With the outburst of rioting and strikes in the major Russian cities that would become known as the February Revolution, the tsar did little to diffuse the massive discontent that plagued his empire. Suffering from staggering losses and continued defeats in World War I and a severe food shortage during one of Russia's harshest winters in years, the situation was ripe for revolution.
A bread shortage in St. Petersburg led to rioting among the factory workers, and by the end of February 1917, St. Petersburg and Moscow were both at a virtual standstill as thousands of public workers took to the streets. When Nicholas received word of the strikes, he unwisely ordered troops into the capital to quell the uprising, rather than returning to St. Petersburg to solve the dilemma at hand. Within days, not even the soldiers were on the tsar's side, for they eventually refused to fire on the protesting crowds. The emperor also ordered the suspension of the parliament, the Duma, but the Duma refused to dissolve itself.
Finally, the emperor bowed to reason and began the train ride home. It was too late though. St. Petersburg and Moscow were firmly in control of the revolutionaries. The imperial train was halted on the night of March 14 at Pskov, still another day away from the capital. On the morning of March 15, Nicholas II received General Nikolai Ruzsky, who carried a stack of telegrams from the other military commanders. In each message, the generals begged the emperor to renounce his throne for the sake of the empire. Even his cousin, the renowned military hero Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich, pleaded for him to step down.
With little protest, Nicholas II ordered the instrument of abdication to be drafted, which stated that he would abdicate the Russian imperial throne in favor of his twelve-year-old son, Alexei, with a regency to be appointed until he reached maturity. However, after discussing with his private doctor the possibility of leaving his hemophiliac teenaged son behind in Russia to assume the throne while the rest of the family went into exile, it was agreed that there would be little hope for Alexei's health and survival in such a taxing position. The abdication decree was revised, and instead, the tsar transfered the throne to his only surviving brother, Grand Duke Michael.
Grand Duke Michael
On March 16, Grand Duke Michael renounced the throne that his brother left for him. Fearing that another tsar would only encourage the revolution, Michael at least had the foresight to see that a drastic change was necessary to keep Russia from imploding in on herself. With the grand duke's renunciation, the 304-year-old Romanov dynasty came to an abrupt end.
Within sixteen months, the last reigning tsar, Nicholas II, and (according to very few) the technical last tsar, Michael, were both murdered by the Bolsheviks. Michael was living in a hotel in Perm with his butler, until one night in June 1918, when they were abducted by Bolshevik soldiers, hauled into the woods and shot. A month later, Nicholas and his entire family were slaughtered by their guards.