MAY / JUNE 2014: BY VERONICA LEIGH
I have a firm, an absolute conviction that the fate of Russia—that my own fate and that of my family—is in the hands of God who has placed me where I am. Whatever may happen to me, I shall bow to His will with the consciousness of never having had any thought other than that of serving the country which He has entrusted to me.”- Tsar Nicholas II.
Tsar Nicholas Romanov II is best remembered as the last tsar of the Russian Empire. He was the one who led his country in the Great War, commanded the troops, was forced to abdicate the throne for himself and his son, and along with his family was exiled to Siberia where he, his wife and five children were executed by the Bolsheviks. For decades there were rumors that he or one of his family members escaped the firing squad and lived the remainder of their days in hiding. He is criticized for being a weak ruler; a monarch who lived in luxury while his people starved, and the instigator of many tragedies.
All of that is true. He was a weak ruler who made poor choices and toured his many palaces throughout the year. He inadvertently caused Bloody Sunday (the attack on a peaceful protest) and persecuted the Jews, permitting numerous pogroms.
Nicholas was also a Christian. He was a devout member of the Russian Orthodox Church; the official church of his Motherland. His faith was a vital part of who he was. Daily prayers were said, as well as the reading of the Holy Scriptures. He and his family attended a private church service regularly. While he was a believer in Christ, there was a dark side to his faith. His grandfather, Alexander II, was assassinated and the blame laid at the feet of the Jewish people. They were traditionally despised, but for Nicholas it was personal. He believed the Jews ought to be punished for their crimes, and for killing Christ. The age-old superstition tainted many of his decisions.
In Nicholas’ eyes, the eyes of the royal family, and even the eyes of many of the Russian people, he ruled by Divine Right. It was God’s Will that he was monarch and anything and anyone opposing him was opposing God. This conviction was as steadfast as his personal Christian faith—they often went hand in hand. The monarchy and the Russian Orthodox Church were tightly tethered together.
Unbeknownst to the public, Nicholas’ son, Aleksey, the heir to the dynasty, was a hemophiliac. A small cut, a bump, or a fall could lead to severe bleeding. Naturally Nicholas and his wife Alexandra prayed for their son’s healing and to them the answer came in the form of a mystic monk named Grigory Rasputin. One of the times Aleksey hurt himself, Rasputin was sent for and through his mysticism, he brought the boy relief. From that point on, Rasputin remained close to the family. So much so that his constant presence gave rise to gossip and propaganda, such as that he was having an affair with Alexandra and the daughters. Nicholas did what he could to squelch that kind of talk through threats and arrests. The truth had a way of making itself known, though; Rasputin was not a moral man. He had affairs, took drugs and drank to excess. By the time Nicholas began to question the monk’s presence, it was too late. Rather than follow his own conscience, he let himself be swayed by Alexandra’s devotion to their wayward friend.
While Nicholas lead the troops during the war, Alexandra relied heavily on the monk’s advice. This caused further trouble for the country. Near the end of 1916, two Romanov cousins assassinated Rasputin. Before his death, Rasputin threatened that if he were to die, the monarchy would fall. A few months later Nicholas abdicated the throne and he and his family were sent into exile.
Life in Siberia was difficult for the Romanov family, under the watchful eyes of Bolshevik guards. Alexandra and Aleksey were often ill, but all seven managed to band together. The family relied on their Christian faith for hope and believed that the White Army (the ones loyal to the Tsar and the monarchy) would rescue them. In April of 1918, the family was moved once more, this time to Ekaterinburg, where life was far darker for them. In the late hours of July 16th or early hours of the 17th, the family was awakened and led to the cellar of the house on the pretense that it was much too dangerous for them to be upstairs because there was fighting in the streets. The leader of the guards, Yurovsky, announced to Nicholas, his family and loyal servants that they were to be executed. Within minutes, after the gunfire was over, the blood had been spilled and the dust settled, Nicholas and the others lay dead. They were buried in a mass grave and were not discovered for many decades. After they were exhumed, given a proper funeral and laid to rest, the Russian Orthodox Church beatified them as saints.
Though a good Christian, a loving husband and doting father, his legacy will possibly always be tainted by the poor decisions he made and the hatred he hid in his heart. He was both a saint and sinner, a Christian and a villain. ♥
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Veronica Leigh is an aspiring novelist, who lives in Indiana with her family and six furbabies. Her obsessions range from Jane Austen to the Holocaust to the TV show Once Upon a Time. She has published two short autobiographical pieces and hopes to see more in print. She also lurks on her blog.