Nicholas II of Russia

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Nicholas II
Emperor of All the Russias
Photo by A. A. Pasetti, of Tsar Nicholas II. St. Petersburg. 1898
Reign 1 November, 1894–15 March, 1917
Born May 18, 1868
Saint Petersburg, Russia
Died July 16, 1918
Yekaterinburg, Russia
Predecessor Alexander III of Russia
Successor Empire abolished, became the Russian SFSR, then the Soviet Union in 1922.
Consort Empress Alexandra of Russia
Issue Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna
Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna
Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna
Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna
Grand Duke Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich
Royal House House of Romanov
Father Alexander III of Russia
Mother Maria Fyodorovna

Nicholas II of Russia (May 18, 1868 – July 17, 1918) (Russian: Никола́й II, Nikolay II) was the last tsar of Russia, the King of Poland, and Grand Duke of Finland. He ruled from 1894 until his forced abdication in 1917. Nicholas proved unable to manage a country in political turmoil and to command its army during World War I. His rule ended with the Russian Revolution of 1917, after which he and his family were executed by Bolsheviks. Nicholas's full name was Nikolay Aleksandrovich Romanov (Никола́й Алекса́ндрович Рома́нов). His official title was Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, though his full title 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, Prince of Estonia, Livonia, Courland and Semigalia, Samogitia, Białystok, Karelia, Tver, Yugra, Perm, Vyatka, Bulgaria, and other territories; Lord and Grand Duke of Nizhny Novgorod, Chernigov; Ruler of Ryazan, Polotsk, Rostov, Yaroslavl, Beloozero, Udoria, Obdoria, Kondia, Vitebsk, Mstislav, and all northern territories; Ruler of Iveria, Kartalinia, and the Kabardinian lands and Armenian territories; hereditary Ruler and Lord of the Cherkess 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." He is sometimes referred to as Nicholas the Martyr due to his execution and as Bloody Nicholas because of the Khodynka Tragedy during his coronation and his government's suppression of dissent. Subsequent to his canonization, he has been regarded as Saint Nicholas The Passion Bearer by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Contents

Family background and early life

Nicholas was born in Saint Petersburg, the second eldest son of Tsar Alexander III and Maria Fyodorovna (born Princess Dagmar of Denmark). His paternal grandparents were Alexander II (Russia) and his first consort Maria Alexandrovna of Hesse. His maternal grandparents were Christian IX of Denmark and Louise of Hesse-Kassel. His older brother Alexander, who would have been Tsar Alexander IV had he lived, died in infancy.

Nicholas did not have an easy childhood. He was constantly bullied by his father, Alexander III, who did not appreciate Nicholas's shy and sensitive disposition. In front of his friends, his father called him a "girly girl." His mother, Maria Fyodorovna, was a clinging possessive woman who spoiled Nicholas.

Nicholas fell in love with the Princess Alix, a daughter of Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse, and Princess Alice of the United Kingdom, the latter a daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Alexander III did not approve of this match; hoping to cement Russia's new alliance with France, he had hoped that Nicholas would marry Princess Hélène, the daughter of Count Philippe of the House of Orleans.

As tsarevich, Nicholas did a considerable amount of traveling. During a notable trip to the Empire of Japan, a failed assassination attempt by a sword-wielding man left him with a scar on his forehead. The quick action of his cousin, Prince George of Greece, who parried the second blow with his cane, possibly saved his life. The motivations for this attack remain unclear.

Becomes Emperor

Portrait by L. Tuxen of the coronation of Nicholas II and Alexandra Fyorodovna, at the Upensky Cathedral of the Kremlin on May 14 thru 26, 1896, amongst great splendor and pomp. Seated upon the dais, from left to right, the Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna, Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna, and Tsar Nicholas II

Deemed overly soft by his hard and demanding father, Nicholas received little grooming for his imperial role. When Alexander died at the age of 49 in 1894 of kidney disease after an unexpectedly rapid deterioration of health, Nicholas felt so unprepared for the duties of the crown that he tearfully asked 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. Historians, including Binjamin Segel in his book A Lie and a Libel: The History of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, have stated that during this period Nicholas commissioned the publication of the anti-Semitic book The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to discredit Nicholas's political opponents as members of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy.[1]

Relationship with the Duma

Under the pressure of the Russian Revolution of 1905, on August 6, 1905, Tsar Nicholas II issued a manifesto about the convocation of the Duma (Legislature), initially thought to be an advisory organ. In the subsequent October Manifesto, Nicholas pledged to introduce basic civil liberties, provide for broad participation in the State Duma, and endow the Duma with legislative and oversight powers. Nicholas's relations with the Duma were not good. The First Duma, with a majority of Constitutional Democratic Party, almost immediately came into conflict with him. Although Nicholas initially had a good relationship with his relatively liberal prime minister, Sergei Witte, Alexandra distrusted him, and as the political situation deteriorated, Nicholas dissolved the Duma. Witte, unable to grasp the seemingly insurmountable problems of reforming Russia and the monarchy, wrote to Nicholas on April 14, 1906, resigning his office (however, other accounts have said that Witte was forced to resign by the tsar). Nicholas was not ungracious to Witte, and an imperial rescript was published on April 22 naming Witte a Knight of the Order of Saint Alexander Nevsky, with diamonds. (The last two words were written in the tsar's own hand, followed by "I remain unalterably well-disposed to you and sincerely grateful, Nicholas").

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. His plans were undercut by conservatives at court who had more influence with the tsar. By the time of Stolypin's assassination by Dmitry Bogrov, a Jewish student (and police informant) in a theatre in Kiev on September 18, 1911, he and the tsar were barely on speaking terms, and his fall was widely foreseen.

Tsarevich Alexei's illness

Further complicating domestic matters was the matter of the succession. Alexandra bore Nicholas four daughters before their son, Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich, was born on August 12, 1904. The young heir proved to be afflicted with hemophilia, a hereditary disease that prevents the blood from clotting properly. At the time, hemophilia was virtually untreatable and usually led to an untimely death. As a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, Alexandra carried the same gene mutation that afflicted some of the imperial houses of Europe, known as "the royal disease," and thus had passed it on to her son. (It is not conclusively known whether any of her daughters also inherited the gene.)[2]

Silver Coin of Tsar Nicholas II, dated 1898, with the Romanov crest on the reverse.

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 merely knew that he suffered from some serious malady.

In desperation, Alexandra sought help from a mystic, Grigori Rasputin. Rasputin seemed to help when Alexei was suffering from internal bleeding, and Alexandra became increasingly dependent on him and his advice, which she accepted as coming directly from God. It has been widely speculated that Rasputin was able to use hypnosis on the young boy as a means of calming him and thus helping to stem the flow of blood to the injured body part.

Rasputin was known to have been studying hypnosis in St. Petersburg as late as 1913, but he was discovered by Stephen Beletsky, the head of the Special Police detachment that monitored all of Rasputin's activities. He was expelled from the city by the police. Rasputin was murdered by Grand Duke Dmitri, Felix Yusupov, and other conspirators in December 1916, by being, in sequence, poisoned, shot several times, beaten, and drowned in the river. It was the latter which became the cause of his death.

The Great War

Following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Serb nationalist association known as the Black Hand, in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, Nicholas was hesitant about what Russia's course of action would be. The rising ideas of Pan-Slavism had led Russia to issue treaties of protection to Serbia. Nicholas wanted neither to abandon Serbia to the ultimatum of Austria-Hungary, nor to provoke a general war. In a series of letters exchanged with the German Kaiser (the so-called "Willy and Nick correspondence"), the two proclaimed their desire for peace, and each attempted to get the other to back down. Nicholas took stern measures in this regard, demanding that Russia's mobilization be only against the Austrian border, in the hopes of preventing war with the German Empire. It proved too late for personal communications to determine the course of events.

Official photograph of Nicholas II taken in honor of the tercentenary celebrations of the rule of the Romanov Family in Russia. St. Petersburg, 1913

The Russians had no contingency plans for a partial mobilization, and on July 31, 1914, Nicholas, under political pressure from abroad, and military pressure at home, took the fateful step of confirming the order for a general mobilization. As Germany and Austria-Hungary had mutual defense treaties in place, this led almost immediately to a German mobilization and declaration of war, and the outbreak of World War I.

The outbreak of war on August 1, 1914, found Russia grossly unprepared, yet 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 Russian armies, however, later had considerable success against both the Austro-Hungarian armies and against the forces of the Ottoman Empire.

Gradually a war of erosion 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. Nicholas, feeling that it was his duty, and that his personal presence would inspire his troops, decided to lead his army directly. He assumed the role of commander-in-chief after dismissing his cousin from that position, the highly respected and experienced Grand Duke Nicholas, following the loss of the Russian Kingdom of Poland in September 1915.

His efforts to oversee the war left domestic issues essentially in the hands of Alexandra. Being of German heritage, she was unpopular and the Duma was constantly calling for political reforms. Political unrest continued throughout the war. Cut off from public opinion, Nicholas did not understand how suspicious the common people were of his wife, who was also the victim of destructive rumors about her dependence on Grigori Rasputin. Nicholas had refused to censor the press, and wild rumors and accusations about Alexandra and Rasputin appeared almost daily. Angry at the damage that Rasputin's influence was doing to Russia's war effort and to the monarchy, a group of nobles, led by Prince Felix Yusupov, murdered Rasputin on December 16, 1916.

Revolution and abdication

The government's inability to maintain constant supplies and an active economy over a prolonged period of warfare led to mounting national hardship. The army's initial failure to maintain the temporary military successes up to June 1916 led to renewed strikes and riots in the following winter. With Nicholas away at the front in 1915, authority appeared to collapse, and St. Petersburg was left in the hands of strikers and mutinying conscript soldiers. At the end of the February Revolution of 1917, Nicholas II was forced to abdicate. He issued the following statement:


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!

However, Grand Duke Michael declined to accept the throne, which then theoretically fell vacant, pending a decision on the next rightful heir. Contrary to popular belief, Michael never abdicated, as he was never formally crowned. The abdication of Nicholas II and the subsequent revolution brought three centuries of the Romanov dynasty's rule to an end.

Death

The provisional Russian government at first kept Nicholas, Alexandra, and their children confined in the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo, 15 miles south of St. Petersburg. Attempting to remove them from the vicinity of the capital and so from possible harm, the Kerensky government moved them east to Tobolsk, in Siberia in August 1917. They remained there through the Bolshevik October Revolution in November 1917, but were then moved to Red Army and Bolshevik-controlled Yekaterinburg. The tsar and his family, including Botkin, Kharitonov and Trupp were executed at 2:33 A.M. on the morning of July 17, 1918. According to Yakov Yurovsky he read to Nicholas a letter from the Presidium of the Ural Regional Soviet saying:

In view of the fact that your relatives continue their offensive against Soviet Russia, the Presidium of the Ural Regional Soviet has decided to sentence you to death.

According to Yurovsky, Nicholas II cried:

Lord, oh my God! Oh my God! What is this? I can't understand you.

The bodies were disposed in a truck which Yurovsky ordered at midnight and taken to the forest to be disposed. The execution was covered up as a disappearance for a while. Soon after, the Bolsheviks announced that only Nicholas had been shot, but that the members of his family had been spirited away to another place. Most reports showed that they had all been executed by a detachment of Bolsheviks led by Yakov Yurovsky, a watchmaker from Perm. Other witnesses swore to have seen the tsarina and her daughters in Perm. King Alfonso XIII of Spain negotiated with the new Soviet government interceding for the remaining members of the family that he thought to be alive.

The last known photograph of Nicholas II, taken after his abdication in March 1917

Then in 1989, Yakov Yurovsky's own report was published, which seemed to show conclusively what had happened that night. The execution 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 tsar's Bolshevik jailers pursued the immediate liquidation of the imperial family, arguing that there was "no turning back."[3] The telegram giving the order on behalf of the Supreme Soviet in Moscow was signed by Jacob Sverdlov, after whom the town was subsequently renamed. Nicholas was the first to die. He was executed with multiple bullets to the head and chest.

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 July 17. The following morning, when rumors 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 hidden pit on Koptyaki Road, a cart track (now abandoned) 12 miles north of Yekaterinburg. Their remains 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. The father was determined to be related to Grand Duke George Alexandrovich, younger brother of Nicholas II. British scientists said they were more than ninety-eight percent sure that the remains were those of the tsar, his family and their attendants. Relics from the Otsu Scandal (the failed assassination attempt in Japan on Tsarevich Nicholas, future Nicholas II) proved unhelpful due to contamination.


A ceremony of Christian Burial was held in 1998, and the bodies were laid to rest with State honors in a special chapel in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg.

Mystery and legend

Two skeletons were not found—Alexei, the 13-year-old heir to the throne; and one of his sisters, either Maria or Anastasia. Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna received worldwide notoriety before the bodies were even found when rumors spread that she alone had survived the execution. Hollywood has made films based on this legend. Anna Anderson, who helped to fuel these rumors and gained a measure of notoriety through her claims to be Anastasia, and her supporters claimed she knew information about the Romanovs that only an intimate member of the family would know. However, DNA testing on Anna Anderson's remains indicated she was an imposter. The Russian Orthodox Church refused to acknowledge the remains as genuine.

During the interment of the bones in 1998, the remains were referred to by the Church as “Christian victims of the Revolution” rather than as the royal family. One reason for this dispute was the absence of any mark from Nicholas's saber wound he received in Japan. Tests done by Japanese scientists showed that the blood of Nicholas's nephew Tikhon did not match with the published profile of Nicholas. A Stanford study done in 2003 suggested some sort of contamination.[4]

In a 1995 book Dead Men Do Tell Tales, forensic anthropologist William Maples stated that he discovered the skeletons of the royal family. The authors of a 2004 Science article,[5] among other scientists, have stated that the DNA results to date have not been conclusive.

Issue

The children of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra as follows:

Name Birth Death Notes
Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna November 15, 1895 July 17, 1918 executed at Yekaterinberg by the Bolsheviks
Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna June 10, 1897 July 17, 1918 executed at Yekaterinberg by the Bolsheviks
Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna June 26, 1899 July 17, 1918 executed at Yekaterinberg by the Bolsheviks
Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna June 18, 1901 July 17, 1918 executed at Yekaterinberg by the Bolsheviks
Grand Duke Tsarevich Alexei August 12, 1904 July 17, 1918 executed at Yekaterinberg by the Bolsheviks

Sainthood

Iconic presentation of the Romanov family

In 1981 Nicholas and his immediate family were canonized as saints by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia as martyrs. On August 14, 2000 they were canonized by the synod of the Russian Orthodox Church. They were not named 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 July 17, 1918 was revealed the light of the faith of Christ that conquers evil.

Notes

  1. The Straight Dope. What’s the Story with ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’? Retrieved May 23, 2007.
  2. Wikipedia. The British Hemophilia Line Retrieved May 23, 2007.
  3. World Socialist Web Site. An Exchange on Bolshevism and Revolutionary Violence Retrieved May 23, 2007.
  4. Alec Knight et. al. Molecular, forensic and haplotypic inconsistencies regarding the identity of the Ekaterinburg remains Retrieved May 23, 2007.
  5. Richard Stone. Burried, Recovered, Lost Again? The Romanovs May Never Rest Retrieved May 23, 2007.

References and further reading

  • Alexandrov, Victor. The End of The Romanovs. London. 1966.
  • Ferro, Marc. Nicholas II: Last of the Tsars. New York. Oxford University. 1993. (hardcover, ISBN 0195081927); 1995. (paperback, ISBN 0195093828)
  • Grabbe, Paul. The Private World of the Last Tsar. New York. 1985. ISBN 0316322717
  • King, Greg. The Court of the Last Tsar: Pomp, Power and Pageantry in the Reign of Nicholas II. 2006. ISBN 0471727636
  • King, Greg and Wilson, Penny. The Fate of the Romanovs. 2003. ISBN 0471727970
  • Massie, Robert K. Nicholas and Alexandra. Orion. 1967. ISBN 0575400064
  • Massie, Robert K. The Romanovs. The Final Chapter. Random House. 1995. ISBN 345-40640-0
  • Maylunas, Andrei and Mironenko, Sergei. A Lifelong Passion: Nicholas and Alexandra: Their Own Story. Doubleday. 1997. ISBN 0385486731
  • McNeal, Shay The Secret Plot to Save the Tsar Harper Perennial. 2001. ISBN 0060517557
  • Pares, Bernard The Fall of the Russian Monarchy. London. 1939; reprint London. 1988. ISBN 1842121146
  • Perry, John and Pleshakov, Constantine. The Flight of the Romanovs. Basic Books. 2001. ISBN 0465024637
  • Radzinsky, Edvard. The Last Tsar: The Life and Death of Nicholas II. 1992. ISBN 0385423713
  • Steinberg, Mark D. and Khrustalev, Vladimir M. The Fall of the Romanovs: Political Dreams and Personal Struggles in a Time of Revolution. Yale University. 1995. ISBN 0300070675
  • Summers, Anthony and Mangold, Tom. The File on the Tsar. Fontana. 1976. ISBN 0006338267
  • Witte, Sergei I. The Memoirs of Count Witte. New York & Toronto. 1921. ISBN 0873325710

External links

Commons
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House of Romanov
Born: May 18 1868; Died: July 17 1918


Preceded by:
Alexander III
Emperor of Russia
1894-1917
Succeeded by:
End of Title
King of Poland
1894-1917
Grand Duke of Finland
1894-1917
Vacant
Title next held by
Prince Frederick Charles of Hesse


Titles in pretence


Preceded by:
None
* NOT REIGNING *
Emperor of Russia
(1917-1918)
Vacant
Title next held by
Cyril Vladimirovitch (from 1924)


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