Nicholas and Alexandra
Robert K. Massie
Dell Publishing, 1967, 530 PP
This book is about Tsar Nicholas II and his family. The focus is on the family with the great events of early twentieth century swirling in the background. It is more about Nicholas as a husband and father than Nicholas as the imperial ruler of an empire on the brink of collapse. Like all families, the Romanov's had their burdens and their main burden was the fact that their only son, and heir to the throne, had hemophilia.
Nicholas II was the son of Tsar Alexander III and his empress, Marie Fedorovna, who had been born Princess Dagmar of Denmark. Nicholas, through his mother, was the first cousin of King George V of England. King George V of England, through his father, was also the first cousin of Nicholas' wife, Alexandra. Nicholas' wife, Alexandra, was also a first cousin to Kaiser William II of Germany and William II was also a distant cousin of Nicholas himself. Nicholas' German born wife, Alexandra Fedorovna, was born Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt.
Nicholas and Alexandra had five children, four daughters and a son. The son, Alexis, was the youngest child and heir to the throne. In the book we see Nicholas and Alexandra as well to do parents raising their children and struggling with their son's disease. The fact that Nicholas is the Tsar of all Russia and the future of the Romanov dynasty rests on the shoulders of his sickly son serves to add to the stress endured by the family.
Massie, the author, wrote the book from the point of view of the family struggling with the son's disease because his own son has hemophilia. In his forward, Massie states that he became interested in this project as a result of his quest to learn how other families coped with this disease in one of their children and the Romanov's were the most famous family in history with this problem. It is Massie's contention that the Tsarevich Alexis' hemophilia was the major factor in weakening the monarchy and bringing Lenin and his Bolsheviks to power. While this point can be disputed, Massie does marshall considerable facts to support his theory. As with Richard III, whose horse lost its shoe and fell during the Battle of Botsworth Field thereby causing the battle to be lost, one can always question "would history have been different if ...". Like that of Richard III, the reign of Nicholas II had many other difficulties and mistakes and the question will always be did they fail because of their mistakes or because of a fateful event.
In the book, Massie describes how the Empress Alexandra's concern over Alexis' hemophilia turned into an obsession as she sought in vain for a cure. When doctor's and the medicine of the day failed to produce a cure she turned to the mad monk Rasputin. In his concern over his wife's obsessive behavior and his own concerns for the son he loved, Nicholas became distracted from affairs of state while war (World War I) and revolution swirled around him.
What Massie has written is a biography of Nicholas II as a family man with the great political events of the early twentieth century as a backdrop – a reversal of the usual format for a famous person's biography in which the great events are the theme and family life a mere backdrop. But Nicholas and his family could not escape the events of the day and when the Bolsheviks rose to power the family was arrested and ended up being held captive in a house in the city of Ekaterinburg on the eastern slope of the Ural mountains. On the night of July 16, 1918 the family was awakened and told to dress and go to a room in the basement. Nicholas, carrying his young son who was too weak from his disease to walk, led the family to the basement room. There were three chairs in the room and Nicholas and Alexandra sat on two of them while laying Alexis across the third. Their four daughters stood behind them. Also in the room were some members of the imperial household staff that had remained with the family. Shortly after midnight their Bolshevik captors entered the room with drawn weapons and proceeded, Mafia style, to brutally gun down the family and their staff. The bodies of the murdered family and their staff were then taken out into the countryside where they were hacked to pieces with saws and axes, doused with gasoline and burned. After three days of attempting to totally obliterate the bodies, the remaining fragments and ashes were gathered up and dumped down a mine shaft. Eight days after the brutal murder White Russian forces (those who opposed the Revolution were called the Whites while the Bolsheviks were the Reds) captured the city but were too late to save Nicholas and his family.
The review of this Book prepared by Chuck Nugent