The last imperial family of Russia may have little relevance to our world today, but nonetheless, Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie is a compelling and rich historical tale of a family torn apart by a devastating disease, and a country torn apart by political uprisings, war, and disenchantment.
Nicholas II was twenty-six years old when he ascended to the throne and became Tsar of all the Russias. Beside him was his bride, Alexandra Fedoryvna, a German princess by birth (Alix of Hesse). Together, Nicholas and Alexandra produced five children: the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia, and one son, Alexei, who by virtue of his being the only male child, was heir to the throne. Nicholas’ reign was troubled from the start: Russia was a backwards country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the repressed peasants, already pushed to their limits by the constraints of their land and by the economic pressures in Russia, were pushed further by Russia’s involvement in a number of military expeditions. Added to this, the Romanov family was withholding a terrible secret from their people: the heir to the throne, Alexei, suffered from haemophilia (Alexandra was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England, who passed the disease through her female descendants).
Alexei’s haemophilia, the influence of the mad monk Rasputin on the Empress under the guise of healing Alexei, political and economic strains, and Nicholas’ mild nature combined to create what can only be described as a perfect storm. Russia was ripe for a revolution, and the Bolsheviks, under the command of Lenin, took full advantage of the situation, overthrowing the monarchy and propelling Russia into a state of Communism that would continue until Christmas of 1991.
The terrible fate of the Romanov family aside, this is a compelling book that gives a great deal of insight into one of the last great empires in the world at a time when it was crumbling. Massie gives a thorough, thoughtful account of the plight not only of Nicholas and Alexandra and their family, but also of Russia. Although a historical account, it reads at times like a novel — which isn’t to say that it seems absurd or unrealistic — it is at its heart the story of a family whose love for each other, for God, and for their country, ultimately destroyed them.