Author Topic: A Yardstick for Nicholas II  (Read 11831 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline Tsarfan

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 1848
  • Miss the kings, but not the kingdoms
    • View Profile
A Yardstick for Nicholas II
« on: September 06, 2012, 08:10:49 AM »
There is general agreement that Nicholas II lived and ruled in very difficult times for Russia.  The land issues left unresolved by the emancipation of the serfs were building inexorably.  Rapid industrialization was stressing the urban social fabric and dislocating the traditional lines between town and country.  Waves of assassination were occurring just under the throne.  Nationalistic movements in central Europe and Germany's clumsy attempts to build a colonial empire were disrupting the international status quo.  And then came World War I.  Few rulers in Russia's history had confronted problems of this diversity, and none had confronted them on this scale.

Perhaps three of Nicholas' predecessors had the talent to deal with such problems with real odds for success.

Third on this list would be Catherine II.  Her reputation rests more on her successful expansion of Russian territory and her ability to hang onto a throne on which she sat illegally and much less on her spotty and largely dead-end efforts to reform Russian social and economic life.  The greatest talent she brought to bear on her successes was the wise choice of counsellors.  Beginning with her maneuvering to protect herself against Peter III and then to seize his throne, she chose men who were determined and competent, and she managed their internal strife and their personal agendas to her own advantage.  And she managed to retain their personal loyalty even when setting them aside when the time came.  Then she put much of her fate and that of Russia in the hands of the singularly talented Gregory Potemkin, leaving him with great power to pursue the interests of Russia even when her tempestuous personal relationship with him finally made it impossible for them to spend much time in each other's company.

Second on this list would be Peter I.  The list of traits he brought to the task of transforming Russia from a regional into a world power is astonishingly long:  manic energy; a mostly astute sense of military brinksmanship; unrelenting focus; the grasp of the limitations of land power for a nation ambitious to play on the world stage; great sense of personal power coupled with pronounced work-a-day practicality, self-effacement, humor, and a willingness to get his hands dirty (and bloody) both figuratively and literally; an ingrained belief that the tsar, as first servant of the state, had to be the hardest-working servant of that state who only then could demand the same sacrifices of his subjects; . . . and, most crucially, an instinct to spring into action instead of fall into paralysis when confronted with crisis.  

And -- first on this list -- is the vastly-under-recognized Ivan III.  In the following passage, the historian J. L. I. Fennell aptly summarizes the reign of the man who turned Russia into a nation and launched it onto the path to greatness.  I quote this passage at length, because think it lists the inch markers from which to assemble a yardstick for taking the measure of a tsar:

     "In the case of Ivan III and his reign there is little or nothing to help the historian elaborate policies, except for the astonishingly logical sequence of events.  Campaigns, annexations, marriages, embassies, executions, reforms – all occur as if by some preconceived plan.  The purpose of each event becomes clear when viewed in perspective from the end of his reign.  Nothing seems to have been accidental, carelessly planned or even mistimed.  And all events appear to point in one direction.  The numerous minor campaigns, the countless attempts to form friendships in the east and in the west, the disgraces at home, the intrusions in Church affairs – all these were by no means haphazard occurrences caused by the whim of a despot.  They were rather steps in the path of a statesman of vision and above all of astounding single-mindedness.  For Ivan III, more clearly that any of his predecessors or followers on the grand princely throne of Moscow, knew precisely where he was going.  He knew his goal, the means at his disposal, the obstacles to be encountered.  He never over-estimated his own strength or under-estimated that of his enemies.  His cold reasoning told him just how far he could abuse the freedom of his subjects and tamper with the sanctity of religious institutions.  He never fought a war for the sake of fighting, sought a friendship from altruism or disgraced a subject through spite.  All the deeds of this dedicated, hard-headed ruler and most shrewd diplomat were directed towards one goal only . . . .

     "Though he was an uninspiring general (he fought his wars sitting at home, said the great ruler of Moldavia, Stephen) and a cautious rather than a bold diplomat, it was nevertheless the results of his generalship and diplomacy which made him the most successful of all pre-Petrine rulers and Russia the leading nation of eastern Europe . . . .  His land reforms, his Church policy, his attitude towards his Council and the close circle of his family and relatives, all were motivated by his over-riding purpose [to make a nation of the disparate Russian lands]."

So . . . by this yardstick, what is the measure of Nicholas II?


Offline Tsarfan

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 1848
  • Miss the kings, but not the kingdoms
    • View Profile
Re: A Yardstick for Nicholas II
« Reply #1 on: September 06, 2012, 10:28:42 AM »
Let's look at some of these inch markers:

Ivan placed competent generals in the field and managed his military campaigns through them from home.  What did Nicholas do in 1915?

Ivan eschewed a love match and chose a bride, Sophie Paleologue, who brought immense prestige to the Muscovite throne and gave him the platform to argue -- for the first time -- the divine right of the Grand Princes of Muscovy to rule.  What of Nicholas' choice of a bride?

Ivan sagely assessed his own strength and that of his adversaries before launching any military campaign.  What of Nicholas' decision to go to war with Japan in 1904?  With Germany and Austria in 1914?

Ivan laid a careful diplomatic foundation for every military move, resorting to military action only when diplomacy -- and extraordinarily patient diplomacy at that -- had failed.  What of Nicholas' foreign policy preceding his wars?

Ivan stabilized conquered territory and ensured its loyalty by dispossessing the indigenous nobility and replacing them with Muscovite families, thereby ensuring that centers of revolt did not form in his back yard.  What of Nicholas' policy of allowing the buildup of huge industrial workforces in the suburbs of Russia's largest cities and centers of power and then rescinding the worker protection laws of his father's reign?

Ivan established unquestioned control over his relatives who originally held significant lands semi-independent of his authority, to the point of having the right to make their own foreign alliances.  He used every pretext during their lives and upon their deaths to absorb their legacies into his expanding personal state and to reduce them to abject subjects to his will in all things.  What of Nicholas' irresolute hand in dealing with his relatives?  His tolerance of the open disloyalty of the Vladimirs?  His publicly discrediting his brother and then naming him tsar in the dynasty's most trying hour?  His complicity in allowing Alexandra's support of Rasputin to ravage the reputation of the throne?

Ivan's approach to diplomacy was low-key, always favoring quiet effectiveness and the desire to avoid attracting attention to his next moves over grand public gestures.  What of Nicholas' posturing on the world stage with the Hague Peace Conference while pursuing the dangerous policy of pan-slavism in the powder keg of Central Europe and then launching the first large-scale war of the 20th century over his aspirations in Manchuria and Korea?




Offline Louis_Charles

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 1498
    • View Profile
Re: A Yardstick for Nicholas II
« Reply #2 on: September 06, 2012, 11:47:59 AM »
I have the feeling that Nicholas isn't going to measure up very well, if only from the tenor of your questions. I need to hunt up some information about Ivan III before I can fully participate in this --- but it is an interesting discussion, especially in an election year for the United States. Last night Clinton seemed to be saying, yes, Obama faced many of the same issues that I faced, but his were actually worse, so give him a chance to complete dealing with them, he's on the right track. So how serious were Nicholas' difficulties compared to Catherine II's, Peter I's and Ivan III's? And did Ivan actually have a plan as he approached the various issues of his reign, or was he reactive as opposed to proactive? Because it is difficult for me to believe that Nicholas did, in fact, have any overarching goal sufficiently well-articulated to pursue a plan. Otherwise he would have dealt with the family discord, he would have restricted Alexandra's influence, provided for an orderly succession once Alexei was diagnosed, and above all, recognized that it was going to be necessary to confront the rising tide of the 20th century. Instead, he pulls the wagons into a circle in a futile attempt to maintain his "power" as an absolutist Tsar --- which was also something he didn't seem to understand. All of the others were aware of the need to delegate authority and to compromise.
"Simon --- Classy AND Compassionate!"
   
"The road to enlightenment is long and difficult, so take snacks and a magazine."

Offline Tsarfan

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 1848
  • Miss the kings, but not the kingdoms
    • View Profile
Re: A Yardstick for Nicholas II
« Reply #3 on: September 06, 2012, 12:49:29 PM »
I have the feeling that Nicholas isn't going to measure up very well, if only from the tenor of your questions.

Well, few have ever commented favorably upon my neutrality.  Nicholas did not know how to be a tsar, and I would be equally stumped at trying to be a moderator.


So how serious were Nicholas' difficulties compared to Catherine II's, Peter I's and Ivan III's?

Catherine's greatest challenges were behind her by 1762.  Being an autocrat confers immense advantages in dealing with great difficulties, if one knows how to exploit those advantages.  Being a rejected wife of a mentally unstable tyrant was the dicey game in her life, where wiles and brinksmanship were at a premium and raw power the threat, not the defense.

Peter's difficulties were immense:  his half-sister's ambition; his questionable right to rule when Ivan's death left a son behind; the Streltsy threat; the challenge of a recalcitrant nobility and a peasantry that shared neither his naval ambitions nor his vision for Russia to displace Sweden as the dominant power of north Europe; the pretensions of the Church to be a parallel power; the domestic revolt of his son and heir against his policies and alignment with Peter's enemies.  However, unlike Nicholas', many of Peter's difficulties in his mature reign were those imposed by his own ambitions.  Russians would have given him very little trouble had he contented himself with lording it over them and their land-locked country from Holy Moscow.  That is the road Nicholas II would have taken had his world just had the good manners to behave properly, and it is the only road on which he would have passed as a credible tsar.  

Ivan's situation was more complicated than either Catherine's or Peter's, as he ascended a throne that had been rocked by civil war for most of his father's reign, and he was enmeshed in an appanage system that diffused power among him and his siblings in feudally-complex ways.  Such a system posed an insuperable obstacle to the unification of ethnic Russians into a nation, and it had to be removed if Muscovy was ever to be more than one pea, though perhaps the largest pea, in a soup of principalities.  Although by the time of his ascension, the balance had tipped in favor of Muscovy being able to dominate the other Russian principalities, the burning question to Ivan was whether the coming story of his part of the world was to be the expansion of Russia westward or the expansion of Lithuania eastward.  So, yes, I do believe Ivan had a plan.

Greatness in a ruler is more that just aplomb in dealing with adversity created by circumstances or the actions of others.  It comes in part from making the world an adversary in the first place.  


Because it is difficult for me to believe that Nicholas did, in fact, have any overarching goal sufficiently well-articulated to pursue a plan. Otherwise he would have dealt with the family discord, he would have restricted Alexandra's influence, provided for an orderly succession once Alexei was diagnosed, and above all, recognized that it was going to be necessary to confront the rising tide of the 20th century. Instead, he pulls the wagons into a circle in a futile attempt to maintain his "power" as an absolutist Tsar --- which was also something he didn't seem to understand. All of the others were aware of the need to delegate authority and to compromise.

I believe that Nicholas had a mission:  to maintain the autocracy as he understood it to have been passed on to him.  And it was this that made his world an adversary to him, just as Peter and Ivan made their worlds their adversaries.  It was the lack of a plan -- other than the string of tactics he and Stolypin cobbled together between 1906 and 1911 to unwind the new constitution -- that contributed to his undoing.


Last night Clinton seemed to be saying, yes, Obama faced many of the same issues that I faced, but his were actually worse, so give him a chance to complete dealing with them, he's on the right track.

Managing to bring Clinton and Obama into this discussion?  I'm impressed.  And a bit at a loss, as I find what went on in 15th-century Russia a lot more intellectually stimulating than what's going on in this year's political campaigning.

Oh, wait.  I can be neutral.  I'm equally disgusted by everyone's campaign.  Thank you, sahib.
« Last Edit: September 06, 2012, 12:51:24 PM by Tsarfan »

Offline edubs31

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 1014
    • View Profile
Re: A Yardstick for Nicholas II
« Reply #4 on: September 06, 2012, 05:07:45 PM »
Great topic that I'm sure will lead to some impressive discussion.

I'm going to do my best to give Nicholas a rating based in several different categories that have been used, and that I'll attempt to modify here, for American Presidents. Certainly there is a problem with measuring Nicholas up to the likes of a Peter, Catherine and Ivan. Would you try to look at a Buchanan, Andrew Johnson or George W. Bush through the lens of a Lincoln or both Roosevelt's and wonder why they they're destined to fall so far short in most ways? But contrast I'll try to ignore comparing Nicholas II to anyone in particular and simply grade him in each category...

5 = Exceptional
4 = Good
3 = Average to Decent
2 = Poor
1 = Failure

Executive Leadership - 2
Revered by some but detested by many others, Nicholas was hardly a unifying figure. His modest economic triumphs, at least until WW1, keep him from being a total failure.

Military Leadership - 1
Taking over command from Nikolasha in WW1 was a terrible mistake. His wartime appointments were at best questionable and he was unable to rally either his troops or his people to the cause of fighting on after bitter defeats in two wars. He also lost one war, and was getting pummeled in a second before his country pulled out post-reign.

Background/Education/Experience - 1
Poorly prepared for his role of Tsar. Lacking in real world experience and not a natural born leader. Not assertive enough when he needed to be and lacking in temperament at other times.

Communicative Ability - 1
Not terribly articulate and his speeches did little to instill public confidence either in his autocratic regime. Terrible salesman of ideas and tone deaf. Equal parts too stern and too vacillating depending on the situation.

Relationship with Government / Management abilities - 3
Poor judge of talent and a problematic managing style. Yet also charming and, at times, clever. What he lacked in respect he sometimes made up for in his ability to appoint the right person for a job (Witte), or build a relationship with (Stolypin)

Appointments - 1
By for a few exceptions...many of which obvious or holdovers from his father's reign, his appointments were awful. Never more the case than in the revolving door of ministers (some argue through the advice of his wife and Rasputin) during WW1.

Handling of Economy - 3
Poor during his final years, thanks largely to the civil disorder throughout Russia spurred on by the Revolution. Also one can give poor marks to any autocratic sovereign for the predominance of classicism. Yet during his first decade the Russia economy flourished under the guidance of the brilliant Sergei Witte.

Luck - 4
Few sovereigns have had a more disastrous serious of events to deal with than Nicholas II. Yet he also did a poor job in managing his luck to make the most out of bad situations. Never the less it's hard to imagine any leader being highly successful with the hand that Nicholas was dealt.

Ability to Compromise - 2
Stubborn to a fault in spite of his typically weak leadership Nicholas gets an extra point only for his selfless abdication in 1917 under great internal and external pressures.

Courage / Willingness to take Risks - 3
Difficult to determine because it's unclear how often Nicholas believed he was taking risks when entering into precarious situations like the two wars he engaged Russia in. His ultra-Conservative outlook mostly precluded risk taking. Although both the establishment of a Duma and his abdication showed a certain level of courage and acceptance of political risk.

Intellect / Vision / Imagination - 2
At times clever but rarely forward thinking or intellectually curious, Nicholas was probably of average intelligence when compared to the sovereigns of his day but lacking when compared the leaders of large western/industrialized nations overall.

Domestic Agenda - 2
Rather impressively succeeded in keeping a significant majority of power in the throne even after the creation of the Duma. Economic accomplishments in the first half of his reign as well. Yet these are balanced against anti-progressive measures against his people and government, Jewish pogroms and a reactionary mindset towards towards social unrest.

Foreign Policy - 2
The Hague Conference was his greatest accomplishment even if it did little good for Europe in the long run. Yet two ill advised and mismanaged wars and little support from foreign leaders during the last years of his reign will forever tarnish his reputation.

Integrity / Morality - 4
I man of principle and great faith morality can be judged in stark contrasts. On one hand his a loving husband, devoted family man, compassionate to many and known to be personally kind. On the other hand those qualities were confined to certain circles and individuals. His, at best, acquiescence of harsh pogroms against Russian Jews contradicts his reputation as a man of great moral fiber. Still he was a product of the times and exceptional in certain ways.

Crisis Management - 1
Certainly he had much to deal with but it's hard to imagine anyone making more critical mistakes or being as politically and emotionally misguided as Nicholas II. In spite of the warning signs from his military losses against Japan in the Russo-Japanese War and the civil unrest in his country which brought forth the October Revolution, Nicholas seemed completely unprepared to deal with the foreign and domestic crisis's that would devour his county during the final three years of his reign.

OVERALL AVERAGE - 2.13
Barely above "Poor"



Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right...

Offline Tsarfan

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 1848
  • Miss the kings, but not the kingdoms
    • View Profile
Re: A Yardstick for Nicholas II
« Reply #5 on: September 06, 2012, 06:22:25 PM »
That's a pretty comprehensive report card and seems to me a very even-handed assessment of Nicholas' talents and performance.

All times are times of change.  The great tsars used the power they wielded to change their inheritance in ways that extracted the best advantage to the nation from changing circumstances.  Thus Ivan III used his power to seize the opportunities presented by the final decline of the Golden Horde and the resulting vacuum; to exploit his father's victories over rival family members to whittle away at and then crush the appanage system; to quicken the transition of smaller principalities from vassal states to fully-absorbed subjects; and to bob and weave through adroitly-timed diplomatic maneuvers around the surging and receding pressures on Lithuania, only at whose expense all the Russias -- Great, White, and Black -- could be united into a single people.

Peter I used his power to wrench Russia westward; to elevate competence over pedigree as the chief calling card for advancement in a modernized state; to establish service to the state as the quid pro quo for noble privilege; to seize the opportunity of a faltering Sweden to supplant her as the great power of Northern Europe; and to exploit the turbulence and the corruption of the Ottoman court to establish permanent footholds on more southerly shores.

Catherine II used her power to complete the process Peter had begun of turning Russia from a European-influenced Asiatic nation into an Asiatic-flavored western nation; to acquaint Russians with the concept that autocratic power need not be arbitrary power in order to be feared and respected; and to complete Peter's task of turning southerly footholds into southerly frontiers and, finally, into southern Russia.

In short, the great tsars used their power to leave the monarchy, the nation, and the society something considerably different from what they initially acquired.

Nicholas, by contrast, viewed the monarchy he inherited as something sacrosanct, immutable, and to be used to resist the tides of change.  Monarchy under the great tsars was a dynamic institution, a toolbox for the trade of leading.  Under the reactionary tsars it was a prison of frozen ideas, of frozen ways, of frozen outcomes.  There is a reason that Ivan, Peter, and Catherine reveled in their power and lived and worked at a pace that left their contemporaries panting for breath.  And there is a reason that Alexander I, Nicholas I, Alexander III, and Nicholas II felt their roles to be burdens and their lots to be tiresome.  Seizing opportunity is exhilarating.  Resisting change is exhausting.
« Last Edit: September 06, 2012, 06:23:56 PM by Tsarfan »

Offline TimM

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 1937
    • View Profile
    • Rex and Hannah Chronicles Wikia
Re: A Yardstick for Nicholas II
« Reply #6 on: September 06, 2012, 07:17:33 PM »
Ever wonder if poor Nicky was tempted to do what Alexander I supposedly did, just disappear from the scene.
Cats: You just gotta love them!

Offline edubs31

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 1014
    • View Profile
Re: A Yardstick for Nicholas II
« Reply #7 on: September 06, 2012, 07:28:25 PM »
Quote
Nicholas, by contrast, viewed the monarchy he inherited as something sacrosanct, immutable, and to be used to resist the tides of change.  Monarchy under the great tsars was a dynamic institution, a toolbox for the trade of leading.  Under the reactionary tsars it was a prison of frozen ideas, of frozen ways, of frozen outcomes.  There is a reason that Ivan, Peter, and Catherine reveled in their power and lived and worked at a pace that left their contemporaries panting for breath.  And there is a reason that Alexander I, Nicholas I, Alexander III, and Nicholas II felt their roles to be burdens and their lots to be tiresome.  Seizing opportunity is exhilarating.  Resisting change is exhausting.

Well said. Also feel free to disagree with some of my grades and brief assessments from above...I rather enjoy the feedback.

I like how you described Nicholas and the reactionary Tsar's as viewing the monarchy as something static. I guess it might be fair to classify Tsar's in three different, yet not always mutually exclusive, ways.

'Progressive', 'Conservative' and 'Static'. Nicholas was surely both the latter two, but it is very possible to be a conservative monarch without being a static one. In one way a conservative leader is just what a particular society may need to help reel things in after years of progressive measures, change and/or volatility. In another way a conservative mindset can at times be successfully implemented by a leader who feels that their role is to serve their country best by keeping bad things from happening. All the while they make sure a radical new social agenda isn't thrust upon its people too quickly.

Nicholas didn't think in those terms. He loved his country but his concern was more about preserving Russia's government (the autocracy) than it was about doing right by Russian society, and tending to its needs. Just as Wilson during WWI was obsessed with "keeping the world safe for Democracy", Nicholas, it could be argued, wanted to keep at least his country safe for autocracy.

All that said, I could defend Nicholas by suggesting that there are many variations to your comment about "all times" being "times of change". Certainly that's true but, using the US President example again, it would be unfair to compare the legislative successes or failures of a President dealing with a modest recession with one who dealt with a major depression. You also wouldn't compare Bush/Obama era combat mission/occupations into Iraq and Afghanistan with the responsibilities that a Lincoln or FDR took on during the Civil War and WW2.

While not an intellectual Nicholas II was surely aware of the changing world around him. By 1914 societies were far more interconnected, for better and for worse, than they were during the reigns of a Catherine II, Peter I, or Ivan III. There certainly were revolutionary elements to deal with just as there were difficulties in preserving each of the respective reign's of the aforementioned. But the world during the time of Peter I and Ivan III was still conditioned to believe in the sovereign right of rulers and accepting, however begrudgingly at times, the type of classicism created through monarchist regimes. Catherine II meanwhile was very leery of and reactionary towards the rise of democratic republics post-American and French Revolutions. I don't see her as being much better than Nicholas in this regard, the difference being that Nicholas reigned 120-130 years later in a world of declining empires and rising nations.

Nicholas's two great failures to me are the following...

1) His unwillingness to accept the changing Russia and world around him and his stubborn inflexibility to compromise and give up his rights for both the greater good of his country and the preservation of his throne. His English relatives knew better.
2) His overreaction towards the rising social changes within his country and his "preserve the autocracy" at all cost mentality. This compounded by his inability (or unwillingness) to differentiate between liberal statesmen, leftist revolutionaries, and radical anarchists...electing to punish each through violence, denial, or dismissal.

Perhaps, in spite of how it all came crashing down, the Russian Empire was very lucky. If we are to say that an Ivan III, Peter I or Catherine II would not have been able to save their empire by 1917 regardless of their leadership abilities, then why waste the skills of a great Tsar by placing them in an impossible situation? On the other hand should a Nicholas II have been rulling instead of the aforementioned during any of their respective reigns it's entirely possible that the Russian Empire would crumbled a century or two earlier.
Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right...

Offline Tsarfan

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 1848
  • Miss the kings, but not the kingdoms
    • View Profile
Re: A Yardstick for Nicholas II
« Reply #8 on: September 06, 2012, 08:41:10 PM »
'Progressive', 'Conservative' and 'Static'. Nicholas was surely both the latter two, but it is very possible to be a conservative monarch without being a static one.

You know, I had never thought about drawing a distinction between a conservative monarch and a static one.  But, now that you suggest it, it seems to me a perfect description of the difference between Nicholas II and his father.


But the world during the time of Peter I and Ivan III was still conditioned to believe in the sovereign right of rulers . . . .

This is one of the things that is so interesting about Ivan III.  At the time he ascended the throne of Muscovy, the grand prince's relationship to his brothers and even cousins was something like a "first among equals".  Under the appanage system the designated heir of a grand prince received the largest portion of lands and towns, but other sons received sufficient land and towns to enable them to provide support for themselves and their private armies.  While they were expected to defer to the heir (usually the eldest brother) in some things, it was intended as a subjugation to his influence, not to his legal control.  In fact, the junior brothers were free to contract their own military and political alliances -- even against their grand prince's interests -- and when the grand prince needed their support, it was something for which he often had to bargain.  And quite a few brothers and cousins in this diffusion of appanage power and authority went to war against each other and even against their grand prince.  In fact, the throne Ivan III inherited had bounced back and forth between his father and his father's cousin more than once, with each side blinding the momentarily ascendant grand prince.  Ivan's father spent the last ten years of his life with his eyes missing -- an act of retribution for his having blinded his rival in an earlier spin of the wheel of dynastic fortune.

And this informality of royal position was reflected in broader interactions between the monarch and society.  At the outset of his reign, Ivan III went about among his people on the streets of his towns as his predecessors had.  And citizens, who had defined rights, were free to approach him with questions, petitions, and opinions about matters of state as well as personal interest.

It was Ivan III -- over a long reign of careful sintering -- who forged from the malleable ore of Muscovite grand princedom the hard steel of Russian tsarism and autocracy.

On the appanage front, Ivan doggedly and patiently dismantled the appanage system by exploiting opportunities large and small as they presented themselves.  When a brother or cousin fell on hard times, instead of tiding them over Ivan bought out their rights.  When a brother or cousin died, Ivan defied convention and integrated the property into his demesne instead of allowing it to pass to the dead prince's progeny.  When a brother or cousin made an alliance against Ivan's interests and then caught the short end of the bargain, Ivan confiscated his appanage at the first opportunity.  Through years on end of this process, Ivan reduced the junior males in the grand princely family one by one from semi-independent freeholders in their own rights to absolute subjugants to the monarch's will.  In short, it was he who created the relationship of tsar to grand duke that we today recognize in the dealings between Nicholas II and his brother and uncles.

On the societal front, Ivan transformed the accessible grand princedom into the walled off citadel of tsarism through a similar series of small steps.  He made himself less approachable to the citizenry and nobility.  With a stronger taste for diplomacy than for war, he began to favor non-military counsellors over military counsellors who had personal power bases in the army.  And, to put a philosophical icing on the cake he was baking, he married Sophie Paleologue, the niece of the last Byzantine emperor, so that he could claim direct successorship to the divine right legacy of the Roman empire.  It was under Ivan that the Russian Orthodox Church began to drink the Kool-Aid of divine right, that the Byzantine term "autocrat" entered the Russian language, that the false genealogies of Roman descent were first written and published, and that Moscow was dubbed the Third Rome.

Upon Ivan's succession to the throne, his sovereign right to rule was something for which he was expected to fight to gain and to hold.  It was something to which people were expected to remain loyal when it conformed with their own best interests and to turn against when their best interests were found to lie with another contender for power.  This was acknowledged by all as the social contract of the time.  The notion that a sovereign right to rule was heritable by the will of God was not something Ivan was vouchsafed by his birth.  It was something he created by effort, cunning, and patience.

Offline Tsarfan

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 1848
  • Miss the kings, but not the kingdoms
    • View Profile
Re: A Yardstick for Nicholas II
« Reply #9 on: September 06, 2012, 09:07:40 PM »
Ever wonder if poor Nicky was tempted to do what Alexander I supposedly did, just disappear from the scene.

Of all the flaky tales of royal survivors that have dotted the landscape of Russian history from the Time of Troubles to the massacre in Ekaterinburg, the strange tale of Feodor Kuzmich might actually be the one that is true.  And of all the generally-laughable books claiming a mystery-wrapped survival, Alexis Troubetzkoy's "Imperial Legend: The Mysterious Disappearance of Tsar Alexander I" is the exception that is well worth a read.

Unlike Nicholas, Alexander was adrift in a sea of personal isolation.  His beloved mistress had been banished under pressure in 1818.  His wife, with whom his relationship had recently warmed after a long estrangement, was slipping into terminal illness.  Two sons and a daughter, his only acknowledged children, were all dead.  His mother would receive him only after placing on the table between them a casket containing the bloody shirt in which his father had been murdered, and the passing years raised the specter of that murder ever more clearly and darkly in his thoughts.

I suspect, though, that Nicholas did find his own way of disappearing from the scene.  There has been suspicion that the cocaine-laden medications administered to him and his wife were reaching the point of addiction.  It would certainly explain the surreal passivity Nicholas showed at Stavka in his behavior, his correspondence, and his diary in the final months before his abdication -- which was another form of departing the scene.  I have also long suspected that Nicholas' determination to go to Stavka in 1915 might have been, at least subconsciously, an attempt to shake off the henpecking at the palace.


aleksandr pavlovich

  • Guest
Re: A Yardstick for Nicholas II
« Reply #10 on: September 06, 2012, 10:49:17 PM »
Ever wonder if poor Nicky was tempted to do what Alexander I supposedly did, just disappear from the scene.

 Alexis Troubetzkoy's "Imperial Legend: The Mysterious Disappearance of Tsar Alexander I" is the exception that is well worth a read.

  Parenthetically, in particular relation to the above comment, I concur, having purchased and read the volume sometime ago.  
  IMO, of particular interest are the few quotes on the controversy he gives of Emperor Nicholas II's sister, the GD Olga Alexandrovna, as well as a lingering regret that in a personal conversation (1958) with the GD O.A., he did not clarify/follow-up on what could have been potentially a pivotal point (p.264) regarding the subsequent emperors' knowledge of the matter.  
  The ISBN is 1-55970-608-2.                                                                AP.
« Last Edit: September 06, 2012, 11:05:04 PM by aleksandr pavlovich »

Offline edubs31

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 1014
    • View Profile
Re: A Yardstick for Nicholas II
« Reply #11 on: September 07, 2012, 12:52:26 AM »
Quote
Upon Ivan's succession to the throne, his sovereign right to rule was something for which he was expected to fight to gain and to hold.  It was something to which people were expected to remain loyal when it conformed with their own best interests and to turn against when their best interests were found to lie with another contender for power.  This was acknowledged by all as the social contract of the time.  The notion that a sovereign right to rule was heritable by the will of God was not something Ivan was vouchsafed by his birth.  It was something he created by effort, cunning, and patience.

Well thanks for the history lesson as this is not something I really took into consideration. I still wonder though if the typical undereducated peasant of a few hundred years ago even had the ability to comprehend a system of government where there wasn't a king ruling at the top. It just seems like a given to me that surrounding the daily difficulties of pressing on through life this type of person was either so disconnected from broader society that it made no difference to them whatsoever who was making the decisions, or they naturally assumed the hierarchy included a sovereign positioned at he top.

Flash forward early-20th century Russia. You're descendants have moved from the farm the to the factory. Ideas are freely exchanging, educated is more readily available and some reforms have opened up opportunities. What's more you've gotten an understanding of the world and either witnessed or read about the social upheaval from abroad. Most of the modern world is now divided between autocratic, socialist and democratic ideals. The very knowledge you possess and the drive to improve your personal standing in society both separates you from that peasant ancestor and makes you a far greater threat to the ruling monarch. How many more of these types did a Nicholas II have to concern himself with than an Ivan III?

Quote
I suspect, though, that Nicholas did find his own way of disappearing from the scene.  There has been suspicion that the cocaine-laden medications administered to him and his wife were reaching the point of addiction.  It would certainly explain the surreal passivity Nicholas showed at Stavka in his behavior, his correspondence, and his diary in the final months before his abdication -- which was another form of departing the scene.  I have also long suspected that Nicholas' determination to go to Stavka in 1915 might have been, at least subconsciously, an attempt to shake off the henpecking at the palace.

There is nothing here I really disagree with but I have to question to drug induced haze theory. I recently read all of Nicholas's letters to Alexandra during his time at the front and I recall only one mention of the use of cocaine...and that was to try and clear a stuffy nasal cavities. Now I have two theories as to why this might be the case...

1) He was, as you suggest, using the drug with some regularity as having been administered to him. So it was only worth mentioning to his wife when he decided to use it for a different reason than the one it had been prescribed for.
2) Contrary to speculation and rumor he wasn't using it at all and that is why he made a point of mentioning it (to the best of my recollection) just once. A sort of "hey Alexandra this cocaine that's been lying around...I decided to try it out for once since I was all stuffy last night. Just to see if it would work, and...damn!" lol, thoughts?



Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right...

Offline Tsarfan

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 1848
  • Miss the kings, but not the kingdoms
    • View Profile
Re: A Yardstick for Nicholas II
« Reply #12 on: September 07, 2012, 06:56:46 AM »
I still wonder though if the typical undereducated peasant of a few hundred years ago even had the ability to comprehend a system of government where there wasn't a king ruling at the top.

Perhaps I misunderstood your original point.  I agree that the peasants of Ivan's era assumed the inevitability of a king atop their world order.  However, in that era, while the institution itself was beyond questioning, the matter of which member of the dynasty held the role was much more fluid.  There was a long tradition in the grand principalities of that age of brother supplanting brother and cousin supplanting cousin.  In fact, it was the recurrent minor civil wars of intra-dynastic grappling for hegemony that had made it difficult for Russians to throw off the yoke of the Golden Horde and to assemble themselves into a nation.  One of the ways the Horde maintained their loose remote control of the Russian lands for two centuries was throwing their support behind the relative in this or that grand duchy who offered the Horde the best deal on tribute.  

While this intra-dynastic struggling for power did not end with Ivan III -- witness the fates of the Regent Sophia, Ivan VI, Peter III, and Paul -- Ivan changed the equation by dismantling the appanage system and depriving rivals of their bases of support.  Thenceforward the right of a particular individual to hold the throne had both a theological element and a legal framework underpinning it, and usurpation of a throne became an aberration rather than a matter of the outcome of the latest skirmish in yet another minor civil war.


There is nothing here I really disagree with but I have to question to drug induced haze theory. I recently read all of Nicholas's letters to Alexandra during his time at the front and I recall only one mention of the use of cocaine...and that was to try and clear a stuffy nasal cavities. Now I have two theories as to why this might be the case...

In the early 20th century, attitudes about narcotics were a bit different from ours.  From the 1880's many medicines contained cocaine.  In fact, cocaine was used to treat morphine addiction.  Sigmund Freud used it, which some think encouraged his exploration of dream theory, and he urged its use on others.  The original formula for Coca-Cola contained cocaine, hence the term "Dope Shop" for many soda fountains at neighborhood pharmacies of the era.  It was found in over-the-counter tonics and powders, and wines were laced with it.  As late as 1934 Cole Porter referred to it in song lyrics:  "some get a kick from cocaine", a phrase from the stage musical "Anything Goes" which had to be changed for the movie version in 1936 due to the Hays Code.  In fact, the Roaring 20's roared on cocaine.

I suspect Nicholas' attitude about taking cocaine for a stuffy nose was so casual that he would have mentioned it intending to convey no more significance that our mentioning taking a Tylenol for a headache.

There is a significant phrase in an article on Freud's use of cocaine that relates Freud's almost killing a female patient with a cocaine overdose and then glossing casually over it in his self-congratulatory report of his successful treatment of her:

"Like so many others, Freud suffered from the most maddening symptom of addiction: the stealthy process by which the addict’s mind conspires to convince that nothing, nothing at all, is askew or dangerous about something that most decidedly is."

This passage brings chillingly to mind a passage from a letter Nicholas wrote to Alexandra in the final weeks of his reign, where he related an hours-long walk through the woods around Stavka, wandering into a rural chapel, his great relief at not having to make decisions or be bothered by pesky aides and ministers, and the general peace he felt.  At the time he wrote this letter, the breakdown of transport of food and fuel supplies into St. Petersburg that was to bring on the revolution was already beginning, his soldiers were arming themselves with guns taken off their dead comrades, and his ministers were nearing panic at the growing chaos.

And there is a reason that Alexandra chose the word "medicines" as the code word for the jewels she and her daughters secreted into captivity.  Medicines, most containing cocaine, were a staple in their household which could be referred to openly without arousing suspicion.


Offline edubs31

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 1014
    • View Profile
Re: A Yardstick for Nicholas II
« Reply #13 on: September 07, 2012, 09:29:21 AM »
Quote
Perhaps I misunderstood your original point.  I agree that the peasants of Ivan's era assumed the inevitability of a king atop their world order.  However, in that era, while the institution itself was beyond questioning, the matter of which member of the dynasty held the role was much more fluid.  There was a long tradition in the grand principalities of that age of brother supplanting brother and cousin supplanting cousin.  In fact, it was the recurrent minor civil wars of intra-dynastic grappling for hegemony that had made it difficult for Russians to throw off the yoke of the Golden Horde and to assemble themselves into a nation.  One of the ways the Horde maintained their loose remote control of the Russian lands for two centuries was throwing their support behind the relative in this or that grand duchy who offered the Horde the best deal on tribute.  

So basically it would be fair to say that while the system of autocracy itself that Nicholas II was struggling to uphold was in a far more precarious state, that great difficulty is pretty much a wash when compared to the struggles of Ivan III in convincing others that it was he who should sit at the throne. Ivan's system was stronger but his position weaker than Nicholas's. Accordingly, Nicholas's position was stronger (at least until 1917), but his system was weaker. Of course the characters of the men themselves come to the fore after we have cleared away that underbrush. Ivan III had great ambition and vision. Nicholas did not, nor did he probably feel he had to considering his secured position of sovereign through birthright. Ivan had to fight for power from early on. Nicholas did not, and was poorly equipped to succeed in his fight to retain power in the second half of his reign.

Makes sense to me what you are saying. It sounds a little bit like the arguments about who ranks as the better President or more revered American icon...George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. Many will of course argue that Lincoln faced down the greatest crisis in American history. He freed the slaves and won the Civil War which tops any other accomplishment in our nation's history. Except maybe just one. Washington had the incredible burden of establishing the position of President and strengthening the new American republic. Was the greatest crisis a Civil War or was it creating and maintaining the government through tenuous early stages?

Of course Ivan in this example is the George Washington, but Nicholas is no Abraham Lincoln...Nicholas is better compared to what the fate of the war and the American republic might have been had a Buchanan won reelection, or if a Pierce, Fillmore or Johnson had been serving during those years.

Quote
In the early 20th century, attitudes about narcotics were a bit different from ours.  From the 1880's many medicines contained cocaine.  In fact, cocaine was used to treat morphine addiction.  Sigmund Freud used it, which some think encouraged his exploration of dream theory, and he urged its use on others.  The original formula for Coca-Cola contained cocaine, hence the term "Dope Shop" for many soda fountains at neighborhood pharmacies of the era.  It was found in over-the-counter tonics and powders, and wines were laced with it.  As late as 1934 Cole Porter referred to it in song lyrics:  "some get a kick from cocaine", a phrase from the stage musical "Anything Goes" which had to be changed for the movie version in 1936 due to the Hays Code.  In fact, the Roaring 20's roared on cocaine.

Yes I'm perfectly aware of this but very much enjoyed your Cole Porter reference :-)

Quote
I suspect Nicholas' attitude about taking cocaine for a stuffy nose was so casual that he would have mentioned it intending to convey no more significance that our mentioning taking a Tylenol for a headache.

Well I was going to say 'Benadryl' for a stuffy nose, but right you are! The suggestion that Nicholas was casually conveying to his wife that "I understand that this cocaine powder that we have been using for other reasons is also quite effective for clearing up sinuses" makes sense.

Quote
This passage brings chillingly to mind a passage from a letter Nicholas wrote to Alexandra in the final weeks of his reign, where he related an hours-long walk through the woods around Stavka, wandering into a rural chapel, his great relief at not having to make decisions or be bothered by pesky aides and ministers, and the general peace he felt.

It certainly is disturbing (referencing also your Freud comments/quote above), but it poses other questions, such as...

1) Was cocaine occasionally used but a better explanation for Nicholas's rather "bizarre" behavior was simply that by the latter half of, say, 1916, the Tsar was checked out and emotionally spent? He was after all something of a fatalist...ascribing events good and bad to "God's will" from the very beginning of his troubled reign.
2) If cocaine was a more serious factor was Nicholas then high when he abdicated without putting up much of a fight? If not then I would suggest a more clear thinking Nicholas chose to give up his rights for the specific reasons stated above. He was emotionally and spiritually spent and not under the influence of some drug induced haze.

Again I'm only mentioning these as alternatives...this is not to say that I disagree with you Mr. Pyles.

Quote
And there is a reason that Alexandra chose the word "medicines" as the code word for the jewels she and her daughters secreted into captivity.  Medicines, most containing cocaine, were a staple in their household which could be referred to openly without arousing suspicion.

Hmmm interesting. I guess I never made that link. I naturally assumed the reference of "medicines" by Alexandra was casual simply because medicines are casual and plentiful in a typical household. If I were held hostage in my house today that would probably be the code word I would use.

Another question to leave you with...how many families in Russian society not only had access to medicine but also their shelves stocked with them? I would imagine the percentage of drugs found a hundred years ago in the typical household doesn't compare to the number a family has today in our over-medicated, pharmaceutical crazed society. That said if, at least for the wealthy, medicines were so plentiful and cocaine was such a casual "drug" at the time why wasn't half of the court permanently stoned? Or were they? That would explain a lot as well :-)

« Last Edit: September 07, 2012, 09:34:32 AM by edubs31 »
Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right...

Offline Tsarfan

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 1848
  • Miss the kings, but not the kingdoms
    • View Profile
Re: A Yardstick for Nicholas II
« Reply #14 on: September 07, 2012, 10:49:29 AM »
. . . that great difficulty is pretty much a wash when compared to the struggles of Ivan III in convincing others that it was he who should sit at the throne. Ivan's system was stronger but his position weaker than Nicholas's.

Actually, Ivan's position at the outset of his reign was quite precarious.  Not only was his hold on the throne subject to threat from within his extended family, but he was only a grand prince of one of many Russian principalities, several of which, should they fall into the right hands, could become rivals in Ivan's ambition to create a Russian nation with Moscow at its head.  And remember that Lithuania was the dominant east European power at the time of Ivan's succession, and none of Ivan's ambition could be realized until the scale had been permanently shifted to place Muscovy in the ascendant over Lithuania.

Nicholas inherited a throne under undisputed primo genitre in a 300-year-old dynasty; he inherited a vast and fully-formed nation with a clear national identity; and he inherited a mature bureaucracy, army, navy and social structure.  Ivan's world was his to gain.  Nicholas' world was his to lose.