The Duma Monarchy
Emperor Nicholas II ( 1868-1918), who ascended the throne in October 1894 at the age of twenty-six, was deeply religious, patriotic, modest, and kindly in his personal relations. His abilities as a statesman, however, were inadequate to the crises of the stormy era that marked the opening of the twentieth century in Russia. A terrible augury of the tragic events of his reign was the catastrophe on the fields of Khodynka near Moscow. Here more than a thousand persons in the huge crowd that had gathered for the coronation were trampled to death because of the carelessness of the officials in charge of the celebration.
The ultraconservative principles of Alexander III and Pobedonostsev seemed to Nicholas to be the height of political wisdom. In addition to Pobedonostsev, however, he inherited another adviser in the person of the finance minister, Witte. This statesman considered himself a supporter of absolutism in principle, but he strove to remodel Russia's economy on the European pattern and regarded with contempt the reactionary nobility and right-wing parties. The reactionary policies pursued by Pobedonostsev and the industrialization encouraged by Witte could not be easily reconciled, and attempts to do so resulted in constant waverings and hesitations in the policy of Nicholas II. His position was made more difficult by the influence of his domineering wife, Alexandra, a former German princess. Although she was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and grew up in the English court, she was fanatically devoted to the idea of divinely