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Nicholas II
Mikola II (cropped)-2.jpg
Nicholas II in 1912
Emperor of All Russia
Reign 1 November 1894 – 15 March 1917
Coronation 26 May 1896
Predecessor Alexander III
Successor Monarchy abolished
Georgy Lvov (as Minister-Chairman)
Prime Minister See list
Born 18 May [O.S. 6 May] 1868
Alexander Palace, Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
Died 17 July 1918(1918-07-17) (aged 50)
Ipatiev House, Yekaterinburg, Russian Soviet Republic
Burial 17 July 1998
Peter and Paul Cathedral, Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation
Full name
Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov
House Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov
Father Alexander III of Russia
Mother Maria Feodorovna (Dagmar of Denmark)
Religion Russian Orthodox
Signature Nicholas II's signature
Saint Nicholas II of Russia
Nicholas II of Russia in his coronation robe.jpg
Venerated in Eastern Orthodoxy
Major shrine Church on Blood, Yekaterinburg, Russia
Feast 17 July

Nicholas II or Nikolai II Alexandrovich Romanov (18 May [O.S. 6 May] 1868 – 17 July 1918), known in the Russian Orthodox Church as Saint Nicholas the Passion-Bearer, was the last Emperor of Russia, ruling from 1 November 1894 until his abdication on 15 March 1917.

Following his abdication, Nicholas and his family were imprisoned by the Russian Provisional Government and exiled to Siberia. After the Bolsheviks took power in the October Revolution, the family was held in Yekaterinburg, where they were executed in July 1918.

In 1981, Nicholas, his wife, and their children were recognized as martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, based in New York City. Their gravesite was discovered in 1979, but this was not acknowledged until 1989. After the fall of Communism, the remains of the imperial family were exhumed, identified by DNA analysis, and re-interred with an elaborate state and church ceremony in St. Petersburg on 17 July 1998, exactly 80 years after their assassination. They were canonized in 2000 by the Russian Orthodox Church as passion bearers.

Early life

Maria Fyodorovna and her son Niki
Nicholas II, unbreeched at two years old, with his mother, Maria Feodorovna, in 1870

Grand Duke Nicholas was born on 18 May [O.S. 6 May] 1868, in the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo south of Saint Petersburg, during the reign of his grandfather Emperor Alexander II. He was the eldest child of then-Tsesarevich Alexander Alexandrovich and his wife, Tsesarevna Maria Feodorovna (née Princess Dagmar of Denmark).

The boy received the traditional Romanov name Nicholas and was named in memory of his father's older brother and mother's first fiancé, Tsesarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich of Russia, who had died young in 1865. Informally, he was known as "Nikki" throughout his life.

Tsar Nicholas II & King George V
Emperor Nicholas II of Russia with his physically similar cousin, George V of the United Kingdom (right), wearing German military uniforms in Berlin before the war; 1913

Nicholas was of primarily German and Danish descent, his last ethnically Russian ancestor being Grand Duchess Anna Petrovna of Russia (1708–1728), daughter of Peter the Great. On the other hand, Nicholas was related to several monarchs in Europe. His mother's siblings included Kings Frederick VIII of Denmark and George I of Greece, as well as the United Kingdom's Queen Alexandra (consort of King Edward VII). Nicholas, his wife Alexandra, and Wilhelm II, German Emperor were all first cousins of King George V of the United Kingdom.

On 1 March 1881, following the assassination of his grandfather, Tsar Alexander II, Nicholas became heir apparent upon his father's accession as Alexander III.

Engagement official picture of Alexandra and Nicholas
Official engagement photograph of Nicholas II and Alexandra, April 1894

In 1884, Nicholas's coming-of-age ceremony was held at the Winter Palace, where he pledged his loyalty to his father. Later that year, Nicholas's uncle, Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, married Princess Elizabeth, daughter of Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse, and his late wife Princess Alice of the United Kingdom (who had died in 1878), and a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. At the wedding in St. Petersburg, the sixteen-year-old Tsarevich met with and admired the bride's youngest surviving sister, twelve-year-old Princess Alix. Those feelings of admiration blossomed into love following her visit to St. Petersburg five years later in 1889. Alix had feelings for him in turn. In 1894, Nicholas and Alix became officially engaged. Nicholas's parents initially hesitated to give the engagement their blessing, as Alix had made poor impressions during her visits to Russia. They gave their consent only when they saw Tsar Alexander's health deteriorating.

Nicholas Alexandrovich, Tsarevich of Russia, 1880s
Czar Nicholas Alexandra Olga
Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra with their first child, Grand Duchess Olga, 1896

Nicholas and Alix's wedding took place on 26 November 1894. Alexandra wore the traditional dress of Romanov brides, and Nicholas a hussar's uniform.

Accession and reign

Nicholas II and family in 1904

When Alexander III died at the age of forty-nine, Nicholas became the Emperor of Russia. He was only twenty-six years old at that time.

Though Nicholas was heir-apparent to the throne, his father failed to prepare him for his future role as Tsar. Nicholas himself felt unprepared for the duties of the crown, for he asked his cousin and brother-in-law, Grand Duke Alexander, "What is going to happen to me and all of Russia?".

Nicholas chose to maintain the conservative policies favoured by his father throughout his reign. He gave support to the economic and political reforms promoted by his prime ministers, Sergei Witte and Pyotr Stolypin. He advocated modernization based on foreign loans and close ties with France, but resisted giving the new parliament (the Duma) major roles. Ultimately, progress was undermined by Nicholas's commitment to autocratic rule, strong aristocratic opposition and defeats sustained by the Russian military in the Russo-Japanese War and World War I. By March 1917, public support for Nicholas had collapsed and he was forced to abdicate the throne, thereby ending the Romanov dynasty's 300-year rule of Russia.

Nicholas signed the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, which was designed to counter Germany's attempts to gain influence in the Middle East; it ended the Great Game of confrontation between Russia and the British Empire. He aimed to strengthen the Franco-Russian Alliance and proposed the unsuccessful Hague Convention of 1899 to promote disarmament and solve international disputes peacefully. Domestically, he was criticised for his government's repression of political opponents and his perceived fault or inaction during the Khodynka Tragedy, anti-semitic pogroms, Bloody Sunday and the violent suppression of the 1905 Russian Revolution. His popularity was further damaged by his supposed responsibility for defeat in the Russo-Japanese War, which saw the Russian Baltic Fleet annihilated at the Battle of Tsushima, together with the loss of Russian influence over Manchuria and Korea and the Japanese annexation of the south of Sakhalin Island.

During the July Crisis, Nicholas supported Serbia and approved the mobilization of the Russian Army on 30 July 1914. In response, Germany declared war on Russia on 1 August 1914 and its ally France on 3 August 1914, starting the Great War, later known as the First World War. The severe military losses led to a collapse of morale at the front and at home; a general strike and a mutiny of the garrison in Petrograd sparked the February Revolution and the disintegration of the monarchy's authority.


At the end of the "February Revolution", Nicholas II chose to abdicate on 2 March (O.S.) / 15 March (N.S.) 1917. He first abdicated in favor of Alexei, but a few hours later changed his mind after advice from doctors that Alexei would not live long enough while separated from his parents, who would be forced into exile. Nicholas thus abdicated on behalf of his son, and drew up a new manifesto naming his brother, Grand Duke Michael, as the next Emperor of all the Russias. He issued a statement but it was suppressed by the Provisional Government. Michael declined to accept the throne until the people were allowed to vote through a Constituent Assembly for the continuance of the monarchy or a republic. The abdication of Nicholas II and Michael's deferment of accepting the throne brought three centuries of the Romanov dynasty's rule to an end. The fall of Tsarist autocracy brought joy to liberals and socialists in Britain and France. The United States was the first foreign government to recognize the Provisional government. In Russia, the announcement of the tsar's abdication was greeted with many emotions, including delight, relief, fear, anger and confusion.


On 20 March 1917, the Provisional Government decreed that the imperial family should be held under house arrest in the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. However, in summer following the anti-government rioting in Petrograd, known as the July Days, it was decided to move the imperial family to a safer location. Alexander Kerensky, who had taken over as prime minister, selected the town of Tobolsk in Western Siberia, since it was remote from any large city and 150 miles (240 km) from the nearest rail station. The family left the Alexander Palace late on 13 August, reached Tyumen by rail four days later and then by two river ferries finally reached Tobolsk on 19 August. There they lived in the former Governor's Mansion in considerable comfort.

Nicholas and Alexandra were appalled by news of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, whereby Russia agreed to give up Poland, Finland, the Baltic States, most of Belarus, Ukraine, the Crimea, most of the Caucasus, and small parts of Russia proper including areas around Pskov and Rostov-on-Don. What kept the family's spirits up was the belief that help was at hand. The Romanovs believed that various plots were underway to break them out of captivity and smuggle them to safety. The Western Allies lost interest in the fate of the Romanovs after Russia left the war.

When Bolsheviks seized power in the October Revolution, the Romanovs were moved to Yekaterinburg, where they were imprisoned in the two-story Ipatiev House. Although the Bolshevik leadership in Moscow initially intended to bring Nicholas to trial, it was later decided to execute the Tsar and his family.


Russian Imperial Family 1913
Nicholas with his family (left to right): Olga, Maria, Nicholas II, Alexandra Fyodorovna, Anastasia, Alexei, and Tatiana. Livadia Palace, 1913.

There are several accounts of what happened and historians have not agreed on a solid, confirmed scope of events. According to the account of Bolshevik officer Yakov Yurovsky (the chief executioner), in the early hours of 17 July 1918, the royal family was awakened around 2:00 am, got dressed, and were led down into a half-basement room at the back of the Ipatiev house. The pretext for this move was the family's safety, i.e. that anti-Bolshevik forces were approaching Yekaterinburg, and the house might be fired upon.

In the basement, all the members of the royal family were executed by firing squad. Present with Nicholas, Alexandra and their children were their doctor and three of their servants, who had voluntarily chosen to remain with the family: the Tsar's personal physician Eugene Botkin, his wife's maid Anna Demidova, and the family's chef, Ivan Kharitonov, and footman, Alexei Trupp.


The Ipatiev House, Yekaterinburg, (later Sverdlovsk) in 1928
ChurchOn Blood
Yekaterinburg's "Church on the Blood", built on the spot where the Ipatiev House once stood

In 1979, the bodies of Tsar Nicholas II, Tsaritsa Alexandra, three of their daughters, and those of four non-family members killed with them, were discovered near Sverdlovsk (Yekaterinburg) by amateur archaeologist Alexander Avdonin. In January 1998, the remains excavated from underneath the dirt road near Yekaterinburg were officially identified as those of Nicholas II and his family, excluding one daughter (either Maria or Anastasia) and Alexei. The identifications—including comparisons to a living relative, performed by separate Russian, British and American scientists using DNA analysis—concur and were found to be conclusive.

In July 2007, an amateur historian discovered bones near Yekaterinburg belonging to a boy and young woman. Prosecutors reopened the investigation into the deaths of the imperial family and, in April 2008, DNA tests performed by an American laboratory proved that bone fragments exhumed in the Ural Mountains belonged to two children of Nicholas II, Alexei and a daughter. That same day it was announced by Russian authorities that remains from the entire family had been recovered.

On 1 October 2008, the Supreme Court of Russia ruled that Nicholas II and his family were victims of political persecution and should be rehabilitated. In March 2009, results of the DNA testing were published, confirming that the two bodies discovered in 2007 were those of Alexei and one of his sisters.

In late 2015, at the insistence of the Russian Orthodox Church, Russian investigators exhumed the bodies of Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra, for additional DNA testing, which confirmed that the bones were of the couple.


After the DNA testing of 1998, the remains of the tsar and his immediate family were interred at St. Peter and Paul Cathedral, Saint Petersburg, on 17 July 1998, on the eightieth anniversary of their assassination. The ceremony was attended by Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who said, "Today is a historic day for Russia. For many years, we kept quiet about this monstrous crime, but the truth has to be spoken."

The British Royal Family was represented at the funeral by Prince Michael of Kent, and more than twenty ambassadors to Russia, including Sir Andrew Wood, Archbishop John Bukovsky, and Ernst-Jörg von Studnitz, were also in attendance.


Lesser CoA of the empire of Russia
Lesser Coat of Arms of the Russian Empire and Lesser Coat of Arms of the Emperor


Image Name Birth Death Notes
By Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine (6 June 1872 – 17 July 1918, married on 26 November 1894)
Olgachair.jpg Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna 15 November [O.S. 3 November] 1895 17 July 1918 Assassinated, along with their parents, at Yekaterinburg by the Bolsheviks
Tatiana Nikolaevna.jpg Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna 10 June [O.S. 29 May] 1897
GrandDuchessMaria1914formal2.jpg Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna 26 June [O.S. 14 June] 1899
Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna Crisco edit letters removed.jpg Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna 18 June [O.S. 5 June] 1901
Alexei Nikolaevich, Tsarevich of Russia.jpg Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich 12 August [O.S. 30 July] 1904

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See also

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