I have a secret conviction that I am destined for a terrible trial, that I shall not receive my reward on this earth. (1)
It long ago became a cliche of Western cultural arrogance to dismiss Tsar Nicholas II as a weak and incompetent tyrant and Tsarina Alexandra as a foolish and fanatical hysteric, who misled her already misled husband.
The slanderous and nonsensical myths about their early lives, the Coronation, the Russo-Japanese War, the 1905 Revolution, pogroms, Rasputin, the First World War and pro-German feelings, simply do not stand up to any objective examination of history. In reality, they are all simply based on the ideological contempt for Christ and His Holy Church of the majority of a covetous elite and pseudo-intelligentsia, whether in Russia or in the West. (In Russia and in the West, it was and is the same ideology of the same captives). The truth, as we have attempted to explain elsewhere, is far from these Bolshevik stereotypes, though they are still blindly repeated by the supposedly Non-Bolshevik Western academia and sensationalist media. Yet, they have as much to do with reality as any other piece of cheap, secularist, anti-Orthodox propaganda.
And it must be said that this type of propaganda was from the beginning widely swallowed in Great Britain. Here, Tsar Nicholas was vilified by the Liberal and Labour Parties in particular, slandered by the gutter press of the day and pilloried by leftish writers, even in a children's book, The Railway Children. The result was, as is known, that soon after the first 1917 Revolution, the initial offer of political asylum in England was withdrawn under political pressure from Lloyd George. Possibly, never has a royal couple been so atrociously slandered as Nicholas and Alexandra, both in their own country and abroad. However, once the slanders are dissected and examined, none of them is found to be true.
The Church venerates Nicholas and Alexandra as saints, not only because they are martyrs, but also because their whole lives, despite inevitable human weaknesses and errors, were in fact preparations for the glory of their martyrdom to come. Whether it is Nicholas II's piety and his love of the saints, not least of St Seraphim of Sarov, his personal goodness and even prophetic insight, his almsgiving and simplicity, his struggle for peace, his refusal to declare war in the Bosnian crisis in 1907 under Austrian and German provocation, his every action to avoid War in 1914, his sacrifice of the Russian Army in order to save Paris - the only real Miracle of the Marne - or simply Nicholas' and Alexandra's lifelong and self-sacrificing love for one another, celebrated in their letters, and their resulting iconic family life and beautiful children, all of this was the holy procession to the Golgotha which led to their Resurrection.
Below we present some details of particular interest to the English-speaking reader, ignored by those who are content with the doctored versions of the history, written by the captive minds of prevailing secularism. These details show the love of the Royal Martyrs for England. This was a love that was tragically not returned by British governments, a fact for which English people, often still unaware, have yet to repent. Now, as, finally, after many a false dawn, in 2007 we are able to start systematically the first serious preaching of the uncompromised Orthodox Tradition in this country, the last chance given to this country, may these details inspire repentance in the hearts of those who read them.
Alexandra was born in the medieval town of Darmstadt and named Alix, a German form of the name of her mother, Princess Alice of England. Her godfathers were Tsar Alexander III and the future King Edward VII, thus for ever tieing her spiritually and symbolically to England and Russia. The ties between England and the small Duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt were very strong, but those between Hesse-Darmstadt and Prussia and the ruling Hohenzollerns were weak and embittered. Indeed, only two years before Alexandra’s birth on 6 June 1872, the small, independent Duchy of Hesse had been forcibly incorporated into the new German Empire.
This was one of a series of acts of unification which were disastrous for the rest of German and European history. As recently as 1866, Hesse had sided with Austria in an unsuccessful war against Prussia and the ruling family, including Alix, hated Prussia. Later, during the First World War, Alix blamed the war on Prussia and the Kaiser. For her Germany was a changed country and she was to write: Prussia has meant Germany’s ruin (2). Never have truer words been written, for the militarized Prussian unification of the many small, peace-loving and cultured German principalities and duchies was to lead directly to the Great War.
The palace of the Grand Duke in the centre of Darmstadt was full of mementoes of England. There were portraits of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and all the English cousins, English scenes and English palaces. Christmas dinner began with a goose and plum pudding and mince pies brought especially from England. Every year the family visited ‘Granny’ in England, going to Windsor, Balmoral and Osborne, by the sea in the Isle of Wight. Many years afterwards the Tsarina would nostalgically dream of herself as a little girl again, fishing for crabs, bathing and building sandcastles on an English beach (3). It had been another, lost, world.
The nursery in Darmstadt was run by an English governess, Mrs Orchard. Later, Mrs Orchard accompanied Alexandra to Russia and the Tsarina’s children were brought up in the same English Victorian manner as Alix herself, as can be seen from photographs of the dress of the Royal Children. After the tragic death of Princess Alice from diphtheria, when Alix was only six, Queen Victoria took particular care of her favourite grandchild. Tutors and governors were instructed to send special reports to England (4). Alix’s taste and morality were thoroughly English and Victorian. She grew into a most respectable young English gentlewoman. Indeed, when she learned to speak Russian, she spoke awkwardly, with a strong English accent, never quite managing to master the language (5).
Born in 1868, it was exactly half-way through his life, in 1893, that the future Nicholas II came to London. This was in order to attend the wedding of his almost identical-looking cousin, the future George V, to Princess Mary of Teck. I never thought I would like it so much, he commented, describing his visits to Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London (6). After the wedding he visited Windsor Castle and had lunch with Queen Victoria. She was very friendly, talked a lot and gave me the Order of the Garter, he wrote (7).
The next year, in May 1894, Nicholas returned to England. This time he was engaged to be married and Alix was awaiting him. They had met and fallen in love in a whirlwind romance in Darmstadt in April. Queen Victoria, who had been present, had favoured the marriage. The couple were to spend three glorious days at Walton-on-Thames. Nicholas arrived on the Imperial yacht Polar Star, landed in Gravesend and went by train to Waterloo Station, into the arms of my betrothed, who looked lovely and more beautiful than ever. They went to a house in Walton, owned by Alix's sister, Princess Victoria.
The couple relaxed on the banks of the river, walked on the green lawns and gathered fruit and flowers from nearby fields and went boating and picnicking. They sat in the grass under an old chestnut tree, Alix embroidering and Nicholas reading to her in his impeccable English, which could have tricked any Oxford professor into thinking that he was English (8). (Nicholas also spoke and wrote French fluently and spoke excellent German and Danish, taught to him by his Danish mother). Indeed, ever afterwards, he spoke and wrote to Alix in English. Nicholas and Alexandra remembered this idyll in the English countryside all their lives and the mere mention of the name Walton would later bring tears of happiness to Alix’s eyes.
After these three days they went to see ‘Granny’ at Windsor Castle. It was here in Windsor that the Tsar’s personal confessor, Fr John Yanishev, began Alix’s instruction in the Orthodox Faith. Queen Victoria had consoled Alix by saying that Orthodoxy was not so different from Lutheranism (9). After all - both religions were opposed to Roman Catholicism. Queen Victoria organized a succession of military displays, knowing Nicholas' love of military pageantry. Nicholas especially liked the kilts and bagpipes of the Highland regiments of the British Army.
While they were there, the future Edward VIII was born. Nicholas and Alix were chosen to be his godparents. They would not meet him again until 1909, when Edward was fifteen. Nicholas and Alexandra were to return to see the old Queen in the summer of 1896 with their baby Olga. They went to the great turrets and granite of Balmoral in the Highlands and the Queen and Alexandra played for hours with the baby. From here they were to go on to Portsmouth and then to France. Given such experiences, Nicholas' affection for England was such that on his abdication in March 1917, the English military attaché General Hanbury-Williams recorded: He hoped that he would not have to leave Russia…He did not see that there would be any objection to his going to the Crimea…and if not, he would sooner go to England than anywhere (10).
Yet, Nicholas II was intensely 'Russian', in the sense that he was profoundly Orthodox. Speaking of his ancestor Peter the Great, he said: I recognize his great merits, but...he is the ancestor who appeals to me least of all. He had too much admiration for European culture (11). Of Nicholas II the new Emperor, the Minister of Finance Sergius Witte, wrote: The young Emperor carried in himself the seeds of the best that the human mind and heart possess (12). Thus, in 1898, Nicholas II issued an appeal for disarmament and universal peace, which led to the foundation of the International Court in the Hague. Warlike Western Europe was astonished and called the Tsar Nicholas the Peacemaker. Sadly, the European nations, set on war sooner or later, for the most part dismissed this first attempt to avoid any future wars (13). It was not Tsarist Russia that was barbaric, but Western Europe.
When Queen Victoria died, Alexandra, pregnant with the Grand Duchess Anastasia, was unable to attend her funeral. Instead, she attended the memorial church at the English Church in St Petersburg and wept openly. She wrote: I cannot really believe that she has gone…Since one can remember, she was in our life, and a dearer, kinder being never was…England without the Queen seems impossible…(14).
Alexandra’s zeal for Orthodoxy, her wide reading of Church history, her pilgrimages, her talk of monks and hermits, her collecting of icons, all this was disliked by the worldly aristocrats of St Petersburg. When she tried to organize a society whose members would knit three garments a year for the poor, the aristocrats declared that they had no time for such nonsense (15). Little wonder that to futile aristocrats, including many Romanovs, and their scandals and love-affairs, Alexandra preferred the peasants of Russia, who fell on their knees to pray for the Tsar with Holy Russia in their souls.
In August 1909 the Royal family visited England for the last time. Arriving on the Imperial yacht, the Standart, they steamed slowly past the Isle of Wight. They arrived just before Regatta Week and King Edward VII honoured the Imperial Family with a full naval review. Pennants dipped, cannon boomed and bands played God Save the Tsar and God Save the King and hundreds of sailors burst into cheers. Nicholas II, wearing the white uniform of a British Admiral, stood at salute. The Tsarina was overjoyed to be back in the land where she had spent the happiest days of her childhood... (16).
Of Alexandra Maurice Paleologue wrote the following in 1914:
'I have heard the Empress charged with having retained sympathies, preferences and a warm corner in her heart for Germany. The unfortunate woman in no way deserves these strictures; she knows all about them and they give her great pain.
Alexandra is German neither in mind nor spirit and has never been so. Of course, she is German by birth, at least on the paternal side. But she is English through her mother. In 1878, at the age of six, she lost her mother and thenceforward resided habitually at the court of England. Her upbringing, education and mental and moral development were thus quite English. She is still English in her outward appearance, her deportment, a certain strain of inflexibility and Puritanism, the uncompromising and militant austerity of her conscience.
In her inmost being she has become entirely Russian. I have no doubt of her patriotism. Her love for Russia is deep and true. And why should she not be devoted to her adopted country which stands for everything dear to her as a woman, wife, sovereign and mother? When she ascended the throne in 1894 she knew already that she did not like Germany, and particularly Prussia. In recent years she has taken a personal dislike to the Emperor William and he it is whom she holds exclusively responsible for the war, this 'wicked war which makes Christ's heart bleed every day'.
But her moral naturalization has gone even further. By a curious process of mental contagion she has gradually absorbed the most ancient and characteristic elements of the Russian soul, all those obscure, emotional and visionary elements which find their highest expression in religious mysticism' (17).
Of Nicholas and the brutal murder, King George V noted with immense sadness in his personal diary on 25 July 1918: 'May (Queen Mary) and I attended a Service at the Russian Church in Welbeck Street in memory of dear Nicky who I fear was shot last month by the Bolshevists. We can get no details, it was a foul murder. I was devoted to Nicky, who was the kindest of men, a thorough gentleman, who loved his Country and his people' (18).
Nearly twenty years later, a decade after the Russian catastrophe, when the wartime role of Nicholas II and Imperial Russia was still ignored or derided, much as it still is today, Winston Churchill gave an estimate which, though not uncritical, is a much fairer one that that customarily given by Western historiography:
'It is the shallow fashion of these times to dismiss the Tsarist regime as a purblind, corrupt, incompetent tyranny. But a survey of its thirty months' war with Germany and Austria should correct these loose impressions and expose the dominant facts. We may measure the strength of the Russian Empire by the battering it had endured, by the disasters it had survived, by the inexhaustible forces it had developed, and by the recovery it had made. In the governments of states, when great events are afoot, the leader of the nation, whoever he be, is held accountable for failure and vindicated by success. No matter who wrought the toil, who planned the struggle, to the supreme responsible authority belongs the blame or credit.
Why should this stern test be denied to Nicholas II? He had made many mistakes, what ruler has not? He was neither a great captain nor a great prince. He was only a true, simple man of average ability, of merciful disposition, upheld in all his daily life by his faith in God. But the brunt of supreme decisions centred upon him. At the summit where all problems are reduced to Yea or Nay, where events transcend the faculties of man and where all is inscrutable, he had to give the answers. His was the function of the compass needle. War or no war? Advance or retreat? Right or left? Democratise or hold firm? Quit or persevere? These were the battlefields of Nicholas II. Why should he reap no honour from them? The devoted onset of the Russian armies which saved Paris in 1914; the mastered agony of the munitionless retreat; the slowly regathered forces; the victories of Brusilov; the Russian entry upon the campaign of 1917, unconquered, stronger than ever; has he no share in these? In spite of errors vast and terrible, the regime he personified, over which he presided, to which his personal character gave the vital spark, had at this moment won the war for Russia.
He is about to be struck down. A dark hand, gloved at first in folly, now intervenes. Exit Tsar. Deliver him and all he loved to wounds and death. Belittle his efforts, asperse his conduct, insult his memory; but pause then to tell us who else was found capable. Who or what could guide the Russian State? Men gifted and daring; men ambitious and fierce, spirits audacious and commanding - of these there were no lack. But none could answer the few plain questions on which the life and fame of Russia turned' (19).
It was long ago calculated that by blood Nicholas II was only one hundred and twenty-eighth Russian (20). Those who like fascist racial theories will be shocked by this. Even more they will be shocked to learn that Nicholas II spoke Russian with ‘a slightly English accent’ (21). It is of course irrelevant to Orthodox. The ideal that Nicholas II and his Family lived for was not a racial one, it was that of Holy Russia. As the ever-memorable Metropolitan John of St Petersburg and Ladoga wrote in 1994, some seventy-five years after the evil deeds of Ekaterinburg:
Holy Russia takes on...a universal, cosmic significance. Holy Russia is a place understood not in a narrow geographical sense, but spiritually, wherever the providential mystery of human salvation takes place (22).
This Holy Russian ideal was the ideal that Nicholas, Alexandra and, as they grew spiritually during their captivity, their Children, lived and were martyred for. And inasmuch as that, we cannot imagine any Orthodox home that will not venerate them as the saints of God that they are. May their links with England serve as an inspiration for repentance here too.
Priest Andrew Phillips,
Further Reading in English
For further reading, see Orthodox England, December 1999 (Vol 3, No 2), The Holy New Martyr Alexandra, with her English poem, as given to the future Fr Nicholas Gibbes. See also Orthodox England, December 2000 (Vol 4, No 2), which hails the Moscow canonization of the New Martyrs as a miracle and publishes our 1986 translation of The Spiritual Treasure of the Imperial Family by Bishop Methodius (Kulman).
1. Paleologue Maurice, An Ambassador's Memoirs, Vol I, p.98, New York, 1925 (Translation).
2. Gilliard Pierre, Thirteen Years at the Russian Court, p.110, New York, 1921 (Translation).
3. Buxhoeveden Countess Sophie, Left Behind, Fourteen Months in Siberia, pp. 2-9, New York and London, 1929.
4. Ibid. pp. 9-12.
5. Dehn Lili, The Real Tsaritsa, p. 39, London, 1922.
6. The Secret (sic) Letters of the Last Tsar, p. 59, New York, 1938.
7. Ibid. p. 60
8. Ibid, p.71
9. Nicholas II, Journal Intime, p. 49, Paris 1925 (Translation).
10. Hanbury-Williams Sir John, The Emperor Nicholas II as I Knew Him, p.168, London 1922.
11. Mosolov A.A., At the Court of the Last Tsar, p.16, London, 1935.
12. Witte Count Sergius, Memoirs, p.96, New York, 1921 (Translation).
13. Massie Robert K, Nicholas and Alexandra, pp. 64, London 1968
14. Buxhoeveden, p. 90.
15. Massie, p. 69.
16. Massie, pp.160-1
17. Paleologue, entry for 25 December 1914
18. King George V, Diary - 25 July
19. Churchill Winston S., The World Crisis: The Aftermath, p. 695-7, London, 1929.
20. Paleologue, Vol I, p. 325.
21. Prince Andrei Lobanov-Rostovsky The Grinding Mill: Reminiscences of War and Revolution in Russia 1913-1920, Macmillan New York 1935, p. 163
22. Samoderzhavie Dukha, p. 59, 1994