- Politics and Social Issues
Imprisonment of the Tsar and Empress
Tsar Nicholas, Empress Alexandria and Family
The Fall of the Tsar
The Tsar abdicated to the Provisional government of Russia led by Alexander Kerensky. It is commonly believed that Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks took control from the Tsar. It would be three years of bloody war before the Bolsheviks, communist, came to govern Russia.
The provisional government had the first chance. The abdication followed the February Uprising. The uprising followed years of horrendous defeats in WWI and months of starvation in the capitol city of St. Petersburg.
When Nicholas II made his decision to lead his armies from the battlefield, he left his wife, Empress Alexandra, in charge of domestic government. This decision proved a colossal miscalculation. The Empress under the influence of Rasputin dismissed several key ministers to a functioning government and appointed inept and inexperienced people. The only qualification necessary for the highest offices in the land was that Rasputin reported them to be right.
The government virtually collapsed at a time of famine and war.
Under the provisional government, the press was free to print stories that were previously only whispered. A popular cartoon depicted the Empress in a bathtub filled with blood. The Tsar was depicted as a stubborn, weak, and ruthless leader. The Empress was also depicted as a traitor due to her German birth.
The safety of the Imperial Family became a primary concern of Kerensky and the fledging government.
From March,1917 to August 13, 1917, the Imperial family were held under guard in Tsarskoe Selo at the Alexander Palace. Tsarskoe Selo was the Tsar's village containing numerous palaces, churches, gardens, and hospitals caring for wounded soldiers from the front.
During these months, the family was allowed to exercise in the garden. Their primary servants remained with them as did the children's tutor. Initially the guards were rude, enjoying this opportunity to jeer at the previously untouchable Imperial family.
Impress Alexandria was thoroughly investigated for treason. In the course of his interviews with Alexandria and Nicholas, Kerensky developed a strong and trusting relationship with the couple. The Impress was proven to be a totally loyal Russian.
Kerensky's hope was to move the family into Finland and from there to England. The reason this move did not happen was because the train would need to travel through Saint Petersburg. The thoroughly negative atmosphere in the city made this journey dangerous. To somehow sneak the family through Saint Petersburg was an unthinkable option to the fledging and struggling provisional officials. To do so would jeopardize their lives.
So the Imperial Family remained under guard at the Alexander Palace while Kerensky considered how to arrange safe passage out of Russia.
The guards no longer jeered. After weeks and months of watching over a family that displayed only loving politeness to one another, the guards felt no hostility. Tsarevich Alexei turned thirteen years old on August 13.
Alexei suffered a severe bought from his hemophilia. The would-be heir was left bed ridden with his leg convulsed at an awkward angle due to the pain in his knee. He continued his school lessons from his bed.
Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo
The last visitor Nicholas received in the Alexander Palace was his younger brother, Grand Duke Michael. Kerensky arranged the meeting and stayed in the room as the brothers talked quietly. There could be no doubt that this was their last meeting. Michael Romanov left the room with tears in his eyes. He kissed his nephew, Alexis, and left the palace.
Kerensky choose Tobolsk as a safe place for the Imperial Family because the area was far from the political upheaval in Petrograd. The population was generally more favorable to the family of Tsar Nicholas.
As Kerensky had told Nicholas, the Bolsheviks were after him, and after him they would be after Nicholas. The war was disaster, the allies wanted Russia to attack, the army was deserting or surrendering to the Germans. The Bolsheviks rose on a platform of peace, withdrawal from the war.
In Tobolsk there was a passable governor's house that would provide some comfort. Alexis was well enough to travel. Colonel Kobylinsky was to command the detachment that would guard citizen Romanov and his family.
In their portable jewel chests, the Empress and her daughters brought personal gems worth at least a million rubles. Colonel Kobylinsky rode aboard the Tsar's train. His 330 soldiers rode in a second train. They rode through vast stretches of forest and small villages. They crossed the Urals to arrive at the backwater, but economically solid small city of Tobolsk. No industry here created a rising proletariat demanding reform.
The Imperial family lived in the five room of the top floor while the guards occupied the bottom floor and the building across the street. The family was allowed visitors and the maids came and went into the village for supplies. Again the guards became friendly with the family and soldiers played with Alexis who enjoyed good health for some months.
The Bolshevik November Revolution in Petrograd at first had little impact on far-off Tobolsk. Kobylinsky remained in office. The Imperial family settled into a routine that was restricted but comfortable.
As the Bolshevik authority in Petrograd began to filter east to Tobolsk, the atmosphere surrounding the Tsar turned more and more hostile. The family was refused permission to go to church. Guards were posted inside the house to provide closer surveillance. The rations of food allotted to the Tsar's family was cut to soldier's rations. Kobylinsky lost control of the men.
However, Nicholas and Alexandria remained hopeful of rescue. Many influential citizens inside Russia and outside of her borders tried to organize a rescue. These supporters lacked leadership. Into this role stepped Soloviev.
Soloviev was the son-in-law of Rasputin. Due to this relationship he had the full support of the Dowager Empress Marie. Soloviev began collecting funds for the project of rescuing the Tsar and his family. For eight months the Imperial family was held in Tobolsk, and during that time Soloviev collected money and assured supporters that his plan was imminent.
To this day, it remains uncertain if Soloviev was a Bolshevik agent or merely a greedy con artist. In any event, Soloviev took the money and disappeared. Nicholas, Alexandria and their five children remained under guard in Tobolsk. Toward the end of their incarceration, Alexis again was so ill that he could not walk.
Church on the Blood
Again the Imperial family needed to be moved. The White forces were nearing Tobolsk.
A powerful Bolshevik Soviet ruled in Ekaterinburg. Fearing the Tsar and his family would escape, the Ekaterinburg Soviet demanded that the Imperial family be imprisoned in their city.
The Ipatiev House, called the House of Special Purpose, was readied as a place of confinement. The guards were changed to Bolshevik guards who felt no sympathy for the family in their charge. In May, 1918, with Alexis well enough to travel, the entire family was imprisoned inside the house. The prisoners included Nicholas, 50; Alexandria, 49; Olga, age 22; Tatiana, 20; Marie, 18; Anastasia, 16; Alexis, 13.
Nicholas and his family were truly prisoners. Outside of the fence the guard consisted of ordinary red soldiers. Inside the guards were Bolshevik shock troops. On July 4, the guards were replaced by a squad of ten Bolshevik Cheka or secret police. Jacob Yurovsky was the fully competent Bolshevik Secret Police captain in charge.
On July 17 the family went to bed certainly with suspicion of danger but not suspecting imminent threat. At midnight, Yurovsky woke the family and ordered them to dress and come downstairs to a basement room. Nicholas carried Alexis who could not walk. Anastasia clutched the spaniel jimmy.
On the ground floor, Yurovsky led them to a small semi-basement room, sixteen by eighteen feet, with a heavy iron grill over the window. He asked them to wait for the automobiles to arrive that would move them ahead of the White Army. Nicholas asked for chairs so that his wife and son could sit. Yurovsky ordered three chairs brought and Alexandria, Nicholas, and Alexis used the chairs. Behind their parents stood the four girls.
Yurovsky entered the room followed by his entire Cheka squad carrying revolvers. Nicholas was shot first in the forehead and died instantly. Then in a hail of bullets Olga, Tatiana, and Marie were shot. As the smoke cleared, moaning from the floor revealed that Alexis, still clutching his father's coat, remained alive. Yurovsky fired two shots into the boys ear. Anastasia, who had only fainted, suddenly screamed. She was bayonetted. The spaniel's head was crushed with a rifle butt. The tutor, parlor maid, and cook were shot. (Nicholas and Alexandria, Robert K. Massie, published 1967)
In Moscow, Lenin was informed of the massacre. The Bolsheviks no longer had anything to fear from the Tsar or his family.