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Alexandra Feodorovna Romanova Edit Profile

also known as Alix of Hesse

Russian empress

Legendary Russian Empress of German origin. Her rule precipitated the collapse of Russian empire.

Background

Alexandra was born in Darmstadt, Germany, June 6, 1872, the daughter of Prince Louis of Hesse - Darmstadt; her mother was a member of the British royal family.

Education

Alexandra was educated by her grandmother, Queen Victoria, and later studied philosophy at Heidelberg University.

Career

The young princess, christened Alix, found her early years punctuated by tragedy: illness struck down her mother, a sister, and a prospective fiancé, the duke of Clarence. She first met her husband to be, the future Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (q.v.), in 1884, when she was a child of twelve. Her marriage, which involved the requirement that she abandon her Lutheran faith to join the Russian Orthodox church, took place in grim circumstances. Tsar Alexander III died suddenly on November 1, 1894. Nicholas was obliged to mount the throne at the age of twenty-six. His young bride was given no time to adjust to her new country.

The first years of marriage produced four daughters; then, in 1904, a son was born. Tragically, the young heir to the throne was found to suffer from hemophilia. Alexis' disease was known to originate in Alexandra's family line. The empress' faith in conventional medicine had been undermined long before by physicians' inability to treat members of her family for a variety of serious ailments. She opened her doors to a parade of faith healers and assorted charlatans. Of these, the peasant holy man Rasputin (q.v.), who appeared around 1905, became the most durable and influential.

The empress likewise immersed herself in religion. Her devotion to Russian Orthodoxy had political consequences. She took to heart the view that the power of the monarchy was divinely bestowed; if undiluted by modem reforms, it answered the deepest needs of the Russian people. Decisive and strong willed, she reinforced her vacillating husband's similar view of his office and responsibilities. In the aftermath of the revolution of 1905, the relationship between the Duma (or parliament) and the prerogatives of the monarchy constituted the nation's most pressing political concern. Alexandra, encouraged by Rasputin, threw her weight against the expansion of the Duma's area of responsibility.

The empress' combustible mixture of family and political concerns first reached a climax in 1911. Criticism of Rasputin in the Duma led to his expulsion from St. Petersburg. Even more incensed than usual at the Duma's pretentions to power, Alexandra arranged for his speedy return. The following year, Rasputin seemed to save Alexis when the child's hemophilia brought him near death during a vacation in Poland. Rasputin's baleful influence on the imperial family was now firmly established; it seemed to make no difference that the tsar was markedly less enthusiastic about the dissolute holy man than was Alexandra.

During the first year of World War I, the empress continued to strengthen the tsar's desire to limit sweeping reform. She supported the aged reactionary, Premier Ivan Goremykin (q.v.); meanwhile she heaped criticism on the military commander in chief, Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich (q.v.). The latter she saw as both too liberal and a possible candidate whom other liberals might seek to place on the throne after ousting Nicholas II. In August 1915, she encouraged the tsar to dismiss the grand duke and to take personal command of the army.

The tsar's departure for supreme headquarters at the distant town of Mogilev left the day-to-day authority of the monarchy with Alexandra.

The lurid view that she, guided by Rasputin, led the nation to an avoidable catastrophe is exaggerated. Russia's economic and social system was patently inadequate to face the strain of total war. Moreover, the tsar frequently returned from Mogilev for long stays in Petrograd. With some exceptions, notably the retention of the supposedly pro-German Aleksandr Pro- topopov (q.v.) as minister of the interior in the fall of 1916, Alexandra rarely threw her influence directly against the tsar's wishes. Nonetheless, within the general framework of Nicholas' preferences, Alexandra helped push out Goremykin and replaced him with an equally loyal and incompetent bureaucratic retainer, Boris Sturmer (q.v.). The most capable and competent ministers, like General Andrei Polivanov of the War Ministry and Foreign minister Sergei Sazonov (qq.v.), departed with Alexandra hastening and approving such changes.

Reaction by the public and Duma to the visible disintegration of the government during 1916 centered on the empress and Rasputin. Sturmer, with his German name and alleged bias in favor of the Central Powers, in time emerged as the symbol of doubts about the German - born empress' own loyalties. When the Duma convened in mid - November of 1916, charges against the empress grew louder. Paul Miliukov (q.v.), leader of the Kadet party, cut away at Sturmer in a bitter Duma speech; he asked rhetorically whether the government was guilty of “stupidity or treason." Reading foreign newspaper articles in the original German, Miliukov voiced specific suspicions of the empress herself.

The death of Rasputin in late December at the hands of a band of aristocratic conservatives worsened the empress' reputation. She then stood alone to face the blame for the nation's woes. In January 1917, Duma leaders warned the tsar that the empress and her political activities were endangering the monarchy. Such alarums had no effect. Indeed, as the March Revolution approached, Alexandra and Protopopov were preparing a scheme to dismiss the Fourth Duma and to call new, carefully rigged elections. Even the rigged elections the two envisioned were likely to produce a less tractable Duma - but such realties of Russian politics escaped the empress completely.

When the revolution struck, Alexandra was at Tsarskoe Selo, the palace outside Petrograd; Nicholas had just left to return to Mogilev. She was arrested there with her children and soon reunited with the deposed tsar. Members of the provisional government made half - hearted efforts to send the former imperial family into exile. But Britain was reluctant to accept them and to many Russians the presence of the deposed monarchs abroad seemed certain to encourage the foreign and domestic foes of the revolution. In the end, Alexandra and the rest of the family were dispatched to Siberia shortly before the November Revolution. As civil war spread in the spring and summer of 1918, again the possibility arose that they might emerge as effective symbols for conservative forces. To prevent this, Alexandra and the rest of the family were executed by Bolshevik authorities in the Siberian city of Ekaterinburg during the night of July 16/17,1918.

Religion

Her marriage, involved the requirement that she abandon her Lutheran faith to join the Russian Orthodox church.