4 Things You Need To Know About The Romanovs

Tsar Nicholas and Empress Alexandra, the last royal rulers of Russia, have been mythologised in the century since their deaths. Here are some of the facts behind the glittering legend of their dynasty.

Tsar Nicholas and his family

1. THE TSAR'S CORONATION WAS MARKED BY TRAGEDY

Tsar Nicholas II's coronation in 1896 should have been cause for national celebration - instead, it inadvertently caused one of the deadliest tragedies ever to befall the country. The horror unfolded in Moscow, during a public banquet which was thrown to mark the coronation. Buffets and beer stalls were set out in a public square, with thousands congregating in an adjacent field in the hope of being given gifts including sausage, gingerbread and special commemorative cups.

When a rumour spread that supplies of food and beer were running short at the front, "the mob jumped up as a single man and threw itself forward with incredible speed", in the words of an onlooker. People were crushed and trampled in the chaos, and almost 1,400 died right there in the field. Nicholas and his wife, the Empress Alexandra, were shocked and distraught when they were told, but were forced to still attend a ball at the French ambassador's residence that night - a fact which went down very badly with the public, who mistook his diplomacy for cold indifference to the deaths of so many citizens.

2. NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA WERE SAID TO BE CURSED

For much of their marriage, the Tsar and his wife were under immense pressure to produce a son, as a male heir was needed to continue the dynasty. When their first child, Olga, arrived, they were happy enough. But then came a second daughter. And then a third. It was a succession crisis in the making, with much loose talk of a "curse" on the Romanovs stopping them from conceiving a boy.

The Empress herself was particularly distraught. Her first words upon realising her second child was a girl were reportedly, "What will the nation say, what will it say?" And, as if to prove that God, Nature and Fate were all against them, their fourth child also proved to be a girl: Anastasia. On hearing this, the Tsar had to go on a long walk through the woods to compose himself before he could face his wife and newborn child. It was only with the birth of their fifth child, Alexei, that the curse was finally broken. But all was not well with their long-heralded son. Like so many royals across Europe, he had haemophilia.

3. ALEXEI'S HEALTH WAS THEIR DOWNFALL

It could be argued that their son Alexei's potentially fatal ailment, haemophilia, was indirectly responsible for the downfall of the Romanovs. That's because, in fear and desperation over the threat to her son's life, the Empress Alexandra turned to the infamous mystic Rasputin. A mysterious figure who presented himself as a holy man, Rasputin charmed his way through aristocratic society, and Alexandra soon came to believe he could help Alexei survive his disease.

Controversy remains over just how Rasputin managed to hold so much sway over Alexandra. He certainly did predict young Alexei's recovery from a specific bout of haemophilia, but this may have been a pure coincidence which Alexandra mistook for medical magic. Thanks to his apparent healing powers, Rasputin enjoyed so much prestige and influence in the royal household that senior officials - and ordinary members of the public - came to despise him. The Rasputin affair reflected badly on the Romanovs, helping to galvanise the public against them in the lead up to their overthrow in 1917.

4. BRITAIN ALMOST SAVED THE ROMANOVS

Tsar Nicholas II was the first cousin of Britain's George V. Indeed, the two men looked so similar they could have passed as twins - even Queen Victoria had been struck by how much they resembled each other. They were also on close, affectionate terms, so it's no surprise that, after he was deposed by the February Revolution of 1917, Nicholas hoped he and his family would be granted safe refuge in Britain.

It was on the cards for a little while, with the British government taking initial steps to grant them asylum. But George V was soon advised that it could cost him dearly, with officials fearing the arrival of the deposed Tsar would trigger mass socialist uprisings in the UK. It didn't help that the nation was still embroiled in the Great War, and Alexandra was regarded as suspiciously pro-German. Ultimately, there was to be no escape for the Romanovs, and the whole family were eventually massacred by the Bolsheviks in 1918.