Nicholas & Alexandra
by Ellen Micheletti
For Royalty, the arranged marriage was the norm until fairly recently. Marriages were not arranged with love as the main object, they were primarily affairs of state. If the marriage turned into a love match, that was wonderful, but if it didn't, well lie back and think of the diplomatic alliances.
The last Czar and Czarina of Russia, Nicholas and Alexandra, had an atypical Royal marriage. They married for love, not for state, and remained deeply in love and faithful to each other for their whole lives.
Alexandra Fedorovna was born Princess Alix of Hesse. Her father was Prince Ludwig of Hesse - a small German Duchy. Her mother was Princess Alice, the daughter of Queen Victoria. Alix was a beautiful girl with a passionate and somewhat melancholy nature. When Princess Alice died of diptheria, the Hesse children matured under the supervision of their grandmother, Queen Victoria.
Nicholas was the son of Czar Alexander III and his wife Marie. Alexander and Marie had married for reasons of state, but their marriage had turned into a love match. They were devoted to each other and to their family. Nicholas, the heir to the throne was short and quite shy and gentle in nature, not at all like his big, gruff father.
Nicholas fell in love with Alix, to the displeasure of his family. They did not want an alliance with Germany and wanted him to marry someone else, but quiet Nicholas insisted on his love for Alix, and that she was the only one he would marry. Alix returned Nicholas' love, but for a time she refused to marry him. Anyone who married the heir to the throne had to convert to the Russian Orthodox Church and Alix, who was a Lutheran, could not bring herself to change her religion. She suffered agonies over this, until she was reassured by her sister Ella, who was married to the Grand Duke Serge. Alix converted to Russian Orthodoxy, changed her name to The Grand Duchess Alexandra Fedorovna and embraced her new faith with a passion.
Czar Alexander III became ill with nephritis and died suddenly, making Nicholas the new Czar, a position for which he was very much unprepared. Alexandra's first Russian State occasion was Alexander's funeral and she was married to Nicholas very soon after. They had no honeymoon, but simply spent their wedding night in one of the castle bedrooms. They came in to breakfast the next day and one of the guests said they looked "like nothing had happened". But their wedding night kindled a deep love between the two of them that lasted their whole lives.
Alexandra was a loving wife and a good mother, but as an Empress she was a disaster! The role of the Empress was to be a leader of Society - a role in which Alexandra failed. She painfully shy and tongue-tied in company, totally lacked charm and suffered in comparison to her mother-in-law, the Dowager Empress Marie. Marie was not beautiful, but she simply overflowed with charm and had been a sparkling and very much beloved leader of Society. Alexandra could could not compare to her, so she used her pregnancies and poor health as an excuse and gradually withdrew from Society to devote herself to her family.
Greg King's fascinating book, The Last Empress tells some interesting details about Alexandra's personal life. She loved clothes but did not follow fashion. She was fond of the colors white, cream and mauve and liked her clothing to be comfortable. Her great luxury was fancy lingerie, but she did not like silk. Alexandra's lingerie was fine linen or cotton trimmed with hand-made lace.
Alexandra loved to read, and was especially fond of her era's equivalent of the romance novel. Her favorite author was Marie Corelli, who wrote florid novels that were a mixture of romance and the occult. Alexandra also loved non-fiction, especially science - her favorite book was The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. If she could not sleep at night, she would stay up late reading and eating cookies and crackers in the bed she shared with Nicholas, to his discomfort.
Nicholas spent his days in endless paperwork and meetings. He was devoted to his wife and family and if he wanted to talk to them during the day he would call to them by whistling. Since Alexanda never became totally comfortable in speaking Russian, Nicholas always spoke and wrote to her in English.
In almost every way, Nicholas and Alexandra failed as rulers. Nicholas was a poor administrator and a disaster as a military leader. He and Alexandra ended up estranged from almost everyone in their families. Alexandra's shyness and autocratic behavior estranged her from Society and left her isolated. When her son, Alexei was diagnosed with hemophilia, she fell under the sway of Rasputin, further estranging her from her family and the Russian people. When the Revolution finally erupted - Nicholas and Alexandra were totally alone.
||Ellen is the editor of the Historical Cheat Sheet and an AAR Editor/Reviewer - you can email her via the link here
||Find links to all of Ellen's Historical Cheat Sheet articles at the end of Servants