The First World War had cost Russia millions of lives. Those not actually fighting had to face serious food shortages. The winter of 1916-17 was very cold and fuel was in very short supply. Cold and lack of food create an environment that lead to trouble for those blamed for these problems.
By March 1917, discontent came to a head in Petrograd – this was St. Petersburg but the name sounded too German so in 1914 the name was changed to the more Russian sounding Petrograd. Petrograd became St. Petersburg.
March 4th : workers in the city’s largest factory (the Putilov engineering factory) demanded a 50% wage increase so that they could buy food. The management refused so the workers went on strike.
March 8th : 30,000 workers were locked out of work. They were not paid and could not afford any food now. The strikers persuaded other workers to come out on strike. Demonstrations occurred throughout the city. Nicholas II was in Petrograd at this time but he left to inspect troops at the war front thinking that the demonstrations were the work of hooligans and that they would end shortly. He was very wrong.
March 9th : the riots got worse and were getting out of hand. Nicholas was informed about the situation and the Russian Parliament (the Duma) pleaded with him to order the release of emergency food supplies. He refused and ordered that the riots should be put down by March 10th !!
March 10th : the police tried to carry out the orders of Nicholas. Unfortunately, people got killed and the rioters became even more angry. The rioters opened up prisons and released those in them. For the first time there were calls for the tsar to quit. The head of the Duma informed Nicholas that law and order had broken down as soldiers brought in to put down the rioters had, in fact, joined them !! Nicholas then did something very foolish. He ordered that the Duma was no longer to meet.
March 11th : the Duma disobeyed Nicholas – this is usually considered the first act of the Russian Revolution. The members of the Duma met in chaos. One person in the Duma, Alexander Kerensky, shouted out that 25,000 soldiers had mutinied and were marching to where the Duma was meeting to support them. With this support, the Duma decided to form a temporary government (the Provisional Government) to take the place of the tsar. In a bizarre move, Alexandra, the tsar’s wife, phoned him to tell him that he had nothing to worry about !!
March 12th : The leader of the Duma was a man called Rodzianko. He persuaded Nicholas that things had got very bad for the royal family. Nicholas then decided to return to Petrograd to restore law and order. The Provisional Government by this time had got some degree of control and they stopped the royal train outside of Petrograd. The government wanted to talk terms with Nicholas. The first plan was for Alexis – the son – to take over but Nicholas refused this as he felt that the boy was too weak. The throne was offered to Grand Duke Michael but he did not want it. It became clear to Nicholas that the Provisional Government did not want a tsar and he was forced to give up the throne.
Thus royalty came to an end in Russia. There had been a tsar since 1480. Now in March 1917 the title came to an end.
Do note that for the whole of this important event, Lenin was out of Russia. Even he was unprepared for this.
What became of the royal family ?
Once the communists had taken over in November 1917, the royal family became a problem as there were many thousands who still believed in royalty and were willing to fight to have the family restored to power.
To stop this from happening, an order was made for them to be executed. In the summer of 1918, the Romanov family was under house arrest in Ekateringburg. It is said that they were told to get ready to go to Germany because they were to leave Russia. They were taken to a cellar and shot by the Communist secret police. Their bodies were thrown down a series of wells in a forest so that it was impossible for any relics of them to be found.
Also see: Russian Revolution of November 1917