On the morning of 14 December 1825, a group of reformist Russian army officers led a group of about 3000 soldiers onto Senate Square in St Petersburg in an attempt to force the Senate to veto the accession of Nicholas I and proclaim a constitutional monarchy. But the senators had already sworn allegiance to Nicholas, and the revolt turned from farce to tragedy when the Tsar sent 9000 loyalist troops to surround the protesters. The standoff lasted for six hours, until Nicholas gave the order to clear the square. Two bloody hours, and several hundred casualties later, the revolt, a turning point in the history of the Russian revolutionary movement, was over.
An Investigating Commission was immediately set up, and sat for just over five months. ‘Its work was remarkably thorough [some 579 suspected Decembrists were questioned; 289 subsequently received sentences, ranging from death to reassignment to other positions in remote corners of the Empire], aided greatly by the extreme candour with which a number of the Decembrists revealed plans, associations, even innermost thoughts … For those of the Decembrists who did not do so, threats of torture, inquisitions held late at night, damp cells and heavy chains were evidently used to gain cooperation … The Investigating Commission was empowered only to investigate the Decembrist conspiracy, and its task was complete once its members gave their final report to Nicholas on 30 May 1826. The sentences of the Decembrists were decided upon and announced by a Supreme Criminal Court, especially appointed by Nicholas, which first met on 3 June 1826, to consider the Investigating Commission’s findings and to determine the fates of those judged guilty’ (Lincoln, Nicholas I, pp. 80–1).
The Commission’s official report on the revolt was published in St Petersburg in 1826, in Russian, French, German and, unusually, English. (Further translations appeared in Stockholm, Warsaw, and Madrid.). As one might expect, the English version is particularly rare.