Sunday, January 10, 2016

Who were the Romanovs? (Part 2)

The Romanovs (Catherine II, Peter III, Elizabeth, Anna, Peter II, and Catherine I)Explore one of the most powerful families that rule the largest country in the world. Following the death of its enigmatic leader and his failure to name and heir, what happened to Romanov Dynasty?

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

At the death of Peter the Great, his failure to name an heir led to more than a decade of stagnation, intrigue, excesses and corruption. Enemies of his reform and men with sinister ambitions took advantage of the succession problem to push their own agenda. Russia only experienced once again a golden era under one of the most powerful women in history – Catherine the Great.

Reign of Catherine I

In the following days after the death of Peter the Great, Chief Minister Alexander Menshikov manipulated the situation in order to maintain political stability as well as his own power, wealth and influence. He released a fabricated said to be made by Peter the Great naming his beloved wife Catherine Alexeyevna Romanovna as his successor. Catherine then became the new Empress and Tsar of all Russia. She reigned for only two years as Tsarina and Empress. Because of her humble background, she had no knowledge of running a country. Therefore, she formed a Privy Council to rule the Empire on her behalf. As expected, Alexander Menshikov ruled the council, hence, the real power in the Empire rested on him. In 1727, Catherine passed away due to her excesses, especially drinking. But before her demise, Catherine, under the urging of Menshikov, she named the son of Alexei (the ill-fated son of Peter the Great) – Pyotr Alexseyevich Romanov – as the next Tsar.

Fall of Menshikov and Reign of Peter II

Tsar Peter II took the throne at a young age of eleven and state affairs once again fell to Alexander Menshikov. However, just months into his reign, Peter fell to the influence of Menshikov’s enemies – the Dolgorukovs, Golitsyns and other nobles. They convinced the Emperor to investigate Menshikov for corruption. This led to the fall of Menshikov and his disgrace. The Dolgorukovs attempted to cement their power by marrying one of their princesses, Catherine Alexsayevna Dolgorukaya, to the Tsar. But unexpectedly, due also to excessive drinking, Peter II quickly got ill and contracted small pox that took away his life. With Peter II came the end of the male line of the Romanovs.

Reign of Empress Anna

Empress Anna
After the death of Peter II, the ruling Privy Council looked for a new Romanov ruler. They found a suitable, which meant controllable, Romanov princess – Anna Ivanovna Romanovna, the daughter of the late Tsar Ivan V, co-ruler of Peter the Great. In 1730, Anna, before taking the throne, agreed to the conditions brought to her by the Privy Council. It assured that most of her power went under the control of the Privy Council. In short, she would only serve as a figurehead. After few days of her coronation, she fought the Privy Council and won with the support of many Russian nobles and other elites. She abolished the body and reinstated her absolute authority. However, Anna lacked the skills of becoming an effective ruler and relied to her lover, Ernst Biron. Her reign saw the continuation of excess, inefficiency and corruption from the previous regimes. In the 1736 to 1739 war against Turkey, Russia won but with a high cost on life as well as money. State coffers were emptied and taxes burdened the people. Anna passed away in 1740, naming his nephew, the baby Ivan Antonovich, as her successor.

Ivan VI and the Age of Palace Revolutions

Ivan Antonovich Romanov became known as the baby Tsar Ivan VI. He was the son of the niece of Empress Anna – Anna Leopoldovna. Anna Leopoldovna was the daughter of the elder sister of Empress Anna. After Ivan VI crowned as the new Tsar, Anna Leopoldovna became the regent for the baby Tsar.

Condition of Russia’s transformation

Russia continued to stand still. The energy brought by the transformation and modernization under Peter the Great evaporated under the excesses, corruption, and inefficiency in the government. Many even attempted to reverse the policies of Tsar Peter. For instance, the Dolgorukovs returned the capital city to Moscow from St. Petersburg. The lack of authority and education of Peter the Great’s successor led Russia into a state of retrogression. The dark ages lasted even through the short reign of Ivan VI.

In 1741, however, many of the elite felt tired of the stagnation they suffered under the present and previous Tsars. Nobles and Palace Guards looked for a new Tsar to lead Russia back to modernization and reform. Their Tsar came not in form of a man but from another woman. Elizabeth Petrovna Romanovna, daughter of Peter the Great, led the nobility and the Palace Guards into a palace revolution that dethroned Anna Leopoldovna and her son, Ivan VI from power. Ivan VI spent the rest of his life as an unknown prisoner in an isolated prisons in the Russian tundra. Meanwhile, the new Tsarina and Empress of Russia, Elizabeth ruled with the aim of following in the footsteps of his father.

Elizabeth’s Reign

Empress Elizabeth
Elizabeth’s reign brought stability and also glory for Russia. Elizabeth revived many of his father’s reforms and institutions. Russia returned as a player in European politics when she decided to ally her Empire with Austria and France against Frederick II “the Great” of Prussia in the Seven Years’ War. As the war progressed, Elizabeth faced another problem – she had no children and an heir. The male line of the main Romanov family ended with Peter II. And the female line ended with her. In order to maintain political stability and orderly succession, Elizabeth called for a long distant relative from Holstein-Gottorp to come to Russia and be her heir.

A Romanov branch had married to the Holstein-Gottorp family and resulted to offspring. Karl Peter Ulrick of Holstein-Gottorp. He came to Russia and later ruled as Peter III. But Peter II’s character as a childish imbecile and Prussian enthusiast led Elizabeth to bypass him in succession and make his son as his successor. She then sent for another German princess to marry Peter and produce an heir.

Sophia Augusta Fredericka of Anhalt-Zerbst went to Russia and became Peter’s wife and Elizabeth’s baby maker. As she arrived, she converted to Russian Orthodoxy and took the name Yekaterina Alexsayevna or Catherine. Peter and Catherine’s marriage, however, proved to be a disaster. Peter had a jovial mind, playing toy soldiers and even hanged rats in his chambers as stories said. For the following years after their wedding, the marriage remained childless. Elizabeth herself became anxious and allowed Catherine to take lovers to impregnate her. Catherine found a certain officer named Sergei Saltykov to become her lover. At the same time, Peter decided to consummate their marriage. Finally, Catherine became pregnant, which resulted with the birth of Pavel Petrovich Romanov or Paul. His true paternity came into question, whether his real father was Peter or Sergei Saltykov. But later on, Paul showed distinctly similar attitude of Peter, thus many recognized his real father.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s army succeeded in the battlefield during the Seven Years’ War. The Russian Army managed to surround Frederick II in his capital Berlin in the Christmas of 1762. But then, Empress Elizabeth suddenly passed away, leaving the throne to one of Frederick’s fanatic – the new Tsar, Peter III.

Short reign of Peter III and rise of Catherine the Great

Peter III disliked Russia and remained proud and faithful to his Germanic heritage. Later on, his German inclination proved to be his greatest pitfall. Meanwhile, his marriage with Catherine worsen as he became Tsar. He showed his intentions to divorce Catherine and throw her to a convent. Catherine, however, prepared herself in confronting his husband. For years, she developed her political skills and gained allies in the Russian court, especially when Peter III’s reign dragged on.

Peter III’s rule disgusted many nobles and soldiers. Peter’s admiration to Frederick the Great led him to give back the lands conquered by Russia during the war under Elizabeth. Generals and soldiers who fought hard for those lands felt betrayed and resented Peter. Catherine, on the other, became an alternative for Peter and gained influential and powerful friends and also lovers. The Orlov brothers, commanders of the Palace Guard, sided with her and became her closest confidants and co-conspirators of Catherine in brewing a plot to overthrow the German loving Tsar. In 1762, sensing their moment, the Orlovs and Catherine launched another palace revolution that deposed Peter III. In the end, the Orlov brothers killed the childish Tsar and enthroned Catherine as the Tsarina and Empress Catherine II.

Reign of Catherine II the Great

Catherine the Great
The reign of Catherine II saw a new golden age and transformation not felt since the time of Tsar Peter the Great. Catherine II had been an avid reader of many works of the Enlightenment, from Voltaire to Diderot. From the ideas of liberalism and Enlightenment, she pursued a leadership style known as enlightened despotism – absolutely powerful yet liberal and righteous. She relaxed control over freedom of speech, promoted schools, and reformed Russian law. His reign also saw numerous conquest. Russia gained Crimea and Poland. Under Catherine, Russian borders reached three continents – Europe, Asia, and Americas – with the Baltic in the West and Alaska in the East.

Catherine, nevertheless, faced tough challenges. Her military campaigns and support to the nobility burdened the already impoverish serfs and peasants. As a result of this, a pretender, claiming to be Peter III, led a rebellion in 1773. The pretender’s true name, Yemelyan Pugachev, a Cossack army deserter, consolidated a huge peasant army centered in the remote provinces of Siberia. It threatened to take the ancient capital of Moscow and Catherine’s reign herself. But with the help of one of Catherine’s lovers, Grigory Potemkin, the Pugachev rebellion ended in 1775 with the capture and execution of Yemelyan Pugachev.

Following the rebellion, Catherine launched a massive reform of the administrative system and began to take on the idea of abolishing serfdom. Catherine II the Great’s reign lasted until 1796. She wrote a will naming his grandson Alexander Pavlovich Romanov as his successor due to the fact that she saw the same tendencies of his husband Peter to his son Paul. Plus, Catherine and Paul had an aloof relation because as soon as Paul born, the Empress Elizabeth raise him as her own. And as Catherine took the throne and the facts of his mysterious father and death of Peter surfaced, the two grew apart further. Catherine’s will never became public and his son Paul ascended to the throne as Tsar and Emperor of Russia.

Following the death of Catherine the Great, the ideas of enlightenment influenced and affected Russia to its core. The question concerning absolute rule to the system of serfdom plagued Russia for the next century.

Explore also:
"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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