Alexander III, the second-to-last Romanov tsar, was responsible for conservative reforms in Russia. Never meant to be emperor, he was educated in matters of state only after the death of his older brother, Nikolai. This lack of extensive education may have influenced his politics as well as those of his son, Nicholas II.
Alexander III – Legendary Size and Strength
Alexander III cut an impressive figure. Not only was he tall (6’4” according to some sources), but his physique was proportionately large. Rumors spread about his incredible strength – a strength that was the size of his temper. In addition, the beard he wore hearkened back to the likeness of tsars of old, contributing to the aura of authority with which he carried himself.
Alexander III – Unexpected Monarch
Alexander Romanov was not initially intended for the throne. It was his older brother, Nikolai, who was to follow in Alexander II’s footsteps as Emperor of Russia. Due to these circumstances, Alexander was not educated to the same degree as a he would have been had be been born tsarevich. In 1881, his father was assassinated, and Alexander ascended the throne as Alexander III. Alexander would begin a reign where conservative policies were instituted despite their unpopularity.
Alexander III – Marriage and Children
Alexander III married his older brother’s betrothed, Princess Dagmar of Denmark, who would later be known as Marie Feodorovna. The tsar was said to be extremely loyal to his wife and morally conscientious, his only vice being vodka. He was disdainful of the blatant adultery his father undertook in the presence of his mother within the walls of the Winter Palace.
Nicholas, their oldest child, born in 1868, was destined to become tsar. Five children followed Nicholas – two sons and two daughters.
Alexander III – Conservative Politics
Not only did Alexander III emulate the physical style of the tsars of old, but his policies were conservative as well. Repression was his main mode of operation. Though some Russification policies were popular, Alexander III’s desire to maintain traditional peasant life made some fear that a return to serfdom would be the next step for the common people.
Alexander III – Influence on Nicholas II
Alexander III had a stronger temperament than his son, Nicholas, who was unenthused about becoming Emperor of Russia. However, Alexander passed on certain ideas about autocracy that Nicholas inherited and became to believe in, even when it served him poorly. Nicholas idolized his father, attempting to rule Russia in a similar manner. Nicholas even had a sculpture of Alexander III commissioned.
Some historians believe that, had Alexander III lived beyond 1894, Nicholas would have been better prepared to ascend the throne. As it was, Nicholas II accepted the crown in much the same way his father had, knowing too little about the empire he inherited.
Etty, John. “Alexander III, Tsar of Russia 1881-1889.” History Review, 2008, Issue 60.
Lieven, Dominic. Nicholas II: Twilight of the Empire. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1993.
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