17/7/1918 The Tsar and his family killed #1918Live

Since the end of April the former Tsar has been imprisoned by the Bolsheviks in Ekaterinburg. At first he and his wife were held there alone, in the ominously named House of Special Designation, but they were subsequently joined by their five children.

The Bolsheviks have had difficulty deciding what to do with the Tsar. Trotsky favoured a show trial, relishing the prospect of leading the prosecution. But other Bolshevik leaders were less enthusiastic; the Tsar remained imprisoned while his captors dithered.

Then events force a decision. The Czechoslovak Legion is expanding its area of control and now has Ekaterinburg surrounded. With the town likely to fall, the Bolsheviks fear that the Tsar will become a focal point of counter-revolutionary resistance. To prevent this, orders are sent from Moscow (possibly by Lenin himself) to kill the Ekaterinburg prisoners.

In the early hours of the morning, the Tsar, the former Tsarina, their four daughters, their haemophiliac son Alexei, and their last four retainers are herded into the basement of their prison, ostensibly because they are about to be transported to a more secure location. But then armed men burst into the cellar and Yurovsky, the chief jailer, reads out the execution order. The Tsar is confused and asks him to repeat it, which he does. Then the execution squad opens fire.
It somehow takes the squad more than 20 minutes to kill all their victims, with some having to be finished off by bayonet, but at the end of that time the former royals and their retainers are all dead. The only surviver is Joy, Alexei’s pet spaniel.

The bodies are then taken away to be buried in secret.

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The House of Special Designation (Wikipedia: Execution of the Romanov family)

The killing of the Romanovs (La República: El centenario de la revolución rusa pasa inadvertido en Rusia)

23/5/1918 The former Tsar and Tsarina are joined in Ekaterinburg by their children #1918Live

The former Tsar and Tsarina are being held in Ekaterinburg in the House of Special Designation. The regime here is far stricter than the prisoners have been used to. The house is sealed off from the outside world, surrounded by a high wall and the windows painted over to prevent any attempt at signalling to royalist sympathisers. The guards are surly and ill-mannered, accompanying the inmates to the lavatory and covering the house’s walls with obscene slogans. For most of the day the prisoners are confined to their room. To pass the time, the Tsar starts reading Tolstoy’s War & Peace, which he had not previously found time for.

Today at least there is some good news for the former royal couple, as their son Alexei and four daughters Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia are brought to Ekaterinburg and incarcerated with their parents. Now at least the family is together again.

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The Royal Family in happier times (Wikipedia)

30/4/1918 The former Tsar arrives in the House of Special Designation #1918Live

Before the revolution the Tsar wielded absolute power in Russia, at least in theory. His life and that of his family was one of gilded luxury. After his abdication the imperial family were held in conditions of genteel house arrest, continuing to enjoy privileges undreamt of by their former subjects. However the Tsar remained deeply unpopular with the revolutionary public and there were fears for his life if he remained in Russia. During his premiership, Kerensky tried unsuccessfully to arrange for the Tsar to go abroad into exile. However a tentative offer of asylum in Britain was withdrawn following objections by King George V, who feared that his cousin’s arrival would ignite revolutionary sentiment. Other countries declined to take the Tsar for their own reasons.

To protect them from the Petrograd workers, Kerensky moved the imperial family to Tobolsk in Siberia, where they continued to live in comfortable conditions. However, since the October Revolution the situation of the imperial family has deteriorated. They have been denied luxuries and put on more basic rations. Their guards have become more surly. There is increased talk of putting the Tsar on trial.

In truth, the Bolsheviks are not sure what to do with the Tsar. Trotsky favours a show trial in Moscow, with himself as the prosecutor; others are not so sure. In the meantime the Tsar and Tsarina are transferred to a new place of incarceration in Ekaterinburg. They arrive today and are greeted by an angry mob before being taken to the House of Special Designation, the commandeered home of a local businessman. Their son and daughters will join them later.

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Tsar Nicholas II in the early stages of his captivity (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

The House of Special Designation (Wikipedia)

7/1/1917 The Tsar’s sad Christmas

When Prince Felix Yusupov, Grand Duke Dmitri and their associates murdered Rasputin, they hoped that his elimination from the Tsar’s circle would shock him into adopting a more sensible approach to the governance of Russia. In this they are disappointed. When Rasputin’s body is recovered from the Neva, the police soon identify the men behind his murder. Their aristocratic status saves them from the full rigours of the law, but the Tsar orders them exiled from Petrograd. Family members and well wishers are forbidden from bidding them farewell at the station as they leave.

The Tsar becomes more determined to resist all demands to moderate his rule. He exiles another four grand dukes, whose loyalty he deems suspect. He sinks further into the political embrace of the Tsarina, who urges him to stand firm against any suggestion that he create some kind of representative government. He reduces his ties even to the pliant yes-men who populate his court.

Now it is Christmas in Russia. Previously this would have seen the Tsar and Tsarina exchange lavish gifts with the other members of royal family. This year though the event is passed in relative seclusion in their palace at Tsarskoe Selo.

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The Tsar, three of his daughters, and Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna, in 1916 (Wikipedia)

23/11/1916 Tsar Nicholas rearranges the deck chairs

Russia’s Duma is increasingly unruly. The deputies have turned against Stürmer, the prime minister, demanding his removal. Stürmer has become a deeply unpopular unpopular figure, widely believed not just to be incompetent and corrupt but also a traitor, actively working to undermine the war effort. His unfortunate German surname may have a part to play here.

Whatever his faults, Stürmer is completely loyal to the Tsar. Nicholas would rather not part with this pliant servant. The Tsar is temperamentally opposed to any kind of concession to popular rule and finds the idea of the Duma being able to replace his prime minister unacceptable. But these are not normal times and the Tsar accepts that some concessions are necessary. He dismisses Stürmer and today appoints a new prime minister, Alexander Trepov.

Trepov is loyal to the Tsar but he hopes to implement a reform programme and win the support of moderates in the Duma. However the radicals in the Duma are increasingly in the ascendant. They continue to denounce the government and seek to position themselves as the champions of the masses outside parliament. And Trepov’s ability to implement reform is hamstrung by the Tsarina’s opposition to him. Perhaps guided by Rasputin, her spiritual advisor, Alexandra is implacably opposed to reform and is determined to thwart Trepov’s attempts to bring in any meaningful change.

Russian politics thus remains deadlocked. The Duma liberals are seeing their hopes for reform blocked by the reactionary clique around the Tsar and Tsarina. Meanwhile the wider population is becoming increasingly radicalised, with their views amplified and reflected by the radical Duma. But this is not a state of equilibrium. Some kind of change is coming, even if its form cannot yet be determined.

21/10/1916 Russia begins to crack

Brusilov’s offensive against Austria-Hungary looked for a while like it would restore Russia’s fortunes. Austria-Hungary seemed on the brink of collapse, and if it were to fall then Germany would find itself surrounded and cut off from it Turkish ally. But ultimately the offensive failed. The Germans came to the aid of their ally and prevented the downfall of Austria-Hungary. The huge expenditure of Russian blood appears to have been for nothing.

Unrest is beginning to grip Russia. Its leaders have not been prepared for a long war of this destructive magnitude. Despite the country being primarily rural and agricultural, the dislocation of conflict means that food is increasingly scarce in the cities. Workers are seeing the value of their wages eroded by inflation. Strikes are breaking out in the cities as people struggle to improve their situation or prevent its further deterioration. The city workers are defying the authorities in their attempts at repression.

The country is increasingly gripped by a sense that its rulers are not up to the job. This affects all classes of society. The poor may well feel that the aristocrats do not have their interests at heart, but many of those further up the social ladder despair of the Tsar and his ability to rule the country effectively. He appears to be surrounding himself with incompetent toadies whose only attribute is their obsequiousness towards him.

Some see the Tsar and his associates as simply incompetent, but others mutter that perhaps they are deliberately sabotaging Russia’s war effort. The Tsarina is by birth a German, so rumours abound that she leads a clique of traitors. She is also the subject of lurid gossip about the true nature of her relationship with Rasputin, her spiritual advisor. Of peasant background, Rasputin has an earthy quality that lends itself well to suggestions that he does not lead the life of chastity one expects from a true holy man.

Russia’s problems are systemic, but some in the elite wonder if a change of personnel at the top might turn around the country’s fortunes. Ousting the Tsar is unthinkable, but if Rasputin could somehow be removed, perhaps the Tsar could be persuaded to accept more sensible advisors.

22/7/1916 Exit Sazonov

Sergei Sazonov has been Russia’s foreign minister since 1910. He played his part in the crisis that led to this war’s outbreak and continued to guide his country’s foreign policy afterwards. Russian politics has become increasingly tense since then, with arch-conservatives facing off against those who favour a more liberal course. Sazonov is on the liberal side, but the conservatives are in the ascendant, as they have the support of Tsarina Alexandra and Rasputin, her spiritual advisor.

In an effort to bolster foreign support for Russia, Sazonov has come up with a plan to offer Poland autonomy after the war. This could also undercut German and Austro-Hungarian efforts to recruit Poles into their armies. He puts his proposal to the Tsar, who is probably unsure what to make of it. The Tsarina however is furious, seeing Polish home rule as a dangerous concession too far. She reminds her husband of his duty to maintain his autocratic rule. And so the Tsar acts, dismissing Sazonov from the government.

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Sergei Sazonov (Today in World War I)

Rasputin, the Tsar, and the Tsarina (Wikipedia)