Tsar Nicholas II makes most terrible rulers look like saints in comparison. From the moment he was crowned Tsar, his reign was an utter catastrophe. So who was the man who ended the 300-year rule of the House of Romanov? Was he really as bad as they say? Dive into this chilling figure's dark history, and you'll agree—he was even worse.
The future Tsar Nicholas II was born in the lap of luxury at the extravagant Alexander Palace in Saint Petersburg. From the moment he was born, he knew nothing but comfort and excess. If you think that would make him a spoiled brat, you're right on the money. Nicholas II was one of history's biggest bratty rich kids—and Russia would pay dearly for it.
Nicholas was born in a time when the royal family trees of Europe were unbelievably twisted. Out of a desire for political alliances and to keep royal blood "pure," nearly every monarch on the continent was related in one way or another. That led to a lot of cousins marrying cousins—and apparently, Nicholas was into that kind of thing.
In 1883, at an extravagant royal wedding, Nicholas spent the entire time making eyes at his first cousin, the British Princess Victoria. It just ended up being a brief fling, but at least Nick realized what his type was—and that type was "women he was related to."
The future Tsar's family tended to baby young "Nicky," and while he usually loved the coddling, it could get on his nerves too. His uncle was the formidable Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich, and the family had to find a way to tell them apart. They took to calling Uncle Nick "Nicholas the Tall," and little Nicky "Nicholas the Short."
It wasn't the most flattering nickname, but it was a whole lot better than the ones he earned later in life: Vile Nicholas, Nicholas the Hangman, and Bloody Nicholas.
Nicholas's disastrous reign killed the Russian Imperial Family forever, but it's not like the Romanovs' reputation was great to begin with. The glory days of Peter the Great were long gone, and the people of Russia were already starting to turn on their rulers. In 1881, when Nicholas was just 13 years old, revolutionaries attacked his grandfather, Tsar Alexander II.
The Tsar was traveling back to the Winter Palace when an explosion rocked his carriage. He survived the blast and stepped out of the wreckage—it was the last thing he ever did.
When Alexander II emerged from his carriage, another attacker tossed a second explosive at the Tsar's feet. There was nothing he could do—the blast tore through him. Remarkably, despite the fact he'd lost both legs, Alexander survived long enough to be carried back to the Palace, where he succumbed to his injuries in his study.
It was a dark day for Nicholas's family—but there were even darker ones to come.
Nicholas and the rest of his family bore witness to Alexander II's gruesome end. He was just a boy, but Nicholas had to watch his grandfather's painful final moments. Little did he know, he would suffer a similar fate before long. But for now, his father became Tsar Alexander III, and Nicholas was suddenly heir to the throne.
If anyone hoped that things would get better now that Alexander II was gone, they were in for a rude awakening.
Life eventually returned to normal for the teenaged Nicholas, and pretty soon, it was time to start thinking about marriage. After all, he was the heir now, and he needed a wife and children to make sure the royal line continued. In 1884, at one of countless royal weddings, Nicholas' eyes cast across the crowd yet again—and this time, they settled on the bride's sister, Princess Alix.
I don't know what's more messed up: The fact that Alix was Nicholas's cousin, or the fact that she was 12 years old. Either way, one look at her and Alix left Nicholas absolutely transfixed.
Several years passed between Nicholas first meeting Alix and them meeting again, this time on Nicky's home court in Saint Petersburg. Despite the time that had passed, Nicholas was still head over heels for his now-slightly more age-appropriate cousin. To his joy, he found Alix reciprocated his feelings.
Unlike so many cold, political royal marriages, Nicholas and Alix really did seem to genuinely love one another. Unfortunately, love couldn't save them from their horrible end.
Just as his love was blossoming, Nicholas packed up and left on a massive world tour. Along with his brother George and his cousin...George, the trio set out to see all the world had to offer, passing through Egypt, India, Singapore, and Thailand. Next they went to Japan—and that's where the trip took a chilling turn.
History’s most fascinating stories and darkest secrets, delivered to your inbox daily. Making distraction rewarding since 2017.
The highlight of the Japan visit was probably a trip to legendary tattoo artist Hori Chyo. While his extravagant uniforms would cover it up for most of his life, Nicholas actually had a huge tattoo of a dragon curling up his right forearm. Unfortunately, though, that wasn't the only mark he left Japan with...
A unit of Japanese policemen escorted Nicholas and his retinue through Japan—but partway through the trip, one of those officers snapped. On May 11, 1891, officer Tsuda Sanzo suddenly turned on Nicholas and violently thrust at his face with a saber. He struck flesh and went in for the fatal blow. Luckily for the Tsarevich, while Sazno was fast, Nicholas's cousin was faster.
Prince George of Greece and Denmark managed to block the assailant's sword with his cane, saving Nicholas's life. He was alive—but Sanzo had still managed to do some serious damage.
Nicholas II left the encounter with Tsuda Sanzo sporting a sickening, three and a half-inch wound across the side of his forehead. The attack shook him to his core, and he decided to cut his world tour short, heading home soon after. But the reverberations of the event had major consequences.
Japanese culture at the time took honor extremely seriously, and Sanzo's attack horrified the people of Japan. Emperor Meiji offered a personal apology, but that was just the beginning. Tens of thousands of people sent Nicholas telegrams, wishing him a speedy recovery and offering their sincerest apologies. But that wasn't enough for one young seamstress named Yuko Hatakeyama.
Since one of her countrymen had spilled the blood of a respected foreign guest, she believed she had to offer blood in return.
As if the attack wasn't horrific enough, what came next was even more gruesome. Yuko Hatakeyama gathered a crowd in front of the Kyoto Prefectural Office and slit her own throat with a razor blade. She hoped her sacrifice would make up for the great shame that Sanzo's attack brought Japan. And remarkably, the Japanese people applauded her for it! They thought she was a true patriot, giving up her life for Japan's honor.
I doubt Nicholas cared, though. He'd long since put Japan in the rearview, and he was heading home to the "safety" of the Russian court.
If you've ever had to go to a lot of weddings in a year, be thankful you weren't a European royal in the 19th century. It seems like half of Nicholas's early life was spent traveling to one country or another to go to a wedding. In 1893, it was the wedding of his cousin, the future George V of England, and Princess Mary of Teck. There, Nicholas met none other than Queen Victoria.
The monarch took one look at young Nicholas II and couldn't believe what she saw.
What was so shocking about Nicholas to Victoria? Well, just look at a picture of Nicholas next to his cousin George, Victoria's grandson. The two of them look darn near identical! Turns out, when you have the royal families of Europe interbreed for a few centuries, people start looking alike. But Nicholas didn't spend the whole wedding staring at his doppelganger—he had eyes for someone else.
OK, sure, Nicholas and Princess Alix were pretty much love-at-first-sight, but Nicholas still had some messy bachelor days in him. Around his cousin's wedding, Nicky started a brief but wild affair with Mathilde Kschessinska, a stunning ballerina. Apparently, Nicholas needed to get his womanizing out of him before his marriage, and Mathilde was the perfect partner.
They parted ways after Nicholas's wedding, but Mathilde Kschessinska developed a taste for Romanovs.
After Nicholas settled down with his wife, Mathilde jumped into the bed of another Romanov, Nicholas's close friend and cousin Sergei—but she didn't stop there. She soon shacked up with yet another Romanov cousin, Andrei Vladimirovich. Eventually, she gave birth to a boy named Vladimir. He went by the Romanov name for his entire life, but his mom jumped around so much, not even he knew who his father was!
Before he was Tsar, Nicholas II kept busy with extravagant weddings, world travel, and chasing ladies. What he didn't spend much time doing was learning how to be Tsar. He'd been spoiled his entire life, and that didn't stop once he hit his 20s. The family probably assumed that their Nicky had lots of time to learn how to run an empire—after all, his father was only in his 40s when he took the throne.
Little did they know, Nicholas had far, far less time than they thought.
There was seemingly one voice of reason in all of Russia: A politician named Sergei Witte. He wanted Nicholas to start taking a role in politics so he'd be prepared when he took the throne. Witte rightfully pointed out that if Nicholas kept up his playboy lifestyle, he'd never understand how to run a country, but Witte's suggestions fell on deaf ears. Tsar Alexander III didn't want to trouble his son with state affairs.
Nicholas kept on living the Kardashian life, completely oblivious to how the real world worked—then his family's worst fears came true.
Tsar Alexander III was a mountain of a man in his mid-40s. He seemed like he was in the prime of his life—yet not long after he became Tsar, his health started to fail. Pretty soon, it became clear that the Tsar was not long for this world. The family scrambled to get the soft-skinned Nicholas ready for the throne—but it was too late.
With the Tsardom ahead of him, Nicholas needed a wife, STAT. He quickly broke things off with his ballerina girlfriend and proposed to the love of his life, Princess Alix. But, to everyone's shock—most of all Nicholas's—she said no!
Nicholas and Alix had been head over heels since they were young (arguably, since they were too young), but their religions came between them. Alix was a Lutheran, and she didn't want to convert to the Russian Orthodox Church. Nicholas was absolutely devastated—but some in his household actually rejoiced at the news. It turns out, not everyone was as fond of Princess Alix as the Tsarevich was...
Nicholas's parents actually hated the idea of their precious boy marrying Princess Alix. Though she'd made quite the impression on Nicholas during her visits to Russia, the Tsar and Tsarina weren't nearly as thrilled. They thought she was dreadful and a terrible match for their boy. However, Nicholas was deadset on Alix, and with Tsar Alexander III on death's door, mom and dad had no other choice.
They gave Nicholas their blessing, and Alix finally decided that he was worth converting for. If this story had a happier ending, it would have been a triumph of true love—instead, Alix had just sealed her dark fate.
By the fall of 1894, Tsar Alexander III was out of time—but before he passed, he called his beloved son to his bedside. He knew that Nicholas was nowhere near ready to be Tsar, but he still tried to offer one crucial piece of advice: Listen to any advice given by Sergei Witte, one of the country's keenest political minds. Just 10 days later, the Tsar succumbed to kidney disease.
This is the part where, in a movie, the underprepared Nicholas takes his father's advice, rises to the occasion, and leads his country to glory! Yeah, that's not what happened. It was a total disaster.
Things happen fast when a Tsar croaks. A priest named our Nicky Tsar Nicholas II that very night. In a private moment, Nicholas pulled his brother-in-law, Grand Duke Alexander, aside and, in a shaky voice, asked, "What is going to happen to me and all of Russia?" Nothing good, Nicky. Nothing good.
Nicholas's ascension spelled doom for the Russian Empire, but people didn't know that quite yet. They decided the occasion was worthy of celebration, so the court held a massive celebration the day after the coronation. The government offered free food, drinks, and souvenirs to the entire city of Moscow. It was supposed to be a joyous event—but it didn't take long before it turned into a nightmare.
Since the entire city of Moscow was supposed to be attending, officials chose to hold the celebration at Khodynka Field, the only place nearby that could fit them all. But this was no peaceful meadow—Khodynka Field was a training ground, and the mud and trenches made it look more like a warzone than a festival ground.
Before the day was out, the trenches weren't the only things that made Khodynka Field look like a battlefield.
Officials had promised the entire crowd of 100,000 people ample food and drink—but whispers started to spread through the mob that there wasn't enough to go around. Desperate citizens began to scramble to get their share, and it didn't take long for things to take a turn for the worse. Pretty soon, hundreds of people were being trampled or suffocated in the mass of hungry Moscovites.
By the time the day was out, 1,389 people lost their lives—and that many again suffered serious injuries. To put it in perspective, that's almost as many people as died on the Titanic. Some party, Nicholas.
If the Khodynka tragedy was a bad start to Nicholas's rule, what he did next made things even worse. After the horrible day, Nicholas attended an extravagant gala for the French ambassador. He was worried he'd offend the French if he skipped it, but that didn't matter to his people. What they saw was their new Tsar, partying it up in style the very night that 1,300 of his citizens had perished.
From the jump, the people of Russia saw Nicholas as an out-of-touch and uncaring ruler. But, to be fair, they were pretty much right on the money.
Russia was a superstitious country back in the 19th century, and after the Khodynka Tragedy, dark rumors started to spread about the new Tsar. People believed the horrific events were an omen of things to come. In fairness, it totally was an omen of things to come, but that didn't worry Tsar Nicholas II one bit.
Despite all evidence to the contrary, Nicholas believed he was the best thing since sliced bread—and it would eventually be his undoing.
More than anything else, Nicholas II believed in one thing: God chose him to be Tsar. It didn't matter that he wasn't prepared, he was God's agent on Earth, so anything he did was God's will. That's a dangerous thing for anyone to think, but for the spoiled-rotten incompetent new Tsar of one of the biggest empires on Earth? Yeah, this was a recipe for disaster.
But still, even I've got to admit, Nicholas messed things up even worse than I would have thought possible.
Tsar Nicholas II had a lot of problems, but if you had to blame one for his downfall, it would have to be how hilariously out of touch he was. This was a guy who lived his entire life in extravagant palaces, surrounded by doting family members and sycophants. He'd been told his entire life that he was chosen by God. He quite literally believed he could do no wrong, and he thought everyone else believed the same thing.
The problem was, he could do wrong. A lot of wrong. And eventually, his people would make him pay for it.
Nicholas's laughable incompetence was put on display in 1904, when his country went to war with Japan. Not only was Nicky arrogant, but he was also racist to boot. He assumed that the conflict would be a snap. Obviously, God was on the side of the refined, elegant, and white Russians, not this mysterious, uncivilized enemy.
Nicholas 100% believed he could not possibly lose—and it turns out, that's a pretty good way to lose.
Every single decision Nicholas made in regard to the Russo-Japanese War was so laughably bad, he left all outside observers totally flabbergasted. He completely ignored reports of Japan's martial strength, totally confident the inferior Japanese couldn't hope to match the great Russians. His advisors pointed out very serious weaknesses in his own armies, but he laughed those off too.
Imagine a basketball team losing every single game of the season and still assuming they were going to win the championship. Nicholas would have been the coach of that team.
Japan handed Russia disastrous defeat after disastrous defeat, and Nicholas was still completely sure he was winning. Eventually, everyone around him begged him to start peace talks, but the Tsar looked at them like they were crazy. Why would he quit when he had the Japanese right where he wanted them?
It would take a true catastrophe to convince the delusional Nicholas II to wave the white flag. So guess what happened in May, 1905...
The Battle of Tsushima might be one of the worst defeats in history. The Japanese lost 113 men. The Russians lost over 5,000. And six battleships. Plus 14 more ships. And the Japanese captured over 6,000 of their men. Yet still, Nicholas didn't want to surrender! Luckily, his advisors finally got through to him, and the Tsar finally, begrudgingly, sued for peace.
Lord knows Nicholas didn't need a disastrous war to worry about—he had plenty of problems brewing at home, too.
For most rulers, the Battle of Tsushima would be the worst thing to happen in their entire reign. For Nicholas, it was barely the worst thing to happen that year. Just a few months before, a priest and activist named Georgy Gapon let Nicholas and his government know that he was going to lead a procession of workers to the Winter Palace to hand a petition to the Tsar.
They were going to do it on January 9, 1905—a date that would forever live in infamy as Bloody Sunday.
The workers' march started very peacefully. Gapon and his compatriots locked arms and walked through the streets, carrying flags, singing hymns, and some even holding up portraits of Nicholas himself. They spoke for the struggling people of the Russian Empire, and they arrived to ask Nicholas to help them.
Then Nicholas's forces opened fire.
Completely unprovoked, various infantrymen, Cossacks, and Hussars throughout the city started firing into the peaceful crowd before they'd even reached the Winter Palace. As the bullets tore through the crowd, people began to wail, "The Tsar will not help us!" How right they were...
By the time the guns lay silent, 92 workers lost their lives and several hundred more suffered horrible wounds. So much for a "peaceful procession." Bloody Sunday shocked people all around the world. To have the Russian army fire upon a peaceful crowd of its own citizens was a new low. The British Prime Minister put it best when he called Tsar Nicholas II "a blood-stained creature and a common murderer."
Well, he was half right—the blood-stained part would come later.
Once the sun fell on Bloody Sunday, Nicholas retired to write in his diary. His words are telling: "Difficult day! In St. Petersburg there were serious disturbances due to the desire of workers to get to the Winter Palace. The troops had to shoot in different places of the city, there were many dead and wounded. Lord, how painful and bad!"
At least he seemed to acknowledge the Bloody Sunday was "bad," but I'd say "difficult day" is a bit of an understatement.
Though Imperial guards apprehended many of the workers' leaders, Gapon himself managed to vanish into the crowd and go into hiding. From his safehouse, he published a scathing rebuke of the Tsar, calling him "soul-murderer of the Russian Empire." He placed the blame for the bloodshed directly at Nicholas's feet, and called for the people of Russia to rise up against him.
Like everything else bad that happened to Nicholas, he completely blew off Gapon's letter. He couldn't even fathom that people would actually listen to Gapon—but that's exactly what they did.
Remember the final piece of advice Nicholas's father gave him before he passed? It was simple: Listen to Sergei Witte. Well, 1905 was the perfect time to start. That summer, Witte wrote a desperate letter to Nicholas. After the horrible loss to Japan and Bloody Sunday, Russia was on the brink. Witte could see it—heck, anyone with eyes could see it—and he told Nicholas that without some serious reforms, he was doomed.
And Tsar Nicholas II...didn't listen to Witte. He spent the entire fall hunting and ignoring his duties. Nicky, buddy, your dad told you to do one thing, and you couldn't even do that!
Believe it or not, spending months hunting didn't solve Nicholas's problems. Unrest just got worse and worse, and Nicholas just kept ignoring it. When he couldn't stall any longer, he finally came up with a plan: Make Russia a dictatorship! I can only imagine the look on his advisors' faces when he told them about it...Seriously, what was it going to take to make this man listen to reason?
I wish I could say someone sat down and talked some sense into him, but that would be a lie. It took a chilling threat to finally make Nicholas do the right thing.
In October 1905, Tsar Nicholas II finally signed the October Manifesto. The document limited his powers and created the Imperial Duma—basically Russian Congress. So, what finally made Nicholas have a change of heart? His uncle Nicholas (remember Nicholas the Tall?) literally told the Tsar that he'd shoot himself in the head if he didn't sign.
OK, that did it. The immovable Nicholas finally gave up a tiny bit of his power—but somehow, he managed to keep making things worse.
If there was one person who might have saved the Russian Empire, it was probably Sergei Witte, but he never stood a chance. Witte was a voice of reason, and that was a language that Tsar Nicholas II just didn't speak. With the creation of the Duma, Witte became Prime Minister, but his relationship with the Tsar quickly turned tense.
Then, a mysterious figure showed up at the Russian Court, and Witte finally reached his breaking point.
On November 1, 1905, a scraggly, bearded mystic named Grigori Rasputin showed up at Peterhof Palace. Empress Alexandra was immediately taken with this strange man, and she soon hung on his every word. It wasn't long before Rasputin started giving opinions on political matters. This strange man made Witte extremely suspicious, probably because he'd make pretty much any sane person suspicious.
Witte told Nicholas to get rid of the mystic. Nicholas ignored him and sided with his wife, so Rasputin stayed. Add that to Nicholas's ever-growing list of horrible decisions.
Give Sergei Witte credit: He put up with a whole lot to try and save the Russian Empire. Dealing with an incompetent Tsar who wouldn't listen to reason was a nightmare, but Witte tried his best. But, by 1906, the writing was on the wall: Nothing could save Nicholas from himself. Witte resigned as Prime Minister in April of that year—and the hopes of the Tsardom went with him.
Without Witte, Nicholas was well and truly doomed.
After Witte resigned, a man named Pyotr Stolypin took his place. He didn't realize it, but by taking the job, he basically hung the noose around his neck. Sycophants told Nicholas that Stolypin was trying to steal Russia away from him. The Empress hated him because, like Witte, Stolypin wanted to investigate Rasputin.
Stolypin took the job because hoped he could actually accomplish some real good for Russia—but with Nicholas still around, "real good" was impossible.
Pyotr Stolypin tried his best to steer Russia in the right direction for five interminable years. By the end, the rigors of the job had completely worn him down. Imagine trying to work with a Tsar who said stuff like, "Despite most convincing arguments in favor of adopting a positive decision in this matter, an inner voice keeps on insisting more and more that I do not accept responsibility for it."
Well, at least Stolypin wouldn't have to deal with one of the worst jobs ever for much longer: A gunman shot him at the opera in 1911.
To put it simply, Tsar Nicholas II's rule was a complete mess, but at least things were better at home, right? Of course not! First, there was the problem of succession. For the first decade of their relationship, the couple had only daughters, leading to a crisis of succession. Finally, in 1906, the couple had a boy: Their beloved Alexei. However, their joy quickly turned to terror.
The European royals' penchant for inbreeding had finally come back to bite them.
Royal doctors soon realized that Alexei suffered from Haemophilia B, a hereditary blood disease. Though treatable today, at the turn-of-the-century, the outlook was much more grim. Doctors had no effective treatments, and it usually led to an early demise. But, the saddest part is, this disease wasn't exactly a surprise: It had appeared in royal houses all across Europe.
Alexei almost certainly got the disease from his great grandmother, Queen Victoria, who carried the gene mutation that caused it. And, because Victoria's children and grandchildren married into almost every noble house in Europe, soon royals all over the continent had the same affliction. It was so widespread that people took to calling Haemophilia B, "The Royal Disease."
Since no one knew what to do about it, Nicholas and Alexandra were constantly terrified that their boy's life was in danger—and it brought them to some dark places.
When traditional medicine failed their son, Nicholas and his wife turned to charlatans, mystics, and miracle workers. They were absolutely desperate, and they'd listen to anyone who they thought might help their boy. That's how a man like Grigori Rasputin, one of history's greatest manipulators, managed to worm his way into the Russian palace.
As if the country wasn't already in chaos, things around the Imperial Palace got extremely tense after Alexei was born. The Tsar and Tsarina didn't want the world to know their boy was ill, so they kept his condition a secret. However, anybody who saw the child would instantly know something was wrong, so people started to gossip.
It felt like a dark cloud hung over the entire palace already—then Rasputin walked through the doors and put the Tsar and Tsarina under his spell.
Sergei Witte and Pyotr Stolypin weren't the only people who mistrusted Rasputin. He made almost everyone nervous with his creepy vibe and his intense sway over Empress Alexandra. Many voices begged the Tsar to get rid of him. Maybe he finally would have—but then Alexei had a terrible accident, and everything changed.
All it took was a minor injury to put Alexei's life in danger. So when the Tsarevich bruised his leg in 1912, it was genuinely a crisis situation. The bleeding wouldn't stop, and soon Alexei started fading away. Doctors tried everything, but there was nothing they could do. Eventually, priests came to give the boy his last rites.
Everyone had given up hope, and the Empress frantically ran to Rasputin for help—and a miracle happened.
Rasputin told Empress Alexandra, "God has seen your tears and heard your prayers. Do not grieve. The Little One will not die. Do not allow the doctors to bother him too much." The next day, Alexei's bleeding finally stopped, and he started to recover. If Alexandra listened to Rasputin before, she took her devotion to the next level now.
And, since Nicholas did pretty much whatever his wife told him to, that meant Rasputin was here to stay. Did it matter that all of Russia hated the man and turned against the Tsar because of it? Of course not.
If the Russo-Japanese War taught us anything, it's that Tsar Nicholas II was hopeless when it came to military matters. That's probably why all of his advisors begged him not to enter WWI. To his credit, Nicholas didn't actually want to join the fight, but a complicated web of political alliances forced his hand. When fighting broke out in 1914, Nicholas had no choice but to enter the fray.
Unfortunately, while Nicholas had been busy hoping the matter would resolve itself, other countries had been preparing their armies. When WWI officially started, Russia found itself horribly unprepared—and Nicholas's forces paid for it with their lives.
Despite virtually everything that had happened since the moment he became Tsar, Nicholas still thought he was invincible. Russia was still a massive empire, and his forces vastly outnumbered Germany's, so how could he lose? The Tsar immediately ordered an attack on East Prussia, which he assumed would be like taking candy from a baby.
He was about to learn the hard way, what the Germans lacked in numbers, they more than made up for in equipment.
By the time WWI broke out, Germany was a well-oiled machine built for warfare—and Russia was basically fighting back with sticks. It didn't matter how many men Nicholas had, without proper arms, or uniforms, or vehicles, or locomotives, they just couldn't contend with the Germans. When Nicholas's armies made it to East Prussia, they found the Germans ready and waiting.
It was a bloodbath. The Germans absolutely annihilated a Russian force that was nearly twice the size. If anything, it was even worse than the Battle of Tsushima. WWI had just begun, and Nicholas had already failed spectacularly—but he had lots more failure in him yet.
After devastating losses in East Prussia, Nicholas knew just what to do: Head to the front and inspire his men with his presence! That was a horrible idea for so many reasons. First, almost all of Russia hated Nicholas's guts, so he wasn't inspiring anyone. Also, he left his superstitious and paranoid wife Alexandra to take care of affairs back home, and she only managed to make things even worse.
And lastly, since he was away at the front, when Russia finally turned on Nicholas for good, he had no idea it was even happening.
From the day he showed up in the palace, nearly everyone but Nicholas and Alexandra wanted Rasputin gone, but he stayed for 11 years. It's hard to overstate how much damage he did in that time. By the time a group of nobles murdered him in 1916, in the middle of WWI, the entire country blamed Nicholas, Alexandra, and Rasputin for Russia's endless hardships.
In Rasputin's defense, it was far more Nicholas's fault than it was his, but I guess it doesn't matter. With Rasputin gone, it was Nicky's turn next.
Russia had somehow managed to stick with Nicholas through scandal after scandal after scandal—but WWI was finally the breaking point. Around 1.7 million Russians lost their lives fighting. On top of that, the army had pulled some 15 million men from farms, causing food prices to skyrocket and millions to go hungry.
Then the already-feeble Russian railway system started to fail, and Nicholas was too busy at the front to do anything about it. It's honestly a miracle no one had done anything about Nicholas already, but his time had finally come. The Tsar was finished.
Nicholas returned to Saint Petersburg in 1916 and tried to bring his country back under his control, but it was useless. In March 1917, he tried to use his guards to quell unrest in Saint Petersburg, but he'd completely lost the loyalty of his men. He ordered them to fire upon the gathering citizenry, and they refused, firing into the air instead.
The very next day, several guard regiments in Saint Petersburg mutinied against the Tsar. By the time the sun set, 60,000 guards had rebelled and taken key buildings across the city. The revolution had begun.
To try and bring the madness under control, the Duma formed a Provisional Government. Their first order of business: Tsar Nicholas II had to resign. The mere idea horrified the Tsar, but what could he do? He had no support, no troops, and the rebels had his family. He agreed to abdicate—but his troubles were far from over.
Tsar Nicholas II formally abdicated the throne on March 15, 1917. In doing so, he brought over three centuries of uninterrupted rule by the House of Romanov to an end.
At first, life wasn't so bad for the disgraced Romanovs. They still got to stay at their luxurious Alexander Palace, though under guard, and they even got to keep their staff. Nicholas and his family kept on living the high life, pretending that things were totally normal—though they'd need to ignore the armed guards posted at every exit.
But it was just a momentary dream. The new government wasn't going to let the despised royal family live in luxury for long.
Eventually, the authorities moved Nicholas and his family to the town of Tobolsk, thousands of miles west of Saint Petersburg. There, they continued to live in comfort in the former Governor's Mansion. From this luxurious, isolated vantage point, Nicholas heard that the Bolsheviks had taken control of the government. He noted the development, but it didn't worry him one bit.
It should have. It really should have.
The Romanovs treated their imprisonment like they were on vacation. They read books, played games, and exercised. Nicholas found himself fascinated by the simple task of chopping firewood; a completely novel experience for him. But, before long, things started to change. With Lenin gaining power, their guards became more demanding and restrictive.
Anyone could see that the Romanovs' situation was getting dire—but, if nothing else, Nicholas II was good at ignoring the obvious. Quite honestly, he believed he had nothing to worry about. He was wrong.
The Romanovs weren't completely clueless. They knew they were not among friends, but they still weren't worried. They were certain that any second, an army of their allies would storm the grounds and rescue them. If that failed, then there were still loyal citizens all over the country who were plotting their daring escape, right?
Except, no one was coming. Russia's allies were all dealing with the fallout of WWI, leaving no time to worry about the Romanovs. And, despite their hopes, pretty much everyone in the country was glad they were gone. No, help was not on the horizon—something much darker was.
In April 1918, the Bolsheviks moved the Romanovs to the city of Yekaterinburg—a truly miserable journey. They often had to camp in the middle of nowhere, or ford across frigid rivers, and at one point, a group of treacherous Red Guards tried to abduct and eliminate them. After a grueling, five-day journey, they finally made it to Yekaterinburg, but I wouldn't say they were safe and sound.
Yekaterinburg was where Tsar Nicholas II and his family met their chilling fate.
While no one really cared about the Romanovs, that doesn't mean everyone was happy with the Bolsheviks. In June 1918, the Revolt of the Czechoslovak Legion sent alarm bells ringing all throughout the new government, and it led to a wave of terror across Russia. The Bolsheviks started eliminating anyone they deemed a threat to their reign.
Nicholas's brother, Grand Duke Michael, fell victim to the purge in June. It was only a matter of time before the rest of the family joined him.
On July 16, 1918, the Czechoslovak Legion was nearing the gates of Yekaterinburg. Rather than risk the royal family falling into someone else's hands, authorities in Moscow sent the order to eliminate them. The guards wasted no time. At 2:00 am on July 17, guards dragged the Romanovs out of their beds. They claimed the house was no longer safe and told the bleary-eyed family to head down to the basement.
None of them would leave that basement alive.
Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, and their five children all entered into that basement in Yekaterinburg. Alexei, now 13 but still weak as a kitten, couldn't make it down the stairs himself, so his father had to carry him. Joining them were the family doctor and three of their loyal servants. Despite everything Nicholas had done, he still had the loyalty of these four poor souls. They paid for it with their lives.
Even in her final moments, after all they'd been through, Empress Alexandra was still bossing people around. Horrified that the guards expected them to wait in an empty basement, she demanded that they bring in chairs. The guards left and brought back two simple chairs—one for her and one for Alexei. As soon as they sat down, the executioners started to file into the room. Sitting wasn't going to make much of a difference...
The guards told the Romanovs they were to be executed. Even to his last, Nicholas just couldn't see what was right in front of him. He gasped and cried, "What? What? Did you say?" He then turned to his family, and the lead guard gave the order to fire. In his final moment, Nicholas cried, "You know not what you do!", but it didn't stop the bloodshed. The guards opened fire on the family.
Then, when the firing stopped and the dust cleared, they realized the execution had gone horribly wrong.
Nicholas, his wife, and his son lay unmoving, but their four daughters were still alive. Each of them wore several pounds worth of diamonds sewn into their clothing, spirited out of the palace long ago. The stones had somewhat protected the girls from the bullets—but it only delayed the inevitable. The guards set upon them with bayonets, before finally shooting them each in the head.
Now, the only thing left was to get rid of the bodies.
Tsar Nicholas II was, by every possible metric, an absolutely terrible ruler. Still, it's hard to say anyone deserves the fate he got. After the execution, guards drove the Romanovs' remains out to a nearby mineshaft. They took everything of value off of the bodies, then burned them, soaked them in acid, and tossed them into the abyss. It was a truly disturbing end for the House of Romanov—but in a way, they got lucky.
Nicholas and his close family were already gone when Red Guards tossed them in that mineshaft. The remaining Romanovs met the same fate—but they were alive. If they didn’t die on impact, they slowly starved, surrounded by the bodies of their loved ones.
My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.
Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.
I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.
Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.
Want to tell us to write facts on a topic? We’re always looking for your input! Please reach out to us to let us know what you’re interested in reading. Your suggestions can be as general or specific as you like, from “Life” to “Compact Cars and Trucks” to “A Subspecies of Capybara Called Hydrochoerus Isthmius.” We’ll get our writers on it because we want to create articles on the topics you’re interested in. Please submit feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for your time!
Do you question the accuracy of a fact you just read? At Factinate, we’re dedicated to getting things right. Our credibility is the turbo-charged engine of our success. We want our readers to trust us. Our editors are instructed to fact check thoroughly, including finding at least three references for each fact. However, despite our best efforts, we sometimes miss the mark. When we do, we depend on our loyal, helpful readers to point out how we can do better. Please let us know if a fact we’ve published is inaccurate (or even if you just suspect it’s inaccurate) by reaching out to us at email@example.com. Thanks for your help!
The Factinate team
If you like humaverse you may also consider subscribing to these newsletters: