Nicholas I (1796–1855) was not brought up to be the Emperor of Russia as he had two elder brothers before him, Emperor Alexander I and Grand Duke Constantine, both childless. He had to accept the throne after his first-eldest brother’s sudden death and his second-eldest brother’s refusal. His reign started with the bloody suppressing of the Decembrist Revolt in December 14, 1825. Nicholas sincerely whished to do a lot of good for Russia but didn’t know how. Nicholas was called “Don Quixote of autocracy” because he saw his main role in keeping the existing social system firm. The guiding principle of his regime was the program of “autocracy, Orthodoxy, and nationality” devised by the minister of education, Sergey Uvarov. Nicholas I’s 30 years reign left his contemporaries with a feeling of regret for neglected opportunities. However, those were the years when the expanding Russian Empire included Georgia and almost all Transcaucasia, and Russian culture rose extraordinarily and saw the success of poets Alexander Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov, writers Nikolai Gogol and Aleksey Khomyakov, artists Karl Briullov and Orest Kiprensky, composers Mikhail Glinka and Alexander Dargomyzhsky, and many others.
A grandson of Catherine II, the future Emperor Nicholas I was born on 25 June 1796, in the Bedchamber of Maria Fiodorovna. At age 21, his wedding with Princess Charlotte (later Empress Alexandra Fiodorovna), the eldest daughter of King Frederick William III of Prussia, was celebrated at the Hermitage pavilion of Tsarskoe Selo. The young couple settled in the new, Alexander Palace, while the Catherine Palace was the place for official ceremonies. After the alarming summer of 1831, when the imperial family took refuge from St Petersburg’s cholera epidemic at their Tsarskoe Selo residence, hardly leaving the place at all, in 1834 Nicholas I emphasized the importance of this residence by giving it the status of the reigning monarch’s property: it could be neither bequeathed nor sold nor presented; the residence passed to the new monarch on his ascent to the throne. Life was changing swiftly in the 1800s. On 31 October 1837, Russia’s first railway was opened, linking St Petersburg to Tsarskoe Selo. In 1843 the first electric telegraph apparatus in the Empire was installed in Nicholas I’s study at the Alexander Palace. Besides many happy events in the life of the imperial family, the residence was also associated with a great sorrow – the loss in 1844 of Grand Duchess Alexandra, the Emperor’s eldest daughter, who did not live to see her twentieth birthday. After that death, Nicholas I abandoned Tsarskoe Selo for ever, while his wife and other daughters traveled here only on the anniversary of their bereavement.