The House of Romanov
The House of Romanov was the second major royal dynasty in Russia, and arose after the Rurikid Dynasty. It was founded in 1613 with the coronation of Michael I and ended in 1917 with the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II. However, the direct male blood line of the Romanov Dynasty ended when Elizabeth of Russia died in 1762, and Peter III, followed by Catherine the Great, were placed in power, both German-born royalty.
Roots of the Romanovs
The earliest common ancestor for the Romanov clan goes back to Andrei Kobyla. Sources say he was a boyar under the leadership of the Rurikid prince Semyon I of Moscow in 1347. This figure remains somewhat mysterious with some sources claiming he was the high-born son of a Rus' prince. Others point to the name Kobyla, which means horse, suggesting he was descended from the Master of Horse in the royal household.
Whatever the real origins of this patriarch-like figure, his descendants split into about a dozen different branches over the next couple of centuries. One such descendent, Roman Yurievich Zakharyin-Yuriev, gave the Romanov Dynasty its name. Grandchildren of this patriarch changed their name to Romanov and it remained there until they rose to power.
The Romanov Dynasty proper was founded after the Time of Troubles, an era between 1598 and 1613, which included a dynastic struggle, wars with Sweden and Poland, and severe famine. Tsar Boris Godunov's rule, which lasted until 1605, saw the Romanov families exiled to the Urals and other remote areas. Michael I's father was forced to take monastic vows and adopt the name Philaret. Two impostors attempting to gain the throne in Moscow attempted to leverage Romanov power after Godunov died in 1605. And by 1613, the Romanov family had again become a popular name in the running for power.
Patriarch Philaret's son, Michael I, was voted into power by the zemsky sober in July 1613, ending a long dynastic dispute. He unified the boyars and satisfied the Moscow royalty as the son of Feodor Nikitich Romanov (now Patriarch Philaret) and the nephew of the Rurikid Tsar Feodor I. He was only sixteen at his coronation, and both he and his mother were afraid of his future in such a difficult political position.
Representation of a young Michael I
He rose to power in Moscow when he was just sixteen and went on to become an influential leader in Russian history.
Michael I reinstated order in Moscow over his first years in power and also developed two major government offices, the Posolsky Prikaz (Foreign Office) and the Razryadny Prikaz (Duma chancellory, or provincial administration office). These two offices remained essential to Russian order for a many decades.
Michael I ruled until his death in 1645 and his son, Alexis, took over the throne at the age of sixteen, just like his father. His reign would last over 30 years and ended at his death in 1676. His reign was marked by riots in cities such Pskov and Novgorod, as well as continued wars with Sweden and Poland.
Alexis I of Russian in the 1670s
His policies toward the Church and peasant uprisings created new legal codes and traditions that lasted well into the 19th century.
However, Alexis I established a new legal code called Subornoye Ulozheniye, which created a serf class, made hereditary class unchangeable, and required official state documentation to travel between towns. These codes stayed in effect well into the 19th century. Under Alexis I’s rule, the Orthodox Church also convened the Great Moscow Synod, which created new customs and traditions. This historic moment created a schism between what are termed Old Believers (those attached to the previous hierarchy and traditions of the Church) and the new Church traditions. Alexis I’s legacy paints him as a peaceful and reflective ruler, with a propensity for progressive ideas.
Dynastic Dispute and Peter the Great
At the death of Alexis I in 1676, a dynastic dispute erupted between the children of his first wife, namely Fyodor III, Sofia Alexeyevna, Ivan V, and the son of his second wife, Peter Alexeyevich (later Peter the Great). The crown was quickly passed down through the children of his first wife. Fyodor III died from illness after ruling for only six years. Between 1682 and 1689 power was contested between Sofia Alexeyevna, Ivan V, and Peter. Sofia served as regent from 1682 to 1689. She actively opposed Peter’s claim to the throne in favor of her own brother, Ivan. However, Ivan V and Peter shared the throne until Ivan’s death in 1696.
Peter the Great as a young ruler in 1698
This portrait was a gift to the King of England and displays a western style that was rarely scene in royal portraits before this time. He is not wearing a beard or the traditional caps and robes that marked Russian nobility before his rule.
Peter went on to rule over Russia, and even style himself Emperor of all Russia in 1721, and ruled until his death in 1725. He built a new capital in St. Petersburg, where he built a navy and attempted to wrest control of the Baltic Sea. He is also remembered for bringing western culture and Enlightenment ideas to Russia, as well as limiting the control of the Church.