen Marie of Romania (another of the Tsar’s cousins) tried to get her relatives out of Russia at the end of 1918. Although the Dowager Empress turned down her offer of help, Queen Marie did manage to help a few members of the family.

In the autumn of 1918 King Alfonso XIII of Spain tried to negotiate asylum for Empress Alexandra and her daughters, who it was widely believed at the time were still alive and being held by the Bolsheviks. He was all ready to receive them in Spain, and then it became apparent that they had died with the Tsar.

© Castle Studios, Guildford

Which of that generation of Russian exiles have you found the most fascinating, and which do you keep coming back to?

The Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna, and Grand Duchess Xenia and her family.

The dramatic life of the Empress Marie has fascinated me for years and resulted in me writing the first real biography of her in English (“Little Mother of Russia. A Biography of the Empress Marie Feodorovna 1847-1928.” Shepherd-Walwyn, 1999). She had to watch while everything she loved – her family, the church, her adopted country – was destroyed before her eyes. She certainly lived one of the most dramatic lives of anyone to occupy the Russian throne.

Xenia’s sons were brought up expecting a certain standard of life, and then they found they had to go out and earn their own living in a different world. Some had more success than others! I knew several of Xenia’s grandsons, who helped a lot when John Van der Kiste and I were writing “Once a Grand Duchess” (Sutton Publishing, 2002). I loved hearing the stories they were able to tell about their grandmother and other members of the family.

You’ve dealt with a lot of primary sources during your research, some of which I’d imagine, hasn’t left the family until you gained access: what have you learned that’s genuinely taken you by surprise?

The attitude of King George V and the British government towards all the Grand Dukes, not just the Tsar. They were definitely not wanted in this country. When Grand Duke Dmitri arrived at the end of 1918, he was asked by the Foreign Office to leave Britain. He refused to go unless ordered to by the King. Later, at an awkward meeting at Buckingham Palace, King George told him “you are here only by accident.”

Could you tell us about the role you played in the reburial of the Dowager Empress, Maria Feodorovna?

The Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna died in Denmark in 1928 and was buried with members of the Danish royal family in Roskilde Cathedral. In “Little Mother of Russia” I stated that her wish was to be buried beside her husband Alexander III in St Petersburg “when circumstances permitted.”

I was later contacted by Prince Nicholas Romanov, at that time head of the Romanov Family Association, who asked me where this information came from. I was able to tell him that it was from the churchwarden at Roskilde Cathedral, whose father, also churchwarden, had been told this personally by the Empress. Prince Nicholas approached Queen Margrethe of Denmark, who then approached President Putin to arrange the reburial.

In September 2006 the Empress Marie’s remains were moved from Roskilde Cathedral and taken to the SS Peter & Paul Cathedral in St Petersburg. My husband and I were invited by the Danish Court to the service in Roskilde Cathedral, and by the Russian Government to the burial service in SS Peter & Paul Cathedral.

It was an extremely moving moment for me as I felt I had fulfilled the Empress’s last wish.

To Free the Romanovs: Royal Kinship and Betrayal in Europe, 1917-1919, the latest book by Coryne Hall, is out now from Amberley. For a fresh look at pivotal moments in history, subscribe to All About History from as little as £13.

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The February Revolution

During World War I, the Tsarina and her two older daughters volunteered as Red Cross nurses. Anastasia and Maria were too young to join the ranks, so instead they visited wounded soldiers in the hospital new St. Petersburg.

In February 1917, the Russian Revolution took place, with mobs protesting the food rationing that had been in place since the beginning of the war (which had begun three years earlier). During the eight days of clashes and rioting, members of the Russian Army deserted and joined the revolutionary forces there were countless deaths on both sides. There were calls for the end of imperial rule, and the royal family was placed under house arrest.

On March 2, Nicholas abdicated the throne on behalf of himself and Alexei, nominating his brother, the Grand Duke Michael, as successor. Michael, realizing quickly that he would have no support in the government, declined the offer, leaving Russia without a monarchy for the first time, and a provisional government was established.

So is King George V to blame for the Romanov murders?

In the spring of 1917 when the Provisional Government held power, there was no immediate threat against the Romanov family and King George V could not have foreseen the Bolshevik takeover.

His real faux pas came with covering up his betrayal and pointing fingers. Despite the gnawing guilt, blaming others came easily for George V. The King laid the blame firmly on Lloyd George, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1916 to 1922. He privately referred to him as, “that murderer.”

Kaiser Wilhelm did not escape George V scrutiny and in a letter complained of the German emperors inaction: “the awful part is that they might all have been saved if W [William] had only lifted a finger on their behalf.”

The British government continued to hush-up their King’s role in the rejection of Romanov asylum and Lloyd George became the perfect scapegoat.

I understand that Mr Lloyd George was not responsible for the decision,’ noted a senior Foreign Office official, ‘but that it is not expedient to say who was.’

Ultimately, King George failed his cousins when they needed him most. Kenneth Rose, the author who revealed the truth in his 1983 biography of King George V, describes the British monarch’s difficult position perfectly.

“The first principle of an hereditary monarchy is to survive and never was King George V obliged to tread the path of self preservation more cautiously than in 1917.”

Watch the video: Οι Ρομανώφ - Μία Αυτοκρατορική Οικογένεια - (June 2022).


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