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Czar Alexander II assassinated in St. Petersburg

Czar Alexander II assassinated in St. Petersburg

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Czar Alexander II, the ruler of Russia since 1855, is killed in the streets of St. Petersburg by a bomb thrown by a member of the revolutionary “People’s Will” group. The People’s Will, organized in 1879, employed terrorism and assassination in their attempt to overthrow Russia’s czarist autocracy. They murdered officials and made several attempts on the czar’s life before finally assassinating him on March 13, 1881.

As czar, Alexander did much to liberalize and modernize Russia, including the abolishment of serfdom in 1861. However, when his authority was challenged, he turned repressive, and he vehemently opposed movements for political reform. Ironically, on the very day he was killed, he signed a proclamation—the so-called Loris-Melikov constitution—that would have created two legislative commissions made up of indirectly elected representatives.

He was succeeded by his 36-year-old son, Alexander III, who rejected the Loris-Melikov constitution. Alexander II’s assassins were arrested and hanged, and the People’s Will was thoroughly suppressed. The peasant revolution advocated by the People’s Will was achieved by Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik revolutionaries in 1917.

READ MORE: The Mysterious Fate of the Romanov Family's Prized Easter Egg Collection

"Mutual bitterness": how the assassination of Alexander II changed the history of Russia

140 years ago, Russian Emperor Alexander II was mortally wounded as a result of an assassination attempt by members of the Narodnaya Volya organization. The king survived several assassination attempts, but an attack with the use of explosive devices in March 1881 proved fatal for him. According to historians, the death of Alexander II dramatically slowed down democratic reforms in the Russian Empire.

On March 13, 1881, members of the illegal organization Narodnaya Volya committed a terrorist attack that led to the death of the Russian Emperor Alexander II.

Earlier, the tsar survived several assassination attempts by various revolutionary associations.

"Why are they following me . "

Alexander II went down in the history of Russia as a reformer tsar.

He eliminated military settlements and serfdom, reformed the education system, courts, administrative and army bodies, abolished recruitment into the troops and introduced universal military service.

However, despite the reforms, there were many dissatisfied with the activities of the emperor.

According to historians, the former serfs were not satisfied with the half-heartedness of the peasant reform, the Polish nationalists were dissatisfied with the suppression of the uprising of 1863-1864 by the tsarist troops, and the representatives of the populist movement were dissatisfied with social inequality in Russian society.

“The Narodniks said that the peasant reform was unfair and demanded its correction.

They also advocated the democratization of public life, the ability to legally defend their own opinions, "said Vitaly Zakharov, professor at Moscow State Pedagogical University, Doctor of Historical Sciences, in a conversation with RT.

As Leonid Lyashenko, professor of the Department of Russian History at Moscow State Pedagogical University, noted, the Narodniks were worried about the development of capitalist relations in the Russian Empire, which led to the collapse of the peasant community, which they considered the future cell of socialist society.

In addition, according to Vitaly Zakharov, mutual bitterness arose against the background of the confrontation between the police structures and the radical opposition.

“Initially, many populists advocated peaceful forms of struggle, going to the people, but faced with pressure, they began to incline towards terror.

Mutual bitterness that existed in society led to tragedies, ”Zakharov emphasized.

At the same time, Leonid Lyashenko points out logical contradictions in the actions of the revolutionaries.

“Alexander II was one of the most humane Russian monarchs, close to the people and accessible to ordinary people.

The radical populists believed that the assassination of the emperor would lead to revolution and the establishment of a socialist system in Russia.

Killing the tsar, in their opinion, was the same as giving a signal for a nationwide revolution, ”the expert noted.

In 1866, former student Dmitry Karakozov, who shared the views of the populists, made the first known attempt on Alexander II.

He shot at the monarch, but did not hit, as he was pushed by a peasant who was nearby.

Karakozov explained his act by the fact that the tsar had offended the peasantry.

By a court decision, the one who attempted to kill the emperor was hanged.

In 1867, during the visit of Alexander II to France, the Polish emigrant Anton Berezovsky tried to shoot him.

But one of the security officers interfered with the attacker.

The French authorities sent Berezovsky into exile on the island of New Caledonia.

Assassination attempt on the emperor on June 6, 1867.

Sheet number 14 from the newspaper "d'Epinal"

In 1879, Alexander Solovyov, a member of the "Land and Freedom" organization, shot at the Russian emperor, but missed.

A little later, the Narodnaya Volya organization, which broke away from Earth and Freedom, tried to blow up the imperial train.

There were three groups of demolition workers at once.

However, in the first case, the train went along a different road, in the second, the mine did not go off, and in the third, the participants in the terrorist attack were able to blow up only the train carrying the imperial baggage.

Upon learning of what had happened, Alexander II said: “What do they have against me, these unfortunates?

Why are they following me like a wild beast?

After all, I have always tried to do everything in my power for the good of the people! "

An explosion on the line of the Moscow-Kursk railway.

After the crash of the suite train

In 1880, Narodnaya Volya staged an explosion in the Winter Palace, but none of the highest government officials was injured.

11 soldiers were killed, and about 80 more were injured.

“The assassination attempts on Alexander II were associated with the growth of revolutionary activity in the country.

Under Nicholas I, it practically did not exist.

And against the background of great reforms, it arose in the light of the growth of public activity in general.

The supporters of terror, as a maximum, wanted to arrange a revolutionary explosion, and at least to intimidate the authorities, ”Yevgeny Pchelov, associate professor of the Russian State Humanitarian University, said in an interview with RT.

The death of the reformer

The preparation of the assassination attempts on Alexander II, behind which was "Narodnaya Volya", was led by a member of the executive committee of the organization Andrei Zhelyabov.

After failures to blow up a train and an explosion in the Winter Palace, he decided to prepare for regicide more thoroughly.

The People's Will decided to blow up the imperial carriage with a mine planted on Malaya Sadovaya Street in St. Petersburg, and if the mine did not work, they would throw a bomb into the carriage.

In an extreme case, Zhelyabov was going to personally stab the tsar with a dagger.

The technical part of the assassination attempt was handled by the designer Nikolai Kibalchich, who made projectile explosive devices for the terrorists.

To lay a mine on Malaya Sadovaya, the Narodnaya Volya members rented a cheese shop located in the basement and made a tunnel out of it.

A local janitor reported to law enforcement agencies that suspicious individuals were renting the retail space, but the police did not find any signs of preparation for the attack.

And yet, the secret services almost thwarted the assassination attempt.

A number of Narodnaya Volya members, including Zhelyabov, were arrested on the eve of the attack on the Tsar.

Alexander II himself was warned that his life was in danger, but he did not want to take any measures in this regard.

After Zhelyabov's arrest, his common-law wife Sofya Perovskaya, the 27-year-old daughter of Lev Perovsky, a member of the council of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the former governor of St. Petersburg, took over the preparations for the assassination attempt.

Ten years earlier, she was carried away by revolutionary ideas and broke off relations with her father.

The attack on the king was scheduled for March 13, 1881.

On this day, Alexander II was accompanied by an ordinary convoy: six mounted Cossacks, Chief of Police Colonel Andrian Dvozhitsky, Head of the Security Guard of the Separate Gendarme Corps Captain Karl Koch and the commander of the Life Guards of the Terek Cossack Squadron of His Majesty's own convoy, Captain Pyotr Kulebyakin.

Assassination of Alexander II

The plan to detonate the mine did not work.

The tsar decided to go not along Malaya Sadovaya, but along the embankment of the Catherine Canal.

Perovskaya ordered the participants in the assassination attempt with throwing bombs to meet the imperial convoy on a new route.

The explosion of the first bomb thrown in the direction of the carriage did not cause any damage to the king.

The guards tried to take Alexander II away from the scene of the attack, but he refused, wishing to look at the terrorist and talk to the people wounded by the explosion.

Then an explosive device at the king was thrown by another of the participants in the assassination attempts, Ignatius Grinevitsky.

The explosion shattered the emperor's legs.

The king was taken to the palace without bandaging him or even clamping the damaged arteries.

As a result of profuse blood loss, the monarch died a few hours later.

Today, there is an opinion among historians that in case of timely medical assistance, Alexander II could be saved.

The murderer of the tsar, Grinevitsky, also received mortal wounds as a result of the explosion.

In addition, nine people from the royal convoy and ten bystanders were injured.

One of the imperial guards and a boy who was not far from the explosion site were killed.

Five participants in the assassination attempt, including Perovskaya and Kibalchich, were soon arrested.

Having learned about the incident, Zhelyabov, who was already in custody, admitted that he was preparing the assassination attempt, and said that he wanted to speak at the trial.

Participants in the regicide were sentenced to death and soon hanged.

Only one of them, Gesya Gelfman, received a reprieve due to pregnancy.

Kibalchich, Perovskaya and Zhelyabov at trial

According to Leonid Lyashenko, the death of Alexander II played a negative role in the history of Russia.

“The assassination thwarted the planned changes in the political life of the country.

Alexander has already approved a project on the creation of new editorial commissions, which were supposed to prepare laws that would involve the creation of a pre-parliament and a pre-constitution.

This was a small step towards abandoning autocracy.

But as a result of the death of the emperor, this process was slowed down, and Alexander III turned to the well-known path of building a patriarchal state.

We had to forget about all the changes that could completely change the history of Russia after the death of Alexander II, ”Lyashenko summed up.

Czar Alexander II Is Assassinated

Czar Alexander II, the leader of Russia, was assassinated in St. Petersburg when a bomb was thrown into his carriage. Alexander II had assumed the throne in 1855 following his father Nicholas I and was a more liberal-minded leader than his predecessor. He relaxed some of the restrictions placed against the Jews of Russia by his father, including abolishing the Cantonist system of Russification which had been established in 1827. The Cantonist system forced Jewish males, ages 12-18, away from their families into a program of Russian and Christian education in preparation for a 25-year military conscription. Jewish leaders had to supply a quota of youth and even hired kidnappers to take children as young as eight to meet the demands. Alexander II also allowed some Jews to live outside of the area known as the Pale of Settlement, the 472,000 square mile region that comprised most of today’s countries of Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, in which Jews had been restricted to living beginning in 1835. Moving outside the Pale resulted in the development of Jewish communities in Moscow and St. Petersburg. As a result of these policies, many Jews became more involved in the cultural and intellectual life of Russia.

The assassination of Czar Alexander II became a major turning point in Jewish history. A month later, a wave of pogroms – systematic or sporadic attacks against Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues – spread throughout the southwestern areas of the Russian Empire and affected hundreds of Jewish communities. The new Czar, Alexander III, blamed his father’s liberal policies for his assassination and moved to consolidate his power into an absolute autocracy.

An investigation into the cause of the pogroms found that the Jews “have succeeded in exploiting the main body of the population, particularly the poor, hence arousing them to a protest, which has found distressing expression in acts of violence.” (H.H Ben Sasson, A History of the Jewish People, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976, p. 882.) In May 1882, a series of laws, known as the May Laws, were passed which further restricted Jews to living in the Pale of Settlement and prohibited Jews from living outside of larger cities and towns, owning real estate, leasing land, and operating their businesses on Sundays or other Christian holidays. A dark period for Jews in Russia began.

The result of the pogroms and policy shift led to a reexamination of Jewish life in Eastern Europe and the future for Jews in Russia. Approximately 2.3 million Jews left Russia between 1881 and 1930 with the great majority coming to the United States, North and South American, South Africa and Australia. Other Jews began to turn towards self-defense and the concept of Jewish self-determination, leading to the origins of the Zionist movement. This anti-Semitic wave led Jews to the conclusion that only by taking destiny into their own hands could they protect their own well-being. That meant going to places where freedom and liberty might be practiced or building their own place for guaranteeing those rights. The need for a Jewish territory was further reinforced after a second wave of pogroms began in 1903 and once again as result of the Holocaust more than three decades later.

The photo shows a home that was vandalized in the Kishinev pogrom in April 1903.

Revolutionary Jews were the earliest and best practitioners of terror and still are (i.e. 9-11). Valuldas Aneluskas describes how they assassinated the beloved Czar Alexander II in 1881. They went on to assassinate two Interior Ministers in 1902 and 1904 and the Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin in 1911. The victims were all reformers but the revolutionary Jewish agenda was never reform it was Communist tyranny. Reform would have robbed them of their excuse to enslave, murder and plunder.
— Henry Makow

Zionism & Russia

by Valuldas Anelauskas
(Excerpt by henrymakow.com)

In Russian revolutionary history, the eventful years of 1879-81 inaugurated what is generally known as the decade of Narodnaya Volya. While Chernyj Peredel was fighting for its survival, Narodnaya Volya [People’s Will] initiated a string of terrorist operations which culminated in the assassination of Alexander II in 1881.

When the People’s Will decided to assassinate Alexander II, first they attempted to use nitroglycerine to destroy the Tsar’s train. The Moscow railroad explosion of 19 November 1879 was part of Narodnaya Volya’s first systematic, though unsuccessful, assassination project against the Tsar.

Three Jews were directly involved: Savelii Zlatopolskii, Grigorii Goldenberg and Aizik Aronchik. The project was designed to kill Alexander II on his return trip by rail from the Crimea to St. Petersburg by mining the tracks at three different locations: near Odessa, Alexandrovsk, and Moscow. However, the terrorist miscalculated and it destroyed another train instead. An attempt to blow up the Kamenny Bridge in St. Petersburg as the Tsar was passing over it was also unsuccessful.

The next attempt on Alexander’s life involved a carpenter who had managed to find work in the Winter Palace. Allowed to sleep on the premises, each day he brought packets of dynamite into his room and concealed it in his bedding. He constructed a mine in the basement of the building under the dinning-room. The mine went off at half past six at the time that the People’s Will had calculated Alexander would be having his dinner. However, his main guest, Prince Alexander of Battenburg, had arrived late and dinner was delayed and the dinning-room was empty. Alexander was unharmed but sixty-seven people were killed or badly wounded by the explosion. The People’s Will contacted the Russian government and claimed they would call off the terror campaign if the Russian people were granted a constitution that provided free elections and an end to censorship.

On 25th February, 1880, Alexander II announced that he was considering granting the Russian people a constitution. To show his good will a number of political 14 prisoners were released from prison. Count Michael Tarielovitch Loris-Melikoff, the Minister of the Interior, was given the task of devising a constitution that would satisfy the reformers but at the same time preserve the powers of the autocracy.

Nevertheless, the People’s Will began to make plans for another assassination attempt. In 1881 a plot hatched in the home of the Jewess, Hesia Helfman, was successful. On 1st March, 1881, Alexander II was travelling in a closed carriage, from Michaelovsky Palace to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. An armed Cossack sat with the coach-driver and another six Cossacks followed on horseback. Behind them came a group of police officers in sledges. All along the route he was watched by members of the People’s Will. On a street corner near the Catherine Canal terrorists threw their bombs at the Tsar’s carriage.

The bombs missed the carriage and instead landed amongst the Cossacks. The Tsar was unhurt but insisted on getting out of the carriage to check the condition of the injured men. While he was standing with the wounded Cossacks another terrorist threw his bomb. Alexander was killed instantly and the explosion was so great that terrorist himself also died from the bomb blast.

Alexander II, left, was blown up and so ended an era. The Czar Alexander II was actually so loved by the common Russian people (because he was such a reformer) that after his death there was built an incredibly beautiful church right on the spot where he was murdered and that church was given the name “Spas na Krovi”, which means “Saviour on Blood.”

Now, what, in fact, was the Jewish role in the terrorism of Narodnaya Volya during its most volatile period of activity in 1879-81? What precisely was the contribution of Jews to the terrorism of Volya, which claimed the life of Alexander II in 1881 and frightened the Russian government throughout the 1880s? The conventional answer has been that Jews contributed next to nothing to the momentous surge of Populist terrorism.

….As Narodnaya Volya’s most reliable and capable keeper of conspiratorial quarters, [Jewess] Gesia Helfman had been in charge of managing the operational base for the 1 March attempt. [Haberer,Jews and Revolution in Nineteenth-Century Russia, p.198]

As R. M. Kantor wrote, it was therefore in “the preparation and speedy execution of this terrorist act … that Helfman made a vital contribution within her unique sphere of competence.” The assassination of Alexander II on 1 March 1881 was the momentous event, the final result of two years of systematic terrorist activity that witnessed Jewish participation in almost all its facets, calls for an assessment of the role of Jews in a party committed to regicide. [Haberer, Jews and Revolution in Nineteenth-Century Russia, p.198]


[The assassination] restored the ideal condition depicted by Moses Hess (one of the earliest Zionist propagandists) in the year following the liberation of the serfs: “We Jews shall always remain strangers among the nations these, it is true, will grant us rights from feelings of humanity and justice, but they will never respect us so long as we place our great memories in the second rank and accept as our first principle, ‘Where I flourish, there is my country’.” [Quoted in Douglas Reed, The Controversy of Zion(Durban, South Africa: Dolphin Press, 1978), p.196]

During this period Leon Pinsker, another herald of Zionism, published his book Auto-Emancipation. The title was a threat (to the initiated) it meant, “We will not accept any kind of emancipation bestowed on us by others we will emancipate ourselves and will give ’emancipation’ our own interpretation.”

He said, “There is an inexorable and inescapable conflict between humans known as Jews and other humans”, and he described the master-method to be used to bring about this “self-emancipation” and to “restore the Jewish nation”: the struggle to achieve these ends, he said, “must be entered upon in such a spirit as to exert an irresistible pressure upon the international politics of the present.” [Quoted in Reed, The Controversy of Zion, p.196] .

The reaction to the assassination of Alexander II was, of course, instantaneous and far reaching. There was a widespread belief in and out of the government, that if the Jews were dissatisfied with the rule of even Alexander II — whom many people in Russia and abroad had described as “the most benevolent prince that ever ruled Russia” — then they would be satisfied with nothing less than outright domination of Russia.

What can you see at the Church on Spilled Blood today?

  • The exterior: A magnificent combination of decorative elements celebrating the heritage of the Russian Empire, with mosaic coats-of-arms of Russian cities and provinces, beautiful stone carvings, and cupolas embellished with gold and jewellers&rsquo enamel
  • The interior: Entirely adorned in mosaic from floor to ceiling, the church interior is the world&rsquos largest mosaic collection. A canopy made from rare and precious stones protects the spot where Alexander II was bombed

The Exterior

The church&rsquos exterior incorporates layers of decorative elements into one unique project celebrating Russia&rsquos heritage. Every inch is covered with glazed tiles, ornamental corbels and architraves, carved archways and columns, and semi-circular kokoshniks containing colourful mosaics. Engravings on 20 granite plaques retell the most important events of Alexander&rsquos reign.

The magnificent bell tower is covered in 134 mosaics representing the coats-of-arms of the Russian cities and provinces which donated towards the church&rsquos construction. Pride of place on the bell tower is an icon of Saint Alexander Nevsky, after who the fallen Tsar was named. Directly below the gilded belfry lies the spot where Alexander II was wounded. Five other cupolas are covered in 1000 square meters of jewellers&rsquo enamel in blue, green, white and yellow, arranged in different patterns. The tallest dome reaches a height of 81 metres!

The Church on Spilled Blood Tour

Discover the Spilt Blood Church for yourself on one of our tours. We carefully tailor our excursions and hand-pick our tour guides so that your visit is both fascinating and stress-free.

The Interior

Upon entrance to the cathedral you are immediately struck by colour on every side. Icon cases around the room are made of porphyry, jasper and quartz, the floor comprises 10 types of coloured marble arranged into 45 geometric patterns, and each wall is supported by snakeskin-like serpentinite or iridescent labradorite. The iconostasis is made from warm coloured marble and gleaming silver, inset with mosaic icons and precious stones.

A wall of mosaic covers every inch of the cathedral&rsquos interior, masterfully created by the workshop of craftsman Vladimir Frolov. The artwork depicts religious narratives and figures as well as natural motifs. This was the first time that mosaic provided the primary decorative method of a Russian church. Designed to be viewed from a distance and using an incredibly rich array of shades, some of the mosaics are startlingly realistic and accurately capture the light, colour and emotion of the scenes they depict.

Did you know? There are 7,500 square metres of mosaic in the Church on Spilled Blood. This is the largest mosaic collection in the world.

A canopy made from jasper, rhodonite, topaz and lapis lazuli protects the exact spot where Alexander fell. Inside the canopy are the original cobblestones and pavement of the assassination site. Although the canopy itself is sombre and dark, the mosaics surrounding it are set into a gold background which glows in the light streaming through the windows.

What&rsquos nearby?

  • Nevsky Prospekt: St Petersburg&rsquos main thoroughfare, lined with beautiful buildings and perfect for strolling, shopping and exploring
  • The Russian Museum: The world&rsquos largest collection of Russian artwork, located in a former palace.
  • Mikhailovsky Gardens: Historic landscape garden bordered by the Church on Spilled Blood, Russian Museum and River Moyka.
  • Palace Square: St Petersburg&rsquos main square, home to the Hermitage Museum and General Staff Building.

Essential information for visitors

Address and Contact Details:
Griboedov Canal Embankment, 2B
Metro: Nevsky Prospect (500m), Admiralteyskaya (1.2km)
Website: http://cathedral.ru/ru/spas/building

Opening Hours:
From May 1st till September 30th 10:30 &ndash 22:30. Closed Wednesdays.
From October 1st till April 30th 10:30 - 18:00. Closed Wednesdays.
Last entrance is an hour before closing.


Left: Sofia Perovskaya, who became the first female political execution in Russia, for the assassination of Tsar Alexander II.

Sofia Perovskaya became known as the first female regicide executed in Russia. She was closely involved in the assassination of a Romanov Tsar: Alexander II – the grandfather of Nicholas II.

Born in 1853 in St. Petersburg, Perovskaya was the daughter of Lev Perovsky, a customs official, and later governor of St. Petersburg.

In 1869, Perovskaya entered Alachinsky Women’s College, where she was initially introduced to revolutionary ideas. By the end of 1870 she left home and became completely estranged from her family.

In the next couple of years Perovskaya was among the organizers of the “Tchaikovsky group”, then worked as a teacher in Tver province. Along with friends she “went to the people”, trying to educate the peasants. In 1873, Perovskaya returned to St. Petersburg, where she rented a “conspirators” apartment, conducting propaganda among the workers. In early 1874, she was arrested during a bust of the “Tchaikovsky group”, and imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress. After a short stay she was released on bail to her father’s care.

In the next few years, after having completed first aid courses, Perovskaya worked in the Simferopol district hospital, and again “went to the people” in the Samara and Simbirsk provinces. In 1877 she was again arrested, and this time went on trial, was acquitted but sent into administrative exile in Olonets province. On the way there, she escaped at the railway station and went underground.

Sofia Perovskaya, assassin of Tsar Alexander II.

As a member of “The Land and Freedom” organization, Perovskaya later joined “Narodnaya Volya” (“The People’s Will”), where she took active part in two failed assassination attempts on Tsar Alexander II: one outside of Moscow (November 1879) and the other in Odessa (Spring 1880).

Perovskaya was initially a close friend, then common-law wife of another member of “Narodnaya Volya”, Alexander Zhelyabov. In 1881, after his sudden arrest, Perovskaya led the group which succeeded in the 1881 assassination of Alexander II.

Perovskaya was arrested in March 1881, and sentenced to death. On 3 (15) April of 1881 she was hung on the Semyonov Square in St. Petersburg, along with Zhelyabov, Kibalchich, Mikhailov, and Rysakov. She became the first woman in Russia to be executed for a political cause.

Will DNA Tests Finally Settle Controversy Surrounding Russia's Last Czars?

Czar Nicholas II is shown with his family in the 1910s. All were executed shortly after the 1917 Russian Revolution. Remains of the czar, his wife, Alexandra (top right) and their children — Olga (from left), Maria, Anastasia, Alexei and Tatiana — have all been identified. Now the Russian Orthodox Church has ordered new DNA tests to confirm the identities of Maria and Alexei. Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images hide caption

Czar Nicholas II is shown with his family in the 1910s. All were executed shortly after the 1917 Russian Revolution. Remains of the czar, his wife, Alexandra (top right) and their children — Olga (from left), Maria, Anastasia, Alexei and Tatiana — have all been identified. Now the Russian Orthodox Church has ordered new DNA tests to confirm the identities of Maria and Alexei.

Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Russian investigators have opened the tomb of 19th century Czar Alexander III in search of evidence that may help confirm the remains of his grandchildren, who were executed shortly after the Russian Revolution.

Alexander III, who went by the title "Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias," died in 1894. His reign was conservative and repressive, and may have spurred the discontent that eventually engulfed his son, Czar Nicholas II, in revolution.

The powerful Russian Orthodox Church requested Alexander's exhumation to establish DNA records of the royal house that was wiped out by the 1917 revolution.

According to the church, the investigation should establish — once and for all — the identity of remains believed to be those of Nicholas II, his wife, Alexandra, and their five children.

The entire family was executed by Bolshevik revolutionaries in 1918, but their burial place remained a mystery until 1991, when skeletal remains were found in a forest near Yekaterinburg, Russia. DNA tests at the time identified the family, but questions and uncertainty lingered, especially among Orthodox believers outside of Russia.

Czar Alexander III and his wife, Maria Feodorovna, posed for a photo in about 1885 with their children, including Nicholas II, the future czar, standing in back. Alexander went by the title "Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias." His reign was conservative and repressive. Universal History Archive/Getty Images hide caption

Czar Alexander III and his wife, Maria Feodorovna, posed for a photo in about 1885 with their children, including Nicholas II, the future czar, standing in back. Alexander went by the title "Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias." His reign was conservative and repressive.

Universal History Archive/Getty Images

Many of them felt the process was too secretive, and they were unconvinced that the remains were really those of Nicholas, Alexandra and their daughters. A comparison with Alexander III's DNA could establish the family's genetic links from the grandfather through his children and grandchildren.

Many people thought the controversy was resolved in 1998, when the remains were given an imperial funeral, under political pressure, in a fortress in St. Petersburg.

Coffins said to contain the remains of Nicholas, Alexandra and three of their daughters were displayed on a dais, as incense wafted through the cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul.

Gold-clad priests led prayers for the souls of the deceased — but the church itself was never entirely convinced that the remains were genuine.

"The identification that was made in the '90s considering the czar and his wife and some of his children actually was not recognized by the church," says Vakhtang Kipshidze, a church spokesman.

Among other things, he says, the church didn't consider the process of identifying the remains transparent enough.

The issue was complicated further in 2007, with the discovery of two more sets of remains in the woods in Yetkaterinburg, not far from the first burial place.

These were identified as Nicholas' younger children, Crown Prince Alexei and the Grand Duchess Maria. But identification was difficult because their killers had tried to destroy the corpses by dousing them with acid and then burning them.

Many Russian scientists and historians believe the remains are authentic, based on letters and reports from the revolutionaries themselves at the time of the executions and DNA tests carried out after the remains were found.

Some, like historian Yevgeny Pchelov, are uncomfortable with the idea of exhuming Nicholas' father in order to obtain DNA samples.

Dmitry Romanov, a descendant of the czar's family, pays his respects in 2008 at the tomb holding the remains of Nicholas II, his wife and three of their daughters in St. Petersburg's St. Peter and Paul Cathedral. Dmitry Lovetsky/AP hide caption

Dmitry Romanov, a descendant of the czar's family, pays his respects in 2008 at the tomb holding the remains of Nicholas II, his wife and three of their daughters in St. Petersburg's St. Peter and Paul Cathedral.

"Opening the tomb of Alexander III is, I would say, inappropriate," he says. "It's a cultural monument, it's the grave of an emperor, and to disturb the burial just to make sure, I think, is not quite justified."

But one thing that makes the issue so important to the Russian Orthodox Church is that the church canonized Nicholas and his family members in 2007.

"That means that [their remains] will be holy relics from our point of view," says church spokesman Kipshidze, "and they will be put for worship in some of our churches."

He says the church especially wants the remains of Crown Prince Alexei and Grand Duchess Maria to be subjected to the most rigorous and transparent investigation.

In addition to comparing DNA from Alexander III, investigators have other ways of tracing the family's genetic connections. Alexander III's father, Czar Alexander II, was assassinated by a revolutionary's bomb in 1881, and his bloodstained coat has been preserved.

Nicholas II was the target of an assassination attempt during a tour in Japan in 1891, before he became czar. His bloodied shirt was tested for DNA in 1993, but the results were inconclusive.

Historian Nikolai Svanidze says the current investigation isn't really necessary from a historical perspective, since most historians believe that identification of the remains has been satisfactorily settled.

He says the question now is mainly a political one about the church and its relationship to power — both the imperial power of the czars and the power of the current Russian government.

"The Russian Orthodox Church has always identified itself with the power," he says. "The only power it couldn't identify itself with was the Soviet one, though it tried, too. The imperial power and the post-Soviet Russian one saw the church as an ideological ally."

Tsar Alexander II of Russia. Assassinations and Assignations - Cat or Rat? The Tsar with many lives and loves

In this brilliant article with a twist at the end,Helen Saker-Parsons tells us the story of the various assassination attempts on 19th century Russian ruler Tsar Alexander II. And his compelling and complicated love life – or lives…

Historically, it is a bear that symbolizes the Russian Imperial Court. But for Alexander II, Tsar of Russia from 1855 to 1881, there are more suitable creature comparisons. His was a reign marked by assassination attempts and sexual assignations. He appeared to have the many lives of a cat but was also referred to as a rat – a love rat. For though it was customary for imperial rulers to take mistresses, Alexander II appeared to move beyond what was acceptable, even for a Tsar.

But has history misjudged his sexual misdemeanors? Or could it be argued that it was his awareness that as a cat his lives were not infinite which pushed him towards his love-rat behavior?

Tsar Alexander II, circa 1865.

Attacks on a ruler

Alexander II oversaw a period of upheaval and change in imperialist Russia. Nick-named ‘the liberator,’ it is the emancipation of the serfs for which he is most renowned. But how the country adapted to change was to leave the Tsar vulnerable, with enemies amongst both the radical reformers and conservative factions. Alexander survived several attempts on his life, firstly from lone assassins and then by the Nihilist group, Narodnaya Volya [People’s Will]. His first near-miss he later referred to “as the event of April 4 1866.” On this date the elbow of Dimitry Karakozov was reportedly nudged as he aimed his revolver at the Tsar leaving the Summer Garden in St Petersburg. When the Tsar questioned the captured wannabe assassin as to what he wanted, the latter apparently replied: “nothing.” During the 1867 World Fair, Polish immigrant Antoni Berezowski attacked Alexander’s carriage but his pistol misfired and hit a horse instead. On April 20 1879, Alexander was out walking when he spotted an armed man, 33 year old former school teacher, Alexander Soloviev, approaching. The Tsar fled, running in a zigzag pattern so that all five of Soloviev’s bullets missed him.

The People’s Will was founded in 1879 with the principal policy of killing the Tsar. In November their initial attempt to bomb his train route at three points failed. The train diverted from the first point the dynamite failed to ignite at the second as it did at the third – when a tunnel dug to the track from a rented apartment passed through sandy soil and flooded. On the evening of February 5, 1880, one of their members, employed as a stoker at the Winter Palace, set off a charge in the guard’s rest room aimed to coincide with the Tsar and his family gathering to eat in the dining room above. Eleven people were killed and a further thirty wounded but the Tsar and his family were not amongst the casualties, having fortuitously delayed their meal. Poor time-keeping saved Alexander on The People’s Will’s third attempt when one of their terrorists turned up too late to blow up a bridge over the Catherine Canal which the Tsar was set to cross. The fourth attempt was abandoned when the Tsar changed his travel plans thus avoiding the road that had been mined. For their fifth effort The People’s Will returned to tunneling and rented an apartment from which to burrow and bomb one of Alexander’s frequent haunts. But the terrorist group failed to represent everybody’s will and one of their neighbors denounced them.

Alexander II had survived eight times and a cat is known to have nine lives. That eventually an attempt on his life should be successful seemed an accepted fact both by Alexander and his contemporaries. The British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, had remarked in 1874 that the Tsar always looked sad questioning “Whether it is satiety, or the loneliness of despotism, or fear of a violent death, I know not” and Peter Kropotkin describes the events of March 13, 1881 ‘the tragedy developed with the unavoidable fatality of one of Shakespeare’s dramas.’ On this Sunday, Alexander was travelling his usual route when a bomb was thrown under his carriage. He alighted to inspect the damage and console the wounded Cossacks who accompanied him. A second, as it happened suicidal, terrorist, Ignatei Grinevitski, seized the opportunity to throw another bomb this time with more success. The Tsar’s legs were blown off by the blast and chunks of his flesh, combined with that of others caught in the blast, littered the lying snow. The dying emperor was taken by sleigh to the Winter Palace. His mutilated body was met by members of his family. His grandson, who later became Tsar Nicholas II and was to meet a violent demise himself, described that “there were big red spots on the carpet - when they had carried my grandfather up the stairs, blood from the terrible wounds he had suffered from the explosion poured out.” Alexander’s body was taken to his quarters, passed the secret passageway, which led down to another series of rooms. It was the presence of these and his mistress and children housed there which gained him the reputation of a rat.

A history of lovers

Alexander II had many admirers, not least Queen Victoria, whom he first met in 1839, when both were barely out of their teens. She wrote in her diary: ‘I really am quite in love with the Grand Duke he is a dear, delightful young man.’ During his month-long visit to England the two went on horse rides in Windsor, attended balls at Buckingham Palace and even spent half an hour alone behind closed curtains in the royal box at the theatre. But Alexander’s father, Tsar Nicholas I, feared a marriage would result in his son having to give up the Russian throne to become British Prince Consort. He ordered him to Germany where a more suitable suitor awaited writing: ‘Back to Darnstadt. Don’t be a milksop.’ The parting was not without emotion and Alexander left Victoria his prized dog, Kazbek, as a leaving present. They were not to meet again until 1874 by which time Victoria was dismayed by his changed appearance and openly critical of his indiscretions.

Alexander II’s subsequent marriage to the German Princess – who became known as Maria Alexandrovna following their wedding in St Petersburg in April 1841 – was initially a happy one and she bore him eight children. Alexander’s virility was proven and there were rumors of other offspring including twin girls born to the British Ambassador’s wife. But it was also the death of his children that reminded him of the fragility of life. His firstborn by Maria, a daughter Alexandra, died aged seven from tuberculosis and Alexander kept her nightgown beneath his pillow for the rest of his life. Their eldest son and heir, Nicholas, also died from consumption in 1865. Both tragedies contributed to Maria’s frail health, something that had already taken a severe down-turn after the birth of her final child in 1860. Diagnosed with tuberculosis and instructed to spend more time in warmer climates, her husband built a sanctuary for her in the Crimea. Her absences paved the way for his infidelities.

Amongst his lovers was an eighteen year old, Marie Dolgorukaia. But it was her sister Catherine who was to steal the Tsar’s heart. After the death of their father, Alexander II had taken on their guardianship and enrolled the girls in the Smolny Institute, in St Petersburg. It was on a visit here that the sisters grabbed his attention. Firstly Marie was employed as a Maid-of-Honor to his wife whilst performing more personal functions but after less than a year the Tsar turned his eyes to her younger sister Catherine, almost thirty years his junior. Following a brief platonic period, their relationship turned sexual and intensely passionate. Catherine too was appointed as a Maid-of-Honor and assigned her own suite of rooms in the Palace, directly above the personal rooms of the Tsarina.

One love too far?

It was the flaunting of the affair and the damaging effect it had on the Tsarina’s heath that angered many, especially the couple’s children. But Alexander’s first assignation with Catherine, in July 1866, came only a few months after the initial attempt on his life. The awareness that there would be other assassination attempts must have prevailed. He had survived a second by the time Catherine bore their first child together. At a time when life seemed precious and short Alexander turned away from his often morose and religiously maniacal wife towards the intensely sexual mistress. Proof of their passion can be read in the thousands of sexually explicit letters exchanged between them, with almost everyone referring to the act of love-making or ‘bingerle’ [their pet-name for it]. The regularity of his rigor even led to the Tsar’s physicians placing him with a six-week sex-ban. During this period Catherine wrote ‘I confess that I cannot be without your fountain, which I love so… After my six weeks are over I count on renewing my injections.’

It was the permanent presence of the mistress in rooms above the wife that attracted particular criticism. It is alleged that Maria was often disturbed by the noises of Catherine’s children and even as she lay dying was purported to have uttered: “Why is there no one to check those unruly bastards?” But perhaps the most controversial and biggest bone of contention was Alexander’s rush into a morganatic marriage with Catherine forty days after his wife’s death in the summer of 1880. Although tradition dictated a year of mourning, the attempts on Alexander’s life had intensified. He was only too aware of his mortality. He wrote to his sister, Olga, on his decision: ‘I would never have married [Katia Dolgorukova] before a year of mourning if not for the dangerous time we live in and for the hazardous attempts I expose myself to daily which can actually and suddenly end my life.’

History highlights the weaknesses of Russia’s leaders, especially its monarchs who were born, not elected, to rule. Alexander II, like Henry VIII, was blinded by lust. But here was a man who acknowledged he was to be assassinated who was aware that eventually an attempt would succeed and his many cat-lives would run out. Peter Kropotkin wrote he was: ‘a man of strong passions and weak will.’

And so on closer examination of his flaws it could be argued that the creature most closely characteristic of Tsar Alexander was neither cat nor rat - but that of a typical human being.

Helen Saker-Parsons is the author of a book about an Allied soldier who is captured and held prisoner in Italy during World War II. The book, A Captive Life, is available here: Amazon US | Amazon UK

You can also read more on Russian history in this article on our blog aboutGrigori Rasputin here.

Overlooked No More: The Russian Icon Who Was Hanged for Killing a Czar

Sophia Perovskaya, an aristocrat, was executed for a political crime after leading the 1881 assassination of Czar Alexander II.

Since 1851, obituaries in The New York Times have been dominated by white men. With Overlooked, we’re adding the stories of remarkable people whose deaths went unreported by the newspaper.

The assassins hurled their first round of explosives as Czar Alexander II traveled in his carriage through the streets of St. Petersburg. The czar survived, thanks to the carriage’s armor. But Alexander made the fatal mistake of descending to the street, and that is when the next bomb was thrown. He bled to death in hours.

It was Sophia L. Perovskaya, 27, an aristocrat herself and a descendant of Peter the Great, who had plotted and orchestrated the assault on March 13, 1881, signaling the czar’s route with a white handkerchief. She and her co-conspirators from the radical organization the People’s Will were soon arrested, and Perovskaya and four male accomplices were condemned to death by hanging.

Perovskaya, the first woman to be executed for a political crime in Russia, is credited with helping to push the empire down the road to revolution and was later given the mantle of martyrdom. Tolstoy called her an “ideological Joan of Arc.”

Indeed, the execution of “Russia’s first female terrorist” matched the drama of the assassination. On April 15, she and her fellow militants were driven through the streets of St. Petersburg in tumbrels, dressed in black robes, with their hands tied behind them and black placards reading “Czaricide” hung around their necks. The cortege, under military escort, rolled through the streets to the beat of drums as a throng watched.

More soldiers held back a mob gathered on a central St. Petersburg parade ground, where five coffins waited behind a black scaffold. Just before her hanging, Perovskaya kissed her accomplices, including her lover, Andrei Zhelyabov. She had led the assassination plot after he was arrested.

Perovskaya maintained her composure, according to accounts. A last letter to her mother indicated that she had accepted her fate: “Believe me, dearest Mommy, it is not at all such a dark one. I have lived as my convictions have prompted me I could not do otherwise therefore I await what is in store for me with a clear conscience.”

Perovskaya, who had been swept up in revolutionary fervor as a girl, and her confederates viewed the czar as the main obstacle to constitutional reform. Once he was dead, they believed, the public would realize that the emperor was not the demigod depicted in the teachings of the Russian Orthodox Church and would rise up against the autocracy.

Alexander II was a liberal who had abolished serfdom and created a judicial system, although he acceded to reactionary forces in his latter years. His death brought his conservative son Alexander III to the throne. The new czar rolled back many of his father’s reforms and imposed even more repressive measures.

But ultimately, scholars say, Perovskaya and her band of assassins helped move Russia closer to revolution, which would erupt in 1917, ending more than 300 years of czarist rule.

“In some way — not immediately, but in some decades — her deeds and thoughts resulted in social revolution,” said Andrei B. Zubov, a historian and editor of the three-volume “History of Russia: The 20th Century” (2009).

Perovskaya came to be revered for her self-sacrifice.

“In the 19th century, she was regarded a martyr to the struggle for social justice and constitutional reform among the liberal and radical intelligentsia,” said Barbara Evans Clements, emeritus professor at the University of Akron in Ohio and author of “A History of Women in Russia: From Earliest Times to the Present” (2012).

In the 1920s the Bolsheviks, who had seized power, made Perovskaya a national heroine. Soviet biographies, novels and films — one with a popular score by Dmitri Shostakovich — further burnished her legacy. Monuments, squares, streets and even a minor planet discovered in 1968 were named after her.

Sophia Perovskaya was born on Sept. 13, 1853. Her father, Lev Nikolaevich Perovsky, had served as governor-general of St. Petersburg and was a descendant of the czarist line. He looked down on her pious mother, Varvara Stepanovna Perovskaya, as being a mere provincial aristocrat.

Perovskaya clashed with her despotic father early on. Tensions only increased after Varvara encouraged her daughters to pursue higher education, an unconventional path for young women at the time. Perovskaya attended the Alarchin Courses, a woman’s college, and organized a study circle.

Inspired by radical literature and repulsed by the brutal social injustices in Russian society — not to mention her father — Perovskaya left home while still a teenager.

She is said to have charmed many with her lively intelligence, silvery laugh and attractive looks, with blond hair, blue eyes and a childlike face. Lauding her selflessness and sense of honor and duty, her biographer Nikolai A. Troitsky called her “probably the most likable personality among thousands and thousands of fighters against czarist autocracy.”


As the revolutionary movement gained momentum, Perovskaya, seeking to be of service to the people, passed a public teacher’s exam and completed studies as a doctor’s assistant. She joined the Populist movement, one of the first attempts by educated Russians to form a bridge to the peasantry in hopes of inciting a socialist uprising.

That prompted her arrest in 1874, after which she became a member of another revolutionary organization and eventually went underground. She joined the People’s Will, the most infamous militant group of the era, in 1879.

Perovskaya had participated in two failed attempts to kill Alexander II — one near Moscow and one in Odessa — before the third one succeeded. The site of the assassination was immortalized with the construction of a colorful city landmark, the Church of the Savior of the Spilled Blood.

In recent times, the memory of Perovskaya has fared less well, particularly amid a waxing reverence for the czarist past. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, streets bearing her name were renamed and monuments removed.

Nevertheless, her family home on their former vineyard in Crimea remains a museum. Perovskaya’s portrait holds pride of place in the main drawing room, a legacy of her Soviet heroic status, and her family name has been given to a local sparkling wine, said Larissa P. Biryukova, a tour guide who led a recent swing through the museum.

However, with the Kremlin worried about the young flocking to antigovernment, pro-democracy protests, there has been less emphasis on her exploits. “We don’t tell the teenage groups so much about Sophia — more about making wine,” Biryukova said.

Death of the emperor Alexander II assassinated in 1881.

Alexander II, the oldest son of Emperor Nicholas I (1796–1855), was born in Moscow, Russia, on April 17, 1818. Alexander's most significant reform was the emancipation of Russia's serfs in 1861, for which he is known as Alexander the Liberator He also reorganized the judicial system, set up elected local judges, abolished corporal punishment, promoted local self-government, ended number of nobility privileges and promoted universities. Alexander sold Alaska to the United States in 1867, to avoid the remote colony falls into British hands. He sought peace and joined with Germany and Austria against France in the League of the Three Emperors that stabilized Europe. He fought a brief war with the Ottoman Empire in 1877–78, pursued further expansion into Siberia and the Caucasus, conquered Turkestan. Among his greatest challenges was an uprising in Poland in 1863, to which he responded by stripping that land of its separate constitution and incorporating it directly into Russia. Alexander was proposing more parliamentary reforms to counter the rise of nascent revolutionary and anarchistic movements when he was assassinated in 1881.

Alexander II was known as the "Tsar-Liberator" for his emancipation of the Russian serfs. The change spurred innovations in education and judicial reforms, an elaborate scheme of local self-government in large towns and rural districts were set up. The economy was prospering, railway construction boomed, trade soared, banks and factories sprang up across the country. In 1867 he sold Alaska to the United States for $7.2 million after recognizing the great difficulty of defending it against the United Kingdom or the former British colony of Canada. In 1880 Alexander announced that he was considering granting the Russian people a constitution. But for some his extraordinary efforts were too much while others believed he didn’t go far enough – one dramatic assassination attempt followed another. On March 13, 1881, the Tsar’s carriage was bombed in the streets of St. Petersburg by members of a revolutionary organization People’s Will. He emerged shaken but unhurt and wanted to see the site of the explosion and check on the wounded Cossacks that accompanied him. As he made his way over, another terrorist threw his bomb. Fatally wounded, Alexander died an hour later.

Watch the video: Alexander II Russian Tsars Assassination Location from Google Earth (May 2022).