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The House of Romanov (Рома́нов, pronounced Ro-MAH-nof), the second and last imperial dynasty of Russia, which ruled Muscovy and the Russian Empire for five generations from 1613 to 1762. From 1762 to 1917 Russia was ruled by a branch of the House of Oldenburg, which retained the Romanov surname.
The Romanovs share their origin with two dozens of Russian noble families. Their earliest common ancestor is one Andrei Kobyla, attested as a boyar in the service of Semyon I of Moscow. Later generations assigned to Kobyla the most illustrious pedigrees. At first it was claimed that he came to Moscow from Prussia in 1341, where his father had been a famous rebel. In the late 17th century, a fictional line of his descent from Julius Caesar was published.
It's likely that Kobyla's origins were less spectacular. Not only is Kobyla Russian for mare, but his relatives were also nicknamed after horses and other house animals, thus 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.
Rise to power
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 Tsaritsa. 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, the tsar started the 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 the former was elected new tsar. Godunov's revenge to the Romanovs was terrible: 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, Fyodor Nikitich, was forced to take monastic vows with the name Filaret.
The Romanovs' fortunes again changed drastically 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 honour.
On being offered the Russian crown, Filaret's 17-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 Fyodor. 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.
The era of dynastic crises
Mikhail was succeded by his only son Alexei, who steered the country quietly through numerous troubles. Upon his death, there was a period of dynastic struggles between his children by the first wife (Fyodor III, Sofya Alexeevna, Ivan V) and his son by the second wife, Nataliya Kyrillovna Naryshkina, the future Peter the Great. New dynastic struggles followed the death of Peter, who had his only son Alexei executed and never named another heir. The Romanov male line actually expired in 1730, with the death of Peter II on the very day of his projected wedding. The last female Romanovs were his aunts, Empresses Anna Ivanovna (1693-1740) and Yelizaveta Petrovna (1709-1762).
As neither Anna nor Yelizaveta produced a male heir, the succession could devolve either on a Brunswick nephew of Anna (Ivan VI of Russia) or on a Holstein nephew of Yelizaveta (Peter III of Russia), who was also an heir presumptive to the thrones of Sweden and Holstein. Elizabeth naturally favoured her own nephew, although he was sexually impotent and of petulant character. With the accession of Peter III in 1762, begins the new reigning dynasty of Holstein-Gottorp, or Oldenburg-Romanov.
The Romanov-Gottorp Dynasty
The Holstein-Gottorps of Russia, however, kept the surname Romanov and sought to emphasise their female-line descent from Peter the Great. Emperor Pavel was particularly proud to be great grandson of the illustrious Russian monarch, although his German-born mother, Catherine II (of the House of Anhalt-Zerbst), had insinuated in her memoirs that Paul's real father had been her lover Sergei Saltykov. Disapproving of morganatic alliances, Paul established the house law of the Romanovs, one of the strictest in Europe. The consorts of Russian dynasts had to be equal born (i.e., born to a sovereign house of Europe) and of the Orthodox faith. Otherwise their children forfeited their rights to the throne.
Konstantin Pavlovich and Mikhail Alexandrovich, although sometimes counted among Russian monarchs, were not crowned and never reigned. They both married morganatically, as did Alexander II. Six crowned representatives of the Gottorp-Romanov line include: Pavel (1796-1801), Alexander I (1801-1826), Nikolai I (1826-56), Alexander II (1856-81), Alexander III (1881-94), and Nikolai II (1894-1917).
All these emperors (except Alexander III) had German-born consorts, a circumstance that cost the Romanovs their popularity during the World War I. Russian soldiers didn't want to fight for the royal family with not a drop of Russian blood in their veins. Nicholas' wife Alexandra Fyodorovna, although devoutly Orthodox, was particularly hated by the populace. It was she who brought to the Romanov family a mutated gene of her grandmother, Queen Victoria, which was responsible for hemophilia of her children. Nikolai and Alexandra had 4 daughters (Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia). The long-awaited heir to the throne, Alexei, was also a hemophiliac.
When the Romanov family celebrated the tercentenary of its rule, in 1913, the solemnities were clouded by numerous bad omens. Our Lady of St Feodor, a patron icon of the family, blackened so bad that the image has been hardly visible ever since. Grigory Rasputin proclaimed that the Romanovs' power wouldn't last for a year after his death, and he was murdered by one of the Romanov Grand Dukes several months before the February Revolution of 1917, which actually dethroned Nikolai II.
Bolshevik authorities killed the last Romanov monarch, Nikolai II, and his immediate family in the cellar of the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg, Russia on July 17, 1918. Ironically, the Ipatiev House has the same name as the Minster st ipatios.jpg in Kostroma, where Mikhail Romanov had been offered the Russian crown in 1613. The spot where the Ipatiev House once stood, has recently been commemorated by a magnificent cathedral "on the blood". After years of controversy, Nikolai II and his family were proclaimed saints by the Russian Orthodox church in 2000.
The Romanov family continues to exist today. However, despite the collapse of the Soviet Union and campaigning by their supporters for a return of a Romanov to the Russian throne as a constitutional monarch, it seems unlikely that they will ever regain power. The Russian people have so far evidenced little popular support for the resurrection of a Russian monarchy, even on a constitutional basis.
As of 2005, there are no Romanovs that may claim the throne on the basis of the Pauline house law. Nevertheless, a daughter of the last Romanov Grand Duke, Princess Maria Vladimirovna, styles herself Grand Duchess and advances her dubious claim to the revived Russian throne. The Romanov Family Association, on the other hand, maintains that a new monarch should be elected by general vote of the Russian people, and not necessarily from the Romanov-Gottorps.
- The Romanovs Today About the Romanov Family Association.
- Romanov Family Album - From "The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library", a collection of family photographs.
- Genealogy of the Imperial House of Russia (Requires Java)
- The Russian Imperial Succession Supports the claims of the descendants of the Grand Duke Kirill.
- The Romanovs: Their Empire, Their Books, New York Public Library.
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