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Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich was born in the Anitchkov Palace, St. Petersburg, the youngest son and fifth child of Emperor Alexander III and Empress Maria Feodorovna, and his wife, Maria Feodorovna (known before her marriage as Princess Dagmar of Denmark). His maternal grandparents were King Christian IX of Denmark and Louise of Hesse-Cassel.

His paternal grandmother Empress Maria Alexandrovna (known before her marriage as Princess Marie of Hesse and by Rhine) a daughter of Ludwig II, Grand Duke of Hesse and By Rhine and Princess Wilhelmine of Baden, died before his second birthday.

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His paternal grandfather, Emperor Alexander II of Russia, was assassinated on March 1, 1881 and, as a result, Michael’s parents became Emperor and Empress of All the Russias before his third birthday. After the assassination, the new Emperor Alexander III moved his family, including Michael, to the greater safety of Gatchina Palace, which was 29 miles southwest of Saint Petersburg and surrounded by a moat.

Michael was raised in the company of his younger sister, Olga, who nicknamed him “Floppy” because he “flopped” into chairs; his elder siblings and parents called him “Misha”. Conditions in the nursery were modest, even spartan. The children slept on hard camp beds, rose at dawn, washed in cold water and ate a simple porridge for breakfast.

On November 1, 1894, Alexander III died at the untimely age of 49. Michael was almost 16 when his father fell fatally ill; the annual trip to Denmark was cancelled. Michael’s eldest brother, Nicholas, became Emperor and Michael’s childhood was effectively over.

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In November 1898, he attained legal adulthood and, just eight months later, became heir presumptive to Nicholas as the middle brother, George, was killed in a motorcycle accident. George’s death and the subsequent change in the line of succession highlighted that Nicholas lacked a son. As the succession was limited to males, his three daughters were ineligible.

When Nicholas’s wife, Alexandra, became pregnant in 1900 she hoped that the child would be male. She manoeuvred to get herself declared regent for her unborn child in the event of Nicholas’s death, but the government disagreed and determined that Michael would succeed regardless of the unborn child’s gender. She was delivered of a fourth daughter the following year.

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 and was given the Order of the Bath. The following year he was made a Knight of the Garter in King Edward VII’s coronation honours.

Michael was heir presumptive until August 12, 1904, when the birth of Tsarevich Alexei to Nicholas and Alexandra provided an heir apparent. Michael again became second-in-line to the throne, but was named as co-regent for the boy, along with Alexandra, in the event of Nicholas’s death.

Part II tomorrow.