Nicholas Romanov, last Tsar of the Russian Empire, and his family were executed by firing squad on 17 July 1918.
Nicholas II had abdicated as Russian Tsar on 15 March 1917. The privations of a war in which Russia was being defeated, had led to growing tensions, and a number of military uprisings. When a Provisional Government in the Duma called for his resignation, he had no alternative but to abdicate.
Initially, under the Provisional Russian Government led by Alexander Kerensky, the Romanov family were evacuated to Tobolsk, a city in the Urals, where they were allowed to live in relative luxury. However, following the second Russian revolution in October 1917, in which the Bolsheviks led by Lenin seized power, the Romanovs were imprisoned. Six months later, in April 1918 they were moved from Tomsk to the Ipatiev House, in Yekaterinburg.
For the preceding six months, Russia had been in a state of Civil War, as the Bolshevik Red Army battled to secure its revolution, and defeat the White Armies, many of whom were loyal to the crown, and many of which had other political agendas. The conflict was a fluid one, and one of the Bolsheviks’ greatest fears was that the Russian Royal Family would be rescued somehow, giving the White armies a figurehead around which to rally.
The Romanovs (Nicholas, his wife Alexandra, their children – Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and Alexei – plus their doctor and a number of servants were woken at 2am on the morning of 17 July 1918, and taken to a small room. They were told that they had been gathered together in preparation for a move to a more secure location, but in fact, a firing squad had been assembled in the next room. The family was led into the room, told that they had been condemned to death, and then killed in a chaotic scene.
It is likely that the killings took some time – it’s believed that some of Nicholas II’s daughters were wearing hidden diamonds sewn nito their clothes, which stopped some of the bullets, and it is likely that some of the family were not killed with bullets, but were instead bayoneted to death.
The bodies were buried in a mass grave, and only rediscovered in 1979, by an amateur archeologist – Alexander Avdonin. That the remains were of the entire Romanov family was only conclusively proved in 2008, following DNS tests carried out in the US. Following this confirmation, the Russian Supreme Court ruled that the Tsar Nicholas II and his family were victims of political repression and ruled that, in a turn of phrase reminiscent of Soviet propaganda, that they should be rehabilitated.
To commemorate their deaths, an orthodox Russian church was built on the spot of their executions. The Church on the Blood (more formally known as “Church on Blood in Honour of All Saints Resplendent in the Russian Land”) was built in Yekaterinburg in the early 21st century.
The confusion surrounding the executions and the crude attempts to cover up its brutality led to many years of speculation and conspiracy theories – most notably that Nicholas’ daughter Anastascia Romanov had somehow escaped the Romanov massacre. A number of people throughout the 20th century claimed to be the Tsarina – most notorious among them was Anna Anderson, subject of a number of books and films.