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So just how did these most aristocratic of aristocrats fall so decisively from glory? He left his deeply unpopular wife, Alexandra, in effective political control.

A man of limited political vision and ability, Nicholas was an unlikely king. She was increasingly spellbound by Grigory Rasputin, the charismatic 'holy man' she believed could save her haemophiliac son Alexey from bleeding to death.

Faced with escalating political turmoil, Nicholas believed he had no option but to abdicate 'for the good of Russia' in 1917.

He did so also because he believed it would guarantee the safety of his beloved family. The family were initially placed under house arrest and then transferred to a small rural town, Tobolsk, where they retained a substantial entourage of 39 courtiers and servants.

The engine started, and the train took a decisive turn. The Romanovs were being taken to Ekaterinburg, the historic hub of Russia's old penal system.

There they would face a firing squad just 78 days later - and exactly 90 years ago this week.

They were not allowed visitors, nor to go outside except during a proscribed hour.

And they were to talk no language other than Russian 54 - the Tsaritsa liked to speak to her children in English.

The young princesses' clothes were becoming increasingly threadbare - there were no more white dresses and pretty hats like they used to wear every summer at their palace in the Crimea, a seaside paradise where the air was thick with the scent of roses and honeysuckle.

Ominously, it would be referred to by a Bolshevik euphemism, - The House Of Special Purpose.

Stepping off the train in Ekaterinburg after a bone-rattling five-day journey, an exhausted Nicholas and his wife were received into the hands of local soviets, along with their doctor, maid, valet and footman.

Lively and vivacious, they still beguiled their guards, however, with one saying they could not have looked prettier 'even if they had been covered in gold and diamonds'.

The family were allowed to keep their bed linen, bearing personalised monograms and the Imperial crest, as well as fine porcelain dinner plates bearing the name Nicholas II.

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