Succession, Law on

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Peter I published the Law on Succession, a manifesto on the succession to the Russian imperial throne, on February 16, 1722.

The Law on Succession was the first such written law in Russian history. Russia's rulers in the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries favored primogeniture (inheritance by the first-born son), although this custom could be bypassed for pragmatic reasons. Peter, prompted by the defection of his eldest son Alexei (condemned to death for treason in 1718), and by the death of his only surviving son in 1719, rejected primogeniture and issued a succession law. The new law required the reigning monarch to nominate his successor with regard to worthiness. It placed no restrictions on age or gender, but it did not specifically direct the reigning monarch to look beyond the imperial family, by raising a commoner, for example. The work The Justice of the Monarch's Right to Appoint the Heir to the Throne (1722), attributed to Feofan Prokopovich, justified the new law with reference to scripture, history, and natural law. Peter himself died without nominating a successor, but Alexander Menshikov claimed to be implementing Peter's wishes by choosing his widow Catherine, thereby inaugurating a period of female rule. Catherine I, Anna, Elizabeth, and Catherine II all nominated their own successors, while Elizabeth and Catherine II took the throne from legally nominated emperors on the pretext of protecting the common good. Paul I repealed the law in 1797, replacing it with a new law based on primogeniture.

See also: paul i; peter i; prokopovich, feofan


Lentin, Antony, ed. and tr. (1996). Peter the Great: His Law on the Imperial Succession: The Official Commentary. Oxford: Headstart History.

Lindsey Hughes