IS THE ISSUE OF WHO HEADS THE RUSSIAN DYNASTY A COMPLICATED SUBJECT OR A SIMPLE ONE?
One of our readers believes the issue is a simple one. The Russian Legitimist does not normally publish the e-mails and letters we receive, but this 2017 letter caught our attention.
I am not a Russian, but I find the subject of monarchy interesting. Your website has published articles on the Russian succession by various scholars, and I have enjoyed reading them. The level of scholarship is suitably impressive, but, with all due respect to these scholars, I have concluded that the subject is really much simpler than these articles might indicate. I shall try to summarize my understanding of the topic very briefly, confining myself to points taken directly from the articles on your website.
The Russian dynasty, like numerous Germanic dynasties, has an equal marriage law. An equal marriage or dynastic marriage occurred when a male of the Russian dynasty married a royal princess of a sovereign house. The eventual children would members of the dynasty. When a male of the Russian dynasty did not marry a royal princess of a sovereign house but instead married a commoner, the union was called an unequal, non-dynastic or morganatic marriage. The children were not members of the dynasty. They often had names like Yurievsky, Paley and Ilyinsky.
In the decades after the abdication of Nicholas II in 1917, the surviving males of the dynasty entered into dozens of non-dynastic morganatic marriages. These marriages resulted in numerous children who were not members of the dynasty. Many of these children used the surname of Romanov, something that in imperial Russia would not have been permitted to morganatic descendants.
The exception to all these morganatic marriages was Grand Duke Vladimir, head of the dynasty from 1938 to 1992. He deemed his marriage to a Bagration princess from Georgia’s former royal house to be an equal marriage, and he therefore deemed his daughter Grand Duchess Maria to be a member of his dynasty. Due to all the morganatic marriages, and until her own son was born in 1981, Grand Duchess Maria had the distinction of being the only member of the Russian dynasty to be born after 1917.
Your articles convincingly make the point that, in every dynasty that has or had an equal marriage rule, the head of the dynasty is the only person who alone has the right to decide whether a marriage satisfies the dynastic laws. He also alone has the right to exempt a given marriage from the rules. You provided several examples of the decision of a dynastic head to exempt a member of his dynasty from the equal marriage rule, so that wives and children who would otherwise be morganatic had full royal rank. The exiled Emperor William II recognized a commoner daughter-in-law and her children as full members of the Prussian dynasty, Crown Prince Rupprecht recognized a commoner daughter-in-law and her children as full members of the Bavarian dynasty, and Archduke Otto recognized his brother Rudolf’s commoner wife and her children as members of the Austrian dynasty. At the time, each of these dynasties had an equal marriage law.
Your articles also explain at some length that Vladimir had good reasons for deeming the Bagrations to be of royal birth: among them, the facts that the Bagrations were the former royal house of Georgia and in addition that Catherine the Great had made a treaty with the Bagration king of Georgia according to which Russia would always recognize the royal status of the Bagrations. And your website also seems to imply that, even if Vladimir had married a Miss Jones and had granted himself an exemption from the equal marriage rule, that would have been fine too. He as dynastic head was the sole person with the right to deem a marriage to be dynastic, and his decision would be final.
Maria’s grandfather, Grand Duke Kirill, became head of the Russian dynasty in 1918 because he was the most senior member of the dynasty to survive the Revolution. The three grand dukes more senior to him had all been assassinated. When Kirill died in 1938, his only son Grand Duke Vladimir succeeded him. In the 1920s, virtually all the men in the dynasty recognized Kirill as emperor and his son Vladimir as the heir. (The only exception was old Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevitch’s junior branch of the family, consisting of three males. Grand Duke Nicholas, who died without children in 1929, wanted to be the next tsar in the event of a restoration, even though he was far down in the line of succession. His brother and nephew also wanted him to be the next tsar.) In 1989 and 1992, the last two males of the dynasty died, and the succession passed to the female line, in the person of Grand Duchess Maria. This was in strict accordance with the succession laws instituted in the 1790s by Emperor Paul I, which provided that, should there be no more males in the dynasty, the succession would pass to that female in the line of succession who was most closely related to the last emperor. This is Grand Duchess Maria.
Again, with due respect to the authors of these lengthy essays and with apologies if I have incorrectly stated anything, I think these few paragraphs are more than a sufficient summary of the situation.
A closing comment, if you will permit me. The Austrian dynasty dropped its equal marriage rule in the 1990s, and the Spanish royal house dropped its rule around 2003. I happen to live under a monarchy that never had an equal marriage rule. In my opinion, it is a lot easier not to have an equal marriage rule.