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old photo of Crimean War soldiers

British soldiers in the Crimean War

When Catherine the Great died in 1796 AD, her son Paul became the czar of Russia. But Paul was not really up to the job. Almost immediately Paul agreed to an alliance with Austria, Spain, and Britain against the French general Napoleon, but Napoleon kept winning battles. By 1801 the Russians killed Paul and replaced him with his 23 year old son, Alexander. Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812, and about half a million Russian soldiers died. Maybe about another half a million people who were not soldiers died too. But in the end the Russian army succeeded in defeating Napoleon. Most of Napoleon’s army died of cold and hunger and typhus trying to get back to France from Russia.

When Alexander also died of typhus in 1825, his younger brother Nicholas became Czar. Nicholas took advantage of the weakness of the Ottoman Empire to try to take over the Ottoman Empire and form a much bigger, more powerful kingdom. Although Nicholas won at first, the idea of such a big powerful kingdom scared Britain and France, and they helped the Ottoman Empire to fight off the Russians in the Crimean War. Britain also helped the Sikhs to fight Afghanistan, to squelch Russian power there.

Photo of a white man sitting sadly on a tree stump in the woods

Nicholas II, last czar of Russia

Nicholas died of pneumonia in 1855. His son Alexander II became the new czar. In 1861, Alexander changed the law (as Franz Joseph had just done in Austria) so that poor farmers would be less like slaves.

Poor farmers now had more freedom to quit their jobs, or move to another town, but, like the freed African-Americans in the United States, they still didn’t own their own land. With British help, Alexander also opened up coal mining in Russia. In 1867, Alexander sold the Russian settlements in Alaska to the United States, because they were just too far away for the Russian army to protect them.

In 1881, Alexander II was killed by a bomb planted by Russian people who wanted more democracy. His son Alexander III became the new czar. Frightened by the revolutionaries who had killed his father, Alexander III tried to keep all the power for himself and control everything that happened in Russia. When he died in 1894, his son Nicholas II became the new czar – and the last one, because the revolutionaries finally forced Nicholas to abdicate (quit) in 1917.

What’s the Russian Revolution?

Bibliography and further reading about the Crimean War:

Russian Revolution
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