Frozen in Time: 5 Iconic Photos of Nicholas II

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On this day 19 May (O.S. 6 May) 1868, Tsesarevich and Grand Duke Nicholas Alexandrovich was born in the Blue Boudoir of his mother Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna (the future Empress Maria Feodorovna) in the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. 

The following 5 images of His Imperial Majesty Sovereign Emperor Nicholas II, are among my personal favourites. As if frozen in time, the photographer has captured a moment in his 22+ year reign as Emperor and Tsar of All the Russias.

PHOTO No. 1 (below)

This photograph of Nicholas II, standing at the window of the Imperial train is one of the most popular images of Russia’s last sovereign. It has been published in countless books and web pages, but is quite often misidentified at Pskov, after signing his abdication in “1917”. This is incorrect.

The photograph, is one of a series taken at the Stavka military headquarters at Mogilev in 1915, by one of his daughters. It does not depict a man who has just signed over his throne, but that of a very well-composed Emperor and Tsar.

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PHOTO No. 2 (below)

Unlike many of his predecessors, Emperor Nicholas II was devoted to the Russian Orthodox Church and considered himself a Christian monarch, one who regarded his political activity as a religious duty. He strove to live and to rule in accordance with the Orthodox faith. To the end of his days, Nicholas II believed himself to be anointed by God, selected to be more than an Orthodox ruler, and more than a Russian emperor.

His official biographer, Major-General Andrei Georgievich Elchaninov wrote “not one day, not one act is started by him without turning with prayer to God.”

Nicholas prayed several times per day, often with his wife and children in the mornings and evenings. Nicholas used this time to ponder his role within the country as well as seek religious guidance from God. Additionally, Nicholas spent time daily studying the Bible and its teachings. The tumultuous events of his 22 year reign did not weaken his faith, but rather, made him more devout. 

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PHOTO No. 3 (below)

In 1905, twelve years before Emperor Nicholas II’s abdication and three years from his own repose, St. John of Kronstadt (1829-1909), spoke these prophetic words:

“We have a Tsar of righteous and pious life. God has sent a heavy cross of sufferings to him as to His chosen one and beloved child, as the seer of the destinies of God said: ‘Whom I love, those I reproach and punish’ (Rev. 3.19). If there is no repentance in the Russian people, the end of the world is near. God will remove from it the pious Tsar and send a whip in the person of impure, cruel, self-called rulers, who will drench the whole land in blood and tears.”

Nicholas himself made a similar observation about his fate when speaking to his Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin (1862-1911). In his diary, Stolypin noted with some degree of incredulity that Nicholas spoke these words without any hint of alarm or distress.

“I have a premonition. I have the certainty that I am destined for terrible trials, but I will not receive a reward for them in this world… Perhaps there must be a victim in expiation in order to save Russia. I will be this victim. May God’s will be done!”

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PHOTO No. 4 (below)

As Emperor Nicholas II steps off the Imperial Train at the station of Dvinsk, near the Northwestern Front, he is caught off guard by a waiting photographer. 30th January 1916.

Standing over the Tsar left shoulder is General Count Alexander Grabbe (1864-1947), who served as Major-General of His Imperial Majesty’s Own Convoy – the Cossack unit which served as the Tsar’s elite guard – from 1914 to 1917.

In 1984, his son Paul Grabbe produced ‘The Private World of the Last Tsar’ – a stunning pictorial, based on the private photographs and notes of his father.

Photo: Central State Archive of Film and St. Petersburg (Санкт-Петербурга (ЦГАКФФД СПб)

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PHOTO No. 5 (below)

On 15th March (O.S. 2nd March) 1917 – Russia’s last emperor abdicated, bringing an end to more than 300 years of the Romanov dynasty and the monarchy in Russia.

The Emperor abdicated in the heartfelt belief that his abdication would save the honour of the army, prevent civil war and keep Russia in the war against Germany.

Sadly, it did not. In his diary, Nicholas wrote: “I am surrounded by betrayal, cowardice, and deceit.”

Nicholas II was an anointed Tsar, sealed by the grace of the Holy Spirit during the Sacrament of his Coronation in the Dormition (aka Assumption) Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin, on 26 May (O.S. 14 May) 1896.

As God’s Anointed, Nicholas II could not be displaced during his lifetime. Since the will of God was nowhere manifest, neither in the naming of his brother Grand Duke Michael to the throne, nor in the Tsar’s signing of the instrument of abdication, his status as Tsar remained inviolate and unassailable.

What God performs cannot be undone; therefore, Nicholas II remained the anointed Tsar to his martyr’s death in the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg on 17 July 1918.

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© Paul Gilbert. 19 May 2020

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