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Alexander II (killed) & Alexander III (survived) of Russia

Alexander II, the second son of Nicholas I was born in 1818. It is true but sad to say that the only significant reforms made in Russia in all the nineteenth century were carried out by him; yet his reward at the age of seventy-one was to be murdered.

As a boy and young man he liked to imitate his father’s admiration for autocracy, and announced that he had not the least intention of allowing any of the Czar’s powers to be diverted into a popularly elected parliamentary assembly, when he, too, became Czar. The surprising reforms probably came about because of the unsuccessful Crimean War (q.v.), which clearly showed the world that Russia was not the all-powerful military nation she aspired to be. Chiefly, there was the lack of money, a direct result of a ‘serf-based’ economy in a largely agricultural state. (more…)

Two unfortunate (royal) children

It was difficult enough merely to survive childhood in earlier times, with nearly certain  death in childbirth or later in infancy – through lack of hygiene, lack of medicine, lack of medical knowledge or simply lack of parental care and love. Our two subjects in this post had been healthy enough to survive the normal hazards of the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, but they died young almost certainly for dynastic or political reasons. They did not just die – they were both murdered. (more…)

By | 2014-04-01T13:36:27+00:00 September 19th, 2013|French History, Russian history, World History|0 Comments


A bit of a dirty word since 1938 but it shouldn’t be. There is enough appeasement going on now over the disgusting situation in Syria to fill the Golden Bowl with appeasers eager to keep Assad Junior happy. It is all rather puzzling. With one Bush, America went with its cautious allies to war against Iraq because Saddam invaded Kuwait. Firepower won, of course, but Saddam’s government remained! Then Bush Jr. went to war with Iraq with equally cautious allies, beat him up, and permitted the locals to lynch Saddam in a particularly horrible way. Now in Syria the Assad boy kills hundreds of fellow citizens every day, even using poison gas to do it, and the world’s committees sit expensively around asking themselves what to do. (more…)

Nihilism & Nihilists

A portrait of Sergei Nechaev /

A portrait of Sergei Nechaev /

These two words, plus nihilistic, are come across by history students frequently; they may know what the words means, or perhaps not. Imagine a child not yet in its teens who refuses to accept any kind of symbol of authority at home or in school: a child who will always do the opposite of what is ordered or suggested. This is nihilism.

The Nihilists rejected all authority of the State, the Church, the School or the family. Specifically, it was the doctrine of a Russian extremist revolutionary party most active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As part of their struggle against conservative elements in Russian society, the Nihilists justified any action, including extreme violence. They were concerned in making everyone else believe that ignorance and oppression could only be eliminated by radical means. (more…)

By | 2013-09-16T09:54:48+00:00 September 16th, 2013|Russian history, Today, World History|1 Comment

Boyars and Kulaks

Artist Ivan Bilibin's painting of Boyars /

Artist Ivan Bilibin’s painting of Boyars /

Two words which appear regularly in fiction and essays concerning Russia are Boyar and Kulak. They invariably appear with pejorative intention: “Don’t let that bunch of kulaks anywhere near my factory!” or “I suppose you’ll go to that meeting of boyars to see what you can get out of it!” Etc. etc.

A boyar was a kind of Russian noble, not of princely or ducal rank (there were never any dukes in Russia, before or after Sovietization). Boyars were found however in the courts or retinues of princes, because they came from what used to be known as the upper classes. They held land, usually lots of it, and held on firmly to considerable power after the 13th century Mongol conquest had been assimilated. (more…)

By | 2013-09-08T15:45:57+00:00 September 8th, 2013|Russian history|0 Comments

The battle for Stalingrad (August ’42 – February ’43)



Volgograd was a city that stretched for eighteen miles along the banks of the river Volga in deepest Russia. The oilfields of the Caucasus were near, and the huge town was a crucially important manufacturing and communications centre, where a quarter of Soviet Russia’s vehicles were made. The city controlled traffic up and down the Volga. With the coming of the Soviets, and the re-naming of important Russian cities such as Petrograd/Leningrad, Volgograd went the same way and became Stalingrad, after the great Georgian leader. (more…)

By | 2013-09-04T09:54:26+00:00 September 4th, 2013|German History, Russian history, World History|0 Comments

The Battle of Kursk

Artist's impression of the Battle of Kursk /

Artist’s impression of the Battle of Kursk /

This was the last and perhaps least written-about offensive on the Eastern front. It was July, 1943, and perhaps the greatest tank battle in history was about to be fought. Just under 2 million troops were involved on the Russian and German sides; four thousand aircraft were to fly over and around the battlefield, and no less than six thousand tanks were at the ready. Just these statistics should have been enough to encourage twenty Hollywood, European or Russian films to have been made of the conflict. I cannot trace even one. (more…)

The International Brigade(s)

A Brigade section training; note the extreme youth of many of the volunteers /

A Brigade section training; note the extreme youth of many of the volunteers /

Volunteers from countries foreign to Spain rushed from around the world to aid the republican cause during the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1938). Contrary to popular literature’s view, the Brigades were not packed full of European and American playwrights, intellectuals and novelists. Most volunteers came from the working classes. Ernest Hemingway came, but as a war correspondent. Stephen Spender and George Orwell came, but were kept as far away from the front as possible, because the propaganda value of their possible capture to the Nationalist forces would have been great. Poets W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood watched from a safe distance, as indeed they did again, this time from California, during the Second World War. (more…)

The sailors rise at Kronstadt!

The Red Army crossing the sea ice on the way to Kronstadt /

The Red Army crossing the sea ice on the way to Kronstadt /

Russian sailors at Petrograd (which had been St. Petersburg) were among the first of their countrymen to become revolutionaries, when they set up their own soviet in 1905. They played an important part in the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks in the October Revolution. (more…)

By | 2013-08-20T10:16:54+00:00 August 20th, 2013|Russian history, World History|0 Comments

Alfred von Tirpitz



German admiral, Secretary of State for the Navy, philosopher, organiser and devoted enemy of Britain, Alfred was born in 1849 and lived to the age of eighty. All his adult life he was a supporter of Weltpolitik, which depended on the acquisition of colonies, and the construction of a navy big enough and strong enough to protect them. Disliking the size of the British Navy, he proposed huge fleets precisely to prevent Britain from blocking Germany’s entry into world markets. (more…)

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