Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Emperor Alexander II the Liberator

Today is the 150th anniversary of the abolition of serfdom by Emperor Alexander II of Russia in 1861.

Alois Gustav Rockstuhl, Tsar Alexander II of Russia facing right in black uniform with gold-embroidered red collar and gold epaulettes

Emperor Alexander II of Russia

Miniature by Alois Gustav Rockstuhl

Sold at Christies in 2007

Image: Artnet.com

There are commemorations and conferences in Russia to mark the anniversary. The President of the Russian Federation in a speech was seeking to appropriate the reform legacy of the Emperor for himself and the present government. Whatever one thinks of such claims at least there is now public recognition in his country of what Alexander II achieved.

As Emperor Alexander can be seen as being very much in the tradition of 'Enlightened despotism' which delivered substantial reforms, of which the emancipation of the serfs is the most notable. In pursuing his policies he worked to modernise a system that was old fashioned, and, under his father, repessive. The growth of the Russian economy in the later years of the monarchy can be attributed in part to his reforms in the mid-century.
He offered a means of reinvigorating the Imperial systemwhich would have preserved its essential structure yet adapted it to the needs of a changing world.

Alexander's plans, at the very end of his life, for what might have developed to become a full parliamentary system might well have helped avoid the difficulties which became more pressing as the years went on. These proposals were to be a casualty of his murder. Had the Emperor lived the history of Russia and indeed of the world might have been infinitely happier than it has been in the last century.

It was his very success which inspired his assassins on March 13th 1881 - they feared that he would establish a reformed system that would deny them the opportunity to ferment a radical revolution. Tragically their success was twofold - they removed the reforming Emperor, and his son and successor reverted to a policy of repression which enabled discontent to develop or be exploited.

There is more about the life of the Emperor here.

No comments: