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"Romanov" redirects here. For other uses, see Romanov (disambiguation).

House of Romanov
House of Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov
Country Tsardom of Russia
Russian Empire
Kingdom of Poland
Grand Duchy of Finland
Grand Duchy of Oldenburg
Duchy of Holstein
Order of Saint John (Order of Malta)
Ancestral house


  • Tsar of Russia (1613–1721)
  • Emperor of Russia (1721–1917)
    "By the grace of God,
    Emperor and Autocrat of Russia, Moscow, Kiev, Vladimir, and Novgorod
  • Tsar of Kazan, Astrakhan, Poland, Siberia, Tauric Khersones, and Georgia
  • Lord of Pskov
  • Grand Prince of Smolensk, Lithuania, Volynia, Podolsk, and Finland
  • Prince of Estonia, Livonia, Courland and Simigalsk, Samogitsk, Belostok, Karelia, Tver, Ugorsk, Perm, Vyatsk, Bogarsk, and others
  • Lord and Grand Duke of Lower Novgorod
  • Ruler of Chernigov, Ryazan, Polotsk, Rostov, Yaroslav, Belozersk, Udorsk, Obdorsk, Kondiysk, Vitebsk, Mstislav, and the entire North Country
  • Lord of Iversk, Kartalinsk and Kabardinsk lands, and the area of Armenia
  • Hereditary Lord and master of the Circassian and mountain princes and others
  • Lord of Turkestan
  • Heir of Norway
  • Duke of Schleswig-Holstein, Stormarn, Dithmarschen, and Oldenburg
and so forth, and so forth, and so forth"[1]
Current head

Disputed since 1992:

Founding 1613 — Michael I
Dissolution Russia:
1917 — Nicholas II abdicated as a result of the February Revolution in favour of Grand Prince Michael Alexandrovich, who refused to accept the throne until it could be approved by the Russian Constituent Assembly
Cadet branches

Ethnicity Russian, Germans, Lithuanian

The House of Romanov (Russian: Рома́нов, IPA: [rɐˈmanəf], ) was the second and last imperial dynasty to rule over Russia, reigning from 1613 until the 1917 overthrow of the monarchy during the February Revolution. The later history of the Imperial House is sometimes referred to informally as the House of Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov.

The Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, who was himself a member of a cadet branch of the Oldenburgs, married into the Romanov family early in the 18th century; all Romanov Tsars from the middle of that century to the revolution of 1917 were descended from that marriage. Though officially known as the House of Romanov, these descendants of the Romanov and Oldenburg Houses are sometimes referred to as Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov.[2]

Surname "Romanov"

Legally, it is not clear when or if a ukase was issued that abolished the surname of Michael Romanov upon his accession to the Russian throne or of his subsequent male-line descendants, although by tradition members of reigning dynasties seldom use surnames. Rather, they are known by their dynastic titles ("Tsarevich Ivan Alexeevich", "Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich," etc.). In addition, since 1761 Russian rulers descend from the son of Grand Duchess Anna Petrovna of Russia and Charles Frederick, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, and thus they were no longer Romanovs by patrilineage, but belonged to the Holstein-Gottorp cadet branch of the German House of Oldenburg. In such genealogical literature as the Almanach de Gotha, the name of Russia's ruling dynasty from the time of Peter III is "Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov".[3] However, the name "Romanov" and "House of Romanov" were often used in official references to the Russian imperial house. The coat of arms of the Romanov boyars was included in legislation on the imperial dynasty, and in 1913 there was an official jubilee celebrating the "300th Anniversary of the Romanovs rule".[4]

After the February revolution all members of the imperial family were given the surname "Romanov" by special decree of the Provisional Government of Russia. The only exception were the morganatic descendants of the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich who, in exile, took the surname Il'insky[3][5]


The Romanovs share their origin with two dozen other Russian noble families. Their earliest common ancestor is one Andrei Kobyla, attested as a boyar in the service of Semyon I of Moscow.[3] Later generations assigned to Kobyla the most illustrious pedigrees. An 18th-century genealogy claimed that he was the son of the Prussian prince Glanda Kambila, who came to Russia in the second half of the 13th century, fleeing the invading Germans. Indeed, one of the leaders of the Old Prussian rebellion of 1260-1274 against the Teutonic order was named Glande.

His actual origin may have been less spectacular. Not only is Kobyla Russian for "mare", some of his relatives also had as nicknames the terms for horses and other domestic animals, thus suggesting descent from one of the royal equerries. One of Kobyla's sons, Feodor, a boyar in the boyar duma of Dmitri Donskoi, was nicknamed Koshka (cat). His descendants took the surname Koshkin, then changed it to Zakharin, which family later split into two branches: Zakharin-Yakovlev and Zakharin-Yuriev.[3] During the reign of Ivan the Terrible, the former family became known as Yakovlev (Alexander Herzen among them), whereas grandchildren of Roman Zakharin-Yuriev changed their name to Romanov.[3]

Rise to power

The family fortunes soared when Roman's daughter, Anastasia Zakharyina, married Ivan IV in February 1547. When her husband assumed the title of tsar, which literally means Caesar, she was crowned the very first tsarina. Their marriage was an exceedingly happy one, but her untimely and mysterious death in 1560 changed Ivan's character for the worse. Suspecting the boyars of having poisoned his beloved, the tsar started a reign of terror against them. Among his children by Anastasia, the elder (Ivan) was murdered by the tsar in a quarrel; the younger Feodor, a pious and lethargic prince, inherited the throne upon his father's death.

Throughout Feodor's reign, rule of Russia was contested between his brother-in-law, Boris Godunov, and his Romanov cousins. Upon the death of childless Feodor, the 700-year-old line of Moscow Ruriks came to an end. After a long struggle, the party of Boris Godunov prevailed over the Romanovs, and the former was elected new Tsar in 1599. Godunov's revenge on the Romanovs was terrible: all the family and its relatives were deported to remote corners of the Russian North and Ural, where most of them died of hunger or in chains. The family's leader, Feodor Nikitich Romanov, was exiled to the Antoniev Siysky Monastery and forced to take monastic vows with the name Filaret.

The Romanovs' fortunes again changed dramatically with the fall of the Godunov dynasty in June 1605. As a former leader of the anti-Godunov party and cousin of the last legitimate Tsar, Filaret Romanov's recognition was sought by several impostors who attempted to claim the Rurik legacy and throne during the Time of Troubles. False Dmitriy I made him a metropolitan, and False Dmitriy II raised him to the dignity of patriarch. Upon expulsion of Poles from Moscow in 1612, the Zemsky Sobor offered the Russian crown to several Rurik and Gedimin princes, but all of them declined the honour of it.[3]

On being offered the Russian crown, Filaret's 16-year-old son Mikhail Romanov, then living at the Ipatiev Monastery of Kostroma, burst into tears of fear and despair. He was finally persuaded to accept the throne by his mother Kseniya Ivanovna Shestova, who blessed him with the holy image of Our Lady of St. Theodore. Feeling how insecure his throne was, Mikhail attempted to emphasize his ties with the last Rurik tsars and sought advice from the Assembly of the Land on every important issue. This strategy proved successful. The early Romanovs were generally loved by the population as in-laws of Ivan the Terrible and innocent martyrs of Godunov's wrath.

The era of dynastic crisis

Mikhail was succeeded by his only son Alexei, who steered the country quietly through numerous troubles. Upon his death, there was a period of dynastic struggle between his children by his first wife Maria Ilyinichna Miloslavskaya (Feodor III, Sofia Alexeevna, Ivan V) and his son by his second wife Nataliya Kyrillovna Naryshkina, the future Peter the Great. New dynastic struggles followed the death of Peter. His only son to survive into adulthood, Alexei, did not support Peter's modernization of Russia. He had previously been arrested and died in prison shortly thereafter. Near the end of his life, Peter managed to alter the succession tradition of male heirs to allow him to name his own heir. Power then passed into the hands of his second wife, the Empress Catherine. Within five years, the Romanov male line ended with the death of Peter II.[3]

The Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov Dynasty

The Holstein-Gottorps of Russia retained the Romanov surname, emphasizing their matrilineal descent from Peter the Great, through Anna Petrovna (Peter I's elder daughter by his second wife).[3] In 1742, Empress Elizabeth of Russia brought Anna's son, her nephew, Peter of Holstein-Gottorp, to St. Petersburg and proclaimed him as her heir and would, in time, marry him off the German princess Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst (better known as Catherine the Great). Catherine's son, Paul I was particularly proud to be great-grandson of the illustrious Russian monarch, although his mother insinuated in her memoirs that Paul's natural father had been her lover Serge Saltykov, as opposed to her husband, Peter. Painfully aware of the hazards resulting from battles of succession, Paul decreed house laws for the Romanovs—the so-called Pauline laws, among the strictest in Europe—which established semi-Salic primogeniture as the rule of succession to the throne, requiring Orthodox faith for the monarch and dynasts, as well as for the consorts of the monarchs and their nearest heirs in line. Later, Alexander I, responding to the morganatic marriage of his brother and heir, added the requirement that consorts of all Russian dynasts in the male line had to be of equal birth (i.e., born to a royal or sovereign house).

Paul I was murdered in his palace in Saint Petersburg. Alexander I succeeded him on the throne and later died without leaving a male heir. His brother, crowned Nicholas I, succeeded him on the throne.[3] Nicholas I fathered four sons, educating them for the prospect of ruling Russia and for successful military careers.

Alexander II, son of Nicholas I, became the next Russian emperor in 1855, in the midst of the Crimean War. Alexander considered that his task was to keep peace in Europe and Russia. However, he believed only a country with a strong army could keep the peace. By paying attention to the army, giving much freedom to Finland, and freeing the serfs in 1861, he gained much popular support.

His family life came to be troubled. His beloved wife Maria Alexandrovna died of lung disease, dissolving his close-knit family as he immediately contracted a morganatic marriage with his longtime mistress, Princess Catherine Dolgoruki.[3] His legitimization of his children by Catherine, and rumors that he was contemplating crowning his new wife as empress, caused tension with the entire Romanov family. In particular, the grand duchesses were scandalized at the prospect of subordination to a woman who had borne Alexander several illegitimate children during his wife's lifetime. Before Princess Catherine could be elevated in rank, however, on 13 March 1881, Alexander was assassinated by a hand-made bomb hurled by Ignacy Hryniewiecki. Slavic patriotism, cultural revival, and Panslavist ideas grew in importance in the latter half of this century, evoking expectations of a more Russian than cosmopolitan dynasty. Several marriages were contracted with princesses from other Slavic monarchies and Orthodox kingdoms (Greece, Montenegro, Serbia).[3] In the early 20th century a couple of cadet-line princesses were allowed to marry Russian high noblemen - whereas until 1850s, practically all marriages had been with German princelings.[3]

Alexander II was succeeded by his son Alexander III. Alexander III, the second-to-last Romanov tsar, was responsible for conservative reforms in Russia. Never meant to be emperor, he was educated in matters of state only after the death of his older brother, Tsraevich Nikolai. This lack of extensive education may have influenced his politics as well as those of his son, Nicholas II. Alexander III cut an impressive figure. Not only was he tall (6'4" according to some sources), but his physique was proportionately large. Rumors spread about his incredible strength – a strength that was the size of his temper. In addition, the beard he wore hearkened back to the likeness of tsars of old, contributing to the aura of authority with which he carried himself.

Alexander, fearful of the fate which had befallen his father, strengthened autocratic rule in Russia. Many of the reforms the more liberal Alexander II had pushed through were reversed. Alexander, at his brother's death, not only inherited the throne, but also a betrothed - Danish princess Maria Fyodorovna. Despite contrasting natures and background the marriage was considered harmonious, producing six children and acquiring for Alexander the reputation of being the first tsar not known to take mistresses.

His eldest son, Nicholas, became emperor upon Alexander III's death due to kidney disease at age 49 in October of 1894. Nicholas reputedly said, "I am not ready to be tsar...." Just a week after the funeral, Nicholas married his fiancee, Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt, a favorite grandchild of England's Queen Victoria. Though an intelligent and kind-hearted man, he tended to leave intact his father's harsh polices. However, when the Tsar took control of the army at the front lines during World War I, his wife sought to influence government affairs even more than she had done during peace time. His well-known devotion to her injured both his and the dynasty's reputation during World War I, due both to her German origin and her unique relationship with Rasputin, whose role in the life of her only son was not widely known. Alexandra was a carrier of the gene for haemophilia, which she inherited from her maternal grandmother, Queen Victoria. Her son, Alexei, the long-awaited heir to the throne, inherited hemophilia and suffered agonizing bouts of protracted bleeding, the suffering of which was partially alleviated by Rasputin's ministrations. Nicholas and Alexandra also had four daughters (Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia).

The six crowned representatives of the Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov line were: Paul (1796–1801), Alexander I (1801–1825), Nicholas I (1825–55), Alexander II (1855–81), Alexander III (1881–94), and Nicholas II (1894–1917).[3]

Constantine Pavlovich and Michael Alexandrovich, both morganatically married, are occasionally counted among Russia's emperors by historians who observe that the Russian monarchy did not legally permit interregnums. But neither was crowned and both declined the throne.


The February Revolution of 1917 resulted in the abdication of Nicholas II in favor of his brother Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich. The latter declined to accept imperial authority save to delegate it to the Provisional Government pending a future democratic referendum. But that action effectively terminated the Romanov dynasty's rule over Russia. Some historians contend that the crown did not lawfully pass to Michael, as Tsesarevich Alexei would have automatically succeeded his father, Nicholas II, if the latter had not illegally altered his act of abdication to include his son—in fear that the afflicted boy would be forcibly separated from his parents. By this theory, Alexei followed Nicholas II as Russia's rightful emperor, although he remained a prisoner of the Bolsheviks for the rest of his short life. His uncle Michael would then only have become emperor after Alexei's death, along with his parents and sisters, in June 1918. But by then Michael Aleksandrovich was also in captivity and would himself be executed by the Bolsheviks the following month.

After the February Revolution, Nicholas II and his family were placed under house arrest in the Alexander Palace. Several members of the Imperial Family, including Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovich of Russia, managed to establish good relations with the interim government and eventually fled the country during the October Revolution.

Execution of Tsar and Family

Further information: Shooting of the Romanov family and Canonization of the Romanovs

On July 17, 1918, Bolshevik authorities acting on Yakov Sverdlov's orders in Moscow and led locally by Filip Goloschekin and Yakov Yurovsky, shot Nicholas II, his immediate family, and four servants in the cellar of the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg, Russia.

The family was told that they were to be photographed to prove to the people that they were still alive. The family members were arranged appropriately and left alone for several minutes, the gunmen then walked in and started shooting. The girls did not die from the first shots, because bullets rebounded off jewels that were sewn into their corsets. The gunmen tried to stab them with bayonets, which also failed because of the jewels. The gunmen then shot each girl in the head at close range.

Ironically, the Ipatiev House has the same name as the Ipatiev Monastery in Kostroma, where Mikhail Romanov had been offered the Russian Crown in 1613. The large memorial church "on the blood" has been built on the spot where the Ipatiev House once stood.

After years of controversy, Nicholas II and his family were proclaimed passion-bearers by the Russian Orthodox church in 2000. (In orthodoxy, a passion-bearer is a saint who was not killed because of his faith like a martyr but died in faith at the hand of murderers.)

Execution of extended family

On July 18, 1918, the day after the killing at Yekaterinburg of the tsar and his family, members of the extended Russian imperial family met a brutal death by being killed near Alapayevsk by Bolsheviks. They included: Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich of Russia, Prince Ioann Konstantinovich of Russia, Prince Konstantin Konstantinovich of Russia, Prince Igor Konstantinovich of Russia and Prince Vladimir Pavlovich Paley, Grand Duke Sergei's secretary Varvara Yakovleva, and Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and elder sister of Tsarina Alexandra. Grand Duchess Elizabeth had departed her family following the 1905 assassination of her husband, Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, had donated all her wealth to the poor and became a nun, but was nonetheless killed.[6] In January 1919 revolutionary authorities executed Prince Dmitriy Konstantinovich, Prince Nikolai Mikhailovich, Prince Pavel Aleksandrovich, and Prince Georgiy Mikhailovich who had been held in the prison of Sts. Peter and Paul Fortress in Petrograd.[7]

The bodies were recovered from the mine by the White army in 1918, who arrived too late to rescue them. The bodies were placed in coffins and were moved around Russia during struggles between the White and the opposing Red Army. By 1920 the coffins were interred in a former Russian Mission in Beijing, now beneath a parking area. In 1981 Princess Elisabeth was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, and in 1992 by the Moscow Patriarchate. In 2006 representatives of the Romanov family were making plans to reinter the remains elsewhere.[8] The town is a place of pilgrimage to the memory of Elizabeth Romanov.

Remains of the Tsar

In 1991, the bodies of Nicholas II and his wife, along with three of their five children and four of their servants, were exhumed (although some questioned the authenticity of these bones despite DNA testing). Because two bodies were not present, many people believed that two Romanov children escaped the killings. There was much debate as to which two children's bodies were missing. A Russian scientist made photographic superimpositions and determined that Maria and Alexei were not accounted for. Later, an American scientist concluded from dental, vertebral, and other remnants that it was Anastasia and Alexei who were missing. Much mystery surrounded Anastasia's fate. Several films have been produced suggesting that she lived on. This of course has since been completely disproved with the discovery of the final Romanov children remains and extensive DNA testing that connected these remains with those of Nicholas II, his wife and three children.

After the bodies were exhumed in June 1991, they sat in laboratories until 1998, while there was a debate as to whether they should be reburied in Yekaterinburg or St. Petersburg. A commission eventually chose St. Petersburg. The remains were transferred with full military honor guard and accompanied by members of the Romanov family from Yekaterinburg to St. Petersburg. In St. Petersburg the remains on the imperial family were moved by a formal military honor guard cortege from the airport to the Sts. Peter and Paul Fortress where they (along with several loyal servants who were killed with them) were interred in a special chapel in the Peter and Paul Church near the tombs of their ancestors. President Boris Yeltsin attended the interment service on behalf of the Russian people.

Empress Maria Fedorovna

In September 2006, Empress Maria Fedorovna, the consort of Alexander III, was buried in the church of Sts. Peter and Paul beside her husband. Having fled Russia from the Crimea in 1919, thanks in part to her nephew, England's King George V, spent her remaining years in exile firstly in the United Kingdom with her sister elder sister, Queen Alexandra and later in her native Denmark mainly at Villa Hvidore. Upon her death in 1928 she was buried in Roskilde Cathedral, the burial site of members of the Danish Royal Family. The transfer of her remains in 2006 was accompanied by elaborate ceremonies, including at St. Isaac's officiated by the Patriarch Alexis II. Princes Dmitri and Prince Nicholas Romanov were present at the ceremony, along with Princess Catherine Ioannovna of Russia, daughter of Prince Ioann Konstantinovich of Russia. Other members of the Imperial Family present included the descendants of the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna including Prince Michael Andreevich of Russia the senior direct male descendant. Princess Catherine who was 90 years old at the time, and died in Montevideo Uruguay the following year, was the last member of the Imperial Family to be born before the fall of the dynasty, and was ultimately to become the last surviving uncontested dynasty of the Imperial House of Russia.


Late summer of 2007, a Russian archaeologist announced a discovery by one of his workers. The excavation uncovered the following items in the two pits which formed a "T": (#1) remains of 46 human bones fragments; (#2) bullet jackets from short barrel guns/pistols; (#3) wooden boxes which had deteriorated into fragments: (#4) pieces of ceramic which appear to be amphoras which were used as containers for acid; (#5) iron nails; (#6) iron angles: (#7) seven fragments of teeth; (#8) fragment of fabric of a garment. The area where the remains were found was near the old Koptyaki Road, under what appeared to be double bonfire sites about 70 km from the mass grave in Pigs Meadow near Yekaterinburg. The general directions were described in Yurovsky's memoirs, owned by his son, although no one is sure who wrote the notes on the page. The archaeologists said the bones are from a boy who was roughly between the ages of ten and thirteen years at the time of his death and of a young woman who was roughly between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three years old. Anastasia was seventeen years and one month old at the time of the murder, while Maria was nineteen years and one month old. Alexei would have been fourteen in two weeks' time. Alexei's elder sisters Olga and Tatiana were twenty-two and twenty-one years old at the time of the murder. The bones were found using metal detectors and metal rods as probes. Also, striped material was found that appeared to have been from a blue-and-white striped cloth; Alexei commonly wore a blue-and-white striped undershirt.

DNA Proof

On April 30, 2008, Russian forensic scientists announced that DNA testing proves that the remains belong to the Tsarevich Alexei and his sister Anastasia. DNA information, made public in July 2008, that has been obtained from Yekaterinburg and repeatedly subject to independent testing by laboratories such as the University of Massachusetts Medical School, USA, and reveals that the final two missing Romanov remains are indeed authentic and that the entire Romanov family housed in the Ipatiev House, Yekaterinburg were executed in the early hours of 17 July 1918. In March 2009, results of the DNA testing were published, confirming that the two bodies discovered in 2007 were those of Tsarevich Alexei and Anastasia.

Research on mitochondrial DNA was conducted in the American AFDIL and in European GMI laboratories. In comparison with the previous analyses mtdna in the area of Aleksandra Fyodorovna, positions 16519C, 524.1A and 524.2C were added. The DNA of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, a great-nephew of the last Tsarina, was used by forensic scientists to identify her body and those of her children.[9]

Verification of identification via a repeat analysis of Prince Philip's mtdna, to resolve apparent discrepancies between his genotype and those of the remains of the empress and her children, has not been conducted. Thus writer Michael Kirk (Great Britain) in 1998 put forward the version that Prince Philip wasn't the son of his putative mother (Princess Andrew of Greece), so mtdna couldn't be used in the comparative analysis for identification of the remains of Aleksandra Fiodorovna and her children. Some experts suggest analysis of other relatives in the female line, in particular of the Spanish Queen Sofia or her brother, the deposed King Constantine II of Greece.[10] As the repeated analysis of blood from Prince Philip wasn't carried out, there is a difference, and, so while repeated or other analysis on Prince Philip won't be carried out, legal identification of the remains of the Tsarina and her children will not be complete.

Romanov family jewelry

On August 28, 2009, a Swedish public news outlet reported that Romanov family jewelry, found in 2008 in the archives of the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, was returned. The jewelry was allegedly turned over to the Swedish embassy in St. Petersburg in November 1918 by Duchess Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin to keep it safe. The jewelry's worth was estimated to 20 million SEK (about 2.6 million US dollars).[11]

Contemporary Romanovs

There have been many theories regarding the possible survival of members of Nicholas II's family. However, recent research shows that all of the Tsar's children, including Tsesarevich Alexei and Grand Duchess Anastasia who had been thought to have escaped the Bolshevik attack, were killed.[12][13]

Some relatives survived, including Nicholas II's two sisters, Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna of Russia and Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia. Xenia's and Olga's descendants survive to this day. Cyril Vladimirovich, Grand Duke of Russia, a descendant of Alexander II of Russia, claimed the title Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias in 1924 and his descendant retains such claims. In addition the Romanov Family Association exists for most descendants of Emperor Paul I of Russia. Two branches of the Romanov family continue to feud over the question of succession. While the line accepted by the Romanov Family Association can lay claim to be the line of Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov, due to patrilineal descent, the current line from the descendants of Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovich can at best be called the line of Hohenzollern-Romanov, which would be an entirely new line from that from the days of Imperial Russia.


The Imperial Arms of the House of Romanov, which were restricted in use to the Emperor and certain members of the Imperial Family.

See also


External links

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