Nicholas Aleksandrovich Romanov was born on May 6 (May 18 by the Gregorian Calendar) 1868 in Tsarkoye Selo, todays Pushkin, near St. Petersburg. He was the oldest son of Alexander III and Maria Fyodorovna. Nicholas’ father had great influence on him, shaping his conservative religious values and his belief in autocratic government. He received his education from private tutors, one of them Konstantin Pobedonostsev, a high-ranking government official. Though Nicholas was very good with history and foreign languages, he struggled with politics and economics, and he never got any education or training for state affairs. He joined the army when he was 19, and in 1891, he traveled to India, China and Japan, making him the first Russian sovereign to show a personal interest in Asia.
Coronation and early reign
Nicholas inherited the throne after the death of his father in 1894, and was crowned on May 26, 1896, in Moscow; however he hardly felt up to the task. Still recovering from the loss of his father, he married Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt, known as Alexandra on November 26, 1894, and stayed passionately devoted to her, falling completely under her control. They had four daughters: Olga (1895), Tatiana (1897), Maria (1899) and Anastasia (1901) and a son Alexei (1904) who was the heir; but was diagnosed with hemophilia. Desperate to find a treatment for Alexei, after many failures, they let a mystic named Rasputin heal him. After he was successful, he acquired great power over Nicholas and Alexandra.
Nicholas distrusted his ministers, mainly because they were intellectually superior to him, fearing that they would try to usurp his throne. He strongly believed that his role as autocrat, was given by God, and it was his sacred duty to preserve his absolute power; however, he lacked determination and self-confidence, key characteristics needed. He proclaimed as “senseless dreams” the aspirations to participate in the government of the zemstvos, who were self-governing local assemblies. He intensified police repressions, and anyone who opposed him was considered a conspirator. Even his foreign policy was weak and naive, mostly embarrassing his professional diplomats. For example, during the meeting at Bjorko in 1905, with the German emperor William II, he concluded an alliance with him, even though Russia was already allied with France, the traditional German enemy. On the east, he constructed the Trans-Siberian Railway and made a huge effort to strengthen the Russian influence in Korea. Japan felt threatened by this policy, and attacked Russia in 1904, starting the Russian-Japanese war (1904-1905). In December, 1904, the Russian army was forced to surrender in Port Arthur, and in the spring of 1905, Nicholas’ fleet was destroyed in the Battle of Tsushima, forcing Russia to enter into peace negotiations.
Bloody Sunday and World War I
After the defeat, dissatisfaction and tensions grew in Russia. On January 9, 1905, on Sunday, Father George Gapon led a peaceful protest of workers in St. Petersburg. They marched on the Winter Palace with a petition asking for better work conditions, signed by 150,000 people; however they didn’t know that the Tsar was not in the palace at the time; but in Tsarkoye Selo. The ministers decided to call up a garrison to defend the palace. The troops quickly opened fire on the workers, killing and wounding many. This marked the start of a revolution. Drastic measures were taken to stop the revolutionary activity, but in vain. On March 3, 1905, he was forced to create a national representative assembly, the Duma, with consultative powers, and on October 30, by manifesto, he promised a constitutional regime under which no law was to take effect without the approval of the Duma.
This didn’t last long, as Nicholas started trying to regain his former power. He blamed his prime minister Sergey Yulyevich Witte for the October Manifesto, and soon dismissed him. The first two Dumas were permanently dissolved as “insubordinate”. Witte was replaced by Pyotr Arkadyevich Stolypin, who was loyal to the dynasty; but even he was undermined by intrigues that were surrounding Rasputin. He always spoke against him, which made Alexandra dislike him. To hide the scandalous influence Rasputin had on the royal family, Nicholas had to interfere in the Holy Synod, which made him even more enemies.
After the outbreak of the First World War, Nicholas did little to maintain the confidence of his army. Alexandra managed to turn Nicholas against the commander of his army, and on September 5, 1915, he dismissed him and took over the command. Almost all of the ministers protested; but were dismissed. In his absence, the power passed on to his wife, who replaced all the ministers with worthless nominees of Rasputin. Anti-dynastic sentiment grew, and conservatives plotted Nicholas’ deposition in order to save the monarchy.
Abdication and Death
On March 8, 1917, riots broke out in St. Petersburg. Nicholas ordered troops to be sent to restore order, but it was already too late. The government resigned, and the Duma called on the emperor to abdicate with the support of the army. On March 15, Nicholas renounced the throne in Pskov in favour of his brother Michael, but he refused the crown.
Nicholas was detained at Tsarskoye Selo. The plan was to send him and his group to England, but instead they were sent to Tobolsk, in Western Siberia. In April, 1918, they were taken to Yekaterinburg in the Urals. When anti-Bolshevik forces were approaching the area, local authorities were ordered to prevent a rescue. In the early morning of July 17, 1918, the royal family was slaughtered in the cellar of the house they had occupied. The bodies were burned and cast into an abandoned mine, and later buried. The bodies were discovered in 1976, by a group of scientists, but the discovery was kept secret until the fall of the Soviet Union. In 1994, genetic analyses identified the remains of Nicholas, Alexandra, Anastasia, Tatiana, Olga and four servants. The remains of Alexis and Maria were discovered in 2007. The Russian Orthodox Church canonized the royal family as passion bearers on August 20, 2000.