Background and Short Introduction to Romanov Dynasty

Romanov Obelisk in Alexander Garden

The House of Romanov was the second dynasty, after the House of Rurik, to rule over Russia, and reigned from 1613 until the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II on March 15, 1917, as a result of the February Revolution.

The history of the formation of the Russian state begins with Prince Rurik, the member of a Slavonic tribe inhabiting the southern shores of the Baltic Sea and the island of Ruegen. For over seven centuries, his descendants ruled several Russian princedoms and then the entire country. Various unions of the East Slavonic tribes displayed all the attributes of statehood. The best known are the tribal unions headed by Kyi (founder of the town of Kiev in the late fifth century) and Gostomysl (head of a Slavonic tribal association based around Novgorod in the ninth century).

Russian statehood is generally regarded as beginning in 859, when Prince Rurik was invited to rule Novgorod, in an attempt to stave off internecine warfare. His reign dates from 862. Rurik died in 879, leaving an infant son called Igor. Before his death, he named his relative Oleg as his successor. Oleg was crowned prince of Kiev and the city became the capital of Old Russia or Kievan Rus. Fedor Ioannovich, the last of the Rurikid, died in Moscow, 1598, thus ending the dynasty.

In spring 1609, fifteen thousand Swedish troops entered Russia from the north, while Poland took advantage of the situation by invading Russia from the west. Polish soldiers ransacked the country, robbing and killing the population. Smolensk and other west Russian towns were annexed by Poland, while Swedish forces occupied Novgorod. Russia was ravaged and ruined but the Russian nation rallied in the face of the foreign aggression. The Poles were expelled from Moscow in October 1612 by the volunteer militia led by Prince Dmitry Pozharsky and merchant Kuzma Minin and a Cossack army led by Prince Trubetskoi. Soon Mikhail Romanov was elected tsar by a national assembly, at a time of chaos and foreign invasion, and was the first of the Romanov dynasty, which ruled until 1917.

1. Tsar Michael Feodorovich (1596-1645) - Reign: 1613-1645

Tsar Michael Feodorovich

The history of the Romanov dynasty begins with Michael Feodorovich Romanov (1596-1645). His father Feodor (1553-1633) held a series of important posts in the Russian government and army. He was related to Anastasia, the first wife of Ivan the Terrible. After the death of his cousin, Tsar Feodor Ioannovich, Feodor Romanov was regarded as the next in line of suc¬cession. Boris Godunov responded by incarcerating him in a monastery as the monk Filaret.

Michael Romanov was crowned tsar of Russia by Metropolitan Ephremus of Kazan on 11 July 1613. The tsar’s uncle, Ivan Romanov, held the cap of Monomachus, Prince Tru-betskoi bore the sceptre and Prince Pozharsky held the orb. During the coronation cele-brations, the new sovereign rewarded those who had helped him to ascend the throne - Prince Dmitry Pozharsky and merchant Kuzma Minin - leaders of the volunteer mi¬litia that expelled Poles from Moscow in October 1612.

Michael Romanov was not particularly intelligent, strong or healthy. He was short-sighted and suffered from a weakness of the legs. He had a soft nature and was easily influenced by others. The new tsar was initially guided by his mother and her relatives, and then by his father.

2. Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich (1629-1676) - Reign: 1645-1676

Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich (1645-1676)

Alexis inherited the throne from his father at the age of sixteen and was crowned on 28 September 1645. Alexis had a soft nature and a kind heart. Although he could be angry and strict, he was always fair, attempting to make peace with anyone who had aroused his wrath. He was deeply religious, observing all the Orthodox fasts and spending long hours in his private chapel. Although his subjects called him “Alexis the Most Meek”, he was no coward, often accompanying the army into battle. He had a dignified poise and truly regal manners.

Alexis enjoyed reading and had a large library. He composed poems and prose and collected art. Besides literature, landscape gardening and the theatre, Alexis also enjoyed chess and hunting, particularly falconry. He kept over three thousand falcons and a hun¬dred thousand pigeon nests to provide them with fresh meat. The tsar did not only spend his time amusing himself, however. He coined the phrase “a time for work, an hour for play,” which is now a national saying.

3. Tsar and Emperor Peter I the Great (1672-1725) - Reign: 1682-1725

Tsar and Emperor Peter I the Great

Peter I, Russian in full Pyotr Alekseyevich, byname Peter the Great, Russian Pyotr Veliky (born June 9 [May 30, Old Style], 1672, Moscow, Russia—died February 8 [January 28], 1725, St. Petersburg), tsar of Russia who reigned jointly with his half-brother Ivan V (1682–96) and alone thereafter (1696–1725) and who in 1721 was proclaimed emperor (imperator). He was one of his country’s greatest statesmen, organizers, and reformers.

Peter the Great had an iron will and boundless energy. He was ambitious, intuitive, despotic, courageous, cruel and self-assured. The tsar could be decisive, forceful, convulsive and fidgety. He combined an amazing capacity for work with an equally unquenchable thirst for amusement. His curious and lively mind led him to acquire knowledge in many different crafts and sciences, including shipbuilding, artillery, fortifications, diplomacy, military tactics, mechanics, medicine, astronomy etc. The tsar held audiences with such leading scientists as Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz and Sir Isaac Newton and was elected an honorary member of the French Academy of Sciences in 1717.

4. Empress Catherine I (1684-1727) - Reign: 1725-1727

Empress Catherine I

Catherine I was the daughter of a Lithuanian peasant called Samuel Skawronski (from the Polish word for lark - “skowronek”). Orphaned at the age of twelve, Martha was taken into the service of a pastor in Marienburg. On 25 August 1702, Boris Sheremetev captured the town from Sweden. A Russian soldier sold Martha to a captain, who passed her on to Boris Sheremetev, where she was spotted by the tsar’s confidant, Prince Alexander Menshikov. Sheremetev was forced to present Martha to Menshikov and she entered his service. During a heavy drinking session, Menshikov blurted out his secret to Peter. The tsar asked to see Martha and she immediately took his fancy.

In 1704, Martha converted to Orthodoxy, taking the name of Catherine Alexeyevna. Peter became increasingly dependent on Catherine. Always calm and unruffled, she shar¬ed all the hardships of Peter’s life. Peter the Great died on the night of 27/28 January 1725 without leaving an official heir. Catherine was declared empress, colonel-in-chief of the Preobrazhensky Regiment and captain of the Bomber Squad.

5. Emperor Peter II Alekseyevich (1715-1730) - Reign: 1727-1730

Tsar Peter II

Peter’s mother died when he was only ten days old, leaving him in the care of his way­ward father, Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich. He lost his father at the age of three. PetertheGreat disliked the offspring of his disloyal son and gave the child over to the care of his sister Na­talia. Peter was declared emperor in 1727, at the age of eleven, becoming a puppet in the hands of the grandees. After Catherine I’s death, Menshikov moved the new emperor into his own palace but when Prince Menshikov was ill for a month with haemoptysis and fever, Peter managed to extract himself from his influence. He was helped by Ostermann, his sister Natalia, the Dolgorukov family and his aunt Elizabeth, all of whom had reasons to dislike Menshikov. After escaping the clutches of Menshikov, Peter fell under the influ­ence of Prince Alexei Dolgorukov and his nineteen-year-old son Ivan.

On 6 January' 1730, during the traditional blessing of the waters on the River Moscow, Peter caught a cold. The following day, he contracted smallpox. Historians are generally scathing of the two-year reign of Peter II, forgetting that he was still only a boy. He was buried in the Archangel Cathedral, bringing to an end the male line of the Romanov dynasty.

6. Empress Anna Ioannovna (1693-1740) - Reign: 1730-1740

Empress Anna Ioannovna

Anna Ioannovna was born in Moscow and grew up with her mother and sisters in Izmailovo outside Moscow. A shy and reserved girl, she studied reading, writing, German, French, dancing and etiquette, but never advanced far beyond the bare essentials of literacy. Anna grew into a clumsy and gruff young woman. In 1709, Peter the Great decided to further Russia’s foreign interests by marrying his niece to a European prince. His choice fell on the nephew of King Frederick I of Prussia — Duke Friedrich Wilhelm of Courland, but Anna was a widow two months after her marriage. After the death of Peter II in January 1730, the privy' council decided to offer the Russian throne to Anna.

On 28 April 1730, Anna Ioannovna was crowned empress of Russia in the Kremlin Dormition Cathedral. She left the running of the state to Ernst Johann von Biron. This period of Russian history was a time of German influence and power abuses, when all the key government posts were held by men of foreign origin. Ironically, Anna Ioannovna was the only purely Russian empress in Russian history. The unintelligent and lazy tsaritsa took virtually no role in the running of the state.

7. Regent Anna Leopoldovna (1718-1746) - Reign: 1740-1741

Regent Anna Leopoldovna

Anna Leopoldovna was the daughter of Ekaterina Ioannovna, elder sister of Empress Anna Ioannovna, who decided to bring her niece up herself. At the age of fourteen, the girl converted to Russian Orthodoxy and took the name of Anna in honor of her aunt. Empress decided to marry her niece and her choice fell on Prince Anton Ulrich of Brunswick-Wolfenbiittel, a cousin of Peter II. They were married in St Petersburg on 3 July 1739. Anna gave birth to a male heir, Ioann Antonovich. When Anna Ioannovna died in October 1740, the throne passed to the two-month-old Ioann with Biron as regent. But on the night of 9 November 1740, he was overthrown and exiled to Pelym in Siberia. The troops gathered at the Winter Palace swore a new oath of allegiance to “our truly believing sovereign and ruler, Anna of All the Russias.” Uninterested in affairs of state, the regent preferred to spend her time in bed or playing cards. All this set the scene for another palace coup of 25 November 1741, when Elizabeth Petrovna burst into Anna’s bedroom with several officers of the guard and rudely woke her sister. Anna and her family spent the rest of their lives in exile.

8. Empress Elizabeth (1709-1761) - Reign: 1741-1762

Empress Elizabeth

Elizabeth Petrovna was educated by foreign tutors, who taught her a love of dancing and foreign languages. Besides being fluent in Italian, German and French, she was an excellent dancer and rider. As the daughter of Peter the Great, Elizabeth was particularly popular with the guards regiments created by her father. She often visited the regiments, marking special events with the officers and acting as godmother to their children. The guards repaid her kindness on the night of 25 November 1741, when the thirty-two year- old princess seized power with the help of the Preobrazhensky Regiment.

Elizabeth had no political ambitions of her own and disliked governing. Documents often waited months for her signature. The empress adored dancing and new clothes. Elizabeth owned fifteen thousand ball-gowns, several thousand pairs of shoes and an unlimited number of silk stockings. Despite her love of parties and dresses, Elizabeth was extremely religious. She visited convents, made pilgrimages to holy sites and spent long hours in church. Vasily Klyuchevsky called her a “kind and clever, but disorderly and wayward Russian woman” who combined “new European trends” with “devout national traditions.”

9. Emperor Peter III (1728-1762) - Reign: 1762

Emperor Peter III

Peter was the son of Duke Carl Friedrich IV of Holstein and Peter the Great’s daughter Anna. When Elizabeth Petrovna seized power in 1741, she invited her nephew to St Pe­tersburg to ensure that the throne passed to her father’s descendants. Peter was horrified at the idea of becoming emperor of Russia. He disliked everything about Russia and this irritated the empress. Elizabeth Petrovna hoped that marriage might bring her nephew to his senses. After looking round for a suitable bride, she settled on Princess Sophie Friederike Auguste of Anhalt-Zerbst, converted to the Russian Orthodoxy as Catherine Alexeyevna. The couple were married on 21 August 1745 in St Petersburg. When Elizabeth died in 1761, her nephew ascended the throne as Peter III. This signalled the start of the Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov dynasty, which ruled Russia until 1917. The grandees, dignitaries, courtiers and statesmen, aided by Catherine, deposed him on 28 June 1762 and declared herself empress. Peter was sent to Ropsha outside St Petersburg and was murdered on July 6.

10. Empress Catherine II he Great (1729-1796) - Reign: 1762-1796

Empress Catherine II he Great

Catherine the Great was born in the town of Stettin (now Szczezin), where her father, Prince Christian August of Anhalt-Zerbst, commanded a regiment in the Prussian army. The girl was christened Sophie Auguste Friederike. “Fike” received a good education at home. She knew French well, spoke Italian and understood English. She enjoyed reading books on history and philosophy. The future empress had a quick brain, a forceful character, pleasant manners and the ability to create a favorable impression on others. After successfully deposing her husband on 28 June 1762, Catherine had herself crowned empress at the Dormition Cathedral on 22 September 1762. Ironically, the reign of this German princess brought more benefit to Russia than under her native-born predecessors. Although Catherine left the Russian finances in a perilous state and the country in a state of disorder, she took care to create the image of a great ruler. The empress spent enormous sums of money on her lovers (historians have calculated that they cost Russia the exact sum of 95.5 million rubles). Her reign is often regarded as the “golden age of Catherine”. While paying tribute to many of her undoubted successes, however, her role in Russian history should not be exaggerated.

11. Emperor Paul I (1754-1801) - Reign: 1796-1801

Emperor Paul I

Paul had a vexed relationship with his mother, whose coup had led to the death of his father. He became the heir to the throne at the age of seven and remained so for the next thirty-five years. His mother kept him well away from the throne, in a state of virtual banishment. When Paul eventually inherited the throne in 1796, he attempted to turn the country around. Paul passed a series of reforms designed to improve the Russian army and other areas of Russian life, including the bureaucracy.

The emperor was determined to drag Russia out of the state of stagnation into which it had fallen during the “golden age of Catherine.” Unlike his mother, however, he lacked the ability to choose the right people. Much progress was nevertheless made. Paul was no democrat. He was the sovereign of the country and regarded the morality of his subjects as his personal responsibility.

Paul was murdered in his palace bedchamber on the night of 11/12 March 1801. The plot was led by two former favourites of Catherine, the Zubov brothers, with the alleged support of the British government, alarmed at the alliance between Russia and Napoleon.

12. Emperor Alexander I (1777-1825) - Reign: 1801-1825

Emperor Alexander I

Alexander was raised in Spartan conditions and, as a result, never fell ill. Catherine II personally supervised the education of Alexander and his younger brother, Konstantin. Alexander grew up reticent, suspicious and conceited. He was known for his clever mind, diplomacy and indecisiveness. When he heard of the plot against his father, he did not take any precautionary measures. Ascending the throne, he merely banished the ringleaders from St Petersburg.

Napoleon’s attack spurred Alexander into action. He declared that he would not lay down arms until every last enemy soldier had been expelled from Russian soil. Alexander and his army pursued Napoleon throughout Europe, eventually entering Paris in 1814. The emperor often rode into the field of battle himself. At the Battle of Lutzen in 1813, advised to retreat to a safe distance after coming under heavy fire, he replied: “My bullet is not here.” The unexpected death of the emperor and the nocturnal funeral among close friends gave rise to many myths. The most popular legend is the claim that Alexander did not die and someone else was buried in his place.

13. Emperor Nicholas I (1796—1855) - Reign: 1825-1855

Emperor Nicholas I

As Nicholas was not expected to inherit the throne, his education was limited to military and engineering disciplines. Like the great commanders of the past, Nicholas led a Spartan lifestyle. He slept on an iron camp bed under an army overcoat and ate simple food. Such personality traits as a love of order and discipline betray the soldier in Nicholas. Although he could be harsh with his subordinates, he always tried to be fair. As a result, the future emperor was respected, rather than loved. Practical and realistic, he worked eighteen hours a day, amazing contemporaries with his stamina. He was an excellent draughtsman and, like another famous military commander, Frederick the Great of Prussia, played well on the flute. He attended the opera and ballet, danced well at court balls, enjoyed jokes, liked women and was a moderate drinker. Tall and stately, with a handsome, classical face, the emperor was extremely imposing. Nicholas’s slogan was “autocracy, orthodoxy, nationality.” His reign marked the heyday of absolute monarchy in Russia. Defeat in the Crimean War led to the collapse of Nicholas’s system and his own sudden death.

14. Emperor Alexander II (1818-1881) - Reign: 1855-1881

Emperor Alexander II

Alexander received a good education. Не studied languages, mathematics, physics, geography, history', political economy, statistics and law and developed a taste for art. Alexander was known for his kind heart, geniality, quick mind, good memory and soft character. Along with the throne, he inherited a whole series of problems. The imple­mentation of the reforms required not only brains and knowledge, but also an iron will. Unfortunately, this was something that Alexander lacked.

The Manifesto emancipating the serfs on 19 February 1861 now looks like a handsome gesture but in fact it horrified the vast majority of peasants. In order to own any land, they had to buy it from the landowner. Yet their only source of income was from toiling the land. The result was a vicious circle.

Many sections of the population opposed the reforms and enemies of the tsar appeared on both the right and left wings. The liberalization of public life led to the emergence of several terrorist organizations whose aim was to kill the emperor. Supported by public opinion, the revolutionaries declared war on the tsar. They made a series of assassination attempts, the last of which was successful.

15. Emperor Alexander III (1845-1894) - Reign: 1881-1894

Emperor Alexander III

The sudden death of Alexander’s elder brother Nikolai on 12 April 1865 meant that he was now the heir to the Russian throne. He became emperor of Russia after the assassination of his father in 1881. Alexander inherited the throne at a difficult time for Russia. One half of society was discontented at the slow pace of reforms, while the other half feared change. For security reasons, Alexander III was obliged to live away from the capital in Gatchina, where the royal palace had an underground passage leading to the park. From there, he set about restoring law and order in Russia. By skillful diplomacy, he managed to raise Russia's prestige on the international arena, while maintaining stable development inside his own borders. For this, the tsar was known as the "peace-maker”. Personally, Alexander believed that Russia only had two allies - her army and navy - and that the other European nations were not interested in a strong and powerful Russia. Although German in blood, Alexander III was Russian in character. He was physically strong and deeply religious. The emperor did not like lies, flattery, gossip, ceremonies or long speeches. In his private life, he was modest and simple.

16. Emperor Nicholas II (1868-1918) - Reign: 1894-1917

Emperor Nicholas II

Nicholas received a good education at home, but the teachers never actually learnt how well their pupil had understood their lectures, however, for they were not allowed to ask him any questions, while he himself never asked any. Like most people, Nicholas II was simply a mixture of good and bad. The tsar enjoyed spending time with his family, sawing and chopping wood, clearing away snow or going on long walks on foot. He also liked travelling by car, train or yacht and' shooting crows in the park near the Imperial palace. The only thing he disliked was governing - unlike his wife, who constantly interfered in affairs of state, with disastrous consequences.

In 1913, Russia celebrated the tercentenary of the Romanov dynasty. By then, however, it was clear that the autocracy was no longer relevant. The Russian Empire suffered a se­ries of heavy defeats during the First World War. The army began to disintegrate and the whole country was plunged into crisis. On 2 March 1917, under the pressure of public opinion, Nicholas II abdicated in favor of his brother Mikhail. Nicholas, Alexandra and their children were sent to Ekaterinburg, where they were shot in the Ipatiev House on the night of 16/17 July 1918.

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 Emperor Alexander III (1881-1894)
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 Emperor Nicholas II (1894-1917)
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 Emperor Alexander II (1855-1881)
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 Emperor Nicholas I (1825-1855)
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 Emperor Alexander I (1801-1825)
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 Emperor Paul I (1796-1801)
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 Empress Catherine II the Great (1762-1796)
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 Emperor Peter III (1762)
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