Nicholas I of Russia

The 11th Emperor of Russia (1825–1855)

Nicholas I (6 July 1796 – 2 March 1855) reigned as Emperor of Russia, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Finland from 1825 until 1855. He was the third son of Paul I and younger brother of his predecessor, Alexander I. Nicholas inherited his brother's throne despite the failed Decembrist revolt against him. He is mainly remembered in history as a reactionary whose controversial reign was marked by geographical expansion, economic growth and massive industrialisation on the one hand, and centralisation of administrative policies and repression of dissent on the other. Nicholas had a happy marriage that produced a large family; all of their seven children survived childhood.


  • Neither in the characteristics nor the ways of the Russian is this design to be found. ... The heart of Russia was and will be impervious to it. ... In a state where love for monarchs and devotion to the throne are based on the native characteristics of the people, where there are laws of the fatherland and firmness in administration, all efforts of the evil-intentioned will be in vain and insane.
    • Manifesto announcing the sentencing of the Decembrists (13 July 1826), quoted in Richard Wortman, Russian Monarchy: Representation and Rule (2013), p. 154
  • After the benefits of a long peace the West of Europe finds itself at this moment suddenly given over to perturbations which threaten with ruin and overthrow all legal powers and the whole social system. Insurrection and Anarchy, the offspring of France, soon crossed the German frontier; and have spread themselves in every direction with an audacity which has gained new force in proportion to the concessions of the Governments. This devastating plague has at last attacked our allies the Empire of Austria and the Kingdom of Prussia, and to-day in its blind fury menaces even our Russia, that Russia which God has confided to our care. But Heaven forbid that this should be! Faithful to the example handed down from our ancestors, having first invoked the aid of the Omnipotent, we are ready to encounter our enemies from whatever side they may present themselves, and without sparing our own person we will know how, indissolubly united to our holy country, to defend the honour of the Russian name, and the inviolability of our territory. We are convinced that every Russian, that every one of our faithful subjects will respond with joy to the call of his Sovereign. Our ancient warcry, "For our faith, our Sovereign and our country" will once again lead us on the path of victory, and then with sentiments of humble gratitude, as now with feelings of holy hope, we will all cry with one voice "God is on our side, understand this ye peoples and submit, for God is on our side."
    • Manifesto in response to the Revolutions of 1848 (14/26 March 1848), quoted in The Times (6 April 1848), p. 5
  • It is essential that our two governments should be on better terms. When we are on good terms I have no anxiety about the West of Europe; what others think is really of small importance. ... You see, we have a sick man on our hands, a very sick man; it would be a great misfortune if he should slip out of them some day before all necessary arrangements are made.
    • Remarks to the ambassador of Queen Victoria, Sir Hamilton Seymour, at a soiree given at the palace of the Grande Duchesse Hélène (9 January 1853), quoted in Imbert de Saint-Amand, Napoleon III and His Court (1898), p. 88. The "sick man" was the Ottoman Empire
  • The Danubian principalities are in fact an independent State under my protection; that solution may continue. Servia may receive a similar form of government, and Bulgaria likewise; there is no reason that I know of why we should not make an independent State of that country. As to Egypt, I perfectly comprehend its importance to England. All I can say is that in case of a partition after the downfall of the Ottoman Empire, if you take possession of Egypt, I shall have no objections to make. I will say the same of Candia; that island may suit you, and I do not know why it should not belong to England.
    • Remarks to the ambassador of Queen Victoria, Sir Hamilton Seymour (14 January 1853), quoted in Imbert de Saint-Amand, Napoleon III and His Court (1898), pp. 88-89


  • I wish to base the whole structure and administration of the state on the full power and vigour of the law.
    • Hugh Seton-Watson, The Russian Empire, 1801–1917 (1967), p. 200
  • Here is the model which I intend to follow for the whole of my reign.
    • On Peter the Great, quoted in Hugh Seton-Watson, The Russian Empire, 1801–1917 (1967), p. 200

Quotes about Nicholas

  • He honoured my inspirations, he set free my thought. And I, in the delight of my heart, shall I not sing his praise?
    • Aleksandr Pushkin, quoted in Hugh Seton-Watson, The Russian Empire, 1801–1917 (1967), p. 201
  • [H]e felt more at home among soldiers than civilians, and all his life tended to think in terms of military concepts of loyalty, efficiency, and obedience. Brought up in the Orthodox Church, he remained a firm if unimaginative Christian. He had hesitated to accept the throne in December 1825, but once he assumed it, he had no doubt that he had been entrusted by the Almighty with the task of caring for Russia. He was completely devoted to the service of the state and of the principles of autocracy, as he understood it.
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