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  4. Empire of the Tsars: Romanov Russia with Lucy Worsley

Empire of the Tsars: Romanov Russia with Lucy Worsley

Programme Run: 3 x 60 minutes
Production: BBC
First Transmitted: 2016 HD available

Lucy Worsley travels to Russia to tell the extraordinary story of the dynasty that ruled the country for more than three centuries. It's an epic tale that includes giant figures such as Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, the devastating struggle against Napoleon in 1812, and the political murders of Nicholas II and his family in 1918 which brought the dynasty to a brutal end. 

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Reinventing Russia
In this first episode, Lucy will investigate the beginning of the Romanovs' three hundred year reign in Russia. In 1613, when Russia was leaderless, sixteen year old Mikhail Romanov was plucked from obscurity and offered the crown of Russia. Mikhail was granted absolute power and began the reign of the Romanovs as the most influential dynasty in modern European history.

Lucy will also chart the story of Peter the Great, the ruthless and ambitious Tsar who was determined to modernise Russia at the end of the seventeenth century. Lucy will trace Peter's accession to the throne as a nine year old, when he witnessed a revolt led by royal guards and the slaughter of his uncles and close advisors. Sixteen years later, Peter would vengefully execute a thousand rebellious guards. Throughout his reign, Peter would demonstrate an unwavering commitment to establishing Russia as a naval power - Lucy will explore the lengths Peter would go to ensure this became a reality, including the creation of a new maritime capital, St Petersburg.

Throughout this episode, Lucy will show how the Romanovs embraced and sponsored the arts on an astonishing scale - from building spectacular palaces to commissioning grand artworks that all still dazzle today.

As well as studying this unique royal family, Lucy will also consider the impact the Romanovs had on the lives of ordinary Russians, who were often little better than slaves to the elite.  

Age of Extremes

The Road to Revolution
Lucy Worsley concludes her history of the Romanov dynasty, investigating how the family's grip on Russia unravelled in their final century. She will show how the years 1825-1918 were bloody and traumatic, a period when four tsars tried - and failed - to deal with the growing pressure for constitutional reform and revolution.

Lucy will find out how the Romanovs tried to change the system themselves: in 1861, millions of enslaved serfs were freed by the Tsar-Liberator, Alexander II. But Alexander paid the ultimate penalty for opening the Pandora's Box of reform when he was later blown up by terrorists on the streets of St Petersburg. Elsewhere, there was repression, denial, war, and - in the case of the last tsar, Nicholas II - a fatalistic belief in the power of God: Nicholas's faith in the notorious holy man Rasputin was a major part in his undoing. Lucy also details the chilling murder of Nicholas and his family in 1918, and asks the question: could all of this horror have been avoided?

Lucy will also show how there was a growing movement among the people of Russia to determine their own fate. She traces the growth of the intelligentsia, writers and thinkers who sought to have a voice about Russia. Speaking out came with a risk after Ivan Turgenev wrote about the appalling life of the serfs in 1852, he was sentenced to house arrest by tsar Nicholas I. Lucy also shows how anger against the Romanov regime created a later generation of radicals committed to overturning the status quo. Some would turn to terrorism, and finally, revolution.

As well as political upheaval, there is private drama, and Lucy explains how Nicholas II's family life played into his family's downfall. His son and heir Alexei suffered from haemophilia; the secrecy the family placed around the condition led them into seclusion, further distancing them from the Russian people. It also led them to the influence of man who seemed to have the power to heal their son, and who was seen as a malign influence on Nicholas: Rasputin. 

 


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