Nicholas II of Russia born Nikolay Alexandrovich Romanov (Никола́й II, Никола́й Алекса́ндрович Рома́нов) (18 May, 1868 17 July, 1918) was the last Tsar of Russia, King of Poland, and Grand Duke of Finland. His official title was Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias and he is currently regarded as Saint Nicholas the Passion Bearer by the Russian Orthodox Church.
Nicholas II ruled from 1894 until his abdication in 1917. His rule ended with the Russian Revolution of 1917 in which he and his family were imprisoned first in the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo, then later in the Governor's Mansion in Tobolsk, and finally at the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg. Nicholas II, his wife, his son, his four daughters, the family's medical doctor, his personal servant, the Empress' chambermaid and the family's cook were all murdered in the same room by the Bolsheviks on the night of 17 July 1918. It is now well documented that this event had been orchestrated from Moscow by Lenin and the Bolshevik leader Yakov Sverdlov. This has led to the late Nicholas II, his wife the Empress and their children to be canonized as Martyrs by various groups tied to the Russian Orthodox Church within Russia and, prominently, by the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia. Nicholas II was nicknamed by his critics Bloody Nicholas because of the Khodynka Tragedy, Bloody Sunday, and his government's suppression of dissent. Lastly, as Head of State, he did approve the Russian mobilization of August 1914 which marked the first fatal step into World War I and thus into the demise of the Romanov dynasty.
Since his father's cousin, Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich, shared the same first name, the Grand Duke was often known within the Imperial Family as "Nicholasha" to distinguish him from the future Tsar.
Nicholas became Tsarevich following the assassination of his grandfather, Alexander II on 13 March 1881 and the subsequent accession of his father, Alexander III. Nicholas and other family members witnessed this event while staying at the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg, but for security reasons, the new Tsar and his family relocated their primary residence to the Gatchina Palace outside the city.
Nicholas and his younger siblings were deliberately raised in spartan surroundings, including hard camp beds and simple furnishings, except for a religious icon of the Virgin and Child surrounded by pearls and other gems. Their grandmother Maria Alexandrovna introduced English customs into the Romanov family upbringing: porridge for breakfast, cold baths, and plenty of fresh air.
Nicholas was educated by tutors in language, geography, dancing, and other subjects. His father's adviser and former tutor Konstantin Pobedonostsev strongly emphasized the absolute authority of the Tsar.
Like many people of the time, he kept a detailed diary. In May 1890, a few days before his twenty-second birthday, he recorded, "Today I finished definitely and forever my education.
Although Nicholas attended meetings of the Imperial Council, his obligations were limited until he succeeded to the throne, which was not expected for many years, since his father was only forty-five.
Against the initial wishes of his parents, Nicholas was determined to marry Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt, the fourth daughter of Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by the Rhine and Princess Alice of the United Kingdom, second eldest grand-daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. His parents intended a more politically beneficial arrangement with Princess Hélène, daughter of Philippe, comte de Paris, pretender to the French throne, hoping to cement Russia's new alliance with France, but eventually yielded to their son's insistence.
Nicholas became engaged to Alix of Hesse in April 1894. Alix was hesitant to accept the engagement due to the requirement that she convert from Lutheranism to Russian Orthodoxy and renounce her former faith. For her conversion ceremony, that aspect was eliminated, making it easier for her to convert with a clear conscience. Nicholas and Alix became formally engaged on April 8 1894. Alix converted to Orthodoxy in November 1894, and took the name Alexandra Fedorovna.
Expecting he would live for 20 or 30 more years, Alexander had idled in giving his son political training and as a result Nicholas received little grooming for his imperial role. However, throughout 1894, Alexander III's health unexpectedly and rapidly declined. Alexander died at the age of 49 in 1894 of kidney disease. Nicholas felt unprepared for the duties of the crown, asking his cousin, "What is going to happen to me and all of Russia? He nevertheless decided to maintain the conservative policies favored by his father. While Alexander had concentrated on the formulation of general policy, Nicholas devoted much more attention to the details of administration.
The wedding of Nicholas and Alix, originally planned for the following spring was moved forward at Nicholas's insistence. Staggering under the weight of his new office, he had no intention of allowing the one person who gave him confidence to leave his side. The wedding took place on November 26 1894. Alexandra wore the traditional dress of Romanov brides, and Nicholas a Hussar's uniform. Each holding a lighted candle Nicholas and Alexandra faced the Metropolitan. A few minutes before one in the afternoon, they were married.
Despite a visit to the United Kingdom before his accession, where he observed the House of Commons in debate and seemed impressed by the machinery of democracy , Nicholas turned his back on any notion of giving away any power to elected representatives in Russia. Shortly after he came to the Throne, a deputation of peasants and workers from various towns' local assemblies (zemstvos) came to the Winter Palace to ask for some constitutional reforms. Although the addresses they had sent in beforehand were couched in mild and loyal terms, Nicholas was angry and ignored advice from an Imperial Family Council by saying to them: "... it has come to my knowledge that during the last months there have been heard in some assemblies of the zemstvos the voices of those who have indulged in a senseless dream that the zemstvos be called upon to participate in the government of the country. I want everyone to know that I will devote all my strength to maintain, for the good of the whole nation, the principle of absolute autocracy, as firmly and as strongly as did my late lamented father. These words showed Nicholas's intentions to continue his father's policies and possibly contributed to the beginnings of the new tsar's unpopularity.
The administration of Nicholas II published anti-Semitic propaganda that encouraged people to riot in various parts of the Pale of Settlement, resulting in the pogroms of 1903-1906. Viacheslav Plehve, the Minister of the Interior, paid the Kishinev newspaper "Bessarabets" for anti-Semitic material, and the press during the Russo-Japanese War accused the Jews of being a fifth column. This accusation encouraged the eruption of numerous pogroms, especially after Russia lost the war. Pogroms also resulted from the government's reaction to the 1905 revolution.
A clash between Russia and Japan was almost inevitable by the turn of the 20th century. Russia had expanded in the East, and the growth of her settlement and territorial ambitions, as her southward path to the Balkans was frustrated, conflicted with Japan's own territorial ambitions on the Chinese and Asian mainland. War began in 1904 with a surprise attack on the Russian fleet in Port Arthur, which incapacitated the Russian navy in the East. The Russian Baltic fleet tried to traverse the world to balance power in the East, but after many misadventures on the way, was annihilated by the Japanese in the Battle of the Tsushima Strait. On land the Russians army was crippled by mismanagement and by the problem of conducting a war, with only the Trans-Siberian Railway as a carrier of supplies from the West. The war ended in total defeat for Russia with the fall of Port Arthur in 1905, and the settlement of both countries' quarrels by the Treaty of Portsmouth.
Nicholas's stance on the war was something that baffled many. Shortly before the Japanese attack on Port Arthur, Nicholas held strong to the belief that there would be no war. He felt that it was his divine power to rule and protect Russia, and that a war with Japan would simply not happen. Despite the onset of the war and the many defeats Russia suffered, Nicholas still believed in, and expected, a final victory. Many people took the Tsar's confidence and stubbornness for indifference; believing him to be completely impervious. As Russia continued to face defeat by the Japanese, the call for peace grew. Nicholas's own mother, as well as his cousin Kaiser William urged Nicholas to open peace negotiations. Despite the efforts for peace, Nicholas remained evasive. It was not until March 27-28 and the annihilation of the Russian fleet by the Japanese, that Nicholas finally decided to pursue peace.
As a result, Russia's self-esteem received a severe blow and the Imperial government collapsed, with the ensuing revolutionary outbreaks of 1905-1906. Many demonstrators were shot in front of the Winter Palace in St.Petersburg; the Emperor's Uncle, Grand Duke Sergei, was blown up by a revolutionary's bomb in Moscow as he left the Kremlin.
The Black Sea fleet mutinied, and a railway strike developed into a general strike which paralized the country. Nicholas, who was taken by surprise by the events, mixed his anger with bewilderment. He wrote to his mother after months of disorder,
"It makes me sick to read the news! Nothing but strikes in schools and factories, murdered policemen, Cossacks and soldiers, riots, disorder, mutinies. But the ministers, instead of acting with quick decision, only assemble in council like a lot of frightened hens and cackle about providing united ministerial action... ominous quiet days began, quiet indeed because there was complete order in the streets, but at the same time everybody knew that something was going to happen — the troops were waiting for the signal, but the other side would not begin. One had the same feeling, as before a thunderstorm in summer! Everybody was on edge and extremely nervous and of course, that sort of strain could not go on for long.... We are in the midst of a revolution with an administrative apparatus entirely disorganized, and in this lies the main danger.
On Saturday, 21 January 1905, a priest named George Gapon informed the government that a march would take place the following day and asked that the Tsar be present to receive a petition. The ministers met hurriedly to consider the problem. There was never any thought that the Tsar, who was at Tsarskoe Selo and had been told of neither the march nor the petition, would actually be asked to meet Gapon. The suggestion that some other member of the Imperial family receive the petition was rejected. Finally informed by the Prefect of Police that he lacked the men to pluck Gapon from among his followers and place him under arrest, the newly appointed Minster of the Interior, Prince Sviatopolk-Mirsky, and his colleagues could think of nothing to do except bring additional troops into the city and hope that matters would not get out of hand. That evening Nicholas learned for the first time from Mirsky what the next day might bring. He wrote in his diary, "Troops have been brought from the outskirts to reinforce the garrison. Up to now the workers have been calm. Their number is estimated at 120,000. At the head of their union is a kind of socialist priest named Gapon. Mirsky came this evening to present his report on the measures taken. At Tsarskoe Selo, Nicholas was stunned when he heard what had happened. He wrote in his diary, "A painful day. Serious disorders took place in Petersburg when the workers tried to come to the Winter Palace. The troops have been forced to fire in several parts of the city and there are many killed and wounded. Lord, how painful and sad this is." On Sunday, 22 January 1905, Father Gapon began his march. Locking arms, the workers marched peacefully through the streets. Some carried crosses, icons and religious banners, others carried national flags and portraits of the Tsar. As they walked they sang religious hymns and the Imperial anthem, 'God Save The Tsar'. At 2PM all of the converging processions were scheduled to arrive at the Winter Palace. There was no single confrontation with the troops. Throughout the city, at bridges on strategic boulevards, the marchers found their way blocked by lines of infantry, backed by Cossacks and Hussars; and the soldiers opened fire on the crowd. The official number of victims was ninety-two dead and several hundred wounded. Gapon vanished and the other leaders of the march were seized. Expelled from the capital, they circulated through the empire, exaggerating the casualties into thousands. That day, which became known as "Bloody Sunday", was a turning point in Russian history. It shattered the ancient, legendary belief that the Tsar and the people were one. As bullets riddled their icons, their banners and their portraits of Nicholas, the people shrieked, "The Tsar will not help us! Outside Russia, the future British Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald attacked the Tsar calling him a "blood-stained creature and a common murderer".
Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna wrote, "Nicky had the police report a few days before. That Saturday he telephoned my mother at the Anitchkov and said that she and I were to leave for Gatchina at once. He and Alicky went to Tsarskoe Selo. Insofar as I remember, my Uncles Vladimir and Nicholas were the only members of the family left in St.Petersburg, but there may have been others. I felt at the time that all those arrangements were hideously wrong. Nicky's ministers and the Chief of Police had it all their way. My mother and I wanted him to stay in St.Petersburg and to face the crowd. I am positive that, for all the ugly mood of some of the workmen, Nicky's appearance would have calmed them. They would have presented their petition and gone back to their homes. But that wretched Epiphany incident had left all the senior officials in a state of panic. They kept on telling Nicky that he had no right to run such a risk, that he owed it to the country to leave the capital, that even with the utmost precautions taken there might always be some loophole left. My mother and I did all we could to persuade him that the ministers' advice was wrong, but Nicky preferred to follow it and he was the first to repent when he heard of the tragic outcome."
From his hiding place, Father Gapon issued a letter. He stated, "Nicholas Romanov, formerly Tsar and at present soul-murderer of the Russian empire. The innocent blood of workers, their wives and children lies forever between you and the Russian people ... May all the blood which must be spilled fall upon you, you Hangman. I call upon all the socialist parties of Russia to come to an immediate agreement among themselves and bring an armed uprising against Tsarism." Gapon's body was found hanging in an abandoned cottage in Finland in April 1906.
Under pressure from the attempted Russian Revolution of 1905, on 5 August 1905 Tsar Nicholas II issued a manifesto about the convocation of the State Duma, initially thought to be an advisory organ. Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, younger sister of Nicholas II wrote, "There was such gloom at Tsarskoe Selo. I did not understand anything about politics. I just felt everything was going wrong with the country and all of us. The October Constitution did not seem to satisfy anyone. I went with my mother to the first Duma. I remember the large group of deputies from among peasants and factory people. The peasants looked sullen. But the workmen were worse: they looked as though they hated us. I remember the distress in Alicky's eyes." Minister of the Court Count Fredericks commented, "The Deputies, they give one the impression of a gang of criminals who are only waiting for the signal to throw themselves upon the ministers and cut their throats. I will never again set foot among those people." The Dowager Empress noticed "incomprehensible hatred."
In the October Manifesto, the tsar pledged to introduce basic civil liberties, provide for broad participation in the State Duma, and endow the Duma with legislative and oversight powers. However, determined to preserve "autocracy" even in the context of reform, he restricted the Duma's authority in many ways—not least of which was an absence of parliamentary control over the appointment or dismissal of cabinet ministers. Nicholas's relations with the Duma were not good. The First Duma, with a majority of Kadets, almost immediately came into conflict with him. Scarcely had the 524 members sat down at the Tauride Palace when they formulated an 'Address to the Throne'. It demanded universal suffrage, radical land reform, the release of all political prisoners and the dismissal of ministers appointed by the Tsar in favour of ministers acceptable to the Duma. Although Nicholas initially had a good relationship with his relatively liberal prime minister, Sergei Witte, Alexandra distrusted him (because he instigated an investigation of Rasputin), and as the political situation deteriorated, Nicholas dissolved the Duma. The Duma was populated with radicals, many of whom wished to push through legislation that would abolish private property ownership, among other things. Witte, unable to grasp the seemingly insurmountable problems of reforming Russia and the monarchy, wrote to Nicholas on 14 April 1906 resigning his office (however, other accounts have said that Witte was forced to resign by the Emperor). Nicholas was not ungracious to Witte and an Imperial Rescript was published on 22 April creating Witte a Knight of the Order of Saint Alexander Nevsky, with diamonds (the last two words were written in the Emperor's own hand, followed by "I remain unalterably well-disposed to you and sincerely grateful, for ever more Nicholas.").
A second Duma met for the first time in February 1907. The leftist parties including the Social Democrats and the Social Revolutionaries which had boycotted the First Duma, had won two hundred seats in the Second, more than a third of the membership. Again Nicholas waited impatiently to rid himself of the Duma. In two letters to his mother he let his bitterness flow, "A grotesque deputation is coming from England to see liberal members of the Duma. Uncle Bertie informed us that they were very sorry but were unable to take action to stop their coming. Their famous "liberty", of course. How angry they would be if a deputation went from us to the Irish to wish them success in their struggle against their government. A little while later Nicholas wrote, "All would be well if everything said in the Duma remained within its walls. Every word spoken, however, comes out in the next day's papers which are avidly read by everyone. In many places the populace is getting restive again. They begin to talk about land once more and are waiting to see what the Duma is going to say on the question. I am getting telgrams from everywhere, petitioning me to order a dissolution, but it is too early for that. One has to let them do something manifestly stupid or mean and then — slap! And they are gone!"
After the Second Duma resulted in similar problems, the new prime minister Pyotr Stolypin (whom Witte described as 'reactionary') unilaterally dissolved it, and changed the electoral laws to allow for future Dumas to have a more conservative content, and to be dominated by the liberal-conservative Octobrist Party of Alexander Guchkov. Stolypin, a skillful politician, had ambitious plans for reform. These included making loans available to the lower classes to enable them to buy land, with the intent of forming a farming class loyal to the crown. Nevertheless, when the Duma remained hostile, Stolypin had no qualms about invoking Article 87 of the Fundamental Laws, which empowered the Tsar to issue 'urgent and extraordinary' emergency decrees 'during the recess of the State Duma'. Stolypin's most famous legislative act, the change in peasant land tenure, was promulgated under Article 87.
The third Duma remained an independent body. This time the members proceeded cautiously. Instead of hurling themselves at the government, opposing parties within the Duma worked to develop the body as a whole. In the classic manner of the British Parliament, the Duma reached for power grasping for the national purse strings. The Duma had the right to question ministers behind closed doors as to their proposed expenditures. These sessions, endorsed by Stolypin, were educational for both sides, and, in time, mutual antagonism was replaced by mutual respect. Even the sensitive area of military expenditure, where the October Manifesto clearly had reserved decisions to the throne, a Duma commission began to operate. Composed of aggressive patriots no less anxious than Nicholas to restore the fallen honour of Russian arms, the Duma commission frequently recommended expenditures even larger than those proposed.
With the passage of time, Nicholas also began to have confidence in the Duma. "This Duma cannot be reproached with an attempt to seize power and there is no need at all to quarrel with it" he said to Stolypin in 1909. Unfortunately Stolypin's plans were undercut by conservatives at court. Reactionaries such as Prince Vladimir Orlov never tired of telling the Tsar that the very existence of the Duma was a blot on the autocracy. Stolypin, they whispered, was a traitor and secret revolutionary who was conniving with the Duma to steal the prerogatives assigned the Tsar by God. Witte also engaged in constant intrigue against Stolypin. Although Stolypin had had nothing to do with Witte's fall, Witte blamed him. Stolypin had unwittingly angered the Empress. He had ordered an investigation into Rasputin and presented it to the Tsar. Stolypin, on his own authority, ordered Rasputin to leave St.Petersburg. Alexandra protested vehemently but Nicholas refused to overrule his Prime Minister. who had more influence with the Emperor. By the time of Stolypin's assassination by Dmitry Bogrov, a student (and police informant) in a theatre in Kiev on 18 September 1911, Stolypin had grown weary of the burdens of office. For a man who preferred clear decisive action, working with a sovereign who believed in fatalism and mysticism was frustrating. As an example, Nicholas once returned a document unsigned with the note: "Despite most convincing arguments in favour of adopting a positive decision in this matter, an inner voice keeps on insisting more and more that I do not accept responsibility for it. So far my conscience has not deceived me. Therefore I intend in this case to follow its dictates. I know that you, too, believe that "a Tsar's heart is in God's hands". Let it be so. For all laws established by me I bear a great responsibility before God, and I am ready to answer for my decision at any time." Alexandra believing that Stolypin had severed the bonds that her son depended on for life hated the Prime Minister. In March 1911, in a fit of anger stating that he no longer commanded the imperial confidence, Stolypin asked to be relived of his office. Two years earlier when Stolypin had casually mentioned resigning to Nicholas he was informed, "This is not a question of confidence or lack of it. It is my will. Remember that we live in Russia, not abroad ... and therefore I shall not consider the possibility of any resignation.
In 1912, a fourth Duma was elected with almost the same membership as the third. "The Duma started too fast. Now it is slower, but better, and more lasting." stated Nicholas to Sir Bernard Pares.
The first World War was a complete and utter disaster for Russia. By the autumn of 1916, among the Romanov family desperation reached the point of which Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich, younger brother of Alexander III and the Tsar's only surviving uncle was deputed to beg Nicholas to grant a constitution and a government responsible to the Duma. Nicholas sternly refused, reproaching his uncle for asking him to break his coronation oath to maintain autocratic power intact for his successors. In the Duma on 2 December 1916, Purishkevich, a fervent patriot, monarchist and war worker denounced the dark forces which surrounded the throne in a thunderous two hour speech which was tumultuously applauded. "Revolution" he warned "and an obscure peasant shall govern Russia no longer".
Because of the fragility of the autocracy at this time, Nicholas and Alexandra chose not to divulge Alexei's condition to anyone outside the royal household. In fact, there were many in the Imperial household who were unaware of the exact nature of the Tsarevich's illness. They knew that he suffered from some serious malady; however, the exact nature of his suffering was not revealed to all.
At first Alexandra turned to Russian doctors and medics to treat Alexei; however, their treatments generally failed, and Alexandra increasingly turned to mystics and holy men. One of these, Grigori Rasputin, appeared to have some success.
As an absolute ruler (and father of four daughters until the birth of the Tsarevich in 1904) until 1905, Nicholas had the complete power to alter the Pauline Laws of Succession for the Russian Empire in order that his daughters could succeed to the throne. The Pauline Laws had been introduced by Tsar Paul I on the death of his mother, Empress Catherine II. Paul had introduced the laws more as a revenge on his mother than to regulate the succession. These laws prevented a woman becoming ruler of Russia unless all male line dynasts were no more. For reasons that remain unclear, Nicholas chose not to change or abolish the Pauline Laws.
The Russians had no contingency plans for a partial mobilization, and on 31 July 1914 Nicholas took the fateful step of confirming the order for a general mobilization. Nicholas was strongly counselled against mobilization of the Russian forces but chose to ignore such advice. Soon, Austria invaded Serbia, and Russia, being Serbia's ally, declared war on Germany. War was a great danger to the stability of the Romanov dynasty. Count Witte told the French Ambassador Paleologue that from Russia's point of view the war was madness, Slav solidarity was simply nonsense and Russia could hope for nothing from the war.
The outbreak of war on 1 August 1914 found Russia grossly unprepared. Russia and her allies placed their faith in her army, the famous 'Russian steamroller'. Its pre-war regular strength was 1,400,000; mobilisation added 3,100,000 reserves and millions more stood ready behind them. In every other respect, however, Russia was unprepared for war. Germany had ten times as much railway track per square mile and whereas Russian soldiers travelled an average of to reach the front, German soldiers travelled less than a quarter of that distance. Russian heavy industry was still too small to equip the massive armies the Tsar could raise and her reserves of munitions were pitifully small. With the Baltic Sea barred by German U-boats and the Dardanelles by the guns of her former ally Turkey, Russia could receive help only via Archangel which was frozen solid in winter, or Vladivostock, which was over from the front line. The Russian High Command was moreover greatly weakened by the mutual contempt between Vladimir Sukhomlinov, the Minister of War, and the redoubtable warrior giant Grand Duke Nicholas Nicolaievich who commanded the armies in the field. In spite of all of this, an immediate attack was ordered against the German province of East Prussia. The Germans mobilized there with great efficiency and completely defeated the two Russian armies which had invaded. The Battle of Tannenberg where an entire Russian army was annihilated cast an ominous shadow over the empire's future. The loyal officers lost were the very ones needed to protect the dynasty.
The Russian armies later had considerable success against both the Austro-Hungarian armies and against the forces of the Ottoman Empire. They never succeeded against the might of the German army.
Gradually a war of attrition set in on the vast Eastern Front, where the Russians were facing the combined forces of the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires, and they suffered staggering losses. General Denikin, retreating from Galicia wrote, "The German heavy artillery swept away whole lines of trenches, and their defenders with them. We hardly replied. There was nothing with which we could reply. Our regiments, although completely exhausted, were beating off one attack after another by bayonet .... Blood flowed unendingly, the ranks became thinner and thinner and thinner. The number of graves multiplied. Total losses for the spring and summer of 1915 amounted to 1,400,000 killed or wounded, while 976,000 had been taken prisoner. On 5 August with the army in retreat, Warsaw fell. Defeat at the front bred disorder at home. At first the targets were German and for three days in June shops, bakeries, factories, private houses and country estates belonging to people with German names were looted and burned. Then the inflamed mobs turned on the government declaring the Empress should be shut up in a convent, the Tsar deposed and Rasputin hanged. Nicholas was by no means deaf to these discontents. An emergency session of the Duma was summoned and a Special Defence Council established, its members drawn from the Duma and the Tsar's ministers.
In July 1915, King Christian X of Denmark, first cousin of the Tsar, sent Hans Niels Andersen to Tsarskoe Selo with an offer to act as a mediator. He made several trips between London, Berlin and Petrograd and in July saw the Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna. Andersen told her they should conclude peace. Nicholas chose to turn down King Christian's offer of mediation.
The energetic and efficient General Polivanov replaced Sukhomlinov as Minister of War. The situation did not improve and the retreat however continued and Nicholas urged on by Alexandra and feeling that it was his duty, and that his personal presence would inspire his troops, decided to lead his army directly yet again against advice given. He assumed the role of commander-in-chief after dismissing his cousin from that position, the highly respected and experienced Nikolai Nikolaevich (September 1915) following the loss of the Russian Kingdom of Poland. This was a fatal mistake as he was now directly associated as commander-in-chief with all subsequent losses. He was also away at the remote HQ at Mogilev, far from the direct governance of the empire, and when revolution broke out in Petrograd he was unable to prevent it being so cut-off from his government. In reality the move was largely symbolic, since all important military decisions were made by his chief-of-staff General Michael Alexeiev, and Nicholas did little more than review troops, inspect field hospitals, and preside over military luncheons.
His efforts to oversee the war left domestic issues essentially in the hands of Alexandra. As a German she was extremely unpopular. The Duma was constantly calling for political reforms. Political unrest continued throughout the war. Cut off from public opinion, Nicholas refused to see how tired the people were of his dynasty and how much the common people hated his wife. He had been repeatedly warned about the destructive influence of Grigori Rasputin but had failed to remove him. Nicholas had refused to censor the press and wild rumours and accusations about Alexandra and Rasputin appeared almost daily. Alexandra was even brought under allegations of treason due to her German roots. Anger at Nicholas's failure to act and the extreme damage that Rasputin's influence was doing to Russia's war effort and to the monarchy led to his (Rasputin's) murder by a group of nobles, led by Prince Felix Yusupov and Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, a cousin of the Tsar, on 16 December 1916.
By the spring of 1917, Russia was on the verge of total collapse. The army had taken 15 million men from the farms and food prices had soared. An egg cost four times what it had in 1914, butter five times as much. The severe winter dealt the railways, overburdened by emergency shipments of coal and supplies, the final blow. Russia began the war with 20,000 locomotives; by 1917 9,000 were in service, while the number of serviceable railway wagons had dwindled from half a million to 170,000. In February 1917, 1,200 locomotives burst their boilers and nearly 60,000 wagons were immobilised. In Petrograd supplies of flour and fuel all but disappeared.
In February 1917 in Petrograd (as the capital had been renamed) a combination of very severe cold weather allied with acute food shortages caused people to start to break shop windows to get bread and other necessaries. In the streets, red banners appeared and the crowds chanted "Down with the German woman! Down with Protopopov! Down with the war!" Police started to shoot at the populace from rooftops which incited riots. The troops in the capital were poorly-motivated and their officers had no reason to be loyal to the regime. They were angry and full of revolutionary fervor and sided with the populace. The Tsar's Cabinet begged Nicholas to return to the capital and offered to resign completely. Five hundred miles away the Tsar, misinformed by Protopopov that the situation was under control, ordered that firm steps be taken against the demonstrators. For this task the Petrograd garrison was quite unsuitable. The cream of the old regular army lay in their graves in Poland and Galicia. In Petrograd 170,000 recruits, country boys or older men from the working-class suburbs of the capital itself, remained to keep control under the command of wounded officers invalided from the front, and cadets from the miliary academies. Many units, lacking both officers and rifles, had never undergone formal training. General Khabalov attempted to put the Tsar's instructions into effect on the morning of Sunday, 11 March 1917. Despite huge posters ordering people to keep off the streets, vast crowds gathered and were only dispersed after some 200 had been shot dead, though a company of the Volinsky Regiment fired into the air rather than into the mob, and a company of the Pavlovsky Life Guards shot the officer who gave the command to open fire. Nicholas, informed of the situation by Rodzianko, ordered reinforcements to the capital and suspended the Duma. It was all too late.
On 12 March the Volinsky regiment mutinied and was quickly followed by the Semonovsky, the Ismailovsky, the Litovsky and even the legendary Preobrajensky Guard, the oldest and staunchest regiment founded by Peter the Great. The arsenal was pillaged, the Ministry of the Interior, Military Government building, police headquarters, the Law Courts and a score of police buildings were put to the torch. By noon the fortress of Peter and Paul with its heavy artillery was in the hands of the insurgents. By nightfall 60,000 soldiers had joined the revolution. Order broke down and members of the Parliament (Duma) formed a Provisional Government to try to restore order but it was impossible to turn the tide of revolutionary change. Already the Duma and the Soviet had formed the nucleus of a Provisional Government and decided that Nicholas must abdicate. Faced with this demand, which was echoed by his generals, deprived of loyal troops, with his family firmly in the hands of the Provisional Government and fearful of unleashing civil war and opening the way for German conquest, Nicholas had no choice but to submit. At the end of the "February Revolution" of 1917 (February in the Old Russian Calendar), on 2 March (Julian Calendar)/ 15 March (Gregorian Calendar) 1917, Nicholas II was forced to abdicate. He firstly abdicated in favour of Tsarevich Alexei, but swiftly changed his mind after advice from doctors that the heir would not live long apart from his parents who would be forced into exile. Nicholas drew up a new manifesto naming his brother, Grand Duke Michael, as the next Emperor of all the Russias. He issued the following statement (which was suppressed by the Provisional Government):
In the days of the great struggle against the foreign enemies, who for nearly three years have tried to enslave our fatherland, the Lord God has been pleased to send down on Russia a new heavy trial. Internal popular disturbances threaten to have a disastrous effect on the future conduct of this persistent war. The destiny of Russia, the honor of our heroic army, the welfare of the people and the whole future of our dear fatherland demand that the war should be brought to a victorious conclusion whatever the cost. The cruel enemy is making his last efforts, and already the hour approaches when our glorious army together with our gallant allies will crush him. In these decisive days in the life of Russia, We thought it Our duty of conscience to facilitate for Our people the closest union possible and a consolidation of all national forces for the speedy attainment of victory. In agreement with the Imperial Duma We have thought it well to renounce the Throne of the Russian Empire and to lay down the supreme power. As We do not wish to part from Our beloved son, We transmit the succession to Our brother, the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, and give Him Our blessing to mount the Throne of the Russian Empire. We direct Our brother to conduct the affairs of state in full and inviolable union with the representatives of the people in the legislative bodies on those principles which will be established by them, and on which He will take an inviolable oath.
In the name of Our dearly beloved homeland, We call on Our faithful sons of the fatherland to fulfill their sacred duty to the fatherland, to obey the tsar in the heavy moment of national trials, and to help Him, together with the representatives of the people, to guide the Russian Empire on the road to victory, welfare, and glory. May the Lord God help Russia!
Grand Duke Mikhail declined to accept the throne until the people were allowed to vote through a Constituent Assembly for the continuance of the monarchy or a republic. Contrary to popular belief, Mikhail never abdicated, he deferred taking up power.The abdication of Nicholas II and the subsequent Bolshevik revolution brought three centuries of the Romanov dynasty's rule to an end. It also paved the way for massive destruction of Russian culture with the closure and demolition of many churches and monasteries, the theft of valuables and estates from the former aristocracy and monied classes and the suppression of religious and folk art forms.
The fall of autocratic tsardom brought joy to Liberals and Socialists in Britain and France and made it possible for the United States of America, the first foreign government to recognise the Provisional government, to enter the war early in April fighting in an alliance of democracies against an alliance of empires. In Russia, the announcement of the Tsar's abdication was greeted with many emotions. These included delight, relief, fear, anger and confusion.
On 22 March 1917, Nicholas, no longer a tsar and addressed with contempt by the sentries as "Nicholas Romanov", was reunited with his family at the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo. He was placed under house arrest with his family by the Provisional Government. Surrounded by his guards, confined to their quarters, the Imperial family was rudely inspected on Nicholas's first night back at home. The same night a band of soldiers broke into Rasputin's tomb and, lifting the putrefying corpse with sticks, flung it onto a pyre of logs and drenched it with petrol. The body burned for six hours as Rasputin's ashes were scattered by the icy winds. The ex-Tsar remained calm and dignified and even insisted on the children resuming their lesson with himself as tutor in history and geography. Through the newspapers he took a keen interest in the progress of the war, but he could not help reading also how the press now gleefully printed lurid stories about Rasputin and the Empress, the 'confessions' of former servants and the private lives of the self-styled 'lovers' of the Tsar's four daughters.
In August 1917, the Kerensky government evacuated the Romanovs to Tobolsk in the Urals, allegedly to protect them from the rising tide of revolution. There they lived in the former Governor's Mansion in considerable comfort.
After the Bolsheviks came to power in October 1917, the conditions of their imprisonment grew stricter and talk of putting Nicholas on trial grew more frequent. Nicholas followed the events in October with interest but as yet no alarm. He continued to underestimate Lenin's importance but already began to feel that his abdication had done Russia more harm than good. In the meantime he and his family occupied themselves with keeping warm. The temperature in December dropped to . Soviet domination now meant more spiteful restrictions. The Tsar was forbidden to wear epaulettes and the sentries scrawled lewd drawings on the fence to offend his daughters. On 1 March 1918, the family was placed on soldier's rations, which meant parting with ten devoted servants and giving up butter and coffee as luxuries. What kept the family going was the belief that help was at hand.
As the counterrevolutionary White movement gathered strength, leading to full-scale civil war by the summer, Nicholas, Alexandra and their daughter Maria were moved in April to Yekaterinburg. Alexis was too ill to accompany his parents and remained with his sisters Olga, Tatiana and Anastasia, not leaving Tobolsk until May 1918. The family was imprisoned with a few remaining retainers in the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg, a militant Bolshevik stronghold. Nicholas, Alexandra, their children, their physician, and three servants were woken and taken into a basement room and shot at 2:33 A.M. on 17 July. An official announcement appeared in the national press two days after the killing of the tsar and his family. It informed that the monarch had been executed on the order of the Presidium of the Ural Regional Soviet under pressure posed by the approach of the Czechoslovaks. It is now known that Lenin personally ordered the murder of the imperial family. Although official Soviet accounts place the responsibility for the decision with the Ural Regional Soviet, Leon Trotsky in his diary, makes it quite clear that the assassination took place on the authority of Lenin. Trotsky wrote,
"My next visit to Moscow took place after the fall of Ekaterinburg. Talking to Sverdlov I asked in passing, "Oh yes and where is the tsar?" "It's all over," he answered. "He has been shot." "And where is his family?" "And the family with him." "All of them?" I asked, apparently with a touch of surprise. "All of them," replied Yakov Sverdlov. "What about it?" He was waiting to see my reaction. I made no reply. "And who made the decision?" I asked. "We decided it here. Ilyich [Lenin] believed that we shouldn't leave the Whites a live banner to rally around, especially under the present difficult circumstances.
In 1989, the report of Yakov Yurovsky, the chief executioner, was published. According to the report, the murders took place as units of the Czechoslovak Legion, making their retreat out of Russia, approached Yekaterinburg. Fearing that the Legion would take the town and free him, the Emperor's Bolshevik jailers murdered the Imperial Family, arguing that there was "no turning back". The telegram giving the order on behalf of the Supreme Soviet in Moscow was signed by Yakov Sverdlov, after whom the town was subsequently renamed, Sverdlovsk. Nicholas was the first to die. He was shot with multiple bullets to the head and chest. The last ones to die were Anastasia, Tatiana, Olga, and Maria, who were wearing several pounds (over 1.3 kilograms) of diamonds within their clothing, thus rendering them bullet-resistant to an extent. They were speared with bayonets.
Ivan Plotnikov, History Professor at the Maksim Gorky Ural State University, has established that the assassins were Yakov Yurovsky, G.P. Nikulin, M.A. Medvedev (Kudrin), P.Z. Yermakov, S.P. Vaganov, A.G. Kabanov, P.S. Medvedev, V.N. Netrebin, and Y.M. Tselms. Filipp Isaievich Goloshchekin, a close associate of Yakov Sverdlov whom he had met in early July 1918 in Moscow, brought back the final orders to carry out the execution. Goloshchekin was the military Commissar of the Ural Region Soviet in Yekaterinburg, however he did not actually participate in the executions. Most of the executioners were Russians with the exception of Tselms, who was Latvian. The Russians Yakov Sverdlov, Yurovsky and Goloshchekin came from Jewish backgrounds. Older versions of the event also affirm that several Hungarian ex-prisoners of war were among the executioners. Three Latvians refused at the last minute to take part in the execution.
The bodies of Nicholas and his family, after being soaked in acid and burned, were long believed to have been disposed of down a mineshaft at a site called the Four Brothers. Initially, this was true — they had indeed been disposed of there on the night of 17 July. The following morning — when rumours spread in Yekaterinburg regarding the disposal site — Yurovsky removed the bodies and concealed them elsewhere. When the vehicle carrying the bodies broke down on the way to the next chosen site, Yurovsky made new arrangements, and buried most of the bodies in a sealed and concealed pit on Koptyaki Road, a cart track (now abandoned) north of Yekaterinburg. The remains of all the family and their retainers with the exception of two of the children (who were eventually identified in 2008) were later found in 1991 and reburied by the Russian government following a state funeral. The process to identify the remains was exhaustive. Samples were sent to Britain and the United States for DNA testing. The tests concluded that five of the skeletons were members of one family and four were unrelated. Three of the five were determined to be the children of two parents. The mother was linked to the British royal family, as was Alexandra. (Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, grandson of Alexandra's oldest sister Victoria, Marchioness of Milford-Haven, gave a DNA sample which matched with that of the remains) The father was determined to be related to Grand Duke George Alexandrovich, younger brother of Nicholas II. British scientists said they were more than 98.5% sure that the remains were those of the Emperor, his family and their attendants. Relics from the Ōtsu Scandal (a failed assassination attempt on Tsarevich Nicholas (future Nicholas II) in Japan) failed to provide sufficient evidence due to contamination. Nicholas' skeleton was confirmed to be his after its excavation on 22 June 1992.
A ceremony of Christian burial was held 80 years to the day after their death in 1998. The bodies were laid to rest with state honors in the St. Catherine Chapel in the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul in Saint Petersburg, where all other Russian Emperors since Peter the Great lie. President and Mrs. Yeltsin attended the funeral along with Romanov relations including Prince Michael of Kent. The last Imperial Family of Russia have been made saints not only by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad but also by Patriarch Alexis II of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow.
On 1 October 2008, Russia's Supreme Court ruled that Nicholas II and his family were victims of political repression and should be rehabilitated.
In 1981, Nicholas and his immediate family were recognised as martyred saints by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. On 14 August 2000, they were recognised by the synod of the Russian Orthodox Church. This time they were not named as martyrs, since their death did not result immediately from their Christian faith; instead, they were canonized as passion bearers. According to a statement by the Moscow synod, they were glorified as saints for the following reasons:
In the last Orthodox Russian monarch and members of his family we see people who sincerely strove to incarnate in their lives the commands of the Gospel. In the suffering borne by the Royal Family in prison with humility, patience, and meekness, and in their martyrs deaths in Ekaterinburg in the night of 4/17 July 1918 was revealed the light of the faith of Christ that conquers evil.
However, Nicholas' canonization was controversial. The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad was split on the issue back in 1981. Some members suggesting that the emperor was a weak ruler and had failed to prevent the outbreak of Communism in Russia. It was pointed out by one priest that martyrdom in the Russian Orthodox Church has nothing to do with the martyr's personal actions but is instead related to why he or she was killed. A further criticism was found in that the Orthodox Church outside of Russia seemed to be using Nicholas' murder as propaganda against the Jews.
The Russian Orthodox Church inside Russia rejected the family's classification as martyrs because they were not killed because of their religious faith. Religious leaders in both churches also had objections to canonizing the Tsar's family because they perceived him as a weak emperor whose incompetence led to the revolution, the suffering of his people and made him at least partially responsible for his own murder and those of his wife and children. For these opponents, the fact that the Tsar was, in private life, a kind man and a good husband and father did not override his poor governance of Russia.
Despite the original opposition the Russian Orthodox Church inside Russia ultimately recognised the family as "passion bearers," or people who met their deaths with Christian humility. The bodies of Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra, and three of their daughters were finally interred at St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg on 17 July 1998, eighty years after they were murdered. The Russian Orthodox Church does not recognize these remains as being those of the Royal Family, and considers the grave at the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral to be purely symbolic.
On 23 August 2007, prosecutors acting on standard procedures have reopened the investigation surrounding the deaths of the Imperial Family. Yekaterinburg researcher Sergei Pogorelov said that "bones found in a burned area of ground near Yekaterinburg belong to a boy and a young woman roughly the ages of Nicholas’ 13-year-old hemophiliac son, Alexei, and a daughter whose remains also never have been found."
On 30 April 2008, DNA tests performed by a U.S. laboratory have proved that bone fragments exhumed in the Ural Mountains belong to two children of Russia's last czar, according to Russian news agencies. On 30 April it was announced by Russian authorities that it was "highly probable" the remains belonged to Alexei and one of his sisters.
Patrilineal descent is the principle behind membership in royal houses, as it can be traced back through the generations — which means that if Nicholas II were to have chosen an historically accurate house name it would have been Oldenburg, as all his male-line ancestors were of that house.House of Oldenburg
|Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna||November 15, 1895||17 July 1918||shot at Yekaterinburg by the Bolsheviks|
|Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna||June 10, 1897||17 July 1918||shot at Yekaterinburg by the Bolsheviks|
|Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna||June 26, 1899||17 July 1918||shot at Yekaterinburg by the Bolsheviks|
|Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna||June 18, 1901||17 July 1918||shot at Yekaterinburg by the Bolsheviks|
|Grand Duke Tsarevich Alexei||August 12, 1904||17 July 1918||shot at Yekaterinburg by the Bolsheviks|
Nicholas's full title as Emperor was We, Nicholas the Second, by the grace of God, Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias, of Moscow, Kiev, Vladimir, Novgorod, Tsar of Kazan, Tsar of Astrakhan, King of Poland, Tsar of Siberia, Tsar of Tauric Chersonesos, Tsar of Georgia, Lord of Pskov, and Grand Duke of Smolensk, Lithuania, Volhynia, Podolia, and Finland, Duke of Estonia, Livonia, Courland and Semigalia, Samogitia, Belostok, Karelia, of Tver, Yugra, Perm, Vyatka, Bulgaria, and other territories; Lord and Grand Duke of Nizhny Novgorod, Chernigov; Sovereign of Ryazan, Polotsk, Rostov, Yaroslavl, Beloozero, Udoria, Obdoria, Kondia, Vitebsk, Mstislav, and all the northern territories; and Sovereign of Iveria, Kartalinia, and the Kabardinian lands and Armenian territories; Hereditary Lord and Ruler of the Cherkass and Mountain Princes and others; Lord of Turkestan, Heir of Norway, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein, Stormarn, Dithmarschen, Oldenburg, and so forth, and so forth, and so forth.
Gleb Botkin, The Real Romanovs, Fleming H. Revell Co, 1931
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