Nicholas II’s little known third brother: Alexander (1869-1870)

PHOTO: The only photograph of the “Angel Alexander”, was taken by his parents posthumously

Up until the early 20th century infant mortality in Imperial Russia was among the highest in the world[1]. Many a family lost at least one child either during childbirth or disease. Infant mortality was something that did not discriminate, regardless of one’s position in life, including members of the Russian Imperial Family.

Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich was born on 7th June (O.S. 26th May) 1869. He was the second child, of the then Tsesarevich Alexander Alexandrovich (future Emperor Alexander III) and Tsesarevna Maria Feodorovna (future Empress Maria Feodorovna, née Princess Dagmar of Denmark).

Alexander was the younger brother of the future Emperor Nicholas II, and third in line to the Russian throne at the time of his birth.

Sadly, the “Angel Alexander” did not live a full year, he died of bacterial meningitis, one month before his first birthday, on 2nd May (O.S. 20th April) 1870, age 10 months and 26 days.

The doctors who observed the infant – obstetrician Jacob Schmidt, pediatrician Karl Rauchfus and surgeon Gustav Hirsch recorded the course of the disease in detail. They noted that on the night of 15/16 April, after the secondary flu which infected the child’s right lung, signs of acute damage to the meninges appeared. On 17th April, there was a “slight improvement in the patient’s condition”, on 18th April – “a feverish state of moderation”, on 19th April – “for the most part he was conscious”, but the next day there was a deterioration and sudden death.

PHOTO: the tiny white marble sarcophagus bearing the remains of Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich in the SS Peter and Paul Cathedral, St. Petersburg

Tsesarevich Alexander wrote in his diary: “God, what a day You sent us and what is this test that we shall never forget to the end of our lives? Be it Your Will Lord and we shall conciliate before You and Your Will.”

“The doctors maintain he did not suffer, but we suffered terribly to see and hear him,” Maria Feodorovna wrote to her mother, Queen Louise of Denmark.

Grand Duke Alexander was sketched on his deathbed by the famous Russian portrait artist Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi (1837-1887). The only photograph of the “Angel Alexander”, was taken by his parents posthumously.

Sergei D. Sheremetev, the adjutant to Tsesarevich Alexander, accompanied the infant’s body on horseback to the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg, where he was buried in the SS Peter and Paul Cathedral. The infant Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich was laid to rest in the northern nave of the Peter and Paul Cathedral in a tiny white marble sarcophagus. On the upper edge of the sarcophagus there is a gilded cross made of bronze, on the side there is a bronze plaque with an epitaph inscribed on it

Alexander’s death was the first of many personal losses which the Empress Maria Feodorovna would endure before her own death in 1928. She outlived her beloved husband “Sasha”, her parents, her sister Alexandra, all four of her sons, and five grandchildren.

Memory Eternal! Вечная Память!


[1] At the beginning of the twentieth century, Russia had the highest infant mortality in Europe – 250 out of 1000 newborns died before they reached one year of age.

Infant mortality under Nicholas II steadily declined. The downward trend in mortality (both children and adults) began before the revolution. According to statistics, the death rate during the reign of Nicholas II per 1000 people had been steadily decreasing.

In 1913, the All-Russian Guardianship for the Protection of Motherhood and Infancy was established by a personalized Imperial Decree, with the goal of reducing infant mortality in Russia, setting up shelters for mothers and children, Russia’s first dairy kitchens, children’s hospitals, maternity hospitals, etc.

© Paul Gilbert. 6 May 2023