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Emperor of Russia

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Emperor and Autocrat of all Russia
Император и Самодержец Всероссийский
Imperial Standard
Last to Reign
Nicholas II
1 November 1894 – 15 March 1917
StyleHis/Her Imperial Majesty
First monarchPeter I
Last monarchNicholas II
Formation2 November 1721
Abolition15 March 1917
ResidencesWinter Palace
Moscow Kremlin
Peterhof Palace
Catherine Palace
Alexander Palace

The emperor and autocrat of all Russia[1] (Russian: Император и Самодержец Всероссийский),[a] also translated as emperor and autocrat of all the Russias,[2] was the official title of the Russian monarch from 1721 to 1917.

The title originated in connection with Russia's victory in the Great Northern War (1700–1721) and appeared as an adaptation of the tsar's title under the accepted system of titling in Europe. The title was transformed from the previous title of tsar and grand prince of all Russia. The old title tsar (or tsaritsa) continued to be popularly used to refer to the emperor (or empress) until the monarchy was abolished in 1917.


Article 1 of the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire stated that "the Emperor of All Russia is an autocratic and unrestricted monarch. To obey his supreme authority, not only out of fear but out of conscience as well, God himself commands".[3]

The full title of the emperor in the 20th century (Art. 37 of the Fundamental Laws) was:

By the Grace of God, We, NN, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, Moscow, Kiev, Vladimir, Novgorod; Tsar of Kazan, Tsar of Astrakhan, Tsar of Poland, Tsar of Siberia, Tsar of Chersonese Taurian, Tsar of Georgia; Lord of Pskov and Grand Prince of Smolensk, Lithuania, Volhynia, Podolia, Finland; Prince of Estland, Livland, Courland, Semigalia, Samogitia, Belostok, Karelia, Tver, Yugra, Perm, Vyatka, Bolgar and others; Lord and Grand Prince of Nizhny Novgorod, Chernigov, Ryazan, Polotsk, Rostov, Yaroslavl, Beloozero, Udoria, Obdoria, Kondia, Vitebsk, Mstislav, and all of the northern countries Master; and Lord of Iberia, Kartli, and Kabardia lands and Armenian provinces; hereditary Sovereign and ruler of the Circassian and Mountainous Princes and of others; Lord of Turkestan; Heir of Norway; Duke of Schleswig-Holstein, Stormarn, Dithmarschen, and Oldenburg, and others, and others, and others.[4]

Tsarist autocracy[edit]

The tsar himself, the embodiment of sovereign authority, stood at the center of the tsarist autocracy, with full power over the state and its people.[5] The autocrat delegated power to persons and institutions acting on his orders, and within the limits of his laws, for the common good of all Russia.[5] The tsar was metaphorically a father and all of his subjects were his children; this metaphor even appeared in Orthodox primers,[6] and is remembered in the common Russian expression "царь-батюшка" tsar-batyushka ("tsar-dear father").

Furthermore, contrary to the movement for separation of church and state in West European monarchies, the Russian Empire combined monarchy with the supreme authority on religious issues (see Church reform of Peter I and caesaropapism for details).

Another key feature related to patrimonialism. In Russia, the tsar owned a much higher proportion of the state (lands, enterprises, etc.) than did Western monarchs.[7][8][9][10][11][12]

The tsarist autocracy had many supporters within Russia. Major Russian advocates and theorists of the autocracy included writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky,[13][14] Mikhail Katkov,[15] Konstantin Aksakov,[16] Nikolay Karamzin,[14] Konstantin Pobedonostsev[13][5] and Pyotr Semyonov. They all argued that a strong and prosperous Russia needed a strong tsar and that philosophies of republicanism and liberal democracy were alien to it.[13]


Regalia of the Emperor

Peter I realized the need to secure the position of Russia within the European states system, including the importance of securing recognition from the Holy Roman Emperor of the equality of the titles of tsar and emperor.[17] Following his victory at the Battle of Poltava, Peter I brought up the question of the title of emperor to the Viennese court.[17] In 1717, Peter I defended his right to use the title of imperator, using the letter from Maximilian I to Vasily III to support his claim.[18]

The title of Emperor of all Russia was introduced for Peter the Great. After his victory in the Great Northern War and the signing the Treaty of Nystad in September 1721, the Senate and Synod decided to award Peter with the title of Emperor of all Russia with the following statement: "in the manner of the Roman Senate for the noble cause of emperors such titles publicly given them as a gift and into statues for the everlasting generations inscribed".

On this 20th day of October, after a consultation of the Senate together with the Holy Synod accepted the intention, to his majesty, in the testimony of a proper gratitude for his high grace and paternalism and effort which he for the welfare of state in all his glorious time of ruling and especially during the past Swedish War, deigned to manifest, and all-Russian state in such a strong and good fortune, and his people subjected to such fame over the whole world through his unique ruling led, as that to all quite known, by the name of all the Russian people to ask, so graciously to accept, following the example of others, from them title: the Father of the Fatherland, the Emperor of All Russia, Peter the Great ...

— Laws of the Russian Empire at Large. Vol.VI. No.3840

On November 2, 1721, Peter I accepted the title. The Dutch Republic and Kingdom of Prussia immediately recognized the new title of the Russian monarch, followed by the Kingdom of Sweden in 1723, the Ottoman Empire in 1739, the United Kingdom and Austria in 1742,[b] the Holy Roman Empire, the Kingdom of France and Spain in 1745, and finally the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1764. From then on, the Russian state was referred to as the Russian Empire.

On February 16, 1722, Peter I issued the Decree of Succession by which he abolished the old custom of passing the throne to the direct descendants in the male line, but allowed the appointment of an heir through any decent person, at the will of the monarch.

Coronation ceremony[edit]

Coronations in the Russian Empire involved a highly developed religious ceremony in which the emperor was crowned and invested with regalia, then anointed with chrism and formally blessed by the church to commence his reign. Although the grand princes of Moscow had been crowned prior to the reign of Ivan III (r. 1462–1505), their coronation rituals assumed overt Byzantine overtones as the result of the influence of Ivan's wife Sophia Paleologue, and the imperial ambitions of his grandson, Ivan IV.[19]

The modern coronation style, introducing "European-style" elements, replaced the previous "crowning" ceremony and was first used for Catherine I in 1724.[20][21] Since tsarist Russia claimed to be the "Third Rome" and the successor to Byzantium,[22] the Russian rite was designed to link its rulers and prerogatives to those of the so-called "Second Rome" (Constantinople).[23]

While months or even years could pass between the initial accession of the sovereign and the performance of this ritual, church policy held that the monarch must be anointed and crowned according to the Orthodox rite to have a successful tenure.[24] As the church and state were essentially one in Imperial Russia, this service invested the tsars with political legitimacy; however, this was not its only intent. It was equally perceived as conferring a genuine spiritual benefit that mystically wedded sovereign to subjects, bestowing divine authority upon the new ruler. As such, it was similar in purpose to other European coronation ceremonies from the medieval period.

Even when the imperial capital was located at St. Petersburg (1713–1728, 1732–1917), Russian coronations were always held in Moscow at the Cathedral of the Dormition in the Kremlin. The last coronation service in Russia was held on 26 May 1896 for Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra Feodorovna, who would be the final emperor and empresses of Russia. The Russian Imperial regalia survived the subsequent Russian Revolution and the Soviet period, and are currently on exhibit at the Diamond Fund in the Kremlin Armoury.

List of emperors[edit]

Emperors of Russia - lifespan age (1721–1918)
NameLifespanReign startReign endNotesFamilyImage

Peter I
  • Пётр Вели́кий
    Peter the Great
9 June 1672

8 February 1725
as a tsar:
2 June 1682
as an emperor:
2 November 1721
8 February 1725Son of Alexis I and Natalya Naryshkina
Younger brother of Sophia Alekseyevna, Feodor III and Ivan V
He ruled jointly with Ivan V
Regarded as one of the greatest Russian monarchs

Catherine I
  • Екатери́на I Алексе́евна
15 April 1684

17 May 1727
8 February 172517 May 1727Wife of Peter ISkavronsky [ru] (by birth)
Romanov (by marriage)

Peter II
  • Пётр II Алексеевич
23 October 1715

30 January 1730
18 May 172730 January 1730Grandson of Peter I via the murdered Tsesarevich Alexei. Last of the direct male Romanov line.Romanov

  • Анна Иоанновна
7 February 1693

28 October 1740
15 February 173028 October 1740Daughter of Ivan VRomanov

Ivan VI
  • Иван VI
23 August 1740

16 July 1764
28 October 17406 December 1741Great-grandson of Ivan V
Deposed as a baby, imprisoned and later murdered
Mecklenburg-Brunswick-Romanov [ru]

  • Елизаве́та
29 December 1709

5 January 1762
6 December 17415 January 1762Daughter of Peter I and Catherine I, usurped the throne.Romanov

Peter III
  • Пётр III Фёдорович
21 February 1728

17 July 1762
9 January 17629 July 1762Grandson of Peter I
Nephew of Elizabeth

Catherine II
  • Екатерина Алексеевна
    Catherine the Great
2 May 1729

17 November 1796
9 July 176217 November 1796Wife of Peter IIIAscania (by birth)
Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov (by marriage)

Paul I
  • Па́вел I Петро́вич
1 October 1754

23 March 1801
17 November 179623 March 1801Son of Peter III and Catherine II

Alexander I
  • Александр Павлович
23 December 1777

1 December 1825
23 March 18011 December 1825Son of Paul I and Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg
First Romanov King of Poland and Grand Prince of Finland

Nicholas I
  • Николай I Павлович
6 July 1796

2 March 1855
1 December 18252 March 1855Son of Paul I and Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg
Younger brother of Alexander I and Constantine Pavlovich

Alexander II
  • Алекса́ндр II Никола́евич
29 April 1818

13 March 1881
2 March 185513 March 1881Son of Nicholas I and Alexandra Feodrovna
Nephew of Alexander I

Alexander III
  • Алекса́ндр III Алекса́ндрович
10 March 1845

1 November 1894
13 March 18811 November 1894Son of Alexander II and Maria AlexandrovnaHolstein-Gottorp-Romanov

Nicholas II
  • Николай II Алекса́ндрович
18 May 1868

17 July 1918
1 November 189415 March 1917Son of Alexander III and Maria Feodorovna
Abdicated the throne during the February Revolution
Executed by the Bolsheviks

Nicholas II abdicated in favour of his brother, Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, but the next day, after a nominal reign of only 18 hours, "Emperor Michael II" declined power, ending dynastic rule in Russia.

See List of leaders of Russia for the continuation of leadership.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In pre-1918 orthography: Императоръ и Самодержецъ Всероссійскій, Императрица и Самодержица Всероссійская.
  2. ^ Vienna initially refused to accept the title, but eventually conceded after the letter was deemed to be genuine.[17]


  1. ^ Ferro, Marc (1995). Nicholas II: Last of the Tsars. Oxford University Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-19-509382-7.
  2. ^ Stone, Bailey (2014). The Anatomy of Revolution Revisited: A Comparative Analysis of England, France, and Russia. Cambridge University Press. p. 65. ISBN 978-1-107-04572-9.
  3. ^ "Chapter One On the Essence of Supreme Sovereign Power, Article 7." Archived 2018-09-05 at the Wayback Machine, Russian Imperial House: Official site of the Romanov Dynasty. Retrieved 26 June 2019.
  4. ^ "On the Title of His Imperial Majesty and the State Coat of Arms", Russian Imperial House: Official site of the Romanov Dynasty. Retrieved 26 June 2019.
  5. ^ a b c Stephen J. Lee Russia and the USSR, 1855–1991: Autocracy and Dictatorship, Routledge, 2006. ISBN 0-415-33577-9, Google Print, p.1-3
  6. ^ Robert D. Crews, For Prophet and Tsar: Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia, Harvard University Press, 2006, ISBN 0-674-02164-9, Google Print, p.77
  7. ^ Deborah Goodwin, Matthew Midlane, Negotiation in International Conflict: Understanding Persuasion, Taylor & Francis, 2002, ISBN 0-7146-8193-8, Google Print, p.158
  8. ^ Nicolas Spulber, Russia's Economic Transitions: From Late Tsarism to the New Millennium, Cambridge University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-521-81699-8, Google Print, p.27-28
  9. ^ Reinhard Bendix, Max Weber: An Intellectual Portrait, the University of California Press, 1977, ISBN 0-520-03194-6, Google Print, p.356-358
  10. ^ Richard Pipes, Russian Conservatism and Its Critics: A Study in Political Culture, Yale University Press, 2007, ISBN 0-300-12269-1, Google Print, p.181
  11. ^ Catherine J. Danks, Russian Politics and Society: An Introduction, Pearson Education, 2001, ISBN 0-582-47300-4, Google Print, p.21
  12. ^ Stefan Hedlund, Russian Path Dependence: A People with a Troubled History, Routledge, 2005, ISBN 0-415-35400-5, Google Print, p.161
  13. ^ a b c Peter Viereck, Conservative Thinkers: From John Adams to Winston Churchill, Transaction Publishers, 2005, ISBN 1-4128-0526-0, Google Print, pp. 84–86
  14. ^ a b James Patrick Scanlan, Dostoevsky the Thinker: A Philosophical Study, Cornell University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-8014-3994-9, Google Print, p.171-172
  15. ^ Richard Pipes, Russian Conservatism and Its Critics: A Study in Political Culture, Yale University Press, 2007, ISBN 0-300-12269-1, Google Print, p.124
  16. ^ Nicolai N. Petro, The Rebirth of Russian Democracy: An Interpretation of Political Culture, Harvard University Press, 1995, ISBN 0-674-75001-2, Google Print, p.90
  17. ^ a b c Madariaga, Isabel de (2014). Politics and culture in eighteenth-century Russia: collected essays. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. pp. 25–32. ISBN 9781317881902.
  18. ^ Massie, Robert K. (1991). Peter the Great: His Life and World. Wings Books. ISBN 978-0-517-06483-2.
  19. ^ Muscovy, Sections "The Evolution of the Russian Aristocracy" and "Ivan IV". For crownings of earlier rulers of Muscovy, see Alfred Rambaugh Rambaud on the Rise of the Grand Princes of Moscow Archived 2012-02-06 at the Wayback Machine.
  20. ^ Wortman, Richard S. (2006). Scenarios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy from Peter the Great to the Abdication of Nicholas II. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9781400849697.
  21. ^ "Museums of the Moscow Kremlin: ASSUMPTION CATHEDRAL".
  22. ^ Moscow the Third Rome[full citation needed]. See also Moscow Becomes the Third Rome.
  23. ^ Wortman, pg. 10. A political theory prevalent amongst many Orthodox Russians into the twentieth century postulated that there were three "Romes": the first (Rome) had allegedly apostatized from true Christianity after the Great Schism of 1054 between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy; the second (Constantinople) had equally apostatized by accepting Roman Catholicism at the Council of Florence and had subsequently fallen to the Turks; Moscow and "Holy Russia" were the third Rome, and (according to this doctrine) "a fourth there shall never be". A History of Russia, Chapter 1: Medieval Russia, Section "Ivan the Great".
  24. ^ New York Times, May 31, 1896. Quoted in Wortman, Introduction. See also Blech, Annalise, The Russian Orthodox Church: History and Influence Archived 2012-10-18 at the Wayback Machine, University of Texas at Austin, 2008, pg. 9.

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