Letter from Nicholas II to his mother (1905)


In 1905 Nicholas II wrote to his mother, the Dowager Empress, about the violence and disorder which had gripped Russia through the year:


“My Dearest Mama,

I do not know how to begin this letter. We have been through such grave and unprecedented events that I feel as if the last time I wrote to you was a year ago. You remember, no doubt, those January days when we were together at Tsarskoe – they were miserable, weren’t they? But they are nothing in comparison with what has happened now…

The first railway strike began in and around Moscow, and then spread all over Russia practically at once. Petersburg and Moscow were entirely cut off from the interior… From the railways the strike spread to the factories and workshops, and then even to the municipal organisations and services, and lastly to the Railway Department of the Ministry of Ways and Communications. What a shame, just think of it!

God knows what happened in the universities. Every kind of riff raff walked in from the streets, riot was loudly proclaimed – nobody seemed to mind. The government bodies of the universities were granted autonomy but they do not know how to use it…

It makes me sick to read the news! Nothing but new strikes in schools and factories, murdered policemen, Cossacks and soldiers, riots, disorder, mutinies. But the ministers, instead of acting with quick decision, only assemble in council like a lot of frightened hens and cackle about providing united ministerial action.

There were only two ways open: to find and energetic solder and crush the rebellion by sheer force. There would be time to breathe then but, as likely as not, one would have to use force again in a few months; and that would mean rivers of blood, and in the end we should be where we had started… and no possibility of progress achieved. The other way out would be to give the people their civil rights, freedom of speech and press, also to have all laws confirmed by a State Duma… a constitution.

Witte defends this very energetically. He says that while it is not with risk, it’s the only way out at the present moment… he and Alexei Obolensky [the Education Minister] drew up the Manifesto. We discussed it for two days, and in the end, invoking God’s help, I signed. My dear Mam, you can’t imagine what I went through before that moment; in my telegram I could not explain all the circumstances which brought me to this terrible decision, which nevertheless I took quite consciously. From all over Russia they cried for it, they begged for it, and around me many – very many – held the same views. I had nobody to rely on except honest Trepov…

The situation is very serious, in spite of the fact that I keep receiving declarations of very touching loyalty and thankfulness. The people seem to have gone mad, some from joy, others from discontent. All the ministers are resigning and we have to find new ones, but Witte must see to that…

We are in the midst of a revolution with an administrative apparatus entirely disorganised, and in this lies the main danger. But God Almighty will be our help … I know you are praying for your poor Nicky. Our Saviour be with you! May God save and give peace to Russia.

Yours with all my heart,
Nicky”