Tsar Nicholas II: The Last Emperor of the Russian Empire

Nikolay Alexandrovich Romanov was born in Alexander Palace in St Petersburg, Russia on the 18 May 1868 to Tsesarevich Alexander (who went on to become Tsar Alexander III of Russia) and Maria Feodorovna. He was the oldest of the 6 children with his siblings being Alexander, George, Xenia, Michael and Olga. Nicholas was not expected to become Emperor for many years due to his Father, Tsar Alexander III of Russia, took to the throne aged only 36 following the assassination of his father, Alexander II, on the 13 March 1881; this was the day Nicholas became Tsesarevich (heir apparent). Alexander, Nicholas and the rest of his family were present at the death of Alexander II as they were at the Winter Palace at the time, and Alexander was brought there after a bomb was thrown at his feet and he was fatally wounded.

Tsar Alexander II of the Russian Empire. He reigned as Emperor from 1855 until 1881 when he was assassinated. He is best known for his Emancipation Edict which freed the serfs in the Russian Empire.
Tsar Alexander III of the Russian Empire. He ruled following the assassination of his father in 1881 until his early death at the age of 49 in 1894.

During the reign of Alexander III, Nicholas was not properly prepared to become Emperor of Russia because Alexander did not believe that his son was old enough to hold a government position yet (Nicholas was only 26 at the time of becoming Tsar), and he also believed that he still had many years on the throne, so the preparation of his son would come later in his reign when he was closer to death.

As Tsesarevich, Nicholas traveled around the world. In 1891, whilst on a visit to Japan, one of the policemen assigned to escort the future Tsar of Russia attacked him with a sabre. Nicholas was wounded and could have died if it wasn’t for his cousin, Prince George of Greece and Denmark, pushing the second swing of the sabre away using his cane. Nicholas was left with a 3.5 inch long cut on his forehead but was not seriously injured.

Tsar Nicholas II in the uniform of the Life-Guards 4th The Imperial Family’s Rifle Regiment in 1909. Colorization by Klimbim

Nicholas became Tsar on the 1 November 1894 following the death of his father from kidney disease. He was ordered by his father on his deathbed to listen to accomplished statesmen Sergei Witte. Whilst not prepared for the role as Emperor of Russia, he had a strong sense of duty to maintain the autocracy because he had been chosen by God to do the role.

Tsar Nicholas II looking through a periscope near the front line during the First World War in c. 1915. Colorization by Klimbim

The reign of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia did not get off to a good start; on the 27 May 1896, there was trouble at Khodynka Field which was being used as a place to celebrate the coronation of the new leader. 100,000 people attended with 1,389 dying and another 1,300 being injured. Attendees were trampled on because they tripped and fell on the uneven ground rushing to get food as there were rumors that there was not enough for everyone. Things went further downhill for Nicholas after the failure of the Russo-Japanese war between 1904 and 1905 in which Russia lost against the much smaller nation of Japan; this was a huge embarrassment in the eyes of the Russian people.

Tsar Nicholas II of Russia wearing a uniform of the Royal Scots Greys in September 1896. Colorization by Jecinci

Then on 22 January 1905, Bloody Sunday occurred in which Russian Imperial Guards shot on Father Gapon and 50,000 peaceful demonstrators walking to the Winter Palace to hand the Tsar a petition demanding better working and living conditions. This triggered the 1905 Revolution where hundreds of thousands of workers went on strike and this led to the creation of the October Manifesto and the Duma which were meant to give the people power to create laws. The State Duma was extremely ineffective as Nicholas had the power to overturn any law that they created, and later on in his reign, he began packing them with conservatives that supported the Tsar.

Tsar Nicholas II and his family and Nicholas’ Aunt, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna in Moscow, Russia in August 1914. Colorization by Klimbim

The First World War was the final straw. The country were extremely unprepared for the war with millions of soldiers going into battle sharing rifles with hardly any bullets between them. He also made himself Commander-in-Chief  in 1915 which meant that any failures would be blamed on him. Grigori Rasputin, a Russian mystic with reported healing powers, was also given undue power which caused unrest in government and resulted in his murder in 1916. The February Revolution in 1917 was the end of the Romanov Dynasty ruling over Russian Empire. He was forced to abdicate when he was on the train back to Petrograd. The revolution began as a protest against the rationing of food and ended with a new government forming under the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet. Nicholas and his family were imprisoned.

Grigori Rasputin, Russian peasant who was close with the Russian Royal Family due to his reported ability to be able to ease Tsarevich Alexei’s hemophilia. Photograph taken in 1916. Colorization by Jecinci

Nicholas and his family were transported all over Russia during 1917 with their final location being Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg. Nicholas was desperate for asylum in the United Kingdom where his first cousin and close friend, King George V of the United Kingdom, lived. They were originally offered asylum but it was soon withdrawn due to uproar from the Labour Party and the Liberals. The 16 July 1918 was the final day that the former Tsar would live, with Nicholas, his wife Alexandra, his children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei, their physician Eugene Botkin, the maid Anna Demidova, the family’s chef, Ivan Kharitonov, and footman, Alexei Trupp all being executed by firing squad in the early hours of the 17 July 1918.

The 4 daughters of Tsar Nicholas II, Grand Duchesses Maria, Olga, Anastasia, and Tatiana, on a ship in c. 1910. Colorization by Dana R. Keller

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