On 13 March 1917(O.S. 28 February) Nicholas left for Petrograd but was unable to reach it as the railway stations were controlled by the revolutionaries. The train was stopped at Malaya Vishera and turned around. On 14 March (O.S. 1 March) the tsar arrived in Pskov, and the Provisional Committee declared itself the governing body of the Russian Empire. The Army chief and the deputies of the Duma came to advise the tsar, and the advice was to abdicate.
The only thing which can secure the permanent establishment of a new order, without too great a shock, is his voluntary abdication.1
Nicholas was overwhelmed by it all. He was silent for a while and weighed his options, but soon realised he was out of options. He declared, “I have decided that I shall give up the throne in favour of my son, Alexis.” He made a sign of the cross and added, “I thank you, gentlemen, for your distinguished and faithful service. I hope it will continue under my son.”2 An abdication form was prepared, and Nicholas signed it on 15 March (O.S 2 March) 1917 at 3 pm on board the imperial train. Then, a confusion in procedure arose. It was decided that two more people should be present and that they should bring the document back to Petrograd. The interval gave Nicholas time to reflect.
Nicholas called for the doctor and asked him frankly about his son’s prospects with haemophilia. He confirmed that Alexei was incurable and he pointed out that Nicholas and Alexandra would certainly be exiled from Russia, separating them from their son. Nicholas knew he could not bring himself to abandon his child to strangers, even if he was the rightful heir to the throne. As the two other people finally arrived in Pskov, Nicholas had made up his mind. He told them calmly, “I have decided to renounce my throne. Until three o’clock today, I thought I would abdicate in favour of my son, Alexis. But now I have changed my decision in favour of my brother Michael. I trust you will understand my feelings of a father.”3
The final text of the abdication read:
In this great struggle with a foreign enemy, who for nearly three years had tried to enslave our country, the Lord God has been pleased to send down on Russia a new, heavy trial. The internal popular disturbances which have begun, threaten to have a disastrous effect on the future conduct of this persistent war. The destiny of Russia, the honour of our heroic enemy, the good of the people, the whole future of our dear country demand that whatever it cost, the war should be brought to a victorious end.
The real enemy is gathering his last forces, and already the hour is near when our gallant army, together with our glorious allies, will be able finally to crush the enemy.
In these decisive days in the life of Russia, we have thought it a duty of conscience to facilitate for our people a close union and consolidation of all national forces for the speedy attainment of victory, and, in agreement with the Imperial Duma, we have thought it good to abdicate from the throne of the Russian State, and to lay down the supreme power.
Not wishing to part with our dear son, we hand over our inheritance to our brother, the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, and giver him our blessing to mount the throne of the Russian State. We bequeath it to our brother to direct the forces of the State in full and inviolable union with the representatives of the people in the legislative institutions, on those principles which will by them be established.
In the name of our dearly loved country, we call on all faithful sons of the Fatherland to fulfil their sacred duty to him by obedience to the Tsar at a heavy moment of national trials, to help him, together with the representatives of the people, to bring the Russian State on to the road of victory, prosperity and glory.
May the Lord God help Russia. – Nicolas4
On 16 March (O.S. 3 March) at 1 am, the Imperial train left Pskov bound for Mogilev, where Nicholas would say goodbye to his armies. That night, Nicholas recorded in his journal, “For the sake of Russia, and to keep the armies in the field, I decided to take this step… Left Pskov at one in the morning. All around me I see treason, cowardice and deceit.”5
The other members of the Imperial family reacted to the news with dismay. “Nicky must have lost his mind”, wrote Grand Duke Alexander.6 The Tsar’s sister, Olga Alexandrovna who was with their mother in Kiev, wrote, “The news of Nicky’s abdication came like a thunderbolt. We were stunned. My mother was in a terrible state. She kept telling me it was the greatest humiliation of her life… She blamed poor Alicky for…everything.”7
Grand Duke Michael, the intended new Tsar, received the news via telegram in Gatchina. He was naturally wary of accepting. He asked if his life could be vouched for if he accepted the crown. It could not be. Michael took a few minutes to decide and then decided to abdicate.8 Replacing one Tsar with another would not be enough.
On 20 March (O.S. 7 March), the provisional government resolved to “deprive the deposed emperor and his consort of their liberty.” The next day, Nicholas kissed his mother goodbye as she cried unrestrainedly. He boarded a train on an adjacent track and waved as his train departed. They never saw each other again.9
Nicholas was reunited with his family at the Alexander Palace the next day, but by then, they were prisoners.
- Massie, Robert K. (1967). Nicholas and Alexandra p. 414
- Massie, Robert K. (1967). Nicholas and Alexandra p. 415
- Massie, Robert K. (1967). Nicholas and Alexandra p. 416
- Massie, Robert K. (1967). Nicholas and Alexandra p. 417
- Massie, Robert K. (1967). Nicholas and Alexandra p. 418
- Massie, Robert K. (1967). Nicholas and Alexandra p. 420
- Massie, Robert K. (1967). Nicholas and Alexandra p. 425-426
- Massie, Robert K. (1967). Nicholas and Alexandra p. 423
- Massie, Robert K. (1967). Nicholas and Alexandra p. 426-427