In Episode 11 we hang out some more with our Russian royals!
- October Manifesto and Pogroms
- The Duma
- Getting to know the imperial kids
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The October Manifesto and Pogroms
The October Manifesto was signed on October 30, 1905. The Russian people were thrilled, Nicholas wasn’t. The October Manifesto was a blow to his autocratic power. Now the people could have a Duma, an elected body they put into office.
For the first time, people could say what they wanted without being beaten or arrested. But, there were also people who opposed the Manifesto.
This group, the Union of Russian people, also known as the Black Hundred, were fans of Nicholas and autocratic rule. And they were determined to make sure any group or person who posed a threat to their beloved tsar was taken out.
This group went after anyone who, in one way or another, seemed like they might not be a fan of Nicholas’s. To make it even worse, the police didn’t do a damn thing to stop them.
The worst of their anger and violence was taken out on the Jews. During the two weeks after the manifesto, 694 pogroms took place all across Russia. Their homes were burned to the ground, people stole from Jewish stores and even worse, the synagogues.
Men, women, and children were murdered. Russians at that time referred to Jewish people as “Yids.” It’s an extremely offensive way to refer to Jews. Members of the government and the police ignored it.
Pogroms weren’t a new thing in Russia, so Nicholas isn’t the one who brought them about. But he is another tsar in a long line of them who let them happen. Pogroms had been taking place for hundreds of years in Russia, as well as the rest of Europe.
In Russia, there were more than 1400 laws created specifically for Jews, dictating how and where they lived, what jobs they could have, taxes that were higher simply for being Jewish, and education.
Here Comes Lenin
The stirrings of revolution have been put down but there were still people behind the scenes who wanted nothing more than to see the end of autocratic rule.
Their inspiration was none other than Karl Marx. Marxist ideology revolves around the idea of the people owning and running things.. Everyone is equal in work, ownership, and pay. Otherwise known as Communism.
Russian communists called themselves Social Democrats. Nicholas was not a fan, so they had to run away and work outside the Russian borders.
And this work included coming up with material that went against the tsar and everything he stood
The Russians hopped Vladimir Ulyanov or Lenin, as he became known, would lead them. Ironically enough, he wasn’t a peasant or from a worker’s background. After being an active member of St. Petersburg’s revolutionary underground, the cops caught him.
He went to prison for a year, and then the gulag. When his exile ended in 1901, he moved his operation to Geneva, Switzerland and started writing a newspaper by the name of Spark.
It’s at this point the name Lenin was born. A nom de plume, so he could avoid ending up with his head on the chopping block, whether in or outside of Russia.
While Marx was of the opinion that the workers were the ones to lead and bring forth a revolution, Lenin figured that it had to be a couple of select people in charge, smarter people. Where he wanted an immediate revolution, other Social Democrats wanted a slow burn.
He wanted to push forward, the others wanted people to learn and decide on the best course of action. Which was obviously revolution. Now there were two groups, the Mensheviks, the moderates. Lenin and his comrades became known as the Bolsheviks.
So now we have pogroms, Lenin, and more angry people since the Russian police were going about arresting members of the Soviets. People were up in arms again.
Taking to the streets of St. Petersburg, building barricades. Lenin wasn’t there. But he and his Social Democrat friends did help get the ball rolling.
Oh Hey, Another Revolution
Nicholas sent in the troops. Again. With orders to shoot any and all standing against them. Once again, men, women, and children were shot down in the streets.
From December 20 – December 31 – that’s how long it took for Nicholas’s men to put a stop to the uprising. Russia rang in the New Year with more than 1000 people dead, and thousands of wounded citizens.
Anyone who was assumed to have anti-tsarist leanings was arrested. Around 38,000 people were thrown in prison or expelled from Russia, and about 5,000 were executed.
If people said anything considered even remotely anti-Nicholas they were fired from their jobs. And to make it even worse, even workers’ kids weren’t safe from the cops.
Out in the country, something called the Punitive Expeditions took place. Soldiers went into villages to ensure all the seeds of revolution were stamped out. Between December 1905 and April 1906, about 15,000 people were killed as a result of these Expeditions, 20,000 injured, and 45,000 expelled.
And to add fuel to this political maelstrom, a bunch of secret courts were set up all over Russia thanks to Peter Stolypin or that one, the new prime minister. The secret courts made it easier to convict people of revolution. Around 2,000 people were hanged once convicted.
But it got Nicholas the results he wanted. Fear drove people back from the brink of revolution. Fear put them back into the lives they’ve always lived. But they hated him for it, and gave him a new nickname as a result. He was Nicky to his family, Bloody Nicholas to the people.
The Election of the Duma
Now the Duma could finally be elected. But, Nicholas needed a loophole, a way to get around the Duma. This meant creating laws that put his authority above the Duma to keep his autocratic power strong.
He could overrule any laws the Duma wanted to enact and create his own laws when the Duma wasn’t in session. Plus, Nicholas could get rid of the Duma if he felt like it.
The first Duma convened on May 10, 1906 at the Winter Palace. Men from all different backgrounds were present, ranging from wealthy aristocrats to workers and peasants.
In total there were 524 men elected to the Duma, 180 of them peasants and 25 workers. The rich nobles made up the rest.
The Duma wanted all political prisoners released. Only the tsar could do that though. They were basically making a stand. So while members of the Duma were figuratively shaking their fists at Nicholas, the tsar was up in arms himself.
So he did what only he could do. He got rid of the Duma on July 21, 1906. The tsar wanted to get rid of the Duma altogether, but Prime Minister Stolypin told him it would be a bad idea.
And so there was a second election. The second Duma met in February 1907, but Nicholas didn’t like this one any better. They too were trying to get the tsar to agree to things he didn’t want to do, like getting rid of capital punishment entirely and taking land away from the nobles to give to the peasants.
Out with the second Duma. Now we’ll have a third, but this time, thanks to Nicholas and Stolypin, votes would be cast differently. The votes would be counted by class. And this time it stuck. The third Duma was around for 5 years after they took up their posts in November 1907.
The time has finally arrived. The man, the myth, the creepy legend. Rasputin! His name was actually named Grigory Efimovich, but was known as Grigory Rasputin.
He was a peasant, toiling away at the farm right outside his village in Siberia. Until he just up and left one day. According to him, God showed him a vision.
After his stint at the monastery he became known as a starets – a holy man. One who wandered around blessing and healing people. Eventually his reputation preceded him to St. Petersburg.
Luckily for him, the tsar and tsaritsa were desperate to find help for Alexei and his hemophilia. Nicholas’s cousin by marriage, the Grand Duchess Militsa, was the one who introduced Rasputin to the imperial family.
From then on Rasputin was in and out of Tsarskoe Selo since he could do what the doctors couldn’t: make Alexei feel better. One night, when Alexei was unwell, Alexandra had Rasputin come out to the Alexander Palace. He shut himself in the kid’s room and prayed. Before he left, he told Alexei that he’d be just fine. And Alexei was.
At this point, no one was really raising any eyebrows at Rasputin. He was liked, respected, and endorsed by members of the Church. This was one respectable holy man.
Fun with the Romanovs
It’s time for a royal Grand Duchess and tsarevich role call! First, we have Olga Nikolaevna, the eldest, the firstborn, and the kid with Nicholas’s personality.
She was kind to others, reserved, and intelligent. Like Nicholas, she was a voracious reader, which meant she was sometimes pilfering books from Alexandra before she could even read them.
Next is Tatiana Nikolaevna, the second eldest. To start, she spent the most time with Alexandra, clucking over her and looking after her. She was much more outgoing than Olga, and quite the opinionated young woman.
Weird to say but she was more talented than Olga, but like her mother, she was the more socially anxious of the two. Out of all the children, Tatiana was the one in charge, which earned her the nickname “the Governess.” She and Olga, regardless of their differences, were best friends.
Maria Nikolaevna was the most lovely looking of all her sisters. She was a very open young lady, kind, and full of joy. Everyone lovingly called her “Mashka”, and one of her favorite topics was getting married and having kids of her own.
Last, but certainly not least, of the four daughters is Anastasia Nikolaevna. She was clever, stubborn, and full of life. She was the jokester of the family, always keeping those around her laughing.
And while she wore the pretty dresses, she was totally a tomboy. Climbing trees and running around. She wouldn’t come down from a tree she climbed until Nicholas told her to.
The girls weren’t spoiled due to their upbringing. They weren’t bratty. They didn’t treat people considered “below them” as less than. When the maids came in to clean their rooms they helped.
If they were sent to fetch someone it was always couched as a request, not a demand. And in the palaces, there were no royal titles being thrown about. Only their names. So it made them really uncomfortable to be called on by their full royal titles at public events.
And then there’s Alexei. The little tsarevich was, naturally, beloved by his family. Nicholas and Alexandra called him “dear one,” “wee one,” and “Sunbeam.”
He got a lot of attention for a few different reasons: he was the baby, he was the long hoped for boy, and he was the sick one. But his sisters never resented him.
They loved him just as much as they loved each other. Even with the threat of his hemophilia hanging over him, Alexei was a happy kid. Laughing, playing (or wanting to when he couldn’t), and playing pranks.
Even though Nicholas was the disciplinarian, Alexei got away with so much! He basically got what he wanted when he wanted it. The heartbreaking thing about Alexei, is that what he wanted the most was to roll around outside and climb trees.
But Alexei could never be like those boys, because a fall or tumble or cut could mean his death. He wanted a bicycle so badly, but wasn’t allowed one. Which meant that Alexei usually tested the limits.
Eventually, Alexandra and Nicholas had to explain Alexei’s hemophilia to him. No roughhousing, no sports, no running, no anything that could end with his life in danger.
Ironically it was Olga, not miss bossy Tatiana, who was in charge of Alexei when they were out and about. It somehow became her job to keep an eye on him and make sure he was behaving.
By 1910, even though the girls did love each other, a natural distance started opening up between the two eldest and two youngest. Not really growing apart, but growing up. Interests changed, age came between them a bit. Maria, who was more sensitive, noticed. And didn’t like it one bit.
Near Death Experience
In September of 1911, the family as well as some officials, went to Kiev.
The only reason Nicholas and his family went was because it was for a statue created in honor of Tsar Alexander II, Nicholas’s grandfather.
The night after the statue unveiling, Nicholas went to the opera with Olga and Tatiana, who were attending in place of Alexandra. Now, all was going well, the girls were enjoying themselves, and then, during the second intermission, a lunatic with a gun showed up.
Tatiana was alone in the imperial box since Nicholas and Olga having stepped out for a cuppa.
He wasn’t aiming at Tatiana. But she tried to bar her father from coming in when the man started shooting. Nicholas and Olga burst into the box and when they looked over the railing, they saw Prime Minister Stolypin, his uniform covered in blood.
Stolypin saw Nicholas and made the sign of the cross before collapsing. Nicholas, in an attempt to calm the people and the chaos in the theatre, waved and showed everyone he was alive and well. Stolypin died five days later.
The shooter was caught immediately. The shooter’s name was Dmitri Bogrov. He was executed before anyone could get answers as to why he shot Stolypin.
Once it got out that Bogrov was Jewish, Jews all over Kiev started packing and trying to find a way out of the city. They were terrified people would come after them because of what Bogrov did. The Jewish populace was getting ready for another pogrom.
While they were all waiting for the trains to come the next day, Vladimir Kokovtsov, who was the Minister of Finance, brought in the guards to protect the Jewish people and stop any violence.
Kokovtsov had even reached out to other city leaders to ensure that no pogroms were established. Nicholas had supported this decision, and soon after, Kokovtsov was sworn in as the new Prime Minister.
Vacation in Poland
In August 1912, the Romanovs went on vacation to Poland. At Bialowieza, after much begging, Alexei was given permission to go rowing. Unfortunately,
Alexei didn’t take his time getting into the boat and hurt himself, bruising his upper thigh. He was stuck in bed for a few days, but that was all. The bruise went away and Alexei was back to being his usual dangerously rambunctious self.
Bad things happened when the family continued their vacation at their home in Spala a couple of weeks later. Alexandra went on a carriage ride with Alexei.
After a couple miles, Alexei screamed. All of a sudden, he was in a tremendous amount of pain. His back and stomach were killing him. Alexandra had the driver take them home.
Dr. Botkin, who was traveling with the family, figured out Alexei was experiencing the aftereffects of his fall on the rowboat. While the family thought the bruise had healed, what really happened was that the injury caused blood to pool in his leg, groin, and then stomach. As a result,
Alexei’s leg folded in on his stomach. There was nothing that could be done. The internal bleeding would continue until his body formed the clots necessary for it to stop or Alexei died.
For eleven days, Alexandra barely left him alone. Alexei screamed and cried without end, and Alexandra barely slept. She sat by his side the entire time. And we do mean the entire time. She had to listen to not only Alexei’s crying, but also his heartbreaking questions, like: “Mama, why won’t you help me?”
His questions got worse. He’d say something like, “When I’m dead, the pain will end, right?” or he’d say something like, “When I die, build me a monument.” There’s nothing more heartbreaking than a child who’s ready for the end to finally come.
When Nicholas was told that Alexei might not survive, he finally gave his permission for medical bulletins to be posted about Alexei being ill. But, it had to be carefully worded.
There would be nothing in the bulletins that would disclose the cause of Alexei’s condition. As would be expected, the people of the Russian Empire rallied. They prayed for the tsarevitch.
In her most desperate moment, Alexandra reached out to Rasputin. He had helped Alexei in the past, perhaps he could do the same again. Rasputin received her telegram and responded: “The Little One will not die. Do not allow the doctors to bother him too much” (Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie).
And just as quickly as it started, Alexei was on the mend. Within a day of getting the telegram from Rasputin, the bleeding stopped. The doctors didn’t know why or how it happened, but it did.
Alexei’s doctors posted a medical bulletin that skirted around hemophilia, but never outright said the kid was suffering from it. If the doctors had, the Russian people would have flown into a panic.
So the doctors mentioned Alexei had a fever, bleeding, swelling, and now that he was on the up and up, he would need more time to heal since his leg was stuck in the bent position.
What was unexpected was that it would take about a year for the leg to heal and for Alexei to be able to straighten the limb. Until then, he couldn’t walk.
Mikhail and the Throne
Until Alexei was born, Mikhail, Nicholas’s youngest brother, was the tsarevitch.
So he was under constant watch. He could only marry someone who was considered appropriate for the possible future Tsar, even if people didn’t really think he would ever sit on the throne.
Then in 1906, no longer the heir, Mikhail was in love. Her name was Nathalia Cheremetevskaya, and he asked Nicholas if he could marry her. Nathalie from a more humble background, and she’d been married twice before. Nicholas said no to the match.
Mikhail understood the reasoning behind Nicholas’s decision. So, the lovely couple left the country so that they could live together, and a few years later, a beautiful little boy entered the picture. They named him George.
Then in October of 1912, Mikhail and Nathalia got married and told Nicholas after the fact. As punishment, Nicholas barred Mikhail from Russia and his ability to be regent for Alexei was null and void.
The news hit Nicholas at an awful time. They married when Alexei was suffering at Spala. That was the reason for the rushed and secret wedding. If Alexei had died, Mikhail would have been the heir again. And then he definitely wouldn’t have been able to marry Nathalia.
So they got married before anyone could tell them no. Eventually, Nicholas and Mikhail reconciled and Nathalia and baby George were granted titles. Then, when WWI broke out, Mikhail and his family were allowed back into Russia to help with the war effort.
1914 – The Great War Begins
In the summer of 1914, it was vacation time once again. They boarded the Standart and sailed for Finland. It was a lovely getaway for the family. Nicholas spent some much needed time with the children. Alexandra relaxed on deck, making sure not to strain her back.
And it was during this picturesque holiday that Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke not the band, and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo.
Nicholas didn’t think the tragedy in Sarajevo would cause a war, so he didn’t start the journey back to St. Petersburg. What he didn’t know, couldn’t know, was that because the assassin was from Serbia, Austria-Hungary blamed the Serbs and was threatening to go to war.
And then on July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. And then Germany, Austria-Hungary’s ally, declared war on Russia, who was an ally of Serbia. The vacation was over. The family returned to Russia so Nicholas could issue a formal proclamation of war.
On August 2, 1914, Nicholas stood in the Winter Palace. In what was known as Nicholas Hall, Nicholas made his oath, “I solemnly swear that I will never make peace as long as a single enemy remains on Russian soil” (The Family Romanov by Candance Fleming).
He and his family made their way out to the balcony overlooking the palace square where over 250,000 people were gathered, waiting for the Tsar to speak. All he could do was make the sign of the cross.
When he finally tried to speak, his words were drowned out by the sound of his people singing the Imperial Anthem. While Nicholas was crying, his people were cheering.
*Music: Initial classical piece that’s a part of the intro is Concerto for 2 Oboes in F Major Op9 no3, 3 Allegro by Advent Chamber Orchestra under the Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.*