Nicholas I. (Nikolai Pavlovitcii), emperor of Russia, born in St. Petersburg, July 6, 1796, died there, March 2, 1855. lie was the third son of Paul I. by his second wife, a daughter of the duke Eugene of Wiirtemberg. With the exception of political economy, he showed little interest in scientific attainments, but was quick in mastering foreign languages. From the peace in 1815 to his accession in 1825, he devoted himself to military matters, but never gave evidence of any real strategical capacity. In 1816 he visited England and the Russian provinces. On July 13, 1817, he married Charlotte of Prussia (Alexandra Feo-dorovna), eldest daughter of Frederick William III.; she gave birth on April 29 (O. S. 17), 1818, to the present emperor Alexander II. About 1821 the family pact was secretly agreed upon, by which his elder brother Constantine renounced the succession in his favor. Nicholas however, on the news of the death of the eldest brother, the emperor Alexander I. (Dec. 1, 1825). took the oath of allegiance to Constantino, and did not assume the reins of power until the latter had publicly signified his determination not to reign. "The accession of Nicholas became the signal of a formidable insurrection, in the suppression of which the new emperor showed personal courage and presence of mind, but an unrelenting disposition.
Capital punishment, abolished by the empress Elizabeth, was inflicted by Nicholas upon the leaders of the insurrection. Four were publicly executed, one after another, in St. Petersburg. The fifth was the poet Rileyeff. The rope broke, and he fell to the ground still alive. The sight of his agony created such sympathy in the assembled multitude, that the governor general sent for instruction to the emperor. The command of Nicholas was: "Take a stronger rope and proceed with the execution." The other parties to the insurrection were banished to Siberia, some for life, and others for 20 years or for shorter periods; but the sentence of none of them was ever commuted. The brilliant victories of Paskevitch and Die-bitsch over Persia and Turkey in 1827-'9 added prestige to his government, especially as the Turkish Avar also saved the independence of Greece, as well as the autonomy of the Danu-bian principalities, which were now reorganized under a Russian protectorate. The revolution of 1830-'31 in Poland terminated in the annihilation of Polish nationality. These events, accomplished in rapid succession, surrounded Nicholas with a halo of glory. He now for some time relaxed the rigor of the censorship, combated the venality of public men, and ordered the codification of the laws.
But the temptations of power caused him to relapse into rigid absolutism; and Russia soon presented again the spectacle of a vast empire ruled by the iron hand of a single man. The United Greeks, who acknowledged the authority of the pope while preserving the usages of the Greek church, were compelled to unite with the orthodox establishment; the Protestants of the Baltic provinces were persecuted; and the Jews were subjected to a barbarous treatment. He indirectly supported Don Carlos in Spain, but considered Dom Miguel of Portugal a usurper. During the political complications in connection with the conflict between the viceroy of Egypt Mehemet Ali and the sultan, Nicholas secured his predominance in the East by a speedy intervention against the advance of Ibrahim Pasha in 1833, and acted in alliance with England and the German powers in 1840. In 1844 he paid a visit to Queen Victoria, and subsequently he visited the emperor of Austria, and in 1846 Pope Gregory XVI. The attempted Polish rising of 1846 was suppressed with little bloodshed.
He abstained from interfering during the political excitement of 1848, except in the Danubian principalities, until his assistance was invoked by the emperor of Austria against the Hungarians, whose revolution was in 1849 crushed by the aid of Russian troops. In the East, Nicholas followed the traditions of his house in his wars of conquest in Persia, the Caucasus, and Turkey. His ambition of gaining preponderance in Turkey was constantly perceptible during his reign, and led in 1853 to the rupture with Turkey, which resulted in the war with England and France. The repeated defeats and losses of his armies and 'fleet produced a deep effect upon his powerful constitution, and hastened his death, the more immediate cause of which was atrophy of the lungs. Nicholas had a commanding presence, and great capacity for labor and endurance. He travelled day and night to inspect fortresses and review troops, and he worked at times 14 and 16 hours a day. His temperance and frugality were as remarkable as his industry; to create a prestige was his constant object, whether in his own capital or foreign countries. The church, the army, and the secret police were the great engines of his government.
In the latter part of his reign he suppressed liberal studies, while the universities of the empire, maintained with great ostentation, were devoted to educating men in sciences useful in war or in administration. He was strenuously opposed to the liberty of the press in Russia. He was an excellent husband and father.