The Last Tsar of Russia

Born in 1868, Nicholas II of Russia is most famously known as the last Tsar of Russia and of his abdication underlining a new era in Russian history. Following the Russian Revolution in 1917, he and was forced to abdicate, and only the following  year was executed by the Bolsheviks who had overthrown him.

Nicholas was related to many European monarchs at the time – George V of the United Kingdom was his cousin and King Frederik VIII of Denmark his uncle. His accession to the throne was unexpectedly too early, at the age of twenty-six, due to his grandfather’s assassination and father’s early death. He felt unprepared for the role, and was noted as being a shy and reserved leader. He was married to Alexandra of Hesse-Darmstadt in November 1894, after having proposed twice due to Alexandra’s initial refusal to convert from Lutheranism to Russian Orthodoxy. He was an unpopular figure – anti-Semitic, involved in Bloody Sunday of 1905 (when peaceful demonstrators marched to the Winter Palace were shot at, and nearly 100 were killed) and was seen as responsible for Russia losing badly to Japan in 1904, his role in the First World War was not the only reason his reign was the last over Imperial Russia.

Engagement photo of Nicholas and Alexandra (taken from wikipedia.org)
Engagement photo of Nicholas and Alexandra (taken from wikipedia.org)

During Nicholas’s reign, the landscape of Russia changed – from one of the strongest imperial powers in the world, his reign saw the end of the Royal regime, military collapse and economic failure. Already unpopular, the tipping point came when, in 1915 he took direct control of the Russian armies. As a result, every military defeat was linked to him and public opinion was further affected due his long absences, in which the country was damaged by the heavy losses of the war through high inflation and severe food restrictions. Russia under his rule was brittle, and the First World War, though not the only and by no means the first reason for discontent, was the catalyst that made it go bang.

Nicholas was often away at a remote location in Mogilev, which often meant he was secluded from direct governance of Russia. His seclusion from governance and the country meant that when revolution broke out he couldn’t respond fast enough. Not only this but Nicholas’s seclusion meant he was cut off and unaware of the growing unpopular opinion surrounding the Russian Royal family. Duties back home had been left to Alexandra, who was German and accused of being sympathetic to the opposing side of the war and, therefore, was seen as a traitor to the country. Nicholas’s absence mounted to the rising discontent, as he was seen as not taking the issue under control and especially to not tackling domestic issues alongside those of the war.

Mounting discontent, anger and violence resulted in a series of revolutions from February to October of 1917 and by the end,  Nicholas II Romanov became the last Tsar of Russia with his forced abdication. Desperately seeking asylum, he sought to escape to the United Kingdom, but was turned down by cousin King George V, who feared if he did a similar uprising would occur in the UK as well – not an issue he, in the aftermath of the First World War, could afford in any chance of its possibility. On July 17 1918, Nicholas and his family were executed – the Romanov dynasty came to an end and the resulting new era of Russia would dominate the twentieth century.

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