Archive | Russian Royal Family RSS feed for this section

Time of Troubles #12 Seminal Moment

Time of Troubles

The Appeal of Minin during the Time of Troubles

The Time of Troubles, it could be argued, could be listed as the greatest threat to Russia’s existence but as for important events, I have it ranked only number twelve for a number of reasons. Granted, it was a troublesome time to be a Russian with the great famine killing one-third the populace of the country. It also saw the Bolotnikov Rebellion, which showed the great rift between the haves and the have-nots. And of course, its end gave us the first in a long line of Romanov Tsars.

When looking back at the Time of Troubles, you see a number of events within its time frame of that influenced the future of Russia. One of the most important ones is the edict by Tsar Vasily Shuisky to lengthen the time that serfs could be hunted down and returned to their masters from 5 years to 15. That would expand during later rulers but it set the precedent and locked the serfs down in no uncertain terms.

The Time of Troubles also marks the end of the Rurik Dynasty with the death of Tsar Feodor, son of Ivan the Terrible. The Rurik Dynasty had lasted from 862 – 1598, a period of over 700 years. Had Ivan not killed his more able bodied son Ivan Ivanovich, it may have lasted much longer and may not have had to suffer through the Time of Troubles.

It also marked one of the high points in Russian unity and pride, especially after the expulsion of the Poles from Moscow in 1612 under the leadership of Kuzma Minin, a Nizhny Novgorod merchant, and Prince Pozharsky. The groundswell of support was crucial in the survival of the country and had it not happened, we likely would not know the country of Russia as we know it.

While it is a critical time in Russian history, it ranks far below some of the others that I will be addressing in the coming weeks.

Comments { 0 }

Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich

Grand Prince Michael Romanov

Presumptive Tsar Michael Romanov

Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich was the youngest son of Tsar Alexander III of Russia. He was asked to be Tsar after Nicholas II abdicated in 1917 but he never accepted. He was imprisoned by the Bolsheviks and murdered in 1918 at the age of 39.

Born on December 4, 1878 at Anichkov Palace on Nevsky Prospekt in Saint Petersburg, Michael was the youngest of three boys with only one younger sister. Like his siblings, he had little real Russian blood in him as maternal grandparents were King Christian IX of Denmark and Louise of Hesse-Kassel. His grandmother on his father’s side was Princess Marie of Hesse and by Rhine).

After his grandfather, Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881, the family was moved to the Gatchina Palace which was 29 miles south of Saint Petersburg. It was considered a safer place for the family at the time.  Grand Duke Michael while leading a privileged life, did not live opulently at Gatchina. His father was a strict and solemn man who believed in discipline and a plainer life.

His younger sister Olga nicknamed him Floppy because of his propensity to flop into chairs; while his elder brother and parents called him Misha. While his father was a arch conservative, he was a loving man and his death when Grand Duke Michael was only 15 was hard on the boy.

He joined the military and was attached to the Horse Guards Artillery. Grand Duke Michael was third in line for the throne when Alexander III died but moved up one spot when his older brother George died in a motorcycle accident. At that moment, he was next in line until Nicholas and his wife Alexandra gave birth to the Tsarevich Alexei.

Michael’s romantic life was somewhat scandalous as he married a lower class woman, Natalia Sergeyevna Wulfert. Because of this, Nicholas II stripped Michael of his standing in the family and banished him from Russia until the outbreak of World War I.

Grand Duke Michael was a highly respected and popular military leader, unlike his older brother. He served his country well despite their woefully poor army. After the revolution caused his brother to abdicate, Michael was arrested on August 21, 1917 but released soon there after. On March 7, 1918 he was rearrested and executed on June 13th. He was the first of the Romanov’s to be murdered and certainly not the last.

Comments { 1 }

Peter I – #2 Best Russian Ruler

Peter I

Tsar Peter The Great

Peter I, better known to the world as Peter the Great, thrust Russia onto the world stage by westernizing it despite bitter opposition from both the boyars and the population at large. His immense personality and 6′ 8″ stature was an imposing figure over the vast Russian Empire, an empire he helped create. Peter I guided Russia towards Europe and away from its Oriental past. He also set the stage for Catherine the Great, Alexander I and II who were to take their country to its pinnacle.

Peter does not go without some major criticisms, issues that keep him from being my selection as the best ruler of all time. The large number of deaths that he caused with the building of St. Petersburg comes to mind. His parenting of his son, Alexei, who was to be his heir, was dismal. His son died in prison, having been convicted of trying to overthrow his father. Because of this, he threw the issue of succession into a gray area. This problem was “solved” by Paul I in a way that helped cause the demise of the Romanov dynasty under Nicholas II.

Even with these not so small issues, Peter, according to historian James Cracraft, led a cultural revolution that replaced the traditionalist and medieval social and political system with a modern, scientificEurope-oriented, and rationalist system.

His victories over Charles XII in the Great Northern War put Russia into the forefront as a global power. That and the numerous reforms to the government and to society, with the Table of Ranks being one of his major accomplishments. When Peter died on February 8, 1725, he had ruled Russia either alone, or with his half brother and sister Ivan and Sofia for forty two years. His mark on Russia continues to this day and has influenced all of the rulers of Russia after him.

Comments { 0 }

Nicholas II – #2 Worst Russian Ruler

Nicholas II

Emperor Nicholas II of Russia

Nicholas II, the son of the reactionary Tsar Alexander III, comes in as the second worst Russian ruler of all time. In my opinion, his lack of leadership, poor timing, and his clinging to a form of government that no longer fit the time, makes him one of the worst. The man was a very pious ruler but it could not make up for the pile up of bad decisions he made. The decisions led to the murder of his family and the end of over three hundred years of Romanov rule.

Now known as Saint Nicholas the Passion-Bearer by the Russian Orthodox Church, he was born on May 16, 1868 at Tsarskoye Selo, St. Petersburg. When he took over from his father in 1894, he represented a Russian leadership that was anything but Russian. When he was born, he was probably 97% German and only 3% Russian. To top it off, he married Alix of Hesse, another German princess which did not sit well with many in Russia.

Now, not everything that went wrong during his reign should be blamed on Nicholas as his father was the one who decided against training him for the position. This was done despite urgent pleas from Finance Minister Serge Witte. Alexander III believed that he was young and strong and that his son was too immature to handle the rigorous training. This was to prove a fatal mistake.

His list of mistakes is long starting with the decision to not go to the people after the tragedy at Khodynka Field during his coronation ceremony. From there, things only got worse. He allowed his country to go to two wars, the Russo-Japanese and World War I, despite his country being terribly ill prepared. His vacillation on the idea of forming a constitutional monarchy because of his steadfast belief in his God given right to be Emperor.

Looking back at the man, one cannot feel sorry for him as he is one of those truly tragic historical figures. Still, his ineptness led to a great deal of suffering for the Russian people with the coming of the Bolsheviks. I truly believe that he wanted to help his people, he just didn’t know how.

Comments { 8 }

Paul I – #3 Worst Russian Ruler

Paul I of Russia

Paul I of Russia, whose mother was Catherine the Great, clocks in as the third worst ruler in Russian history. Born on September 20, 1754, Paul Petrovich was supposedly the son of Tsarevich Peter and his wife Catherine. It is more than likely the actual father was Sergei Saltykov. When he was born, he was taken away from his mother and was raised by Empress Elizabeth until he was eight years old. When Elizabeth passed away in 1762 he was surrounded by tutors such as Nikita Panin but his mother had little to do with him.

His early childhood would shape his mind set as he became entranced with military parades and processions. This would become an abnormal obsession when he and his second wife, Maria Fiodorovna, lived at the estate at Gatchina. There, Paul had his own personal army, which he ruled over, sometimes quite cruelly.

After his mother died, he decided to reverse many of Catherine’s decrees, known as ukases. During his five year reign, Paul issued over two thousand ukases. It was his first domestic ukase in April of 1797 that lands him on this list as one of the worst Russian rulers. His idea of male primogeniture for the succession to the throne doomed the Romanov family. Instead of being able to select the best member of the family, male or female, the first born male had to become Tsar. The culmination of this rule was the ascension of Nicholas II, a man ill-suited for the position by his own admission.

While this ukase was a terrible blunder, if that was all Paul had done wrong, I would have dropped him down the list. Instead, he alienated the nobility with higher taxes, reintroducing corporal punishment for the nobility, and randomly sending people into exile to show off his unlimited power. He then angered the military by changing to a more Prussian model.

By 1801, his vacillation between supporting Britain or France was thought of as dangerous for Russia by many members of the court. A plot was hatched to remove Paul from the throne and replace him with his son Alexander, someone who Catherine had preferred. In March of 1801, A number of men stormed into his room and brutally murdered the Tsar. It is unlikely that his son was in on the assassination plan but was probably made aware that his father was to be taken off the throne.

Comments { 1 }

Catherine II – #4 Best Russian Ruler

Catherine II

Catherine posing for the painter Rokotov.

Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great makes it to #4 on my list as best Russian ruler. Born in 1729 in Stettin, Prussia as Sophia Augusta Fredricka, she was betrothed to the orphaned grandson of Peter the Great whom she married in 1745. This loveless marriage was to produce one son, likely not her husband’s, a boy who would become Paul I. The one most associated with fathering Paul was Sergei Saltykov.

Her early years in the court of Empress Elizabeth were difficult. The empress was a controlling women who had little tolerance for independent thinkers such as Catherine. She wrote a autobiography of the times in the court of Elizabeth which showed how isolated she felt.

When Elizabeth died, Catherine’s husband, now known as Peter III, assumed the throne. He proved to be extremely unpopular in the court as he ended the war with Prussia and immediately declared was on Denmark. To make things worse, he alienated the house guard units and the influential Russian Orthodox Church. There was one issue that made Catherine nervous and that was the very real threat of her being divorced and sent to a convent as he had taken and flaunted his mistress Yekaterina Dashkova.

On July 9, 1762, Peter III was deposed and strangled to death. Some believe Catherine was in on the murder but that is highly unlikely. The new empress was crowned on October 3rd of the same year and quickly consolidated her power. She quickly began to focus the early years of her reign on the promotion of administrative efficiency and expansion of educational opportunities. Catherine was also a patron of the arts as seen by her founding of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

Her international flair culminated in the victorious Russo-Turkish which was somewhat tarnished by a domestic rebellion. Emelian Pugachev led thousands of disgruntled Cossacks and serfs in 1773-75. The city of Kazan was burned by the rebels but their army was eventually brutally quashed by the Russian army.

She did much to raise the world’s image of Russia and greatly improved the administration of local laws and taxes within the country. While she has numerous flaws, overall Catherine made Russia a better place than she left it. Unfortunately, her son Paul I, would unravel much of her work and put the Romanov dynasty on a death spiral that would culminate with the abdication of Nicholas II in 1917.

Comments { 0 }

Boris Godunov – #5 Worst Russian Ruler

Boris Godunov

Tsar Boris Godunov

Boris Godunov, was the ruler of Russia directly before the Time of Troubles. While this in and of itself is bad enough it is his 1597 decree which tied the peasants to the land, thereby officially legitimizing serfdom that places him on this list of worst Russian rulers. His rule though had a number of positives but his edict tying the peasantry to the land trumps any good he did.

Born in 1551, Boris Godunov’s family was of Tatar origin being descendants of the Mongol Horde. We first learn about him in 1570 when he is mentioned as an archer of the guard during  a campaign in Serpeisk. He became an oprichnik, a member of the secret police. Boris eventually married  Maria Grigorievna Skuratova-Belskaya daughter of the head of the Oprichnina which benefited his career.

Eventually Boris Godunov made his way into the court of Ivan the Terrible because of the marriage between Boris’s daughter  Irina Godunova and the Tsar’s second son and future Tsar Feodor. It was an unusual match as Feodor was only 14 and Irina was 24 which was considered old for a marriage. It is likely that it was because of his feeble mindedness that a women of her age was chosen. At the time of the wedding in 1580 Boris Godunov was elevated to the position of boyar.

Before his death Ivan the Terrible, decided that a council led by Boris Godunov, Feodor Nikitich RomanovVasili Shuiski would guide his weak minded son. This effectively put a great deal of power into Boris’s hands as his daughter was the new Tsar’s wife. When Tsar Feodor died in 1598 there was one person who was left related to Ivan IV and that was his child Dmitri. The church did not recognize the relation as it was Ivan’s child from his 7th wife but Godunov took no chances. He had the child and mother sent into exile but a few years later the child died. The manner of his death, self-inflicted stabbing while having a seizure was questionable at best.

A Zemsky Sobor was held to choose a new Tsar and Boris Godunov was selected. His reign, which lasted from 1598 to 1605 started out as a prosperous time but that changed with the famine times between 1601-1603. The Tsar was blamed for the bad times as many believed it was punishment for the murder of Dmitri. When Godunov died in 1605 few mourned his passing. The country quickly disintegrated into chaos and plunged into war against competing factions for control of Russia.

 

Comments { 1 }

Nicholas I – #6 Worst Russian Ruler

Nicholas Pavlovich Romanov

Tsar Nicholas I of Russia

Nicholas Pavlovich Romanov (Episodes 56 and 57) was born on July 6, 1796 to Empress Maria Feodorovna and Tsar Paul I in Gatchina. His reign, which lasted for thirty years from 1825 to 1855 was marked numerous crises and a nation changing revolt. While the revolt, by the Decembrists, was ultimately a failure, it lit the torch of dissent that would eventual lead to the overthrow of Nicholas II in 1917.

The younger brother of Alexander I, the Tsar Liberator, Nicholas became the most autocratic and oppressive of the Tsar’s. His ascension to the throne and his death in 1855 were framed by two events, the Decembrist Revolt and the Crimean War. Both were disasters with the former showing the dissatisfaction with the monarchy and the latter causing unbelievable misery to the Russian troops.

As the third son of Paul I, he was not considered Tsar material. His older brothers, Alexander and Constantine were the two who were groomed to lead. Nicholas was given a strict Prussian style military education per the instructions of his father. This led Nicholas to view everything during his rule as a military exercise.

In 1819, his father, Alexander I made a surprise visit on Nicholas at his Anichkov Palace home. He was there to announce that he, rather than Constantine would be the next Tsar as his older brother renounced his succession. The problem was, this decision was to be kept private which would cause problems when Alexander passed away in 1825.

When his father died in November of 1825, Nicholas initially pledged allegiance to Constantine but after his brother again denounced his claim, Nicholas announced that he would take the throne. This did not please many in the military and with the gentry as they knew that the new Tsar would be a overly conservative one. This led to a number of officers to rebel. The Decembrist Uprising was quickly and brutally crushed with five conspirators executed. The rest were exiled to Siberia.

From here, Nicholas’s rule was marked by his mistrust of the gentry and his belief that only through autocracy and the Romanov’s in particular, could Russia be ruled effectively. He turned Russia into a police state, setting up a spy network that would continue on until 1917 and then get transformed into the secret police of the Soviet Union.

The condition of the millions of serfs were discussed and a recommendation of freedom for them was made, but Nicholas could not agree to this. He believed that while serfdom was evil, freeing them would be even worse. This fact alone would have put him on this list but what he did next cemented his legacy as one of the worst rulers.

When he took over in 1825, Nicholas continued trying to expand the Russian Empire, especially southward towards the Ottoman Empire. In 1853, the Tsar provoked a war with the Ottoman’s over the control of the Holy Land. What Nicholas did not comprehend was French and British concerns over Russian aggression. They joined with the Ottoman’s, much to the surprise of the Tsar. The coming Crimean War, was a total disaster for the Russians. Thousands of brave soldiers died for naught. Nicholas would not see the end of the war as he died on February 18th, 1855. The Russian Empire was at its largest but, because of the outcome of the war, it would be greatly reduced.

His legacy is one of an autocratic, unbending and uncaring militarist who was more concerned with his status that the well being of his people. This is what puts him on this list.

Comments { 0 }

Elizabeth I – #7 Best Russian Ruler

 

Elizabeth I of Russia

Portrait of Elizabeth I of Russia

Elizabeth I (Episodes 40 & 41), daughter of Peter the Great and his wife Catherine I, was one of the most liked of the Russian Tsar’s because of her refusal to execute anyone during her reign. She also led Russia through two of Europe’s most important conflicts, the War of Austrian Succession (1740–8) and the Seven Years’ War (1756–63). Elizabeth spent huge sums of money on  The Winter Palace and the Smolny Cathedral which are some of the most beautiful buildings in the world.

She was born on December 29, 1709 to Peter the Great and his wife Catherine but their marriage was not announced until 1712. This caused Elizabeth’s enemies to later use this issue to claim that she was illegitimate. Her father’s intention was to have her marry young Louis XV of France but they declined as they felt that her mother’s low birth status was below them. Her eventual betrothal was to one Prince Karl Augustus of Holstein-Gottorp, son of Christian Augustus, Prince of Eutin. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, Prince Karl died a few days after the betrothal.

When Peter II came to power in 1727, Elizabeth was banished from the court. Peter, the grandson of Peter the Great was controlled by the old boyar family the Dolgorukii’s who despise Peter the Great’s reforms. When Tsarina Anna took control, she was still not allowed to take part in the court. Her anger stewed in her but there was little she could do. If she married below her status, she would lose everything. But, much to her chagrin, no noble family would approach her as she had no standing at the Russian court. Because of this, she was said to have had numerous affairs with commoners over the years.

When she finally deposed Ivan VI in 1742 and had him locked up, with the help of the  Preobrazhensky Regiment, she asked them, “”Who do you want to serve? Me, the natural sovereign, or those who have stolen my inheritance?” Elizabeth decided right away to clean up the corruption and get rid of the German advisers that many in the Russian hierarchy despised.

She then began to rule her country by starting with the signing the Treaty of Åbo, which arch enemy Sweden which ceded much of Finland to the Russian empire. Elizabeth was smart to surround herself with brilliant advisers, none more so than Aleksey Petrovich Bestuzhev-Ryumin. His deftness in foreign negotiations were important factors in helping Russia expand its borders.

Her handling of the major European conflict, the Seven Years War helped elevate Russia in the eyes of Europe. The main reason for Elizabeth’s intervention in the war was her deep dislike for the Prussian ruler, Frederick the Great. She would have succeeded in crushing him except that she died before she was able to complete the job.

During her reign she had to come up with an heir to her throne as she was childless. Her selection was Peter of Holstein-Gottorp her nephew. Next up was the choice of a bride which was settled on when Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst was selected and given the Russian name of Catherine in honor of Elizabeth’s mother. The child the two supposedly had would be known as Paul and will come up in the future as one of the worst rulers of Russia.

When Elizabeth died in December of 1761 (Old Calender), Russia had expanded greatly and had taken center stage in European politics. Her refusal to execute anyone led her to be loved by the people. While extravagant in her personal life, she did expand support for the arts and was one of the most prolific of the rulers in the building of churches.

 

Comments { 3 }

Alexander III – #8 On The Worst List

Alexander III of Russia

Tsar Alexander III of Russia

Alexander III, Tsar of Russia from March 13, 1881 until November 1, 1894 is number eight on my list as worst Russian rulers. His list of mistakes and conservative backlash after the assassination of his father Alexander II, makes his place on this list a solid one.

On March 13th, 1881, assassins killed Alexander III’s father just before he was to make an announcement that he would propose a change to a constitutional monarchy for Russia. This would have been a monumental move that likely would have staved off the Bolshevik Revolution and the subsequent Russian Civil War. Alexander III came to power that same day amidst the horror of his father’s murder and he immediately stopped all talk of reform.

His education was not of one who was about to become a ruler but one of a Grand Duke. His older brother Nicholas was being groomed to succeed his father. Unfortunately for Russia, Nicholas died in 1865 of meningitis during a visit to Nice, France. The education of the new Tsarevich was now given up to one  Konstantin Pobedonostsev who was an arch conservative and fanatical supporter of the Russian Orthodox Church. He made it known that he disagreed with many of his father’s reforms so when the radical group Narodnaya Volya killed Alexander II, the die was cast.

His policy was guided by the idea of Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality. It was developed initially by Sergei Uvarov, a minister under both Alexander I and Nicholas I. The idea was a response to the post-Napoleonic world where monarchies throughout Europe were propped back up and liberal reform was halted. As Uvarov wrote, “It is our common obligation to ensure that the education of the people be conducted, according to Supreme intention of our August Monarch, in the joint spirit of Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality. I am convinced that every professor and teacher, being permeated by one and the same feeling of devotion to the throne and fatherland, will use all his resources to become a worthy tool for the government and to earn its complete confidence.”

His policies caused the people to be more frustrated and angry with the Tsar and his ministers. Alexander also tried to increase suppression of any one suspected of liberal sentiment which even angered many of the elite members of society. But his lack of preparation of his son Nicholas was to be the undoing of the Romanov’s.

Alexander III was a powerfully built man, standing at around 6 feet. He was considered quite healthy and that his reign would last a lot longer than it did. When he died of nephritis in 1894, Nicholas was totally unprepared to assume the throne. This unpreparedness was to cause a series of errors of judgement that caused the collapse of the dynasty after 300 years of existence.

 

Comments { 2 }