The 8 Blackest Myths about Last Russian Tsar Nicholas II: Myth 1

There are more myths about Nicholas II—the last Russian tsar—than about any other tsar in history. Was he a naive fool or a criminal? Or a true saint?

This article from our archives was first published on RI in September 2017

There are more myths about Nicholas II—the last Russian tsar—than about any other tsar in history. What really happened? Was the tsar really sluggish and weak-willed? Was he brutally cruel? Could he have won World War I? Was he actually a saint?

In Russia and in the world, negative stereotypes about Nicholas II have been repeated so often that they are now commonly "known" "knowledge". People accept them, meekly and unarguably, as fact. But in the last few decades, extended research about the Tsar has revealed that most of the widespread beliefs about him are blatantly wrong. 

A Russian website recently published a long, fascinating article (in Russian) by renown Russian historian Gleb Eliseev. It names eight myths about Nicholas II. We decided to relay it to you in a series of short weekly articles. And so, without much further ado, here's Myth 1. 

The Myth of the “Weak Tsar”

The most common insult thrust at Nicholas II is that he was pathetic, weak-willed and overall incapable of governing.

Solzhenitsyn famously wrote: “Weak tsar – he betrayed us.”

Yet, in reality, from the moment Nicholas became Emperor, he was surrounded by such systemic hate, slander, and anger that what’s striking is not his mistakes, but how much he managed to do. For example, did you know that he initiated the global peace conference which proposed a program of global peace and disarmament instead of the active preparation for war and violence that European governments were going through in the years leading up to World War I? 

Taking into account the toxic historical environment that surrounded him and sheer fact, there is no historical evidence that Nicholas was a "weak" ruler. 

Yes, Nicholas II was afraid that he was unready to govern after his fathers’ unforeseen death. But after a brief period of doubt, he quickly regained confidence and governed competently and intelligently for  22 years, until he fell victim to a conspiracy of top officials. 

He governed until the cloud “treason, cowardice, and deceit" around him, as he noted in his diary on March 2, 1917, became so thick that governing became impossible. Information was purposely withheld from him or misrepresented; the conspirators did everything to project a skewed, demonized image of the tsar. For more about this conspiracy, read this article.

The myth of “weakness” was deliberately fabricated for Soviet textbooks, and although both Russian immigrant historians and contemporary historians have rejected it, the belief has become rooted in the public consciousness.  

For Myth #2, click here

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