11 June 2013 will mark the 400th anniversary of the enthronement of MikhailFyodorovich, the first tsar of the Romanov dynasty. The election of Mikhail as tsar by the Zemsky Sobor put an end to the Smuta, an era of great political instability. During the following three centuries, the Romanov dynasty did much to make Russia the world’s largest country… strong, united, and influential in the world politics.
In 1598, the Rurikid dynasty, which ruled Russia for more than 700 years, died out. The next 15 years were a period of political instability. Within this rather short period, many rulers sat on the Russian throne. Finally, in 1613, Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov ascended it. In fact, few people expected Mikhail to become tsar. The two main pretenders for the throne were from the boyar families of the Godunovs and the Shuyskys. Neither of them looked upon Mikhail Romanov, the 16-year-old son of the First Hierarch of the Patriarchate of Moscow and all the Russias, Patriarch Philaret Nikitich Romanov as a serious rival. However, at the Zemsky Sobor, the majority voted for him.
Historian Yevgeni Pchyolov said, “To a large extent, members of the Romanov dynasty made the Russian Empire one of the world’s largest and strongest countries… Pyotr Veliki, Yekaterina Velikaya, Aleksandr Pavlovich, Nikolai Pavlovich, and others. The golden age of Russian civilisation was during the period of Romanov rule”. Many Romanovs married members of other European royal families, which also strengthened the position of Russia in the world. Historian Faina Grimberg stated, “Initially, the Romanovs tried to conclude marriages with Scandinavian royal families. From the time of Pyotr Veliki, a grandson of Mikhail Fyodorovich, an energetic pro-western reformer, who ruled Russia from 1682 to 1725, marriages between Romanovs and other European royal families became common. Mainly, these marriages were with German noble families… in particular, with the ducal family of Hessen-Darmstadt. In the late 19th century, the last Russian tsar, Nikolai Aleksandrovich, married a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, and Nikolai’s uncle, Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich, married another of Victoria’s granddaughters. This strengthened ties between Russia and Great Britain”.
However, probably, the closest kinship ties the Romanovs had were with the German Holstein-Gottorp dynasty. A daughter of Pyotr Veliki, Anna Petrovna, married Duke Karl Friedrich of Holstein-Gottorp. Their son, Pyotr Fyodorovich, ruled Russia for less than a year in 1762. He was the husband of Yekaterina Velikaya (ruled 1762-96) and the father of Pavel Petrovich (ruled 1796-1801). In Europe, often, the Romanov dynasty was referred to as the Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov dynasty. Other members of the Russian imperial family married into the ducal families of Württemberg and Baden. Tsar Nikolai Pavlovich (ruled 1825-55) was married to Princess Charlotte of Prussia of the House of Hohenzollern (known as Tsaritsa Aleksandra Fyodorovna in Russia). The Romanovs also had family ties with the Nassaus of the Netherlands, the Hanovers of Britain, and the Danish and Greek royal families.
Of course, it wasn’t only ties of kinship, but also the farsighted foreign policy of the Romanov emperors, that made Russia respected by all of Europe. Historian Yevgeni Pchyolov said, “After the 1917 revolution, the Communists tried to distance Russia from ‘bourgeois’ Western Europe. In the Soviet era, Russia maintained more ties with Eastern Europe, Asia, and other regions than with Western Europe. Now, the Russian government realises that Russia should be a full-fledged member of the European family. Here, the experience of Russian emperors, who always tried to maintain close ties with European countries, might be very helpful for us”. Meanwhile, for many Europeans, the Romanov dynasty is associated, firstly, with the well-known jeweller Karl Fabergé, who lived in Russia and made caskets in the form of eggs especially for the Russian imperial family.
31 December 2012
Voice of Russia World Service