TThis week will see Matthew Weiner’s much anticipated and star-studded series The Romanoffs premiere on Amazon Prime, while last month the Science Museum launched its exhibition The Last Tsar; Blood and Revolution. Meanwhile in November the Royal Collection will open its doors to Russia, Royalty and the Romanovs. This year marks 100 years since Tsar Nicholas II and his family were brutally killed in Ekaterinburg, yet time has not dimmed their appeal – so why are we still so fascinated with the Romanovs?

The family’s appeal seems to lie principally in the deeply touching personal relations that existed between Nicholas II and his wife the Tsarina Alexandra, and their children, the exquisitely beautiful Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia as well as the fragile Tsarevich Alexei. They possessed an intense and real love for each other that shines through the pomp and ceremony of the Imperial court in every photograph, letter and diary entry. During the horrendous ordeal of their last months of imprisonment even their Bolshevik guards were impressed by the family’s love and support for each other.

Underlying this family love lay a devotion to God and extraordinary Christian humility that has left an impression, which other murdered monarchs, such as Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette of France, were unable to generate. A letter written during the imperial family’s house arrest by Grand Duchess Olga shows their nobility of soul. She wrote, ‘My father asks that I convey to all those who have remained devoted to him… that they should not take vengeance on his account, because he has forgiven everyone and prays for them all. Nor should they avenge themselves. Rather, they should bear in mind that this evil which is now present in the world will become yet stronger, but that evil will not conquer evil, but only love shall do so.’ As a Russian Orthodox Christian myself, I, like all members of the Church, recognise Nicholas II and his family as martyrs after their canonisation in 1981. It is rare to find an Orthodox home without an icon of the imperial family, and their unwavering acceptance of God’s will has contributed greatly to their enduring memory all over the world.

However, behind this most human of families lies a history of extraordinary achievement, grandiosity and scope. During the three centuries of Romanov rule over Russia, the country expanded from a modest semi-oriental state on the periphery of Europe and Asia to the largest empire in the world. At its apogee it extended across three continents, from Poland to Alaska. The expansion and preservation of this vast landmass was the greater achievement for the fact that the Russian Empire possessed no natural land barriers, beyond the Caucusus. In addition, throughout these three centuries the burgeoning Russian Empire was threatened with extinction by powerful and aggressive enemies on all sides, from the Tartars to the Lithuanian in the fourteenth century, to the Japanese and the Germans in the 20th century, and was obliged continually to fight for its existence. The contrast of Nicholas II’s simple, devoted family to his glorious, powerful ancestry only contributes to the romantic aura that surrounds them.

An element of mystery in their appeal must of course not be forgotten; several women falsely claiming to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia gripped the West for years, this fascination not abating even after they were proved to be imposters. But the true appeal of the Romanovs lies in them as individuals – nobody who has seen the photographs of this beautiful, tender family, the girls wearing matching white lace dresses and the Tsarevich a traditional sailor suit, can fail to be moved by a feeling of tragedy and regret for the most pointless and cruel of human atrocities.

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