Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna, 1908
In this article, we will talk a little about the last Russian empress, Alexandra Feodorovna, who was equally unloved in all strata of society and played a significant role in the collapse of the monarchy. First, let us briefly describe the state of affairs in our country on the eve of the accession to the throne of Nicholas II and during his reign.
On the eve
At the turn of the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, internal contradictions became more and more noticeable in the Russian Empire. The split in society was growing. The middle class were few and far between. National wealth was distributed extremely unevenly and clearly unfairly. Economic growth practically did not affect the well-being of the bulk of the country's population - peasants and workers, and did not in any way improve their quality of life.
Russia, "lost" by the liberals and monarchists, even on the eve of the First World War was a poor and backward country. The bulk of the funds received from the export of grain, metal, timber and other goods remained in foreign banks and was spent on maintaining a high (European) standard of living for aristocrats, capitalists, financiers and stock market speculators. So, in 1907, the income from the sale of grain abroad amounted to a huge amount of 431 million rubles. Of these, 180 million were spent on luxury goods. Another 140 million settled in foreign banks or remained in restaurants, casinos and brothels in Paris, Nice, Baden-Baden and other expensive and "fun" cities. But only 58 million rubles were invested in the Russian industry.
It is not surprising that Russia not only did not catch up with the then industrialized countries, but, on the contrary, lagged behind them more and more. Let's look at the data on the annual per capita national income of Russia in comparison with the USA and Germany. If in 1861 it was 16% of the American and 40% of the German, then in 1913 it was 11,5% and 32%, respectively.
In terms of GDP per capita, Russia lagged behind the United States 9,5 times (in industrial production - 21 times), from Great Britain - 4,5 times, from Canada - 4 times, from Germany - 3,5 times. In 1913, the share of Russia in global production was only 1,72% (the share of the United States - 20%, Great Britain - 18%, Germany - 9%, France - 7,2%).
The economy was growing, of course. But in terms of the rate of its development, Russia lagged more and more behind its competitors. And therefore the American economist A. Gershenkron was absolutely wrong, arguing:
"Judging by the pace of equipping industry in the early years of the reign of Nicholas II, Russia would undoubtedly - without the establishment of a communist regime - have already overtaken the United States."
French historian Marc Ferro, with merciless irony, calls this thesis of the American
"Proof born of the imagination."
And it is difficult to expect objectivity from Alexander Gershenkron - a native of a wealthy Odessa family, who at the age of 16 fled with his father from Russia to the territory of Romania.
Pre-revolutionary Russia also could not boast of the standard of living of the overwhelming majority of its citizens. On the eve of World War I, it was 3,7 times lower than in Germany and 5,5 times lower than in the United States.
In a 1906 study, Academician Tarkhanov showed that in comparable prices, the average Russian peasant then consumed products 5 times less than an English farmer (20,44 rubles and 101,25 rubles a year, respectively). The professor of medicine Emil Dillon, who worked at various universities in Russia from 1877 to 1914, spoke about life in the Russian countryside:
"The Russian farmer goes to bed at six or five o'clock in the winter because they can not spend money on the purchase of kerosene for lamps. He has no meat, eggs, butter, milk, often no cabbage, he lives mainly on black bread and potatoes. Does it live? He is starving to death because of their insufficient numbers. ”
General V.I. Gurko, who commanded the Western Front from March 31 to May 5, 1917, was arrested by the Provisional Government in August 1917 and expelled from Russia in October of the same year, was a staunch monarchist. And he later argued that 40% of pre-revolutionary Russian conscripts tried meat, butter and sugar for the first time in their lives only when they got into the army.
However, the central authorities refused to recognize the problem of national poverty and did not even try to somehow solve it. Alexander III on one of the reports of the famine that broke out in Russian villages in 1891-1892. wrote:
“We have no hungry people. We have people affected by crop failure. "
At the same time, speculators were making huge profits by exporting grain from Russia, the prices of which were higher abroad. The volume of its export was such that on the railways leading to the seaports, congestions of trains with grain formed.
Many people know the "prediction" of Otto Richter, Adjutant General of Alexander III, who, answering the emperor's question about the state of affairs in Russia, said:
“Imagine, sir, a boiler in which gases are boiling. And around there are special caring people with hammers and diligently riveting the smallest holes. But one day the gases will pull out such a piece that it will be impossible to rivet it. "
This warning was not heard by the emperor. Alexander III also laid an additional portion of "explosives" in the foundation of the empire he led, abandoning the traditional alliance with Germany and entering into an alliance with recent opponents - France and Great Britain, whose leaders would soon betray his son.
Meanwhile, Russia and Germany had no grounds for confrontation. Since the Napoleonic Wars, the Germans have been desperate Russophiles. And until the outbreak of the First World War, German generals, when meeting with the Russian emperor, considered it their duty to kiss his hand.
Some researchers explain this strange step of Alexander III by the influence of his wife, the Danish princess Dagmar, who took the name of Maria Feodorovna in Russia. She hated Germany and the Germans because of the annexation by this country of Schleswig and Holstein, previously owned by Denmark (following the Austro-Prussian-Danish War of 1864). Others point to the dependence of the Russian economy on French loans.
But Alexander III was so sure of the well-being of the empire he was leaving that, dying, he confidently declared to his wife and children: "Be calm."
However, outside the royal palace, the true state of affairs was not a secret.
The inevitability of social upheaval and change became obvious even for people far from politics. Some waited for them with delight and impatience, others with fear and hatred. Georgy Plekhanov wrote in an obituary dedicated to Alexander III that during his reign the emperor "sowed the wind" for thirteen years and
"Nicholas II will have to prevent the storm from breaking out."
And this is the forecast of the famous Russian historian V.O. Klyuchevsky:
"The (Romanov) dynasty will not live to see its political death, ... will die out earlier ... No, it will cease to be needed and will be driven out."
And it was in these conditions that Nicholas II came to the imperial throne of Russia.
It is perhaps impossible to imagine a more unsuccessful candidate. His inability to adequately govern the vast country very soon became apparent to everyone.
General M.I.Dragomirov, who taught tactics to Nicholas II, said this about his student:
"He is fit to sit on the throne, but incapable of standing at the head of Russia."
French historian Marc Ferro states:
"Nicholas II was brought up as a prince, but not taught what a tsar should be able to do."
The state needed either a reformer who was ready to enter into dialogue with society and give up a significant part of its powers, becoming a constitutional monarch. Or - a strong and charismatic leader, capable of carrying out painful “modernization from above” with an “iron hand” - both of the country and of society. Both of these paths are extremely dangerous. Moreover, radical reforms are often perceived by society more negatively than an outright dictatorship. An authoritarian leader can be popular and support in society; reformers are not liked anywhere, ever. But inaction in a crisis situation is much more destructive and dangerous than radical reforms and a dictatorship.
Nicholas II did not have the talents of a politician and administrator. Being a weak and subject to the influence of others, he nevertheless tried to rule the state without changing anything in it. At the same time, despite the circumstances, he managed to marry for love. And this marriage became a misfortune for himself, and for the Romanov dynasty, and for the empire.
Alice of Hesse and Darmstadt
The woman who became the last Russian empress and entered history under the name of Alexandra Feodorovna, was born on June 6, 1872 in Darmstadt.
Her father was the Grand Duke of Hesse-Darmstadt Ludwig, her mother was the daughter of Queen Victoria of Great Britain - Alice.
In this 1876 family photo, Alix stands in the center, and to her left we see her sister Ellie, who in the future will become the Russian Grand Duchess Elizaveta Fedorovna.
The princess had five names given to her in honor of her mother and four aunts: Victoria Alix Helena Louise Beatrice von Hessen und bei Rhein. Nicholas II often called her Alix - something in between the names Alice and Alexander.
Queen Victoria with her daughter Beatrice (standing behind), granddaughter Victoria of Hesse-Darmstadt and great-granddaughter Alice
When the brother of the future empress, Frederick, died of bleeding, it became clear that the women of the Hesse family had received genes for an incurable disease at that time - hemophilia from Queen Victoria. Alice was 5 years old at the time. And a year later, in 1878, her mother and sister Mary died of diphtheria. All toys and books were taken away from Alice and burned. These misfortunes made a very heavy impression on the formerly cheerful girl and greatly influenced her character.
Now, with the consent of her father, Queen Victoria took care of Alice's upbringing (his other children, daughter Ella and son Ernie, also went to Britain). They were settled at Osborne House Castle on the Isle of Wight. Here they were taught mathematics, history, geography, foreign languages, music, drawing, horse riding and gardening.
Even then, Alice was known as a closed and unsociable girl who tried to avoid the company of strangers, official court events and even balls. This greatly upset Queen Victoria, who had her own plans for the future of her granddaughter. These traits of Alice's character were aggravated after the departure of Ellie's sister (Elisabeth Alexandra Luise Alice von Hessen-Darmstadt und bei Rhein) to Russia. This princess was married to Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich (brother of Emperor Alexander III) and went down in history under the name of Elizabeth Feodorovna.
Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, photo 1891
Alice's older sister was unhappy in marriage, although she carefully concealed it. According to V. Obninsky, a member of the State Duma, a homosexual husband (one of the main culprits of the tragedy on Khodynskoye field) is a "dry, unpleasant person" who wore "sharp signs of the vice that ate him, made the family life of his wife, Elizabeth Fedorovna, unbearable." ... She had no children ("Life" explains this with a vow of chastity, which the Grand Duke and the princess allegedly made before marriage).
But, unlike her younger sister, Elizaveta Fedorovna managed to earn the love of the Russian people. And on February 2, 1905, I. Kalyaev refused to attempt on the life of the Grand Duke, seeing that his wife and nephews were sitting in the carriage with him (the terrorist act was carried out 2 days later). Later, Elizaveta Fedorovna asked for a pardon for her husband's murderer.
Alice attended the older sister's wedding. Here a 12-year-old girl first saw her future husband, Nikolai, who was 16 at the time. But another meeting became fateful. In 1889, when Alice once again visited Russia - at the invitation of her sister and her husband, and spent 6 weeks in our country. Nikolai, who had managed to fall in love with her during this time, turned to his parents with a request to allow him to marry the princess, but was refused.
This marriage was absolutely not interesting and did not need Russia from a dynastic point of view, since the Romanovs had already become related with her house (we remember the marriage of Ellie and Prince Sergei Alexandrovich).
I must say that Nikolai and Alisa were, though distant, but relatives: on the father's side, Alice was Nikolai's fourth cousin, and on the maternal side, his second cousin. But in royal families, such a relationship was considered perfectly acceptable. Much more important was the fact that Alexander III and Maria Feodorovna were Alice's godparents. It was this circumstance that made her marriage to Nicholas illegal from the point of view of the Church.
Alexander III then said to his son:
"You are very young, there is still time for marriage, and, besides, remember the following: you are the heir to the Russian throne, you are engaged to Russia, and we still have time to find a wife."
The union of Nicholas and Helena Louise Henriette of Orleans from the Bourbon dynasty was considered much more promising then. This marriage was supposed to strengthen relations with a new ally - France.
This girl was beautiful, intelligent, well-educated, knew how to please people. The Washington Post reported that Elena was
"The embodiment of women's health and beauty, a graceful athlete and a charming polyglot."
But Nikolai at that time dreamed of marriage to Alice. That, however, did not prevent him from finding "consolation" in the bed of the ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya, whom her contemporaries called "the mistress of the Romanovs' house."
By modern standards, this woman can hardly be called a beauty. A pretty, but unremarkable and expressionless face, short legs. Currently, the optimal height for a ballerina is 170 cm, and the optimal weight is determined by the formula: height minus 122. That is, with an ideal height of 170 cm, a modern ballerina should weigh 48 kg. Kshesinskaya, with a height of 153 cm, never weighed less than 50 kg. The surviving dresses of Matilda correspond to modern sizes 42-44.
The relationship between Kshesinskaya and the Tsarevich lasted from 1890 to 1894. Then Nikolai personally took Matilda to the palace of his cousin Sergei Mikhailovich, literally passing her from hand to hand. This Grand Duke in 1905 became the head of the Main Artillery Directorate and a member of the State Defense Council. It was he who at that time was in charge of all the military purchases of the empire.
Quickly finding her bearings, Kshesinskaya acquired shares in the famous Putilovsky plant, in fact becoming its co-owner - along with Putilov himself and the banker Vyshegradsky. After that, contracts for the manufacture of artillery pieces for the Russian army were invariably given not to the best Krupp enterprises in the world, but to the French firm of Schneider, a former partner of the Putilov factory. According to many researchers, arming the Russian army with less powerful and effective weapons played a large role in the failures on the fronts of the First World War.
Then Matilda passed to the Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich, who was 6 years younger than her. From him she gave birth to a son, Vladimir, who received the surname Krasinsky. But the boy got his middle name (Sergeevich) from the ballerina's previous lover, and therefore the ill-wishers called him "the son of two fathers."
Without breaking with the Grand Duke Andrei, Kshesinskaya (who was already over 40 years old) began an affair with a young and beautiful ballet dancer Pyotr Vladimirov.
As a result, in early 1914, the Grand Duke had to fight a rootless dancer in a duel in Paris. This fight ended in favor of the aristocrat. Local witches joked that “the Grand Duke was left with a nose, and the dancer was left without a nose” (plastic surgery had to be done). Subsequently, Vladimirov became Nijinsky's successor in the troupe of S. Diaghilev, then taught in the USA. In 1921, Andrei Vladimirovich entered into a legal marriage with his old mistress. They say that on the eve of emigration from Russia, Kshesinskaya said:
“My close relationship with the old government was easy for me: it consisted of only one person. And what am I going to do now, when the new government - the Soviet of Workers 'and Soldiers' Deputies - consists of 2000 people ?! "
But back to Alice of Hesse.
Her famous grandmother, Queen Victoria, also opposed marriage with the heir to the Russian throne. She intended to marry her off to Prince Edward of Wales. Thus, this German princess had a real chance to become Queen of Great Britain.
Finally, in Russia it was known about Alice's poor health. In addition to the fact that the princess was a carrier of genes for incurable hemophilia at that time (with a high degree of probability this could be assumed after the death of her brother), she constantly complained of pain in the joints and lower back. Because of this, even before marriage, she sometimes could not walk (and even during weddings, the newly-made spouse had to be taken out for walks in a wheelchair). We see one such family outing in this photograph taken in May 1913.
And this is an excerpt from a letter from Nicholas II to his mother, written in March 1899:
“Alix, on the whole, feels well, but cannot walk, because the pain begins right away; she rides through the halls in armchairs. "
Think about these words: a woman who has not yet turned 27 “feels good”, only she cannot walk herself! What state was she in when she was ill?
Also, Alice was prone to depression, prone to hysteria and psychopathy. Some believe that the problems with mobility of the young princess and by no means the elderly empress were not organic, but psychogenic.
The maid of honor and close friend of the Empress Anna Vyrubova recalled that Alexandra Feodorovna's hands often turned blue, while she began to choke. Many consider this to be symptoms of hysteria, and not of some serious illness.
On January 11, 1910, Nicholas II's sister Ksenia Alexandrovna writes that the Empress is worried about “severe pains in her heart, and she is very weak. They say that it is on a nervous lining. "
Former Minister of Public Education Ivan Tolstoy describes Alexandra Fedorovna in February 1913:
"The young empress in a chair, in a haggard pose, all red as a peony, with almost crazy eyes."
By the way, she also smoked.
The only person who wanted the marriage of Nikolai and Alice was the princess's sister, Ellie (Elizaveta Fedorovna), but no one paid attention to her opinion. It seemed that the marriage between Tsarevich Nicholas and Alice of Hesse was impossible, but all the calculations and layouts were confused by the serious illness of Alexander III.
Realizing that his days were coming to an end, the emperor, wanting to secure the future of the dynasty, agreed to the marriage of his son with a German princess. And this was a truly fatal decision. Already on October 10, 1894, Alice hastily arrived in Livadia. In Russia, by the way, one of her titles was immediately changed by the people: and the Darmstadt princess turned into "Daromshmat".
On October 20, Emperor Alexander III died, and on October 21, Princess Alice, who had been known until then as a zealous Protestant, converted to Orthodoxy.
In the next article we will continue the story about Alice of Hesse, who, having married Nicholas II, became the Russian Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.
To be continued ...