1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Nicholas II.

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NICHOLAS II. (1868–1918), Tsar of Russia (see 19.655). In view of the tragic end of the Tsar Nicholas II. and his family, in the Russian revolution, it may be noted that, even in the lifetime of his father, Alexander III., his mind had been deeply imbued by mystic belief in divine rights and providential guidance, and he was prepared to suffer and to endure, if necessary, in carrying out the duties of his office. His intellectual preparation as heir to the throne was very insufficient. As the second son he had been left in the background for some time, and even when it became clear that his elder brother, George, was doomed to untimely death by consumption, no special efforts were made to prepare him for his task by any elaborate teaching. An English tutor, Mr. Heath, taught him indeed good English, and inspired a love of sports and healthy exercise, while a Russian general, Danilovitch, supervised his military training, but there was no attempt to provide him with the comprehensive knowledge required from one whom fate had destined to rule an immense empire. The only occasion which was offered to the young Tsarevitch to acquaint himself with the problems of the world was his journey to the Far East, so abruptly cut short in Kioto by the sabre cut of a Japanese fanatic. It is not to be wondered at that Nicholas II. 's range of ideas was not very wide or profound, although he was by no means unintelligent and possessed in high degree the royal habit to move with ease and tact in complicated personal surroundings. His disposition towards fatalistic mysticism made him particularly amenable to the promptings of superstitious and irrational suggestion. He told Stolypin on one occasion, when he had to take an important decision, that he was loth to do so, because he was sure that his interference .would be accompanied by bad luck; he saw a warning in the fact that he had been born on May 6, the day when the Church honoured the memory of Job; he was predestinated to say with Job: "As soon as I apprehend a danger, it occurs, and all the misfortunes dreaded by me come over me." His career was bent with many dismal predestinations of every kind. He wedded Princess Alix of Hesse, at the death-bed of his father; at the festival of his Coronation more than three thousand people were crushed to death through the negligence of the officials who had to arrange a distribution of bounties; and during the Coronation itself the imperial chain on his breast fell to the ground. Such impressions contributed strongly to inspire him with a mystic resignation, especially unsuitable for a monarch who had to lead the nation through times of great crisis at home and in foreign affairs.

Nicholas II.'s political outlook was dominated by a kind of theocratic or hieratic spirit; he was looking back for inspirations to the ideas and customs of the Moscovite period; he was induced to impersonate the figure of Alexis Mikhailovitch, the father of the western reformer Peter the Great; in 1913 the tercentenary of Michail Feodorovitch's accession to the throne after the " Great Troubles " was celebrated with great splendour and emphasis. Pilgrimages were performed with great devotion and circumstance.

The courtiers and bureaucrats in the immediate surroundings of the Tsar, men like Sipiaguin, Nicolas Maklakov, and Sabler, took advantage of these prepossessions in order to keep up a constant hostility against progressive reformers and western adaptations. But the most dangerous representative of mystic reaction was the Tsar's consort, the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. Of German descent on her father's, side and of English descent on the side of her mother (Princess Alice, the daughter of Queen Victoria), she had received her education in England, but, on coming to Russia, she surrendered completely to the most extreme form of theocratic exaltation. While her sister, the widow of the Grand Duke Sergius, killed by a terrorist, had devoted herself to an almost 'monastic life at the head of a community of, hospital nurses, Alexandra Feodorovna, highly strung and hysterical, sought providential guidance in the midst of unbalanced women and false prophets like the French medium Philippe and the famous Rasputin. The latter obtained a hold on her through the hypnotizing influence he exercised over her son, the Tsarevitch Alexis, a boy affected by the rare disease of hereditary haemophilia. But the crafty peasant had contrived to obtain gradually a psychical domination over the Empress and her friends which made it possible for him to distribute political favours and to have his say in the most important affairs of State. The Empress considered him as the God-sent representative of the Russian nation, of that mass of peasants which, as she was convinced, was the firm mainstay of autocracy in Russia. And in the later years of Nicholas II.'s reign, the years of great trial and danger, Alexandra Feodorovna stepped in more and more often to direct the Tsar's choice of his ministers and to prevent him from making concessions to the spirit of the time.

The suspicion that Alexandra Feodorovna was secretly favouring the cause of Germany and revealing military secrets to the Kaiser a suspicion often expressed abroad and popularly accepted in Russia is, according to most competent witnesses, devoid of any basis in fact. The Empress was intensely patriotic in her own way, opposed to the aggressive policy of the Hohenzollerns, and never advocated a treacherous compromise with the Central Powers. A former lady-in-waiting, Princess Vassiltchikov, who towards the close of 1916 brought the project of such a compromise from Germany was promptly ordered out of Petrograd. Nevertheless, Alexandra Feodorovna proved to be the evil genius of the Russian dynasty, by her blind and obstinate support of reactionary tendencies and of worthless adventurers, at a time when a wise and firm policy of reform was more needed than ever. All the better representatives of the dynasty the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, the Grand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovitch, the Grand Duchess Victoria, warned the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of the imminent danger of that regime of fleeting ministerial shadows which set in after the catastrophe of the War Office in 1915.

The Emperor remained passive as commander-in-chief at headquarters while the Empress Alexandra spurned all advice with contempt and continued to pull the strings by dismissing men h'ke Sazonov and Palivanov, and appointing timeservers like Sturmer, Protopopov, or Galitzin. The assassination of Rasputin did not frighten but enraged her; sh^ erected a kind of shrine over the body of the prophet and sent the Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovitch, who had taken part in the murder, into exile. Her power was broken only by the revolution.

The thread of the Romanov dynasty was cut without much resistance. When in March 1917 the Emperor received at head-quarters a telegram from the president of the Duma informing him of the events of Petrograd and demanding his abdication, and MM. Gutchkov and Shulgin arrived with the act of abdication itself, he submitted with fatalistic composure. He refused to give up his crown to his son with Grand Duke Michael as regent, because he did not wish to trust the boy to the danger of a political storm; and his abdication was made in favour of the Grand Duke Michael, who in his turn refused to accept the crown unless it was tendered to him by the will of the people. The last chance of a regime of constitutional monarchy was cut short. Proposals were made on behalf of the British Government to allow Nicholas II. and his family to take up their abode in England; but the Provisional Government in Petrograd did not accede to that plan. Kerensky and Milyukov declared that the imperial family were in safety in Russia. Later on the Emperor submitted meekly to be transferred from Pskov to Tsarskoe Selo and then to Tobolsk, where he was interned with his family his wife, his son and his four daughters for months.

The life in Tobolsk has been described by a French tutor, M. Gillard, who followed the imperial family into exile. All the qualities of the unfortunate prisoners of State came to the fore in these sad times. The Tsar taught his son history and Russian literature, the family circle assembled in the evening to read and converse, they prayed and attended the church services with touching devotion. In Ekaterinburg, where they were transferred by the Bolsheviks in 1918, their captivity assumed an oppressive form. They were huddled together in an apartment consisting of two bedrooms and one sitting-room. Their guard consisted mainly of Lettish soldiers, while Russians were kept on the outskirts of the house; they had to listen to the uproar and the ribald songs of their watchmen; the walls of the sitting-room were covered with obscene drawings and inscriptions; the head gaoler, Yourkovsky, was a fanatical communist, a Jew, who harboured feelings of fierce hatred against the potentates of Holy Russia.

The end came in connexion with Kolchak's advance on the Ural in 1918. The Soviet of Commissaries in Moscow enjoined the greatest vigilance to the Ekaterinburg commissar, Yourkovsky, and the commander of the guard, Medvediev, without indicating any means for removing the prisoners from the threatened zone. The communists of Ekaterinburg held a secret meeting in which they decided to put the Tsar and his family to death, and sent an order in this sense to Yourkovsky. The latter demanded that it should be duly signed, and 16 signatures were affixed to it. On the night of July 16 Yourkovsky roused the prisoners and conducted them into a cellar of the house. Medvediev, with the Lettish guards, entered the room while some Russian soldiers were looking in from the staircase. Yourkovsky placed the seven doomed persons at one end of the room and read the sentence hurriedly by torchlight. The Tsar stepped forward and said something indistinctly, when Yourkovsky drew his revolver and shot him in the head. A general fusillade followed, and not content with this, the executioners pierced the bodies with their bayonets and struck them with the butt-end of their rifles. The Grand Duchess Tatiana is said to have recovered consciousness for a while, but she was struck down once more and for ever. Besides the seven members of the imperial family four of their attendants were probably slaughtered the same night. In the course of the next few days the corpses were removed to an isolated spot in the neighbourhood of Ekaterinburg and destroyed by fire, after having been soaked with petroleum. A few objects of apparel were later picked up on the spot. (P. Vi.)