Empresses of All Russia – Anna

(public domain)

The future empress Anna was born in Moscow as the daughter of Tsar Ivan V and Praskovia Saltykova. Her father was the elder half-brother of Peter the Great, who was his co-ruler as he was considered mentally disabled. She had four other sisters, of which only two others survived to adulthood. Anna was the second surviving daughter. After her father’s death in 1696, Peter succeeded her father as sole ruler.

Anna’s education consisted of languages, religion, folklore, music and dancing. She and her family were eventually ordered to move to St. Petersburg and Anna flourished at court. In 1710 her marriage to Frederick William, Duke of Courland was arranged. She was just 17 years old. It was a great feast. They spent a few weeks in Russia before returning to Courland. Tragedy struck on the way back when Frederick William died suddenly. Anna proceeded to the capital of Courland, which now lies in Latvia, and personally ruled it for almost twenty years, as regent. She never remarried, but instead, there were rumours of a relationship with Ernst Johann von Biron.

In 1730 her native land suffered a succession crisis with the death of Tsar Peter II, a grandson of Peter the Great. Possible candidates for the throne were her elder sister Catherine, herself, her younger sister Paskovya and the two surviving daughters of Peter the Great, Anna and Elizabeth. It could be said that the daughters of Ivan, the elder brother, should have a superior right.

Eventually, the Russian Supreme Privy Council selected Anna to be the new Empress of Russia. This ignored the rights of her elder sister, Catherine, who was even present in Russia at the time. The reasons for choosing Anna were clear, she was a childless widow and as such, had no foreign husband who could pose a threat and she had experience in government. Catherine was separated from her husband, Karl Leopold, Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, which in itself was a scandal and his very existence could raise problems. They also had a daughter, Anna Leopoldovna, which provided for a sure succession, which at the time they would rather not have had.

Anna was convinced to sign a declaration of conditions, which stated she had to govern according to their counsel, she was not permitted to start a war, call for peace or create new taxes. She dutifully signed the conditions while still in Courland, but promptly repudiated them upon her arrival in Russia. She was to be an absolute monarch.

Her coronation took place on 28 April 1730. Biron had moved with her to Russia (and his wife too!), and he was appointed Great Chamberlain and was made a count.  Anna ruled Russia for almost 11 years. She enjoyed keeping a circus of ‘freaks’ and fools and her reign became known as the “reign of Biron”.
Anna knew she needed an heir and she nominated her niece, 13-year-old Anna Leopoldovna, the daughter of her sister Catherine who had died in 1733, as opposed to the popular Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great. Anna Leopoldovna was considered “neither handsome nor genteel”. With the succession settled, Anna could return to her fun. In 1740 Anna Leopoldovna produced the longed-for male heir and just in time too. Anna fainted at a dinner on 5 October 1740 and could no longer pass urine by the 15th. She had not specified whether Anna Leopoldovna or her son was now the heir and if it was the son, who was to be regent. Anna died on 28 October 1740, murmuring “Never fear, never fear”.
Biron announced the Empress’ last wishes; he was to be regent for the infant Emperor Ivan VI. There was plenty for Anna Leopoldovna to fear.
Recommended media
Sebag Montefiore, Simon (2016) The Romanovs: 1613-1918 (UK & US)

About Moniek Bloks 2698 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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