Saturday, January 2, 2016

Who were the Romanovs? (Part 1)

RomanovsExplore one of the most famous families that ruled in history and directed the faith of the largest empire that the world had seen.

Family Name: Romanovs
Country: Russia
Reign: 1613 – 1917
  • Rebuild Russia from the Time of Troubles
  • Westernized Russia
  • Defended autocratic rule
  • Developed many aspects of Russian life

The Romanov Dynasty ruled Russia for most of its modern history. They ruled from 1613 until their tragic demise in 1917. They fought ideas, intrigue, tradition, revolts, foreigners and sometimes one of their own. Their reign brought significant transformation to their country, ultimately leading to the Russia that exist today.

Beginnings of the Romanov Family

The Romanov Dynasty traced its roots from an early Muscvoy Boyar named Andrey Ivanovich Kobyla. From him came Roman Zakharin-Yurev, whom the name Romanov derived their name from. Roman had a daughter named Anastasiya Romanovna Zakharina-Yureva. Tsar Ivan IV "the Terrible" married her; and, as a result she elevated the position of the Romanovs.

The position of the Romanov strengthen further when Anastasiya bore Ivan IV numerous children, one of which became a Tsar - the last Tsar under the Rurik Dynasty - Feodor I Ivanovich. The rise of the Romanovs however earned them enemies, like Boris Godunov, who later succeeded Feodor as Tsar. Godunov, after becoming Tsar, had Anastasiya’s relatives live in seclusion. As such, Feodor Romanov, the nephew of Tsarina Anastasiya, and his wife, Kseniya Ivanovna Shestova, were forced to enter the monastery and took their monastic vows under the names Filaret and Martha respectively. They, along with their son, Mikhail or Michael endured a life under constant danger and chaos that consumed Russia following the death of Tsar Feodor.
Romanovs during the Time of Troubles

The Time of Troubles brought nothing but despair and anxiety to many Russians. It began in 1598 with the death of Tsar Feodor and lasted for the next fifteen years. Political descent over the throne led to over seven Tsar ruling Russia, three of which showed up as pretenders. Because of the absence of a strong and legitimate ruler, foreign countries took the opportunity to advance their territorial interest in Russia. Sweden and Poland, invaded Russia and gained substantial lands.
In the Time of Troubles by Sergey Ivanov
Sick and tired of the chaos as well as the urgency of the need of the of a strong legitimate leader, a Zemsky Sobor or a national assembly convened to elect the new Tsar of Russia. The assembly composed of representatives from various sectors of society met in Moscow to choose their next ruler.

At the conclusion of the assembly, Mikhail Romanov, a distant relative of the late Tsar Feodor Ivanovich and Anastasiya Romanovna, emerged as the newly elected Tsar of the assembly. And so, on July 22, 1613, the Time of Troubles ended and came the new era - the reign of the Romanov Dyansty - began with Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov crowned as the Tsar of all Russians.

Reign of the Early Romanovs

Michael Romanov

Mikhail/Michael Romanov

Under the reign of Tsar Mikhail or Michael, Russia had a sigh of relief. His rule brought stability to the country and brought truce between the Russians and their foreign enemies, the Poles and the Swedes. With temporary peace with her neighbors, Russia started to recover from fifteen years of destruction brought by the Time of Troubles. Michael Romanov ruled until 1645 when his son succeeded his as Tsar.

Alexis Romanov

Under the principle of primogeniture, Michael Romanov’s son, Alexis Mikhailovich, ascended to the Russian throne. The tradition of primogeniture dictated that the eldest son should succeed his father to throne.  This tradition of succession continued until 1722. On the other hand, Alexis’ reign build up from the foundations that his father established. He recaptured lands taken by foreign invaders during the Time of Troubles and reformed the economy as well as the Church, which became the most controversial and profound. During his rule, the Russian Orthodox Church experienced the Great Schism or in Russian, Raskol. It led to the split between the so-called Old Believers and the reformers. Alexis’ reign lasted until 1676.

Feodor III

Alexis’s successor Feodor III Alexeyevich Romanov, brought an atmosphere of anxiety. A sickly fellow, said to be rattled by scurvy, his thin and weak physique led many to think lowly of him and his reign. But his sickliness never disabled Feodor to enact reforms. He reformed Russia’s public administration by abolishing appointments and promotions base on heritage or on birth and replaced it with a system based on merit and credentials. But once again, his feeble state shortened Feodor III’s reign, ruling only for six years, passing away in 1682.

Succession Crisis and Regency of Sophia Romanov

Following the demise of Tsar Feodor III, a chaotic succession battle ensued. Feodor III left no heirs to succeed him. The Zemsky Sobor met in Moscow once again to elect a new Tsar. Two candidates emerged - the two brothers of the late Tsar Feodor and sons of Tsar Alexis: Ivan Alexseyevich and Pyotr or Peter Alexeyevich Romanov.

The two, however, came from two different bitter rival families. Ivan came from the Miloslavsky clan, the family from which Alexis’ first wife Maria Illyinichna Miloslavskaya belonged. Tsar Feodor III himself was a son of Maria. On the other hand, after the death of Maria, Alexis married Natalya Kirillovna Naryshkina, a member of the Naryshkin clan, who bore him another son Peter – the future Peter the Great.

In 1682, the Zemsky Sobor elected Peter to become the new Tsar, but the Miloslavsky clan opposed the idea of his sole rule. One of Alexis’ daughter and a member of the Miloslavsky clan, Sophia, wanted to become the Tsarina, or at least to have the power equal to that of a Tsar. She then spread rumors of evil plots that the Naryshkin concocted against the Miloslavsky. She influenced the elite military unit of the Tsars, the Streltsy, to kill all those who supported the Naryshkins. Sophia’s intrigues led to the 1682 Moscow Uprising that caused the death of numerous members of the Naryshkin Clan along with their supporters. The Tsaravich Peter escaped from the killings thanks to his mother. But the event scarred him for life.

The Streltsy riots led to a decision of the assembly to uniquely enthrone two Tsars. Ivan and Peter shared the crown. Ivan V, however, proved to be mentally ill and Tsar Peter aged very young - just 10 years old. Hence Sophia ruled as regent for the two anointed Tsars for the next seven years. Finally in 1689, after reaching adulthood and gaining overwhelming support, Tsar Peter fought back against Sophia, deposed her and threw her into exile in a convent outside Moscow. The direct rule of the two brothers, but mostly only Peter, began.

Peter the Great

Peter the Great
Peter the Great’s reign earned admiration as well as controversy. He led Russia out of its ancient traditions and into an era of transformation and reform in all walks of life, from the church to clothing to even their appearances. For instance, he instituted a beard tax that forced many to shave their long beards, defying a Russian Orthodox dogma that to shave meant defacing the face that God gave. Peter also ushered in a period of openness to foreign influence, ideas and knowledge. The Tsar himself travelled to Europe, the first Tsar to do so, incognito from 1697 to 1698. Upon his return he brought back European experts from various fields, from science, medicine, shipbuilding, etc.

But other than domestic reforms, Peter also played an active role in foreign policy and war. He extended the borders of Russia and gave it a foothold in the Black Sea through Azov in 1698. He then brought Russia in an alliance with Poland to fight the Swedes in the Great Northern War that raged from 1700 to 1721. It brought hardship to the Russians but brought out the best of Peter the Great and his people. From the war, Peter developed Russia’s military capability and gave it a navy. He also won a land in the mouth of the Neva River that provided him a new warm watered port in the Baltic Sea. From there, Peter erected a new capital – St. Petersburg. The city became a showcase for Peter, showing the latest European design in its buildings. But it caused outrage to many Russians for its high cost both in money as well as lives. After the Great Northern War ended in 1721, Russia defeated the once great military state of Sweden and emerged as a new great power in Europe. It marked the beginning of the creation of the Russian Empire and the title of Emperor of Russia.

His successes in ruling a country, however, proved to be not the same to his family life. His son Alexei, who developed a pious, conservative, and traditional demeanor, caused a rift between the two. It culminated in the escape of Alexei out of Russia and into Europe in 1716. Peter’s agent tracked him down and brought him back to Russia. The feud ended in 1718 with the death of Alexei causing huge problems in succession. Peter’s marriage to his second wife, Martha Elena Skavronska, who took the Russian name of Catherine Alexseyevna, resulted to the birth of few princes, but all passed away during their infancy. But many princesses came as a result of the marriage, one of them was Elizabeth Petrovna, the later Empress and Tsarina of Russia. To solve the problem of having no male heir to follow the tradition of primogeniture, In February 1722, Peter issued a decree that changed the tradition of succession. The decree gave the Tsars the right to name their heir instead of leaving it automatically to the eldest male son. Thus, women and even other members related to the Romanov House had equal chances to become the next Tsar. In 1725, the faithful year for the new system of succession came. Tsar Peter, Emperor and Autocrat of All Russia passed away. His last words, however, dictated the course of the following decades of Russian history. In his last breath, he uttered the words, “Leave it all to…” Peter failed to name his successor. 

Peter the Great’s failure to name an heir resulted to Russia’s stagnation for the next decade of Romanov rule over Russia. And it took one woman from the most unlikely background to end it.
"Romanov Dynasty". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 01 Aug. 2015.

Bushkovitch, Paul. "Romanov Dynasty (Russia)." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. 2004. (August 2, 2015).

Hughes, Lindsey. "Succession, Law on." Encyclopedia of Russian History. 2004. (August 2, 2015).

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