This remarkable collection features six of the last issues of the Romanov dynasty. The year 2017 is the centennial of Tsar Nicholas II’s abdication, while 2018 will mark 100 years since the massacre of the royal family.
Just after midnight on 17 July, 1918, Yakov Yurovsky entered the quarters of the tsar on the second floor of the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg, an industrial city in the Urals. He was thirty years old, with wavy brown hair, and a Van Dyke of impressive length grew around his mouth. A watchmaker by trade and an ardent Bolshevik, Yurovsky was the commandant of what the Secret Police called “The House of Special Purpose.” He ordered the royal physician, Eugvny Botkin, to rouse the sleeping tsar and his family.
“Your Highness,” the doctor said, “please, you must come with me. The armies are on the march, and this house is no longer safe.” And so Nicholas II—no longer the Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, but regarded by much of the world as the rightful ruler of the country—rose, dressed, and followed Yurovsky downstairs. With him were his wife, the Empress Alexandra, and their five children: Olga, Maria, Tatiana, Anastasia, and Alexei, his son and heir, as well as the doctor, a maid, a cook, and several waiters.
The last tsar of Russia proved one of the weakest links in the long Romanov chain, quick to resort to violence and too often out of touch with both his subjects and the changing times. His dubious resume included the Khodynka Tragedy, anti-Semitic pogroms, the Bloody Sunday massacre, and his ruthless suppression of the 1905 Revolution. His detractors called him Nicholas the Bloody.
The pressures of the First World War contributed directly to his abdication on the Ides of March, 1917, and in June of 1918, the ruling Bolsheviks were fighting the anti-Communist White Army for control of the country. Led by Alexander Kerensky, the Whites had made major inroads into the motherland. A Czech contingent was advancing on Yekaterinburg. If they took the city, the tsar would be liberated, and possibly reinstalled by the White Army—a scenario the Soviets could not countenance. Instead, the Supreme Soviet decided that the tsar and his family must be put to death— immediately.
If Nicholas knew what was about to unfold, he did not show it. There was no weeping. They entered a small room in the basement of the house. Chairs were brought for the tsar, the tsarina, and the heir. Then the door opened and eleven armed men joined them: Yurovsky, his assistant, and nine Secret Police operatives. Yurovsky read from a piece of paper: “Nikolai Alexandrovich, in view of the fact that your relatives are continuing their attack on Soviet Russia, the Ural Executive Committee has decided to execute you.” The tsar cried, “What? What?” After repeating the order of execution, Yurovsky shot Nicholas dead. Then the others took aim, and the small room sounded with the blasts of gunfire and the screams of pain.
When the ammunition ran out, and the smoke cleared, not everyone was dead. Several of the princesses had sewn diamonds into their clothes, preventing the bullets from making maximum impact. A pillow carried by the maid likewise was stuffed with jewels and diamonds. Putting down their sidearms, the men finished the job with bayonets. When they were done, the tsar and his entire family lay dead.
Nicholas II and his family were not the only Romanovs to be summarily executed that fateful year. First, the Grand Duke Nicholas Constantinovich was gunned down in Tashkent in February. A month later, Grand Duke Michael, held by the Soviets in Siberia, was shot dead. Then, on July 17, five Romanov cousins held in the industrial town of Alapayevsk were thrown into a deep mine shaft. The Bolsheviks threw grenades down the shaft, but when the Whites found the bodies, they determined the royals had died, horribly and over some days, of thirst.
Thus in a six-month period of 1918, sixteen members of the royal family were slaughtered. While some Romanovs did survive the purge—and some live on to this day—the massacre of that year effectively ended the dynasty forever.
This collection includes the final issues of the Romanov dynasty. These were struck from 1867 to 1916, during the reign of Nicholas II, the last tsar of Russia. All six feature the famed two-headed Romanov eagle.