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Was Nicholas II Romanov the last king of Poland?

Was Nicholas II Romanov the last king of Poland?



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Nicholas II Romanov, the last Emperor of All-Russia, used also (among many others) titles: Grand Prince of Lithuania, and King of Poland.

The Wikipedia states he was "a titular" King of Poland. In the reference it is written:

In 1831, the Russian tsars were deposed from the Polish throne, but they soon took control of the country, ruling it as part of Russia, and abolished the separate monarchy. However, they continued to use this title. See November Uprising.

It is also noticeable that there were no "Poland" in Russia as result of January Uprising in 1863, but Vistula Province.

In traditional education in Poland children are thought that the last king of Poland was Stanisław August Poniatowski and Wikipedia also says he was the last king of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania (ended his reign in 1795, and Nicholas II in 1917), however, in the table in the very ending of the article, he was succeeded by three Emperors (Russian Tsar as King of Poland).

During the WW1, on November 5th, 1916, when all (Russian) Poland was conquered by Central Powers, the German and Austrian Emperors declared that they will grant Poland some autonomy. As this event is hardly known in Poland, this was probably the main factor that made the independent Poland two years later. However, a Kingdom of Poland was to be (re)created and as there was no king (so Tsar was not legal to Germans), but a Regency Council.

This Regency Council took power from German governor Hans von Beseler on October 6th, 1918, making thus independent Poland after 123 years. At this time the Tsar was already dead.

My questions are:

  1. Was Nicholas II the real king of Poland, or was he king of Poland the same way as Henry VIII was King of France?
  2. If Regency council passed all power to Józef Piłsudski, and the 2nd Polish Republic was created on basis of German-Austrian Kingdom of Poland, was in some way Nicholas overthrown? (The Kingdom of Poland was created from conquered Russian lands)
  3. Who should be considered as the last king of Poland: Stanisław August Poniatowski, Nicholas II Romanov or sede vacante, represented by Regency Council?

Was Nicholas II REAL king of Poland? It is open to interpretations. But IMHO, it was just a title taken by Tsars. There was no state called 'Poland' but fragments or partitions of original Poland, which were provinces/districts in Prussia, Austria and Russia.

Stanisław August Poniatowski was the last king (reign 1764-95) of independent Poland because, Poland ceased to exist as a state after 1795, until it become independent in 1918.

Nicholas II was only the last man to have title - 'King of Poland'.

Partitions - 1772, 1773 and 1795

Map showing territories of Poland annexed by Austria, Prussia and Russia

Poland ceased to exist after three partitions, in 1772,1793 and 1795, done by Prussia, Austria and Russia, Russia gaining the largest fragment.

At Congress of Vienna, in 1815, again Russia got the large part of Napoleonic Duchy of Warsaw as a "Kingdom of Poland" from Prussia. So, Congress of Poland was formed. It was a personal union of the Russian parcel of Poland with the Russian Empire.

So, from 1815, Tsars started using the tile "King of Poland", even though much part of original Poland remained under Prussia and Austria.

Later, after the two uprisings in 1830-31 and 1863-64 in so called Kingdom of Poland, its autonomy was stripped off and it was called Vistula land And in 1867 was made an official part of the Russian Empire. But still Tsars of Russia retained the title of "King of Poland".

So, Nicholas II, as a king of Poland, was NOT like what Henry VIII as a King of France was. France had her own Kings. English monarchs just made claims.


Nicholas II, WW-I and Regency Council:

During WW-I The Kingdom of Poland of 1916-18 was proposed in 1916 by Germany and Austria-Hungary following their conquest of the former Congress Poland or Russian Poland by the Act of 5th November. It was only a client or puppet state of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Regency Council was the highest body and it announced the independence of Poland in 1918.

Nicholas II was not 'overthrown' but was force to abdicate after the February Revolution in March 1917 and later executed in July, 1918. It has nothing to do with Poland, directly.


The Duchy of Warsaw, after Napoleonic wars, got the name of the Kingdom of Poland. The entitlement was agreed upon by the Vienne Congress in 1815, not proclaimed by the Russian Czar.

The title of Nikolaj II was, according to picabu or wiki, was:

Божиею поспе́шествующею милостию, Мы, Николай Вторы́й[прим 4], Император и Самодержец Всероссийский, Московский, Киевский, Владимирский, Новгородский; Царь Казанский, Царь Астраханский, Царь Польский

In this article, we can believe Wikipedia somewhat, for it has reference to a document from the year 1905

The name of the region remained the same until the revolution in 1917. And after it there was no such entity nor name. So Nikolaj II was the last Polish czar. And not the king.

The difference between these two titles is too complicated to be discussed here, but it is significant. For Russian czars were never kings of any land and refused to be ones, but they were czars - unlimited rulers. And Ponyatovsky was the last king.


  1. No, Nicholas II was not a real king of Poland because after the November Uprising of 1830 was suppressed, under the Organic Statute of 1832 Poland's legislature was abolished and its remaining national institutions probably (though this is open to legal debate) did not qualify it to be called a country in a similar sense that, for instance, Scotland is a country within the (sovereign entity of) United Kingdom.

  2. Nicholas II was overthrown (forced to abdicate) not as King Poland but as Emperor of Russia, although as such his titles included Tsar of Poland. His abdication manifesto did not mention Poland at all and indeed was not in any way intended as instrument of renunciation of Russian sovereignty over the Polish regions in question. From the Polish retroactive point of view, Russia never had sovereignty over Poland in the first place but had been illegally occupying Polish territory, thus no "overthrowing" was required to proclaim Polish independence. The legal ambiguity that characterized Eastern Europe in the aftermath of World War I is reflected in the fact that the treaty of Brest-Litovsk makes no mention of Poland at all.

  3. The last person to be crowned king of Poland was neither Stanisław August, nor Nicholas II, but Nicholas I, in Warsaw in 1829. Poland (within the borders of the Napoleonic Duchy of Warsaw) and Russia at that moment can reasonably be viewed as twin monarchies in personal union; this ceased to be the case 3 years later with the Organic Statute, as mentioned above. No Russian emperor after Nicholas I was crowned as King of Poland, although they retained the title for reasons of prestige but with no legal weight.


During the Napoleonic wars Napoleon granted Poland a level of autonomy (duchy of warsaw) but it was still a puppet state of the French Empire. Many Poles backed Napoleon, up to 100,000 Poles served in the Grand Armee and King Poniatowski's nephew, Jozef Poniatowski even became a marshal of France. However after the fall of Napoleon the Grand duchy of warsaw, which included lands from Prussia and Austria as well, was left to question of what to do with it. Prince Jerzy Czartoryski, once a dear friend and right hand man to Tsar Alexander vied for the tsar to reclaim the lost territories of Poland and join them to the Russian Empire in a dynastic union, crowning himself "king of Poland". More or less that did happen, Alexander gained the lands of the grand duchy of Warsaw, however they did not reclaim the lands of Partitioned Poland. Alexander did Crown himself King of Poland. This gave rise the the Congress Kingdom of Poland. It was granted a degree of Autonomy; however it was still under the Empire. The congress Kingdom however became slowly liquidated and lost most of all its autonomy; many uprisings in Poland forced the Tsars to punish Polish lands and took away their autonomy and later discouraged Polish indentity and language. However during this whole time they still recognized that they did have Poland in the Russian empire and did style themselves legitimate kings of Poland. ( Russia did in fact have rule over the majority of Partitioned Poland). Most Poles however will say they don't recognize this because they viewed these time as times of supression and foreign rule, to a degree this is correct but one must also see that the Polish nation pre partition was a country with a broken ruling class, very corrupt and almost incapable of self rule which evidently helped lead to the partitions. In the end its a matter of opinion.


If anything, it was Michael II of Russia, not Nicholas II who was the last king of Poland. Michael II was formally the tsar of Russia between February 1917 and August 1917 when the Provisional government declared republic. And since Poland declared independence later, it was part of the game.


Was Nicholas II really one of the richest men in history?

According to Bloomberg, the richest person on the planet today is Jeff Bezos, with a fortune estimated at $151 billion. In the list of the richest people in the early modern period (late 15 th century to the present day), Tsar Nicholas II ranks 4th, with an estimated net worth of $250 to $300 billion based on a 2010 exchange rate.

Since the Russian Orthodox Church canonized Nicholas II, he can also be named &ldquothe richest saint in history.&rdquo The Tsar, however, was not as wealthy as many believe, and we&rsquoll explain why.

Grand Prince Nicholas, heir apparent to the Russian throne

According to Imperial-era Russian law, every member of the Romanov family was assigned an annual &lsquobasic income.&rsquo Starting in 1884, when Nicholas became tsesarevich (heir apparent to the Russian throne), the 16-year old future ruler was assigned a stipend of 100,000 rubles. In 1894, when he became Emperor, this amount doubled. We know that in 1896 his personal funds totaled 2 million rubles and 355,000 francs.

An English pound sterling in 1897 was worth roughly 10 rubles, or 25 francs, which means (using the Bank of England&rsquos inflation calculator) that Nicholas II only possessed a modest fortune of 215,000 pounds. This sum was managed by officials in His Imperial Majesty&rsquos Own Chancellery, a state agency that supervised the private affairs of the ruling family.

Victoria, Queen of Great Britain, at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, with her son Edward, Prince of Wales (right), and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (left). Seated on the left is Alexandra, Tsarina of Russia, holding her baby daughter Grand Duchess Tatiana.

The Tsar's money was primarily invested in stock, but his private cash funds gradually decreased towards the end of his reign. The largest expenditures were made in 1899 when the Tsar and his family visited their royal European relatives, and Nicholas needed money for posh clothes. Also that year, he privately funded the building of an Orthodox church in Darmstadt, Germany. By 1917, the Tsar&rsquos funds had decreased to one million rubles.

What was in Nicholas&rsquo wallet?

The Tsar enjoyed an annual 200,000 rubles stipend, which included &ldquoroom money,&rdquo approximately 20,000 rubles. (Nicholas always exceeded this amount, and sometimes spent up to 150,000 rubles). &ldquoRoom money&rdquo was used for buying clothes and personal items such as soap, shaving cream and tobacco also for charity, gifts and awards given by the Tsar as well as for buying books, magazines, and works of art.

Photo of Tsar Nicholas II (left) and his cousin King George V (right) in Berlin, 1913

Nicholas never carried cash, and even to get gold rubles to give to charity during church services, the Tsar had to order the cash from his Chancellery.

Nicholas spent lavishly on military uniforms, which he loved very much. In 1910, he spent all 20,000 rubles on new uniforms to show off to his German relatives and friends.

Nicholas II, his daughter Grand Princess Tatiana and friends after a tennis game

From his private sources, Nicholas also funded athletic organizations (5,000 rubles in 1911 went to &ldquoBogatyr,&rdquo a physical education society) and he also spent money on private sports hobbies such as tennis or cycling. There is a record of the Tsar paying two rubles to a shoemaker to cover a dumbbell handle with leather.

Tsarist profits

Nicholas in a traditional falconer's costume

Now, what about his income? The core of the myth about the Tsar&rsquos &ldquoimmense wealth&rdquo lies in the value of land owned by the Ministry of Imperial Court. True, these holdings were extensive &ndash in Altai and Transbaikal alone they totaled over 65 million hectares. But they could not be sold &ndash so it&rsquos incorrect to estimate these lands at market value.

Altai and Transbaikal, however, were filled with gold, silver, copper, coal and lead mines, which had annual revenues of 6-7 million rubles. In addition, the Royal Hermitage Museum, the Imperial theaters in Moscow and St. Petersburg, as well as many other enterprises officially owned by the Imperial family, were also sources of income.

Nicholas II with his son Alexis in military uniform.

All the earned money went to the Ministry of Imperial Court, which funded Court expenditures, official receptions, as well as transportation and security for the royal family, and so on. Often, the Ministry had to borrow funds from the state to support the Court. In 1913, the Ministry spent over 17 million rubles.

Foreign bank accounts and precious jewelry

Members of an Investigating committee inspecting imperial regalia of the Romanov dynasty, Moscow, 1926

The Imperial family kept some money in European bank accounts, estimated to range from 7 to 14 million rubles (0.7 to 1.4 million pounds in today&rsquos money). The exact amounts in these accounts are still unknown. During World War I, Nicholas closed his accounts in England and returned the money to Russia. However, he couldn&rsquot close his German accounts, which were frozen because the countries were at war.

In 1934, Natalya Sheremetevskaya, widow of Nicholas&rsquo brother, Great Prince Mikhail Alexandrovich Romanov, sued Germany for recognition of her inheritance rights. Four years later, the court granted her permission to inherit the money in these accounts, the amount remaining undisclosed to this present day. However, we know the total wasn&rsquot much because hyperinflation in Germany in the 1920s made it nearly worthless.

As far as the amounts nationalized by the Bolsheviks after the Revolution, even seasoned historians can&rsquot tell for sure what went to the state budget and what was stolen.

Imperial jewelry was among the most expensive items owned by the Tsar&rsquos family. Upon Nicholas&rsquo abdication, the Romanovs lost their right to official imperial regalia and the diamonds in the crown.

The Provisional Government also nationalized all funds controlled by the Chancellery, but the imperial family was allowed to keep its personal jewelry &ndash the Tsarina and her daughters had them sown into under garments when exiled to Siberia, and after their execution the jewelry was discovered on their bodies. Much later, imperial diamonds and jewelry surfaced on European markets where private collectors scooped them up.

Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich and Tsar Nicholas II sawing wood at Tobolsk

In the end, we see that the personal fortune of Nicholas II was very far from the riches of today&rsquos tycoons and entrepreneurs. While the Tsar had a stable income, he had to ask for and account for most of the funds that he spent, and this access was revoked after his abdication.

You may also want to know how exactly Nicholas spent his money on entertainment, taste his favorite dishes or learn about his misfortunate incident in Japan.

If you&rsquod like to dig deeper into history of Romanov family, look at them through the eyes of their contemporaries, learn about their secret lives or read about their tragic demise.

If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.


Nicholas II (1868-1918)

Nicholas II, 1914 © Nicholas II was the last tsar of Russia. He was deposed during the Russian Revolution and executed by the Bolsheviks.

Nikolai Aleksandrovich Romanov was born near St Petersburg on 18 May 1868, the eldest son of Tsar Alexander III. When he succeeded his father in 1894, he had very little experience of government. In the same year, Nicholas married Princess Alexandra of Hesse-Darmstadt (a duchy in Germany). They had four daughters and a son, Alexis, who suffered from the disease haemophilia.

Alexandra was the dominant personality in their relationship and encouraged the weaker Nicholas's autocratic tendencies. He mistrusted most of his ministers and yet was incapable of carrying out the task of ruling the vast Russian empire alone.

Determined that Russia should not be left out in the scramble for colonial possessions, Nicholas encouraged Russian expansion in Manchuria. This provoked war with Japan in 1904. The resulting Russian defeat led to strikes and riots. In January 1905, on 'Bloody Sunday', the army in St Petersburg shot at a crowd demanding radical reforms. Opposition to the tsar grew and Nicholas was forced to grant a constitution and establish a parliament, the Duma.

Nicholas's concessions were only limited. Changes were made in the voting laws to prevent the election of radicals and the secret police continued to crush opposition. However, the Duma did give many more people, especially the middle classes, a voice in government.

The outbreak of World War One in 1914 temporarily strengthened the monarchy, with Russia allied to France and Britain against Austria-Hungary and Germany. In mid-1915 Nicholas made the disastrous decision to take direct command of the Russian armies. From then on, every military failure was directly associated with him.

With Nicholas often away, Alexandra took a more active role in government. Russia was suffering heavy losses in the war, there was high inflation and severe food shortages at home, which compounded the grinding poverty most Russians already endured. German-born Alexandra soon became the focus of discontent, as did her confidante, the mystic, Rasputin, who had been at court since 1905 and had gained great influence through his apparent ability to treat the haemophilia of Alexis, the heir to the throne.

In December 1916, Rasputin was murdered by a group of disaffected nobles. Then in February 1917, widespread popular demonstrations began in the capital Petrograd (as St Petersburg was renamed in 1914). Nicholas lost the support of the army and had no alternative but to abdicate. A shaky provisional government was established. The tsar and his family were held in various locations, eventually being imprisoned in Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains.

In October 1917, the Bolsheviks overthrew the provisional government. Following a harsh peace treaty with Germany in March 1918, Russia descended into civil war. On 17 July 1918, as anti-Bolsheviks approached Yekaterinburg, Nicholas and his family were executed. This was almost certainly on the orders of the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin.


Their families tried to keep Nicholas and Alexandra apart

Nicholas II, destined to be emperor of all Russia, met his future wife when she was just 12 years old (he was 16). Victoria Alix Helena Louise Beatrice was a German princess, part of the House of Hesse and a favorite of her grandmother, Queen Victoria of England. As historian and author Lisa Waller Rogers notes, their love letters were the stuff of romantic legend, and Nicholas wrote in his diary at one point, "It is my dream to one day marry Alix H. I have loved her for a long time."

If Nicholas and Alix had been regular folks, this might've been an easy match, but as high-ranking royals, both their families opposed the relationship. Nicholas' father, Alexander III, disliked his cousin Kaiser Wilhelm and was angry about what he saw as Germany's machinations against the Russians, and Alix's family considered Russia to be a backwater empire. In fact, Alix herself refused to contemplate converting to the Russian Orthodox Church, insulting future subjects. For years the two families worked hard to keep the two apart, and it wasn't until Alexander III was on his deathbed that he finally gave his permission to Nicholas to ask Alix to marry him, which they finally did in 1894. Alix compromised and converted, becoming Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, but the Russian people never quite accepted her, and the distrust of her German roots continued to fester throughout her life.


Nicholas II

Why Famous: Nicholas II was the last Emperor of Russia, Grand Duke of Finland, and titular King of Poland. His disastrous reign saw Imperial Russia go from being one of the foremost great powers of the world to economic and military collapse.

His reign saw several disastrous events for Russia. At the coronation festivities, a stampede resulted in the deaths of nearly 1,400 people. In 1905 Russia was decisively defeated by Japan during the Russo-Japanese War, and the Russian Baltic Fleet was annihilated by the Japanese Navy.

Nicholas approved the mobilization in 1914 which led to Russian entry in World War I. This conflict was catastrophic for the country and for the House of Romanov, with over 3 million Russians killed and sharp deterioration in living conditions across the country. Though it was part of the Allies, Russia was defeated by Germany.

The influence of Grigori Rasputin over the Russian monarchy - given his supposed ability to heal Nicholas' hemophiliac son Tsarevich Alexei - helped lead to his downfall. The war directly led to the Russian Revolution of 1917, in which Nicholas abdicated following riots and the Russian monarchy collapsed. He and his family were taken into custody and executed by the Bolsheviks in Yekaterinburg in July 1918.

Born: May 18, 1868
Birthplace: Saint Petersburg, Russia
Star Sign: Taurus

Died: July 17, 1918 (aged 50)
Cause of Death: Assassination


Incredible photos of the last czar and the Russian royal family surface

Dozens of candid photos showing Czar Nicholas II and the Romanov family boating and enjoying sleigh rides during the twilight years of their ill-fated dynasty, have gone on public display for the first time.

Remarkable photo albums showing the Czar Nicholas II and the Russian royal family have gone on public display for the first time.

Dozens of candid photos show the Romanov family boating and enjoying sleigh rides during the twilight years of their ill-fated dynasty. The last czar of Russia abdicated on March 15, 1917, following the country’s February Revolution, bringing an end to the Romanov dynasty that ruled Russia for over 300 years.

Czar Nicholas was murdered with his family in Yekaterinburg on July 17, 1918.

Part of a new exhibition at the Science Museum in London, the photos offer a fascinating glimpse into the gilded existence of the doomed Romanovs. “They really show an insight into the private life of the family,” a Science Museum spokesman told Fox News.

(Science Museum Group Collection)

The two albums were created by Herbert Galloway Stewart, an English tutor to the Czar’s nephews. Most of the photos, which span from 1908 to 1918, were taken in St. Petersburg and the Crimea.

Galloway Stewart was employed by the Grand Duchess Xenia as a tutor for her son, Prince Andrei Alexandrovich Romanov.

The Science Museum has a total of 22 albums from Galloway Stewart in its collection, the spokesman told Fox News.

(Science Museum Group Collection)

The albums were found when Science Museum curator Dr. Natalia Sidlina was researching a previous exhibition entitled “Cosmonauts.”

“I vowed they would have their moment,” said Science Museum Director Ian Blatchford, in a blog post.

The exhibition, “The Last Tsar: Blood and Revolution,” includes other rare Romanov artifacts, such as personal diaries, jewelry found at the scene of the family’s murder and two Imperial Faberge Easter eggs on loan from the Moscow Kremlin Museums. The eggs, which include an unusual “Steel Easter Egg” featuring military designs, were presented by the Czar to his wife in 1916 when Russia was embroiled in the World War I.

(Science Museum Group Collection)

“This exhibition marks 100 years since the end of the Romanov dynasty and explores one of the most dramatic periods in Russian history, all through the unique lens of science,” said Blatchford in a statement. “Our curatorial team have brought together an exceptional, rare and poignant collection to tell this remarkable story.”

A key theme of the exhibition is the treatment of the czar and czarina’s only son and heir Alexei, who suffered from the life-threatening condition hemophilia B. Artifacts on show, for example, include the Imperial family’s traveling medicine chest.

The exhibition runs through March 24, 2019.

(Science Museum Group Collection)

DNA tests conducted on the exhumed remains of the czar and his wife in 2015 proved they were authentic. The tests were performed at the request of the Russian Orthodox Church, which canonized the slain Romanov family in 2000.


Contents

On 22 March 1917, Nicholas, deposed as a monarch and addressed by the sentries as "Nicholas Romanov", was reunited with his family at the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo. He was placed under house arrest with his family by the Provisional Government, and the family was surrounded by guards and confined to their quarters. [36]

In August 1917, Alexander Kerensky's provisional government, after a failed attempt to send the Romanovs to Britain, which was ruled by Nicholas and Alexandra's mutual first cousin, King George V, evacuated the Romanovs to Tobolsk, Siberia, allegedly to protect them from the rising tide of revolution. There they lived in the former governor's mansion in considerable comfort. After the Bolsheviks came to power in October 1917, the conditions of their imprisonment grew stricter. Talk in the government of putting Nicholas on trial grew more frequent. Nicholas was forbidden to wear epaulettes, and the sentries scrawled lewd drawings on the fence to offend his daughters. On 1 March 1918, the family was placed on soldiers' rations. Their 10 servants were dismissed, and they had to give up butter and coffee. [37]

As the Bolsheviks gathered strength, the government in April moved Nicholas, Alexandra, and their daughter Maria to Yekaterinburg under the direction of Vasily Yakovlev. Alexei, who had severe haemophilia, was too ill to accompany his parents and remained with his sisters Olga, Tatiana, and Anastasia, not leaving Tobolsk until May 1918. The family was imprisoned with a few remaining retainers in Yekaterinburg's Ipatiev House, which was designated The House of Special Purpose (Russian: Дом Особого Назначения ).

All those under arrest will be held as hostages, and the slightest attempt at counter-revolutionary action in the town will result in the summary execution of the hostages.

The House of Special Purpose Edit

The imperial family was kept in strict isolation at the Ipatiev House. [40] They were strictly forbidden to speak any language other than Russian. [41] They were not permitted access to their luggage, which was stored in an outhouse in the interior courtyard. [40] Their Brownie cameras and photographic equipment were confiscated. [38] The servants were ordered to address the Romanovs only by their names and patronymics. [42] The family was subjected to regular searches of their belongings, confiscation of their money for "safekeeping by the Ural Regional Soviet's treasurer", [43] and attempts to remove Alexandra's and her daughters' gold bracelets from their wrists. [44] The house was surrounded by a 4-metre (14 ft) high, double palisade that obscured the view of the streets from the house. [45] The initial fence enclosed the garden along Voznesensky Lane. On 5 June a second palisade was erected, higher and longer than the first, which completely enclosed the property. [46] The second palisade was constructed after it was learned that passersby could see Nicholas's legs when he used the double swing in the garden. [47]

The windows in all the family's rooms were sealed shut and covered with newspapers (later painted with whitewash on 15 May). [50] The family's only source of ventilation was a fortochka in the grand duchesses' bedroom, but peeking out of it was strictly forbidden in May a sentry fired a shot at Anastasia when she looked out. [51] After Romanov made repeated requests, one of the two windows in the tsar and tsarina's corner bedroom was unsealed on 23 June 1918. [52] The guards were ordered to increase their surveillance accordingly, and the prisoners were warned not to look out the window or attempt to signal anyone outside, on pain of being shot. [53] From this window, they could see only the spire of the Voznesensky Cathedral located across the road from the house. [53] An iron grille was installed on 11 July, after Alexandra had ignored repeated warnings from the commandant, Yakov Yurovsky, not to stand too close to the open window. [54]

The guard commandant and his senior aides had complete access at any time to all rooms occupied by the family. [55] The prisoners were required to ring a bell each time they wished to leave their rooms to use the bathroom and lavatory on the landing. [56] Strict rationing of the water supply was enforced on the prisoners after the guards complained that it regularly ran out. [57] Recreation was allowed only twice daily in the garden, for half an hour morning and afternoon. The prisoners were ordered not to engage in conversation with any of the guards. [58] Rations were mostly tea and black bread for breakfast, and cutlets or soup with meat for lunch the prisoners were informed that "they were no longer permitted to live like tsars". [59] In mid-June, nuns from the Novo-Tikhvinsky Monastery also brought the family food on a daily basis, most of which the captors took when it arrived. [59] The family was not allowed visitors or to receive and send letters. [38] Princess Helen of Serbia visited the house in June but was refused entry at gunpoint by the guards, [60] while Dr Vladimir Derevenko's regular visits to treat Alexei were curtailed when Yurovsky became commandant. No excursions to Divine Liturgy at the nearby church were permitted. [41] In early June, the family no longer received their daily newspapers. [38]

To maintain a sense of normality, the Bolsheviks lied to the Romanovs on 13 July 1918 that two of their loyal servants, Klementy Nagorny [ru] (Alexei's sailor nanny) [62] and Ivan Sednev [ru] (OTMA's footman Leonid Sednev's uncle), [63] "had been sent out of this government" (i.e. out of the jurisdiction of Yekaterinburg and Perm province). In fact, both men were already dead: after the Bolsheviks had removed them from the Ipatiev House in May, they had been shot by the Cheka with a group of other hostages on 6 July, in reprisal for the death of Ivan Malyshev [ru] , Chairman of the Ural Regional Committee of the Bolshevik Party killed by the Whites. [64] On 14 July, a priest and deacon conducted a liturgy for the Romanovs. [65] The following morning, four housemaids were hired to wash the floors of the Popov House and Ipatiev House they were the last civilians to see the family alive. On both occasions, they were under strict instructions not to engage in conversation with the family. [66] Yurovsky always kept watch during the liturgy and while the housemaids were cleaning the bedrooms with the family. [67]

The 16 men of the internal guard slept in the basement, hallway, and commandant's office during shifts. The external guard, led by Pavel Medvedev, numbered 56 and took over the Popov House opposite. [55] The guards were allowed to bring in women for sex and drinking sessions in the Popov House and basement rooms of the Ipatiev House. [67] There were four machine gun emplacements: one in the bell tower of the Voznesensky Cathedral aimed toward the house a second in the basement window of the Ipatiev House facing the street a third monitoring the balcony overlooking the garden at the back of the house [53] and a fourth in the attic overlooking the intersection, directly above the tsar and tsarina's bedroom. [48] Ten guard posts were located in and around the Ipatiev House, and the exterior was patrolled twice hourly day and night. [51] In early May, the guards moved the piano from the dining room, where the prisoners could play it, to the commandant's office next to the Romanovs' bedrooms. The guards would play the piano, while singing Russian revolutionary songs and drinking and smoking. [40] They also listened to the Romanovs' records on the confiscated phonograph. [40] The lavatory on the landing was also used by the guards, who scribbled political slogans and crude graffiti on the walls. [40] The number of Ipatiev House guards totaled 300 at the time the imperial family was killed. [68]

When Yurovsky replaced Aleksandr Avdeev on 4 July, [69] he moved the old internal guard members to the Popov House. The senior aides were retained but were designated to guard the hallway area and no longer had access to the Romanovs' rooms only Yurovsky's men had it. The local Cheka chose replacements from the volunteer battalions of the Verkh-Isetsk factory at Yurovsky's request. He wanted dedicated Bolsheviks who could be relied on to do whatever was asked of them. They were hired on the understanding that they would be prepared, if necessary, to kill the tsar, about which they were sworn to secrecy. Nothing at that stage was said about killing the family or servants. To prevent a repetition of the fraternization that had occurred under Avdeev, Yurovsky chose mainly foreigners. Nicholas noted in his diary on 8 July that "new Latvians are standing guard", describing them as Letts – a term commonly used in Russia to classify someone as of European, non-Russian origin. The leader of the new guards was Adolf Lepa, a Lithuanian. [70]

In mid-July 1918, forces of the Czechoslovak Legion were closing on Yekaterinburg, to protect the Trans-Siberian Railway, of which they had control. According to historian David Bullock, the Bolsheviks, falsely believing that the Czechoslovaks were on a mission to rescue the family, panicked and executed their wards. The Legions arrived less than a week later and on 25 July captured the city. [71]

During the imperial family's imprisonment in late June, Pyotr Voykov and Alexander Beloborodov, president of the Ural Regional Soviet, [72] directed the smuggling of letters written in French to the Ipatiev House. These claimed to be by a monarchist officer seeking to rescue the family, but were composed at the behest of the Cheka. [73] These fabricated letters, along with the Romanov responses to them (written on either blank spaces or the envelopes), [74] provided the Central Executive Committee (CEC) in Moscow with further justification to 'liquidate' the imperial family. [75] Yurovsky later observed that, by responding to the faked letters, Nicholas "had fallen into a hasty plan by us to trap him". [73] On 13 July, across the road from the Ipatiev House, a demonstration of Red Army soldiers, Socialist Revolutionaries, and anarchists was staged on Voznesensky Square, demanding the dismissal of the Yekaterinburg Soviet and the transfer of control of the city to them. This rebellion was violently suppressed by a detachment of Red Guards led by Peter Ermakov, which opened fire on the protesters, all within earshot of the tsar and tsarina's bedroom window. The authorities exploited the incident as a monarchist-led rebellion that threatened the security of the captives at the Ipatiev House. [76]

We like this man less and less.

Planning for the execution Edit

The Ural Regional Soviet agreed in a meeting on 29 June that the Romanov family should be executed. Filipp Goloshchyokin arrived in Moscow on 3 July with a message insisting on the Tsar's execution. [77] Only seven of the 23 members of the Central Executive Committee were in attendance, three of whom were Lenin, Sverdlov and Felix Dzerzhinsky. [72] They agreed that the presidium of the Ural Regional Soviet should organize the practical details for the family's execution and decide the precise day on which it would take place when the military situation dictated it, contacting Moscow for final approval. [78]

The killing of the Tsar's wife and children was also discussed, but it was kept a state secret to avoid any political repercussions German ambassador Wilhelm von Mirbach made repeated enquiries to the Bolsheviks concerning the family's well-being. [79] Another diplomat, British consul Thomas Preston, who lived near the Ipatiev House, was often pressured by Pierre Gilliard, Sydney Gibbes and Prince Vasily Dolgorukov to help the Romanovs [60] Dolgorukov smuggled notes from his prison cell before he was murdered by Grigory Nikulin, Yurovsky's assistant. [80] Preston's requests to be granted access to the family were consistently rejected. [81] As Trotsky later said, "The Tsar's family was a victim of the principle that forms the very axis of monarchy: dynastic inheritance", for which their deaths were a necessity. [82] Goloshchyokin reported back to Yekaterinburg on 12 July with a summary of his discussion about the Romanovs with Moscow, [72] along with instructions that nothing relating to their deaths should be directly communicated to Lenin. [83]

On 14 July, Yurovsky was finalizing the disposal site and how to destroy as much evidence as possible at the same time. [84] He was frequently in consultation with Peter Ermakov, who was in charge of the disposal squad and claimed to know the outlying countryside. [85] Yurovsky wanted to gather the family and servants in a small, confined space from which they could not escape. The basement room chosen for this purpose had a barred window which was nailed shut to muffle the sound of shooting and in case of any screaming. [86] Shooting and stabbing them at night while they slept or killing them in the forest and then dumping them into the Iset pond with lumps of metal weighted to their bodies were ruled out. [87] Yurovsky's plan was to perform an efficient execution of all 11 prisoners simultaneously, though he also took into account that he would have to prevent those involved from raping the women or searching the bodies for jewels. [87] Having previously seized some jewelry, he suspected more was hidden in their clothes [43] the bodies were stripped naked in order to obtain the rest (this, along with the mutilations were aimed at preventing investigators from identifying them). [4]

On 16 July, Yurovsky was informed by the Ural Soviets that Red Army contingents were retreating in all directions and the executions could not be delayed any longer. A coded telegram seeking final approval was sent by Goloshchyokin and Georgy Safarov at around 6 pm to Lenin in Moscow. [88] There is no documentary record of an answer from Moscow, although Yurovsky insisted that an order from the CEC to go ahead had been passed on to him by Goloshchyokin at around 7 pm. [89] This claim was consistent with that of a former Kremlin guard, Aleksey Akimov, who in the late 1960s stated that Sverdlov instructed him to send a telegram confirming the CEC's approval of the 'trial' (code for execution) but required that both the written form and ticker tape be returned to him immediately after the message was sent. [89] At 8 pm, Yurovsky sent his chauffeur to acquire a truck for transporting the bodies, along with rolls of canvas to wrap them in. The intention was to park it close to the basement entrance, with its engine running, to mask the noise of gunshots. [90] Yurovsky and Pavel Medvedev collected 14 handguns to use that night: two Browning pistols (one M1900 and one M1906), two Colt M1911 pistols, two Mauser C96s, one Smith & Wesson and seven Belgian-made Nagants. The Nagant operated on old black gunpowder which produced a good deal of smoke and fumes smokeless powder was only just being phased in. [91]

In the commandant's office, Yurovsky assigned victims to each killer before distributing the handguns. He took a Mauser and Colt while Ermakov armed himself with three Nagants, one Mauser and a bayonet he was the only one assigned to kill two prisoners (Alexandra and Botkin). Yurovsky instructed his men to "shoot straight at the heart to avoid an excessive quantity of blood and get it over quickly." [92] At least two of the Letts, an Austro-Hungarian prisoner of war named Andras Verhas and Adolf Lepa, himself in charge of the Lett contingent, refused to shoot the women. Yurovsky sent them to the Popov House for failing "at that important moment in their revolutionary duty". [93] Neither Yurovsky nor any of the killers went into the logistics of how to efficiently destroy eleven bodies. [83] He was under pressure to ensure that no remains would later be found by monarchists who would exploit them to rally anti-communist support. [94]

While the Romanovs were having dinner on 16 July 1918, Yurovsky entered the sitting room and informed them that kitchen boy Leonid Sednev was leaving to meet his uncle, Ivan Sednev, who had returned to the city asking to see him Ivan had already been shot by the Cheka. [95] The family was very upset as Leonid was Alexei's only playmate and he was the fifth member of the imperial entourage to be taken from them, but they were assured by Yurovsky that he would be back soon. Alexandra did not trust Yurovsky, writing in her final diary entry just hours before her death, "whether it's true & we shall see the boy back again!" Leonid was kept in the Popov House that night. [90] Yurovsky saw no reason to kill him and wanted him removed before the execution took place. [88]

Around midnight on 17 July, Yurovsky ordered the Romanovs' physician, Eugene Botkin, to awaken the sleeping family and ask them to put on their clothes, under the pretext that the family would be moved to a safe location due to impending chaos in Yekaterinburg. [96] The Romanovs were then ordered into a 6 m × 5 m (20 ft × 16 ft) semi-basement room. Nicholas asked if Yurovsky could bring two chairs, on which Tsarevich Alexei and Alexandra sat. [97] Yurovsky's assistant Grigory Nikulin remarked to him that the "heir wanted to die in a chair. [98] Very well then, let him have one." [86] The prisoners were told to wait in the cellar room while the truck that would transport them was being brought to the House. A few minutes later, an execution squad of secret police was brought in and Yurovsky read aloud the order given to him by the Ural Executive Committee:

Nikolai Alexandrovich, in view of the fact that your relatives are continuing their attack on Soviet Russia, the Ural Executive Committee has decided to execute you. [99]

Nicholas, facing his family, turned and said "What? What?" [100] Yurovsky quickly repeated the order and the weapons were raised. The Empress and Grand Duchess Olga, according to a guard's reminiscence, had tried to bless themselves, but failed amid the shooting. Yurovsky reportedly raised his Colt gun at Nicholas's torso and fired Nicholas fell dead, pierced with at least three bullets in his upper chest. The intoxicated Peter Ermakov, the military commissar for Verkh-Isetsk, shot and killed Alexandra with a bullet wound to the head. He then shot at Maria, who ran for the double doors, hitting her in the thigh. [101] The remaining executioners shot chaotically and over each other's shoulders until the room was so filled with smoke and dust that no one could see anything at all in the darkness nor hear any commands amid the noise.

Alexey Kabanov, who ran onto the street to check the noise levels, heard dogs barking from the Romanovs' quarters and the sound of gunshots loud and clear despite the noise from the Fiat's engine. Kabanov then hurried downstairs and told the men to stop firing and kill the family and their dogs with their gun butts and bayonets. [102] Within minutes, Yurovsky was forced to stop the shooting because of the caustic smoke of burned gunpowder, dust from the plaster ceiling caused by the reverberation of bullets, and the deafening gunshots. When they stopped, the doors were then opened to scatter the smoke. [100] While waiting for the smoke to abate, the killers could hear moans and whimpers inside the room. [103] As it cleared, it became evident that although several of the family's retainers had been killed, all of the Imperial children were alive and only Maria was injured. [100] [104] [ self-published source? ]

The noise of the guns had been heard by households all around, awakening many people. The executioners were ordered to use their bayonets, a technique which proved ineffective and meant that the children had to be dispatched by still more gunshots, this time aimed more precisely at their heads. The Tsarevich was the first of the children to be executed. Yurovsky watched in disbelief as Nikulin spent an entire magazine from his Browning gun on Alexei, who was still seated transfixed in his chair he also had jewels sewn into his undergarment and forage cap. [105] Ermakov shot and stabbed him, and when that failed, Yurovsky shoved him aside and killed the boy with a gunshot to the head. [101] The last to die were Tatiana, Anastasia, and Maria, who were carrying a few pounds (over 1.3 kilograms) of diamonds sewn into their clothing, which had given them a degree of protection from the firing. [106] However, they were speared with bayonets as well. Olga sustained a gunshot wound to the head. Maria and Anastasia were said to have crouched up against a wall covering their heads in terror until they were shot. Yurovsky killed Tatiana and Alexei. Tatiana died from a single shot to the back of her head. [107] Alexei received two bullets to the head, right behind the ear. [108] Anna Demidova, Alexandra's maid, survived the initial onslaught but was quickly stabbed to death against the back wall while trying to defend herself with a small pillow which she had carried that was filled with precious gems and jewels. [109] While the bodies were being placed on stretchers, one of the girls cried out and covered her face with her arm. [110] Ermakov grabbed Alexander Strekotin's rifle and bayoneted her in the chest, [110] but when it failed to penetrate he pulled out his revolver and shot her in the head. [111] [112]

While Yurovsky was checking the victims for pulses, Ermakov walked through the room, flailing the bodies with his bayonet. The execution lasted about 20 minutes, Yurovsky later admitting to Nikulin's "poor mastery of his weapon and inevitable nerves". [113] Future investigations calculated that a possible 70 bullets were fired, roughly seven bullets per shooter, of which 57 were found in the basement and at all three subsequent gravesites. [102] Some of Pavel Medvedev's stretcher bearers began frisking the bodies for valuables. Yurovsky saw this and demanded that they surrender any looted items or be shot. The attempted looting, coupled with Ermakov's incompetence and drunken state, convinced Yurovsky to oversee the disposal of the bodies himself. [112] Only Alexei's spaniel, Joy, survived to be rescued by a British officer of the Allied Intervention Force, [114] living out his final days in Windsor, Berkshire. [115]

Alexandre Beloborodov sent a coded telegram to Lenin's secretary, Nikolai Gorbunov. It was found by White investigator Nikolai Sokolov and reads: [116]

Inform Sverdlov the whole family have shared the same fate as the head. Officially the family will die at the evacuation. [117]

Aleksandr Lisitsyn of the Cheka, an essential witness on behalf of Moscow, was designated to promptly dispatch to Sverdlov soon after the executions of Nicholas and Alexandra's politically valuable diaries and letters, which would be published in Russia as soon as possible. [118] Beloborodov and Nikulin oversaw the ransacking of the Romanov quarters, seizing all the family's personal items, the most valuable piled up in Yurovsky's office whilst things considered inconsequential and of no value were stuffed into the stoves and burned. Everything was packed into the Romanovs' own trunks for dispatch to Moscow under escort by commissars. [119] On 19 July, the Bolsheviks nationalized all confiscated Romanov properties, [64] the same day Sverdlov announced the tsar's execution to the Council of People's Commissars. [120]

Disposal Edit

The bodies of the Romanovs and their servants were loaded onto a Fiat truck equipped with a 60-hp engine, [112] with a cargo area 6 × 10 feet in size. [110] Heavily laden, the vehicle struggled for nine miles on boggy road to reach the Koptyaki forest. Yurovsky was furious when he discovered that the drunken Ermakov had brought only one shovel for the burial. [121] About half a mile further on, near crossing no. 185 on the line serving the Verkh-Isetsk works, 25 men working for Ermakov were waiting with horses and light carts. These men were all intoxicated and they were outraged that the prisoners were not brought to them alive. They expected to be part of the lynch mob. [122] Yurovsky maintained control of the situation with great difficulty, eventually getting Ermakov's men to shift some of the bodies from the truck onto the carts. [122] A few of Ermakov's men pawed the female bodies for diamonds hidden in their undergarments, two of whom lifted up Alexandra's skirt and fingered her genitals. [122] [123] Yurovsky ordered them at gunpoint to back off, dismissing the two who had groped the tsarina's corpse and any others he had caught looting. [123] One of the men said that he could "die in peace", [122] having touched the "royal cunt". [123]

The truck was bogged down in an area of marshy ground near the Gorno-Uralsk railway line, during which all the bodies were unloaded onto carts and taken to the disposal site. [122] The sun was up by the time the carts came within sight of the disused mine, which was a large clearing at a place called the 'Four Brothers'. [124] Yurovsky's men ate hardboiled eggs supplied by the local nuns (food that was meant for the imperial family), while the remainder of Ermakov's men were ordered back to the city as Yurovsky did not trust them and was displeased with their drunkenness. [4]

Yurovsky and five other men laid out the bodies on the grass and undressed them, the clothes piled up and burned while Yurovsky took inventory of their jewellery. Only Maria's undergarments contained no jewels, which to Yurovsky was proof that the family had ceased to trust her ever since she became too friendly with one of the guards back in May. [4] [125] Once the bodies were "completely naked" they were dumped into a mineshaft and doused with sulphuric acid to disfigure them beyond recognition. Only then did Yurovsky discover that the pit was less than 3 metres (9 feet) deep and the muddy water below did not fully submerge the corpses as he had expected. He unsuccessfully tried to collapse the mine with hand grenades, after which his men covered it with loose earth and branches. [126] Yurovsky left three men to guard the site while he returned to Yekaterinburg with a bag filled with 18 lb of looted diamonds, to report back to Beloborodov and Goloshchyokin. It was decided that the pit was too shallow. [127]

Sergey Chutskaev [ru] of the local Soviet told Yurovsky of some deeper copper mines west of Yekaterinburg, the area remote and swampy and a grave there less likely to be discovered. [83] He inspected the site on the evening of 17 July and reported back to the Cheka at the Amerikanskaya Hotel. He ordered additional trucks to be sent out to Koptyaki whilst assigning Pyotr Voykov to obtain barrels of petrol, kerosene and sulphuric acid, and plenty of dry firewood. Yurovsky also seized several horse-drawn carts to be used in the removal of the bodies to the new site. [128] Yurovsky and Goloshchyokin, along with several Cheka agents, returned to the mineshaft at about 4 am on the morning of 18 July. The sodden corpses were hauled out one by one using ropes tied to their mangled limbs and laid under a tarpaulin. [127] Yurovsky, worried that he might not have enough time to take the bodies to the deeper mine, ordered his men to dig another burial pit then and there, but the ground was too hard. He returned to the Amerikanskaya Hotel to confer with the Cheka. He seized a truck which he had loaded with blocks of concrete for attaching to the bodies before submerging them in the new mineshaft. A second truck carried a detachment of Cheka agents to help move the bodies. Yurovsky returned to the forest at 10 pm on 18 July. The bodies were again loaded onto the Fiat truck, which by then had been extricated from the mud. [129]

During transportation to the deeper copper mines on the early morning of 19 July, the Fiat truck carrying the bodies got stuck again in mud near Porosenkov Log ("Piglet's Ravine"). With the men exhausted, most refusing to obey orders and dawn approaching, Yurovsky decided to bury them under the road where the truck had stalled. [131] They dug a grave that was 6 × 8 ft in size and barely 60 centimetres (2 ft) deep. [132] Alexei Trupp's body was tossed in first, followed by the Tsar's and then the rest. Sulphuric acid was again used to dissolve the bodies, their faces smashed with rifle butts and covered with quicklime. Railroad ties were placed over the grave to disguise it, with the Fiat truck being driven back and forth over the ties to press them into the earth. The burial was completed at 6 am on 19 July. [132]

Yurovsky separated the Tsarevich Alexei and one of his sisters to be buried about 15 metres (50 ft) away, in an attempt to confuse anyone who might discover the mass grave with only nine bodies. Since the female body was badly disfigured, Yurovsky mistook her for Anna Demidova in his report he wrote that he had actually wanted to destroy Alexandra's corpse. [133] Alexei and his sister were burned in a bonfire and their remaining charred bones were thoroughly smashed with spades and tossed into a smaller pit. [132] 44 partial bone fragments from both corpses were found in August 2007. [134]

Sokolov's investigation Edit

After Yekaterinburg fell to the anti-communist White Army on 25 July, Admiral Alexander Kolchak established the Sokolov Commission to investigate the murders at the end of that month. Nikolai Sokolov [ru] , a legal investigator for the Omsk Regional Court, was appointed to undertake this. He interviewed several members of the Romanov entourage in February 1919, notably Pierre Gilliard, Alexandra Tegleva and Sydney Gibbes. [135]

Sokolov discovered a large number of the Romanovs' belongings and valuables that were overlooked by Yurovsky and his men in and around the mineshaft where the bodies were initially disposed. Among them were burned bone fragments, congealed fat, [136] Dr Botkin's upper dentures and glasses, corset stays, insignias and belt buckles, shoes, keys, pearls and diamonds, [14] a few spent bullets, and part of a severed female finger. [106] The corpse of Anastasia's King Charles Spaniel, Jimmy, was also found in the pit. [137] The pit revealed no traces of clothing, which was consistent with Yurovsky's account that all the victims' clothes were burned. [138]

Sokolov ultimately failed to find the concealed burial site on the Koptyaki Road he photographed the spot as evidence of where the Fiat truck had become stuck on the morning of 19 July. [130] The impending return of Bolshevik forces in July 1919 forced him to evacuate, and he brought the box containing the relics he recovered. [139] Sokolov accumulated eight volumes of photographic and eyewitness accounts. [140] He died in France in 1924 of a heart attack before he could complete his investigation. [141] The box is stored in the Russian Orthodox Church of Saint Job in Uccle, Brussels. [142]

His preliminary report was published in a book that same year in French and then Russian. It was published in English in 1925. Until 1989, it was the only accepted historical account of the murders. [16] He wrongly concluded that the prisoners died instantly from the shooting, with the exception of Alexei and Anastasia, who were shot and bayoneted to death, [144] and that the bodies were destroyed in a massive bonfire. [145] Publication and worldwide acceptance of the investigation prompted the Soviets to issue a government-approved textbook in 1926 that largely plagiarized Sokolov's work, admitting that the empress and her children had been murdered with the Tsar. [16]

The Soviet government continued to attempt to control accounts of the murders. In 1938, during a period of purges, Joseph Stalin issued a clampdown on all discussion of the Romanov murders. [18] Sokolov's report was also banned. [130] Leonid Brezhnev's Politburo deemed the Ipatiev House of lacking "sufficient historical significance" and it was demolished in September 1977 by KGB chairman Yuri Andropov, [9] less than a year before the sixtieth anniversary of the murders. Yeltsin wrote in his memoirs that "sooner or later we will be ashamed of this piece of barbarism". The destruction of the house did not stop pilgrims or monarchists from visiting the site. [18]

Local amateur sleuth Alexander Avdonin and filmmaker Geli Ryabov [ru] located the shallow grave on 30–31 May 1979 after years of covert investigation and a study of the primary evidence. [18] [130] Three skulls were removed from the grave, but after failing to find any scientist and laboratory to help examine them, and worried about the consequences of finding the grave, Avdonin and Ryabov reburied them in the summer of 1980. [146] The presidency of Mikhail Gorbachev brought with it the era of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (reform), which prompted Ryabov to reveal the Romanovs' gravesite to The Moscow News on 10 April 1989, [146] much to Avdonin's dismay. [147] The remains were disinterred in 1991 by Soviet officials in a hasty 'official exhumation' that wrecked the site, destroying precious evidence. Since there were no clothes on the bodies and the damage inflicted was extensive, controversy persisted as to whether the skeletal remains identified and interred in St. Petersburg as Anastasia's were really hers or in fact Maria's. [20]

On 29 July 2007, another amateur group of local enthusiasts found the small pit containing the remains of Alexei and his sister, located in two small bonfire sites not far from the main grave on the Koptyaki Road. [20] [148] Although criminal investigators and geneticists identified them as Alexei and Maria, they remain stored in the state archives pending a decision from the church, [149] which demanded a more "thorough and detailed" examination. [134]

Ivan Plotnikov, history professor at the Maksim Gorky Ural State University, has established that the executioners were Yakov Yurovsky, Grigory P. Nikulin, Mikhail A. Medvedev (Kuprin), Peter Ermakov, Stepan Vaganov, Alexey G. Kabanov (former soldier in the tsar's Life Guards and Chekist assigned to the attic machine gun), [48] Pavel Medvedev, V. N. Netrebin, and Y. M. Tselms. Filipp Goloshchyokin, a close associate of Yakov Sverdlov, being a military commissar of the Uralispolkom in Yekaterinburg, however did not actually participate, and two or three guards refused to take part. [153] Pyotr Voykov was given the specific task of arranging for the disposal of their remains, obtaining 570 litres (150 gal) of gasoline and 180 kilograms (400 lbs) of sulphuric acid, the latter from the Yekaterinburg pharmacy. He was a witness but later claimed to have taken part in the murders, looting belongings from a dead grand duchess. [110] After the killings, he was to declare that "The world will never know what we did with them." Voykov served as Soviet ambassador to Poland in 1924, where he was assassinated by a Russian monarchist in July 1927. [114]

The White Army investigator Nikolai Sokolov erroneously claimed that the executioners of the Royal Family was carried out by a group of "Latvians led by a Jew". [154] However, in light of Plotnikov's research, the group that carried out the execution consisted almost entirely of ethnic Russians (Nikulin, Medvedev (Kudrin), Ermakov, Vaganov, Kabanov, Medvedev and Netrebin) with the participation of one Jew (Yurovsky) and possibly, one Latvian (Ya.M. Tselms). [155]

The men who were directly complicit in the murder of the imperial family largely survived in the immediate months after the murders. [114] Stepan Vaganov, Ermakov's close associate, [156] was attacked and killed by peasants in late 1918 for his participation in local acts of brutal repression by the Cheka. Pavel Medvedev, head of the Ipatiev House guard and one of the key figures in the murders, [67] was captured by the White Army in Perm in February 1919. During his interrogation he denied taking part in the murders, and died in prison of typhus. [114] Alexandre Beloborodov and his deputy, Boris Didkovsky, were both killed in 1938 during the Great Purge. Filipp Goloshchyokin was shot in October 1941 in an NKVD prison and consigned to an unmarked grave. [151]

Three days after the murders, Yurovsky personally reported to Lenin on the events of that night and was rewarded with an appointment to the Moscow City Cheka. He held a succession of key economic and party posts, dying in the Kremlin Hospital in 1938 aged 60. Prior to his death, he donated the guns he used in the murders to the Museum of the Revolution in Moscow, [74] and left behind three valuable, though contradictory, accounts of the event.

A British officer [ who? ] who met Yurovsky in 1920 alleged that he was remorseful over his role in the execution of the Romanovs. [157] However, in a final letter that was written to his children shortly before his death in 1938, he only reminisced about his revolutionary career and how "the storm of October" had "turned its brightest side" towards him, making him "the happiest of mortals" [158] there was no expression of regret or remorse over the murders. [9] Yurovsky and his assistant, Nikulin, who died in 1964, are buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow. [159] His son, Alexander Yurovsky, voluntarily handed over his father's memoirs to amateur investigators Avdonin and Ryabov in 1978. [160]

Lenin saw the House of Romanov as "monarchist filth, a 300-year disgrace", [82] and referred to Nicholas II in conversation and in his writings as "the most evil enemy of the Russian people, a bloody executioner, an Asiatic gendarme" and "a crowned robber." [161] A written record outlining the chain of command and tying the ultimate responsibility for the fate of the Romanovs back to Lenin was either never made or carefully concealed. [82] Lenin operated with extreme caution, his favored method being to issue instructions in coded telegrams, insisting that the original and even the telegraph ribbon on which it was sent be destroyed. Uncovered documents in Archive No. 2 (Lenin), Archive No. 86 (Sverdlov) as well as the archives of the Council of People's Commissars and the Central Executive Committee reveal that a host of party 'errand boys' were regularly designated to relay his instructions, either by confidential notes or anonymous directives made in the collective name of the Council of People's Commissars. [33] In all such decisions Lenin regularly insisted that no written evidence be preserved. The 55 volumes of Lenin's Collected Works as well as the memoirs of those who directly took part in the murders were scrupulously censored, emphasizing the roles of Sverdlov and Goloshchyokin.

Lenin was, however, aware of Vasily Yakovlev's decision to take Nicholas, Alexandra and Maria further on to Omsk instead of Yekaterinburg in April 1918, having become worried about the extremely threatening behavior of the Ural Soviets in Tobolsk and along the Trans-Siberian Railway. The Biographical Chronicle of Lenin's political life confirms that first Lenin (between 6 and 7 pm) and then Lenin and Sverdlov together (between 9:30 and 11:50 pm) had direct telegraph contact with the Ural Soviets about Yakovlev's change of route. Despite Yakovlev's request to take the family further away to the more remote Simsky Gorny District in Ufa province (where they could hide in the mountains), warning that "the baggage" would be destroyed if given to the Ural Soviets, Lenin and Sverdlov were adamant that they be brought to Yekaterinburg. [162] On 16 July, the editors of Danish newspaper Nationaltidende queried Lenin to "kindly wire facts" in regards to a rumour that Nicholas II "has been murdered" he responded, "Rumor not true. Ex-tsar safe. All rumors are only lies of capitalist press." By this time, however, the coded telegram ordering the execution of Nicholas, his family and retinue had already been sent to Yekaterinburg. [163]

Lenin also welcomed news of the death of Grand Duchess Elizabeth, who was murdered in Alapayevsk along with five other Romanovs on 18 July 1918, remarking that "virtue with the crown on it is a greater enemy to the world revolution than a hundred tyrant tsars". [164] [165] Soviet historiography portrayed Nicholas as a weak and incompetent leader whose decisions led to military defeats and the deaths of millions of his subjects, [35] while Lenin's reputation was protected at all costs, thus ensuring that no discredit was brought on him responsibility for the 'liquidation' of the Romanov family was directed at the Ural Soviets and Yekaterinburg Cheka. [33]

On the afternoon of 19 July, Filipp Goloshchyokin announced at the Opera House on Glavny Prospekt that "Nicholas the bloody" had been shot and his family taken to another place. [166] Sverdlov granted permission for the local paper in Yekaterinburg to publish the "Execution of Nicholas, the Bloody Crowned Murderer – Shot without Bourgeois Formalities but in Accordance with our new democratic principles", [120] along with the coda that "the wife and son of Nicholas Romanov have been sent to a safe place". [167] An official announcement appeared in the national press, two days later. It reported that the monarch had been executed on the order of Uralispolkom under pressure posed by the approach of the Czechoslovaks. [168]

Over the course of 84 days after the Yekaterinburg murders, 27 more friends and relatives (14 Romanovs and 13 members of the imperial entourage and household) [169] were murdered by the Bolsheviks: at Alapayevsk on 18 July, [170] Perm on 4 September, [61] and the Peter and Paul Fortress on 24 January 1919. [169] Unlike the imperial family, the bodies at Alapayevsk and Perm were recovered by the White Army in October 1918 and May 1919 respectively. [61] [171] However, only the final resting places of Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna and her faithful companion Sister Varvara Yakovleva are known today, buried alongside each other in the Church of Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem.

Although official Soviet accounts place the responsibility for the decision with the Uralispolkom, an entry in Leon Trotsky's diary reportedly suggested that the order had been given by Lenin himself. Trotsky wrote:

My next visit to Moscow took place after the fall of Yekaterinburg. Talking to Sverdlov I asked in passing, "Oh yes and where is the Tsar?" "It's all over," he answered. "He has been shot." "And where is his family?" "And the family with him." "All of them?" I asked, apparently with a touch of surprise. "All of them," replied Yakov Sverdlov. "What about it?" He was waiting to see my reaction. I made no reply. "And who made the decision?" I asked. "We decided it here. Ilyich [Lenin] believed that we shouldn't leave the Whites a live banner to rally around, especially under the present difficult circumstances." [27]

However, as of 2011 [update] , there has been no conclusive evidence that either Lenin or Sverdlov gave the order. [28] V. N. Solovyov, the leader of the Investigative Committee of Russia's 1993 investigation on the shooting of the Romanov family, [29] has concluded that there is no reliable document that indicates that either Lenin or Sverdlov were responsible. [30] [31] He declared:

According to the presumption of innocence, no one can be held criminally liable without guilt being proven. In the criminal case, an unprecedented search for archival sources taking all available materials into account was conducted by authoritative experts, such as Sergey Mironenko, the director of the largest archive in the country, the State Archive of the Russian Federation. The study involved the main experts on the subject – historians and archivists. And I can confidently say that today there is no reliable document that would prove the initiative of Lenin and Sverdlov.

In 1993, the report of Yakov Yurovsky from 1922 was published. According to the report, units of the Czechoslovak Legion were approaching Yekaterinburg. On 17 July 1918, Yakov and other Bolshevik jailers, fearing that the Legion would free Nicholas after conquering the town, murdered him and his family. The next day, Yakov departed for Moscow with a report to Sverdlov. As soon as the Czechoslovaks seized Yekaterinburg, his apartment was pillaged. [172]

Over the years, a number of people claimed to be survivors of the ill-fated family. In May 1979, the remains of most of the family and their retainers were found by amateur enthusiasts, who kept the discovery secret until the collapse of Communism. [173] In July 1991, the bodies of five family members (the Tsar, Tsarina, and three of their daughters) were exhumed. [174] After forensic examination [175] and DNA identification, [176] the bodies were laid to rest with state honors in the St. Catherine Chapel of the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg, where most other Russian monarchs since Peter the Great lie. [22] Boris Yeltsin and his wife attended the funeral along with Romanov relations, including Prince Michael of Kent. The Holy Synod opposed the government's decision in February 1998 to bury the remains in the Peter and Paul Fortress, preferring a "symbolic" grave until their authenticity had been resolved. [177] As a result, when they were interred in July 1998, they were referred to by the priest conducting the service as "Christian victims of the Revolution" rather than the imperial family. [178] Patriarch Alexy II, who felt that the Church was sidelined in the investigation, refused to officiate at the burial and banned bishops from taking part in the funeral ceremony. [22]

The remaining two bodies of Tsesarevich Alexei and one of his sisters were discovered in 2007. [134] [179]

On 15 August 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church announced the canonization of the family for their "humbleness, patience and meekness". [180] However, reflecting the intense debate preceding the issue, the bishops did not proclaim the Romanovs as martyrs, but passion bearers instead (see Romanov sainthood). [180]

Over the years 2000 to 2003, the Church of All Saints, Yekaterinburg was built on the site of Ipatiev House.

On 1 October 2008, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation ruled that Nicholas II and his family were victims of political repression and rehabilitated them. [181] [182] The rehabilitation was denounced by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, vowing the decision will "sooner or later be corrected". [183]

On Thursday, 26 August 2010, a Russian court ordered prosecutors to reopen an investigation into the murder of Tsar Nicholas II and his family, although the Bolsheviks believed to have shot them in 1918 had died long before. The Russian Prosecutor General's main investigative unit said it had formally closed a criminal investigation into the killing of Nicholas because too much time had elapsed since the crime and because those responsible had died. However, Moscow's Basmanny Court ordered the re-opening of the case, saying that a Supreme Court ruling blaming the state for the killings made the deaths of the actual gunmen irrelevant, according to a lawyer for the Tsar's relatives and local news agencies. [184]

In late 2015, at the insistence by the Russian Orthodox Church, [185] Russian investigators exhumed the bodies of Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra, for additional DNA testing, [186] which confirmed that the bones were of the couple. [187] [188] [189]

A survey conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center on 11 July 2018 revealed that 57% of Russians aged 35 or older "believe that the execution of the Royal family is a heinous unjustified crime", 46% among those aged between 18 and 24 believe that Nicholas II had to be punished for his mistakes, and 3% "were certain that the Royal family's execution was the public's just retribution for the emperor's blunders". [190] On the centenary of the murders, over 100,000 pilgrims took part in a procession led by Patriarch Kirill in Yekaterinburg, marching from the city center where the Romanovs were murdered to a monastery in Ganina Yama. [191] There is a widespread legend that the remains of the Romanovs were completely destroyed at the Ganina Yama during the ritual murder and a profitable pilgrimage business developed there. Therefore, the found remains of the martyrs, as well as the place of their burial in the Porosyonkov Log, are ignored. [192] On the eve of the anniversary Russian government announced that its new probe had confirmed once again that the bodies were the Romanovs’. The state also remained aloof from the celebration, as President Vladimir Putin considers Nicholas II a weak ruler. [193]


Early life and reign

Nikolay Aleksandrovich was the eldest son and heir apparent (tsesarevich) of the tsarevitch Aleksandr Aleksandrovich (emperor as Alexander III from 1881) and his consort Maria Fyodorovna (Dagmar of Denmark). Succeeding his father on November 1, 1894, he was crowned tsar in Moscow on May 26, 1896.

Neither by upbringing nor by temperament was Nicholas fitted for the complex tasks that awaited him as autocratic ruler of a vast empire. He had received a military education from his tutor, and his tastes and interests were those of the average young Russian officers of his day. He had few intellectual pretensions but delighted in physical exercise and the trappings of army life: uniforms, insignia, parades. Yet on formal occasions he felt ill at ease. Though he possessed great personal charm, he was by nature timid he shunned close contact with his subjects, preferring the privacy of his family circle. His domestic life was serene. To his wife, Alexandra, whom he had married on November 26, 1894, Nicholas was passionately devoted. She had the strength of character that he lacked, and he fell completely under her sway. Under her influence he sought the advice of spiritualists and faith healers, most notably Grigori Rasputin, who eventually acquired great power over the imperial couple.

Nicholas also had other irresponsible favourites, often men of dubious probity who provided him with a distorted picture of Russian life, but one that he found more comforting than that contained in official reports. He distrusted his ministers, mainly because he felt them to be intellectually superior to himself and feared they sought to usurp his sovereign prerogatives. His view of his role as autocrat was childishly simple: he derived his authority from God, to whom alone he was responsible, and it was his sacred duty to preserve his absolute power intact. He lacked, however, the strength of will necessary in one who had such an exalted conception of his task. In pursuing the path of duty, Nicholas had to wage a continual struggle against himself, suppressing his natural indecisiveness and assuming a mask of self-confident resolution. His dedication to the dogma of autocracy was an inadequate substitute for a constructive policy, which alone could have prolonged the imperial regime.

Soon after his accession Nicholas proclaimed his uncompromising views in an address to liberal deputies from the zemstvos, the self-governing local assemblies, in which he dismissed as “senseless dreams” their aspirations to share in the work of government. He met the rising groundswell of popular unrest with intensified police repression. In foreign policy, his naïveté and lighthearted attitude toward international obligations sometimes embarrassed his professional diplomats for example, he concluded an alliance with the German emperor William II during their meeting at Björkö in July 1905, although Russia was already allied with France, Germany’s traditional enemy.

Nicholas was the first Russian sovereign to show personal interest in Asia, visiting in 1891, while still tsesarevich, India, China, and Japan later he nominally supervised the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway. His attempt to maintain and strengthen Russian influence in Korea, where Japan also had a foothold, was partly responsible for the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05). Russia’s defeat not only frustrated Nicholas’s grandiose dreams of making Russia a great Eurasian power, with China, Tibet, and Persia under its control, but also presented him with serious problems at home, where discontent grew into the revolutionary movement of 1905.

Nicholas considered all who opposed him, regardless of their views, as malicious conspirators. Disregarding the advice of his future prime minister Sergey Yulyevich Witte, he refused to make concessions to the constitutionalists until events forced him to yield more than might have been necessary had he been more flexible. On March 3, 1905, he reluctantly agreed to create a national representative assembly, or Duma, with consultative powers, and by the manifesto of October 30 he promised a constitutional regime under which no law was to take effect without the Duma’s consent, as well as a democratic franchise and civil liberties. Nicholas, however, cared little for keeping promises extracted from him under duress. He strove to regain his former powers and ensured that in the new Fundamental Laws (May 1906) he was still designated an autocrat. He furthermore patronized an extremist right-wing organization, the Union of the Russian People, which sanctioned terrorist methods and disseminated anti-Semitic propaganda. Witte, whom he blamed for the October Manifesto, was soon dismissed, and the first two Dumas were prematurely dissolved as “insubordinate.”

Pyotr Arkadyevich Stolypin, who replaced Witte and carried out the coup of June 16, 1907, dissolving the second Duma, was loyal to the dynasty and a capable statesman. But the emperor distrusted him and allowed his position to be undermined by intrigue. Stolypin was one of those who dared to speak out about Rasputin’s influence and thereby incurred the displeasure of the empress. In such cases Nicholas generally hesitated but ultimately yielded to Alexandra’s pressure. To prevent exposure of the scandalous hold Rasputin had on the imperial family, Nicholas interfered arbitrarily in matters properly within the competence of the Holy Synod, backing reactionary elements against those concerned about the Orthodox church’s prestige.


Nicholas II – The Last Tsar of Russia

Nicholas II of Russia, or Nikolay Alexandrovich Romanov (19 May 1868 &ndash 17 July 1918) was the last Tsar of Russia, King of Poland, and Grand Duke of Finland. He ruled from 1894 until his forced abdication in 1917. Nicholas proved unable to manage a country in political turmoil and command his army in World War I. His rule ended with the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Nicholas and his family were imprisoned first in the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. The family was later moved to the Governor's Mansion in Tobolsk and finally to the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg. On the night of 16/17 July 1918, Nicholas and his family were shot by Bolsheviks. Nicholas's full name was Nikolay Aleksandrovich Romanov. His official title was Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russia. He is sometimes referred to as Nicholas the Martyr due to his execution and as Bloody Nicholas because of the tragic events during his coronation, Bloody Sunday. As a result of his canonization, he has been regarded as Saint Nicholas The Passion Bearer by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Nicholas was born in Tsarskoye Selo, the eldest son of Emperor Alexander III and Maria Fyodorovna of Denmark. A sensitive child, Nicholas felt intimidated by the strength of his father, Alexander III, though Nicholas adored him and would often speak of him nostalgically in letters and diaries after Alexander's death. Nicholas and his mother, Maria Fyodorovna, were very close, as can be seen in their letters to one another. Nicholas had three brothers: Alexander (1869-1870), George (1871-1899) and Michael (1878-1918) and two sisters: Xenia (1875-1960) and Olga (1882-1960).

Nicholas became Tsesarevich unexpectedly on 1 March 1881 on the assassination of his grandfather, Alexander II and accession of his father, Alexander III.

Nicholas was educated by tutors. There were language tutors, geography tutors and a whiskered dancing tutor who wore white gloves and insisted that a huge pot of fresh flowers always be placed on his accompanist's piano. Of all the tutors the most important was Constantine Petrovich Pobedonostsev, a brilliant philosopher. Pobesdonostsev has been called 'The High Priest of Social Stagnation' and 'the dominant and most baleful influence of the last reign'. Pobesdonostsev had been tutor to the children of Alexander II. Alexander III was his faithful student. When Alexander III mounted the throne, Pobesdonostsev already held the position of Procurator of the Holy Synod, or lay head of the Russian Orthodox Church. In addition he assumed the position of tutor of the future Nicholas II.

In many respects, the education of Nicholas was excellent. He had an unusual memory and had done well in history. He spoke French and German, and his English was so good that he could have fooled an Oxford professor into mistaking him for an Englishman. He rode beautifully, danced gracefully and was an excellent shot. He had been taught to keep a diary and, in the style of innumerable princes and gentlemen of that era, he faithfully recorded, day after day, the state of the weather, the number of birds he shot and the names of those with whom he walked and dined.


In May 1890, a few days before his twenty-second birthday, Nicholas wrote in his diary, "Today I finished definitely and forever my education." Most of the time, Nicholas was required to do absolutely nothing. The essential function of a tsarevich, once he had finished his schooling and reached manhood, was to wait as discreetly as possible until it came his turn to become tsar.

Known as "Nicky" to his close family and friends, Tsesarevitch Nicholas fell in love with Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt, the fourth daughter of Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by the Rhine and Princess Alice of the United Kingdom, second eldest daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, in 1884. He was sixteen she was just twelve. They met again in 1890, when he was 21 and she 17 the ages when men and young women fall in love. His parents, however, did not approve of this match, hoping to cement Russia's new alliance with France. They had hoped that Nicholas would marry Princess Hélène, the daughter of Count Philippe of the House of Orléans.

As Tsesarevich, Nicholas did a considerable amount of traveling. During a notable trip to the Empire of Japan, a failed assassination attempt by a sword-wielding man left him with a scar on his forehead. The quick action of his cousin, Prince George of Greece, who parried the second blow with his cane, saved his life. The motivation for this attack was that the assailant was offended by a foreigner visiting a very holy temple which had never before admitted a non-believer. The incident had an unfortunate historical effect in that Nicholas detested Japan ever after and supported war with that country all the more readily in 1904-5, resulting in the disastrous naval Battle of Tsushima.

Nicholas became engaged to Alix of Hesse in April 1894. He at first had some trouble convincing her to become his fiancee, because an Empress of Russia was required to convert to Russian Orthodoxy, and Alix was Lutheran. Eventually however, Alix's ardor for Nicholas won over, and they became engaged on April 8th 1894. Alix converted to Orthodoxy in November 1894, and took the name Alexandra Fedorovna.

Eighteen ninety-four saw a rapid decline in the health of Alexander III. Expecting he would live for 20 or 30 more years, Alexander had idled in giving his son political training and as a result Nicholas received little grooming for his imperial role. Nicholas was a polite and charming child but lacking in any interest or curiosity in his tutors' lessons. Even when the Tsar did decide to initiate Nicholas into State business, Nicholas lost interest after only about twenty minutes in State Council sessions and left to see friends at cafes. Alexander died at the age of 49 in 1894 of kidney disease after an unexpectedly rapid deterioration of health. Nicholas felt so unprepared for the duties of the crown that he tearfully asked his cousin, "What is going to happen to me and all of Russia?" He nevertheless decided to maintain the conservative policies favored by his father. While Alexander had concentrated on the formulation of general policy, Nicholas devoted much more attention to the details of administration.

Russo-Japanese war and 1905 revolution

A clash between Russia and Japan was almost inevitable by the turn of the 20th century. Russia had expanded in the East, and the growth of her settlement and territorial ambitions, as her southward path to the Balkans was frustrated, conflicted with Japan's own territorial ambitions on the Chinese and Asian mainland. War began in 1904 with a surprise attack on the Russian fleet in Port Arthur, which incapacitated the Russian navy in the East. The Russian Baltic fleet tried to traverse the world to balance power in the East, but after many misadventures en route, was annihilated by the Japanese in the Battle of the Tsushima Strait. On land the Russians army was crippled by mismanagement and by the problem of conducting a war, with only the Trans-Siberian Railway as a carrier of supplies from the West. The war ended in total defeat for Russia with the fall of Port Arthur in 1905, and the settlement of both countries' quarrels by the Treaty of Portsmouth.

As a result, Russia's self-esteem received a severe blow and the Imperial government collapsed, with the ensuing revolutionary outbreaks of 1905-1906. Many demonstrators were shot in front of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg the Emperor's Uncle, Grand Duke Sergei, was blown up by a revolutionary's bomb in Moscow as he left the Kremlin.

On Epiphany Day, Thursday, 19 January 1905, the traditional Blessing of the Waters was held on the Neva River just in front of the Winter Palace. As usual, a dais had been built on the ice for the Tsar, his retinue, and the clergy. Members of the imperial family watched the ceremony from the windows of the palace. A cannon employed in the ceremonial salute fired a live charge which landed near the Tsar and wounded a policeman. Another charge hit the Admiralty, A third smashed a window in the palace - a bare few yards away fromt the Dowager Empress and the Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna - and glass splinters went all over their shoes and skirts. Through the broken window they could hear shouts from below.

On Saturday, 21 January 1905, a priest named George Gapon informed the government that a march would take place the following day and asked that the Tsar be present to receive a petition. The ministers met hurriedly to consider the problem. There was never any thought that the Tsar, who was at Tsarskoe Selo and had been told of neither the march nor the petition, would actually be asked to meet Gapon. The suggestion that some other member of the Imperial family receive the petition was rejected. Finally informed by the Prefect of Police that he lacked the men to pluck Gapon from among his followers and place him under arrest, the newly appointed Minster of the Interior, Prince Sviatopolk-Mirsky, and his colleagues could think of nothing to do except bring additional troops into the city and hope that matters would not get out of hand.

On Sunday, 22nd January 1905, Father Gapon began his march. Locking arms, the workers marched peacefully through the streets in rivers of cheerful, expectant humanity. Some carried crosses and banners, others carried national flags and portraits of the Tsar. As they walked they sang religious hymns and the Imperial anthem, 'God Save The Tsar'. At 2PM all of the converging processions were scheduled to arrive at the Winter Palace. There was no single confrontation with the troops. Throughout the city, at bridges on strategic boulevards, the marchers found their way blocked by lines of infantry, backed by Cossacks and Hussars. Uncertain what this meant, still not expecting violence, anxious not to be late to see the Tsar, the processions moved forward. In the moment of horror, the soldiers opened fire. Bullets smacked into the bodies of men, women and children. Crimson blotches stained the snow. The official number of victims was ninety-two dead and several hundred wounded the actual number was probably several times higher. Gapon vanished and the other leaders of the march were seized. Expelled from the capital, they circulated through the empire, exaggerating the casualties into thousands. That day, which became known as 'Bloody Sunday', was a turning point in Russian history. It shattered the ancient, legendary belief that the Tsar and the people were one. As bullets riddled their icons, their banners and their portraits of Nicholas, the people shrieked, "The Tsar will not help us!" Outside Russia, the future British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald attacked the Tsar calling him a "blood-stained creature and a common murderer".

From his hiding place, Father Gapon issued a letter. He stated, "Nicholas Romanov, formerly Tsar and at present soul-murderer of the Russian empire. The innocent blood of workers, their wives and children lies forever between you and the Russian people . May all the blood which must be spilled fall upon you, you Hangman. I call upon all the socialist parties of Russia to come to an immediate agreement among themselves and bring an armed uprising against Tsarism." Gapon's body was found hanging in an abandoned cottage in Finland in April 1906.

In the October Manifesto, the tsar pledged to introduce basic civil liberties, provide for broad participation in the State Duma, and endow the Duma with legislative and oversight powers. However, determined to preserve "autocracy" even in the context of reform, he restricted the Duma's authority in many ways&mdashnot least of which was an absence of parliamentary control over the appointment or dismissal of cabinet ministers. Nicholas's relations with the Duma were not good. The First Duma, with a majority of Kadets, almost immediately came into conflict with him. Scarcely had the 524 members sat down at the Tauride Palace when they formulated an 'Address to the Throne'. It demanded universal suffrage, radical land reform, the release of all political prisoners and the dismissal of ministers appointed by the Tsar in favor of ministers acceptable to the Duma. Although Nicholas initially had a good relationship with his relatively liberal prime minister, Sergei Witte, Alexandra distrusted him (because he instigated an investigation of Rasputin), and as the political situation deteriorated, Nicholas dissolved the Duma. The Duma was populated with radicals, many of whom wished to push through legislation that would abolish private property ownership, among other things.

After the Second Duma resulted in similar problems, the new prime minister Pyotr Stolypin (whom Witte described as 'reactionary') unilaterally dissolved it, and changed the electoral laws to allow for future Dumas to have a more conservative content, and to be dominated by the liberal-conservative Octobrist Party of Alexander Guchkov. Stolypin, a skillful politician, had ambitious plans for reform. These included making loans available to the lower classes to enable them to buy land, with the intent of forming a farming class loyal to the crown.

The first World War was a complete and utter disaster for Russia. By the autumn of 1916, among the Romanov family desperation reached the point of which Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich, younger brother of Alexander III and the Tsar's only surviving uncle was deputed to beg Nicholas to grant a constitution and a government responsible to the Duma. Nicholas sternly refused, reproaching his uncle for asking him to break his coronation oath to maintain autocratic power intact for his successors. In the Duma on 2 December 1916, Purishkevich, a fervent patriot, monarchist and war worker denounced the dark forces which surrounded the throne in a thunderous two hour speech which was tumultuously applauded. 'Revolution' he warned 'and an obscure peasant shall govern Russia no longer'.

There was mounting hardship as the government failed to produce supplies, creating massive riots and rebellions. With Nicholas away at the front in 1915, authority appeared to collapse (Empress Alexandra ran the government from Saint Petersburg from 1915 - initially with Rasputin, who was later assassinated), and St. Petersburg was left in the hands of strikers. Despite efforts by the British Ambassador Sir George Buchanan to warn the Tsar that he should grant constitutional reforms to fend-off revolution, Nicholas continued to bury himself away at the town of Moghilev (about 400 miles) away from the Russian capital, leaving it open to intrigues and insurrection.

By the spring of 1917, Russia was on the verge of total collapse. The army had taken 15 million men from the farms and food prices had soared. The severe winter dealt with railways, overburdened by emergency shipments of coal and supplies, the final blow. Russia began the war with 20,000 locomotives by 1917 9,000 were in service, while the number of serviceable railway wagons had dwindled from half a million to 170,000.

In February 1917 in Petrograd (as the capital had been renamed) a combination of very severe cold weather allied with acute food shortages caused people to start to break shop windows to get bread and other necessaries. Police started to shoot at the populace from rooftops which incited riots. The troops in the capital were poorly-motivated and their officers had no reason to be loyal to the regime. They were angry and full of revolutionary fervor and sided with the populace. The Tsar's Cabinet begged Nicholas to return to the capital and offered to resign completely. Five hundred miles away the Tsar, misinformed by Protopopov that the situation was under control, ordered that firm steps be taken against the demonstrators. For this task the Petrograd garrison was quite unsuitable. Nicholas informed of the situation by Rodzianko ordered reinforcements to the capital and suspended the Duma. It was all too late.

On 12 March the Volinsky regiment mutinied and was quickly followed by the Semonovsky, the Ismailovsky, the Litovsky and even the legendary Preobrajensky Guard, the oldest and staunchest regiment founded by Peter the Great. The arsenal was pillaged, the Ministry of the Interior, Military Government building, police headquarters, the Law Courts and a score of police buildings were put to the torch. By noon the fortress of Peter and Paul with its heavy artillery was in the hands of the insurgents. By nightfall 60,000 soldiers had joined the revolution. Order broke down and members of the Parliament (Duma) formed a Provisional Government to try to restore order but it was impossible to turn the tide of revolutionary change. At the end of the "February Revolution" of 1917 (February in the Old Russian Calendar), on 2 March (Julian Calendar)/ 15 March (Gregorian Calendar), 1917, Nicholas II was forced to abdicate. He firstly abdicated in favor of Tsarevich Alexis, but swiftly changed his mind after advice from doctors that the heir would not live long apart from his parents who would be forced into exile. Nicholas drew up a new manifesto naming his brother, Grand Duke Michael, as the next Emperor of all the Russia. He issued the following statement (which was suppressed by the Provisional Government):

&ldquo In the days of the great struggle against the foreign enemies, who for nearly three years have tried to enslave our fatherland, the Lord God has been pleased to send down on Russia a new heavy trial. Internal popular disturbances threaten to have a disastrous effect on the future conduct of this persistent war. The destiny of Russia, the honor of our heroic army, the welfare of the people and the whole future of our dear fatherland demand that the war should be brought to a victorious conclusion whatever the cost. The cruel enemy is making his last efforts, and already the hour approaches when our glorious army together with our gallant allies will crush him. In these decisive days in the life of Russia, We thought it Our duty of conscience to facilitate for Our people the closest union possible and a consolidation of all national forces for the speedy attainment of victory. In agreement with the Imperial Duma We have thought it well to renounce the Throne of the Russian Empire and to lay down the supreme power. As We do not wish to part from Our beloved son, We transmit the succession to Our brother, the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, and give Him Our blessing to mount the Throne of the Russian Empire. We direct Our brother to conduct the affairs of state in full and inviolable union with the representatives of the people in the legislative bodies on those principles which will be established by them, and on which He will take an inviolable oath.

In the name of Our dearly beloved homeland, We call on Our faithful sons of the fatherland to fulfill their sacred duty to the fatherland, to obey the tsar in the heavy moment of national trials, and to help Him, together with the representatives of the people, to guide the Russian Empire on the road to victory, welfare, and glory. May the Lord God help Russia! &rdquo

Grand Duke Mikhail declined to accept the throne until the people were allowed to vote through a Constituent Assembly for the continuance of the monarchy or a republic. Contrary to popular belief, Mikhail never abdicated, he deferred taking up power. The abdication of Nicholas II and the subsequent bolshevik revolution brought three centuries of the Romanov dynasty's rule to an end. It also paved the way for massive destruction of Russian culture with the closure and demolition of many churches and monasteries, the theft of valuables and estates from the former aristocracy and the suppression of religious and folk art forms.

In Russia the announcement of the Tsar's abdication was greeted with many emotions. These included delight, relief, fear, anger and confusion.

On 22 March 1917, Nicholas, Tsar no longer, referred to contemptuously by the sentries as 'Nicholas Romanov', was reunited with his family at the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo. He was placed under house arrest with his family by the Provisional Government. Surrounded by his guards, confined to their quarters, the Imperial family was rudely inspected on Nicholas's first night back at home. The ex-Tsar remained calm and dignified and even insisted on the children resuming their lesson with himself as tutor in history and geography.

In August 1917 the Kerensky government evacuated the Romanovs to Tobolsk in the Urals, allegedly to protect them from the rising tide of revolution. There they lived in the former Governor's Mansion in considerable comfort.

After the Bolsheviks came to power in October 1917, the conditions of their imprisonment grew stricter and talk of putting Nicholas on trial grew more frequent. He continued to underestimate Lenin's importance but already began to feel that his abdication had done Russia more harm than good. In the meantime he and his family occupied themselves with keeping warm. The temperature in December dropped to 68oF below zero. Soviet domination now meant more spiteful restrictions. On 1 March 1918, the family was placed on soldier's rations, which meant parting with ten devoted servants and giving up butter and coffee as luxuries. As the counterrevolutionary White movement gathered strength, leading to full-scale civil war by the summer, Nicholas, Alexandra and their daughter Maria were moved in April to Yekaterinburg. Alexis was too ill to accompany his parents and remained with his sisters Olga, Tatiana and Anastasia, not leaving Tobolsk until May 1918. The family was imprisoned with a few remaining retainers in the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg, a militant Bolshevik stronghold. Nicholas, Alexandra, their children, their physician, and three servants were woken and taken into a basement room and shot at 2:33 A.M. on July 17. An official announcement appeared in the national press two days after the killing of the tsar and his family. It informed that the monarch had been executed on the order of the Presidium of the Ural Regional Soviet under pressure posed by the approach of the Czechoslovaks.


The bodies of Nicholas and his family, after being soaked in acid and burned, were long believed to have been disposed of down a mineshaft at a site called the Four Brothers. Initially, this was true &mdash they had indeed been disposed of there on the night of July 17. The following morning &mdash when rumours spread in Yekaterinburg regarding the disposal site &mdash Yurovsky removed the bodies and concealed them elsewhere. When the vehicle carrying the bodies broke down on the way to the next chosen site, Yurovsky made new arrangements, and buried most of the bodies in a sealed and concealed pit on Koptyaki Road, a cart track (now abandoned) 12 miles (19 km) north of Yekaterinburg. The remains of all the family and their retainers with the exception of two of the children were later found in 1991 and reburied by the Russian government following a state funeral. The process to identify the remains was exhaustive. Samples were sent to Britain and the United States for DNA testing. The tests concluded that five of the skeletons were members of one family and four were unrelated. Three of the five were determined to be the children of two parents. The mother was linked to the British royal family, as was Alexandra. (Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, grandson of Alexandra's oldest sister Victoria, Marchioness of Milford-Haven, gave a DNA sample which matched with that of the remains) The father was determined to be related to Grand Duke George Alexandrovich, younger brother of Nicholas II. British scientists said they were more than 98.5% sure that the remains were those of the Emperor, his family and their attendants. Relics from the Ōtsu Scandal (a failed assassination attempt on Tsarevich Nicholas (future Nicholas II) in Japan) failed to provide sufficient evidence due to contamination.

A ceremony of Christian burial was held 80 years to the day of their death in 1998. The bodies were laid to rest with state honors in the St. Catherine Chapel in the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul in St. Petersburg, where all other Russian Emperors since Peter the Great lie. President and Mrs. Yeltsin attended the funeral along with Romanov relations including Prince Michael of Kent. The last Imperial Family of Russia have been made saints not only by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad but also by Patriarch Alexis II of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow.

On August 23, 2007, prosecutors acting on standard procedures have reopened the investigation surrounding the deaths of the Imperial Family. Yekaterinburg researcher Sergei Pogorelov said that "bones found in a burned area of ground near Yekaterinburg belong to a boy and a young woman roughly the ages of Nicholas&rsquo 13-year-old hemophiliac son, Alexei, and a daughter whose remains also never have been found." A regional forensic scientist, Nikolai Nevolin explained that testing will be conducted on the newly discovered remains. On 28 September it was announced by the regional authorities that it was "highly probable" the remains belonged to Alexei and one of his sisters.


The Romanov Family's Demise: A Lack Of "Peace, Bread And Land"

The 300-year Romanov dynasty came to a grinding halt in 1917. In an incredibly quick fashion, two revolutions ousted the House of Romanov and stamped out the Provisional Government taking the Romanovs' place, ultimately replacing it with a Communist government later that year.

Such an astonishing sequence of events was not entirely unforeseen. Tsar Nicholas II, whom many considered to be a credulous man and a weak political leader, presided over a time of great change.

By the early 20th century, Russia had entered a period of rapid industrialization that mainly benefited foreign investors and landowners, and people began to pour into towns and factories at incredibly high rates.

Flax factory in 1905. Source: Lib Com

Russia had not prepared for such shifts. Millions of industrial workers now lived within Russia and started to form a new social class, the industrial proletariat, which demanded better wages and conditions than the rural peasants with which Russia was previously familiar.

By 1914 -- seven months before World War I broke out -- over 4,000 worker strikes occurred, largely in protest of extreme economic inequality and against an autocratic regime that seemed ill-disposed to do anything that would improve the livelihoods of this ever-growing industrial class.

World War I exacerbated impoverishment and class-based animosities as an already-fractured Russia suffered terrible losses both on the field and within its factories.

Russia's industrial output plummeted, its army lacked the equipment necessary to stand a chance against the Germans, and casualty and soldier desertion numbers soared. Many Russians looked to Tsar Nicholas II -- who, lacking the military chops to do the job right, foolishly made himself commander of the armed forces -- as the primary source of their starvation.

As Nicholas II expanded his epic losing streak to Prussia and left his wife Alexandra -- a German under the influence of an unpopular "monk" named Rasputin -- in charge of Russian cities, civil discontent swelled and others attempted to capture the loyalty of the hungry and disillusioned Russian populace to advance their own cause.

One such person was Vladimir Lenin, who while in exile in Switzerland campaigned against the war and called upon Russians to turn the "imperialist war into civil war."

Vladimir Lenin, 1917. Source: Britannica

And it soon happened. Extreme hunger, bitter cold, and runaway inflation drove citizens to the streets in what became known as the February Revolution in Petrograd. Nicholas called on police to control the situation, but they instead joined the strikers.

The soldiers, now wise to the fact the Nicholas' strategies were seldom winners, followed police and refused to fulfill the Tsar's request that they tamp down the strikers. This, coupled with the massive losses incurred during World War One, led the Tsar -- lacking any real authority at this point -- to step down, leaving the Duma tasked with forming some semblance of government as all hell broke loose.

The start of the Russian Revolution on International Working Women's Day, 1917. Source: Marxists.org

What provisional governments they did manage to form dissolved within a year: War continued, living standards made no progress, and Lenin returned to Russia to help form the Petrograd Soviet, a labor-led council meant to oppose and bring down the Duma-crafted provisional government.

A gulag memorial along a Russian highway. Not long after the Romanovs were executed, Lenin demanded "mass terror" against his opponents and that "unreliable elements" must be locked up in concentration camps outside major towns. Over 14 million people were in forced labor camps from 1929 to 1953.

The Bolsheviks -- who ultimately killed the Romanov family in Ekaterinburg after convincing them that they were being led beneath the earth not for execution but protection -- stormed the Winter Palace, assumed control over the state and signed a preliminary armistice with Germany in December to bring the war to an end.

But after all the pains that millions of Russians made to remove themselves from the yoke of a decadent, oppressive dynasty, they fell for Lenin's promises of "peace, land and bread" and would soon find themselves under another oppressive regime that was arguably worse than the one that preceded it. Credulity struck Russia twice.

Enjoyed this look into the final days of the Romanov family? Check out our other posts on Imperial Russia in color and staggering photos of life inside North Korea.


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