Who was Alexei Nikolaevich, Tsarevich of Russia?
Alexei Nikolaevich was the Tsarevich of Russia who was executed along with his family in 1918. He was born in the beginning of the twentieth century in St. Petersburg to Tsar Nicholas II, the last monarch of Russia. His birth, which was long awaited by the nation, was celebrated with revelry across Russia and was marked by granting of amnesties, shorter prison sentences, medals and cash prizes. However, all the happiness evaporated, when at the age of two months, he was diagnosed with the life-threatening condition hemophilia B, a disease that leads to uncontrolled bleeding. Although he was looked after very carefully, he often met with accidents due to normal childhood activities, causing him a lot of pain and suffering. One such life-threatening episode at the age of eight led the concerned Tsarina to contact the mystic healer Rasputin and he soon became close to the royal family. However, Rasputin’s proximity to the royals also created discontent in the court and finally led to the family’s arrest and execution. Alexei died at the age of thirteen at the hands of the Bolsheviks along with the rest of his family.
Birth & Baptism
Alexei Nikolaevich was born on 12 August 1904 in Peterhof Palace, St. Petersburg Governorate as the heir apparent to the throne. His father, Nicholas II of Russia, was the last Emperor of Russia, ruling from 1 November 1894 until his forced abdication on 15 March 1917.
His mother, Alexandra Feodorovna, was the daughter of Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and Princess Alice of the United Kingdom. A granddaughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, a known haemophilia carrier, she also carried haemophilia in her genes.
Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich was born the youngest of his parents’ five children. His four elder sisters were Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna of Russia, Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna, Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna and Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna. Dotted on by his parents and sisters, young Alexei was often referred to as “Alyosha.”
As his parents’ only son, he automatically became the heir to the throne at his birth and was given the title of His Imperial Highness, Tsesarevich. He was also appointed hetman of all Cossack regiments.
On 3 September 1904, Alexei was christened in the chapel in Peterhof Palace. The occasion was attended by many international dignitaries of that time. However, because of existing tradition, his parents stayed away from the ceremony.
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Alexei, whose birth caused nationwide celebration, was a handsome child with “chiseled face, delicate features, auburn hair with a coppery glint, and large grey-blue eyes”. His parents and sisters dotted over him. But very soon, their happiness was eclipsed by a deadly revelation.
When he was two months old, he started bleeding from his naval and was diagnosed with hemophilia B. It was later found that he had inherited the disease from his great-grandmother, Queen Victoria of United Kingdom, through his mother Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.
Since he lacked factor IX, which helps blood to clot, he had to be closely supervised. As he turned five, two navy sailors, Petty Officer Andrey Derevenko and Seaman Klementy Nagorny, were assigned to look after him. Their job was to make sure that he did not injure himself.
His hemophilia was so severe that trivial injuries like bruises could cause prolonged internal bleeding, threatening his life. Therefore, to minimize the chances of injury, he was barred from riding horses and bicycles. As compensation, his parents brought him expensive gifts, which however failed to keep him indoors.
Just as any other child, Alexei was full of youthful energy and in spite of taking precautions, accidents did happen, resulting in bruises which took a long time to heal. During those periods, he was often in great pain, unable to walk. Andrey Derevenko would then carry him around.
Sometimes the pain made him howl loudly. Anna Vyrubova, who was the empress’ maid-of-honor, later recalled, “It was endless torture for the boy and for each of us… he was screaming from the pain all the time, and we had to close our ears while taking care of him.”
As he grew up, Alexei realized that he might not live long and yet, he carried on bravely. However, during his illness, when the pain was severe, he often looked for death as a way of escape. But as the pain subsided, he became his own self once again.
The disease was initially guarded as a state secret and nobody outside the royal household knew anything about it. A first, he was treated by court physicians, Yevgeny Sergeyevich Botkin and Vladimir Nikolaevich Derevenko. But from October 1912, he was put under the care of Rasputin, the Russian mystic.
On 5 September 1912, while the royal family was visiting their hunting retreat in the Białowieża Forest, Alexei jumped into a rowboat and hit one of the oarlocks, getting a hematoma. However, it reduced over a period of a few weeks.
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In mid September, the royal family moved to Spala, and there on 2 October, they took a drive through the woods. It was during the drive that the still healing hematoma ruptured and started bleeding once again.
By 10 October 1912, the condition had become so bad that a medical bulletin was published and Alexei was given the last sacrament. It was during this period that the Tsarina had a telegram sent to Rasputin, who immediately sent a return telegram, asking them not to allow the doctors to bother him too much.
True to Rasputin’s prophesy that the Tsarevich would live, Alexei’s condition improved considerably by 19 October. His hematoma also disappeared. It is generally believed that Rasputin was able to relieve him of his pain by stopping the use of aspirin, which aggravated his problems by thinning his blood.
Owing to his perceived healing powers, Rasputin earned the gratitude of the Tsarina, who taught her children to treat him as their “friend”. However, a peasant’s closeness to the royal family irked many noblemen. Later, this friendship would also contribute to the downfall of the Russian monarchy.
By the age of ten, Alexei had realized he might not live to adulthood. One day Grand Duchess Olga found him watching the clouds. In response to her query, he replied that he was enjoying the sun and the beauty of the summer because he might one day be prevented from doing so.
Alexei was mainly brought up in Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo. Here, he led the life of a normal heir apparent, studying with a number of tutors, taking part in official ceremonies and of course, playing. Despite his illness, he grew up to be an intelligent and energetic child.
He knew four languages: English, German, French and Russian. Among his tutors were Pierre Gilliard, who taught him French, and Charles Sydney Gibbes, who taught English. However, his education was often hampered by his protracted illness. Later, he turned somewhat lazy without much interest in books.
Intellectually mature for his age, he liked to think and wonder. Although he was not much inclined academically, he would often ask penetrating questions that testified his high intellect.
Although he attended royal duties, he did not seem to enjoy them. According to his tutor Pierre Gilliard, when some peasants came to see him with gifts, Andrey Derevenko told them to kneel before him. It greatly embarrassed the young Tsesarevich and he was happy when it was over.
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An amiable child, he was good in bonding with others. In 1915, Tsar Nicholas II took him to the military headquarters at Stavaka so that he could observe the military lifestyle. There, he captivated the men with his youthful energy and simplicity, winning the hearts of one and all.
According to Anatoly Mordvinov, adjutant to Tsar Nicholas II, he was also full of kindness and would help others as much as he could. However, at times, he could also be stubborn and stick to his own ideas. He also loved animals, taking his cat, Kotik, and dog, Joy, wherever he went.
At times, he was also very naughty. At a formal dinner, he removed the shoes of a lady guest from under the table and showed it to the Tsar. He returned it only after his father sternly insisted that he should, but not before placing strawberries in each of them.
Georgy Shavelsky, a priest close to the court, has also provided with examples of his youthful pranks. He later said, “While at the dinner table, the boy often threw balls made of bread at the generals… only a severe look from the emperor could calm him down.”
As Alexei turned eight or nine, Tsar Nicholas II began to prepare him for his royal duties, taking him to his meetings with government ministers and military commanders. He also made him wear Russian military uniforms and very soon Alexei grew a fondness for them.
As the hetman of the Cossack regiments, Alexei was given a Cossack uniform, complete with a fur hat, boots and a dagger. While he wore such uniform in winters, in summer he was dressed in a sailor’s uniform. Sometime, he would also don the uniform of the Jaeger regiment.
Although he knew four languages, Alexei spoke only Russian. His parents instilled in him a love for Russian cuisine, folk art and costumes. During the World War I, he lived with his father at the army headquarters in Mogilev for long stretches of time.
In 1915, he visited the military headquarters at Stavka, where he would eat black bread with the soldiers, refusing the meal he generally ate in the palace because the soldiers did not have them. In 1916, he was given the title of Lance Corporal and was very proud of it.
In 1917, due to the on-going World War I, the Russian economy was on the verge of collapse, leading to the demand that Tsar Nicholas II should abdicate. Left without any option, the Tsar abdicated in favor of his brother, Grand Duke Michael, on 2 March (O.S.) / 15 March (N.S.) 1917.
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Initially, Nicholas II wanted to move to UK or France, but was refused asylum. In August 1917, the family was evacuated to Tobolsk in the Urals by the Kerensky government. It was planned that they would be sent abroad via Japan in the spring of 1918.
In October 1917, the Bolsheviks seized power from Kerensky's Provisional Government, an incident Nicholas followed with interest. However, he was not very alarmed. The royal family members kept their hope alive even after they were placed on soldier's rations on 1 March 1918.
On 30 April 1918, the royal family was transferred to the town of Yekaterinburg, their final destination. However, because Alexei was very ill due to hemorrhage caused by a fall, he and two of his sisters joined their parents one month later.
At Yekaterinburg, they were imprisoned in the two-storey home of the military engineer Nikolay Nikolayevich Ipatiev. Later, it was referred to as the "house of special purpose".
Death & Legacy
The royal family met their end on the night of 17 July 1918. Although it is not known for sure, but according to available reports, they were told to get up and get dressed. Thereafter, they were moved to the cellar, where they were told by the Bolsheviks that they would be executed.
While Alexei sat in his wheelchair, he saw his parents, sisters and servants being shot dead. Thereafter, he too was shot repeatedly, but the bullets were deflected by a band of precious gems worn inside his shirt. Finally he died when they shot him in his head.
The Bolsheviks first threw the bodies into an abandoned mineshaft. Later, they had them removed and buried in another concealed pit.
Since their bodies were not found, for many decades it was believed that some of the family, including Alexei, had survived. But later, with the discovery of their bodies in July 2007, the rumors were scorched.
In 2000, he and his family were canonized as passion bearers by the Russian Orthodox Church. To the Russian legitimists, who do not recognize his father’s abdication, he is still known as Alexei II.