Dispatches from the final days of Tsar Nicholas II

The last Russian tsar, Nicholas II, abdicated 100 years ago on March 15, 1917. RBTH has compiled the reactions of his contemporaries to this landmark event in Russian history.

Russian Revolution, Tsar Nicholas II Romanov (1868-1918), the last emperor of Russia, reads the act of abdication to the messengers of Kerensky the Duma in its direct private wagon at Tsarskoye Selo. Illustration of the scene which occurred March 15, 1917. / Source: Getty ImagesRussian Revolution, Tsar Nicholas II Romanov (1868-1918), the last emperor of Russia, reads the act of abdication to the messengers of Kerensky the Duma in its direct private wagon at Tsarskoye Selo. Illustration of the scene which occurred March 15, 1917. / Source: Getty Images

"When signing the act of abdication, neither Nicholas II nor his entourage thought that the monarchy in Russia would collapse. He signed it, transferring his right to the throne to his brother Mikhail, who, under the influence of the Cadets, declined to accept the throne until a decision was made by the Constituent Assembly. We don’t know to what extent Nicholas II participated in writing the text to the Manifesto on Abdication, but it was he who signed it,” said Sergei Mironenko, head of research at the Russian State Archive, in an interview with Kultura TV.

Historians agree that the tsar’s abdication was one of the key moments in the history of the Russian Revolution. However, the reactions of his contemporaries were mixed. Below is a selection of excerpts from documents of that time.

George Buchanan, British ambassador to Russia:

Since unrest could only lead to a civil war, on March 15, the Russian emperor presented General Ruzsky with a telegram to be sent to Petrograd, announcing his abdication of the throne to his son. A few hours later, His Majesty summoned his physician, Professor Fedorov, and asked him to tell the truth about the Tsarevich’s health. Upon learning that the disease was incurable and that his son could die at any moment, the emperor said: "Since Alexei cannot serve his homeland as I would have wished for him to, I have the right to keep him with me." Therefore, that evening when two Duma members, Guchkov and Shulgin, arrived in Pskov, the emperor gave them a decree in which he instead abdicated in favor of his brother.

Georges Maurice Paléologue, French ambassador to Russia:

The imperial train arrived in Pskov at eight in the evening. General Ruzsky immediately came to see the emperor and, without difficulty, convinced him that he must abdicate. He also cited the unanimous opinion of General Alexeyev and the commanders of the armies, whom he had polled by telegraph. The emperor instructed General Ruzsky to bring his intention to abdicate to the attention of Chairman of the Duma, Mikhail Rodzianko.

State Duma Deputy Karaulov:

Emperor Nicholas II abdicated the throne in favor of Mikhail Alexandrovich. Mikhail Alexandrovich, in turn, abdicated the throne in favor of the people. The Duma was a scene of grandiose rallies and cheering. The enthusiasm cannot be described.

Metropolitan Eulogius (Georgiyevsky):

The manifesto on the monarch’s abdication was read in the cathedral, by a protodeacon who was crying as he read. Many worshipers were also weeping. An old policeman had tears streaming down his cheeks.

From the journal of the peasant Zamarayev, from Vologda Region (about 500 km north of Moscow):

Nikolai Romanov and his family have been deposed. They are all under arrest and receive all their food using ration cards, just like everybody else. Truly, he did not care at all about the welfare of his people, and the people's patience ran out. He brought to his country starvation and darkness. What was taking place at his palace? It was horrible and disgraceful! The state was governed not by Nicholas II, but by that drunkard Rasputin. All the princes, including commander-in-chief, Nicholas Nikolaevich, have been replaced and dismissed from their posts.

Bishop of Omsk and Pavlodar Silvester:

Given the present conditions of life, a sovereign tsar could not hope to successfully govern such a huge state.

The people, through their elected representatives, should have been given the right to take part in running the country. But the tsar did not allow this, and a coup d'état followed.

This inexorable course of life forced Emperor Nicholas II to abdicate.

Thus, the judgment of God was cast against Tsar Nicholas II, as in ancient times it was cast against Saul.

Vasily Rozanov, religious philosopher and author:

Rus faded in a matter of two days, three at most. Even Novoye Vremya, the newspaper, could not be shut down as quickly as Rus was. It was amazing that it all fell at once to pieces, to details and particulars. Generally speaking, there had never been such an upheaval, not excluding the Migration Period.

Grand Duchess Olga Aleksandrovna:

Throughout these critical years, we Romanovs, who could have been the strongest supporters of the throne, were not worthy of the family title or traditions. Too many of us became mired in a world of selfishness and the endless satisfaction of personal desires and ambitions, but little common sense. And who of us cared about the impression we presented? No one.

Marc Ferro, French historian:

The reign of Nicholas II was forced upon him by fate and developed into a nightmare. He lived through two revolutions, witnessed dozens of assassination attempts in his entourage and presided over the Duma, which he hadn’t wanted to create, participating in its sessions, as well as in endless meetings with the Council of Ministers. Additionally, he had to wage war twice despite wanting to be an apostle of peace. After a long imprisonment, he was killed. But both before and after his abdication, his main concern was always the health of his son, the only heir, who was terminally ill with hemophilia.

Read more: Romanov family photos now in color

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