Rasputin's spell on the Tsar's family, battlefield losses and casualties and the breakdown of the food distribution, led to the collapses of Nicholas II's house of cards and made the Russian monarchy vulnerable when the Bolsheviks launched their revolution.

The chain of events that led to the end of Nicholas II and the creation of a Russian Communist government were: 1) Rasputin's murder in December 1916; 2) strikes by workers and soldiers in February 1917; the abdication of Nicholas II in March 1917; 3) the overthrow of the provisional government made up of Duma members in a Bolshevik coup d'etát in November 1917.

The collapse of Nicholas is regarded as a key event in the rise of communism across the globe and the success of Nazism, While Bolshevik-supported unrest was destabilizing St. Petersburg, Nicholas wrote in his diary from the army headquarters in Poland, "My mind is at rest here—no ministers and no tiresome questions."

Abdication of Nicholas II

Weak and discouraged, Nicholas II was blocked from re-entering Petrograd by his own troops. He quietly abdicated on March 2, 1917. Power was handed over to a provisional government in the Duma that announced elections in November. Advised by his generals that he lacked the support of the country, Nicholas informed the delegates that he was abdicating in favor of his brother, Grand Duke Michael. When Michael in turn refused the throne, imperial rule in Russia came to an end.

Nicholas wrote in his diary, "My abdication is necessary...By about 2:30 answers had arrived from all. The crux of the matter us that it is necessary to take this step, for the sake of Russia's salvation and of maintaining calm in the army at the front. I agreed...The draft amnesty was sent out from headquarters...I handed over the signed and recopied manifesto. I left Pskov (where the abdication was signed) at one o'clock at night, with a heavy heart. All around is betrayal, cowardice and deceit."

Nicholas II's abdication was seen as paving the way for the Bolshevik Revolution. Most historians believe Nicholas II abdicated because of social tensions of worker unrest. Others argue that Nicholas II was pressured by conservatives, liberals and generals to abdicate because he was unwilling to share power and as a gesture to help win the war by prevented the spread of localized troop mutinies.

Nicholas II and His Family Under House Arrest

In 1917, the cabinet of Britain’s Lloyd George offered asylum to Nicholas II and his family. The British royal family objected on the basis of "all sorts of difficulties" and the Cabinet was forced to withdraw its invitation.

On March 7, 1917, the Kerenski government ordered the arrest of Nicholas II, Alexandra and their family. They originally intended to send them to England but were opposed by the Petrograd Soviet, who ordered them off to Yekaterinburg (900 miles east of Moscow) in the Ural Mountains. They were placed under house arrest in Ipatyev House, a two-story house owned by an army engineer that was quickly converted into a prison with an improvised palisades and 75-man guard. Nicholas II was investigated by the pre-Bolshevik "Extraordinary Commission of Inquiry for the Investigation of Illegal Acts by Ministers and Other Responsible Persons of the Tsarist regime."

There life was fairly regimented. The Russian royals got up at nine, took tea at 10, had lunch at one, dinner between four and five, tea at seven, supper at nine and bed at 11. Their day was spent reading, partying and playing games like backgammon and cards. While under house arrest, Nicholas II was forced to shovel snow from his estate’s sidewalks and his family was forced to make ends meet with an allowance of 600 rubles a month.

Journal Entries from Nicholas II and His Family Under House Arrest

On January 2, 1918, Nicholas wrote in his journal, "German measles has been conformed [in the girls], but fortunately they both feel all right today. The day was gray, not cold but with a strong wind. We got into the garden but there's no work to do. Today I was bored to tears!"

On January 6th, 1918, Alexis wrote in his diary: "Got up at 7. Had tea with Papa, Tatiana and Anastasia. We played cards. Maria is dressed and walking around the rooms. At 6 o'clock we played hide and seek and shouted and made a terrible noise." On January 7th he wrote: "The whole day was just like yesterday." On January 8th he wrote: "The whole day was just like yesterday."

On March 4, 1918, Alexi wrote in his journal about how the guards wrecked one of their play things: "Spent the whole day like yesterday. In the afternoon I played with Kolia [his nurse] and made a wooden dagger with my knife. Kolia too. Later we attacked each other. In the evening the soldiers destroyed the ice mountain, so we can't slide. We were told so by the commandant."

The last entry from Alexandra's dairy on July 16, 1918: "Gray morning, later lovely sunshine. Baby has a slight cold. All went out ½ hour in the morning. Olga and I arrange our medicines. Tatiana read spiritual readings...Every morning the commandant comes to our rooms: at last after a week brought eggs again for Baby...Played bezique [a card game] with Nicky. 10:30 to bed. 15 degrees."

Execution of Nicholas II and His Family

On July, 17, 1918, during this reign of terror of the Russian Civil War, former-tsar Nicholas II, his wife, five children (the 13-year-old Alexis, 22-year-old Olga, 19-year-old Maria and 17-year-old Anastasia)the family physician, the cook, maid, and valet were shot to death by a Red Army firing squad in the cellar of the house they were staying at in Yekaterinburg.

Nicholas and his family where killed during the Russian civil war. It is thought the Bolsheviks figured that Nicholas and his family gave the Whites figureheads to rally around and they were better of dead.

Even though the death orders were signed Yakov Sverdlov, the assassination was personally ordered by Lenin, who wanted to get them out of sight and out of mind. Trotsky suggested a trial. Lenin nixed the idea, deciding something had to be done about the Romanovs before White troops approached Yekaterinburg. Trotsky later wrote: "The decision was not only expedient but necessary. The severity of he punishment showed everyone that we would continue to fight on mercilessly, stopping at nothing."

Nicholas Romanovich Romanov, the great-great grandson of Nicholas II, told Newsweek in 1999, "There was certain logic" to the murder of the tsar "from the Bolshevik point if view. Reaction [to the revolution] was still strong, they were being attacked from all sides, so destroying the tsar, as a symbolic figurehead, committed all those who participated in the revolution to an irreversible course...But how they did it was a different. They murdered the family and tried to cover up the fate of the family and pretend it was a local decision." One conspiracy theory claims the massacre was a "ritual Jewish-Masonice murder."

Books: “The Romanovs: The Final Chapter” by Robert K. Massie (Random House, 1995); “The Fall of the Romanovs” by Mark D. Steinberg and Vladimir Khrustalëv (Yale, 1995);

Details of the Execution of Nicholas II and His Family

According to Robert Massie K. Massie, author of “Nicholas and Alexandra”, Nicholas II and his family were awakened from their bedrooms around midnight and taken to the basement. They were told they were to going to take some photographs of them and were told to stand behind a row of chairs.

Suddenly, a group of 11 Russians and Latvians, each with a revolver, burst into the room with orders to kill a specific person. Yakob Yurovsky, a member of the Soviet executive committee, reportedly shouted "your relatives are continuing to attack the Soviet Union.” After firing, bullets bouncing off gemstones hidden in the corsets of Alexandra and her daughters ricocheted around the room like "a shower of hail," the soldiers said. Those that were still breathing were killed with point black shots to the head.

The three sisters and the maid survived the first round thanks to their gems. They were pressed up against a wall and killed with a second round of bullets. The maid was the only one that survived. She was pursued by the executioners who stabbed her more than 30 times with their bayonets. The still writhing body of Alexis was made still by a kick to the head and two bullets in the ear delivered by Yurovsky himself.

Account of the Execution of Nicholas II and His Family

Yurovsky wrote: "When the party entered I told the Romanovs that in view of the fact their relatives continued their offensive against Soviet Russia, the Executive Committee of the Urals Soviet had decided to shoot them. Nicholas turned his back to the detachment and faced his family. Then, as if collecting himself, he turned around, asking, 'What? What?'"

"[I] ordered the detachment to prepare. Its members had been previously instructed whom to shoot and to am directly at the heart to avoid much blood and to end more quickly. Nicholas said no more. he turned again to his family. The others shouted some incoherent exclamations. All this lasted a few seconds. Then commenced the shooting, which went on for two or three minutes. [I] killed Nicholas on the spot."

Duchess Sofia Fyodorovna, the Empress’s’ sister, was taken down a mine shaft and shot in 1918. She had been widowed at a young age and devoted her life to establishing schools and hospitals and helping the poor. According to one account she was praying for her murderers at the time of her death. Her body has never been found.

Burial of Nicholas II and His Family

The original plan was to throw the Romanovs down a mine shaft and disposes of their remains with acid. They were thrown in a mine with some grenades but the mine didn't collapse. They were then carried by horse cart. The vats of acid fell off and broke. When the carriage carrying the bodies broke down it was decided the bury the bodies then and there. The remaining acid was poured on the bones, but most of it was soaked up the ground and the bones largely survived.

After this their pulses were then checked, their faces were crushed to make them unrecognizable and the bodies were wrapped in bed sheets loaded onto a truck. The "whole procedure," Yurovsky said took 20 minutes. One soldiers later bragged than he could "die in peace because he had squeezed the Empress's."

The bodies were taken to a forest and stripped, burned with acid and gasoline, and thrown into abandoned mine shafts and buried under railroad ties near a country road near the village of Koptyaki. "The bodies were put in the hole," Yurovsky wrote, "and the faces and all the bodies, generally doused with sulfuric acid, both so they couldn't be recognized and prevent a stink from them rotting...We scattered it with branches and lime, put boards on top and drove over it several times—no traces of the hole remained.

Shortly afterwards, the government in Moscow announced that Nicholas II had been shot because of "a counterrevolutionary conspiracy." There was no immediate word on the other members of the family which gave rise to rumors that other members of the family had escaped. Yekaterinburg was renamed Sverdlov in honor of the man who signed the death orders.

In 1977, the Ipayev House, where the murder took places, was demolished on the orders of an up and coming communist politician named Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin later said that the destruction of the house was an "act of barbarism" and he had no choice because he had been ordered to do it by the Politburo, who was concerned about the house being a focal point of monarchist pilgrimages.

Discovery and Identification of the Romanov Remains

In 1991, the acid-burned remains of Nicholas II and his family were exhumed from a shallow roadside mass grave in a swampy area 12 miles northwest of Yekarterinburg. The remains had been found in 1979 by geologist and amateur archeologist Alexander Avdonin, who kept the location secret out of fear that they would be destroyed by Soviet authorities. The location was disclosed to a magazine by one his fellow discovers.

When the remains were dug, the skeletons of the Tsar, his wife, three daughters, three servants and a family doctor were found. Two skeletons were missing. Scientists are pretty sure the missing skeletons belonged to son Alexis and daughter Marie (not Anastasia). They believe their remains were burned (the executioners didn't have time to burn them all perhaps).

DNA samples were extracted from the hair of the remains of Nicholas II and his family and compared with the DNA samples from the bodies dead relatives and blood of living relatives. These included DNA from blood of Countess Xenia, great grandniece of Nicholas II and a femur extracted from the exhumed remains of Grand Duke Georgy, Nicholas II's brother, who died in 1891 and was buried in Peter and Paul Fortress. Tsarina Alexandra's DNA was compared with DNA taken from the blood of her grandnephew, Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II of England. In all these case the DNA matched.

Scientist from three independent teams in Russia, the United States and Britain examined the DNA and determined that the bones found in Yekaterinburg did in fact belong to Nicholas II and it followed the other bones belonged to members of his family. Computer images made from the skulls also matched family photographs and the size of the skeletons corresponded with measurements of clothes worn by Nicholas II and his family. Moreover, a platinum bridge taken from the empresses skull matched Alexandra's dental records. While the bones were in Moscow being examined a third lumbar vertebra from Nicholas's skeleton went missing and a court ordered police to guard the remains around the clock.


According to one unsubstantiated account of the execution, Nicholas II and his son were killed while the Romanov women were taken to a safe palace and were reported to be alive six months after the execution. Over the years, many people have claimed to members of the tsar's family, the most well known of which was a teenager who was fished out of a Berlin canal after a suicide attempt in 1920 and committed to a mental institution. A year later "Miss Unknown" claimed she was Anastasia after reading a magazine article entitled "Did Anastasia Survive the Massacre?." The teenager was known most of her life as Anna Anderson.

According to Anderson’s story she was wounded in the cellar but escaped with the help of one of the members of the firing squad—a man she later married. She convinced the late tsar's first cousin, Grand Duke Andrew, that she was Nicholas's youngest daughter but most of the relatives of the Romanovs were not persuaded. After making her claim, Anderson sponged off European royalty.

DNA tests taken after her death showed she was a fraud. The DNA was taken from remains at Yekaterinburg and from hair from Anna Anderson (Anastasia claimant) and it was determined by the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Rockville, Maryland that no member of Nicholas’s family had DNA that matched Anderson’s DNA. Anderson's DNA also did not match the DNA of the tsarina's grandnephew Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II. According to official reports, Anastasia was shot several times and stabbed with a bayonet. The British historian Orlando Figes, "it is inconceivable that any of the Romanovs survived this ordeal.”

Computer images from Anastasia's skull were compared with photos of Anderson also showed that Anderson was an imposter. Anderson was cremated but scientist were able to draw DNA from a 43-year-old blood sample and a tiny sample of her small intestine preserved in paraffin wax. In 1927, a young Berlin woman recognized Anderson in a German newspaper and said she was her former roommate, Franziska Schanzkowski, a poor Polish-born farm worker whose life fell apart in World War I when her fiancé was killed on the Western front and she killed her boss by accidently triggering an explosion in the grenade factory, where she worked. The DNA test revealed that there was only a 1 in 300 chance that Anderson was not Schanzkowski

Anastasia Films and Anderson's Life

Anastasia was the subject of a Great Garbo film, a 1956 film with Ingrid Bergman and 1997 feature-length Disney-style cartoon. Bergman won an academy award for best actress for her role “Anastasia”. Anderson was also played by Amy Irving in a multi-part, made-for-television movie. In Germany, Anderson became such a celebrity that boxes of chocolate were sold with her portrait and cigarettes bore her name.

Anderson lived the last year of her life in Charlottesville, Virginia in a filthy apartment filled with litter and dogs. She married historian John E. Manahan and was known locally as an eccentric nicknamed Annie Apple. One restaurant offered a wine with a claim that after a few glasses you too would believe you were Anastasia.

Anderson died in 1984 and was buried in Upper Bavaria under a gravestone with a Russian cross and the name "Anastasia" spelled out in Cyrillic letters. Shortly before her death she was committed to a psychiatric clinic, where she was abducted by her husband, who believed in her claims to the end. The incident ended after a car chase and the couple surrendered to policeman holding rifles.

Disney-like movie “Anastasia” begins with Rasputin placing a curse on the Romanov family and explains Anastasia amnesia by a fall she sustains while trying to board a train during her attempt to flee Russia. Anastasia's voice is provided by Meg Ryan.

Other Romanov Pretenders

In the 1920s, there were rumor that Nicholas was spotted in London, he was secretly hiding in the Vatican and the entire Romanov family was on a ship in the White Sea that wasn't allowed to come into port. Anastasia was reportedly spotted in Siberia and China

Other pretenders to the Romanov crown include Aleksei Shitov, a non-hemophiliac who claimed to be Alexis and was executed in the 1920s with some of his “followers". Oleg Vasilyevich Filatov, a customs agent, says his father told him in 1983 that he was Nicholas II's son Alexis. He apparently wasn't killed and rolled out of cart and survived with peasants and later became a school teacher. In 1995, three women living in Finland claimed to be the daughters of the tsar's youngest son.

Reburial of the Romanovs

For seven years the remains of Nicholas II, Alexandra, three of their daughters and four servants were stored in polyethylene bags on shelves in the old criminal morgue in Yekaterunburg.

On July 17, 1998, Nicholas II and his family and servants who were murdered with him were buried Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg along with the other Romanov tsars, who have been buried there starting with Peter the Great. Nicholas II had a side chapel built for himself at the fortress in 1913 but was buried in a new crypt.

The remains were placed in nine three-and-a-half-foot coffins that were carried through the streets in a procession before fairly large crowds in St. Petersburg's streets. They were buried in a single white crypt under wood imitation marble markers because there was not enough money for real marble (Russian President Boris Yeltsin authorized only $830,000 for the procession and service).

The funeral was attended by nearly 50 Romanov descendants and presided over by censor-waving Russian Orthodox priests in golden robes. The Patriarch in Moscow refused to preside over the funeral on the grounds that there was still some dispute as to whether or not the remains were authentic. Yeltsin initially bowed out of attending because he considered it politically risky but in the end made an appearance and gave a short speech. The Orthodox church does not recognize the remains of Nicholas II and his family. No high level church members attended the simple internment although Yeltsin showed up.

Canonization of the Romanovs

In August 2000, Nicholas II and his family were canonized as Orthodox "passion bearers" on the basis of their "humbleness, patience and meekness" and "Christian faith" during their imprisonment and execution and because they were "people who sincerely tried to carry out the commandments of God."

Nicholas II and his family were not declared martyrs because they didn't die for the Christian cause. A "passion bearer" is lowest level of saint in the church hierarchy. It refers to someone who imitates Christ by enduring suffering and death at the hands of political enemies. In October 1996, the Orthodox Church had recommended that Nicholas II, his wife and children be recognized as martyrs and canonized as saints.

The canonization of Nicholas II has been an important issue for right-wing factions in the church. The decision was made in a closed door meeting with Patriarch Aleksy II and the church's 150 hierarchs. In the same meeting 860 others who were killed at the hands of the Bolsheviks were also canonized. Most of them were priests and monks canonized as martyrs and "confessors of the faith."

Nicholas II was the forth Russian ruler to canonized. The others were medieval figures. Nicholas II and his family had been canonized before: by the New York-based Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. In Yekaterinburg a cathedral is being built to honor Nicholas II. In the forest where they were buried a monastery is being built.

Legacy and Relatives of the Romanovs

The only major statue honoring Nicholas II, erected in a barren field in northeastern Moscow, was blown up on April Fools Day, 1997. Icons with images of Nicholas II are sold in Moscow souvenir shops. In Red Square, tourist can have their picture taken with lookalikes of Nicholas II.

Only two other European monarchs who were killed in revolutionary uprisings, Charles I of Britain in 1649 and Louis XVI of France in 1793. Both men were given trials before their executions. Nicholas II was not.

The only true Romanov who has voiced a claim on the throne is Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna (born 1953), granddaughter of Nicholas II's first cousin. Her son is Grand Duke Geori (born 1981). She has considered moving back to Russia. Maria is the daughter of Grand Duchess Leonida Georgiyevna Romanov, wife of the late Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich, a cousin of Nicholas II.

Duke Nicholas Romanov (born 1922) is the head of the Russian imperial family. He is the great, great grandson of the brother of Alexander II, the grandfather of Nicholas II. He has said repeatedly he does not "pretend to be the Tsar of Russia." Duke Nicholas is a retired farmer living in Geneva.

In 1991, Vladimir Kirillovich Romanov, father of Maria Romanov, the current pretender to the throne, visited Russia and was welcomed by a crowd of 60,000 people. He visited Russia several times after 1991 and received warm welcomes from President Boris Yeltsin, who personally gave them passports in 1992. Some members of the Romanov family actively supported Yeltsin in the 1996 election. At that time 18 percent of the people asked in a poll said they favored the restoration of the monarchy.

Prince Ristislav (born 1930s) is one the closet living relatives to Nicholas II. He graduated from Yale and worked as a banker in London. Other relatives include Paul R. Ilyinsky, a retired U.S. colonel and mayor of Palm Beach, Florida and son of the late Grand Duke Dimitri, a cousin of the tsar. No one has claimed the fortune of Nicholas II, which is worth millions of dollars.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated May 2016

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