Set against the backdrop of revolutionary turmoil, featuring an opportunistic mystic and hinging on an incurable bleeding disease, their tale had all the melodramatic elements of a sensational opera. (Indeed, it has inspired at least two.) The granddaughter of England’s Queen Victoria, Alix Victoria Helena Louise Beatrice—later known as Alexandra Feodorovna Romanov—rejected an arranged marriage to her first cousin, Prince Albert Victor, after falling in love with Nicholas, heir to the Russian throne, as a teenager in 1889. Equally smitten, her lover convinced his reluctant, ailing father to agree to the union, and the pair wed in November 1894, just several weeks after the czar’s death and Nicholas’ coronation.

Though forged amid great sadness, the marriage was a happy and passionate one, producing four daughters and a son, Alexei. From his father the young czarevitch inherited the claim to the Russian throne, but his mother bequeathed him a more burdensome legacy: the mutant gene for the clotting disorder hemophilia, of which both Alexandra and her grandmother Victoria were carriers. Terrified of losing Alexei, his parents became increasingly reliant on the controversial “mad monk” Grigori Rasputin, whose hypnosis treatments seemed to slow the boy’s hemorrhages. Rasputin’s political influence over the czar and czarina undermined the Russian public’s confidence in the Romanov dynasty and contributed to its overthrow during the February Revolution in 1917. Nicholas, Alexandra and their children were executed on July 16, 1918, on orders from Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin. Indirectly, at least, the royal couple’s romance had opened a new and bloody chapter in Russia’s history.


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