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Alexei Nikolaevich, Tsarevich of Russia

Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich Romanov (Цесаревич Алексей Николаевич), full title: Heir, Tsarevich and Grand Duke (Наследник-Цесаревич и Великий Князь) (12 August, 1904 — July 17, 1918), of the House of Romanov, was Tsarevich - the heir apparent - of Russia, being the youngest child and the only son of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and Alexandra Feodorovna. His mother's reliance on the starets Grigori Rasputin to treat Alexei's haemophilia helped bring about the end of Imperial Russia. His murder following the Russian Revolution of 1917 resulted in his canonization as a passion bearer of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Life

Alexei was born on August 12, 1904 (30 July, O.S.) in Peterhof. He was the youngest of five children, and the only boy. His older sisters were the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia. He was doted on by his parents and sisters and known as "Baby" in the family. He was later also affectionately referred to as Alyosha (Алёша) and Lyoshka (Лёшка).

Alexei was christened on 3 September 1904 in the chapel in Peterhof Palace. His principal godparents were his paternal grandmother and his great-uncle, Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich. His other godparents included his oldest sister, Olga; his great-grandfather King Christian IX of Denmark; King Edward VII of the United Kingdom, the Prince of Wales and the William II, Kaiser of Germany. As Russia was at war with Japan, all the soldiers and officers of the Russian Army and Navy were named honorary godfathers.

The christening marked the first time some of the younger members of the Imperial Family, including some of the younger sons of Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich, as well as the Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana, and their cousin Princess Irina Alexandrovna, were present at an official ceremony. For the occasion, the boys wore miniature military uniforms, and the girls wore a smaller version of the court dress and little kokoshniks. The sermon was delivered by John of Kronstadt, and the baby was carried to the font by the elderly Mistress of the Robes, Princess Galitzine. As a precaution, she had rubber soles put to her shoes to avoid falling and dropping the august infant. Countess Sophie Buxhoeveden recalled:

"The baby lay on a pillow of cloth of gold, slung to the Princess's shoulders by a broad gold band. He was covered with the heavy cloth-of-gold mantle, lined with ermine, worn by the heir to the crown. The mantle was supported on one side by Prince Alexander Sergeiovich Dolgorouky, the Grand Marshal of the Court, and on the other by Count [Paul] Benckendorff, as decreed by custom and wise precaution. The baby wept loudly, as might any ordinary baby, when old Father Yanishev dipped him in the font. His four small sisters, in short Court dresses, gazed open-eyed at the ceremony, Olga Nicholaevna, then nine years old, being in the important position of one of the godmothers. According to Russian custom, the Emperor and Empress were not present at the baptism, but directly after the ceremony the Emperor went to the church. Both he and the Empress always confessed to feeling very nervous on these occasions, for fear that the Princess might slip, or that Father Yanishev, who was very old, might drop the baby in the font.

"Alexei was the center of this united family, the focus of all its hopes and affections," wrote his tutor, Pierre Gilliard. "His sisters worshipped him. He was his parents' pride and joy. When he was well, the palace was transformed. Everyone and everything in it seemed bathed in sunshine. The boy bore a striking resemblance to his mother, wrote his tutor Gilliard. He was tall for his age, with "a long, finely chiseled face, delicate features, auburn hair with a coppery glint, and large grey-blue eyes like his mother, Though intelligent and affectionate, his education was frequently interrupted by bouts of haemophilia and he was spoiled because his parents couldn't bear to discipline him. His parents appointed two sailors from the Imperial Navy, Nagorny and Derevenko, to serve as nannies and to follow him about so he would not hurt himself. He was prohibited from riding a bicycle or playing too roughly. Because his blood didn't clot properly, any bump or bruise could kill him. Despite the restrictions on his activity, Alexei was by nature active and mischievous and had simple tastes. He refused to speak anything but Russian and enjoyed wearing Russian costume. As a small child, he occasionally played pranks on guests. The most famous of these involved the little prince at a formal dinner party, ducking underneath the table, removing the shoe of a female guest and showing it to his father. Nicholas sternly told his boy to put the 'trophy' back. Alexei did so, but not before having placed a large ripe strawberry into the toe of the shoe. For several weeks afterwards the Tsarevich was not allowed to make an appearance at state dinners. Alexei made fun of the stocky Derevenko, one of the sailors who cared for him, and taunted him for his inability to keep up with the more nimble Alexei. "Look at Fatty run!" he would yell during public processions. Sometimes he greeted people who bowed to him by hitting them in the face and giving them a bloody nose. Parents told Alexei's victims that he was a "mischievous child. At age seven, his behavior at a family dinner embarrassed his parents. The spoiled Alexei teased others at the table, refused to sit up in his chair, wouldn't eat his food and licked his plate. His father turned his head and tried to ignore Alexei's behavior. His mother rebuked his older sister Olga for not controlling him. Her expectation was unreasonable, said Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich of Russia, a distant cousin of the imperial family. "Olga cannot deal with him," he wrote in his diary on March 18, 1912.

His tutor, Pierre Gilliard, argued with Alexei's parents, eventually convincing them that greater autonomy would help the child develop better self control. A growing Alexei took advantage of his unaccustomed freedom, and began to outgrow some of his earlier foibles. Courtiers reported that his illness also made him sensitive to the hurts of others. During World War I, he lived with his father at army headquarters in Mogilev for long stretches of time and observed military life. In December 1916, British General John Hanbury Williams received word of the death of his son in action with the British army in France. Tsar Nicholas sent twelve-year-old Alexei to sit with the grieving father. "Papa told me to come sit with you as he thought you might feel lonely tonight," Alexei told the general. Alexei, like all the Romanov men, grew up wearing sailor uniforms and playing at war from the time he was a toddler. His father began to prepare him for his future role as Tsar by inviting Alexei to sit in on long meetings with government ministers.

Tsarevich Alexei was one of the first Boy Scouts in Russia.

The Tsar's ADC Colonel Mordinov remembered Alexei:

He had what we Russians usually call "a golden heart." He easily felt an attachment to people, he liked them and tried to do his best to help them, especially when it seemed to him that someone was unjustly hurt. His love, like that of his parents, was based mainly on pity. Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich was an awfully lazy, but very capable boy (I think, he was lazy precisely because he was capable), he easily grasped everything, he was thoughtful and keen beyond his years ... Despite his good nature and compassion, he undoubtedly promised to possess a firm and independent character in the future.

Hemophilia

He had inherited hemophilia from his mother Alexandra, a condition which could be traced back to her maternal grandmother Queen Victoria. His hemophilia led to controversy, as it led to gossip that his mother was having an affair with the Russian starets, Grigori Rasputin. Rasputin claimed to be able to "heal" Alexei when he was on the brink of death after spells of hemophilia-related complications. There are various explanations for Rasputin's ability, such as that Rasputin hypnotized Alexei, administered herbs to him, or that his advice to the Tsarina not to let the doctors bother Alexei too much aided the boy's healing. Others believe he truly possessed a supernatural healing ability or that his prayers to God saved the boy. Alexei and his sisters were taught to view Rasputin as "Our Friend" and to exchange confidences with him. Alexei was well aware that he might not live to adulthood. When he was ten, his older sister Olga found him lying on his back looking at the clouds and asked him what he was doing. "I like to think and wonder," Alexei replied. Olga asked him what he liked to think about. "Oh, so many things," the boy responded. "I enjoy the sun and the beauty of summer as long as I can. Who knows whether one of these days I shall not be prevented from doing it? During World War I, Alexei briefly joined his father to live at the Headquarters of the Russian army in the field. Alexei enjoyed these trips immensely, and he was promoted to the rank of corporal in 1916. When he was in captivity at Tobolsk following the Russian Revolution of 1917, Alexei complained in his diary about how bored he was and begged God to have mercy upon him. He was permitted to play occasionally with Kolya, the son of one of his doctors, and with a kitchen boy named Leonid Sednev. As he became older, Alexei seemed to tempt fate and injure himself on purpose. While in Siberia, he rode a sled down the stairs of the prison house and injured himself in the groin. The hemorrhage was very bad, and he was so ill that he could not be moved immediately when the Bolsheviks moved his parents and older sister Maria to Yekaterinburg in April 1918. Alexei and his three other sisters joined the rest of the family weeks later. He was confined to a wheelchair for the remaining weeks of his life.

Death

He was two weeks shy of his fourteenth birthday when he was murdered on July 17, 1918 in the cellar room of the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg. The assassination was carried out by forces of the Bolshevik secret police under Yakov Yurovsky. According to one account of the murder, the family was told to get up and get dressed in the middle of the night because they were going to be moved. Nicholas II carried Alexei to the cellar room. His mother asked for chairs to be brought so that she and Alexei could sit down. When the family and their servants were settled, Yurovsky announced that they were to be executed. The firing squad killed Nicholas, the Tsarina, and two of the servants first. Alexei remained sitting in the chair, "terrified," before the assassins turned on him and shot. The boy remained alive and the killers tried to stab him multiple times with bayonets. "Nothing seemed to work," wrote Yurovsky later. "Though injured, he continued to live." Unbeknownst to the killing squad, the Tsarevich's torso was protected by a shirt wrapped in precious gems that he wore beneath his tunic. Finally Yurovsky shot the boy again and he fell silent. Rumors of Alexei's survival began to circulate when the bodies of his family and the royal servants were located. Alexei's was missing, along with that of one of his sisters (generally thought to be Maria or Anastasia). As a result of this, there have been people who have pretended to be the Tsarevich; these people are Alexei Poutziato, Joseph Veres, Heino Tammet, Michael Goleniewski and Vassili Filatov. However, scientists considered it extremely unlikely that he escaped death, due to his lifelong hemophilia. The missing bodies were said to have been cremated, though scientists believe it would have been impossible to completely cremate the bodies given the short amount of time and the materials the killing squad had to work with. Numerous searches of the forest surrounding Yekaterinburg up until 2007 failed to turn up the cremation site or the remains of Alexei and his sister.

2007 remains found and 2008 identification of remains

On August 23, 2007, a Russian archaeologist announced the discovery of two burned, partial skeletons at a bonfire site near Yekaterinburg that appeared to match the site described in Yurovsky's memoirs. The archaeologists said the bones are from a boy who was roughly between the ages of ten and thirteen years at the time of his death and of a young woman who was roughly between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three years old. Anastasia was seventeen years, one month old at the time of the assassination, while Maria was nineteen years, one month old. Alexei was two weeks shy of his fourteenth birthday. Alexei's elder sisters Olga and Tatiana were twenty-two and twenty-one years old at the time of the assassination. Along with the remains of the two bodies, archaeologists found "shards of a container of sulfuric acid, nails, metal strips from a wooden box, and bullets of various caliber." The bones were found using metal detectors and metal rods as probes. Also, striped material was found that appeared to have been from a blue-and-white striped cloth; Alexei commonly wore a blue-and-white striped undershirt.

On April 30, 2008, Russian forensic scientists announced that DNA testing proves that the remains belong to the Tsarevich Alexei and to one of his sisters.

DNA information, made public in July 2008, that has been obtained from Ekaterinburg and repeatedly tested independently by laboratories such as the University of Massachusetts Medical School, USA, reveals that the final two missing Romanov remains are indeed authentic and that the entire Romanov family housed in the Ipatiev House, Ekaterinburg were executed in the early hours of 17 July 1918.

Details relating to the forthcoming burial procedure will have to be discussed by a Russian State commission and by the Moscow Patriarchate.

Sainthood

For more information see Romanov sainthood

In 2000, Alexei and his family were canonized as passion bearers by the Russian Orthodox Church. The family had previously been canonized in 1981 by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad as holy martyrs. The bodies of Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra, and three of their daughters were finally interred at St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg on July 17, 1998, eighty years after they were murdered. The bodies of Alexei and one of his sisters, generally thought to be Anastasia or Maria, were missing. In recent years, believers have attributed miracles to their prayers to Alexei and his family.

Historical significance

Alexei was the heir to the Romanov Empire. Paul I had passed laws forbidding women to succeed to the throne (unless there were no legitimate male dynasts left, in which case, the throne would pass to the closest female relative of the last Tsar). This was done in revenge for what he perceived to be the illegal behavior of his mother, Catherine II ("the Great") in deposing his father Peter III. Alexei was named after the second Romanov Tsar, Alexis I of Russia, who ruled from 1645 to 1676, known as "the Quiet" and father of Peter the Great.

Tsar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate on 15 March 1917. He did this in favour of his twelve-year-old son Alexei who ascended the throne under a regency. Nicholas later decided to alter his original abdication. Whether that act had any legal validity is open to speculation. Nicholas consulting with Doctors and others present and realised that he would have to be separated from Alexei. Not wanting Alexei to be parted from the family, Nicholas altered the abdication document in favour of his younger brother Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich of Russia. After receiving advice about whether his personal security could be guaranteed, Michael declined to accept the throne without the people's approval through an election held by the proposed Constituent Assembly.

Alexei's hemophilia was integral to the rise of Grigori Rasputin. One of the many things Rasputin did that unintentionally facilitated the fall of the Romanovs was to tell the Tsar that the war would be won once he (Tsar Nicholas II) took command of the Russian Army. Following this advice was a serious mistake as the Tsar had no military experience. The tsaritsa, Empress Alexandra, a deeply religious woman, came to rely upon Grigori Rasputin and believe in his ability to help Alexei where conventional doctors had failed. This theme is explored in Robert K. Massie's Nicholas and Alexandra. It is possible that if Alexei had not suffered so terribly, Rasputin could never have gained such influence over Russian politics during World War I, which at the very least hastened the collapse of Romanov rule.

Caring for Alexei seriously diverted the attention of his father, Nicholas II, and the rest of the Romanovs from the business of war and government, which may have further compromised their control of the state and contributed to the Russian Revolution.

Ancestry

The Royal Haemophilia Line

Notes

References

External links

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