- Nicholas II
Last emperor (Tsar) of Russia (1894-1917); one of the major European leaders of the pre-World War I era, he was deposed by the Russian Revolution of 1917.
The eldest son of Emperor Aleksander III, Nikolai was born at Tsarskoye Selo (now Pushkin). Educated privately, he was married in 1894 to Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt, a German princess who took the name Aleksandra when she converted to Russian Orthodoxy. In the same year his father died, and he succeeded to the throne. Believing firmly in his duty to preserve absolute power in the Russian monarchy, he opposed any concessions to those favoring more democracy in government, but had little talent for leadership himself.
By 1905, the people of Russia had little faith in Nikolai's leadership. The defeat of the Russians in the Russian-Japanese War in 1904 had strained the Russian economy and Russian workers. In January 1905 Saint Petersburg was paralyzed by strikes. The czar's authority over the country was gone.
An advocate of international cooperation, Nikolai supported the Hague Conferences in 1899 and 1907, which created the Permanent Court of Arbitration and formulated rules for the human conduct of war, but failed to check Europe's growing arms race. Despite his personally friendly relations with his cousin, William II of Germany, their two countries were on opposite sides when World War I broke out in 1914.
Russia was unprepared for the war; there were shortages of ammunition and of officers to command the soldiers, as well as problems transporting food throughout Russia. After 1915, when Nikolai assumed personal command of the army, military failures were blamed on him, further damaging his reputation. In addition, while he was away from the royal court, his wife and Rasputin were in charge of internal affairs, which angered the people. Nikolai was forced to abdicate the throne after the Russian Revolution of March 1917, and Russia became a democratic republic. Nikolai and his family were held captive by the Bolsheviks until July 16, 1918, when they were shot by a firing squad.