Romanov, Mikhail Fyodorovich

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(15961645), tsar of Russia from 1613 to 1645 and first ruler of the Romanov Dynasty.

Born in 1596, Mikhail Fedorovich Romanov was the son of Fyodor Nikitich Romanov and his wife

Ksenia Ivanovna Shestova. His family had long served as boyars in the court of the Muscovite rulers. The Romanovs, while still known as the Yurievs, were thrust into the center of power and politics in 1547, when Anastasia Romanovna Yurieva, Mikhail's great aunt, married Tsar Ivan IV ("the Terrible"). This union produced Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich, the last of the old Riurikovich rulers of Russia, who died in 1598 without heirs. The extinction of the tsarist line left the succession in question, but the throne finally went to Boris Godunov, a prominent figure in Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich's court.

from godunov to the romanov dynasty

The reign of Boris Godunov was a difficult time for the Romanov clan. Many members were exiled and forcibly tonsured (required to become monks or nuns) by the new tsar, including Mikhail's father and mother, who took the monastic names Filaret and Marfa, respectively. The young Mikhail, then only nine years old, similarly was exiled, at first in rather harsh conditions at Beloozero, then in somewhat better circumstances on the family's own estates, in both cases living with relatives.

Fortunes changed definitively for the better for Mikhail only after 1605, with the unexpected death of Tsar Boris and the brief reign of the First False Dmitry. Mikhail was reunited with his mother, and took up residence in Moscow before moving in 1612 to the Ipatev Monastery near Kostroma, where his mother's family had estates. In the next year, an Assembly of the Land (Zemsky Sobor) was summoned to elect a new tsar for the throne that, by then, had lain vacant for three years. After having ruled out any foreign candidates (the younger brother of the Swedish king, Karl Phillipp, had enjoyed some support among segments of the boyar elite), the assembly began to discuss native candidates. At length, the assembly elected Mikhail to be tsar, and with this election the three hundred year reign of the House of Romanov began.

why mikhail romanov?

Historians have long speculated on the reasons the election might have fallen on Mikhail in 1613. Some have pointed to his youth (he was only sixteen years old at the time); or to his inexperience in political matters; or to his supposed weak will and poor health. These rationales suggest that perhaps the electors in the Assembly of the Land saw in him someone who could easily be manipulated to suit their own clan interests. Others have pointed to the role of the Cossacks, who, according to contemporary sources, rushed into the assembly and demanded, at the point of a pike, that Mikhail be recognized as the "God-annointed tsar." The fact that the Romanovs appear in some later accounts to have maintained their good name and enjoyed some popularity even through the darkest and most violent phases of Ivan the Terrible's reign, may also have worked to their advantage in 1613. It must be acknowledged, however, that some of these sources were compiled after 1613, and thus may reflect Romanov self-interest.

Some sources have claimed that Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich, as death approached in 1598, nominated Fyodor Nikitich, Mikhail's father, to succeed him on the thronea nomination that was, evidently, ignored after the tsar's death. One fact, often over-looked in treatments of Mikhail's life and reign, is that the Romanov boyar clanMikhail's ancestorswere remarkably successful during the decades after the 1547 marriage of Anastasia Yurieva and Ivan the Terrible at forging numerous marriage alliances between their kin and members of most of the other important boyar clans at court. These marriages linked the Romanovs directly with a sizeable portion of the boyar elite. This web of kinship to which the Romanovs belonged, plus the other factors mentioned, may have made the young Mikhail a viable and highly desirable candidate for the throne, since electing him would tend to secure the high ranks and privileged positions of the boyars, most of whom were already Mikhail's relatives.

early challenges

For whatever reason he was elected, Mikhail's early years on the throne were nonetheless rocky. Novgorod and Pskov still lay under Swedish occupation until a final peace was concluded and a military withdrawal obtained by the Treaty of Stolbovo (1617). Mikhail's father still languished in a Polish prison, released only in 1619, after peace with Poland was finally concluded at the Treaty of Deulino (1618). Rivals for the throne still roamed the countryside, particularly in the southsome proclaiming themselves to be yet another Tsarevich Dmitry. Zarutsky's band of Cossacks proved to be still a menace, supporting the widow of the First False Dmitry.

The security and legitimacy of the new dynasty were hardly fixed by the election in 1613. Matters improved with the return of Mikhail's father in 1619. Having been forcibly tonsured a monk earlier, he had been proclaimed patriarch by the Second False Dmitry; and on his return to Moscow he was formally and officially installed in that office. From then to his death in 1633, Filaret ruled in all respects jointly with his son, and had even been given the unique title of Great Sovereign. The competent governance of Filaret and, after his death, of other Romanov relatives, plus the absence of successional squabbles, gradually produced the stability that, by the end of Mikhail's reign, helped to firmly establish Romanov dynasticism in Russia and the peaceful succession of Mikhail's son, Alexei, to the throne.

ensuring the dynastic succession

Mikhail Romanov's family life was full of intrigue and failures. In 1616, Mikhail picked Maria Ivanovna Khlopova from several prospective brides, and he seems genuinely to have felt fondness for her. His mother, however, was dead set against the match, as were his mother's relatives, Mikhail and Boris Saltykov, the former of whom was among the chief figures of the court. The Saltykov brothers appear to have had another candidate in mind for Mikhail, and so they conspired to ruin the match by poisoning Maria, causing her to have a fit of vomiting. Maria and her family were immediately dispatched to Tobolsk, in Siberia, as punishment for their presumed conspiracy to conceal a serious illness from the tsar (one that, it was believed, might have implications for the reproductive capacity of the new bride).

Further efforts to marry Mikhail off to a foreign bride ensued and matches were proposed (with the daughter of the grand duke of Lithuania, the daughter of the duke of Holstein-Gottorp, and with the sister of the elector of Brandenburg), but all failed. An investigation of the Khlopov affair was opened up in 1623, and shortly thereafter the truth of the Saltykov conspiracy was discovered and the two brothers were disgraced and sent into exile. Even so, no serious reconsideration of the Khlopov match ever materialized, for Mikhail's mother remained adamantly opposed to the match.

In 1624 Mikhail married Maria Dolgorukova, possibly the young girl that had been the original choice of the Saltykovs, but she died within a few months of the wedding. Mikhail next married (in 1626) Evdokya Streshneva, with whom he had six daughters and three sons, including his heir, Alexei. In the last year of his life he attempted to marry off one of his daughters, Irina, to Prince Waldemar, the natural son of the king of Denmark, Christian IV. Waldemar's refusal to convert to Orthodoxy doomed the marriage project, but the controversy stimulated a fertile theological and political debate about baptism and the confessional lines between Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy. Mikhail died on July 12, 1645, on his name-day (St. Mikhail Malein, not, as is often assumed and asserted, St. Mikhail the Archangel).

See also: assembly of the land; cossacks; dmitry, false; filaret romanov, patriarch; godunov, boris fyodorovich; ivan iv; romanov dynasty; siberia; stolbovo, treaty of; time of troubles


Bain, R. Nisbet. (1905). The First Romanovs, 16131725: A History of Muscovite Civilization and the Rise of Modern Russia Under Peter the Great and His Forerunners. New York: E. P. Dutton.

Dunning, Chester S. L. (2001). Russia's First Civil War: The Time of Troubles and the Founding of the Romanov Dynasty. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Klyuchevsky, Vasilii O. (1970). The Rise of the Romanovs, tr. Liliana Archibald. London: Macmillan St. Martin's.

Orchard, G. Edward. (1989). "The Election of Michael Romanov." Slavonic and East European Review 67: 378402.

Platonov, S. F. (1985). The Time of Troubles, tr. John T. Alexander. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press.

Russell E. Martin

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Romanov, Mikhail Fyodorovich

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