With great excitement, I opened a new book today – a relatively recently
The first myth – Nicholas’ supposed indifference, or rather stupidity – is often based on his diary entries. Clearly, he was not a man who had a great deal of time to keep a journal when he was so engrossed in the pressures of his office that he often worked from dawn till the early hours, snatching only a few hours sleep on a divan in his study. The fact that he writes, “I shall take up dominoes again...” or that at his abdication, he said, “I shall go to Livadia; I like the flowers there...” is taken completely out of context. How often, in the midst of hectic circumstances, do you think of some simple pleasure that you would so love to enjoy again? At the end of an extremely exhausting day, it is a relief to think of ‘gentler’ days and what you might do if you were free of the present demands. One one level, these lines show the heart of the man but, taken out of context, do not capture his character at all. There are several accounts of Nicholas being woken in the middle of the night to deal with an issue which, in the overall scheme of things, might seem unimportant - a lowly peasant needing help; a prisoner whose family came desperately pleading his cause – and in each case Nicholas responds with the utmost concern and understanding. On a larger scale, of all the European monarchs, Nicholas was the one who saw most clearly the means to prevent war. Following the defeat of Bulgaria in the Second Balkan War, for example, it was Nicholas who pointed out that unless the Bulgarians were given access to a sea port, trade would be impossible and the country would be ruined, and this would eventually lead to another war. At the height of the July crisis in 1914, Nicholas was the one who suggested taking the whole matter to an international tribunal at the Hague in order to find a peaceful solution and avoid war. When war broke out, Nicholas marched for ten miles carrying the pack of an average soldier in order to understand first hand what was expected of his troops; and his decision to take personal command of his army sprang from his awareness that he could not ask others to endure what he would not endure himself. Even his abdication was a result of his refusal to turn his troops on his own people.
The second myth – Nicholas’ alleged weakness – is equally easy to dismiss as false when one looks beneath the surface. Physically, he was a strong man who played tennis and swam and enjoyed outdoor pursuits. Morally, he was a strong man who adhered to his faith, who refused to betray his allies even when that cost him a throne, and who went into captivity with the utmost dignity. Emotionally, he was a strong man who continued his public duties while concealing his deep sorrow and anxiety over the health of his beloved haemophiliac son, Alexei; and who remained adamant that he would only marry for love even though it took six years for Alix to accept his proposal. Spiritually, he was a strong man who, even when everything had been taken from him and he had been humiliated and taken into captivity, remained true to his religious convictions and faith in the goodness of God.
The third myth – Nicholas’ supposed lack of intelligence. Well-read, fluent in several languages, fond of foreign literature and steeped in knowledge of Russian history, had he been an average young man in England at the time, he would probably have gone straight to Oxford or Cambridge. The complexities of the Balkan Wars and international politics leave politicians baffled to this day but Nicholas had a ready grasp and understanding not only of the situations but also of the characters of the people involved.
There are so many more examples of Nicholas’ courage, strength and wisdom that it is almost unbelievable to open a book, published in the 21st century, that repeats the old re-hashed lies, “The Tsar was weak and so absorbed in the trivialities of his day to day life and indifferent to his people that even when revolution came, he just wanted to play dominoes....”
People still publish these things??