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Assassination of Alexander II 1881

Assassination of Tsar Alexander II by Nihilists, 1881

The Nihilist movement was a revolutionary anarchist movement active in Russia during the mid-19th century. It arose early in the reign of Tsar Alexander II as a reaction to the conservatism of Russian society and the autocracy of its government. The Nihilists rejected all forms of traditional authority, and shunned conventional social mores. They believed that society should be organized scientifically; furthermore, they rejected notions such as art and beauty, and were famously recognizable by their slovenly dress.

Chiefly composed of disaffected university students, the movement was initially academic but soon began advocating the violent overthrow of the existing social hierarchy. Various Nihilist groups endeavored unsuccessfully to incite peasant revolts, which incited a harsh response from the Russian government. The war by the Nihilists against the tsarist government escalated into a spate of bombings and murders of government officials. These included several assassination attempts on the Tsar himself himself, in spite of his numerous liberal reforms. The attempts culminated in a successful attack in 1881, where Alexander was killed by a bomb thrown at his carriage.

This event marked the end of the Nihilists movement as a major force in Russian politics. Alexander's son, who succeeded him as Alexander III, immediately put an end to his father's liberal reforms and instituted an even harsher persecution of the Nihilists. Extensive surveillance by the secret police soon uncovered and dismantled most of the major groups, and the mass arrests and executions that followed permanently ended the threat they posed to the Russian government.

Canon appearances[]

"The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez"[]

Golden Paget 8

Sherlock Holmes and the former Nihilists Anna and Sergius

Anna and Sergius were once members of a Nihilist group in Russia called the Brotherhood. The two had met at university and gotten married, though Sergius was some thirty years older than his wife. At some point their cell was involved in the killing of a policeman, which led to harsh retaliation by the authorities. To save his own life, Sergius betrayed his wife and comrades to the police. He escaped to England to avoid retaliation by the Brotherhood, while its other members were either executed or exiled to Siberia.

Among the latter group was a close friend of Anna's named Alexis, who was ironically the only member of the cell to oppose the killing of the policeman. Anna claims that her husband, jealous of her relationship with Alexis, tried to get him executed by stealing her diary and correspondence with Alexis, which would have proved his innocence; however, Alexis was instead sentenced to labor in a Siberian salt mine.

Many years later in 1894, Anna, having been released from prison, tracked down her husband to recover the documents needed to free Alexis. She discovered he had settled in Kent under the identity of "Professor Coram". She broke into the house to steal the papers, but was surprised by the professor's assistant, Willoughby Smith, and she killed him in the ensuing struggle. Trying to escape, she accidentally entered her husband's room; however, he could not turn her in for fear of her revealing his true identity, so he hid her in his room. Sherlock Holmes, of course, soon discovers her location, but Anna fatally poisons herself to avoid going back to prison. Before dying, she makes Holmes promise to take the documents to the Russian embassy in London to clear Alexis' name, which he and Watson obligingly do.

"His Last Bow"[]

While interrogating the German agent von Bork, Holmes lists some of his cases that involved to the spy's family. Holmes notes that he saved von Bork's uncle, Count von und zu Grafenstein, from assassination by a Nihilist named Klopman.

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