Making decisions was not one of the new tsar’s greatest gifts. Indeed, an upbringing which gave Alexander II many qualifications for the tasks which confronted him failed to conceal the fact that he was not very gifted at all. Born in 1818, he had been educated under the supervision of the liberally inclined Romantic poet Vasilii Zhukovskii. Between 1835 and 1837 he heard lectures on Russian law from the reforming bureaucrat Mikhail Speranskii. After travelling extensively at home (and becoming the first Ro­ manov to see Siberia), in 1838 and 1839 he toured Europe. Having married a princess of Hesse-Darmstadt in 1841 (by whom he rapidly had six child­ ren), he was gradually introduced to his future duties. Nicholas appointed him to the State Council and the Committee of Ministers and then made him chairman, in 1842, of the committee which supervised the construction of the railway between St Petersburg and Moscow. In 1846 he sat on one of the tsar’s many secret committees on peasant affairs, in 1848 he chaired an­ other, and in 1849 he succeeded his uncle, the Grand Duke Mikhail, as head of the empire’s military schools. By 1855, as we have seen, he was sufficiently trusted to dismiss the Crimean commander on his father’s be­ half.