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The Romanov Dynasty

The Romanov Dynasty

The Romanov rule dates back to 1613 when the first czar, Michael Romanov, ascended the Russian throne. Elected to rule at age sixteen, Czar Michael began a dynasty that would rule for more than three centuries. Over these hundreds of years Russia saw the adoption of European ways that began with Michael's son Alexis, the second Romanov czar. The third Romanov czar, Alexis's sickly son Theodore III, ruled for only six years. Upon his death Russia was left in the hands of her greatest autocrat, Peter the Great.

Peter was appointed to the throne at the age of nine over his elder, feeble-minded half-brother Ivan by the national assembly. However, rioting forced Peter to share the throne with Ivan while his twenty-four year old sister Sophia acted as regent. Czarina Sophia was one of few women and the first unmarried female to rule Russia. Sophia never realized her aspiration to become an established sovereign of Russia as Peter became impatient with her ambitions once he became old enough to fully assume his duties as czar.

The reign of Peter the Great brought about many changes for Russia he continued the adoption of European customs in his attempt to westernize his country. Russia also saw a great amount of bloodshed and torture under this czar who was considered less cruel but more callous than Ivan the Terrible. Peter had the heir to his throne, his eldest son Alexis, hunted and killed after Alexis's attempts to have his father overthrown. Peter the Great died in 1725 without appointing a successor to his throne.

A chain of complexly related sovereigns occupied the Russian throne from 1725 to 1796. The string began with Peter the Great's wife, Catherine I - the first titled female sovereign of Russia. A mediocre ruler, Catherine's rule lasted two years; and the throne went to Peter the Great's grandson Peter II who also died three years later without naming an heir.

Between 1730 and 1801 the Russian throne was passed between five descendants of the first Romanov czar, Michael. One of the most interesting and well-remembered was Catherine the Great, who ruled from 1762 to 1796. Wife of Peter III, Catherine was a German princess selected to marry Peter because it was believed her lowly station would keep her submissive. Catherine kept her lofty ambitions well hidden. A wretched and despicable man, Catherine's husband Peter (also German by birth) was an unfaithful husband and inadequate ruler. Tiring of him quickly, Catherine was anxious to be rid of Peter and capture the throne for herself.

Having countless yet loyal lovers proved beneficial for Catherine as she was able to secure the throne with their assistance. Upon Peter's murder (which is not known to have been ordered by the Czarina), Catherine usurped the throne for herself while her seven year old son Paul looked on. A strong and intelligent ruler, Catherine was a good decision maker, a great negotiator, writer of plays and letters, war strategist, patron of the arts, drafter of proclamations and decrees, and active lover. She was also wise enough to protect herself from conspiracy by rewarding those who helped her gain the throne.

Upon Catherine's death in 1796, her son Paul inherited the throne as the thirteenth Romanov ruler. Disliked and believed to be a mad man, Paul was killed by revolutionists supported by his son Alexander I.

Taking the throne in 1801, Alexander I began his reign with a guilty conscience over the death of his father. But then began to enjoy sweet success with his victories in battle, especially against Napoleon. He did, however, ignore the increasing demands made by the greatly oppressed serfs. His neglect in this matter coupled with the his many oppressive measures began the eventual downfall of the great Russian monarchy.

Alexander I is said to have died in 1825 although some believe he faked his death to live the remainder of his life anonymously elsewhere. Since Alexander had no sons, his youngest brother and third son of Paul, Nicholas I, reluctantly accepted the throne after his older brother Constantine refused it. Czar Nicholas's reign saw the Decembrist revolt which was quickly suppressed, although not extinguished. A hard man who punished subjects for the slightest of infractions, Nicholas (also called Nicholas the Stick) inherited this unmerciful system. Both he and his brother, Alexander I, recognized the need for reform among the social classes but did little to improve the lot of the serfs.

It was Nicholas's eldest son, Alexander II who became the emancipator of the serfs. A much kinder-hearted man than his predecessors, Alexander II was a well-prepared heir to the throne as his father had bestowed upon him many responsibilities as Czarevitch. However strong his efforts were in Russia, though, Alexander was rather weak in foreign policy. And soon the very people he had freed rose against him. Alexander II died from an assassin's grenade, and the new emperor, his son Alexander III, devoted much of his reign to undoing much of his father's work.

Called the peacemaker, Alexander III managed to preserve peace during his reign. But this state of Russia was very deceiving and may be considered the calm before the storm.

Alexander III was father of the last czar. He and his czarina Maria Feodorovna had four sons and two daughters. The eldest son, Nicholas, became Czar Nicholas II in 1894, when his father died.

At a young age Nicholas had fallen madly in love with a beautiful dancer. His father, realizing this was a potentially dangerous situation as Nicholas was in direct line for the throne, decided to send Nicholas on a state journey that was to last nine months. Shortly after his return, Alexander III became ill and insisted that it was Nicholas' duty to marry.

Nicholas successfully wooed Princess Alice, daughter of the grand duke of a small duchy in Germany. Upon her baptism into the Russian Orthodox faith she took the name Alexandra Feodorovna, and she and Czar Nicholas II were married in November of 1894.

Very much devoted to one another, Nicholas and Alexandra were the parents of five children - four daughters, Maria, Anastasia, Tatiana and Olga, and a son, Alexis. Alexis was a hemophiliac and his ill-health was of great concern to his parents, especially his mother.

During the early 1900s, various factions began plotting the downfall of the czar. The loss of the war with Japan was blamed directly on the czar. The czarina was not looked upon favorably because of her superior demeanor; and she was further blamed for the illness of Alexis, as the disease he had is directly inherited through the mother's genes. His illness brought further disgrace to Alexandra because of her association with Gregori Rasputin, a monk whom she believed had mystical powers. She fell completely under his spell, and the Russian people hated him because of his influence over the Imperial family. It was under the reign of Nicholas II that the Socialist party arose.

The years between 1914 and 1918 were devastating to Russia. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were killed during World War I. In addition, the winter of 1916-17 was one of the coldest in history and the peasants were starving. In March of 1917, Czar Nicholas was forced to sign away his empire as Czarevitch Alexis was too sick to succeed his father and his brother, the Grand Duke Michael, refused the dangerous station.

Under house-arrest for more than a year, the Imperial family lived out their final months in drudging confinement. On July 16-17, 1918 at midnight, the last of the czars, Nicholas II, and his entire family, were massacred at Ekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains, upon orders from bolsheviks. This was the end of the Romanov Dynasty - one of the most influential families in Russia.

Reference: Hingley, Ronald. (1968) The Tsars: 1533-1917, The Macmillan Company: New York

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