The Londoness


Born in Paris.

Made in London.

Teller of London Tales.

The Last Tsar: Blood and Revolution – Science Museum

A new exhibition at the Science Museum in London originated a few years ago, when a curator discovered a crate buried in the museum’s vast archive. Inside, she found 22 photograph albums of the Russian Imperial family, taken between 1908 and 1916, and so began the journey of The Last Tsar: Blood and Revolution.  Marking 100 years since the end of the Romanov dynasty, the exhibition examines the role of science in the lives and death of Tsar Nicholas II and the Russian royal family and takes us behind the scenes of one of history’s greatest mysteries: the murder of the Romanov family. Rare artefacts including jewellery found at the murder scene, Faberge eggs, personal diaries and private possessions are on display in this extraordinary exhibition which will please history and science lovers in equal measure.

The Last Tsar, Blood and Revolution, Science Museum, London, Romanov, Rasputin, Nicholas II,

Emperor Nicolas II with his children Tsarevich Alexei and Grand Duchess Tatiana and nephew Prince Nikita. Whilst the royal family enjoyed outdoor winter fun, the Russian army was suffering defeats and massive loss of life.

And it doesn’t end with this Russian story of murder most foul. The discovery of the Romanov bones and the forensic investigations of a British DNA scientist would eventually lead to the creation of the UK national DNA database, now used by forensic investigators around the world. As one of history’s greatest mysteries was being solved, the template for DNA forensics would come into existence.

The Last Tsar, Blood and Revolution, Science Museum, London, Romanov, Nicholas II, DNA forensic science, Peter Gill

Peter Gill, the British forensic scientist who helped identify the remains of the last Tsar of Russia and his family.

Murder Most Royal

The Last Tsar, Blood and Revolution, Science Museum, London, Romanov, Nicholas II,

Photograph of the east wall of the cellar room of Ipatiev House where the royal family was detained for 78 days and where they were executed on the 17 July 1918. (loan from Tate Library and Archive, David King Collection)

On the night of the 17 July, 1918, Bolshevik authorities entered the cellar of the house where Nicholas II, Tsar of Russia, and his immediate family were sequestered. The squad was sent with the unenviable task of executing the entire family, but the details of what happened on that fateful night have only recently come to light. The execution turned into a savage slaughter, with some of the family members suffering an agonising, slow death after being shot, stabbed and finally, bludgeoned. It was a gruesome murder scene. And until 1991 and the excavation of a shallow grave nearby, no one knew what had happened to their bodies.

The Last Tsar, Blood and Revolution, Science Museum, London, Romanov, Nicholas II,

Ipatiev House (Getty Images)

The Last Tsar, Blood and Revolution, Science Museum, London, Romanov, Nicholas II,

A Photograph of the Ganina Yama mineshaft where the bodies of the victims were partly buried and first buried on 17 July 1918 (Loan by Tate Library and Archive, The David King Collection)

In 1992, Russian scientist Pavel Ivanov approached forensic scientist Peter Gill and asked if he would study the remains using DNA profiling. The duo would eventually discover that these were the bodies of five out of seven of the Romanov family. In 2007, another grave would unearth the bodies of the heir to the throne, Tsarevich Alexei, together with those of his sister Anastasia.

The Last Tsar, Blood and Revolution, Science Museum, London, Romanov, Nicholas II,

The Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna.

Exhibition Highlights

The Last Tsar, Blood and Revolution, Science Museum, London, Romanov, Nicholas II,

Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna’s maternity dress, 1903–1904, The State Hermitage Museum

The Tsarina wore this maternity dress during her fifth pregnancy with son Alexei. The pressure for her to give birth to a male heir was such that it had a lasting effect on her mental health. She was said to suffer from a nervous disposition.

The Last Tsar, Blood and Revolution, Science Museum, London, Romanov, Nicholas II,

According to Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum, this travelling pharmacy chest could be the subject of an entire exhibition, and it’s his favourite exhibit. It is one of eight crates designed to fit a special train compartment on the “palace on wheels” which would take the family from one royal residence to another across country. The chests contained every possible medicine that the family could need on their travels including painkillers, anti-inflammatories and wart medication.

The Last Tsar, Blood and Revolution, Science Museum, London, Romanov, Nicholas II,

The Tsar was interested in technology and science, as illustrated by these early x-rays of his hand (left) and the Empress’s (right), taken on the 23 March 1898.

The Last Tsar, Blood and Revolution, Science Museum, London, Romanov, Nicholas II,

X-ray tube, 1915 (Wellcome Collection)

British doctor H H Horne was treating the Tsarina and offered to demonstrate the latest medical invention, the X-ray machine.

The Last Tsar, Blood and Revolution, Science Museum, London, Romanov, Nicholas II, Duke of Edinburgh

Thanks to DNA samples from male and female relatives of the Tsar and Tsarina, the remains of the bodies found in the shallow graves were identified in 1993. The Duke of Edinburgh, who was a direct descendant through his maternal relationship to Alexandra Fyodorovna, donated a sample (Alexandra’s mother was the Duke’s maternal great-grandmother).

The Last Tsar, Blood and Revolution, Science Museum, London, Romanov, Nicholas II,

Faberge Firm Imperial Steel Easter Egg, 1916 (The Moscow Kremlin Museums)

This was the last Imperial Faberge egg that Tsar gifted to the Tsarina. Inside the ‘Steel Easter egg’ is a miniature scene featuring Nicolas II and his son Alexei examining maps of the Russian army.

The Last Tsar, Blood and Revolution, Science Museum, London, Romanov, Nicholas II,

Items discovered at the crime scene where the Romanov family were executed include a Mother of God icon (top left) and a diamond and emerald cross which the Dowager Empress Maria gave to the Tasarina. The icon contains bullet grazes, and the cross sustained minor damage, probably from being thrown across the floor.

The Last Tsar, Blood and Revolution, Science Museum, London, Romanov, Nicholas II,

Tsarina’s Personal Diary (loan by The State Archive of the Russian Federation)

The last page of the Tsarina’s Alexandra’s personal diary reads as follows:

3pm: They went out T[atiana] stayed with me. Every morning the commandant comes into our room, at last after a week eggs were brought for Baby [Alexei].

8pm: Supper. Played bezique with N{icholas]

10.30pm: to bed. 15 degrees.

We now know what happened a few hours later.

The Last Tsar: Blood and Revolution at the Science Museum is on from 21 September 2018 until 24 March 2019. Free entry. Recommended age: 12+.

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Born in Paris. Made in London. Teller of London Tales.

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