Monday, May 25, 2015

What is it about the Romanov Family?

Romanov: Nicholas II of Russia with the family (left to...
Olga, Marie, Tsar Nicholas, Tsaritsa Alexandra, Anastasia, Alexei, Tatiana

by Michelle Ule

I've just set aside everything to read several recent books about the Romanov family.

They're excellent and include information I either hadn't realized or hadn't known before--which is surprising given how much time I've spent reading about the last tsar of Russia!

 The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming is aimed at young adults, but is excellent for adult readers as well.

Fleming's book, with plenty of photos, does an excellent job of explaining the situation in greater Russia during Tsar Nicholas II's reign, and in so doing provides context for Lenin's eventual takeover of the nation--and why the Bolsheviks decided to kill the Tsar and his family.

Helen Rappaport's The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg, an adult nonfiction book, also contains interesting information.

I thought I knew everything about this story, but Rappaport is providing insights about the deaths at Ekaterinburg I'd missed. Beautifully written, heartfelt and headed to that horrible ending, it provided more insight into the four beautiful daughters.

The Diary of Olga Romanov: Royal Witness to the Russian Revolution, edited by Helen Azar was released in March of this year, but while it's interesting as first hand information, I didn't like it as well. 

Olga was a young woman who led a sheltered life, albeit as a royal princess. Azar has fully documented every individual in the book with footnotes, but frankly, I got tired of it after awhile. Poignancy abounded, however, in remembering how her story ended. But the diary also provided insight into how clueless the family really was about events outside of their narrow world.

What is it, though, about the Romanov family that intrigues so long after their deaths?

Nearly 100 years after the regicide of  Tsar Nicholas II, his Tsaritsa Alexandra and five children Olga, Tatiana, Marie, Anastasia and Alexei, still attract writers and readers.
A friendly chat with friends from all over the country reveals they, too, have long been intrigued by the family and the story.

Indeed, over on Pinterest, a 1400+ pins Romanov board by Dawn Phillips has nearly every photo imaginable and the daughters are referred to by an acronym: OTMA.

For the few people on the planet who don't know the story, Nicholas II, a grandson of Queen Victoria, married the beautiful Alix of Hesse shortly after he became tsar in 1894. They had four daughters in a row and finally a son--who had hemophilia. Alix, known as Alexandra, was in poor health and worried constantly about the heir to the throne--who was unlikely to live to adulthood.

The Imperial doctors tried everything and then a mysterious "priest" from Siberia came to see them, Rasputin, and he was able to calm the boy's bleeding.

He also unduly influenced the nervous Alexandra and his meddling in Russian affairs was part of what led to the dynasty's ultimate downfall, though he was murdered a few years before.

Romanov: Nicholas II of Russia and Alexandra Fyodorovna...
The Romanov family celebrated 300 years of dynastic rule in 1913. Four years later following the February Revolution, Tsar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate. Owing to Alexei's ill health, he abdicated for both himself and his child. The crown went to his brother, but not for long.

Held under house arrest for over a year at the Alexandra Palace outside of St. Petersburg, the entire family savored their time together, sustained by their devotion to the Russian Orthodox Church.

 In 1918, the family was moved to Ekaterinburg in western Siberia. They were kept under close guard in the Ipatiev House and finally shot to death in a horrific nightmare of a basement room on July 17, 1918.

Not content to have simply murdered the family, the Bolsheviks took the bodies to a pit outside of the city. They poured sulfuric acid over the bodies and set them on fire.
Stories abound for many years that the youngest daughter, the spirited Anastasia, had been smuggled away and survived.

 When a mysterious woman named Anna Anderson was found many years later following a drowning attempt, she claimed to be the long lost Anastasia. Many believed her--family members perhaps because they wanted to believe her--but when DNA testing became available, she was proved to be a Polish peasant.

In 1991, the Romanov bodies were found, exhumed, and DNA testing was performed proving who they were (Prince Philip of England  was among several still alive relatives provided DNA for that testing). 

In 2000, the Romanov family  as individuals were proclaimed passion-bearers by the Russian Orthodox Church. (According to Wikipedia, a  passion-bearer is a saint who was not killed because of his faith like a martyr but died in faith at the hand of murderers.)

What a story!

But why would an average girl of Sicilian-British-French-Danish nationality who grew up in Los Angeles be fascinated by the Romanov family? 

What would intrigue me so much I wrote a story about them (in which Anastasia survives) and won a national writing contest in high school?

And why am I still reading about them now?
Why not?

The Romanov story has all the elements of an opera with the added sadness of being true: kings, doomed empire, beautiful young daughters, cruel politicos, fabulous  jewelry and heartbreaking illness, not to mention a world war. Click to Tweet

For me, as a fourteen year-old reading Robert K. Massie's epic Nicholas and Alexandra for the first time, the pathos was overwhelming--and there were so many events to cry about.

Perhaps its the lot in life for teenage girls to become passionate about love stories that transcend time or even logical thought. Perhaps it was the pageantry, the gorgeous girls (my then-age) impeccably dressed in matching white, or even the tragedy of a boy who could die from falling while playing a game?

I'm not so enraptured with the beauty of the story now that I've read more of the history of the times. When my mother asked me if I named my son Nicholas in honor of the tsar, I was appalled.

"I'd never name a child for him. While well meaning, he was a weak autocrat whose choices doomed his national to seventy years of Communism."

My mother and I were both surprised at my vehemence!

Still, the fascination continues.

Still pondering, though, why the story continues to capture my attention.

What do you think?

And if all this isn't poignant enough, you can hear Tsar Nicholas speak here.

You can watch the Tsar and three daughters enter a carriage here.


Why are we still sobbing over the Romanov story nearly 100 years after their death?

3 recent and interesting books on the Romanov family. Click to Tweet

Best selling historical fiction writer Michelle Ule, as noted above, has been reading and writing about historic events since her teenage years. Her most recent release is The Sunbonnet Bride, part of The 12 Brides of Summer Collection #1, now available in ebook venues near you!

For more information about Michelle and her twice a week blog, visit her website at