It’s been a while since I did an Interiors post, and I’ve got a spectacular one for you tonight! This “man-cave” of decidedly Edwardian Era decor is the State Study of the last tsar of Imperial Russia, Nicholas II. It’s one of the many large and well-appointed rooms in the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, near St. Petersburg, Russia. During the reign of the last Romanov tsar the family made this palace their main residence, in part because after the Revolution of 1905 they were too frightened of the wrath of the Russian people to spend much time at their palace in St. Petersburg proper. So, a little ways out in the country, Nicholas, his wife Alexandra, their four daughters and one son holed up here. You can easily imagine Nicholas hanging around this room, playing pool or perhaps drinking tea at the little table in the center.
This room easily shows the great wealth and privilege in which the Russian royal family lived, even as a savage rate of income inequality made Russia a living hell for the vast majority of its people, who were quite poor. Yet despite the furnishings here–note the polished ceiling, tile fireplace and rugs probably of Persian or Central Asian craftsmanship–the Romanovs weren’t as wealthy, in terms of real purchasing power, as other royal families on the eve of World War I. Most of the crown’s wealth was tied up not in land or capital assets but in jewels which were hard to liquidate. Despite Nicholas’s tepid attempts to modernize, Russia was, in 1914, a very traditional country still largely medieval in its ways with a very thin crust of modern industrialization at the very top. The events of the Russian Revolution of 1917, which toppled the Romanovs, were less a political event than a volcanic eruption of social and economic pressures that had been building within Russian society for centuries. Nicholas was unlucky enough to have it happen on his watch.
After abdicating in March 1917, Nicholas returned here from his headquarters (he was trying to run the war at the time the Revolution broke out) and he and his family were held as prisoners in this palace. Later still, after the Bolsheviks took power, the family was moved to another prison house in Siberia. Something very unfortunate happened to them there, as you probably know, but the Alexander Palace remained, standing through the Soviet era. It has recently been restored and opened as a museum.