|Intro||Emperor of Russia|
|Birth||26 February 1845, Saint Petersburg|
|Death||20 October 1894, Livadiya (aged 49 years)|
Alexander III (Russian: Алекса́ндр III Алекса́ндрович, tr. Aleksandr III Aleksandrovich; 10 March [O.S. 26 February] 1845 – 1 November [O.S. 20 October] 1894) was the Emperor of Russia, King of Poland, and Grand Duke of Finland from 13 March [O.S. 1 March] 1881 until his death on 1 November [O.S. 20 October] 1894. He was highly conservative and reversed some of the liberal reforms of his father, Alexander II. During Alexander's reign Russia fought no major wars, for which he was styled "The Peacemaker" (Russian: Миротво́рец, Mirotvórets; IPA: [mʲɪrɐˈtvorʲɪt͡s]).
Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich was born on 10 March 1845 at the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire, the second son and third child of Emperor Alexander II of Russia and his first wife Maria Alexandrovna (Marie of Hesse).
In disposition Alexander bore little resemblance to his soft-hearted, liberal father, and still less to his refined, philosophic, sentimental, chivalrous, yet cunning great-uncle, Emperor Alexander I of Russia, who could have been given the title of "the first gentleman of Europe". Although an enthusiastic amateur musician and patron of the ballet, Alexander was seen as lacking refinement and elegance. Indeed, he rather relished the idea of being of the same rough texture as some of his subjects. His straightforward, abrupt manner savoured sometimes of gruffness, while his direct, unadorned method of expressing himself harmonized well with his rough-hewn, immobile features and somewhat sluggish movements. His education was not such as to soften these peculiarities. More than six feet tall (about 1.9 m), he was also noted for his immense physical strength. A sebaceous cyst on the left side of his nose caused him to be mocked by some of his contemporaries, and he sat for photographs and portraits with the right side of his face most prominent.
An account from the memoirs of the artist Alexander Benois gives one impression of Alexander III:
After a performance of the ballet Tsar Kandavl at the Mariinsky Theatre, I first caught sight of the Emperor. I was struck by the size of the man, and although cumbersome and heavy, he was still a mighty figure. There was indeed something of the muzhik [Russian peasant] about him. The look of his bright eyes made quite an impression on me. As he passed where I was standing, he raised his head for a second, and to this day I can remember what I felt as our eyes met. It was a look as cold as steel, in which there was something threatening, even frightening, and it struck me like a blow. The Tsar's gaze! The look of a man who stood above all others, but who carried a monstrous burden and who every minute had to fear for his life and the lives of those closest to him. In later years I came into contact with the Emperor on several occasions, and I felt not the slightest bit timid. In more ordinary cases Tsar Alexander III could be at once kind, simple, and even almost homely.
Though he was destined to be a strongly counter-reforming emperor, Alexander had little prospect of succeeding to the throne during the first two decades of his life, as he had an elder brother, Nicholas, who seemed of robust constitution. Even when Nicholas first displayed symptoms of delicate health, the notion that he might die young was never taken seriously, and he was betrothed to Princess Dagmar of Denmark, daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark and Queen Louise of Denmark, and whose siblings included King Frederick VIII of Denmark, Alexandra, Queen of the United Kingdom and King George I of Greece. Great solicitude was devoted to the education of Nicholas as tsesarevich, whereas Alexander received only the training of an ordinary Grand Duke of that period. This included acquaintance with French, English and German, and military drill.
Alexander became Tsesarevich upon Nicholas's sudden death in 1865; it was then that he began to study the principles of law and administration under Konstantin Pobedonostsev, then a professor of civil law at Moscow State University and later (from 1880) chief procurator of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in Russia. Pobedonostsev instilled into the young man's mind the belief that zeal for Russian Orthodox thought was an essential factor of Russian patriotism to be cultivated by every right-minded emperor. While he was heir apparent from 1865 to 1881 Alexander did not play a prominent part in public affairs, but allowed it to become known that he had ideas which did not coincide with the principles of the existing government.
On his deathbed the previous tsesarevich was said to have expressed the wish that his fiancée, Princess Dagmar of Denmark, should marry his successor. This wish was swiftly realized when on 9 November [O.S. 28 October] 1866 in the Grand Church of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Alexander wed Dagmar, who converted to Orthodox Christianity and took the name Maria Feodorovna. The union proved a happy one to the end; unlike his father's, there was no adultery in his marriage. The couple spent their wedding night at the Tsesarevich's private dacha known as "My Property".
Later on the Tsesarevich became estranged from his father; this was due to their vastly differing political views, as well was his resentment towards Alexander II's long-standing relationship with Catherine Dolgorukov (with whom he had several illegitimate children) while his mother, the Empress, was suffering from chronic ill-health. To the scandal of many at court, including the Tsesarevich himself, Alexander II married Catherine a mere month after Marie Alexandrovna's death in 1880.
On 1 March 1881 (O.S.) Alexander's father, Alexander II, was assassinated by members of the terrorist organization Narodnaya Volya. As a result, he ascended to the Russian imperial throne in Nennal on 13 March 1881. He and Maria Feodorovna were officially crowned and anointed on 27 May 1883.
On the day of his assassination Alexander II had signed an ukaz setting up consultative commissions to advise the monarch. On ascending to the throne, however, Alexander III took Pobedonostsev's advice and canceled the policy before its publication. He made it clear that his autocracy would not be limited.
All of Alexander III's internal reforms aimed to reverse the liberalization that had occurred in his father's reign. The new Emperor believed that remaining true to Russian Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality (the ideology introduced by his grandfather, emperor Nicholas I) would save Russia from revolutionary agitation. Alexander's political ideal was a nation composed of a single nationality, language, and religion, as well as one form of administration. He attempted to realize this by the institution of mandatory teaching of the Russian language throughout the empire, including to his German, Polish, and other non-Russian subjects (with the exception of the Finns), by the patronization of Eastern Orthodoxy, by the destruction of the remnants of German, Polish, and Swedish institutions in the respective provinces, and by the weakening of Judaism through persecution of the Jews. The latter policy was implemented in the "May Laws" of 1882, which banned Jews from inhabiting rural areas and shtetls (even within the Pale of Settlement) and restricted the occupations in which they could engage.
Alexander weakened the power of the zemstva (elective local administrative bodies resembling British parish councils) and placed the administration of peasant communes under the supervision of land-owning proprietors appointed by his government. These "land captains" (zemskiye nachalniki) were feared and resented throughout the Empire's peasant communities. These acts weakened the nobility and the peasantry and brought Imperial administration under the Emperor's personal control.
In such policies Alexander III had the encouragement of Konstantin Pobedonostsev, who retained control of the Church in Russia through his long tenure as Procurator of the Holy Synod (from 1880 to 1905) and who became tutor to Alexander's son and heir, Nicholas. (Pobedonostsev appears as "Toporov" in Tolstoy's novel Resurrection.) Other conservative advisors included Count D. A. Tolstoy (minister of education, and later of internal affairs) and I. N. Durnovo (D. A. Tolstoy's successor in the latter post). Mikhail Katkov and other journalists supported the emperor in his autocracy – as did the novelist Dostoyevsky.
Encouraged by its successful assassination of Alexander II, the Narodnaya Volya movement began planning the murder of Alexander III. The Okhrana uncovered the plot and five of the conspirators, including Alexander Ulyanov, the older brother of Vladimir Lenin, were captured and hanged on 20 May [O.S. 8 May] 1887. On 29 October [O.S. 17 October] 1888 the Imperial train derailed in an accident at Borki. At the moment of the crash, the imperial family was in the dining car. Its roof collapsed, and Alexander supposedly held its remains on his shoulders as the children fled outdoors. The onset of Alexander’s kidney failure was later attributed to the blunt trauma suffered in this incident.
The famine of 1891–1892 and the ensuing cholera epidemic permitted some liberal activity, as the Russian government could not cope with the crisis and had to allow zemstvos to help with relief (among others, Tolstoy helped organize soup-kitchens, and Chekhov directed anti-cholera precautions in several villages).
In foreign affairs Alexander III was a man of peace, but not at any price, and held that the best means of averting war is to be well-prepared for it. Though he was indignant at the conduct of German chancellor Otto von Bismarck towards Russia, he avoided an open rupture with Germany—even reviving the League of Three Emperors for a period of time—and in 1887, signed the Reinsurance Treaty with the Germans. However, in 1890, the expiration of the treaty coincided with the dismissal of Bismarck by the new German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II (for whom the Tsar had an immense dislike), and the unwillingness of Wilhelm II's government to renew the treaty. In response Alexander III then began cordial relations with France, eventually entering into an alliance with the French in 1892.
Despite chilly relations with Berlin, the Tsar nevertheless confined himself to keeping a large number of troops near the German frontier. With regard to Bulgaria he exercised similar self-control. The efforts of Prince Alexander and afterwards of Stambolov to destroy Russian influence in the principality roused his indignation, but he vetoed all proposals to intervene by force of arms.
In Central Asian affairs he followed the traditional policy of gradually extending Russian domination without provoking conflict with the United Kingdom (see Panjdeh Incident), and he never allowed the bellicose partisans of a forward policy to get out of hand. His reign cannot be regarded as an eventful period of Russian history; but under his hard rule the country made considerable progress.
Alexander and his wife regularly spent their summers at Langinkoski manor near Kotka on the Finnish coast, where their children were immersed in a Scandinavian lifestyle of relative modesty.
Alexander deprecated foreign influence, German influence in particular, thus the adoption of local national principles was off in all spheres of official activity, with a view to realizing his ideal of a Russia homogeneous in language, administration and religion. These ideas conflicted with those of his father, who had German sympathies despite being a patriot; Alexander II often used the German language in his private relations, occasionally ridiculed the Slavophiles and based his foreign policy on the Prussian alliance.
Some differences had first appeared during the Franco-Prussian War, when Alexander II supported the cabinet of Berlin while the Tsesarevich made no effort to conceal his sympathies for the French. These sentiments would resurface during 1875-1879, when the Eastern Question excited Russian society. At first the Tsesarevich was more Slavophile than the government, but his phlegmatic nature restrained him from many exaggerations, and any popular illusions he may have imbibed were dispelled by personal observation in Bulgaria, where he commanded the left wing of the invading army. Never consulted on political questions, Alexander confined himself to military duties and fulfilled them in a conscientious and unobtrusive manner. After many mistakes and disappointments, the army reached Constantinople and the Treaty of San Stefano was signed, but much that had been obtained by that important document had to be sacrificed at the Congress of Berlin.
Bismarck failed to do what was expected of him by the Russian emperor. In return for the Russian support which had enabled him to create the German Empire, it was thought that he would help Russia to solve the Eastern question in accordance with Russian interests, but to the surprise and indignation of the cabinet of Saint Petersburg he confined himself to acting the part of "honest broker" at the Congress, and shortly afterwards contracted an alliance with Austria-Hungary for the purpose of counteracting Russian designs in Eastern Europe.
The Tsesarevich could refer to these results as confirmation of the views he had expressed during the Franco-Prussian War; he concluded that for Russia, the best thing was to recover as quickly as possible from her temporary exhaustion, and prepare for future contingencies by military and naval reorganization. In accordance with this conviction, he suggested that certain reforms should be introduced.
Following his father's assassination, Alexander III was advised that it would be difficult for him to be kept safe at the Winter Palace. As a result, Alexander relocated his family to the Gatchina Palace, located twenty miles south of St. Petersburg, making it his primary residence. Under heavy guard he would make occasional visits into St. Petersburg, but even then he would stay in the Anichkov Palace, as opposed to the Winter Palace.
In the 1860s Alexander fell madly in love with his mother's lady-in-waiting, Princess Maria Elimovna Meshcherskaya. Dismayed to learn that Prince Wittgenstein had proposed to her in spring 1866, he told his parents that he was prepared to give up his rights of succession in order to marry his beloved "Dusenka". On 19 May 1866, Alexander II informed his son that Russia had come to an agreement with the parents of Princess Dagmar of Denmark, his tenth cousin. Before then, she had been the fiancée of his late elder brother Nicholas. At first Alexander refused to travel to Copenhagen, declaring that he did not love Dagmar and his desire to marry Maria. In response the enraged emperor ordered Alexander to go straight to Denmark and propose to Princess Dagmar. The Tsesarevich then realised that he was not a free man and that duty had to come first and foremost; the only thing left to do was to write in his diary "Farewell, dear Dusenka." Maria was forced to leave Russia, accompanied by her aunt, Princess Chernyshova. Almost a year after her first appearance in Paris, Pavel Pavlovich Demidov, 2nd Prince di San Donato, fell in love with her and the couple married in 1867. Maria would die giving birth to her son Elim Pavlovich Demidov, 3rd Prince di San Donato. Alexander's reaction to the news of her death and the birth of her child is unknown.
Alexander soon grew fond of Dagmar and had six children by her, five of whom survived into adulthood: Nicholas (b. 1868), George (b. 1871), Xenia (b. 1875), Michael (b. 1878) and Olga (b. 1882). Of his five surviving children, he was closest to his youngest two.
Each summer his parents-in-law, King Christian IX and Queen Louise, held family reunions at the Danish royal palaces of Fredensborg and Bernstorff, bringing Alexander, Maria and their children to Denmark. His sister-in-law, the Princess of Wales, would come from Great Britain with some of her children, and his brother-in-law, King George I of Greece, his wife, Queen Olga, who was a first cousin of Alexander and a Romanov Grand Duchess by birth, came with their children from Athens. In contrast to the strict security observed in Russia, Alexander and Maria revelled in the relative freedom that they enjoyed in Denmark, Alexander once commenting to the Prince and Princess of Wales near the end of a visit that he envied them being able to return to a happy home in England, while he was returning to his Russian prison. In Denmark, he was able to enjoy joining his children in muddy ponds looking for tadpoles, sneaking into his father-in-law's orchard to steal apples, and playing pranks, such as turning a water hose on the visiting King Oscar II of Sweden.
As Tsesarevich—and then as Tsar—Alexander had an extremely poor relationship with his brother Grand Duke Vladimir. This tension was reflected in the rivalry between Maria Feodorovna and Vladimir's wife, Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna. Alexander had better relationships with his other brothers: Alexei (whom he made rear admiral and then a grand admiral of the Russian Navy), Sergei (whom he made governor of Moscow) and Paul.
Despite the antipathy that Alexander had towards his stepmother, Princess Catherine Dolgorukov, he nevertheless allowed her to remain in the Winter Palace for some time after his father's assassination and to retain various keepsakes of him. These included Alexander II's blood-soaked uniform that he died wearing, and his reading glasses.
Illness and death
In 1894 Alexander III became ill with terminal kidney disease (nephritis). In the fall of that year, Maria Fyodorovna's sister-in-law, Queen Olga of Greece, offered her villa of Mon Repos, on the island of Corfu, in the hope that it might improve the Tsar's condition. However, by the time that they reached Crimea, they stayed at the Maly Palace in Livadia, as Alexander was too weak to travel any further. Recognizing that the Tsar's days were numbered, various imperial relatives began to descend on Livadia. Even the famed clergyman, John of Kronstadt, paid a visit and administered Communion to the Tsar. On 21 October, Alexander received Nicholas's fiancée, Princess Alix, who had come from her native Darmstadt to receive the Tsar's blessing. Despite being exceedingly weak, Alexander insisted on receiving Alix in full dress uniform, an event that left him exhausted. Soon after, his health began to rapidly deteriorate. He eventually died in the arms of his wife at Maly Palace in Livadia on the afternoon of 1 November [O.S. 20 October] 1894 at the age of forty-nine, and was succeeded by his eldest son Tsesarevich Nicholas, who took the throne as Nicholas II. After leaving Livadia on 6 November and traveling to St. Petersburg by way of Moscow, his remains were interred on 18 November at the Peter and Paul Fortress.
Alexander III had six children (five of whom survived to adulthood) of his marriage with Princess Dagmar of Denmark, also known as Marie Feodorovna.
(Note: all dates prior to 1918 are in the Old Style Calendar)
|Emperor Nicholas II of Russia||18 May 1868||17 July 1918||married November 26, 1894, Princess Alix of Hesse (1872-1918); had five children|
|Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich of Russia||7 June 1869||2 May 1870||died of meningitis, aged 10 months and 26 days|
|Grand Duke George Alexandrovich of Russia||9 May 1871||9 August 1899||died of tuberculosis, aged 28; had no issue|
|Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna of Russia||6 April 1875||20 April 1960||married August 6, 1894, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich of Russia (1866-1933); sep. April 11, 1919; had seven children|
|Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich of Russia||4 December 1878||13 June 1918||married October 16, 1912, Natalia Sergeyevna Wulfert (1880-1952); had one child|
|Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia||13 June 1882||24 November 1960||married August 9, 1901, Duke Peter Alexandrovich of Oldenburg (1868-1924); div. October 16, 1916; had no issue. |
married November 16, 1916, Colonel Nikolai Kulikovsky (1881-1958); had two children
|Ancestors of Alexander III of Russia|
In 1909 a bronze equestrian statue of Alexander III sculpted by Paolo Troubetzkoy was placed in Znamenskaya Square in front of the Moscow Rail Terminal in St. Petersburg. Both the horse and rider were sculpted in massive form, leading to the nickname of "hippopotamus". Following the Revolution of 1917 the statue remained in place as a symbol of tsarist autocracy until 1937 when it was placed in storage. In 1994 it was again put on public display, in front of the Marble Palace.
Another memorial is located in the city of Irkutsk at the Angara embankment.
Titles, styles, honours and Arms
Titles and styles
- 10 March 1845 – 2 March 1865: His Imperial Highness Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich of Russia
- 2 March 1865 – 13 March 1881: His Imperial Highness The Tsesarevich of Russia
- 13 March 1881 – 1 November 1894: His Imperial Majesty The Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias
- Order of St. Andrew (17 March 1845)
- Order of St. Alexander Nevsky (17 May 1845)
- Order of St. Anna 1st class (17 May 1845)
- Order of the White Eagle (17 May 1845)
- Order of St. Vladimir, 4th class (6 August 1864)
- Order of St. Stanislaus, 1st class (11 June 1865)
- Order of St. Vladimir, 2nd class (30 August 1870)
- Order of St. Vladimir, 1st class with swords (15 September 1877)
- Order of St. George, 2nd class (30 November 1877)
- Prussia: Order of the Black Eagle (27 July 1857)
- Grand Duchy of Hesse: Ludwig Order (27 August 1857)
- Württemberg: Order of the Crown (8 September 1864)
- Hanover: Order of St. George (16 May 1865)
- Hanover: Royal Guelphic Order (16 May 1865)
- Netherlands: Order of the Netherlands Lion (19 May 1865)
- Denmark: Order of the Elephant (22 May 1865)
- Sweden: Royal Order of the Seraphim (2 June 1865)
- Kingdom of Bavaria: Order of St. Hubert (3 June 1865)
- Belgium: Order of Leopold (11 June 1865)
- Mecklenburg-Strelitz: House Order of the Wendish Crown (22 June 1865)
- Kingdom of Italy: Supreme Order of the Most Holy Annunciation (5 July 1865)
- France: Légion d'Honneur (18 July 1865)
- Portugal: Order of the Tower and Sword (14 August 1865)
- Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach: Order of the White Falcon (20 September 1865)
- Spain: Order of the Golden Fleece (3 December 1865)
- Empire of Brazil: Order of the Southern Cross (14 January 1866)
- Empire of Brazil: Order of Pedro I (15 September 1868)
- Ottoman Empire: Order of Osmanieh (1 April 1866)
- Mexico: Order of the Mexican Eagle (10 April 1866)
- Denmark: Order of the Dannebrog (11 June 1866)
- Greece: Order of the Redeemer (15 July 1866)
- Hungary: Order of St. Stephen of Hungary (24 October 1866)
- Saxony: Order of the Rue Crown (25 November 1866)
- Principality of Montenegro: Order of Prince Danilo I (4 January 1867)
- Persia: Royal Portrait of the Shah of Persia (15 December 1869)
- Portugal: Order of Aviz (19 August 1873)
- Sovereign Military Order of Malta (22 January 1876)
- Romania: Order of the Star of Romania (15 November 1877)
- Prussia: Pour le Mérite (3 December 1877)
- Mecklenburg-Schwerin: Order of Military Merit (3 December 1877)
- Romania: Military Virtue Medal (17 January 1878)
- Serbia: Order of the Cross of Takovo (26 March 1878)
- Romania: Crossing of the Danube Medal (10 May 1879)
- Norway: Order of St. Olav (20 August 1879)
- Japan: Order of the Rising Sun (28 August 1879)