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Authors: Carolly Erickson

Alexandra

BOOK: Alexandra
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Carolly Erickson
has a PhD in medieval history from Columbia University, New York, which led to six years as a college professor, then to a career as a
full-time writer. Her many books include biographies of Empress Josephine, Catherine the Great, Bloody Mary and Elizabeth I.

 

 

Praise for
Alexandra: The Last Tsarina

 

‘This biography . . . is by one of the most accomplished of biographers . . . [It] takes one through her life at a good pace and makes use not only of the established
sources but of the wealth of new information made available by the collapse of the Soviet Empire.’

Contemporary Review

‘Using material previously unavailable, the author presents a closely observed and enthralling biography.’

Ilysa Magnus,
Historical Novels Review

Constable & Robinson Ltd
3 The Lanchesters
162 Fulham Palace Road
London W6 9ER
www.constablerobinson.com

First published in the US in hardback
by St Martin’s Press, 2001

This paperback edition is published by Robinson,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2003

Copyright © Carolly Erickson 2001

The right of Carolly Erickson to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988

All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any
form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in
Publication Data is available from the British Library

ISBN 1-84119-782-3 (pbk)
ISBN 1-84119-464-6 (hbk)
eISBN 978-1-47210-797-8

Printed and bound in the EU

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

We are born in a clear field and die in a dark forest

Russian Proverb

Contents

Illustrations

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

 

Epilogue

Notes

List of Works Cited

Index

Illustrations

Alexandra

Alexandra as a young girl

Formal portrait of Alexandra and Nicholas

The Romanovs with Queen Victoria

Alexandra as a young wife

Alexandra and the Tsarevich Alexei

Tsarina Alexandra melancholy and ill

Alexandra and her son Alexei

Alexandra and her daughters as nurses

Alexandra and her daughters

Alexandra in a wheelchair

The Romanovs at Livadia in the Crimea in 1914

1

I
n the darkened bedroom of the new palace in Darmstadt, Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse, lay dying. She was only thirty-five, but looked fifty, her
white face with its sharp features gaunt, her eyes deeply sunken in their sockets, her heaving chest narrow and bony.

For the past month Alice had exhausted herself nursing her family through an epidemic of diphtheria, sitting beside their beds through the long nights, holding their hands, coming when they
called out to her. The weakest and youngest of the children, her four-year-old daughter May, had been the most severely ill, and when she died, the pain Alice felt, she wrote to her mother Queen
Victoria, was ‘beyond words’.

Her other stricken children – fifteen-year-old Victoria, twelveyear- old Irene, ten-year-old Ernie and six-year-old Alicky – had all survived, though Ernie had for a time been given
up for dead; her husband Louis, robust and thickset, had lain in bed for several weeks in a semiconscious state, unable to eat and barely able to speak, until gradually, under her unceasing care,
he began to recover his strength.

Though most of her family and many of her servants succumbed, Alice herself had at first seemed immune to the terrible disease, as if willing her body to resist it so that she could spend
herself in nursing the others. But after several weeks of overwork, lost sleep and anxiety she too experienced the painful sore throat, fever and throat-tightening constriction that were the
hallmarks of diphtheria, and she took to her bed, unable to do anymore for her ravaged family.

They stood by her bedside now as she struggled for breath, clutching the bedclothes and straining to fill her congested lungs.
She had had a severe attack, and Louis had
felt it necessary to notify the state officials and to request prayers in all the churches of the small German principality of Hesse. A telegram had been sent to Queen Victoria at Windsor telling
her that Alice’s condition was worsening. And the children had been summoned to stand by their mother’s bed, and to say their prayers for her.

The youngest of the children, sweet-faced, golden-haired Alicky, stood next to her brother Ernie, her mainstay and closest companion, watching the events in the silent room. Her expressive
grey-blue eyes were troubled, for all was loss and confusion in her world – her little sister dead and in her small coffin, her mother near death and beyond her reach, her governess Orchie,
always so self-possessed and calm, upset and in tears. Even the nursery itself, spare and homely, was particularly sad and bare, for all the toys had been taken away to prevent their carrying
infection.

Several crosses hung from the walls in the sickroom, together with verses from the Bible. There were pictures of Balmoral and of Windsor Castle and its grounds and portraits of Alice’s
sisters and brothers, and several tapestries in the fashionable William Morris style. Dominating the room was a stained glass window, dedicated to the memory of Alicky’s brother Frederick, or
‘Frittie’, who at the age of three had fallen from that very window to his death on the terrace below. Alicky was too young to remember Frittie, she had been an infant when he fell, but
she knew that her mother grieved for him and she and the other children went every year to visit his grave. On Frittie’s memorial window were the comforting words from the Bible,
‘Suffer the little children to come unto me.’ Alicky, lonely and fearful, had much need of comfort, for as the hours passed her mother grew weaker, her every breath an effort.

Throughout Hesse prayers were being offered up for Alice, the Landesmütter (Mother of the Country), who had earned the respect of her husband’s subjects by nursing the sick, visiting
the poor and founding hospitals and schools. Since her marriage to Grand Duke Louis, Alice had thrown herself into the cause of social betterment,
never satisfied with what
she had done and always striving to do, as she said, ‘the little good that is in my power’.

Alice had created a stir in quiet Darmstadt, introducing the Art Nouveau style in the grand ducal palace, playing duets with Johannes Brahms (Darmstadters preferred Mozart), substituting
informality for formal etiquette at court, even holding daring religious views that aimed, as she said, to separate the historical Jesus from such ‘later embellishments’ as the
resurrection. Though her outraged mother-in-law called Alice ‘a complete atheist,’ and the quiet Darmstadters clucked their tongues over her outspokenness (‘Providence, there is
no Providence, no nothing!’ Alice burst out when her favourite brother Bertie was gravely ill, ‘and I can’t think how anyone can talk such rubbish,’
1
) Alice maintained her opinions truculently, and dared others to refute them.

A new and more liberal spirit had come to Hesse with Alice, but in her effort to make changes and to air her advanced views she had brought disruption and controversy, and even as she lay on her
deathbed there were whispers – respectful, quiet whispers – that her demise would restore a welcome peace to the community.

For Alice’s rigorous commitment to modernity was rooted in a mental and spiritual restlessness that made others uneasy. There was something hard and flinty at her core, an icy toughness of
mind, that was seemingly at odds with her overall charitableness. She was unforgiving. Demanding a great deal of herself, she demanded as much of those around her, and constantly found them wanting
– especially her warm-hearted, stolid husband Louis, who disappointed her at every turn.

Alicky, young as she was, understood something of her mother’s uniqueness. Alice was not like other mothers; she did not adorn herself or curl her hair or wear colourful gowns. Her gowns
were always black, and her only ornaments were a large gold cross on a chain and a mourning brooch with locks of her father’s hair and Frittie’s inside. Her pale face bore a perpetual
expression of preoccupation and sorrow, a haunted look. She was often very tired. Even when she took the children on a vacation to the seaside, as she
had only a few months
before they had all come down with diphtheria, she did not rest or play with them, but went to visit hospitals and schools, taking Alicky with her to give away nosegays of flowers.

She was always helping people, and she was always full of sorrow. This much Alicky knew of her suffering mother.

The following morning Louis sent another telegram to Queen Victoria at Windsor. ‘I see no hope,’ Louis wrote his mother-in-law. ‘My prayers are exhausted.’ The
queen’s own physician Jenner, whom she had sent from England to treat Alice, added his terse assessment. ‘Disease in windpipe extended, difficulty of breathing at times considerable;
gravity of condition increased.’

The date on the telegrams, December 13, carried an ominous implication. Seventeen years earlier Alice’s adored father Prince Albert had died of typhoid on December 14, and ever since the
anniversary of his death had been marked with prayers and solemnities by his ever-grieving widow and their children. December 14 was feared as a fateful day, and though Alice herself was unaware of
the date, or of much else, she did rave in her delirium that she saw her dead father, along with May and Frittie, standing together in heaven welcoming her in.

A little after midnight, early on the morning of the fourteenth, the patient began to cough and choke. The swollen membrane in her mouth was so thick she could no longer swallow, and could
barely talk. Her face, even though bathed in warm candlelight, was chalk-white, her lips bloodless. Her attendants heard her whisper ‘May . . . dear Papa’ before becoming unconscious.
By sunrise she was dead.

BOOK: Alexandra
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