The Last Tsar

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For rich and interesting slide show of rural life in Russia before the Revolution, visit
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Nicholas II (1894 - 1917)

The tragic "last tsar," Nicholas II, or Nicky as he was called in the intimacy of his family, succeeded his father to the throne at the age of twenty-six in 1894 (coronation, 1896.) A kind father and uxorious husband," Nicky" was ill-equipped to reap the whirlwind of the Great War and the Revolution that engulfed his reign. From the outset, he confirmed his intent to "maintain the principle of autocracy just as...unflinchingly as did my unforgettable father" (Ascher 132).

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All historical accounts attest to Nicholas' and Alexandra's love for one another; no sources suggest marital infidelity on either side. Theirs was a love match from beginning to end. In 1894, Nicholas insisted upon marriage to "Sunny" despite resistance from his mother and others. Their loyalty to one another and to their children remained steadfast throughout their marriage. Alix--later Empress Alexandra--was a German princess and granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Robert Massie captured the essence of their devotion to one another in Nicholas and Alexandra.

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The marriage quickly produced four daughters (Olga, Tatiana, Marie, Anastasia--they referred to themselves as OTMA); in 1904 a son, the Tsarevich Alexis solved the problem a maleheir to the throne. According to contemporary observers, the children were devoted to one another and to their parents, and vice versa. (left) (right)
These sites, alas, have flown away--geocities no longer exists

To learn more about imperial family life,
visit the site below and go on a tour of the exhibit;
it contains many wonderful portraits and
other memorabilia; it will give you some insights
into the imperial life and lifestyle.

Nicholas, Olga, Tatiana, Marie, Anastasia, Alexksei (flown away, alas)

Tsar Nicholas II staggered from one blunder to the next: defeat in the Russo-Japanese War, the humiliating Peace of Portsmouth, the "Dress Rehearsal" Revolution of 1905, the assassination of various of his advisors and family members, the debacle of the Great War, the February/March Revolution that toppled him from power, and the October/November Revolution that murdered his entire family. At every turn, "Nicky" endured criticism from his gigantic uncles, his mother, and even from his nagging wife. For a glance at photographs of the imperial family and their life style, visit < >

Alexander III, Nicholas II and the Trans-Siberian RR
Land of the Tsars

< > 2:40-6:30
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The History of the Trans-Siberian RR < >
nyah--TMI: 2:25 - 8:40
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A key development--that began during the reign of Nicholas II's father, Alexander III--in the closing years of the 19th century that had epochal implications for Russian economy, society, and diplomacy was the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Financed primarily by French loans, the Railroad linked European and Asiatic Russia, accelerated the pace of industrialization, and encouraged Nicholas II to assume an aggressive posture towards a vulnerable China and a militant Japan.

(Hawkes 146)

The railroad--incidentally, the world's longest--stretched for almost 6,000 miles through seven time zones, across treeless steppes, heavily forested taiga, and frozen tundra, as it wound its way to from Moscow to Vladivostok. Sergei Witte (author of the October Manifesto and Fundamental Law, as well as many other financial-economic reforms of the reigns of Alexander III and Nicholas II) urged its construction from as early as 1886. Like the American Trans-Continental Railroad of a previous generation, Trans-Siberian crews worked from West to East and from East to West. The most difficult stretch lay around Lake Baikal, which was not completed in time to transport Russian troops to their "rendez-vous with destiny" in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905.) The 160 mile stretch around the southern end of Lake Baikal involved hewing forty tunnels through solid rock (Hawkes, 14 7-148; image, Hawkes 147).


Nicholas II so valued his precious Trans-Siberian Railroad that he commissioned Fabergé to create the Trans-Siberian Fantasy Easter Egg for Alexandra in 1900. See left for detail of the door of one of the cars. The logo identifies it as Soviet (CCCP) and the rest of the writing (Cyrillic) says "RUSSIA--Moscow - Vladivostok" (image, Hawkes, 147).
Fabergé's Trans-Siberian Egg has a map of the railroad engraved on its surface, and bears the inscription, "The route of the Grand Siberian Railway in the year 1900." The egg is supported by three sword-brandishing griffens cast in gold-plated silver and is mounted on a white onyx base. The "surprise," seen in the foreground, was a tiny model of the train, consisting of a platinum locomotive with a ruby lantern and five gold coaches complete with windows made of rock crystal. Each coach has an indentifying title, "Mail," "ladies only," "smoking," "non-smoking," and "chapel." The train could be wound up with a golden key. For more on the eggs, follow link,
[ Imperial Treasures ]

image source < >
Lured by his ambition for glory and territorial aggrandizement--not untouched by racism and rhetoric about the "yellow peril"--Nicholas II led Russia into the Russo-Japanese War in 1904. Defeat and humiliation piled on defeat and humiliation from the naval disaster at Port Arthur to the Battle of Mukden to the virtual annihilation of Russia as a naval power at Tsushima Strait in May, 1904. These catastrophic defeats revealed the crippling backwardness and ineptitude of the Russian army and navy as well as opening the door for demonstrations at home. Nicholas II faced a situation not unlike that faced by Alexander II at the end of the Crimean War.

Russo-Japanese War < >

The Peace of Portsmouth, brokered by President Theodore Roosevelt of the United States, hurled Russia out of Manchuria and the Liaotung Peninsula, replacing the Russian presence there with an enhanced Japanese one. The Japanese Empire included the 4 home islands, the Ryukus Islands, Formosa Island, the Kurile Islands, the southern half of Sakhalin Island, and hegemony in Korea, Manchuria, and Liaotung.

image source < >

For The Land of the Tsars' version of the Russo-Japanese War visit
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For Russo-Japanese War < > to about 5:00
For birth of Tsarevich Alexei < > to about 7:00

Some students, not unlike you, have made videos on the causes of the 1905 Dress Rehearsal Revolution
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On January 9, (OS) 1905, after attending Sunday services, thousands of Petersburg workers, led by Father Gapon, marched to the Winter Palace to lay their grievances at the feet of Tsar Nicholas II, their "little father." Russians hated the war and finally acted in protest against an autocracy that had denied them both representation and rights for centuries.

They marched en masse to the Winter Palace singing the Russian anthem, "God Save the Tsar"
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"Sire!" they wrote in their petition, "We workers, our children and wives, the helpless old people who are our parents, we have come to you, Sire, to seek justice and protection. We are in great poverty, we are oppressed and weighed down with labours beyond our strength; we are insulted, we are not recognised as human beings, we are treated like slaves who must bear their lot in silence. And we have suffered it, but we are being driven ever deeper into beggary, lawlessness and ignorance. Despotism and arbitrary rule are strangling us, and we are suffocating. Sire, our strength is at an end! The limit of our patience has been reached: the terrible moment has come for us when it is better to die than to continue suffering intolerable torment."


Nicholas, Alexandra, and the children had already departed for Tsarskoe Selo as the marchers approached the Winter Palace. The Guards Regiments panicked when they saw the thousands of workers and their families converging on them and, tragically, opened fire. They killed ninety-two demonstrators and wounded hundreds of others. Eyewitnesses described the snow as dyed blood red from the Bloody Sunday Massacre. A New York Times observer wrote, "...this has been a day of unspeakable horror in St. Petersburg" (Nettl 26). Bloody Sunday was the opening shot in the Russian revolution that reached its bloody apogee slightly more than a decade later.

image source < >
image is taken from 1925 movie January 9, 1905

Dramatization of Bloody Sunday from Nicholas and Alexandra
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Land of the Tsars: Bloody Sunday, spreading violdence, October Manifesto
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One of the key events of 1905 and the "Dress Rehearsal" Revolution of that year was the mutiny on the Battleship Potemkin. The politicized Russian sailors, fearful of being sent into combat, enraged by the maggoty meat, and the harsh attitude of the ship's officers contributed to the mutiny, which occurred in June, 1905 (after Tsushima Strait, before the Peace of Portsmouth.) Russian cinematogropher, Sergei Eisenstein, made a film in 1925 that commemorated the mutiny and served as a powerful propaganda piece for the Bolsheviks. The caption for this movie ad reads "Glory to People's Heroes of the Potemkin!"

image source < >
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Use this one < >

Crew members on the battleship Potemkin refused to eat the "maggoty meat," which was literally crawling with live creatures. When ordered to do so, they refused. Their refusal signalled mutiny. And the rest, as they say, is history

image source < Claire Goldberg >
live graphic (yuck!) of maggots < >

Go to < >
This Socialist Review article has interesting information about
Bloody Sunday, Father Gapon, and the strikes that followed.
Trotsky is quoted throughout the article.

In the days, weeks, and months that followed, during the Dress Rehearsal Revolution, strikes and demonstrations proliferated across urban Russia; workers' councils called soviets emerged spontaneously, the most important being the Petersburg Soviet of Workers', Soldiers', Sailors', and Peasants' Deputies. Trotsky rushed "home" to assume leadership of both the Soviet and the Revolution. In October, 1905, Trotsky and the Soviet master-minded the General Strike: literally everyone in the capital went out. At right is a photograph of women participating.

(Mackenzie and Curran 516)

Russian artist Ilya Repin conveyed the excitement of the crowd in his 1906 painting October 17. His historical paintings were thought to have psychological impact and to set the stage for later Socialist Realism.

image source < >
At the end of ten days, Witte advised the Tsar to capitulate, predicting a monumental conflagration should troops open fire on the citizens. The ensuing October Manifesto promised much and undermined popular support for the General Strike, for the Soviet, and for Trotsky:

Imperial Manifesto of 17 October 1905

On the improvement of order in the state

'The disturbances and unrest in St Petersburg, Moscow and in many other parts of our Empire have filled Our heart with great and profound sorrow. The welfare of the Russian Sovereign and His people is inseparable and national sorrow is His too. The present disturbances could give rise to national instability and present a threat to the unity of Our State. The oath which We took as Tsar compels Us to use all Our strength, intelligence and power to put a speedy end to this unrest which is so dangerous for the State. The relevant authorities have been ordered to take measures to deal with direct outbreaks of disorder and violence and to protect people who only want to go about their daily business in peace. However, in view of the need to speedily implement earlier measures to pacify the country, we have decided that the work of the government must be unified. We have therefore ordered the government to take the following measures in fulfilment of our unbending will:
1.Fundamental civil freedoms will be granted to the population, including real personal inviolability, freedom of conscience, speech, assembly and association.

2.Participation in the Duma will be granted to those classes of the population which are at present deprived of voting powers, insofar as is possible in the short period before the convocation of the Duma, and this will lead to the development of a universal franchise. There will be no delay to the Duma elect already been organized.

3.It is established as an unshakeable rule that no law* can come into force without its approval by the State Duma and representatives of the people will be given the opportunity to take real part in the supervision of the legality of government bodies.

We call on all true sons of Russia to remember the homeland, to help put a stop to this unprecedented unrest and, together with this, to devote all their strength to the restoration of peace to their native land.'
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*implicit in the idea of the rule of law is the promulgation of a constitution

Visit < > and note how the Fundamental Law of 1906
alters and undermines the pledges of the Imperial Manifesto of October.

In the decade following Bloody Sunday, the Potemkin Mutiny, the General Strike, the October Manifesto, the promulgation of the Fundamental Law, and the establishment of the Duma, Nicholas II's Russia staggered into the 20th century. Key players in the development of Russian industry and agriculture were Sergei Witte, as previously mentioned, and Pyotr Stolypin. Stolypin's "wager on the sturdy and strong" almost transformed rural Russia.

Witte (left)
Stolypin (right) (gone)
Interesting video on Stolypin < >
The above video is part 2 of a compreshensive biography of Stolypin;
maybe too much detail, but vivid b/w images and early movies, as
well as useful narration. Stolypin's trip to Kiev and presence at the
Kiev Opera House (Rimsky Korsakov's The Tsar Sultan) and his
subsequent assassination begin about 27:00.

As a postscript to revolutionary disillusionment after 1905, former comrades murdered Father Gapon in 1906, believing him to have been a double agent in the pay of the hated Okhrana. (Moynahan 52, left). In the meantime, Witte and Stolypin (working at crosspurposes to the Tsaritsa) did their best to stablize the nation economically and politically and, in particular, to ensure international peace. Stolypin's measures were draconian, to put it mildly. His "necktie courts" carried out summary executions; terrorism escalated, much of it directed at Stolypin whose house was firebombed in 1906 with serious injuries to his young daughter. At the same time, he carried on with sweeping economic reforms, his "wager on the sturdy and strong." With, so to speak, a price on his head, Stolypin reformed on the one hand and evaded the assassins until, in 1911, he was murdered during a performance of Rimsky-Korsakov's Tsar Sultan in the Kiev Opera House in 1911 (Moynahan 57). Present in the imperial box sat the Tsar and two of the grand duchesses.

image source < >

The Assassination of Stolypin < >

Land of the Tsars--19 (after 1905, efforts at reform and Rasputin--yuck!))
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World War I < >

Some thoughts on Rasputin:

The Tsarevich's hemophilia, a well-kept secret, dominated the life of the family and led to the introduction of Rasputin to the inner circles of the Romanov family. A charlatan and a quack, besides being fairly revolting, Rasputin was able to calm the hysterical tsaritsa and tsarevich and hence to slow down the bleeding and excruciating pain that wracked the boy. Because of these seemingly miraculous powers, he had daily/nightly access to the imperial family, giving rise to disgusting rumors about his relationships with the Empress and the daughters--Yuck! See contemporary cartoons below.

image source < >

image source/left < >
image right/"The Tsar Dancing to Rasputin's Tune" < >

"Ra Ra Rasputin" song < >

Visit the site below for a bio of Rasputin and the imperial family; read it.
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youtube clip on Rasputin from the Discovery Channel
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Ascher, Abraham. Russia: A Short History. Oxford: One World, 2011.

Atchison, Bob. "Rasputin." Alexander Palace: The Time Machine. Pallasart Web Design, 1999.

Department of Slavonic Studies. "Russian History, 1801-1991." Durham, England: University of Durham, 1999. gone

"The Dumas." Middlesex, England: The History Channel, 1999.
http://www.the gone

Gilbert, Ivor Paul. "The Imperial Russian Historical Society." April, 1999.

Hannukkala, Timo. "Russian Dynasties." gone

Hawkes, Nigel. Amazing Achievements. London: Thunder Bay Press, 1996.

Kennedy, Dan. "Rasputin." Blair, Nebraska: Dana College, 1998. gone

Hubbard, Paul. "Czarina Alexandra Romanova (1872-1918.)" The Fall of the House of Romanov., 1996.

Mackenzie, David and Michael Curran. A History of Russia and the Soviet Union. Chicago: The Dorsey Press, 1987.

Moynahan, Brian. The Russian Century. New York: Random House, 1994.

Nettl, J. P. The Soviet Achievement. Norwich, England: Harcourt, Brace &World, 1967.

Oz, Tracey. Russia and the Former USSR. Online available.
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Russian and Soviet History Internet Resources. Hokkaido: Slavic Research Center of Hokkaido University, 1999. gone

Woods, Alan. "Part Two: The First Russian Revolution." Bolshevism: The Road to Revolution.