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Chapter II
Star-Crossed Lovers

The obscure German princess was not considered a worthy match for Nicholas. But, sure in his love for Alexandra, he overcame opposition and proposed

As the heir to the throne, the Tsarevich Nicholas lived very much under the shadow of his father. Alexander III was a powerful Tsar. He crushed all who opposed him, but he also helped modernize Russia. Under his rule, new roads, railways, and factories were built. As a child, Nicholas could feel only awe at all his father's achievements.

At 21, Nicholas was popular and likeable, if slightly shy and timid. He spoke fluent German and French, as well as English with a perfect upper-class accent. He was a fine horseman, a superb dancer and an excellent shot.

After their first meeting, Nicholas did not forget the beautiful Princess Alix, nor she him. But in 1889, aged 17, she received a marriage proposal from Prince Albert Victor, known as Prince Eddy, the eldest son of the Prince of Wales.

Queen Victoria wrote to a friend: "I hear all hope of Alicky's marrying Eddy is at an end. She has written to tell him how it pains her to part him, but she cannot marry him, much as she likes him as a cousin, that she knows she would not be happy with him and that he would not be happy with her."

The Next Meeting

In the spring of 1889, when Alix visited Russia again to stay with her sister Ella in St. Petersburg, Nicholas became a frequent visitor to the house. The attraction between the couple was stronger than ever.

Alix was tall, with long golden tresses and stunning blue-grey eyes. Outwardly, she was serious and somewhat shy, but Nicholas sensed the great passions lay beneath her cool exterior.

He took her out ice skating, and in the evenings escorted her to balls and concerts and even managed to persuade his parents to organize a tea-dance for her.

Socially, however, Alix's visit was not a success. Her clothes appeared plain compared to the rich society women. Unfortunately for Nicholas, his parents opposed any closer liaison between the couple. The Tsar wanted to marry his son and heir to a French noblewoman in order to strengthen Russia's alliance with France. Alix was minor German royalty and, because she was an extremely devout Protestant, it was assumed that she would never agree to convert to the Russian Orthodox Church--as would inevitably be required of her.

And so they parted. Alix had fallen in love with Nicholas but she hid it carefully at first. It was only on her return to Darmstadt that she realized she had left her heart in Russia.

Nicholas, left in Russia, had little else to do at the age of 22 but enjoy the life of a bachelor. He forsook his official duties in favor of an endless round of balls, receptions and private parties. He had also received an excellent military education from his tutor, General Danilov, and his tastes and interests were typical of the average young Russian Guards officer of his day. Nicholas had been given command of a squadron of horse guards by his father, and he often went with them to their barracks at Krasnoe Selo outside St. Petersburg.

It was about this time, in 1890, that Nicholas began to receive the ardent attentions of a brilliant young ballerina from the Imperial Ballet, Mathilde Kschessinska. Mathilde was convinced that the heir to the throne was in love with her, as she undoubtedly was with him.

Enduring Love

Nicholas, although attentive to Mathilde, had still not forgotten Alix. On hearing that she had returned to Russia to visit her sister at her country estate, Nicholas wrote, with great emotion, in his diary, "Oh Lord, how I want to go to visit her there! If I do not see her now, I shall have to wait a whole year and that will be hard."

In a state of almost unbearable longing to see his love again, Nicholas departed, in October 1890, on a long and arduous Royal tour.

Accompanied by his brother George, his cousin, Prince George of Greece, and several Russian noblemen, he went to Athens and then to Egypt. He journeyed eastward to Hong Kong, Saigon, Singapore and Bangkok, where he was received by the King of Siam. During his visit to Japan, he was almost murdered when he was attacked by a Japanese swordsman.

On his return to St. Petersburg, Nicholas became involved again with the ballerina, Kschessinska.

But still he could not forget his blonde Princess; in the summer of 1892, he wrote in his diary: "My dream is to one day marry Alix H. I have loved her for a long time, and still deeper and stronger since 1889, when she spent six weeks in St. Petersburg. For a long time, I resisted my feeling that my dream will come true."

At last, in the spring of 1894, his chance came. The most prominent members of the European aristocracy were due to gather in Germany for the wedding in Coburg of Alix's brother, Ernest. Nicholas went straight to his father, declared his love for Alix and begged him to relent and allow him finally to propose marriage to her when they were in Coburg.

The Tsar was reluctant. This was not what he had hoped for and planned for his son. Now, for the first time in his life, Nicholas stood up to his father and said that if he could not marry Alix, then he would never marry. Alarmed at this prospect, the Tsar eventually relented.

In April 1894, Nicholas, accompanied by three of his uncles, boarded a train from St. Petersburg for Coburg. Alix was waiting at the station, and that evening, as they dined together, they could scarcely contain their excitement at being together once more.

The Long-Awaited Proposal

The following morning, Nicholas went to Alix's rooms and proposed. Later, he wrote in his diary: "She looked particularly pretty, but extremely sad. They left us alone and then began between us the talk that I had long ago so strongly wanted and, at the same time, very much feared. We talked till twelve, but with no result; she still objects to changing her religion. Poor girl, she cried a lot. But she was calmer when we parted."

It was a crisis for Alix. Torn between her love and her religion, she cried a great deal that day, whispering again and again the chilling words "No, I cannot." Fortunately for Nicholas, help was at hand. Queen Victoria, who was in Coburg for the wedding, did her best to persuade Alix to accept Nicholas and agree to convert to Russian Orthodoxy. Alix's family also advised her to consent. On the day after the wedding, Alix's resistance crumbled.

A Day of Joy

"Today is the first day of my engagement to my darling, adorable Alix," wrote Nicholas. "A marvelous, unforgettable day. Oh God, what a mountain has rolled from my shoulders. The whole day I have been walking in a dream, without fully realizing what has been happening to me."

After breakfast, the radiant couple went to have coffee with Queen Victoria, who was delighted with the engagement and reveled in the company of the young lovers.

Ten days of bliss followed, during which the couple walked, talked and dined together.

Recalling the opposition to the match, Alix wrote a moving letter to the Empress who replied to Nicholas: "Alix is quite like a daughter to me now." As a token of her new-found love and respect, the Empress sent Alix a superb Easter egg inlaid with precious gems and designed by the great Russian jeweler, Faberge.

Soon, the time approached when the couple had to part. Alone, they were tender and relaxed with each other. To Nicholas, who had waited so long, it felt unnatural for them to be apart even for one night. He spent the last evening with her alone. "How good we were together. A paradise," he wrote. Both Nicholas and Alix had realized how much happier they were in each other's company than with strangers, with whom they both felt uneasy.

Sadly for the happy couple, Nicholas soon had to return to his family in Russia. "Only now, I am wearing a ring on my finger. It makes me feel strange," he said.

A month later, the couple reunited in England and traveled to Walton-on-Thames to stay with Alix's eldest sister. At Windsor, they stayed with a delighted Victoria. Here, Nicholas presented his engagement gifts to Alix, which included a priceless sapphire and diamond brooch and a sautoir of pearls also created by Faberge, a gift from the Tsar.

in England, the couple became godparents to "David", the future Edward VIII, a king destined to lose his throne. Before leaving England, Alix wrote in her fiancÚ's diary: "I am yours, you are mine, of that be sure. You are locked in my heart, the little key is lost and now you must stay there forever."

The New Tsar

But their joy was suddenly and cruelly interrupted. Nicholas had returned to Russia to find Tsar Alexander III seriously ill. Alix was summoned at once. For ten tormented days, they kept a vigil at his bedside. But it was to no avail. In the presence of the whole Imperial Family, Father John of Kronstadt performed the last rites. Alexander died on 1 November 1894 and Nicholas II became the new Tsar.

The next morning, in the presence of Nicholas and the Empress Marie, Alix was received into the Russian Orthodox Church. "Even in our great grief, God gives us a sweet and luminous joy," wrote Nicholas. "At ten o'clock in the presence of the family, my dear Alix has been consecrated to Orthodoxy." After the service, Alix, Marie and Nicholas took Holy Communion together. When they returned to the Palace, the Tsar issued his first Imperial Decree, proclaiming Alix's new faith and title. She was now "the truly believing Grand Duchess Alexandra Feodorovna."

Nicholas was left with awesome responsibilities, for which, at 26, he was ill-prepared. He clung to Alix, and they both decided to get married as soon as possible. And thus, Alexandra's first royal entry into St. Petersburg was in a solemn funeral procession.

A Dream Come True

A week after the Tsar's funeral, on 26 November 1894, Nicholas and Alexandra were married. Many of the guests who had come for the funeral stayed on to celebrate the wedding.

On the morning of the wedding, the Dowager Empress Marie took her future daughter-in-law to the Winter Palace where the ceremony was to take place.

As troops and crowds lined the streets outside, Nicholas, wearing a Hussar's uniform, arrived at the Winter Palace. The ceremony was straightforward and simple and, out of respect for the late Tsar, no festivities were allowed. "One day in deepest mourning, lamenting a loved one, the next, in smartest clothes being married," was how Alexandra described it.

Immediately after the ceremony, the young couple drove to the Anichkov Palace, enthusiastically cheered by huge crowds. As the marriage had been arranged so hastily, no proper preparations had been made for the couple and they agreed to stay as the guests of Nicholas's mother. The rooms they shared at the Anichkov Palace with Marie were cramped and lacking in privacy.

In these small rooms, Alexandra sat all day, moving into her bedroom when her husband had to receive official visitors in the sitting room. But she was entirely happy; her husband was always near her.

Continuing the Line

In December 1894, the couple went to the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo, the fabled "Village of the Tsars", where they would settle. Being under the same roof as her mother-in-law, seeing her every day and competing with her for her husband's attentions had not been easy for Alexandra. In Tsarskoe Selo, true happiness blossomed.

Nicholas wrote in his diary: "Every hour that passes, I bless the Lord from the bottom of my soul for the happiness which He has granted me. My love and admiration for Alix continually grow. There are no words capable of describing the bliss it is to be living together."

Below this entry, Alexandra wrote, "Ever more and more, stronger and deeper, grow my love and devotion, and my longing for you. Never can I thank God enough for the treasure He has given me for my very own--and to be called yours, darling, what happiness can be greater? God bless you my beloved little husband. I cover your sweet little face with kisses."

In the spring of 1895, Alexandra learned that she was expecting a baby.

Next Chapter -- Crowned in Glory
Previous Chapter -- Heir to an Empire