Nicholas II of Russia
Reign 1 November 1894–15 March 1917 Born 18 May 1868 Saint Petersburg, Russia Died 16 July 1918 Yekaterinburg, Russia Predecessor Alexander III 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 Mother Maria Fyodorovna
Nicholas II of Russia (May 18, 1868–July 17, 1918) (Russian: Никола́й II, Nikolay II) was the last Emperor of Russia, 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 command its army in 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. He is sometimes referred to as Nicholas the Martyr due to his execution and as Bloody Nicholas because of the tragic events 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.
Family background and early life
Nicholas was born in Saint Petersburg, the eldest son of Emperor Alexander III and Maria Fyodorovna of Denmark. His paternal grandparents were Alexander II of Russia and his first consort Maria Alexandrovna of Hesse-Darmstadt. His maternal grandparents were Christian IX of Denmark and Louise of Hesse-Kassel. A sensitive child, Nicholas felt intimidated by the strength of his father, Alexander III, though Nicholas adored him and would often speak of him nostalgically in letters and diaries after Alexander's death. Nicholas and his mother, Maria Fyodorovna, were very close, as can be seen in their letters to one another, which have been published.
Nicholas fell in love with Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt, a daughter of Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by the Rhine and Princess Alice of the United Kingdom, second eldest daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Alexander 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 Orléans.
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.
Deemed overly soft by his hard and demanding father, Nicholas received little grooming for his imperial role. When Alexander died at the age of 44 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.
Relationship with the Duma
Under the pressure of the Russian Revolution of 1905, on August 5, 1905 Tsar Nicholas II issued a manifesto about the convocation of the State Duma, initially thought to be an advisory organ. In the subsequent October Manifesto, the tsar pledged to introduce basic civil liberties, provide for broad participation in the State Duma, and endow the Duma with legislative and oversight powers. However, determined to preserve "autocracy" even in the context of reform, he restricted the Duma's authority in many ways—not least of which was an absence of parliamentary control over the appointment or dismissal of cabinet ministers. Nicholas' relations with the Duma were not good. The First Duma, with a majority of Kadets, 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 14 April 1906 resigning his office (however, other accounts have said that Witte was forced to resign by the Emperor). Nicholas was not ungracious to Witte and an Imperial Rescript was published on 22 April creating Witte a Knight of the Order of Saint Alexander Nevsky, with diamonds. (The last two words were written in the Emperor'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 Emperor. By the time of Stolypin's assassination by Dmitry Bogrov, a Jewish student (and police informant) in a theatre in Kiev on 18 September 1911, he and the Emperor 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 him four daughters before their son Alexei was born on August 12, 1904. The young heir proved to be afflicted with hemophilia, a hereditary disease that prevents blood clotting properly, which at that time 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 ruling houses of Europe 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.)
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 knew that he suffered from some serious malady; however, the exact nature of his suffering was not revealed to all.
Alexandra's desperate need to find some treatment for Alexei's internal bleeding led to the royal family's infamous association with Grigory Rasputin.
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 vacillated as to Russia's course. 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 Nicky 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.
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 attrition 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 Nikolai Nikolaevich (September 1915) following the loss of the Russian Kingdom of Poland.
His efforts to oversee the war left domestic issues essentially in the hands of Alexandra. As a German 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 rumours about her dependence on Grigori Rasputin. Nicholas had refused to censor the press and wild rumours and accusations about Alexandra and Rasputin appeared almost daily. Anger at the damage that Rasputin's influence was doing to Russia's war effort and to the monarchy led to his murder by a group of nobles, led by Prince Felix Yusupov, 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 (Empress Alexandra ran the government from Saint Petersburg from 1915 - initially with Rasputin, who was later assassinated), and St. Petersburg was left in the hands of strikers and mutineering conscript soldiers. At the end of the "February Revolution" of 1917 (February in the Old Russian Calendar), on 2 March (Julian Calendar)/ 15 March (Gregorian Calendar), 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 Mikhail declined to accept the throne, which then theoretically fell vacant, pending a decision on the next rightful heir. Contrary to popular belief, Mikhail 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.
In early March the Provisional Government placed Nicholas and his family under house arrest in the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo, 15 miles south of Petrograd. In August 1917 the Kerensky government evacuated the Romanovs to Tobolsk Tobolsk in the Urals, allegedly to protect them from the rising tide of revolution. After the Bolsheviks came to power in October 1917, the conditions of their imprisonment grew stricter and talk of putting Nicholas on trial grew more frequent. As the counterrevolutionary White movement gathered force, leading to full-scale civil war by the summer, the Romanovs were moved, during April and May 1918, to Yekaterinburg, a militant Bolshevik stronghold. During the night of 16–17 July, Nicholas, Alexandra, their children, their physician, and three servants were taken into the basement and executed at 2:33 A.M. on the morning of July 17. Whether this was on direct orders from Vladimir Lenin in Moscow (as many believe, though we lack hard evidence), or an option approved in Moscow should White troops approach Yekaterinburg, or at the initiative of local Bolsheviks, remains in dispute, as does whether the order (if there was an order) was for the execution of Nicholas alone or the entire family.
According to Yurovsky, at the time of the execution, 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. 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 Empress 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 alive.
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 Emperor's Bolshevik jailers pursued the immediate liquidation of the Imperial Family, arguing that there was "no turning back."  The telegram giving the order on behalf of the Supreme Soviet in Moscow was signed by Yakov 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 concealed 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, as was Alexandra. The father was determined to be related to Grand Duke George Alexandrovich. British scientists said they were more than 98.5% sure that the remains were those of the Emperor, his family and their attendants. Relics from the Otsu Scandal (a failed assassination attempt on Tsesarevich Nicholas (future Nicholas II) in Japan) provided enough blood stains to make a negative identification possible.
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, where other Russian emperors lie.
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. Anastasia 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 helped to fuel these rumours 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 on a visit to Japan as the tsarevich. Tests done by Japanese scientists showed that the blood of Nicholas's nephew Tikhon did not match with the published profile of Nicholas obtained by Dr. Gill. A Stanford study done in 2003 suggested some sort of contamination. 
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 , among other scientists, have stated that the DNA results to date have not been conclusive
The children of Nicholas II and empress Alexandra as follows:
Name Birth Death Notes Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna November 3 (O.S.)/November 15 (N.S.) 1895 July 17, 1918 executed at Yekaterinberg by the Bolsheviks Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna May 29 (O.S.)/June 10 (N.S.) 1897 July 17, 1918 executed at Yekaterinberg by the Bolsheviks Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna June 14 (O.S.)/June 26 (N.S.) 1899 July 17, 1918 executed at Yekaterinberg by the Bolsheviks Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna June 5 (O.S.)/June 18 (N.S.) 1901 July 17, 1918 executed at Yekaterinberg by the Bolsheviks Grand Duke Tsarevich Alexei July 30 (O.S.)/August 12 (N.S.) 1904 July 17, 1918 executed at Yekaterinberg by the Bolsheviks
In 1981 Nicholas and his immediate family were canonised as saints by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia as martyrs. On August 14, 2000 they were canonised 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 canonised 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 4/17 July 1918 was revealed the light of the faith of Christ that conquers evil.
- ^ 6 May 1868 to 4 July 1918 in the Julian calendar.
- ^ In 1831 the Russian tsars were deposed from the Polish throne, but they soon took control of the country to be a part of Russia and abolished the separate monarchy. However, they continued to use the title. For further information, see November Uprising.
- ^ Nicholas's 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."
- ^ Feinstein, Elaine (2006). Excerpt from Anna of All the Russias. Vintage. ISBN 978-1-4000-3378-2.
- ^ http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mzionprotocol.html
- ^ http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/303/5659/753
References and further reading
- Victor Alexandrov, "The End of The Romanovs"(contains the Sokolov Report), London (1966)
- Paul Grabbe, "The Private World of the Last Tsar" New York (1985)
- Ferro, Marc. Nicholas II: Last of the Tsars. New York: Oxford University Press (USA), 1993 (hardcover, ISBN 0-19-508192-7); 1995 (paperback, ISBN 0-19-509382-8).
- Genrikh Ioffe. Revoliutsiia i sud'ba Romanovykh (Moscow: Respublika, 1992) (in Russian)
- Greg King, The Court of the Last Tsar: Pomp, Power and Pageantry in the Reign of Nicholas II (2006)
- Greg King and Penny Wilson, "The Fate of the Romanovs" (2003)
- Dominic Lieven, Nicholas II: Emperor of All the Russias (1993)
- Andrei Maylunas and Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion: Nicholas & Alexandra (1999)
- Shay McNeal, "The Secret Plot to Save the Tsar" (2001)
- Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra (1967)
- Robert K. Massie, The Romanovs. The Final Chapter (1995) ISBN 0394580486
- Bernard Pares, "The Fall of the Russian Monarchy" London (1939), reprint London (1988)
- John Perry and Konstantin Pleshakov, The Flight of the Romanovs (1999)
- Edvard Radzinsky, The Last Tsar: The Life and Death of Nicholas II (1992 ISBN 0-385-42371-3)
- Mark D. Steinberg and Vladimir M. Khrustalev, The Fall of the Romanovs: Political Dreams and Personal Struggles in a Time of Revolution (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995)
- Anthony Summers and Tom Mangold, The File on the Tsar (1976)
- Andrew M. Verner, The Crisis of the Russian Autocracy: Nicholas II and the 1905 Revolution (1990).
- Richard Wortman, Scenarios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy, vol. 2 (2000)
Primary sources in English
Nicholas II's correspondence:
- The Complete Wartime Correspondence of Tsar Nicholas II and the Empress Alexandra, April 1914–March 1917. Edited by Joseph T. Furhmann Fuhrmann. Westport, Conn., and London, 1999
- Letters of Tsar Nicholas and Empress Marie. Ed. Edward J. Bing. London, 1937.
- Letters of the Tsar to the Tsaritsa, 1914-1917. Trans [from Russian translations from the original English]. E. L. Hynes. London and New York, 1929.
- Nicky-Sunny Letters: correspondence of the Tsar and Tsaritsa, 1914-1917. Hattiesburg, Miss. 1970.
- The Secret Letters of the Last Tsar: Being the Confidential Correspondence between Nicholas II and his Mother, Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna. Ed. Edward J. Bing. New York and Toronto, 1938.
- Willy-Nicky Correspondence: Being the Secret and Intimate Telegrams Exchanged Between the Kaiser and the Tsar. Ed. Herman Bernstein. New York, 1917
- Paul Benckendorff, Last Days at Tsarskoe Selo. London, 1927.
- Sophie Buxhoeveden [Buksgevden], The Life and Tragedy of Alexandra Fedorovna, Empress of Russia: A Biography. London, 1928
- Pierre Gilliard, Thirteen Years at the Russian Court. New York, 1921.
- A. A. Mossolov (Mosolov), At the Court of the Last Tsar (London, 1935).
- Anna Viroubova (Vyrubova), Memories of the Russian Court, London, 1923.
- A.Yarmolinsky, editor, "The Memoirs of Count Witte" New York & Toronto (1921)
Other primary documents:
- Mark D. Steinberg and Vladimir M. Khrustalev, The Fall of the Romanovs: Political Dreams and Personal Struggles in a Time of Revolution (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995)
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