Romanov Dynasty

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The House of Romanov (Рома́нов, pronounced [rʌˈmanəf]) was the second and last imperial dynasty of Russia, which ruled the country for five generations from 1613 to 1762. From 1762 to 1917 Russia was ruled by a line of the House of Oldenburg (of which Prince Charles is also a member) descended from the marriage of a Romanov grand duchess to the Duke of Holstein-Gottorp. This line was officially also called Romanov, although genealogists sometimes style it, more accurately, Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov.

Flag of the Romanov dynasty.
Coat of Arms of Russian Empire

The Romanovs share their origin with two dozen other Russian noble families. Their earliest common ancestor is Andrei Kobyla, attested as a boyar in the service of Semyon I of Moscow. Later generations assigned to Kobyla the most illustrious pedigrees. At first it was claimed that he came to Moscow from Prussia in 1341, where his father had been a famous rebel. In the late seventeenth century, a fictional line of his descent from Julius Caesar was published.

It is likely that Kobyla's origins were less spectacular. Not only is Kobyla Russian for mare, but his relatives were also nicknamed after horses and other house animals, thus suggesting descent from one of the royal equerries. One of Kobyla's sons, Fyodor, a boyar in the boyar duma of Dmitri Donskoi, was nicknamed Koshka (cat). His descendants took the surname Koshkin, then changed it to Zakharin, which family later split into two branches: Zakharin-Yakovlev and Zakharin-Yuriev. During the reign of Ivan the Terrible, the former family became known as Yakovlev (Alexander Herzen being the most illustrious of them), whereas grandchildren of Roman Zakharin-Yuriev changed their name to Romanov.

Contents

Rise to power

A crowd at the Hypatian Monastery imploring Mikhail Romanov's mother to let him go to Moscow and become their tsar.

The family fortunes soared when Roman's daughter, Anastasia Zakharyina, married the young Ivan IV of Muscovy in February 1547. When her husband assumed the title of tsar, she was crowned the very first tsaritsa. Their marriage was an exceedingly happy one, but her untimely and mysterious death in 1560 changed Ivan's character for the worse. Suspecting the boyars of having poisoned his beloved, the tsar started a reign of terror against them. Among his children by Anastasia, the elder (Ivan) was murdered by the tsar in a quarrel; the younger Fyodor, a pious and lethargic prince, inherited the throne upon his father's death.

Throughout Fyodor's reign, the Russian government was contested between his brother-in-law, Boris Godunov, and his Romanov cousins. Upon the death of childless Fyodor, the 700-year-old line of Moscow Rurikids came to an end. After a long struggle, the party of Boris Godunov prevailed over the Romanovs, and the former was elected new tsar. Godunov's revenge to the Romanovs was terrible: all the family and its relatives were deported to remote corners of the Russian North and Ural, where most of them died of hunger or in chains. The family's leader, Feodor Nikitich, was exiled to the Antoniev Siysky Monastery and forced to take monastic vows with the name Filaret.

The Romanovs' fortunes again changed dramatically with the fall of the Godunov dynasty in 1606. As a former leader of the anti-Godunov party and cousin of the last legitimate tsar, Filaret Romanov was valued by several impostors who attempted to claim the Rurikid legacy and throne during the Time of Troubles. False Dmitriy I made him a metropolitan, and False Dmitriy II raised him to the dignity of patriarch. Upon expulsion of Poles from Moscow in 1612, the Assembly of the Land offered the Russian crown to several Rurikid and Gediminid princes, but all of them declined the honour of it.

A sixteenth-century residence of the Yuryev-Zakharyin boyars in Zaryadye, near the Kremlin.

On being offered the Russian crown, Filaret's 16-year-old son Mikhail Romanov, then living at the Ipatiev Monastery of Kostroma, burst into tears of fear and despair. He was finally persuaded to accept the throne by his mother Kseniya Ivanovna Shestova, who blessed him with the holy image of Our Lady of St. Theodore. Feeling how insecure his throne was, Mikhail attempted to stress his ties with the last Rurikid tsars and sought advice from the Assembly of the Land on every important issue. This strategy proved successful. The early Romanovs were generally loved by the population as in-laws of Ivan the Terrible and innocent martyrs of Godunov's wrath.

The era of dynastic crises

Mikhail was succeeded by his only son Alexei, who steered the country quietly through numerous troubles. Upon his death, there was a period of dynastic struggles between his children by his first wife (Feodor III, Sofia Alexeevna, Ivan V) and his son by his second wife, Nataliya Kyrillovna Naryshkina, the future Peter the Great. New dynastic struggles followed the death of Peter, who had his only son Alexei executed and never named another heir. The Romanov male line actually expired in 1730, with the death of Peter II on the very day of his projected wedding. The last female Romanovs were his aunts, Empresses Anna Ioannovna (1693-1740) and Elizabeth Petrovna (1709-1762), who reigned successively for most of the period from 1730 to 1762.

As neither Anna nor Elizabeth produced a male heir, the succession could devolve either on a Brunswick grand-nephew of Anna (Ivan VI of Russia) or on a Holstein nephew of Elizabeth (Duke Karl Peter Ulrich of Holstein-Gottorp), who was also an heir presumptive to the throne of Sweden. Elizabeth naturally favored her own nephew, although he was of petulant character. With the accession of Karl Peter Ulrich as Emperor Peter III in 1762 the new reigning dynasty of Holstein-Gottorp, or Oldenburg-Romanov, began.

The Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov Dynasty

The Holstein-Gottorps of Russia, however, kept the surname Romanov and sought to emphasise their female-line descent from Peter the Great. Paul I was particularly proud to be great-grandson of the illustrious Russian monarch, although his German-born mother, Catherine II (of the House of Anhalt-Zerbst), insinuated in her memoirs that Paul's real father had been her lover Serge Saltykov. Painfully aware of the hazards resulting from battles of succession, Paul established the house law of the Romanovs, one of the strictest in Europe, basing the succession to agnatic primogeniture, as well as requiring Orthodox faith from the monarch and dynasts, as well as from the consort of emperor and from those of first heirs in line. Later, Alexander I, facing prospect of a morganatic alliance of his brother and heir, added the requirement that consorts of Russian dynasts had to be of equal birth (i.e., born to a royal or sovereign house). Otherwise their children forfeited all rights to the throne.

Paul I was murdered in his palace in Saint Petersburg. Alexander I succeeded him on the throne, and later died without having left a male heir. Nicholas I, a brother of the latter monarch, was surprised to find himself on the throne. His era, like the one of Paul I, was marked by enormous attention to the army. Nonetheless, Russia lost the Crimean War, although it had some brilliant admirals on its side, including Pavel Nakhimov. Nicholas I fathered four sons, all of whom, he thought, could one day face the challenge of ruling Russia. Trying to prepare all the boys for the future, he provided an excellent education, especially a military one, for all of them.

Alexander II became the next Russian emperor. Alexander was an educated, intelligent man, who held that his task was to keep peace in Europe and Russia. However, he believed only a country with a strong army could keep the peace. By paying attention to the army, giving much freedom to Finland, and freeing the serfs in 1861, he gained much support (Finns still dearly remember him). His family life was not so happy- his beloved wife Maria Alexandrovna had serious problems with her lungs, which led to her death and to the dissolution of the close-knit family. On March 13, 1881, Alexander was killed after returning from a military parade. Slavic patriotism, cultural revival, and Panslavist ideas grew in importance in the latter half of this century, drawing the dynasty to look like more Russian. Yet tighter commitment to orthodox faith was required of Romanovs. Several marriages were contracted with princesses from other Slavic monarchies and other orthodox kingdoms, and even a couple of cadet-line princesses were allowed to marry Russian high noblemen - when until 1850s, practically all marriages have been with German princelings.

Wedding of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna.

Alexander II was succeeded by his son Alexander III of Russia. A gigantic and imposing, if somewhat dull man, with great stamina, great lethargy and poor manners, Alexander, fearful of the fate which had befallen his father, strengthened autocratic rule in Russia. Many of the reforms the more liberal Alexander II had pushed through were reversed. Alexander, at his brother's death, not only inherited heirship of the throne, but a betrothed Scandinavian princess Dagmar (Maria Fyodorovna of Denmark). Despite contrasting natures and size, the pair got on famously, and produced six children.

The eldest, Nicholas, became Tsar upon his father's sudden death (due to kidney disease) at age 49. Unready to inherit the throne, Nicholas reputedly complained, "I am not ready, I do not want it. I am not a Tsar." Though an intelligent and kind-hearted man, lacking any preparation to rule, he continued his father's harsh polices. His Tsarina, the emotionally fragile German princess Alexandra Fyodorovna of Hesse, was also a liability. While the Tsar bustled about on the front lines during World War I, the stubborn, traditionalist Tsarina held sway in court and in government.

Constantine Pavlovich and Michael Alexandrovich, although sometimes counted among Russian monarchs, were not crowned and never reigned. They both married morganatically, as did Alexander II with his second wife. Six crowned representatives of the Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov line include: Paul (1796-1801), Alexander I (1801-1826), Nicholas I (1826-56), Alexander II (1856-1881), Alexander III (1881-1894), and Nicholas II (1894-1917).

Downfall

Yekaterinburg's "Church on the Blood," built on the spot where the last Tsar and his family were executed.

All these emperors (except Alexander III) had German-born consorts, a circumstance that cost the Romanovs their popularity during World War I. Nicholas's wife Alexandra Fyodorovna, although devoutly Orthodox, was particularly hated by the populace.

Alexandra Fyodorovna had inherited a mutated gene from her grandmother, Queen Victoria, which caused her son, the long-awaited heir to the throne, Alexei's hemophilia. Nicholas and Alexandra also had four daughters (Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia).

When the Romanov family celebrated the tercentenary of its rule, in 1913, the solemnities were clouded by numerous bad omens. The face of Our Lady of St. Theodore, the patron icon of the family, became badly blackened. Grigori Rasputin proclaimed that the Romanov's power would not last for a year after his death. He was murdered by a group of nobles on December 16, 1916, two months before the February Revolution of 1917 dethroned Nicholas II.

On July 17, 1918, Bolshevik authorities, led by Yakov Yurovsky, murdered Nicholas II and his immediate family in the cellar of the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg, Russia. Ironically, the Ipatiev House has the same name as the Ipatiev Monastery in Kostroma, where Mikhail Romanov had been offered the Russian crown in 1613. The spot where the Ipatiev House once stood has recently been commemorated by a magnificent cathedral "on the blood." After years of controversy, Nikolai II and his family were proclaimed saints by the Russian Orthodox church in 2000.

In 1991, the bodies of Nicholas II and his wife, along with three of their five children and four of their servants, were exhumed (although some question the authenticity of these bones, despite DNA testing). Because two bodies were not present, many people believe that two Romanov children escaped the killings. Ever since, there has been much debate as to which two children's bodies are missing. A Russian scientist made photographic superimpositions and determined that Maria and Alexei were not accounted for. Later, an American scientist concluded from dental, vertebral, and other remnants that it was Anastasia and Alexei that were missing. Much mystery surrounds Anastasia's fate. Several films have been produced, including the full length animated feature Anastasia by Twentieth Century Fox, suggesting that she lived on.

After the bodies were exhumed in June, 1991, they sat in laboratories until 1998, while there was a debate as to whether they should be reburied in Yekaterinburg or Saint Petersburg. A commission eventually chose Saint Petersburg, so they (along with several loyal servants who died with them) were interred in a special chapel in the Peter and Paul Cathedral near the tombs of their ancestors.

In September 2006, Empress Marie Fedorovna, the consort of Alexander III, was buried in the Peter and Paul Cathedral beside her husband. Having fled Russia at the time of the Revolution, she had spent her remaining years in exile in her native Denmark, where she was initially buried in Roskilde Cathedral after her death in 1928. The transfer of her remains was accompanied by elaborate ceremonies, including at St. Isaac's officiated by the Patriarch. For monarchists, the reburial of the Empress in the former imperial capital, so many years after her death, further underscored the downfall of the dynasty.

Contemporary Romanovs

One of the imperial Fabergé eggs presented by Nicholas II to his wife.

The Romanov family continues to exist into the twenty-first century. Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna of Russia is seen by many to have the strongest claim to the Russian throne. However, despite the collapse of the Soviet Union and campaigns by her supporters for recognition as the constitutional monarch, it seems unlikely that she will ever gain the throne. The Russian people have so far evidenced little popular support for the resurrection of a Russian monarchy, even on a constitutional basis.

Maria Vladimirovna's father, Vladimir Cyrillovitch, was the last male dynast of the Romanov Family. The basis of which is the contention that all other males descended from Emperor Nicholas I of Russia married in violation of the House Laws with the result that their offspring did not possess any inheritance rights to the Russian throne. Under the Semi-Salic succession promulgated by Emperor Paul I of Russia, when the last male Romanov dynast died, the succession would pass to his closest female relative with valid succession rights. Contending that he was the last male Romanov dynast, Vladimir Cyrillovitch declared that his daughter would succeed as his closest female relation. (One moral objection to Grand Duke Cyrillovich's claim to the throne is that he was the first Romanov to join the Revolution donning a red armband with the Preobrazhnsky guards.) Accordingly, when her father died in 1992, Maria succeeded as the Head of the Imperial Family of Russia on the basis of her assertion that she is now the last male-line descendant of any Russian emperor not to be of a morganatic marriage.

Maria Vladimirovna's claim to the throne is contested. The biggest objection is the assertion that although her father was a dynast, Maria Vladimirovna is not. They argue that the marriage of her parents, Vladimir Cyrillovich and Leonida Bagration-Mukhransky, was not one between equals. The Bagration-Mukharskys were descended from the medieval Kings of Georgia, but since Georgia's incorporation into the Russian empire had been regarded as nobility and not royalty in Russia, Maria and her defenders argue that the Bagration-Mukhransky, were indeed royal, and that the marriage was between equals, and thus Maria is a dynast. One of her critics is the Romanov Family Association which claims as members all male-line descendants of Emperor Nicholas I of Russia. It is unclear how many of the claimed members actually participate in the association's activities. Maria and her late father clearly did not participate but were nevertheless listed as members. Prince Nicholas Romanov (who styles himself His Highness, Prince Nicholas Romanovich, Prince of Russia) is the president of the association.

References

  • Bergamini, John D. The Tragic dynasty: a history of the Romanovs. New York: Konecky & Konecky 1997. ISBN 9781568521602
  • Van der Kiste, John. The Romanovs, 1818-1959: Alexander II of Russia and his family. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton Pub., 1998. ISBN 9780750916318
  • Lincoln, W. Bruce. The Romanovs: autocrats of all the Russias. New York: Dial Press 1981. ISBN 9780385271875
  • __________. Nicholas I: emperor and autocrat of all the Russias. London: A. Lane 1978. ISBN 9780713908374
  • Massie, Robert K. Peter the Great: his life and world. New York: Knopf 1980. ISBN 9780394500324
  • __________. Nicholas and Alexandra. New York: Ballantine Books, 2000. ISBN 9780345438317
  • Troyat, Henri, and Joan Pinkham. Catherine the Great. New York: Meridian, 1994. ISBN 9780452011205
  • __________. Alexander of Russia: Napoleon's conqueror. New York: Fromm International Pub. Corp., 1986. ISBN 9780880640596

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