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Nicholas I



Nicholas was the son of the Grand Duke Paul and Grand Duchess Maria. His father Paul showed him kindness and consideration, and he loved and cherished him. Nicholas was not very close with his older brothers, Alexander I, and Constantine; although he was intimate with his younger siblings, Michael and Anne. Paul was killed during the Revolution of 1801, which made Alexander emperor when Nicholas wasn't even five years old. Maria remained formal and cold on her relationship to the children and kept with her general character.

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Jane Lyopn took care of Nicholas. She constantly stayed with Nicholas for the first seven years of his life. From her, he learned the Russian alphabet, his first Russian prayers, his hatred of the Polish. Later, his teachers in life were women. When he was directed by General Matthew Lamsdorff, he learned severe discipline and formalism. The growing grand duke studied French, German, History, Geography, Religion, Arithmetic, Geometry, Algebra, and Physics. He also received instructions in dancing, music, singing, and horseback riding. A few years later, his curriculum was more advanced. His courses ranged from English, Latin, Greek, Law, Logic, Economy, and Moral Philosophy. Nicholas loved military science and became a fine engineer (Grunwald, 1946).

On November 4, 1815, Alexander I and King Frederick William III announced the engagement of Princess Charlotte at a state dinner in Berlin. On July 13, 1817, Nicholas I and Princess Charlotte of Prussia were solemnly married after some twenty months. The match represented a political and dynastic arrangement sought by both reigning houses. These allies stood together in later years against Napoleon and after that at the Congress of Vienna--the peace settlement following the Napoleonic wars--and it proved singularly successful. Not only was Nicholas in love with his wife, but he became close to his father-in-law and royal brothers. Nicholas was powerfully attracted by the Prussian Army. He felt remarkably happy and at home in his adopted family and country, for which many years he tried to visit as often as he could.

Nicholas stayed mainly in England, although he traveled to a score of other places. He did attend the opening of the houses of Parliament and in general obtained some knowledge of English politics. The future emperor found it much more congenial to examine military and naval centers. His favorite English companion was the Duke of Wellington. Less than a year after his marriage, Nicholas was appointed Inspector General of the Army Corps of Engineers (Riassanovasky, 1969).

Alexander I's unexpected death in southern Russia on Dec.1 1825, led to a dynastic crisis. Because Alexander I had no direct male successor, Constantine was the next in line for the throne. But the heir presumptive had married a Polish woman not of Royal blood in 1820 and renounced his rights to the crown. Nicholas was thus to become the next ruler or Russia, the entire matter being stated, in 1822, in a manifesto confirmed with Alexander I's signature. But the manifesto remained unpublished, and Nicholas questioned the legal handling of the whole issue and the reaction in the country, which expected Constantine to succeed Alexander. In any case, Constantine and the Polish kingdom of which he was commander in chief swore allegiance to Nicholas, but Nicholas, the Russian capital, and the Russian Army swore allegiance to Constantine.

It was only after Constantine's underlying reaffirmation of his position and the resulting lapse of time that Nicholas decided to publish Alexander's manifesto and become emperor of Russia. On Dec. 26 1825 when the guard regiments in St. Petersburg were to swear allegiance for the second time in rapid succession, this time Nicholas, liberal conspirators staged what came to be known as the Decembrist Rebellion. Utilizing their influence in the army, in which many of them entreated to defend the rightful interests of Constantine against his uprising brother. Altogether some 3,000 misled rebels marched in military formation to the Senate Square--now the rebellion had failed by night all, it meant that Nicholas I ascended the throne over the bodies of some of his subjects and in actual combat with the dreaded revolution.


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(1). De Grunwald, Constantin. Tsar Nicholas I (1954; originally published in French, 1946).

(2). Riassanovasky, Nicholas Valentine. Nicholas I and Official Nationality in Russia, 1825-1855 (1959 re-issued 1969).


Schiemann, Theodor. Geschichte Russlands unter Kaiser Nikolaus I, 4 vol. (1904-1919, reprinted 1969).

Lincoln, W. Bruce. Nicolas, Emperor and Autocrat of All Russians (1978, reprinted in 1989).

Presniakov, A. E. Emperor Nicholas I of Russia: The Apogee of Autocracy, 1825-1865 ( 1974; originally published in Russian, 1925).

Edited by Antionette Montoya
Research by Quynh Huynh
Written by Rumana Tayyab

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