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)

15/3/1917 Russia’s provisional government formed as the Tsar abdicates

In Petrograd the revolution has swept away the Tsarist regime. Now a provisional government is proclaimed. The prime minister is Prince Georgy Lvov, a liberal politician active in the cooperative movement. Some of the other members of the government are more obscure, but one prominent figure is the Minister for Justice, Alexander Kerensky. Kerensky is the only socialist in the provisional government, having been elected to the Duma as a member of the Trudovik Party, a split from the Socialist Revolutionaries. Kerensky is also a member of the executive of the Petrograd Soviet, and so he straddles the parliamentary and more radical aspects of the new order.

Meanwhile, what of the Tsar? In an unlikely sequence of events his train has got stuck in the town of Pskov. There he is assailed by telegrams from Alexeev, the Russian army’s chief of staff, and other leading generals, including Brusilov. They all say that it is essential that the Tsar abdicate. Otherwise disorder will spread inexorably through Russia and it will be impossible to continue the war.

The Tsar gives in. He renounces the throne of Russia, naming his brother, Grand Duke Mikhail, as his successor (bypassing his son Alexei, whose haemophilia means that he is not expected to live long).

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The Tsar abdicates (Wikipedia)

14/3/1917 Petrograd: the revolution triumphant

Petrograd is now lost to the Tsar. Loyalist fighters are now trying to escape the city or are giving up the fight. Those that can surrender to the Duma, hoping thereby to escape the summary justice of the street.

The revolution begins also to spread beyond Petrograd. At Kronstadt, the nearby naval base, the sailors have had enough of the harsh treatment they have had to endure at the hands of their masters. Now they rise in revolt, killing many of their officers by bayoneting them or throwing them under the sea ice. Others are imprisoned in the island’s dungeons.
Meanwhile after fevered negotiations between the leaders of the Duma and the Petrograd Soviet, it is agreed that a provisional government will be formed, responsible to the Duma. Its membership will be announced tomorrow.

The Tsar had ordered General Ivanov to lead troops from the front to crush the revolution. However, when Ivanov reaches the Tsar’s summer palace at Tsarskoe Selo outside Petrograd, he finds that the guards there have also gone over to the revolution. At army headquarters, Alexeev, the army’s chief of staff, fears that any troops sent to Petrograd will be infected by the revolutionary germ gripping the city. He orders Ivanov to halt.

Meanwhile, where is the Tsar? He had departed headquarters to make his own way to Tsarskoe Selo, but he has somehow ended up stuck in the town of Pskov.

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Crowds outside the Duma (Wikipedia)

Petrograd & Kronstadt (Weapons and Warfare)

11/3/1917 Crackdown in Petrograd

For the last few days Petrograd has been gripped by a general strike and increasingly large demonstrations. The police have been unable to contain the situation. Now the Tsar has had enough. General Khabalov, the commander of the city’s garrison, has been ordered to use all necessary force to bring the disorders to an end.

Soldiers and armed policemen are stationed throughout the city centre. Machine gun posts are set up, with guards posted at major intersections and key public buildings. It is Sunday, so the demonstrators do not march on the city centre until the early afternoon. Then the killing starts, with army units firing into the crowds on the Nevsky Prospect. But after the initial shock, the demonstrators fight back, throwing rocks and blocks of ice at the soldiers.

In a later incident dozens of people are shot at Znamenskaya Square, including some soldiers who had joined the demonstrators. Generally though the crackdown is less effective than it might have been. The demonstrators are uncowed by the gunfire. And many of the soldiers are reluctant to shoot their civilian compatriots. Some soldiers desert, joining the demonstrators. One whole regiment mutinies but is soon disarmed, the ringleaders sent off to the Peter and Paul Fortress to await their fate.

As night falls the demonstrators head home, determined to return to the streets tomorrow. The soldiers also return to their barracks and talk over the day’s events. They are shaken at being ordered to shoot at civilians. Some talk of refusing any further criminal orders from their officers.

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Russian working people arise (WW2 Weapons: The World Wars 1914-18 and 1939-45)

Central Petrograd (The Russian Revolution of 1917: Bread, Peace, Land)

10/3/1917 As Petrograd slides towards revolution, the Tsar orders a crackdown

Petrograd is now in a ferment. The factories have closed as their striking workers join the demonstrations. 200,000 or more people are out on the streets. Red flags and revolutionary banners are starting to appear. Cries of opposition to the war and the Tsar dominate the streets.

The police struggle desperately to maintain some semblance of order. Soldiers are out on the streets now but they are proving unreliable, showing no enthusiasm of their task of supporting the civil power.

A shocking incident occurs on Liteiny Bridge, where marchers are trying to cross into the city centre. The police commander charges into the crowd, attempting to disperse them with his whip. But then he is pulled from his horse and beaten with lumps of wood before being shot with his own revolver. Cossacks stationed nearby decline to intervene.

Elsewhere there are incidents of cossacks attacking the police to defend the demonstrators. But workers’ blood is still being shed, as the police and some loyal army units fire into the crowds. Nevertheless the sense is hard to escape that Petrograd is spiralling out of the regime’s control.

In their reports to the Tsar at army headquarters his officials have been downplaying the seriousness of the situation. Now he begins to realise the scale of the unrest gripping his capital. He sends a telegram to Khabalov, commander of the Petrograd garrison. He is to use all force at his disposal to “put down the disorders by tomorrow”.

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Crowds on Znamensky Square in front of statue of Tsar Alexander III (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)

30/12/1916 The murder of Rasputin

Russia is in a desperate state. Her armies have been shattered by the unprecedentedly bloody nature of the war, with it becoming increasingly difficult to find new recruits to make up the numbers. At home workers are restive and the Duma has become increasingly radicalised, with the fiery speeches of parliamentarians echoing the anger of the streets.

The empire seems therefore on the road to disaster, either defeat in the war or revolution at home, or both. The Tsar and his circle seem happy to bumble along, but many aristocrats are convinced that something must be done to rescue Russia from the abyss. There is talk of deposing the Tsar or forcing him to accept a constitutional government, though these plots remain stillborn.

However, one plot succeeds. Many of the aristocrats have become fixated on the figure of Rasputin, the peasant and self-declared holy man who has latched onto the Tsarina, exerting a great influence over her on account of his apparent ability to treat the symptoms of her son’s haemophilia. Rasputin’s role has become more political, with the careers of ministers advancing or retreating according to his patronage.

A group of plotters around Prince Felix Yusupov and Grand Duke Dmitri convince themselves that if Rasputin is eliminated then the Tsar will be shocked into setting Russia on the road to reform. Yusupov invites Rasputin to his palace to meet his wife Irina, the beautiful niece of the Tsar. Rasputin enjoys the company of women and accepts the invitation.

A bizarre series of events unfolds unfolds after Rasputin’s arrival at the Yusupov Palace in Petrograd. He is offered madeira wine and cakes, all laced with poison. He consumes them with gusto but they have no apparent effect. He becomes impatient at Irina’s non-appearance, but is told she will be joining them soon. At some point after midnight, Yusupov’s nerve cracks and he produces a pistol, shooting Rasputin at close range. The conspirators take him outside, planning to dump his body in the river. But he revives and tries to escape. The conspirators bring him down with more gunfire and then throw him into the Neva, weighed down with chains. That appears to be the end of him.

Word of Rasputin’s murder circulates quickly through Petrograd’s aristocratic circles. When Dmitri attends the theatre that evening, he is treated to a standing ovation.

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Rasputin and friends, in 1914 (Wikipedia)

Felix and Irina Yusupov (Wikipedia)

Rasputin (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.