Nicholas II: Russia's Last Tsar
Tsar Nicholas II
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
Quick Fact #1: 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.
Quick Fact #2: 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.
Quick Fact #3: 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.
Quick Fact #4: 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.
Quick Fact #5: 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.
Quick Fact #6: 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.
Quick Fact #7: 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.
Fun Fact #1: The Disney film, Anastasia, 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.
Fun Fact #2: 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.
Fun Fact #3: 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.
Fun Fact #4: 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
Quote #1: “I am not yet ready to be Tsar. I know nothing of the business of ruling.”
Quote #2: “There is no justice among men.”
Quote #3: “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.”
Quote #4: “I do not rule Russia. 10,000 clerks do.”
Quote #5: “Lord, save Russia and bring her peace.”
Quote #6: “I am just a plain, common man.”
Had Nicholas II been more open to constitutional reforms, do you believe that the tragedy of the Soviet system could have been avoided altogether?
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.
Wikipedia contributors, "Nicholas II of Russia," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Nicholas_II_of_Russia&oldid=886751372 (accessed March 16, 2019).
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© 2019 Larry Slawson