Catherine II died in 1796 and was succeeded by her son, Paul I. His increasingly despotic and unbalanced policies prompted court nobles to conspire against him, and he was murdered in 1801. Paul’s eldest son, Alexander I, then ascended to the throne and ruled until 1825. Under Alexander, Russia achieved unprecedented prestige and glory as a result of its victory over Napoleon’s invading army in 1812 and subsequent military victories in Germany and France. Russian rule was extended to much of the South Caucasus, Finland, and further regions of Poland. After the patriotic euphoria caused by the victory over Napoleon, part of the nobility increasingly resented Alexander’s failure to live up to his reputation as a reformer. Upon Alexander’s death in 1825, a group of military officers who became known as the Decembrists launched a coup to prevent Alexander’s brother Nicholas I from ascending to the throne. The Decembrists wanted a constitutional monarchy led by Alexander’s other brother, Constantine. They sought to increase civil and political rights and to end serfdom and the brutal mistreatment of the peasantry.
In the end the Decembrists were easily suppressed, but the revolt had threatened Nicholas’s life and the empire’s stability. Furthermore, Polish nationalists expelled the Russian imperial authorities from Poland in 1830, although Russian troops regained Warsaw in 1831. In 1848 a wave of nationalist revolutions swept across Europe. These events persuaded Nicholas that the threat of revolution in both Europe and Russia was real. In foreign policy Nicholas responded by entering into a conservative alliance with Austria and Prussia. This alliance was intended to ensure peace and stability among the European powers and to ensure the suppression of any revolts that might occur. In 1849 Russian troops helped the Austrian emperor repress the rebellion of his Hungarian subjects.
Domestically, Nicholas’s answer to revolution was to create a state security police, the gendarmerie, and to tighten censorship.
The emperor imposed stifling controls over Russian universities and cultural life, alienating part of the younger generation from the state. Nicholas’s reign also witnessed the great growth of the bureaucracy, whose incompetence and frequent corruption were immortalized by novelist Nikolay Gogol in such works as The Inspector General (1836). Nevertheless, Nicholas’s regime did have some achievements to its credit. The quality and size of the educational system increased greatly, as did the number of cultured, public-spirited, would-be reformers among the younger generation of the bureaucracy and the landowning class. When Nicholas I’s regime was discredited by defeat in the Crimean War, these men were able to lead a program of radical reforms under the emperor’s successor, Alexander II, who reigned from 1855 to 1881. "Russia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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