The Early Romanovs

Sixteen year old Michael Romanov, with a tenuous link to the House of Rurik and Ivan IV through his great aunt Anastasia, ascended the thone in 1613. The Zemsky Sobor, convoked by the Patriarch, endorsed the new Tsar of All the Russias, beginning the dynasty that would rule until the abdication of Nicholas II in the February/March Revolution of 1917. The ascension of the Romanovs ended the horrific Time of Troubles (1598 - 1613.) From the death of Fedor I, sole male survivor of the House of Rurik to Boris Godunov to "False Dmitry" to Basil Shiushky to the liberation of the Kremlin by Mnin, Pozharsky, and Trubetskoy is a confusing tale of political instability, civil war, and foreign invasion. For a version of the Time of Troubles from the pen of a Russian schoolchild, see

Michael Romanov

Tsar Michael began the long process of reconstruction as well as the creation of a new "tripod" of power based on tsarist authority, the Zemsky Sobor, and the Church (led by his own father, Patriarch Filaret.) Both Michael's parents (Filaret and Martha) were forced to take holy orders, giving up their previous identities (Fyodor, Xenia) during the brief Shiusky era. According to legend and the Glinka opera, A Life for the Tsar, the boyars begged the young man to assume the tsarist throne. His first responsibilities were to restore o-p-u to his troubled land and to secure the dynasty. In the former area, he secured peace treaties with Sweden and Poland, and his second wife, Eudoxia Streshneva, gave him ten children, one of whom was Alexis the Pious/Quiet. He, with his advisors, especially his father as Patriarch, set up a governmental apparatus that included offices for foreign and domestic affairs ("Michael of Russia").

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For more information on Tsar Michael,
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Alexis the Pious

Tsar Alexis, known variously as "the Pious" and "the Quiet," succeeded Michael in 1645, continuing his father's policies of internal reconstruction and reliance on the "tripod," of tsarist authority, Church, Zemsky Sobor. He also continued policies reminiscent of the "March of Muscovy" in the "sanctification of the state," "binding of the classes," and "gathering in of the Russian land." Alexis was, additionally, an impressive westernizer. A prodigeous annexer of territory (penetration of Ukraine,) Alexis also codified and extended constraints on both service gentry and serfs in his law code, the Ulozhenie of 1649. ( ) In the early years of his reign, Alexis relied on Boris Morozov as a key advisor who helped him avoid confrontation with the Ottomans and pursue policies aimed at o-p-u-p+s. Morozov helped select Alexis' first wife, Maria Miloslavskaya (and then married her sister.) When Cromwell and the Parliamentarians executed Charles I (the Blessed Martyr) in 1649, Alexis offered his condolences to Henrietta Maria and sent money to "the widow of the glorious martyr" ("Alexis I of Russia").
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17th century Poland appeared to the young Tsar and his chief minister, Nikon (first metropolitan of Novgorod, then Patriarch) as weak, tempting, and vulnerable. Nikon blessed Alexis' military campaign to recover the ancient lands of Rus--Smolensk, Chernigov, and Kiev. With help from the Zaporozhian Cossacks, the eastern bank of the Dnieper came under Russian control. The Treaty of Andrussovo in 1667 confirmed these Russian annexations. The cossacks played an important and obstreperous role in the history of Ukraine and southern Russia. The rise of the Cossacks, especially that of the Zaporozhian Host, is a tale of perennial interest in Russia. Tales of the Cossacks exert a perennial interest for Russians, especially in the 19th

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For more on the cossacks, see
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One of the key events of Alexis' reign was his proclamation of the Raskol at the great church council of 1666-1667. After the successful Polish wars and re-incorporation of Kiev, Tsar Alexis and Patriarch Nikon initiated corrections in a variety of traditional Orthodox practices (e.g. the sign of the cross with three fingers instead of two.) The Zealots of Piety, led by Archpriest Avvakum resisted any and all reforms that deviated from "ancient piety" ("Raskol"). Church reform came at a time of crisis, and hostility to it coalesced against Nikon who, for his part, tolerated no dissent. The Council (sobor) of 1667 branded the Zealots as heretics and hunted down the Raskolniki, or Old Believers--those who clung to the ancient rites. Paradoxically, given his deep and sincere devotion to the Church, Alexis' Raskol divided the Church and Russia. It split Russia into what would become known as Westernizers and Slavophiles, a division with dire repercussions for Russia's future. In the aftermath of the rebellions and turmoil, Alexis fired Nikon (see image left) but supported his reforms; his new patriarch, Joachim, predictably, supported the Tsar. For more on Alexis, see

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Tsar Nicholas II (1894-1917) admired the kind and gentle Tsar Alexis and dressed in reproductions of his attire and regalia at a costume ball in 1903. He chose to name his only son, the Tsarevich Alexis, after this ancestor.
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The signal event of Alexis' reign, the Raskol of 1667, reconfirmed secular over spiritual authority and the ancient tradition of Caesaropapism. It deepened the alienation of the classes between an oppressed serf mass presided over by an increasingly westernized service gentry/aristocracy. The Old Believers (Raskolniki) suffered persecution in this and later reigns. Alexis' quest for a healthy male heir led him to marry twice. His first marriage, to Maria Miloslavskaia, produced Fedor III (and Ivan V [co-tsar with Peter]) during whose reign Tsarevna Sophie actually seems to have pulled the strings.
Alexis' second marriage, to Natalia Naryshkina, symbolized how the Tsar--profoundly pious and devout--nevertheless turned his face to the West. The 20 year old Natalia married the 40+ Tsar in 1671, doing her duty and producing Tsarevich Peter in 1672. On the outs during the reign of Fedor III, Natalia fled to Preobrazhenskoe with her young son during his reign and the regency of Sophia. The painting (right) does not seem to capture either her beauty of her charm.

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Land of the Tsars--06 summarizes the achievements of the early Romanovs
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Fedor III

Tsarevich Fedor was not the eldest son: his older brother Alexei died in 1670, perhaps a factor in Alexis' rush to the altar with Natalia Naryshkina. Upon the death of Tsar Alexis in 1676, the fifteen year old Fedor III succeeded to the throne and the "crown of Monomakh." Although reputed to be an intelligent lad, he was in poor health and an invalid essentially since birth. He did endeavor to continue the westernizing reforms of his father, being an early advocate of beard-shaving. He did his best to preserve the dynasty, marrying twice (Agaphia in 1680, Marfa Apraksina in 1682, upon the death of Agaphia.) Neither marriage had produced an "heir of the body" when Fedor III died in 1682 ("Fedor III of Russia").

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Ivan V
(co-Tsar 1682-1689 [died 1696])

The death of Fedor III precipitated riots in Moscow as the Naryshkins and the Patriarch tried to replace the Tsarevich Ivan with Tsarevich Peter, born in 1672, offspring of Alexis second marriage. The Miloslavskys (supported by the streltsy and Old Believers) and Naryshkins reached a compromise according to which the two young half brothers would reign jointly as co-tsars. Contemporary accounts describe Ivan V as having serious "physical and mental disabilities" ("Ivan V of Russia"). Tsarevna Sophia exercised the power as regent during the minority of the co- tsars, and had a special double throne built for them. Foreign observers described Ivan V as "senile, paralytic and almost blind" ("Ivan V of Russia"). Nevertheless, he did marry and produce a bevy of daughters (Maria, Feodosia, Catherine, Anna, Praskovia) of whom, more later.



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Ivan V shared the throne (in name only) with his more exuberant and rambunctuous half brother, Peter. When the two boys were children, the Tsarevna Sophia (Ivan's sister, Peter's half-sister) exercised the regency in their name. Sophie did everything in her power to prevent Peter, child of Alexis' second marriage to Natalia Naryshkina, from assuming power in his own name and right. Peter discovered her conspiracy with the streltsy and removed her to the Novodevichy Convent across the Moskva River where the hapless Sophie unwillingly took the veil as Sister Susannah. The famous 19th century Russian artist, Ilya Repin, though more than a century after the event, caught the essence of her rage against Peter in his famous portrait, which hangs in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

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go to the site above for a larger and clearer rendering of the Ilya Repin portrait

19th century artists found the 17th century a rich trove of inspiration and portrayed (romantically) the events of this era, especially as they become more distant from it, as exemplified in Repin's rendering of Tsarevna Sopia above. Have a look below at the vivid renderings of various events:

Russian artist Konstantin Makovsky produced many canvases portraying events of Russian history, for example, the followers of False Dmitry murdering Boris Godunov and his son, Fedor II. He painted this version of the event in 1862. Makovsky also chronicled the beauty contest (see below,) ostensibly the one where Alexis chose his bride (Maria Miloslavskaia,) aided by the crafty Morosov who, historians think, conspired in the murder of Alexis's first choice, Eufemia Vsevelodskaia (sp?)

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The AP Euro texts don't seem to know what to do with Russia from the death of Ivan IV to the accession of Peter the Great (1598-1682.) Spielvogel says nothing, citing neither the Time of Troubles (Boris Gudonov, False Dmitry, et al.) nor Michael nor Alexis in the Index. Not much from Palmer et al. until Peter. Kagan mentions Michael and Aleksei [sic] in passing on to Peter. McKay, as usual, does a better job of dealing with Russia's difficult, confusing, and troubled century from Ivan IV to Peter the Great.


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"Alexis I of Russia." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
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Background: "Moscow city plan 1611" ("Nesvizhsky" plan) Engraving by T. Makovsky based on a drawing by Sh. Smutansky

Beard, Robert. "The Bucknell Russian Program." Lewisburg: Bucknell University, 1996.

"Fedor III of Russia." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
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George. "Scheloumoff." George's Pictures: Russia and the Caucasus. Online available.
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Howlett, Jana. "Muscovite Russia." Jana Howlett's Web Pages. Online available.
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Hunt, Lynn, et al. The Challenge of the West. Lexington and Toronto: D. C. Heath and Co., 1995.

"Ivan V of Russia." Wikipedia, the free encylopedia. Online available.
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Kagan, Donald, et al. The Western Heritage, 9th ed. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007.

Lobachev, Sergei. "Nikon: Patriarch of Moscow and all the Russias." St. Petersburg: St Petersburg University.

"Konstantin Makovsky." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
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McKay, John, et al. A History of Western Society, 6th ed. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1999.

"Michael of Russia." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
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"Natalia Naryshkina." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
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Natividad, James, Andrea Thomann, and Lalin Nuth. "Michael I Romanov." The Web Chronology Project, 1999.
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Palmer, R. R., et al. A History of the Modern World, 9th ed. Boston, et al.: McGraw Hill, 2002.

Repin, Ilya. "Princess Sofia." on site maintained by George Metrevski, Auburn University, copyright, 1999,

Spielvogel, Jackson. Western Civilization, 4th ed. Belmont, et al.: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2000.

"Treasures of the Czars Exhibition" from the Florida International Museum. St. Petersburg, (Florida) Times, 1999. http:/