May 01, 2013

Romanov Twilight

In Russia, the year 1913 was dedicated to celebrating the 300th anniversary of the House of Romanov. In 1613, the Zemsky Sobor (a parliamentary assembly limited to Muscovy’s three main “estates” – the nobility, the clergy, and townspeople) elected as tsar the young Mikhail Romanov – distantly related to the dynasty that had ended abruptly with the death of Ivan the Terrible’s son 15 years previous. Over the course of those 15 years, Russia had gone through a series of rulers and been plagued by conspiracies, coups, foreign invaders, and false pretenders before, at long last, a new dynasty was established. It was fated to rule Russia for 304 years.

Of course, in 1913, nobody knew that a mere four years remained before the Romanovs would be overthrown and just five before they would be physically annihilated. At that time, it was hard to imagine anything more immutable than tsarist power. The tumult of the 1905 revolution had passed, and there was a sense of optimism that most problems had been surmounted: reforms had been implemented, the Duma had introduced a measure of parliamentary democracy to the country, the economy was thriving, and Russian arts and culture were gaining international renown.

The Romanovs did indeed have cause for celebration. The festivities began in February, with the anniversary of Mikhail Fyodorovich’s election. And in May the royal family was to demonstrate its ties not only to St. Petersburg and Moscow, but to the vast Russian provinces. Nicholas II, together with his wife and children, set out on a sort of pilgrimage to sites that played a role in their ancestors’ ascent to the throne.

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