Tsar Nicholas II – The family man

(public domain)

The future Nicholas II of Russia was born on 18 May (O.S. 6 May) 1868 in the Alexander Palace as the son of Alexander III of Russia and Dagmar of Denmark. He was related to several European monarchs. Nicholas’s birth was followed by George in 1871, Xenia in 1875, Michael in 1878 and Olga in 1882.

Dagmar and Nicholas (public domain)

The children slept on simple cots with hard pillows and took cold baths in the morning.1 His education was completed by tutors, including Constantine Petrovich Pobedonostsev. A 13-year-old Nicholas watched as his grandfather, who was mortally wounded by a bomb, died on 13 March 1881. He finished his education in 1890 at the age of 21. Nothing was yet expected of him. His father was still young and could live for another 30 years, and so Nicholas waited and became somewhat of a playboy. In January 1890, he went out almost every night and attended around 20 performances at the opera, theatre and ballet. In the spring of 1890, he met Matilde Kschessinska, a 17-year-old dancer of the Imperial Ballet.2 Nothing happened for a year, but soon the relationship began to grow, although he never from her the feelings he had for his future wife, Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine.

The question of marriage was put off until suddenly the Tsar fell ill with influenza and had trouble with his kidneys. Nothing could now be done about Nicholas’s lack of experience, but they could at least arrange his marriage. As Alexander’s health deteriorated, Alix travelled to Livadia. Alexander met her in full-dress uniform, insisting that it was the only way for the Tsar of Russia to greet a future Empress.3 He held on for ten more days and died on the afternoon of 1 November 1894.4“The Lord has called to him our adored, our dear, our tenderly loved Papa”, Nicholas wrote. He was now Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, and he was entirely unprepared.5

The wedding took place on 26 November 1894. Alix wrote, “Our marriage seemed to me a mere continuation of the masses for the dead with this difference, that now I wore a white dress instead of a black.”6 They spent much time apart, as Alix studied to learn Russia and Nicholas ran the country. Despite this, she was soon pregnant. Their first child, a daughter named Olga was born on 15 November (O.S. 3 November) 1895.

On 26 May 1896 (O.S 14 May), the couple was crowned in a ceremony lasting five hours.7 The magnificent festivities would be overshadowed by the tragedy of the Khodynka Meadow where over a thousand where trampled to death.8 The festivities continued as if nothing happened, although they did spend a day visiting hospitals. Some Russians took it as a bad omen, while others used it to emphasise the heartlessness of the autocracy of the Tsar and his “German woman.”9

Nicholas was Russian through and through. He preferred simple Russian clothes; he preferred to speak Russian, except to his wife whose Russian was awkward.  He liked to read Pushkin, Gogol and Tolstoy. His favourite ballet was The Hunchback Horse, based on a Russian fairytale. He had no private secretary and kept a large calendar on his desk with his appointments.10

(public domain)

The birth of Olga was followed by the births of three more daughters, Tatiana in 1897, Maria in 1899 and Anastasia in 1901. On 12 August (O.S. 30 July) 1904, a son was finally born to them. He was named Alexis or Alexei. Six weeks later, the first signs of haemophilia appeared, and it was to remain a secret within the family. The few people who knew included Grigori Rasputin, who once famously telegrammed during a particularly bad episode, “The little one will not die.” Alix began to believe he was the only one who could heal her son, leading to further alienation.

As the events in Russia spiralled out of control, Nicholas turned more and more into a private family man. But perhaps autocracy was already in retreat. Perhaps Nicholas would have fared better as a constitutional monarch. Absolute power was taken from him with the creation of the Duma.

On 15 March (O.S 2 March) 1917 at 3 pm, Nicholas abdicated the throne. On 17 July 1918, he was executed alongside his family. He had feared the job all his life, and it had cost him his life.11


  1. Massie, Robert K. Nicholas and Alexandra p. 13
  2. Massie, Robert K. Nicholas and Alexandra p. 19-20
  3. Massie, Robert K. Nicholas and Alexandra p. 42
  4. Massie, Robert K. Nicholas and Alexandra p. 43
  5. Massie, Robert K. Nicholas and Alexandra p. 43
  6. Massie, Robert K. Nicholas and Alexandra p. 46
  7. Massie, Robert K. Nicholas and Alexandra p. 55
  8. Massie, Robert K. Nicholas and Alexandra p. 58
  9. Massie, Robert K. Nicholas and Alexandra p. 59
  10. Massie, Robert K. Nicholas and Alexandra p. 66
  11. Massie, Robert K. Nicholas and Alexandra p. 63

About Moniek Bloks 2659 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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