17 July 1918 – Tsar Nicholas II of Russia
Can a bloke be more unpopular, let alone a king? Such was the hatred for Tsar Nicholas II of Russia that his actions single-handedly brought about the demise of the royal Romanov dynasty, after he proved supremely ill-equipped to run his own country.
His anti-Semitism, rubbish war skills and extraordinarily decadent wealth, in the face of his people’s poverty, incensed his subjects. Out of the disenfranchised furore, the Bolsheviks rose up in a left-wing frenzy and threw him and his family bloodily out of power.
Tsar Nicholas II or Nicky to his mates was a bit of a non-starter. His dad had died following a sudden descent into poor health, so the process of schooling his son in the ways of the throne hadn’t even started.
Ready, or not
OK, so Nicky had a sound aptitude for school work, but he hadn’t been versed in how to run the country. Indeed his dad had banked on having at least 20-odd years ahead of him with which to bring Nicholas up to kingly speed.
But that never took place and the sudden propulsion into the limelight prompted even Nicholas to say ominously ‘what is going to happen to me and all of Russia?’
The fact that it all ended in World War, civil chaos and death of the monarchy, meant that things got about as bad as they could ever get, really.
However, life started off promisingly enough – he married for love and the bond was strong by most accounts. But from thereon in, things started to unravel.
If you thought Hitler was the first to go down the anti-Semitic route, guess again. Tsar Nicholas was at it long before, and his bigoted stance was burgeoning. He even got his parliament in on the act, paying newspapers to print decidedly distorted and disturbing reports dissing the Jews.
Couple this with the bizarrest of approaches to war, where Nicholas literally buried his head in the sand, not even contemplating that the certain war with Japan could break out. Yet it did in 1904, rendering Russia the ill-prepared underdog.
Well, none of these stances won the tsar any mates and his blissful ignorance was to set the tone for his stricken reign.
And 1905 proved to be a punishingly pivotal point, especially when a priest chose to get in on the action – Father Gapon decided it was high time he let his feelings be known and he organised a march to hand over a petition highlighting key gripes. But what appeared to be an attempt on the tsar’s life just a couple of days beforehand made advisors jumpy and the king was told to retreat and not to meet the demonstrators.
This even culminated in Bloody Sunday, where soldiers rained gunfire on the assembled masses – women, children and men alike were killed and as word spread so the numbers were exaggerated in true Chinese-whispers style. Even the Brits waded in with the PM branding Nicholas a ‘blood-stained creature and a common murder’.
The public felt even more disenfranchised and the retreat prompted Gapon to write a scathing letter attacking Romanov. Indeed, he was to prove a thorn in the Russian Royal’s side and Gapon eventually wound up dead – hanged in Finland while in hiding.
As for Russia, it was the beginning of the end of the war in 1905 that kicked off strikes galore and a general descent into revolution. So at this point a blinder was played – the first elected parliament was put in place, known as a State Duma. While the first two were not too hot, the third in 1907 was lucky indeed. It was less gung-ho than the former two so Nicholas began to warm to it and its successor in 1912.
His private life fared no better – the Romanovs had four daughters and one son, but the son and heir was poorly. Medicine didn’t help so they turned to healers and mystics…cue Rasputin, made infamous by Boney M’s homage.
Family at war
The war broke out in 1914, this time pitting Nicholas against his own cousin, Kaiser Willhelm – this time Russia called Germany’s bluff and before you could say ‘what is it good for’, World War I was raging.
As with the Japanese set-to, Russia fared no better here and with Nicholas caught up with the war, he left his wife in charge of Russia, with help from the seedy Rasputin.
That was to prove a big mistake, because she was German, and by default she immediately gained the nation’s distrust – they all branded her a spy.
It was a step way too far – they were in the throes of famine and inflation was sky-rocketing. Similarly, as with the previous war, Russia was left depleted. People endured serious hardship, fuelling the animosity and unsurprisingly civil unrest kicked off again, mirroring the discontent of a mere decade before.
Things spiralled out of controlled culminating in the ‘February’ revolution, in which Nicholas was forced to stand down, so he named first his sickly son, then his brother as the successors to the throne.
But his brother deferred, calling for people to be allowed to vote. The Bolsheviks seized the window of opportunity to grab power in 1917 and the Romanovs were put under house arrest.
It was during this time that the family was moved to the left-wing heartland of Yekaterinburg, in the Ural Mountains, and on 17 July 1917 they were taken to the cellar where Nicky, his wife and their children plus three servants were all shot.
Parallels can be drawn with the tsar’s earlier French counterpart Louis XVI, who was overthrown in the same way.