Why Nicholas was a failure

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It really seems as though a lot of folks who don’t know much about Russian history give Nicholas and Aleksandra a pass just because of their tragic deaths, the fact that they were really good people in private life, their legendary love story, and the whole fascination surrounding the last (official) Tsar and his family. It’s fine if you want to name him as your personal favorite, but that doesn’t erase his record as one of the weakest Tsars in history. Your selection also tells me you probably don’t know much about dynasts like Peter the Great, Empress Yelizaveta, Fyodor III, Ivan III, Catherine the Great, or Ivan IV (Ivan Grozniy), who was a really enlightened reformer before his first wife was poisoned and he went over the deep end. Just admit you like Nicholas best because he’s the only Tsar you know anything about in detail!

Yes, no one can ever predict the circumstances which will arise, how they’ll all come together, how you’ll react, and what the consequences may be. It’s also true Nicholas had a lot of obstacles to deal with and that the Russian throne had a long history of instability, unlike, say, the British or Swedish throne. However, he had so many opportunities to react differently, with a lot of choices he didn’t have to make. Matters also weren’t helped by his choice of consort.

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Left to right: Princesses Irene, Victoria, Elisabeth, and Alix of Hesse and by Rhine, 1885

It’s easy to go back and forth on which one was more to blame and which one is more to be pitied, but I really think Alix has a slight advantage in the sympathy department. This was clearly someone who wasn’t well on any level, long before she even met Nicholas. She had so many tragedies in her life, like losing her mother and little sister Marie (May) to diphtheria in late 1878; losing her second older brother, Frittie, to hemophilia in 1873 (before she could remember, but a tragedy which permeated the family ever after); seeing her father take a second (morganatic) wife in 1884, a marriage no one was happy about and which was annulled after a year; and then losing her father as well in 1892, when she was still only twenty.

Though there are pictures of Alix smiling after her early childhood, she just looks so sad in most of them. Her health was a mess (physically, mentally, psychologically); she was thrust into a huge empire she never fully understood (apart from her overzealous embrace of Orthodoxy, above and beyond most Russians’ level of piety); the role of Empress began immediately in comparison to her mother-in-law’s long adjustment period; her personality and values clashed with her in-laws, the court, and the common people; she was seen as a failure for having four girls in a row; she spent almost no time at court or even with members of the extended Imperial Family; her few friends were viewed with as much hatred and suspicion as she was; and then not only the challenge of having a sick son, but the realization she’d made him sick.

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Just some of the many things that went wrong:

Blame where blame is due. Aleksandr III did jack to prepare his son for his role as Tsar, often complained about how he was living the life of Riley and merrily carousing instead of doing something with his life, and didn’t even think he was cut out to be Tsar. Yes, no one expected him to fall sick and die at only 49, but he still should’ve taught and guided his heir instead of just bitching about his idle playboy lifestyle.

Attending a ball instead of visiting patients in hospital after the stampede by Khodynka Field after his coronation.

Constantly disbanding the Duma every time they pissed him off.

Getting involved in the Russo–Japanese War. This disastrous war never would’ve happened under Aleksandr III, who was known as The Peacemaker for keeping the empire out of all wars.

Refusing to listen to all the uncles and other relatives (including his own mother) trying to offer him advice and guide him when he was so young and inexperienced.

Violent, bloody waves of pogroms in 1903–06, continuing his father’s anti-Semitic tradition.

Not even being in St. Petersburg to meet the peaceful delegation who ended up being murdered on Bloody Sunday (9/22 January 1905).

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Isolating himself and his family from court life, and spending almost all their time at the Aleksandr Palace and Livadiya.

Not understanding the 20th century was a much different era.

Holding onto his role as an autocrat, even though he didn’t have the forceful personality to match at all.

Not understanding all the problems plaguing the Russian Empire, which led to the revolutions of both 1905 and 1917.

Replacing his capable cousin Nikolasha as supreme commander during WWI, thus leaving the government in the hands of Aleksandra and Rasputin and leading the empire to the brink of ruin.

Letting Rasputin come into the palace, and then letting him get so much influence and power.

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Not managing Aleksey’s hemophilia more proactively, like firing a doctor who told him to wear calipers all the time to strengthen his legs.

Abdicating illegally, with an almost childlike indifference to the loss of his throne.

Not sending his children to safety abroad, and not marrying his oldest daughters off at normal ages for royal women in that era.

His total indifference to anything that didn’t affect him personally, which is really concerning in any head of state.

Needless to say, I completely disagree with his sainthood.

The tale of an illegal abdication

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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To be continued.

 

Déjà Vu Blogfest 2015—In Memoriam

Today’s my English birthday (eight days after my Hebrew birthday this year), and I think I’ve finally reached the age where I simply want to say I’m old enough instead of giving my true age. It’s not like anyone would believe me if I told them my true age anyway, since I don’t look a day over 25, if that. Though don’t worry I’ll be one of those people pretending to be turning 21, 25, or 29 every single year from now on!

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As in previous years, D.L. Hammons is once again hosting his Déjà Vu Blogfest, wherein participants repost something they felt didn’t get enough exposure, or their favorite post from the past year. Click on the button for more information and the list of participants.

My Friday posts generally don’t get many views, and this one has under 30 to date since its 17 July posting. It’s a memorial post for Russia’s last Imperial Family, with nothing more than their names, pictures, birthdates, and death dates. I felt that would convey the enormity of this loss of life far more than some overly graphic account of the murders. The Mourner’s Kaddish doesn’t once mention Death, and the Torah portion Chayei Sarah (The Life of Sarah) starts by talking about how Sarah lived, not that she died. In mourning Death, we celebrate Life.

I also avoided any discussion of the ongoing arguments over whether the Imperial Family (particularly Nicholas and Aleksandra) should’ve been canonized, or which people in particular. To make a long, heated story very short, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad canonized everyone but Fyodor Remez as New Martyrs (including two other servants murdered in September 1918), whereas the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia only canonized the immediate Imperial Family as passion-bearers, plus Aleksandra’s sister Ella and her nun Varvara as New Martyrs.

Originally published 17 July 2015:

In memory of the 19 souls murdered 97 years ago, victims of Bolshevik repression and now elevated to sainthood by the Russian Orthodox Church:

Murdered on 17 July 1918:

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Tsar Nicholas II (Nikolay Aleksandrovich), born 6/18 May 1868

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Empress Aleksandra Fyodorovna, née Princess Viktoria Alix Helena Luise Beatrice of Hesse and by Rhine, born 6 June 1872

Olgachair

Grand Duchess Olga Nikolayevna, born 3/15 November 1895

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Grand Duchess Tatyana Nikolayevna, born 29 May/11 June 1897

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Grand Duchess Mariya Nikolayevna, born 14/27 June 1899

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Grand Duchess Anastasiya Nikolayevna, born 5/18 June 1901

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Tsesarevich Aleksey Nikolayevich, born 30 July/12 August 1904

BotkinES

Dr. Yevgeniy Sergeyevich Botkin, born 27 May/8 June 1865

Anna_Demidova

Anna Stepanovna Demidova (lady-in-waiting), born 14/26 January 1878

Ivan_Mihaylovich_Haritonov

Ivan Mikhaylovich Kharitonov (cook), born 2/14 June 1870

Aloise_(Alexei)_Yegorovich_Trupp

Aloiziy Yegorovich Trupp (footman), born 5 April 1856

Murdered on 18 July 1918 (though most took several days to die):

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Grand Duke Sergey Mikhaylovich, born 25 September/7 October 1869, and his secretary, Fyodor Remez

Elizaveta_romanova

Sister (formerly Grand Duchess) Yelizaveta Fyodorovna, née Princess Elisabeth Alexandra Luise Alice of Hesse and by Rhine, born 1 November 1864

Varvara_Yakovleva

Sister Varvara Alekseyevna Yakovleva, born circa 1850

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Prince (né Grand Duke) Ioann Konstantinovich, born 23 June/5 July 1886

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Prince Konstantin Konstantinovich the younger, born 20 December 1890/1 January 1891

Prince Igor Konstantinovich

Prince Igor Konstantinovich, born 29 May/10 June 1894

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Prince Vladimir Pavlovich Paley (really a Romanov), born 28 December 1896/9 January 1897

Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world. (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 37a)

In Memoriam

In memory of the 19 souls murdered 97 years ago, victims of Bolshevik repression and now elevated to sainthood by the Russian Orthodox Church:

Murdered on 17 July 1918:

Tsarevich_Nicholas_Alexandrovich

Tsar Nicholas II (Nikolay Aleksandrovich), born 6/18 May 1868

Princess_Alix_of_Hesse_1890

Empress Aleksandra Fyodorovna, née Princess Viktoria Alix Helena Luise Beatrice of Hesse and by Rhine, born 6 June 1872

Olgachair

Grand Duchess Olga Nikolayevna, born 3/15 November 1895

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Grand Duchess Tatyana Nikolayevna, born 29 May/11 June 1897

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Grand Duchess Mariya Nikolayevna, born 14/27 June 1899

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Grand Duchess Anastasiya Nikolayevna, born 5/18 June 1901

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Tsesarevich Aleksey Nikolayevich, born 30 July/12 August 1904

BotkinES

Dr. Yevgeniy Sergeyevich Botkin, born 27 May/8 June 1865

Anna_Demidova

Anna Stepanovna Demidova (lady-in-waiting), born 14/26 January 1878

Ivan_Mihaylovich_Haritonov

Ivan Mikhaylovich Kharitonov (cook), born 2/14 June 1870

Aloise_(Alexei)_Yegorovich_Trupp

Aloiziy Yegorovich Trupp (footman), born 5 April 1856

Murdered on 18 July 1918 (though most took several days to die):

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Grand Duke Sergey Mikhaylovich, born 25 September/7 October 1869, and his secretary, Fyodor Remez

Elizaveta_romanova

Sister (formerly Grand Duchess) Yelizaveta Fyodorovna, née Princess Elisabeth Alexandra Luise Alice of Hesse and by Rhine, born 1 November 1864

Varvara_Yakovleva

Sister Varvara Alekseyevna Yakovleva, born circa 1850

Ioann_Konstantinovich_of_Russia

Prince (né Grand Duke) Ioann Konstantinovich, born 23 June/5 July 1886

Prince_Konstantin_Konstantinovich

Prince Konstantin Konstantinovich the younger, born 20 December 1890/1 January 1891

Prince Igor Konstantinovich

Prince Igor Konstantinovich, born 29 May/10 June 1894

1916bis

Prince Vladimir Pavlovich Paley (really a Romanov), born 28 December 1896/9 January 1897

Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world. (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 37a)