His Imperial Majesty Sovereign Emperor Nicholas II
More than a century after his violent murder, Russia’s last Tsar continues to remain a victim of myths and lies which germinated during the Soviet years and exist to this day.
His detractors continue to base their often negative assessment of Nicholas II’s life and reign by the tragedies which cast a dark cloud over his reign, in particular, the Khodynka Tragedy (1896) and Bloody Sunday (1905), among others.
Sadly, much of the negative assessment of Nicholas II is further fuelled by a steady stream of poorly researched books and documentaries by academically lazy historians, particularly those in the United States and Great Britain. In 2018, one popular British author scoffed at the idea of Nicholas II being a reforming tsar. It is a shame that today we know so little about Nicholas II’s reformist activities.
It is very unfortunate that there are people today who refuse to remove their blinders and educate themselves further on Nicholas II’s life and reign by consulting the many new archival documents released since 1991. Instead, they continue to cling to the old myths, lies and Bolshevik propaganda.
Historian and author Pyotr Multatuli, Russia’s country’s leading authority on Nicholas II, hit the nail on the head when he wrote the following about the Sovereign’s modern-day detractors:
“We combine indifference to our own history with our maximalism and categorical judgments. Thus we lose the ability to hear others. Everybody is content with his own biases without thinking that in the case of Nicholas II, his opinion is borrowed and that he was too lazy to form his own opinion. Thirty years have passed since the collapse of the USSR, and truthful books on the Imperial Family were published since as early as perestroika. But most people don’t read them and retain the outdated stereotypical views.”
NOTE: the text highlighted in red are links to full-length articles on the subject – PG
Following the death of his father Emperor Alexander III (1845-1894),Nicholas Alexandrovich Romanov (1868-1918) ascended the throne as Russia’s last monarch on 2nd November (O.S. 20th October) 1894. Emperor Nicholas II ruled Russia for more than twenty-two years: from 2nd November [O.S 20 October] 1894 to 15 March [O.S. 2 March] 1917. During his reign, Russia made great advances on both the world stage and within the Russian Empire. The following list explores 70 facts, noting just some of the many reforms and accomplishments he made during his reign.
- Nicholas II spoke five languages fluently: Russian, French, English, German and Danish, although he preferred to speak Russian. He spoke Russian to his children and wrote in Russian and French to his mother Maria Feodorovna. He spoke and wrote in English to his wife Alexandra Feodorovna.
- Nicholas II was the most widely travelled of the Romanov emperors. In 1890-91, he embarked on a journey around the greater part of the Eurasian continent. The total length of the journey exceeded 51,000 kilometers, including 15,000 km of railway and 22,000 km of sea routes. The Eastern journey of Tsesearvich Nicholas Alexandrovich took him to Greece, Egypt, India, Ceylon, Siam, China, and Japan. He then travelled across the expanse of the Russian Empire to St. Petersburg. During the autumn of 1896, Nicholas II accompanied by his wife made a tour of Europe, which included visits to Denmark, Germany, Austria, France and Great Britain. During his reign, Nicholas made additional visits to Denmark, Britain, France, Italy, Austria, and Sweden.
- Deeply religious, he combined his studies with an in-depth knowledge of spiritual literature. He became the last Orthodox Tsar of Russia [VIDEO].
- He received the best of military and legal education. He served in the army with the rank of colonel. When high-standing members of the military tried to convince him to take the rank of general, Nicholas allegedly answered, “Gentlemen, you need not worry about my rank. You’d better be thinking about rising through the ranks yourselves.”
- Nicholas II was the most athletic of all Russian tsars. He used to do morning exercises from an early age, taking daily walks, he loved kayaking and could hike tens of kilometers at a time. He loved to watch and participate in horse races. He was an excellent swimmer and a dedicated lover of billiards. He also enjoyed tennis. During winter, he was a passionate skater and ice hockey player.
- Nicholas II enjoyed the company of his canine companions, particularly during his long walks. At Tsarskoye Selo, he maintained a kennel of nearly a dozen English collies – his favourite breed.
- The future Emperor grew up in the Spartan atmosphere of his father Alexander III’s palace at Gatchina. As a boy, he had to sleep in a hard iron bed, and eat basic food. Throughout his reign, Nicholas II continued to wear the same suits and military uniforms after they had been patched and mended numerous times.
- Nicholas II and his family donated hundreds of thousands of rubles at a time to a large number of causes, helping renovate Russia’s medical equipment, building new hospitals, primary and vocational schools, maternity wards and orphanages.
- Nicholas II was a voracious reader. He maintained magnificent libraries in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg and the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo. He read equally well in Russian, English and French and he could manage in German and Danish. Each month, new books were supplied by his private librarian, who provided the Tsar with twenty of the best books from all countries.
- Nicholas II granted a pardon to nearly all clemency applications that were submitted to him. During his reign, there were 120 times fewer death sentences pronounced and executed than the number of people sentenced to death during Stalin’s rule in the USSR.
- The total number of convicts during Nicholas II’s reign was considerably lower than later in the USSR or today’s Russian Federation. In 1908, there were 56 convicted criminals per 100,000 population. In 1949, this number rose to 1537 per 100,000; in 2011 it counted 555 per 100,000.
- In 1903, the number of government functionaries was 163 per 100,000 population. In 2010, less than a hundred years after his death, this figure reached 1153.
- During their detention in Tobolsk, the Imperial family was never idle. The Emperor cut wood, cleared the snow and worked in the garden. Seeing all that, one of the peasant guards allegedly said, “Had we given him a plot of land, he’d have earned the whole of his Russia back by working!”
- When the members of the Provisional Government were considering the possibility of accusing the Emperor of treason, one of them suggested making his private correspondence with the Empress public. To which he was told, “We can’t do that! If we do, the Russian nation will worship them as saints.”
- The Emperor wasn’t guilty of the Khodynka stampede tragedy. When he learned about it, he immediately provided financial help and moral support for the victims.
- During the events of Bloody Sunday in 1905, revolutionary provocateurs were the first to begin shooting at the troops. The total number of dead was 130 and not 5000 as Lenin later claimed. Those who were wounded by the troops’ return fire were immediately administered first aid and taken to hospitals. The Emperor wasn’t even in St Petersburg that day. When he found out what had happened, he immediately provided considerable financial help and moral support for the victims. He paid in total 50,000 rubles of his own money to the injured. The revolution of 1905-1907 was largely prevented due to the Emperor’s commitment and determination.
- He secured Europe’s largest empire that knew few rivals in its military and economic power and prosperity either before or after his reign.
- The Russian Orthodox Church was the second largest in the world. By 1913, it numbered 53,900 churches and 1,000 monasteries in the Russian Empire alone that were situated in every corner of the vast country. The Russian Orthodox Church enjoyed considerable influence in the Holy Land and offered guidance to all Orthodox Christians in Europe, Asia and even Africa.
- The construction and renovation of churches was either financed by the state or supported directly by funds provided by Nicholas from the crown. The Emperor himself took part in the laying of the first cornerstones and the consecration of many churches. He visited churches and monasteries in all parts of the country and venerated their saints. Nicholas ensured that state subsidies to the Church increased annually from 30 million rubles in 1908 to 53 million rubles in 1914.
- Emperor Nicholas II ‘s concern for the Russian Orthodox Church extended far beyond the borders of his Empire. Thanks to the sovereign’s generous donations, 17 new Russian churches were built in European cities. In addition, Orthodox churches in Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, Montenegro, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Palestine, Argentina and the United States, all benefited from donations made by the Emperor.
- During the more than twenty-two years of Nicholas II’s reign, the Russian population had grown by 62 million.
- In 1897, Nicholas II approved the Russian Imperial Census, the first and the only census carried out in the Russian Empire. Nicholas took part in the census, in the field ‘occupation’ Nicholas wrote: ‘Owner of the Russian land’. The data processing took 8 years using Hollerith card machines. Publication of the results started in 1898 and ended in 1905.
- By the beginning of the 20th century, the judicial reforms of Nicholas II were firmly established throughout the Empire.
- In 1909, the Emperor went on a sixteen-mile forced march in order to test the new foot soldiers equipment. The combined weight of his gear exceeded seventy pounds. The only people he let in on his plans were the Minister of the Court and the Palace Commandant.
- He shortened compulsory military service to three years in the Army and five years in the Navy.
- During the course of the First World War, the Emperor took frequent trips to the front line, often accompanied by his son and heir Alexei, to demonstrate that his love for his people and his homeland made him defy death. His wife and daughters toiled in military hospitals tending to the wounded and assisting at surgeries. Later, when the Russian army suffered its hardest times, he assumed supreme command of the troops. During that period, not a single grain of the Russian soil was surrendered to the enemy. Nicholas’ troops didn’t let Wilhelm II past Galicia (the Western part of Ukraine and Belarus). Military historians now believe that had the revolution not interfered, Russia was bound to have won the war. Russian prisoners of war were considered its victims. They kept their ranks, decorations and wages. The duration of their captivity was counted towards their length of service. Of the 2,417,000 Russian PoWs only 5% died.
- The percentage of conscripts was the lowest in Russia of all the countries involved in military action: 39% of all men aged between 15 and 49 as compared to 81% in Germany, 74% in Austria-Hungary, 79% in France, 50% in Great Britain and 72% in Italy. Per thousand population, Russia lost 11 men compared to 31 in Germany, 18 in Austria, 34 in France and 16 in Great Britain. Russia was the only country that didn’t have problems with food supplies. The German wartime ersatz bread was unthinkable in Russia.
- The Peasants’ Land Bank offered large loans to farmers. By 1914, Russian peasants and farmers owned or rented 100% of all agricultural land in Siberia and the Asian part of Russia and 90% in its European zones. In Siberia, special state-owned depots provided the local population with agricultural equipment.
- The total per capita taxes in the Russia of 1913 was half of that in France and Germany and a quarter of that in Great Britain. The Russian population kept getting richer. The wages of Russian workers were on a par with those in Europe, second only to those of their American counterparts.
- Starting June 1903, all industrialists were obliged to pay a monthly allowance and pension to all workers injured in industrial accidents and their families. The amount of such allowance was set at 50 to 66% of the injured person’s needs. The country’s first trade unions were formed in 1906. A law of June 23 1912 introduced obligatory health and accident insurance for workers.
- The Russian law On Obligatory Social Insurance was one of the first of its kind in the world, preceding those of the United States and some leading European countries.
- Russia had one of the most progressive labor legislations of the time. According to some sources, American President William Taft commended the Russians on it saying, “No democratic state boasts such a perfect labor legislation as the one conceived by your Emperor.”
- On 15th (O.S. 2nd) June 1897, Emperor Nicholas II issued a decree prohibiting work in factories and other enterprises on Sundays and holidays.
- Prices for home-grown produce were the lowest in the world.
- During Nicholas II’s reign, the country’s budget grew almost threefold.
- The reign of Nicholas II was characterized by a deficit-free state budget, i.e. government revenues exceeded government spending. In the pre-war decade, the excess of state revenues over expenditures was 2.4 billion rubles. Public finances flourished. As a result of the deficit-free budget, redemption payments for peasants were cancelled, railway tariffs were lowered, and some taxes were eliminated.
- The adoption of the gold standard during the monetary reform of 1897 resulted in a much stronger ruble. According to the country’s finance minister Sergei Witte, “Russia has solely Emperor Nicholas II to thank for the introduction of gold currency.”
- Between 1894 and 1914, the amount of household deposits in savings banks increased sevenfold. The amount of deposits and equity deposited in small credit institutions increased 17 times. Deposits into joint-stock commercial banks between 1895-1915 increased 13 times.
- The grounds of the obligatory primary education were laid in 1908, aiming to achieve 100% literacy by 1925-1926. By 1916, the percentage of literate Russians more than doubled, from 21.1% in 1897 to 56%. By the beginning of the first World War, Russia had over a hundred higher education facilities that numbered over 150,000 students, placing Russia in a shared third place in the world (with Great Britain). The financing of education grew from 25 million to 161 million rubles. That’s not counting council schools whose financing had grown from 70 million in 1894 to 300 million in 1913. In total, the education budget grew 628%. The number of secondary school students grew from 224,000 to 700,000. The numbers of university students doubled while the number of all children attending school grew from 3 to 6 million. By 1913, Russia had 80,000 primary schools. A new law drafted just before the revolution introduced free schooling for everyone, including full board. Seminaries were free for the children of clergy, including full board.
- The early 1900s saw the introduction of free medicine. All Russian nationals had the right to free medical help; they received thorough checkups followed by detailed consultations. “The Russian system of municipal medicine has been the biggest achievement of our time in the field of social medicine as it offers free medical help available to anyone and also has a considerable awareness-raising value,” wrote the Swiss professor Friedrich Erissmann. Russia was second in Europe and third in the world for the number of qualified doctors.
- Kindergartens, maternity wards, orphanages and overnight shelters for the homeless mushroomed all over Russia.
- Patriotic sentiment was one of the strongest engines of the country’s politics during Nicholas II’s reign who saw his purpose in defending Russian interests at all levels. A great number of patriotic organisations, parties and movements functioned in Russia, covering the country in a vast net of institutions where a Russian person could turn to in an hour of need or to seek protection from injustice.
- Industry grew rapidly, raising the gross domestic product four times in the period from 1890 to 1913. Coal mining grew 500% and iron smelting, 400% within 20 years. Copper and manganese mining grew 500% within the same period. Investment capital in engineering factories rose 80% between 1911 and 1914. The total length of railroads and telegraph lines doubled within 20 years. The Russian river fleet doubled as well. Industry was rapidly becoming mechanised. In 1901, Russia produced 12,120,000 tons of crude oil as compared to 9,920,000 tons in the United States. In the period from 1908 to 1913, the growth in labor efficiency outpaced that of the United States, Germany and Great Britain — the top-ranking industrial giants. Nicholas II’s activity resulted in remarkable economic stability. As the world plunged into the depths of the economic crisis in 1911-1912, Russia preserved its momentum.
- Crude oil manufacturers paid a special tax on their activities which was then used to advance domestic production.
- In 1914, Russia sent a group of 2000 military engineers and other War Department workers to the United States in order to advance its heavy armaments industry.
- Russia hit the list of top countries in national income growth, increase in labor efficiency and concentration of production. It became one of the biggest exporters of textiles, a major steel and non-ferrous industry manufacturer and one of the biggest machine manufacturers and coal-mining countries.
- Russia became the world’s largest exporter of grain, cereals and dairy products. Its grain crops were 1/3 larger than the combined crops of the United States, Canada and Argentina.
- Grain production doubled, its combined yield growing 12%.
- Cattle stocks grew 60%. Russia had more horses than any other country and was also one of the biggest breeders of cattle, sheep, goats and pigs.
- The following territories became either part of Russia or its protectorates: North Manchuria, Tianjin, Northern Iran, Urianhai, Ukrainian Galicia, the Ukrainian provinces of Lviv, Peremysl, Ternopol and Chernovitsk, as well as Western Armenia. Russian pioneers reclaimed vast territories of Siberia, Kazakhstan and the Far East.
- Nicholas II strove to remain unbiased and impartial to various lobbies’ interests. Many economic reforms as well as the anti-alcohol campaign were conceived and controlled personally by the Emperor, sometimes against the Duma’s judgment.
- The amount of freedom of speech and of press was larger than in any other period in Russia before or after his reign.
- Russia’s gold reserves became the largest in the world, making the ruble the hardest currency.
- Russia boasted one of the fastest-growing railway systems in the world. The length of miles of track increased from 31,623 in 1905 to 50,403 in 1917.
- Nicholas II personally supervised and controlled the building and completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway.
- Russia possessed one of the numerically strongest and quickest developing armies. It employed the Mosin’s rifle renowned for its efficiency, the 1910 Russia-improved version of the Maxim heavy machine gun and the 76-mm light field guns which were considered some of the best in the world.
- By the time of its creation in 1910, the Russian Air Force possessed some 263 aircraft which made it one of the biggest in the world. By autumn 1917, the number of aircraft had increased to 700.
- By 1917, the Imperial Russian Navy was second only to the British and German fleets. Its new-generation destroyers and battleships were among the best in the world; its mine laying operation tactics were considered the best of their kind.
- Nicholas II was the originator of the first Hague Peace Conference and its Permanent Court of Arbitration. In 1901, the Emperor was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, in recognition of his efforts to limit armaments and promote peace among the great powers.
- Russia’s per capita alcohol consumption was one of the lowest in Europe, second only to Norway (3.4 litres of pure alcohol a year per capita in Russia as compared to 16.5 in France and 11.2 in Germany), culminating in Nicholas’ introduction of the prohibition law in 1914.
- The numbers of mentally ill persons were estimated at 187 per 100,000 population. A hundred years later in 2010 this figure topped 5,598 per 100,000.
- The numbers of suicides were estimated at 4,4 per 100,000 population in 1912, as compared to 29 in 2009.
- Both inflation and unemployment were non-existent although the dwindling amount of agricultural land forced many farmers to seek employment in cities.
- The crime rate was comparable with that of the United States and European countries. The 1913 International Criminological Congress in Switzerland recognised the Moscow detective police as “the best in the world”.
- The unprecedented boom of Russian culture resulted in a breathtaking rise in art, music, theatre, literature and architecture. The French poet and literary critic Paul Valéry called it “one of the three greatest summits in humanity’s history”, liking it to Greek Antiquity and Italian Renaissance.
- Nicholas II’s reign became the golden age of Russian science and philosophy.
- Russians became the first in the world to invent, among other things: Wireless radio transmission (by Alexander Popov who built his radio transmitter in 1894 and demonstrated it on May 7 1895, as opposed to Guglielmo Marconi, accordingly 1895 and 1896); Helicopter (by Igor Sikorsky in 1912); and the Television (by Boris Rosing who performed the first television transmission on May 9 1911)
- Russia became one of the leading manufacturers of motorcars and motorcycles, zeppelins and double-deckers. In 1902, Russian engineer Boris Lutskoi improved Maybach’s six-cylinder engine which he then supplied to Daimler, including the racing Mercedes 120PS in 1906.
- Russia’s motorcar industry at the time rivalled that of Germany; its aircraft production was comparable to America. Russian steam engines were among the best in the world. The Russo-Balt cars were known for their strength and reliability, successfully competing in such prestigious contests as the Monte Carlo and San Sebastian rallies.
- The famous Chanel No 5 scent was created by the Russia-born chemist Ernest Beau, the Romanov family’s unfailing perfumer who had emigrated to France after the Russian revolution of 1917. Beau was introduced to Coco Chanel by Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich (1891-1942).
All of the above was achieved without any kind of pressure on the Russian population, without reverting to violence, robbing farmers of their livelihood, without reverting to the practice of prison camps or destroying the Russian people by the millions.
This list is incomplete, and will be further updated. In the meantime, please click HERE to read a Chronology of Events in the Life and Reign of Emperor Nicholas II, which I prepared on 7th June 2021 – PG
To learn more about Nicholas II’s many accomplishments, and to read first English language translation of articles by a new generation of Russian historians, which debunk the popular negative assessment of his life and reign, please refer to SOVEREIGN. For a limited time only, you can acquire ALL 11 issues for $275 USD – shipping is FREE on all Canada and United States orders [all other countries, please contact me for rates to your country of residence] – PG
© Paul Gilbert. 13 July 2021