The Czar Abdicates
Nicholas Romanov, pictured after his abdication, sometime between March and August 1917.
March 15 1917, Pskov–By late on March 1, Russia’s military leaders and even the Czar himself had reached the conclusion that the revolution in Petrograd was a fait accompli; there would be no use in crushing it by force, especially not while they also faced the German threat. They hoped that if the Czar recognized this and handed over political power to the Duma, that the situation could be salvaged, Nicholas could remain as Czar, and the war against Germany could continue. Nicholas had been attempting to reach Petrograd himself, but as the direct lines there were clogged with Ivanov’s stalled expedition to the city, on the night of March 1 he found himself in Pskov, along with General Ruzski, commander of the Northern Front.
Overnight, Ruzski was in contact with Mikhail Rodzianko, one of the moderate Duma leaders:
It is obvious that His Majesty and you do not realize what is going on here….The troops are completely demoralized, they not only disobey but kill their officers. Hatred of Her Majesty has reached extreme limits, and the dynastic question has been raised point-blank….Troops everywhere are joining the Duma and the people and there is a definite, terrible demand for abdication…
Ruzski informed Alexeyev at Stavka of this conversation, who in turn informed the other army and navy leaders. Ruzski also talked to the Czar, who after some reflection said “If it is necessary, for Russia’s welfare, that I step aside, I am prepared to do so.”
At around 2PM, Ruzski informed the Czar that it was the unanimous opinion of the commanders of the Army Fronts that the Czar would have to step down. At 2:50 PM, the Czar announced that he would, and drew up a note that he would abdicate in favor of his son, the hemophiliac Alexei.
Later that afternoon, however, he changed his mind; worrying for his son’s health, and not wanting to be parted from him if he was forced to go into exile after abdicating, he decided to leave the throne to his brother Michael, instead. This was of dubious legality, as the crown was “not the Emperor’s private property nor his patrimony to dispose of according to his will.” A few minutes before midnight, after meeting with representatives from the Duma, he signed a formal letter addressed to Alexeyev (backdated to 3:05 PM), announcing his abdication in favor of his brother, and giving the Duma free reign to establish the principles of the state.
After consulting with the Provisional Government (which was divided on the matter, but largely opposed to his succession), Michael decided the next day to refuse the crown unless offered it by an elected government. This would never come to pass; the Russian monarchy had come to an end.
Sources include: Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy; Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution