What Occurred That Forced Czar Nicholas II to Step Down?

Czar Nicholas II was executed in July 1918.
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Czar Nicholas II ruled a vast territory, covering more than one-sixth of the earth’s surface and home to a population of over 150 million in 1913. However, just five years later the Russian czar would be forced to abdicate, ending 300 years of Romanov rule and making Nicholas the final member of his family to act as czar. Nicholas was executed, along with his wife and their five children, by the Bolsheviks on July 17, 1918.

1 Bloody Sunday, 1905

Events in the year 1905 dealt a serious blow to Nicholas’ authority. Public discontent following Russia's defeat in a war against Japan led to widespread strikes and civil unrest. On January 9, 1905, troops opened fire on protestors outside the Czar’s Winter Palace in Petrograd, killing about 200 people. Ongoing protests eventually forced Nicholas to issue his “October Manifesto,” which provided Russians with an elected parliament, the Duma. However, Nicholas retained many powers and his secret police continued to stifle opposition.

2 World War I

Russia’s involvement in World War I was also a crucial factor in Nicholas’ demise. Russia fought on the side of the Allies against the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary. The first two years of the war did not go well; the Russians lost 250,000 soldiers in two 1914 battles and by 1915 Russian retreats had ceded territory in Poland, Latvia and Lithuania to German troops. Nicholas took control of the army as its supreme commander in mid-1915 but, despite some military successes in 1916, by the end of the year the Russian public would associate the deaths of 1,700,000 Russian soldiers and a further 5 million wounded directly with Nicholas.

3 Crisis at Home

Conditions were extremely difficult for ordinary Russians at home during the war years. In the fall of 1915, thousands of women employed in the textiles industry around Bogorodsk went on strike for better pay. Food supplies ran short and inflation eroded the value of earnings and savings -- prices in Moscow had risen by 131 percent and those in Petrograd by 150 percent by the end of 1916. Serious unrest began on February 23, 1917, as thousands of women took to the streets of Petrograd to protest about the price of bread, and within two days 300,000 people were on strike.

4 Loss of Authority

The civil unrest in February 1917 revealed the extent to which Nicholas had lost his authority. Nicholas ordered his troops to open fire on the crowds of protestors, but the 170,000 men of the Petrograd garrison mutinied, instead joining the protestors. Other soldiers and sailors also mutinied as news of these events reached them. Nicholas’ authority as czar and supreme military commander had evaporated, and he abdicated on March 2, 1917.

Rita Kennedy is a writer and researcher based in the United Kingdom. She began writing in 2002 and her work has appeared in several academic journals including "Memory Studies," the "Journal of Historical Geography" and the "Local Historian." She holds a Ph.D. in history and an honours degree in geography from the University of Ulster.