July 17th, 2008 Headsman
In the small hours after midnight on the night of July 16-17 90 years ago, the former Tsar Nicholas II, his wife, children, and four family retainers, were shot in a Yekaterinburg basement by their Bolshevik jailers.
Doting family man, vacillating dictator, as weak and rich as Croesus … the doomed Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias was a man small of stature. His reign emerged under a bad star when 1,300 Muscovites were trampled to death in the crush for his coronation largesse; 18 years later, Nicholas‘s support for Serbia against Austria-Hungary was instrumental in pitching Europe into World War I, a blunder for which he reaped a whirlwind long in the making.
When an anti-Bolshevik force approached Yekaterinburg (or Ekaterinburg), where the deposed royals had been stashed in a commandeered private residence,* Yakov Sverdlov (for whom the city was subsequently renamed) ordered the prisoners shot — not only the tsar, but his beloved wife, their hemophiliac heir, and those four daughters who had to be bayoneted because the state jewels secreted in their corsets shielded them from the gunfire.
The executioners (here’s the account of their leader; here’s another guard’s version) did their best to destroy and conceal the remains, helping fuel subsequent rumors that one of the children had survived and escaped.
Those rumors are only now, with post-Soviet investigation and DNA forensics, being debunked, and not yet to the satisfaction of all comers. This very week, Moscow affirmed (though the Orthodox church has not accepted) that the last of Nicholas’s family had been accounted for:
Modern nostalgia for this unimpressive sovereign is making a minor comeback, with Nicholas absurdly contending in a current poll for the title of “greatest Russian” … supported not only by the miseries of the state that succeeded his, but by the family’s decent and accessible private life.
Even a monarchist — especially a monarchist! — shouldn’t reason that the greatest monarch is the one who drove the bus over the cliff. But much is forgiven a martyr. Indeed, like Charles I of England, the last Romanov monarch has been posthumously saddled with divine sanction; he and all the family are certified “passion bearers”. (Update: And possible future relics!)
A handful of the many books about the Romanovs and their fall
* The Ipatiev House where the tsar was held (and shot) no longer stands. On its spot is a church consecrated five years ago yesterday to the Romanov canonization.
Update: The Romanovs were officially rehabilitated by the Russian Supreme Court on October 1, 2008.
On this day..
- 1920: Gerald Smyth, Royal Irish Constabulary officer - 2016
- 1787: Jacob "Hannikel" Reinhard - 2015
- 1651: Wilhelm Biener, faithful counsellor - 2014
- 1903: Dora Wright, in Indian Territory - 2013
- 1537: Janet Douglas, Lady Glamis - 2012
- 1798: Henry Joy McCracken - 2011
- 1749: Samuel Henzi, excluded - 2010
- 1793: Charlotte Corday, Marat's murderess - 2009
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Heads of State,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Milestones,No Formal Charge,Notable Participants,Political Expedience,Popular Culture,Posthumous Exonerations,Power,Put to the Sword,Royalty,Russia,Shot,Summary Executions,The Worm Turns,USSR,Wartime Executions,Women