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The Presidential Library collections reveal the personality of Nicholas I

3 July 2014

To mark the 218th birthday anniversary of the Russian Emperor Nicholas I, celebrated June 25 (July 6), 2014, the Presidential Library published on its website a collection of unique materials, historical documents, rare books and publications related to the life and work of Nicholas Romanov, one of the most difficult and multifaceted emperors in historians’ evaluation. Materials contain vivid memories of his contemporaries, fascinating life stories and own thoughts of the Russian emperor.

Nicholas was born June 25 (July 6,) 1796. He was the third son of the future Emperor Paul I and Maria Feodorovna. Eugene Karnovich, author of the 1897 “Emperor Nicholas I” quotes a letter of Catherine II, written to one of her entourage after the birth of the boy, "I became a grandmother of the third grandson, who has an extraordinary power, and will, it seems to me, also reign, although he has two older brothers." And, as you know, Catherine the Great's premonition came true: December 14 (26), 1825 her grandson ascended the throne as Emperor Nicholas I. However, the Grand Duke did not even suppose that once he will bear a high title of the monarch of the Russian Empire. After all, according to the Act of Succession adopted by Emperor Paul I in April 1797, available on the website of the Presidential Library, Grand Duke Nikolai Pavlovich could not count on the Russian throne. The document said: "In compliance with the natural law, after my death I name the heir my older son Alexander, and after him all his male generation. Upon the extinction of his generation, inheritance passes to the generation to my second son, and the procedure is the same as with the generation of my older son, and so on as if I had no more sons." It left a definite mark on the upbringing and education of Nicholas. From the early age he was most interested in building and engineering, a passion to which he retained for life.

On the children's adolescence period and the future of the Russian emperor in detail in the M. Lalaev’s historical essay of 1896, "Emperor Nicholas I, builder of the Russian school": "In adolescence, Nicholas Pavlovich, already fluent in Russian, French and German, studied Russian history, geography, and statistics, more readily studied mathematics, military science and mechanical drawing. Empress-mother was particularly interested that education of all her sons influenced them in moral sense. When fourteen-year-old Nicholas was advised to read "History of Russia", composed by Frenchman Leveque, Maria Feodorovna requested Glinka "to erase all that is useless or harmful to the Grand Duke in this book, and submit it to the empress herself for viewing."

In 1817, Nicholas married the Prussian Princess Frederica Louise Charlotte Wilhelmina, betrothed in Orthodoxy Alexandra Feodorovna. Princely family led a lifestyle that was consistent with the status of Nicholas as an ordinary member of the imperial family. N. Ermilov’s work of 1900, "Features of life of Emperor Nicholas: told by his contemporaries" describes the family idyll that reigned in the union of the Grand Duke Nicholas and his wife Alexandra Fyodorovna: "Not going to become the Russian emperor and being the Grand Duke, Nicholas Pavlovich lived in Anichkov Palace in an extremely simple manner, isolated in the circle of his beloved family, as an ordinary mortal. He rarely appeared at court. All the time he devoted to his family, studied music, drawing, read selected works of British and French authors, liked to collect and tidy collections of engravings, cartoons and maps." As he confessed himself: «The source of my happiness: my wife and children."

The unexpected death of Alexander I revealed the complexity of the dynastic situation. The emperor died November 19 (December 1), 1825 in Taganrog, and when the news reached the capital, troops were sworn in the new Russian Emperor Constantine I. But Constantine did not want to recognize himself emperor. Then Nicholas, knowing about a military coup in the army, was able to take the initiative in his own hands and decided to declare himself emperor on the basis of the documents signed by Alexander I back in 1823.

December 14 (26), the day of the second oath to Emperor Nicholas I on the Senate Square in St. Petersburg, the famous Decembrist uprising occurred. "What a beginning of the reign! said Emperor to the Empress who met him at the palace of. Sad and painful silence was the eloquent answer." These lines are taken from A. Magama’s work of 1859 "Emperor Nicholas I and his reign", also held by the Presidential Library.  

In December 1826, the emperor created a Secret committee to elaborate important state reforms on the basis of the projects that had remained in the office of the late Emperor Alexander Pavlovich. Later, His Imperial Majesty’s Own Chancellery was transformed into a government agency, charged with all state matters.

In addition, the Presidential Library website provides access to historical documents such as the Code of Laws of the Russian Empire, which was first published in 1832 by order of Nicholas I. It consists of 15 volumes of the current legislative acts of the Russian Empire grouped in thematic order. The first national electronic library of the country also makes available for a wide audience the Charter on censorship of 1829. This was the second censorship statute issued to mitigate the previous one. In 1826, the first censorship statute was published, which forbade to print almost everything that had any political overtones.

During the reign of Nicholas I, the first private Russian public museum – Rumyantsev Museum was founded, the Imperial Military Academy opened, the first railroad – from St. Petersburg to Tsarskoye Selo – was built; later appeared Nicholas’ railway, which linked Moscow and St. Petersburg; Russian Geographic Society was created in St. Petersburg, the first official yacht club appeared in Russia. Also under Nicholas I appeared the first official anthem of the Russian Empire ("God Save the Tsar"), author of the text of which was the poet Vasily Zhukovsky.

During thirty years of ruling Russia (1825-1855) Nicholas I greatly expanded its territory by annexing large areas in the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Far East.

Despite the rigidity in the public administration, Nicholas I was extremely kind, gentle and sympathetic person. N. Ermilov’s work of 1900, "Features of life of Emperor Nicholas: told by his contemporaries" describes a large number of stories from the life of Nicholas I, which reveal the personality of the emperor quite positively. Among them there is the story of Nicholas’ valet: "Sometimes I fall asleep, and then wake up suddently and think whether it is time to help the Emperor to undress? I look into his bedroom, and see that he has already undressed himself and gone to bed. And sometimes, half asleep, I hear a rustle... the emperor, seeing that I fell asleep, passed me by on his toes."

The reign of Nicholas I ended with the major foreign policy failure. The Crimean War (1853-1856) undermined the psychological well-being and health of the Emperor, and an occasional cold during the winter of 1855 became fatal for him.

Materials about Nicholas I make part of the collection of the first national electronic library in the country, "The House of Romanov. 400th anniversary of the Zemsky Sobor of 1613." Totally, the collection contains about 900 items.