The Romanov family and the Ghosts of Alexander Palace

Alexander Palace was the favorite residence of the last Russian Emperor, Nicholas Alexandrovich Romanov—Tsar Nicholas II.

Nicholas was born there on 18 May 1868. His father, then Tsarevich Alexander, recorded the event in his diary,

God sent us a son whom we named Nicholas. What a joy it was! It is impossible to imagine. I sprang to embrace my darling wife, and she instantly became cheerful and was terribly happy. I had been weeping like a child but suddenly my heart became light and cheerful.

But after the Russian Revolution of 1917, it would become a prison for Nicholas and his family.

Alexandrovsky Palace in Tsarskoe Selo. Credit Florstein
Alexandrovsky Palace in Tsarskoe Selo. Credit Florstein

When Nicholas II inherited the Russian throne from his father, who died at just 49, he was not ready for the huge responsibility. He told a close friend,

I am not prepared to be a tsar. I never wanted to become one. I know nothing of the business of ruling.

He quickly married Princess Alexandra Feodorovna and the couple had their first child, Olga, in 1895.

Portraits of Nikolai II and Alexandra Fedorovna by Alexander Vladimirovich Makovsky - 1903
Portraits of Nikolai II and Alexandra Fedorovna by Alexander Vladimirovich Makovsky – 1903.

The following year, at his formal coronation, thousands of people were trampled to death as the crowd of 100,000 rushed to get a share of free food and beer.

Nicholas was advised to attend a gala with the French ambassador that same evening—a bad omen as the city mourned its dead and saw him as uncaring.

By 1901, Alexandra had given him another three daughters—Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia. Then in 1904, she gave birth to their only son Alexei. That same year, Japan attacked Russia.

Nicholas’s mismanagement resulted in multiple defeats and the loss of the Russian fleet. In 1905, a large but peaceful demonstration ascended on St Petersburg to appeal to Nicholas for improved working conditions.

Troops fired on the crowds and over 1000 were killed. It would be called “Bloody Sunday”.

Artistic impression of Bloody Sunday in St Petersburg, Russia
Artistic impression of Bloody Sunday in St Petersburg, Russia

The family moved from the official residence of the Winter Palace in St Petersburg to the safer confines of Alexander Palace. They remodeled much of he interior and added modern conveniences like telephones, an elevator, and a screening booth for watching movies.

Over the course of WWI, Russia endured major losses on the war front and suffered abject poverty and high inflation at home. The Russian public laid the blame squarely on the monarchy.

On 15 March 1917, Nicholas II abdicated the throne and was placed under house arrest, initially at Alexander Palace.

Czar Nicholas II and family gardening at Alexander Palace during internment at Tsarskoe-Selo, 1917.
Czar Nicholas II and family gardening at Alexander Palace during internment at Tsarskoe-Selo, 1917.

What did those last months feel like for the Romanovs? Did Nicholas even believe they were in danger? Alexei’s tutor, Pierre Gillard wrote,

In their spare time, free from studies, the Empress and her daughters were engaged in sewing something, embroidering or weaving, but they were never idle…They cleaned paths in the park from snow, chopped ice for the cellar, cut dry branches or old trees, storing firewood for the future winter. With the arrival of the warmer weather, the entire family worked on an extensive kitchen-garden.

In August 1917 they were transferred out of their beloved palace. Less than a year later, the entire family would be brutally executed. If their ghosts could choose, they would have returned home to the beautiful Alexander Palace.

The ghost of Alexandra in her dressing room.
The ghost of Alexandra in her dressing room.
The Ghost of Nicholas II in his Study.
The Ghost of Nicholas II in his Study.
The ghost of Anastasia knitting in her mother's bedroom.
The ghost of Anastasia knitting in her mother’s bedroom.
The ghosts of the Tsar's children in the Maple Room.
The ghosts of the Tsar’s children in the Maple Room.
The ghosts of the Romanovs in the grounds of Alexander Palace.
The ghosts of the Romanovs in the grounds of Alexander Palace.

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David James

David James

I'm an Englishman in Boston. History is a joy—it binds us, it connects us, it guides us. I'm interested in making history more accessible and more fun. Join me on this fantastic voyage through time.