Anna Ivanovna (1693–1740)

views updated

Anna Ivanovna (1693–1740)

Russian empress who ruled from 1730 to 1740 in a reign characterized by the continuation of the Westernization of Russia initiated by Tsar Peter I. Name variations: Anny Ioannovny; Ioannovna; Anne of Courland. Pronunciation: I-va-NOV-na. Born Anna Ivanovna on January 28, 1693, in Moscow, Russia; died in St. Petersburg, Russia, on October 17, 1740; second daughter of Ivan V (Alekseevich) and Praskovya Saltykova (1664–1723); niece of Peter the Great; secular education by Western tutors and religious training from the church; married Frederick-William Kettler, duke of Courland (a nephew of the king of Prussia), in 1710 (died 1711); no children.

Her father Ivan V died (1696) and her family became dependent on Tsar Peter I; widowed on wedding trip (1710); resided in Mitau, capital of Courland (until 1730); succeeded Peter II as tsar (1730); overthrew the Supreme Privy Council and re-established autocracy; succeeded by Ivan VI at her death (1740).

On February 25, 1730, Anna Ivanovna, with the support of the clergy and lower nobility, repudiated the limitations on her monarchical power and overthrew the Supreme Privy Council of Russia. She had been selected by the Privy Council in January and had signed the "Conditions," which made her tsar but deprived her of all real power. After her arrival in Moscow, she shrewdly professed her amazement that the general public had not approved of the limitation and dramatically tore up the Conditions. Her reign began in controversy and remains controversial. Historians have depicted her absolutist reign as a dark page in Russian history in which German favorites exploited the policies, resources, and interests of Russia. The reappraisal of both Russian history and the role of women in history has led to new evaluations of Anna's reign. Some now believe that foreign domination has been overemphasized, and that the German advisors were actually capable and loyal servants of Russia who improved many aspects of Russian society.

Anna Ivanovna was born in Moscow on January 28, 1693, into a Russia where men wore beards and heavy robes and women wore veils and lived in seclusion in an almost oriental society. She was the fourth daughter of Ivan V (1682–1696), co-tsar of Russia with his half-brother Peter I. Her mother, Praskovya Saltykova , was a woman of the old Russian order of piousness and hospitality who descended from a powerful aristocratic family. Ivan V, a man more suited to monastic life, suffered from retardation and ruled in name only. He died in 1696 when Anna was three years old and her uncle, Peter I the Great (1682–1725), acted as her parent-guardian.

Anna and two of her sisters grew up in the old wooden palace of Ismailovo near Moscow. It was like a small isolated kingdom of stewards, grooms, and watchmen. Their mother filled the palace with tumblers, buffoons, dwarfs, jesters, and the severely deformed to entertain their free hours. Peter, whose goal was to bring Western culture to Russia, insisted on introducing Anna's family to secular ideas through French and German tutors. Anna's worldly education was counterbalanced by a rigorous religious training supervised by her tradition-minded mother. Anna learned all of the social graces and courtly conduct, but her personality was a cultural confusion of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Western secular culture, and the barbaric and superstitious atmosphere of her mother's household. The constant bickering and turmoil of her home life left Anna with a spiteful, stubborn, and temperamental personality.

Anna was a minor figure at Peter's court but, after the age of 13, was sometimes invited to court functions. In 1708, she was summoned by Peter to accompany the family to St. Petersburg where she soon enjoyed the status and respect society paid to her. Peter found a match for his niece and on October 31, 1710, Anna was

married to Frederick-William Kettler, duke of Courland, a nephew of the king of Prussia. The newlyweds remained in St. Petersburg until the new year, when they left for Mitau, the capital of Courland. Less than 30 miles from St. Petersburg, the duke took ill and died. Anna, a 17-year-old widow, promptly returned to Peter's court where she resided until Peter ordered her to take up residence in Mitau. His hope that Anna could strengthen Russian influence in Courland was disrupted by an antagonistic political faction that forced Anna to leave. She resided in Danzig until she was permitted to return to Mitau in 1717 as a de facto sovereign. During her 13 years in Courland, Anna lived an unhappy existence, receiving little attention from her homeland. Her one opportunity to remarry was prevented by Prince Alexander Menshikov in 1726 because her marriage to the count of Saxony would have frustrated his desire to claim Courland for himself one day.

During Anna's years in Courland, Russia entered a period of instability when Peter the Great died in 1725. In 1722, Peter had issued a decree allowing the tsar to designate his successor rather than continue the primogeniture succession of Muscovite Russia. This procedure rested upon the tsar's ability to publicly declare his successor and for the principle constituency of Russian society to accept that choice. The emergence in 1726 of the Supreme Privy Council as an independent political institution comprising nobles further complicated the succession method. Peter himself had failed to designate a successor before his death and his wife Catherine, with the support of Prince Menshikov and his pro-Western faction, succeeded him as ruler. Catherine I (1684–1727) reigned for two years with little interest or talent for the business of absolutist government. Menshikov and his supporters dominated her reign but fell from power when she died in May 1727. The anti-Western boyar (noble) faction led by the Golitsyn and Dolgoruky families purged the Supreme Privy Council and chose Peter Alexevich, grandson of Peter I, to succeed to the throne. During his brief reign, Peter II (r. 1727–30) was dominated by the Dolgoruky-controlled Council, which returned Russia to the old ways. In a symbolic gesture, they moved the capital from St. Petersburg back to Moscow. On January 18, 1730, the day of his intended wedding to Catherine Dolgoruky , the 14-year-old Peter II died of smallpox. For the third time in five years, the succession method devised by Peter I failed at designating an heir on the death of a tsar.

The Supreme Privy Council, dominated by the Dolgoruky and Golitsyn families, met during the night of January 18–19, 1730, to discuss the pressing issue of succession. The Dolgorukys offered Peter II's proposed bride as the new ruler, but the Council narrowly refused to accept her. They passed over Elizabeth Petrovna , the daughter of Peter I and Catherine I, on the grounds of illegitimacy because she was born three years before her parents' marriage. The most appealing of the remaining candidates was Anna Ivanovna, duchess of Courland, because she was widowed and without children. Thus, the Council could decide the succession again at her death. That same night, the Council dispatched to Anna at Mitau the offer and conditions under which it was prepared to raise her to the throne. The document, called the "Conditions," stipulated that Anna must pledge neither to marry nor name a successor, alter the Council, declare war or peace, impose new taxes, disburse public funds, confiscate property, impose death penalties, create new boyars, or exercise any control of the regiments unless the Council gave its unanimous consent. Although Anna was forewarned of the "Conditions," she welcomed the official delegates and signed the document. She left for Moscow three days later and entered the city on February 15, 1730.

Before entering Moscow, Anna had met a delegation of boyars and representatives from the Preobrazhensky Guards and concluded that the Council did not enjoy universal support. She proclaimed herself colonel of the Guards, an infringement of the conditions, and forced the Council's hand by entering the city. On February 25, about 800 angry boyars petitioned Anna to publicly review the "Conditions" with the Assembly. When the Privy Council protested this request, the Guard officers loudly requested that Anna abolish the Council and assume absolute power. With theatrical flair, Anna professed her amazement that the "Conditions" lacked the support of the "generality." She sent for the documents and, in full view of the public, tore up the signed "Conditions" and expressed her intention to rule Russia in the autocratic tradition of the past. The Supreme Privy Council was abolished, and the principal members were eventually punished with prison, exile, or death.

Anna Ivanovna's experiences before her accession to the throne had a significant influence on her reign. Her years of existence on paltry allowances controlled by others heightened her desire for luxuries as tsar of Russia. Anna's past had given her a harsh and distrustful outlook on life, and the political intrigues she encountered at the Russian court reinforced her suspicious nature. During her years in Courland, Anna had developed a Western outlook, and her high regard for German administration and government made her seem heavily partial to German advisors. Her unhappy life of widowhood led her to depend on her secretary and paramour, Ernst Johann Biron. Anna's behavior and appearance did little to ingratiate herself to her people. She was a boorish, obese woman with a sullen disposition and appalling manners who enjoyed pursuits such as hunting, horse riding, and firearms. Possibly in revenge for her earlier treatment, Anna treated her relatives with disdain. Although indifferent to religion, she occasionally pretended to be zealously devoted to the Eastern Orthodox Church. Like her mother and Peter I, Anna surrounded herself with idiots, jesters, giants, and miscreants in a court that often presented a circus-like atmosphere. Her luxurious living led to a courtly budget five times that of Peter I and resulted in higher taxes throughout the realm.

She liked magnificence in keeping with her imperial rank, but only in so far as this was consistent with the good government of the state.

—Prince M.M. Shcherbatov

Anna was shrewd in her political action and used her absolutism to play one contending side against another while consolidating her own position. She had little interest in the details of governmental affairs and relied heavily on many favorites, most of them German, from Courland. The empress moved the capital back to the more progressive and Western environment of St. Petersburg. With her suspicious nature toward the boyars, she placed her confidence and authority behind her handful of foreign courtiers. Together, they created a small executive committee called the Cabinet in 1731. It replaced the Supreme Privy Council, and the conduct of the Russian state emanated from this body appointed by Anna. Biron, though created a count in 1730, acquired the highest honors and power and effectively controlled the administration of the government. Count Burkhard Cristoph von Münnich, a native of Oldenburg and a servant of the Russian court since 1721, became commander of the Russian military. Count Andrei I. Ostermann, a native of Westphalia, dominated the Cabinet and ran foreign affairs. Additional principal officials, such as Artemi Volynski and Alexis Bestuzhev-Ryumin, were drawn from the lesser Russian nobility. Other Germans, many favorites of Anna, had no qualifications for their positions and simply acted in their self-interest while disdaining everything Russian. To provide more positions for her favorites and to counterbalance the Preobrazhensky Guards, Anna formed the Ismailovsky Guards whose officer ranks were composed solely of Baltic Germans. Despite these appointments and the powerful personalities of Anna's chief ministers, no definable "German Party" can be discerned during this time.

Historians, particularly nationalistic Russian scholars, have portrayed Anna Ivanovna's reign as a dark period of German exploitation of Russia. It would be injudicious to deny the distasteful appearances of Anna's reign, but it would also be misleading to assign all of the negative aspects to foreign influence, or to the empress. Germans did dominate the Cabinet, but the Senate and many other administrative bodies remained Russian. Germans like Ostermann and Münnich had served Russia many years before Anna's accession and proved to be honest and loyal to Russia. Many important members, such as Prince Alexis M. Cherkassky and Vasily F. Saltykov, were associates of Peter the Great. Biron was the most hated figure of Anna's reign and "Bironism" referred to the police persecutions, spying, executions of thousands of Russians, and the exile of nearly 30,000 to Siberia. Many of these were old Believers (religious heretics) and common criminals rather than members of the political opposition. The cruelties of Biron and his minions were not exceptional for that time, but the persecutions were idealistically exaggerated by romantic imaginations when compared to Anna's successor. To emphasize this point, General Andrei I. Ushakov, who headed the secret investigative body that carried out the policies of Biron, learned his skills from Peter the Great.

During Anna's reign, Ostermann directed Russia's foreign policy. With her approval, he intervened in the War of Polish Succession (1733–35), which placed the pro-Russian Augustus III of Saxony on the Polish throne. In the Russo-Turkish War (1735–39), the Russian army under Münnich won several great victories and eventually secured the Black Sea region of Azov by the Treaty of Belgrade in 1730. The elevation of Biron to duke of Courland in 1737 increased Russian authority in that duchy and strengthened Russian power in the Baltic Sea region.

In cultural matters, Anna Ivanovna's reign was a continuation of the policies of Peter the Great. The emergence of a new literary tradition conforming to the literary trends of Western Europe can be traced to those years. Many authors had lived and studied in the West and were influenced by the classical and pseudo-classical styles of the time. Alexander P. Sumarokov, Mikhail V. Lomonosov, and Vasily K. Trediakovsky published their poetry and dramatic works. Antiockh D. Kantemir translated the works of Baron Montesquieu but was best known for his satires. Historians were also affected by Western culture. Vasily Tatishchev in his critical Istoriia Rossiiskaia (History of Russia) even questioned the ancient chronicles and the influences of the Russian church in history. Gerhard Muller, a German scholar, traveled in Siberia and wrote the first definitive history of that region. Another of Anna's favorites from Courland, Reinhold Loewenwolde, brought a great love for the arts to Russia and encouraged the development of Italian theater and chamber music. Loewenwolde also persuaded Anna to establish Russia's first school of ballet and brought an Italian opera company for a performance at Anna's court in 1736. The Academy of Arts was established in 1757 by Ivan Shuvalov to encourage painting, sculpture, and architecture. Under the Academy's patronage, Count Bartholomew Rastrelli applied his Russian Baroque style to many of St. Petersburg's 18th-century buildings, including the Smolny Convent and the Winter Palace.

The Academy of Sciences, founded during the reign of Peter the Great, continued to flourish under the directorship of Baron I.A. Korf. During Anna's reign, the first native Russians were admitted to Academy membership. In 1735, the Russian Society was established as a branch of the Academy to refine and study the Russian language. The Academy also appointed Vitus Bering to lead the second Kamchatka expedition in 1732 to explore the region between Asia and North America. In 1731, Anna established the Shliakhetsky Korpus, a school for noble children whose graduates were commissioned as officers. In 1736, she redefined the obligations of nobles by limiting the period of required service to 25 years. She also permitted one brother in each family to be released from obligatory service to manage the family estates.

Anna continued the economic policies initiated by Peter the Great. Business growth was brisk in metallurgy and textiles in a state regulated market. Exports grew because of commercial treaties with the West, and tariffs protected the fledgling industries in Russia. While the nobility and businessmen made some gains under Anna's reign, peasants continued to lose their remaining rights. Peasants were barred from purchasing real estate in 1730, forbidden to negotiate contracts in 1731, and prohibited from operating cloth industries in 1734.

Having no children or direct heirs, Anna was determined that the succession pass through the line of Ivan V, her father, rather than that of Peter the Great. Shortly before her death, Anna named a two-month-old infant to be her successor, a grandson of Anna's elder sister, Catherine of Mecklenburg-Schwerin , who had married Charles Leopold, duke of Mecklenburg, in 1716. A daughter from this marriage, Anna Leopoldovna , married Duke Anton Ulrich of Brunswick-Bevern-Lüneburg in 1739. Their marriage produced Ivan Antonovich, who was born on August 12, 1740. Under the provisions established by Peter the Great but never used, Anna Ivanovna designated the infant, Ivan VI (r. 1740–41), as her heir on October 5, 1740. In a controversial action, Anna passed over the parents and named Biron as regent. This arrangement was doomed to failure. Biron was overthrown within a month by Münnich, and Anna Leopoldovna became regent. By the end of 1741, Ivan VI, Anna Leopoldovna, and the German court were overthrown by Elizabeth Petrovna, daughter of Peter the Great and Catherine I.

Anna Leopoldovna (1718–1746)

Russian regent for a few months during the minority of her son Ivan. Name variations: Anna Carlovna or Karlovna. Born Elisabeth Katharina Christine on December 18, 1718; died in exile on March 18 or 19, 1746; daughter of Catherine of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1692–1733) and Charles Leopold, duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin; married Anton Ulrich (b. 1714), duke of Brunswick, in 1739 (died 1775); children: Ivan VI (b. 1740), emperor of Russia (r. 1740–1741); Catherine of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel (1741–1807); Elizabeth of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel (1743–1782); Peter (b. 1745); Alexei (b. 1746).

In 1740, Anna Leopoldovna's son Ivan was adopted by Empress Anna Ivanovna and proclaimed heir to the Russian throne. A few days following the proclamation, the empress died, leaving directions regarding the succession, and appointing her favorite Ernst Johann Biron, duke of Courland, as regent. Biron, however, was hated by the Russian people, and Anna Leopoldovna had little difficulty in overthrowing him. Assuming the regency, she then took the title of grand-duchess, but she knew little of the character of the people with whom she had to deal, was ignorant of the approved Russian mode of government, and quarrelled with her key supporters. In December 1741, Elizabeth Petrovna , daughter of Peter the Great and a favorite with the soldiers, incited the guards to revolt, overcame the meager opposition, and was proclaimed Empress Elizabeth I. Ivan VI was thrown into prison, where he soon died. Along with her husband, Anna Leopoldovna was banished to a small island in the river Dvina, where on March 18, 1746, she died in childbirth.

Anna's reign ended with the same confusion as her accession. Her intemperate life had undermined her health, and she suffered from gout. After several days of torment, Anna Ivanovna died at the age of 46 on October 17, 1740.


Bain, Nisbet. The Pupils of Peter the Great: A History of the Russian Court and Empire from 1697 to 1740. London: Constable, 1897.

Curtiss, Mina. A Forgotten Empress: Anna Ivanovna and Her Era, 1730–1740. NY: Frederick Ungar, 1974.

Lipski, Alexander. "A Re-examination of the 'Dark Era' of Anna Ivanovna," in Slavic Review. Vol. 15, 1956, pp. 477–488.

——. "Some Aspects of Russia's Westernization During the Reign of Anna Ivanovna." Slavic Review. Vol. 18, 1959, pp. 1–11.

Longworth, Philip. The Three Empresses: Catherine I, Anne and Elizabeth of Russia. NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972.

Wieczynski, Joseph L., ed. The Modern Encyclopedia of Russian and Soviet History. Gulf Breeze, FL: Academic International Press, 1976.

suggested reading:

de Manstein, C.H. Memoirs of Russia from the Year 1727–1744. London: n.p., 1770 (reprint 1968).

Kluyuchevsky, V.O. A History of Russia. Vol. 4. Translated by C.J. Hogarth. NY: Russell & Russell, 1960.

Miliukov, Paul, C. Seignobos, and L. Eisenmann. History of Russia. Vol. 2: The Successors of Peter the Great. Translated by C.L. Markmann. NY: Funk & Wagnalls, 1968.

Morfill, W.R. A History of Russia from the Birth of Peter the Great to the Death of Alexander II. London: Methuen, 1902.


Ukases (edicts) located in the European Law Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Historical documents in the Georgi M. Kiselevskii Papers, Bakhmeteff Archive, Columbia University, New York City.

Phillip E. Koerper , Professor of History, Jacksonville State University, Jacksonville, Alabama

About this article

Anna Ivanovna (1693–1740)

Updated About content Print Article