Russian Royalty: Alexander II (1855-81)


Figure 1.--I am not sure what is depicted here, but is clearly a school scene in which Tsar Alexander II is participating. An Orthodox Russian Bishop is blessing the children. Perhaps it is their first day of school. I think that some of the children have their fathers present. a couple are being show affection by some of the ministers. It is interesting because it shows a variety of school clothing but it is likely to be best dress because of the importance of the occasion. The children seem to be from affluent families. The painting is by A D Kivshenko

Nicholas' successor, Alexander II, by contrast was amenable to reform. In 1861, he abolished serfdom, though the emancipation didn't in fact bring on any significant change in the condition of the peasants. The action eraned him the title of "The Liberator". As the country became more industrialized, its political system experienced even greater strain. Attempts by the lower classes to gain more freedom provoked fears of anarchy, and the government remained extremely conservative. As Russia became more industrialized, larger, and far more complicated, the inadequacies of autocratic Tsarist rule became increasingly apparent. By the 20th Century conditions were ripe for a serious convulsion. At the same time, Russia had expanded its territory and its power considerably over the 19th century. Its borders extended to Afghanistan and China, and it had acquired extensive territory on the Pacific coast. The foundation of the port cities of Vladivostok and Port Arthur there had opened up profitable avenues for commerce, and the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway (constructed from 1891-1905) linked the European Russia with its new eastern territories. Alexander II in 1841 married Maria of Hessen-Darmstadt (Maria Alexandrovna). The royal couple had seven seven children. He was mortally wounded on March 1, 1881, when a student, I. Grinevitskii who belonged to the revolutionary organization "The National Will", threw a bomb. A cathedral was erected on the site of the murder. Alexander II was buried in the Cathedral of the St. Peter and St. Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg.

Parents

Alexander was the son of Tsar Nicholas I and the Prussian Princess Alexandra Charlotte.

Father

Alexander's father was Tsar Nicholas I Pavlovich (1796-1855). By the time of Catherine the Great, the Russian Tsars enjoyed virtually autocratic rule over their nobles. However, they had in a sense purchased this power by granting those nobles virtually autocratic power over the serfs, who by this time had been reduced to a state closer to slavery than to peasantry. In the early 19th century, both of these relationships were under attack. In the Decembrist revolt in 1825, a group of young, reformist military officers attempted to force the adoption of a constitutional monarchy in Russia by preventing the accession of Nicholas I. They failed utterly, and Nicholas became the most reactionary leader in Europe. He was a dominating figure. His policies in Russia were autocratic while his policies abroad were hostile. He was a manipulative personality strongly believing in censorship and strict control over the university. He forced the Russian language and religion upon the general population. In 1830, he abolished the Polish constitution due to an uprising. He was viewed as the cause of the Crimean War of 1853 as he wanted to expand Russian territory south toward the Dardinelles by seizing Turkish territory--describing it as "Sick man of Europe". The Tsar killed himself in 1855.

Mother

Alexander's mother was Prussian Princess Alexandra Charlotte (Hohenzollern) (1798- ). Her father was King Frederick William II (Hohenzollern) of Prussia (1744- ). Her mother was Princess Frederica Louise of Hesse-Darmstadt (1751- ). Her brothers included King Frederick William IV of Prussia (1795- ) and King/Emperor William I of Germany (1797- ). Princess Alexandra Charlotte married Nicholas in 1817.

Siblings

The royal family has seven children. Alexander II Nicholoevich (1818-81) was the oldest. The other children were: Princess Maria Nicholiava (1819- ), Grand Duchess Olga (1822- ), Alexandra Nicholaievna (1825- ), Grand Duke Constantine Nikolaievitch (1827- ), Grand Duke Nicholas Nicholajievic (1831- ), and Michael Nicholaievic (1832- )

Childhood

Alexander was born in Moscow on April 17, 1818.

Education

Alexander was educated by private tutors. He endured rigorous military training that permanently damaged his health.

Character

Alexander appears to be a man of many personalities. He could be both fanatical and brutal s well as charming. One histoian describes him as lecherous who hung his private study with pornographic portraits. Alexander was a mercurial man who very impressionalable. He was cable of sharp changes of opinion. At times Alexander exposed liberal beliefs and at different times he was stout supporter of Russia's virtually feudal system. He loved to hunt, but was not a soldier. [Ludwig, p. 167.]

Marriage

Alexander II in 1841 as Tsareivitch or Crown Prince married Maria of Hessen-Darmstadt (Maria Alexandrovna). Her father was Grand Duke Louis II of the Rhine Hesse (1777- ). Her mother was Princess Wilhelmina of Baden (1788- ).

Children

The royal couple had seven eight children. The eldest was Alexandra Alexandrovna (1842-49), but she died as a small child. Nicholas Alexandrovich was the Grand Prince Thronfolger (1843-65), but died of tuberculosis as a young man. Alexander Alexandrovich (1845- ) as a result of the death of his elder brother became Tsar Alexander III. The other children were: Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovitch (1847- ), Grand Duke Alexis Alexandrovich (1850- ), Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna (1853- ), Grand Duke Serge Alexandrovich (1857- ), and Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich (1860- ).

Crimean War (1853-56)

When Alexander acceeded to the throne, Russia was involved in the Crimean War with Britain and France. The Treaty of Paris in 1856 ended the conflict. It was apparent to Alexander that Russia because of its limited industrail capacity was no longer a great military power able to cope with the rapidly industrailizing countries of Western Europe. He realized that the outcome could have been even more disastrous had Prussia also entered the War. The War bankrupted the Russian treasury.

Corronation

Alexander II was crowned in the Dormition Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin on August 26, 1856.

Serfdom

Serdom, the Russian form of feudalism, played a major role in Russian life through the 19th century when it was abolished. Serfdom was more humane than American race-based chattle slavery, but serfdom as also a brutal system which tied millions of Russians to the land. Even freed slaves were descriminated against. The influence continued into the 20th century. An assessment of Russian boys' clothing would thus be incomplete withoutan assessment of serfdom. Some Russian boys even in the 19th century look much like European boys. Other Russian boys, especiall serf boys and rural village boys dressed very destinctly. Tsar Nicholas I refused to act on the issue of sefdom. Alexander II, by contrast was amenable to reform. Alexander's advisers argued that Russia's feudal serf-based economy could not compete with modernn industrialized nations such as Britain, Francem and Prussia. The Tsar began to consider the end of serfdom in Russia. The Russian nobility feeling their livelihood jepordized, objected strnously. Alexander responded, saying "It is better to abolish serfdom from above than to wait for the time when it will begin to abolish itself from below." Alexannder in 1861, issued his Emancipation Manifesto. There were 17 legislative acts designed to free the serfs in Russia. Personal serfdom would be abolished and all peasants would be able to buy land. The State would advance the the money to the landlords and would recover it from the peasants in 49 annual sums known as redemption payments. This was necessary because the Crimean War had bankrupted the national treasury while confiscating land from the nobility would have been untenable politically. The action eraned him the title of "The Liberator". Emancipation didn't in fact bring immediate changes in the condition of the peasants, in large part because they were not educated and the land process poorly administered by the reluctant nobility. Empacipation disappointed many peasants. Often in took years to get title to the land. Others were cheated by exorbinate land prices. Further reforms in 1864 seting up the Zemstvos were designed to bring education and other servives to the Russian masses. More reforms followed, including improved municipal government (1870) and universal military training (1874). Alexander also encouraged the expansion of industry and the railway network.

Foreign Policy

Russia under Alexander II reconsidered its foreign policy. Russia refrained from overseas expansion and concentrated on strengthening its borders. He sold Alaska and the Aleutian Islands which Russia would find difficult to defend to the United States in 1867. The deals was called "Seward's Folly" in America. His greatest achievement was the successful war conduct of the Russo-Turkish War (1877-78) against the Ottoman Empire, resulting in the liberation of Bulgaria and annulment of the conditions of the Treaty of Paris of 1856, imposed upon Russia after its defeat in theCrimean War (1853-55) against Britain and France. A nephew of the Tsar, Prince Alexander of Battenburg, was named the Prince of Bulgaria. The Great Powers who feared Russian expansion in the Balkans found him acceoptable because he was a German prince. The Tsae accepted him as a relative.

Russian Society

As the country became more industrialized, its political system experienced even greater strain. Attempts by the lower classes to gain more freedom provoked fears of anarchy, and the government remained extremely conservative. As Russia became more industrialized, larger, and far more complicated, the inadequacies of autocratic Tsarist rule became increasingly apparent. By the 20th Century conditions were ripe for a serious convulsion. At the same time, Russia had expanded its territory and its power considerably over the 19th century. Its borders extended to Afghanistan and China, and it had acquired extensive territory on the Pacific coast. The foundation of the port cities of Vladivostok and Port Arthur there had opened up profitable avenues for commerce, and the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway (constructed from 1891-1905) linked the European Russia with its new eastern territories.

Wilhelm I

Tsar Alexander II was Wilhelm I's nephew. Wilhelm had basically simple interests. Family was very important to him. Thus the family relations with the Rusian royal family was almost a guarentee of friendly relations with Russia and very useful in Bismarck's foreign policy. This wss very important because aftr the Polish partitions, Russia and Prussia/Germany shared a long frontier. According to at least one historian, however, Tsar Alexander was not as easy man with which to associate. [Ludwig, p. 167.]

Assassination

Alexander's reforms were extensive, but did not satisfy many in Russia who wanted the end of absolutism, a western parliamentary democracy, and basic civil rights including freedom of expression has had been gained in America and Western Europe. Several attempts were made on the Tsar's life. He was in the process of devising a constitutional system when revolutionaries finally succeeded. Alexander was mortally wounded on March 1, 1881, when a student, I. Grinevitskii who belonged to the revolutionary organization "The National Will", threw a bomb. Actually an earlier bomb had missed the Tsar and he had returned to see to his injured cossack guards when Grinevitskii threw his bomb. A cathedral was erected on the site of the murder. Alexander II was buried in the Cathedral of the St. Peter and St. Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg. A tragic result of the assassination was that the two succeeding Tsars knew it was the reformist Alexander II that was assainated which limited any enthusiasm they may have had for persuing reforms of their own. Alexander's eldest son who succeeded his father as Alexander III saw repression as the way to deal with terrorism.

Sources

Ludwig, Emil. Bismarck: The Story of a Fighter (Lottle Brown, Boston, 1927), 661p.






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Created: June 6, 1998
Last updated: October 30, 2003