Skip to main content
Select Source:

Alexander III

ALEXANDER III

(18451894), Alexander Alexandrovich, emperor of Russia from March 1, 1881 to October 20, 1894.

The second son of Alexander Nikolayevich (Alexander II), the heir to the Russian throne, the future Alexander III was born in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg in February 1845. He was one of six brothers and was educated alongside Nicholas (b. 1843) who, after the death of Nicholas I in 1855, became the heir to the throne. One of the most important parts of their education was schooling in military matters. This was especially important for Alexander, who was expected to occupy his time with the army and never to have to undertake anything other than ceremonial duties. His situation changed dramatically in 1865 when Nicholas died from meningitis and Alexander became heir to his father, Alexander II. The prospect of the twenty-year-old Alexander becoming emperor horrified his tutors. He had been a dogged pupil, displaying no great spark of intelligence, and had shown no real maturity during his studies. But after his brother's death, a major effort was made to enhance Alexander's education to prepare him properly to become emperor. His contemporaries commented on his honesty and decency, but they also noted Alexander's obstinacy and his reluctance to change his mind. For Alexander himself, his marriage in 1866 to the Danish princess Dagmar was more important than education. She had been engaged to his brother Nicholas before his death, and marriage to Alexander was seen by both sides as an "alliance," rather than being a love-match. But the marriage turned out to be extremely happy and Maria Fyodorovna (as his wife was known in Russia) became an important support to her husband. Alexander was devoted to his family and enjoyed being with his five children: Nicholas (b.1868), George (b.1871), Xenia (b. 1875), Mikhail (b. 1878), and Olga (b. 1882).

An assassination attempt on Alexander II in 1866 brought home to the new heir to the throne the gravity of his status. He did not relish the prospect of becoming emperor, but nevertheless engaged in the official duties that were required of him with determination and interest. While his father was implementing the Great Reforms of the 1860s and 1870s, the heir to the throne was developing views that conflicted fundamentally with those of Alexander II. The young Alexander believed firmly in the dominance of the Russian autocracy and was deeply opposed to any attempt to weaken the autocrat's grip on the country. He was especially keen to see Russian interests prevail across the empire and wanted severe treatment for national minority groups, such as the Poles, that tried to assert their autonomy. These views were reinforced by Alexander's experience of the Russo-Turkish War of 18771878. He argued strongly in favor of Russian intervention in support of the Slav population of the Ottoman Empire and fought alongside Russian troops. The war strengthened his belief in the danger of weak

authority and this was especially relevant to Russia itself at the end of the 1870s. Terrorist activity was increasing and Alexander wrote in his diary of the "horrible and disgusting years" that Russia was going through. There were repeated attempts on the emperor's life and, in March 1881, terrorists from the People's Will group threw a bomb at Alexander II and succeeded in killing him. The emperor died, horribly injured, in the arms of his wife and son.

The assassination of the Tsar-Liberator confirmed the new Alexander III in his deeply conservative views. He moved very swiftly to distance himself from the policies and ethos of his father. The new emperor showed no mercy toward his father's killers, rejecting all appeals for clemency for them. In the immediate aftermath of the assassination, legislation was introduced giving the government wide use of emergency powers. At the time of his death, Alexander II had been about to approve the establishment of a national consultative assembly, but the new emperor very quickly made it clear that he would not permit limitations on autocratic rule, and the project was abandoned. The new emperor and his family moved out of St. Petersburg to live in the palace at Gatchina, a grim fortress-like building associated with Paul I. It was clear that the whole tone of Alexander III's reign was to be different. Instead of the European-orientated reforms of Alexander II, the new emperor was determined to follow the "Russian path," which he understood to be a forceful autocracy, proudly national in its actions and with the Orthodox Church providing a link between emperor and the people. Many of Alexander II's ministers and advisers were rapidly removed from office and were replaced by men with impeccable conservative credentials. Prime amongst them were Konstantin Pobedonostsev, officially only procurator-general of the Holy Synod (the lay official who governed the Orthodox Church), but who played a key role in guiding policy across a wide range of areas, and Dmitry Tolstoy, minister of internal affairs for most of the 1880s. The non-Russian nationalities of the empire were subjected to cultural and administrative Russification. This was especially fierce in the Baltic provinces of the empire, where the use of the Russian language was made compulsory in the courts and in local government and where the local German-speaking university was compelled to provide teaching in Russian. This approach also included encouraging non-Orthodox peoples to convert to the Orthodox religion, sometimes by offering them incentives in the form of land grants. In Poland, most education had to be provided in Russian and the Roman Catholic Church could only exist under considerable restrictions.

Alexander III and his ministers also tried to claw back some elements of the Great Reforms of the 1860s that had seemed to set Russia on the path toward a more open political system. The post of justice of the peace, established by the legal reform of 1864, was abolished in most of Russia in 1889 and its legal functions transferred to the new post of land captain. This official had very wide powers over the peasantry and was intended to strengthen the hold that the government had over its rural population. The land captain became a much-disliked figure in much of peasant Russia. The government also limited the powers of the zemstvos that had been established in the 1860s. These elected local councils had been given responsibility for the provision of many local services and "zemstvo liberalism" had become a thorn in the side of the autocracy, as some local councils had pressed for the principle of representative government to be extended to national government. Alexander III acted to narrow the franchise for zemstvo elections and to restrict the amount of taxation that the zemstvo could levy. These moves were intended to neuter the zemstvo and reduce the influence they could have on the population, but Alexander never dared go so far as to actually abolish the local councils. This typified the problems facing Alexander III. While he wanted to return to the traditional ethos of Russian autocracy, he was forced to recognize that, in practical terms, he could not turn the clock back. The reforms of the 1860s had become so firmly embedded in Russian society that they could not simply be undone. All that the emperor could do was to ensure that the iron fist of autocracy was wielded as effectively as possible.

Some of Alexander's policies made matters more difficult for the autocracy. At the end of the 1880s, the government's economic policies became oriented toward stimulating industrial growth. A major part in this was played by Sergei Witte, who had made his career in the railway industry before coming to work in government, and who became minister of finance in 1892. Witte deeply admired Alexander III and believed that Russia could be both an autocracy and a successful industrial power. The government, however, failed to recognize the social and political consequences of the industrial boom that Russia enjoyed during the 1890s and the new industrial working class began to flex its muscles and to demand better working conditions and political change. The emperor also had a personal interest in Russia's foreign policy. His Danish wife helped him develop an instinctive distrust of Germany and the 1880s witnessed Russia's gradual disengagement from its traditional alliance with Germany and Austria. There were important economic reasons for Russia's new diplomatic direction: Industrial growth required investment from abroad and the most promising source of capital was France. In 1894 Russia and France signed an alliance that was to be significant both for its part in stimulating Russian industry and for the way in which it began the reshaping of Europe's diplomatic map as the continent began to divide into the two groups that would sit on opposite sides during World War I. Alexander III did not live long enough to see the results of his work. Despite his large frame and apparent strength, he developed kidney disease and died at the age of forty-nine in October 1894.

See also: autocracy; alexander ii; industrialization; nicholas i; russo-turkish wars; witte, sergei yulievich

bibliography

Chernukha, Valentina Chernukha. (1996). "Emperor Alexander III." In The Emperors and Empresses of Russia: Rediscovering the Romanovs, ed. Donald Raleigh. New York: M.E. Sharpe.

Zaionchkovskii, Petr. (1976). The Russian Autocracy under Alexander III. Gulf Breeze, FL: Oriental Research Partners

Peter Waldron

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Alexander III." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Alexander III." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/alexander-iii-2

"Alexander III." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Retrieved October 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/alexander-iii-2

Alexander III

Alexander III

Alexander III (1845-1894) was emperor of Russia from 1881 to 1894. During his autocratic reign Russian absolutism asserted itself for the last time.

Alexander was born on Feb. 26, 1845. His father, Alexander II, appointed the historian K. P. Pobedonostsev to tutor the heir apparent in Russian history and law in 1861. Alexander's mind and character were largely molded by Pobedonostsev, who instilled ardently nationalistic views in his young pupil. As heir apparent, Alexander took part in the administration of the state. During the war with Turkey in 1877-1878 he held a military command.

Alexander married Princess Sophie Frederica Dagmar of Denmark (known in Russia as Maria Fedorovna) and was a devoted husband and the father of five children. He preferred country life at Gatchina to the pomp of the St. Petersburg court.

Alexander's autocratic opinions were profoundly influenced by Pobedonostsev, who became director general of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1880, and by the journalist M. N. Katkov. Alexander followed Pobedonostsev's advice in making political decisions and in appointing personnel to higher offices. Katkov's influence was exercised through his articles in the reactionary Moscow News, which Alexander read regularly.

Counterreforms and Policies

Alexander issued an imperial manifesto on April 29, 1881, which ended the constitutional reforms of his father and proclaimed the absolute power of the emperor. The law of Aug. 14, 1881, empowered the government to declare a state of emergency in any part of the realm; administrative officials in the areas under the emergency regime were vested with broad extrajudicial and executive powers: arrest, imposition of fines, and confiscation of property without trial; transfer of cases from criminal court jurisdiction to that of military tribunals; the closing of schools; the suspension of periodicals; and the removal of officials. Enacted as a provisional measure for 3 years, the law was renewed and operated until the Revolution of 1917. The law of July 12, 1889, retained the township as a peasant institution but subjected it to the control of a new official, the land captain, who was empowered to suspend or remove elective peasant officials, arrest and fine peasant officials without a trial, and veto decisions of township and village assemblies.

The act of 1890 introduced significant restrictions in the organization of the provincial assemblies. The electors who chose the members of the assemblies were segregated in three electoral colleges on a class basis: nobles, all other electors except peasants, and peasants. Women were denied direct vote but could exercise their electoral rights through male representatives. Jews were totally disfranchised. The act of 1892 limited the right to vote in municipal elections to owners of real estate of a specified value and to proprietors of important commercial and industrial enterprises.

The law of Dec. 28, 1881, made it compulsory for serfs to redeem their land allotments, although the payments were lowered. Measures were taken to promote the expansion of peasant landholding areas, and a bank was founded to assist peasants in buying land. But under the passport law of June 1894, peasant were still denied a passport—that is, the right to seek employment outside the village—without the consent of the village assembly.

The government strove to prevent depreciation of the paper ruble and to link it eventually to precious metal by building up the gold reserve. Beginning in 1880, the government took an active part in building and administering the railways, and by 1894 it had taken over 24 lines.

Alexander III is known as the "czar peacemaker" because under his rule the empire remained at peace except for minor, although costly, military expeditions in central Asia. Relations with England were greatly improved, and France replaced Germany as Russia's ally. He died on Oct. 20, 1894.

Further Reading

Hugh Seton-Watson, The Decline of Imperial Russia 1855-1914 (1952), thorough and well balanced, surveys both internal and foreign policies. Michael T. Florinsky, Russia: A History and an Interpretation, vol. 2 (1953), is the most complete narrative of prerevolutionary Russian history in English and is particularly strong on the 19th and early 20th centuries. □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Alexander III." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Alexander III." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/alexander-iii-0

"Alexander III." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved October 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/alexander-iii-0

Alexander III

Alexander III (1241–86), king of Scots (1249–86). Only son of Alexander II and his second wife, Marie de Coucy. The view that his reign from 1249 was a ‘golden age’ for Scotland was first fully articulated by 14th- and 15th-cent. Scottish chroniclers, who boosted his reputation in order to stress Scottish national identity and the political independence of the kingdom. Nevertheless, there is much to be said for their retrospective assessments. The reign began badly with the factional squabbles of Alexander's minority (1249–60), notably between the Comyns and the Durwards. Thereafter, however, Alexander dealt with the great lords firmly but sensitively, and crown–magnate relations were stable. Continuing earlier processes of consolidation and expansion, he and his war captains campaigned extensively in the west, and brought matters to a successful conclusion in 1266, when sovereignty over Man and the Western Isles was relinquished by Norway. Their annexation to Scotland, one of the greatest triumphs of Scottish state-building, was facilitated by amicable relations with England. Alexander had married Henry III's daughter Margaret in 1251, and although Henry intervened in the minority power struggles, he repeatedly reassured the Scots of his respect for their liberties, thus implicitly recognizing Scotland's status as an independent realm. It was a cruel set of circumstances which jeopardized this ‘golden age’—the deaths of Alexander's three children between 1281 and 1284, and his own untimely death at the age of 44, when he was thrown from his horse while travelling during a storm to visit his second wife, Yolande de Dreux. Even so, by 1286 Scotland had emerged as a unified and sturdily autonomous state, able to meet and ultimately to overcome the challenges posed by both dynastic misfortune and the Anglo-Scottish warfare ignited by Edward I's imperialist ambitions in 1296.

Keith J. Stringer

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Alexander III." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Alexander III." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/alexander-iii

"Alexander III." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved October 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/alexander-iii

Alexander III (king of Scotland)

Alexander III, 1241–86, king of Scotland (1249–86), son and successor of Alexander II. He married a daughter of Henry III of England and quarreled with Henry, and later Henry's son Edward I, over the old English claims to overlordship in Scotland. The great achievement of Alexander was his final acquisition for Scotland of the Hebrides and of the Isle of Man, which his father had already claimed from Norway. King Haakon IV of Norway attempted to drive the Scots from the islands, but a storm battered his ships, and he was defeated in the battle of Largs in the Clyde river. In 1266, Alexander signed a treaty with Magnus VI, assigning the islands to Scotland. Alexander survived his children, and when he died his only near relative was his little granddaughter Margaret Maid of Norway.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Alexander III (king of Scotland)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Alexander III (king of Scotland)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/alexander-iii-king-scotland

"Alexander III (king of Scotland)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved October 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/alexander-iii-king-scotland