Alexander II, 1855-1881
The eldest son of Nicholas I, Alexander II made history in 1861 when he freed 23 million Russian serfs—over a third of the entire Russian population—granting them “the full rights of freemen,” as the Emancipation Edict stated. Former serfs were allotted millions of acres of land to be gradually redeemed through taxes. The Tsar Liberator, as he was called, introduced local self-government and trial by jury as part of his policy of Great Reforms. It was during the reign of Alexander II that famous authors such as Leo Tolstoy, Fedor Dostoevsky and Ivan Turgenev wrote their masterpieces.