At times it is very difficult to distinguish the belonging to a Family, who once reigned, from the possibility of its members to claim a potential succession to a throne, which no longer exists. * * * *
In various kingdoms the succession to a throne has at times caused violent confrontations between branches of a reigning family, occasionally bordering on civil war. This could in some way be understood, but not in the case of Families who lost their thrones throughout the vicissitudes of the past two centuries and who, since then, having lost most of their political importance and a good part of their wealth, yet seemed to have remained deeply involved in questioning each other's claims to a throne that no longer exists.
Immediately after the succession to the Throne of Russia, Emperor Paul I promulgated the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire of which Section 2 was the Establishment of the Imperial Family as contained in Articles 126 to 223. The rights to succession to the Throne of Russia were clearly regulated in Articles 126 to 182, while Articles 183 to 188 dealt with marriages and their various aspects and consequences.
For ease of reading, henceforth, I will refer to the "Establishment of the Imperial Family" as the Pauline Laws. During the reign of Emperor Paul (1796-1801), the matter of succession to the Throne was relatively simple, as the Imperial Family of Russia numbered 4 Grand Dukes and 10 Grand Duchesses, issued from the Emperor's marriage with Princess Marie of Württemberg. Inspired by a Germanic understanding of Equality of Rank, for all future generations a sine-qua-non condition for having the right to claim the Throne of Russia was an absolute compliance with the Pauline Laws, which included the obligation of the bride to belong to the Russian Orthodox Faith at the time of the wedding. At first, the Pauline Laws worked without great difficulties. One Grand Duke entered into an unsuitable Unequal Rank marriage after divorcing his first wife. However, having renounced his rights to the Throne, he cleared the way to the succession of his younger brother Nicholas. In the same period, there were several children born out of wedlock, but the Pauline Laws ensured that these could not claim any rights at all.
During the reigns of Emperors Nicholas I, Alexander II, Alexander III and Nicholas II, 5 Grand Dukes, Alexis Alexandrovich, Nicholas Constantinovich, Michael Michailovich, Paul Alexandrovich and Michael Alexandrovich married not in conformity with the Pauline Laws (Article 188 of the 1906 edition of the Pauline Laws), and 5 other Grand Dukes: Wladimir Alexandrovich, Serge Alexandrovich, Constantine Constantinovich and Kirill Wladimirovich married not in complete compliance with the Pauline Laws, as the obligation for the bride to belong to the Russian Orthodox Faith at the time of their wedding was not observed (Article 185 of the 1906 edition of the Pauline Laws).
After the death of his wife, Empress Maria Alexandrovna, Emperor Alexander II married Princess Catherine Dolgorukij. Prior to their wedding and out of wedlock, Catherine Dolgorukij had already given the Emperor several children who were then granted the title of Princes Yurjevsky, but whose absence of any rights to succession to the Throne of Russia was clearly dealt with by the Pauline Laws. During the period of the reign of Emperor Alexander II, several children were born out of wedlock to some Grand Dukes but, as in the previous cases, the situation arising from such births was easily dealt with by the Pauline Laws.
As for the female members of the Imperial Family, the Pauline Laws made it clear that their rights to the Throne of Russia could be considered only in the absolute absence of male members of the Imperial Family of Russia to succeed according to the Pauline Laws. By 1911, the Imperial Family of Russia had grown in numbers, counting 25 Grand Dukes and Princes but also 14 Grand Duchesses and Princesses. All of whom, when marrying, were obliged to conform to the Pauline Laws.
Marriages for a great number of young Grand Dukes and Princes, some of whom had much older relatives in the Family, making the search of a bride for an Equal Rank marriage far more difficult because these Romanovs hardly represented interesting "catches" for foreign families or were already far too closely related, almost to the dangerous point of inbreeding. For male members of the Imperial Family of Russia, the search for a suitable bride was not made easier by the fact that most princesses professing the Roman Catholic Faith would refuse to convert to the Russian Orthodox Faith as required by the Pauline Laws.
At this point, it is interesting to consider which foreign families, without being Sovereign or Reigning were considered of Equal Rank. Besides the truly Reigning Families, many German and Austrian Families came to be considered of Equal Rank and were known as "Mediatized", being listed in the then prestigious Almanach de Gotha in a special section of the Almanach in a group separate from that of the Sovereign and Reigning Families, but not to be confounded with the mass of other Princely or Ducal European Families. Even today, the list of Mediatized families includes families of great historical and political importance, such as the Arenberg, Croy, Fürstenberg, Ligne and Sayn-Wittgenstein, just to mention a few, but also others such as the Counts Függer von Babenhausen, Pappenheim, von Quadt-zu-Wykradt and Isny, Neipperg or Schlitz genannt von Görtz, who may have been of significance in Germany and Austria-Hungary, but surely not in Russia.
From the point of view of a twentieth century Russian, less and less bound by Germanic Dynastic traditions, it appeared ridiculous that a Russian Grand Duke could take as a bride a Countess Függer von Babenhausen, but not a Princess Obolensky!
With the young generation of Princes and Princesses growing up, the problem of marriages became an actual worry. A partial solution was found in 1911 when the Pauline Laws were amended (11 August 1911, Decree nº1489) maintaining the obligation to seek Equal Rank spouses only to Grand Dukes and Grand Duchesses, freeing Princes and Princesses from that obligation. As for Equal Rank marriages, this remained the obligation of obtaining the agreement of the Sovereign to a marriage. Such were the cases of Princess Tatiana Constantinovna, who in 1911 married Prince Constantine Bagration-Moukhransky, and Princess Irina Alexandrovna, who married Prince Felix Youssupov in 1914, both with the unequivocal agreement of the Sovereign. Prior to giving his agreement, the Sovereign requested from the two Princesses that they renounce any right to the Throne of Russia for themselves and their issues. Both Princesses would bear the family name of their husbands, but conserving the title and styling of Princess of the Blood Imperial, and Highness.
The requested renunciation of any right to the Throne of Russia of the two Princesses proved that without such renunciation their descendants would have inherited rights to the Succession to the Throne of Russia. Only one Prince of the Blood Imperial was married before the abdication of Emperor Nicholas II. Since his bride was a Princess of Equal Rank, there is no reliable precedent to make light on the kind of decision the Sovereign would have taken in a situation in which the intended bride of a Prince of the Blood Imperial would have been of Unequal Rank. It is reasonable to think that it would have been in line with the decisions taken in the case of the two Princesses.
The important point is that the descendants of marriages authorized by the Sovereign, but of Unequal Rank, would lose their rights to succession only if their parent, upon request of the Sovereign had renounced his rights to the succession to the Throne of Russia while remaining fully members of the Imperial Family.
At the time of the start of the World War I there was already a current of thought among the younger Romanovs that their service to Russia need not be exclusively in the military field, but also that it was time to jettison the obsolete purely Germanic group of Mediatized families and create a purely Russian equivalent. Considered of "Equal Rank" would be the most outstanding and purely Russian Rurikid families such as: Baryatinsky, Belosselsky-Belozersky, Dolgoruky, Gagarin, Lobanov-Rostovsky, Obolensky, Odoevsky, Repnin and Tatishtchev. Also considered would be esteemed families who, just as the Romanov family (Zaharjin-Yurjev), descended from the same forefather, Andrey Kobyla: the Babarykin, Kolychev, Konovnitzin, Lodyginsky, Lopukhin, Neplujev and Sheremetev families.
And finally families who had given wives to the Tsars of Russia and Muscovy such as Apraxin, Grushetsky, Miloslavsky, Naryshkin, Saltykov, Sobakin, Streshnev, Tcherkassky, and possibly a few others.
Strictly applying the Pauline Laws as amended in 1911 to all marriages of Equal Rank, the situation is very clear. At the present time, not one of the Emperors or Grand Dukes of Russia has left living descendants with unchallengeable rights to the Throne of Russia. As for the Grand Duchesses and Princesses of Russia, when marrying a foreigner of Equal Rank, even a prince of a Reigning Family, they were obliged to renounce their and their issue's rights to the succession to the Throne of Russia. We now have numerous Princes and Princesses of the Blood Imperial, and we have therefore an Imperial Family, in which there is not one member with unchallengeable rights to the Throne of Russia according to the Pauline Laws.
There is much discussion in and outside of the Family about the rights to the Throne of Russia, but the real question is whether the Russian Federation now needs a monarchy. The question is left to individual opinions. It is certainly a positive sign that there is so much interest in Russia in the historic past of the Romanov Family, but this is not a guarantee that a monarchic system could be beneficial to Russia either today or in the distant future. The choice of a new monarchy has to be left to the people of Russia, a choice that must not necessarily be of a hereditary monarchy, but might also be of an elective one.
We, the Romanov Family, exist.
However, our presence in Russia must not give occasions to some doubtful monarchists to show themselves, paying unsolicited servile homage or trying to resuscitate pompous and obsolete behaviour patterns, seeking honours, orders and titles of a non-retrievable era. Falling into a Russia-wide ridicule is a constant risk.
To conclude, I firmly believe that we all, members of the Imperial Family of Russia, have to limit ourselves as Romanovs to be a proud historical link with a past, which no great nation can ever forfeit.
God Save Russia!
20 March 2010
More information about the Romanoff Family can be obtained by consulting
the books listed under "Updated Select Bibliography