1812: Mysterious Death of
Russian Emperor Alexander I

Death of Alexander I in Taganrog (19th century lithograph)

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The more famous a person is, the more mysteries and myths surround his life and death. The Russian Emperor Alexander I was no exception.

After Russiaís triumphant victory over France in 1812, Alexanderís popularity skyrocketed, ranking him among the most influential European celebrities. Ten years after, he was still basking in fame, and then suddenly it all changed, as if something cracked his soul and he was no longer the man he used to be. Alexander repeatedly confessed to his family that he would like to abdicate and retire to a secluded abode amidst pristine nature. He became much more religious and eyewitness memoirs claim that he spent hours talking with priests, hermits and all sorts of fortune-tellers in private.

Alexanderís biographers suggest that the Emperor made up his mind to withdraw from state affairs in 1825. He had a secret and elaborate escape plan but let no one into it. Subsequent developments prove that his plan did work, if, of course, those were not bizarre coincidences beyond his control and if there is any grain of truth behind all those legends surrounding the Emperorís last days.

In the summer of 1825, Alexander advised his wife, Empress Elizabeth, who had fallen gravely ill, to move away from the hustle and bustle of St. Petersburg to the city of Taganrog on the Sea of Azov where the mild southern climate was supposed to do her good, an idea she was only too glad to accept. In early September, Alexander himself left for Taganrog to have everything ready for his wifeís arrival. Many were surprised that he did it in half secrecy and was escorted by just several most-trusted servants and aides, and not a full escort. Elizabeth was quick to follow him to Taganrog. She indeed felt much better there after a few week of intensive therapy.

The follow-up shocking events were utterly unforeseen. All of a sudden, Alexander came down with a severe cold. His condition deteriorated so rapidly that the doctors were helpless. The 14th Russian Emperor died on November 1 at the age of 48. His body was transferred to St. Petersburg and buried in the Peter and Paul Fortress with full imperial honors.

Thatís the official version, but there are also eyewitness accounts that make it pretty much doubtful. A soldier who was on guard outside the Emperorís residence in Taganrog the night before Alexanderís death claimed to have seen a tall man slip out of the house through the back door and walk hurriedly into the dark. The soldier swore that he had recognized the Emperor as he reported the incident to a superior officer but the latter burst out laughing, saying: ďAre you mad? Our emperor is on his death bedĒ.

Rumor spread that someone else had been buried as Alexander, who looked very much like him and who died a few days before Alexanderís death was announced. The coffin was kept closed throughout the visitation and funeral, which led some to suspect that there was no body at all.

Suppose Alexander did not die, then where could he possibly have gone? A few years after the emperorís funeral, a mysterious hermit, Fyodor Kuzmich, emerged in Siberia. He was tall and stately, with blue eyes and a handsome regular face, very well-educated and well-informed about the nuances of court life. He bore a striking resemblance to Emperor Alexander I. A former soldier exclaimed in amazement, upon seeing the hermit: ďGood Heavens! Itís our Czar Alexander!Ē

The story spread fast across Siberia. Police arrested and interrogated the suspicious hermit but then released him because he hadnít committed any offense. He died in 1864 after traveling a lot around Siberia. Suppose hermit Fyodor was indeed Emperor Alexander, then he must have been 87 by that time, which means that he lived anonymously almost 40 years after his fictitious death, leading a secluded way of life and in harmony with nature, just as he had dreamed. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to prove it.

Source: Voice of Russia
3 December, 2010