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Nicholas I, Emperor of All Russia

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Updated: 07.11.2003

Russian in full Nikolay Pavlovich, Emperor of all Russia (1825-55), often considered the personification of classic autocracy; for his reactionary policies, he has been called the emperor who froze Russia for 30 years.
Born July 6 [June 25, old style], 1796, Tsarskoye Selo [now Pushkin], near St. Petersburg, Russia; died March 2 [Feb. 18, O.S.], 1855, St. Petersburg.

Early life

Nicholas was the son of Grand Duke Paul and Grand Duchess Maria. Some three and a half months after his birth, following the death of Catherine II the Great, Nicholas' father became Emperor Paul I of Russia. Nicholas had three brothers, two of whom, the future emperor Alexander I and Constantine, were 19 and 17 years older than he. It was the third, Michael, his junior by two years, and a sister, Anne, who became his childhood companions and intimate lifelong friends.

Paul was extremely neurotic, overbearing, and despotic. Yet it is believed that he showed kindness and consideration to his younger children and that, in fact, he loved and cherished them tenderly. He was killed in a palace revolution of 1801, which made Alexander emperor when Nicholas was not quite five years old.

Maria, on the contrary, remained formal and cold in her relationship to the children, very much in keeping with her general character. She belonged, apparently, among those human beings who combine numerous conventional virtues with a certain rigidity and lack of warmth. In the words of a competent observer: "The only failing of this extraordinary woman was her being excessively, one may say, exacting of her children and of the people dependent on her."

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