If George V King of the United Kingdom had let in his cousin the Tsar Nicholas II and his family, probably the destiny of the Romanov would have been way different. However the English sovereign, or maybe the prime minister Lloyd George), after having offered asylum to his Russian relatives, he believed that their presence was too dangerous in a moment of internal rebellions.
Below: picture of George V and Nicholas II, Royal cousins
Immediately after the 15th of March 1917, day of the abdication of the Tsar in favour of his brother Mikhail (who renounced to the crown but was in any case killed on the 12th of June 1918), it seemed it was still possible that the Royal family could survive the political and social changes happening in the country. But instead the state fell into a civil war where the moderate side of the “White Army” were opposing the revolutionary “Red Army”.
Aleksandr Kerenskij, in charge of the provisional government after the first revolution of February, although Republican and against the Tsarina Alexandra, like all the other Russian people and noblemen did, tried somewhat to protect the Imperial family, even by trying to find secret routes to have them leaving the country.
The whole Imperial family in 1913
From the exile in some privileged way in one of the Palaces of the Tsarskoye Selo, he had them transferred to Tobolsk, Siberia.
The Grand Dukesses in Tsarskoye Selo – Spring 1917
It was not for making them die due to cold or starvation. On the contrary
By knowing what sort of risk they were taking, i.e. to be summarily executed, a remote destination such as that one could represent their salvation
In the luxurious Palace of Tsarskoye Selo the life of the Romanov was not so miserable, since they were all together, even though they had to endure the many humiliations inflicted by their guards and especially the Grand Duchesses, not used to such obscene gestures that the soldiers were making to them whenever strolling in the garden. Then there was a marvellous park where they could spend time outdoor, maybe by harvesting the garden or riding the bicycle and again, where the family could go boating in the lake.
Nicholas II and Tatiana work the vegetable garden of Tsarskoye Selo
In August though, while the 2nd Revolution was bursting within their country, the family was transferred to Tobolsk and hosted in the house of the governor in the house that, ironically, was called after the revolution of February as “the House of Freedom”. Even in Siberia the life of the Romanov carried on somewhat nicely.
Trarinas Alexandra with the daughters Olga and Tatiana in Tobolsk – Spring 1918
Certainly the Governor’s house was not comparable to the sumptuous imperial palaces they were used to, but the family was still allowed to surround themselves with a small court made out of ladies in waiting and loyal servants. Nicholas II remained updated to the destiny of the country until the newspapers arrived in Tobolsk then, all of a sudden, news and papers stopped coming. The Bolshevik had seized the power with the October Revolution on that 7th of November 1917.
Tsar Nicholas II and his son Alexei in Tobolsk
The exile, which until then had been somewhat acceptable, turned into a really hard condition: all the servants were taken away from them apart from a doctor, a cook, one servant and one lady in waiting. The scarce food consisted of military rations (“the population has no means to support the tsar family”), even though sometimes some simple citizen dared to bring something as a gift.
In the meantime in Moscow the most radical fringes of the revolutionary government wanted to execute the whole imperial family, while a more moderate wing, led by Trotsky, wanted to publicly take Nicholas II on trial and allow the family to move abroad. The situation deteriorated rapidly when the counterrevolutionary force of the White Army, helped by foreign powers, got near Tobolsk with the intention to free the Tsar. Lenin decided to transfer the family in a place closer to Moscow, recently become capital. It was chosen the city of Ekaterinburg, where technically the trial was supposed to take place. The Ural Soviet, with the approval of Lenin, had condemned to death the Imperial family. Without the Romanov it would have been harder to restore the monarchy.
Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg
On the 17th of April Nicholas II, his wife and one of their daughters arrived to Ekaterinburg, while the remaining family got there on the 23rd of May. The Romanov were taken to the “the House of Special Purpose”, confiscated to the engineer Ipatiev. It was not exile any longer but imprisonment: the window glasses had been painted in white for “security reasons”; the could go out in the garden, hidden by a wooden palisade, but just for half an hour twice a day. The guards appointed to their surveillance had no issue whatsoever about stealing or doing any type of miserable vexations.
Ipatiev House hidden by a double wooden palisade
Everything changed when the police commissioner Jakov Yurovsky was set in charge of the house. He made the injustices and thefts stop and was daily informed about the precarious conditions of Prince Alexei, risking his life every moment for his haemophilia inherited by his mother, as well as the condition of the tsarina suffering from sciatica.
Prince Alexei and his favourite dog
In the meantime though, the police commissioner was organising the execution of the whole family and that little personnel left. Yurovsky believed to have set up everything carefully but, by his own admission, the action developed and ended in the worst way possible.
In the night between the 16th and the 17th of July, the family and their staff were woken up with the excuse of an immediate departure: the White Army was approaching and the Romanov were risking to be killed by a raging population. Perhaps in those moments the tsar had hoped to be freed by the counterrevolutionaries, certainly the tsarina and their daughters did, while putting on those rich petticoats with those many precious stones sewed on, in a view of a stay somewhere abroad.
The 11 people were gathered in a room of the basement, empty
The tsarina lamented the absence of chairs and the deputy of Yurovsky took two in, one for Alexandra who struggle to stand for the sciatica, and one for Alexei, who was ill and could not walk. He had been taken there by his father, in the basement of death, that fragile son cured in those many years by the monk Grigorij Rasputin, worshipped by the tsarina.
After having placed everyone one next to each other with the excuse to take a photograph which was supposed to dispel the rumours on a possible escape of the family, Yurovsky read their death sentence:
“Nikolai Alexandrovich, in view of the fact that your relatives are continuing their attack on Soviet Russia, the Ural Executive Committee has decided to execute you”
The Tsar arked unsure “What?What?” and the the hell started. It was not the soldiers of the Red Army who executed the Imperial family, none of them wanted to partake in the killing of the girls and the young Alexei. Yurovsky had to recruit some ex prisoners of the Austro- Hungarian war become revolutionaries.
The basement where the dove Romanov were killed
Nicholas II was the first to fall, followed by the Empress and their staff. The Great Duchesses where crying terrified, blinded by the smoke of the shots, while the bullets were bouncing off their dresses, rejected by those stones sewed on their clothes.
It took 20 infinite minutes for that tragic scene to be over: the girls and the nanny were finished with a bayonet, while Alexei with a gun fired by Yurovsky himself.
However the bodies were supposed to disappear
The police commissioner decided to burn them and, to be extra sure they were disfigured with the acid. Even in that phase there were some difficulties: the truck which was carrying the corpses bogged down and the police commissioner decided to bury the prince and his sister Maria not too far from the road.
Koptyaki Wood where the victims were taken – 1919
The men of the squad supposed to carry the bodies were all drunk and more interested in stealing jewels from the bodies of the women. The corpses were thrown in a mine then taken back, shredded and tossed in a ditch hidden by a birch forest, where they were covered in acid and then burnt. The burial of the Imperial family and the other victims was completed only at 6 AM on the 19th of July 1918.
Yurovsky obtained a loot of 9 kg of precious stones (20 lb), partially lost due to the rush
Below: some of the precious stones found in 1919 nearby the burial site of the Romanov
The day after the execution, during the task of the Central Committee in Moscow, Lenin read the declaration in which he was informing the Russian population that Nicholas II had been killed during an attempt of escape. Nothing about the rest of the family was mentioned.
Throughout the decades, the the bodies of the Romanov had still not been found, someone pretended to be one of the survivors; famous in the case about the Great Duchess Anastasia.
Every minimum hope that one of them had survived was smashed when they found the last remains of the victims: in 1990 it had been located the bodies buried in the ditch, but to the sad head count 2 bodies were missing.
The rest of Alexei and Maria were found only years later, precisely in 2007
The Empress had once written to a friend: “We all share a simple desire to live in peace like an ordinary family, far from politics, conflicts and intrigues”.
A naive desire, definitely unattainable: the Romanov were an imperial dynasty which, for better or worse, had practiced an absolute power for 300 years. Pretty complex to be passed for an ordinary family.