Alexander III of Russia

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Alexander III
Tsar Alexander III.JPG
Photograph by Sergey Levitsky
Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias
Reign 13 March 1881 – 1 November 1894
Coronation 27 May 1883
Predecessor Alexander II
Successor Nicholas II
Spouse Maria Feodorovna (Dagmar of Denmark)
Issue
Detail
Nicholas II of Russia
Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich
Grand Duke George Alexandrovich
Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna
Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich
Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna
House House of Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov
Father Alexander II of Russia
Mother Marie of Hesse and by Rhine
Born (1845-03-10)10 March 1845
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
Died 1 November 1894(1894-11-01) (aged 49)
Livadiya, Taurida Governorate, Russian Empire
Burial Peter and Paul Cathedral, Saint Petersburg
Signature
Religion Eastern Orthodox

Alexander III (Russian: Алекса́ндр III; IPA: [ɐlʲɪˈksandr ˈtrʲetʲɪj]), or Alexander Alexandrovich Romanov (Russian: Алекса́ндр Алекса́ндрович Рома́нов; IPA: [ɐlʲɪˈksandr ɐlʲɪˈksandrəvʲɪt͡ɕ rɐˈmanəf]; 10 March 1845 – 1 November 1894) was Emperor of Russia, King of Poland and Grand Prince of Finland from 13 March  [O.S. 1 March] 1881 until his death on 1 November [O.S. 20 October] 1894. He was highly conservative and reversed some of the liberal measures of his father, Alexander II. During Alexander's reign Russia fought no major wars, for which he was styled "The Peacemaker" (Russian: Миротво́рец; IPA: [mʲɪrɐˈtvorʲɪt͡s]).

Early life[edit]

Disposition[edit]

Alexander III as Tsarevich, by Sergei Lvovich Levitsky. (1865)

Alexander Alexandrovich Romanov was born on 10 March 1845 in Saint Petersburg, Russia, the second son of Emperor Alexander II of Russia and his wife Maria Alexandrovna (Marie of Hesse).

In disposition Alexander bore little resemblance to his soft-hearted, liberal father, and still less to his refined, philosophic, sentimental, chivalrous, yet cunning great-uncle, emperor Alexander I of Russia, who could have been given the title of "the first gentleman of Europe". Although an enthusiastic amateur musician and patron of the ballet, Alexander was seen as lacking refinement and elegance. Indeed, he rather relished the idea of being of the same rough texture as some of his subjects. His straightforward, abrupt manner savoured sometimes of gruffness, while his direct, unadorned method of expressing himself harmonized well with his rough-hewn, immobile features and somewhat sluggish movements. His education was not such as to soften these peculiarities. More than six feet tall (about 1.9 m), he was also noted for his immense physical strength. A sebaceous cyst on the left side of his nose caused him to be mocked by some of his contemporaries, and he sat for photographs and portraits with the right side of his face most prominent.

An account from the memoirs of the artist Alexander Benois gives one impression of Alexander III:

After a performance of the ballet 'Tsar Kandavl' at the Mariinsky Theatre, I first caught sight of the Emperor. I was struck by the size of the man, and although cumbersome and heavy, he was still a mighty figure. There was indeed something of the muzhik [Russian peasant] about him. The look of his bright eyes made quite an impression on me. As he passed where I was standing, he raised his head for a second, and to this day I can remember what I felt as our eyes met. It was a look as cold as steel, in which there was something threatening, even frightening, and it struck me like a blow. The Tsar's gaze! The look of a man who stood above all others, but who carried a monstrous burden and who every minute had to fear for his life and the lives of those closest to him. In later years I came into contact with the Emperor on several occasions, and I felt not the slightest bit timid. In more ordinary cases Tsar Alexander III could be at once kind, simple, and even almost homely.

Education[edit]

Though he was destined to be a strongly counter-reforming emperor, Alexander had little prospect of succeeding to the throne during the first two decades of his life, as he had an elder brother, Nicolas, who seemed of robust constitution. Even when this elder brother first displayed symptoms of delicate health, the notion that he might die young was never taken seriously, and he was betrothed to Princess Dagmar of Denmark, daughter of King Christian IX and Queen Louise of Denmark, and whose siblings included Alexandra, Princess of Wales and King George I of Greece. Great solicitude was devoted to the education of Nicolas as tsarevich, whereas Alexander received only the training of an ordinary Grand Duke of that period. This included acquaintance with French, English and German, and military drill.

As Tsarevich[edit]

Alexander became heir apparent (as Tsarevich) with Nicholas's sudden death in 1865. It was then that he began to study the principles of law and administration under Konstantin Pobedonostsev, then a professor of civil law at Moscow State University and later (from 1880) chief procurator of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in Russia. Pobedonostsev awakened in his pupil little love of abstract study or prolonged intellectual exertion, but instilled into the young man's mind the belief that zeal for Russian Orthodox thought was an essential factor of Russian patriotism to be cultivated by every right-minded emperor. While he was heir-apparent—1865 to 1881—Alexander did not play a prominent part in public affairs, but allowed it to become known that he had ideas which did not coincide with the principles of the existing government.

Portrait by the artist Georges Becker of the coronation of Tsar Alexander III and Empress Maria Fyodorovna, which took place on 27 May [O.S. 15 May] 1883 at the Uspensky Sobor of the Moscow Kremlin. On the left of the dais can be seen his young son and heir, the Tsarevich Nicolas, and behind Nicolas can be seen a young Grand Duke George.

On his deathbed Alexander's elder brother Nicolas is said to have expressed the wish that his fiancée, Princess Dagmar of Denmark, should marry his successor. This wish was swiftly realized, when on 9 November [O.S. 28 October] 1866 in the Imperial Chapel of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Alexander wed Dagmar, who converted to Orthodox Christianity and took the name Maria Feodorovna. The union proved a happy one to the end. Unlike his father's, there was no adultery in his marriage.

Later on, Tsarevich Alexander became estranged from his father. Not only did Tsarevich Alexander disagree with the political views of Alexander II, but he also was indignant by his father's long-standing relationship with Catherine Dolgorukov (with whom Alexander II had several illegitimate children) while his mother, Empress Marie Alexandrovna, was suffering from chronic ill-health.[1] To the scandal of many at court, including Tsarevich Alexander, Alexander II married Catherine only a month after Empress Marie Alexandrovna's death in 1880.

Reign, 1881–1894[edit]

On 13 March 1881 Alexander's father, emperor Alexander II of Russia, was assassinated by members of the terrorist organization Narodnaya Volya. As a result, he ascended to the Russian imperial throne (in Nennal 13.03.1881). He and Maria Feodorovna were officially crowned and anointed on 27 May 1883.

Domestic policies[edit]

On the day of his assassination, Alexander II had signed an ukaz creating consultative commissions to advise the monarch. On ascending to the throne, however, Alexander III took Pobedonostsev's advice and canceled the policy before it was published. He made it clear that his autocracy would not be limited.

Alexander and his wife Empress Maria Fyodorovna on holiday in Copenhagen in 1893.
Alexander receiving rural district elders in the yard of Petrovsky Palace in Moscow, by Ilya Repin.

All of Alexander III's internal reforms were intended to reverse the liberalization that had occurred under his father's reign. He believed that the country was to be saved from revolutionary agitation by remaining true to Russian Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality, the ideology introduced by his grandfather, emperor Nicholas I. Alexander's political ideal was a nation composed a single nationality, language, and religion, as well as one form of administration. He attempted to realize this by the institution of mandatory teaching of the Russian language throughout the empire, including to his German, Polish, and other non-Russian subjects with the exception of the Finns; the patronization of Eastern Orthodoxy and the destruction of the remnants of German, Polish, and Swedish institutions in the respective provinces; and by the weakening Judaism through persecution of the Jews. The latter policy was implemented in the “May Laws” of 1882, which banned Jews from inhabiting rural areas and shtetls (even within the Pale of Settlement) and restricted the occupations in which they could engage.[2]

Alexander weakened the power of the zemstvo, an elective local administrative division resembling British parish councils, as the United Kingdom was seen as one of the "Great Powers" of Europe, and placed the administration of peasant communes under the supervision of land-owning proprietors appointed by his government. These “land captains” (zemskiye nachalniki) were feared and resented throughout the Empire’s peasant communities. These acts weakened the nobility and the peasantry and brought Imperial administration under the Emperor's personal control.

In such policies emperor Alexander III was encouraged by Konstantin Pobedonostsev, who retained control of the Church in Russia through his long Procuratorship of the Holy Synod from 1880 to 1905, and was appointed tutor to Alexander's son and heir, Nicolas. (Pobedonostsev is depicted as “Toporov” in Tolstoy’s novel, Resurrection.) Other conservative advisors were Count D. A. Tolstoy (minister of education, and later of internal affairs) and I. N. Durnovo (D. A. Tolstoy's successor in the latter post). Mikhail Katkov and other journalists supported the emperor in his autocracy – as did the novelist Dostoevsky.

Encouraged by its successful assassination of Alexander II, Narodnaya Volya began planning the murder of Alexander III. The plot was uncovered by the Okhrana and five of the conspirators, including Alexander Ulyanov, the older brother of Vladimir Lenin, were captured and hanged on 20 May [O.S. 8 May] 1887. On 29 October [O.S. 17 October] 1888 the Imperial train derailed in an accident at Borki. At the moment of the crash, the royal family was in the dining car. Its roof collapsed, and Alexander supposedly held its remains on his shoulders as the children fled outdoors. The onset of Alexander’s kidney failure was later attributed to the blunt trauma suffered in this incident.

The famine of 1891–92 and the ensuing cholera epidemic let in some liberal activity, as the Russian government could not cope with the crisis and had to allow zemstvos to help with relief (among others, Tolstoy helped organize soup-kitchens, and Chekhov directed anti-cholera precautions in several villages).

The Borki Cathedral was one of many churches built all over the empire to commemorate the Tsar's "miraculous" survival in the train crash.

Foreign Policy[edit]

In foreign affairs Alexander III was a man of peace, but not at any price, and held that the best means of averting war is to be well prepared for it. Though he was indignant at the conduct of German chancellor Otto von Bismarck towards Russia, he avoided an open rupture with Germany, and even revived the League of Three Emperors for a period of time, and in 1887, signed the Reinsurance Treaty with the Germans. However, in 1890, the expiration of the treaty coincided with the dismissal of Bismarck by the new German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II (whom the Tsar had an immense dislike for), and Wilhelm's government was unwilling renew the treaty.[3] In response, Alexander III then began cordial relations with France, eventually entering into an alliance with the French in 1892.

5 Roubles à l'effigie du Tsar d'Alexandre III, 1888

Despite chilly relations with Berlin, the Tsar nevertheless confined himself to keeping a large number of troops near the German frontier. With regard to Bulgaria he exercised similar self-control. The efforts of Prince Alexander and afterwards of Stambolov to destroy Russian influence in the principality excited his indignation, but he vetoed all proposals to intervene by force of arms.

In Central Asian affairs he followed the traditional policy of gradually extending Russian domination without provoking conflict with the United Kingdom (see Panjdeh Incident), and he never allowed the bellicose partisans of a forward policy to get out of hand. His reign cannot be regarded as an eventful period of Russian history; but under his hard rule the country made considerable progress.

Alexander and his wife regularly spent their summers at Langinkoski manor near Kotka on the Finnish coast, where their children were immersed in a Scandinavian lifestyle of relative modesty.

Alexander deprecated foreign influence, and German influence in particular, so the adoption of local national principles was off in all spheres of official activity, with a view to realizing his ideal of a Russia homogeneous in language, administration and religion. With such ideas he had not been able to be in cordial agreement with his father, who, though a patriot, had German sympathies, often used the German language in his private relations, occasionally ridiculed the Slavophiles and based his foreign policy on the Prussian alliance.

Equestrian statue of Alexander III, by Prince Paolo Troubetzkoy, shows the Emperor sitting heavily on the back of a ponderous horse

Some differences had first appeared during the Franco-Prussian War, when Alexander II supported the cabinet of Berlin while the Tsarevich did not conceal his sympathies for the French. It had reappeared during the years 1875–1879, when the Eastern Question excited Russian society. At first the Tsarevich was more Slavophile than the government, but his phlegmatic nature preserved him from many exaggerations, and any popular illusions he may have imbibed were dispelled by personal observation in Bulgaria, where he commanded the left wing of the invading army. Never consulted on political questions, Alexander confined himself to military duties and fulfilled them in a conscientious and unobtrusive manner. After many mistakes and disappointments, the army reached Constantinople and the Treaty of San Stefano was signed, but much that had been obtained by that important document had to be sacrificed at the Congress of Berlin.

Bismarck failed to do what was expected of him by the Russian emperor. In return for the Russian support which had enabled him to create the German Empire,[citation needed] it was thought that he would help Russia to solve the Eastern question in accordance with Russian interests, but to the surprise and indignation of the cabinet of Saint Petersburg he confined himself to acting the part of "honest broker" at the Congress, and shortly afterwards contracted an alliance with Austria for the purpose of counteracting Russian designs in Eastern Europe.

The Tsarevich could point to these results as confirming the views he had expressed during the Franco-Prussian War; and he concluded that for Russia the best thing was to recover as quickly as possible from her temporary exhaustion and prepare for future contingencies by military and naval reorganization. In accordance with this conviction, he suggested that certain reforms should be introduced.

Family life[edit]

Following his father's assassination, Alexander III was advised that it would be difficult for him to be kept safe at the Winter Palace. As a result, Alexander relocated his family to Gatchina Palace, located twenty miles south of St. Petersburg, making it his primary residence. Under heavy guard, he would make occasional visits into St. Petersburg, but even then, he would stay in the Anichkov Palace, as opposed to the Winter Palace.

In the 1860s, Alexander, fell madly in love with his mothers lady-in-waiting, Princess Maria Elimovna Meshcherskaya. Dismayed to learn that Prince Wittgenstein had made her a proposal in spring 1866, he told his parents that he was prepared to give up his rights to the sovereignty in order to marry his beloved “Dusenka.” On 19 May 1866, Alexander II informed his son that Russia had come to an agreement with the parents of Princess Dagmar of Denmark, his tenth cousin. Before then, she had been the fiancée of his elder brother Nicholas, who died in 1865. But Alexander refused to travel to Copenhagen, declaring that he did not love Dagmar and wanted to marry Maria. The emperor flew into a rage and ordered Alexander to go straight to Denmark and propose to Princess Dagmar. The tsarevich realised that he was not a free man and that duty had to come first. The only thing left to do was to write in his diary “Farewell, dear Dusenka.” Maria was forced to leave Russia, accompanied by her aunt, Princess Chernyshova. Almost a year after her first appearance in Paris, Pavel Pavlovich Demidov, 2nd Prince of San Donato, fell in love with her and the couple married in 1867. Maria died giving birth to a child Elim Pavlovich Demidov, 3rd Prince of San Donato. Alexander’s reaction to the news of her death and the birth of her child is unknown.

Alexander was happily married to Maria Feodorovna (formerly Princess Dagmar of Denmark), and was the father of six children, five of whom survived into adulthood: Nicholas (b. 1868), George (b. 1871), Xenia (b. 1875), Michael (1878) and Olga (b. 1882). Of his five surviving children, he was closest to his youngest two.

Each summer, his parents-in-law, King Christian IX and Queen Louise, held family reunions at the Danish royal palaces of Fredensborg and Bernstorff, bringing Alexander, Maria and their children to Denmark.[4] His sister-in-law, the Princess of Wales, would come from England with some of her children, and his brother-in-law, King George I of Greece, his wife, Queen Olga, who was a first cousin of Alexander and a Romanov Grand Duchess by birth, came with their children from Athens.[4] In contrast to the strict security observed in Russia, Alexander and Maria reveled in the relative freedom that they enjoyed in Denmark, Alexander once commenting to Prince and Princess of Wales near the end of a visit that he envied them, being able to return to a happy home in England, when he was returning to his Russian prison.[5] In Denmark, he was able to enjoy joining his children in muddy ponds looking for tadpoles, sneaking into his father-in-law's orchard to steal apples, and playing pranks, such as turning a water hose on the visiting King Oscar II of Sweden.[5]

As tsarevich, and then as tsar, Alexander had an extremely poor relationship with his brother Grand Duke Vladimir. This tension was reflected in rivalry between Maria Feodorovna and Vladimir's wife, Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna.[6] Alexander had better relationships with his other brothers: Alexei (whom he made rear admiral and then a grand admiral of the Russian Navy), Sergei (whom he made governor of Moscow) and Paul.

Despite the antipathy that Alexander had towards his father's second wife, Catherine Dolgorukov, he nevertheless allowed her to remain in the Winter Palace for some time after his father's assassination and to retain various keepsakes of him. These included Alexander II's blood-soaked uniform that he died wearing, and his reading glasses.[7]

Illness and death[edit]

In 1894, Alexander III became ill with incurable kidney disease (nephritis). In the fall of 1894, Maria Feodorovna's sister-in-law, Queen Olga of Greece, offered her villa of Mon Repos, on the island of Corfu, in the hope that it might improve the Tsar's condition.[8] However, by the time that they reached the Crimean imperial palace of Livadia, Alexander was too weak to travel any further.[9] Recognizing that the Tsar's life was moving towards its close, various imperial relatives began to descend on Livadia. Even the famed clergyman, John of Kronstadt, paid a visit and served the Tsar communion.[10] On October 21, Alexander received Nicholas's fiancee, Princess Alix, who had come from her native Darmstadt to receive the Tsar's blessing.[11] Despite being exceedingly weak, Alexander insisted on receiving Alix in full dress uniform, an event that left him exhausted.[12] Soon after, his health began to rapidly deteriorate. He died at Livadia on the afternoon of 1 November [O.S. 20 October] 1894, at the age of forty-nine, in the arms of his wife, and was succeeded by his eldest son, Tsarevich Nicholas, who took the throne as Nicholas II. After leaving Livadia on November 6, and traveling to St. Petersburg by way of Moscow, his remains were interred on November 18 at the Peter and Paul Fortress.

Issue[edit]

Alexander III with his wife and their children

Alexander III had six children of his marriage with Princess Dagmar of Denmark, also known as Marie Feodorovna.

(NB. all dates prior to 1918 are in Old Style Calendar)

Name Birth Death Notes
Emperor Nicholas II 6 May 1868 17 July 1918 married 1894, Princess Alix of Hesse; had issue
Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich 7 June 1869 2 May 1870 died of meningitis
Grand Duke George Alexandrovich 9 May 1871 9 August 1899 died of tuberculosis; no issue
Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna 6 April 1875 20 April 1960 married 1894, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich Romanov; had issue
Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich 22 November 1878 c.12 June 1918 married 1912, Natalya Sergeyevna Wulffert; had issue
Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna 13 June 1882 24 November 1960 married first, Peter Friedrich Georg, Duke of Oldenburg; had no issue.

married second, Nikolai Kulikovsky; had issue

Ancestors[edit]

Monuments[edit]

In 1909 a bronze equestrian statue of Alexander III sculpted by Paolo Troubetzkoy was placed in Znamenskaya Square in front of the Moscow Rail Terminal in St. Petersburg. Both the horse and rider were sculpted in massive form, leading to the nickname of "hippopotamus". Following the Revolution of 1917 the statue remained in place as a symbol of tsarist autocracy until 1937 when it was placed in storage. In 1994 it was again put on public display, in front of the Marble Palace.[13] Another memorial is located in the city of Irkutsk at the Angara embankment.

Estonia.Pullapää.Statue dedicated to the Russian Emperor Alexander III

Titles, styles and Arms[edit]

Styles of
Alexander III of Russia
Coat of Arms of Russian Empire
Reference style His Imperial Majesty
Spoken style Your Imperial Majesty
Alternative style Sir

Titles and styles[edit]

  • 10 March 1845 – 2 March 1865: His Imperial Highness Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich of Russia
  • 2 March 1865 – 13 March 1881: His Imperial Highness The Tsarevitch of Russia
  • 13 March 1881 – 1 November 1894: His Imperial Majesty The Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias

Arms[edit]

Lesser CoA of the empire of Russia

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Van Der Kiste, John The Romanovs: 1818–1959 (Sutton Publishing, 2003) p. 94
  2. ^ "This day, May 15, in Jewish history". Cleveland Jewish News. 
  3. ^ Van Der Kiste, John The Romanovs: 1818–1959 (Sutton Publishing; 2003) p. 162
  4. ^ a b Van Der Kiste, John The Romanovs: 1818–1959 (Sutton Publishing, 2003), p. 151
  5. ^ a b Van Der Kiste, p. 152
  6. ^ Van Der Kiste, p. 141
  7. ^ Van Der Kiste, p. 118
  8. ^ King, Greg The Court of the Last Tsar: Pomp, Power and Pageantry in the Reign of Nicholas II (John Wiley & Sons, 2006) p. 325
  9. ^ King, p. 325
  10. ^ John Perry & Constantine Pleshakov The Flight of the Romanovs: a Family Saga (Basic Books, 1999) p. 62
  11. ^ King, p. 326
  12. ^ King, p. 327
  13. ^ Figures, Orlando. A People's Tragedy. p. 15. ISBN 0-7126-7327-X. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • John F. Hutchinson, Late Imperial Russia: 1890–1917
  • Charles Lowe, Alexander III of Russia

External links[edit]

Alexander III of Russia
Cadet branch of the House of Oldenburg
Born: 10 March 1845 Died: 1 November 1894
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Alexander II
Emperor of Russia
Grand Duke of Finland

1881–1894
Succeeded by
Nicholas II