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Régions du monde > Russia > Romanov Part 1
Romanov Part 1
Published by EF041008 on 2010/10/19
  Romanov Part 1
Whenever people speak of Imperial Russian, inevitably they think of the rich, influential and imperial dynasty of the Romanovs.

It began in 1613 with the Zemski Sobor’s election of a 16 year-old boy named Mikhail Romanov. His grandfather, a boyar named Nikita Romanov, was the brother of the first wife of Ivan the Terrible.










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Whenever people speak of Imperial Russian, inevitably they think of the rich, influential and imperial dynasty of the Romanovs.

It began in 1613 with the Zemski Sobor’s election of a 16 year-old boy named Mikhail Romanov. His grandfather, a boyar named Nikita Romanov, was the brother of the first wife of Ivan the Terrible.

Mikhail the 1st established order in a country that had been at war with Poland. He consolidated the State, tightened finances, launched ore extraction projects and created the first manufacturing.

His first wife died prematurely. He remarried, and with his second wife Eudoxia Strechneva, he had 10 children. One of his sons, Alexei, inherited the throne and became the first tsar to unite “Little Russia” (meaning, the Ukraine) with “Great Russia.” Although open by nature (he was called “Alexei the Gentle”), he was able to govern the country with an iron fist. He established the first ukases and legalized slavery.

After thirteen children with Eudoxia, he had another three with yet another wife, including Peter, who in turn became tsar of Russia starting in 1682. He went on to become Peter the Great.

Peter was a powerful, active, quick and energetic man. After the openings to the East and to the Orient achieved by his predecessor, Peter turned more toward the West, first the Baltic Sea and then the Black Sea, by capturing the Azov Sea from the Ottomans.


                            
                       
©-The State historical-cultural museum-preserve “The Moscow Kremlin” 
                             "Imperial Saint Petersbourg, de Pierre le Grand à Catherine II" 

 
He wished to extricate Russia from its “Byzantine” orthodoxy and usher his country into the European Renaissance. To achieve this, he traveled a great deal, often incognito, especially to Holland. But during one of these trips, an attempt was made to overthrow him and put his half-sister (whom he had himself overthrown) back in his place. This was called the Revolt of the Streltsy (the imperial guards of Russia).

While on his way to Venice, he returned to Moscow and crushed the rebellion with extreme firmness. He tortured and imprisoned his enemies, and he locked up his wife Eudoxia Lupukine, whom he suspected of plotting against him. She was sent to a monastery, and he divorced her, remarrying a Lithuanian named Catherine, who was a former washerwoman captured by the Russians.

He wished not to be troubled by rebellious individuals while his own ambitions were so vast. He began by proclaiming a ukase that banned beards in a direct attack at the Church, which he judged to be too anchored in the past. It was a sign to remind the church that henceforth it would have to submit to the State.

                   
    


He created a powerful military force both on land and at sea, based on the Prussian model. He entered his country into European diplomatic negotiations. In 1703, to make his mark on the North, he built the city that would bear his name, St. Petersburg. He even joined in the building efforts of the first house.

The city was created under frenzied conditions, with forced emigrant labor and arbitrary nominations. Moscow was in turmoil! A fire in 1706 miraculously spared the powder kegs of the citadel. Construction in wood was halted, and from then on new buildings were made from stone.

Still, Peter was overbearing. His vision was always oversized, and he couldn’t stand mediocrity, especially from his own children. His legitimate heir Alexei did not measure up to his manic grandiosity. Their drama was played out to very end, when the ill-loved son was condemned by a tribunal headed by his own father. Alexei was tortured in the presence of his father, and whipped until he was dead…or almost…his suffering ended when he was put to death in secret.

                      

But the death of this legitimate son would be followed by the death of Catherine’s son, and so it was to the tsarina that the keys to power were turned over in 1721. However, shortly after making her the Empress of Russia, he discovered that she had betrayed him with her secretary. Drunk with rage, he had the man decapitated and then delivered his head to Catherine the 1rst’s chamber. The tsarina calmly resisted. She maintained her title until his death a short time later.

Peter the Great’s successor went on to relocate the center of power back to Moscow, leaving St. Petersburg gradually abandoned. The heirs of the great tsar were not brilliant scholars, but little by little, Russia managed to take a seat at the European diplomatic table.

Peter the 2nd married Catherine, an erudite reader of Macchiavelli. But the marriage was a failure, and she took a lover named Gregory Orlov, whose child she was carrying! The baby was born in secret, and a plot against the tsar began. She succeeded in overthrowing him and became the Tsarina. Peter the 3rd was arrested and was most likely killed in prison.

It was with considerable fanfare that Catherine the 2nd entered into the European dance of great powers. She was the first Tsarina without a single drop of Slavic blood in her ancestry. Never mind! She still asked doctors for a blood transfusion. She was a pragmatic woman!

She was also a woman of excessive vigor, and her sexual appetite matched that vigor. She loved men of intelligence, men who could help her, and preferably younger men. She is quoted as saying “I am pursuing the interests of the State by training young men.”

These men fought for her at sea, like Alexei Orlov, in Greece and Potemkin, fighting the Turks. They carried her to the title of Catherine the Great, thanks to their many victories.
She brought St. Petersburg back into fashion, because in her opinion Moscow was too slow and lazy. 

               Jewels of the Romanovs: Family & Court    Moscow: Splendor of the Romanovs

She established a serious policy for purchasing paintings to contribute to the power and authority of the Hermitage museum. Raphaël, Veronese, Rubens, Watteau, Lorain…all the canvasses of these great painters arrived in St. Petersburg.

Catherine was influenced by the thinkers of the Enlightenment, including Diderot, whom she invited to St. Petersburg, and Voltaire. She founded educational institutions, for example the Smolny Institute for young girls from noble families on the Neva. She was a patron of learned societies and schools. But culture and amusements were not left behind. She was a lover of the opera, the theatre and spectacles too.

When Revolutionary events were taking place in France, Russia took the side of the European monarchies. Russia feared that this revolution would come and attack the Empire’s own foundations. Revolution was called the “French plague” and the freemasons were said to be responsible for the disturbance.

Catherine, so outward in her thinking and so passionate for the arts, failed to take care of the home front. The nobility was certainly strengthened during her reign, but slavery still hadn’t been abolished. There was still much work to be done.

However, the reign of Catherine the 2nd is still considered to be a golden age for Russia, and Catherine is considered to have been an astonishing Empress.
 

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