The Enlightened Life and Eventual Death of Tsar Alexander II

Ref: C2344413

Tsar Alexander II came to the throne in Russia in 1855, succeeding his father Nicholas I, a hardline ruler whose domestic and foreign policies were perceived as disastrous for the country. By contrast, Alexander proved to be a reforming monarch who brought feudalism to end, reformed the legal system, vastly increased the railway network, built roads and new schools, and devolved some administrative functions to the provinces. However, he was also capable of responding harshly to dissent, viciously suppressing a Polish revolt and creating a secret police organisation to spy on and undermine revolutionary activities. But he ultimately failed in the latter, as he experienced several attempts to assassinate him and one that succeeded, in St Petersburg in March 1881. This course will look at the man and his policies and why revolutionaries were determined to murder him despite his rule being far more liberal and beneficent than that of many of his predecessors.

Course aim

How Alexander II of Russia modernised the country in the 19th century, introducing a number of major reforms, but nevertheless was the target of a number of assassination attempts and was finally killed in St Petersburg in 1881.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • You will need your own personal email address so that you’re able to login to the WEA’s digital learning platform: WEA Canvas. You will need to be able to understand how to follow URL links to pages on the internet. If you want to understand more about Canvas please visit:
  • You will need to be able to follow links to join our WEA live video learning platform: WEA Zoom. If you’d like to understand more about our video learning platform, Zoom please visit: and
  • This course is suitable for beginners and improvers

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • Explain why Russia's poor performance in the Crimean War prompted Alexander to emancipate the serfs.
  • Explain the purposes of the Trial of the 193 and some of its effects.
  • Identify the link between the unsuccessful assassination of Alexander in 1866 and Mussorgsky's composition, Pictures at an Exhibition.
  • Explain why Alexander's second marriage was considered scandalous.
  • Describe why Alexander's assassination was so disastrous for Jews in Russia.

How will I be taught?

  • The WEA’s digital learning platform, Canvas will be used to provide resources to support lessons and provide feedback to students. If you want to understand more about our digital learning platform please visit:

What kind of feedback can I expect?

  • You will have opportunities to discuss your progress with your tutor

What else do I need to know?

  • What you need: You will need an internet connection, speakers, a microphone and a webcam so that you can use our video learning platform, Zoom. If you’d like to understand more Zoom please visit:
  • Nothing else is needed

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

  • No pre reading or pre course work is required

What can I do next?

  • Progress to another WEA course
  • Progress to a course with another provider
  • Become involved with the WEA in a range of voluntary work and other activities including campaigning as a WEA member
  • Become involved as a volunteer for a WEA partner or another organisation
  • Access the WEA What Next? booklet here

Download full course information sheet

The Enlightened Life and Eventual Death of Tsar Alexander II


As a registered charity, and to meet our funders’ requirements, we need to check a few things with you before you enrol. Please check the details below to ensure you meet the basic eligibility critiera:

  • You are paying the standard fee (with a credit or debit card) or you are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • You have a valid email address so that you can receive confirmation of your booking
  • You have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • You are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2020
  • You declare that the address you provide is correct and that you will provide evidence of this and your eligibility to live and work in the UK
  • You have read and accept our standard terms and conditions

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