Birthday: April 29, 1818
Died At Age: 62
Sun Sign: Taurus
Also Known As: Alexander Nikolaevich Romanov
Born in: Moscow Kremlin, Moscow, Russia
Famous as: Emperor of Russia
Emperors & Kings
Spouse/Ex-: Catherine Dolgorukov (m. 1880–1881), Maria Alexandrovna (m. 1841–1880)
father: Nicholas I of Russia
mother: Alexandra Feodorovna (Charlotte of Prussia)
siblings: Alexis Pashkine, Grand Duchess Alexandra Nikolaevna of Russia, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Nicholaevna of Russia, Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich of Russia, Grand Duke Michael Nikolaevich of Russia, Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich of Russia, Olga Carlovna Albrecht, Olga Nikolaevna of Russia, Youzia Koberwein
children: Alexander III of Russia, Antoinette Bayer, Boris Alexandrovich Yurievsky, Catherine Yurievskaya, Charlotte Henriette Sophie Jansen, Grand Duchess Alexandra Alexandrovna of Russia, Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia, Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich of Russia, Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia, Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia, Joseph Raboxicz, Michael-Bogdan Oginski, Nicholas Alexandrovich, Olga Yurievskaya, Prince George Alexandrovich Yuryevsky
Died on: March 13, 1881
City: Moscow, Russia
Who was Alexander II of Russia?
Alexander II of Russia was the Emperor of Russia, as well as the King of Poland and the Grand Duke of Finland, who reigned from March 1855 to March 1881, before being assassinated by members of the Narodnaya Volya (People's Will) movement. He is remembered in history for his numerous reforms that ushered the modern age for the Russian Empire, and is revered as 'Alexander the Liberator' for the emancipation of the serfs in 1861. While he grew up in the autocratic system governing Russia at the time, his liberal education under Vasily Zhukovsky created a clear conflict in him which is easily noticeable through his actions during his reign. While he did bring in a number of reforms, they emerged more out of necessity than from true humanitarian outlook. Even for his most memorable reform, the emancipation of the serfs, he believed that it would eventually be necessary and wanted the change to happen "from above than from below". However, irrespective of his intentions, he did modernize the Russian Empire by reforming the military, the judicial system, education system, and by eradicating noble privileges.
Childhood & Early Life
Alexander Nikolaevich, the eldest son of Nicholas I of Russia and of Charlotte of Prussia, was born on April 29, 1818, in Moscow, Russia. His parents, both great-great-grandchildren of Frederick William I of Prussia, were third cousins, and had seven children together, including four sons and three daughters.
His father, who was not first in the line of succession, was not brought up to be an emperor. As such, he was determined to prepare his son for his future role as tsar, and often took him to military parades and other symbolic events of the era, which Alexander Nikolaevich enjoyed very much.
His father had named him the head of a hussar regiment when he was only a few days old, and he continued to receive promotion throughout his childhood. His early education was focused primarily on military matters; since he was six years old, he was taught by Captain K. K. Merder, the head of a Moscow military school.
Later, his mother insisted that the responsibility of the Alexander Nikolaevich's moral and intellectual development is supervised by Vasily Zhukovsky, a liberal romantic poet and gifted translator. During this time, he learned a number of modern European languages and gained knowledge on a variety of subjects.
Living under the shadow of his authoritarian father, he remained a dedicated autocrat throughout his life. Despite, the influence of Zhukovsky is notable in his reforms, especially during the early years of his reign.
In 1837, the young Alexander took a six-month tour through the Russian Empire, visiting 20 provinces, and became the first member of the royal family to set foot in Siberia. There he met with the Decembrists and even petitioned his father with their demands. He also travelled through many Western European countries in the next couple years.
He became involved in administration even during his father's reign; he was a member of the imperial councils, supervised the operation of military schools, and sometimes presided over State Council meetings representing his father. In 1846, as the chairman of the Secret Committee on Peasant Affairs, he supported the existing autocratic system.
His father was noted for expanding the geographical borders of the country which kept him engaged in wars during much of his reign, which finally ended in his death in 1855 during the Crimean War. It has been alleged that Alexander Nikolaevich lost interest in military affairs after witnessing how the war affected his family and the country as a whole.
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Reforms During His Reign
Alexander II of Russia inherited the throne after his father's death, on February 19, 1855, at a time when the country was on the verge of a disastrous defeat in the Crimean War. After the fall of the fortified city of Sevastopol on September 9, 1855, he began peace negotiations, signing the Treaty of Paris on March 30, 1856, which cost Russia naval rights in the Black Sea.
He was formally crowned the Russian Emperor on August 26, 1856 in Moscow. Following the first major defeat of the Russian army since 1812, he was forced to modernize the military and the entire political system in order to be on par with more advanced Western countries.
One of the first endeavors he undertook was the improvement of communications by extending the coverage of railway tracks throughout Russia. It resulted in faster movement of economic goods, especially grain, Russia's major export product, as well faster response in defense and attack.
He followed this reform with another more significant one, the emancipation of the serfs, for which he is still remembered as 'Alexander the Liberator'. While the actual implementation of this reform was slow and unsatisfactory to some extent, it still had an immense psychological impact at the time.
In the following years, he enlisted the service of a number of enlightened bureaucrats who performed reforms in their respective fields. He appointed Dmitry Milyutin as the Minister of War who carried out sweeping military reforms including compulsory 6-year military service for all males aged 21, including nobles. Introduced on January 1, 1874, the reform changed the face of the Russian army permanently.
Milyutin was also responsible for creating the military district system, splitting the Russian states into 15 military districts, and extending the reserve forces. The military education system also received an overhaul, with all the draftees being offered elementary education, and corporal punishment was banned in the military.
Alexander II of Russia proclaimed the zemstvo system which introduced local self-governance for the rural districts in 1864 and later extended that to large towns in 1870. Elective assemblies were given limited rights of taxation and the Minister of the Interior supervised the formation of municipal police.
The judiciary system was reorganized as well, allowing judges to be appointed for life, and, for the first time, allowing trial in open court by jury members who dealt with minor offences. The new administration, modeled after the French system, introduced security of tenure, a new penal code and simplified proceedings for civil and criminal laws.
Military and Diplomatic Undertakings
After the introduction of conscription in the Russian Army, Poland, which was under his reign, saw spontaneous revolt by youths which later received support from high-ranking Polish-Lithuanian officers and politicians. In order to abolish the threat of guerilla warfare, many were publicly executed, while many more were deported to Siberia.
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Poland subsequently lost its separate constitution and became incorporated directly into Russia, which resulted in a 40-year-long period of martial law starting in 1863, and the exclusion of native languages in almost all forms. The territories of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth were excluded from the emperor's liberal policies.
In contrast, Finland, which stayed loyal to the Russian empire during the Crimean War and the Polish uprising, was allowed increased autonomy and the Finnish language was granted the status of a national language. Finland was further allowed to have its own currency, saw increased foreign investment and established its first railways, all of which encouraged Finnish nationalism and earned the emperor 'The Good Tsar' moniker.
When the orthodox Bulgarian subjects on the Balkans rebelled against Ottoman rule in 1875, Alexander, sensing a rise of support for them, started diplomatic negotiations with other nations, securing their neutral stance if war commences. After the Ottomans killed nearly thirty thousand Bulgarians, he declared war upon the Ottoman Empire and eventually defeated the Turkish forces on March 3, 1878, signing the Treaty of San Stefano.
In the following Congress of Berlin, Bulgaria emerged as an independent state for the first time since 1396, with his nephew being elected the first ruler. He once again reinforced his image as 'Tsar Liberator' and is still remembered as such in Bulgaria, which even erected a monument in his honor.
With the introduction of various reforms and the resultant freedom of expression during the reign of Alexander II of Russia, people started to come out in the open with their opinions, demanding more reforms. It was only a matter of time before many radical groups were formed, calling for the end of autocracy.
One of these groups, Land and Liberty, emerged from the Russian universities and instigated the peasantry for a violent revolution. Dmitry Karakazov, a member of this group, made a failed assassination attempt on the emperor's life at the gates of the Summer Garden in St Petersburg in 1866.
There were many more failed attempts to end the tsar's life; one the very next year in 1867, a couple in 1879, and one in 1880. Following the first attempt at his life, he became more conservative towards his reforms and increased the power of 'The Third Section', a secret police department established in Imperial Russia.
The final and successful assassination attempt on March 1, 1881, which was carried out by the 'People's Will' movement, was more organized and had two backup bombers alongside the first one. While the tsar survived the first explosion, when he came out of his bulletproof carriage to examine the situation, a second bomb exploded and bled him to death.
The emancipation of the serfs is the most notable reform undertaken by Alexander II of Russia during his reign. The Emancipation Edict freed 23 million serfs and improved the state of life for an additional 30 million peasants, and has been described as "the greatest social movement since the French Revolution".
When he came to power, there was only about 600 miles of railway track, connecting the two capitals of St. Petersburg and Moscow. Following his communications improvements, the tracks were extended to about 14,000 miles by the time of his death in 1881.
Personal Life & Legacy
During his travels to European countries in his early years, Alexander II of Russia fell in love with Princess Marie from the small German state of Hesse-Darmstadt. They were married on April 16, 1841 in St Petersburg, following which she became known as Maria Alexandrovna.
They together had six sons and two daughters, among whom their first-born daughter died an infant and their second-born son died at the age of 22, after getting engaged to Dagmar of Denmark Maria Feodorovna. Their third child, Alexander III, became their heir and also got engaged to Maria Feodorovna later.
He is said to have developed an interest in the 16-year-old Princess Catherine Dolgorukov after she was sent to the Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens in St. Petersburg following her father's death. The two became intimate in July 1866, presumably after she was moved by pity following the death of his eldest son, Nicholas Alexandrovich, and an assassination attempt on his life.
She later became lady-in-waiting to Empress Maria, who was suffering from tuberculosis, and he married her on July 18, 1880, within a month of Maria's death. Even before marriage, they had three children, and she later gave birth to another child that died in infancy.
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood was built on the site of his assassination in St. Petersburg, Russia. Funded by the imperial family to honor his memory, the construction of the church started in 1883 and was finished in 1907.
Ironically, one of the emperor's final works was approving the establishment of a national assembly and allowing Mikhail Loris-Melikov to carry out constitutional reforms, which despite being generally conservative, was considered significant. However, following the death of his father, Alexander III chose to abandon the reforms and the Russian Empire turned more into an autocracy in the following years, continuing to the next emperor, Nicholas II's reign.
Alexander II of Russia owned an Irish Setter dog named Milord, which not only often accompanied him while walking at the Summer Garden, but also made into a painting by Sergei Lvovich Levitsky in 1870. The favorite pet of the emperor was considered the most famous animal in Russia at the time.