Written by Vladimir Moss



     The abdication of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia in 1917, and of his godson, King Edward VIII of Great Britain in 1936, marked two great milestones in the history of monarchism. The first was, of course, much more important, in that it marked the end of truly Christian monarchism for the indefinite future. But the second was also important as showing how monarchism without Christ – for that is what the continuing reign of Edward VIII would have been – is intolerable to the conscience of a believing nation.

     There is an obvious similarity between the two abdications – both were carried out under enormous popular pressure. However, the dissimilarities are more striking – and more important. Essentially, by abdicating Tsar Nicholas brought the dynasty to an end – but preserved its reputation and therefore the possibility of its future restoration; whereas King Edward’s abdication kept the House of Windsor in power, but doomed it ultimately to its present irrelevance.

     Tsar Nicholas is often slandered as being a man of weak will. But real strength is measured, not in the ability to impose one’s own will on others, but in the following of Christ’s commandments whatever the cost and pressure to do otherwise. And by that yardstick Tsar Nicholas was one of the strongest men ever to ascend a throne. [1]

     Throughout his reign, and in spite of the inevitable mistakes, he tried to govern his country in the spirit of Christ while resisting the democratic zeitgeist. He did not cling onto power for the sake of power or to satisfy his self-esteem, but because he was convinced that if he surrendered it, the country would suffer. The whole of Russian history after the revolution is proof of the correctness of his judgement. And when he did surrender power – partially in the manifesto of October 1905, fully in the abdication of February, 1917 – he did so because he saw that the alternative – civil war – was too high a price to pay. He bent in sorrow, but was never broken in spirit; and in the last analysis, although he abdicated under popular pressure, it was not the pressure that forced his hand, but the consciousness that forcing his will upon the rebellious people – ultimately, by sending troops to kill them during a war against a foreign enemy – would not succeed in restoring the situation but would only allow the foreign enemy to triumph.

     Yana Sedova writes: “In view of the solitude in which his Majesty found himself in 1917, the suppression of the revolution would have been the cure, not of the illness, but of its symptoms, a temporary anaesthesia – and, moreover, for a very short time.”[2]

     “By contrast with Peter I, Tsar Nicholas II of course was not inclined to walk over other people’s bodies. But he, too, was able, in case of necessity, to act firmly and send troops to put down the rebellious city. He could have acted in this way to defend the throne, order and the monarchical principle as a whole. But now he saw how much hatred there was against himself, and that the February revolution was as it were directed only personally against him. He did not want to shed the blood of his subjects to defend, not so much his throne, as himself on the throne…”[3]

      On the night of the abdication the Duma representatives Guchkov and Shulgin came to the Tsar with their own abdication text. But the Tsar in his last act as Sovereign was not to be dictated to; he had written his own manifesto, which he gave them. And Shulgin had to admit: “How pitiful seemed to me the sketch that we had brought him…” by comparison with the Tsar’s majestic text.[4] S.S. Oldenburg writes: “One can speculate whether his Majesty could have not abdicated. With the position taken by General Ruzsky and General Alexeyev, the possibility of resistance was excluded: the commands of his Majesty were not delivered, the telegrams of those who were loyal to him were not communicated to him. Moreover, they could have announced the abdication without his will: Prince Mark of Baden announced the abdication of the German emperor (9.11.1918) when the Kaiser had by no means abdicated! His Majesty at least retained the possibility of addressing the people with his own last word… His Majesty did not believe that his opponents could cope with the situation. For that reason, to the last moment he tried to keep the steering wheel in his own hands. When that possibility had disappeared – it was clear that he was in captivity – his Majesty wanted at least to do all he could to make the task of his successors easier… Only he did not want to entrust his son to them: he knew that the youthful monarch could not abdicate, and to remove him they might use other, bloody methods. His Majesty gave his opponents everything he could: they still turned out to be powerless in the face of events. The steering wheel was torn out of the hands of the autocrat-‘chauffeur’ and the car fell into the abyss…”[5]

      The story of Edward VIII was quite different. In sharp contrast with the Tsar, King Edward had already shown throughout his life a disdain for Christian principle and – still more important in the eyes of the people – the dignity of the monarchy, which would have been forgiven him if he had changed on ascending the throne. But he did not. He wanted to marry a twice-divorced woman, Mrs. Simpson, and was so besotted with her that he was prepared - under pressure from the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury in particular – to renounce the throne in order to marry her.

      Moreover, unlike his Russian godfather, he was prepared to compromise with the foreign enemy. After abdicating, in 1937, he went to Germany to visit Hitler, and made no secret of his pro-Nazi views thereafter. He is even reported as saying that he hoped the Germans would bring their bombing campaign against Britain to a speedy and successful conclusion, which would be the best for everyone…

     Ever since the trial and execution of King Charles I of England in 1649, the idea has circulated in the revolutionary consciousness that a king can commit treasonagainst his country. This is, of course, nonsense: in a monarchy, where the source of all power and legitimacy in the political sphere comes from the monarch, there can only be treason against the monarch, not by the monarch. Nevertheless, even if a monarch cannot commit treason against himself, he can betray the duties of a monarch and the principles of monarchism – and this is what Edward VIII did. It was not only that he was a bad king – there have been many bad kings with the permission of God, and the monarchy has remained standing. For even bad kings have almost always, while sinning in their personal or political lives, valued the monarchy itself and tried to preserve its strength and prestige. Even Ivan the Terrible and Henry VIII, while doing terrible damage to their countries, valued the monarchy itself… Edward VIII was almost unique in not valuing the monarchy at all. And for this unforgiveable sin the people despised him. Therefore his abdication, while manifesting his fecklessness and “treason” to the highest degree, paradoxical as it may seem, saved the monarchy. For while monarchism can survive bad kings, it cannot survive kings who despise kingship. Indeed, so successful was the transition from Edward VIII to his brother, George VI, that commentators have – only half jokingly – suggested that a monument to Mrs. Simpson for saving the monarchy…

      And yet in the long term Tsar Nicholas did much more. He left his people a shining image of personal purity, devotion to duty and wise and merciful government that is now reaping a rich harvest of admirers in the Russian land. And there is now the real possibility that the Russian monarchy could be restored (hopefully it will not be a KGB puppet) – to the rapturous delight of millions of Russians who have tasted the bitter fruits of anti-monarchism, their punishment for betraying their Tsar nearly a century ago. The English monarchy, on the other hand, while still popular in the dutiful but dull – and by no means Christian - reign of Elizabeth II, has no such shining image; nor does republicanism cease to gain new followers. The English monarchy has survived by becoming irrelevant as regards power but profitable as regards the exchequer. This is probably the best it can do in a commercial and democratic age. But there is so much more that a true monarch can do – and we must pray to the Holy Tsar-Martyr and his martyred Royal Family that He will raise up a man to do it.


 December 30 / January 12, 2015/2016.



[1] E.E. Alferov, Imperator Nikolaj II kak chelovek sil’noj voli (Emperor Nicholas II as a Man of Strong Will), Jordanville, N.Y.: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1983, 2004.

[2] Sedova, “Pochemu Gosudar’ ne mog ne otrech’sa?” (Why his Majesty could not avoid abdication), Nasha Strana, March 6, 2010, N 2887, p. 2.

[3] Sedova, “Ataka na Gosudaria Sprava” (An Attack on his Majesty from the Right), Nasha Strana, September 5, 2009.

[4] Oldenburg, Tsarstvovanie Imperatora Nikolaia II (The Reign of Emperor Nicholas II), Washington, 1981, vol. 2, p. 253.

[5] Oldenburg, op. cit., pp. 641-642.

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