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The Romanovs: Love, Death & Science

Updated: Feb 14, 2023

I'd like to look at two exhibitions about the Romanov imperial family that we had had in London in 2018-2019. Both touched the lives and deaths of this tragic dynasty, yet the two exhibitions did not step on each other's royal toes. The first one was at the Science Museum, entitled The Last Tsar: Blood & Revolution, and the second one - Russia, Royalty & the Romanovs at the Queen’s Gallery wing at Buckingham Palace.

Blood & Revolution. The first exhibition is dedicated to the Tsar’s family: their lives, their deaths, and their murder - a mystery that took a century to solve. The Tsar was George V’s look-alike first cousin - their mothers were sisters. Tsaritsa Alexandra was our Queen Victoria’s granddaughter.

N.B. In Russian language Tsar's wife was Tsaritsa, his daughter - Tsarevna, his son - Tsarevitch, accent on the second syllable in all three cases, comrades.

On display one could find, among other things, rarely seen photographs of the family taken by their closest attendants & some of the items retrieved from the house where they were so brutally murdered. Tsaritsa’s last diary was among my favourite items. The entry for the 16th July 1918 was heartbreaking to read, as there was nothing for the 17th...

N.B. 2. Her diary was actually in English, as was her correspondence with her husband. Another one of my favourite displays was the wall with the investigation artefacts in the true whodunnit fashion, posing the questions as to who killed them, where and why...The weighty epilogue of the exhibition was the pavilion dedicated to the science behind finding & identifying the Romanov remains as well as diagnosing the youngest one with the condition, whose consequences would contribute to the downfall of the monarchy - haemophilia B.

N.B. 3. The identification was done via mitochondrial DNA taken from HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

My only dissatisfaction in the exhibition itself lay with the lack of souvenirs and any literature based on the exhibition itself. One does like a weighty tome to take home afterwards.

Russia, Royalty and the Romanovs. Unlike its counterpart at The Science Museum which focused more on the technical aspects of their lives and deaths, this one is about their relationship with Great Britain: trade, diplomatic & dynastic. I consider this exhibition to be a sequel to yet another Romanov exhibition that we had had at the Victoria & Albert Museum, back in 2013. It was on the Tudors, Stuarts and the Romanov Tsars, their friendship and their trade links. This time we have Hanoverians, Windsors & the Romanov Emperors. So altogether we go from friends and trade partners to dynastic bonds. ⚖️

...One surprising item for me was a letter written by Peter The Great to the ‘Old Pretender’ - James Stuart, the unfortunate man behind the Jacobite revolt. Peter was in favour of said revolt, but after his death, his successors did not continue Russia’s support of this cause, much to the Jacobites’ dismay. ⚔️ ...The exhibition narrative pays particular attention to the two first cousins, George V & Nicholas II, their friendship, their correspondence and how alike they looked. Unfortunately nowhere is it mentioned that George and his advisors decided against Nicholas’ family seeking asylum in Great Britain after abdication, but of course, the Windsors’ very survival was also at stake, should the Romanovs come. ... My other favourite item on display was the Russian-style dress, worn by Princess Charlotte, the only daughter of George IV. The curious fact is that none of the pieces of the dress were made in Russia

The exhibition also looked in detail at the dynastic matches between the two Royal Houses. Nicholas II and Alexandra's union was not the first. There were also marriages between Queen Victoria's son Prince Alfred to Grand Duchess Maria, the daughter of Alexander II (who years earlier wanted to marry Victoria himself when they were very young). Alfred and Maria's daughter Marie became the last Queen of Romania.

Another notable marital alliance was that of Victoria's granddaughter Elizabeth (Alexandra's sister) to Grand Duke Sergei (Nicholas II's uncle). It was at their wedding in 1884 that Nicholas and Alexandra first met and fell in love.

N.B.4. Also curious to note that Alexandra was spotted by her grandmother Victoria as the perfect future Queen of Great Britain, planning to marry Alex to her eldest grandson - Albert Victor, also known as 'Eddy'. Here's a link to a great documentary about him. Alexandra and Eddy were of course, first cousins, but that was not an issue at the time: Victoria herself was her husband's first cousin. Alexandra refused the match, being in love with Nicholas and married him in 1894. It even curiouser to note that their match was not wholly welcomed by either of their families and (from what I understand) only went ahead at the insistence of the couple. They loved each other until the very last moment. Here's a great documentary on the last two Romanov tsars, watch from 20:40 for the chapter on Nicholas II.

I also recommend the super-informative, colourful and thoroughly meticulous weighty tome on the exhibition and its characters. It's available on Amazon Prime ⚖ 📚


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