Emperor Nicholas II

Nicholas II, Nicholas Alexandrovich Romanov, Russian: Nikolai II (6 May 1868 (O.S.) = 18 May 1868 (N.S.) – 4 July 1918 (O.S.) = 17 July 1918 (N.S.)) was the last reigning Emperor of Russia and of the Romanov Dynasty. He ruled from November 1, 1894 until his abdication on March 15, 1917, and was killed with his family in 1918. Though the title of Tsar was officially abolished in 1721 by Peter the Great, the title Tsar (occasionally spelled czar) was used right down until the abolition of the monarchy.

The son of Russian Tsar Alexander III and Empress Marie Romanova (born Princess Dagmar of Denmark), he was the grandson of Christian IX of Denmark through his mother, and of Tsar Alexander II through his father.

Married in 1894 to Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt (henceforth Empress Alexandra Romanova), a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, he was father to Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria (or Marie), Anastasia, and Tsarevich Alexei.

Nicholas assumed the throne in 1894, on the death of his father. He had not been well prepared to rule the land in the state it was at the time of his ascention. Russia was in turmoil, which was organized by undercover Bolshevik agents, and his decrees and orders quite often met with resistance in the upper layers of the government, especially in the Russian Duma or parliament. His father also died at a fairly young age, leaving Nicholas unprepared for his future tasks. His engagement to Princess Alix only slightly preceded his father’s death, and his wedding came very shortly after the last ceremony of his father’s funeral. He then faced the task of being autocrat of Russia in a time of major turmoil – a turmoil which would continue well beyond his death.

He relied heavily on the advice of his wife’s first cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm – advice which was not so much in his own best interest as in that of “cousin Willy”, who hoped in particular to prevent closer relations between Russia and Britain. An ill-conceived war with Japan (1904-1905) cost Russia dearly, but fear of a wider conflagration contributed ironically to the very Anglo-Russian Entente which Wilhelm feared.

In addition to a tumultuous international situation, Nicholas also faced deep domestic difficulties. His grandfather, Tsar Alexander II, had been assassinated by a bomb set by revolutionaries, even though he did much to improve the existing situation in the country. However, the purpose of the revolutionaries was to achieve power not through the existing regime, but by toppling it altogether, as the Russian Revolution clearly proved. As a child, Nicholas’ entire family survived an assassination attempt by a bomb on a train. Defeat by Japan emboldened the regime’s internal opponents, unleashing the Russian Revolution of 1905 during which organized strikes and local uprisings forced Nicholas to concede an indirectly-elected national assembly, or Duma, on October 30.

Further complicating domestic matters was the matter of succession. Alexandra bore him four daughters before their son, Alexei, was born on August 12, 1904. The young heir proved to be afflicted with hemophilia, which, at that time was virtually untreatable and usually led to untimely death. With the fragility the autocracy was experiencing at this time, Nicholas and Alexandra chose to not divulge Alexei’s condition to anyone outside the royal household.

In desperation, Alexandra sought help from a wandering mystic known as Grigori Rasputin. Rasputin seemed to be able to help when Alexei was suffering from internal bleeding, and Alexandra became increasingly dependent on Rasputin and his advice (which she accepted as coming directly from God through him). However, she had no influence over Nicholas in state matters, as some historians have tried to point out. There is absolutely no evidence of her influencing any of Nicholas’ decisions of state.

The outbreak of war with Germany on August 1, 1914, found Russia grossly unprepared, and an early advance ended in staggering Russian losses. Nicholas felt it his duty to lead his army directly, assuming the role of commander-in-chief (September 1915) following the loss of the Russian-ruled part of Poland. His efforts to oversee the operations of the war left domestic issues essentially in the hands of Alexandra. But Nicholas did not understand (since he had little input from the common people) how suspicious the common people were of his wife, both because she was German by birth and because of the destructive rumours the Bolsheviks have spread of her dependence on Rasputin. Rasputin’s death at the hands of a group of courtiers (December 1916) was a direct result of those rumours.

Mounting national hardship and the army’s initial failure to maintain the temporary military success of June 1916 led to renewed strikes and riots in the following winter. After the “February Revolution” of March 1917 (February in the existing Russian calendar) Nicholas was forced to abdicate in his own name and that of his too ill to rule son Alexei in favor of Nicholas’ brother, Michael II, who abdicated after a matter of hours, ending three centuries of Romanov rule. Let it be noted here that the abdication was executed by a group of the aristocratic elite, inspired by the leftist members of the Duma and led by the general Alekseyev, whom Nicholas considered to be his right-hand army commander. It was Alekseyev’s direct rebellion against orders which had installed the propagandized and leftist reserve soldiers in St. Petersburg in February, and who were not moved to a different location contrary to Nicholas’ order, essentially demoralizing the government.

Nicholas, Alexandra, and their five children remained confined in the royal residence The Alexander Palace, with decreasing staff until they were moved to Tobolsk in Siberia in August 1917, a step by Kerensky government to remove them from their residence in Tsarskoe Selo and essentially further from the centers of power and possible help. In spite of Britain’s numerous proposals to arrange passage of the Imperial Family to Britain, they were denied it in each and every case, thus sealing the fate that was to follow. They remained in Tobolsk until after the Bolshevik Revolution in November 1917 (the “October Revolution”), but were moved to Soviet-controlled Ekaterinburg. The last Russian Czar and all his family, including the gravely ill Prince Aleksey were brutally murdered in the basement of the Ipatiev House where they had been imprisoned in on the night of July 16 (or 17), 1918 by a band of Bolsheviks led by Yakov Yurovsky.

For a long time, the bodies were believed to have been disposed of down a mineshaft at a site called the Four Brothers. Initially, this was true – they had indeed been disposed of that way on the night of July 16/17. But Yurovsky , upon hearing the following morning that stories were abuzz in Ekaterinburg about the disposal site , went back to remove the bodies and conceal them elsewhere. He has initially intended to bury the bodies down another mineshaft some miles away, but when the vehicle carrying the bodies broke down on the way there, he made new arrangements. With two exceptions, the bodies were buried in a sealed and concealed pit on a portion of a since-abandoned cart track 12 miles north of Ekaterinburg called Koptyaki Road.

In the early 1990s, the bodies were located, exhumed and formally identified, following the fall of the Soviet Union. A secret confession by Yurovsky, which came to light in the late 1970s, but did not become public knowledge until the 1990s, helped this to happen. DNA analysis was a key means of identifying them. A single blood sample from Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh was used to identify Alexandra and her daughters through their mitrochondial genes. Another method for identification was a controversially untested super-imposition of photos over skulls. The Russian Orthodox Churches in Russia and Abroad strongly contest the claim that the bodies were those of the Imperial Family, because there is indeed very little undisputable evidence to that end.

There were two bodies missing. These were Alexei and one of the daughters – Tatiana, Maria or Anastasia. According to Yurovsky’s account, the bodies of Alexei and one of the daughters, mistaken by Yurovsky’s band for Alexandra, were burnt near the burial site and their ashes scattered and concealed.

Following a long series of bureaucratic and political delays, the purported remains of the family were reinterred in the Romanov family crypt in 1998 on the 80th anniversary of their murder. However, controversy over the remains continues to grow.