The Decline And Fall Of The Romanov Dynasty
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Nicholas II came to the throne during an arduous time in Russian history. It was a combination of factors, including his political ineptitude that led to the fall of the Romanov dynasty and eventually cost Nicholas II, the Tsarina Alexandra and their five children their lives. Russia was late in modernising, partly due to the Tsar?s lack of reforms, and was behind Britain, France and the United States. Russia was also slow to emerge from feudalism, and was undergoing difficulty as industrial and agricultural production declined. Additionally, Russia was not socially advanced, as the peasants and working class had an extremely low standard of living, while the Royal Family lived a life of luxury. Politically, Russia was behind as there were no legal political parties, and the people had absolutely no power. The final event that pushed revolution to where it could not return from was World War I, which inflicted serious pain on Russia.
Tsar Nicholas II succeeded in making a bad situation in Russia even worse. He became a leader at a difficult time, and could never stop the process of revolution. The Tsar was not a good leader, and was out of touch with the Russian people. He was also weak and indecisive, and extremely stubborn. Nicholas II was not equipped to effectively rule a country the size of Russia, and with a vast variety of people with different language, religion, race and culture. Additionally, Nicholas II was mainly concerned with family issues, instead of being concerned with political issues. It was these traits in Nicholas II?s personality that hindered him in being able to attempt to steer Russia away from revolution.
The seeds of revolution had been sowed before Nicholas II came to the throne. The Russian people had wanted changes for a long time. Most of the people wanted a constitutional monarchy, such as Britain. They wanted the Tsar?s powers to be limited but still wanted the Tsar to stay as a figurehead. Nicholas II though, was stubborn and a firm believer in autocracy. He was determined to pass down the power that his father had given to him to his son. Nicholas? stubbornness is shown in the quote ?I shall maintain the principal of autocracy just as firmly and unflinchingly as it was preserved by my unforgettable dead father?(Nicholas and Alexandra, Robert K. Massie). Nicholas II believed as most autocrats do that it was by the divine influence of God that he was Tsar, and no one could take it away from him. He also believed he was in God?s hands, and that God inspired all of his actions.
The real starting point of the revolution was on January 22nd, 1905. This day was to become known as Bloody Sunday, the day when protesters were killed as they marched peacefully to the Winter Palace. The factory workers marched toward the palace with petitions pleading for better conditions for the workers as factory owners were exploiting them. The workers seemed to be loyal to the Tsar as they were appealing to him to help them, which showed unbroken confidence in the Tsar. The response to the march was for the troops to open fire on the crowd. Even though Nicholas II was not at the Winter Palace at the time and had not authorised the troops to fire, his image was forever tarnished.
Nicholas II was also not properly prepared to become Tsar. Alexander III did little to prepare his son for the crown, perhaps because he thought he would be Tsar for longer. It is reported that Nicholas in his early manhood found government meetings boring and was uninterested in the affairs of state. He lived the life of a socialite, and never had taken a liking to political affairs. Therefore Nicholas was not prepared to take the throne, as he had no knowledge of the world of politics, government, or men. Nicholas? lack of preparation to become Tsar is considered to be one of the factors that contributed to the fall of autocracy in Russia.
The Tsar?s stubbornness was also evident when he refused to make any concessions or give in to the people. He would not grant them any changes that they wanted, and remained an oppressive emperor. Nicholas II rejected the idea that ?the times were changing? and wanted to return Russia to a time where the dynasty and society belonged more. Nicholas II also did not give reforms that would have enabled Russia?s industry and society to modernise. The quote by Orlando Figes ?It was their tragedy that just as Russia was entering the twentieth century, they were trying to return it to the seventieth.?(Figes, 1997) shows this desire not to change and modernise.
Tsar Nicholas II was particularly concerned about his son Alexis who was a haemophiliac. Because of his devotion to his son, Nicholas II allowed the Tsarina to seek help for his son?s illness from a monk called Rasputin. Rasputin, referred to as the ?mad monk?, seemed to heal Alexis, possibly through hypnosis. Rasputin then gained influence over Alexandra, who in turn had influence over the Tsar. It has been stated that the Tsarina virtually controlled Russia. Rasputin then became a regular face in the government and found power from his relationship with the Royal Family. Rumours soon began to circulate in the public about the Royal Family. Even though Rasputin was murdered in 1916, the image of Nicholas II dominated by a ?mad monk? still existed in the public?s eye. The Russian people were also very resentful of Nicholas II?s wife Alexandra. Alexandra was a German princess and the granddaughter of Queen Victoria. The people resented her influence over the Tsar, as he was very weak and easily influenced by his wife. Once Russia was at war with Germany, the people slowly began to detest her, calling her a German spy.
Another influence on the decline and fall of the Romanovs? was the poor conditions that the peasants had to live in. The peasants made up the majority of the people in Russia, and their standard of living was very pitiable. In a passage of a story by Chekhov he described the peasants? living standard as ? ?these people lived worse than cattle? The most insignificant little clerk or official treated the peasants as if they were tramps??(Chekhov, 1987). The peasants, as they were informed of their poor situation by the educated middle class, blamed their standard of living on the Tsar, and some supported the need for change and revolution.
Another reason that autocracy in Russia fell was because of the formation of political parties. These parties introduced the ideas of socialism and liberalism to people. The parties also sparked the socialism verses autocracy debate. Examples of such political parties include the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries, Cadets and Octobrists.
The final impact that determined the decline and fall of the Romanov dynasty was the outbreak of World War I. When Germany declared war on Russia there was a feeling of national pride and enthusiasm, and everyone wanted to help. But the war started to drain resources, and badly trained peasants were forced to do the fighting with little or no weapons. As the army suffered terrible defeats because of a lack of equipment and food, and as Russia could not maintain a war against the highly industrialised Germany, the causalities began to grow. In 1915 alone, the war was the cause of over two million deaths. As the peasants were fighting on the war fronts, there was no one to do the work in the villages. As a result, there was a severe food and goods shortage. The morale of the country began to sink as losses on the battlefields in addition to food and fuel shortages took their toll. The Tsar made another terrible mistake when he employed himself as Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces (head of the army) as he was then responsible for the army?s constant demoralising defeats.
Therefore it is evident that it was a combination of factors that caused the decline and fall of the Romanov dynasty. A revolution was inevitable, and was going to occur regardless of whom was in power. World War I, the Tsar neglecting to grant reforms that would modernise Russia, and Russia being behind other countries in many ways were some of the causes of the revolution. However, Nicholas II?s political ineptitude, stubbornness and weak personality did contribute to the revolution. The Tsar was also out of touch with the people he was ruling and very few steps were taken to meet their demands. Nicholas II could of made many changes, which might of helped his cause, but the forces of change had been working in Russia for a long time, and it had become too late to stop them.