It was not the first shocking blow to Nicholas II. Already there had been the mourning of the sudden death of Alexander III, his father, the stampede that stained the Coronation and the terrible humiliation of the Russian-Japanese War which all helped to weaken Nicholas' reign as Tsar of Russia. Even after all that misfortune, the most emotional and personal grief for Tsar Nicholas was the life threatening illness of his only son Alexis, future Tsar of Russia. Alexis' illness not only affected the Tsar but also his wife Alexandra. The painful symptoms of the disease were heart breaking for Alexandra for she knew that it was because of her that the young Tsarevich had hemophilia. Even by looking at pictures of the Tsarina one can tell that she aged very much during Alexis' lifetime ("Empress Alexandra Fyodoronova"). This emotional roller coaster ride left Alexandra with no choice but to put all her faith into a man of God: Rasputin. Rasputin was a Russian peasant from Pokrovskoe, Siberia. The St. Petersburgers looked upon him as a starets or holy elder or spiritual advisor, but he was just an impoverished man who claimed to have healing powers (Massie, 193-94). Rasputin was able to help ease the ailing Alexis in his darkest hours, but Rasputin also had his own very different dark hours, which lead to the eventual downfall of the Imperial family in Russia and the city of St. Petersburg.
St. Petersburg, for Alexandra and Nicholas, was a city that brought them misfortune from the beginning. Alexander III died and Alexandra was brought into the Imperial family during these dark, shocking days. Nicholas writes in his diary, "Mama, many others and I think it would be better to celebrate the marriage here in peace, while Papa still is under this roof... but all the uncles are against it, saying that I should marry in St. Petersburg after the funeral" (Massie, 44). Alexandra had first come to St. Petersburg "behind a coffin" which was not a good omen to many of the people of Russia (Massie, 45). Alexandra wrote to her sister, "our marriage seemed to me a mere continuation of the masses for the dead with this difference, that now I wore a white dress instead of a black"(Massie, 46). Nicholas and Alexandra seemed to be plagued by misfortune: first their marriage following soon after the funeral of Alexander III, then the stampede at their Coronation and the defeat in the Russian- Japanese War. The birth of their only son, which seemed to be "a great never-to-be-forgotten day" was soon clouded over by the boy's hemophilia, and the brewing of the revolution that was to come in the near future (Massie, 112).
How was it that Alexis got hemophilia? Alexandra was a carrier of the disease; her grandmother Queen Victoria of England passed the gene to her:
From his father, the baby Alexis inherited the undisputed claim to the throne of all the Russians. From his mother, he inherited an X chromosome carrying a copy of the mutant gene for hemophilia. (Robins)With Alexandra carrying that mutated gene, the future Tsar of Russia would be inflicted with the horrible disease of hemophilia. By 1905 doctors concluded that Alexis was suffering from hemophilia. This was also the year in which the Russians took a shameful defeat from the Japanese and the Revolution of 1905 stirred up some revolutionaries but luckily the unrest was put down. Nicholas' personal tragedy plus the unrest in his country was enough to weaken his reign. He took all possible measures to help his son.
August 12, 1904 was a very happy day in St. Petersburg, for the future Tsar was born just a few miles away at Peterhof. The cannon saluted three hundred times in St. Petersburg's Peter and Paul Fortress signifying the birth of a boy. He was named after Nicholas' favorite former tsar, Alexis. Alexis was conceived after Alexandra bathed in the holy waters at Sarov in 1903. She was praying for a son who would become the next tsar and keep the Romanov family on the throne. The family was more than excited and Alexandra especially believed that she had fulfilled her duty as the Tsarina of Russia. The birth of a boy seemed an omen of hope.
It was in the year 1902, in the capital city of St. Petersburg, that Rasputin made his first appearance. The day was more than likely gray and Nevsky Prospect must have been bustling with people. In this dreary city, Rasputin became closely tied to the Imperial family. Only in this city, where fantastic things happened daily, could a member of the same family that exalted him for his abilities murder Rasputin for his corruption. There, in St. Petersburg, Rasputin "became a controversial figure, leading a scandalous personal life with his mostly female followers from the St. Petersburg high society... he was frequently seen picking up prostitutes and often drank himself into a stupor"("Grigori Rasputin").
Grand Duchess Militsa introduced Rasputin into the Imperial family in 1905 (Jackson). The infant Tsarevich Alexis had been diagnosed with hemophilia earlier that year. Because of this illness Rasputin was brought to the palace and worked his way into the Tsar and Tsarina's personal affairs. His corrupting influence on the Tsarina was also a major factor on weakening the Tsar, for he always took the advice of his darling wife. Rasputin was able to "heal" the boy before the anxious mother and father's eyes, -"it was a fact that more than once before the Tsar and the Tsarista, Rasputin's appearance by the bedside of the apparently dying Alexis caused critical change" (Massie, 200). Rasputin was the key factor that helped Alexis overcome many of his bleeding episodes, although it seemed as if all Rasputin did was threatening to the Imperial family. Without Rasputin, it appears that on many occasions the Tsarevich would have died (Rasputin: The Mad Monk). The Tsarevich's illness caused a triangle affair with Nicholas, Alexandra and Rasputin in the corners and Alexis right in the middle.
Hemophilia troubled Alexis to near death so the tsar and Tsarina turned to Rasputin for spiritual guidance. How was it that Rasputin could stop the bleeding of this poor hemophiliac boy? Nicholas thought of him as "just a good, religious, simple-minded Russian" with whom he could talk freely (Massie, 199-200). For Nicholas, Rasputin's voice was the voice of the people, the people he believed that he was very close to (Radzinsky, 107). Alexandra soon began to think that Rasputin was sent to her by God as an answer to her prayers (Massie, 200). It is very possible that Rasputin just had the power to put Alexis into a hypnotic state or that his calming disposition alleviated the emotional stress Alexis was facing. Rasputin calmed the boy and he would fall off to sleep and the bleeding would soon stop (Massie, 201-202).
In the role of savior to the Tsar and Tsarina's son, Rasputin was able to make himself right at home with the Imperial family. However, the acquaintance of Rasputin with the Imperial family proved to be a disaster because he led a very openly promiscuous life outside of his role as healer of the Tsarevich. Rasputin's reputation among the people was awful; they did not respect him because of his perverted tendencies and profuse behavior (Rasputin: The Mad Monk). This led the public to think less of the ruling family. This relationship the Tsar and his family had with Rasputin was not understood by outsiders since Nicholas wanted to keep secret the illness of the future tsar.
Alexis' illness was a very painful one and it took a toll on his loved ones. During the time that the Imperial family was in Yekaterinburg, the family doctor Yevgeny Botkin wrote a letter to the Ural Regional Soviet Executive Committee. This letter graphically describes Alexis' hemophilia and its life-threatening effects. Part of the letter reads:
The boy is in such indescribable pain day and night that no one from among his closest relatives, though they do not spare themselves, has the strength to bear looking after him too long, not to mention his mother, with her chronically ill heart...His attendant...after a few sleepless nights filled with agony, becomes totally worn out and wouldn't be able to take it at all. (Steinberg, 306)The seriousness of Alexis's health was overwhelming to the victim's anxious parents. Alexandra and Nicholas both are in despair for their only son and his unfortunate well being. Many historians have said that without Alexis' hemophilia there would have been no need for Rasputin and without Rasputin there would have been no revolution (Sarov).
World War One brought chaos to the Russian armies and "political turmoil churned in the country, Alexandra heeded Rasputin and rejected all attempts to reform" (Robins). So Nicholas went to the front to support the army. The army, for the most part, was ill prepared for battle and Nicholas, amidst the disorder, was unable to successfully rule the country. With the Tsar away, power passed more and more through the hands of Alexandra and Rasputin (Summers, 37). Rasputin had influence over the Tsarina, and in turn he had influence over the Tsar. Rasputin would have anyone terminated who dared to speak out against him in the Imperial court or household. For example the lady-in-waiting Tyutcheva demanded that Rasputin be forbidden to associate with the grand duchesses. She was soon forced to leave Tsarskoe Selo. The same happened to Peter Stolypin, the Prime Minister, and others (Radzinsky, 109). Whatever Rasputin wished and thought was necessary, Alexandra did her best to carry out his wishes and it was "her choice of ministers, proposed by Rasputin, beseechingly pressed on and unwisely endorsed by the absentee Tsar, which lost the Tsar his throne" (Massie, 344). Nicholas would rather not have Rasputin meddling in political action but he knew how much Alexandra counted on Rasputin's presence. Nicholas encouraged her and appeased her fears by notarizing her suggestions and recommendations (Massie, 344).
Nicholas, Alexandra and Rasputin have different ties with Alexis' hemophilia, but it is this
illness that binds them inseparably together. Both Nicholas and Alexandra were feverishly trying
everything possible to help alleviate the boy's suffering. Rasputin was called upon because he
seemed to be the only person who could ease Alexis' pain. This brought Rasputin intimately close
to the Imperial family and he had a huge influence over Alexandra who in turn had a huge
influence over Nicholas. Through Alexandra Rasputin was able to eliminate people he did not
agree with from the court (Massie, 193). With Rasputin's lecherous behavior in the high
society of St. Petersburg, the respect of the city was lost. It was no longer a pure city,
but a stained city because of the close relationship of the Imperial family to this fraudulent
peasant Rasputin. If it were not for Alexis's illness there would have been no need for Rasputin
in the Imperial family and maybe the Romanov dynasty would have lasted long enough for Alexis to
rule. Maybe the revolution would have never come about, but one will never know the truth
(Sarov). Maybe St. Petersburg would not have been abandoned and maybe the Communists would have
never gained power. Maybe if the Tsar and his family had never been executed in 1918 then little
Alexis could have become tsar. The extinction of the Romanovs also brought the end of the glory
of St. Petersburg (Massie, 112). Who would have thought that one mutated gene from Queen
Victoria could bring the demise of an entire city and the entire empire.
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