Nicholas II (1868–1918) from the Romanovs dynasty was the last Russian Emperor, also known as Bloody Nicholas because of the tragic events on his coronation day and the notorious Bloody Sunday as ill omens of the impendent tragic future of the whole country, and Nicholas the Martyr due to the terrible execution of him and his whole family by Bolsheviks.
Nikolay Aleksandrovich Romanov (Romanoff) was born in Tsarskoe Selo, St. Petersburg on May 6 (18), 1868. He was the eldest son of Emperor Alexander III and Maria Fyodorovna, daughter of the King of Denmark.
In childhood Nikolay was tutored by an English teacher and learned to speak English fluently. Later he showed gift for languages by speaking German, French and Danish. Outstanding professors, political and military figures were among his teachers, yet the young heir appeared to have little interest in studies. The future Emperor was much more inclined to military service (he was an officer), which he liked and appreciated.
The father wanted to introduce him to State business by taking the young man to State Council sessions from May 1889, yet political discussions just made Nicholas bored.
In October 1890 Nikolay undertook an overseas journey to the Far East via Greece, Egypt, India, China and Japan. When visiting a Japanese temple the heir to Russian throne was nearly killed by a religious fanatic who felt outrage by seeing foreign infidels in that holy place. The event left Nicholas with a scar on his forehead and a strong dislike for Japan, later bringing him to willingly support the Russian-Japanese war of 1904-1905.
In April 1894 Nicholas was engaged to Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt, the fourth daughter of Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and granddaughter of Queen Victoria of Great Britain. After conversion to Orthodoxy the bride was named Alexandra Fyodorovna. When Alexander III unexpectedly died of kidney disease in October 1984, aged 49, the successor to the Crown was apparently not ready for his duties. "What is going to happen to me and all of Russia?" – Nicholas tearfully asked his cousin.
Yet, he was seemingly firm about sticking to the conservative autocratic policy of his overpowering father. In his first political speech (written by K. P. Pobedonostsev, a state figure and one of Nicholas’ tutors) to the deputation of towns’ local assemblies (zemstvos) petitioning for constitutional reforms the new tsar proclaimed: "...it has come to my knowledge that during the last months there have been heard in some assemblies of the zemstvos the voices of those who have indulged in a senseless dream that the zemstvos be called upon to participate in the government of the country. I want everyone to know that I will devote all my strength to maintain, for the good of the whole nation, the principle of absolute autocracy, as firmly and as strongly as did my late lamented father."
The coronation ceremony held on May 14, 1986 was clouded by a somewhat absurd tragedy: almost a half million crowd of spectators was gathered at a small area of Khodynskoe Field and in the crush and rush after refreshments about a thousand of people perished or were hurt. It was expected that due to the tragedy Nicholas II would cancel the court ball appointed that night, yet he did not…
Nicholas II and Alexandra loved each other; between 1885 and 1901 they had four daughters born one after another: Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia. In the hope of giving birth to a son, i.e. an heir to the throne, the royal couple took to religion, at the same time becoming enthusiastic about spiritism and occultism. They initiated canonization of Serafim Sarovsky; all sorts of soothsayers and God’s fools started appearing at court. Finally in July 1904 son Alexei was born, unfortunately, afflicted with the incurable hereditary disease of hemophilia.
In home policy the government of Nicholas II consistently suppressed any manifestations of free-thinking and social activity. At the same time they hoped that “a small victorious war” with Japan, which attacked Russia in a dispute over far eastern territories, would help solve the domestic problems. Yet, everything turned the other way round, since the disastrous defeats at Port Arthur and Tsushima, where about 400,000 Russian soldiers were killed, wounded or captured, aggravated people’s resentment and precipitated the revolution in Russia.
In addition to that, Bloody Sunday occurred in January, 1905 when Tsarist troops fired on peaceful demonstrators who were petitioning Nicholas II for a redress of perceived grievances. Nicholas II is not directly blamed for that tragic event as he was away from Moscow on that day.
The first Russian revolution in February 1905 forced Tsar to make certain concessions. On October 17 (30), 1905 he signed the famous manifesto granting people with basic civil liberties and establishing the State Duma as a legislative body. Soon, however, following the recession of the revolution, Nicholas repudiated many of his constitutional pledges. The first and the second State Duma were disassembled, with limiting amendments introduced into electoral legislation.
Nicholas did not favour people surpassing him in intelligence and strength of mind. Thus, instead of friendly support of the new Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Pyotr Stolypin, who was a skilful politician with hard-driving plans for reformation, the Tsar tried to keep him off. Stolypin’s successor, Prime Minister V. N. Kokovtsev wrote: “The Emperor is reasonable, clever and diligent. His ideas are mainly sound. He has an elevated understanding of his mission and overall awareness of his duty. Yet, his education is insufficient, while the greatness of the tasks he has to solve is often beyond the scope of his comprehension. He knows neither people, nor business, nor life. His mistrust in himself and others makes him beware of any superiority. Therefore he tolerates only nonentities around him”.
World War I played fatal role in the train of failures and disasters that fell on the reign of Nicholas II. The lesson of the military defeat by Japan prompted that another war could bring about another revolution. The “family friend” Grigory Rasputin also warned about it. Cautious policy of Russia in the period of Balkan Wars of 1912–1913 aimed at putting off the world conflict.
When Russia joined the Alliance against Germany attacking in World War I, the Emperor assumed the Supreme Commander-in-Chief post trying to elevate the army’s competitive spirit. He was at the front line, surveying the troops.
Meanwhile devastation and social crisis were swelling at the home front of the Russian Empire. When the February Revolution broke down in Petrograd (Saint Petersburg) Nicholas was at the headquarters in Moghilyov. He decided to dragoon the rebels. Next morning (on February 27 (March 13), 1917) he started off for Tsarskoe Selo, where his wife and children were staying. Yet, the troops did not obey his orders and his train was not let to the rebellious capital. Commanders of the fronts and the Baltic navy wired to Nicholas the advice to abdicate the throne in favour of his son Alexei with the regency of Nicholas’ brother. Finally he had to sign a manifesto naming his brother, Grand Duke Michael, as the next Emperor of Russia.
On March 7 (20) the Provisional Government formed by the Parliament (Duma) issued an order to arrest Nikolay Romanov and his wife. In the early August 1917 the former Emperor with his family and servants was exiled to Tobolsk, allegedly with the view of taking them to the USA later, as A. F. Kerensky (the head of the Provisional Government) explained afterwards.
The situation aggravated after the October Revolution. Nicholas was very much upset by the news about the armistice and subsequent peace with Germany.
In May 1918 Tsar’s family was taken to Yekaterinburg and put under home arrest in the house of the mining engineer N. N. Ipatiev.
The Civil War made Bolshevik leaders throw aside their initial plan for legal process on the tsar’s case. When the counter-revolutionary White Army legions were approaching Yekterinburg it was decided to execute Nicholas and his family. Historians still argue about whose decision it was and what was the exact order. The assassination was entrusted to the house commandant and jailer Yakov Yurovsky and his assistant G.P. Nikulin. On the night of July 4 (17), 1918 the former Emperor, all his family members and their servants were shot dead in a small room on the ground floor of Ipatiev House.
Bolshevik newspapers announced that the execution was initiated by the local Ural authorities without Moscow’s agreement. However, the White Army’s committee of inquiry found evidence, which refuted that version. Later, in 1935 Lev Trotsky admitted: “The order was issued in Moscow.” The former Bolshevik leader recalled that once on his visit to Moscow he asked Yakov Sverdlov: “And where is the tsar?” - “That’s over. Shot down.” When Trotsky specified: “Who decided that?” Sverdlov answered: “We decided it here. Lenin believed we could not leave them a live banner, especially in such complicated circumstances”.