Robert K. Massie first wowed me with Catherine the Great. Have you read it yet? It is exquisite. When I finished that, I wanted to read more. I already have a more than healthy obsession with royalty and the Russian royals are some of the most extravagant. This time, I picked up Nicholas and Alexandra: The Classic Account of the Fall of the Romanov Dynasty.
This book is incredibly sad. So so sad. You know how it’s going to end and no matter how much you want the ending to change, sooner or later you are going to have to read about those final months and then the horrifying conclusion and this knowledge colours the entire reading experience.
A lot has been written about Nicholas and Alexandra. He was a Tsar that didn’t care about his people, that was off playing soldier, leaving the important work of governing to his wife. She was a cold German who was alternatively in league with the Germans and at the mercy of a Russian peasant. You may have heard of Rasputin – Boney M has a pretty catchy song about him.
The real story is completely different. Nicholas and Alexandra were that rare royal marriage that was actually a love match. They cared deeply for each other and for their five children. Alexandra was an incredibly shy woman who didn’t have the gift of making small talk with strangers, so people thought she was a snob. In later years she was completely consumed by worry over the health of their only son, the Tsarevich Alexei, who was a hemophiliac. His childhood was a painful one and his parents were desperate for someone to cure him. Rasputin seemed like he had that power and that’s why Alexandra was so willing to do anything that he wanted.
If you’re hoping for answers to the legend of Rasputin…I don’t know that there are answers to be had. I still don’t know what to make of Rasputin.
This book was published in 1967 and there are moments when you have to stop and think about that. For us reading the book now, the events of the turn of the 20th century are not part of living memory. But for Massie, writing in the 1960s, people that were alive in 1917 were still around to tell the tale. Barely, but they were there. He sometimes relates the events of book to things that were happening when he was writing and it takes a minute to work through what he means. It doesn’t take away from the book at all, but it’s a bit of a curiosity.
I read somewhere that Massie first became interested in the Romanovs after his own child was diagnosed with hemophilia. The hemophilia of the Tsarevich becomes such a massive issue for the Romanov dynasty. There is no telling how events would have unfolded had Alexei not been a hemophiliac, or, if the Russian people had known about his condition. It was a closely guarded secret. One gets the sense that Massie has real empathy for his subjects, parents watching their child suffer so intensely, just like he has.
Sorry that this is such a downer post. If you are looking for an upbeat read, Nicholas and Alexandra is not for you. But if you’re in the right mindset, it’s an incredible biography and I really do recommend it. Not sure if I will tackle Peter the Great next – I don’t tend to read many biographies of men, but if I do, this would probably be near the top of the list.