It was a tragedy for the world that Alexander III died in 1894, when he was barely fifty. Had he lived for twenty or thirty years longer, his toughness, ability and realism might have saved Russia from the calamities that befell her during the first two decades of this century. Instead, the unwieldy Empire passed to his twenty-six year old son, the amiable but weak Nicholas II. Compared with the big, forceful men who sat on the Throne of Russia before him, Nicholas looked almost like a child: a frail, gentle figure with "a caressing expression" in his eyes and a soft, low-pitched voice. To everyone with whom he had dealings, whether they were his subjects, his Royal relations or the ambassadors accredited to him, he was kind and considerate, but distant. As his cousin, Queen Marie of Roumania, wrote of him: "He seemed to live in a sort of Imperial mist".

Had Nicholas been married to a friendly and warm-hearted Princess like his mother, all might have been well with him; but the Empress Alexandra was even more withdrawn from the world than he was. Her fragile beauty was spoilt by her tight lips and the coldness of her eyes: she always looked miserable some thought. She was stiff, haughty, for ever on the defensive. This was due in part to shyness; but also to a sense of being superior to all other mortals, which had little or nothing to do with the fact that she was Royal, or an Empress; for the grandest of her Royal relations found her just as haughty and aloof as any of her subjects. Queen Marie of Roumania could remember " the pinched, unwilling, patronizing smile with which she received all you said as if it were not worth while answering". To make matters worse, she spoke in a whisper.

For most of her husband's reign, the Empress Alexandra refused to appear in public or to perform any of the duties of an Empress. Her behavior can to a certain extent be explained by her desperate anxiety over her only son, the Tsarevitch Alexis, who was frequently in danger of death and very often in agony owing to the haemophilia which he had inherited from her side of the family. It was her belief that the so-called "holy man" could cure Alexis which led to her friendship with Rasputin. But even before Alexis was born, she had virtually become a recluse. Such was the Tsar's devotion to her and his own reserve that it was all too easy for him to stay with her in her seclusion. Father, mother and children became entirely self-contained; they led a quiet, rather dull family life in a plainly-furnished corner of one of the vast and glittering Imperial palaces. St. Petersburg society was, to all intents and purposes, without an Emperor and Empress. The most influential section of the community came to regard the Imperial couple with indifference, or even resentment.

Nicholas II cannot be fitted into the pattern of autocratic Tsars alternating with liberal tsars; for he was neither autocratic nor liberal.

Nicholas II ascended the throne on his father's death in 1894 with the intention of keeping to his father's conservative policies. This is not surprising, as his main tutor during childhood had been the very conservative Pobyedonostzev. As emperor, he tried to force the border areas of Russia to abandon their own cultures and become Russified; he also wanted to expand Russian territory in Asia, partially for Russia's glory and also to have more markets for developing Russian industry. (This eventually led to the Russo-Japanese War.) Then-Minister of Finance Witte succeeded in modernizing the economy quite a lot.

Nicholas tended to avoid open arguments and not tell people about things that concerned them until the last possibly moment; he was accused of being devious, but those who knew him say that he was just not very confident and did not want to hear arguments that might make him sound bad. He was very comfortable in his private life, though; the family of his wife, four daughters, and son Alexei were happy together despite their worries about Alexei's hemophilia (inherited from his mother's family).

In 1904 after years of Russia and Japan both trying to take over Manchuria and Korea and the failure of negotiations to divide the area in two, Japan broke off diplomatic relations with Russia and, without declaring war, bottled up the Russian fleet in the harbor of Port Arthur on the Chinese coast. Japan wore several quick victories and esentially destroyed the Russian navy in the area. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt mediated a peace less than a year after the start of hostilities, but Russia was humiliated. Discontent among Russians grew, and a group of workers who came to give the tsar petitions were fired upon, and this "Bloody Sunday" touched off the Russian Revolution of 1905. Nicholas was forced to agree to a constitution and a representative body, the Duma, but he refused to cooperate with the new parts of government.

For the next nine years, the Emperor and his supporters basically did all they could to keep Imperial power strong and weaken anything to do with the reforms. Nicholas dissolved the first Duma session in 1907 and several others whenever he didn't like what was happening. When World War I broke out in 1914, Russia came together somewhat against Germany and the Central Powers; Nicholas took command of the army and essentially left Empress Alexandra in charge. Both Nicholas and his wife were religious and trusted people who were supposed to have mystical powers; Alexandra particularly trusted Rasputin, a monk who was supposed to be able to cure her son's hemophilia. Rasputin's influence in government became so great that he was assassinated in 1916.

By 1917, Russians were tired of the war, which was making food scarce and not seeming to have any benefits for their country. Soldiers refused to fire on workers striking for more food, and Nicholas was not able to make them obey. He tried to shut down the Duma session then going on, but the members refused to go. Nicholas was forced to abdicate; he had wanted his brother Mikhail to become regent for Nicholas' son Alexei, but Mikhail was smart enough to refuse, and the Duma appointed a provisional government. (See Russian February Revolution of 1917.)

The former Emperor and his family were kept under guard; they had at first wanted to go to England and Nicholas' cousin George V was at first willing to let them come, but English public opinion was such that the invitation had to be retracted. After the Russian October Revolution of 1917 when the provisional government was overthrown by the Bolsheviks, the royal family was held near Ekaterinburg. During the Russian Civil War of 1918-20, the local Bolsheviks feared the anti-revolutionary forces would free the royal family, and all of them were shot on the night of July 16, 1918. (Legend has Alexei or Anastasia, the youngest children, escaping, but no firm proof of this has been found.)

Sources: Donald Raleigh and A.A. Iskenderov's The Emperors and Empresses of Russia: Rediscovering the Romanovs and those listed in Monarchs of Russia.

February nineteen seventeen, in the throes of the First World War, saw not only the anniversary of the invention of the artificial heart valve, but also the abdication of Tsar Nicolas II of Russia, and riots which swept the capital from March 8th. With the abdication of the Tsar on March 2nd, the throne passed to his brother Mikhail, who declined, leading to the end of the Romanov rule which had prevailed over Russia for some two hundred years. "We bequeath Our inheritance to Our brother the Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich and give him Our Blessing on his accession to the throne." His resignation, which many argue came from years of inefficient government, has, in recent years, been attributed more to Russia’s involvement with the war than any other factor.

There is an amount of evidence which would indicate that, contrary to the belief of many optimist-schooled historians, the Tsarist regime would have crumbled regardless of Russia’s involvement in the war. The fact that workers were able to overthrow the government, combined with the past attempted revolutions, indicates that the regime may not have been able to sustain itself for much longer, especially with a Tsar who is popularly believed to have been a poor leader. His lack of political interest was highlighted in a conversation he had with the president of the Duma on March 12th, the day before the Duma forced him to abdicate. A telegram was sent by the president reading “The situation is getting worse. Something has to be done immediately. Tomorrow is too late. The last hour has struck. The future of the country and the royal family is being decided.” The Tsar responded by saying that the “fat-bellied” president was once again pestering him with worthless and senseless facts, and said that he would not bother to reply. To many, this attitude was what sealed the fate of the regime.

There were a number of factors relating to decision made by the Tsar which may have lead to his eventual downfall, one of the main ones being the decision to personally lead the Russian army on the frontline. Seen by many as a move to rally the allegiance of the waning Russian public, could this move have ultimately cost the Tsar his throne, and turned Russia, in the words of Lenin, into “the freest country in the world”? The Tsar was, it is argued, not held in connection with the failures of the Russian government to manage the army and war, and therefore, had he not decided to link himself directly to the army, could quite possibly have escaped untouched, and his reputation untarnished. The fact that by February the government was in chaos, with the Tsar eventually failing to take action on any front, served to aggravate matters severely. It has also been said that the severity of the situation in Russia, especially in St. Petersburg at the time, was dire to the point where is was arguably impossible to reolve itself in any way other than through a full-scale revolution. “ The situation in Petrograd (formerly St Petersburg) was dire for most of the population.” A second, equally critical mistake many feel contributed to the Tsarist downfall stemming from Russia’s participation in the war and the Tsar’s decision to lead his army was his leaving the Tsarina in charge, thus placing the country in the hands of a woman who was not only considered incapable by w wide section of society, but also took advice from a contempted figure by the name of Rasputin (voiced by Christopher Lloyd). This, alongside rumours that she was siding with the Germans (being half-German herself), served only to weaken the Tsars position in conjunction with the war. The March 8 riots in Petrograd highlighted the armies failure to respond to orders, as gruadually, on the twelth of Marchregiment after regiment moved over onto the side of the people. This gradual movement serves to highlight the instantaneousness of the revolution, with soldiers slowly being won over unit at a time.

Many argue that the loss of the army, who gradually mutinied as they failed to take violent action against rioters in the demonstrators as their orders demanded, was critical to the destabilising of the regime and the consequent revolution.

Looking at the evidence, it is clear that there were far more reasons simply than Russia’s involvement with the war, however it is likely had Russia not become involved with the war, the Tsarist regime may have been able to sustain itself for years to come. In fact, had the Tsar not become so personally involved with the conflict in an attempt to rally the support of his countrymen, the Tsarist regime may have survived the war regardless of his participation.

I wrote this some time ago when I was still at school, but I found it on my scratchpad and thought I'd post it. Some of the arguements may be somewhat regurgitated.

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