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Treasures of the World

© Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)

Mementos of a Doomed DynastyNicholas and Romanov RussiaNicholas and AlexandraThe tragic events that followed the coronation of Nicholas IIBloody SundaySigns of revolutionThe inventive young FabergeFaberge's growing fameThe Faberge Imperial Easter eggs featured in the SeriesThe House of FabergeThe workshops and workmastersFaberge the manOutrageous opulenceFragile remembrancesThe fate of the eggs

Nicholas and Alexandra

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He was the storybook lovesick prince, pining for a princess he could not marry. She was the favorite granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England. But she was German, and she was Protestant. "You would do well to forget the girl," his mother warned him. Politically, she was poison, and she refused to convert to the Russian Orthodox faith. Yet Nicholas continued to nurse his secret love, the only guiding principle in his life on which he would never waver.

21 December 1890. "This evening Mama and I discussed the family life of today's young society people. Unintentionally, this conversation brushed a vital chord in my soul, the dream and hope that carries me from one day to the next, that I may one day marry Alex H. I have loved her for a long time, but even more deeply since the winter she spent in Petersburg. I have fought my feelings for her, trying to deceive myself with the impossibility of my cherished dream coming true." (from the diary of young Nicholas)

Politically, she was poison, and she refused to convert to the Russian Orthodox faith. "You would do well to forget the girl," his mother warned him. Yet Nicholas continued to nurse his secret love, the only guiding principle in his life on which he would never waver.

In 1894, when it became clear that Nicholas' father, Alexander III, was dying, concessions were made to his ardor for the sake of a stable succession. The young prince was granted permission to seek the hand of Alexandra of Hesse in marriage. Though she was also quite smitten with her suitor, the princess stood firm in her refusal to convert to Russian Orthodoxy.

5 April 1894. "She has grown remarkably more beautiful, but she looked extremely sad. We talked until twelve, but with no result; she still objects to conversion. Poor thing, she cried a lot, and we parted for the evening." (Nicholas)

8 April 1894. "A marvelous, unforgettable day in my life! The day of my engagement to my precious, beloved Alex. She cried when we spoke, and whispered again and again "No, I cannot." Still I continued to insist and repeat my arguments. Finally she could no longer argue. She consented. The whole world changed for me in an instant: nature, mankind Ц they all seem so good and dear, and happy."

Nicholas and Alexandra became best friends, as well as husband and wife, sharing a closeness that was unusual among royal couples. The daily letters between them whenever they were apart were filled with sweetheart language. From Nicholas: "Sweet wifekins, I love you passionately. God bless you and our babies..." From Alexandra: "My own sweet one, how I miss you. Those orbs, those lashes, where are they to gaze into...?"

Nicholas was gentle, fun loving, deeply committed to his family and well loved by those who knew him personally. But Alexandra would never be accepted by the Russian people. She was solemn and withdrawn, personality traits little admired in royalty and much-misunderstood in Alexandra, who was seen instead as haughty and arrogant. She viewed her royal duties as an unpleasant requirement of her position, preferring the company of family and distancing herself from society.

Ten days after their wedding, they traveled to the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, where they had danced together during Alexandra's winter visit in 1889. She decided on the spot to make it their home. Alexandra's choice of that modest palace in the country Ц which had only one hundred rooms, when she might have had the Gatchina or the Peterhof or the Anichkov or the Winter Palace Ц only served to bolster society's low opinion of her.

As a German, Alexandra was never trusted by the Russian people, especially during the war. Even as she ministered to them in the provisional hospitals she had established, they distrusted her. She wanted to be seen as a Sister of Mercy; the nun-like dress and cross she wore made her look like a martyr, and she liked the image, thinking it would endear her to the Russian people. But mostly they were shocked, and thought she looked ridiculous. They resented her presence there and were embarrassed by her ministrations. They could not have loved her less.

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