The long-awaited heir had arrived.
Alexei Romanov was born in 1904, to the nation’s great relief and the joy of his parents, Tsar Nicholas and the Empress Alexandra. But the joy of the Russian royals was short-lived. Thanks to an unlucky inheritance passed down to him from his great-grandmother Queen Victoria, Alexei inherited hemophilia, a rare and incurable genetic disorder that prevents the blood from clotting. A hemophiliac can bleed to death from a minor injury. Alexandra was a carrier, but none of her daughters had inherited the disorder. Now the illness had finally manifested itself in the sole heir to the crown, the tsarevich, Alexei.
The little boy was delicate, and for the small circle of people who were in the know, it was clear the son and heir to the Russian throne would never live to inherit it. Apart from the heartache this would cause any family, Alexei’s parents viewed his condition as a threat to the nation’s stability. If he died, the throne would pass to a different branch of the family so the little boy’s precarious health was a closely guarded secret. Though he was frequently ill, the family gave away no hint of anxiety.
During one particularly harrowing episode in 1908, when Alexei was four years old, the doctors gave up. In desperation, the Empress Alexandra summoned a Siberian mystic who was making waves inSt. Petersburg social circles. The starets (holy man) Grigory Yefemovich appeared at the tsarevich’s bedside. Though Yefemovich, better known as Rasputin (“dissolute”), sported a wild beard and dirty, tangled hair, he entered the palace confidently. He was shown to the Tsarevich’s room, where he quickly stopped the bleeding.
Rasputin had saved Alexei. The doctors were mystified, and even today, no one understands how he did it. Some say hypnosis but if that’s true, it leaves many unanswered questions. Whatever means Rasputin used to save the boy were unimportant insofar as his relationship with the Romanovs was concerned. He immediately became a vital part of the grateful Empress’ household.