Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich of Russia - Early Life

Early Life

Michael was born at Anichkov Palace on Nevsky Prospekt in Saint Petersburg, as the youngest son and penultimate child of Tsarevitch Alexander of Russia and his wife, Marie Feodorovna (known before her marriage as Princess Dagmar of Denmark). His maternal grandparents were King Christian IX of Denmark and Louise of Hesse-Kassel. His paternal grandmother Empress Maria Alexandrovna (known before her marriage as Princess Marie of Hesse and by Rhine) died before his second birthday. His paternal grandfather, Emperor Alexander II of Russia, was assassinated on 1 March 1881, and as a result Michael's parents became Emperor and Empress of All the Russias before his third birthday. After the assassination, the new Tsar Alexander III moved his family, including Michael, to the greater safety of Gatchina Palace, which was 29 miles southwest of Saint Petersburg and surrounded by a moat.

Michael was raised in the company of his younger sister, Olga, who nicknamed him "Floppy" because he "flopped" into chairs; his elder siblings and parents called him "Misha". Conditions in the nursery were modest, even spartan. The children slept on hard camp beds, rose at dawn, washed in cold water, and ate a simple porridge for breakfast. Michael, like his siblings, was taught by private tutors and was cared for by an English nanny, Mrs Elizabeth Franklin.

Michael and Olga frequently went on hikes in the forests around Gatchina with their father, who took the opportunity to teach both of them woodsmanship. Physical activities such as equestrianism were also taught at an early age, as was religious observance. Though Christmas and Easter were times of celebration and extravagance, Lent was strictly observed—meat, dairy products and any form of entertainment were avoided. Family holidays were taken in the summer at Peterhof Palace and with Michael's grandparents in Denmark.

Michael was 15 when his father fell fatally ill; the annual trip to Denmark was cancelled. On 1 November 1894, Alexander III died at the untimely age of 49. Michael's eldest brother, Nicholas, became Tsar, and Michael's childhood was effectively over.

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