Nicholas II – #2 Worst Russian Ruler

Nicholas II

Emperor Nicholas II of Russia

Nicholas II, the son of the reactionary Tsar Alexander III, comes in as the second worst Russian ruler of all time. In my opinion, his lack of leadership, poor timing, and his clinging to a form of government that no longer fit the time, makes him one of the worst. The man was a very pious ruler but it could not make up for the pile up of bad decisions he made. The decisions led to the murder of his family and the end of over three hundred years of Romanov rule.

Now known as Saint Nicholas the Passion-Bearer by the Russian Orthodox Church, he was born on May 16, 1868 at Tsarskoye Selo, St. Petersburg. When he took over from his father in 1894, he represented a Russian leadership that was anything but Russian. When he was born, he was probably 97% German and only 3% Russian. To top it off, he married Alix of Hesse, another German princess which did not sit well with many in Russia.

Now, not everything that went wrong during his reign should be blamed on Nicholas as his father was the one who decided against training him for the position. This was done despite urgent pleas from Finance Minister Serge Witte. Alexander III believed that he was young and strong and that his son was too immature to handle the rigorous training. This was to prove a fatal mistake.

His list of mistakes is long starting with the decision to not go to the people after the tragedy at Khodynka Field during his coronation ceremony. From there, things only got worse. He allowed his country to go to two wars, the Russo-Japanese and World War I, despite his country being terribly ill prepared. His vacillation on the idea of forming a constitutional monarchy because of his steadfast belief in his God given right to be Emperor.

Looking back at the man, one cannot feel sorry for him as he is one of those truly tragic historical figures. Still, his ineptness led to a great deal of suffering for the Russian people with the coming of the Bolsheviks. I truly believe that he wanted to help his people, he just didn’t know how.

About Mark Schauss

Hi, I'm Mark Schauss and I an internationally known lecturer on environmental and nutritional health issues having spoken in North America, Asia, South America, Europe and soon in Australia. I also have a deep interest in history, especially Russian history because of my heritage through my mother's side of the family. Another large influence on my love of Russian History is my college professor the late Dr. Paul Avrich. His classes were always full and his passion for history was amazing. I wish he could have found out about my podcast before he passed away.

16 Responses to Nicholas II – #2 Worst Russian Ruler

  1. David May 15, 2013 at 8:48 am #

    I think his biggest fault was whom he surrounded himself with. Rasputin, his wife and seemingly his entire staff simply had no idea what to do to move Russia forward.

    I place 90% of his faults on his father. Worked so hard to push the country backwards without the skill or ruthlessness of Ivan IV. You can look to Nicky’s brothers as further evidence of just how bad a job Alexander did preparing for the future of Russia.

  2. James Leseke May 15, 2013 at 9:51 am #

    You have too look long and hard to find a historical figure who was as snake-bit as Nicholas II. The man had a reverse Midas touch. But he did bring some of his misery on himself. Underneath all the charm and breeding was a willfulness that only amplified his gross incompetence. Once Nicholas set his mind on something he could not be moved. Case in point his decision to move to the front in WWI and act as commander in chief. Only Nicholas thought that this was a good idea. Every one else thought it could only lead to disaster and said so. But Nicholas could not be moved and to the front he went. With that core of stubbornness, I wonder if Alexander II could have trained him for the job. My guess is that Micholas II was not suited for the job he was born into. If you read enough history you soon realized that one of the grand themes is the decay and final collapse of dynasties. Put more simply sooner or later genetics will lay an egg and you will have a king, queen, prince, margrave, etc. who is a epic incompetent. The other option is squabbling scions who manage to tear appart the inheritance beyond repair.

  3. Mark Adams May 15, 2013 at 6:38 pm #

    I don’t understand how he could be aware of his ineptitude and at the same time be stubborn, he really was an enigma. Having said this, while I don’t feel sorry for him being forced to abdicate, I do for him and his family being forced to live in exile and being shifted around by the provisional government and the murder of him and his family was a completely unnecessary travesty, but I feel it echoes the actions of ancient kings and emperors in killing off rival claimants.

  4. Sasha Skvortsov May 23, 2014 at 11:21 am #

    Hello Sir,

    My name is Alexander and I am a native Russian. My Godfather suggested me this web-site because I do tour-guiding in my home town of St.Petersburg.

    I must admit you write things interestingly, though I have decided to unsubscribe from this site. As a person who studies his history I can say that you use and unfortunately so publicly open post so much false/mistaken information.

    We do love and honor our last Emperors, especially Alexander III and Nicholas II. They were godly rulers at the time of whose reign Russia was in peace and in a very high economic, political and national position.

    I have met people with likely similar sources of information that you are using and it is either Soviet era or post time. A person who is in your Worst RR list would never be proclaimed a saint by our church neither respected and loved by the Russian people.

    Please, I urge you to correct your articles and facts you claim in accordance with the true historical facts revealed tens of years ago. You may find the video course (link is above in Website section) helpful with subtitles.

    Best regards,

    • Mark Schauss May 30, 2014 at 3:27 pm #


      Sorry you feel the need to unsubscribe because of my view on Alexander III and Nicholas II. Let me point out to you that Nicholas and his family were not sanctified because he was good ruler, they were sanctified for their sacrifice for the faith. Yes, the Bolsheviks murdered the family and they kept the faith but that does not negate the many negative things both Nicholas II and his father did to Russia. Some were beyond their control and others were caused by undue stubbornness.
      I do not using Soviet sources for much of my information as I am well aware of their prejudices. My mothers side of the family was from St. Petersburg and they gave me some of the information about the problems that the last two tsars did not address. I try to be very honest with my material and try to look at both sides of the picture, I would hope you would do the same.


    • Mark Adams May 30, 2014 at 9:14 pm #

      Mark Schauss is right and I like to add that there are people who think Stalin was a good ruler, but I’m sure that’s a minority.

      • Paul June 1, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

        Yeah, especially now. You hear some people saying things like “… but Stalin raised the country from its knees”, justifying his monstrous rule.
        Much like with Putin…

        It’s incredible how capable some people are of closing their eyes enough so that they only see what they want to see.

        (Mark, please remove my previous comment, I meant to post it as a reply. Thank you.)

    • Rajesh JHALANI November 5, 2016 at 9:53 am #

      The murdered Tsar, was a good ruler but for the dreaded disease of his son , the German origin of his wife,he could not handle the situation.Russia was developing well in terms of economic indicatiors during his regime.He did not know art of diplomacy of keeping away his nation from wars.As Russia was more than self- sufficient in terms of resources.The conspiracy of Amarican/Jews finances and Kaiser’s help resulted in he loosing his throne and head,in those difficult circumstances.His co- warriors, the Britishers also deceived him at last moment.What Russia got in
      the end, millions of people lost their lives for decades together.This also
      sowed the seeds of W.W.2.

  5. Paul June 1, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

    Yeah, especially now. You hear some people saying things like “… but Stalin raised the country from its knees”, justifying his monstrous rule.
    Much like with Putin…

    It’s incredible how capable some people are of closing their eyes enough so that they only see what they want to see.

  6. Jonathan March 6, 2017 at 3:41 pm #

    Do your homework people…
    Several points: according to expert American and British economy evaluations of the time, Russia’s economy skyrocketed in the reign of Tsar Nicholas, at a rate greater than any other country (including US);
    Tsar Nicholas II adopted many new, state-of-the-art reforms that revolutionized the state of the Russian Army (despite the protests of his ministers);
    As James Leseke points out, Tsar Nicholas did assume the post of commander-in-chief during WW1 (again, despite his ministers’ protests); what James doesn’t know is that with the Tsar’s arrival the retreating Russian army immediately took the offensive and began gaining land and victories; the Russians’ advance was halted only by the Revolution;
    “Stalin raised Russia from its knees”?!?!?! Ridiculous. My great-grandmother (died recently at the age of 103) recounted with tears the wealth and happiness of people before the revolution, and the misery, diseases, hunger, and death afterwards;
    Alexander III was known as a hard man TO THE REVOLUTIONARIES ONLY, who committed bombings and other acts of terrorism akin to ISIS today (historical fact, guys–do your homework). To them he was truly a hard man (compare to Putin and the Somali pirate boats; the pirates don’t dare attack Russian ships after Putin’s Navy blasted them to bits);
    Tsar Nicholas II was begged for long time by his traitorous ministers to abdicate; he did so after every single person around him assured him that it was for Russia’s best interests;
    Watch some documentary videos (or read letters/written accounts of the time) to see the Russian people’s love for their Sovereign;
    Read the Tsar’s own letters to understand the purity, strong will, and incredible devotion of this man.

    From the entire post above, there is one thing only I can agree with: “It’s incredible how capable some people are of closing their eyes enough so that they only see what they want to see.”

  7. Mark Schauss March 6, 2017 at 4:38 pm #

    1st off, the Russian economy may have grown fast but when you start in the basement, the only move is up.
    Second, state-of-the-art reforms? Who cares, the men in the field didn’t have enough guns to fight, they had to get them from men who were dead in the field.
    Third point, the offensive was not stopped by the Revolution, it was stopped by guns and the Germans. The Russians lost six million men, they didn’t have enough material with which to fight. Your comment is totally unsubstantiated alternative-facts.
    Yeah, your grandmother and mine as well talked about the lost wealth. Oh yeah, my grandmother was very wealthy and she lost everything. The peasants, of which was the majority of the population, no change.
    I’ve read letters, I’ve read written accounts, I’ve even met members of the family of Nicholas II in Cannes when I was there for a month. To a person, they viewed him as a weak leader who was not capable of running a country as vast as Russia.
    Piety was an amazing trait of the man. Devotion, yet another admirable trait. Ruling an empire such as Russia, not something he was good at. Oh, and please read his letters to his wife where he says that.

    • John Coleman May 11, 2017 at 4:39 am #

      Some Basement.

      Russia was the biggest exporter of wheat in the world.
      The biggest exporter of oil.
      It had the largest reserves of gold of any country in history.

      It was set to dominate Europe both economically and politically, the Germans knew it was coming.

  8. Lev Zilbermintz August 3, 2017 at 10:39 pm #

    Just read about Nicholas II being the second-worst Czar. Okay, I am no monarchist, but fair is fair. Nicholas was not prepared to be Emperor. His father, Alexander III, miscalculated his own life-span, and as a result, Nicholas II had no experience with government.

    Russia is an Asiatic country. Its long history has only known autocracy, absolute monarchy. Parliamentary rule started only after the Russian Revolution of 1905. The first Duma was elected in 1906. In 1907, the second Duma was dissolved by the Emperor. Stolypin, the prime minister, then changed electoral law to allow a more conservative element to be elected to the Duma.

    The third Duma served its full term, 1907 – 1912. The fourth Duma, 1912 – 1917, was interrupted by the Russian Revolution. It was dissolved by Kerensky on 19 October 1917.
    The Bolsheviks, after taking power, dissolved the State Duma and State Senate.

    Point is, Russia had no experience with a constitutional monarchy. The assassination of Prime Minister Stolypin in September 1911 removed the only man who could have moved Russia to safety. Stolypin has been cited that if he was given 20 years, he would transform Russia. But the poor man only had five years, 1906 – 1911.

    Had the Czarevich Alexis not been afflicted with hemophilia, the Imperial Family might have avoided falling under the influence of Rasputin. In the absence of a male heir, the Tsar’s youngest brother, Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, might have become the next Emperor. Which he eventually did, on 15 March 1917, but I am getting ahead of myself.

    Nicholas II sincerely believed that he was responsible only to God and history for what happened to Russia. It was how he was educated as a child and young man. That, coupled with inexperience in government, led Nicholas II to make poor choices.

    When the Russian Army was getting creamed in 1915, and Grand Duke Nicholas Nicholaevich, the Supreme Commander, had no idea what to do, there was not much choice. From a military viewpoint, Russia had no famous military leader to take over. Because of the absence of a capable military leader, only the Emperor could take charge. This is what Nicholas II did.

    Hindsight tells us that perhaps General Lavr Kornilov might have made a better Supreme Commander. But Nicholas II did not have the option of choosing a Supreme Commander. As head of state, he had a duty to God and people.

    Nicholas II was not Alexander III, a forceful, powerful person. Rather, Nicholas II was more suited to be a country gentleman in Britain than the ruler of a vast Empire. His cousin Wilhelm II of Germany said as much.

    There was a lot of corruption, incompetence, and greed. Ministers who were not qualified for their positions were appointed, and those that dared oppose Rasputin, dismissed. Grand dukes and generals were corrupt. The War Minister, Sukhomlinow, and Grand Duke Nicolas Nicolaevich feuded over responsibilities, influence, and supplying the army. Grand Duke Georgi Mikhailoch was not fit to be inspector general of the armies. Even the Grand Duke Nicholas was guilty of executing an innocent man, Colonel Myasoedov, who was framed for spying for the Germans.

    By the way, Russia’s last tsar was not Nicholas II. It was his youngest brother, Michael. After Nicholas II abdicated, the throne passed to Michael, who became Tsar Michael II for about sixteen hours. After consultations with members of the provisional government and Duma leaders, Tsar Michael II signed a document deferring acceptance of the crown until it was offered to him the the Constituent Assembly.

    The Assembly was forcibly dissolved by the Bolsheviks in January 1918. Michael II was shot by Bolsheviks in June 1918; Nicholas II, in July 1918.

    The relatives of Nicholas II may well deem him a weak man who lost an empire. But he was the victim of his own family’s bad choices, historically important events, and his own unpreparedness. My question is, given the same situation, who would have done better?

    • Mark Schauss August 4, 2017 at 8:54 am #


      Well thought out reply. While you correctly mention that he was not prepared to be Tsar and that he was considered weak, he was, in my opinion, a very poor ruler. Could someone have done better? I believe that others could have. I actually did a podcast episode on this very topic.


    • Mark Adams September 12, 2017 at 12:18 am #

      Maybe Stolypin could have transformed Russia if not for his premature death, which he could have easily avoided by wearing a bullet-proof vest when offered. While Russia is an Asiatic country, but they had been looking to Europe for influence for centuries, mainly under the reigns of Alexis, Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, before nationalism caused Russia to turn back towards Asia.

      While constitutional monarchy was a reform not considered at the time, it had been considered by Alexander I and Alexander II, but as you said, the assassination of his grandfather had a great impression on Nicholas II, which helps to explain why he tried to follow in the footsteps of his father and great-grandfather (although, one has to wonder why the assassination of his father didn’t make him consider a different approach. Plus, let’s not forget the rules of succession set out by Paul. Also, inbreeding amongst royalty can and has made genetic illnesses more common.

      So, while Nicholas II wasn’t solely responsible for the times he lived in, someone else may have been able to turn things around.

  9. Lev Zilbermintz August 4, 2017 at 1:57 pm #


    Way I see it, Nicholas was the eldest son of the eldest son, and thus the heir to the throne. The only way for him to not take up the throne was to abdicate, as his great-granduncle Constantine Pavlovich had done in 1825. However, Constantine had no desire to be Emperor, as he feared of being murdered, like his father, Emperor Paul I was.

    Nicholas had a strong religious bent and was fatalistic. He believed that God had ordained him to take up the throne. This belief was installed in him by Konstantin D. Pobedonostsev, a trusted lieutenant of Alexander III. More to the point, Nicholas was only 12 when his grandfather Alexander II was assassinated by Narodnaya Volya terrorists in 1881. That incident made a big impression on the young boy.

    Did you know that Alexander III was the second son of Alexander II? Originally, his older brother, Nicholas Alexandrovich, was the heir. However, the young man died in Nice in 1865, aged only 21, of tuberculosis. His bride, the Danish princess Dagmar of Denmark, ended up marrying Alexander Alexandrovich, the new heir.

    Point is, had Nicholas Alexandrovich not died in 1865, he might have become Nicholas II, a more liberal monarch. As it was, it was his nephew, born in 1868, who became Emperor Nicholas II.

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