Alexander III (The Peacemaker)
Alexander was born at St. Petersburg, the second son of Czar Alexander II by his wife Maria Alexandrovna (Marie of Hesse) . In disposition, he bore little resemblance to his soft-hearted, liberal father, and still less to his refined, philosophic, sentimental, chivalrous, yet cunning great-uncle Alexander I, who coveted the title of "the first gentleman of Europe." Although an enthusiastic amateur musician and patron of the ballet, he was seen as lacking refinement and elegance. Indeed, he rather relished the idea of being of the same rough texture as the great majority of his subjects. His straightforward, abrupt manner savored sometimes of gruffness, while his direct, unadorned method of expressing himself harmonized well with his rough-hewn, immobile features and somewhat sluggish movements. His education was not such as to soften these peculiarities. He was also noted for his immense physical strength.
Perhaps an account from the memoirs of the artist Alexander Benois best describes an impression of Alexander III:
“ After a performance of the ballet 'Tsar Kandavl' at the Mariinsky Theatre, I first caught sight of the Emperor. I was struck by the size of the man, and although cumbersome and heavy, he was still a mighty figure. There was indeed something of the muzhik [Russian peasant] about him. The look of his bright eyes made quite an impression on me. As he passed where I was standing, he raised his head for a second, and to this day I can remember what I felt as our eyes met. It was a look as cold as steel, in which there was something threatening, even frightening, and it struck me like a blow. The Tsar's gaze! The look of a man who stood above all others, but who carried a monstrous burden and who every minute had to fear for his life and the lives of those closest to him. In later years I came into contact with the Emperor on several occasions, and I felt not the slightest bit timid. In more ordinary cases Tsar Alexander III could be at once kind, simple, and even almost... homely. ”
During the first twenty years of his life, Alexander had little prospect of succeeding to the throne, because he had an elder brother, Nicholas, who seemed of robust constitution. Even when this elder brother first showed symptoms of delicate health, the notion that he might die young was never seriously taken; Nicholas was betrothed to the charming princess Dagmar of Denmark. Under these circumstances, the greatest solicitude was devoted to the education of Nicholas as tsarevich, whereas Alexander received only the perfunctory and inadequate training of an ordinary grand-duke of that period, which did not go much beyond secondary instruction, with practical acquaintance in French, English and German, and a certain amount of military drill. Alexander became heir apparent by the sudden death of his elder brother in 1865. It was then that he began to study the principles of law and administration under Konstantin Pobedonostsev, who was then a professor of civil law at Moscow State University and who later (in 1880) became chief procurator of the Holy Synod. Pobedonostsev awakened in his pupil very little love for abstract studies or prolonged intellectual exertion, but he influenced the character of Alexander's reign by instilling into the young man's mind the belief that zeal for Russian Orthodox thought was an essential factor of Russian patriotism and that this was to be specially cultivated by every right-minded tsar.
On his deathbed, Alexander's elder brother Nicholas is said to have expressed the wish that his affianced bride, Princess Dagmar of Denmark, should marry his successor. This wish was swiftly realized, when on 9 November 1866, Alexander wed the princess of Denmark. The union proved to be the most successful one among others and remained unclouded to the end. Unlike that of his parents, there was no adultery in the marriage. During those years when he was heir-apparent—1865 to 1881—Alexander did not play a prominent part in public affairs, but he allowed it to become known that he had certain ideas of his own which did not coincide with the principles of the existing government.
Alexander deprecated what he considered undue foreign influence in general, and German influence in particular, so the adoption of genuine national principles was off in all spheres of official activity, with a view to realizing his ideal of a homogeneous Russia—homogeneous in language, administration and religion. With such ideas and aspirations he could hardly remain permanently in cordial agreement with his father, who had strong German sympathies, often used the German language in his private relations and based his foreign policy on the Prussian alliance.
The antagonism first appeared publicly during the Franco-Prussian War, when the Tsar supported the cabinet of Berlin and the tsarevich did not conceal his sympathies with the French. It reappeared in an intermittent fashion during the years 1875–1879, when the Eastern question produced so much excitement in all ranks of Russian society. At first the tsarevich was more Slavophile than the government, but his phlegmatic nature preserved him from many of the exaggerations indulged in by others, and any of the prevalent popular illusions he may have imbibed were soon dispelled by personal observation in Bulgaria, where he commanded the left wing of the invading army.
Never consulted on political questions, he confined himself to his military duties and fulfilled them in a conscientious and unobtrusive manner.
In 1887, once again the Peoples Will planned the murder of Tsar Alexander III. Among the conspirators captured was Alexander Ulyanov. Ulyanov was sentenced to death and hanged on May 5, 1887. Alexander Ulyanov was the elder brother of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, who would later take the pseudonym V.I. Lenin.
In Central Asian affairs he followed the traditional policy of gradually extending Russian domination without provoking a conflict with the United Kingdom, and he never allowed the bellicose partisans of a forward policy to get out of hand. As a whole his reign cannot be regarded as one of the eventful periods of Russian history; but it must be admitted that under his hard, unsympathetic rule the country made considerable progress. He died of nephritis at the Livadia Palace on 1 November 1894 and was buried at the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg. Alexander III was succeeded by his eldest son Nicholas II of Russia.
Emperor Alexander and his Danish-born wife regularly spent their summers in their Langinkoski manor near Kotka on the Finnish coast, where their children were immersed in a Scandinavian lifestyle of relative modesty.
Tsar Alexander's memorial is located in the city of Irkutsk at the embankment of the Angara river.