Nicholas Romanov II
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Nicholas Romanov II: May 18, 1868- July 17, 1918
Political Background:
  • Last ruling czar of Russia
  • Nicholas took the throne in 1894 at the age of 26 following his father,Alexander III's unexpected death (his father).
  • Ultimately, Nicholas was never prepared to inherit the Russian throne from his father. Upon his father's death, he was quoted having said: "What is going to happen to me and all of Russia?" 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. 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. 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. Perhaps underprepared 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.
  • Shortly after assuming his position as czar, he married his wife, Alexandra.
  • Despite a visit to Great Britain 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 and reform that would improve the political and social life of the peasantry. 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."
  • Under his reign, the Trans-Siberian railway was completed, except for some slower progress on parts in the far east.
  • Russo-Japanese 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. 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 waShortly 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. As Russia continued to face defeat by the Japanese, the call for peace grew. Nicholas's own mother, as well as his cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm, urged Nicholas to open peace negotiations. Despite the efforts for peace, Nicholas remained evasive. It was not until 27–28 March and the annihilation of the Russian fleet by the Japanese, that Nicholas finally decided to pursue peace.
  • The administration of Nicholas II published anti-Semitic propaganda that encouraged many anti-Jewish riots throughout Russia.
  • By this point, Nicholas II's downfall was almost inevitible--sparked by growing public distaste and an outburst of strikes and petitions acorss the nation. In person, Nicholas II was mild-mannered, even meek; lacking the personality of a leader, his rule was clumsy, and he appeared weak before the people. When it came to public opposition or resistance, he avoided direct involvement and simply ordered his security forces to get rid of any problem as they saw fit. This tactic inevitably resulted in heavy-handed measures by the police, which in turn caused greater resentment among the public.The year 1905 brought the most extreme examples of Nicholas II’s perceived indifference, brutality, and weakness. On Sunday, January 9, a crowd of over 100,000 marched peacefully through the center of St. Petersburg. Eventually they assembled in Palace Square in front of the tsar’s Winter Palace and, unaware that the tsar was not in town that day, called for the tsar to appear so that they could present him with a petition. Nicholas had told the police to do anything necessary to put and end to the situation. Their solution was to open fire on the crowd, which included women and children as well as church leaders. As the crowd scattered, police pursued them on horseback, continuing to fire on them. Many in the crowd were trampled to death in the ensuing panic. Estimates of the total death toll range from a few hundred to several thousand.
  • News of the massacre spread quickly, and many saw it as a sign that the tsar no longer cared about his people. The incident earned Nicholas the title “Nicholas the Bloody” even though he did not in fact know about the violence until it was already over. An unorganized series of demonstrations, riots, strikes, and assorted episodes of violence erupted across Russia in the following months.
  • Later in the year, the tsar reluctantly gave in to heavy political pressure and granted Russia its first constitution. Permission to form a parliament, called the Duma, was also soon granted. The Duma became a constant thorn in Nicholas’s side, as increasingly radical political parties emerged into the open after years of existing underground. Nicholas dealt with the problem by repeatedly dissolving the Duma, forcing new elections
  • Nicholas II brought Russia into WWII in 1914; The war was a disaster for Russia: it caused inflation, plunged the country into a food shortage, and ultimately cost the lives of nearly 5 million Russian soldiers and civilians, as well as a series of humiliating military defeats.
  • The February Revolution occurred...sparked even further dislike among Russian people.
  • During the same period, the Petrograd Soviet, an organization of revolutionary-minded workers and soldiers dominated by the Menshevik Party, convened on February 27. They immediately began to call for full-scale revolution and an end to the monarchy altogether.
  • The country struggled with whether to disband the entire monarchy entirely, or just dismantle the current one and abdicate. Despite the mutinies in the army and government, there was still no consensus that the monarchy should be dismantled entirely; rather, many felt that Nicholas II should abdicate in favor of his thirteen-year-old son, Alexis. If this occurred, a regent would be appointed to rule in the boy’s place until he reached maturity. Therefore, both the Duma and military leaders placed heavy pressure on the tsar to resign. Nicholas finally gave in and handed the throne to his brother, Michael...who then also refused the throne and left Russia without a tsar. The provisional government was accepted as the new official ruling body at this time, but not for long.
  • The Petrograd Soviet group quickly gained power, led by Lenin.
  • Fearing for his safety, Nicholas wanted to go into exile in the United Kingdom, but was refused. His family was placed under guarded watch at the governor's mansion, where at first conditions were fair. Conditions of imprisonment became more strict, and talk of putting Nicholas on trial grew more frequent. 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. The Romanovs believed that various plots were underway to break them out of captivity and smuggle them to safety. But on April 30, 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, which ominously became referred to as the 'house of special purpose'. 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 house, where their fate was sealed.
  • The Governor's Mansion in which the Romanov family was imprisoned
    The Governor's Mansion in which the Romanov family was imprisoned

Personal background:
  • Recognized as a saint in 1981 by the Russian Orthodox Church.
  • Nicholas was about 5'6" tall and his Romanov uncles all seemed to tower over him. He tried to compensate for his height by working out with weights and athletic equipment. No matter what he did to build up his size he still remained slight and wiry in physique.
  • Nicholas had an excellent education and was perhaps the best educated European monarch of his time. His parents where astute enough to see the challenges of facing a 20th Century Tsar would be quite different than those of the past and tried to prepare him for his future responsibilities.
  • Nicholas achieved the rank of Colonel in the Life Guards. He loved the military and always considered himself an army man.
  • Nicholas was a deeply religious and generally solitary person, who loved the faithful companionship of his dogs to the company of state ministers. Hunting on his estates was a favorite pastime
  • Nicholas loved music, particularly Wagner. Tristan and Isolde was his and Aleksandra's favorite piece of music. When he could find time, writing to friends or reading were favorite pastimes after spending time with his family.