Nicholas I, Tsar of Russia

Nicholas I, Tsar of Russia
   Tsar of Russia from 1825 to 1855. Unlike his elder brothers, whose education was largely overseen by their liberal grandmother, Catherine the Great, Nicholas’s education was guided by his mother and militaristic father, Paul I, who admired all things Prussian. It was the way in which his reign began, however, with the Decembrist uprising, that pushed him further along the path of conservatism. In December 1825, with the announcement of Alexander I ’s death, a group of intellectuals, long disgruntled by the slow progress of liberalism in Russia, staged an attempted coup. After a lengthy standoff, Nicholas used troops to disperse the would-be revolutionaries, and began a reign dominated by conservative and reactionary policies.
   Nicholas inherited a country with many problems: industrial backwardness, an outdated socioeconomic order based on serfdom; an enormous, corrupt, and ineffective bureaucracy; and an impoverished nobility. Nicholas, however, believed in the soundness of the current social and political order and was unwilling to share his power. He chose instead to rule through an extreme form of absolute monarchy, combined with an emphasis on orthodoxy and nationality, set forth in 1833 in a doctrine called “Official Nationality.” Domestically, Nicholas surrounded himself with military men and avoided the use of consultative bodies, preferring to govern through ad hoc committees and personal institutions. His conservatism made it difficult to implement any real reforms, particularly regarding the crucial issue of serfdom, which remained virtually untouched during his reign. Nicholas did succeed, however, in producing a new law code, the first since 1649, and also enacted some minimal reforms to improve the conditions of state peasants, but any hope of further reform ceased with the outbreak of revolutions across Europe in 1848.
   Frightened by these revolutions, Nicholas became reactionary. He forbade Russians from traveling abroad; further restricted university admissions, autonomy, and academic freedom; and increased censorship. In foreign affairs, Nicholas also displayed conservatism, putting down an uprising in Poland in 1830, and imposing a policy of “Russification.” His relationship with the Ottoman Empire was less consistent; he supported the Ottoman sultan in his struggles with internal challenges from the Egyptians but challenged the Turks on the question of which church, the Greek Orthodox or Roman Catholic, should have guardianship over the Holy Places in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth. This conflict led to the Crimean War (1853–1856), during which Nicholas died in 1855.
   See also <>.
    Kagan, Frederick W. The Military Reforms of Nicholas I: The Origins of the Modern Russian Army. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999;
    Lincoln, W. Bruce, Nicholas I. Dekalb: Northern Illinois Press, 1989;
    Pintner, Walter McKenzie. Russian Economic Policy under Nicholas I. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1967.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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