The reign of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (1894-1918) was doomed from the start. To begin with, “Nicky” never wanted to succeed his father as tsar. So when his 49-year-old father, Tsar Alexander III, died suddenly in November 1894, thrusting him onto the throne, Nicky was ill-disposed to rule. Instead of grabbing the reins of power, Nicky, 26, was consumed by grief. He wrote of his late father:
“It was the death of a saint! Lord, help us in these terrible days!”
Nicky could not collect his thoughts and act – and action was desperately needed. His first actions as tsar would set the tone of his reign. The Russian people - some of whom had been dangerously agitating for the abolition of the monarchy – needed to be told of the passing of the tsar. A funeral needed to be planned. Ministers needed to be consulted, meetings held.
Pressing as these matters were, Nicholas attended to none of them. Swallowed up in self-pity, he openly bemoaned his fate as the new tsar, pathetically begging others to help him. So lost was he in his own personal fugue that he consoled neither his mother nor his sisters. Sinking under the crushing weight of his weakness, he hid in the comfort of his fiance, Princess Alix of Hesse, and did nothing.
Meanwhile, Mother Nature was on the move. The tsar’s corpse, still in the Livadia Palace on the Black Sea, stank horribly and had to be carried by Nicky and his uncles out of the house and into “a little corner” where it could be embalmed. Strangely,
the face of the dead tsar, which was turning black with corruption, appeared to be smiling, as if it were about to laugh”
at his firstborn son’s idiocy. Tsar Alexander had wanted to pass on the crown to his second son, Michael, whom he considered the only one of the three imperial sons to possess the self-confidence of one born to rule. The old tsar knew that his son Nicky was soft and easily swayed by others.
Alas, Nicky’s weaknesses would be his – and his family’s - downfall.
Source: Erickson, Carolly. Alexandra: The Last Tsarina. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001
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