Littell's Living Age/Volume 145/Issue 1880/The Dynasty of the Romanoffs

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Having escaped shotguns, daggers and dynamite, the emperor of all the Russias is, at latest accounts, menaced with the poison-cup. It is a tough dynasty, the Romanoffs, and Alexander appears to be one of its toughest representatives. As far back as 1613, this great dynasty was founded. In that year an assembly of the States met on the twenty-first of February to elect a czar; and after a full discussion of many claims, Michael Romanov, a youth of sixteen (son of Feodor Romanov, a noble of Russian extraction and metropolitan of Kostif), was crowned czar of Russia, July 10, 1613. After him reigned Alexis Romanoff, under the title of Alexis I. Then followed the short reign of Ivan I., who was succeeded by Peter the Great, who ascended the throne in 1689, at the age of eighteen. Intrigues and insurrections had troubled the young czar’s minority, but he at last freed himself from the rule of an ambitious sister, and assumed, in reality as well as in name, the direction of the state. He had married, when only seventeen, a Russian lady, Eudoxia Lapuchin, from whom he was divorced three years later. The prince Alexis, the only son of this marriage, grew up under the guardianship of his weak and bigoted mother. He was much under the influence of the party who were in opposition to the czar Peter, and he was finally accused of conspiracy against his father. The czar required him either to make a thorough reformation in his life, or to retire to a monastery. At the end of six months’ trial, Alexis left Russia under pretence of joining the czar Peter at Copenhagen; but instead of doing so, he fled to Vienna. He was forced, however, to return to Moscow. The clergy, the chief officers of State, and the chief nobility, were convened, and Alexis, being brought before them as a prisoner, acknowledged himself unworthy of the succession, which he resigned, entreating only that his life might be spared. A declaration was then read on the part of the czar, reciting the various offences of which his son had been guilty, and ending with the solemn exclusion of him from the throne, and the nomination of his infant son by the empress Catherine as the future emperor. Not content with what had been done, Peter determined to extract from Alexis the names of his accomplices and advisers, and for nearly five months the unhappy young man was harassed by constant interrogations. By the laws of Russia a father had power of life and death over his child. On July 5, 1718, the czar Peter and the assembly pronounced Alexis deserving of death, and on the next day but one he died. His death was a violent one, and the remorse of Peter the Great in after years is well known. Between the reigns of the empress Catherine I. and empress Elizabeth, there reigned Peter II. and Ivan VI. Ivan V. was dethroned and imprisoned at the fortress of Schlenerburg, where he died a lingering death. The Russian succession has been marked by a series of usurpations and murders; the two Alexanders having been the only two czars who succeeded their fathers. The czar Peter, the grandson of Peter the Great, married the daughter of Prince Christian Frederic, of Anhalt Domberg. On her marriage she took the name of Catherine Alexiewina. Even before the death of the empress Elizabeth, which took place in 1762, she had conspired to supplant her husband on the throne; and he had hardly reigned six months before she organized the revolution that led him to a prison and his grave. She appealed to the imperial regiments of the Guards, telling them that the czar intended to kill her and her son.

The czar, when arrested, confused and terrified, consulted neither his safety nor his honor. He surrendered himself, and was killed by Orloff, an officer in the guards. Catherine, before the end of the same day, was proclaimed sovereign of all the Russias under the title of Catherine II. Her son, the Emperor Paul, who succeeded her, was murdered in 1808. Then came the reign of the czar Nicholas. He was succeeded by his son Alexander I. This brings us to the present czar of Russia, Alexander II., who in 1861, freed the serfs. This act was received with great rejoicing at St. Petersburg. Immense crowds filled the streets and surrounded the Winter Palace, and a cry of joy arose from regenerated Russia. Of late years the popularity of the czar has greatly diminished; yet he has been more lenient towards his people than were the czars from whom he is descended. Russia has always been despotically governed. Some account has lately been given of the number of Russian nobles who are imprisoned or exiled from Russia, and those also who are in Siberia. This number is possibly much exaggerated. The plots of the Nihilists, the intrigues in higher quarters, have now reached their height. The Cossack and Tartar blood shows itself. Should the czar Alexander be some day assassinated, there is his son the czarowitz, who married the Princess Dagmar of Denmark, and his three sons. Next in succession to them would come the grand duke Vladimar. The grand duke Alexis, who has twice visited America, is the third son of the czar. The grand dukes Serge and Paul come next in the imperial line of succession. And although the Nihilists and disaffected parties in Russia may have their day, like other evils, yet the extinction of the dynasty of the Romanoffs will not be easily compassed.