Alexei Nikolaevich, Tsarevich of Russia, was born in August 1904 to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and Emperor Nicholas II. He was the fifth child and only son of the couple, and to say his arrival was greeted with joy and celebration is the understatement of the century. His parents were rapturous, the extended family overjoyed and the country (or some parts of it), relieved.
As the youngest son and heir, Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich would have lived a life of protected luxury and comfort in normal circumstances. It still would not have been without some wariness. For centuries, the Russian Imperial family had always been concerned, if not outright fearful, for their safety.
They governed a huge country. At the time Alexei was born almost 1/6 of the world’s population lived within their borders, and within that, there were always factions of society in upheaval. The assassination of Alexei’s great grandfather, Tsar Alexander II, was not so far distant.
That Alexei was born with hemophilia and into a country and time building toward full blown revolution made his life all that much more dangerous. It would also have long term consequences for his immediate family.
Fast Fact: Alexander II, the great grandfather of Alexei, was known as Alexander the Liberator for emancipating the serfs. He also reformed the criminal justice system and championed the election of local judges. He sold Alaska – which he considered too far flung to rule – to the United States.
Despite his reforms, there was always pressure to extend his liberal agenda. Alexander survived three assasination attempts before a successful attempt in 1881. His son, Alexander III, husband to Dagmar and father to Nicholas II, was far more reactionary. The country returned to a much more autocratic rule which Nicholas continued.
Life at a Glance
- Alexei was diagnosed at a very early age with hemophilia, inherited from his mother. The disease ran through Queen Victoria’s line. At approximately two months of age, it was noted that the infant was bleeding profusely from his navel.
- A 2009 DNA analysis revealed that Alexei had hemophilia B, a severe form of the disease. Although this was unknown during his lifetime, what was known was that he was extremely susceptible to bruising and bled very easily.
- The nature of his illness was a state secret, and kept even from members of the immediate family. Keeping this secret was at the center of the Romanov family life, and was a particular source of anxiety to his mother. It was also the driving force behind the relative isolation of the entire immediate family, who were charged with watching the Tsarevich carefully and preserving the secret at all costs.
- The family brought in carefully vetted friends and personal protection officers to accompany Alexei every minute of the day. The Tsarevich had no privacy, and his activities were carefully planned and monitored.
- Despite this, when healthy he enjoyed swimming and running around with his closest sibling, Anastasia. His joy in life was found in the water, and in the closeness he had with his parents and sisters.
- He was a good looking child, and understandably somewhat spoiled, particularly by the Tsarina and the nurses charged with his care. However, it was also said that because of his recurring illnesses, he was sensitive to other people’s troubles to a degree unheard of in most royal circles.
- Per DNA analysis, it appeared that his closest sister Anastasia was the only daughter who was a carrier of the disease.
- Tsarina Alexandra had great faith in the peasant monk, Rasputin. It’s known that she often kept doctors away from her son and called upon Rasputin to pray over him. Alexei survived several severe illnesses, and this increased the Tsarina’s faith in the monk and Rasputin’s hold over the family.
- Alexei was well aware of the drama that circled around him. How could he not? His childhood bedroom contained a wall of religious icons that loomed over him as he slept.
- During World War I, Alexei lived with his father at army headquarters to observe military life. He enjoyed the environment and felt more energized during this time than any other time in his youth.
- Alexei was one of the first Russian Boy Scouts. Like his sisters, he greatly enjoyed the outdoor life.
- Nicholas II abdicated in March 1917, after the February revolution. He initially abdicated in favor of his son, but was soon persuaded this was not an ideal situation. He then abdicated in favor of his brother, Grand Duke Michael, who wisely declined the throne. This ended three centuries of Romanov rule.
- The family was imprisioned initially in Tobolsk, where they remained until April 1918. At that time they were moved to Yekaterinburg, to Ipatiev House, onimously named the “House of Special Purpose”.
- In Tobolsk, Alexei began to act in more and more impulsive ways. Eventually he was severely injured in a sledding accident. He never fully recovered and spent his last weeks in a wheelchair.
- When the family were taken to the basement to face their last minutes, there is a story that is apocryphal but still touching: Tsar Nicholas carried his son to the basement in his arms.
There is no joyful ending to this, as you expected. If there is any consolation, when the bodies of the family were all finally accounted for – late 2007! – it appears that Alexei had been lying with one of his beloved youngest sisters, either Anastasia or Maria. As always for the Romanovs, comfort lies with family.
Next we will visit with the Grand Duchesses, and say goodbye to the Romanovs.