Tsar Nicholas II was the last tsar of Russia. He belonged to the Romanov dynasty, who ruled Russia between 1613 and 1917, and of whom Peter the Great and Catherine the Great were renowned political geniuses. The First World War and the Russian Revolution led to Nicholas II and his family’s downfall, which culminated in their execution in 1918.
After this, a period of civil war broke out, followed by a period of communism for decades.
Marriage and children
Grand Duke Nicholas Aleksandrovich was born on May 18, 1868, in Tsarskoye Selo, the first child of Tsar Alexander III and his wife, Maria Feodorovna.
Nicholas was a gentleman, preferring to spend time on his family life rather than on ceremonial duties.
In November 1894 — shortly after Nicholas succeeded his late father — he married the German princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt (1872–1918), who took the name Alexandra Fyodorovna after her marriage. Together the couple first had four daughters: Olga in 1895, Tatyana in 1897, Maria in 1899, and Anastasia in 1901, followed by their son Alexei in 1904. The birth of Alexei was important because of the required male succession to the throne.
Alexei was found to suffer from hemophilia, a disease in which bleeding does not automatically clot. This led to great unrest in the tsar’s family. Any bleeding from Alexei threatened the continued existence of the Romanov dynasty.
The prince would also be the reason why the deranged monk Grigori Rasputin was able to insert himself in the royal family’s inner circle, since he had cured Alexei. Still, above all, he was the guarantor of scandals and gossip about the royal family’s life from 1907 onwards.
Coronation in 1896
The sudden seizure of power in 1894 meant that the official coronation could not take place until a year and a half later, in May 1896. The preparation for the festivities in Moscow took a lot of time.
However, much worse was the disaster on the Khodynkaveld (near Moscow), where a big popular festival was celebrated on May 18, 1896. This disaster has come to be known as the Chodynka tragedy. Visitors could receive free coronation souvenirs at this folk festival, such as cups, glasses, and clothes. Before the party, rumors spread that larger gifts were also being distributed, such as cattle, horses, and even farmhouses.
These tasty messages caused a huge crowd of 500,000 people to come to the festivities. There were too many, and in the chaos that ensued, nearly 1,400 people were killed and another 1,300 injured. Nicholas and Alexandra decided to let the party continue. The preparation, especially the French ambassador’s planned ball, had cost an enormous amount of money, and it would be a shame to throw it away.
World War I and downfall
During his reign, Nicholas II fought two wars: the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), which was lost by Russia, and the First World War.
The First World War, in particular, was a catalyst in the process leading to the Russian Revolution. The Russian workforce losses (six million in early 1917) and food shortages were dramatic, and the call for an end to the war was growing louder. A crucial moment was Nicholas II’s choice to become commander-in-chief of the Russian army himself in 1915.
On the fronts, the Russian army suffered, while in Russia, the unpopular Alexandra and the deranged Rasputin ruled. In the media, wild rumors circulated about espionage by Alexandra (who was of German descent) and Rasputin.
Since the Ottoman Empire also took part in the war, the capture of Constantinople and the Turkish straits was the key to the overall victory for Nicholas II. This idealistic hubris, together with the tsar almost completely neglecting domestic politics, heralded Romanovs’ downfall.
Execution of the Romanovs
On July 17, 1918, during the Russian Revolution, Lenin‘s Bolsheviks ruthlessly put an end to Tsar Nicholas II’s life, along with that of his wife Alexandra Feodorovna and their five children Olga, Tatyana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei.
After the Romanov family’s death, rumors persisted for decades that one or more relatives had escaped and were still alive. These kinds of stories were circulated about Anastasia in particular. Several women claimed to be Anastasia, and many films and books have been published about her.
The most famous ‘Anastasia’ would become Anna Anderson. For more than sixty years, she insisted that she was the daughter of Nicholas II. In the end, DNA research showed that the statement could not be true.
In August 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church declared Nicholas II and his family saints ( strastoterpets ). In 2008, after identifying the other family members earlier, Maria and Alexei’s bodies were the last to be identified