After listening to You’re Wrong About’s episode on Anastasia revamped my Romanov history nerd brain, I decided to watch Netflix’s The Last Czars. There wasn’t a whole lot I didn’t already know that was brought up during the miniseries, but one part of it left me asking: Did Nicholas II really have an arm tattoo?
Yes, Nikolai II Alexandrovich Romanov, the last czar of Russia, got a huge dragon tattoo on his arm during a trip to Japan, before he became the supreme ruler of all Russia. Apparently, this was not as uncommon as we might think, and royals including King George V, King Edward VII, Catherine the Great, and Peter the Great either had tattoos or have been speculated to have had them, as well.
Nicholas got the tattoo in 1891, several years before the sudden death of his father made him czar, when he traveled to Japan. He fell in love with the culture there, and in between surviving a failed assassination attempt and everything else on his itinerary, he also decided to get a dragon tattoo, which reportedly took a total of seven hours of work to complete.
While he had a deep love for Japanese art and culture, it didn’t do him much good during the Russo-Japanese War. Nicholas was overconfident and did not think of what the financial commitment of fighting an overseas war would be like. He also assumed that the Japanese were inferior racially and militarily, which made the resounding defeat and eventual ceding of territory to Japan even more devastating to his image.
Nicholas—while, by all accounts, a loving husband and father—was not a good ruler, even by mediocre standards. Just his coronation resulted in a stampede that caused the deaths of 1,389 people. Nicholas and his wife, Alexandra, weren’t even told immediately of what happened and ended up going to a ball before getting to visit the hospitalized people (of which there were over 1,000). This incident, known as the Khodynka Tragedy, is just one of the many things, caused by him and not caused by him, which led to Nicholas being the last czar of Russia.
While there is a lot of tragedy surrounding the last Russian royal family—and I get it: What about the children? They were innocent? That can be true, but it can also be true that just as much as we can be sad about Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia, we must understand that their father was a leader through no other merit than having been born a boy from a family that had ruled Russia for 300 years. He allowed Bloody Sunday to happen under his watch, an event that saw the deaths of—in some reports, the numbers still unclear—93 people, with over 300 injured following a peaceful protest that turned violent when soldiers fired into the crowd for no reason.
The protestors were workers led by a priest, Father Georgy Gapon, and a union leader to present a petition to Tsar Nicholas II, asking for some reforms including putting limitations on state officials’ power and improvements to working conditions and hours.
Nicholas wasn’t at the palace they marched to and didn’t order the shooting, but the fact that it happened “under his watch” made the people of Russia believe they no longer had a czar. The czar wasn’t just an emperor; he was a father to his people, and he had failed spectacularly.
Cool tattoo, though.
Share some of your weird historical facts down below! Any other famous royal tattoos out there?
(image: Boissonnas & Eggler)
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