Russian Royalty: The Romanovs (1613-1917)


Figure 1.--.

Few European families have dominated their country's history for such an extensive period as the Ronanovs. The Romanovs followed the Ruriks, but it is the Romanovs that are generally associated with Russia because they ruled in modern tomes. The Romanov dynasty was founded by Michael Romanov (1613-45). For the first few generations, the Romanovs were happy to maintain the status quo in Russia. They continued to centralize power, but they did very little to bring Russia up to speed with the rapid changes in economic and political life that were taking place elsewhere in Europe. The first great Romanov Tsar was Michael's grandson who we know of today as Peter I or Peter the Great (1696-1725). Russia burst out of its northern enclave to become one of the great powers of Europe. The Romanovs include two remarkable Tsarinas, Elizaneth and Catherine. Alexander II freed the slaves. The last Romanov was Nicholas II who led Russia into World War I and was force to abdicate. He and his family was killed by the Comminists (1918), ending thecRimanov family. This page provides historical background on the Romanov family. Not a lot of information yet on how the princes in early historical periods were dressed, but I do hope to acquire some eventually. The background history, is also useful in understanding Nicholas II and his family.

Michael I (1613-45)

The Romanov dynasty was founded by Mikhail Feodorovitch Romanov (1596-1645), a relative of the Rurik Tsar Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible). The Time of Troubles folloing the death of Ivan IV had brought Russia to its knees. His parents were Filaret Romanov and of Xenia Ivanova Chestova. Russia was invaded by foreign powers. The Poles had even occupied Moscow. The Russian Boyars on elected him Tsar (1613). Michael at first did not want the crown. Michael was chosen because oif his hereditary link to Ivan and his father's position as Patriarch of Russia. Michael married Evdokia Stryeshneva (1608-1645). Their son was Aleksey (1629-78). Michael although reluctant to rule, restored stability to Russia. The economy was a shambles and mobs if serfs roamed the country side. It was at this time that the serfs were permanently tied to the land. The Tsar's police was increasingly used to track down and return serfs who tried to escape the great estates.

Peter the Great (1682-1725)

Peter the Great is commonly considerd to be the greatest of all Russian Tsars. He was was an unlikely Tsar as he was the fourteenth child of Tsar Alexei I. Peter was born from Tsar Alexis his second marriage to Natalia Kirillovna Naryshkina (1672). His relatives tried to install Peter as Tsar as a boy, but were bruttaly murdered by the family of Alexis' first wife while the young Peter watched. Peter was made co-Tsar with his retarded brother Ivan, but their sister Sophia served as regent. Peter managed to surplant Sophia as he reached his majority (1689). He was from that point in control of the state, although he was not officially declared sole Sovereign of all Russia until Ivan died (1696). After a celebrated trip to the West, Peter undertook extensive reforms. He created a regular European-style army and navy making Russi a major European power. He reformed the Church, making it subject to the state. He introduced new administrative and territorial divisions of the Empire. He was intrested in science and technology and established Russia's first techvincal schools. He was a talented diplomat and military leader. Under Peter, Russia became a great European power. He proclaimed Russia an Empire and was accorded the title of Emperor of All Russia, Great Father of the Fatherland and "the Great" (1723). He married twice and had 14 children, many of whom died in infancy. Tsarevich Alexei and his mother became the center of the conservative oposition to Peter's reforms. He was convicted of high treason and died under torture (1718). Peter died from a chill (1725), without designating an heir. He was buried in the Cathedral of the St. Peter and St. Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg, the city on the Baltic he founded.

Elizabeth (1741-62)

Arguably the two greatest Russian rulers were Peter the Great and Catherine the Great. They came relatively close together (17th and 18th century). It is unusual in national histories for two of the most important leaders to come so close together. And in between the two came Elizabeth, an important ruler in her own right. Elizabeth was Peter's daughter and proved to be a very formidable woman. Elizabeth Petrovna (1709-1761) reigned for more than 20 years. As Emperess of the largest empire in Europe, she was often detached. She did not enjoy the hard work of governance. She often postponed decessions foe weeks if not months. She was, however, an ardent Russian patriot and took her responsibilities as the heir of Peter the Great very seriously. Elizabeth was a study in contrasts. Her vfstherwas the greatest of all tsars, but her mother was an illiterate peasant woman. Her father took little interest in her education and her mother adter Peter's death had no comprehension of the realities of power or how to assist her daughter. Elizabeth did mot marry. Like Elizabeth of England there were many practical and political issues involved. She did have several lovers. She seems to have been particularly close to commoner singer, Alexis Razumovsky. There may have even been a secret marriage. He was known as Russia's "Emperor of the Night". Elizabeth when she ascended the throne created him a Prince and Field Marshal. There were no children, but Elizabeth played a major role in the choice of Catherine.

Catherine II (The Great) (1762-96)

Catherine Augusta was born in 1729. She was the daughter of Christian Augustus von Anholt-Zerbst, Prince of Anholt-Zerbst (1690- ). Her mother was Joanna Elizabeth von Holstein-Gottorp (1712- ). The Emperess Elizabeth personally chose Catherine to marry her nephew Peter of Holstein-Gottrop who was heir to the Russian throne. She chose Catherine from a minor German royal family. Catherine was rebaptised into the Orthodox Church and married Peter in 1745. She was 16 year old. Both were thus newcomers to the Russian court as teenagers. They were at first on friendly terms. Their relationship gradually, however, developed into in name only. She quickly adapted to the intrigues of the course and largely immoral Russian court. She openly admired Russia and used her femine charms to gather a group of supporters at court. while Her husband insisted on flaunting his German origins and admiring all things German, alienating the Russians. Catherine's indifference to her husband gradually rurned to contempt if not outright hatred. Peter did not last long as Tsar. The conflict between him and Catherine by the summer of 1762 had become quite serious. Tsar Peter was seized and imprisoned and a week later straggled (July 1762), probably by Grigorievich, a favorite of Catherine. Catherine went on to become the most powerful sovereign in Europe. The great courts of Europe intially saw her as a usurper, but the force of her policies forced them to recognize her. Gradually she was even lauded by the great thinkers of the French Enlightenment like Voltaire and Diderot. She was no figurehead, but gave close personal attention to the affairs of state. She continued Peter the Great's reforms of the Russian state, further increasing central control over the provinces. Her skill as a diplomat, in an era that produced many extraordinary diplomats, was remarkable. Russia's influence in European affairs, as well as its territory in Eastern and Central Europe, were increased and expanded. Toward the end of her reign, extravagence and the corruption of her court descredited Catherine both in Russian as well as Europe. The onset of the French Revolution, affected her zeal for reform. While one a great patron of the French Enlightenment, she eventually banned the publication of French works. Catherine became strikingly conservative and increasingly hostile to criticism of her policies. From 1789 until her death, she reversed many of the liberal reforms of her early reign. One notable effect of this reversal was that, like Peter the Great, Catherine ultimately contributed to the increasingly distressing state of the Russian serfs.

Paul (1796-1802)

Catherine was succeeded by her son Paul whom she greatly disliked. Paul began asking uncomfortable questions such as what had becone of his father. She was closer to her grandson Alexander (son of Paul), whom she wished to be her successor. Because Catherine died of an unexpected heart attack in 1796, she had not yet put in writing her wish for Alexander to suceed her. Her son Paul thus succeeded her at her death. Absolutist Tsar Paul I quickly infuriated almost everyone and was ultimately assassinated in a Palace coup (1802). His son Alexannder did not not lead the coup, but was aware of it. He had not anticipatd that his father would be killed, an outcome which nothered him throughout his life.

Alexander I (1802-25)

Alexander ultimately won the throne with the assassination of his father. Born in 1777, Alexander was taken to be raised by his grandmother, Catherine the Great. Immediately after his father's assasination, Catherine's favorite, Alexander, was crowned Tsar Alexander I. His reign coincided with that of Napoleon of France, and Napoleon's defeat at Moscow in 1812 was his most important moment in history. Alexander had been schooled at Catherine's direction by scholars of the Enligtenment. He left no heirs.

Nicholas I (1825-55)

The imperial succession was uncertain upon the death of Alexander. The French Revolution had introduced radical new udeas to Russia. Alexander had embraced many of these ideas, but held back from graning a Contitution and introducing parlimentary democracy. A group of young, reformist military officers attempted to force the adoption of a constitutional monarchy in Russia by preventing the accession of Nicholas I and staged the Decembrist revolt in 1825, They failed utterly. Nicholas shard none of Alexander's ideals from the Enlightenment. He grew up during the Wars against the French Revolution and Napolon. He bcame the the most reactionary leader in Europe. He was a dominating figure. His policies in Russia were autocratic while his policies abroad were hostile. He was a manipulative personality strongly believing in censorship and strict control over the university. He forced the Russian language and religion upon the general population. In 1830, he abolished the Polish constitution due to an uprising. He used the Russian army to suppress the Revolutions of 1848 and became known as the policeman of Europe. Next Nicholas turned on the Ottoman Empire in a drive to obtain a warm water port. He was viewed as the cause of the Crimean War of 1853-56 as he wanted to expand Russian territory south toward the Dardinelles by seizing Turkish territory--describing it as "Sick man of Europe". Britain and France were concerned about Russia expanding further. The Russian armies which has conquered Napoleon had changed little. They were able to subdue street mobs in Europe, but war with modern industrial states was a very different matter. Britain and France changed by the Industrial Revolution were able at great cost to defeat Russian armies. The Russians were shocked.

Alexander II (1855-81)

Nicholas' successor, Alexander II, by contrast was amenable to reform. He abolished serfdom in 1861, though the emancipation didn't in fact bring on any significant change in the condition of the peasants. The action eraned him the title of "The Liberator". As the country became more industrialized, its political system experienced even greater strain. Attempts by the lower classes to gain more freedom provoked fears of anarchy, and the government remained extremely conservative. As Russia became more industrialized, larger, and far more complicated, the inadequacies of autocratic Tsarist rule became increasingly apparent. By the 20th Century conditions were ripe for a serious convulsion. At the same time, Russia had expanded its territory and its power considerably over the 19th century. Its borders extended to Afghanistan and China, and it had acquired extensive territory on the Pacific coast. The foundation of the port cities of Vladivostok and Port Arthur there had opened up profitable avenues for commerce, and the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway (constructed from 1891-1905) linked the European Russia with its new eastern territories. In 1841, Alexander II in 1841 married Maria of Hessen-Darmstadt (Maria Alexandrovna). The royal couple had seven seven children. He was mortally wounded on March 1, 1881, when a student, I. Grinevitskii who belonged to the revolutionary organization "The National Will", threw a bomb. A cathedral was erected on the site of the murder. Alexander II was buried in the Cathedral of the St. Peter and St. Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg.

Alexander III (1881-94)

Alexander was the second son of Alexander II. He was born in St. Petersburg on February 26, 1845. Alexander III became official heir to the throne after the death of his elder brother, Nicholas, in 1865. He came to the throne on March 1, 1881, at the age 36 after the assassination of his father and was crowned in the Dormition Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin on May 15, 1883. Alexander III's reign coincided with an industrial revolution in Russia and the strengthening of capitalism. His domestic policy was particularly harsh, directed not only against revolutionaries but other liberal movements. Fearing an attempt on his life, he refused to live in the Winter Palace; instead, he lived away from St. Petersburg in Gatchina, the palace of his great-grandfather, Paul I, which was designed like a medieval fortress surrounded by ditches and watchtowers. He married the Danish Princess Dagmar (Maria Feodorovna) and had six children. Alexander was a mountain of a man and renowed throughout Russia for his strength and vigor.Alexander III died on October 20, 1894, in Livadia, Crimea, and was buried in the Cathedral of the St. Peter and St. Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg. I have no information yet on his childhood or how he was dressed as a boy, but am attempting to obtain some.

Nicholas II (1894-1917)

Nicholas II, the last Russian Emperor, was the eldest son of Alexander III and was born on May 6, 1868. Nicholas was born on the Alexander Palace, as the eldest son of Tsar Alexander III and Tsarina Maria Feodorovna, of the House of Romanov-Holstein-Gottorp, in the small town of Tsarskoe Selo ("The Tsar's Village" in Russian), near St. Petersburg. Nicholas and his siblings were brought up very simply. They were brought up in the Imperial Palace of Gatchina, their father's favorite residence. Despite the palace having 900 rooms, their quarters were located on the mezzanine level, firstly destinated for servants. They slept in army camp beds without pillows or mats and they took cold showers every morning. Their father didn't want them spoiled. Being Tsarevitch and as a rule in the family of a Tsar, Nicholas was brought up by tutors and private teachers, the best of their time. Nicholas and his siblings attended classes in separate rooms but the same curriculum was given. Nicholas ascended the throne after the untimely death of his father on October 20, 1894, and was crowned on May 14, 1896. Nicholas was only 28 years old and probably not yet read for the emense responsinbilties he faced. According to contemporaries, Nicholas was gentle and approachable. Those who met him easily forgot that they were face to face with the Emperor. In private life, he was undemanding but had contradictions in his character, tending to weakness and inconsistency. A stubborn supporter of the right of the sovereign, despite growing pressure for revolution, he did not give way on a single issue, even when common sense and circumstances demanded it. Nicholas married the daughter of Grand Duke Ludwig of Hessen, Alice Victoria Eleanor Louisa Beatrice (Alexandra Feodorovna). The story of Nicholas and Alexander is one of the great love stories of the 20th Century. The two were devoted to each other throughout their lives. They had five children. The youngest child, Alexis Nicolaievich, was born August 12, 1904. The Czarevich Alexei suffered from hemophilia and was a permanent invalid. There were four daughters. Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia. The First World War sealed the fate of Nicholas and his family. Without the War, Russia may have been able to have evolved into a democratic government. It would have been difficult, but not impossible. The War made such a transition virtually impossible. Horendous losses were suffered in World War I, which Russia entered on the Allied side on August 1, 1914. Russian participation forced the Germans to divide their forces, probably saving France on the western front. Russia's loss of territory, massive casualties and confusion at home were the main reasons for the Second Russian Revolution in February 1917. Nicholas II abdicated on March 2, 1917, in favor of his brother Michael. Lenin ordered them to be shot on July 17, 1918. The bodies were hidden and have only recently been found and identified. They were given a Christian burial in 199?. A good-hearted man, he was not capable of guiding his huge empire into the modern world and the disaster of World War I.






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Created: June 6, 1998
Last updated: 6:23 AM 5/22/2011