Nicholas II (czar of Russia)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Nicholas II (czar of Russia)

Nicholas II, 1868–1918, last czar of Russia (1894–1917), son of Alexander III and Maria Feodorovna.

Road to Revolution

Nicholas was educated by private tutors and the reactionary Pobyedonostzev. Alexander III gave his son little training in affairs of state, and Nicholas proved to be a charming but ineffective and easily influenced ruler. In 1894 he married Princess Alix of Hesse (Alexandra Feodorovna).

Soon after his accession Nicholas stated that he intended to maintain the autocratic system. He continued the suppression of opposition, the persecution of religious minorities, and the Russification of the borderlands. Revolutionary movements were growing rapidly. The Social Democratic Labor party (later split into Bolshevism and Menshevism) was founded in 1898; the Socialist Revolutionary party was formed in 1901; the liberals pressed for constitutional government. In foreign affairs, Nicholas initiated the first of the Hague Conferences and supported an aggressive policy in E Asia.

The humiliating outcome of the Russo-Japanese War (1904–5) resulted in the peasant revolts, industrial strikes, and violent outbreaks known as the Revolution of 1905. In Jan., 1905, a crowd of workers who had come peaceably to petition the czar were fired upon in front of the Winter Palace; the government's action on that "Bloody Sunday" proved fateful. After the general strike of Oct., 1905, Count Witte, who soon became premier, induced Nicholas to sign a manifesto promising representative government and basic civil liberties. An elected duma and an upper chamber were set up, but neither the extreme revolutionaries nor the czar were disposed to support the parliament.

Nicholas soon curtailed the Duma and dismissed Witte in 1906, replacing him with I. A. Goremykin and then with P. A. Stolypin. The outbreak in 1914 of World War I briefly swept aside internal conflicts. In 1915, Nicholas took over the command of the army from Grand Duke Nicholas, leaving the czarina in virtual control at home. This act led to a constant stream of resignations from the ministers; their posts were filled by the sycophants of Alexandra, who was completely dominated by Rasputin until his murder in 1916.

Abdication and Execution

Discontent at home grew, the army tired of war, the food situation deteriorated, the government tottered, and in Mar., 1917, Nicholas was forced to abdicate (see Russian Revolution). He was held first in the Czarskoye Selo palace, then near Tobolsk. On July 16, 1918, the czar and his family were shot along with their remaining servants in a cellar at Yekaterinburg during the night. Their bodies were buried or burned in a nearby forest.

Discovered in 1979, the remains of the czar, czarina, and three of their children exhumed in 1991 and reburied in St. Petersburg in 1998. The remains of the czar's two other children were discovered in 2007 and identified in 2008. In 2000 the Russian Orthodox Church canonized the czar and the members of his immediate family, but they were not recognized as victims of political repression and officially rehabilitated until 2008. Nicholas's vague mysticism, limited intelligence, and submission to sinister influences made him particularly unfit to cope with the events that led to his tragic end.

Bibliography

See E. J. Bing, ed., The Secret Letters of the Last Tsar (tr. 1938); C. E. Vulliamy, ed., The Letters of the Tsar to the Tsaritsa (tr. 1976); R. K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra (1985); P. Bulygin and A. Kerensky, The Murder of the Romanovs (1986); G. Vogt, Nicholas II (1987); E. S. Radzinsky, The Last Tsar (1992); M. Carter, George, Nicholas and Wilhelm (2010).

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