Alexander III of Russia

Alexander III
Photograph by Sergey Levitsky
Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias
Reign 13 March 1881 – 1 November 1894
(&1000000000000001300000013 years, &10000000000000233000000233 days)
Coronation 27 May 1883
Predecessor Alexander II
Successor Nicholas II
Consort Maria Feodorovna (Dagmar of Denmark)
Nicholas II
Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich
Grand Duke George Alexandrovich
Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna
Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich
Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna
Full name
Alexander Alexandrovich Romanov
House House of Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov
Father Alexander II of Russia
Mother Marie of Hesse and by Rhine
Born 10 March 1845(1845-03-10)
Saint Petersburg
Died 1 November 1894(1894-11-01) (aged 49)
Livadiya, Crimea
Burial Peter and Paul Cathedral, Saint Petersburg
Religion Eastern Orthodox

Alexander III Alexandrovich (10 March [O.S. 26 February] 1845 – 1 November [O.S. 20 October] 1894) (Russian: Александр III Александрович, Aleksandr III Aleksandrovich), also known as Alexander the Peacemaker (Russian: Александр Миротворец, Aleksandr Mirotvorets) reigned as Emperor of Russia from 13 March 1881 until his death in 1894.



Alexander III as Tsesarevich, by Sergei Lvovich Levitsky.(1865) The Di Rocco Wieler Private Collection, Toronto, Canada

Alexander III was born in Saint Petersburg, the second son of Tsar Alexander II by his wife Princess Marie of Hesse and by Rhine.

In disposition, he bore little resemblance to his soft-hearted, liberal father, and still less to his refined, philosophic, sentimental, chivalrous, yet cunning granduncle Alexander I, who coveted the title of "the first gentleman of Europe".

Although an enthusiastic amateur musician and patron of the ballet, he was seen as lacking refinement and elegance. Indeed, he rather relished the idea of being of the same rough texture as the great majority of his subjects.

His straightforward, abrupt manner savoured sometimes of gruffness, while his direct, unadorned method of expressing himself harmonized well with his rough-hewn, immobile features and somewhat sluggish movements. His education was not such as to soften these peculiarities.

He was also noted for his immense physical strength, though the large wen on the left side of his nose caused him to be severely mocked by his contemporaries. He always sat for photographs and portraits with the right side of his face most prominent.

Perhaps an account from the memoirs of the artist Alexander Benois best describes an impression of Alexander III:

After a performance of the ballet 'Tsar Kandavl' at the Mariinsky Theatre, I first caught sight of the Emperor. I was struck by the size of the man, and although cumbersome and heavy, he was still a mighty figure. There was indeed something of the muzhik [Russian peasant] about him. The look of his bright eyes made quite an impression on me. As he passed where I was standing, he raised his head for a second, and to this day I can remember what I felt as our eyes met. It was a look as cold as steel, in which there was something threatening, even frightening, and it struck me like a blow. The Tsar's gaze! The look of a man who stood above all others, but who carried a monstrous burden and who every minute had to fear for his life and the lives of those closest to him. In later years I came into contact with the Emperor on several occasions, and I felt not the slightest bit timid. In more ordinary cases Tsar Alexander III could be at once kind, simple, and even almost homely.


Though he was destined to be one of the great counter-reforming Tsars, during the first twenty years of his life, Alexander had little prospect of succeeding to the throne, because he had an elder brother, Nicholas, who seemed of robust constitution.

Even when this elder brother first showed symptoms of delicate health, the notion that he might die young was never seriously taken; Nicholas was betrothed to the Princess Dagmar of Denmark.

Under these circumstances, the greatest solicitude was devoted to the education of Nicholas as Tsarevich, whereas Alexander received only the perfunctory and inadequate training of an ordinary Grand Duke of that period, which did not go much beyond secondary instruction, with practical acquaintance in French, English and German, and a certain amount of military drill.

As Tsesarevich

Alexander became heir apparent with the sudden death of his elder brother in 1865.

It was then that he began to study the principles of law and administration under Konstantin Pobedonostsev, then a professor of civil law at Moscow State University and later (from 1880) chief procurator of the Holy Synod.

Pobedonostsev awakened in his pupil very little love of abstract studies or prolonged intellectual exertion, but he did influence the character of Alexander's reign by instilling into the young man's mind the belief that zeal for Russian Orthodox thought was an essential factor of Russian patriotism and that this was to be specially cultivated by every right-minded Tsar.

Portrait by the artist Georges Becker of the coronation of Tsar Alexander III and Empress Maria Fyodorovna, which took place on 27 May [O.S. 15 May] 1883 at the Uspensky Sobor of the Moscow Kremlin. On the left of the dais can be seen his young son and heir, the Tsarevich Nicholas, and behind Nicholas can be seen a young Grand Duke George.

On his deathbed, Alexander's elder brother Nicholas is said to have expressed the wish that his affianced bride, Princess Dagmar of Denmark, should marry his successor.

Tsarevitch Alexander later Alexander III and Princess Dagmar of Denmark 1865. by Sergei Lvovich Levitsky.(1865) The Di Rocco Wieler Private Collection, Toronto, Canada

This wish was swiftly realized, when on 9 November [O.S. 28 October] 1866 in the Imperial Chapel of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Alexander wed the Princess of Denmark.

The union proved a most happy one and remained unclouded to the end. Unlike that of his parents, there was no adultery in the marriage.

During those years when he was heir-apparent—1865 to 1881—Alexander did not play a prominent part in public affairs, but he allowed it to become known that he had certain ideas of his own which did not coincide with the principles of the existing government.

Reign (1881-1894)

Domestic policies

Imperial Monogram

During the campaign in Bulgaria he had found by painful experience that grave disorders and gross corruption existed in the military administration, and after his return to Saint Petersburg he had discovered that similar abuses existed in the naval department. For these abuses, several high-placed personages—among others two of the grand-dukes—were believed to be responsible, and he called his father's attention to the subject. His representations were not favourably received. Alexander II had lost much of the reforming zeal that distinguished the first decade of his reign, and had no longer the energy required to undertake the task suggested to him. The consequence was that the relations between father and son became more strained. The latter must have felt that there would be no important reforms until he himself succeeded to the direction of affairs. That change was much nearer at hand than was commonly supposed. On 13 March 1881 Alexander II was assassinated by a band of Nihilists, Narodnaya Volya (People's Will), and the autocratic power passed to the hands of his son.

In the last years of his reign, Alexander II had been very concerned by the spread of Nihilist doctrines and the increasing number of anarchist conspiracies, and for some time he had hesitated between strengthening the hand of the executive and making concessions to the widespread political aspirations of the educated classes. Finally he decided in favour of the latter course, and on the very day of his death he signed an ukaz creating a number of consultative commissions that might easily have been transformed into an assembly of notables.

Following the advice of his political mentor Konstantin Pobedonostsev, Alexander III determined to adopt the opposite policy. He at once canceled the ukaz before it was published, and in the manifesto announcing his accession to the throne he let it be very clearly understood that he had no intention of limiting or weakening the autocratic power that he had inherited from his ancestors. Nor did he afterwards show any inclination to change his mind.

Alexander and his wife Empress Maria Fyodorovna on holiday in Copenhagen in 1893.

All the internal reforms that he initiated were intended to correct what he considered as the too-liberal tendencies of the previous reign, so that he left behind him the reputation of a sovereign of the retrograde type. In his opinion Russia was to be saved from anarchical disorders and revolutionary agitation, not by the parliamentary institutions and so-called liberalism of western Europe, but by the three principles that the elder generation of the Slavophiles systematically recommended—nationality, Eastern Orthodoxy and autocracy. His political ideal was a nation containing only one nationality, one language, one religion and one form of administration; and he did his utmost to prepare for the realization of this ideal by imposing the Russian language and Russian schools on his German, Polish and other non-Russian subjects (with the exception of the Finns), by fostering Eastern Orthodoxy at the expense of other confessions, by persecuting the Jews and by destroying the remnants of German, Polish and Swedish institutions in the outlying provinces. These policies were implemented by "May Laws" that banned Jews from rural areas and shtetls even within the Pale of Settlement.

In the other provinces he sought to counteract what he considered the excessive liberalism of his father's reign. For this purpose he removed what little power was wielded by the zemstvo, an elective local administration resembling the county and parish councils in England, and placed the autonomous administration of the peasant communes under the supervision of landed proprietors appointed by the government. These came to be known as land captains, who were much feared and resented amongst the peasant communities throughout Russia. At the same time he sought to strengthen and centralize the Imperial administration and to bring it more under his personal control.

The Borki Cathedral was one of many churches built all over the empire to commemorate the Tsar's "miraculous" survival in the train crash.

Alexander III engaged in antisemitic policies[citation needed] such as tightening restrictions on where Jews could live in the Pale of Settlement and restricting the occupations that Jews could attain. The pogroms of 1881 occurred at the beginning of Alexander III's reign. Policies under both Alexander III and his successor, Nicholas II, encouraged some Jews to emigrate from 1880 on (emigration to the United States). The administration of Alexander III enacted the May Laws in 1882 that imposed conditions on the Jews as a people for their role in the assassination of Alexander II.

With encouragement from the successful assassination of his father, Alexander II, in 1881, the Peoples Will planned the murder of Tsar Alexander III. The plot was unsuccessful, one of the conspirators captured, Aleksandr Ulyanov, was sentenced to death and hanged on 5 May 1887. Ulyanov was the brother of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, who would later take the pseudonym V.I. Lenin. The Emperor also survived the Borki train disaster of 1888. At the moment of the crash the royal family was in the dining car. Its roof collapsed in the crash, and Alexander held the remains of the roof on his shoulders as the children fled outdoors. The onset of Alexander's kidney failure was later linked to the blunt trauma suffered at Borki.

Foreign policy

In foreign affairs Alexander was emphatically a man of peace, but not at all a partisan of the doctrine of peace at any price, and he followed the principle that the best means of averting war is to be well prepared for it. Though indignant at the conduct of Prince Bismarck towards Russia, he avoided an open rupture with Germany, and even revived for a time the Three Emperors' Alliance.

It was only in the last years of his reign, when Mikhail Katkov had acquired a certain influence over him, that he adopted a more hostile attitude towards the cabinet of Berlin, and even then he confined himself to keeping a large number of troops near the German frontier, and establishing cordial relations with France. With regard to Bulgaria he exercised similar self-control. The efforts of Prince Alexander and afterwards of Stambolov to destroy Russian influence in the principality excited his indignation, but he persistently vetoed all proposals to intervene by force of arms.

In Central Asian affairs he followed the traditional policy of gradually extending Russian domination without provoking a conflict with the United Kingdom (see Panjdeh Incident), and he never allowed the bellicose partisans of a forward policy to get out of hand. As a whole his reign cannot be regarded as one of the eventful periods of Russian history; but it must be admitted that under his hard, unsympathetic rule the country made considerable progress. Emperor Alexander and his Danish-born wife regularly spent their summers in their Langinkoski manor near Kotka on the Finnish coast, where their children were immersed in a Scandinavian lifestyle of relative modesty. He deprecated what he considered undue foreign influence in general, and German influence in particular, so the adoption of genuine national principles was off in all spheres of official activity, with a view to realizing his ideal of a homogeneous Russia—homogeneous in language, administration and religion. With such ideas and aspirations he could hardly remain permanently in cordial agreement with his father, who, though a good patriot according to his lights, had strong German sympathies, often used the German language in his private relations, occasionally ridiculed the exaggerations and eccentricities of the Slavophiles and based his foreign policy on the Prussian alliance.

The antagonism first appeared publicly during the Franco-Prussian War, when the Tsar supported the cabinet of Berlin and the Tsarevich did not conceal his sympathies for the French. It reappeared in an intermittent fashion during the years 1875–1879, when the Eastern question produced so much excitement in all ranks of Russian Society. At first the Tsarevich was more Slavophile than the government, but his phlegmatic nature preserved him from many of the exaggerations indulged in by others, and any of the prevalent popular illusions he may have imbibed were soon dispelled by personal observation in Bulgaria, where he commanded the left wing of the invading army.

Never consulted on political questions, he confined himself to his military duties and fulfilled them in a conscientious and unobtrusive manner. After many mistakes and disappointments, the army reached Constantinople and the Treaty of San Stefano was signed, but much that had been obtained by that important document had to be sacrificed at the Congress of Berlin. Bismarck failed to do what was confidently expected of him by the Russian Tsar. In return for the Russian support, which had enabled him to create the German Empire,[citation needed] it was thought that he would help Russia to solve the Eastern question in accordance with her own interests, but to the surprise and indignation of the cabinet of Saint Petersburg he confined himself to acting the part of "honest broker" at the Congress, and shortly afterwards he ostentatiously contracted an alliance with Austria for the express purpose of counteracting Russian designs in Eastern Europe. The Tsarevich could point to these results as confirming the views he had expressed during the Franco-Prussian War, and he drew from them the practical conclusion that for Russia the best thing to do was to recover as quickly as possible from her temporary exhaustion and to prepare for future contingencies by a radical scheme of military and naval reorganization. In accordance with this conviction, he suggested that certain reforms should be introduced.

Death and legacy

Alexander III became ill with nephritis in 1894, and died of this disease at the Livadia Palace on 1 November 1894. His remains were interred at the Peter and Paul Fortress in Saint Petersburg. He was succeeded by his eldest son Nicholas II.

An equestrian statue of Tsar Alexander sculpted by Paolo Troubetzkoy once graced Znamenskaya Square in front of the Moscow Rail Terminal in St. Petersburg. It was later moved to the inner courtyard of the Marble Palace. Another memorial is located in the city of Irkutsk at the Angara embankment.


Alexander III with wife and their children

Alexander III had six children of his marriage with Princess Dagmar of Denmark, also known as Marie Feodorovna.

(NB. all dates prior to 1918 are in Old Style Calendar)

Name Birth Death Notes
Emperor Nicholas II 6 May 1868 17 July 1918 married 1894, Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine; had issue
Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich 7 June 1869 2 May 1870  died of meningitis
Grand Duke George Alexandrovich 9 May 1871 9 August 1899  died of tuberculosis; no issue
Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna 6 April 1875 20 April 1960 married 1894, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich Romanov; had issue
Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich 22 November 1878 c.12 June 1918 married 1912, Natalya Sergeyevna Wulffert; had issue
Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna 13 June 1882 24 November 1960 married first, Peter Friedrich Georg, Duke of Oldenburg; had no issue.

married second, Nikolai Kulikovsky; had issue



  • John F. Hutchinson, Late Imperial Russia: 1890-1917
  • Charles Lowe, Alexander III of Russia

External links

See also

  • Tsars of Russia family tree
Alexander III of Russia
Cadet branch of the House of Oldenburg
Born: 10 March 1845 Died: 1 November 1894
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Alexander II
Emperor of Russia
13 March 1881 – 1 November 1894
Succeeded by
Nicholas II
Russian royalty
Preceded by
Nicholas Alexandrovich
Heir to the Russian Throne
Succeeded by
Nicholas II of Russia

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