Who was Tzar Nikolai?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Nikolai I

The reign of Nicholas I (or Nikolai) began upon the death of his brother Alexander in 1825 and lasted until 1855. It was marked by imperialism; the Russian Empire expanded to nearly eight million square miles. It was also marked by efforts to Russianize minority populations in the far flung empire. Some attempts to modernize Russia included the construction of the empire’s first railway in 1838, although it only connected the city of Saint Petersburg with nearby Pavlovsk. Construction of a railway linking Saint Petersburg to Moscow began in 1843 and took years to complete.

Ironically, despite Nikolai’s censorship, Russian literature flourished during his rule, with authors and poets such as Pushkin and others attaining international recognition.

Nikolai II

The more famous Tsar Nikolai is probably Nicholas II or Nikolai II Alexandrovich Romanov, who ruled from November of 1894 until he was forced to abdicate in March of 1917. Under his rule, the once mighty empire devolved into economically depleted chaos.

Early in his reign, his coronation had horrible consequences and is considered to have set the tone for how the general population viewed Nikolai II thereafter. Accompanied by his wife, Empress Alexandra, his coronation at the Cathedral of the Dormition in the Kremlin was followed by festivities on May 30, 1896.

At a public event held at Khodynka field, food, drinks and souvenirs were intended for distribution to the general public. However, officials vastly underestimated the number of people who would attend. As a result, many people attempted to run to the buffet tables, but chaos ensued. People panicked and attempted to flee. With overwhelming crowds, there was a stampede and people were crushed. Overall, 1,389 people died and many more were injured.

This event set the tone for how negatively his subjects would view Tsar Nicholai II throughout his reign. He even became known as Nicholas the Bloody. Moreover, following the tragedy, he attended a ball that same evening in honor of his coronation. He met with significant criticism for how unfeeling this action appeared.

The Romanov family’s involvement with Grigory Rasputin did not help his reputation or relations with his subjects or advisors. He was seen as falling under the mesmerizing spell of Rasputin, a Russian Orthodox priest of sorts. Rasputin’s methods were extremely controversial and rumors abounded that Empress Alexandra was having an affair with him.

Nikolai’s failed military efforts, which people believed contributed to the country’s economic decline, also were partially responsible for his ultimate end. Russia suffered severe military losses and humiliation during the 1904–05 Russo-Japanese War. Tired of the treatment they received under Nicholas II, as well as severe economic disparities, many took arms in the Russian Revolution of 1905. Although the Tsar did attempt some reforms once this uprising was quelled, it was probably too late at that point.

Subsequently, external factors pulled Russia into the war on the European continent. On August 1, 1914, Germany declared war on Russia.

Nicholas was forced to abdicate on his own behalf and that of his son. Nevertheless, after several months in isolation under the Bolsheviks control, the family was executed in July 1918.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team