The beginning of "The Romanovs: 1613-1918" by British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore:
Two Boys in a Time of Troubles
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Two teenaged boys, both fragile, innocent and ailing, open and close the story of the dynasty. Both were heirs to a political family destined to rule Russia as autocrats, both raised in times of revolution, war and slaughter. Both were chosen by others for a sacred but daunting role that they were not suited to perform. Separated by 305 years, they played out their destinies in extraordinary and terrible scenarios that took place far from Moscow in edifices named Ipatiev.
At 1.30 a.m. on 17 July 1918, in the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg, in the Urals, 800 miles east of Moscow, Alexei, aged thirteen, a sufferer from haemophilia, son of the former Tsar Nicholas II, was awakened with his parents, four sisters, three family retainers and three dogs, and told that the family must urgently prepare to move to a safer place.
At night on 13 March 1613, in the Ipatiev Monastery outside the half-ruined little town of Kostroma on the Volga River 200 miles northeast of Moscow, Michael Romanov, aged sixteen, a sufferer from weak legs and a tic in his eye, the only one of his parents’ five sons to survive, was awakened with his mother to be told that a delegation had arrived. He must prepare urgently to return with them to the capital.
Both boys were startled by the exceptional occasion that they would now confront. Their own parents had sought the paramount prize of the crown on their behalf – yet hoped to protect them from its perils. But they could not be protected because their family had, for better or worse, enrolled in the cruel game of hereditary power in Russia, and their weak shoulders were selected to bear the terrible burden of ruling. But for all the parallels between these transcendent moments in the lives of Alexei and Michael, they were, as we shall see, travelling in very different directions. One was the beginning and one was the end.
Alexei, a prisoner of the Bolsheviks, in a Russia shattered by savage civil war and foreign invasion, got dressed with his parents and sisters. Their clothes were woven with the famous jewels of the dynasty, secreted for a future escape into a new freedom. The boy and his father, the ex-tsar Nicholas II, both donned plain military shirts, breeches and peaked caps. Ex-tsarina Alexandra and her teenaged daughters all wore white blouses and black skirts, no jackets or hats. They were told to bring little with them, but they naturally tried to collect pillows, purses and keepsakes, unsure if they would return or where they were going. The parents knew they themselves were unlikely to emerge from this trauma with their lives, but even in that flint-hearted age, it would surely be unthinkable to harm innocent children. For now, befuddled by sleep, exhausted by living in despair and uncertainty, they suspected nothing.
Michael Romanov and his mother, the Nun Martha, had recently been prisoners but were now almost fugitives, lying low, seeking sanctuary in a monastery amid a land also shattered by civil war and foreign invasion, not unlike the Russia of 1918. They too were accustomed to living in mortal danger. They were right to be afraid for the boy was being hunted by death squads.
In her mid-fifties, the Nun Martha, the boy’s mother, had suffered much in the brutal reversals of this, the Time of Troubles, which had seen their family fall from splendour and power to prison and death and back: the boy’s father, Filaret, was even now in Polish captivity; several uncles had been murdered. Michael was scarcely literate, decidedly unmasterful and chronically sick. He and his mother presumably just hoped to survive until his father returned. But would he ever return?
Mother and son, torn between dread and anticipation, told the delegation of grandees from Moscow to meet the boy outside the Ipatiev in the morning, unsure what the dawn would bring.
The guards in the Ipatiev House of Ekaterinburg watched as the Romanovs came down the stairs, crossing themselves as they passed a stuffed female bear with two cubs on the landing. Nicholas carried his ailing son.