It was absolutely astonishing to learn that not only did Nicholas II abdicate illegally, but that this illegal abdication also threw both his only son and only surviving brother under the bus. He was always a weak Tsar (though not history’s worst), but his final act in power was just the pièce de résistance in the evidence proving how naïve and out of touch he was.
I honestly can’t even compare him to someone like Herbert Hoover or George Bush, Sr., who probably would’ve been better presidents in different circumstances, without so much working against them. Nicholas, while a really good person in private life, just wasn’t cut out to rule in any era, under any circumstances.
Possibly he would’ve been a decent constitutional monarch had he been born in a place like Great Britain or The Netherlands, but he was born into an autocratic empire where the majority of those in power saw no reason to update the rules at all. It speaks volumes how just about everyone in the Imperial Family was agitating for his abdication by the end. You know a revolution is brewing when those with the most invested in the status quo are clamouring for change.
The mere fact that Nicholas abdicated wasn’t illegal. That had been done before in Russian history, and wasn’t forbidden under the draconian House Laws. No one had ever abdicated since Tsar Pavel wrote those rules, but Grand Duke Konstantin refused the throne during the succession crisis of 1825 and got away with it. The throne just went to the much-younger Nikolay, the third of Pavel’s four sons and the ninth of his ten children.
What was illegal was the specific way in which he abdicated. I’m shocked anyone let him get away with it. Nicholas actually abdicated twice, which was ridiculous. He first abdicated properly, passing the throne to Aleksey with a Regency. Once he realized that meant they’d have to be separated, he tore up the first abdication and wrote another abdication letter removing both of them from the throne and offering it to his brother Mikhail.
Nicholas suddenly pessimistically believed Aleksey wouldn’t live very long, particularly not when separated from the parents who’d done everything to stay joined at the hip to him his entire life. After all he and Aleksandra did to not only have a son, but then keep that boy alive against the odds, through so many medical crises, he suddenly up and decides his heir isn’t long for the world after all and would be better-off staying with his family forever? Did he suddenly forget Aleksey had become so much stronger and healthier during the last few years, with more time between injuries, or that he’d always bounced back from the jaws of Death before?
If Nicholas felt it were important to change the order of succession and designate his own successor against the legal order, he should’ve revised the House Laws. He severely punished people such as his brother Mikhail and uncle Pavel for marrying commoners, refused to grant official permission to the unequal marriages of his nephews, and only gave his sister Olga permission to divorce and remarry a commoner in 1916, after years of begging and pleading. Suddenly, after blindly kowtowing to the rules and acting like an autocrat for his entire reign, he flings the rules aside instead of adhering to them up till his final moments? An honorable captain goes down with his ship instead of trying to escape at others’ expense.
Under the House Laws, a qualified dynast cannot be removed from the line of succession or bypassed during an abdication or succession crisis. Aleksey was all of 12 years old in February 1917, and had done absolutely nothing to disqualify himself. There were no age limits on who a qualified dynast was, and certainly he was too young to marry anyone or have some scandalous affair. Given the era and how sheltered he and his sisters were, he probably didn’t even know anything about such adult matters.
Once Nicholas abdicated, that should’ve been it. He had no more legal power to change his mind and draft a do-over.
Mikhail was quite surprised to have the throne dumped in his lap, without any sort of prior discussions. He was never expecting that turn of events at all. Some people were cheering him as the new Tsar before he even knew what had happened. He even got a lawyer involved, since he didn’t want to take away any of his nephew’s legal rights as heir. After all of 24 hours, he abdicated very peacefully and honorably, not wanting to take the throne unless a majority of the people chose him of their own free will. Mikhail would’ve made a very good constitutional monarch, and an excellent Regent for his nephew.
These three abdications shocked everyone. Even before the throne was offered to Mikhail, they’d been expecting Aleksey to come to the throne with a Regency.
1. The Russian people loved their heir and preferred him to his inept father!
2. Many contemporaries felt he would’ve been a much better Tsar than his father, since he was more sensitive to suffering, intelligent, empathetic, and had gotten appropriate experience from a young age. Ruling with sensitivity doesn’t automatically equate being a spineless pushover.
3. Who in their right mind would make war against a child?
4. There would’ve been qualified, experienced Regents, whom the people also far preferred to Nicholas. Thus, the Provisional Government would’ve remained, with no Bolshevik revolution.
5. Everyone would’ve felt compassion for an underage monarch, particularly if they’d known about his illness.
6. Being a young Tsar wouldn’t necessarily have been a disaster, particularly if he had the right people helping him instead of expecting him to rule by himself from his 16th birthday. Peter the Great also began as a very young Tsar, as did the awesome Fyodor III.
7. His hemophilia would’ve been better-managed outside of his parents’ often contradictory, facepalm-worthy attitude towards managing his disease. Evidence suggests they made it worse because they weren’t vigilant enough from the jump.
To be continued.