During the February Revolution, Czar Nicholas II, ruler of Russia since 1894, is forced to abdicate the throne on this day in 1917, after strikes and general revolts break out in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg).
Crowned on May 26, 1894, Nicholas was a relatively weak and ineffectual leader, which did not help the autocracy he sought to preserve over a people desperate for change. Russia’s disastrous loss to the Japanese in the Russo-Japanese War exacerbated discontent among the Russian population and led to the Russian Revolution of 1905, which the czar calmed only after signing a manifesto promising reform, representative government—in the form of Dumas, or assemblies—and basic civil liberties in Russia. Nicholas soon retracted most of these concessions, however, repeatedly dissolving the Dumas when they opposed him, and radical forces within Russia, most notably the Bolsheviks, a revolutionary-minded socialist group founded by Vladimir Lenin, begin to gain widespread support. In 1914, Nicholas led his country into another costly war—World War I—and discontent in Russia grew as food became scarce, ill-equipped soldiers became war-weary and devastating defeats on the Eastern Front demonstrated the czar’s incompetent leadership.
After the outbreak of the so-called February Revolution in early March 1917 (Russia used the Julian calendar at the time), the army garrison at Petrograd joined striking workers in demanding socialist reforms, and Czar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate. Nicholas and his family were first held at the Czarskoye Selo Palace, then in Yekaterinburg near Tobolsk, where they remained during the rise to power of Lenin’s Bolsheviks and Russia’s exit from World War I. In July 1918, the advance of counterrevolutionary forces during the Russian Civil War caused the soviet, or Bolshevik council, in power in Yekaterinburg to fear that Nicholas might be rescued. After a secret meeting, the soviet passed a death sentence on the imperial family, and, on July 16, 1918, Nicholas, his wife Alexandra, their children and their remaining servants were shot to death.