Tsar Alexander II had been brutally and fatally wounded by an assassin’s bomb shortly after approving the creation of a parliament-like body as an element to his government, in 1881. He was the third Tsar in six generations to have been murdered. Perhaps as a result, Russia retreated yet again into autocracy with the rule of his son, Alexander III.
Though Alexander III proved a generally competent ruler, he saw no need to rush the preparation of his son, Nicholas, for the day when he would rule in turn. This proved a disastrous decision, for Nicholas had no inherent level of self-confidence, relying instead upon others around him (later, most especially his wife). To make matters worse, Nicholas grew up under the tutelage of Constantine Pobedonostsev, the high priest of Social Stagnation, who taught Nicholas that the sovereignty of the people is an absolute error, and only an autocratic ruler could succeed.
So Nicholas had been told that he had to rule of his own power, but he was never trained in the business of ruling with a strong hand. Small wonder that historians consider Nicholas’ weak character when attempting to explain the success of the Russian revolution in 1917.
Indeed, when Nicholas’ father Alexander III was suddenly diagnosed with nephritis and died in 1894, Nicholas was terrified. His father had taught him nothing of his experience while ruling. He was still young, in his mid-twenties and not even married yet. “What am I to do?” he asked. “I am not prepared to be a tsar. I never wanted to become one. I know nothing of the business of ruling. I have no idea of even how to talk to the ministers.”
Nicholas II’s weakness proved the major factor in Russia’s entry into WWI: foreign minister Sergei Sazanov, not Nicholas, made the choice to defend the Serbs from the Austrians, even though it might provoke Germany. Persuading Nicholas to this risky and grave course of action merely required a small dose of manipulation.