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Nicholas II

 
Nicholas II. By G. Manizer

The last two Romanovs to rule Russia upheld similar principles and policies, but they differed markedly in character. Alexander III was a strong man, Nicholas II, a weak one. Under Nicholas (1868-1918, reigned 1894-1917) confusion and indecision further complicated the fundamentally wrong-headed efforts of the government.

Nicholas became Tsar in 1894 at the age of 26. He was, undoubtedly, a well-educated young man, spoke several European languages, but his tutoring was somewhat one-sided. He showed more interest in applied military subjects than in political and social  studies. The issues that agitated the educated society of the day left him cold. He was completely ignorant of the Narodnik and Marxist theories that caught the imagination of a considerable part of his progressively-minded subjects.

As a human being, Nicholas possessed certain attractive qualities. He was a simple and modest man, devoted to his family. Yet these positive personal traits mattered little in a situation that demanded strength, determination, adaptability and vision. Nicholas’ estimate of Russian conditions and needs became increasingly unreal. It may well be argued that another Peter the Great could have saved the Romanovs and imperial Russia. It is obvious, however, that the last tsar could not. A good man, but a miserable ruler lost in the moment of crisis, Nicholas did not possess the necessary qualities to rescue the archaic, rotten Russian system from imminent collapse.

The home background of Nicholas’ childhood years may hold a key to understanding much of his political behavior as Russia’s Sovereign. He was 13 years old when his grandfather was mutilated by the ‘People’s Will’ bomb. There can be no doubt, that this incident must have been one of the strongest and most decisive impressions of his childhood. Alexander II’s tragic death was followed by repeated attempts to revive the spirit of the ‘People’s Will’ in new terrorist organizations which appeared one after another, plotting new assassinations, including attempts on the life of Nicholas’ father, Alexander III.

Strict security measures at the palace of Gatchina in the suburbs of St Petersburg, where his family had spent virtually all the years of his father’s reign, rare trips into the capital and a narrow circle of acquaintances formed the background to the daily life of the future Russian Emperor. Few people around him could provide the Prince with a truthful picture of the country’s life, and least of all his mother, a Danish princess, who often had a less than adequate understanding of what was happening. She sincerely blamed the ‘nihilists’ for all the troubles in the country. 

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