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Nicholas II of Russia

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Nicholas II, Nicholas Alexandrovich Romanov, Russian: Nikolai II (May 6, 1868 - July 16, 1918) was the last Emperor of Russia and of the Romanov Dynasty. He ruled from November 1, 1894 until his abdication on March 15, 1917, and was killed with his family in 1918. Though the title of Tsar was officially abolished in 1721 by Peter the Great, later monarchs up to Nicholas II still were referred to generally by the title.

The son of Russian Tsar Alexander III and Empress Marie Romanova (born Princess Dagmar of Denmark), he was the grandson of Christian IX of Denmark through his mother, and of Tsar Alexander II through his father.

Married in 1894 to Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt (henceforth Empress Alexandra Romanova), a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, he was father to Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Tsarevich Alexei.

Nicholas assumed the throne in 1894, on the death of his father. He had not been well prepared to rule, his father having been more concerned about finding him a good wife than in involving him in the details of state. His engagement to Princess Alix only slightly preceded his father's death, and his wedding came very shortly after the last ceremony of his father's funeral. He then faced the task of being autocrat of Russia in a time of major turmoil - a turmoil which would continue well beyond his death.

He relied heavily on the advice of his wife's first cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm - advice which was not so much in his own best interest as in that of "cousin Willy", who hoped in particular to prevent closer relations between Russia and Britain. An ill-conceived war with Japan (1904-1905) cost Russia dearly, but fear of a wider conflagration contributed ironically to the very Anglo-Russian Entente which Wilhelm feared.

In addition to a tumultuous international situation, Nicholas also faced deep domestic difficulties. His grandfather, Tsar Alexander II, had been assassinated by a bomb set by revolutionaries, and voices of change were growing louder, ranging from those who would democratize the existing system to those who sought its complete overthrow. Defeat by Japan emboldened the regime's internal opponents, unleashing the Russian Revolution of 1905 during which strikes and local uprisings forced Nicholas to concede an indirectly-elected national assembly or Duma.

Further complicating domestic matters was the matter of succession. Alexandra bore him four daughters before their son, Aleksey, was born on August 12, 1904. The young heir proved to be afflicted with hemophilia, which, at that time was virtually untreatable and usually led to untimely death. With the fragility the autocracy was experiencing at this time, Nicholas and Alexandra chose to not divulge Aleksey's condition to anyone outside the royal household.

In desperation, Alexandra sought help from a wandering mystic known as Grigori Rasputin. Rasputin seemed to be able to help when Aleksey was suffering from internal bleeding, and Alexandra became increasingly dependent on Rasputin and his advice (which she accepted as coming directly from God through him).

The outbreak of war with Germany on August 1, 1914, found Russia grossly unprepared, and an early advance ended in staggering Russian losses. Nicholas felt it his duty to lead his army directly, assuming the role of commander-in-chief (September 1915) following the loss of the Russian-ruled part of Poland. His efforts to oversee the operations of the war left domestic issues essentially in the hands of Alexandra. But Nicholas did not understand (since he had little input from the common people) how suspicious the common people were of his wife, both because she was German by birth and because of her affiliation with Rasputin, who was widely seen as a lecherous charlatan and a harmful influence on state policy. Rasputin's death at the hands of a group of nobles (December 1916) removed "our friend" from the court, but came too late to restore the dynasty's fortunes.

Mounting national hardship and the army's failure to maintain the temporary military success of June 1916 led to renewed strikes and riots in the following winter. After the "February Revolution" of March 1917 (February in the existing Russian calendar) Nicholas abdicated in favor of his brother, Michael, who abdicated after a matter of hours, ending three centuries of Romanov rule.

Nicholas, Alexandra, and their five children remained in the royal residence The Alexander Palace[?], with decreasing staff until they were moved to Tobolsk[?] in Siberia in August 1917, an effort by the struggling Kerensky government to keep them safer than was possible in Tsarskoe Selo[?]. They remained there until after the Bolshevik Revolution in November 1917 (the "October Revolution"), but were moved to Soviet-controlled Ekaterinburg. They were killed in the basement of the Ipatiev House where they had been imprisoned in on the night of July 16 (or 17), 1918 by a band of Bolsheviks led by Yakov Yurovsky[?].

For a long time, the bodies were believed to have been disposed of down a mineshaft at a site called the Four Brothers. Initially, this was true - they had indeed been disposed of that way on the night of July 16/17. But Yurovsky , upon hearing the following morning that stories were abuzz in Ekaterinburg about the disposal site , went back to remove the bodies and conceal them elsewhere. He has initially intended to bury the bodies down another mineshaft some miles away, but when the vehicle carrying the bodies broke down on the way there, he made new arrangements. With two exceptions, the bodies were buried in a sealed and concealed pit on a portion of a since-abandoned cart track 12 miles north of Ekaterinburg called Koptyaki Road.

In the early 1990s, the bodies were located, exhumed and formally identified, following the fall of the Soviet Union. A secret confession by Yurovsky, which came to light in the late 1970s, but did not become public knowledge until the 1990s, helped this to happen. DNA analysis was a key means of identifying them. Blood samples from Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh were used to identify Alexandra and her daughters through their mitrochondial genes. Other methods used included dental records and craniometric analysis.

There were two bodies missing. These were Aleksey and one of the daughters - either Tatiana, Maria or Anastasia. According to Yurovsky's account, the bodies of Aleksey and one of the daughters, mistaken by Yurovsky's band for Alexandra, were burnt near the burial site and their ashes scattered and concealed.

Following a long series of bureaucratic and political delays, the remains of the family were reinterred in the Romanov family crypt on the 80th anniversary of their murder - July 16, 1998.

Preceded by:
Alexander III
List of Russian Tsars Nicholas abdicated in favour of his brother, who is sometimes referred to as Michael II but who did not reign. Nicholas was effectively the last Tsar.

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