Royal family of Tsar Nicholas II, 1913
After enduring for so long, what made the Romanov dynasty vulnerable to come tumbling down exactly a hundred years ago? Prior to that, they were one of the longest-lasting ruling families in Europe, a distinction shared with such houses as the Hapsburgs in Austria and the Hohenzollerns in Prussia.
Over a period of more than three centuries, Romanovs oversaw and accelerated the expansion of the weak and floundering tsardom of Muscovy into the majestic and proud Russian Empire. From a nation that was hardly considered a part of Europe by the Romanovs’ royal peers on the continent, Russia flowered culturally as well as politically under tsars, emperors, and empresses. Rejected socially by other ruling dynasties, by the 18th century Romanovs were able to marry into ducal houses in Germany, and by the 19th century, they married into the haughtiest royal families of all Europe.
Historian George Munro examines the policies of the rulers most responsible for the dynasty’s success in its first two centuries in power, looking especially at the contributions of Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, and Alexander I. He turns to the policies in the 19th-century that maintained the empire among the world’s first-rank powers, and explores the factors that slowly began to erode the empire’s control and led to its ultimate tragic loss of power. Finally, he looks at the ways contemporary Russia is reevaluating the rule of the Romanovs after many years of total rejection.
Munro is a professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University with a specialty in Russia.