The New International Encyclopædia/Biron, Ernest John
BIRON, bē'rṓn, Ernest John, Duke of Courland (1690-1772). A Russian statesman. He was the son of a landed proprietor of the name of Bühren. Through Bestuzheff-Ryumin, who befriended him, he obtained the favor of Anna Ivanovna, who was called to the Russian throne in 1730. The Council of the Empire attempted to secure from her an aristocratic constitution, but she crushed remorselessly the powerful nobility, notably the Dolgorukis and the Galitsins, and made her lover, Biron, who had adopted this French name in place of that of Bühren, her chamberlain and practical ruler of the Empire. Rambaud describes him “as a large, handsome man, uneducated, loving only his horses; a superb lackey, morally as evil and vindictive as his mistress.” His enemies and rivals were swept out of the way, while the poor people were ground down by taxation. The Russians have described this reign as the Bironorachina and the ‘German yoke.’ He is said to have caused over a thousand executions, while the number of persons exiled by him to Siberia is estimated at from twenty to forty thousand. His revengeful severity is said to have exceeded that of his unscrupulous mistress. As an administrator, however, he showed considerable ability, and maintained order in the Empire. The Duchy of Courland, in which Biron was born, was then in dispute between Poland and Russia. Anna conferred the duchy upon Biron, and Russian armies were employed to place on the Polish throne Augustus III., Elector of Saxony, who had promised the investiture of Courland for Biron. The Emperor Charles VI., subordinating everything to his Pragmatic Sanction, readily countenanced these violent acts, and the King of Prussia was bought by certain territorial concessions. In 1737, therefore, the nobles of Courland were obliged to confirm Anna's appointment, and in 1739 the investiture took place at Warsaw by authority of the Polish King and Senate. The Empress died in October, 1740, and Biron, under her will, assumed the regency in the name of the infant Emperor Ivan VI. Field-Marshal Münnich, who during the past reign had supported Biron, but who saw that he was to receive slight recognition now, set on foot a conspiracy, the result of which was the exile of Biron to Pelim, in Siberia. A second palace revolution occurred soon after, and the new Empress, Elizabeth Petrovna, banished Münnich and permitted Biron to take up his residence at Yaroslav. After Elizabeth's death, his duchy was restored to him by Catharine II. He died September 28, 1772.
Consult: Ruehl, Geschichte E. J. von Birons (1764); Rambaud, Russia, Vol. II.; Lavisse et Rambaud, Histoire générale (Paris, 1893-1901); “Lettres d'Anna Ivanovna,” in L'Archive Russe, Vols. II. and III. (Moscow, 1873-77) and Les antiquités russes (Moscow, 1884); Halem, Lebensbeschreibung des russischen General-Feldmarschalls Münnich (Oldenburg, 1803).