THE ROYAL HOUSE OF BAGRATION
Princess Leonida Bagration of Moukhrani, the wife of the Grand Duke Wladimir and mother of the Grand Duchess Maria, was a member of the Royal House of Bagration, which ruled the Kingdom of Georgia (now the Republic of Georgia) until 1801.
The tangled history of relations between the Romanoffs and the Bagrations and between Russia and Georgia is complicated and can only be analyzed very briefly in this introductory summary. A brief treatment is appropriate, however, because, in connection with his own dynastic claim, Nicholas Romanoff (1922-2014) has asserted incorrectly that the Bagrations are not a royal house.
The Bagrations, the oldest Christian dynasty of Europe, reigned as kings in Georgia from the 9th to the 19th centuries. In the 18th century, there were one Orthodox Christian empire and three Orthodox Christian kingdoms in Europe: the Russian empire under the Imperial House of Romanoff, the Kingdom of Kartli under the senior line of the Royal House of Bagration, the Kingdom of Kakheti under a junior line of the Royal House of Bagration, and the Kingdom of Imeretia under a third and even more junior line of the Royal House of Bagration.
The Bagrations, Princes of Moukhrani, the family of Grand Duke Wladimir’s spouse, were cadet members of the senior Kartli royal line. King Vakhtang VI of Kartli was overthrown by Muslim invaders and went into exile in Russia with his immediate family in 1724. Circa 1903, the last descendants of Vakhtang VI in the male line died out, and the Bagrations of Moukhrani became by primogeniture the senior princes both of the Kartli royal line and of the entire Bagration dynasty.
When King Vakhtang VI of Kartli (western Georgia) was overthrown, his Bagration kinsman still reigned as King of Kakheti (eastern Georgia). In 1744, King Theimouraz II of Kakheti expelled the Muslim occupiers from Kartli and took control of its territory and of Tblisi, its capital. His wife Queen Thamar (born Princess Thamar Bagration) was a daughter of King Vakhtang VI of Kartli. Their son, Irakly, a Bagration of Kakheti by his father and a Bagration of Kartli by his mother, then held the crown of both kingdoms, reigning from 1762 to 1798 as King Irakly II of Kartli and Kakheti, or, as he was also called, King of Georgia.
The Bagrations of Moukhrani, cadets of the Kartli line, had remained in Georgia after Vakhtang VI went into exile, and they were important members of the combined ruling dynasty of the united kingdoms. They were closely connected to King Irakly II, both by blood (through Irakly’s mother Thamar of the Kartli line) and by marriage. Irakly II’s son Crown Prince Vakhtang married Princess Kethevan Bagration of Moukhrani, and Irakly II’s daughter Princess Kethevan Thamar Bagration married Ivan Bagration, Prince of Moukhrani and head of the Moukhrani branch of the Kartli line. (The latter couple were the direct ancestors of Grand Duke Wladimir’s father-in-law, Prince George Bagration, who by 1946 had become the senior prince of the entire dynasty.)
In 1783, Russia and Georgia negotiated the Treaty of Georgievsk, a solemn treaty of friendship which went into effect the following year. The Russian negotiator was Catherine the Great’s favorite, Prince Potemkin. The Kartli negotiator was Irakly II’s son-in-law, Ivan Bagration, Prince of Moukhrani.
The Encyclopedia Britannica (1992 edition) has an article on the Treaty of Georgievsk of July 24, 1783 which states in relevant part:
“[A]greement concluded by Catherine II the Great…and Erekle [Irakly] II…by which Russia guaranteed Georgia's territorial integrity and the continuation of its reigning Bagratid dynasty in return for prerogatives in the conduct of Georgian foreign affairs…Under the terms of the treaty, Catherine and her heirs were to defend Georgia against enemies, and Erekle [Irakly] renounced dependence upon Iran or any other power. Though the treaty was to have permanent validity, Emperor Paul I's manifesto of Dec. 18, 1800, unilaterally declared the annexation of [Georgia] to Russia, and on Sept. 12, 1801, his successor, Alexander I, formally reaffirmed this determination.”
The following excerpts from the English translation of the treaty by the historian Dr. Russell Martin (Ph.D., Harvard University) are noteworthy:
“Since ancient times, the All-Russian Empire, on account of its same faith as the Georgian people, has served as the defense, support and refuge to the said [Georgian] people and to their Most Serene Sovereigns, against the oppression of their neighbors, to which they were susceptible… In this very situation, bowing to a request brought to Her Throne from the Most Serene Tsar of Kartli and Kakheti, Irakly II Theimourazovich [son of Theimouraz], to receive him with all his heirs and successors, and with all his Kingdoms and Regions in the Monarchical protection of Her Majesty and of Her August Heirs and Successors, with the recognition of the Supreme power of the All-Russian Emperors over the Kingdoms of Kartli and Kakheti, [Her] Most-Gracious [Majesty] consented to prepare and conclude a treaty of friendship with the aforementioned Most Serene Tsar…
Her Imperial Majesty, receiving from His Serene Highness this sincere and solemn promise, equally promises and reassures by means of Her Imperial word, on her own behalf and on that of her Successors, that their favor and protection shall never be withdrawn from the Most Serene Tsars of Kartli and Kakheti. In proof of which, Her Majesty gives Her Imperial guarantee of the territorial integrity of the present realm of His Serene Highness Tsar Irakly Theimourazovich,…
Her Imperial Majesty, having received with favor the recognition of Her supreme power and protection over the Kingdoms of Kartli and Kakheti, pledges in Her Own name and in that of Her Successors: … to preserve His Serene Highness Tsar Irakly Theimourazovich and the Heirs and descendants to his House, uninterrupted on the Throne of the Kingdom of Kartli and Kakheti;…
The present treaty is to remain in force forever; but in the case it shall be seen as necessary to change or amend it for the mutual benefit of [both signatories], such changes must be made by mutual consent.”
In 1798, old King Irakly II of Georgia, who viewed Russia as his closest ally, died. His son, King George XII of Georgia, succeeded, was formally recognized as king by Emperor Paul I, and died in 1800. George XII’s eldest son, Prince David Bagration, that is, Tsarevich David Georgievich of Georgia, whom Emperor Paul I had formally recognized in 1799 as heir to the Georgian crown in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty of Georgievsk, became regent. In 1801, in violation of the express terms of the Treaty of Georgievsk, Russia refused to recognize David as king, overthrew the centuries old Georgian monarchy, and absorbed Georgia into the Russian empire.
Queen Mariam of Georgia (widow of King George XII) and Dowager Queen Daria (widow of King Irakly II) tried unsuccessfully to protest the Russian annexation of Georgia. Queen Mariam with other members of the Georgian royal family was forcibly brought to Russia and was later confined in a Russian convent. Prince David Bagration, heir to the Georgian throne, was deported under military guard to Russia, where he lived out the remainder of his days, writing on numerous scholarly subjects and translating Voltaire into Georgian. George XII’s second eldest son Prince Ioane Bagration was also deported to Russia. The third surviving son of George XII, Prince Theimouraz Bagration, refused to accept the Russian annexation of his father’s kingdom. He fled to Persia and from 1804 to 1810 fought as a soldier of the Persian army in its war against Russia. He was taken into Russian custody in 1810 and also deported to Russia. All the brothers were accomplished scholars.
Despite the overthrow of the combined Kingdom of Kartli and Kakheti, or Kingdom of Georgia, in 1801, the third Bagration monarchy, the Kingdom of Imeretia, continued to reign under its Bagration sovereign, King Solomon II. He headed a junior line of the dynasty but was closely related to his Kartli and Kakheti kinsmen, because he was born of the marriage of his Bagration father to Princess Helene Bagration, a daughter of King Irakly II. In 1810, Russia also dethroned Solomon II and absorbed his kingdom. Fleeing into exile when Russia annexed Imeretia, King Solomon II tried to enlist the support of Napoleonic France to wrest his kingdom back from Russia.
Prince Alexander Bagration, a son of King Irakly II and half-brother of King George XII, was fiercely anti-Russian. In 1801, pursued by Russian troops, he escaped to Persia. Beginning in 1804, he fought alongside Persian troops in their war against Russia. In 1812, having returned to Georgia and having seized Kakheti at the head of a large armed force, he claimed the Georgian crown. But he could not hold Kakheti against the Russian counterattack of 1813, and he fled again from Georgia. He was involved in planning several royalist uprisings in Georgia over the years, the last one being the failed 1832 plot to restore the Bagrations.
Another son of King George XII, Prince Okropir Bagration, born in 1795, was removed as a child to Russia, but as an adult became a leader of the clandestine Georgian monarchist movement. As part of the same 1832 plot to restore the Bagration monarchy, he traveled to Georgia in 1830. In 1832, shortly before the planned coup, he and other conspirators were arrested, and he was sent into internal exile in Russia.
In other words, the Bagrations, having reigned in Georgia for nearly ten centuries, did not leave their homeland happily, and their supporters did not give up quietly. This stubborn Georgian resistance bred Russian hostility. Russia’s goal was to russify Georgia and blend it into the empire. There would be only one tsar reigning in the Caucasus, and it was to be the Romanoff tsar, not the Bagration tsar. The monarchist resistance in Georgia was crushed, and the inconvenient Bagrations were, so to speak, put in their place. In the early years of exile in Russia, the sons of King George XII had been accorded royal status. The former regent and heir to the Georgian throne, Prince David Bagration, was called by the royal title of tsarevich during his years of exile in Russia. By the 1830s, however, this royal recognition of the sons of George XII had been withdrawn, the Treaty of Georgievsk had been forgotten, and Russia began to treat the Bagrations as mere titled nobility and subjects.
In 1911, Prince Constantine Bagration of Moukhrani, a member of what had by then become the senior line of the Bagration royal house of Kartli, and thus the senior branch of the entire Bagration dynasty, married a member of the Russian Imperial House, Princess Tatiana of Russia, a daughter of Grand Duke Constantine of Russia. This was the first of three 20th century marriages between Bagrations and other European royal houses. As recounted by the couple’s only son (the late Prince Theimouraz Bagration), Emperor Nicholas II, who attended the wedding, suggested that the groom sign the marriage register as Prince of Georgia. At the time of their engagement in 1910, Princess Tatiana’s father, Grand Duke Constantine, in his diary entry of Tuesday, November 30, 1910, described the conversation his wife had with Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra in respect of the impending marriage:
“…My wife was invited for tea with Their Majesties at Tsarskoe Selo. Having returned from there to Pavlovsk, she told me that the Empress had reacted with more leniency than the Emperor about Tatiana’s intentions. They both told my wife that they would not look on her wedding with Bagration as morganatic in view of the fact that he, like the members of the House of Orléans, is a descendant of a once-ruling dynasty. The Emperor even said that T[atiana] would not lose her annual stipend from the Office of Apanages. The Emp[ress] found it unnecessary to wait until the end of the year, but my wife, citing my views on the matter, countered that it was necessary to wait so that both were quite sure of their feelings..”
Nonetheless, despite Nicholas II’s private assurance to the mother of the bride, no official steps were taken to declare this an equal marriage. Less than four years after the marriage, the groom was killed in action as a Russian Army officer in 1915. Less than two years after his death, the Romanoffs joined the Bagrations as a dethroned dynasty.
In 1946, Prince Irakly Bagration of Moukhrani, the elder brother of Leonida, married Infante Maria Mercedes of Spain. Because the Spanish dynasty also had an equal marriage rule, and because Georgia had been incorporated into the Russian Empire in the 19th century, the Infanta’s father, Infante Ferdinand, wrote to the Grand Duke Wladimir to ask whether he, as head of the Russian dynasty, considered the Bagrations to be of equal royal birth. The Grand Duke issued the following document:
"Act of the Head of the Imperial House, 5th December 1946: His Royal Highness the Infante don Ferdinand [of Spain]…, when his daughter the Infanta Maria Mercedes was about to contract a marriage with Prince Irakly Bagration of Moukhrani, asked me whether…I could consider the proposed marriage to be an equal one. My reply, which was conveyed to the Infante through the intermediary of the Spanish minister in Berne, the Conde de Bailen, was in the affirmative, in as much as, after prolonged and diligent study of the history of Georgia and the Georgian question, and after consulting my uncle, His Imperial Highness Grand Duke Andrew, brother of my late Father,…I consider it right and proper to recognise the royal status of the senior branch of the Bagration family, as well as the right of the members to bear the title of Prince of Georgia and the style of Royal Highness. The present head of the family is Prince George. If Almighty God, in His Mercy, allows the rebirth of our great empire, I consider it right that the Georgian language should be restored for use in the internal administration of Georgia and in her educational establishments. The Russian language should be obligatory for general relations within the Empire. (Signed) Wladimir.”
As the only person entitled to interpret the meaning and application of the equal marriage rule of the Russian dynasty, the Grand Duke Wladimir in 1946 made a pronouncement that was definitive and binding on the dynasty he headed. He based his pronouncement on the simple fact that the Bagrations, like the Romanoffs, were a dethroned royal dynasty. Thus, his marriage to Princess Leonida Bagration two years later in 1948 became the only equal marriage contracted by a male dynast since the fall of the monarchy in 1917.
The late historian, Prince Cyril Toumanoff, and others have pointed out the absurdity of trying to suggest that the ancient Bagrations, who reigned as kings until the 19th century, are not of “equal birth”, when one considers some of the formerly reigning families deemed to be of equal birth for marriage purposes, such as the roughly forty “mediatized” families which, as rulers of various former co-states of the Holy Roman Empire, had lost sovereignty by 1806 and had never ruled as kings but only as reigning princes, dukes or counts, as well as deposed dynasties like the royal house of Montenegro, which exercised secular sovereignty only from the 1850s and reigned as kings only from 1910 to 1918.
The status of the Bagrations as a sovereign house dethroned in the 19th century was a matter of historical fact. Why then did the Infante Ferdinand of Spain ask the Head of the Russian Imperial House about their royal status? The Spanish dynasty is an offshoot of the Royal House of Bourbon, and the Infante would certainly not have posed a similar question about the royal status of various branches of the Bourbon dynasty which had lost sovereignty in the 19th century, including the formerly sovereign houses of France (1830), of Parma (1859), and of the Two Sicilies (1860), as well as the Orléans dynasty of France (1848). His question no doubt was prompted by the manner in which, beginning in the 1830s, the Romanoffs had sought to reduce the Bagrations to the status of mere Russian nobles, in furtherance of Russia’s efforts to engender Georgian loyalty to the new Romanoff tsars of the Caucasus rather than to the old Bagration tsars. The late Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk, the Scottish lawyer and nobiliary expert, would have none of this and viewed the 1946 declaration as unnecessary. He once wrote:
“[The] Bagration…dynasty had reigned in the male line as Kings from 886 until the 19th century, before the 17th century boyar family of Romanoff dispossessed them. Both Bagration and Romanoff are now equally dispossessed: which needs the official recognition of which?”
When in 1946 the Grand Duke Wladimir, as Head of the Imperial House, formally confirmed that the Imperial House recognized the Bagrations of Moukhrani as a deposed royal dynasty and as being of equal birth, his pronouncement may have seemed rather abstract to some, because nobody was alive who remembered Georgia as a monarchy under the Bagrations. The collapse of the Soviet Union, however, made the pronouncement suddenly less abstract. Georgia again became an independent state in 1991 and reasserted its cultural and historical traditions.
A Georgian monarchist movement quickly coalesced around Prince George Iraklievich Bagration of Moukhrani (1944-2008), head of the senior Kartli royal line and senior prince of the entire Bagration dynasty. In 1995, he escorted from Spain to Tblisi the remains of his grandfather(Grand Duke Wladimir’s father-in-law) Prince George Bagration, head of the royal dynasty until his death in 1957, for burial in the crypt of the Georgian kings, after a liturgy sung by the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church and attended by the President of Georgia.
In 2007, the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia II, publicly called for restoration of a Bagration monarchy as a guarantor of national unity and independence. It had been thought by many that the junior Kakheti royal line of Bagration, direct descendants of King George XII, had died out in the male line during the Soviet period. In the 1980s, during the period of Glasnost, it was established that there were indeed several males of this line who had survived Stalinism and the Soviet Union. This line is likely to die out in the male line in due course, however, because none of the three surviving princes of this line, all now older than age 60, has a son. The current head of the Kakheti line is Prince Nugzar Bagration (born 1950). A question then arose as to whether various monarchist groups preferred George, head of the senior Kartli royal line of the Bagrations, or Nugzar, head of the junior Kakheti royal line.
In 2009, Prince David Bagration (b. 1976 in Spain), son and successor of the late head of the Kartli line (Prince George Bagration of Moukhrani, died 2008), having become a Georgian citizen, married Princess Anna Bagration (b. 1976 in Georgia), elder child of the head of the Kakheti line (Prince Nugzar Bagration, who has no son), in Tblisi. Their infant son, Prince George Bagration, was born in Spain in September 2011. Like his forebear King Irakly II, this child unites through his parents both royal lines. In due course, given a long life, he is likely to become through his father the head of the senior royal line of Kartli and through his mother the heir-general of the current head of the junior royal line of Kakheti. Through his father, he is related to Bagration émigrés who fled from Georgia to the West after the revolution and intermarried with the Russian and Spanish royal houses. Through his mother, he descends from Bagrations who remained in Georgia after the revolution and survived the Soviet dictatorship. With a Georgian mother and maternal relatives born in Tblisi, he will presumably speak fluent Georgian and be closely connected with his country. It seems unlikely that the restoration called for by the Georgian patriarch could ever happen, especially as two centuries have passed since the overthrow of the Georgian monarchy in 1801. But to the extent a monarchist movement gathers strength in Georgia in future years, it is likely to revolve around this young child.
Meantime, the uneasy relationship between Georgia and Russia has continued to the present day. In 2008, the two countries fought a war and broke off diplomatic relations. In April 2012, in a diplomatic note forwarded via the Swiss embassy because diplomatic relations remain officially broken, the Georgian Foreign Ministry protested Russian construction plans that would result in the destruction of a cemetery in Moscow containing royal Bagration graves. The last chapter in this complicated history has yet to be written.
In the Treaty of Georgievsk, Catherine the Great gave her word that Russia would recognize the royal status of the Bagrations and keep them on their throne forever. Due to power politics, this treaty provision was violated during the reigns of her son Paul I and her grandson Alexander I. In the reign of her grandson Nicholas I, following the monarchist uprisings of the 1830s in Georgia, Russia ceased treating the sons of King George XII of Georgia living in Russia as royal princes, even though their former royal status was a matter of historical fact. Catherine II’s great-great-great-grandson and heir Nicholas II, perhaps mindful of this history, made a private comment acknowledging the royal status of the Bagrations at the time of the first Romanoff-Bagration wedding in 1911. But it was her great-great-great-great-grandson and heir Grand Duke Wladimir who in 1946 gave effect to the underlying spirit of mutual respect between the two dynasties that was a key purpose of the treaty.
 This Introductory Summary is taken from the essay The Russian Succession in 2013, Simplified, which appears elsewhere on this website and is used with permission.
 Ella Matonina, editor, Zagadka K.R.: Iz dnevnikov velikogo kniazia K.K. Romanova (Diaries of Grand Duke Constantine Constantinovich), November 30, 1910 entry, Moscow (1994, no. 2): 174.
 Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk, 11th Bart., Ph.D., LL.B., Albany Herald, "The Social Recognition of Titles of Honour”, published in Royalty, Peerage & Nobility of the World (London, 1976), pp. 663-667.