The Death and Life of a Comma

Taking a light-hearted look at the clever and warm hearted mother of the `Tragic Romanovs,`  from a writers perspective…this is Maria Feodorovna

who, if stories on the Internet are to be believed, saved a man’s life by using a comma. Literally.!

Tsar Alexander III ruled Russia from 1881 to 1894—an unsympathetic and autocratic ruler. Maria, on the other hand, was known for her generous nature. The famous incident occurred when the tsar had signed an order that condemned a man, an alleged traitor, to life in exile. Against the man’s name was written ‘Pardon impossible, to be sent to Siberia’. Maria scratched out the comma and re-inserted it so that the line read, ‘Pardon, impossible to be sent to Siberia’. The man was set free.

Now, although there is no historically accurate source to vouch for this story, it’s a neat little anecdote that proves just how important punctuation can be.

Read on for more historical details:

Marie Feodorovna (1847–1928) 

Russian empress, known as the “Lady of Tears,”  

Quite unexpectedly, Alexander and Marie became the rulers of Russia. On March 1, 1881, Tsar Alexander II was assassinated by revolutionary terrorists. Gravely wounded by a bomb, he died at the Winter Palace shortly after the attack.  

Their coronation did not take place until May 15, 1883.  

Marie Feodorovna, dressed in a sweeping robe of silver, had no idea at her coronation with her husband, Tsar Alexander III, that she would be known as the “Lady of Tears. Her life would witness the assassination of her brother, King George I of Greece, the premature death of her husband in 1894, the abdication of her son, Tsar Nicholas II, and the execution of many members of her family during the Bolshevik Revolution. But her own miraculous escape from Russia, and the dignity she maintained during her exile, won Marie Feodorovna the admiration and respect of the world. 

Maria was the most tragic figures of European royalty, widow of Alexander III, and mother of Nicholas II of Russia.  

Their marriage was a happy one. Alexander, never expecting to succeed to the throne, had received an education for the military profession. He would remain throughout his life a plain and blunt soldier with excellent qualities and character. His honesty was sterling and his demeanour unceremoniously straightforward. Alexander possessed incredible physical strength but was extremely tender and affectionate to his family. He spent hours of recreation with his children, and his matrimonial relationship to Marie was impeccable. 

The Empress Marie found her happiness in the serenity of domestic life and family. She had little interest in politics beyond discussions with her husband.  

Apart from her family, she spent most of her time in philanthropic and educational work. She was generous in both effort and financial support for her projects and provided for special girls’ schools.  

Marie Feodorovna was also the head of the Russian Red Cross. Her involvement helped to remedy several deficiencies while enlarging both its size and service. She had been trained as a nurse and her personal knowledge of Red Cross duties helped her during her stewardship at its head. Her charities consumed great efforts, as did her involvement in Petersburg society and most summers would find her cruising the seas aboard her luxurious yacht, the Polar Star. 

Shortly before Marias husband…Alexander III’s death, Princess Alexandra – Feodorovna married the new tsar Nicholas on November 26, 1894, whilst the Imperial court was still in mourning for the death of Tsar Alexander III. It was not an auspicious beginning for the new reign. 

Alexandra’s inability to produce a male heir, after the birth of four beautiful daughters, led to considerable rumblings against her. And to worsen the situation, once the heir arrived in 1904, the poor little boy was afflicted with the dreaded “royal” disease, haemophilia. In what became the worst mistake ever made by the imperial couple, Nicholas and Alexandra decided to keep their son’s disease a secret, robbing themselves of the understanding and compassion of the Russian people. Instead, as the imperial couple’s life became more secluded and secretive, the rumour mills gained speed.   

Slowly, but surely, Alexandra and Nicholas’ reputation were eroded by wild tales about the child’s afflictions. 

Further erosion of Nicholas and Alexandra’s prestige came about with the arrival of the mysterious monk commonly known as Rasputin who, a Russian peasant, claimed to hold mystical powers capable of curing every illness. Alexandra allowed Rasputin entry into the imperial apartments. Mystical or not though, Rasputin’s presence transported the young Tsarevich Alexis into a stupor which would stop his profuse bleedings. Alexandra fell under the spell of the pernicious monk.  Maria-Feodorovna even brought to her son’s attention the pernicious rumours caused by Alexandra’s relationship with the dirty Rasputin. All her complaints were brushed aside by Nicholas, who rarely wavered his support for Alexandra. 

In the meantime, Maria-Feodorovna realized her complete inability to exert any further influence with her son. She could no longer convince Nicholas II to eradicate Rasputin’s influence from the imperial household. Nicholas, mortified by his son’s suffering and blinded by his devotion to Alexandra, refused to heed the advice of his mother. The gulf between the Tsar and his family gradually widened until it was unbridgeable. 

It was during this time, when Russia’s government seemed adrift, that the Maria lost complete faith in her daughter-in-law’s involvement in governing the empire. Like many other Romanovs, Maria-Feodorovna desperately tried to convince her son that Alexandra’s involvement in affairs of state was eroding the monarchy’s support. As Russia’s military woes piled and the army turned into a disorganized embarrassment, Nicholas and Alexandra were blamed for the disasters affecting the country.  

Marias charities consumed great efforts, as did her involvement in St. Petersburg society and most summers would find her cruising the seas aboard her luxurious yacht, the Polar Star. 

The revolution that toppled the Romanovs came as no surprise to many members of the imperial family. Nicholas and Alexandra, along with their children, were sent into exile in the provinces. They were all assassinated by Bolshevik guards in Yekaterinburg in July 1918. Grand Duke Michael was also apprehended and eventually executed while in prison during the summer of 1918. Not content with the massacre of these Romanovs, Bolsheviks went around the civil war torn country trying to execute all remaining Romanovs.  

In all nineteen Romanovs were brutally executed by the blood-thirsty Bolsheviks. The imperial family never recovered from this tragedy. 

Maria-Feodorovna and her surviving family left Russia in the spring of 1919. They boarded the British ship HMS Marlborough and never again set foot in their country. She never accepted the fate of her sons and grandchildren, and in fact continued hoping that they all had managed to survive the revolution. Yet around her, life seemed to have frozen as all her loved ones slowly disappeared. Only the faint memories of her glamorous life in Russia remained, for by the time she died even her looks and mind seemed to be but a memory. Maria-Feodorovna passed away quietly on October 13, 1928.





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