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Sunday, 18 September 2016

Nicholas II of Russia

EARLY YEARS

Nicholas was born in Alexander Palace, Saint Petersburg on May 18, 1868.

He was the eldest son of Emperor Alexander III, who was a repressor of all liberal ideas.

His mother, Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia (formerly Princess Dagmar of Denmark), was the sister of Britain's Queen Alexandra. She died in 1928.

Nicholas II as a child with his mother, Maria Feodorovna, in 1870

Nicholas was the grandson of Christian IX of Denmark through his mother and of Emperor Alexander II through his father.

He had five younger siblings: Alexander (1869–1870), George (1871–1899), Xenia (1875–1960), Michael (1878–1918) and Olga (1882–1960).

Nicholas was seen as too soft by his hard, demanding father who, not anticipating his own premature death, did nothing to prepare his son for the crown.

As Tsarevich, Nicholas did a fair amount of travelling, including a notable trip to the Far East which left him with a scar in his forehead. Whilst in Japan, a madman attacked Nicholas with a sabre and nearly killed him, but he was saved by the quick action of his cousin, Prince George of Greece. Nicholas returned to St. Petersburg with a bitter hatred of the Empire of the Rising Sun.

Tsesarevich Nicholas in Japan (1891)

REIGN 

When his father passed away on November 1, 1894, the 26-year-old Nicholas was poorly prepared to rule. He faced the task of being autocrat of Russia in a time of major turmoil. Nicholas reportedly said “what am I to do. What is to become of Russia? I am not yet prepared to be Tsar.”

Nicholas's formal coronation as Tsar was held in Uspensky Cathedral located within the Kremlin on May 26, 1896.

Coronation by Valentin Serov

At the festivities surrounding Nicholas' coronation in Moscow over 1,300 people were trampled to death trying to get presents from the new Emperor. The Tsar learned of the catastrophe later that day and wished to cancel all later festivities, but was persuaded not to by relatives and advisors. Many saw the deaths as a bad omen.


Russia at the time was so vast that when the sun rose on one side of Nicholas' empire, it had already set on the other.

 For the questionnaire of the 1897 census in Russia, in the field "Occupation", Nicholas II wrote in:"Owner of Russia."

Nicholas plunged his country into an unpopular war with Japan over Korea in 1905. Russia lost decisively, the first time in the modern world an Asian country had defeated an European nation.

In January 1905 the Russian Bloody Sunday occurred when hundreds of unarmed peasants were shot down by imperial guards as they marched to petition Nicholas at the Winter Palace in St Petersburg.

Under pressure from the attempted 1905 Russian Revolution, Nicholas II issued the October Manifesto on October 30, 1905 granting civil rights to all and promising a Duma of parliament with full legislative powers. He was determined, however, to preserve his autocracy.

As good as the news was, it soon soured. Shortly after its introduction, strikes returned as the Autocracy began to reaffirm its power once again. The Government began attempting to suppress political parties; by 1906-7 much of Russia was under martial law. It appears that instead of being a reform, the manifesto was just a short term ploy by Nicholas to regain order in Russia. This was unfortunate and helped play into the hands of the revolutionaries who a decade later toppled him, the last Tsar, from power.

Demonstration 17 October 1905 by Ilya Repin

In the first half of 1914 there were almost 3,000 strikes by factory workers protesting at the conditions they had to work in. However people briefly united behind Nicholas at the start of World War 1.

Nicholas assumed the role of commander-in-chief after dismissing his cousin, Nikolay Nikolayevich, in September 1915. This was a mistake as the Tsar implemented himself with the huge losses Russia was suffering at the front. Russia had 15 million soldiers in World War 1 and most were unprepared for battle.

At the end of the "February Revolution" of 1917, Nicholas II chose to abdicate.

MARRIAGE 

In 1884, Nicholas attended the wedding of his uncle, Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich and Princess Elizabeth, daughter of Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine. The sixteen-year-old Tsesarevich met with and admired the bride's young sister, twelve-year-old Princess Alix. She was the sixth child and fourth daughter among the seven children of Louis IV and his first wife Princess Alice of the United Kingdom, the second daughter of Queen Victoria.

Those feelings of admiration blossomed into love following Princess Alix's visit to St. Petersburg five years later in 1889.

Nicholas' father did not approve the match, hoping instead for a marriage with a princess of the House of Orleans, to consummate Russia's new found alliance with the French Republic. Only when Alexander was on his death bed, fearing for the succession of the Romanov Dynasty, did he consent to the marriage of Nicholas to the German princess.

The dying Alexander III had Nicholas summon Alix to the imperial palace at Livadia. Alix was received into the Russian Orthodox Church, taking the name Alexandra Feodorovna with the title of Grand Duchess and the style of Imperial Highness.

Official engagement photograph of Nicholas II and Alexandra, April 1894

Nicholas' engagement to Princess Alix only slightly preceded his father's death, and his wedding came very shortly after the funeral. Their marriage ceremony took place on November 26, 1894, which was the birthday of the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna, and court mourning could be slightly relaxed. Alexandra wore the traditional dress of Romanov brides, and Nicholas a hussar's uniform.

Alexandra was considered to be one of the most beautiful royal ladies in Europe in 1894. She had a lovely face, grey blue eyes and was taller than her husband. Very German in attitude, she was often stiff and distant. She lacked the gift of making people like her and was quick to take umbrage.

The young Nicholas was besotted with his wife. They led a faithful and happily married life and wrote thousands of love letters to each other in English (it was the only language they had in common) and called each other "Hubby" or "Wifey".

Nicholas and Alexandra had five children. Alexei, Olga, Maria, Tatiana and Anastasia. Nicholas enjoyed playing with their children.

Russian Imperial family (between circa 1913 and circa 1914)

Alexandra felt she had let Nicholas down by producing four girls instead of the desired heir. When she finally gave birth to a son, the boy (Alexei) had haemophilia, a fatal blight that came through her genes.

Alexandra liked to take tea at 5.00, an influence of her English ancestry.

APPEARANCE AND PERSONALITY 

Nicholas was medium height with soft blue, deep set eyes, dark hair and a full brown beard.

Gelatin silver print photograph of Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia

Nicholas was amiable, pious, stubborn and, introspective. He had great charm but was hopelessly indecisive, mild and meek. According to a leading Russian politician at the turn of the century Nicholas was the kind of man who if you asked him for his last shirt would take it off and give it to him.

Alexandria loved the color mauve. She wore mauve and decorated her bedroom in…mauve.

HOMES 

The Russian Tsar's palaces were so golden and grand, his subjects saw them as a kind of heaven.


The Peterhof Palace, a series of palaces and gardens located in Petergof, Saint Petersburg, were sometimes referred as the "Russian Versailles".

BELIEFS 

Nicholas believed his subjects should be base and servile tools. The Tsar and his wife ran Russia like a small country estate failing to notice the church was rotten with corruption.

During Easter 1905, Russian Christian leaders, who were in St. Petersburg for a conference, received an invitation to the palace of Princess Lievan. The announcement was a manifesto of religious tolerance. Jakob Kroeker, who was present on that day, left an account of the emotional scene. "When all the guests arrived, one of the big folding doors opened and our beloved princess came into the room, deeply moved, holding a copy of the Manifesto in her hand. She could hardly read the glad news for inner excitement and joy. When she had finished, those present joined in thanks and worship to the Lord. Not an eye remained dry and not a mouth dumb."
Unfortunately, Nicholas II was a weak man who began to take back his concessions almost as soon as he made them. The Autocracy began to reaffirm its power once again and  by 1906-7 much of Russia was under martial law.

By 1917, interference by the royal couple in church matters and Nicholas' continued ignoring of pleas for reform so undermined his position among Orthodox leaders that they welcomed that years March Revolution and sided with the provisional government.

HOBBIES AND INTERESTS 

A huge silent movie fan, Nicholas was the first royal to have a private cinema installed in his palace.

Nicholas' favorite film was The Exploits of Elaine, a cliff-hanger type serial which he regularly watched during World War 1 in between taking command of his forces in the field.

The interest of the Tsar and his wife in films did much to make the cinema fashionable in Russia.

The court photographer was kept constantly employed filming the Royal family at leisure.

Alexandra liked playing Bach, Beethoven or Tchaikovsky on the piano.

Nicholas liked walking in the Finnish forests, often taking his dogs for long treks.

Nicholas kept a daily diary which generally consisted of mundane descriptions of his walks and dinners rather than the intrigues involved in ruling Russia.

His hobbies included billiards, dominoes, rowing and tennis.

Alexandria liked knitting and embroidery.

In evenings after dinner, Nicholas and Alexandra sat together reading, playing the piano, sewing and developing their Kodak camera pictures.

HEALTH 

In the latter part of his reign, Nicholas became addicted to prescriptive drugs. He took cocaine for colds, opium and morphine for stomach complaints and as a result he had the dull eyes, diluted pupils and hollow cheeks of a drug addict.

All four of Nicholas' daughters suffered from measles and their hair started falling out. Alexandra ordered they shave their remaining hair off to facilitate re-growth and they were forced to wear wigs on their bald heads.

IMPRISONMENT AND EXECUTION 

Nicholas desperately wanted to go into exile in the United Kingdom following his abdication. However his cousin King George V was concerned that Nicholas's presence in Britain might provoke an uprising like the previous year's Easter Rising in Ireland, so the British government declined to accept the Romanovs. Meanwhile, Nicholas and his family were held as prisoners under house arrest.

One of the last photographs of Nicholas II, showing him at Tsarskoye Selo after his abdication 

In October 1917, the Bolsheviks seized power from Kerensky's Provisional Government after which there was increased talk of putting Nicholas on trial.

On April 30, 1918 Nicholas and his family were imprisoned in the two-story Ipatiev House in the town of Yekaterinburg. The Romamov's new home was ominously became referred to as the "house of special purpose".


In the early hours of July 17, 1918, Nicholas and his family were awakened around 2:00 am, told to get dressed, and led down into a basement room at the back of the Ipatiev house. There they were executed by a firing squad along with their doctor and three servants.

Nicholas was the first to die. Anastasia, Tatiana, Olga, and Maria survived the longest, due to bullets ricocheting off the imperial diamonds that were sewn into the corsets of the Grand Duchesses. Eventually, they were stabbed with bayonets and then shot at close range in their heads.

In 1979, the bodies of Tsar Nicholas II, Tsaritsa Alexandra, three of their daughters, and those of four non-family members killed with them, were discovered in woods near Sverdlovsk (Yekaterinburg).

The Romanovs were given a proper burial at St. Peter and Paul Cathedral, Saint Petersburg, on July 17, 1998, eighty years to the day after their executions.

LEGACY

 In 1920 a 23-year-old girl called Anna Anderson was fished out of a Berlin canal. When rescued she said she was Anastasia, the youngest daughter of Nicholas. According to Anna she was wounded whilst in the cellar but escaped with one of the members of the firing squad who she later married. She spent the next 60 years asserting her regal record. In 1994 DNA tests proved that Anna Anderson was not Anastasia.

Ingrid Bergman won an Academy Award for her starring role as "Anna/Anastasia" in the 1956 film Anastasia.

The 1971 British film, Nicholas and Alexandra portrayed Nicholas as a saint who was unaware what he was doing to the Russian people.

On August 14, 2000 Nicholas and his immediate family were canonized as passion bearers by the synod of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Sources Guinness Book of FilmChristianity.com

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