The Romanov Dynasty



The House of Romanov was the second and last imperial dynasty of Russia, which ruled the country for five generations from 1613 to 1761. From 1761 to 1917, Russia was ruled by a line of the House of Oldenburg descended from the marriage of a Romanov grand duchess to the Duke of Holstein-Gottorp. This line was officially also called Romanov, although genealogists sometimes style it, more accurately, Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov.

The Romanovs share their origin with two dozen other Russian noble families. Their earliest common ancestor is one Andrei Kobyla, attested as a boyar in the service of Semyon I of Moscow. An 18th century genealogy book claimed that he was the son of the Prussian prince Glanda Kambila, who came to Russia in the second half of the 13th century, fleeing the invading Germans. Indeed, one of the leaders of the Prussian rebellion of 1260-1274 against the Teutonic order was named Glande.

Possibly, Kobyla's origins were less spectacular. Not only is Kobyla Russian for mare, but some of his relatives were also nicknamed after horses and other house animals, thus perhaps suggesting descent from one of the royal equerries. One of Kobyla's sons, Fyodor, a boyar in the boyar duma of Dmitri Donskoi, was nicknamed Koshka (cat). His descendants took the surname Koshkin, then changed it to Zakharin, which family later split into two branches: Zakharin-Yakovlev and Zakharin-Yuriev. During the reign of Ivan the Terrible, the former family became known as Yakovlev (Alexander Herzen being the most illustrious of them), whereas grandchildren of Roman Zakharin-Yuriev changed their name to Romanov.


The family fortunes soared when Roman's daughter, Anastasia Zakharyina, married the young Ivan IV of Muscovy in February 1547. When her husband assumed the title of tsar, she was crowned the very first tsarina. Their marriage was an exceedingly happy one, but her untimely and mysterious death in 1560 changed Ivan's character for the worse. Suspecting the boyars of having poisoned his beloved one, the tsar started a reign of terror against them. Among his children by Anastasia, the elder (Ivan) was murdered by the tsar in a quarrel; the younger Fyodor, a pious and lethargic prince, inherited the throne upon his father's death.

Throughout Fyodor's reign, the Russian government was contested between his brother-in-law, Boris Godunov, and his Romanov cousins. Upon the death of childless Fyodor, the 700-year-old line of Moscow Rurikids came to an end. After a long struggle, the party of Boris Godunov prevailed over the Romanovs, and he formally was elected to be a new tsar. Godunov's took a great revenge onto the Romanovs: all the family and its relatives were deported to remote corners of the Russian North and Ural, where most of them died of hunger or in chains. The family's leader, Feodor Romanov, was exiled to the Antoniev Siysky Monastery and forced to take monastic vows with the name Filaret.

The Romanovs' fortunes again changed dramatically with the fall of the Godunov dynasty in 1606. As a former leader of the anti-Godunov party and cousin of the last legitimate tsar, Filaret Romanov was valued by several impostors who attempted to claim the Rurikid legacy and throne during the Time of Troubles. False Dmitriy I made him a metropolitan, and False Dmitriy II raised him to the dignity of patriarch. Upon expulsion of Poles from Moscow in 1612, the Assembly of the Land offered the Russian crown to several Rurikid and Gediminid princes, but all of them declined the honor of it.

On being offered the Russian crown, Filaret's 16-year-old son Mikhail Romanov, then living at the Ipatiev Monastery of Kostroma, burst into tears of fear and despair. He was finally persuaded to accept the throne by his mother Kseniya Ivanovna Shestova, who blessed him with the holy image of Our Lady of St. Theodore. Feeling how insecure his throne was, Mikhail attempted to stress his ties with the last Rurikid tsars and sought advice from the Assembly of the Land on every important issue. This strategy proved successful. The early Romanovs were generally loved by the population as in-laws of Ivan the Terrible and innocent martyrs of Godunov's wrath.

1. 1613-1645 Michael Romanov - The first Tsar
2. 1645-1676 Alexis I - the Meek
3. 1676-1682 Fyodor III
4. 1682-1689 Sophia (regent with Peter)
5. 1682-1696 Ivan V (with Peter)
6. 1682-1725 Peter I - the Great
7. 1725-1727 Catherine I
8. 1727-1730 Peter II
9. 1730-1740 Anna
10. 1740-1741 Ivan VI
11. 1741-1762 Elizabeth
12. 1762-1762 Peter III
13. 1762-1796 Catherine II - the Great
14. 1796-1801 Paul I
15. 1801-1825 Alexander I - the Blessed
16. 1825-1855 Nicholas I
17. 1855-1881 Alexander II
18. 1881-1894 Alexander III - the Peacemaker
19. 1894-1917 Nicholas II – The Last Tsar


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