Tsar Nicholas II of Russia
Tsar Nicholas II of Russia was born May 18, 1868 at the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, St Petersburg. He was the eldest son of Tsar Alexander III and Maria Alexandrovna (born Princess Dagmar of Denmark). At the time of his birth, he was second in line to the Russian throne, following his father. He had five younger siblings:
In 1884, having recently come of age, Nicholas attended the wedding of his uncle Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich to Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine. It was here that he first met the bride’s younger sister, Princess Alix. The two were second-cousins through their mutual great-grandmother, Wilhelmine of Baden. Despite their young ages (16 and 12), both were drawn to each other. It would be five years later, while Alix was visiting her sister in Russia, that the two would fall in love.
The relationship was met with much opposition from both Nicholas’ parents, and Alix’s grandmother, Queen Victoria. The Tsar and Tsarina felt that Alix was not suitable enough for their son, in part because of their dislike and distrust for all things German. They’d also hoped for a ‘higher profile’ bride and future Empress. As for Queen Victoria, she quite liked Nicholas personally. However, the same could not be said for his father, or for Russia itself. She also felt uneasy about another of her granddaughters marrying into the Russian Imperial Family. However, she was quite fond of her granddaughter, and eventually gave in to Alix’s wishes.
Despite the misgivings of their respective families, the couple became engaged in April 1894, while in Coburg attending the wedding of Alix’ brother. Nicholas was representing his father at the wedding of Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine to Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Nicholas’ first cousin. At first Alix refused his proposal, as she was a devout Lutheran and was unwilling to convert to Russian Orthodoxy as would be required. However, after some urging from her elder sister, she relented and accepted the second time he asked. The wedding was planned for the spring of 1895.
Sadly, in the Fall of 1894, Nicholas’ father fell ill. Sensing that there was not much time left, the Tsar instructed Nicholas to send for Alix, who arrived on October 22nd. Despite his ailing health, the Tsar insisted on greeting her in full uniform, and gave her his blessing. Tsar Alexander III died just 10 days later, leaving the 26 year old Nicholas as the new Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias. The following day, Alix was received into the Orthodox church, taking the name Grand Duchess Alexandra Feodorovna. Nicholas initially wanted to marry immediately, even before his father’s funeral, in a private ceremony. However, he was convinced that as Tsar, he should marry in St. Petersburg with at least some of the pomp and ceremony traditional in the Russian Imperial Family.
Wedding of Nicholas and Alexandra, by Ilya Repin. source: Wikipedia
It was on November 26, 1894, in the Grand Church of the Winter Palace, that Nicholas and Alix were married in a traditional Orthodox ceremony. Because of the formal mourning for his father, the couple did not take a honeymoon, and took up residence temporarily at the Anichkov Palace with his mother. They would soon move to the Alexander Palace, which would be their primary home for the remainder of their lives. Over the next ten years, the couple had five children:
Coronation of Nicholas II, by Valentin Serov. source: Wikipedia
On May 14, 1896, Nicholas’ coronation was held in the Uspensky Cathedral in the Kremlin. The following day, a large celebration was held in the Khodynka Field outside of Moscow. Tragically, over 1,300 people were killed, and another 1,300 injured, when the crowds surged forward toward the food and drinks which were being given out. That evening, Nicholas was scheduled to attend an event hosted by the French ambassador, which he intended to cancel after the tragedy. But, told that it would be a huge snub to the host, and to relations with France, he relented and attended. This made him appear indifferent to the suffering of his people. The whole affair would be the first of many events which contributed to the distrust and outright hatred of many of the Russian people toward their Emperor.
The Imperial Family, 1913. source: Wikipedia
Nicholas’ reign would see the the first Russian Constitution of 1906 which established a parliament of sorts. His reign also saw a steady decline of his popularity and support. His decision to fully mobilize the Russian troops in 1914 led to Russia’s entrance into World War I. By 1917, his authority had diminished, and on March 15, 1917, he was forced from the throne. He formally abdicated for himself and his son, making his younger brother, Mikhail, the new Emperor. (Mikhail, however, refused to accept until the Russian people could decide on continuing the monarchy or establishing a republic.)
Nicholas at Tsarskoye Selo after his abdication, 1917. source: Wikipedia
The former Emperor returned to the Alexander Palace where he and his family were held under protective custody. A few months later, in August, the family along with 45 retainers were moved to the city of Tobolsk, where they lived in the Governor’s Mansion, still under heavy guard. Their final move, in April 1918, was to Yekaterinburg where they were housed in the Ipatiev House – known as the ‘house of special purpose’. It was here, in the early hours of July 17,1918, that Nicholas, his wife and children, and the few retainers who had remained with them, were killed by the Bolsheviks. Their bodies were initially thrown down a mine, but fearing discovery, they were mutilated and hastily buried beneath some tracks.
For many years, several members of the Imperial Family (including Nicholas’ mother) refused to believe the stories of their deaths. Other members of the family had been killed, and their bodies had been found and identified. But Nicholas’ and his family’s remains were never found, prompting numerous pretenders coming forward claiming to be one of the Grand Duchesses or the Tsarevich.
Finally, in 1979, a mass grave was discovered, believed to include the remains of the Imperial Family. The bodies were exhumed in 1991, and in 1998, through DNA testing, it was formally announced that the remains were of Nicholas, Alexandra and three of their daughters. On July 17, 1998 – 80 years to the day of their murders – the bodies were interred in the St. Catherine Chapel at the St. Peter and St. Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg. The remains of the last two children were found in a nearby grave in 2007, and positively identified the following year. They were buried alongside the rest of the Imperial Family.
The St. Catherine Chapel, with the tombs of the Imperial Family. source: Wikipedia
Learn more about royalty, past and present here and share your thoughts on our forums.