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97 years since the fall of Imperial Russia

Tsar Nicholas II

Tsar Nicholas II

For 634 years, some form of monarchy had been in operation in Russia, first as the Principality of Moscow, then as the Tsardom of Russia, and more recently, the Russian Empire with some of the most high profile monarchs to ever reign in Europe from Ivan the Terrible to Catherine the Great.

Nicholas II was the last Tsar of Russia, as a successful revolution forced him to abdicate. Nicholas II’s reign lasted until March 15, 1917 at which point the Russian Empire fell following his abdication, and the Empire was replaced by a Republic set up by Provisional Government.

Nicholas faced many challenges as Tsar, and was unprepared for the role he had inherited from his late father. The first major event in Nicholas’ reign occurred as the people were in the throes of celebrating his coronation in Khodynka Meadow.

A feast and free beer was to be offered to those who came out to celebrate with the new Tsar, and when it became apparent that there may not be enough to go around the close to half a million people that turned out, a stampede ensued to secure a souvenir mug of the free beer.

Over one thousand people were trampled to death. Nicholas and Alexandra were so saddened by this that the Tsar personally brought coffins for those who perished instead of seeing the victims buried in mass graves.

Bloody Sunday on the 22nd of January 1905 was a major blow to Nicholas’ reign. Bloody Sunday was the shooting of unarmed civilians by the Imperial Guard at the Winter Palace.

Protestors, lead by Father Georgiy Gapon, were marching to the Palace to present the Tsar with a petition which included demands of fair working conditions, pay, and reduction in work hours to just eight – all the things we expect today. The petition also sought an end to the Russo-Japanese war which ended as a humiliating loss for Russia, and as a personal failure for the Tsar.

The demonstration was not an act of rebellion against the Monarchy, and was actually opposed by the Bolsheviks for its lack of political motivation. The Tsar wasn’t even in the Palace at the time of the shootings, as he had left the day before for a cabinet meeting.

The Russian people became increasingly hostile towards Nicholas, who refused to allow the great Autocracy his father had left him to become a Constitutional Monarchy similar to the ones his relatives ruled. This was something he thoroughly believed in as he saw it as his divine right.

Nicolas was a conservative man who believed in upholding Russian tradition, and refuting the acceptance of the ways of the United Kingdom and Prussia. Following uproar from the Russian people, the 1906 Russian Constitution was enacted that shared the Tsar’s autocratic powers. This would later be abolished with the fall of the Empire.

World War I broke out in Europe. With Russia and Germany at war, Nicholas left for the front lines to take command of his army, leaving Empress Alexandra as Regent in his place to rule.

The Empress, who had been branded boring, and was widely criticized by the Russian nobles and working classes, was seen as the wrong person to act as Regent. She, of course, was German herself, and had even been accused of being a spy for the German Empire.

She also had no experience in running a country, and was taking advice from a self-serving man she had become close to after she believed he could help her son. This, of course, was Rasputin; their relationship was often criticised, and was falsely described as sexual.

The Revolution gained more traction, with cities like Petrograd falling into the hands of the revolutionaries, along with key imperial buildings like the Winter Palace.

Nicholas was aboard the Imperial Train, heading back from the frontlines, receiving updates of the revolution situation, when the train was stopped and redirected to Pskov after receiving advice that revolutionaries were stationed on the line ahead, and were heavily armed.

Telegram after telegram came in urging the Tsar to abdicate. A major blow to the Tsar was when he heard his personal guards had defected. Nicholas was presented with more telegrams urging his abdication the following morning after arriving at Pskov. He finally agreed to abdicate his throne in the hope that peace would be restored to Russia.

Nicholas originally abdicated in favour of Tsarevich Alexi but, following advice from doctors that the young Tsarevich wouldn’t live long away from his parents, Nicholas abdicated on behalf of himself and the Tsarevich, which meant Grand Duke Michael was to take the throne. The Grand Duke declined to become Tsar until the people could vote for a republic or to keep the monarchy. A republic was established.

The Romanovs

The Romanovs

The now imprisoned Romanov family were originally kept at Alexander Palace until being moved eventually to Ipatyev House, which was where they were to spend their last days on this earth. The former Emperor and Imperial Family were awoken, and informed they were to be moved soon, as the White Army was approaching. They were ushered to a small empty room on the basement level of the house, and told to wait for the transport to arrive.

Nicholas demanded a chair for his son Alexi, who suffered from haemophilia; he also asked for chairs for his wife and himself.

Yakov Yurovsky had previously ordered his men to fetch revolvers from the guards patrolling the building. The order had been given that the Imperial Family was to be executed.

The Romanovs waited in the room patiently for their supposed transport; the Grand Duchesses and the few servants stood behind Nicholas and Alexandra with son Alexi.

Yakov Yurovsky entered the room followed by his men. He informed Nicholas that he and his family would be shot, at which point Nicholas stood to protect his family. Yurovsky shot him in the head, killing him instantly. Following this cold-blooded murderer, the entire party opened fire on the family and servants. Those that didn’t die from gunshots were stabbed with bayonets upwards of twenty times.

Once the family and supporters fell still, blood drenching the stone concrete floors, the executioners stood back to take in what they had just done. Grand Duchess Anastasia, who had merely fainted, awoke and let out a loud scream. The entire gang turned on her with the use of rifle butts and bayonets.

An announcement that the family had been executed appeared in the papers two days after the fact having allowed time for disposal of the bodies. The bodies of the family weren’t discovered until 1991 when they were uncovered by enthusiasts. The family received a state funeral following the discovery, and in August 2000, they were canonised by the Russian Orthodox Church for their humility, patience and meekness. As they were victims of political repression, the Romanov’s received further recognition when the Russian Supreme Court ordered their political rehabilitation, restoring their good name on paper. Indeed, the Reign of Nicholas II will not be forgotten quickly, neither by history nor by the Russian people.

Nicholas II photo credit: Carlos Octavio Uranga via photopin cc

Imperial Family photo credit: A.Currell via photopin cc

  • Amanda

    The murder of the Romanovs was one of those events that made my heart drop just learning about. After reading about some of the historical facts surrounding it, it was like it just kept getting worse & worse. I never really felt like Nicholas II was as bad as supporters of the Bolshevik movement thought he was. Actually, after reading about him, I came to the conclusion that had he let go of his autocratic “divine right” ideas and allowed Russia to transition to a Constitutional monarchy, he would’ve probably been a lot happier personally and a lot more effective at his position. He never struck me as vindictive, spiteful, or uncaring. He just didn’t seem to have the skill set to be an absolute ruler. It doesn’t seem (to me, at least) like he was very good at making tough decisions. He seemed primarily a family man. When I learned that the British Parliament was ready to offer shelter to the Romanovs, but King George V urged them not to – it intensified the tragedy for me. I’m sure George was acting in what he felt was the best interests for the country and the monarchy (and had no idea that it would end the way it did), but I can’t even imagine what kind of guilt he must have carried with him after he found out they had been killed. The Romanovs were his relatives, after all. Thinking of the children is puts it over the edge for me. They had nothing to do with the state of Russia at the time, yet they had their lives stolen from them simply because of the blood in their veins. Very, very sad.

    • Brent

      Nicholas very much so loved Russia and had the idea of autocracy not be so imbedded into him as a child he may have been more open to it.

      • Amanda

        I definitely agree. It’s a shame things didn’t work out differently. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say, but it’s interesting to see how much things change in 100 years. 97 years ago, this family was murdered. 16 years ago, after finally locating their remains, the Romanov family was given a State burial by the Russian government – and people showed up to pay homage.

        • Alaskan

          If I remember right they had left two coffins open one for Anastasia and the other for her brother. As God is my witness their bodies are still here in Alaska where they had escaped to.

          • Amanda

            They found the missing Romanov remains in Russia in 2007. In 2009, scientists from labs in both Russia and the US conducted DNA analysis on the remains and confirmed the match. Sadly, none of those children had a happy ending.

    • Ricky

      From what I’ve read about his temperament, Nicholas would’ve made a fine constitutional monarch. Apparently it was Alexandra who kept insisting that her husband maintain an autocratic manner, and this was one reason why no meaningful reforms were enacted.

      Perhaps if Nicholas had tried to be more democratic, the revolution wouldn’t have been such a bloody affair. But the privations of wartime and past grievances against the royals and aristocracy had created an unstoppable tide.

      • Amanda

        I find it very interesting – a bit surprising, even – that Alexandra, being the favorite grand-daughter of Queen Victoria, would be so firm in her autocratic position. Perhaps it was out of duty as the wife of the Tsar, but either way, very interesting tidbit!

        You’re right. The resentment towards the Imperial position was snowballing. When I see footage of poorly supplied Russian troops and the awful conditions the Russian people had to live in, I can easily understand why. What I’m not sure I understand is why the family had to be killed. By the time of the murders, Nicholas had already abdicated almost two years prior. I suppose the argument could be made that they didn’t want Nicholas or his children to be able to claim a right to the throne again at some point, but seeing as others of the Romanov bloodline had already fled the country, there would be someone who could make a claim regardless. Why not just banish them? If assassination was a must, then at the very least, why not let the wife and children go? The only answer I can think of is anger and revenge.

        • Brent

          None of his royal relatives would allow them refuge I’m fairly sure, the Kaiser definitely not and King George V wasn’t to keen on taking him in either.

          • Ricky

            King George and the British Foreign Office had originally approved the idea of sending a British warship to evacuate the Romanovs and let them settle in England.

            I’ve read that the government of the day had no problem with the idea, but the King reconsidered and withdrew the invitation. He suggested Spain as an alternative, but by then it was too late.

          • Amanda

            Any information on his reasoning for withdrawing the offer? Was he worried about bringing the Bolshevik movement to England or was it simply not wanting to appear to support an autocratic regime?

          • Ricky

            Monarchs were fast becoming an endangered species in Europe as the war progressed, and there was a great deal of civil unrest and strikes in Britain, too.

            Socialists and other groups were agitating for change all over Europe, and with considerable success in some countries. This was nothing new, and King Edward VII once predicted “My son will be the last King of England.”

            King George was being mindful of his own position when he decided to rescind the invitation, thinking it might prove unpopular if the Romanovs settled in England. Of course he could not have foreseen that the Imperial Family would be murdered by the new authorities in Russia.

          • Amanda

            Thank you!

          • Christina Croft

            The Kaiser offered Nicholas & his family refuge in Germany, and ordered his brother, Henry, who was an Admiral of Baltic Fleet to allow any ships bearing the Tsar’s flag to pass through the Baltic unhindered.

          • Amanda

            Wow. Yet another piece of the puzzle that makes the full picture even more tragic. Thanks for sharing.

        • Ricky

          The bolsheviks had originally intended to execute only Nicholas, and the Empress and the children were to be sent abroad. But the civil war was very much undecided, and the Whites were making advances toward Ekaterinberg where the Romanovs were being held.

          The new government in Moscow felt that as long as the Romanovs were alive, the Whites and their sympathizers would keep trying to rescue them. It was more expedient to execute them and spare themselves the trouble of moving them around.

          You’re right about anger and revenge, too.

  • unknown

    do more research, the tsar was NOT shot in the head. if you look up the skeletoral remains, his skull doesn’t bear any bullet wounds

  • hypo

    Nicholas wasn’t killed with a bullet to the head. They analyzed his skeleton, his skull bears absoultly no bullets wounds (but his chest bones do).

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