Oh, those crazy monarchs. If you haven't read much on them, I highly recommend it for your utmost entertainment. They really are something else. Not only do they inherently THINK they are literally something else (like, let's say, dieties and speak of themselves in plural), they behave like none other (as a likely result of being told they are so special for like their entire lives and people dashing about to serve their every whim).
This book walks you through a quick and dirty survey of the tsars of Russia from Ivan V (b. 1682) and Peter the Great through Nicholas II (who died in 1917). Most of my reading on monarchs has come from lovely old England - Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, poor Queen Jane, and the like, so I was intrigued as to how they would compare with the Russian court. I would say they are 100% different while being 100% exactly the same.
The English monarchs were always quite concerned with forward progress, with being the stars of Europe, and (for the most part) the encouragement of the arts within their courts. They demanded obedience, killed off people who got in their way (not always directly, as in the case of Evil King John or the beheadings of many of the wives of Henry VIII), and sucked the meaning of absolute monarch dry down to the dregs.
They have this in common with the tsars of Russia, although the Russians did it directly. They quelled uprisings with bloody and unequal reciprocity. Severed heads served as reminders of what happens to those who dare to question authority. They leaned deeply into excessive drunkenness, wild mad fits of rage and violence, and delighted in the punishments of their enemies. The tsars cared (most of them, anyway) nothing for the advancements being made in Europe, and preferred what some would deem as isolationism to preserve their autocracy from dangerous thought ideals of Europe.
"An ignorant population was a docile one, which is why [Nicholas I] was incensed to learn that in one instance a potential constitution, formulated during his brother's reign, had been printed in Poland. 'The publication of this paper is most annoying,' he wrote to Prince Paskevich in Warsaw. 'Out of one hundred of our young officers [stationed in Poland] ninety will read it, will fail to understand it or will scorn it, but ten will retain it in their memory, will discuss it - and the most important point, will not forget it. This worries me above everything else...'" (p. 191)
Despite these differences, the strongest vein that runs through all autocrats is their desperate desire for the preservation of their own power. How this plays out varies from person to person, but each action has been calculated toward these ends.
May we never forget this, for the benefit of society as well as the individual.
Keep on reading, my dears,