Nicholas II: Wikis


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Nicholas II
Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias
Reign 1 November [O.S. 20 October] 1894 – 15 March 1917
Coronation 26 May [O.S. 14 May] 1894
Predecessor Alexander III
Successor Office abolished
De facto :

Georgy Lvov (chairman of the provisional government)

Spouse Alix of Hesse
Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna
Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna
Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna
Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna
Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich
House House of Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov
Father Alexander III of Russia
Mother Maria Feodorovna
(Dagmar of Denmark)
Born 18 May [O.S. 6 May] 1868
Tsarskoye Selo (now called Pushkin), Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
Died 17 July 1918 (aged 50)
Yekaterinburg, Russian SFSR
Burial Peter and Paul Cathedral, Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation

Nicholas II (Russian: Николай II, Николай Александрович Романов, tr. Nikolay II, Nikolay Alexandrovich Romanov, IPA [nʲɪkɐˈlaj ftɐˈroj, nʲɪkɐˈlaj əlʲɪkˈsandrəvʲɪʨ rɐˈmanəf]) (18 May [O.S. 6 May] 1868 – 17 July 1918) was the last Czar of Russia, Grand Duke of Finland, and titular King of Poland.[1] His official title was Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias[2] and he is currently regarded as Saint Nicholas the Passion-Bearer by the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Nicholas II ruled from 1894 until his abdication on 15 March 1917. His reign saw Imperial Russia go from being one of the foremost great powers of the world to an economic and military disaster. Critics nicknamed him Nicholas the Bloody because of the Khodynka Tragedy, Bloody Sunday, and the anti-Semitic pogroms that occurred during his reign. Under his rule, Russia was defeated in the Russo-Japanese War. As head of state, he approved the Russian mobilization of August 1914 which marked the first fatal step into World War I and thus into the demise of the Romanov dynasty less than four years later.

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. Nicholas II, his wife, his son, his four daughters, the family's medical doctor, the Tsar's valet, the Empress' lady-in-waiting and the family's cook were all killed 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 and their children as martyrs by various groups tied to the Russian Orthodox Church within Russia and, prominently, outside Russia.


Family background

Nicholas was the son of Emperor Alexander III and Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia, the latter was born "Princess Dagmar of Denmark". His paternal grandparents were Emperor Alexander II and Empress Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, the latter was born "Princess Marie of Hesse". His maternal grandparents were King Christian IX of Denmark and Princess Louise of Hesse-Kassel.

Nicholas often referred to his father nostalgically in letters after Alexander's death in 1894, though as a child, he was jealous of his father's physical strength, demonstrated when his father had lifted a 60 pound stone with one hand. He was also very close to his mother, revealed in their published letters to and from one another.[citation needed] Nicholas had three younger brothers (Alexander [1869-1870], George [1871-1899], and Michael [1878-1918]) and two younger sisters (Xenia [1875-1960] and Olga [1882-1960]).

Since his father's cousin, Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich, shared the same first name, the Grand Duke was often known within the Imperial Family as "Nicholasha" to distinguish him from the future Czar. Maternally, Nicholas was the nephew of several monarchs, including King George I of Greece, King Frederick VIII of Denmark, Alexandra, Queen consort of the United Kingdom, and The Crown Princess of Hanover.

Nicholas, Nicholas's wife Alexandra, and Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany were all first cousins of George V, king of Great Britain. Nicholas' mother, the Empress Marie, born Princess Dagmar of Denmark, was the sister of Queen Alexandra, the consort of Edward VII, and the mother of George V. The Empress Alexandra was the daughter of Princess Alice, herself a daughter of Queen Victoria, thus making Edward VII her Uncle,and cousin to the Emperor Wilhelm, on her mother's side; and equally a direct descendant of Queen Victoria. The Emperor Wilhelm was a son of Queen Victoria's eldest daughter, also named Victoria, who married Crown Prince Frederick of Germany. Nicholas and Wilhelm were not each other's first cousin, but they were third cousins, once removed, as each descended from Frederick William III, King of Prussia.


On 13 March 1881, following the assassination of his grandfather, Alexander II, Nicholas became Tsarevich and his father became Tsar Alexander III. Nicholas and other family members witnessed this event while staying at the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg,[3] but for security reasons, the new Tsar and his family relocated their primary residence to the Gatchina Palace outside the city.

A long trip for educational purposes became an important part of training for the state activity of the members of the Russian Imperial house. In 1890 Emperor Alexander III of Russia decided to establish the Trans-Siberian Railway and his heir Tsarevich Nicholas took part in the opening ceremony, and from there he was obliged to make a journey around the world, which became known as the Eastern Journey where he survived an assassination attempt at Otsu in Japan. Although Nicholas attended meetings of the Imperial Council, his obligations were limited until he acceded to the throne, which was not expected for many years, since his father was only forty-five.[4]

While he was Tsarevich, Nicholas had an affair with the ballet dancer Mathilde Kschessinska. Against the initial wishes of his parents, Nicholas was determined to marry Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt, the fourth daughter of Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and Princess Alice of the United Kingdom, second eldest daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. His parents intended a more politically beneficial arrangement with Princess Hélène, daughter of Philippe, comte de Paris, pretender to the French throne, hoping to cement Russia's new alliance with France, but eventually yielded to their son's insistence.

Engagement, accession, and marriage

Official Engagement Photo of Nicholas II and Alexandra, by Sergei Lvovich Levitsky, April 1894

Nicholas became engaged to Alix of Hesse in April 1894. Alix was hesitant to accept the engagement due to the requirement that she convert from Lutheranism to Russian Orthodoxy and renounce her former faith. An exception was made for Alix where she could convert without renouncing her Lutheran faith and convert with a clear conscience. Nicholas and Alix became formally engaged on 8 April 1894. Alix converted to Orthodoxy in November 1894, and took the name Alexandra Fedorovna, also in attempt to be more accepted by the People of Russia. Nicholas and Alexandra were related to each other along multiple ancestral lines.[5]

Nicholas took the throne in 1894 at the age of 26 following Alexander III's unexpected death. Throughout 1894, Alexander's health rapidly declined and at 49, he died of kidney disease. Because Alexander had expected to live and rule for another 20 or 30 years, Nicholas did not have as much political training or imperial experience as perhaps necessary. It is said that Nicholas felt unprepared for the duties of the crown asking his cousin, "What is going to happen to me and all of Russia?"[6] Finance Minister Sergei Witte, however, recognized the need to train Nicholas early, suggesting to Alexander that Nicholas act as chairman of the Siberian Railway Committee.[7] Alexander argued that Nicholas was not mature enough to take on serious responsibilities, to which Witte replied that if he was not introduced to state affairs Nicholas would never be ready to understand them.[7] Nicholas also acted as chairman of the Special Committee on Famine Relief, established after the devastating famines and droughts of 1891-1892, and he served on the Finance Committee and State Military Council before his coronation.[8] Perhaps under prepared and unskilled, Nicholas was not altogether untrained for his duties as Tsar. Throughout his reign, Nicholas chose 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.

Nicholas and Alix's wedding was originally scheduled for the following spring, however it was moved forward at Nicholas' insistence. Staggering under the weight of his new office, he had no intention of allowing the one person who gave him confidence to leave his side.[9] The wedding took place on 26 November 1894. Alexandra wore the traditional dress of Romanov brides, and Nicholas a Hussar's uniform. Each holding a lighted candle Nicholas and Alexandra faced the Palace priest; a few minutes before one in the afternoon, they were married.[10]


Official photo-portrait of the Tsar (1898)

Despite a visit to the United Kingdom before his accession, where he observed the House of Commons in debate and seemed impressed by the machinery of democracy, Nicholas turned his back on any notion of giving away any power to elected representatives in Russia. Shortly after he came to the Throne, a deputation of peasants and workers from various towns' local assemblies (zemstvos) came to the Winter Palace proposing court reforms, such as the adoption of a constitutional monarchy,[11] and reform that would improve the political and social life of the peasantry.[12] Although the addresses they had sent in beforehand were couched in mild and loyal terms, Nicholas was angry and ignored advice from an Imperial Family Council by saying to them: "... it has come to my knowledge that during the last months there have been heard in some assemblies of the zemstvos the voices of those who have indulged in a senseless dream that the zemstvos be called upon to participate in the government of the country. I want everyone to know that I will devote all my strength to maintain, for the good of the whole nation, the principle of absolute autocracy, as firmly and as strongly as did my late lamented father."[13]

On 14 May 1896, Nicholas' formal coronation as Tsar was held in Uspensky Cathedral located within the Kremlin.[14] In celebration on 18 May 1896, a large festival with food, free beer and souvenirs was held in Khodynka Field outside Moscow. Khodynka was chosen as the location as it was believed to be the sacred centre of the Russian Empire and would therefore demonstrate Nicholas' legitimacy as Tsar and ties to the old autocracy.[15] Khodynka was also used as a military training ground and the field was uneven with trenches. When food and drink were handed out, the crowd rushed to get their share and individuals were tripped and trampled.[16] Of the approximate 100,000 in attendance, it is estimated that 7,000 individuals died[14] and another 9,000 to 20,000 were injured.[15] The Khodynka Tragedy was seen as a bad omen and in addition to his conservative policies, Nicholas found gaining popular trust difficult from the beginning of his reign.

The first years of his reign saw little more than continuation and development of the policy pursued by Alexander III. Nicholas allotted money for the All-Russia exhibition of 1896. In 1897 restoration of gold standard by Sergei Witte, Minister of Finance, completed the series of financial reforms, initiated fifteen years earlier. By 1902, the Great Siberian railway was nearly completed; this helped the Russian trade in the Far East but the railway still required huge amounts of work (England and France railways completed in 1930s).

Russian delegation at the Hague Peace Conference 1899.

In foreign relations, Nicholas followed policies of his father, strengthening the Franco-Russian Alliance and pursuing a policy of general European pacification, which culminated in the famous Hague peace conference. This conference, suggested and promoted by Nicholas II, was convened with the view of terminating the arms race, and setting up machinery for the peaceful settlement of international disputes. The results of the conference were less than expected, because of the mutual distrust existing between great powers. Still, the Hague conventions were among the first formal statements of the laws of war.


Russia-Japan War

A clash between Russia and Japan was almost inevitable by the turn of the 20th century. Russia had expanded in the East, and the growth of her settlement and territorial ambitions, as her southward path to the Balkans was frustrated, conflicted with Japan's own territorial ambitions on the Chinese and Asian mainland. War began in 1904 with a surprise Japanese attack on the Russian fleet in Port Arthur, without formal declaration of war. The Russian Baltic fleet traversed the world to balance power in the East, but after many misadventures on the way, was almost annihilated by the Japanese in the Battle of the Tsushima Strait. On land the Russian army experienced logistical problems. While commands and supplies came from St. Petersburg, combat took place in east Asian ports with only the Trans-Siberian Railway for transport of supplies as well as troops both ways. The 6,000-mile track between St. Petersburg and Port Arthur was one-way, with no track around Lake Baikal, allowing only gradual build-up of the forces on the front. Besieged Port Arthur fell to the Japanese, after nine months of resistance. In mid-1905, Nicholas II accepted American mediation, appointing Sergei Witte chief plenipotentiary for the peace talks. War was ended by the Treaty of Portsmouth.

Nicholas's stance on the war was something that baffled many. Nicholas approached the war with confidence and saw it as an opportunity to raise Russian morale and patriotism, paying little attention to the finances of a long-distance war.[17] Shortly before the Japanese attack on Port Arthur, Nicholas held strong to the belief that there would be no war. Despite the onset of the war and the many defeats Russia suffered, Nicholas still believed in, and expected, a final victory. Many people took the Tsar's confidence and stubbornness for indifference; believing him to be completely impervious[citation needed]. As Russia continued to face defeat by the Japanese, the call for peace grew. Nicholas's own mother, as well as his cousin, Kaiser William, urged Nicholas to open peace negotiations. Despite the efforts for peace, Nicholas remained evasive. It was not until 27 March-28 and the annihilation of the Russian fleet by the Japanese, that Nicholas finally decided to pursue peace.

Anti-Semitic programs of 1903-1906

The administration of Nicholas II published anti-Semitic propaganda that encouraged people to riot in various parts of the Pale of Settlement, resulting in the pogroms of 1903-1906. The Kishinev newspaper "Bessarabets", which published anti-Semitic materials, received funds from Viacheslav Plehve, Minister of the Interior. [18] These publications served to fuel the Kishinev pogrom.

1905 Revolution

With the defeat of Russia by a non-Western power, the prestige of the government and the authority of the autocratic empire was brought down significantly.[19] Defeat was a severe blow and the Imperial government collapsed, with the ensuing revolutionary outbreaks of 1905-1906. In hope to frighten any further contradiction many demonstrators were shot in front of the Winter Palace in St.Petersburg; the Emperor's Uncle, Grand Duke Sergei, was killed by a revolutionary's bomb in Moscow as he left the Kremlin. The Black Sea Fleet mutinied, and a railway strike developed into a general strike which paralyzed the country. Tsar Nicholas II, who was taken by surprise by the events, mixed his anger with bewilderment. He wrote to his mother after months of disorder:

"It makes me sick to read the news! Nothing but strikes in schools and factories, murdered policemen, Cossacks and soldiers, riots, disorder, mutinies. But the ministers, instead of acting with quick decision, only assemble in council like a lot of frightened hens and cackle about providing united ministerial action... ominous quiet days began, quiet indeed because there was complete order in the streets, but at the same time everybody knew that something was going to happen — the troops were waiting for the signal, but the other side would not begin. One had the same feeling, as before a thunderstorm in summer! Everybody was on edge and extremely nervous and of course, that sort of strain could not go on for long.... We are in the midst of a revolution with an administrative apparatus entirely disorganized, and in this lies the main danger."[20]

Bloody Sunday

Members of the Imperial Guard outside the Winter Palace, St. Petersberg, January 1905

A few days prior to the Bloody Sunday (9 (22) January 1905), the leader of the initiative himself, a priest named George Gapon, informed the government of the forthcoming procession to the Winter Palace to hand a petition to the Tsar. On the evening before, on Saturday, 8 (21), the ministers convened to consider the situation. There was never any thought that the Tsar, who had left the capital for Tsarskoye Selo on the advice of the ministers would actually be asked to meet Gapon; the suggestion that some other member of the Imperial family receive the petition was rejected. Finally informed by the Prefect of Police that he lacked the men to pluck Gapon from among his followers and place him under arrest, the newly appointed Minister of the Interior, Prince Sviatopolk-Mirsky, and his colleagues decided to bring additional troops into the city for control. That evening Nicholas wrote in his diary, "Troops have been brought from the outskirts to reinforce the garrison. Up to now the workers have been calm. Their number is estimated at 120,000. At the head of their union is a kind of socialist priest named Gapon. Mirsky came this evening to present his report on the measures taken."[21] At Tsarskoye Selo, Nicholas was stunned when he heard what had happened. He wrote in his diary:

"A painful day. Serious disorders took place in Petersburg when the workers tried to come to the Winter Palace. The troops have been forced to fire in several parts of the city and there are many killed and wounded. Lord, how painful and sad this is."[22]

On Sunday, 9 (22) January 1905, Gapon began his march. Locking arms, the workers marched peacefully through the streets. Some carried religious icons and banners, as well as national flags and portraits of the Czar. As they walked they sang religious hymns and the Imperial anthem, 'God Save The Tsar'. At 2PM all of the converging processions were scheduled to arrive at the Winter Palace. There was no single confrontation with the troops. Throughout the city, at bridges on strategic boulevards, the marchers found their way blocked by lines of infantry, backed by Cossacks and Hussars; and the soldiers opened fire on the crowd. The official number of victims was ninety-two dead and several hundred wounded. Gapon vanished and the other leaders of the march were seized. Expelled from the capital, they circulated through the empire, increasing the casualties, possibly into thousands[citation needed]. That day, which became known as "Bloody Sunday", was a turning point in Russian history. It shattered the ancient, legendary belief that the Tsar and the people were one. As bullets riddled their icons, their banners and their portraits of Nicholas, the people shrieked, "The Tsar will not help us!"[23] Outside Russia, the future British Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald attacked the Tsar calling him a "blood-stained creature and a common murderer".[22] Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna wrote:

"Nicky had the police report a few days before. That Saturday he telephoned my mother at the Anitchkov and said that she and I were to leave for Gatchina at once. He and Alicky went to Tsarskoye Selo. Insofar as I remember, my Uncles Vladimir and Nicholas were the only members of the family left in St.Petersburg, but there may have been others. I felt at the time that all those arrangements were hideously wrong. Nicky's ministers and the Chief of Police had it all their way. My mother and I wanted him to stay in St.Petersburg and to face the crowd. I am positive that, for all the ugly mood of some of the workmen, Nicky's appearance would have calmed them. They would have presented their petition and gone back to their homes. But that wretched Epiphany incident had left all the senior officials in a state of panic. They kept on telling Nicky that he had no right to run such a risk, that he owed it to the country to leave the capital, that even with the utmost precautions taken there might always be some loophole left. My mother and I did all we could to persuade him that the ministers' advice was wrong, but Nicky preferred to follow it and he was the first to repent when he heard of the tragic outcome."[24]

From his hiding place, Father Gapon issued a letter. He stated, "Nicholas Romanov, formerly Tsar and at present soul-murderer of the Russian empire. The innocent blood of workers, their wives and children lies forever between you and the Russian people ... May all the blood which must be spilled fall upon you, you Hangman. I call upon all the socialist parties of Russia to come to an immediate agreement among themselves and bring an armed uprising against Tsarism."[22]

Relationship with the Duma

Silver Coin of Tsar Nicholas II, dated 1898, with the Imperial coat-of-arms on the reverse. The Russian inscription reads: B[ozheyu] M[ilostyu] Nikolay Imperator i Samoderzhets Vseross[iyskiy].; English: "By the grace of God, Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias".

Under pressure from the attempted Russian Revolution of 1905, on 5 August 1905 Tsar Nicholas II issued a manifesto about the convocation of the State Duma, initially thought to be an advisory organ. Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, younger sister of Nicholas II wrote, "There was such gloom at Tsarskoye Selo. I did not understand anything about politics. I just felt everything was going wrong with the country and all of us. The October Constitution did not seem to satisfy anyone. I went with my mother to the first Duma. I remember the large group of deputies from among peasants and factory people. The peasants looked sullen. But the workmen were worse: they looked as though they hated us. I remember the distress in Alicky's eyes."[24] Minister of the Court Count Fredericks commented, "The Deputies, they give one the impression of a gang of criminals who are only waiting for the signal to throw themselves upon the ministers and cut their throats. I will never again set foot among those people."[25] The Dowager Empress noticed "incomprehensible hatred."[25]

In the 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's relations with the Duma were not good. The First Duma, with a majority of Kadets, almost immediately came into conflict with him. Scarcely had the 524 members sat down at the Tauride Palace when they formulated an 'Address to the Throne'. It demanded universal suffrage, radical land reform, the release of all political prisoners and the dismissal of ministers appointed by the Tsar in favour of ministers acceptable to the Duma.[26] Although Nicholas initially had a good relationship with his relatively liberal prime minister, Sergei Witte, Alexandra distrusted him (because he instigated an investigation of Rasputin), and as the political situation deteriorated, Nicholas dissolved the Duma. The Duma was populated with radicals, many of whom wished to push through legislation that would abolish private property ownership, among other things. 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, for ever more Nicholas.").

A second Duma met for the first time in February 1907. The leftist parties including the Social Democrats and the Social Revolutionaries which had boycotted the First Duma, had won two hundred seats in the Second, more than a third of the membership. Again Nicholas waited impatiently to rid himself of the Duma. In two letters to his mother he let his bitterness flow, "A grotesque deputation is coming from England to see liberal members of the Duma. Uncle Bertie informed us that they were very sorry but were unable to take action to stop their coming. Their famous "liberty", of course. How angry they would be if a deputation went from us to the Irish to wish them success in their struggle against their government."[27] A little while later Nicholas wrote, "All would be well if everything said in the Duma remained within its walls. Every word spoken, however, comes out in the next day's papers which are avidly read by everyone. In many places the populace is getting restive again. They begin to talk about land once more and are waiting to see what the Duma is going to say on the question. I am getting telgrams from everywhere, petitioning me to order a dissolution, but it is too early for that. One has to let them do something manifestly stupid or mean and then — slap! And they are gone!"[28]

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. Nevertheless, when the Duma remained hostile, Stolypin had no qualms about invoking Article 87 of the Fundamental Laws, which empowered the Tsar to issue 'urgent and extraordinary' emergency decrees 'during the recess of the State Duma'. Stolypin's most famous legislative act, the change in peasant land tenure, was promulgated under Article 87.[28]

The third Duma remained an independent body. This time the members proceeded cautiously. Instead of hurling themselves at the government, opposing parties within the Duma worked to develop the body as a whole. In the classic manner of the British Parliament, the Duma reached for power grasping for the national purse strings. The Duma had the right to question ministers behind closed doors as to their proposed expenditures. These sessions, endorsed by Stolypin, were educational for both sides, and, in time, mutual antagonism was replaced by mutual respect. Even the sensitive area of military expenditure, where the October Manifesto clearly had reserved decisions to the throne, a Duma commission began to operate. Composed of aggressive patriots no less anxious than Nicholas to restore the fallen honour of Russian arms, the Duma commission frequently recommended expenditures even larger than those proposed.

With the passage of time, Nicholas also began to have confidence in the Duma. "This Duma cannot be reproached with an attempt to seize power and there is no need at all to quarrel with it" he said to Stolypin in 1909.[29] Unfortunately Stolypin's plans were undercut by conservatives at court. Reactionaries such as Prince Vladimir Orlov never tired of telling the Tsar that the very existence of the Duma was a blot on the autocracy. Stolypin, they whispered, was a traitor and secret revolutionary who was conniving with the Duma to steal the prerogatives assigned the Tsar by God. Witte also engaged in constant intrigue against Stolypin. Although Stolypin had had nothing to do with Witte's fall, Witte blamed him. Stolypin had unwittingly angered the Empress. He had ordered an investigation into Rasputin and presented it to the Czar. Stolypin, on his own authority, ordered Rasputin to leave St.Petersburg. Alexandra protested vehemently but Nicholas refused to overrule his Prime Minister.[30] who had more influence with the Emperor.

By the time of Stolypin's assassination by Dmitry Bogrov, a student (and police informant) in a theatre in Kiev on 18 September 1911, Stolypin had grown weary of the burdens of office. For a man who preferred clear decisive action, working with a sovereign who believed in fatalism and mysticism was frustrating. As an example, Nicholas once returned a document unsigned with the note: "Despite most convincing arguments in favour of adopting a positive decision in this matter, an inner voice keeps on insisting more and more that I do not accept responsibility for it. So far my conscience has not deceived me. Therefore I intend in this case to follow its dictates. I know that you, too, believe that "a Tsar's heart is in God's hands". Let it be so. For all laws established by me I bear a great responsibility before God, and I am ready to answer for my decision at any time."[30] Alexandra, believing that Stolypin had severed the bonds that her son depended on for life, hated the Prime Minister.[30] In March 1911, in a fit of anger stating that he no longer commanded the imperial confidence, Stolypin asked to be relieved of his office. Two years earlier when Stolypin had casually mentioned resigning to Nicholas he was informed:

"This is not a question of confidence or lack of it. It is my will. Remember that we live in Russia, not abroad... and therefore I shall not consider the possibility of any resignation."[31]

In 1912, a fourth Duma was elected with almost the same membership as the third. "The Duma started too fast. Now it is slower, but better, and more lasting." stated Nicholas to Sir Bernard Pares.[29]

The First World War was a complete and utter disaster for Russia. By late 1916, among the Romanov family desperation reached the point of which Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich, younger brother of Alexander III and the Czar's only surviving uncle was deputed to beg Nicholas to grant a constitution and a government responsible to the Duma. Nicholas sternly refused, reproaching his uncle for asking him to break his coronation oath to maintain autocratic power intact for his successors. In the Duma on 2 December 1916, Purishkevich, a fervent patriot, monarchist and war worker denounced the dark forces which surrounded the throne in a thunderous two hour speech which was tumultuously applauded. "Revolution" he warned "and an obscure peasant shall govern Russia no longer".[32]

Tsarevich Alexei's illness & Rasputin

Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich, c. 1914
Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin

Further complicating domestic matters was the matter of the succession. Alexandra bore Nicholas four daughters, the Grand Duchess Olga in 1895, the Grand Duchess Tatiana in 1897, Grand Duchess Maria in 1899, and Grand Duchess Anastasia in 1901, before their son Alexei was born on 12 August 1904. The young heir was afflicted with hemophilia, a hereditary disease that prevents blood clotting properly, which at that time was untreatable and usually led to an untimely death. As a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, Alexandra carried the same gene mutation that afflicted several of the major European royal houses such as Spain and Prussia. Hemophilia therefore became known as "the royal disease". Alexandra had passed it on to her son. As all of Nicholas and Alexandra's daughters perished with their parents and brother in Yekaterinburg in 1918, it is not known whether any of them inherited the gene as carriers.

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. At first Alexandra turned to Russian doctors and medics to treat Alexei; however, their treatments generally failed, and Alexandra increasingly turned to mystics and holy men or starets as they were called in Russian. One of these, an illiterate Siberian, Grigori Rasputin, appeared to have some success. Rasputin's influence over Empress Alexandra, and consequently the Czar, had grown stronger ever since 1912, when the Tsarevich nearly died from an injury whilst the family was on vacation at the hunting lodges at Bialowieza and Spala (now part of Poland). The bleeding went unstopped and grew steadily worse until it was assumed that the Tsarevich would not survive, and the Last Sacrament was administered on 10 October 1912. Desperate, Alexandra called Rasputin as a last resort, and the reply came, "God has seen your tears and heard your prayers. Do not grieve. The Little One will not die. Do not allow the doctors to bother him too much."[33] Miraculously it seemed to Alexandra, the hemorrhage stopped the next day and the boy began to recover. Alexandra took this as a sign that Rasputin was a starets and that God was with him; for the rest of her life she would defend him and turn her wrath against anyone who dared to question his moral character.

World War I

Following the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne by Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Serb nationalist association known as the Black Hand, in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, Nicholas vacillated as to Russia's course of action. The outbreak of war was not inevitable, but leaders, diplomats and nineteenth-century alliances created a climate for large-scale conflict. The concept of Pan-Slavism and ethnicity allied Russia and Serbia in a treaty of protection, and Germany and Austria were similarly allied. Territorial conflict created rivalries between Germany and France and between Austria and Serbia, and as a consequence alliance networks developed across Europe. The Triple Entente and Triple Alliance networks were set before the war. The assassination of Ferdinand tripped these alliance networks bringing each country into conflict with one another as each independently declared war. 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 Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany (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.

Nicholas II (right) with Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany (left) in 1905. Nicholas is wearing a German Army uniform, while Wilhelm wears a Russian Army tunic.

The Russians had no contingency plans for a partial mobilization, and on 31 July 1914 Nicholas took the fateful step of confirming the order for a general mobilization. Nicholas was strongly counselled against mobilization of the Russian forces but chose to ignore such advice. Nicholas put the Russian army on "alert"[34] on July 25. Although this was not mobilization, it threatened the German and Austrian borders and looked like a military declaration of war.[34]

On 28 July, Austria formally declared war against Serbia, bringing Russia and Germany into conflict as protectorates, and France and Britain and Russian allies. Count Witte told the French Ambassador Paleologue that from Russia's point of view the war was madness, Slav solidarity was simply nonsense and Russia could hope for nothing from the war.[35] On 31 July Russia completed its mobilization, but still maintained that it would not attack if peace talks were to begin. Germany then replied that Russia must demobilize within the next twelve hours.[36] In Saint Petersburg, at 7PM, with the ultimatum to Russia expired, the German ambassador to Russia met with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Sazonov, asked three times if Russia would not reconsider and then with shaking hands delivered the note accepting Russia's war challenge and declaring war. The outbreak of war on 1 August 1914 found Russia grossly unprepared. Russia and her allies placed their faith in her army, the famous 'Russian steamroller'.[37] Its pre-war regular strength was 1,400,000; mobilisation added 3,100,000 reserves and millions more stood ready behind them. In every other respect, however, Russia was unprepared for war. Germany had ten times as much railway track per square mile and whereas Russian soldiers travelled an average of 800 miles (1,290 km) to reach the front, German soldiers travelled less than a quarter of that distance. Russian heavy industry was still too small to equip the massive armies the Tsar could raise and her reserves of munitions were pitifully small. With the Baltic Sea barred by German U-boats and the Dardanelles by the guns of her former ally Turkey, Russia could receive help only via Archangel which was frozen solid in winter, or Vladivostock, which was over 4,000 miles (6,400 km) from the front line. The Russian High Command was moreover greatly weakened by the mutual contempt between Vladimir Sukhomlinov, the Minister of War, and the redoubtable warrior giant Grand Duke Nicholas Nicolaievich who commanded the armies in the field.[37] In spite of all of this, 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 Battle of Tannenberg where an entire Russian army was annihilated cast an ominous shadow over the empire's future. The loyal officers lost were the very ones needed to protect the dynasty. The Russian armies later had moderate success against both the Austro-Hungarian armies and against the forces of the Ottoman Empire. They never succeeded against the might of the German army.

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. General Denikin, retreating from Galicia wrote, "The German heavy artillery swept away whole lines of trenches, and their defenders with them. We hardly replied. There was nothing with which we could reply. Our regiments, although completely exhausted, were beating off one attack after another by bayonet .... Blood flowed unendingly, the ranks became thinner and thinner and thinner. The number of graves multiplied.[38] Total losses for the spring and summer of 1915 amounted to 1,400,000 killed or wounded, while 976,000 had been taken prisoner.[citation needed] On 5 August with the army in retreat, Warsaw fell. Defeat at the front bred disorder at home. At first the targets were German and for three days in June shops, bakeries, factories, private houses and country estates belonging to people with German names were looted and burned. Then the inflamed mobs turned on the government declaring the Empress should be shut up in a convent, the Tsar deposed and Rasputin hanged. Nicholas was by no means deaf to these discontents. An emergency session of the Duma was summoned and a Special Defence Council established, its members drawn from the Duma and the Tsar's ministers.

In July 1915, King Christian X of Denmark, first cousin of the Tsar, sent Hans Niels Andersen to Tsarskoye Selo with an offer to act as a mediator. He made several trips between London, Berlin and Petrograd and in July saw the Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna. Andersen told her they should conclude peace. Nicholas chose to turn down King Christian's offer of mediation.[39]

The energetic and efficient General Alexei Polivanov replaced Sukhomlinov as Minister of War, which failed to improve the strategic situation.[37] In the aftermath of The Great Retreat and the loss of the Kingdom of Poland, Nicholas assumed the role of commander-in-chief after dismissing his cousin, Nikolay Nikolayevich, in September 1915. This was a fatal mistake, as he came to be personally associated with the continuing losses at the front. He was also away at the remote HQ at Mogilev, far from the direct governance of the empire, and when revolution broke out in Petrograd he was unable to prevent it. In reality the move was largely symbolic, since all important military decisions were made by his chief-of-staff General Michael Alexeiev, and Nicholas did little more than review troops, inspect field hospitals, and preside over military luncheons.[40]

The Duma was still calling for political reforms and political unrest continued throughout the war. Cut off from public opinion, Nicholas could not see that the dynasty was in decline. With Nicholas at the front, domestic issues and control of the capital were left with his wife Alexandra, however Alexandra's relationship with Grigori Rasputin and her German background further discredited the dynasty's authority. Nicholas had been repeatedly warned about the destructive influence of Grigori Rasputin but had failed to remove him. Wild rumours and accusations about Alexandra and Rasputin appeared almost daily. Alexandra was even brought under allegations of treason and undermining the government due to her German roots. It was during the war that St. Petersburg was symbolically renamed Petrograd, the Slavic equivalent, in response to increasing war-time Germanophobia.[41] Anger at Nicholas's failure to act and the extreme damage that Rasputin's influence was doing to Russia's war effort and to the monarchy led to his (Rasputin's) murder by a group of nobles, led by Prince Felix Yusupov and Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, a cousin of the Tsar, on 16 December 1916.

End of reign

As the government failed to produce supplies, there was mounting hardship creating massive riots and rebellions. With Nicholas away at the front in 1915, authority appeared to collapse (Empress Alexandra ran the government from Saint Petersburg from 1915), and Saint Petersburg was left in the hands of strikers and mutineering conscript soldiers. Despite efforts by the British Ambassador Sir George Buchanan to warn the Tsar that he should grant constitutional reforms to fend off revolution, Nicholas continued to bury himself away at the Staff HQ (Stavka) 400 miles (600 km) away at Moghilev, leaving his capital and court open to intrigues and insurrection. By early 1917, Russia was on the verge of total collapse. The army had taken 15 million men from the farms and food prices had soared. An egg cost four times what it had in 1914, butter five times as much. The severe winter dealt the railways, overburdened by emergency shipments of coal and supplies, the final blow. Russia began the war with 20,000 locomotives; by 1917 9,000 were in service, while the number of serviceable railway wagons had dwindled from half a million to 170,000. In February 1917, 1,200 locomotives burst their boilers and nearly 60,000 wagons were immobilised. In Petrograd supplies of flour and fuel all but disappeared.[42] War-time prohibition of alcohol was enacted by Nicholas in order to boost patriotism and productivity, but instead damaged the treasury and funding of the war.[41]

One of the last photographs taken of Nicholas II, showing him at Tsarskoye Selo after his abdication in March 1917

On 23 February 1917 in Petrograd (as the capital had been renamed) a combination of very severe cold weather allied with acute food shortages caused people to start to break shop windows to get bread and other necessaries. In the streets, red banners appeared and the crowds chanted "Down with the German woman! Down with Protopopov! Down with the war!"[42] Police started to shoot at the populace from rooftops which incited riots. The troops in the capital were poorly-motivated and their officers had no reason to be loyal to the regime. They were angry and full of revolutionary fervor and sided with the populace. The Tsar's Cabinet begged Nicholas to return to the capital and offered to resign completely. Five hundred miles away the Tsar, misinformed by Protopopov that the situation was under control, ordered that firm steps be taken against the demonstrators. For this task the Petrograd garrison was quite unsuitable. The cream of the old regular army lay in their graves in Poland and Galicia. In Petrograd 170,000 recruits, country boys or older men from the working-class suburbs of the capital itself, remained to keep control under the command of wounded officers invalided from the front, and cadets from the military academies. Many units, lacking both officers and rifles, had never undergone formal training. General Khabalov attempted to put the Tsar's instructions into effect on the morning of Sunday, 11 March 1917. Despite huge posters ordering people to keep off the streets, vast crowds gathered and were only dispersed after some 200 had been shot dead, though a company of the Volinsky Regiment fired into the air rather than into the mob, and a company of the Pavlovsky Life Guards shot the officer who gave the command to open fire. Nicholas, informed of the situation by Rodzianko, ordered reinforcements to the capital and suspended the Duma.[43] It was all too late.

On 12 March the Volinsky Regiment mutinied and was quickly followed by the Semonovsky, the Ismailovsky, the Litovsky and even the legendary Preobrajensky Guard, the oldest and staunchest regiment founded by Peter the Great. The arsenal was pillaged, the Ministry of the Interior, Military Government building, police headquarters, the Law Courts and a score of police buildings were put to the torch. By noon the fortress of Peter and Paul with its heavy artillery was in the hands of the insurgents. By nightfall 60,000 soldiers had joined the revolution.[43] Order broke down and members of the Parliament (Duma) formed a Provisional Government to try to restore order but it was impossible to turn the tide of revolutionary change. Already the Duma and the Soviet had formed the nucleus of a Provisional Government and decided that Nicholas must abdicate. Faced with this demand, which was echoed by his generals, deprived of loyal troops, with his family firmly in the hands of the Provisional Government and fearful of unleashing civil war and opening the way for German conquest, Nicholas had no choice but to submit. 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 chose to abdicate. He firstly abdicated in favour of Tsarevich Alexei, but swiftly changed his mind after advice from doctors that the heir would not live long apart from his parents who would be forced into exile. Nicholas drew up a new manifesto naming his brother, Grand Duke Michael, as the next Emperor of all the Russias. He issued the following statement (which was suppressed by the Provisional Government):

"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 Czar 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!"

Grand Duke Mikhail declined to accept the throne until the people were allowed to vote through a Constituent Assembly for the continuance of the monarchy or a republic. The abdication of Nicholas II and the subsequent Bolshevik revolution brought three centuries of the Romanov dynasty's rule to an end. The fall of autocratic Tsardom brought joy to Liberals and Socialists in Britain and France and made it possible for the United States of America, the first foreign government to recognise the Provisional government, to enter the war early in April fighting in an alliance of democracies against an alliance of empires. In Russia, the announcement of the Tsar's abdication was greeted with many emotions. These included delight, relief, fear, anger and confusion.[44]

Final months and death

The Governor's Mansion in Tobolsk, where the Romanov family was held in captivity between August 1917 and April 1918

In August 1917, the Kerensky government evacuated the Romanovs to Tobolsk in the Urals, allegedly to protect them from the rising tide of revolution. There they lived in the former Governor's Mansion in considerable comfort. In October 1917, however, the Bolsheviks seized power from Kerensky's Provisional Government; Nicholas followed the events in October with interest but as yet no alarm. He continued to underestimate Lenin's importance but already began to feel that his abdication had done Russia more harm than good. In the meantime he and his family occupied themselves with keeping warm. Conditions of imprisonment became more strict, and talk of putting Nicholas on trial grew more frequent. The Tsar was forbidden to wear epaulettes and the sentries scrawled lewd drawings on the fence to offend his daughters. On 1 March 1918, the family was placed on soldier's rations, which meant parting with ten devoted servants and giving up butter and coffee as luxuries. What kept the family's spirits up was the belief that help was at hand.[45] The Romanovs believed that various plots were underway to break them out of captivity and smuggle them to safety. But on 30 April 1918 they were transferred to their final destination: the town of Yekaterinburg, where they were imprisoned in the two-story Ipatiev House, the home of the military engineer Nikolay Nikolayevich Ipatiev. On the night of 16/17 July 1918, the royal family was awakened around 2:00 am, told to dress, and led down into a half-basement room at the back of the Ipatiev house; the pretext for this move was the family's safety - that anti-Bolshevik forces were approaching Yekaterinburg, and the house might be fired upon. Present with Nicholas, Alexandra and their children were their doctor, and three of their servants, who had voluntarily chosen to remain with family - the Tsar's personal physician Eugene Botkin, his wife's maid Anna Demidova, and the family's chef, Ivan Kharitonov, and footman, Alexei Trupp. A firing squad had been assembled and was waiting in an adjoining room, composed of seven Communist soldiers from Central Europe, and three local Bolsheviks, all under the command of Bolshevik officer Yakov Yurovsky (the soldiers are often described as Hungarians; in his account, Yurovsky described them as "Latvians"). Nicholas was carrying his son; when the family arrived in the basement, the former empress complained that there were no chairs for them to sit in. Yurovsky ordered chairs brought in, and when the empress and the heir were seated, the executioners filed into the room. Yurovsky announced to them that they had been condemned to death by the Ural Soviet of Workers' Deputies. A stunned Nicholas asked, "What? What?" and turned toward his family. Yurovsky repeated the order. One witness among the several who later wrote accounts of Nicholas's last moments reported that the Tsar said, "You know not what you do," paraphrasing Jesus's words on the cross.

The executioners drew revolvers and the shooting began. Nicholas was the first to die; Yurovsky shot him multiple times in the head and chest. Anastasia, Tatiana, Olga, and Maria survived the first hail of bullets; the sisters were wearing over 1.3 kilograms of diamonds and precious gems sewn into their clothing, which provided some initial protection from the bullets and bayonets.[46] They were stabbed with bayonets and then shot at close range in the head.[47]

An official announcement appeared in the national press two days later, announcing the killing of the Tsar, but not of his family, in Yekaterinburg. It declared that the monarch had been executed on the order of the Presidium of the Ural Regional Soviet, because the approach of the anti-Bolshevik Czechoslovak Legions in the area posed a danger that the Romanovs might be freed.[48]


Yekaterinburg's "Church on the Blood", built on the spot where the Ipatiev House once stood.

In 1979, the bodies of Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra, three of their daughters, and those of four non-family members killed with them, were discovered near Yekaterinburg by amateur archaeologist Alexander Avdonin. In January 1998, the remains excavated from underneath the dirt road near Yekaterinburg were officially identified as those of Nicholas II and his family (excluding one of the sisters, and Alexei). The identifications by separate Russian, British and American scientists using DNA analysis concur and were found to be conclusive.[49] After the testing the remains were finally interred at St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg on 17 July 1998, eighty years after they were murdered.

In July 2007, 46-year-old builder Sergei Pogorelov (part of a team from an amateur history group who spent free summer weekends looking for the lost Romanovs) said that after stumbling on a small burned area of ground covered with nettles near Yekaterinburg he had discovered bones that belonged to "a boy and a young woman roughly the ages of Nicholas’ 13-year-old hemophiliac son, Alexei, and a daughter whose remains also never have been found."[50]

On 23 August 2007, acting on standard procedures, prosecutors reopened the investigation surrounding the deaths of the Imperial Family.

On 30 April 2008, DNA tests performed by a U.S. laboratory proved that bone fragments exhumed in the Ural Mountains belonged to two members of the Imperial Family, Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich and Grand Duchess Maria, according to Russian news agencies.[51] That same day it was announced by Russian authorities that the remains of the entire family had been identified.[51][52]

On 1 October 2008, Russia's Supreme Court ruled that Nicholas II and his family were victims of political repression and should be rehabilitated.[53][54][55] In March 2009, results of the DNA testing were published, confirming that the two bodies discovered in 2007 were those of Alexei and his sister Maria.[56]

Nicholas belonged to the paternal haplogroup R1b; based upon Y-STR DNA test results on his remains, which have also been validated with results from a living relative.[57] The Czar belonged to the maternal haplogroup T based upon mitochondrial DNA mutuations: 16126C, 16169Y, 16294T, 16296T, 73G, 263G, and 315.1C. [58]


Nicholas is generally considered to have been incompetent to the colossal task of ruling the enormous Russian Empire.[59] Historian Barbara Tuchman gives a damning evaluation of his reign:

[The Russian Empire] was ruled from the top by a sovereign who had but one idea of government—to preserve intact the absolute monarchy bequeathed to him by his father—and who, lacking the intellect, energy or training for his job, fell back on personal favorites, whim, simple mulishness, and other devices of the empty-headed autocrat. His father, Alexander III, who deliberately intended to keep his son uneducated in statecraft until the age of thirty, unfortunately miscalculated his own life expectancy, and died when Nicholas was twenty-six. The new Czar, now forty-six, had learned nothing in the interval, and the impression of imperturbability he conveyed was in reality apathy—the indifference of a mind so shallow as to be all surface. When a telegram was brought to him announcing the annihilation of the Russian fleet at Tsushima, he read it, stuffed it in his pocket, and went on playing tennis. (Tuchman, Barbara W. The Guns of August. New York: Presidio Press, 1962, pg. 71.)

Robert K. Massie provides a more sympathetic view of the Tsar:

... there still are those who for political or other reasons continue to insist that Nicholas was "Bloody Nicholas." Most commonly, he is described as shallow, weak, stupid—a one-dimensional figure presiding feebly over the last days of a corrupt and crumbling system. This, certainly, is the prevailing public image of the last Tsar. Historians admit that Nicholas was a "good man"—the historical evidence of personal charm, gentleness, love of family, deep religious faith and strong Russian patriotism is too overwhelming to be denied—but they argue that personal factors are irrelevant; what matters is that Nicholas was a bad tsar... Essentially, the tragedy of Nicholas II was that he appeared in the wrong place in history. (Massie, Robert K. Nicholas and Alexandra. New York: Kingsport Press, 1967, viii-x.)


In 1981, Nicholas and his immediate family were recognised as martyred saints by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. On 14 August 2000, they were recognised by the synod of the Russian Orthodox Church. This time they were not named as 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:

Tsar Nicholas II of Russia
Nicholas II of Russia
Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II of Russia
Royal Passion-Bearer Tsar Nicholas II of Russia
Born 18 May 1868(1868-05-18), Tsarskoye Selo, Russia
Died 17 July 1918 (aged 50), Yekaterinburg, Russian SFSR
Venerated in Eastern Orthodoxy
Canonized 1981 and 2000, Russia by Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and the Russian Orthodox Church
Major shrine Church on Blood, Ekaterinburg, Russia
Feast 17 July

"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 Yekaterinburg in the night of 4/17 July 1918 was revealed the light of the faith of Christ that conquers evil."

However, Nicholas' canonization was controversial. The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad was split on the issue back in 1981. Some members suggesting that the emperor was a weak ruler and had failed to prevent the outbreak of Communism in Russia. It was pointed out by one priest that martyrdom in the Russian Orthodox Church has nothing to do with the martyr's personal actions but is instead related to why he or she was killed.[60] A further criticism was found in that the Orthodox Church outside of Russia seemed to be using Nicholas' murder as propaganda against the Jews.[61]

The Russian Orthodox Church inside Russia rejected the family's classification as martyrs because they were not killed because of their religious faith. Religious leaders in both churches also had objections to canonizing the Tsar's family because they perceived him as a weak emperor whose incompetence led to the revolution, the suffering of his people and made him at least partially responsible for his own murder and those of his wife and children. For these opponents, the fact that the Tsar was, in private life, a kind man and a good husband and father did not override his poor governance of Russia.[60]

Despite the original opposition the Russian Orthodox Church inside Russia ultimately recognised the family as "passion bearers,"or people who met their deaths with Christian humility. The Church does not, however, recognize the remains interred at Peter and Paul Cathedral as being those of the Imperial Family, and considers the grave to be purely symbolic.[citation needed]


Patrilineal descent

Nicholas's patriline is the line from which he is descended father to son.

Patrilineal descent is the principle behind membership in royal houses, as it can be traced back through the generations — which means that if Nicholas II were to have chosen an historically accurate house name it would have been Oldenburg, as all his male-line ancestors were of that house. See also Tsars of Russia family tree.

House of Oldenburg:

  1. Egilmar I of Lerigau, dates unknown
  2. Egilmar II of Lerigau, d. 1141
  3. Christian I of Oldenburg, d. 1167
  4. Moritz of Oldenburg, d. 1209
  5. Christian II of Oldenburg, d. 1233
  6. John I, Count of Oldenburg, d. 1275
  7. Christian III, Count of Oldenburg, d. 1285
  8. John II, Count of Oldenburg, d. 1314
  9. Conrad I, Count of Oldenburg, 1300 - 1347
  10. Christian V, Count of Oldenburg, 1340 - 1423
  11. Dietrich, Count of Oldenburg, 1398 - 1440
  12. Christian I of Denmark, 1426 - 1481
  13. Frederick I of Denmark, 1471 - 1533
  14. Adolf, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, 1526 - 1586
  15. John Adolf, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, 1575 - 1616
  16. Frederick III, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, 1597 - 1659
  17. Christian Albert, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, 1641 - 1695
  18. Frederick IV, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, 1671 - 1702
  19. Charles Frederick, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, 1700 - 1739
  20. Peter III of Russia, 1728 - 1762, putative father of
  21. Paul I of Russia, 1754 - 1801
  22. Nicholas I of Russia, 1796 - 1855
  23. Alexander II of Russia, 1818 - 1881
  24. Alexander III of Russia, 1845 - 1894
  25. Nicholas II of Russia, 1868 - 1918

Descent from Rurik

Nicholas's family, the Romanovs were originally in-laws of the Rurikids with no Rurikid blood in them, until the Grand Duchess Anna Petrovna of Russia married Charles Frederick, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, who descends from the Grand Dukes of Kiev and the legendary Viking ruler of Russia, Rurik. See also Rurikid Dynasty.

Coat of arms of Imperial Russia
Pretenders to the
Russian throne since 1917
Emperor Nicholas II
since 1992
since 1992
See also House of Romanov
  1. Rurik
  2. Igor of Kiev
  3. Sviatoslav I of Kiev
  4. Vladimir the Great
  5. Yaroslav I the Wise
  6. Vladimir II Monomakh
  7. Mstislav I of Kiev
  8. Ingeborg of Kiev
  9. Valdemar I of Denmark
  10. Valdemar II of Denmark
  11. Erik IV of Denmark
  12. Sofia of Denmark
  13. Ingeborg Valdemarsdotter of Sweden
  14. Gerhard IV, Count of Holstein-Itzehoe-Plön
  15. Ingeborg of Holstein
  16. Christian V, Count of Oldenburg
  17. Dietrich, Count of Oldenburg
  18. Christian I of Denmark
  19. Frederic I of Denmark
  20. Adolf, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp
  21. John Adolf, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp
  22. Frederick III, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp
  23. Christian Albert, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp
  24. Frederick IV, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp
  25. Charles Frederick, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp
  26. Peter III of Russia
  27. Paul I of Russia
  28. Nicholas I of Russia
  29. Alexander II of Russia
  30. Alexander III of Russia
  31. Nicholas II of Russia


The children of Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra are as follows:

Image Name Birth Death Notes
Olga Russia.jpg Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna 15 November [O.S. 3 November] 1895 17 July 1918 shot at Yekaterinburg by the Bolsheviks
Tatiana Nikolaevna.jpg Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna 10 June [O.S. 29 May] 1897 17 July 1918 shot at Yekaterinburg by the Bolsheviks
Maria1916.jpg Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna 26 June [O.S. 14 June] 1899 17 July 1918 shot at Yekaterinburg by the Bolsheviks
Anastasia1916.jpg Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna 18 June [O.S. 5 June] 1901 17 July 1918 shot at Yekaterinburg by the Bolsheviks
Alexei Nikolaievich circa 1917 Army uniform.jpg Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich 12 August [O.S. 30 July] 1904 17 July 1918 shot at Yekaterinburg by the Bolsheviks

Titles and styles

  • His Imperial Highness Grand Duke Nikolay Alexandrovich of Russia (1868-1881)
  • His Imperial Highness The Tsarevitch of Russia (1881-1894)
  • His Imperial Majesty The Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias (1894-1917)

Depictions in literature and popular culture


  1. ^ In 1831, the Russian czars were deposed from the Polish throne, but they soon took control of the country as part of Russia and abolished the separate monarchy. However, they continued to use this title. See November Uprising.
  2. ^ 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, Czar of Siberia, Czar 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, Belostok, Karelia, of Tver, Yugra, Perm, Vyatka, Bulgaria, and other territories; Lord and Grand Duke of Nizhny Novgorod, Chernigov; Sovereign of Ryazan, Polotsk, Rostov, Yaroslavl, Beloozero, Udoria, Obdoria, Kondia, Vitebsk, Mstislav , and all the northern territories; and Sovereign of Iveria, Kartalinia, and the Kabardinian lands and Armenian territories; Hereditary Lord and Ruler of the Cherkass 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.
  3. ^ Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.38
  4. ^ Massie, Robert, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.40
  5. ^ A Quantitative Approach to Royal Marriage Circles 1700–1918,Royal Kinship. Anglo-German Family Networks 1815-1918 Assistant editor Campbell Orr, Clarissa; Davis, John; Gestrich, Andreas; Petropolous, Jonathan; Riotte, Torsten; Röhl, John; Schönpflug, Daniel; Seligmann, Matthew; Wienfort, Monika; Urbach, Karina Berlin, New York (Walter de Gruyter – K. G. Saur) 2008 Pages 25–34
  6. ^ Feinstein, Elaine (2006). Excerpt from Anna of All the Russias. Vintage. ISBN 978-1-4000-3378-2.
  7. ^ a b Andre Pierre, trans., Journal Intime de Nicholas II, 45
  8. ^ Robert D. Warth, Nicholas II, The Life and Reign of Russia's Last Monarch, 14
  9. ^ Nicholas and Alexandra- Robert K. Massie, 42.
  10. ^ Nicholas and Alexandra- Robert K. Massie 44
  11. ^ Robert D. Warth, Nicholas II, The Life and Reign of Russia's Last Monarch, 20
  12. ^ Andre Pierre, trans., Journal Intime de Nicholas II, 127
  13. ^ Princess Catherine Radziwill — Nicholas II, The Last of the Tsars, 100.
  14. ^ a b Robert D. Warth, Nicholas II, The Life and Reign of Russia's Last Monarch, 26
  15. ^ a b John Merriman, A History of Modern Europe Volume Two, 1017
  16. ^ Robert D. Warth, Nicholas II, The Life and Reign of Russia's Last Monarch, 26-27
  17. ^ Robert D. Warth, Nicholas II, The Life and Reign of Russia's Last Monarch, 67
  18. ^ "Beyond the Pale: The Pogroms of 1903 - 1906". Retrieved 2008-07-17. 
  19. ^ Peter Kenez, A History of the Soviet Union From the Beginning to the End, This was hugely significant in regards to the illiterate peasantry or 'dark masses' who although followed their own (almost pagan rituals) had until this point held complete naive faith in Czar Nicholas II. 7
  20. ^ Lyons, M, Nicholas II, The Last Tsar,116
  21. ^ Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, 124
  22. ^ a b c Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.125
  23. ^ Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, 124-125
  24. ^ a b Vorres, I, The Last Grand Duchess, 121
  25. ^ a b Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, 242
  26. ^ Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.243
  27. ^ Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, 244
  28. ^ a b Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, 245
  29. ^ a b Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, p.246
  30. ^ a b c Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, 247
  31. ^ Massie, R, Nicholas and Alexandra, 248
  32. ^ Tames, R, Last of the Tsars, 49
  33. ^ R Massie Nicholas and Alexandra Page 185
  34. ^ a b John Merriman, A History of Modern Europe Volume Two, 967
  35. ^ Tames, R, Last of the Tsars, 43
  36. ^ Josef und Ulli. "World War One". Retrieved 2009-09-07. 
  37. ^ a b c Tames, R, Last of the Tsars, 42
  38. ^ Tames, R, Last of the Tsars, 46
  39. ^ Hall, C, Little Mother of Russia, 264
  40. ^ The Fate of the Romanovs (2003) by Greg King and Penny Wilson
  41. ^ a b Robert D. Warth, Nicholas II, The Life and Reign of Russia's Last Monarch, 199
  42. ^ a b Tames, R, Last of the Tsars, 52
  43. ^ a b Tames, R, Last of the Tsars, p.53
  44. ^ Tames, R, Last of the Tsars, 55
  45. ^ Tames, R, Last of the Tsars, 62
  46. ^ Massie, R, The Romanovs The Final Chapter, 8
  47. ^ Massie, R, The Romanovs The Final Chapter, 6
  48. ^ Mark D. Steinberg, Vladimir M. Khrustalëv (1995). The Fall of the Romanovs. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300070675.,M1link. 
  49. ^ (Russian) "Экспертиза подтвердила, что найденные останки принадлежат Николаю II". ITAR-TASS. Retrieved 2008-12-05. 
  50. ^
  51. ^ a b "DNA Confirms Remains Of Czar's Children". Associated Press. 2008-04-30. Retrieved 2007-09-28. 
  52. ^ Details on further testing of the Imperial remains are contained in Rogaev, E.I., Grigorenko, A.P., Moliaka, I.K., Faskhutdinova, G., Goltsov,A., Lahti, A., Hildebrandt, C., Kittler, E.L.W. and Morozova, I., "Genomic identification in historical case of Nicholas II Royal family.", Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, (2009). The mitochondrial DNA of Alexandra, Alexei, and Maria are identical and of haplogroup H1. The mitochondrial DNA of Nicholas was haplogroup T2. Their sequences are published at GenBank as FJ656214, FJ656215, FJ656216, and FJ656217.
  53. ^ BBCNews. Russia's last czar rehabilitated. Retrieved on 2008-10-01
  54. ^ "Last czar’s family rehabilitated". 2008-10-01. Retrieved 2009-09-07. 
  55. ^ "Russia's Last Tsar Declared Victim of Repression". TIME.,8599,1846339,00.html. Retrieved 2009-09-07. 
  56. ^ ""DNA proves Bolsheviks killed all of Russian Tsar's children", ''CNN'' ( 11 March 2009". CNN. 2009-03-11. Retrieved 2009-09-07. 
  57. ^ "Coble MD, Loreille OM, Wadhams MJ, Edson SM, Maynard K, et al. (2009) Mystery Solved: The Identification of the Two Missing Romanov Children Using DNA Analysis.". PLoS ONE. Retrieved 2010-1-12. 
  58. ^
  59. ^ Ferro, Marc. Nicholas II: Last of the Tsars. Oxford University Press, trans. Brian Pearce, 1995, pg. 2.
  60. ^ a b Massie, Robert K., The Fate of the Romanovs: The Final Chapter, Random House, ISBN 394-58048-6, 1995, 134-135
  61. ^ King, Greg, and Wilson, Penny, The Fate of the Romanovs, John Wiley and Sons, Inc., p. 495

Further reading

  • The Sokolov Report, in Victor Alexandrov, "The End of The Romanovs", London: 1966
  • Boris Antonov, Russian Czars, St.Petersburg, Ivan Fiodorov Art Publishers (ISBN 5-93893-109-6)
  • Michael M. Baden, Chapter III: Time of Death and Changes after Death. Part 4: Exhumation, In: Spitz, W.U. & Spitz, D.J. (eds): Spitz and Fisher’s Medicolegal Investigation of Death. Guideline for the Application of Pathology to Crime Investigations (Fourth edition). Charles C. Thomas, pp.: 174-183, Springfield, Illinois: 2006
  • Paul Grabbe, "The Private World of the Last Czar" New York: 1985
  • Ferro, Marc, Nicholas II: Last of the Czars. 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 (Russian)
  • Coryne Hall & John Van der Kiste, Once A Grand Duchess : Xenia, Sister of Nicholas II, Phoenix Mill, Sutton Publishing Ltd., 2002 (hardcover, ISBN 0-7509-2749-6)
  • Greg King, The Court of the Last Czar: 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
  • Marvin Lyons, Nicholas II The Last Czar, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974 (hardcover, ISBN 0710078021)
  • Shay McNeal, "The Secret Plot to Save the Czar" 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 Czar. 1976.
  • Richard Tames, Last of the Czars, London, Pan Books Ltd, 1972
  • Andrew M. Verner, The Crisis of the Russian Autocracy: Nicholas II and the 1905 Revolution 1990
  • Ian Vorres, The Last Grand Duchess, London, Finedawn Publishers, 1985 (hardcover)
  • Richard Wortman, Scenarios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy, vol. 2 2000
  • Prince Felix Yussupov, Lost Splendour
  • Elisabeth Heresch, "Nikolaus II. Feigheit, Lüge und Verrat". F.A.Herbig Verlagsbuchhandlung, München, 1992
  • The Complete Wartime Correspondence of Czar Nicholas II and the Empress Alexandra, April 1914 – March 1917. Edited by Joseph T. Furhmann Fuhrmann. Westport, Conn. and London: 1999
  • Letters of Czar Nicholas and Empress Marie Ed. Edward J. Bing. London: 1937
  • Letters of the Czar to the Czaritsa, 1914–1917 Trans. from Russian translations from the original English. E. L. Hynes. London and New York: 1929.
  • Nicky-Sunny Letters: correspondence of the Czar and Czaritsa, 1914–1917. Hattiesburg, Miss: 1970.
  • The Secret Letters of the Last Czar: 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 Czar. Ed. Herman Bernstein. New York: 1917.
  • Paul Benckendorff, Last Days at Czarskoe Selo. London: 1927
  • Sophie Buxhoeveden, 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 Czar London: 1935
  • Anna Vyrubova, Memories of the Russian Court London: 1923
  • A.Yarmolinsky, editor, "The Memoirs of Count Witte" New York & Toronto: 1921
  • Sir George Buchanan (British Ambassador) My Mission to Russia & Other Diplomatic Memories (2 vols, Cassell, 1923)
  • Meriel Buchanan, Dissolution of an Empire, Cassell, 1932
  • Gleb Botkin, The Real Romanovs, Fleming H. Revell Co, 1931
  • 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
  • "The Personality Of The Czar: An Explanation, By A Russian Official Of High Authority". The World's Work: A History of Our Time VIII: 5414–5430. October 1904. 

External links

Nicholas II of Russia
Cadet branch of the House of Oldenburg
Born: 18 May 1868 Died: 17 July 1918
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Alexander III
Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias
1 November 1894 – 15 March 1917
Office abolished
Abolition of the monarchy
Grand Duke of Finland
1 November 1894 – 15 March 1917
Title next held by
Prince Frederick Charles of Hesse
as king-elect
Russian royalty
Preceded by
Alexander III of Russia
Heir to the Russian Throne
Succeeded by
George of Russia


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