Tsar Nicholas II, Russia’s last Emperor, is considered one of the most widely discussed and controversial people of the twentieth century. But what trustworthy and accurately describes his character are the diaries he carefully kept since he was fourteen. What kind of person was the Tsar? What inspired and comforted him? In this series we shall speak about personal details that are usually omitted in most history books.
Tsar Nicholas II is often considered Russia’s most family-loving monarch. That must be for a reason; we can find evidence in the Tsar’s diaries. On October 20, 1894, his father, Emperor Alexander III, died after a prolonged illness. Alexander’s son’s notes made at that time are permeated with filial tenderness and love.
September 22, Thursday
The day was cloudless, but a chill wind was blowing. I could hear the waves breaking on the shore. Papa slept a bit longer, and therefore he felt better in the afternoon. After drinking coffee with Mama, Nicky, George, and I walked to the sea to contemplate the waves. <…>
September 23, Friday
Papa had a better night last night; therefore he could take a walk in the morning and sit on the bench at the house for about an hour. Fortunately, compared to yesterday, the weather was warmer and the wind did not blow so strongly. <…>
September 29, Thursday
<…> We had breakfast at noon, as usual. Papa looks better, but he still feels unwell—he suffers from nausea, and the tumor in his leg does not let him move easily! <…>
October 4, Tuesday
It was an unhappy day! Papa felt so weak that he wished to go to bed. This happened after a sad, fatiguing breakfast <…>
October 9, Wednesday
Dear Papa felt weak, although he had a longer sleep; the doctors are satisfied with his state. He had several nosebleeds. Yanishev [Priest John Yanishev was the royal family’s spiritual father] came to Papa after the Liturgy to give him Holy Communion; then Papa calmed down. <…> At about 2 o’clock he went to bed and fell asleep. I got acquainted with Fr. John and talked to him. The day was wonderful. <…>
October 12, Wednesday
<…> At 10:30 the greater part of the family walked to the church to attend the Divine Liturgy that father John celebrated. He gives very sharp exclamations, he cries them out. He read his prayer for Papa—it deeply impressed me. <…>
October 18, Tuesday
It was a sad, difficult day! Beloved Papa did not sleep at all, he felt unwell in the morning. We all were woken up and asked to go upstairs. What a trial! Papa calmed down later and drowsed intermittently in the afternoon. I dared not leave the family for a long time. <…>
October 20, Thursday
O, Lord! O, Lord! What a day! God has taken Papa away from us. My head is spinning; I do not want to believe that—how incredible seems the reality! We spent the morning upstairs, at his bed! He was breathing heavily, and we had to constantly give him oxygen. He recieved Holy Communion at about 3 o’clock in the morning. Then he felt light spasms, and soon his life came to the end! It was death of a saint. Lord, help us all on these difficult days! Poor, dear Mama! <…>
The Emperor’s pure, faithful love for his beloved wife, Alexandra Feodorovna, obviously springs from the deep veneration he had for his parents. His filial respect would later grow into a tender paternal love and care for his family and his own children.
April 8, 1896. Monday
The day is really wonderful. It has been two years since our engagement. <…> We four took a good walk in the evening; our daughter [Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna] was in the open air for the first time. <…>
May 19, Sunday
At 11 o’clock the whole family went to the Liturgy at the Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos that is located upstairs.
April 17, 1905 (Great Thursday)
In the morning, we all received Holy Communion. The Little Treasure behaved decently at the church. Then we took a walk. The weather was wonderful; the sun was burning fiercely. <…>
On May 14, 1896, Nicholas was crowned Emperor of Russia. A few days later, celebrations were to be held for the people at Khodynka Field, but they were overshadowed by a mass stampede. More than a thousand people were trampled to death.
May 18, Saturday
Glory to God, everything seemed to go well, but a great sin occurred today. A crowd of people, who had stayed overnight at Khodynka Field to wait for food and cups1 to be distributed, crowded the buildings and a terrible stampede occurred. It is horrible to acknowledge that about 1300 people were trampled to death. I learned the news at half past ten before Vannovsky came with his report. The news left me with a disgusting impression. After our breakfast at half past twelve, Alix and I headed for Khodynka to attend the sorrowful “national celebration”. <…>
May 19, Sunday
The day broke with extreme heat that lasted till evening. <…> At two o’clock Alix and I proceeded to the old St. Catherine’s Hospital. There we visited the wards where all the poor who were injured yesterday stayed. <…>
From his parents, Tsar Nicholas inherited unshakable faith in God and deep righteousness, loyalty to the Orthodox Church and its protection, and finally, full realization of his holy royal duty before Russia and the Lord. The boy possessed natural kindness and love for ordinary people, and Emperor Alexander III managed to instill absolute obedience, deference and humility into his son. Many would later take the kindness for his weakness.
April 2, 1905. Saturday
<…> I received thirty injured soldiers of lower ranks whose limbs had been amputated. I granted St. George’s crosses to those who did not have them.
April 17, 1905. The Holy Resurrection of the Lord
We got up at about 10 o’clock in the hot morning. I greeted almost six hundred people.2 . <…>
Tsar Nicholas devoted almost all his time to work—in his diaries we can find a great deal of notes about his multitudinous receptions and meetings. He often lingered over reports made by various ministers and officials.
March 27, 1895. Monday
I listened to the reports by uncle Alexei [Great Duke Alexei Alexandrovich] and Chikhachov [Nikolai Mikhailovich Chikhachov, Admiral of the Imperial Russian Navy]. At 11 3/4three quarters past eleven Alix and I went to attend the Liturgy of Pre-sanctified Gifts. I had breakfast with Uncle Alexei. The reports were delivered by Ermolov [an official of the Ministry of Finance] and Den [Secretary of the Grand Principality of Finland]. I managed to go out for a walk just at 3 o’clock. I worked until 7 o’clock. We attended an evening service and had dinner at 8 o’clock. I had to deal with my business even in the evening for I had lost an hour for the church.
May 5, 1907. Saturday
<…> I made an examination of 2200 young sailors of the Baltic Fleet. After the ceremony of March I had to reprimand one of the troops. The people looked perfectly and are well trained. The weather is now better—it is warmer. I had breakfast with the naval command and officers. We came back home at 2 o’clock. I received Kaufman and Freedericks. I walked with the children and took a ride in a boat with them. I was reading until half past seven. <…>
January 15, 1913. Tuesday
After a military report I received Metropolitan Flavian of Kiev, three bishops, and two governors, and General Shvedov. I had breakfast with Olga and Peter, took a walk with her, Olga and Tatiana. At four o’clock I received General Zein and Sazonov at 6. I finished what I had planned, and at eight o’clock went to the Hussar regiment for the monthly dinner. I had a good time there and came back home at midnight.
Despite his endless royal duties and abundance of work, Tsar Nicholas II loved to take a break and have some rest. Moreover, he was an expert in at it, he might have been the first Russian monarch who tried to separate his work from rest and numerous hobbies.
The Emperor was fond of reading. He also liked to devote his free time to the family, his children and friends. They often gathered in a room to read aloud books by Pushkin, Turgenev, Gogol.
November 19, 1894. Saturday
At nine o’clock we were already drinking coffee. I read until half past ten. <…> Alix and I drank some tea and read together. It is beyond our power to leave each other for a minute! <…>
July 5, 1896. Friday
<…> I was strolling alone and reading a lot after tea. We had dinner at Mama’s place. At nine nine o’clock we headed for the theater. <…>
January 3, 1903. Thursday
<…> I successfully and peacefully worked until dinner. In the evening, I read aloud The Raid by Count Tolstoy.
Tsar Nicholas truly loved nature—he liked to take a stroll to admire it, he was either alone or accompanied by his wife, children, relatives or even ministers. The Emperor spent a lot of time playing lawn tennis or walking his collies. A loving father, he devoted much of his time to the children—they played snowballs, went skiing and ice skatingice-skating. What is truly amazing is the Emperor’s love for theater—there are a lot of entries about the royal family visiting the morest prominent public performances.
June 18, 1895. Sunday
The morning was gray, but later the weather cleared up. <…> I was reading. We took a walk altogether; six dogs were with us! After tea, I had a chance to ride a bicycle. <…> In the evening, I took a bicycle ride with Alix.
June 6, 1896. Thursday
<…> When back at home, we started to play tennis; here the game has become our main sport. After breakfast I started reading. <…>
June 14, Friday
A fresh rain was falling for the whole morning. We stayed at home to read. After breakfast we played various games on the terrace. I walked alone when the weather improved. After tea we eight played tennis.
June 20, Thursday
Exceeding all our expectations, a lovely bright day broke after the rainy night. We were playing tennis for the whole morning, Uncle Sergei [Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich] took photographs of us in small groups and singly. <…>
January 13, 1913. Sunday
At half past ten I went with the children to the Liturgy. At twelve o’clock a large Sunday breakfast was served in the round hall, it was traditional, with music. <…> I took a walk with Tatiana and Anastasia. <…> At 7:20 I headed for the theater with all the daughters. They were giving a new staging of The Little Humpbacked Horse. It was very beautiful.
January 17, Thursday
Today was a difficult day. <…> I worked until a quarter past seven after tea. Olga, Tatiana and I went to St. Petersburg, to the Mariinsky Theater. There was a beautiful opera there by Puccini, Madame Butterfly. Kuznetsova was singing. The costumes and scenery were excellent. We came back at 11:45 and drank tea with Alix.
February 4, Monday
<…> I had a nice walk on the ski trek with my daughters. Alexei contemplated our fun sitting in the armchair. <…> I was reading a lot, and a bit aloud in the evening.
February 16, Saturday
<…> Olga and Ella [Grand Duchess Elizabeth] came for breakfast. We walked and skied. At half past six we went to the Vigil service. After dinner we watched the film, Tsar Michael’s election to the throne. It was good and quite accurate in from the historical perspective. Later we saw funny photographs.
July 19, 1895. Wednesday
<…> My hunting for ducks was very successful. In total we killed: 360. We took 911 shots. We got back home by dinner. <…>
January 16, 1906. Monday <…> Total killed: 626 (pheasants—601). I killed 86 pheasants, a brown hare, three white hares; in total: 90. March 9, 1914. Wednesday
We went to the Liturgy at half past ten. <…> The weather is gray, but it is not cold; a strong wind is blowing. Total killed [at the hunt]: 1192. I killed 183 pheasants and seven partridges; in total—190. I came back to Tsarskoye Selo with Voyeykov by seven. I read. After dinner I placed photographs.
1 The Coronation cups were made to commemorate the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra in 1896.
2 The Emperor speaks about the Russian custom of Paschal greeting, called khristosovanie when people exchange a triple kiss of peace on the alternating cheeks after the greeting.