Czar Nicholas II abdicates Russian throne

Czar Nicholas II abdicates Russian throne

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During the February Revolution, Czar Nicholas II, ruler of Russia since 1894, is forced to abdicate the throne by the Petrograd insurgents, and a provincial government is installed in his place.

Crowned on May 26, 1894, Nicholas was neither trained nor inclined to rule, which did not help the autocracy he sought to preserve in an era desperate for change. The disastrous outcome of the Russo-Japanese War led to the Russian Revolution of 1905, which the czar diffused only after signing a manifesto promising representative government and basic civil liberties in Russia. However, Nicholas soon retracted most of these concessions, and the Bolsheviks and other revolutionary groups won wide support. In 1914, Nicholas led his country into another costly war, and discontent in Russia grew as food became scarce, soldiers became war-weary, and devastating defeats on the eastern front demonstrated the czar’s ineffectual leadership.

In March 1917, the army garrison at Petrograd joined striking workers in demanding socialist reforms, and Czar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate. Nicholas and his family were first held at the Czarskoye Selo palace, then in the Yekaterinburg palace near Tobolsk. In July 1918, the advance of counterrevolutionary forces caused the Yekaterinburg Soviet forces to fear that Nicholas might be rescued. After a secret meeting, a death sentence was passed on the imperial family, and Nicholas, his wife, his children, and several of their servants were gunned down on the night of July 16.

READ MORE: Why Czar Nicholas II and the Romanovs Were Murdered

Biography of Czar Nicholas II, Last Czar of Russia

Nicholas II (May 18, 1868–July 17, 1918) was the last czar of Russia. He ascended to the throne following the death of his father in 1894. Woefully unprepared for such a role, Nicholas II has been characterized as a naïve and incompetent leader. At a time of enormous social and political change in his country, Nicholas held fast to outdated, autocratic policies and opposed reform of any kind. His inept handling of military matters and insensitivity to the needs of his people helped to fuel the 1917 Russian Revolution. Forced to abdicate in 1917, Nicholas went into exile with his wife and five children. After living more than a year under house arrest, the entire family was brutally executed in July 1918 by Bolshevik soldiers. Nicholas II was the last of the Romanov Dynasty, which had ruled Russia for 300 years.

Fast Facts: Czar Nicholas II

  • Known For: Last Czar of Russia executed during the Russian revolution
  • Born: May 18, 1868 in Tsarskoye Selo, Russia
  • Parents: Alexander III and Marie Feodorovna
  • Died: July 17, 1918 in Ekaterinburg, Russia
  • Education: Tutored
  • Spouse: Princess Alix of Hesse (Empress Alexandra Feodorovna)
  • Children: Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei
  • Notable Quote: “I am not yet ready to be Tsar. I know nothing of the business of ruling.”

Early life and reign

Nikolay Aleksandrovich was the eldest son and heir apparent (tsesarevich) of the tsarevitch Aleksandr Aleksandrovich (emperor as Alexander III from 1881) and his consort Maria Fyodorovna (Dagmar of Denmark). Succeeding his father on November 1, 1894, he was crowned tsar in Moscow on May 26, 1896.

Neither by upbringing nor by temperament was Nicholas fitted for the complex tasks that awaited him as autocratic ruler of a vast empire. He had received a military education from his tutor, and his tastes and interests were those of the average young Russian officers of his day. He had few intellectual pretensions but delighted in physical exercise and the trappings of army life: uniforms, insignia, parades. Yet on formal occasions he felt ill at ease. Though he possessed great personal charm, he was by nature timid he shunned close contact with his subjects, preferring the privacy of his family circle. His domestic life was serene. To his wife, Alexandra, whom he had married on November 26, 1894, Nicholas was passionately devoted. She had the strength of character that he lacked, and he fell completely under her sway. Under her influence he sought the advice of spiritualists and faith healers, most notably Grigori Rasputin, who eventually acquired great power over the imperial couple.

Nicholas also had other irresponsible favourites, often men of dubious probity who provided him with a distorted picture of Russian life, but one that he found more comforting than that contained in official reports. He distrusted his ministers, mainly because he felt them to be intellectually superior to himself and feared they sought to usurp his sovereign prerogatives. His view of his role as autocrat was childishly simple: he derived his authority from God, to whom alone he was responsible, and it was his sacred duty to preserve his absolute power intact. He lacked, however, the strength of will necessary in one who had such an exalted conception of his task. In pursuing the path of duty, Nicholas had to wage a continual struggle against himself, suppressing his natural indecisiveness and assuming a mask of self-confident resolution. His dedication to the dogma of autocracy was an inadequate substitute for a constructive policy, which alone could have prolonged the imperial regime.

Soon after his accession Nicholas proclaimed his uncompromising views in an address to liberal deputies from the zemstvos, the self-governing local assemblies, in which he dismissed as “senseless dreams” their aspirations to share in the work of government. He met the rising groundswell of popular unrest with intensified police repression. In foreign policy, his naïveté and lighthearted attitude toward international obligations sometimes embarrassed his professional diplomats for example, he concluded an alliance with the German emperor William II during their meeting at Björkö in July 1905, although Russia was already allied with France, Germany’s traditional enemy.

Nicholas was the first Russian sovereign to show personal interest in Asia, visiting in 1891, while still tsesarevich, India, China, and Japan later he nominally supervised the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway. His attempt to maintain and strengthen Russian influence in Korea, where Japan also had a foothold, was partly responsible for the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05). Russia’s defeat not only frustrated Nicholas’s grandiose dreams of making Russia a great Eurasian power, with China, Tibet, and Persia under its control, but also presented him with serious problems at home, where discontent grew into the revolutionary movement of 1905.

Nicholas considered all who opposed him, regardless of their views, as malicious conspirators. Disregarding the advice of his future prime minister Sergey Yulyevich Witte, he refused to make concessions to the constitutionalists until events forced him to yield more than might have been necessary had he been more flexible. On March 3, 1905, he reluctantly agreed to create a national representative assembly, or Duma, with consultative powers, and by the manifesto of October 30 he promised a constitutional regime under which no law was to take effect without the Duma’s consent, as well as a democratic franchise and civil liberties. Nicholas, however, cared little for keeping promises extracted from him under duress. He strove to regain his former powers and ensured that in the new Fundamental Laws (May 1906) he was still designated an autocrat. He furthermore patronized an extremist right-wing organization, the Union of the Russian People, which sanctioned terrorist methods and disseminated anti-Semitic propaganda. Witte, whom he blamed for the October Manifesto, was soon dismissed, and the first two Dumas were prematurely dissolved as “insubordinate.”

Pyotr Arkadyevich Stolypin, who replaced Witte and carried out the coup of June 16, 1907, dissolving the second Duma, was loyal to the dynasty and a capable statesman. But the emperor distrusted him and allowed his position to be undermined by intrigue. Stolypin was one of those who dared to speak out about Rasputin’s influence and thereby incurred the displeasure of the empress. In such cases Nicholas generally hesitated but ultimately yielded to Alexandra’s pressure. To prevent exposure of the scandalous hold Rasputin had on the imperial family, Nicholas interfered arbitrarily in matters properly within the competence of the Holy Synod, backing reactionary elements against those concerned about the Orthodox church’s prestige.

1917: Tsar Nicholas II abdicates

There had been opposition to Tsarist government for quite some time in Russia. It had come in a number of forms, from the liberal demands of the Kadets who wanted more representation of the middle classes through to more radical opposition in the form of the social revolutionaries, Mensheviks and Bolsheviks.

The position of the Romanov family had been weakened by the 1905 Revolution. Following Bloody Sunday the Tsar’s image as a much loved father figgure was damaged.

The introduction of the Duma, followed quickly by the Fundamental Laws, appeased some but led to increased frustration at the system of government amongst other groups.

Entry into the war in 1914 and the subsequent decisions to act as commander in chief at the front, along with the Rasputin affair and food shortages, placed the Tsar’s authority in a very precarious position.

Chronology of the fall of the Romanov’s

Initially dominated by the Mensheviks this Soviet coordinated strikes and opposition to the Government. This increased pressure on the Tsarist government and made civil unrest a significant issue.

Image – The Petrograd Soviet in session.

*There are several conflicting interpretations of the events surrounding the execution and a number of claims that some members of the family, most notably Anastasia, may have survived.

Image – an artists impression of the execution of the Romanov family.

Tsar Nicholas II’s abdication proclamation:

” 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!”

Family man

In April 1894, he got engaged with Princess Alice Darmstadt of Hesse, daughter of the Grand Duke of Hesse, granddaughter of the English Queen Victoria. After the transition to Orthodoxy, she took the name Alexandra Fedorovna.

Their union was unusual for royal families as they were really in love with each other and carried the feelings throughout their lives. Alexandra bared him five children: Olga, Tatyana, Maria, Anastasia and Aleksey. Aleksey, the only male heir to the throne, was later diagnosed with hemophilia.

The parents were ready for everything to help their son. So it is not surprising that when in 1905, a mystic and self-proclaimed holy man Grigory Rasputin was mysteriously able to ease their son’s pain, Alexandra became convinced that Rasputin was sent to them by God. He got accepted at the court despite his well documented history of drinking and womanising. Very soon he exerted a powerful influence over the Nicholas and Alexandra including advising them on state matters.

Bloody Sunday

On January 5, 1905, Father George Gapon led a sizable but peaceful demonstration of workers in St. Petersburg. The demonstrators appealed to Nicholas II to improve working conditions and establish a popular assembly. Troops opened fire on the demonstrators, killing more than a thousand people in what would come to be called the infamous 𠇋loody Sunday.”

In reaction, indignant workers throughout Russia went on strike. As peasants all over Russia sympathized with the workers’ cause, thousands of uprisings took place and were suppressed by Nicholas II’s troops, serving to further increase tensions.

Although he believed himself to be an absolute ruler as ordained by God, Nicholas II was eventually forced to concede to creating an elected legislature, called the Duma. Despite this concession, Nicholas II still stubbornly continued to resist government reform, included those suggested by the newly elected minister of the interior, Peter Stolypin.

Abdication and death of Nicholas II

When riots broke out in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) on March 8, 1917, Nicholas instructed the city commandant to take firm measures and sent troops to restore order. It was too late. The government resigned, and the Duma, supported by the army, called on the emperor to abdicate. At Pskov on March 15, with fatalistic composure, Nicholas renounced the throne—not, as he had originally intended, in favour of his son, Alexis, but in favour of his brother Michael, who refused the crown.

Nicholas was detained at Tsarskoye Selo by Prince Lvov’s provisional government. It was planned that he and his family would be sent to England, but instead, mainly because of the opposition of the Petrograd Soviet, the revolutionary Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council, they were removed to Tobolsk in Western Siberia. This step sealed their doom. In April 1918 they were taken to Yekaterinburg in the Urals.

When anti-Bolshevik “White” Russian forces approached the area, the local authorities were ordered to prevent a rescue. In the early hours of July 17, 1918, the prisoners were all slaughtered in the cellar of the house where they had been confined. (Although there is some uncertainty over whether the family was killed on July 16 or 17, most sources indicate that the executions took place on July 17.) The bodies were burned, cast into an abandoned mine shaft, and then hastily buried elsewhere. A team of Russian scientists located the remains in 1976 but kept the discovery secret until after the collapse of the Soviet Union. By 1994 genetic analyses had positively identified the remains as those of Nicholas, Alexandra, three of their daughters (Anastasia, Tatiana, and Olga), and four servants. The remains were given a state funeral on July 17, 1998, and reburied in St. Petersburg in the crypt of the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul. The remains of Alexis and of another daughter (Maria) were not found until 2007, and the following year DNA testing confirmed their identity.

On August 20, 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church canonized the emperor and his family, designating them “passion bearers” (the lowest rank of sainthood) because of the piety they had shown during their final days. On October 1, 2008, Russia’s Supreme Court ruled that the executions were acts of “unfounded repression” and granted the family full rehabilitation.

The Abdication of Nicholas II: 100 Years Later

The following is a Legitimist examination of the 2 March 1917 (15 March 1917, new style) abdication of Nicholas II and the subsequent 3 March 1917 (16 March 1917, new style) deferral of the throne by Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Emperor Nicholas II's laying down of "the supreme power."

On July 15, 2015, Natalia Poklonskaya, the then Prosecutor of the Republic of Crimea, stated that the abdication of Nicholas II had no legal effect.

She declared that the abdication was invalid because it had been signed in pencil. “This piece of paper, which in history textbooks has been represented as a supposed act of abdication, has no legal validity. This scrap of paper, signed in pencil and violating all the necessary legal and procedural methods and format, has no legal force.” 1

Poklonskaya’s baseless assertion that the abdication of the Emperor is invalid because it does not comply with contemporary Russian legal norms is typical of one type of argument that for 100 years has surrounded the abdication and subsequent deferral of the throne. It is important to look at the act of abdication entirely within its own legal context – that of the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire.

Nicholas II regarded his abdication for himself and for his son as wholly binding and legal. Count Fredericks, who countersigned the abdication as a witness, regarded and accepted the act as binding and legal. Both the Imperial Duma and the Grand Duke Michael, into whose hands the Imperial power passed, regarded the act as binding and legal. There was no doubt at the time that it was the intention of Nicholas II to abdicate for himself and for his son, and to pass the throne to his younger brother, the Grand Duke Michael. They all regarded the abdication this way because they all understood the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire, which provided the legal possibility for Nicholas II to abdicate.

The Russian Legitimist subscribes to and follows the legitimist principle that only within the context of the dynastic laws of the reigning house may dynastic questions be answered. Contemporary historians will regard the abdication solely as a political act demanded by expediency, but The Russian Legitimist looks at the abdication from another perspective--that of a dynastic act taken (or not taken) in accordance with the Fundamental Laws and the Statute on the Imperial Family.

In this article, published on the 100th anniversary of the abdication of Nicholas II, The Russian Legitimist attempts to answer from a purely legitimist perspective the issues surrounding the act of abdication and deferral. We can begin by looking at the text of the original documents:


2/15 March, 1917, 3:00pm, Pskov

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 honour 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 fulfil 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!


Did the Emperor have the right to abdicate?

In the Fundamental Laws, Chapter three, sections 37 and 38 state clearly:

37 As the rules on the order of succession, enunciated above, take effect, a person who has a right to succeed is free to abdicate this right in those circumstances in which an abdication does not create any difficulty in the following succession to the Throne.

38 Such an abdication, when it has been made public and becomes law, is henceforth considered irrevocable.

It is clear from these sections that the Fundamental Laws a) allow abdication by any dynast as long as that abdication does not place the succession in jeopardy, and that b) once that abdication has been made public and becomes law it is not only valid, but irrevocable.

The Fundamental Laws do not provide any specific language for an instrument of abdication, but we may understand and accept that the text of the abdication document clearly states: “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.” This may be regarded as a conclusive statement of renunciation of the throne.

Was the abdication process followed in accordance with the fundamental laws?

Chapter Three, Section 38 states “Such an abdication, when it has been made public and becomes law…” causes us to refer back to the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire, Chapter Nine, “On Laws.” What was a law in the Russian Empire, and how were they made? We look at Sections 95 and 97 for clarification:

95 To inform the general public, laws are promulgated by the Governing Senate according to established procedures and do not take effect before their promulgation.

97 Upon promulgation, the law becomes effective from the time specified by the law itself, if such a period of time is not specified -- from the day on which the Senate publication containing the printed law is received locally. The law being published may itself indicate that by means of telegraph or courier it be transmitted for execution before its publication.

Section 95 has not been fulfilled. While Nicholas’ abdication was executed with the cooperation of some members of the Duma in a train car near Pskov, and the abdication was published in all the major newspapers, the instrument of abdication was never officially published by the Imperial Senate. There was no question that the abdication was accepted by the Imperial Government, and that the Emperor had complied with the terms set down for his abdication by the Fundamental Laws, but the government did not follow through with the appropriate processes.

Had the Imperial Government (or their successor, the Provisional Government) survived, no doubt the law would have been duly recorded and officially promulgated according to the letter of the law, but as section 96 clearly states, “The law being published may itself indicate that by means of telegraph or courier it be transmitted for execution before its publication.” This indicates that by virtue of its unofficial publication, the instrument of abdication could be accepted and would have had already taken effect, by the time of its promulgation, and that Nicholas II was no longer Emperor.

Did the Emperor have the right to abdicate on behalf of his son?

Nicholas II was motivated by a father’s love for a very ill child whose life expectancy might be limited. No doubt presuming that he and his immediate family would leave Russia for a place of exile, possibly England, the Emperor wanted his beloved son to remain with him and the Empress in their exile. But, absent misconduct of some kind by the affected dynast, the Fundamental Laws make no provision allowing the Emperor or a parent to strip a dynast, whether a minor or not, of his succession rights. Instead, the affected dynast himself would have to abdicate his rights, and it is difficult to see how he could do so before attaining his majority.

The Fundamental Laws clearly state in Chapter Two “On the Order of Succession to the Throne,” Article 28:

28 Accordingly, succession to the Throne belongs in the first place to the eldest son of the reigning Emperor, and after him to all his male issue.

By virtue of this law Nicholas II acted in violation of the Fundamental Laws and against his oath to uphold them. This does not mean that the act of abdication on Alexei’s behalf was not considered and accepted as legal at the time, but it does mean that from a legitimist perspective, the Emperor acted illegally on this point in bypassing the legal heir, no matter what his physical condition. The fundamental laws as written by Emperor Paul I state clearly that “the heir should be determined by the law itself,” not by the whim of the Sovereign. 2

At the very moment that Nicholas II ceased to be Emperor, Tsesarevich and Grand Duke Alexei succeeded as Emperor Alexei II, under a “Regency” defined by the fundamental laws, as he was only 13 and had not yet attained his dynastic majority (for the heir, 16 years of age).

Were there legal provisions for a Regency? What were they?

In Chapter Three, “On the attainment of Majority of the Sovereign Emperor, on Regency and Guardianship” the points surrounding the regency and guardianship are cited in detail and worth enumerating and discussing point by point:

40 Sovereigns of both sexes and the Heir to the Imperial Throne reach their majority at the age of sixteen.

Tsesarevich and Grand Duke Alexei was 13 years of age at the time of the abdication. As a result, the Regency clause would have gone into effect.

41 When an Emperor younger than this age ascends to the Throne, a Regency and a Guardianship are instituted to function until this majority is attained.

Everyone familiar with the Fundamental Laws had assumed that the much beloved heir who had so distinguished himself with his father in the period of 1914-1917 would succeed as a boy-emperor with a Regency headed by the Emperor’s brother, Michael. Several of the Grand Dukes (Paul, Kirill, and Michael) as well as some members of the Duma (Rodzianko) were surprised at Nicholas’s bypassing of the young Tsesarevich.

42 The Regency and the Guardianship are instituted jointly in one person or separately, in which case one person is entrusted with the Regency and the other with the Guardianship.

43 The appointment of Regent and Guardian, either jointly in one person or separately in two persons, depends on the will and discretion of the reigning Emperor who should make this choice, for greater security, in the event of His demise.

At the birth of the Heir, Nicholas II named the former Heir, his brother the Grand Duke Michael, as both Regent and Guardian should anything befall him. The first time there was any serious difficulty arose when Nicholas II was taken ill with typhoid at Livadia in 1900. The Empress delicately enquired with Court Chamberlain A.A. Mossolov as to whether there was any chance that Grand Duchess Olga might be named Regent, or named to the Regency council. It was determined that the Grand Duchess could not, with so many male heirs readily available within the family, but the Emperor recovered and there was no further thought of any difficulties surrounding this until 1912, when Grand Duke Michael married the twice-divorced Natalia Sheremetevskaya Wulffert against the Fundamental Laws and the order of the Emperor.

The Grand Duke Michael was quietly stripped of his Regency of the heir as one of his punishments, and he was never officially reinstated as Regent.

44 If no such appointment was made during the lifetime of the Emperor, upon His demise, the Regency of the State and the Guardianship of the Emperor who is under age, belong to the father and mother but the step-father and step-mother are excluded.

This clause placed the Emperor in a difficult position. With himself removed as Emperor, he might have hoped that the Regency would fall to him and to his wife, the Empress Alexandra. Perhaps the Emperor realized that given their combined unpopularity, there would be no way that the Duma would have accepted the former Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra as regents for their child.

45 When there is no father or mother, then the Regency and Guardianship belong to the nearest in succession to the Throne among the underage Emperor’s relatives, of both sexes who have reached majority.

With this clause, the Emperor must have realized that even without appointment to the Regency, and even in spite of his unpermitted morganatic marriage, the Grand Duke Michael could not be stripped of his right as next most senior male dynast to serve as Regent for the young Emperor, and that he was, in fact, the heir to the throne after the childless Tsesarevich Alexei.

Nicholas II of Russia

Nicholas II (Russian: Николай II, Николай Александрович Романов , tr. Nikolay II, Nikolay Alexandrovich Romanov [nʲɪkɐˈlaj ftɐˈroj, nʲɪkɐˈlaj əlʲɪkˈsandrəvʲɪtɕ rɐˈmanəf] ) (18 May [O.S. 6 May]� – 17 July 1918) was the last Emperor of Russia, Grand Duke of Finland, and titular King of Poland. [ 2 ] His official short title was Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russia. [ 3 ] As with other Russian Emperors he is commonly known by the monarchical title Tsar (though Russia formally ended the Tsardom in 1721). He is known as Saint Nicholas the Passion-Bearer by the Russian Orthodox Church and has been referred to as Saint Nicholas the Martyr.

Nicholas II ruled from 1894 until his abdication on 2 March 1917. [ 4 ] His reign saw Imperial Russia go from being one of the foremost great powers of the world to economic and military collapse. Enemies nicknamed him Bloody Nicholas because of the Khodynka Tragedy, the anti-Semitic pogroms, Bloody Sunday, the violent suppression of 1905 Revolution, his execution of political opponents [ citation needed ] , and his pursuit of military campaigns on a hitherto unprecedented scale.

Under his rule, Russia was defeated in the Russo-Japanese War, including the almost total annihilation of the Russian fleet at the Battle of Tsushima. As head of state, he approved the Russian mobilization of August 1914, which marked the beginning of Russia's involvement in World War I, a war in which 3.3 million Russians were killed. [ 5 ] The Imperial Army's severe losses and the monarchy's incompetent handling of the war, along with other policies directed by Nicholas during his reign, are often cited as the leading causes of the fall of the Romanov dynasty.

Nicholas II abdicated following the February Revolution of 1917 during which he and his family were imprisoned first in the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, then later in the Governor's Mansion in Tobolsk, and finally at the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg. In the spring of 1918, Nicholas was handed over to the local ural soviet by commissar Vasili Yakovlev who was then presented with a written receipt as Nicholas was formerly handed over like a parcel. [ 6 ] Nicholas II his wife, Alexandra Feodorovna his son, Alexei Nikolaevich his four daughters (Olga Nikolaevna, Tatiana Nikolaevna, Maria Nikolaevna and Anastasia Nikolaevna) the family's medical doctor, Evgeny Botkin the Emperor's footman, Alexei Trupp the Empress' maidservant, Anna Demidova and the family's cook, Ivan Kharitonov were executed in the same room by the Bolsheviks on the night of 16/17 July 1918. This led to the canonization of Nicholas II, his wife the Empress Alexandra and their children as passion bearers, a category used to identify believers who, in imitation of Christ, endured suffering and death at the hands of political enemies, on 15 August 2000 [ 7 ] by the Russian Orthodox Church within Russia and, in 1981, as martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, located in New York City. [ 8 ]

By adjusting his $900 million wealth to account for inflation, the Tsar’s net worth was by modern equivalents around $300 billion, making him one of the richest people in human history. [ 9 ]
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Lessons of Russian History: The last days of the last Tsar (Part I)

by Olivia Kroth March 18, 2021 520 Views 10 Votes 8 Comments

Submitted by Olivia Kroth

Parallel to the events of the Russian Revolution, Tsar Nicholas II wrote his private diary. In spite of the dramatic political situation his “Journal intime” is very intimate indeed, very private, hardly taking notice of what was happening around him in the outside world. He began to write in 1881 and stopped in June 1918, a few days prior to his execution. He filled 51 booklets, bound in black leather. After his death, these documents were transported to Moscow by the Bolsheviks and locked up in the Kremlin archives. The first French edition appeared at Editions Payot, Paris 1931. A new pocket version was published by Editions Perrin, Paris 2020, with a foreword and commentary by Jean-Christophe Buisson: “Nicolas II – Journal intime”. The following quotes have been translated into English, the dates are given according to the old Julian calendar as well as the new Gregorian calendar in Russia.

As the editor notes, Tsar Nicholas II wrote in a rather banal and naive style. His entries are short, mostly refering to the weather, his food, daily acitivities and family members. Nevertheless, the diary is interesting to read, as it helps us to understand why the Romanov dynasty was doomed and ended, in 1918. It had exhausted itself. Nicholas II was a weak, timid, unrealistic man, out of touch with reality, not fit to rule such an immense country as the Russian Empire.

He appears to have been a mama’s son, often writing letters to his “dear mama”, the widowed Empress Maria Fyodorovna (1847-1928), born Dagmar of Denmark. She survived the Russian Revolution and spent the rest of her life first in London, then in her native Denmark. The other strong-willed woman, who influenced him, was his German wife Alexandra Fyodorovna (1872-1918), born Alix von Hessen-Darmstadt. She was executed with him and the children, in 1918.

23.02./08.03.1917: “I woke up in Smolensk, at 9:30 a.m. It was cold. The sky was free of clouds but a strong wind blew. I read a French book about the conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar” (Journal intime, p. 59).

A truly prophetic reading. Julius Caesar (100 BC – 44 BC) was murdered in the Senate of Rome, on the Ides of March, the 15th of March 44 BC. The Ides of March was a traditional holiday in ancient Rome, also a deadline for settling debts. Sixty conspirators, led by Brutus and Cassius, entered the Senate and stabbed Julius Caesar to death. According to the historian Plutarch, a seer had warned Caesar that he would be harmed, on the Ides of March.

24.02./09.03.1917: “At 10:30 a.m., I went to the report, which ended at noon. Before lunch, … brought me the Cross of War, sent by King Albert I of Belgium. The weather was bad, snow storm. I went for a short walk in the garden” (Journal intime, p. 59).

While the last Tsar received the Belgian Cross of War, in the Russian capital of Petrograd – formerly Saint Petersburg – riots broke out, due to the lack of food. The Petrograd garrison joined the revolt. This revolutionary activity lasted eight days, with demonstrations and violent armed clashes.

27.02./12.03.1917: “In Petrograd riots broke out, a few days ago. To my great discontent the troops also took part. How awful, to be so far away and to receive only fragments of such bad news. (…) I took a walk in Orcha” (Journal intime, p.60).

Orcha, today a town in Belarus, belonged to the Russian Empire, when Nicholas II visited it. The settlement was founded in the 11th century. In March 1917, it comprised 16.000 inhabitants. The distance from Orcha to Saint Petersburg is 710 km.

Mutinous garrison forces sided with the revolutionaries. A regiment of the Cossacks refused to shoot into the rioting crowd. A battalion of the prestigious Preobrazhensky Regiment even helped the revolutionaries. This was the Tsar’s Life Guard Regiment, one of the oldest and most elite guard regiments of the Imperial Russian Army. It also served as the Tsar’s secret police. In 1906, this regiment started to mutiny. On the 12th of March 1917, it participated in the revolutionary actions which led to the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II.

The Preobrazhensky Regiment was disbanded in December 1917 and reestablished in 2013 as the 154th Preobrazhensky Independent Commandant’s Regiment. Today, it is stationed in Moscow and serves as the main Honour Guard unit of the Russian Armed Forces. The Preobrazhensky Regiment March is one of the most famous Russian military marches, often used in modern Russia, especially during the annual Victory Parade, for trooping the colours and the inspection of troops.

01.03./14.03.1917: “Tonight, arriving at Malaya Vishera, we had to turn around. Lyuban and Tosno are in the hands of insurgents. We went through Valday, Dno, Pskov, where I stopped for the night …. Gatchina and Luga are also occupied by insurgents. What a shame! Impossible to reach Tsarskoye Selo but my heart and my thoughts are always there” (Journal intime, p. 61).

Pskov is one of the oldest cities in Russia. Its earliest mention comes in 903. The importance of the city made it the subject of numerous sieges throughout its history. Pskov withstood a siege by the Swedish, in 1615. It served as a seat of the Pskov Governorate, since 1777. During World War I, Pskov became the centre of much activity behind the lines . It was at a railroad siding in Pskov, aboard the imperial train, that Tsar Nicholas II signed the manifesto announcing his abdication.

During the Tsar’s absence from Petrograd, the Soviet issued its order number 1, which directed the military to obey only Soviet orders, exclusively. Of course, the Tsar did not know this. He did not realize that the last days of his rule had begun. One day later, Nicholas II was forced to abdicate. He noted in his journal: “The situation in Petrograd demands my abdication. To save Russia and maintain the order of the front troops (in World War I) it is necessary to take this decision. I have agreed” (Journal intime, p. 61, 62).

After the Tsar’s abdication, his brother, Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich (1878-1918), refused to ascend the throne. He probably knew what would happen to him, if he did. He was killed in 1918, anyhow. Thus, the Romanov dynasty’s reign ended, in 1917, after more than 300 years.

During the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, the autocratic monarchy of the Russian Empire had failed to modernize its archaic economic, political and social structures. The last Tsar probably ignored these facts. He was a shy, passive, weak man, taking either the wrong decisions or no decisions at all.

In his journal Nicholas II does not write down his thoughts about causes and reasons for the monarchy’s failure. He turns towards his mother for solace.

04.03./16.03.1917: “At noon, I went to the train station to meet my dear mama, arriving from Kyev” (Journal intime, p.63).

05.03./17.03.1917: “At 10 a.m., I went to church. Mama came later. We had lunch together, she stayed until 3:15 p.m. I took a walk in the garden. At 8 p.m., I went to dine with mama” (Journal intime, p. 63).

This back and forth with mama goes on for a while. Nicholas and his mother have lunch, tea, dinner together and play cards. Finally she departs, taking the train back to Kyev.

08.03./21.03.1917: “At 10:15 a.m., I signed the ukase to tell my armies good-bye (after the abdication). At noon, I went to see mama in her train carriage. I lunched with her in her suite and stayed with her, until 4:30 p.m. I feel very depressed, lonely and sad” (Journal intime, p. 64, 65).

When the last Tsar arrived back at Tsarskoye Selo, the Red Guard on duty saluted him with an ironic “Citizen Romanov”, instead of his former title. Nicholas II had to ask for authorization to enter his palace, which had turned into a prison for him and his family. He did not know that the new government had assigned him as prisoner to his former residence, while debating about his future. They were not sure yet, what to do with him.

09.03./22.03.1917: “I arrived at Tsarskoye Selo, at 11:30 a.m. Good God! What a change! In the streets around the palace, in the park, Red Guards everywhere! I went upstairs to find my beloved (wife) Alix and my dear children. Alix looked good, not depressed at all. The children, however, had all lied down in a dark room” (Journal intime, p. 65, 66).

Slowly but surely, Tsar Nicholas II discovered that the world around him had changed forever. He had lost all authority and lived as a prisoner in his own home. His fate had not been decided yet. Would it be exile or execution? He hoped that he and his family could escape to England.

23.03./05.04.1917: “The weather has become nice, the ice is thawing. In the morning, I went for a short walk. I arranged my belongings and books, I began to prepare everything that I want to take with me to England” (Journal intime, p. 71).

30.03./12.04.1917: “A violent wind blew in the afternoon, chasing the clouds away. We saw a funerary celebration for the ‘victims of the revolution’ in the park, in front of the Alexander Palace, not far away from the Chinese Pavilion. We heard the sounds of a funerary march and the Marseillaise” (Journal intime, p.73, 74).

The Marseillaise is a patriotic song of the French Revolution, sung for the first time by its author, Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle, in 1792:

“Arise, children of the Fatherland,
The day of glory has arrived!
Against us, tyranny’s
Bloody standard is raised,
Do you hear, in the countryside,
The roar of those ferocious soldiers?
They are coming right into your arms
To cut the throats of your sons, your women!”

“To arms, citizens,
Form your battalions,
Let’s march, let’s march!
Let an impure blood
Water our furrows!”

“What does this horde of slaves,
Of traitors and conspiring kings want?
For whom have these vile chains,
These irons, been long prepared?
Frenchmen, for us, ah! What outrage
What furious action it must arouse!
It is to us they dare plan
A return to the old slavery!”

18.04./01.05.2017: “Today, it is the 1st of May in western countries. Our idiots have decided to celebrate this holiday too, marching through the streets with music and red banners. Of course, they entered the park and placed wreaths on the tomb of the ‘victims of the revolution’! The weather turned nasty during their ceremony, snow fell in big flakes” (Journal intime, p. 80, 81).

International Workers’ Day is a celebration of the working classes, promoted by the international labour movement, every year on May Day. The date was chosen in 1889 for political reasons by the Marxist International Socialist Congress, which met in Paris and established the Second International as a successor to the earlier International Workingmen’s Association.

The 1904 Sixth Conference of the Second International called on trade unions of all countries to demonstrate energetically, on each First of May, for the legal establishment of the eight-hour-day, the class demands of the proletariat and universal peace.

06.05./19.05.1917: “I turned 49 today. Almost half a century! Today, my thoughts went more than ever towards my dear mama. How awful not being able to communicate with her! I have no news from her, other than stupid, defamatory newspaper articles” (Journal intime, p. 88, 89).

Almost half a century old, the last Tsar was still his mama’s child, pining and whining to have lost contact to her. The last Tsar was an educated man. He was able to read intellectual literature in several languages and give private history lessons to his son Alexei. And yet, he seemed to be emotionally unable to let go of his mother’s skirts, clinging to her forever.

Of course, it could have been a form of regression under stress. However, the psychological defence mechanism did not improve his situation. It did not help to save him. His infantile personality was not taken seriously by the Bolsheviks, who finally decided to put an end to his life.

His childish ideas of escape, his frustrations and unrealistic expectations show his inefficacy to act as a ruler, taking responsibility for the Russian state and society. The editor, Jean-Christophe Buisson, remarks in his commentary that Nicholas was not made to rule Russia and said about himself after his father’s death: “I am hardly prepared to be the Tsar. I never wished to take this position.” Nevertheless, he was crowned in 1896, then stumbled from one disaster to the other.

The editor writes that Tsar Nicholas II was never a conqueror like Ivan III or Ivan the Terrible. He was never a builder like Peter the Great. He was never a reformator like his grandfather, Alexander II. If he was none of those, who was he then? Could the Romanov dynasty have been saved, in the 20th century? This seems doubtful, since the last male child of the reigning family, Tsarevich Alexei, was a bleeder.

Alexei Nikolaevich (Алексей Николаевич, 1904 -1918), heir apparent to the throne of the Russian Empire, was born with haemophilia. He inherited the illness from his mother Alexandra, which she had acquired through the line of her maternal grandmother, the English Queen Victoria. This hereditary condition affected males. It was known as the “Royal Disease” because so many descendants of the intermarried European royal families had it or carried it.

The hemophilia of Tsarevich Alexei was so severe that even small injuries such as a bruise, a nosebleed or a cut were life-threatening. His parents constantly worried about him. In addition, the recurring episodes of illness and long recoveries interfered greatly with Alexei’s childhood and education. Clearly this boy was physically unfit to rule Russia.

Thus, the Romanov dynasty had become useless and weak, degenerated and decadent, in the eyes of the revolting Russian people. …

“The last days of the last Tsar” (Part II) will appear in July 2021.

Olivia Kroth: The journalist and author of four books lives in Russia.