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The Romanovs: Alexander II, Tsar Liberator and his Children

Updated on August 15, 2016

Alexander II, Tsar of Russia

Who was Tsar Alexander II? He was one of the last three Russian Tsars in the late 19th Century- and he was the first of the last three Romanov Tsars. He was the eldest son of Nicholas I and Alexandra (born Charlotte of Prussia) of Russia. He was born in Moscow in 1818 and was assassinated in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1881. Had he lived one more day,he would have been able to sign a manifesto, and would have changed the course of Russian history, where the people who have been granted more freedoms. This might have possibly saved the life of his grandson, Nicholas II in 1918, during the Russian Revolution.

In present times, people recall him as being the grandfather of the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, who was likewise assassinated, almost 40 years later. Unlike Alexander, Nicholas II was not as influential in historical matters, but made his mark due to the manner of the death of himself and his family in 1918. He certainly would not have tried to accomplish what his grandfather had done, which was freeing the serfs of Russia.

Alexander of Russia was not born to rule a land where the status quo held, but rather was born to rule in a time when changes, reforms, were needed to be made in Imperial Russia. He, and not his father, freed the serfs of Russia, and was about to change a number of laws that would have modernized Russia-- before he was killed. The problem was reforms happened in his country at a pace which for some was too slow and for others was too fast.

His personal life also suffered later in life. Yet, when he was born and destined to rule Imperial Russia there was a lot of changes, and hope.

Alexander II, his first wife Empress AMrie, and his son the future Alexander III
Alexander II, his first wife Empress AMrie, and his son the future Alexander III

Alexander and His Parents

Alexander was the son of Tsar Nicholas I and Tsarina Alexandra of Russia. There would be a link to Prussia (the future backbone of Germany) from his mother who was born as Charlotte of Prussia. There would be many links to Prussia and the surrounding German speaking states. Many of the last Tsars wives would be from the smaller German states.

The Romanov family was small when his parents married. For many historians, this is the point that they make: most of the current Russian royal family descends directly from Nicholas I and his wife Alexandra. (They would have ten children in all - three of whom were either stillborn or died young- 6 daughters, 4 sons)

One of Alexander's uncles was Tsar Alexander I. Alexander I had no surviving children and his other uncle, Constantine, was married, but his two daughters had died young, and they would not have become rulers in any event due to his Grandfather Paul's changes to the Romanov family law. His uncle Constantine had married morganatically- therefore being unable to inherit the Russian Throne, he also had several illegitimate children, and one child in his second marriage. Alexander's father Nicholas, was the third brother and yet was not expected to rule.

Still after the death of his eldest brother, he succeed the Russian throne as Nicholas I. His son would be Tsar after him. As such his education was one which was slanted as a bit of reform and attempting to keep the status quo.

Alexander made certain that his brothers worked with him, and as such made sure that Konstantine, Nicolas and Mikail were placed in positions that helped in and that they would, like their father planned work as a unit.

Alexander second wife-- and mother of four of his children.
Alexander second wife-- and mother of four of his children.

HIs Children: Two Families of Alexander II

Alexander would marry HGDH Princess Marie of Hesse and by Rhine in 1841. She was young and beautiful but by the late 1860s she was ill from consumption and he began a long term affair with a teenager by the name of Catherine. In all, Alexander would have twelve legitimate children. Eight by Empress Marie, and four by this mistress and future wife. He would also have at least seven illegitimate children.

His would name his two eldest children after his parents: Alexandra, (also known as Lina) who died at the age of six, and Nicholas, a man destined to be Tsar but who would die in his early twenties from meningitis. His next son was Alexander, who would reign after his death as Alexander III, and then Vladimir, Alexei, Maria (whose daughter would become the famed Queen Marie of Romania) Serge and Paul. These were his children by the Empress. Paul would be their last child, and he was born in 1860.

He would father other children as well, but his most enduring mistress was Catherine Dolgurukov. She would bear him two sons and two daughters. George, Olga, Boris who died as a child and Catherine. Before his assassination in 1881, he would marry her. He had plans to make this wife his Empress, and as it was thought by the family, but he created her Princess, and legitimized their three surviving children.

By the time of his death, in 1881, he had many grandchildren from his surviving children: Alexander married Dagmar of Denmark, and had: Nicholas, Alexander (who died in 1870), George, Xenia and Michael. His next son Vladimir had: Alexander (who died in 1877), Cyril (who in 1924 proclaimed himself pretender to the Russian Imperial throne) Boris and Andrei. Alexei would have an illegitimate son in 1871. Serge would have no children. his only surviving daughter with the Empress, Marie would have Alfred, Marie, Victoria Melita, and Alexandra, as well as a stillborn child (1879). As for his youngest children, Paul did not marry until after both his parents death.

His children by his second wife, were too young to marry or have children before the death of Alexander II.

Alexander was also famous fro his dog named Milord. There are many photos of him with this dog in them.

The three surviving children of Alexander II's second wife.
The three surviving children of Alexander II's second wife.
 Postcard Photo of the original monument to Alexander II-- for his granting freedom to the serfs-- this was destroyed in 1918-1920 by the Bolshevik Government.
Postcard Photo of the original monument to Alexander II-- for his granting freedom to the serfs-- this was destroyed in 1918-1920 by the Bolshevik Government.

Do You Know More About Alexander II Now?

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Tsar liberator; The Emanicipation of the Serfs in 1861

The main reason Alexander is often referred to as Tsar Liberator is that in 1861 he emancipated the serfs in Russia. Until this time, the serfs was for all intents and purposes unfreed peasants. In other words, about half the population of Russia were serfs. Officially they were not slaves as Perter the Great had abolished slavery during his reign.

The serfs of Russia worked the land, but they also were a majority of the servants in large households of the Russian elite. This was before 1861. The Manifesto Alexander signed allowed the serfs freedoms: to marry without needing consent of their owners, but also the right to won property and a business. Not all serfs gained this freedom at the same time.

While it is considered one of the greatest things Alexander II did for Russia, there is always the point that anything like this had mixed results. Some serfs gained land-- they were farmers whereas others who were household serfs had freedom but not land to build anything on.

These reforms that he instituted were the product of his liberal ministers, who encouraged a more liberal course for Russia. Unlike his son, Alexander III, he viewed reform as a means to protect the Imperial family. This was due to the Crimean War, (1853-1856) which began during the reign of his father and ended in the early years of his reign, This is possibly the main reason why the serfs were freed.

The other thing to note is that although Alexander II was consider by some historians to be Tsar Liberator his younger brother Grand Duke Konstantine was also part of this process. Konstantine was a brash man, and wanted more reforms than the Emancipation Manifesto had. As it stood this reform was bitterly resented by most of the nobility.

In the end, had Alexander lived a few weeks longer there would have been another reform which might have saved the Russian Empire-- the Duma. Had the Duma begun in 1881, there might have been the possibility that Nicholas II would not have abdicated and lost his life during the Russian Revolution.

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    • profile image

      Michelle 

      3 years ago

      Alexander II was no better than Nicolas II except he had some backbone. What about his early life?

    • Rebecca E. profile imageAUTHOR

      Rebecca E. 

      6 years ago from Canada

      Apollos Crow-- thanks for stopping by, this was one of the few hubs I wrote on the Romanovs, but it was one of the most fun I've had with them.

    • Apollos Crow profile image

      Apollos Crow 

      6 years ago from New York

      Good info here and some nice photos. It cannot be understated how dramatic his reign and his assassination were for Russia's trajectory. I just published an article on Alex II myself which is what brought me to yours. Looking forward to seeing what else you've written.

    • Rebecca E. profile imageAUTHOR

      Rebecca E. 

      7 years ago from Canada

      alekhouse-- it's was fun to learn more and to try to add details I hope other wouldn't know about.

    • Rebecca E. profile imageAUTHOR

      Rebecca E. 

      7 years ago from Canada

      Beata-- yes I enjoyed writing it, in fact I am now certain to write more.

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 

      7 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      I've read a lot about the Romanovs, but it's always interesting to read again. Good hub.

    • Beata Stasak profile image

      Beata Stasak 

      7 years ago from Western Australia

      great article on the last of the Russian tsar, as a teacher of the Russian language and literature I am always happy to find someone interested in it....so thank you again:)

    • Beata Stasak profile image

      Beata Stasak 

      7 years ago from Western Australia

      Thank you for your interesting and detailed article on the last of the Russian tsars:)

      As a teacher of Russian language and literature I feel that there is not really too much interest in Russian culture and history....so I am happy you have opened 'the well of treasures':)

    • Rebecca E. profile imageAUTHOR

      Rebecca E. 

      7 years ago from Canada

      drbj-- oh it would be simplier... but I think it is also a bit of tradition.. see Alexander was also known in the family as Alexander Nicholavich... ( which is roughly Alexander son of Nicholas) so it's now you would sort of figure out who was who... and then there was nicknames.. I oculd write long on that one!

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      7 years ago from south Florida

      Fascinating history, becca, and you describe it all in a very interesting manner. Just thinking how much simpler it would have been for all the progeny who came after if additional names had been selected at their birth instead of the traditional and overused Alexander, Alexandra, Nicholas and Konstantine.

      Only the dog, Milord, had a more original (and British) name.

    • Rebecca E. profile imageAUTHOR

      Rebecca E. 

      7 years ago from Canada

      bbudyono-- glad you enjoyed this and happy to help

    • Bbudoyono profile image

      Bbudoyono 

      7 years ago

      Excellent hub. It is an eye opener for me. Thanks a lot.

    • Rebecca E. profile imageAUTHOR

      Rebecca E. 

      7 years ago from Canada

      Reynold-- I suspect that had it been allowed to stand-- his sucessor Alexander III didn't let it-- there would have been more of a gradual change. Still, I suspect that like the liberation of the serfs it would have been good for some and not for others.

    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 

      7 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      A fascinating history one does wonder what would the course of history been had he signed the Manifesto. I found I enjoyed this very much. You have this laid out beautifully and it is easy to understand. Keep up the great HUBS. I must give this an “Up ONE and awesome.” I'm always your fan! RJ

      You might enjoy one of my HUBs…

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