Birth of the Russian Romanov Dynasty

Tsar Mikhail I Feodorovich (1596-1645) and Tsar Nicholas II (1868-1918).

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400 years ago a truly remarkable historical event occurred in Russia, one that was to determine the destinies of our Motherland and its people for centuries to come – in March 1613 Mikhail Romanov ascended the Russian throne, giving birth to a new reigning dynasty which was destined to build and consolidate the Russian state for 300 years, expanding its borders from the Carpathians to the Pacific ocean, from the icy Arctic to the Pamir.

In 1598 the childless son of Ivan IV dubbed “the Terrible” Fyodor died, and with that the Rurik dynasty ended. Fyodor’s wife Czarina Irina took the veil. This dynastic crisis ended with the election of Boris Godunov by the Great National Assembly to ascend the Russian throne.

The beginning of his reign was successful for Russia in both domestic and foreign policy issues. It seemed that the country could calmly augment its material prosperity. However, just a few years passed, and the Times of Trouble came to the land.

In 1601 Czar Boris was informed that a certain Grigory Otrepiev had turned up in the capital, professing to be Prince Dmitry, son of Ivan the Terrible, miraculously saved from death. In actual fact Dmitry had died under mysterious circumstances. Popular rumor attributed his death to Godunov.

In 1601 -1603 Russia was in the grips of famine, and the people perceived this as the hand of God delivering punishment. The sudden death of Boris Godunov paved the way to the throne for the False Dmitry, supported by Poland. With the Poles and the angry mob backing him, Dmitry seized power in Moscow and was crowned the Russian Czar.

The False Dmitry, unlike previous rulers, was an unprecedented phenomenon on the Moscow throne: his manner and behavior did not correspond to the customary royal etiquette, he would allow himself to saunter across Moscow in disregard of his royal station, and chose to dress in European style. Such behavior of the low-born pretender irritated the boyars. Besides, they resented his proximity with the Poles, who were getting increasingly brazen in Moscow. The boyars wasted no time in removing him: the False Dmitry was murdered as a result of a plot, аnd supplanted by Vasiliy Shuisky, a 54-year old boyar, clever, cunning, and politically savvy. But he, likewise, failed to inspire trust among the people. Soon riots rose up against him all across the country, and in the western outskirts of the state there once again loomed the figure of an impostor – this time False Dmitry II, who came to be known as the Thief. Upon assembling a large motley army of Polish adventurers and runaway slaves, False Dmitry II approached Moscow, encamping in the village of Tushino – thus he was nicknamed “Tushino Thief”.

There emerged two governments: the one in Moscow – with Czar Vasiliy Shuisky on the throne, and in the village of Tushino outside Moscow – led by impostor False Dmitry thronged by the Poles. Life in Russia was in total disarray. Each town and region decided for themselves «where to go and which camp to form alliance with». However, due to lack of unanimity in the Tushino encampment ranks, False Dmitry II suffered a fate similar to that of his predecessor the impostor Dmitry I.

In 1610 in yet another rebellion Vasiliy Shuisky was overthrown, forced to take monastic vows and taken to Poland, where he died two years later in prison. Thus the country was once again without a ruler, moreover, at a time when it was in desperate need of a strong and resolute power.

Moscow entered a period of interregnum. All power in the state was swiftly seized by 7 of the most prominent and powerful boyars. However, such a rule could hardly be long and lasting. Fearful of more riots, which could result in fresh social upheavals and anarchy, the boyars decided to put forward as candidate to the throne Polish King Sigismund's 15-year old son, Wladislaw. Moreover, on condition of his maintaining Orthodoxy and granting certain privileges to them, they allowed a 3,5 thousand force of Polish troops to enter the city and occupy the Kremlin. It looked like it was all over. The powers-that-be had lost all credibility in the eyes of the people. Only the Orthodox Church continued to fight for preserving the country. Patriarch Hermogenes, as a staunch defender of the Faith, which at the time was perceived as synonymous with sovereignty and national unity, set forth harsh conditions: “Let Wladislaw accept the Orthodox faith, and may all Polish forces leave Moscow.” The intrepid Patriarch was imprisoned in a dungeon of Chudov monastery. But from there he began sending letters of appeal to the Russian people to unite in the face of their common enemy.

Finally, Hermogenes’s appeal was heard. Nizhniy Novgorod became the heart of the resistance movement. There, under the leadership of Kuzma Minin, a Novgorod merchant, and Prince Dmitry Pozharsky a people’s militia was formed. In the words of well-known historian Vasiliy Kliuchevsky, “a strong sense of national identity and profound religious roots saved Russian society.”

The 16 year-old Mikhail being offered the crown at the Ipatiev Monastery in 1613. Artist: Grigory Ugryumov

In autumn of 1612 the militia drove the Poles out of Moscow.

After the victory over the invaders the question of who should ascend the vacant Moscow throne arose. A zemsky sobor, or National Assembly was convened to elect a ruler. 7 delegates arrived from every town, besides representatives of all ranks of Russian society. Altogether the gathering numbered around 800 people. A rigorous 3-day Fast was announced on the eve of the assembly, to be purged of the filth that had accumulated in people’s hearts and souls in the Times of Trouble. Even newborn babes were to observe the fast.

The Assembly meetings started in December 1612 and continued until the end of February 1613. The first question – who should sit on the throne: foreigner or Russian, was settled swiftly and unanimously: «Only an Orthodox Russian». The 2nd question: “Who from among the Russians?” took nearly two months of debates. The initial list was extensive, yet day by day it grew shorter. Eventually, the name of one specific candidate came to the fore: young boyar Mikhail Romanov. This candidate served the interests of many, and eventually the Zemsky Sobor unanimously elected Mikhail Romanov to ascend the throne. To ascertain that the new Czar was truly popular with the people, messengers were sent to towns and villages, for the purpose of questioning the population regarding their attitude towards Mikhail Romanov. two weeks later the messengers returned, bearing the news that the people favored the candidature of Mikhail Romanov for Czar. On March 3rd 1613 the Assembly officially proclaimed the election of Mikhail Romanov as Czar to the Russian throne.

Why did the choice fall on a representative of the Romanov line? After all, Russia had a great many other wealthy and noble boyar ancestral lines?

The Romanovs were related to the imperial dynasty. Mikhail’s father – Fyoodor Romanov – was nephew of Ivan the Terrible.

Foreign observers deemed Fyodor Romanov a no less worthy candidate to the throne than Boris Godunov. He was clever, well-educated, of refined, quite polished manners. He came from one of the noble boyar family lines. Naturally, such a rival was dangerous indeed, and Godunov decided to get him out of the way. To exclude Fyodor Romanov from political life once and for all he was forced to take the vows under the name of Filaret, and exiled to one of the northern monasteries. His wife, Xenia was also made to take the veil. Their son Mikhail remained in the custody of their relatives.

It was only after Godunov’s death in 1606 that Filaret returned to Moscow and reunited with his family. Moreover, he was elevated to the rank of metropolitan of Rostov. However, there were more trials in store for him: appointed to the precarious post of spiritual head of the Russian embassy to Polish King Sigismund III, due to circumstances, he was detained and spend almost nine years in captivity. Yet, overtime, he returned home and with his help his son ruled the country.

Meanwhile, the popular choice, Mikhail, after the tempests that swept over his closest relatives, was staying with his mother at Ipatiev Monastery (near Kostroma), into his 16th year, he had little if any thought of the throne.

It was there that a delegation of clergy and boyar dignitaries headed to announce his election to the throne.

However, Mikhail’s mother had no desire at all for such a heavy lot to befall her offspring. She reproached the arrivals for having betrayed all the elected in the past fifteen years rulers: from Godunov to Shuisky. And yet, after much persuasion and assurances she gave her blessing for her son’s enthronement. That was when Mikhail Romanov accepted the royal staff as a sign of royal power.

Mikhail Romanov was enthroned at the Assumption Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin, thus marking the beginning of a new dynasty that ruled Russia for 300 years. The people got a new Czar and swore allegiance to him. The election of Mikhail Romanov as Czar ended the Time of Troubles in Russia. The country rallied and restored Russian statehood.

The Romanov dynasty turned out to be one of the most stable in Europe, and until the 20th century was the most successful. Only the Hapsburgs and the Bourbons boasted more ancient lineage than the Romanovs, but they ruled states that were much smaller, and even then – with alternate success. For Russia, the Romanov reign embraced periods of flourishing national culture and arts, establishment of inter-ethnic and inter-confessional peace on the vast territory of the empire, great military victories and scientific achievements. The fall of the empire plunged Russia into turmoil yet again, that started with the events of 1917 and continued for many decades.

Source & Copyright: The Voice of Russia
11 April, 2013