In the see-saw nature of Russian leadership, Catherine the Great had died before establishing her grandson, the future Alexander I, as her heir, leaving Alexander’s father, Paul I, to take the big chair in his stead. This… went poorly for Paul, who was assassinated by a group of his nobles after just four and a half years. Alexander I became Emperor of Russia in 1801, and spent the first part of his reign navigating a complicated relationship with Napoleon Bonaparte’s France.
After helping the European alliance to victory in the Napoleonic Wars, he became drawn to mysticism, and gradually seemed to withdraw from interest in the duties of a monarch. When Alexander’s wife, Louise of Baden, took ill and required a change of weather in 1825, the couple boarded a train heading south. Stories here diverge; in the official account, Alexander I caught typhus on the journey, dying in the southern town of Taganrog. But another story developed, too, and continues to captivate. A decade later, a mysterious monk named Feodor Kuzmich arrived in Siberia with a knowledge, bearing, and wisdom that grew the legend that the monk was in fact Alexander, having faked his own death to escape the bondage of his title.