Series: The Last Czars
Release: on 3rd July on Netflix with 6 episodes
The text below is the excerpt of the book The Last Tsar, written by Larissa Yermilova, published by Parkstone International.
After the accession to the Russian throne of 26-year old Nicholas II on May 14, 1896, there were expectations of changes in the domestic policy of the government. But these expectations were thwarted by the first speech of the young emperor made after his coronation in Moscow. He said in so many words: “Let it be known that I will safeguard the principles of autocracy as firmly and steadfastly as my unforgettable late parent did.”
But it was difficult and even impossible to follow the course of Alexander III at the turn of the century. New developments were taking place on the Russian social scene, posing difficult problems for the government. The chief one was the upsurge of the revolutionary movement.
By the time Nicholas II had acceded to the throne, the movement of the working class in Russia was led by the revolutionary social democrats armed with the theory of Marxism that aimed at overthrowing the autocracy. The last tsar of the Romanov dynasty had a difficult road to travel. Even people close to the court, such as ministers Witte and Durnovo, could not unravel the character of Nicholas II because he was very reserved and well mannered. At first, Witte thought that “he was a very inexperienced but not a dull young man with good manners”.
Later, Witte said that the character of Nicholas II combined the traits of Paul I and Alexander I. Nicholas II (Aleksandrovich), the eldest son of Alexander III and of Empress Maria Fyodorovna, was born at Tsarskoe Selo on May 6, 1868. He received his education from his tutor, Grigory G. Danilovich. The vast programme of general and military education was spaced over 13 years. Emperor Alexander II demanded that emphasis should be placed on teaching Russian history and literature.
From his early years, the tsarevich studied military service, taking part in training, reviews and parades of units that he patronized and later joined the army. In the Preobrazhensky Regiment, he was a junior officer then, company commander. He also served in the cavalry lifeguards hussar regiment as a junior officer and was promoted to squadron commander.
He also took part in laying the foundation stone of the Vladivostok dock. In 1892, he was appointed a chairman of the committee for building the Siberian Railway. On November 14, 1894, Nicholas married Princess Alice of Hess Darmstadt who was renamed Alexandra Fyodorovna. She gave him four daughters and one son: Olga, Tatiana, Anastasia, and Maria, and the Tsarevich Alexis. In the early years of his reign, Nicholas II called on all states “to put an end to continuous rearmament and find resources to prevent the misery threatening the whole world”.
While still a tsarevich, Nicholas made a voyage to get acquainted with the navy and the construction of warships. From 1889, Nicholas took part in the meetings of the State Council and Committee of Ministers. In 1890, while still tsarevich, Nicholas travelled to the Far East and saw his own and other countries at first hand. His route lay via Vienna, Trieste and then by sea he visited Greece, Egypt, India, China and Japan. The celebrations on the occasion of his arrival in Japan were spoiled by the attempt on his life made by a local nationalist. Fortunately, the tsarevich was unscathed but the people of Japan resented the outrageous attack which casted a shadow over the hospitality of their country. The tsarevich spent more than six months in foreign countries. In Vladivostok, he attended the inauguration ceremony of the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway.
At the Hague Conference convened at the initiations of Nicholas II on May 6, 1889, the countries of Europe, America and Asia agreed on arbitration and other methods of settling international conflicts. The Hague International Tribunal was instituted. Inaugurating the League of Nations after World War I, President Wilson of the United States, asked everyone to rise to pay homage to the late Russian Emperor Nicholas II who had initiated the creation of an international organization for a peaceful settlement of differences and conflicts.
In his efforts to establish friendly relations with other countries and attaching great importance to personal contacts with the leaders of states, Nicholas II made a number of trips abroad. His visit to France in October 1896 reaffirmed the alliance with that country. A trilateral agreement between Russia, France and England was reached. The Franco-Russian alliance concluded by Nicholas II guaranteed the Western frontiers of Russia against German invasion. Russian diplomats made progress in the peaceful settlement of conflicts on the Balkan Peninsula. In 1904, Russia, Austria and Hungary signed a declaration of neutrality settling an acute conflict on the Balkan Peninsula. The tsar’s government forestalled the infiltration of Germany into the Turkish regions bordering on Russia. It succeeded in this by obtaining concessions from Turkey for building railways close to the Black Sea coast and Russo-Turkish frontier. Russia acquired a powerful influence in the Middle East and failed to prevent hostilities only in the Far East.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Japan strove to establish its predominant influence in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. In 1904, it attacked Russia. Without declaring war, the Japanese Navy put to sea and on January 26, attacked the squadron in Port Arthur. The Japanese outnumbered the Russian armed forces and had twice as many cruisers and three times as many destroyers as the Russian squadron in the Pacific.
A squadron of Japanese cruisers suddenly appeared at Chemulpo (Korea) in the Yellow Sea where the cruiser Varyag and gunboat Koreyets were. The Russian warships were invited to surrender but the Varyag, accompanied by the Koreyets, hoisted its battle flag and engaged the Japanese squadron in an unequal battle. After losing almost all its guns, and with seven officers and 115 seamen killed or wounded in this heroic battle, the disabled Varyag and Koreyets retreated to the sea roads in Chemulpo where the Koreyets was blown up and the Varyag sunk. The surviving members of the crew were taken to neutral ports onboard foreign ships.
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