Grand Duke George Alexandrovich was the lesser-known younger brother of Nicholas II. Born in 1871, the second surviving son of Tsar Alexander III and Tsarina Maria Feodorovna, he was named for his mother’s younger brother, King George of Greece. Georgy, as he was affectionately known was tall, unlike his brother Nicholas, handsome and full of fun. He was always getting into mischief and, because his mother had a great weakness for him, getting away with it.
But Georgy was also named the weeping willow, for he was often sickly, and in 1890, he contracted tuberculosis. Alexander III and Marie decided to send Nicholas and George on a nine month long trip to Japan, in the hopes it would educate Nicky, and improve George’s health. But for both brothers the trip proved fruitless; Nicholas narrowly escaped an assassination attempt and George’s health rapidly declined.
George was sent to his estate Abbas Tuman where he lived isolated and still seriously ill. His family visited him often and Nicholas would take his brother sleighing, play skittles and have lively dinners. When his father died in 1894, Nicholas succeeded the throne and George was Tsarevich. His mother spent long periods at Abbas Tuman which cheered them both to be together in sad times.
George also never got the opportunity to meet his nieces, Nicholas’ three daughters. In June 1899, George wrote to his brother:
‘I am terribly sad that I have not yet been able to see your daughters and get to know them; but what can I do! It means it’s not my fate, and everything is the will of God.’
In August of 1899, George set out from his estate on his beloved motorcycle, and did not return. His staff, worried, sent out searchers, and bad news was delievered back to Saint Petersburg. George had collapsed on the side of the road in the arms of a peasant woman, succumbed to his consumption. His death mortified and shocked his family, despite his long-suffering with the disease. On the lowering of his coffin into the grave, Marie, overcome with grief, loudly said, “Let’s go home. Let’s go home, I cannot stand it anymore!” and she rushed out. When a board was laid down for leaving the tomb, she went away so quickly that it was difficult for others to keep pace with her. Nobody even had enough time to throw flowers on to the tomb. In the carriage she sobbed for a long time, pressing to her breast Georgy’s hat that she took off the coffin’s cover.
Nicky always remembered Georgy and his wonderful sense of humour. He would tell great jokes that amused his brother very much. Nicholas would dutifully write out the best jokes on pieces of paper and save them in a box. Years later, the Tsar would be heard laughing by himself in his study, looking through his old box of George’s jokes.