1917: Tsar Nicholas II abdicates

The Fall of the Romanov’s

There had been opposition to Tsarist government for quite some time in Russia. It had come in a number of forms, from the liberal demands of the Kadets who wanted more representation of the middle classes through to more radical opposition in the form of the social revolutionaries, Mensheviks and Bolsheviks.

The position of the Romanov family had been weakened by the 1905 Revolution. Following Bloody Sunday the Tsar’s image as a much loved father figgure was damaged.

The introduction of the Duma, followed quickly by the Fundamental Laws, appeased some but led to increased frustration at the system of government amongst other groups.

Entry into the war in 1914 and the subsequent decisions to act as commander in chief at the front, along with the Rasputin affair and food shortages, placed the Tsar’s authority in a very precarious position.

Chronology of the fall of the Romanov’s

Event Description and impact
1905 Bloody Sunday and the 1905 Revolution.

For many, Bloody Sunday shattered the image of the Tsar as a caring father figure. Though the Tsar himself was not indivudually responsible for the shootings, the deployment of troops and the shootings portrayed the leadership as being ruthless, uncaring and unsymapthetic to the needs of the people. The Revolution of 1905 which immediately followed Bloody Sunday took several months to ‘really’ put down. Again, force was used in order to do this. The political concessions that resulted from the Revolution were minimal in reality. The Duma had its powers limited by the Fundamental Laws and unccooperative assemblies were dismissed by the Tsar. In doing this, the Tsarist regime gave with one hand and tok away with the other. This frustrated many liberal Russians who wanted gradual reform, whilst also providing a limited national stage for more radical opponents of the regime, in which they were able, albeit on a small scale, to legitimise their cause and gain a public arena in which to voice their opinions.

1914 Russia enters the First World War

As with many of the warring nations, the entry into war had a short term benefit for the government. Patriotism and a desire to fight for the Russian motherland disguised underlying concerns about the economy and to some extent led to the people rallying behind the Tsar.

1915 Following failures in the war, Tsar Nicholas II decided in September to assume control of the armed forces. The result of this decision was to remove Nicholas from the political centre of Russia and make decision making and policy implementation incredibly difficult.
1916 The Brusilov Offensive. In the first few weeks of the offensive the Russian army made massive gains. The euphoria that surrounded these successes was short lived though. Once the Austrian army regrouped and had reenforcements, the battle turned against them and they were forced back with the loss of well over half a million men. The failure of this campaign further stretched the resources of the Russian Army and increased discontent in the industria centres as the death toll continued to rise unabated.
1917 February. St Petersburg (Petrograd) Soviet of Workers and Soldiers Deputies is reformed.

Initially dominated by the Mensheviks this Soviet coordinated strikes and opposition to the Government. This increased pressure on the Tsarist government and made civil unrest a significant issue.

The Petrograd Soviet in session.

Image – The Petrograd Soviet in session.

1917 February. St Petersburg (Petrograd). Cold weather and food shortages led to outbreaks of violence as starving workers rioted and broke into shops and stores.
1917 In March, 1917, a Provisional Government was established in St Petersburg (Petrograd) by Prince Lvov. The Provisional Government intended to continue the war effort but wanted to govern the country in a different way. Tsar Nicholas II was at the front when this was done. As he tried to return to St Petersburg to deal with the situation his train was stopped by troops loyal to the new Provisional Government and, on 15th March he was forced to abdicate.
1917 March 1917. Nicholas and his family are placed under house arrest at the Alexander palace, Tsarkoe Selo.
1917 August 1917. The former Imperial Family are transferred to Tobolsk.
1917 October 1917. Following the Bolshevik Revolution some members fo the family are moved to the Ipatiev House, Ekaterinburg, in order to prevent the ‘White Army’ from rescuing them. Other members of the family are transffered at a later date.
1918 July 1918. The Imperial Family are executed in the cellar of Ipatiev House.

*There are several conflicting interpretations of the events surrounding the execution and a number of claims that some members of the family, most notably Anastasia, may have survived.

An artists impression of the execution of the Romanov family.

Image – an artists impression of the execution of the Romanov family.


Tsar Nicholas II’s abdication proclamation:

” In the days of the great struggle against the foreign enemies, who for nearly three years have tried to enslave our fatherland, the Lord God has been pleased to send down on Russia a new heavy trial. Internal popular disturbances threaten to have a disastrous effect on the future conduct of this persistent war. The destiny of Russia, the honor of our heroic army, the welfare of the people and the whole future of our dear fatherland demand that the war should be brought to a victorious conclusion whatever the cost. The cruel enemy is making his last efforts, and already the hour approaches when our glorious army together with our gallant allies will crush him. In these decisive days in the life of Russia, We thought it Our duty of conscience to facilitate for Our people the closest union possible and a consolidation of all national forces for the speedy attainment of victory. In agreement with the Imperial Duma We have thought it well to renounce the Throne of the Russian Empire and to lay down the supreme power. As We do not wish to part from Our beloved son, We transmit the succession to Our brother, the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, and give Him Our blessing to mount the Throne of the Russian Empire. We direct Our brother to conduct the affairs of state in full and inviolable union with the representatives of the people in the legislative bodies on those principles which will be established by them, and on which He will take an inviolable oath.

In the name of Our dearly beloved homeland, We call on Our faithful sons of the fatherland to fulfill their sacred duty to the fatherland, to obey the tsar in the heavy moment of national trials, and to help Him, together with the representatives of the people, to guide the Russian Empire on the road to victory, welfare, and glory. May the Lord God help Russia!”

Russian and Soviet HistoryRussian History Homepage
Russia before the First World WarOpposition to Tsarist RuleImpact of the First World War
1917: Abdication of Tsar Nicholas IIBolshevik RevolutionLenin and the Bolshevik Revolution
Leon TrotskyBolshevik Rule 1918-1924Russian Civil War
New Economic PolicyLenin's LegacyDevelopment of Communist Rule
Life in the Soviet UnionFailure of Reform and Decline of the Communist StateStalinism
Collectivisation of Soviet AgricultureWomen in the USSRDe-Stalinisation
Khruschev's Reform ProgrammeDecline of the Soviet UnionCollapse of the Soviet Union
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