What role did Nicholas II play in his own downfall?

Categories: PlayPoliticsUnrest

Nicholas II played, by far the biggest role in his downfall as the Tsar of Russia. Certain aspects of his behaviour definitely contributed to bringing down the Russian empire, however most of these qualities were not weaknesses in character but qualities associated with poor leadership. By weakness, I mean being easily influenced and controlled by others. Nicholas was a firm believer in autocracy and was virtually unmoveable in this belief. This unconscionable belief illustrated how he stuck to his ways, although in early years as Tsar, his uncles had a huge influence on him.

The fall of the Russian empire was not all a result of Nicholas’ character and poor leadership but also the huge socio-economic changes as well as the outbreak of WW1, which hugely influenced the coming about of and the timing of the Russian revolution. In 1905 Russia had experienced a year of revolution and by the end of the year Tsar Nicholas had managed to keep power as he had promised a reform which had divided his opponents and because he had kept the support of the army.

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In March 1917 the Tsar abdicated because he lacked the support from both the Duma and the army. After a week of unsettlement in Petrograd, Russia had become a republic. Russia was a massive empire, stretching from Poland to the pacific and home to many different languages, religions and cultures. For the Tsar ruling such a massive nation was difficult and he soon found himself with too much pressure and weight on his shoulders.

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He wasn’t able to keep up with the needs of his people and so this contributed to the industrial revolution in 1917. There are many long term causes for this while the short term trigger was clearly World War 1. During the early 1900’s there were several events and issues which threatened the authority of the Tsar. Living and working conditions of workers and peasants were unwarranted. Life for peasants was brutal, often short, and quite unpromising. Until 1861, most peasants were illiterate and owned by their landlords.

After emancipation their living conditions were still primitive. Many were in debt to their landlords. Unrest among peasants was extremely widespread. Workers on the other hand, could not afford decent housing as their wages were too low. Although workers were paid commission per piece on a low rate, they too had heavy taxation on food and goods. The government, aware of the growing discontent, became worried as ideas of revolution began to spread among the poor. Russia was an autocracy which meant that there was no parliament. The Tsar made the laws and appointed and dismissed ministers as he pleased. His authority was upheld by Church leaders, the Orthodox and the Okhrana who were the Russian secret police. There was an extreme lack of rights as political parties and trade unions were illegal. This left the middle class, urban workers and peasants dissatisfied. Riots, strikes and protests were taking place across Russia. As a solution to these problems, the government decided to have a war against Japan. When the war began in 1904, the Tsar had hoped, that if Russia was successful, people would stop criticizing his government and he would be popular again.

Instead, Russia suffered a terrible and humiliating defeat, weakening the Tsar’s authority and position. In cities and towns across Russia, many strikers set up councils called “Soviets”, which became an alternative government. As food and raw materials ran short, scores of workers found themselves out of work. On the 22nd of January 1905, an incident called “Bloody Sunday” sparked revolution. A mass of 200,000 workers and their families marched towards the Tsar’s Winter Palace to present him with a petition. The workers were asking for better conditions. However, outside the Winter Palace they were met by troops and police. Even though the protestors came in peace, shots were fired and over 500 marchers were killed. The extent of the unrest forced Tsar Nicholas II to make concessions. In October 1905 he issued a document called the October Manifesto. In this document, the Tsar promised that there would be a parliament elected called a ‘Duma’ to make the laws, and basic rights for the Russian people. Just as the Tsar had planned, these concessions divided his opponents.

The middle class were now satisfied but the workers and peasants were not. They did not trust the Tsar’s promises as these solutions didn’t solve their economic issues. The Tsar’s new Prime Minister, Count Sergei Witte, decided in December that it was time to end the revolution. Opposition in the towns and cities was suppressed, as many were killed or exiled. The revolution ended in March 1917. The Tsar had been “saved”, and had managed to keep power. This was because he had the support of the army, he gave concessions and basic rights, introduced a parliament and divided the opposition. Although there was now an opportunity to make Russia a constitutional monarchy, there was no guarantee that the Tsar would keep his promises. However, by early 1917, Tsar Nicholas II had lost complete support. This was due to several factors. After issuing the October Manifesto in 1905, the Tsar decided he would take action to prevent further revolution. The Tsar and Prime Minister Peter Stolypin used repression against terrorists and revolutionary groups in an attempt to subdue the unrest.

Stolypin then attempted to solve the problem of peasant unrest and poverty by cancelling the redemption payments and modernizing farming. Working conditions among the city factory workers were also improved, with factory inspections and insurance schemes introduced. These efforts were in vain, as unrest throughout Russia continued. The Tsar did not fulfill the promises he made in the October Manifesto, and Russia did not become a constitutional monarchy. The Tsar stated that he possessed supreme autocratic power and could dismiss the duma and call elections. Even though farming had been “modernized”, the peasant population was growing increasingly large, creating further poverty and unrest among peasants. Industrial unrest also continued as strikers on the goldfields were being shot by soldiers. Although Stolypin was competent and determined, he was assassinated by a revolutionary in 1911. The emerging influence of Rasputin in the government became clear after 1915. Rasputin was a Siberian peasant whose full name was Gregory Rasputin.

He was said to be a holy man and was sure of having received, from god, a gift for healing. The Tsar’s son, Alexei, suffered from haemophilia and Rasputin was brought in to try to heal him. Rasputin had won the devotion of both the Tsarina, Alexandra, and the Tsar, Nicholas II, after controlling the internal bleeding of Alexei. Both the Tsar and Tsarina saw Rasputin as their friend. While the Tsar was absent at the front with the Army, the Tsarina virtually controlled Russia, and Rasputin became her personal advisor. He influenced the Tsar on his appointing and dismissing of government ministers, which brought a great deal of discredit on the royal family. In people’s eyes Rasputin played against the Romanov reputation. He was found to have regularly joined in drinking parties, participated in orgies and was seen with prostitutes. He was nicknamed the ‘holy devil’ and despised by the church representatives.

In an attempt to save the monarchy from future scandal, Rasputin was murdered in December 1916, by a group a nobles. Instead of solving Russia’s problems, this only increased dissatisfaction with the Tsar. By this stage, there was a notable lack of competent leaders, as once again the Tsar was struggling to maintain power. Involvement in World War I left Russia in a state of hopelessness. After the Tsar decided to leave his country and takeover the post in 1915, the government turned into chaos. Massive troop movements across Russia caused regular bread shortages in the cities and towns. There was also unfair distribution of food, inadequacy of sources of supply and an immense and rapid increase in the cost of living. As a result of the unbearable conditions of everyday life, strong feelings of hostility and opposition to the government were widespread. In terms of the war itself, Russia’s army suffered terribly. Within the first six weeks, 250,000 Russian soldiers had been killed, and by the end of 1914 over 1 million Russian soldiers had been lost to the war.

The month of March 1917 was one of utter discontent and mayhem. On Wednesday 7th March, a major steel works company locked out 20,000 workers as pay talks broke down. The 20,000 now angry works were out on the street, joined by other factory workers who went on strike in support. Within 3 days, a total of 250,000 workers were on strike. There was no public transport or newspapers and food shortages continued. After mutinies occurred in parts of the army, the Tsar was sent a telegram informing him that the situation in Russia was serious. The Tsar responded by telling the Duma to stop meeting. By Monday 12th March, various units sent to fight the strikers and mutinies were defecting. The Duma held a meeting and established a 12 man “Provisional Committee”. Revolutionaries set up a “Soviet” of workers and soldiers in Petrograd. Both wanted to take over the government. After one week of complete havoc, the Tsar sent a telegram to the Duma stating that he would share power. The Army Generals replied and told him that it was too late as none of the Army supported him.

On Thursday 15th March, revolutionaries halted the Tsar’s train only 250km away from Petrograd. He had no choice but to agree to abdicate and give the throne to Alexei. After realizing that Alexei was too sick to become Tsar, the throne was given to his brother Grand Duke Michael. Fearing that he would be just as unpopular as Nicholas, he too abdicated. Russia was now a republic as there was no longer royalty or monarchy. Tsar Nicholas II had lost support because he failed in his duties to provide for and rule his country effectively. Nicholas allowed himself to be easily sued by the people and opinions around him. He did not have to force and fierce determination to rule a country and didn’t believe in himself enough. In the source below he states that he never wanted to be Tsar of Russia and so in term he failed. He wasn’t experienced and trained in leadership and never had the support of his father leading from beside him. From the moment Nicholas became Tsar, the welfare of Russia and its people became the last priority.

Nicholas himself, was the main reason why he failed as his role as the Tsar of Russia. Although the Tsar was able to keep power in 1905, after losing the support of his army and not fulfilling the promises stated in the October Manifesto, growing unrest among the people was inevitable. It was no surprise that by 1917 he had lost support from his country. Nicholas was not brought up to be a leader and to be in control and so when the time came for him to lead, he was unable to do so properly. His firm beliefs and ways of life allowed little room for opinion, causing unrest and later losing vital support from governments and leaders and after losing the Japanese war he lost the respect of the army.


  1. About.com – Russian History 2014 15.3.14
    http://europeanhistory.about.com/od/russiaandukraine/a/Causes-Of-The-Russian-Revolution.htm All class worksheets, booklets and slide shows http://historc.wordpress.com/2010/11/11/12c-how-far-was-nicholas-ii-responsible-for-his-own-downfall/
  2. History learning site – Rasputin 201317.3.14 http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/rasputin.htm Maureen Anderson ‘Retrospective’ Year 11 Modern History Jacaranda Press 2007
  3. Chapter Titled – The Fall of the Tsarist Regime Parisia201224.3.14 http://www.parisia.com/paris/romanov/paris.php?id=12
    Philip Ingram ‘Russia and the USSR 1905-1991’
  4. Cambridge University Press 2005 * The events of 1905, the first world war etc…..
    Skwirk – interactive schooling 2014 19.3.14

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What role did Nicholas II play in his own downfall?. (2016, Mar 09). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/what-role-did-nicholas-ii-play-in-his-own-downfall-essay

What role did Nicholas II play in his own downfall?

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