Great dynasties of the world: The Romanovs

Early on the morning of 17 July 1918, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, and his wife Alexandra, their son, Alexei, and their four daughters – Tatiana, Olga, Maria and Anastasia – were gathered in the basement of Ipatiev House in the city of Ekaterinburg, in the Ural mountains, along with the family doctor, a footman, a housemaid and a cook. They had been imprisoned, in different locations, after the February revolution of 1917 and Nicholas's subsequent abdication. In Ekaterinburg, the local Bolsheviks, led by Yakov Yurovsky, feared that the family might be liberated by advancing monarchist forces. Yurovsky entered the room where the family were waiting and announced: "Nicholas Aleksandrovich, by the order of the Regional Soviet of the Urals, you are to be shot, along with all your family." The family and their servants were then shot, bayoneted, their bodies hacked to pieces, set alight, doused with acid, and the remains thrown into a mine shaft. It was the end of the Romanov dynasty. There are too many bad books, terrible films and TV mini-series about the Romanovs, and too many crackpot sentimentalists and conspiracy theorists. The family have became the stuff not so much of legend as of lurid fantasy. Reliable and readable recent English-language histories of the last days of the Romanovs include Greg King and Penny Wilson's The Fate of the Romanovs and Helen Rappaport's Ekaterinburg: The Last Days of the Romanovs. But what of the beginnings of the dynasty? Eighteen Romanovs ruled Russia from the early 17th century to the early 20th century. Famous Romanovs include Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Alexander I, Nicholas I and Alexander II. But there are others, less well known, but equally extraordinary. Ivan V and Peter I, who ruled together. Anna Ivanovna, who built the famous ice palace in St Petersburg. Feodor III, the shy, bookish invalid. Between them, over time, the Romanovs established the modern world's largest and most powerful empire. The reign of the Romanovs began in the so-called troubled time, after the death of the last tsar of the Rurik dynasty in 1598. Boris Gudonov – immortalised in Mussorgsky's opera, based on Pushkin's play – seized power, and the country was plunged into 15 years of crisis. There was famine and plague. There were invasions, massacres, battles, rioting. Somehow, according to the historian Chester Dunning, in his massive history Russia's First Civil War, modern Russia emerged from this chaos in 1613 with the election of Michael Romanov as tsar, aged just 16. Michael was the perfect compromise candidate for Russia's feuding elites: the Romanovs were a noble family with distant claims to the throne. ...


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