Nicholas II of Russia
|1 November [O.S. 20 October] 1894 – 15 March 1917
(22 years, 134 days)
|26 May [O.S. 14 May] 1896
De facto :
Georgy Lvov (chairman of the provisional government)
|Alix of Hesse
|Nicholas Alexandrovich Romanov
|House of Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov
|Alexander III of Russia
(Dagmar of Denmark)
Nicholas II of Russia (b. 18 May 1868 at Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo, Russian Empire; d. 17 July 1918 at Ipatiev House, Yekaterinburg, Russian SFSR) was the last crowned and holy-annointed Tsar and Emperor of Russia, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Finland. He ruled from 1st November 1894 until his forced abdication in 1917. His reign saw the high point of Pan-Slavism and Russia fatally allied to France; the catastrophic Russo-Japanese War, the subsequent 1905 revolution and Russia's first ever parliament. It is said that Nicholas proved unequal to the combined tasks of managing an Empire in political turmoil and ultimately commanding its army in the largest international war since Napoleon. Nicholas's reign ended with the Russian Revolution of 1917, after which he and his family were murdered by Bolsheviks.
On 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo, Serbian Gavrilo Princip shot and assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne, and his consort. The violent incident spiralled Europe into what became known as the Great War setting Germany against Russia. Ironically, Rasputin may have been the one person who could have advised Nicholas not to mobilise against his cousin, Germany’s Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, known to Nicholas as "uncle Willy". But desperate for war to make himself popular with his people Nicholas ignored Rasputin’s telegrams not to take up arms. It was to be the catalyst for the downfall of the ruling Romanovs and Russia. Rasputin wrote:
- “My friend, I repeat to you again: a terrible danger threatens Russia. A catastrophe, suffering without end. It's night. No more stars in the sky. An ocean of tears! An ocean of blood! What else can I say? I can not find any words. A terror without end. I know that they all demand war from you, even the most loyal. They don't realize that they are racing towards the abyss. You are the Tsar, the father of our people. Don't let madness triumph. Don't let those who have become mad fall into the abyss and take us with them. Maybe we will conquer Germany. But what will become of Russia? When I reflect, I know that our homeland has never suffered a martyrdom like what awaits us. Russia will drown in its own blood. Endless suffering and sadness. [...] We farmers need no war! Only the damn townspeople want to shed the blood of the country's children in order to do their business with it! Our aristocrats always scream about that 'War to the victorious end'! But they are walking in Moscow and Petersburg, while the peasants are bleeding to death outside! Away with them in the trenches!”
The Great War was going very badly for Russia by the beginning of 1917. The Brusilov Offensive against the Central Powers had failed and the Russian armies were again in retreat. In addition, the exceptionally severe winter in January and February 1917 arguably precipitated the collapse. At Tsarskoye-Selo, as in all the great Russian cities, it froze to minus thirty degrees, and on February 22 the temperature plummeted to minus forty degrees. Two hundred locomotives failed, with burst boilers, etc., blocking the tracks. Hundreds of supply trains taking food to the front, the capital and the great urban centres were blocked. In Petrograd the bread shops were empty and there was already unrest at the government announcement that bread rationing was about to commence. In addition the reserves of flour ordered by the municipality had been sold to provincial traffickers by unscrupulous administrators. February 22 was also the European Socialist Movements' 'workers festival' and several factories and 100,000 workers in the city struck. Disorders broke out and bakers' windows were smashed and some food shops plundered. Endless queues now stretched outside the few shops that had not yet been closed or pillaged.
Unaware of the disturbances the Tsar boarded the Royal train at Tsarskoye-Selo bound for Military Headquarters at Mohylev. The following day a great wave of striking rioters was marching along the Nevsky Prospekt in Petrograd shouting "We Want bread" on the steps of parliament (Tauride Palace). On February 24 the weavers were given orders to strike and two hundred thousand more workers joined the rioters, waving Red flags. On the 25th a General Strike was called and rioters occupied all the public buildings.
On February 26th, informed of the riots, the Tsar telegraphed General Sergey Kabalov, the commander of the Petrograd Military District, to "put an end to the troubles". The cream of the regiments stationed in the cities were long decimated on the Great War's battlefields, and the city garrisons now consisted of poorly trained raw recruits. These troops now showed signs of hesitation when ordered to restore order, then openly refused to obey orders and even cheered the rioters. The Sturmer Government resigned. The Russian Revolution had begun so spontaneously that the extreme Left, the Social-Revolutionaries and the Bolsheviks, were caught unprepared and by surprise. The Labour leader, Alexander Kerensky now put himself at the head of the revolutionary movement in the capital, was elected Vice-chairman of the Petrograd Soviet, and simultaneously became the first Minister of Justice in the new government. Worried about the events in the capital, and particularly for his family, the Tsar left military headquarters for Tsarskoye early on February 28 by Royal train.
On March 2 a new Provisional Government under the liberal Prime Minister Prince Georgy Lvov was established and the Duma called immediately for the Tsar's abdication. Two deputies, Shulgin and Gutchkov (later the War Minister), were despatched to Pskov where the Royal train had halted, arriving there late in the evening. It was said that most of his commanders in the field telegraphed Nicholas urging his abdication to save Russia. Basically he would become a scapegoat. After a short discussion, a perfectly calm Nicholas abdicated for himself and his son, Alexis, in favour of his brother, the Grand Duke Michael, at twelve minutes to midnight. The Tsar wrote in his diaries "my soul is oppressed by what I have just lived through. All round me there is nothing but treachery, cowardice and deceit." The Duma deputies departed immediately and at one o'clock in the morning the Royal train left Pskov to return to Mohylev (HQ).
Murder of Imperial Family
The Imperial family of Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, and his daughters, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and his son and heir, Alexei, were pious Orthodox Christians. They exemplified all that is precious in a family – Christian piety and love for one’s neighbor. And they loved nothing more than going to Church. In August of 1917, with the Bolsheviks rising to power, the Imperial Family were moved by Kerensky's Provisional government far from the sympathetic sentiments of the Russian people to Tobolsk in Siberia.
In the spring of 1918, the Tsar and his family were removed by the Bolsheviks to Ekaterinburg in the Urals where Jacob Yurovsky, a Jewish watchmaker from Perm and leading member of the local Cheka, was given the assignment to imprison, plan, and assassinate the Imperial Family. Yurovsky brought the Tsar and his family to a former house of a wealthy merchant named Ipatiev, which became their prison. Just before midnight on July 17, 1918, Yurovsky brought the Imperial Family down to the basement on the pretext that they were leaving. They were led into a basement room and chairs brought for the Tsar and Tsarina. After a short while the assassins, Jacob Yurovsky, Nikulin, Pyotr Yermakov, Vaganov, and others, burst in.
Yurovsky then pulled out his revolver and aimed it directly at the Tsar’s head and fired. Tsar Nicholas II died instantly. Next, he shot Tsarina Alexandra as she made the sign of the Cross. Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia, were then also shot. As the room became silent there was a low groan. Alexei, the heir to the throne of Russia was still alive. Yurovsky stepped up and fired two shots into the boy’s ear. All the members of the Tsar’s family were lying on the floor with many wounds in their bodies. The blood was running in streams.
Alix of Hesse
Alix of Darmstadt Hesse (6 June 1872 – 17 July 1918), born Ihre Großherzogliche Hoheit Prinzessin Alix Viktoria Helene Luise Beatrix von Hessen und bei Rhein, was a noted beauty. Her maternal grandmother, Queen Victoria, praised her as "a most lovely child." A lady-in-waiting, Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden, said that she was "a tall, slim girl" with "beautiful luminous eyes," "regular features," a "very good complexion," and "beautiful golden hair." Along with her sister, Princess Irene, Alix was a bridesmaid at the 1885 wedding of her godmother and maternal aunt, Princess Beatrice, to Prince Henry of Battenberg. At the age of 15, she attended Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee celebrations in 1887. In March 1892, when Alix was nineteen years old, her father Grand Duke Louis IV, died of a heart attack. Alix soon found herself exposed to a certain amount of pressure from her family to marry early and in a manner appropriate to her status. She rejected a request from her cousin Albert Victor (the eldest son of the future King of Great Britain and Ireland, Edward VII). Alix met her future husband Nicholas, a second cousin, at the age of twelve at her sister Elisabeth's wedding in 1884.
Nicholas' parents, Maria Feodorovna and Alexander III, did not immediately agree to their marriage. Alexander III, although, liked Alix's shy nature and appreciated her calm nature, Maria Fyodorovna only saw her as German. Born Princess Dagmar of Denmark, she was a daughter of King Christian IX and had a dislike for the Germans since the First Schleswig War (1848–1851). She also wanted someone of higher status to be her son's wife, such as the daughter of a king and not a grand duke from little Hesse. But her son wanted to marry Alix and was ultimately able to convince his mother. Queen Victoria also had concerns about such a connection because she did not consider Russia to be a worthwhile place to enter into political connections. Queen Victoria, the grandmother of Europe, had all her daughters married in such a way that, in the traditional sense, there were “threads” and thus political connections in the European countries. But the queen had already approved the union of Alix's sister Elisabeth with the Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich and finally gave Alix her blessing.
Alix, who was very religious due to her mother's early death, had concerns about converting from the Lutheran to the Russian Orthodox Church, which was necessary to marry Nicholas. The young Tsarevich (prince) provided his bride with an Orthodox priest who instructed her in the teachings of the faith and whose encouragement gave her courage. In addition, her sister Elisabeth assured her that she did not have to give up her faith and that she could combine both directions, the Protestant and Orthodox faiths. The couple became engaged in 1894 in Coburg and married on 26 November 1894 in the Grand Church of the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg. The wedding was, by the standards of the time, extremely modest. Since only a few weeks before Alexander III had died suddenly, a lavish ceremony during the mourning period was considered inappropriate. When she married and converted to the Russian Orthodox Church, Alix changed her first name to the Orthodox form Alexandra Feodorovna Romanova.
On 14 May 1896, Alexandra and Nicholas were crowned at the Dormition Cathedral in the Kremlin. Five hundred thousand Russians gathered in Moscow to watch the entertainment, eat the court-sponsored food, and collect the gifts in honor of their new emperor. There were rumors that there was not enough food for everyone, so the crowd rushed towards the gift tables. The police failed to maintain order, and a thousand Russians were trampled to death at the Khodynka Field. Nicholas and Alexandra were horrified by the deaths, and they decided not to attend the ball that the French ambassador, the Marquis de Montebello, hosted in their honor. Nicholas's uncles urged him to attend so as not to offend the French and give credence to the rumors that the German Alexandra was prejudiced against the French. When Alexandra learned of the Russian mobilization for WWI, she stormed into her husband's study and said: "War! And I knew nothing of it! This is the end of everything." The Empress served as a Red Cross nurse during the war but her efforts went unappreciated. In Petrograd there were rumors that Alexandra and Rasputin were carrying on nightly conversations with Kaiser Wilhelm II in Berlin to negotiate peace.
Nicholas and Alexandra had four daughters and one son. All five children were murdered on 17 July 1918 in the Ipatiev villa in Yekaterinburg.
- Olga (b. 15 November 1895)
- Tatjana (b. 10 June 1897)
- Maria (b. 26 June 1899)
- Anastasia (b. 18 June 1901)
- Alexei (b. 12 August 1904)
- Tompkins, Stuart Ramsay, The Russian Intelligentsia - Makers of the Revolutionary State, University of Oklahoma Press, 1957.
- Pearson, Raymond, The Russian Moderates and the Crisis of Tsarism 1914-1917, London, 1977, ISBN: 0-333-21924-4
- Ferro, Marc, Nicholas II - The Last of the Tsars, Viking pubs. U.K., 1991, ISBN: 0-670-83880-2
- Figes, Orlando, A People's Tragedy - The Russian Revolution 1891-1924, London, 1996, ISBN: 0-224-04162-2
- Maylunas, Andrei, & Mironenko, Sergei, A Lifelong Passion - Nicholas & Alexandra, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 1996, ISBN: 0-297-81520-2
- Lieven, Dominic, The End of Tsarist Russia, Viking pubs., New York, 2015, ISBN: 978-0-670--2558-9
- Montefiore, Simon Sebag, The Romanovs 1613-1918 Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 2016, ISBN: 978-0-297-85266-7
- Letter to Nicholas II of Russia in July 1914, in Henri Troyat: Raspoutine, Flammarion, 1996
- René Fülöp-Miller: Der Heilige Teufel. Rasputin und die Frauen [Rasputin: The Holy Devil], Grethlein & Co., Leipzig 1927
- Alexandrov, Victor, The End of the Romanovs, Hutchinson, London, 1966, p.122.
- Alexandrov, 1966, p.126-7.
- Alexandrov, 1966, pps:127-131.
- Greg King: The Last Empress, Citadel Press Book, 1994, p. 213
- Carolly Erickson: Alexandra – The Last Tsarina, 2001, p. 360