Alexander Ii Biography

Amanda Prahl

Alexander II (born Alexander Nikolaevich Romanov; April 29, 1818 – March 13, 1881) was a nineteenth-century Russian emperor. Under his rule, Russia moved towards reform, most notably in the abolition of serfdom. However, his assassination cut these efforts short.

Fast Facts: Alexander II

  • Full Name: Alexander Nikolaevich Romanov
  • Occupation: Emperor of Russia
  • Born: April 29, 1818 in Moscow, Russia
  • Died: March 13, 1881 in Saint Petersburg, Russia
  • Key Accomplishments: Alexander II earned a reputation for reform and a willingness to bring Russia into the modern world. His greatest legacy was the freeing of Russian serfs in 1861.
  • Quote: "The vote, in the hands of an ignorant man, without either property or self respect, will be used to the damage of the people at large; for the rich man, without honor or any kind of patriotism, will purchase it, and with it swamp the rights of a free people.”

Reforms at home

Because the serfs were now free citizens, it was necessary to reform the entire local system of government. A law in 1864 created local assemblies, which handled local finances, education, agriculture, medical care, and maintenance of the roads. A new voting system provided representation to the peasants in these assemblies. Peasants and their former landowners were brought together to work out problems in their villages.

During Alexander's reign other reforms were also started. Larger cities were given governmental assemblies similar to those of the villages. The Russian court system was reformed, and for the first time in Russian history, juries, or panels of citizens called together to decide court cases, were permitted. Court cases were debated publicly, and all social classes were made equal before the law. Censorship (or the silencing of certain opinions) was eased, which meant that people had more freedom of speech. Colleges were also freed from the rules imposed on them by Alexander's father Nicholas I.

“Radzinsky tells Alexander’s story with great flair, breathless pacing, and the novelist’s eye for the telling detail and the revealing anecdote. Alexander II is a great read, vividly portraying the tsar and his splendorous court, and offering evocative sketches of the age’s great writers, artists, and intellectuals who made his reign one of such rich cultural effervescence.”

The Seattle Times

“Lively and brilliant, both epic and epigrammatic.”

The New York Times Book Review

“This is [Radzinsky’s] best so far: Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar is dramatic, entertaining, and authoritative. Mr. Radzinsky is as comfortable in the palaces of the Romanovs as he is in the conspiratorial attics of their assassins or the studies of great writers like Dostoevsky. Mr. Radzinsky skillfully tells the story of the czar, of course, but also of the terrorists who begin to hunt him ruthlessly in ever more ambitious plots.”

The Wall Street Journal

“An engagingly flamboyant, intimate portrait of the tsar who ruled the enormous empire at the pinnacle of its culture and splendor. [Radzinsky is] informative, witty, and unfailingly entertaining.”

Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“A compelling account of one of Russia’s most important figures, as well as a portrait of a critical, formative period in Russian history.”

Personal life

The war took its toll on Alexander. His interest in politics weakened, he felt exhausted and sought refuge in his private life. By that time he had embarked on the greatest and last love-affair of his life – a passionate romance with Princess Catherine Dolgorukova. Their 14-year-long relationship began in the summer of 1866. The love between a 47-year-old Emperor and an 18-year-old schoolgirl was condemned by the court and the royal family but it didn’t stop Alexander. His wife’s health was failing and in 1880, less than a month after her death, Alexander married his long-time mistress. By that time Catherine had bore him four children. But their morganatic union proved short-lived.


The assassination triggered major suppression of civil liberties in Russia, and police brutality burst back in full force after experiencing some restraint under the reign of Alexander II, whose death was witnessed first-hand by his son, Alexander III, and his grandson, Nicholas II, both future emperors who vowed not to have the same fate befall them. Both of them used the Okhrana to arrest protestors and uproot suspected rebel groups, creating further suppression of personal freedom for the Russian people. A series of anti-Jewish pogroms and legislation were yet another result.

Finally, the tsar’s assassination also inspired anarchists to advocate “‘ [32]

With construction starting in 1883, the Church of the Savior on Blood was built on the site of Alexander’s assassination and dedicated in his memory.

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