The Legal Claims of the Imperial House of Romanoff
(A Legal and Historical Survey)


The Head of the Russian IMPERIAL House, Her IMPERIAL Highness,

The IMPERIAL House of Russia is the Romanoff Dynasty, which ruled until 1917 and was elevated to the Throne by the Assembly of the Land (Zemskii Sobor) in 1613 because of its close kinship ties through the female line with the former Riurikovich Dynasty, which had died out. The direct male line of the Romanoff Dynasty ended in 1730 (on the death of Emperor Peter I the Great’s Grandson, Peter II). After that, the Russian Throne was occupied by Peter the Great’s Niece, Empress Anna Ioannovna (ruled 1730-1740), then by Her Grand Nephew, Emperor Ivan VI Antonovich (ruled 1740-1741), and then by Peter the Great’s Daughter, Empress Elizabeth Petrovna (ruled 1741-1762). In 1762, the succession to the Throne, together with all the corresponding titles and the surname “Romanoff,” passed through the female line to the House of Holstein-Gottorp (to Peter the Great’s Grandson, Peter III Fedorovich, the Son of Peter the Great’s Daughter, Tsarevna Anna Petrovna). Emperor Paul I, the Son of Peter III, issued the Decree on Succession on 5 April 1797, which determined the order of succession to the Throne as well as membership of the Russian IMPERIAL House. This Decree was amended on 29 March 1820 by Emperor Alexander I who issued a Manifesto, stipulating, “if any person in the Imperial Family enters into a marriage with a person of a status unequal to His, that is, not belonging to any Royal or Ruling House, in such a case the person in the Imperial Family cannot pass on to the other person the rights which belong to Members of the Imperial Family, and the children issuing from such a marriage have no right of succession to the Throne.”

Russian dynastic law, which was based upon the Decree on Succession, belongs to what is known as the Austrian system of succession, which is based on male primogeniture. In Russia, succession passed through the female line only after the extinction of all male branches. Similar to the succession laws governing other monarchies, the articles pertaining to the succession to the Throne (Articles 25-39 of the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire) are inviolable, that is, not susceptible to abolition or modification even by the Sovereign Emperor.

Since 1917, the Russian IMPERIAL House has lived in forced exile, but the order of succession to the position of Head of the Dynasty and even dynastic membership remained firmly governed by the statutes of dynastic law. Membership in the Russian IMPERIAL House is governed exclusively by the appropriate articles of the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire, for there is no other legal basis by which to make this determination.

After the abdication from the Throne of Emperor Nicholas II for Himself and for His Heir, Aleksei Nikolaevich, on 2 March 1917, the rights to the Throne passed to the Emperor’s Brother, Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich. In His Manifesto of 3 March 1917, the Grand Duke put off accepting power until the Constituent Assembly had decided upon the form of Russia’s future government. On 1 September 1917, Alexander Kerensky, the prime minister of the Provisional Government, in violation of decrees that had been issued previously, declared Russia to be a republic. The Constituent Assembly never had the opportunity to examine the question of the future structure of the government of Russia.

In 1918, Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich, the former Emperor Nicholas II, and Tsesarevich Aleksei Nikolaevich, that is, the entire male line issuing from Emperor Alexander III, were murdered. In accordance with Article 29, the right to the throne passed to the line issuing from Alexander II: to the descendants of Grand Duke Wladimir Alexandrovich (1847-1908). The latter’s eldest Son, Grand Duke Kirill Wladimirovich, declared in 1922 His assumption of the curatorship of the Throne (since He was still not certain of the death of Emperor Nicholas II, His Son, and Brother), and on 31 August 1924 assumed, in exile, the title of Emperor of All the Russias.

This Manifesto was fully consistent with the Fundamental Laws and was recognized by practically all Members of the House, as well as by foreign Royal Houses. One of the junior lines of the dynasty, composed of Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich, Grand Duke Peter Nikolaevich, and the latter’s son, Prince Roman Petrovich, did not recognize the Manifesto of 31 August 1924 — all of them believing that the question of who should occupy the Throne should be decided by the will of the people. The elderly Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna, not disputing the legality of Grand Duke Kirill Wladimirovich’s action, considered his Manifesto “premature,” since She never gave up the hope that one of Her Sons or Her Grandson might somehow still be alive in Russia.

At the time that Kirill Wladimirovich assumed the Imperial title, there were still 18 male Members of the Russian Imperial House living in immigration. Their order in the succession to the Throne at that time was:

    1. The lines of descent from Emperor Alexander II

      1. The line of Grand Duke Wladimir Alexandrovich

        1. Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich (Son and Heir of Emperor Kirill Wladimirovich)

        2. Grand Duke Boris Wladimirovich

        3. Grand Duke Andrei Wladimirovich

      2. The line of Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich

        4. Grand Duke Dmitrii Pavlovich

    2. The lines of descent from Emperor Nicholas I:

      1. The line of Grand Duke Constantine Nikolaevich

        5. Prince Vsevolod Ioannovich (son of Prince Ioann Konstantinovich)

        6. Prince Gavriil Konstantinovich

        7. Prince Georgii Konstantinovich

      2. The line of Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich the Elder

        8. Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich the Younger

        9. Grand Duke Peter Nikolaevich

        10. Prince Roman Petrovich

      3. The line of Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolaevich

        11. Grand Duke Mikhail Mikhailovich

        12. Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich

        13. Prince Andrei Alexandrovich

        14. Prince Feodor Alexandrovich

        15. Prince Nikita Alexandrovich

        16. Prince Dmitrii Alexandrovich

        17. Prince Rostislav Alexandrovich

        18. Prince Vasilii Alexandrovich

Given the fact that they were all living in exile, the majority of these members of the IMPERIAL House did not consider themselves to be obligated to follow strictly the requirements of the Fundamental Laws. This is exemplified by the many morganatic (that is, unequal) marriages that occurred after 1917 — that is, marriages with persons who do not belong to royal or ruling houses. Grand Dukes and Princes of the Blood who had entered into morganatic marriages did not themselves lose their right to the Throne and membership in the Dynasty, but their descendants, by virtue of Articles 36 and 188 of the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire, possessed no dynastic rights whatsoever (neither the right to the Throne, nor titles, nor even the dynastic surname “Romanoff”). Rather, in exile, a special status for the descendants of these morganatic unions was devised whereby they would be known as princes Romanovskii, along with a hyphenated surname of their choice, provided that the parents had beforehand requested permission to marry from the Head of the Dynasty (Decree of 28 July 1835). This title was, for example, granted to the son born of the marriage of Grand Duke Andrei Wladimirovich with Maria Felixovna Kshesinskaia (Prince Wladimir Romanovskii-Krasinskii), to the descendants that issued from the marriage of Grand Duke Dmitrii Pavlovich with the American Audrey Emery (Princes Romanovskii-Ilynskii), and similarly to others. The title was also bestowed upon the morganatic spouses of the Members of the Imperial House, in addition to descendants. Those who apparently did not ask permission to marry morganatically and therefore did not receive titles for their spouses or children included Prince Roman Petrovich.

Emperor Kirill I Wladimirovich died on 12 October 1938. His Son, Grand Duke Wladimir III Kirillovich, became the Head of the Dynasty but, following the example of many other Heads of dispossessed foreign Dynasties, considered it prudent not to take formally the title Emperor until such time as the Monarchy in the Motherland should be restored. The Decree of His Father had already legally secured the continuing operation of the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire in the realm of dynastic law. Grand Duke Wladimir III Kirillovich used the official title “Head of the Russian IMPERIAL House, His IMPERIAL Highness, Sovereign, Grand Duke,” which implied the title of Emperor de jure.

Grand Duke Wladimir III Kirillovich, was the sole male dynast of the IMPERIAL House to enter into an equal marriage after 1917. On the 13 August 1948, He married Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna, the daughter of the Head of the Georgian Royal House, H.R.H. Prince George Alexandrovich Bagration-Mukhrani. The royal status of the House of Bagration was permanently recognized by Russia in the Treaty of Georgievsk of 1783 and was confirmed by the Decree of 5 December 1946 issued by the Head of the Russian IMPERIAL House at the request of the Royal House of Spain.

From this marriage was born on 23 December 1953 Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna. Inasmuch as all other living male dynasts of the IMPERIAL family had entered into morganatic marriages, and because their advanced age made it unlikely that any of them would enter into new and equal marriage and, even less likely, have children—the Grand Duchess became the presumptive future Heiress to the Throne by virtue of the inviolable Article 30 of the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire. Therefore, Her Father, Grand Duke Wladimir III Kirillovich, determined Her majority to be 16 years of age (Article 40) and, on 23 December 1969, issued a Decree naming the Grand Duchess to be, in the event of His death, the curatrix over the correct order of succession to the title of Head of the House. This Decree drew objections from certain Princes of the Blood, but its legality can not be doubted, since it deprived no male dynasts of the Dynasty of any legal privileges, but merely established oversight over the correct succession.

At the time the Decree of 1969 was issued, the succession of the male dynasts would, in the event of the death of Grand Duke Wladimir III Kirillovich, have been the following:

    1. Prince Vsevolod Ioannovich (1914-1973). His first marriage was to Lady Mary Lygon, a British subject, who was granted the title of Princess Romanovskii-Pavlovskii (1939). His second wife was Emilia de Gosztonyi of Hungary, a Hungarian, who was granted the title of Princess Romanovskii (1956) by Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich. His third wife was Valli Knust, a Dane, to whom Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich granted the title of Princess Romanovskii-Knust (1961). No children issued from any of the three marriages.

    2. Prince Roman Petrovich (1869-1978). His wife was Countess Praskovia Dmitrievna Sheremetev. Children born to this marriage are morganatic: that is, they have no right to the succession to the throne or to dynastic membership.

    3. Prince Andrei Alexandrovich (1897-1981). His first wife was Elisaveta Fabrizievna Ruffo. His second wife was Nadine McDougall of Great Britain. Children born to these marriages are morganatic.

    4. Prince Nikita Alexandrovich (1900-1974). His wife was Countess Maria Ilarionovna Vorontsov-Dashkov. Children born to this marriage are morganatic.

    5. Prince Dmitrii Alexandrovich (1901-1980). His first wife was Countess Marina Sergievna Golenishchev-Kutuzov, who was granted the title Princess Romanovskii-Kutuzov by Emperor Kirill I Wladimirovich. His second wife was Sheila Chisholm of Australia. The daughter born to the first marriage was Princess Nadezhda Romanovskii-Kutuzov.

    6. Prince Rostislav Alexandrovich (1902-1977). His first wife was Princess Alexandra Pavlovna Golitsyn, his second wife was Alice Baker of the United States, and his third wife was Hedwig von Chappuis of Germany. Children born of these marriages are morganatic.

    7. Prince Vasilii Alexandrovich (1907-1989). His wife was Princess Natalia Alexeevna Golitsyn. The marriage produced no male issue. Their one child, a daughter, is morganatic.

Male dynasts of the IMPERIAL House who died before 1969—Grand Duke Boris Wladimirovich, Grand Duke Andrei Wladimirovich, Grand Duke Dmitrii Pavlovich, Grand Duke Gavriil Konstantinovich, Prince Georgii Konstantinovich (who died unmarried), Grand Duke Mikhail Mikhailovich, and Prince Feodor Alexandrovich—similarly left no issue who are dynasts, since all of their marriages were morganatic.

With the passing in 1989 of Vasilii Alexandrovich, the last living Prince of the IMPERIAL Blood, which occurred during the lifetime of Grand Duke Wladimir III Kirillovich, Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna became not only the presumed future Heiress, but in fact the actual Heiress to Her Father’s title.

In 1976, Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna entered into an equal marriage with Prince Franz-Wilhelm of Prussia, who, after being received into the Orthodox Church, was granted the title Grand Duke and the name Mikhail Pavlovich by Grand Duke Wladimir III Kirillovich. The marriage was later dissolved by divorce.

On 13 March 1981, a Son was born of this marriage: Grand Duke Georgii Mikhailovich. By an agreement made between Grand Duke Wladimir III Kirillovich and Prince Louis-Ferdinand, the Heads of the Russian and German Imperial Houses, Grand Duke Georgii Mikhailovich’s father became a member of the Russian IMPERIAL House, and therefore the newborn child belonged from His birth to the Romanoff Dynasty and bore a Russian title.

On 21 April 1992, the Head of the Russian Imperial House, Grand Duke Wladimir III Kirillovich, died. With H is death, the male line of the Romanoff-Holstein-Gottorp Dynasty fell extinct, similar to the situation that occurred in the eighteenth century. But unlike then, when the succession was determined by the will of one person or group, the succession in 1992 was determined by a clear and precise Law on succession. Article 30 of the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire bestowed the headship of the Russian Imperial House to Her IMPERIAL Highness, GRAND DUCHESS MARIA I WLADIMIROVNA.

Up until as recently as 2007, the Russian IMPERIAL House consisted of four persons, including Her IMPERIAL Highness, the Dowager Grand Duchess (de jure EMPRESS) LEONIDA GEORGIEVNA (born 1914 - died 2010) and Her Serene Highness PRINCESS EKATERINA IOANNOVNA (born 1915 - died 2007 ). At present, the Russian IMPERIAL House consists of the following persons:

    1. The Head of the Russian IMPERIAL House, Her IMPERIAL Highness, GRAND DUCHESS (de jure EMPRESS of All the Russias) MARIA I WLADIMIROVNA (born 1953).

    2. His IMPERIAL Highness, the Heir, Tsesarevich, and GRAND DUKE GEORGII MIKHAILOVICH (born 1981).

All other descendants of Members of the Dynasty are morganatic descendants who do not enjoy rights to the throne and do not belong to the Russian IMPERIAL House (Articles 26 and 188 of the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire). The so-called “Romanoff Family Association,” which is now made up exclusively of morganatic descendants of Members of the Russian IMPERIAL House and is headed by Nicholas Romanovich “Romanoff,” the morganatic son of the Prince of the Imperial Blood Roman Petrovich, is an organization that is entirely private and has no foundation whatsoever in the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire.

Source: Russian Imperial House


by Paul Gilbert