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Nicholas II: The Last Tsar to Rule Russia

Larry Slawson received his master's degree at UNC Charlotte. He specializes in Russian and Ukrainian history.

Tsar Nicholas II: Russia's Last Tsar.

Tsar Nicholas II: Russia's Last Tsar.

Tsar Nicholas II: Biographical Details

  • Birth Name: Nikolai Aleksandrovich Romanov
  • Date of Birth: 18 May 1868
  • Place of Birth: Alexander Palace, Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
  • Date of Death: 17 July 1918 (Fifty Years of Age)
  • Place of Death: Ipatiev House, Yekaterinburg, Russian SFSR
  • Place of Burial: Peter and Paul Cathedral, Saint Petersburg, Russia
  • Cause of Death: Execution
  • Spouse(s): Princess Alix of Hesse
  • Children: Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei
  • Father: Alexander III
  • Mother: Maria Feodorovna (Princess Dagmar of Denmark)
  • Religious Views: Russian Orthodox
  • Occupation: Tsar of Russian Empire
  • Best Known For: Last Tsar of Russia before Bolshevik takeover in 1917
One of the last known photos of Tsar Nicholas II and his family.

One of the last known photos of Tsar Nicholas II and his family.

Quick Facts

  • Tsar Nicholas II served as the leader of the Russian Empire from 1894 to 1917, following the death of his father, Alexander III. Nicholas was born on 18 May 1868 during the reign of his grandfather, Alexander II (Better known as Alexander the Liberator). Nicholas was the eldest of six children born to Alexander and his wife Maria. He was well-educated and taught by private tutors for much of his young life. Nicholas had a particular interest in foreign languages and history. At the age of nineteen, young Nicholas joined the Russian Army. Unlike most children of former Tsars, however, Nicholas was not exposed to affairs of Russian politics as his father chose to exclude his son from such matters. As a result, Nicholas was wholly unprepared for the role of Russian Tsar only a few years later.
  • At the tender age of 13, Nicholas witnessed, first-hand, the assassination of his grandfather (terrorist attack). Only a short while later (1 November 1894), Nicholas’s father died at the age of forty-nine; leaving young Nicholas (only twenty-six years old) full command of the Russian Empire.
  • The Russian Empire faced many setbacks under the reign of Nicholas. One of the biggest tragedies involved the Russo-Japanese War of 1904. Offering poor leadership during Russia’s moment of crisis, the Russian Empire faced numerous defeats at the hands of the Japanese due to Nicholas’s unwavering belief that the Japanese were an inferior race. By underestimating the power and strength of the Japanese, Nicholas and the Russian Empire faced humiliating (and very costly) defeats. These losses, in turn, eroded much of Nicholas’s credibility and support from the Russian people. In more recent years, scholars have determined that the Russo-Japanese War could have been avoided altogether, if not for the determination of Nicholas to expand his empire into Asia. His efforts, in turn, only served to provoke the Japanese who viewed expansion as a direct threat to their growing empire in the Pacific.
  • Shortly after the Russo-Japanese War, Nicholas II’s reign was once again tested with the massacre known as “Bloody Sunday.” After several thousand workers under the leadership of a priest known as George Gapon decided to march toward the Tsar’s Palace in 1905 (with the hopes of communicating their poor work and living conditions to the Tsar), Russian soldiers fired upon the peaceful crowd, killing 200 and wounding over 800. The action only served to erode the Russian people’s trust in their government, particularly with Nicholas II and his family.
  • Nicholas was a staunch supporter of autocracy and viewed governmental reforms as a direct attack on his leadership and divine right as Emperor to rule his people. Such views only intensified the social and political problems that the Russian Empire faced during the early 1900s. Only when faced with revolution (in 1905), did Nicholas reluctantly give in to the growing protests across Russia; allowing for the adoption of the October Manifesto, the installment of a prime minister, the installment of a State Duma (parliament), and the beginning of a constitutional regime. Nicholas’s reluctance to accept further liberal reforms, however, proved detrimental to the Tsar, as many Russians began to actively seek alternatives to Nicholas and his regime.
  • World War One proved to be Nicholas II’s downfall. In 1914, Nicholas, at the insistence of the Allied Powers, entered the war against the Central Powers (Germany, Austro-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire). After suffering numerous defeats in a war that Russia was sorely prepared for, the Russian Empire was plunged into social, economic, and political turmoil. As millions of peasants and soldiers died on the battlefield, due to the poor decisions of Nicholas on the front and from a lack of supplies/provisions, Bolshevik revolutionaries seized the chaotic situation brewing from within to launch a revolutionary crusade into the heart of the Russian Empire. By February of 1917, Nicholas II was forced to abdicate the throne. By October of that same year, the Bolsheviks (under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin) were able to take complete control of the Empire.
  • For the next year, Nicholas and his family were held prisoner by the newly-formed Bolshevik government in Yekaterinburg, Russia. On 17 July 1918, the Bolsheviks gave the order to execute the Tsar and his family in the basement of the Ipatiev House they were residing in; thus, ending the reign of Russia’s last Tsar.
One of the last known images of Tsar Nicholas II, after his abdication of the throne in 1917.  Notice his weathered appearance in comparison to prior years.

One of the last known images of Tsar Nicholas II, after his abdication of the throne in 1917. Notice his weathered appearance in comparison to prior years.

More Fun Facts

  • The 20th Century Fox/New Line Cinema film, Anastasia (now owned by Disney), was about Nicholas II’s daughter. However, in real life Anastasia was not able to escape the Bolsheviks (despite conspiracy theories that state otherwise). Instead, his daughter was executed alongside her family.
  • Nicholas II was first cousins with King George V of England and a second cousin to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. Despite these familial ties between the trio, war erupted across Europe in 1914 on a scale never before witnessed in human history.
  • Nicholas II’s wife, Alexandra, was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Alexandra was deeply involved with the occult in her final years. For this reason, Alexandra was easily swayed by the religious mystic known as Rasputin. Through the Tsar’s wife, Rasputin was able to develop great influence over the Imperial family.
  • At Nicholas II’s coronation ceremony on 26 May 1896, more than a thousand people died during a mass-stampede of individuals at Khodynka Field. The tragedy was viewed by some as a bad omen for Nicholas’s reign to come.

“I am not yet ready to be Tsar. I know nothing of the business of ruling.”

— Tsar Nicholas II

Quotes by Nicholas II

  • “I am not yet ready to be Tsar. I know nothing of the business of ruling.”
  • “There is no justice among men.”
  • “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.”
  • “I do not rule Russia. 10,000 clerks do.”
  • “Lord, save Russia and bring her peace.”
  • “I am just a plain, common man.”

The Legacy of Nicholas II

In closing, Nicholas II remains one of the most fascinating figures of the early twentieth century due to his unwavering support of autocratic rule and his steadfast denial of liberal reforms. Had this final Tsar been more open to the possibility of constitutional reforms across the Russian Empire, one could hypothesize that the tragedies and horrors of the Soviet system (between 1917 and 1991) could have been avoided altogether. As more and more documents and research are compiled on Russia’s last tsar, it will be interesting to see what new information can be learned about Nicholas, his family, and legacy.

Suggestions for Further Reading

  • Carter, Miranda. George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I. New York, New York: Vintage Books, 2011.
  • Massie, Robert K. Nicholas and Alexandra: The Classic Account of the Fall of the Romanov Dynasty. New York, New York: Random House, 2011.
  • Paterson, Michael. Nicholas II: The Last Tsar. New York, New York: Robinson, 2019.
  • Service, Robert. The Last of the Tsars: Nicholas II and the Russian Revolution. New York, New York: Pegasus Books, 2017.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: “I am not yet ready to be Tsar. I know nothing of the business of ruling.” What does this mean?

Answer: This quote (by Tsar Nicholas II) illustrates how poorly equipped he was in taking over the Russian Empire. Even Nicholas, himself, knew this to be true. Unlike the tsars of prior generations, Nicholas received no formal training in political and diplomatic affairs. His father was largely to blame for this, as he often excluded young Nicholas from the day-to-day operations of his government.

© 2019 Larry Slawson


Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on March 16, 2019:

@Pamela Yeah, he was wholly unprepared for the role of Tsar. A lot of it had to do with father as well. Alexander thought Nicholas was too foolish to participate in the affairs of government, and often kept him away from politics altogether (which certainly didn't help him in the long run).

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 16, 2019:

I didn't know Nicholas arrived at the throne at such a young age and was such a diaster for the Societ Union. Thanks for this historical information, which was very interesting.

Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on March 16, 2019:

@Lisa Jane I'm glad you enjoyed! Yes, the execution of the entire family was a real tragedy. I don't know why such a thing had to occur, or how anyone could execute an innocent child. Very sad, indeed.

Lisa Jane from Washington on March 16, 2019:

Thanks for sharing. I have watched documentaries on this family. I think it is sad that they had to assassinate the family especially the children.

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