Nicholas I is one of the most famous emperors of Russia. He ruled the country for 30 years (from 1825 to 1855), between the two Alexandras. Nicholas I made Russia truly enormous. Before his death, she reached her geographical zenith, stretching nearly twenty million square kilometers. Tsar Nicholas I also bore the title of King of Poland and the Grand Duke of Finland. He is known for his conservatism, unwillingness to carry out reforms and the loss of the Crimean War of 1853-1856.
The early years and the path to power
Nicholas I was born in Gatchina in the family of Emperor Paul I and his wife Maria Feodorovna. He was the younger brother of Alexander I and the Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich. Initially, he was not brought up as a future Russian emperor. Nicholas was the youngest child in the family, in which, besides him, there were two older sons, so it was not expected that he would once ascend the throne. But in 1825, Alexander I died of typhus, and Konstantin Pavlovich refused the throne. The next in line was Nikolay. On December 25, he signed a manifesto on his ascension to the throne. The date of death of Alexander I was called the beginning of the reign of Nicholas. The period between it (December 1) and its ascent is called intermediate. At this time, several times the authorities tried to seize the military. This led to the so-called December uprising, but Nicholas I managed to suppress it quickly and successfully.
Nicholas I: years of government
According to numerous contemporaries, the new emperor lacked the spiritual and intellectual breadth of his brother. He was not raised as a future ruler, and this affected when Nicholas I ascended the throne. He saw himself as an autocrat who controls people as he sees fit. He was not the spiritual leader of his people, inspiring people to work and development. Dislike for the new tsar was also explained by the fact that he ascended the throne on Monday, which has long been considered a difficult and unhappy day in Russia. In addition, on December 14, 1825 it was very cold, the temperature dropped below -8 degrees Celsius.
Ordinary people immediately thought it a bad omen. The bloody suppression of the December uprising for the introduction of representative democracy only reinforced this view. This event at the very beginning of the reign affected Nicholas very badly. For all the subsequent years of his reign, he will impose censorship and other forms of education and other spheres of public life, and His Majesty’s Office will contain a network of all kinds of spies and gendarmes.
Nicholas I was afraid of all sorts of forms of national independence. He abolished the autonomy of the Bessarabian region in 1828, Poland - in 1830, and the Jewish Kagala - in 1843. The only exception to this trend was Finland. She managed to preserve her autonomy (largely due to the participation of her army in the suppression of the November uprising in Poland).
Character and spiritual qualities
The biographer of Nikolai Rizanovsky describes the rigidity, dedication and iron will of the new emperor. He talks about his sense of duty and hard work on himself. According to Rizanovsky, Nicholas I saw himself as a soldier who devoted his life to service for the benefit of his people. But he was only an organizer, not a spiritual leader. He was an attractive man, but extremely nervous and aggressive. Often the emperor was too hung up on the details, not seeing the whole picture. The ideology of his rule is “official nationalism”. It was proclaimed in 1833. The policy of Nicholas I was based on Orthodoxy, autocracy and Russian nationalism. Let us dwell on this issue in more detail.
Nicholas I: foreign policy
The emperor was successful in his campaigns against southern enemies. He took the last territories of the Caucasus from Persia, which included modern Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Russian Empire received Dagestan and Georgia. His success in ending the Russian-Persian war of 1826-1828 allowed him to gain an advantage in the Caucasus. He completed the confrontation with the Turks. He was often called behind his eyes the “gendarme of Europe”. He really constantly offered to help in suppressing the uprising. But in 1853 Nicholas I got involved in the Crimean War, which led to disastrous results. Historians emphasize that the terrible consequences are to blame not only for an unsuccessful strategy, but also for the flaws in local control and the corruption of his army. Therefore, it is often said that the reign of Nicholas I is a mixture of unsuccessful domestic and foreign policy, which put the common people on the brink of survival.
Military and Army
Nicholas I is known for his large army. She numbered about a million people. This meant that approximately every 50th man was a military man. They had outdated technology and tactics, but the king, dressed as a soldier and surrounded by officers, celebrated his victory over Napoleon every year with a parade. Horses, for example, were not trained for battles, but looked great during processions. Behind all this brilliance was a real degradation. Nikolai put his generals at the head of many ministries, despite their lack of experience and qualifications. He tried to extend his power even to the church. At its head was put the agnostic, known for his military exploits. The army has become a social elevator for notable young people from Poland, the Baltic, Finland and Georgia. Criminals who could not adapt to society also sought to become military men.
Nevertheless, throughout the entire reign of Nicholas, the Russian Empire remained a force to be reckoned with. And only the Crimean War showed the world its technical backwardness and corruption within the army.
Achievements and censorship
During the reign of Alexander the First, the first railway in the Russian Empire was opened. It stretches for 16 miles, connecting St. Petersburg with the southern residence in Tsarskoye Selo. The second line was built in 9 years (from 1842 to 1851). She connected Moscow with St. Petersburg. But progress in this area was still too slow.
In 1833, Minister of Education Sergey Uvarov developed the program “Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationalism” as the main ideology of the new regime. People had to demonstrate loyalty to the king, love of Orthodoxy, traditions and the Russian language. The result of these Slavophile principles was the suppression of class differences, extensive censorship and the surveillance of such independent poets and thinkers like Pushkin and Lermontov. Figures who did not write in Russian or belonged to other denominations were severely persecuted. The great Ukrainian singer and writer Taras Shevchenko was sent into exile where he was forbidden to draw or compose poems.
Nicholas I did not like serfdom. He often played with the idea of canceling it, but did not do so for state reasons. Nikolai was too afraid of increasing free-thinking among the people, believing that this could lead to uprisings like the December one. In addition, he was wary of aristocrats and was afraid that such reforms would make them turn away from him. However, the sovereign still tried to somewhat improve the position of the serfs. Minister Pavel Kiselev helped him in this.
All the reforms of Nicholas I just concentrated around the serfs. Throughout his reign, he tried to strengthen control over landowners and other influential groups in Russia. Created a category of state serfs with special rights. Restricted votes from the Honorary Assembly. Now this right was only among the landowners, in whose subordination there were more than a hundred serfs. In 1841, the emperor banned the sale of serfs separately from the land.
The reign of Nicholas the First is the time of the ideology of Russian nationalism. Among the intelligentsia, it was fashionable to argue about the place of the empire in the world and its future. Debates were constantly between pro-Western leaders and Slavophiles. The former believed that the Russian Empire had stopped its development, and further progress was possible only through Europeanization. Another group, the Slavophiles, assured that it was necessary to concentrate on the original folk customs and traditions. They saw the possibility of development in Russian culture, and not in Western rationalism and materialism. Some believed in the country's mission to free other nations from cruel capitalism. But Nicholas didn’t like any free thinking, therefore the Ministry of Education often closed the faculties of philosophy because of their possible negative impact on the younger generation. The benefits of Slavophilism were not considered.
After the December uprising, the emperor decided to devote all his rule to preserving the status quo. He began with the centralization of the education system. Nicholas I sought to neutralize attractive Western ideas and what he calls “pseudo-inquiries”. However, Education Minister Sergei Uvarov secretly welcomed the freedom and autonomy of educational institutions. He even managed to raise academic standards and improve learning conditions, as well as open universities for the middle class. But in 1848, the king abolished these innovations for fear that pro-Western sentiments would lead to possible uprisings.
Universities were small, and the Ministry of Education constantly monitored their programs. The main mission was not to miss the moment the appearance of pro-Western moods. The main task was to educate the youth of the true patriots of Russian culture. But, despite the repression, at this time there was a flourishing of culture and the arts. Russian literature has received worldwide fame. The works of Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol and Ivan Turgenev secured for them the status of real masters of their craft.
Death and heirs
Nikolai Romanov died in March 1855 during the Crimean War. He caught a cold and died of pneumonia. An interesting fact is that the emperor refused treatment. There were even rumors that he committed suicide, unable to withstand the oppression of the catastrophic consequences of his military failures. Son of Nicholas I - Alexander II - took the throne. He was destined to become the most famous reformer after Peter the Great. The children of Nicholas I were born both in marriage and not. The wife of the sovereign was Alexandra Fedorovna, and the mistress was Varvara Nelidova. But, as his biographers note, the emperor did not know what real passion was. He was too organized and disciplined for that. He was favorable to women, but not one of them could turn his head.
Many biographers call Nikolai’s foreign and domestic policies disastrous. One of the most loyal supporters - A. V. Nikitenko - noted that the whole reign of the emperor was a mistake. However, some scientists are still trying to improve the reputation of the king. Historian Barbara Jelawic notes many mistakes, including the bureaucracy, which led to violations, corruption and inefficiency, but did not consider his entire board a complete failure.
Under Nicholas, the Kiev National University was founded, as well as about 5,000 other similar institutions. Censorship was omnipresent, but this did not hinder the development of freethinking. Historians celebrate the good heart of Nicholas, who just had to behave the way he behaved. Every ruler has his failures and achievements. But it seems that the people could not forgive anything for Nicholas. His rule largely determined the time in which he had to live and govern the country.