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Romanov Dynasty

1613 Michael Feodorovitch
1645 Alexis
1676 Feodor III
1682Ivan Vco-tsar
1682Peter I(the Great) Emperor in 1708
1725 Catherine I
1727 Peter II grandson of Peter I
1730 Anne daughter of Ivan V
1740 Ivan VI deposed
1741 Elizabeth

The autocracy survived the Time of Troubles and the rule of weak or corrupt tsars because of the strength of the government's central bureaucracy. Its functionaries continued to serve, regardless of the tsar's legitimacy or the boyar faction controlling the tsar. In the seventeenth century, this bureaucracy expanded dramatically. The number of government departments (prikazi) increased from twenty-two in 1613 to eighty by mid-century. Although the departments often had overlapping and conflicting jurisdictions, the central government, through provincial governors, controlled and regulated all social groups, trade, manufacturing, and even the Orthodox Church. The extent of state control of Russian society was demonstrated by the comprehensive legal code introduced in 1649.

The Romanovs traced their descent from Andrei Kolyla, who is said to have come to Moscow from Prussia about 1314. He entered the service of the Grand Duke Semen and acquired lands. His great-grandson, Sakhariya Ivanovich was a boyar of Vasilii V, Grand Duke of Moscow (1425-62). The family takes its name from his grandson, Roman, whose daughter Anastasia Romanovna, married Czar Ivan IV. The Romanovs were also connected with the ancient family of Rurik, through the marriage of Anastasia's brother with the Princess Eudoxia Alexandrovna, who was descended from the Grand Dukes of Suzdal-Vladimir. The Romanovs passed through a period of decline during the troubles which followed the death of Ivan IV the Terrible, but later recovered their fortunes. In 1610, Feodor was imprisoned by the King of Poland, but on account of his virtues and piety was held in high repute. He was released and made Patriarch of Moscow, and his son, Michael was elected Czar in 1613.

The most immediate task of Romanov rule was to restore order. Fortunately for Muscovy, its major enemies, Poland and Sweden, were in bitter conflict with each other, and Muscovy obtained peace with Sweden in 1617 and a truce with Poland in 1619. After an unsuccessful attempt to regain Smolensk from Poland in 1632, Muscovy made peace with Poland in 1634. The Polish king, who had been elected tsar during the Time of Troubles, renounced all claims to the title.

Mikhail Romanov was a weak monarch, and state affairs were actually in the hands of his father, Filaret, who in 1619 became patriarch of the Orthodox Church. The first sovereign of that dynasty, Michael, chose for his wife, the daughter of a man who was ploughing in the fields when intelligence reached him that he was father-in-law of the Czar (1613). Michael Romanoff, by his pacific and prudent policy, secured the prosperity of his dominions. After a reign of thirty-two years, he left the throne to Alexis.

Mikhail's son Alexis (1645-76), relied on a boyar, Boris Morozov, to run the government. Morozov abused his position by exploiting the populace, and in 1648, after an uprising in Moscow, he was dismissed. The comprehensive legal code introduced in 1649 illustrates the extent of state control over Russian society. By that time, the boyars had largely merged with the elite bureaucracy, who were obligatory servitors of the state, to form a new nobility, the dvoryanstvo. The state required service from both the old and the new nobility, primarily in the military. In return, they received land and peasants.

In the preceding century, the state had gradually curtailed peasants' rights to move from one landlord to another; the 1649 code officially attached peasants to their domicile. The state fully sanctioned serfdom, and runaway peasants became state fugitives. Landlords had complete power over their peasants and bought, sold, traded, and mortgaged them. Peasants living on state-owned land, however, were not considered serfs. They were organized into communes, which were responsible for taxes and other obligations. Like serfs, however, state peasants were attached to the land they farmed. Middle-class urban tradesmen and craftsmen were assessed taxes, and, like the serfs, they were forbidden to change residence. All segments of the population were subject to military levy and to special taxes. By chaining much of Muscovite society to specific domiciles, the legal code of 1649 curtailed movement and subordinated the people to the interests of the state.

Under this code, increased state taxes and regulations exacerbated the social discontent that had been simmering since the Time of Troubles. In the 1650s and 1660s, the number of peasant escapes increased dramatically. A favorite refuge was the Don River region, domain of the Don Cossacks. A major uprising occurred in the Volga region in 1670 and 1671. Stenka Razin, a Cossack who was from the Don River region, led a revolt that drew together wealthy Cossacks who were well established in the region and escaped serfs seeking free land. The unexpected uprising swept up the Volga River valley and even threatened Moscow. Tsarist troops finally defeated the rebels after they had occupied major cities along the Volga in an operation whose panache captured the imaginations of later generations of Russians. Razin was publicly tortured and executed.

Muscovy continued its territorial growth through the seventeenth century. In the southwest, it acquired eastern Ukraine, which had been under Polish rule. The Ukrainian Cossacks, warriors organized in military formations, lived in the frontier areas bordering Poland, the Tatar lands, and Muscovy. Although they had served in the Polish army as mercenaries, the Ukrainian Cossacks remained fiercely independent and staged a number of uprisings against the Poles. In 1648 most of Ukrainian society joined the Cossacks in a revolt because of the political, social, religious, and ethnic oppression suffered under Polish rule. After the Ukrainians had thrown off Polish rule, they needed military help to maintain their position. In 1654 the Ukrainian leader, Bogdan Khmel'nitskiy (Bohdan Khmel'nyts'kyy), offered to place Ukraine under the protection of the Muscovite tsar, Aleksey I, rather than under the Polish king. Aleksey's acceptance of this offer, which was ratified in the Treaty of Pereyaslavl', led to a protracted war between Poland and Muscovy. The Treaty of Andrusovo, which ended the war in 1667, split Ukraine along the Dnepr River, reuniting the western sector with Poland and leaving the eastern sector self-governing under the suzerainty of the tsar.

In the east, Muscovy had obtained western Siberia in the sixteenth century. From this base, merchants, traders, and explorers pushed eastward from the Ob' River to the Yenisey River, then to the Lena River. By the middle of the seventeenth century, Muscovites had reached the Amur River and the outskirts of the Chinese Empire. After a period of conflict with the Manchu Dynasty, Muscovy made peace with China in 1689. By the Treaty of Nerchinsk, Muscovy ceded its claims to the Amur Valley, but it gained access to the region east of Lake Baikal and the trade route to Beijing. Peace with China consolidated the initial breakthrough to the Pacific that had been made in the middle of the century.

Muscovy's southwestern expansion, particularly its incorporation of eastern Ukraine, had unintended consequences. Most Ukrainians were Orthodox, but their close contact with the Roman Catholic Polish Counter-Reformation also brought them Western intellectual currents. Through Kiev, Muscovy gained links to Polish and Central European influences and to the wider Orthodox world. Although the Ukrainian link stimulated creativity in many areas, it also undermined traditional Russian religious practices and culture. The Russian Orthodox Church discovered that its isolation from Constantinople had caused variations to creep into its liturgical books and practices. The Russian Orthodox patriarch, Nikon, was determined to bring the Russian texts back into conformity with the Greek originals. But Nikon encountered fierce opposition among the many Russians who viewed the corrections as improper foreign intrusions, or perhaps the work of the devil. When the Orthodox Church forced Nikon's reforms, a schism resulted in 1667. Those who did not accept the reforms came to be called the Old Believers (starovery ); they were officially pronounced heretics and were persecuted by the church and the state. The chief opposition figure, the archpriest Avvakum, was burned at the stake. The split subsequently became permanent, and many merchants and peasants joined the Old Believers.

The tsar's court also felt the impact of Ukraine and the West. Kiev was a major transmitter of new ideas and insight through the famed scholarly academy that Metropolitan Mogila (Mohyla) founded there in 1631. Among the results of this infusion of ideas into Muscovy were baroque architecture, literature, and icon painting. Other more direct channels to the West opened as international trade increased and more foreigners came to Muscovy. The tsar's court was interested in the West's more advanced technology, particularly when military applications were involved. By the end of the seventeenth century, Ukrainian, Polish, and West European penetration had undermined the Muscovite cultural synthesis--at least among the elite--and had prepared the way for an even more radical transformation.

Peter changed the rules of succession to the throne after he killed his own son, Aleksey, who had opposed his father's reforms and served as a rallying figure for antireform groups. A new law provided that the tsar would choose his own successor, but Peter failed to do so before his death in 1725. In the decades that followed, the absence of clear rules of succession left the monarchy open to intrigues, plots, coups, and countercoups. Henceforth, the crucial factor for obtaining the throne was the support of the elite palace guard in St. Petersburg.

After Peter's death, his wife, Catherine I, seized the throne. But when she died in 1727, Peter's grandson, Peter II, was crowned tsar. In 1730 Peter II succumbed to smallpox, and Anna, a daughter of Ivan V, who had been co-ruler with Peter, ascended the throne. The names of Anne and Biron, Duke of Courland, are inseparable. Her acts were, in a great measure, the result of his influence. Her reign was marked by her intrigues in Poland, her successful wars against Turkey and Tartary, and her unjustifiable invasion of the Crimea. The clique of nobles that put Anna on the throne attempted to impose various conditions on her. In her struggle against those restrictions, Anna had the support of other nobles who feared oligarchic rule more than autocracy. Thus the principle of autocracy continued to receive strong support despite chaotic struggles for the throne.

Anne adopted the daughter of her sister, the Duchess of Mecklenburg. This adopted child married Ulric, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbiittel, and their son was the unfortunate Ivan VI. Anna died in 1740, and her infant grandnephew was proclaimed tsar as Ivan VI.

After a series of coups, however, he was replaced (1740) by Peter the Great's daughter Elizabeth (r. 1741-62). Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great, wore the crown which she seized during twenty-one years. During Elizabeth's reign, which was much more effective than those of her immediate predecessors, a Westernized Russian culture began to emerge. Among notable cultural events were the founding of Moscow University (1755) and the Academy of Fine Arts (1757) and the emergence of Russia's first eminent scientist and scholar, Mikhail Lomonosov.

During the rule of Peter's successors, Russia took a more active role in European statecraft. From 1726 to 1761, Russia was allied with Austria against the Ottoman Empire, which France usually supported. In the War of Polish Succession (1733-35), Russia and Austria blocked the French candidate to the Polish throne. In a costly war with the Ottoman Empire (1734-39), Russia reacquired the port of Azov. Russia's greatest reach into Europe was during the Seven Years' War (1756-63), which was fought on three continents between Britain and France with numerous allies on both sides. In that war, Russia continued its alliance with Austria, but Austria shifted to an alliance with France against Prussia. In 1760 Russian forces were at the gates of Berlin. Fortunately for Prussia, Elizabeth died in 1762, and her successor, Peter III, allied Russia with Prussia because of his devotion to the Prussian emperor, Frederick the Great.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:15:42 ZULU