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Why Tsar Nicholas II and the Romanovs Were Murdered

October 25, 2018 in History

By Erin Blakemore

Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.

When Nicholas Romanov was crowned tsar of Russia in 1894, he seemed bewildered. “What is going to happen to me…to all Russia?” he asked an advisor when he assumed the throne. “I am not prepared to be Tsar. I never even wanted to become one.”

Twenty-four years later, he seemed just as bewildered as a group of armed thugs, members of the Bolshevik secret police, moved in to assassinate him. Though he had been deposed months earlier, his crown and his name stolen from him and his family imprisoned, he did not expect to be murdered.

But unlike Tsar Nicholas, historians have pieced together the exact reasons why the Romanov family was brutally assassinated and the context that led to their downfall.

Tsar Nicholas II and empress Alexandra in coronation robes, 1894.

Russians turn against Nicholas II after a series of unpopular decisions

The roots of the Romanov family’s murder can be found in the earliest days of Nicholas’ reign. The eldest son of Emperor Alexander III, Nicholas was his father’s designated heir. But Alexander did not adequately prepare his son to rule a Russia that was wracked with political turmoil. A strict autocrat, Alexander believed that a tsar had to rule with an iron fist. He forbade anyone within the Russian Empire to speak non-Russian languages (even those in places like Poland), cracked down on the freedom of the press, and weakened his people’s political institutions.

As a result, Nicholas inherited a restless Russia. A few days after his coronation in 1894, nearly 1,400 of his subjects died during a huge stampede. They had gathered on a large field in Moscow to receive coronation gifts and souvenirs, but the day ended in tragedy. It was a disturbing beginning to Nicholas’ reign, and his bungled response earned him the nickname “Nicholas the Bloody.”

Throughout his reign, Nicholas faced growing discontent from his subjects. He fought a war the people weren’t behind. His government massacred nearly 100 unarmed protesters during a peaceful assembly in 1905. And he struggled to maintain a civil relationship with the Duma, the representative branch of the Russian government.

Rasputin (TV-14; 1:59)

World War I catastrophes and Rasputin’s reputation erode Nicholas’ public support

Nicholas’ son, the crown prince, Alexei, was born with hemophilia. But the family kept his disease, which would cause him to bleed to death …read more


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