Sunday, July 17, 2011

Monarch Profile: Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, Part V - The End

Abdication had been mentioned before, even by some in the extended Imperial Family, but Nicholas II had always dismissed such a notion. This was not out of any ambition on his part but rather on his heartfelt view that the position of Tsar was a sacred duty, a responsibility God had entrusted to him and as much as he would have liked to leave government behind and live the life of a private country gentleman he could not shirk that responsibility or put it off on others. This was also why he had opposed things like constitutions and democracy because, even if he gave up his power to others, he could not give up the responsibility. As he saw it, to do so would still have been forsaking his duty and even if he gave up his powers God would still hold him responsible, and no one else, for all that was done in his name. However, when he was overtaken by the revolution, surrounded and his family under threat, Nicholas had no higher priority than his wife and children. When the President of the Duma, supported by the generals, said that only his abdication could prevent a total breakdown of social order, Nicholas did not hesitate. On March 2, 1917 he signed the instrument of abdication for himself and on behalf of his son the Tsarevitch Alexei.

This final act has been the cause of a little controversy in historical arguments. Could he have abdicated for someone else, even his son? If he had signed his own abdication first, how could he have had the legitimate power to do so? With his first signature he lost all power and Alexei automatically became Tsar and no one but he could have signed his position away. Most, however, accepted that as Alexei was a minor, Nicholas II, as his father, could do as he pleased on his behalf. In any event, none of it would ultimately matter anyway and Nicholas only did it because he feared for the life of his beloved (and frail) son. Doctors assured him that were Alexei separated from his family, as he surely would be if he remained in Russia as a figurehead Tsar while the rest were sent into exile, he would surely die. No parent would have allowed that and would have done anything to prevent it. Once the abdications were done, Nicholas was allowed to go to his family and all of them were taken into “protective custody” by the provisional government. Nicholas fully expected that they would be allowed to leave the country and that his cousin and ally King George V of Great Britain would give them sanctuary.

Despite the indignities they suffered in captivity, Nicholas and the rest of his family behaved with stoic courage and made no complaints. Everything was in the hands of God and, like Job on whose day he was born, no trial or hardship would shake his faith in God. His faith in his fellow man, if he had any left, might have been struck a blow though. Whereas Nicholas had been adamant, even in the darkest days of the war, that he would be loyal to the alliance of nations and never make a separate peace, his supposed “allies” quickly deserted him. In France and Great Britain the downfall of the Romanov monarchy was cheered and in the United States the Congress joined in the congratulations as the change made them feel at least a little less hypocritical about entering a war to “make the world safe for democracy”. If the Imperial Family had left immediately they might have been okay but they were delayed by the children coming down with smallpox. By the time they recovered things had changed in Britain. The labor unions had grown increasingly troublesome during the war and Prime Minister Lloyd George feared the consequences of letting the Tsar come to England. He intervened with the King and the offer of sanctuary was withdrawn. The royal houses of Europe were shocked by this. Even Kaiser Wilhelm II had offered safe passage through German waters for any British warship that would rescue his cousin (and enemy) the Tsar from captivity but it was not to be. Fear of the labor unions turning against the British monarchy outweighed all other considerations. The Romanovs were left to their fate.

To his credit, Nicholas II took it all with his usual calm and good nature. In quick order most of the guards and officers were won over by Nicholas and his charming family. The only one to suffer any torment was poor Alexei whom many of the guards seemed to delight in bullying. However, on the whole, everyone who had contact with Nicholas could only marvel at how wrong their previous opinion of him had been. This was also true of Alexandra of whom the very worst lies and slander had been told, yet, when the revolutionaries actually met her and talked to her they realized what a distorted view they had entertained. However, with the October Revolution the radical Bolsheviks seized power in Petrograd away from the provisional government and the situation for the Imperial Family became much worse. There were rumors about civil war breaking out, monarchists sending them support and even of rescue plans but nothing ever came of them. Finally, the Tsar was told to prepare for a trip to Moscow.

Most assumed Nicholas was to be put on trial just as previous gangs of traitors had done to Louis XVI of France and Charles I of Britain, however, that did not concern the Tsar. His greatest fear was that he would be forced to sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. This was the treaty the Bolsheviks had signed with the Germans, renouncing vast tracts of the Russian Empire in return for peace. Even in his poor condition, this was what had outraged the Tsar the most. Toward the end, the Russian army had seemed to be on the rebound. Munitions production was up, better weapons were coming out and better-planned offensives had almost knocked Austria-Hungary out of the war. The Tsar had already been betrayed but with Brest-Litovsk, the Bolsheviks had done worse to him; they had betrayed his beloved Russia and it was only then that he confessed to having regretted his abdication. However, it all came to nothing as, before reaching Moscow, Nicholas and his party were turned back to their house-prison at Yekaterinburg (a Bolshevik stronghold in the Urals).

The fateful moment came in the early pre-dawn hours of July 17, 1918. The Imperial Family, Dr. Eugene Botkin, a maid and two male servants, the only attendants left, had been told not to go to sleep that night and were later ordered to assemble in a room in the half-basement of the house. Nicholas carried Alexei who could no longer walk and seated himself next to his wife while the others stood behind or sat on the floor. A squad of Bolsheviks led by Jacob Yurovsky then entered the room, read out a short order from the local Soviet (though the instructions had originated at the highest levels in Moscow) and then, in a monstrous display of the very worst depths humanity can sink to, the troops leveled their pistols and opened fire. Tsar Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra, their five children, doctor, two servants and the family dog were all killed. The bodies were later doused with acid and thrown down a mine shaft. At first the Bolsheviks admitted only to the murder of the Tsar, not of his wife and children but later there was no denying the truth. Less than a month later monarchist forces of the White Russian army occupied the area, too late to rescue the Tsar.

Trotsky himself later wrote that the massacre was necessary saying, “The severity of this summary justice showed the world that we would continue to fight on mercilessly, stopping at nothing. The execution of the Tsar’s family was needed not only in order to frighten, horrify and dishearten the enemy, but also in order to shake up our own ranks to show that there was no turning back,”. To the last, Nicholas II had behaved with dignity and gentility. The inhumane murder of the Tsar and his entire family set the tone for the civil war that followed and that should be kept in mind when any talk of the many atrocities of the Russian Civil War. The atrocities started at Yekaterinburg with the Romanovs. The suffering of Russia was only beginning but for Nicholas II and his family, their sorrows had finally come to an end. In 1981 the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia formally canonized Tsar Nicholas II as a saint and martyr, along with his family. In 2000 the synod of the Russian Orthodox Church also recognized their saintly status but as “Passion Bearers”, as people who died in a Christ-like way.

 Aside from these religious issues though, Tsar Nicholas II will always be known by loyal monarchists as a martyr for the cause of traditional authority, as the living embodiment of the grand and glorious Russian Empire that was killed just as dead as he was on that day in 1918. Those who still persist in criticizing the Tsar do so thoughtlessly. He was as upright a man as could be hoped for, he was a monarch who felt intensely the weight and severity of his position and the responsibility that rested on his shoulders. He was a devoted husband, a loving father and a man who always cared more for his country than for himself. If, even with all of this, he is still held to blame for the problems Russia suffered it is as good as saying that one good man cannot make a difference, that morality does not matter and that loyalty, faith and righteousness count for nothing. If a man with such strength of heart and character as Nicholas II cannot make an effective ruler then we had best give up the idea of any government completely. He was not flawless to be sure, but he was beset by the blind hatred and vicious cruelty of the revolutionaries who took advantage of every opportunity to destroy their country and their Tsar. Nicholas II did not fail Russia, he did not fail his people. However, certainly as it concerns the revolutionaries, there were a great many who failed him.


  1. As always, a great read.

    Tsar Nicholas II was always one of my favourites, the good person who ends up tragically, and like many others, terribly maligned. The story never fails to kill me inside. And we all know what happened to Motherland Russia afterwards... so much for power to the people, huh? Alexei would have made a great Tsar, I'm sure of it.

    I do have a question though. I read somewhere that Nicholas II continued the pogroms (massacre of Jews) that his father Alexander III initiated... and that part did feel a little... well, unpleasant. Why did those pogroms take place?

  2. I admit, the tragedy of the Romanovs seems to leave me more emotionally disturbed than any other, perhaps because Russia was the "last bastion" so to speak, perhaps because it was recent enough that we have photographs of all of them at every stage of life -makes you feel closer to them somehow.

    Now, as for the Jews, this is a controversial subject and the only reason I did not address it was because it would have taken waaay too much time to do justice and I have trouble staying focused as it is. Yes, there were killings of Jews but it was not anything "organized" as many believe. Nor was it some sort of racial thing that most assume because of what the Nazis did later. The crackdown on Jews was simply a result of the fact that there were many Jews amongst the most radical revolutionaries. This does not mean all were guilty certainly and it does not justify punishing anyone who was innocent but, when one considers what a high percentage of the revolutionaries were Jews one can see the human reason behind the otherwise noble Russians, such as the Black Hundreds, being enraged to take revenge on them.

    It should also be pointed out that the Jews amongst the revolutionaries were traitors to their own people and religion as well. Karl Marx himself is a fine example -a Jew who hated Jews. You might have noticed that the executioner of the Tsar and his family was a Jew and they later found cabbalistic symbols written on the walls of the room where the Romanovs were murdered.

    Again, I emphasize, even if the Jews had predominated the revolutionary party (which they didn't but there were a great many of them and highly placed) it does not justify cruelty to innocent people. Given human weaknesses, however, it does explain why some excesses did happen. It is not human nature at its best but it is natural to want to focus blame on the people who are not your own and given how many Jews there were amongst the revolutionaries one can see the human reason for why some persecutions occasionally happened.

    1. Not that its any consolation but 20% of Russia's citizens are in favor of a Monarchy

  3. Just to add, in case I was not clear enough, no Tsar, neither Alexander III nor Nicholas II "initiated" or "continued" any pogroms. A pogrom, by its very nature, is a spontaneous mob action, not something the government ever directed. A local official might have rallied one but these were by definition cases of people taking matters into their own hands. The emperors had nothing to do with it.

    1. That is true. Alexander and Nicholas can be blamed for the restrictive laws enforced on Jews but neither ever called for pogroms. Nicholas to his credit gave orders to protect the Jews of Kiev after Stolypin was murdered by a revolutionary of Jewish background. Unfortunately this kind of personal intervention was rare.

  4. The Unspoken Elegy

    Young lives, vivacious and beautiful

    Savagely ripped from life, one very early morning on the 17th


    A pair of soul-mates, affectionate and enchanting

    Ruthlessly torn from life, one very early morning in July


    An entourage of friends and a companion, devoted and courageous

    Cruelly rent from life, one very early morning in 1918


    The family, the friends, and the companion

    Welcomed into Father’s house, eternally at peace

  5. Tzar Nicolas represents to me everything that is wrong with a Revolutionary Mentality. It is bred out of selfishness, grows in greed, and produces hatred and strife and always initiates its takeover by Violence and suppression.

    I liken it to a Vine that I’m trying to kill on a Tree in my yard. I have seen such Vines before. They grow on Trees as they cannot support themselves, and yet they all too seek to reach the canopy, where the most light is, and overtake it, strangling the Tree, and eventually killing it.

    Revolutionaries could never build a Culture, they can only grow on an existing one, and destroy it.

    But of course Tzar Nicolas is remembers as either an incompetent or an Evil despot. We live in a world saturated in which the propaganda of the Enlightenment is taken as fact, and everyone knows that all Kings are Tyrants, greedy, and selfish, and arrogant, and a Revolution is always the people rising up to overthrow the Evil. But I do get s chuckle when modern day “Conservatives” claim that Monarchism is the same thing as Communism, and both function the same way, not like Democracy. Communism is all about Democracy, and has are more in common with the American or French Philosophies than Monarchism.

    But that’s the thing, to morally justify the Revolution you need the King to be arrogant and exploitive to his people, and depicting him as a cruel and uncaring Monster out only for himself, who oppresses the people is a suitable version of he sorry, and pitting this fiend against the noble and righteous Republicans out only to liberate their people and to serve the interests of Liberty, who are all pure and selfless, sells the epic. This is what speaks to our mind, and because so many of us want to beleive he Ideals of Republicanism, we buy the story. Thus Tzar Nichols was an evil Tyrant, and the Truth of his Noble Character is forgotten because we need him to be the Villain, and its hard to depict the Villain as an innocent victim or as a virtuous man.

    I will light a candle and say a Prayer for him today.

    May Saint Tzar Nicolas the Martyr and Passion-bearer, with his Sainted Family, find Rest, and may the spirit they embodied rise again in Russia and the World, to end the Tragedy brought upon us by our folly.


  6. I'm very glad you have been doing this series on Nicholas II, MM, I've been a bit absent but will have to catch up with the earlier installments when I get a chance.

  7. Can you write something about situation after 1991? Was idea of restauration present in public discussion? Is orthodox church of Russia supporthing in any way restauration of monarchy (like in Geogria)?

  8. You messed up a date in the last paragraph; they died in 1918. You had it right two paragraphs before. :)

    But, as always, it's a great article.

  9. Yeah that's probably why the Romanov tragedy affects us more; because it was a lot more recent and photographs to see that they were just regular families. My home country Korea is so close to it too...

    Ah thanks for clearing up the pogroms thing. There was little mentioned about it aside from alleged "linkage to the assassins of Alexander II" but people keep associating it with either Tsars probably just to justify the nickname "Bloody Nicholas". I don't know. He doesn't seem like the guy anyways.

  10. And Jews always seem to be the scapegoats throughout history for nearly anything. And yet, despite all massacres and atrocities done to them, they are immortal and still remain, since they are, after all, the people of God.

  11. Thanks PA, that's a very common mistake for me -I do it all the time, but it is corrected.

    And yes, there was an outbreak of pogroms after the murder of Alexander II because many blamed "the Jews" for it but it was never something the Tsar, any Tsar, ordered or directed. I think the "Bloody Nicholas" insult came out of "Bloody Sunday" which, again, the Tsar had nothing whatever to do with.

  12. And yet all these revisionist history continue to blame the Tsar and make his administration look ineffective, but he was trying all he can. I mean... he wasn't even in the Winter Palace that time! They always leave that little tidbit out and focus on the death of the rabblerousers and make them look like innocent victims. Seriously, Wikipedia doesn't make that Bloody Sunday incident clear enough and even puts the pogrom section right under Nicholas II's article, and puts a provoking picture of dead innocent Jewish kids!

    Similar to the American "Boston Massacre", where these rabblerousing Americans provoked the the soldiers enough that eventually out of self defence they had to fire. And Krispus Attucks becomes a martyr for that? It's funny how it's even called Boston Massacre when like it was 5 people who died... and that picture by Paul Revere makes it look like the officer was deliberately ordering the soldiers to fire. Oops I digress... but these one sided history I'm always told makes me, well... angry. I'm just glad I have done my own research, and your blog is almost like a mirror of my own mind. Though... I'm not nearly as mad :)

  13. Oh, "we all go a little mad sometimes" :p

  14. I've been fascinated by the fall of the Russian monarchy for years, but I just can't read about Nicholas without getting very sad. Somewhere there is a very special place in hell for the family's executioners. May they rest in peace.

  15. For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work; only there is
    one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way.
    And then shall be revealed the lawless one… (II Thes. 2:7 )

    That which restraineth the appearance in the world of the Antichrist, the man of lawlessness and anarchy, the last and most powerful enemy of Christ and His Church, is – in the teaching of St. John Chrysostom and others Fathers of the Church – lawful authority, as represented and symbolized by the Roman Empire. This idea was incarnated supremely in the Christian Empire: first in Byzantium, when Constantinople was the Second Rome, and then in the Orthodox Russian Empire, when Moscow was the Third Rome. In 1917 the “Constantinian Age” came to an end, the Orthodox Empire was overthrown – and the world, beginning with Moscow, has been thrown into an age of lawlessness and atheism (and in Christian life, of apostasy) such as has not yet been seen.

    Tsar Nicholas II.
    Tsar Nicholas II was the last representative of this ideal of lawful Christian authority, and the age of lawlessness began appropriately with his murder. For Orthodox Christians, however, the new age begins with a martyr: a witness to the Orthodox Church, faithful to the end to his Church and his sacred calling.
    Job the Much-suffering, on the day of whose commemoration the Tsar was born, said in his grievous suffering concerning the day of his conception: As for that night, let darkness seize upon it; let it not be joined unto the days of the year (Job 3:6).
    Terrible was the night of the murder of the Tsar and his family.
    But the ancient Christians profoundly called the days on which martyrs were commemorated, days of birth. And the night of the murder of the Tsar shines in our consciousness as the birth in heaven of the Martyr-Tsar - a sacrifice for the sins of his people.
    This view is clarified by a vision seen in 1917 by the great elder, Metropolitan Makary of Moscow:

    The Dream of Metropolitan Makary

    I saw a field. The Saviour was walking along a path. I went after Him, affirming, “Lord, I am following You!” And He, turning to me, replied: “Follow Me!” Finally we approached an immense arch adorned with stars. At the threshold of the arch the Saviour turned to me and said again: “Follow Me!” And He went into a wondrous garden, and I remained at the threshold and awoke.
    Soon I fell asleep again and saw myself standing in the same arch, and behind it with the Saviour stood Tsar Nicholas. The Saviour said to the Tsar: “You see in My hands two cups: one which is bitter for your people, and the other sweet for you.”
    The Tsar fell to his knees and for a long time begged the Lord to allow him to drink the bitter cup together with his people. The Lord did not agree for a long time, but the Tsar begged importunately. Then the Saviour drew out of the bitter cup a large glowing coal and laid it in the palm of the Tsar’s hand. The Tsar began to move the coal from hand to hand, and at the same time his body began to grow light, until it had become completely bright, like some radiant spirit.
    At this I again woke up.
    Falling asleep yet again, I saw an immense field covered with flowers. In the middle of the field stood the Tsar, surrounded by a multitude of people, and with his hands he was distributing manna to them. An invisible voice said at this moment: “The Tsar has taken the guilt of the Russian people upon himself, and the Russian people is forgiven.” (...)

    The rest of the article can be found here:

    God bless!

  16. @ Le Petit Prince: Jews were the chosen ones of the Old Testament; since they have refused to accept God's son, Jesus Christ as their Saviour, they are no longer people of God. The breaking of the curtain of the Temple was the sign that the Old Testament ended.

    Of course, those who did accept (e.g. the Apostles) were from then on called 'Christianos', Christians, People of Christ.

  17. @ PA: I don't know if that necessarily means Jews are no longer God's people. Regardless, that meant salvation was extended to the Gentiles and not just the Jews. Of course, there is no salvation outside Christ.

  18. Fascinating historical discussion.

    Nice blog work. I came across your blog while “blog surfing” using the Next Blog button on the blue Nav Bar located at the top of my site. I frequently just travel around looking for other blogs which exist on the Internet, and the various, creative ways in which people express themselves. Thanks for sharing.

  19. @ Le Petit Prince: It does.

    We even pray for "the perfidious Jews and heretical muslims and all wandering Christian denominations" to return to the Church on Christ the King Day (about which feast even this blog wrote). With refusing to accept Christ and turning Judaism into a Rabbinistic religion, they have abandoned the righteous way.

  20. Thank you for the article
    Dean from Idaho

    Kontakion 1
    O passion bearer chosen from birth and incarnation of the love of Christ, we sing thee praises as one who did love all the fatherland. As thou hast boldness before the Lord, enlighten our darkened minds and hearts that we may cry to thee:
    Rejoice, O Nicholas, God crowned Tsar and great passion bearer.

    Ikos 1
    The Creator of angels did send thee to the Russian land as an angel of meekness and instructor to thy people, as He did choose thee after the example of His Only Begotten Son to be a sacrifice of redemption for the sins of the people. And we, marveling at the Providence of the Almighty towards thee, cry out with contrition:
    Rejoice, O likeness of Christ.
    Rejoice, sacrifice of whole burnt offering.
    Rejoice, adornment of the Tsar's of Russia.
    Rejoice, thou who gavest an example of meekness and forgiveness to all.
    Rejoice, true hope of the offended.
    Rejoice, unshakable foundation of faith.
    Rejoice, O Nicholas, God crowned Tsar and great passion bearer.

  21. Wonderful profile. Nice to find one that doesn't either call him 'stupid' or 'a tyrant' for once, as both labels are far from the truth. Even supposedly impartial Wikipedia is biased against him!
    I do have to ask, though: On an AlexanderPalace thread, one user said in regards for Bloody Sunday: "Nicholas sent the signals of what he expected of his military and police forces. He had consistently sent signals in the past that he wanted a violent response to signs of civil unrest and that he felt a peaceful defusing of a situation was an opportunity missed for showing the government's resolve in the face of protest of any form. His commanders acted on those signals. It was government policy." Is this true?

  22. I was never aware that other countries even attempted to aide the Tsar.


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