Anna (Russia) (1693–1740, Ruled 1730–1740)

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ANNA (RUSSIA) (16931740, ruled 17301740)

ANNA (RUSSIA) (16931740, ruled 17301740), empress of Russia. Anna Ivanovna (or Ioannovna) was the second crowned female ruler of Russia, after Catherine I. The daughter of Peter the Great's half brother and co-tsar for seven years, Ivan V, she spent her adult life residing alternately in St. Petersburg and in the duchy of Courland. Married to the duke of Courland, Friedrich Wilhelm, in 1710, she was soon widowed when he died in the following year. She returned to St. Petersburg for the next six years, after which Peter the Great sent her back to Courland in 1717. Although bereft of any formal authority, Anna maintained a court in Mitau (Jelgava), subsidized by the Russian court and by contributions from local magnates. Her presence provided an anchor for the growing Russian presence in the eastern Baltic, and her retainers doubled as agents of the Russian court.

Anna ascended the Russian throne largely by accident, when the reigning emperor, the fourteen-year-old Peter II, died unexpectedly on 29 January 1730 (18 January O.S.), on the eve of his wedding and less than three years into his rule. Because the law at that time stipulated that the sitting monarch named his or her successor, the unexpected or premature death of a ruler invariably led to a succession crisis, typically resolved by parties at court backed by the powerful guards' regiments. The 1730 succession crisis is particularly noteworthy, because it took place at a time when much of Russia's political elite had assembled in Moscow awaiting Peter II's wedding. His unexpected death left the throne without a designated heir and with relatively few good candidates. Under the guidance of the Supreme Privy Council, a largely aristocratic body established a few years earlier to advise Catherine I, the assembled elite quickly agreed to offer the throne to Anna.

Over the next several weeks, however, a crisis arose over the terms under which she would reign. The Privy Council had prevailed upon her to accept significant restrictions on her authority, in essence obliging her to seek its approval before issuing decrees. These conditions, as they were termed, provoked a storm of protest among the resident nobility at large (the generalitet or shliakhetstvo as it was officially called), and this larger group prevailed upon the Privy Council to assemble groups to discuss the terms of Anna's rule, as well as to air grievances left over from the Petrine and immediate post-Petrine era. Had the "conditions" remained in place, they would have constituted the first quasi-constitutional limitations on the sovereignty of a Russian ruler. However, competition among the powerful clan networks at court, through which access to position and influence had flowed for generations, quickly overwhelmed the Supreme Privy Council's position. Fearful that the clans represented in the council would gain a permanent advantage, the nobility demanded that there be no conditions, a demand to which Anna readily acceded.

Anna's reign is often seen as unpopular and defined by a vulgarity and arrogance at court, marked by the presence of a large number of Baltic German advisers, most notoriously Count Ernst Johann Bühren (Biron in Russian), after whom the entire experience is named ("bironovshchina"). Although the unpopularity and tactlessness of this German clique is undeniable, some scholars have argued that Anna's reign was hardly an era of darkness, as the nationalist tradition would have it. She abolished the unpopular Privy Council and severely punished most of its members. More to the point, her closest advisers included several Russians such as Prince Aleksei Mikhailovich Cherkasskii and Gavriil Ivanovich Golovkin. It was during her reign that the Imperial Academy of Sciences established its visibility within Russian society, both through its Russian-language press and through its classes, and within international science through the publication of its scientific monographs. Her reign saw the beginnings of the Corps of Cadets, the elite military academies, as well as the legislation that ultimately led to the establishment of a network of Latin-based religious seminaries. In foreign affairs, Russian interests prevailed over French ones in the war of Polish Succession in 17331735, and Russia made noteworthy, if temporary, gains in Moldova at the expense of Austria and the Ottoman Empire in 1739.

Endeavoring to make her line of the Romanov clan preeminent, and without any offspring of her own, Anna named her infant grand nephew (her deceased sister Catherine's grandson) Ivan Antonovich as heir, with Bühren as regent. The strategy failed, however, as Ivan VI remained on the throne less than two years and was replaced in a coup by Peter the Great's daughter, Elizabeth. Bührenand the entire German partyfell even sooner, replaced as regent after several months by Ivan's mother, Anna Leopoldovna.

See also Elizabeth (Russia) ; Peter I (Russia) ; Queens and Empresses ; Russia.


Lipski, Alexander. "A Re-examination of the 'Dark Era' of Anna Ioannovna." American Slavic and East European Review 15, no. 4 (December 1956): 477488.

Meehan-Waters, Brenda. Autocracy and Aristocracy: The Russian Service Elite of 1730. New Brunswick, N.J., 1982.

Ransel, David L. "The Constitutional Crisis of 1730." In Reform in Russia and the USSR. Edited by Robert O. Crummey. Urbana, Ill., 1989.

"The Succession Crisis of 1730." In Plans for Political Reform in Imperial Russia, 17301915. Edited by Marc Raeff. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1966.

Gary Marker