Ruling family of Russia from 1613 to 1917; before that, a prominent clan of boyars in the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries.
The origins of the Romanovs are obscured by later (post-1613) foundation myths, though it appears certain enough that the founder of the clan was Andrei Ivanovich Kobyla, who was already a boyar in the middle of the fourteenth century when he appears for the first time in historical sources. Because of the way the line of descent from Andrei Kobyla divided and subdivided over time, there has often been confusion and misidentification of the last names of this clan before it became the ruling dynasty in 1613 under the name Romanov. Andrei Kobyla's five known sons were the progenitors of numerous boyar and lesser servitor clans, including the Zherebtsovs, Lodygins, Boborykins, and others. The Romanovs—as well as the Bezzubtsevs and the Sheremetev boyar clan—descend from the youngest known son of Andrei Kobyla, Fyodor, who had the nickname "Koshka." The Koshkin line, as it would become known, would itself subdivide into several separate clans, including the Kolychevs and the Lyatskys. The Romanovs, however, derive from Fyodor Koshka's grandson Zakhary, a boyar (appointed no later than 1433) who died sometime between 1453 and 1460. Zakhary lent his name to his branch of the clan, which became known as Zakharins. Zakhary's two sons, Yakov and Yuri, were both prominent boyars in the last quarter of the fifteenth century (and for Yakov, into the first decade of the sixteenth). Yuri's branch of the family took the name Yuriev. Yuri's son, Roman, from whom the later Russian dynasty derives its name, was not a boyar, but he is mentioned prominently in service registers for the second quarter of the sixteenth century. Roman's son Nikita was one of the most important boyars of his time—serving as an okolnichy (from 1559) and later as a boyar (from 1565) for Ivan the Terrible. Nikita served in the Livonian War, occupied prominent ceremonial roles in various court functions including royal weddings and embassies, and, on the death of Ivan the Terrible in 1584, took a leading part in a kind of regency council convened in the early days of Ivan's successor, Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich. Nikita retired to a monastery in 1585 as the monk Nifont. Roman Yuriev's daughter Anastasia married Tsar Ivan the Terrible in 1547, a union that propelled the Yuriev clan to a central place of power and privilege in the court and probably accounts for the numerous and rapid promotions to boyar rank of many of Nikita's and Anastasia's relatives in the Yuriev clan and other related clans. It was also during this time that the Yurievs established marriage ties with many of the other boyar clans at court, solidifying their political position through kinship-based alliances. With the marriage of Anastasia to Ivan, the Yuriev branch of the line of descent from Andrei Kobyla came firmly and finally to be known as the Romanovs.
The transformation of the Romanovs from a boyar clan to a ruling dynasty occurred only after no fewer than fifteen years of civil war and interregnum popularly called the Time of Troubles. During the reign of Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich (1584–1598), Nikita's son Fyodor became a powerful boyar; and inasmuch as he was Tsar Fyodor's first cousin (Tsar Fyodor's mother was Anastasia Yurieva, Fyodor Nikitich's aunt), he had been considered by some to be a good candidate to succeed to the throne of the childless tsar. The election to the throne fell in 1598 on Boris Godunov, however, and by 1600, the new tsar began systematically to exile or forcibly tonsure members of the Romanov clan. Scattered to distant locations in the north and east, far from Moscow, the disgrace of the Romanovs took its toll. In 1600 Fyodor Nikitich was tonsured a monk under the name Filaret and was exiled to the remote Antoniev-Siidkii monastery on the Dvina River. His brothers suffered exile and imprisonment as well: Alexander was sent to Usolye-Luda, where he died shortly thereafter; Mikhail was sent to Nyrob, where he likewise died in confinement; Vasily was sent first to Yarensk then to Pelym, dying in 1602; Ivan was also sent to Pelym, but would be released after Tsar Boris's death in 1605. Fyodor Nikitich's (now Filaret's) sisters and their husbands also suffered exile, imprisonment, and forced tonsurings. Romanov fortunes turned only in 1605 when Tsar Boris died suddenly and the first False Dmitry assumed the throne. The status of the clan fluctuated over the next few years as the throne was occupied first by Vasily Shuisky, the "Boyar Tsar," then by the second False Dmitry, who elevated Filaret to the rank of patriarch.
When finally an Assembly of the Land (Zemsky sobor) was summoned in 1613 to decide the question of the succession, numerous candidates were considered. Foreigners (like the son of the king of Poland or the younger brother of the king of Sweden) were quickly ruled out, though they had their advocates in the Assembly. Focus then turned to domestic candidates, and then in turn to Mikhail Romanov, the sixteen-year-old son of Filaret, who was elected tsar. Debate among historians has since ensued about the reasons for this seemingly unlikely choice. Some point to the kinship ties of the Romanovs with the old dynasty through Anastasia's marriage to Ivan the Terrible, or to the general
popularity of the Yuriev clan during Ivan's violent reign. Others point to the fact that Mikhail Romanov was only sixteen and, according to some, of limited intelligence, indecisive, and sickly, and therefore presumably easily manipulated. Still others point to the Cossacks who surged into the Assembly of the Land during their deliberations and all but demanded that Mikhail be made tsar, evidently because of the close ties between the boy's father (Filaret) and the Cossack supporters of the second False Dmitry. A final and persuasive argument for the selection of Mikhail Romanov in 1613 may well be the fact that, in the previous generation, the Yuriev-Romanov clan had forged numerous marriage ties with many of the other boyar clans at court and therefore may have been seen by the largest number of boyars attending the Assembly of the Land as a candidate "of their own."
At the time of Mikhail Romanov's election, his father Filaret was a prisoner in Poland and was released only in 1619. On his return, father and son ruled together—Filaret being confirmed as patriarch of Moscow and All Rus and given the title "Great Sovereign." Mikhail married twice, in 1624 to Maria Dolgorukova (who promptly died) and to Yevdokia Streshneva in 1626. Their son Alexei succeeded his father in 1645 and presided over a particularly turbulent and eventful time—the writing of the Great Law Code (Ulozhenie), the Church Old Believer Schism, the Polish Wars, and the slow insinuation of Western culture into court life inside the Kremlin. Alexei married twice, to Maria Miloslavskaya (in 1648) and to Natalia Naryshkina (in 1671). His first marriage produced no fewer than thirteen known children, including a daughter, Sophia, who reigned as regent from 1682 to 1689, and Tsar Ivan V (r. 1682–1696). His second marriage gave Tsar Alexei a son, Peter I ("the Great"), who ruled as co-tsar with his half brother Ivan V until the latter's death in 1696, then as sole tsar until his own death in 1725.
Succession by right of male primogeniture had been a long-established if never a legally formulated custom in Muscovy from no later than the fifteenth century onward. The first law of succession ever formally promulgated was on February 5, 1722, when Peter the Great decreed that it was the right of the ruler to pick his successor from among the members of the ruling family without regard for primogeniture or even the custom of exclusive male succession. By this point, the dynasty had few members. Peter's son by his first marriage (to Yevdokia Lopukhina), Alexei, was executed by Peter in 1718 for treason, leaving only a grandson, Peter (the future Peter II). Peter the Great also had two daughters (Anna and the future Empress Elizabeth) by his second wife, Marfa Skavronska, better known as Catherine I. Peter had half sisters—the daughters of Ivan V, his co-tsar, including the future Empress Anna—but even so, the dynasty consisted of no more than a handful of people. Perhaps ironically, Peter failed to pick a successor before his death, but his entourage selected his widow Catherine as the new ruler over the obvious rights of Peter's grandson. This grandson, Peter II, took the throne next, on Catherine's death in 1727, but he died in 1730; and with his passing, the male line of the Romanov dynasty expired. Succession continued through Ivan V's daughter, Anna, who had married Karl-Friedrich of Holstein-Gottorp. Their son, Karl-Peter, succeeded to the throne in 1762 as Peter III. Except for the brief titular reign of the infant Ivan VI (1740–1741)—the great grandson of Ivan V who was deposed by the Empress Elizabeth Petrovna (ruled 1741–1762)—all Romanov rulers from 1762 onward are properly speaking of the family of Holstein-Gottorp, though the convention in Russia always was to use the style "House of Romanov."
The law on dynastic succession was revised by the Emperor Paul I (ruled 1796–1801) after he was denied his rightful succession by his mother, Catherine II ("the Great," ruled 1762–1796). Catherine, born Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst, had married Karl-Peter (the future Peter III) in 1745. After instigating a palace coup that ousted Peter (and later consenting to his murder), Catherine assumed the throne herself. When Paul ascended the throne on her death, he promulgated a law of succession in 1796 that established succession by male primogeniture and female succession only by substitution (that is, only in the absence of male Romanovs). This law endured until the end of the empire and continues today as the regulating statute for expatriate members of the Romanov family living abroad.
Romanov rulers in the nineteenth century were best known for their defense of the autocratic system and resistance to liberal constitutionalism and other social reforms. Paul's sons Alexander I (ruled 1801–1825), the principal victor over Napoleon Bonaparte, and Nicholas I (ruled 1825–1855) each resisted substantive reform and established censorship and other limitations on Russian society aimed at stemming the rise of the radical intelligentsia. Nicholas I's son, Alexander II (the "Tsar-Liberator," ruled 1855–1881) inherited the consequences of the Russian defeat in the Crimean War and instituted the Great Reforms, the centerpiece of which was the emancipation of Russia's serfs. Alexander II was assassinated in March 1881, and his successors on the throne, Alexander III (ruled 1881–1894) and Nicholas II (ruled 1894–1917), adopted many reactionary policies against revolutionaries and sought to defend and extend the autocratic form of monarchy unique to Russia at the time.
The anachronism of autocracy, the mystical-religious leanings of Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra Feodorovna, and, perhaps most important, the string of defeats in World War I, forced Nicholas II to abdicate in February 1917. Having first abdicated in favor of his son Alexei, Nicholas II edited his abdication decree so as to pass the throne instead on to his younger brother, Mikhail—an action that in point of fact lay beyond a tsar's power according to the Pauline Law of Succession of 1796. In any event, Mikhail turned down the throne, ending more than three hundred years of Romanov rule in Russia. Nicholas and his family were immediately placed under house arrest in their palace at Tsarskoye Selo, near St. Petersburg, but in July they were sent into exile to Tobolsk. With the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks, Nicholas and his family were sent to Ekaterinburg, where Bolshevik control was firmer and where, under the threat of a White Army advance, they were executed on the night of July 17, 1918. On days surrounding this, executions of other Romanovs and their relatives (including morganatic spouses) were carried out. In 1981, Nicholas II, his wife and children, and all the other Romanovs who were executed by the Bolsheviks were glorified as saints (or more properly, royal martyrs) by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.
After the abdication of Nicholas and the Bolshevik coup, many Romanovs fled Russia and established themselves in Western Europe and America. Kirill Vladimirovich, Nicholas II's first cousin, proclaimed himself to be "Emperor of All the Russias" in 1924; nearly all surviving grand dukes recognized his claim to the succession, as did that part of the Russian Orthodox Church that had fled revolutionary Russia and had set itself up first in Yugoslavia, then in Germany, and finally in the United States. Kirill's son Vladimir assumed the headship of the dynasty (but not the title "emperor") on his father's death in 1938, though his claim was less universally accepted. Today the Romanov dynasty properly consists only of Leonida Georgievna, Vladimir's widow; his daughter Maria; and her son Georgy, and Princess Ekaterina Ioannovna. The question of the identity of Anna Anderson, who claimed to be Anastasia Nikolayevna, the youngest daughter of Nicholas II, was finally and definitively put to rest with the results of a DNA comparison of Anderson with surviving Romanov relatives. Other lines of descent in the Romanov family exist as well, but are disqualified from the succession due to the prevalence of morganatic marriages in these lines, something that is prohibited by the Pauline Law of Succession. The question of who the rightful tsar would be in the event of a restoration remains hotly contested in monarchist circles in emigration and in Russia.
See also: alexander i; alexander ii; alexander iii; alexei mikhailovich; anna ivanovna; catherine i; catherine ii; elizabeth; filaret romanov, patriarch; ivan v; ivan vi; nicholas i; nicholas ii; paul i; peter i; peter ii; peter iii; romanov, mikhail fyodorovich; sophia; time of troubles
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.
Lincoln, W. Bruce. (1981). The Romanovs: Autocrats of All the Russias. New York: The Dial Press.
Nazarov, V. D. (1993). "The Genealogy of the Koshkins-Zakharyns-Romanovs and the Legend about the Foundation of the Georgievskiy Monastery." Historical Genealogy 1:22–31.
Orchard, G. Edward. (1989). "The Election of Michael Romanov." The Slavonic and East European Review 67:378–402.
Russell E. Martin
Romanov Dynasty (Russia)
ROMANOV DYNASTY (RUSSIA)
ROMANOV DYNASTY (RUSSIA). The Romanov family was one of the old boyar families in Moscow, but its fortunes really began in 1547, when Anastasiia Romanovna Iur'eva married Tsar Ivan IV. Her relatives remained prominent boyars throughout the reign and suffered little from Ivan's suspicions and resultant executions. Anastasiia's nephew, Fedor Nikitich Romanov, received boyar rank in 1586 and played a major role in the politics of the court of Ivan's successor Fedor. The election of Boris Godunov as tsar in 1598 was a defeat for the Romanovs, and in 1600 Boris sent Fedor Romanov and his wife into exile. They were forced to enter monastic life, taking the names Filaret and Marfa. During the Time of Troubles Filaret as metropolitan of Rostov helped overthrow the first False Dmitrii (ruled 1605–1606) and fought against Tsar Vasilii Shuiskii (ruled 1606–1610). He supported the election of Władysław, the son of King Sigismund III of Poland, to the Russian throne. When negotiations with Poland broke down in 1610, Sigismund threw Filaret in prison.
Back in Russia Marfa looked after their son Michael (born 1596) in Kostroma. The defeat of the Poles in 1612 led to the calling of an Assembly of the Land in 1613, which elected Michael tsar. He ruled until his death in 1645, at first under the influence of his mother and then after 1619 of his father Filaret, who was elected patriarch of Moscow on his return in that year.
In the reign of Tsar Michael Russia slowly recovered from the devastation of the Time of Troubles, repopulating the center and west of the country and expanding settlement south and east. The government returned to normal and slowly expanded in size, aided by the relative peace at court among the boyar factions. An unsuccessful attempt to regain losses to Poland in the Troubles was balanced by the successful construction of extensive fortifications and garrisons on the southern frontier that guarded against Crimean raids.
Michael's son Alexis Mikhailovich (ruled 1645–1676) was far more successful. The long war with Poland brought back the lost territories and also the Ukrainian Hetmanate as an autonomous unit within Russia. Internal disputes in the church led to much reform but also to the schism of the Old Belief by 1667. For most of his reign Alexis was content to balance the boyar factions and rule by consensus, a system interrupted by the ambitions of Patriarch Nikon (reigned 1652–1658), which led to Nikon's eventual downfall. By the end of the reign Alexis relied more and more on his favorite, Artamon Sergeevich Matveev.
The male children of Alexis by his first wife Mariia Miloslavskaia, whom he married in 1648, were not a healthy lot. The first heir Alexis died in his teens, and his brother Fedor was ill (probably with scurvy) from childhood. A younger son, Ivan, was also sickly and partly blind. The daughters flourished, but according to Russian custom could not rule. The second marriage of Tsar Alexis in 1671, to Nataliia Naryshkina, produced another daughter but also a healthy son, the future Peter the Great.
At Alexis's death in 1676 the throne went to Fedor, who was too young and sickly to rule until 1680, two years after which he died. After the revolt of the musketeers in 1682, Alexis's daughter Sofiia ruled as regent for the young Peter and his brother Ivan. Peter and his allies at court overthrew her in 1689, inaugurating thirty-six years of deep transformation of the Russian state and Russian culture. By his death in 1725 Peter had made Russia a major regional power, built a European absolutist state, and brought Russia into the circle of European culture. He did not, however, secure the succession. The conflict in 1718 with his son Alexis led him to decree that the tsar could choose his successor, but he did not do so. Thus on his death the Russian elite chose his wife to rule as Catherine I.
The death of Catherine I in 1727 threw the succession back to Peter II, the son of the unfortunate Alexis Alekseevich. Peter II died suddenly of smallpox in 1730, and the elite this time chose Anna, the daughter of Peter the Great's co-tsar Ivan and widow of the duke of Courland, to be the empress. She ruled with the help of her Courland favorite Ernst Johann Bühren (known in Russia as Biron) until 1740. As she had no children, the succession was again in question. Anna's desire was to leave the throne to her infant grand-nephew in the maternal line, Ivan VI, the son of the duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg. The inevitable regency was unpopular, and in 1741 the ruling elite and the guards overthrew Ivan and his family and placed on the throne Peter's daughter Elizabeth.
Elizabeth restored a sense of legitimacy to the throne and the dynasty. She reestablished harmony at the court by returning Anna's enemies from exile and pursued the building of the Russian state, economy, and culture, including the founding of Moscow University in 1755. Russia's armies defeated Frederick the Great of Prussia in the Seven Years' War (1756–1763). Elizabeth's secret morganatic marriage to Aleksei Razumovskii produced no heirs, so she arranged the succession of the duke of Holstein-Gottorp, the son of Peter the Great's daughter Anna. As Peter III he took the throne on Elizabeth's death in 1762, but he was soon overthrown in favor of his wife, Catherine II.
Catherine, born Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst, ruled from 1762 to 1796 and was one of Russia's greatest rulers. Her defeats of the Ottomans, the attendant conquest of the north Black Sea coast, and the partitions of Poland made Russia a great power in Europe. At the same time her rationalization of provincial and town administration, with the granting of limited participation to merchants and gentry, strengthened legal order and added new dimensions to Russian administration. The Charter of the Nobility (1785) for the first time spelled out the rights and obligations of the gentry. Her promotion of education and Enlightenment culture spread new political ideas among the gentry. Later liberal opposition to the monarchy sprang from these ideas.
In her memoirs Catherine said that it was her first lover, Sergei Saltykov, rather than Peter III, who was the father of her son Paul. Paul came to the throne in 1796 during the European crisis sparked by the French Revolution. Alarmed by its success, Paul briefly joined the anti-French coalition and reversed many of his mother's reforms. Elite discontent led to his murder in March 1801. Ironically, his succession decree of 1797 allowed for an orderly succession to his son, Alexander I, for the first time in over a century.
See also Alexis I (Russia) ; Anna (Russia) ; Autocracy ; Boris Godunov (Russia) ; Catherine II (Russia) ; Elizabeth (Russia) ; Michael Romanov (Russia) ; Nikon, patriarch ; Old Believers ; Orthodoxy, Russian ; Paul I (Russia) ; Peter I (Russia) ; Russia ; Russian Literature and Language ; Russo-Polish Wars ; Russo-Ottoman Wars ; Sofiia Alekseevna ; Time of Troubles (Russia) .
Alexander, John T. Catherine the Great: Life and Legend. Oxford, 1989.
Ansimov, Evgeny V. Empress Elizabeth: Her Reign and Her Russia 1741–1761. Trans. by John T. Alexander. Gulf Breeze, Fla., 1995.
Hughes, Lindsey. Peter the Great: A Biography. New Haven and London, 2002.
Longworth, Philip. Alexis, Tsar of all the Russias. New York, 1984.
McGrew, Roderick E. Paul I of Russia 1754–1801. Oxford, 1992.