At the heart of our present are the stories of our past. In ages gone by, many monarchs died while they were still young. There were battles and diseases and many were simply overthrown. But the days of regal engagement in hand-to-hand combat are over and the line of succession has a good ageing prospect these days.
One of the most famous monarchs in history is Queen Victoria and her passing brought an end to an amazing era. She could be demanding, rude and she frequently fled public duties for the solitude of Scotland. But she loved fiercely, and her people loved her fiercely in return. Under her reign, England achieved greatness it had never known before.
‘VICTORIA TO VIKINGS – The Circle of Blood’ spans from this great queen to another one: Queen Elizabeth II. Ours is the era of the longest living monarch in history and her ancestry is incredible. But walking two steps behind her, stalwart and loyal, stands Prince Philip, the strawberry to her champagne, and with him comes his own amazing Viking heritage.
As the light faded, a train halted in the remote railway station of Lyubinskaya on the Trans-Siberian railway line. It was the evening of April 29, 1918, and there was nothing outwardly remarkable about the first-class railway carriage except the presence of a heavily armed guard outside the door. Sitting quietly inside was a family whose faces have been immortalised through pictures in history books. Four pale girls in white lace, their hair tied back with satin ribbons, sat beside their mother Tsarina Alexandra, granddaughter to Queen Victoria. Alexei, a sickly little boy in a sailor suit, lent on his father the former Tsar, Nicholas Alexandrovich Romanov. Unbeknownst to them, they were making their final journey.
After the engine started, and the train took a decisive direction, all lingering hope inside Special Train Number 8 would have evaporated. The train was lumbering not towards a trial in Moscow or foreign exile as they had been led to believe, but to the bleak Urals, specifically Ekaterinburg, the historic hub of Russia’s old penal system. In just 78 days they would be facing a firing squad.
Stepping off the train in Ekaterinburg after a bone-rattling five-day journey, the exhausted family were received into the hands of local soviets. It was Passion Week and the Easter bells of the Orthodox Church rang out merrily across the city as their car drew up to ‘The House of Special Purpose’. They looked backwards over their shoulders to the outside world for the last time and then the gates to their new home slammed shut. Hidden behind a high wooden fence, its windows blacked out, the Romanov’s new home would be a gloomy prison consisting of five rooms.
Daily life was severely restrictive and had become a matter of endurance. The family’s one consuming obsession was Alexei’s fragile health. The 13-year-old had been suffering from a recurring haemorrhage in his knee, causing him agonising pain, so a splint was lackadaisically applied. Doctors had already cautioned Nicholas that Alexei would not reach sixteen because of his debilitating illness, but the child half-heartedly rallied nonetheless. Of late, he seemed to be at death’s door and the family was exhausted by a relentless round of all-night sessions at his bedside. Eventually, the splint was taken off his leg and he could be carried out to the garden. But he would never walk again.
By early July, the daily ritual of life at the House had taken on a numbing predictability. The family rose at eight in the morning and breakfasted on tea and black bread. The days were filled with endless games of cards, while Alexei played with his model ship and tin soldiers. During their one hour in the small garden, the girls and their father, the man who had ruled 8.5 million square miles of empire now master of a single room, would walk the 40 paces back and forth in the small, scrappy garden, eager to make the most of their exercise time. Nicholas would watch his children play, his soft blue eyes full of tears while Alexandra took on the look of a broken woman. Unbeknownst to their guards, the Romanov women spent long, furtive hours concealing gemstones and pearls into the linings of their dresses to fund the life in exile of which they dreamed.
On the outside, the mood was growing increasingly ugly and their awful fate loomed.
Tuesday, July 16 began uneventfully for the Romanovs. At 3pm, the family walked around the strip of unkempt garden for the last time and after evening prayers, they went to bed. At 1am on July 17, the Romanovs, their four remaining servants and the family doctor were awakened and told to go downstairs. The Tsar got up immediately and his wife and daughters put on their camisoles sewn full of jewels and pearls, just like they had rehearsed many times for a rescue attempt or sudden flight. At 2.15am, they were led down to the basement and Nicholas was heard saying reassuringly: ‘Well, we’re going to get out of this place’.
They were ushered into a storeroom, lit by a single naked bulb, to find the windows had been nailed shut. The family and their servants were lined up as if for an official photograph and then left alone for half an hour. Outside, their assassins were downing shots of vodka.
Re-entering the room, a guard read out a statement sentencing the family to death.
It wasn’t until the order came to shoot that Nicholas reacted. He called out an incredulous ‘What? WHAT?’ before he was shot point blank in the chest. As his body crumbled to the ground, the rest of the guards started firing. An ashen-faced Alexei, too crippled to move, survived the first volley of bullets, protected by both his father’s body and jewels sewn into his underwear and cap as did his sisters, protected by 1.3 kilograms of diamonds sewn into the bodices of their dresses. But it was only a temporary reprieve. When the gun smoke and plaster cleared, sobs and whimpers were heard as Alexandra and the children huddled together against a wall covering their heads in terror. It was then the drunken guards realised they’d botched the slaughter.
None of the remaining Romanovs died a quick or painless death. One by one, the guards moved from person to person bayoneting them first then shooting them in the head to prevent identification. What should have been a quick, clean execution had turned into a 20-minute orgy of killing, with only the thick clouds of gunpowder smoke obscuring the full horror of it. Their bodies were then taken fourteen miles away and burnt, dowsed in sulphuric acid and buried in two pits.
For the better part of the 20th century, their bodies lay concealed. In 1979, amateur historians discovered the remains and the identities were confirmed. Every member of the Romanov family had been murdered.
Thank you, Trisha Hughes and Rachel’s Random Resources.
About the author
I am an Australian author born in Brisbane, Queensland now living in Hong Kong. My writing career began 18 years ago with my best-selling autobiography ‘Daughters of Nazareth’ published by Pan MacMillan Australia. Over the past 8 years, I have been researching and writing a historical fiction trilogy based on British Monarchy throughout the ages beginning with the Vikings. Originally meant to be a single book, as facts accumulated the material gradually filled three books. I call this series my V2V trilogy.
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