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Michael I, First Tsar of the Romanov Dynasty 1613

In 1613, a distant relative of the last Rurikid Tsars named Michael (born July 22, 1596) became the first Tsar of the Romanov Dynasty. In spite of his youth and inadequate education, the Tsar was able to usher in a period of stability with the help of his supporters. He was able to secure temporary peace with Sweden and Poland during his reign, as well as secure the title of tsar for his heirs by getting rid of pretenders to the throne.  These events are recorded on the Bible Timeline Online with World History during that time.

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Rurik, the Rus’, and the Long Road to the Romanovs

Around AD 862, a Varangian warrior named Rurik became the ruler of Eastern Slavs and the Finno-Ugrian tribes who lived near them. According to the Russian Primary Chronicle, Rurik came from a group of people called the Rus’. The Rus’ chieftain then commanded two other warriors named Askold and Dir to go to Constantinople. But the two men came upon the town of Kiev as they passed the Dnieper River on their way to Constantinople. They decided to stop by, but eventually settled in Kiev along with other Varangians. Askold and Dir later became the leaders of the town of Kiev.

Rurik died sometime later, and soon a representative named Oleg brought the former chieftain’s son named Igor with him to Kiev. He claimed the town for Igor and immediately had Askold and Dir executed. From then on, Rurik’s dynasty ruled the Kievan Rus’. Igor, Prince of Kiev, soon rose to some sort of prominence during his reign that he was able to secure a treaty with Constantinople. He died at the hands of the Drevlians, but was avenged by his warrior-queen Olga.

Olga ruled as her son’s regent after her husband’s death. She visited Constantinople during her reign and was warmly welcomed by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus. She converted to Christianity before she returned to Kiev and soon convinced her people to adopt the same religion. Her son, Svyatoslav, came of age in AD 963 and started to rule his people in his own right. He cast aside his mother’s religion and spent his reign subduing the neighboring peoples just like a proper Rus’ warrior. The Rurikid Dynasty ruled Kiev until AD 1125, but the kingdom soon broke apart into different principalities.

The Rus’ people were still fragmented when the Mongols swept into Europe during the early 13th century. After decimating the Rus’ army, the Mongols chased the survivors as far as Dnieper River and turned back when their leader felt that they had accomplished their mission. The Rus’ were given a brief reprieve when Genghis Khan died but they were once again overwhelmed when the Mongol horde returned around 1240.

The Mongol horde was led this time by one of Khan’s grandson Batu and the equally ferocious general Subotai. They took Moscow and Kiev, killing people and pillaging cities as they went. By the time worst of the carnage was over, the only independent Rus’ principality left was Novgorod. But even during the overlordship of Batu Khan and his descendants, the Grand Princes of Moscow still retained their dominance over all other Rus’ principalities.

The greater Mongol Empire crumbled in the middle of the 14th century and with it came the gradual disappearance of the Golden Horde’s power. The Grand Prince Ivan III was able to overthrow what remained of the Golden Horde and soon integrated the other Russian duchies into one state. His grandson, the famously ill-tempered Ivan IV (the Terrible), went on to become Russia’s first tsar in 1547. In a fit of rage, the tsar killed his own son and heir, Ivan Ivanovich, and left the empire to his younger son upon his death.

Ivan’s younger son Feodor I died childless in 1598 and became the last of the Rurikid Dynasty to rule Russia. His death plunged the empire into a succession crisis and ushered in the Times of Troubles (1598-1610). Five different men held the Russia’s throne until Michael, a 16-year old boy from the Romanov family, was crowned in 1613.

Michael Romanov

Life During the Times of Troubles

Michael I was the first Russian Tsar from the house of Romanov.

Michael (Mikhail) Feodorovich Romanov (born July 22, 1596) was the son of Feodor Nikitich Romanov by his wife Ksenia Shestova. His father was a decorated soldier and a nephew of Anastasia Romanovna, the first wife of Ivan IV (the Terrible). He became a boyar in 1583, and soon became a candidate to succeed upon the tsar’s death in 1598. But he and his family were driven out of Moscow as Russia descended into the Times of Troubles.

Both Feodor and Ksenia were forced to divorce, enter the monastic life, and go to distant monasteries separately. Feodor took the name Philaret, while the nun Ksenia took the name Martha. Their son Michael was then sent to Belozersk to be cared for by a relative. By 1605, a monk named Dmitry was crowned tsar of Russia. Backed by Poles and Cossacks, this False Dmitry soon recalled Philaret and appointed him the Metropolitan of Rostov. It was not long before Martha and Michael also joined Philaret at Rostov.

False Dmitry became unpopular when he married a Polish woman named Marina Mniszech. The pretender was killed soon after, but his wife and son were able to escape before the assassins caught up with them. Philaret, meanwhile, rose through the ranks when he was appointed patriarch during the reign of False Dmitry’s successor, Vasily IV. But he would not hold this position for long when he led the opposition against Vasily. The offended Tsar ordered him to go back to Rostov and reunite with his family.

Vasily soon faced a threat posed by the Second False Dmitry and his wife Marina Mniszech. Swedish troops took advantage of the chaos and swooped in to take Novgorod. Polish-Lithuanian troops also arrived and occupied western Russian cities. The boyars finally had enough, and they removed Vasily through a coup. The Second False Dmitry was forced to flee south with his wife and stepson in tow.

Philaret came back to Moscow and became an ambassador to the Polish king whose troops, by then, had occupied the Kremlin. The Patriarch initially wanted his son to become tsar but knew that the state needed an adult who could unite the Russians. He then agreed to support the accession of a Polish prince as tsar and traveled to Smolensk to negotiate the terms.

But the negotiations stalled when the Catholic prince refused to convert to Orthodoxy which was one of the conditions specified by the Russians for him to rule. The Poles seized and imprisoned the Patriarch, while Russia remained in chaos as Sweden launched a full-scale invasion. The Russians were able to drive the Swedes out, but they knew that their independence would always be threatened as long as they did not have a leader.

The First Romanov Tsar   

By 1613, the worst of the Times of Troubles had died down, so the Zemskii Sobor (Assembly of the Land) decided that it was time to rebuild the state with a new tsar at the helm. One name that stood out among the candidates was Michael’s, one of the distant relatives of the last Rurikid tsar. Because of his youth, Michael did not take part in the Times of Troubles, so was not tainted in their eyes. The boyars also thought that the 16-year old would be biddable enough so they could use him for their own gain.

On February 7, 1613, the representatives of the assembly elected Michael as the new tsar. They soon dispatched a delegation to summon him from the Ipatiev Monastery in Kostroma. Martha initially refused to let her son go to Moscow with the delegation as the Troubles was still fresh on her mind. Despite the mother’s reluctance, she was eventually convinced by the delegates that the tsardom was her son’s destiny.

Michael was crowned on July 21, 1613, at the Cathedral of Dormition. The inadequate education he received made him timid and easily swayed by his mother, her family, and the advisers who surrounded him. Despite his lackluster performance, Michael was able to score a couple of diplomatic victories early in his reign, namely the Treaty of Stolbova with Sweden (1617) and the Treaty of Deulino with Poland (1618). The peace of Deulino, however, came at a cost when Russia agreed to cede Smolensk to the Poles.

Michael’s father Philaret had been exiled to Poland during the Troubles, but he was immediately released when the Treaty of Deulino was signed. Philaret came home and resumed his role as Patriarch of Moscow in the same year. As Patriarch, he was essentially one of the most powerful men in the kingdom. Michael’s timid personality, however, ensured that his father played a larger role in ruling Russiaa tsar in a patriarch’s robes.

The Romanov family secured Michael’s path by getting rid of some holdovers from the Times of Troubles. These persons included the Second False Dmitry’s wife Marina Mniszech, her three-year old son, and the Cossack leader Ivan Zarutsky. False Dmitry’s son and Zarutsky were executed, while Marina Mniszech became a prisoner for the rest of her life.

Michael largely refrained from purging the state’s enemies. Some of the boyars who took part in the Troubles retained their influence, but Cossack patriots who supported the Romanov family were often sidelined. His reign was marked by relative stability, but the same could not be said of the early years of his personal life. His mother and her family became influential and soon meddled with his choice of a bride. Michael’s first wife died in 1625, and rumors soon swirled that she was poisoned by her mother-in-law. He married his second wife Eudoxia Streshneva in 1626 without much interference from his mother who soon fell from grace.

Michael and his wife had ten children, but only four survived to adulthood. These children included Irina (1627), Alexei (1629), Anna (1630), and Tatiana (1636). Michael reigned for 32 years and died on July 13, 1645.


Picture by: Anonymous, Public Domain, Link

 Montefiore, Simon Sebag. The Romanovs: 1613-1918. New York, Vintage Books, 2017.

Nestor the Chronicler. The Russian Primary Chronicle. Edited by Samuel H. Cross and Olgerd P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor, Cambridge, MA, The Mediaeval Academy of America, 1953.

Perrie, Maureen, ed. The Cambridge History of Russia. Vol. 1. The Cambridge History of Russia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. doi:10.1017/CHOL9780521812276.


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