Chapter 45: Better To Bend Than to Break
Chapter Forty-Five: Better To Bend Than to Break

"This state has, praise be to God, survived the Germans and their Italian and Austrian lackeys. But now we face a stronger enemy: ourselves. The war exposed our infirmities in the worst way possible: not just on the field of battle, but in the long soup lines and in the halls of power, and at the peace table in Konigsberg. We must adapt, modernise, revitalise ourselves if we are to survive."
-Tsar Michael II to Georgy Lvov, early 1917

"You, Your Excellency, remain the rightful Tsar. That brother of yours had no right to steal the throne from you, much less shut you up in here as though you were a cloistered woman in a convent! Following the passing of your son, you are the only man in this empire who loves Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality, and who is capable of fighting to restore them. Inertia now means that the mob of September will return..."
-Ivan Goremykin to the former Nicholas II

Mikhail Alexandrovich Romanov was Tsar of All the Russias, Supreme Autocrat by the Grace of God, lord and master over the world’s largest country. After Nicholas II bungled the Great War, Julius Martov had led Petrograd into revolt in September 1916 and Nicholas had ceded power to Michael in the hopes his brother could defeat the revolution. Martov’s alliance with Prince Georgi Lvov had nearly finished two centuries of Tsarism, and only Lvov’s defection had enabled Michael to retake the capital and make peace. The Treaty of Konigsberg, ending the war on the Eastern Front, had been surprisingly mild- Poland, the Baltics, and western Belarus were a comparatively small price for peace. Two months after the Tsarist crown had been knocked to the floor, the regime was secure, Nicholas was alive, the foreigners were no longer a threat, and Tsar Michael II enjoyed supreme power over more than 150 million Russians.

And the Tsar was none too happy about it.

Historians emphasise that the tsardom’s survival was a miracle. Tsar Nicholas, in the words of one modern Russian scholar,

"had taken the fruits of two hundred years of despotism and squandered them. In his myopia, shielded from the world by the golden window-panes of the Winter Palace, he saw only what the couriers wanted him to see, what his own regime’s propaganda told the proletariat. The loss of not just the Pacific Fleet, but the Baltic Fleet had made no impression on this man, nor the loss of hearts and minds. If he was, by the grace of God, tsar of all the Russias, then he operated under a charism of invincibility. The golden barrier separating him from the world was as fixed as a geometric axiom... In this cocoon, Tsar Nicholas was oblivious to the losses his empire was facing, to the slow but steady erosion of the supports… The armies of the Central Powers proved his undoing, as the cordite of Hindenburg and steel of Ludendorff proved unwilling to listen to the proclamations of God’s representative on earth…”

Michael was now forced to repair the damage.


God's much-beleaguered representative on Earth, Tsar Michael II
tsar michael ii.jpeg

Part of the reason the Germans had been comparatively lenient at Konigsberg was because they knew that Russia’s internal problems would distract it for years. The national economy was in shambles. During the war, the most manifest symptom had been soldiers going into battle unarmed, but civilians had suffered too. While it never reached the almost darkly comedic levels seen in France, inflation bit into the Russian worker’s pay and rendered savings useless. The queues for bread were always longer than the queues for bullets- and the demand didn’t vanish at the stroke of a pen. As the rest of Europe looked forward to their first proper meal in thirty months at Christmas 1916, the Russians were disappointed to find that rumours of extra potatoes in the shops were just rumours. The Central Powers were none too keen on selling to Petrograd while trade with neutrals resumed slowly. Farmers across Kazakhstan and the Volga were thus forced to work longer and harder to feed the Rodina.
Ukrainian unrest exacerbated Russia’s shortages.

Germany had refrained from taking Ukraine because it was too large to send their overextended forces into, but that didn’t mean Berlin wasn’t interested in exerting influence there. As soon as Michael’s regime sued for peace, revolt flared up in Ukraine. October 1916 saw blue and yellow fly in Kiev. “Give us a Hetman!”, they cried. “Free Ukraine in a free Russia!” Ukraine was not ‘southwest Russia’, it was a subjugated nation. Tsar Michael was known to be a liberal man and the nationalists hoped to reason with him. The protestors had disparate goals. Some wanted an independent Ukraine under a German prince, others hoped for a ‘Grand Duchy of Ukraine’ under Michael’s personal rule, a la Finland. Still others were Marxists who hoped for a socialist republic. Diversity proved the movement’s undoing because it impeded a united front. Tsar Michael couldn’t offer concessions so early in his regime because it would be seen as weakness. Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, and the United Baltic Duchy stood on German steel, while Finland had broken away under its own power. (1) These were tolerable because they were separate nationalities who’d always existed on the periphery of the empire. Ukraine was different- Petrograd dismissed it as “the southwestern provinces”, as Russian as Moscow or Siberia. If part of the heartland declared independence, the Tsarist balancing act would crumble.

It didn’t take long for Tsar Michael to overcome his liberal scruples.

Russia’s army may have been too weak to resist the Germans, but it had the strength to subdue Kiev. The protestors were driven from the streets and the Tsarist tricolour hoisted above Ukraine.

Unsuccessful though they were, the autumn 1916 protests convinced all Ukrainian people that they were a nation. The Tsarist bear who’d stood on them for centuries had had its claws trimmed by German steel; the new emperor appeared naked. If the Finns could achieve independence under their own power, they could too. Literature nurtured the independence movement. Mykhailo Hrushevsky, whose magnum opus History of Ukraine-Rus (2) made him a distinctly Ukrainian figure in the public eye, called for a second uprising from exile in Galicia. Nationalist poetry and literature circulated underground, as writers played cat-and-mouse with the secret police. Hrushevsky’s works were disguised as Bibles (3); people secretly studied the mother tongue. Austria-Hungary became a refuge for Ukrainians, as the war’s aftermath kept the Okhrana (4) out of Lemberg. Emperor Karl was sympathetic to the Galicians who slipped across the border to fight.

Had Ukraine erupted in 1917, it might have finished off Tsar Michael’s regime. As it was, the land remained under de facto martial law. Although governors and mayors officially ran the oblasts, cold hard steel kept the Ukrainians down. When the spring harvest came in 1917, peasants took enough for their families and hid the rest. Soldiers thus had to force peasants to work at gunpoint, which cost time, resources, and morale. The autumn harvest was no better.

Tsar Michael was torn. On the one hand, his liberal instincts told him to trade autonomy for cooperation. Grain was more valuable than pride. But as he watched the Croat crisis drive Hungary into revolt, the Tsar decided on conservatism. Compromise would validate the empire’s minorities, releasing forces outside his control; Russian chauvinism would keep the ship of state moving. So, the capital’s bread queues lengthened.

The empire’s Muslim minorities proved equally troublesome. More than one in ten imperial subjects prayed facing Mecca (5), and harboured a tradition of periodic rebellion. The war had taught them that the foreigners weren’t omnipotent, and many began dreaming of independence. The Ottoman sultan, whose status as Caliph gave him nominal suzerainty over all Muslims, was happy to encourage this. Russian influence in Persia had weakened, as the garrison moved to stem the feldgrau flood. Its border with Central Asia was long, while the Caucasus had plenty of ill-guarded passes which a knowledgeable man could slip through. Azeris and Uzbeks found plenty of nationalist literature wrapped around a rifle. Though the Uzbeks, Turkmens, Azeris, and Chechens were fatigued- conscription-related unrest which had flared up at the end of the war had been brutally suppressed- the most Tsar Michael could pray for was that the next round of violence didn’t come too soon.

His prayers would end up unanswered.

Ethnic Russians were no less of a headache. Tsar Michael believed a British-style constitutional monarchy where he’d share power with the Duma (parliament) to be the only way to prevent revolution. Reaction created a stiff structure which a strong breeze would break; reform created a flexible one. As the cornerstone of the system, Michael couldn’t suddenly abandon authoritarianism.Post-revolution Russian politics were so unstable that if Michael didn’t maintain a firm hand on the tiller, things would spiral out of control. Part of the problem was the Prime Minister. Prince Georgy Lvov was a longtime liberal who’d briefly aligned with Julius Martov in the September Revolution, but then repented and defected back to the Tsar in exchange for the Prime Ministership. This violated protocol, but Michael agreed. If he didn’t accept Lvov’s offer, he might not be able to rein the revolution in. Now, he was forced to pay the price.

Prime Minister Boris Sturmer, a Russian of Baltic German descent, was sacked in October 1916. Sturmer was outraged, and from then on was radically opposed to Michael and Lvov (though ironically, he was just as liberal as they were). Sturmer drifted to the right in the New Year, and made a famous speech in February attributing the loss of the Great War to a stab in the back from ‘subversive Martovists’. However, conservatives never embraced the former Prime Minister. His liberal past made his new rhetoric seem like political grandstanding, while the loss of his Baltic estates had rendered him bankrupt. Sturmer faded into irrelevance, and his assasination in July by a crazed nationalist (who referred to him as ‘the German Prime Minister’) attracted minimal attention.

Tsar Michael represented everything aristocrats had always feared- a weak-willed man who couldn’t stand up to liberalism. His failure to resist the ‘Martovist stab-in-the-back’ (virtually everyone on the right brought into this conspiracy), had reduced the empire to its smallest size in a hundred years. Michael’s opposition to Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality- the troika which the tsars had governed by for sixty years- menaced the status quo. “Before the war”, said one Russian conservative, “we feared outside forces eroding the power of the Tsar. But we were mistaken. The idea that the Tsar would erode that power of his own free will never crossed our minds!” To them, Lvov was a traitor (they remembered his affiliation with Martov), and Michael was a Trojan horse designed to give the reformers everything they wanted to lay the groundwork for the next attempt at revolution. It was nonsense, but when viewed from a reactionary perspective it made sense. To right-wing nobles- the one group who’d thrived before 1914 as Tsar Nicholas’ regime had catered to them in exchange for political support- Michael’s talk of reform was gravely offensive.

All this gave way to a conspiracy which convinced the Tsar he was under attack from his right as well as his left.

Nicholas II had survived the September Revolution. He and his family had fled the capital for Tsarskoe Selo, where he’d ceded the crown to his brother. As 1917 opened, Nicholas found himself shut out of power. Michael refused to let Nicholas return to Petrograd or live at Tsarskoe Selo for fear of popular anger. The former Tsar spent Christmas in Moscow before purchasing a lavish estate near Smolensk, where he slid into depression. Michael was taking the empire in an ominous direction, and he genuinely believed his brother’s life was in danger. Any moment, Nicholas told himself, revolution would return to the capital. If only he hadn’t abandoned the throne, the country wouldn’t be in this mess! Nicholas’ personal life offered no respite. His four daughters found their social circles and material wealth much diminished and their marriage prospects dead. Paranoia over assassins led Nicholas to forbid them from leaving the estate unescorted. They took their frustrations out on one another, and Nicholas rapidly grew sick of hearing their arguments. His wife Alexandra turned bitter, isolating herself in a separate bedroom where she wrote tortured letters to her friends. The real worry, though, was his son Alexei. The boy had been raised to believe that he’d be emperor one day, and believed that his ‘Uncle Michael’ had stolen the crown from him. Alexei grieved over the loss of most of his personal effects, having to leave the lavish Winter Palace for the relatively small estate, and the death of his healer Rasputin. (7) He gave vent to his depression and anger through rebellion, screaming at his relatives with a sharp tongue for a thirteen-year-old boy. Nicholas’ worry wasn’t over his son’s behaviour- Alexei had always been spoiled- but his health. With Rasputin dead, there was no one who could treat his son’s chronic hemophilia. If Alexei so much as nicked himself with a pencil, he might bleed to death. Nicholas didn’t see much of the boy because Alexandra kept him in her bedroom for days at a time, never letting him out of her sight for fear that he’d injure himself and even making him sleep in her bed. The former Tsar agonised over his son’s health and screamed at his wife to let him see his own boy, while Alexei pulled his mum’s sheets over his head and sobbed.

The inevitable happened on 18 April 1917. Alexei, in a troublesome mood that day, snuck into his father’s bedroom and stole several of his medals. The family butler yelled at him to give them back, but the boy ran to a second-floor window and threatened to throw them out. He lost his balance and tumbled to the paved road. He howled like a wolf in a trap as his sisters carried him inside. Alexei’s left wrist and nose were broken and one of his front teeth was chipped. Had he been alive, Rasputin would’ve healed the boy, but the finest doctors in Smolensk weren’t up to the task. Poor Alexei bled in bed for three hours. His skin turned pale, and by sunset he was chalky white. Alexandra and Nicholas stayed by his bedside all night as every trick in the doctor’s book failed. Shortly before midnight on 18 April 1917, Alexei Romanov died at fourteen years old.

Alexei’s death threw everyone into mourning black and bottomless depression. Alexandra remained in her room, fasting and praying with the door locked and curtains closed. A servant brought kasha on a plate once every eight hours, but she seldom had any appetite. Nicholas found solace in long horse rides along the perimeter of the estate, but also in that time-honoured Russian escape: the vodka bottle. In late-night rages fuelled by drink, he cursed “my fucking thief of a brother”, “traitors” (generally understood to mean anyone less reactionary than him), “my lying cousin Wilhelm”, “misery-guts” (Alexandra) and “that scamp Alexei”. (How the boy’s death was his own fault is an excellent question). He would pound on Alexandra’s door, demanding to talk to her, but the lock and bolt defied him. More than once, he went to Alexei’s bedroom and sobbed his eyes out, kicking the walls and cursing misfortune. His actions were indefensible, but he was acting from a dark place, trying to exhume a year of untrammelled pain. The former emperor’s eyes grew bleary and his stomach expanded. It’s a miracle that no one in the ‘family’ (if it could be called that) attempted suicide.

It was in this state that Nicholas received a special visitor.

Ivan Goremykin personified discontent with the current Michael-Lvov regime. Born to noblemen in 1839, he’d entered the civil service in his late twenties and spent the past half-century as a conservative firebrand. Goremykin believed Michael was verging on treason by refusing to play the part of God’s representative on earth, while Georgy Lvov was a traitor who’d lied his way into power. Needless to say, in Goremykin’s mind the Rodina had been stabbed in the back by Jewish Martovists.
Goremykin hoped to persuade Nicholas to return to power for the sake not just of Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality, but to save the empire’s soul.
Getting into the estate was a challenge. Alexandra took mourning extremely seriously and while she couldn’t prevent her husband going for his horseback ride (her one attempt had ended with her nursing a black eye), she prohibited visitors from entering. Goremykin tried to reason with her- the two had been close before the war- but she would not budge. The old Alexandra had been replaced by a different woman with all the life sucked out of her, and nothing Nicholas could do or say could change that. Eventually, though, Nicholas had an idea. On the first of June 1917, Nicholas went out for his horseback ride and galloped off the estate, where Goremykin waited. Nicholas smiled for the first time in months at thwarting his wife’s will, and the two men got down to business. The situation, Goremykin said, was grave. Michael was planning to call a constitutional convention to become a ceremonial monarch, but that was just the beginning. Georgy Lvov wasn’t the only ex-revolutionary whom Michael was courting; he planned to legalise the banned Mensheviks and Bolsheviks with the end goal of turning Russia into a republic! Nicholas hung onto every word. Now it all made sense! Michael hadn’t taken the throne in September 1916 to save the monarchy, but to undermine it! He, Nicholas, was too strong a defender of the old order for revolutionaries to fell him, so they’d placed Michael on the throne. Or, perhaps the truth was even worse and Michael had engineered the September Revolution. After all, Karl Marx predicted two revolutions- a liberal bourgeois one followed by a socialist one. In Nicholas’ tortured state, Goremykin’s lies made sense. The implication of what needed doing was all too clear. Nicholas could remain on this estate with his ruined family, watching the colour and soul drain from his wife as the Motherland succumbed to socialism, or he could come with Goremykin.

Leaving the horse to make its own way home, Nicholas got into Goremykin’s car.

As soon as she realised Nicholas had left, Alexandra had a nervous breakdown. She lay screaming and crying on the floor for hours, biting the carpets while the girls wept in their room. Grief and stress eventually felled her, and she died on the fifth of August. She was forty-three years old, and had spent twenty-three years as Empress of Russia.

Meanwhile, Nicholas and Goremykin travelled to the latter’s estate, where several of the country’s most reactionary politicians were present. Alexander Krivoshein, Alexander Dubrovin, Vladimir Purishkevich, Nikolay Markov, and Alexander Trishatny gave Nicholas a standing ovation as he entered the sitting-room. Goremykin led the men in an off-key rendition of ‘God Save the Tsar’, and they all bowed very formally. Together, the men composed a manifesto to the people. Nicholas was alive and well, and as such there was no reason for Michael to rule. He was casting “unbearable shame and disgrace” upon the “God-ordained throne of Protector of all the Russias” with his “liberalising instinct running counter to the divine principles of Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality.” For the good of the country, Michael should retrocede the crown to Nicholas. One by one, the men signed.

Tsar Michael was livid. He loved Nicholas as a brother and respected him as a political ally, but this was unacceptable. On 1 September, he travelled to Goremykin’s estate, escorted by a company of soldiers. Wearing a plain military uniform without medals, he personally knocked on Goremykin’s front door. “It is the Tsar”, he said, “the man you claim to venerate. I am going to speak with my brother.” The sound of stomping boots surely dissipated dreams of resistance. Escorted by handpicked guards, Tsar Michael strode into the sitting-room. “My good men”, he said, a chuckle concealing his anger, “I thought you believed in Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality! Stand up for your Tsar.” Everyone did so, their eyes trained not on their monarch but his bodyguards. “Escort these gentlemen out.” The bodyguards complied, leaving him alone with Nicholas.


Ivan Goremykin: the first in a long line of nobles who tried to remove Tsar Michael
ivan goremykin.jpg

* * *

They sat across a coffee table from one another. Tsar Michael offered his brother a cigar; he declined. Michael smiled sadly. “Nikolai Alexandrovich”, he said, “this facade must cease. I am the Tsar, God’s representative on Earth. You gave me that power.”

“And you have abused it, Mikhail Alexandrovich! I entrusted you to save the monarchy, not to run it into the ground and reduce it to a hollow caricature!” Nicholas’ eyebrows, turned grey by stress, shot up. “To defend Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality, not run them into the ground!”

“And how well did you defend them?” Michael smiled silently as his brother squirmed. “Can you say the Rodina was stronger in September of 1916 than it was when our father passed away all those years ago?”

“Can you claim, brother, that it is stronger today than when I was swindled out of power?”

“I believe so, Nikolai Alexandrovich.” Michael’s smile lacked warmth. “If the Germans are still shelling Petrograd, they are being terribly quiet these days!”

“You… you swineherd!” Nicholas leapt from the armchair. “You have ruined me, stolen my crown, and…” He swallowed hard. “You have caused my Alexei to pass on.” The former Tsar ran a hand through his thinning hair.

“I am sorry”, Michael sighed. “I truly am, Nikolai Alexandrovich. You may rest assured that I shall pray for the repose of the boy who is my own nephew. But you must understand that this petition of yours”- he idly picked up the document- “is meaningless. If you and these good Russians truly love the institutions of State, you will let them be.” The Tsar’s heart felt like a stone as he stood up and stared his brother in the eye. “If these gentlemen do not cease and desist, I shall have no choice but to place them under arrest.”

“You cannot mean that, Mikhail Alexandrovich!” Colour rushed to Nicholas’ face. “I, the rightful Tsar, treated like a common criminal. Why…”

“No, there you are mistaken.” Now the ice flowed from Michael’s lips. “You, my brother, are no longer the Tsar and never shall be again. In fact… in fact, my brother, I would encourage you to return to the estate near Smolensk and pack your case. I am not ordering you to do this- you may reject my advice and no prosecution will ensue- but I believe it would be advantageous if you were to depart the empire.”

Izgnanie?” Nicholas spat it out- exile- like a vile curse. “I will not be bundled up and exiled from my homeland like a common criminal sent to count trees in Siberian fields!!”
“I am sorry, Nikolai Alexandrovich. But I cannot take the risk that you will move against my crown. As this incident has shown, there are those in the empire who wish to restore you to power. One way or another, I must isolate you from them. The alternatives to a life abroad…” The clock ticked.

“I… I am a Romanov.” Nicholas appeared to be staring into space, at something Michael couldn’t see. A life all alone, where no one cared who he was or who he’d been. A life where his status as Tsar was meaningless, as the world had moved on, much as one’s childhood accomplishments are moot in the real world. Michael stared at Nicholas staring into the precipice. Was that vodka he saw in his brother’s eyes? “This is all I have ever known. I have nothing else outside this empire. Alix is… is dead. They will not take me in Hesse, I know that. In fact, it would not surprise me in the least if I was thrown out, cast aside, blamed for her death. Mikhail Alexandrovich, what am I to do?”
“Remember the alternative, Nikolai Alexandrovich.” Guilt tore at the Tsar as he abandoned his brother. But what else could he do? Casting aside Nicholas would be wrong; casting aside his throne would be worse. “Think of your four daughters and your own honour.” Michael opened the door. “You can come in now, gentlemen!” Bayonets trained on them, the others entered. “Nikolai Alexandrovich has something he wishes to say.”

Da”. Nausea swelled up inside the former emperor as he gestured to the man he’d once loved as a brother. “God Save the Tsar.”

* * *
This incident left Tsar Michael fearful for his crown. Being liberal, he discovered, was the worst of both worlds. Radicals wanted to crush him as an agent of oppression, while moderates criticised him for not moving fast enough. Yet, the people who’d backed his brother’s regime were just as hostile to him as Julius Martov. Those for whom Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality were as sacred as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost viewed Michael a heretic. Ironically, their loathing of him was predicated not around his over-use of power but rather his not using it enough; they would’ve been fine with him reigning absolutely if he did so like a ‘proper Tsar’. However, there was no respect between them. Michael recognised that the petition to reinstate his brother had been the first stumbling step towards a coup d’etat. Sending Nicholas and the girls to Germany would hopefully help, but could only do so much. Purging the elite not only ran counter to his liberal worldview, it was beyond the power of even the dreaded Okhrana and would surely have brought an immediate reaction.

It was a strange world indeed when the Russian Tsar feared overthrow for being too liberal.

None of this deterred Michael. A reactionary coup might kill him but couldn’t destroy the institutions of state. A coup that murdered the rightful Tsar and installed a distant relative in the name of Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality would look very foolish. And besides, a quarter millennium of authoritarianism had taught the Russian secret police a trick or two, while Michael did have a son to pass the crown to if worse came to worst. Atrophy was the bigger threat; the damage done by the ossifying system had greatly harmed the Rodina without paving the way for change. Michael believed he could succeed where Karl of Austria-Hungary was presently failing; reforming the monarchy and institutions to modernise them without opening the door to chaos. As Christmas 1917 approached, he planned a constitutional convention for the new year. Before he could do that, though, he had to convene the Russian parliament. Duma elections were scheduled for every five years, and the last had been in 1912. Russia’s tiny electorate would thus go to the polls in January 1918; the Fifth Duma would assemble three weeks after that. Ideally, Michael told himself, his realm would be a modern constitutional monarchy a year hence.

Little did he know how things would go wrong…

Comments?

  1. See chapter 35
  2. Entirely OTL. I was very much inspired here by Anne Applebaum’s incredible (and incredibly depressing) Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine. Let’s sincerely hope such a book never needs to be written ITTL!
  3. Totally off-topic: the idea came to me as I was reading an online article about underground Christianity in Maoist China. Apparently, individual Gospels were translated into Chinese and disguised as Little Red Books, with several ‘disguise’ pages containing images of Mao just to be on the safe side. Why couldn’t that happen in reverse, I asked myself? And there you have it… ;)
  4. Tsarist secret police.
  5. The 1897 census said 11.07%, but that’s including the Christian lands lost at Konigsberg, so the percentage would be considerably higher.
 
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The Daughters of Nicholas
To tie up a loose end from the chapter:

The four girls lived happier lives. Along with their maternal aunt Elisabeth, they were sent to live in Hesse, where their mother’s side of the family hailed from. Michael gave them a generous allowance, and they were treated well by Elisabeth’s brother, the Grand Duke.

  • Olga, the eldest, married a minor noble from Saxony five years later and spent the rest of her life in Dresden, dying in 1988 at the ripe old age of 95 and leaving five children and twelve grandchildren behind.
  • Tatiana defied the many suitors she found in Germany, and moved to Vladivostok in 1927, where she spent her last forty-three years in a convent.
  • Maria left Hesse at the start of 1918 and married Prince Kiril of Preslav. After her husband’s death in 1967, she quietly returned to Petrograd, where she died in 1970. Her children and grandchildren remain in Bulgaria to the present.
  • Finally, Anastasia lived in Hesse for a year before marrying the American vice-ambassador, whom she met at a soiree in Berlin to which her uncle was invited. They moved to California but divorced after only two years; she never remarried. She subsequently entered the film industry and became a respected celebrity in 1920s America. Anastasia became an active supporter of a Romanov restoration and partnered with an up-and-coming German filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl, in 1936 to produce The Riddle, an allegory of her family and exile. She died in a motor accident in 1947. Her memoirs, published posthumously, are read today by monarchists the world over.
 
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This is my favorite chapter yet. You portrayed the emotions well, IMO.
Thank you very much! I really tried to give the much-maligned Tsar Nicholas a human aspect hee.
I have a question. What is Pavlo Skoropadsky doing right now?
EDIT:I like this chapter as well
Glad you like it. Skoropadsky is currently playing Quisling in Ukraine, trying to present himself as a "respectable" Ukrainian and advocate of Tsarism at the same time.
Ominous music in the background, while you were writing this?
Haha, no. Her death really was an accident. Unfortunately, by 1947 the Romanovs will be so irrelevant that bumping a daughter of Nicholas' off wouldn't achieve much if anything.
Poor Mikhail :(

Very good story so far, though, and it would be fairly unbelievable for none of the great monarchies to fall amidst the disaster of WW1. If not the Ottomans or Habsburgs, the Romanovs seem a likely target.
Yeah. I feel for him- I've placed him in an untenable position- but I just don't see the Romanov Dynasty surviving intact from defeat in the Great War.
 
And once again, the Germans prove themselves better than the British. IOTL, despite being allies, the British refused sanctuary to the Tsar. Yet here, despite being enemies barely a year ago, the former Tsar finds sanctuary in Germany.
 
And once again, the Germans prove themselves better than the British. IOTL, despite being allies, the British refused sanctuary to the Tsar. Yet here, despite being enemies barely a year ago, the former Tsar finds sanctuary in Germany.
I wouldn't be surprised if the enemy status is part of the reason; sure Nicholas isn't exactly a hostage or a useful puppet if you ever need him... but it might feel that way? ;)
 
I wouldn't be surprised if the enemy status is part of the reason; sure Nicholas isn't exactly a hostage or a useful puppet if you ever need him... but it might feel that way? ;)
and it is also the psychology of power, germany defeated him, and now he comes crawling to germany (pretty much) begging for asylum. it just increases the humiliation for nicholas, and makes wilhelm look better.
 
I wouldn't be surprised if the enemy status is part of the reason; sure Nicholas isn't exactly a hostage or a useful puppet if you ever need him... but it might feel that way? ;)
and it is also the psychology of power, germany defeated him, and now he comes crawling to germany (pretty much) begging for asylum. it just increases the humiliation for nicholas, and makes wilhelm look better.
True on both counts, but given Britain's reputation as, well, Perfidious Albion, there's still the impression of 'with friends like Britain, who needs enemies like Germany?'
 
Am I the only one who didn't like the chapter due to the portrayal of the Romanov family? Correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I've read and seen of them, while Nicholas was a pretty shit ruler who was disconnected from his empire, his best trait was that he was a loving father and husband who would do anything for his family. When Nicholas lost his throne and was kept under house arrest by the Bolsheviks he grew worse mentally but still did his best for his family. Here he's straight up abusive to his wife and kids, calls his daughters bitches and fights with Alexi, and just becomes a narcissistic power-hungry drunk despite things being better for the dynasty. Yes I can imagine with different circumstances that Nicholas would be a worse person, but not take a complete OOC 180 into stereotypical beer belly abusive stepdad.

The other portrayals weren't more better with Alexei becoming a total brat and disregarding everyone around him because he's not going to be a Prince, the Princesses losing all sense of responsibility to the family and just rebelling for the sake of it, and Alexandra turning into a looney toon and literally dying because her husband left her. Wilhelm up til now I've really liked your narrative chapters that focus on individuals, families, and groups because you portray all sides as human, don't fall into typical Alternatehistory tropes, and excellently portray the strengths and flaws of all. Yet this chapter took a massive departure in quality and just went straight into the uncanney valley.

Maybe I'm wrong and the Romanovs did have the potential to act like this, but when I read the update I didn't feel like I was reading the narrative of a family who fell from grace and falls apart in depression, it felt like I was reading political satire on crack.
 
Am I the only one who didn't like the chapter due to the portrayal of the Romanov family? Correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I've read and seen of them, while Nicholas was a pretty shit ruler who was disconnected from his empire, his best trait was that he was a loving father and husband who would do anything for his family. When Nicholas lost his throne and was kept under house arrest by the Bolsheviks he grew worse mentally but still did his best for his family. Here he's straight up abusive to his wife and kids, calls his daughters bitches and fights with Alexi, and just becomes a narcissistic power-hungry drunk despite things being better for the dynasty. Yes I can imagine with different circumstances that Nicholas would be a worse person, but not take a complete OOC 180 into stereotypical beer belly abusive stepdad.

The other portrayals weren't more better with Alexei becoming a total brat and disregarding everyone around him because he's not going to be a Prince, the Princesses losing all sense of responsibility to the family and just rebelling for the sake of it, and Alexandra turning into a looney toon and literally dying because her husband left her. Wilhelm up til now I've really liked your narrative chapters that focus on individuals, families, and groups because you portray all sides as human, don't fall into typical Alternatehistory tropes, and excellently portray the strengths and flaws of all. Yet this chapter took a massive departure in quality and just went straight into the uncanney valley.

Maybe I'm wrong and the Romanovs did have the potential to act like this, but when I read the update I didn't feel like I was reading the narrative of a family who fell from grace and falls apart in depression, it felt like I was reading political satire on crack.
You're not wrong, though I was more caught on the ending scene. To be fair, I probably focused on that bit too much, and agree with your characterization of the Romanovs.
 
Am I the only one who didn't like the chapter due to the portrayal of the Romanov family? Correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I've read and seen of them, while Nicholas was a pretty shit ruler who was disconnected from his empire, his best trait was that he was a loving father and husband who would do anything for his family. When Nicholas lost his throne and was kept under house arrest by the Bolsheviks he grew worse mentally but still did his best for his family. Here he's straight up abusive to his wife and kids, calls his daughters bitches and fights with Alexi, and just becomes a narcissistic power-hungry drunk despite things being better for the dynasty. Yes I can imagine with different circumstances that Nicholas would be a worse person, but not take a complete OOC 180 into stereotypical beer belly abusive stepdad.

The other portrayals weren't more better with Alexei becoming a total brat and disregarding everyone around him because he's not going to be a Prince, the Princesses losing all sense of responsibility to the family and just rebelling for the sake of it, and Alexandra turning into a looney toon and literally dying because her husband left her. Wilhelm up til now I've really liked your narrative chapters that focus on individuals, families, and groups because you portray all sides as human, don't fall into typical Alternatehistory tropes, and excellently portray the strengths and flaws of all. Yet this chapter took a massive departure in quality and just went straight into the uncanney valley.

Maybe I'm wrong and the Romanovs did have the potential to act like this, but when I read the update I didn't feel like I was reading the narrative of a family who fell from grace and falls apart in depression, it felt like I was reading political satire on crack.
Well, that's a fair criticism. My portrayal of the Romanovs here was largely inspired by this excerpt:

Alexandra's health was never robust and her frequent pregnancies, with four daughters in six years and her son three years after, drew from her energy. Her biographers, including Robert Massie, Carrolly Erickson, Greg King, and Peter Kurth, attribute the semi-invalidism of her later years to nervous exhaustion from obsessive worry over the fragile tsarevich, who suffered from hemophilia. She spent most of her time in bed or reclining on a chaise in her boudoir or on a veranda. This immobility enabled her to avoid the social occasions that she found distasteful. Alexandra regularly took a herbal medicine known as Adonis Vernalis in order to regulate her pulse. She was constantly tired, slept badly, and complained of swollen feet. She ate little, but never lost weight. She may have suffered from Graves Disease (hyperthyroidism), a condition resulting in high levels of the thyroid hormone, which can also result in atrial fibrillation, poor heartbeat and lack of energy.[119]
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexandra_Feodorovna_(Alix_of_Hesse)#Relationship_with_her_children)
Given how extremely seriously Alexandra took her son's health (coupled with the natural grief any mother would feel at losing her son), I do feel that Alexei's death would have had the potential to seriously impact her mental health. Maybe her untimely death is a stretch, but certainly her sliding into a major depression doesn't seem out of character at all.

According to this podcast (a considerable source of inspiration), the Tsarevich was something of a rebellious kid, perhaps as a reaction to being so heavily cloistered.

As for Nicholas, while I haven't read any accounts of his time at Tsarskoe Selo in OTL (does such a thing even exist?), it doesn't seem out-of-character for him to become greatly depressed with his son dead and crown gone.

That said, I understand where your criticisms stem from and hope you'll stick around with the TL. I may end up doing some retconning though.
 
I wouldn't be surprised if the enemy status is part of the reason; sure Nicholas isn't exactly a hostage or a useful puppet if you ever need him... but it might feel that way? ;)
I mean given how much the man fucked up... the Russkies might just say “shoot him, please will provide the bullets”... which got a lot darker now that I thought this out
 
Tbf its also more likely for Germany to give him asylum because Nicky and Willy were very close remember.

Also tbh traumatic effects can change a man, so Nicholas becoming like this, especially after becoming an addict makes perfect sense. Addiction can make you real mean.
 
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