Bleeding Disease Headline

Not the most original choice of topic, but it was the first thing that sprang to mind, particularly since there’s no letter H in Russian. And really, a lot of folks don’t seem to understand what exactly this disease is, and that people who have it aren’t 24/7 invalids, clumsy, bleeding all the time, and wilting lilies.

My Tsar Aleksey II, in my alternative history, defies expectations by surviving into adulthood with pretty decent health, and has four healthy children, two boys and two girls. In his real, too-short life, he constantly challenged the bounds of his disease, and was a very active boy doing his best to live a normal life. There are numerous photos of him doing things like standing on a cannon, going down a slide, balancing on a chair, riding a bicycle, and driving a car. He even had a toy Mercedes Benz which he loved driving. Many of his injuries came about precisely because he was so active, and refused to be defined by his disease.


Hemophilia is inherited through the maternal line. The carrier has a normal X chromosome and a hemophiliac X chromosome. When a boy gets the wrong X chromosome, there’s no second X chromosome to cancel it out. When a hemophiliac has children with a non-carrier, all the girls will be automatic carriers, but the boys can’t have hemophilia themselves. However, just because a woman is a carrier doesn’t mean all her daughters will be automatic carriers, nor does it mean all her sons will have hemophilia.


Attacks will often be more frequent and/or severe in childhood. Children don’t have the maturity and self-awareness to understand what it means to have a disease like this, nor how to avoid potential injuries. Aleksey had a lot of attacks as a boy, the most famous and severe suffered in 1912, but he got a lot stronger and healthier. He wasn’t clumsy and careless, but just trying to be a normal boy. He wasn’t some wilting lily staying inside reading and drawing all day.


Until the 1960s, life expectancy was about 13 years, but there were always exceptions. A number of the hemophiliacs from Europe’s royal houses lived into adulthood; the longest-lived was Prince Waldemar of Prussia, who died at 56 in May 1945. A lot of people seem to have this false perception of the disease as constant, uncontrollable bleeding, from things as minor as a handshake or bumping an elbow. This disease is unpredictable. A child could appear to be fine after a nasty fall, only to develop a subcutaneous hemorrhage the next day, or slam his fingers in a door without incident.


Sometimes an attack isn’t a cut that bleeds for days, but internal bleeding. A lot of Aleksey’s injuries were subcutaneous hemorrhages, bleeding under the skin that swelled up and took as long as months to be reabsorbed. The injury in 1912 was particularly life-threatening because it was a hemorrhage in the groin and stomach. One of his 1918 injuries was also a hemorrhage to the groin, caused by riding a sled down the staircase out of sheer boredom. These hemorrhages put pressure on his veins, nerves, capillaries, and joints. His left leg in particular was weakened after so many injuries.


There were so many things Aleksey was forbidden to do, like play tennis, ride horses (all the photos of him on horseback were staged), climb trees, ride a bicycle, all sorts of fun things so-called normal children take for granted being able to do. His parents really seemed to have a contradictory attitude towards his disease, both being too overprotective and not vigilant enough. For example, one doctor was fired for telling him to wear calipers all the time, and another doctor was horrified to find Aleksey already out of bed and playing at least a week before his orders dictated.

In my alternative history, his uncle and Regent, Grand Duke Mikhail, institutes a lot of new rules, in the hopes this tough love strategy will enable him to regain somewhat normal health and live to adulthood. It does work, and he gets used to this quiet, interior life of the mind he’s been forced into. No more being carried in public well past babyhood or spending months in bed.

For more detailed information, please see my post on Writing a hemophiliac character.


Tsar Aleksey II


When I’m Tsar, there must be no one poor or sad.  I want everyone to be happy.

I enjoy the sun and the beauty of summer as long as I can. Who knows whether one of these days I shall not be prevented from doing it?

I am beginning to see the truth.  At Tsarskoye everyone lied to me…If I become Tsar no one will dare to lie to me.  I will make things right in this country.


His Imperial Highness Sovereign Heir, Tsesarevich, and Grand Prince Aleksey Nikolayevich Romanov, now Holy Royal Martyr Tsesarevich Aleksey, 30 July/12 August 1904–17 July 1918

This year, my A to Z posts are about people, places, and things from my alternative history, And Aleksey Lived, about the greatest Tsar who never ruled, this unlikeliest of all heroes. For the last 21 years, I’ve felt this suprarational soul connection to that boy, an obligation to give him the happy ending he was cheated out of in real life. My A to Z posts are lovingly dedicated to his memory.


Like his four older sisters, Aleksey was a rather large baby, 11.5 pounds (in the days before that was considered worthy of an automatic C-section). As with all Imperial births, there was a cannon salute across the Neva River in St. Petersburg, 301 blasts for a boy. He was named after Peter the Great’s father, even though a 17th century prophecy had said the dynasty would end with an Aleksey as heir. At his baptism, he raised his hand and extended his fingers, as though blessing the people. This was interpreted as a very good omen for his future rule as Tsar.

Though the story goes that something odd was first noticed about his health at six weeks old, it really happened when the umbilical cord was cut. It took two days for the doctors to bring the bleeding under control. He’d seemed so robust at birth, but the evidence was undeniable.


The hemophilia attacks were more serious and frequent in early childhood, as is common. He got bruises and hemorrhages as he learnt to crawl, and when he was old enough to stand and walk, he received injuries from falling down. A child that young doesn’t have the cognizance to understand he has a serious disease, and how to safeguard against the worst attacks.


Aleksey had long golden curls as a baby and toddler, but as he got older, the curls turned straight, and the blonde hair was replaced by a lovely shade of auburn with coppery highlights. His eyes were a beautiful blue-grey inherited from his mother. Many people felt he was the most beautiful of the five Imperial children, and indeed he developed into a very handsome young man. Unfortunately, he didn’t smile in many pictures, because he felt very self-conscious about the gap between his front teeth. Corrective dental work was out of the question, for obvious reasons.


It’s well-known he was a bit of a spoilt brat and holy terror when he was younger, but a lot of folks make far too much of that. The most important thing was that he eventually grew out of it, as most children do. In particular, the gigantic health emergency at Spała in 1912, and the year or so it took to fully recover, really matured him. He was frequently remorseful, and it may have been caused by frustration, constantly forbidden to do things before he could understand why. And what kid won’t get a bit of a big head from practically being worshipped as the heir to the throne?

Brattiness wasn’t the only thing about him. He was also described as golden-hearted, sensitive to others’ suffering, intelligent, empathetic, kind, pious, and strong-minded.


He was so eager to grow up and become a man, and finally left the childish sailor suit behind for a military uniform when he stayed at military HQ with his father during the Great War. By the final few years of his life, he’d become much healthier and stronger, with attacks fewer and further between. His health only deteriorated at the end because he didn’t exactly have access to the best doctors and medical care in captivity. In normal circumstances, he wouldn’t have been so bored he rode a sled down a staircase. He’d also had measles in 1917, which is notorious for weakening the immune system for about three years afterwards.


So many things went wrong when Nicholas II illegally abdicated. The Russian people loved their heir, and preferred him to his inept father. Many contemporaries felt he would’ve been a much better Tsar, since he had more empathy, sensitivity, and intelligence, got appropriate experience from a young age, and personally knew what suffering was like.

It would’ve been such a happier 20th century if he’d been allowed to rule, even if he hadn’t lived long into adulthood. He would’ve ruled with love, fairness, kindness, and sensitivity to the suffering of the Russian people. Ruling with sensitivity doesn’t automatically mean being a spineless pushover. I’d like to believe that in some alternative universe, he got the chance to prove himself instead of condemned to be forever thirteen.

My 2016 A to Z themes revealed

atoz-theme-reveal-2016 v2

Once upon a time, there was a crown prince. This wasn’t just any crown prince, but a very special crown prince who was born after four girls in a row. Because the inheritance laws of his empire dictated women could only inherit the throne unless all male dynasts were dead or disqualified, his parents had been trying and longing for a boy for almost ten years.

Their desperate prayers were finally answered when their only son was born, a very robust baby of 11.5 pounds who could already hold his head up. A further good omen was when he raised his hand and extended his fingers at his baptism, as though blessing the people. The entire empire rejoiced at his birth, after waiting so long for an heir to the throne.

But unbeknownst to anyone outside of the immediate family, the newborn crown prince was very sick. He was born with a fatal flaw in his blood, a sickness originating with his maternal great-grandmother and passed along to quite a few reigning houses. Because of this illness, the already disastrous reign of his parents headed into an even more troubling trajectory. Though the crown prince had many miraculous recoveries and showed promise of living at least until his twenties if he continued being lucky and careful, the Fates had other ideas, and he was murdered a few weeks shy of his fourteenth birthday.

But what if history had turned out differently?


My A to Z posts will feature people, places, and things from my alternative history, And Aleksey Lived, a story about the greatest Tsar who never ruled, the hemophiliac prince who became a great hero against all odds. Because of the miraculous last-minute rescue which opens the book, there’s a much happier 20th century. My A to Z posts are dedicated in memory of Aleksey Nikolayevich Romanov (30 July/12 August 1904–17 July 1918).

You’ll learn about:

The Winter Palace, the beautiful, immense official home of the Imperial Family until 1905.

Aleksey’s loyal spaniel Joy, the only member of the Imperial Family who survived in real life.

Uzbek cuisine.

Why you want to use the word Tsesarevich, not Tsarevich.

Prince Vladimir Pavlovich Paley, a morganatic grandson of Tsar Aleksandr II and a very talented, sensitive young poet.

Nevskiy Prospekt, the beautiful, historic shopping thoroughfare of St. Petersburg.

How Easter was celebrated in Imperial Russia.

Grand Duke Mikhail Aleksandrovich, Aleksey’s uncle, guardian, and Regent, who has a miraculous rescue of his own.

The Fyodorovskaya Ikon of the Mother of God, the House of Romanov’s patron ikon.

The Lower Dacha of Peterhof Palace, Aleksey’s birthplace.

Grand Duchess Xenia (Kseniya) Aleksandrovna, Aleksey’s aunt.

Several posts have two or three topics, but I kept each post between about 400–800 words, and loaded each with plenty of pictures. All the non-public domain photographs are properly credited.


On my names blog, I’ll be featuring names from The Divine Comedy. Many of the names will thus be Italian, but there are also names from mythology and other regions. As some readers might remember, the opening 12 lines of this timeless work of literature were what inspired the title of my third Russian historical, and the titles of each of the four Parts:

Midway life’s journey I was made aware
That I had strayed into a dark forest,
And the right path appeared not anywhere.
Ah, tongue cannot describe how it oppressed,
This wood, so harsh, dismal, and wild, that fear
At thought of it strikes now into my breast.
So bitter it is, death is scarce bitterer.
But, for the good it was my hap to find,
I speak of the other things that I saw there.
I cannot remember well in my mind
How I came thither, so was I immersed
In sleep, when the true way I left behind.

WeWriWa—Agreeable Conditions


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week may be the final snippet from my alternative history for awhile.

In the last snippet, Arkadiya discovered just how much her newlywed husband loves her, and received an invitation to exchange her room for the Imperial bedroom, on two conditions. Though she finds this turn of events very agreeable, she’s still in a state of disbelief. As a 32-year-old spinster, she didn’t think any man would ever love her, let alone the most powerful man in the empire.


The Great Throne Room of the Winter Palace, where the newlywed Imperial couple were greeted by their parents after the ceremony and given the traditional karavay wedding loaf on a silver platter with salt

“What conditions are these?” She rubbed his shoulders and kissed his neck.

“First, as you’re well aware of, I need to trust you won’t be rough with me.  I’m not as sickly as I was as a little boy, but I’m still not as strong and hearty as normal people.  Secondly, I want you to stop calling me Majesty.  I told you to call me Alyosha.”

She smiled at him. “Sure, I can agree to those conditions, though it’ll take awhile for me to get used to calling you Alyosha instead of Your Majesty.”


Aleksey with his double-second-cousins Princess Ileana and Prince Nicolae of Romania, 1914. Many people speculate Aleksey and Ileana would’ve married in real life, though of the equally-ranked potential consorts, I slightly prefer Princess Ingrid of Sweden (later Queen of Denmark). The first what-if match is too popular/overused for my tastes, whereas the intelligent, compassionate, courageous Ingrid’s name doesn’t seem to be mentioned so often.

WeWriWa—Declaration of love

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, a weekly Sunday hop where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes right after last week’s, as the newlywed Imperial couple are sitting by the fireplace of the Gold Drawing Room of the Winter Palace following their wedding. Arkadiya is beyond shocked to hear her new husband telling her he loves her, since their original plan was to have a celibate marriage and adopt a boy as their heir.


Grand Cathedral of the Winter Palace, site of all Imperial weddings, painted by Eduard Hau

“I never let myself fall in love with anyone before, to try to protect myself.  I wanted a wife and children so badly, to be like other people, but I had to be a martyr and put my feelings last.  The thought of leaving a widow and orphans still terrifies me, and there’s no telling if my sickness will manifest in another generation.  If I’m fated to die young, at least I want to know what it’s like to, you know, do certain things.”

Before Arkadiya could react, he leaned over and kissed her, softly and uncertainly.  Even as a thirty-two-year-old former spinster, she could sense he didn’t really know exactly what he was doing, but she also sensed a sweetness and sincerity in him.  Her skin tingled with electricity as he wrapped his arms around her, and she put her arms around him in return, being careful not to hold him too tightly.

“Will you please do me the honor of coming back to the Imperial bedroom with me to be my real wife, and not remaining in your own room?” he whispered. “I only have two conditions you need to agree to.”


Next week I’ll be taking a brief detour to celebrate the posthumous 110th birthday of a legendary comedian.