Nicholas II of Russia

Nicholas II
Император Николай II.jpg
Emperor of Russia
Reign1 November 1894[a]15 March 1917[b]
Coronation26 May 1896[c]
PredecessorAlexander III
SuccessorMonarchy abolished
Prime MinisterSee list
Born18 May [O.S. 6 May] 1868
Alexander Palace, Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
Died17 July 1918(1918-07-17) (aged 50)
Ipatiev House, Yekaterinburg, Russian SFSR
Burial17 July 1998
Peter and Paul Cathedral, Saint Petersburg
Spouse
Issue
Full name
Nicholas Alexandrovich Romanov
HouseHolstein-Gottorp-Romanov
FatherAlexander III of Russia
MotherMaria Feodorovna (Dagmar of Denmark)
ReligionRussian Orthodox
SignatureNicholas II's signature

Nicholas II or Nikolai II Alexandrovich Romanov[d] (18 May [O.S. 6 May] 1868 – 17 July 1918), known in the Russian Orthodox Church as Saint Nicholas the Passion-Bearer,[e] was the last Emperor of Russia, ruling from 1 November 1894 until his forced abdication on 15 March 1917. His reign saw the fall of the Russian Empire from one of the foremost great powers of the world to economic and military collapse. He gave limited support to the economic and political reforms promoted by top aides Sergei Witte and Pyotr Stolypin, but they faced too much aristocratic opposition to be fully effective. He supported modernization based on foreign loans and close ties with France. He resisted giving the new parliament (the Duma) major roles. He insisted he ruled by God's grace and was loath to negotiate or compromise. He was ridiculed as Nicholas the Bloody by his enemies due to the Khodynka Tragedy, anti-Semitic pogroms, Bloody Sunday, the violent suppression of the 1905 Russian Revolution, the repression of political opponents, and his perceived responsibility for defeat in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905). His memory was reviled by Soviet historians as a weak and incompetent leader whose decisions led to military defeats and the deaths of millions of his subjects. By contrast Anglo-Russian historian Nikolai Tolstoy, leader of the International Monarchist League, says, "There were many bad things about the tsar's regime, but he inherited an autocracy and his acts are now being seen in perspective and in comparison to the terrible crimes committed by the Soviets."[1]

Russia was defeated in the 1904–1905 Russo-Japanese War, which saw the annihilation of the Russian Baltic Fleet at the Battle of Tsushima, the loss of Russian influence over Manchuria and Korea, and the Japanese annexation to the north of South Sakhalin Island. The Anglo-Russian Entente was designed to counter the German Empire's attempts to gain influence in the Middle East; it ended the Great Game of confrontation between Russia and Britain. In 1914 he supported Serbia and approved the mobilization of the Russian Army on 30 July 1914. In response, Germany declared war on Russia on 1 August 1914 and its ally France on 3 August 1914,[2] starting the First World War. The aristocracy was alarmed at the powerful influence of the despised peasant priest Grigori Rasputin over the tsar. The severe military losses led to a collapse of morale at the front and at home, leading to the fall of the House of Romanov in the February Revolution of 1917. Nicholas abdicated on behalf of himself and his son. With his family he was imprisoned by the Bolsheviks and executed in July 1918.

In 1981, Nicholas, his wife, and their children were recognized as martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia in New York City.[3] After the fall of Communism, the remains of the imperial family were exhumed, identified and re-interred with an elaborate state and church ceremony in St. Petersburg on 17 July 1998. They were canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church as passion bearers.[4]

Family background

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

Nicholas was born in the Alexander Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire, the eldest child of Emperor Alexander III and Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia (née Princess Dagmar of Denmark). He had five younger siblings: Alexander (1869–1870), George (1871–1899), Xenia (1875–1960), Michael (1878–1918) and Olga (1882–1960). Nicholas often referred to his father nostalgically in letters after Alexander's death in 1894. He was also very close to his mother, as revealed in their published letters to each other.[5]

His paternal grandparents were Emperor Alexander II and Empress Maria Alexandrovna (née Princess Marie of Hesse and by Rhine). His maternal grandparents were King Christian IX and Queen Louise of Denmark. Nicholas was of primarily German and Danish descent, his last ethnically Russian ancestor being Grand Duchess Anna Petrovna of Russia (1708–1728), daughter of Peter the Great.

Emperor Nicholas II of Russia with his physically similar cousin, King George V of the United Kingdom (right), wearing German military uniforms in Berlin before the war; 1913

Nicholas was related to several monarchs in Europe. His mother's siblings included Kings Frederick VIII of Denmark and George I of Greece, as well as the United Kingdom's Queen Alexandra (consort of King Edward VII). Nicholas, his wife Alexandra, and German Emperor Wilhelm II were all first cousins of King George V of the United Kingdom. Nicholas was also a first cousin of both King Haakon VII and Queen Maud of Norway, as well as King Christian X of Denmark and King Constantine I of Greece. Nicholas and Wilhelm II were in turn second cousins-once-removed, as each descended from King Frederick William III of Prussia, as well as third cousins, as they were both great-great-grandsons of Tsar Paul I of Russia. In addition to being second cousins through descent from Louis II, Grand Duke of Hesse and his wife Princess Wilhelmine of Baden, Nicholas and Alexandra were also third cousins-once-removed, as they were both descendants of King Frederick William II of Prussia.

Tsar Nicholas II was the first cousin-once-removed of Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich. To distinguish between them the Grand Duke was often known within the imperial family as "Nikolasha" and "Nicholas the Tall", while the Tsar was "Nicholas the Short".

In his childhood, Nicholas, his parents and siblings made annual visits to the Danish royal palaces of Fredensborg and Bernstorff to visit his grandparents, the king and queen. The visits also served as family reunions, as his mother's siblings would also come from the United Kingdom, Germany and Greece with their respective families.[6] It was there in 1883, that he had a flirtation with one of his English first cousins, Princess Victoria. In 1873, Nicholas also accompanied his parents and younger brother, two-year-old George, on a two-month, semi-official visit to England.[7] In London, Nicholas and his family stayed at Marlborough House, as guests of his "Uncle Bertie" and "Aunt Alix", the Prince and Princess of Wales, where he was spoiled by his uncle.[8]