Monday, January 18, 2016

Who were the Romanovs? (Part 3)

The RomanovsAfter the reign of Catherine the Great, the ideas of Enlightenment unleashed a new wave of call for reform. Explore the reign of the last Tsars of the Romanov Dynasty.

Family Name: Romanovs
Country: Russia
Reign: 1613 – 1917
  • Rebuild Russia from the Time of Trouble
  • Westernized Russia
  • Defended autocratic rule
  • Developed many aspects of Russian life

Europe had been shaken by the French Revolution and the ideas that propelled it. It made Russian tsars aware of the dangers of this ideas. Some continued to adhere but with cautiousness, but other acted to undermine it. The next century after Catherine the Great spelled the end of the three hundred year old dynasty in Russia.

Paul I

After the reign of Catherine the Great, his son, Pavel Petrovich Romanov, whom she did not like nor trust, succeeded as the new Romanov Tsar. Paul I’s rule rode a turbulent road. Paul faced the threat of Napoleon Bonaparte as soon as he took the throne. He led Russia against the French General sending the great Russian General Alexander Suvarov.

On the other hand back home, he changed the rules of succession of the Romanov Dynasty. From the decree of Tsar Peter the Great where Tsars had the right of naming the heir, Paul reverted it back to the system of primogeniture. He also barred women from becoming monarchs of Russia, a way of taking vengeance upon his mother Catherine.

Paul, besides changing the rules of succession, issued numerous draconian laws that made Russians fearful of their Emperor. His reign of terror resulted to massive discontent and eventually, to another palace coup, this time in favor of his son, Alexander Pavlovich Romanov. In the 1801 Palace coup, the events led to the death of Tsar Paul. Alexander, who knew the plot but never supported nor stopped it, ascended to become the new Tsar.

Alexander I

Tsar Alexander I’s reign saw the continuation of Catherine’s idea of a benevolent despot as well as Russia’s emergence as a great power during the Napoleonic War. Napoleon became the greatest threat to Russia. Alexander suffered a defeat against Napoleon in the Battle of Austerlitz. Later on, Napoleon forced the Tsar to sign a peace treaty with France in Tilsit. Nevertheless peace ended after Alexander continued to support France’s enemies that led to Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. Russian forces did a strategic retreat and imposed a scorched-earth policy. When the French took Moscow, he painfully decided to burn the ancient Russian capital. This forced Napoleon to withdraw under the cold and brutal Russian winter. It ruined Napoleon’s Grande Armee. Alexander then pursued Napoleon and joined by other European countries in defeating Napoleon. In the end, Alexander led the allied forces in their triumphant victory march into the city of Paris. Russia and Alexander’s prestige skyrocketed.

After the final defeat of Napoleon in Waterloo, Alexander played an active role in European politics by forming a Holy Alliance composing of autocratic monarchs under his idea of supporting fellow benevolent despot. However, in the early 1820’s, the Alliance failure of Alexander’s objectives. It proved to be an instrument of re-imposition of unjust autocracy and crushing liberal ideas he sought.

In the domestic front, he too made serious mistakes that led to riots. His decision to create military colonies. It aimed to make the army self-sufficient and its soldier’s families to live together. It proved to be a disaster. Strict rules and abuses within the colonies led to mutinies, which badly shaken Alexander’s belief in liberal reforms. Emperor Alexander I passed away in 1825 in Taganrog during what he hoped to be a vacation. Confusion in the succession followed.

Nicholas I

Decembrist Revolt

Alexander did not had a son. And so the throne, instead of being badly wanted by the late Tsar’s brothers, seemed like a ball being passed around. Before dying, Alexander wanted to abdicate in favor of his brother Konstantin. Konstantin, however, refused to accept the throne and so Alexander secretly wrote a will passing the crown to their younger brother Nikolay Pavlovich Romanov or Nicholas. When the Tsar died, Nicholas only knew that he would succeed as Tsar after Alexander’s secret will went public. The short confusion in the succession gave liberal groups to take the opportunity to start a revolution.
Decembrist Revolt by Vasily Timm
The Decembrist Revolt opened the reign of the new Tsar Nicholas I. The Decembrist, composed of high ranking military officials and nobles, influenced by the ideas of the French Revolution brought by the Napoleonic War, demanded an end to absolute rule of the Romanovs either by forming a constitutional monarchy or by abolishing the monarchy all together. On December 26, 1825 in the Gregorian calendar, a group of imperial guards refused to swear their allegiance to the Emperor. They then went to Senate Square to demand reforms. The Tsar initially wanted to finish the crisis peacefully but later had to react heavy handedly. He authorized his troops to open fire on the protesters. Violent repression led to hundreds dead and hundreds more exiled.

Reign with an Iron Fist

Nicholas I’s reign maintained stability and status quo with an iron fist. After the Decembrist Revolt, Nicholas suppressed any signs of liberalism and dissent. He highly centralized the government to his chancellery office. He also began a program of promoting what meant to become a Russian and started to Russianized many of Russia’s minorities. Nicholas succeeded in maintaining political stability in the light of the 1848 Revolutions that rocked most of Europe. 

Russia, nevertheless, faced a sad reality in 1853. Nicholas pushed Russian interest in the Black Sea and attacked the weakening Ottoman Empire. United Kingdom and France wanted to prevent further Russian expansion to the Black Sea and the possibility of Russian entry in the Mediterranean. They declared war in support of the Ottoman Turks. The Crimean War shoved to the face of Russia its backwardness compared to the industrialized might of its counterparts. In 1855, broken hearted by the defeats of Russia in Crimea led to the rapid decline of Tsar Nicholas’ health. He later succumbed to pneumonia in the same year. His son, Alexander Nikolayevich Romanov, took over.

Alexander II

The reign of Alexander II became known as a liberal and eventful but a tragic reign. Unlike his father, he grew up as a liberal, believing in the ideas of liberty and civil rights. As his first act as Tsar, he ended the terrible Crimean War in 1856. Following that, he made the most daring as well as a milestone act of his reign and that of the history of Russia and the Romanovs.

Emancipation of the Serfs

Proclamation of the Emancipation Manifesto
In February 19, 1861, he did what his predecessors thought as undoable, he issued the Emancipation Manifesto that made serfs finally, after centuries of bondage and virtual enslavement to the nobility, free and liberated. With this act, Alexander became known as the Tsar Liberator.

The Tsar, however, failed in changing the Russian economy and society from a serf-based economy. The aftermath of the emancipation brought disaster to countless freed serf that were forced to buy bloated-priced lands from their landlords and to be drowned in debt in order to purchase it. This resulted to the continuation and worsening poverty of many Russians. The hardships of many Russians convinced many radicals that change and development can only be achieved with the end of the Tsarist regime. They plotted to assassinate Tsar Alexander II as a starting point. Several attempts have been made in Alexander’s life but in 1881, radical terrorist finally succeeded by bombing the Tsar’s carriage in the streets of St. Petersburg.  A new reactionary and absolutist reign followed under Alexander Alexandrovich Romanov.

Alexander III

The reign of Tsar Alexander III brought nothing but repression of liberal and anti-Tsarist ideas and rapid industrialization to catch up with the west. After the tragic demise of his predecessor, Alexander clamped down in leftist and liberal movements. Alexander rejected a proposal by late Tsar Alexander II calling for the creation of a legislative body to share power in governing the country. Under his reign, absolute rule remained supreme.

In 1891, Tsar Alexander III charged a railroad engineer, Sergei Witte, of the economy. Witte brought Russia the Great Spurt, a sudden and rapid industrialization of Russia’s economy bringing it in par with its western counterparts. However, industrialization brought situations that breed discontent and later a revolution that devoured the Romanovs. Peasants moved to cities and became exposed to radical and socialist ideas that demanded the removal of the Tsars and the Romanovs. The terrible conditions in factories and the prevailing poverty in the countryside brought huge discontent to the Romanov rule. After 13 years of very much uneventful reign, Alexander III passed away. Nikolay Alexandrovich Romanov ascended to the throne in 1894.

Nicholas II

Nicholas II’s reign saw the fall of the Romanov dynasty and the rise of Bolshevik Russia. The shy and oblivious Tsar led his country into numerous disasters as well as scandals. In 1904 to 1905 he tried his hands in foreign affairs by attempting to expand Russian dominance in the East by capturing Port Arthur in China and then extending control to Korea. However, it resulted to the Russo-Japanese War that brought nothing but disaster to Russia, when the upstart power Japan destroyed Russia’s naval fleet.

Following the loss of face and prestige, the Russian people, in dismay to their Tsar caused by the war, called for reforms. It blew up into the Russian Revolution of 1905. Social unrest followed and the Tsars soldiers acted without caution, open firing to numerous unarmed demonstrators. The negative publicity as well as mounting public pressure resulted to the creation of a legislative body called the Duma. The relation between the sovereign and the legislature proved to be shaky between the Duma and the monarchy.

In 1907, Nicholas appointed Peter Stolypin as Prime Minister. Stolypin enacted a massive agrarian reform that significantly improved Russian agriculture and the economy as a whole. The reform only ended with Stolypin’s untimely death in 1911. But Stolypin’s appointment and reform became overshadowed by a scandal brought by a barbaric sex addict Siberian mystic named Grigory Rasputin. Rasputin healed the hemophiliac son of Nicholas and his wife Alexandra – Tsarevitch Alexei. The healing blinded and turned them naïve to Rasputin’s nature. In the streets and brothels of St. Petersburg, Rasputin became a towering figure and became oaf in Russian society. The trust of Empress Alexandra over the Siberian brute resulted to the further decline of Romanov’s prestige.

World War I made Tsar Nicholas reign turn to worst. The war resulted to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Russians. In addition, it disrupted the economy, which led to shortages in food supply. The inefficiency and the defeats in the battlefield fueled revolutionaries within Russia who called for the end of the three hundred year absolute Romanov rule. It exploded in 1917 under the slogan of “Peace, Land, and Bread.”

Russian Revolution of 1917

The Russian Revolution of 1917 concluded the reign of Tsar Nicholas II. Massive strikes in factories and mutinies in military bases in St. Petersburg led to overthrow of the Tsar. Nicholas II had no choice but to abdicate and pass over power to the provisional government. They then became prisoners and moved through various locations in Siberia. Months later, in October, the communist Bolsheviks under Vladimir Lenin took power. In 1918, in wake of the civil war, Lenin issued the execution of the Romanov family in their prison in Yekaterinburg. With the death of Nicholas, came the end of three hundred years of Romanov and centuries of Tsarist rule in Russia. A new era ushered in under the regime of the Soviet Union.

Summing Up

The Romanov Dynasty shaped Russia to its present. With the reign of Michael Romanov, Russia preserved its freedom and existence from foreign powers and local usurpers. Peter the Great’s reign brought Russia to a status of great power. Under Catherine the Great, Russia blossomed as a cultural center. Under the reign of Tsar Alexander I, Russia defended herself from Napoleon and her troops and Tsar triumphantly marched in Paris. The reign of Nicholas I radicalized liberal and their call for the end of the absolute rule of the Tsars, which became the issue for about a century. Alexander II saw the end of serfdom that fueled further discontent against the established society. And under the reign of Nicholas II, the Romanov saw their final demise as the ruler of the largest country in the world.

With these achievements that Romanov Dynasty filled about a half of Russian history books. Their reign exemplified the best and the worst of a ruler. They showed the characteristics of visionaries but also lack of will. Many of them, for example, had the dream of abolishing of serfdom, but only one succeeded. Perhaps due to cultural and social norms much of them failed. Some Romanov rulers showed diligence but also excesses. Some showed openness to change but also some showed caution or extreme reaction. The Romanovs indeed were human, they showed their greatness and their worst. Eventually, history and the prevailing condition took the worst of the Romanovs, which catalyzed to a bloody revolution that toppled the Romanov Dynasty. Although their regime ended in 1917, much of Russia today came from the action of one family – the Romanovs – rulers and autocrats of Russia for more than three hundred years.

Documentaries on the Romanovs

The rule of the Romanov Dynasty is an epic on itself. It is no surprise that numerous documentaries are dedicated to their history. One of the earliest is shown in the History Channel with the title Russia: The Land of the Tsars. It has 4 episodes and covered the history of Russia from the time of Kievan Rus and the arrival of the Orthodox Church up to the reign of the last Tsar Nicholas II.  Although it covered most of Russia's history, it dedicates several episodes on to their rule. 

Another great documentary about is titled The Romanovs: The History of the Russian Dynasty. released in 2013 and made by Channel One, Star Media and Babich Design Studio, provides a very comprehensive and well detailed history of the reign of the Romanov Dynasty, from the reign of Michael Romanov up to Nicholas II. In addition to scrupulous details, it also provides very dramatic and well-done reenactments that kept the documentary interesting and lively. It has a good combination of serious discussion and candid moments that shows the human side of the Romanovs. Other than documentaries specifically about the Romanovs, countless documentaries are made that focus on the rule and life of different Romanov Tsars, most especially Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and Nicholas II.

Explore also:
"Romanov Dynasty". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 01 Aug. 2015.

Bushkovitch, Paul. "Romanov Dynasty (Russia)." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. 2004. (August 2, 2015). 

Hughes, Lindsey. "Succession, Law on." Encyclopedia of Russian History. 2004. (August 2, 2015).

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