19th Century Romanovs

Paul I (1796-1801)
< http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJhxJPeJZe0 >

Paul, unhappy and unfortunate son of Catherine II and Peter III, spent his youth and young adulthood waiting for his mother to die, as well as yearning to avenge her usurpation and murder of his father. He, and others, suspected that his real father might not have been Grand Duke/Tsar Peter III, but Catherine's sometime lover, Sergei Saltykov. Although Paul and his mother could hardly be called close or on friendly terms, she selected a tutor for him Count Panin, who was intelligent and trustworthy, or so it seemed. For awhile, Catherine allowed Grand Duke Paul to attend meetings of her council. She selected a bride for nineteen year old Paul, Wilhelmina, a German princess, in 1773, and then Sophia Dorothea, another German princess, upon the death of his first wife in childbirth. In 1777, Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna (the baptismal name assumed by his wife) pleased Catherine by giving birth to Alexander. By this time, Paul was beginning both to involve himself in conspiracies and to fear assassination by his mother, accusing her of putting broken glass in his food ("Paul I of Russia"). By contemporary acccounts, he was "flighty, passionate..., and when angry capable of cruelty...." (Boiko-Slastion and Foster)

This portrait of Grand Duke Paul by Vigilius Erichsen, hangs in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.
< http://cgfa.sunsite.dk/e/p-erichsen1.htm >


Immediately upon succeeding to the throne, Tsar-Emperor Paul announced the Pauline Laws, establishing primogeniture in the male line. Some historians define Emperor Paul's brief four-and-a-half year reign as that of a madman. On the positive side, he recalled Radishchev from his Siberian exile and joined the Second Coalition against Napoleon. He dug up the moldering remains of his father, Peter III, and had him reburied alongside Catherine in the Peter Paul Cathedral. He punished Catherine's favorites and tried to whip the court into shape with a barrage of orders and instructions about dress, behavior, and protocol. Others of his acts suggested extreme paranoia and even insanity, such as sending the cossacks off to fight the British in central Asia. A cabal of conspirators, with or without the knowledge of his son, Grand Duke Alexander, overthrew and murdered him in 1801. The portrait shown here was Paul's favorite depiction of himself by artist Stepan Shchulun. (image, Hermitage Museum) Current research suggests that Paul has gotten a bad historical rap, due to the self aggrandizing propaganda perpetrated by his assassins. A movie, sympathetic to him and his reign, was produced in Russia in 2003.


Alexander I, the "Blessed Tsar"
(b. 1777; reign, 1801 - 1825;
King of Poland, Grand Duke of Finland, 1815-1825)

Born in 1777 to Grand Duke Paul and Grand Duchess Maria Fedorovna, Alexander became as schizophrenic as the rest of the 18th century gentry. Educated in the heady literature of the Enlightenment by La Harpe, a tutor selected by his grandmother, he was also trained in the fine points of military autocracy by others, notably his father. "These contradictory tendencies remained with him...and are observed in his dualism in domestic and military policy" ("Alexander I of Russia"). Catherine selected a bride for the 15 year old Grand Duke, Louise of Baden, yet another German princess. Their two children died young. The conventional wisdom seems to be that he knew about the plot to overthrow his father and was consumed with both remorse and guilt at his father's murder.

image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_I_of_Russia >
An enigma to his contemporaries and future historians, Alexander I mouthed the reforming mantra of an Enlightened monarch but annexed territory (Finland, Georgia, Bessarabia,) ruled Congress Poland as its theoretical constitutional monarch through the person of his brother and Viceroy, Grand Duke Constantine; he refused to allow any tampering with the sacrosanct institutions of autocracy and serfdom. Calling upon his fellow monarchs at the Congress of Vienna to rule according to Christian principles of charity and benevolence, he himself turned to harsh repression in the closing decade of his reign. Contemporary leaders never knew which Alexander they were dealing with--the "liberal" reformer or the autocratic expansionist. He selected Speranksy to codify the law à la France and the sinister Arakcheev to administer the hated military colonies. He fought Napoleon in the Third Coalition, allied with Napoleon after the disasters of Austerlitz and Ulm in the Treaty of Tilsit, and joined the Fourth Coalition/Quadruple Alliance against him in 1812.


Internally, when he wasn't fighting Napoleon, Alexander I made efforts to ameliorate some of the harshest aspects of tsarist autocracy. He toyed with constitutional reform and called for efficiency and less corruption in the ministries. Most historians acknowledge an improvement in the civil service bureaucracy under Alexander, as well as extension and expansion in education. However, "the blessed tsar" is most revered in Russian history for his humiliation of Napoleon after the latter's disastrous invasion, immortalized in Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.

Visit site below for a brief synopsis of his reign

The key events of Alexander's reign revolved around the Napoleonic Wars, fought intermittently between 1805 and 1815.
Go to < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJhxJPeJZe0 > advance to 4:37 for Alex/Nap confrontation

The signal events of Alexander I's reign involved his epochal confrontation with Napoleon. The defeat at Austerlitz had a huge impact on him. During Napoleon's 1812 campaign, the two behemoths faced off, first at Smolensk, then the bloody carnage at Borodino, as the Grand Armée fought its way towards Moscow, littering the battlefield with the bodies of thousands of French and Russians. Historians count this battle as one of the bloodiest of the 19th century. Kutuzov withdrew from the field when casualties neared 50,000. The suffering, sacrifice, and bravery of Russian peasant soldiers awed their officers and the enemy. (image, Bobrova and Poliakov)


Kutuzov and Alexander continued the retreat relying on time, space, and "General Frost" to come to the rescue of the sacred rodina. The Grand Armée entered Moscow in September, 1812. Napoleon assumed, incorrectly, that Alexander would sue for peace. "Mysteriously, a fire broke out in Moscow and destroyed large sections of the city." (Grempel 4.)
(image, Bobrova and Poliakov) Who started the fires remains a subject of debate to this day.


For the French occupiers of Moscow, disaster compounded disaster. their officers hunted down and shot suspected arsonists, inspiring retaliatory acts of atrocity and terror against the increasingly desperate and starving French. Alexander, for his part, set up camp outside of the city and waited....(image, Bobrova and Poliakov)


In mid-October, when it was already too late, as the cold winds of Russian winter blew through Moscow, Napoleon and the Grand Armée withdrew. Alexander, the Russian Army, and countless peasant partisan guerrillas, literally chased the remnants of Napoleon's army home. The defeat of the Grand Armée was, to put it mildly, catastrophic. Inadequate supplies, no plans for a winter campaign, absence of allies, failure to anticipate enigmatic Alexander's responses to the invasion all contributed to Napoleon's defeat. The Russian winter adminstered the coup de grace to the fleeing army. (image, Bobrova and Poliakov)

A high school student put together a collage of clips from the movie Voyna i Mir (War and Peace)
almost no talking (and what's there is in French) but it gives a sense of what Napoleonic warfare
was like
< http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k97nvOSBDnk >
Or < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=458Gw-Xw0u0&feature=related >
The attack of General Frost! <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e02_PP1z6kY&feature=related >
Napoleon and the Marseillaise < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKtCVblxDRc&feature=related >
If you get "into" the Napoleonic wars, you can actually see the whole movie Voyna i Mir (War and Peace)
on Youtube...in segments.

In 1956, Hollywood produced a War and Peace movie with an adorable Audrey Hepburn as Natasha Rostova,
Mel Ferrer as the dashing Prince Bolkonsky, and Henry Fonda as Pierre Bezukhov; you can
look it up on Youtube (War and Peace 1956)---I can't find it on Youtube, alas
"1812 Overture"

Alexander I led the Russian delegation to the Congress of Vienna, which sat from November 1814 through June 1815. Determined to secure "compensation" for the horrendous sacrifice and suffering of the Russian land and people, Alexander also possessed a vision, or at least a goal, to prevent a recurrence of the last quarter of a century that merged the Wars of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Hundreds of thousands paid the ultimate price. Again, Alexander's demands struck the other delegates as "enigmatic": he called for a "holy alliance" of Christian monarchs to work together for European peace, to exercise something like "collective security"--what came to known as Congress Diplomacy of the Concert of Europe. At the same time, he demanded retention of all Russian conquests (Bessarabia, Georgia, Finland, Poland.) (image, Alexandris)

An AP Euro student (possibly IB [International Baccalaureate]) put together a summary of the Congress of Vienna

< http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3igypsAnIm0 >


After 1815, Alexander became increasingly mystical, suspicious and moody; like his father, he feared plots and assassination. In 1825, he and his long-estranged wife traveled South to Tagonrog near the Sea of Azov. The royal couple, both ailing, and the Tsar suffering from a cold that deteriorated into typhus, died within days of each other. Immediately, rumors surfaced that his death and later funeral were staged, that either the coffin was empty or contained an imposter. To complicate matters, a mysterious, holy hermit named Kuzmich emerged, thought to be the Tsar living under an assumed name and identity. When the Soviet authorities opened Alexander I's tomb to exhume the body, the coffin was empty ("Alexander I of Russia").

image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_I_of_Russia >

Alexander died under mysterious circumstances, although he was neither overthrown nor assassinated. His death in faraway Tagonrog precipitated a crisis in the succession: Alexander was sonless; his next brother and heir presumptive, Grand Duke Constantine--the Viceroy in Poland--renounced his right to the throne after a divorce and morganatic marriage; his next brother, Grand Duke Nicholas, was almost twenty years younger and unaware that Constantine had abdicated for himself and his children their imperial rights. What ensued was the odd, but quintessentially Russian Decembrist Uprising. On this cold winter morning, the pampered darlings of the Romanovs--at least some of them in the Guards Regiments--called for a new order.

image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decembrist_Revolt >
The seeds of the Decembrist plot lay in the heady Paris experience of the young Guards officers, 1815-1818. These patriotic young officers of wealth, leisure, and idealism moved against Grand Duke Nicholas in favor of his older brother Grand Duke Constantine, mistakenly thinking that the latter would be more liberal. They chanted, "Constantine and Constitution." Nicholas, though perhaps reluctantly, dealt with them expeditiously.

image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decembrist_Revolt >

On the Decembrist Uprising, visit < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Izw29EJvv-g&NR=1 >
The video above begins abruptly with a recap of the Congress of Vienna; stick with it
for info/discussion on Decembrists

Nicholas I both faced and initiated the tragic consequences of December, 1825.

Nicholas I (1825 - 1855)
Visit youtube site below for a portrait gallery/slide show of Nicholas I and his wife/family
< http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLIC7_IrdN8 >
Your favorite site (!)--Land of the Tsars--provides a quick summary of the reign of "Nick the Stick"
Skip the intro and advance cursor about 1:10
< http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXPP1j1yahg&feature=related >

Nicholas I succeeded his brother, Alexander I, "the Blessed Tsar," in the aftermath of the bloody Decembrist Uprising of 1825. The decisive events of his reign included the Uprising that brought him to power and the Crimean War that marked its conclusion.

For a thumbnail bio and miniature of Nicholas I, see

The story of the Decembrists is characterized by that particular brand of romanticism, that is so heroic, so sacrificial, so Russian. Approximately 150 conspirators spent the rest of their lives in Siberia, leaving home and family permanently behind. Although Alexander II granted an amnesty years later, it was too late for most.

image source < http://www.irkutsk.org/fed/dec.html >

Five of the conspirators went to the gallows: Ryleev, Pestel, Bestuzhev, Muraviev, and Kakhovskoy. Though a plotter, Pestel was not present on that fateful December day; his role was acknowledged, and he met the same fate as the other four. Inexplicably, Trubetskoy's nerve failed, he turned himself in; he escaped the death penalty and was sent to Siberia.

image source < http://econc10.bu.edu/economic_systems/NatIdentity/FSU/Russia/prerevolution/dekabristy.htm >


Countess Ekaterina Trubetskaya, wife of one of the leading conspirators who escaped the executioner's noose by giving evidence to the police, joined her husband in the icy reaches of Siberia. Before the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad in the 1890's, it was a long walk to Irkutsk. The great "roofless prison" offered few amenities. Countess Ekaterina Trubatskaya spent almost thirty years with her husband in Siberia, giving birth there to three daughters and a son. She remained steadfastly loyal to him to the end.

image souce < http://www.tristarmedia.com/bestofrussia/decembrists.html >

Visit one of the sites below to learn more of the trials, tribulations, and triumphs the
Decembrists and their families. The Decembrist story is a romantic one--check out
the loyalty of the Decembrist wives, who left lives of wealth and luxury behind,
and in many cases their children as well, to endure Siberia with their husbands.

< http://www.nomadom.net/russia/decembrists.htm >
< http://www.irkutsk.org/fed/dec.html >
< http://www.tristarmedia.com/bestofrussia/decembrists.html >

Nicholas I's domestic policies imposed a "deep freeze" over 19th century Russia. The "Nicholas System" of Orthodoxy-Nationality-Autocracy ("One Faith, One Nation, One Tsar") was the theoretical "tripod" of power upheld by the de facto tripod of Army, Tsar, and Secret Police (perfected a century later by Lenin and Stalin.) And, don't forget the great "roofless prison." Ironically, the reign of "Iron Nicholas" also witnessed the flowering of the "golden age of Russian literature." Nicholas himself acted as Pushkin's censor.

image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicholas_I_of_Russia >
Censorship and harassment by the Third Section failed to silence the great Russian voices of the period. Led by Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837,) Russian authors equaled in every respect the 19th century writers of the West. Pushkin tragically died in a stupid and senseless duel over his wife's honor, but not before he published works that remain classics in the Russian pantheon to this day--"Eugene Onegin," "The Bronze Horseman," "The Captain's Daughter," to name just three. Eugenia Ginzburg's guards and companions in Stolypin Car #7 listened to and joined her recitation of Pushkin's unforgettable poetry.

Every 19th century Russian author acknowledged his debt to Alexander Pushkin. Pushkin's heritage is evident from the graphic, and he proudly traced his lineage to Ibrahim Hannibal, an African prince at the court of Peter the Great. For a discussion of Pushkin's work as well as insights into his works, visit the site below


Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852,) friend and confidant of Pushkin, came to St. Petersburg in 1828, serving as a minor functionary, not unlike Akaky Akakievich in his tragi-comic short story, "The Overcoat." Sensitive to any kind of criticism of his efforts ("The Nose," The Inspector General, and finally his epic work, Dead Souls,) Gogol spent many of his most productive years abroad. Like Pushkin, Gogol's influence was enormous, prompting one critic to remark, "We have all come out from under Gogol's 'overcoat.'"

For a thoughtful discussion of Gogol in general and "The Overcoat" in particular, a variety of sites are available for your perusal. The best seems, alas, to have flown away, but give this one a try
http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/gogol.htm >

Since I'm on a Gogol roll here, note the esteem with which even the Soviets held him and his work; a series of commemorative stamps was issued on the occasion of the centenary of his death in 1852.


Fyodor M. Dostoevsky (1821-1881) also came out from "Gogol's 'Overcoat,'" becoming more well known in the West than either Pushkin or Gogol. Acknowledged by some as the "father of the psychological novel," Dostoevsky was nevertheless very much a product of Russian history and culture. Like other Russian intellectuals of the 19th century (and like Raskolnikov,) Dostoevsky interested himself in the currents of contemporary European thought. As a young man, he joined a political discussion group, the Petrashevsky Circle, and almost lost his life as a result, Tsar Nicholas I granting him a last minute reprieve at the very moment of his scheduled execution. Sentenced to hard labor in Siberia (again, like Raskolnikov,) Dostoevsky developed his ideas about suffering, redemption, and regeneration during those years. For more on Doestoevsky, click here Other authors of Russia's "golden age of literature," which reached its apogee in the next reign included Turgenev (1818-1883) and Chekhov (1860-1904) to name just two. And, of course, Tolstoy (1818-1910.) Alas, no time to follow through with these works of drama, poetry, and fiction.


Nicholas I pursued an aggressive and successful foreign policy in areas of
Russian traditional interest, especially in Poland
and the Sick Man of Europe, the declining Ottoman Empire.
The Organic Statue (1833) reduced Poland to a virtual Russian
province and negated the convenient fiction of the autonomous Kingdom of Poland
created at the Congress of Vienna. There was no velvet glove enclosing
Nicholas I's iron fist as the deep freeze expanded into Poland. Chopin
joined the "great emigration" of Polish artists and intellectuals in his flight to France
(and into the arms of George Sand.)
Follow link for Chopin's "Military Polonaise"
< http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1Qq3RA19G4 >
or his "Revolutionary Étude" (< http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpuROwy_8mg&feature=related >

As well, Nicholas reduced the Ottoman Empire to almost satellite status with the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi that
he imposed on Sultan Mamoud II as the price for saving the Sublime Porte from the threat of the Egyptian Pasha, Mehemet Ali. Like many of his contemporaries, Mehemet Ali saw the decrepitude of the Ottoman Empire, commenting, "I am well aware that the (Ottoman) Empire is heading by the day toward destruction...On her ruins I will build a vast kingdom... up to the Euphrates and the Tigris." He advanced his troops into Syria, until Nicholas came to the Sultan's rescue. Mehemet Ali functioned as Khedive (a kind of vice-roy and vassal of the Ottomans) of a virtually autonomous Egypt until his death in 1848.

< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Muhammed_Ali_Pasha.jpg >

The frosting on Nicholas I's cake came with the Munchengratz Agreement, signed with the King of Prussia and Emperor of Austria in 1833. This alliance between/among the members of the conservative "eastern alliance" was noteworthy for Nicholas' pledge that Russia was a "satisfied" power with no further territorial demands in Eastern Europe. They further promised to come to each other's aid if faced with domestic lib-nat uprisings.


Nicholas I's reign was sandwiched between the two bloody encounters which defined it. The first, the Decembrist Uprising, marked Nicholas' debut; the Crimean War marked his demise. The Crimean War comprised the first major European conflict involving the Great Powers (in this case Russia, Britain, France, as well as Sardinia and the Ottomans) since Napoleon. To Tsar Nicholas' immense surprise and chagrin, the Turks made a strong showing at Silistria, driving the Russians out of the Danubian Principalities. In addition, the British and French attacked the Russian naval base at Sevastopol.



In October, 1854, the Russian general, Prince Menschikov (!), led an attack against the British position at Balaclava, defended by the 93rd Highlanders, "a thin red streak tipped with a line of steel." Encouraged by the demonstration of force of the "brave lads," General, Lord Raglan ordered the cavalry to pursue the Russians. In the ensuing confusion, and amidst conflicting views and understanding of the situation, Lord Lucan led his famous Light Brigade into "the jaws of death," in the immortal words of Tennyson. Nevertheless, Sevastopol fell in 1855; Russian casualties were horrendous.

< http://www.national-army-museum.ac.uk/pages/crimean.html >

In 1936, Hollywood made a movie The Charge of the Light Brigade (starring Errol Flynn);
it is still gripping 70+ years later

< http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyqcZMsBOU4 >
1968 version in color
< http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBiUWQ5YLQ4 >

When Nicholas read the reports of the devastating losses in Crimea, he turned his face to the wall and died of a broken heart, little realizing the enormous ramifications the defeat would have on Russia. He left the throne to his son, Alexander, who succeeded him without contest (!) in 1855. For more on the Crimean War, especially regarding casualty statistics, see
< http://www.onwar.com/aced/data/cite/crimean1853.htm >


Alexander II, the Tsar-Liberator (1855-1881)

Alexander II ascended the throne during the Crimean War and quickly sued for peace. Recognizing as had his great predecessor Peter the Great that "serfs make stupid soldiers," he announced their emancipation as the first order of business, "freeing the serfs from above before they freed themselves from below," as his advisor Pogodin put it. Alexander II, the Tsar-Liberator, continues to puzzle historians: did he free the serfs and initiate the Great Reform out of humanitarian concern for their suffering? Or, did he reform as much as he had to and as little as he could get away with to preserve, essentially intact, tsarist autocracy? Like his great contemporary, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander II was driven by the contingencies of war to sponsor enormous change in a large, diverse, heterogeneous nation; like Lincoln, he was loved and despised; like Lincoln, he died at the hands of determined assassins. Unlike Lincoln, the terrorists from the People's Will (Narodnaya Volya) had been hunting him down like a dog for more than two years.


Alexander II's empress was Maria Alexandrovna, an elegant woman who sponsored education for women and charitable organizations to care for wounded soldiers and veterans. In 1860 the Mariinsky Theatre was named in her honor. Alexander later fell in love with Olga Dolgoruky, to the great chagrin of his son and heir Grand Duke Alexander.


(graphic, < http://www.abcgallery.com/W/winterhalter/winterhalter3.html >)\
Visit < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCbDISfpmGc&NR=1&feature=fvwp > for a silent slide show of
Tsar Alexander II and Maria Alexandrovna


Alexander II launched the Great Reform with the Emancipation Manifesto in 1861, preceding Lincoln's Proclamation by two years. The Emancipation Manifesto set in motion a series of related ancillary reforms that addressed the judiciary, education, local government and the military. Alexander hoped for praise and appreciation from his grateful "children," but the intelligentsia responded by demanding a constitution, a bill of rights, and a representative assembly.

image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_II_of_Russia >
The Great Reform did not change Russia as much as the reformers wanted but changed it more than the conservatives wanted. For a thorough discussion of the Great Reform and its importance as the most important single phenomenon between Peter the Great and the Revolution, read Alfred Reiber's discussion, "The Politics of Autocracy." The document is of particular interest as Professor Rieber was one of the key influences on my graduate school experience at Northwestern University in the 1960's.

For a discussion of the Great Reform, visit

I particularly like the next site because it is authored by my graduate school advisor at Northwestern

The Land of the Tsars also describes/summarizes the Great Reform
< http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PFQ7Th_rAs >

In March, 2001, on the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Manifesto,
The New York Times ran an "Opinion Piece" on it, including a comparison
with the almost-contemporaneous Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln.
The article contains interesting links. To Visit

< http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/02/the-other-emancipation-proclamation/?scp=1&sq=emancipation%20proclamation% >

Alexander II relied on a series of talented and loyal advisors who served him well, urging him to reform more than he wanted to rather than less. Under pressure from Nikolay Milyutin, and despite gentry resistance, he freed the serfs with land, though they had to pay for it and couldn't leave their villages until the redemption dues were fulfilled. Dmitry Milyutin, brother of Nikolay, presided over the overhaul of the antiquated army. Mikhail Loris-Melikov brought a degree of efficiency into the creaking administrative bureaucracy. Alas, there were too few Milyutins and Loris-Melikovs, and too many gentry reactionaries, and far, far too many members of the radical, revolutionary intelligentsia.
A number of reforming groups attempted to bring more far-reaching change, as well as a revolutionary outlook to the now-free peasants. In the 1870's the Narodniks (the "going to the people people")--young students and intellectuals--flocked to the countryside carrying information about technology, agronomy, rural health care, etc., etc., and revolution. Their efforts to arouse the peasants came to naught as the peasants distrusted the soft skin, clean hands, and harsh message of the young men and woman who, they thought, had never done an honest day's work in their lives. Other revolutionaries--Herzen, Chernyshevsky, Bakunin--struggled to form parties and organizations to overthrow the existing order. Chernyshevsky's Land and Freedom would be among the first.


Like his predecessors, Alexander II turned to "stunning territorial annexations," expanding in Central and East Asia, exacerbating already troubled relations with Britain. He established Russian protectorates over Tashkent and Samarkand (participating in the Great Game and threatening, yet again, the Northern Approaches to India) in Central Asia and the Maritime Province/Ussuri District adjacent to Manchuria. Alexander II made Russia one of the so-called "China Powers" and founded Vladivostok in 1860. Again, worsening relations with Britain, he sold Alaska to the United States in 1867.

Anonymous 19th century portrait of Alexander II from the collection of Mrs. Merriweather Post, courtesy of Hillwood, Washington, DC.

In the closing years of his reign, Alexander II, the Tsar-Liberator was a hunted man, target of multiple assassination attempts. In 1881, the People's Will succeeded, blowing him up with a bomb (or two) having tracked him and his habits for weeks. A radical group, made up primarily of students, determined to assassinate him, putting out a contract on his life in 1879. Originally part of the Land and Freedom secret society, the People's Will broke off and set their sights on the Tsar-Liberator. Historians note with interest that women comprised a large percentage of membership, reflecting how effective had been Alexander's education reforms earlier in his reign. Eight of the central leadership of eighteen were women, among them, Vera Figner (left) and Sophia Perovskaya (right.)


In March, 1881, the plotters succeeded, but not without some difficulty. One bomb exploded under Alexander's carriage; another blew his legs off as he exited the carriage. A third assassin shot him. He died later that day. The vision of his bloodied grandfather had a traumatic impact on young Grand Duke Nicholas.

(graphic, < http://www.colstate.edu/Pate/carolyn/carolyn.html >
Visit < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BeiYZcGejE > for a brief summary of the assassination

Alexander III (1881 - 1894)

Alexander III, succeeding his father to the throne after the "murder outside the cathedral," determined to crush with ruthless expedition all signs of dissent in his Empire.

http://www.vip.fi/~flax/history/russia/alexander3/index.html (left)
http://webserver.rcds.rye.ny.us/id/Politics/Michelle%20Freis.html (center, right)

One of his first acts was to erect a church marking the martyrdom of his father. In some ways a replication of Ivan IV's Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed in Red Square just outside the walls of the Kremlin, the Cathedral of the Spilled Blood is a monumental edifice in the traditional Muscovite style. Before the first cornerstone was laid, however, Alexander III saw to it that the People's Will conspirators died for their heinous crime. Sophia Perovskaya was one of those executed; Vera Figner was sent to Siberia.

( graphic, < http://www.colstate.edu/Pate/carolyn/people_s_will.html >
Alexander III saw himself as the father of a happy family as well as the Little Father--Tsar and Autocrat of All the Russias. Here he is pictured with his wife, the Empress-Tsaritsa Maria Feodorovna. Standing beside his mother is the Tsarevich and future Nicholas II. The little boy in the sailor suit is Grand Duke Mikhail; also standing is Grand Duchess Xenia. The Tsar holds Grand Duchess Olga and to his right is Grand Duke George.

( graphic, < http://www.si.edu/oahp/olga/ >


Reimposing in almost every respect the "System" of his grandfather, Nicholas I, Alexander III presided over an oppressive, suppressive, repressive tripod with its familiar legs of army-secret police (the Okhrana)-and tsarist autocracy. The intelligentsia eked out a lonely existence in exile, in prison, in Siberia, or wandering the revolutionary barricades of Europe. The two significant (and related) events of Alexander III's reign lie in the Franco-Russian rapprochement and the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad of the 1890's. Tentative industrialization, begun in the previous reign, accelerated. French investment francs (followed by American dollars [and British pounds after 1907]) fueled the gradual but definitive emergence of Russia as an industrial power by the early years of the 20th century with the fastest growing economy in the world. Revolutionaries, in the wake of industrialization, turned to Marxism. Of which, more later in the reign of "the Last Tsar," Nicholas II.  

For a scene from the miniseries, Fall of the Eagles, Alexander III discusses railroads and modernization with his minister, Sergius Witte
< http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HN7IzV4eTQE >
For a capsule summary of Russian History, visit
< http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mV1OrSxZEdg&feature=related >

For the reign of Nicholas II, Revolutionary Movement, and World War One proceed to [ Last Tsar ]

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Alexandris, D. "Painting, Congress of Vienna." Great Britain and the Eastern Question. Online Available.
< http://www.anistor.co.hol.gr/english/enback/Vienna.jpg >

"Alexander I of Russia." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online Available.
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_I_of_Russia >

Atchison, Bob. "The Alexander Palace Time Machine." Pallasart Web Design, 1999. Online Available

Axel, Jake and Joel Hendrix. "Politics in Russia." Rye, NY: Rye Country Day School, 1996. Online Available.

Babanine, Fedor. "Decembrists in Irkutsk." 1998. Online Available.

Bobrova, Helene and O. Poliakov. "Gallery of V. V. Vereschagin." Project 1812. Online Available.
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