Nicholas II’s Diaries 1894-1918

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Pages from the 1912 diary of Emperor Nicholas II

The future Emperor Nicholas II began keeping a diary in 1882, at the age of 14 when he was Tsesarevich and living at Gatchina. The last entry in his diary is dated 13 July (O.S. 30 June) 1918, just 4 days before his murder in Ekaterinburg:

“Alexei took his first bath since Tobolsk: his knee is getting better, but he still cannot straighten it completely. The weather is warm and pleasant. We have absolutely no news from the outside.”

It is interesting to note that the Bolsheviks began publishing excerpts from the diaries of Nicholas II simultaneously in Pravda and Izvestia of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, shortly after the murder of the Imperial Family on 9 August 1918. The Berlin publishing house Slovo published the Diary of Emperor Nicholas II in 1923.

All of the Sovereign’s voluminous 51 diaries have survived to this day, and are currently stored in Fund No. 601, of the *Novo-Romanov Archive in the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF) in Moscow. They are among the most popular and widely researched materials by post-Soviet historians and scholars.

On 18th May 2017, the day marking the 149th anniversary of the birth of Emperor Nicholas II, the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library in St. Petersburg published the diaries in electronic form, each diary is presented as a separate PDF-file with electronic bookmarks by year, month and date.

* for more information about the Novo-Romanov Archive, please refer to the article:

The History of the Novoromanov Archive: The Document Collection of the Last Russian Emperor and His Family in 1917-1919

by B.F. Dodonov, O.N. Kopylova, S.V. Mironenko

First English Translation published in Sovereign: The Life and Reign of Emperor Nicholas II, No. 1. 2015 pg. 125-138. 

“The history of the archives of Nicholas II and his family is one of the least explored areas of our archivistics. It was only in recent years that we have finally studied one of its pages — namely, the publication of the Romanovs’ papers and documents that had begun almost immediately after the Royal family’s murder. And still there isn’t enough attention drawn to the fate of the Romanovs archives. Various publications either copy information from archive guides or quote inconsistent and unverifiable sources. In this article we will attempt to use the available sources to shed light on the history of the creation of the so-called Novoromanov archive: the collection of Royal documents dating 1917-1919. By this name the archivist literature understands the entire body of Romanovs’ documents that had been amassed by the time of its 1929 transfer from the Central State Archive of the October Revolution to the newly created State Archive of the Feudal-Serfdom Era” – Dodonov, Kolylova & Mironenko.

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Pages from the 1896 diary of Emperor Nicholas II

* * *

Contemporary historians and biographers often use Nicholas II’s diaries as a means to discredit him, often citing his mere scribbling of the days events as evidence of his alleged indecisiveness, and his inability to rule efficiently. This, however, is not only an unfair assessment, but also an example of a bad historian.

Russian historian Alexander Nikolaevich Bokhanov (1944-2019) summed up Nicholas II’s diaries, when he wrote the following:

“For more than 36 years, Nicholas Alexandrovich wrote a few sentences every evening in his diary. After the fall of the monarchy, both scholars and laymen began to study his diaries, interested to learn what kind of man and monarch he was. Sadly, the crushing majority of them stuck with a negative assessment of Nicholas II.

“Their conclusions, however, were based on his diaries, which in all fairness do not offer any broad historical conclusions. Nevertheless they have been made and continue to be made to the present day. In actuality, Nicholas II’s diaries are often nothing more than a daily list of meetings and events which allow one, fully and accurately, to establish only two biographical aspects about him: where he was and whom he dealt with.

“In his daily entries, he names more than a thousand people who lived both within the Russian Empire and abroad, including his family and relatives, figures from his inner circle, courtiers, statesmen, representatives of the world of culture and science, and even just casual acquaintances or ordinary people, who merely attracted the Sovereign’s attention.

“His diaries are a completely personal and official document reflecting the daily events, nothing more. His diary entries rarely reflect any emotion, and with the passage of time they disappear almost completely. Any kind of political judgement or evaluation are extremely rare.

“In keeping a diary, Nicholas II was not thinking about leaving a historical testimony for his descendants. He never would have imagined that his daily, terse, personal remarks would be studied for political purposes. Only during the last months of his life, finding himself in the degrading position of a prisoner, did he record on paper his pain for the fate of his dearly beloved Russia.”

The Дневники императора Николая II. 1894-1918 / Diaries of Emperor Nicholas II. 1894-1918., were published in a handsome 2-volume set in 2011. Volume 1. 1894-1904 (1,101 pg); Volume 2. 1905-1918. Part 1. 1905-1913 (824 pg); and Part 2. 1914-1918 (784 pg). Edited by Sergei Vladimirovich Mironenko, Director of the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF). Available in Russian ONLY!

© Paul Gilbert. 23 January 2020

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