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Friday, 4 July 2014
Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library Collections Reveal the Personality of Nicholas I
Topic: Nicholas I

Emperor Nicholas I (1796-1855)
To mark the 218th birthday anniversary of the Russian Emperor Nicholas I, celebrated June 25 (July 6), 2014, the Presidential Library in St. Petersburg published on its website a collection of unique materials, historical documents, rare books and publications related to the life and work of Nicholas Romanov, one of the most difficult and multifaceted emperors in historians’ evaluation. Materials contain vivid memories of his contemporaries, fascinating life stories and own thoughts of the Russian emperor.

Nicholas was born June 25 (July 6,) 1796. He was the third son of the future Emperor Paul I and Maria Feodorovna. Eugene Karnovich, author of the 1897 “Emperor Nicholas I” quotes a letter of Catherine II, written to one of her entourage after the birth of the boy, "I became a grandmother of the third grandson, who has an extraordinary power, and will, it seems to me, also reign, although he has two older brothers." And, as you know, Catherine the Great's premonition came true: December 14 (26), 1825 her grandson ascended the throne as Emperor Nicholas I. However, the Grand Duke did not even suppose that once he will bear a high title of the monarch of the Russian Empire. After all, according to the Act of Succession adopted by Emperor Paul I in April 1797, available on the website of the Presidential Library, Grand Duke Nikolai Pavlovich could not count on the Russian throne. The document said: "In compliance with the natural law, after my death I name the heir my older son Alexander, and after him all his male generation. Upon the extinction of his generation, inheritance passes to the generation to my second son, and the procedure is the same as with the generation of my older son, and so on as if I had no more sons." It left a definite mark on the upbringing and education of Nicholas. From the early age he was most interested in building and engineering, a passion to which he retained for life.

On the children's adolescence period and the future of the Russian emperor in detail in the M. Lalaev’s historical essay of 1896, "Emperor Nicholas I, builder of the Russian school": "In adolescence, Nicholas Pavlovich, already fluent in Russian, French and German, studied Russian history, geography, and statistics, more readily studied mathematics, military science and mechanical drawing. Empress-mother was particularly interested that education of all her sons influenced them in moral sense. When fourteen-year-old Nicholas was advised to read "History of Russia", composed by Frenchman Leveque, Maria Feodorovna requested Glinka "to erase all that is useless or harmful to the Grand Duke in this book, and submit it to the empress herself for viewing."

In 1817, Nicholas married the Prussian Princess Frederica Louise Charlotte Wilhelmina, betrothed in Orthodoxy Alexandra Feodorovna. Princely family led a lifestyle that was consistent with the status of Nicholas as an ordinary member of the imperial family. N. Ermilov’s work of 1900, "Features of life of Emperor Nicholas: told by his contemporaries" describes the family idyll that reigned in the union of the Grand Duke Nicholas and his wife Alexandra Fyodorovna: "Not going to become the Russian emperor and being the Grand Duke, Nicholas Pavlovich lived in Anichkov Palace in an extremely simple manner, isolated in the circle of his beloved family, as an ordinary mortal. He rarely appeared at court. All the time he devoted to his family, studied music, drawing, read selected works of British and French authors, liked to collect and tidy collections of engravings, cartoons and maps." As he confessed himself: «The source of my happiness: my wife and children."

The unexpected death of Alexander I revealed the complexity of the dynastic situation. The emperor died November 19 (December 1), 1825 in Taganrog, and when the news reached the capital, troops were sworn in the new Russian Emperor Constantine I. But Constantine did not want to recognize himself emperor. Then Nicholas, knowing about a military coup in the army, was able to take the initiative in his own hands and decided to declare himself emperor on the basis of the documents signed by Alexander I back in 1823.

December 14 (26), the day of the second oath to Emperor Nicholas I on the Senate Square in St. Petersburg, the famous Decembrist uprising occurred. "What a beginning of the reign! said Emperor to the Empress who met him at the palace of. Sad and painful silence was the eloquent answer." These lines are taken from A. Magama’s work of 1859 "Emperor Nicholas I and his reign", also held by the Presidential Library.  

In December 1826, the emperor created a Secret committee to elaborate important state reforms on the basis of the projects that had remained in the office of the late Emperor Alexander Pavlovich. Later, His Imperial Majesty’s Own Chancellery was transformed into a government agency, charged with all state matters.

In addition, the Presidential Library website provides access to historical documents such as the Code of Laws of the Russian Empire, which was first published in 1832 by order of Nicholas I. It consists of 15 volumes of the current legislative acts of the Russian Empire grouped in thematic order. The first national electronic library of the country also makes available for a wide audience the Charter on censorship of 1829. This was the second censorship statute issued to mitigate the previous one. In 1826, the first censorship statute was published, which forbade to print almost everything that had any political overtones.

During the reign of Nicholas I, the first private Russian public museum – Rumyantsev Museum was founded, the Imperial Military Academy opened, the first railroad – from St. Petersburg to Tsarskoye Selo – was built; later appeared Nicholas’ railway, which linked Moscow and St. Petersburg; Russian Geographic Society was created in St. Petersburg, the first official yacht club appeared in Russia. Also under Nicholas I appeared the first official anthem of the Russian Empire ("God Save the Tsar"), author of the text of which was the poet Vasily Zhukovsky.

During thirty years of ruling Russia (1825-1855) Nicholas I greatly expanded its territory by annexing large areas in the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Far East.

Despite the rigidity in the public administration, Nicholas I was extremely kind, gentle and sympathetic person. N. Ermilov’s work of 1900, "Features of life of Emperor Nicholas: told by his contemporaries" describes a large number of stories from the life of Nicholas I, which reveal the personality of the emperor quite positively. Among them there is the story of Nicholas’ valet: "Sometimes I fall asleep, and then wake up suddently and think whether it is time to help the Emperor to undress? I look into his bedroom, and see that he has already undressed himself and gone to bed. And sometimes, half asleep, I hear a rustle... the emperor, seeing that I fell asleep, passed me by on his toes."

The reign of Nicholas I ended with the major foreign policy failure. The Crimean War (1853-1856) undermined the psychological well-being and health of the Emperor, and an occasional cold during the winter of 1855 became fatal for him.

Materials about Nicholas I make part of the collection of the first national electronic library in the country, "The House of Romanov. 400th anniversary of the Zemsky Sobor of 1613." The total collection contains about 900 items. 
© Boris Yeltson Presidential Library. 04 July, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:03 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 4 July 2014 6:11 AM EDT
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Thursday, 30 August 2012
Forensic Experts Disprove Nicholas I Suicide Theory
Topic: Nicholas I


A group of St. Petersburg historians and forensic experts have carried out research to prove or refute a popularly held theory that Emperor Nicholas I had committed suicide in 1855.

The Russian monarchs’ last moments of life were always safely guarded against the crowd’s excessive curiosity. The death of a Russian emperor sometimes became a state secret, and both contemporaries and historians were tempted to penetrate into it. The same kind of mystery surrounds the last days of Nicholas I.

Legends of the emperor’s unnatural death sprang up straight after his demise on the February 18th, 1855. His galloping disease and sudden death looked especially suspicious due to Nicholas I’ reputation of a man of iron constitution and robust health. The emperor’s will containing a ban on the postmortem examination of his body added to the mystery.

A lot of works have been written about the circumstances of Nicholas I’s death but none of them has shed light on this issue. As a rule, two main versions are considered. The first, official version is that the emperor died of a cold which caused paralysis of the lungs. The second, public version is that the emperor could not survive the disgrace of the Crimean War and committed suicide by drinking poison. Historians who studied this subject tended to support the suicide version, though they avoided making any final conclusions.

According to the evidence of people who were close to Nicholas I, it is true that the war seriously affected his emotional condition. Nevertheless, we should not ignore the important circumstance that the czar was very religious, which absolutely ruled out any suicidal ideas. However, it was impossible to prove this without historical documents.

A thick folder collected dust on the shelves of the State History Archive for many years. No one could even imagine that it contained the secret of Nicholas I’s death. Only an experienced doctor could read that pile of medical documents illegibly written in a mixture of Old German and Latin.

The diagnosis and the medical report got into the hands of well-known St. Petersburg forensic expert Yuri Molin. His professional eye noticed a lot of curious details in them. First of all, the emperor had been ill for a long time and did not die suddenly, as the newspapers reported. Secondly, there were no traces of violence on his body. Thirdly, the emperor’s body was embalmed twice.

“We can state with due responsibility that the emperor died of influenze which had not been properly treated and was complicated by double pneumonia,” Yuri Molin said.

Today’s doctors did not even have to exhume the body to identify the cause of death.

“A forensic expert can find a lot of interesting details in the report of the examination of the body. During the examination, no signs of poisoning, funny smells or traces of injections were found,” Yuri Molin said.

The rumour about poisoning sprang up because death spots appeared on the emperor’s body. They were actually caused by the embalmers’ negligence, rather than poisoning. The embalming was carried out at room temperature and without extracting the viscera. It was urgent to correct the medical error. A brigade of doctors went to the Fortress of Sts. Peter and Paul incognito for several nights. The experts removed the effects of putrefaction and lightened the skin giving it a natural tinge.

Forensic experts do not believe that Nicholas I had robust health. Just the opposite, he was afflicted with a number of diseases that affected his heart, kidneys and liver. He also suffered from gout, the Romanovs’ hereditary pathology. Pneumonia progressed against this background. However, to finally restore the historical truth it is necessary to exhume the body.

In his time, historian and literary critic Natan Eidelman said that the cause of Nicholas I’s death was directly linked with the political and ideological struggle of that period and reflected the mentality of certain social groups. The version of unnatural death was in the interests of political opponents of the imperial family. With time, the rumours became part of history, so medical investigation could finally remove the stigma of suicide from the emperor.

© Voice of Russia and Paul Gilbert. 30 August, 2012

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 12:01 AM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 30 August 2012 8:27 AM EDT
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