Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich of Russia was the youngest son of Tsar Alexander III of Russia. Michael came into this world on December 4, 1878 at the Anichkov Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russia. His father and older brother Georgy both died in the 1890s, leaving Michael as heir presumptive to the throne. Michael was Tsarevich from 1899 until 1904, the year Nicholas’s son Alexei was born.
The sibling that Michael had the most closest relationship with was his younger sister, Grand Duchess Olga. Michael was raised in the company of Olga, who nicknamed him “Floppy” because he “flopped” into chairs; his elder siblings and parents called him “Misha”. Conditions in the nursery were modest. 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.
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. Michael was 15 when his father died suddenly of an illness. Michael’s eldest brother, Nicholas, became Tsar, and Michael’s childhood was effectively over.
Like most members of his family, Michael was enrolled in the military. He completed training at a gunnery school and joined the Horse Guards Artillery. Michael was perceived as unremarkable, quiet and good-natured. He performed the usual public duties expected of an heir to the throne. In 1901, he represented Russia at the funeral of Queen Victoria.
In 1912, Michael married an commoner named Natalia Brasova. Two weeks after the marriage Michael wrote to his mother and brother to inform them. They were both horrified by Michael’s action. His mother said it was “unspeakably awful in every way”, and his brother was shocked that his brother had “broken his word … that he would not marry her”. In a series of decrees over December 1912 and January 1913, Nicholas relieved Michael of his command, banished him from Russia, froze all his assets in Russia, seized control of his estates, and removed him from the Regency. Society in Russia was shocked at the severity of Nicholas’s reprisal, but there was little sympathy for Natalia.
Upon the outbreak of World War I, Michael telegraphed the Tsar requesting permission to return to Russia to serve in the army, providing his wife and son could come too. Nicholas agreed, and Michael traveled back to Saint Petersburg. In March 1917, Nicholas abdicated the throne from himself and his son to Michael. Michael, however, also renounced the throne upon the minute he learned that the throne was his. During his imprisonment, Michael was sent to Perm where he was killed on June 13, 1918. He was the first Romanov family member to be murdered by the Bolsheviks. His body, buried in an unmarked grave in a wooded area, was never recovered.