Brien Purcell Horan

Copyright 2013 and 2014 by Brien Purcell Horan

Published with the permission of the author.



Grand Duchess Maria of Russia succeeded her father, the Grand Duke Wladimir, as head of the Russian Imperial House upon his death in April 1992.  Guy Sainty, the scholar of European dynasties, summed up the subject of the Russian succession well when he wrote, “The position of the Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna as Head of the Imperial House has been acknowledged by most serious Russian monarchist organizations and by most of those Heads of Royal Houses which continue to maintain relations with the Imperial House.”[1]  The heir of the Grand Duchess Maria is her only son, the Grand Duke George of Russia.  At present, they are the only living members of the Russian Imperial House.

In the run up to festivities planned in Russia in 2013 to mark the 400th anniversary of the accession of the House of Romanoff to the Russian throne, the purpose of this article is to simplify the succession issue.[2]  Because the Russian dynasty lost its throne nearly a century ago, there is only one way to establish who are the members of the dynasty today and who is its head:  that is, by analyzing the succession laws which governed the Imperial House from 1797, when Emperor Paul I instituted them, through the fall of the monarchy in 1917 to the present day.  In his Act of 4 April 1797 announcing the succession laws, Emperor Paul proclaimed, “…Having established the order of succession, I shall explain its aim, which is this:  that the State never be without a successor; that the successor be determined by the law itself; that there be not the slightest doubt as to the successor…”

The term “succession laws” refers to the State Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire on Succession to the Throne and the Statute of the Imperial Family.  A key provision of these dynastic laws, still in effect today, may strike some 21st century readers as old-fashioned.  In order to pass dynastic status to his children, a member of the Russian dynasty was required to marry a member of a royal or sovereign house.  Emperor Alexander I instituted this requirement in 1820, and successive emperors through Nicholas II enforced it strictly.  In exile, the Grand Dukes Kirill and Wladimir, successive heads of the dynasty from 1918 to 1992, fully recognized its binding effect.  The equal marriage rule first took root in the Habsburg dynasty of the Holy Roman Empire, and it still applies today to many formerly ruling dynasties of the old German Empire.  Until very recently it was closely enforced by the Spanish dynasty too, a legacy of Habsburg rule in Spain.  A union contracted by a Russian dynast with a royal princess was called an equal marriage.  The children of the marriage were members of the dynasty.  A marriage with a commoner, that is, a wife who was not a member of a reigning or formerly reigning dynasty, was described as a morganatic or unequal marriage. The children of the marriage were not members of the dynasty.

In summary, the issue of the headship of the Russian dynasty is inseparable from the succession laws, including their equal marriage requirement. In this respect, the words of the late historian Prince Cyril Toumanoff are appropriate:  “Monarchy, if it is true monarchy and not a caricature, is inseparable from Legitimacy. Legitimacy, in turn, means Legality, the faithful observance of both the spirit and the letter of the Law.  Law, finally, is above and independent of human practice.  Thus, Monarchical Legitimism must survive historical adversities, and the inalienable rights of a dynasty must continue to exist irrespective of whether that dynasty actually rules or has been forcibly prevented by historical circumstances from holding power.”[3]



On 1 January 1917, Emperor Nicholas II began the final weeks of his reign.  Those closest to him in the line of succession to the throne were his son, Tsesarevich Alexei (1st in line), his only living brother the Grand Duke Michael (2nd in line), and his senior first cousin, Grand Duke Kirill (3rd in line).

In a document dated 2 March 1917 at 3 p.m., Nicholas II abdicated on behalf of himself and his son Alexei and sought to pass the throne to his brother, Michael.  The emperor’s abdication on behalf of his minor son Alexei was technically invalid, because it did not comply with the succession laws.  A dynast had no legal right to waive or renounce the succession rights of a minor child who himself was a full member of the dynasty.  In the revolutionary chaos and violence of March 1917, however, one can understand a devoted father’s wish not to be separated from a son who suffered from haemophilia, an incurable and then nearly always fatal disease.  In any event, on 3 March 1917, the Grand Duke Michael declined to accept the throne.

The monarchy then fell.  Nicholas II and his family were made prisoners, as was the Grand Duke Michael.  Grand Duke Kirill and his family, including his pregnant wife (born Princess Victoria Melita of Edinburgh, a Princess of Great Britain and Ireland and a granddaughter of Queen Victoria), escaped from St. Petersburg to Finland, which had been part of the Russian empire and where they went into hiding.  Their only son, Prince Wladimir of Russia, was born there in August 1917. 

In June 1918, the Bolsheviks secretly executed Nicholas II’s brother Michael near Perm, Russia.  The following month, on 17 July 1918, Nicholas II and his family, including his son Alexei, were murdered in Ekaterinburg.

Under the succession laws, Grand Duke Kirill automatically succeeded on 17 July 1918 as head of the dynasty and, to legitimist Russian monarchists, as emperor. Article 53 of the Russian succession law states:  "On the demise of an emperor, his heir accedes to the Throne by virtue of the law of succession itself, which confers this right upon him.  The accession of an emperor to the Throne is counted from the day of the demise of his predecessor."  Due to conflicting information and rumors emanating from Russia, however, Kirill waited until 1924, when he finally became convinced that those senior to him had in fact been murdered, to proclaim himself emperor and head of the dynasty and to proclaim his only son, Wladimir, as the Grand Duke-Tsesarevich, that is, as his heir. 

Kirill’s 31 August/13 September 1924 succession proclamation saddened his aunt, the 76 year old Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, mother of Nicholas II.  Her reaction was not rooted in any objection to Kirill’s legal rights, which she acknowledged, but derived instead from her refusal until her death in 1928 to accept that her sons and grandson were dead. Writing to the Dowager Empress on 14 September 1924, the day after he had announced his assumption of the title of emperor, Kirill promised his aunt that he would step aside if her sons or grandson turned out to be alive:  “Should the miracle in which you believe occur and your beloved sons and grandson all be alive, then I will be the first to express my allegiance to my Legitimate Sovereign and will place at his feet all that I have accomplished…Don’t let me down in this difficult moment of my life such as none of our ancestors had to live through.[4]  Shortly afterwards, in a 1924 letter to Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolayevich of Russia, the Dowager Empress, while not disputing Kirill’s eventual succession rights, wrote:  “…There is no definite news up to now about the fate of my beloved sons and grandson.  I therefore consider the act of Grand Duke Kirill’s proclamation as premature.  Nobody is in the position to deprive me of the last gleam of hope…”

The Russian succession laws applicable to the dynasty from 1797 to the present specified that the right of succession passed first to male dynasts in order of primogeniture.  Should the male dynasts die out (which happened in 1992, when the last male dynast of the male line of the dynasty died), the succession would then pass to the female line.

18 Russian dynasts were murdered during the revolution (12 males and 6 females).[5]  When Kirill made his declaration of succession in 1924, there were 19 male dynasts who had survived the revolution and were still alive in the West.  They obviously were the individuals with the most direct interest in who the head of the Russian dynasty was.  In the 1920s, and especially in the months following the 1924 declaration, when there was still a belief that the Soviet regime might be of limited duration, 15 of these 19 male dynasts recognized Kirill as head of the dynasty and Wladimir, his only son, as Kirill’s heir.  Here is a list of the names of the 15 who supported Kirill as head of the dynasty and Wladimir as his heir, followed by their place in the line of succession as of 1924:

  • Grand Duke Kirill of Russia (1st in line)
  • Grand Duke Wladimir of Russia (2nd in line)
  • Grand Duke Boris of Russia (3rd in line)
  • Grand Duke Andrew Wladimirovich of Russia (4th in line)
  • Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovich of Russia (5th in line)
  • Prince Vsevolod of Russia (6th in line)
  • Prince Gavriel of Russia (7th in line)
  • Prince George Constantinovich of Russia (8th in line)
  • Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich of Russia (12th in line)
  • Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich of Russia (13th in line)
  • Prince Andrew Alexandrovich of Russia (14th in line)
  • Prince Feodor of Russia (15th in line)
  • Prince Nikita of Russia (16th in line)
  • Prince Dmitry Alexandrovich of Russia (17th in line)
  • Prince Rostislav of Russia (18th in line).

Missing from the above list of supporters are the male dynasts who in 1924 respectively were 9th, 10th, 11th and 19th in line.

The most junior male dynast, 19th in line in 1924, Prince Vassily of Russia (1907-1989), did not take a position on the succession question in the 1920s.  His father Grand Duke Alexander of Russia (13th in line) and his 5 older brothers all expressed fidelity to the Grand Duke Kirill.  But Grand Duke Alexander did not ask his youngest son to sign their 1924 declaration of loyalty because Vassily was then a minor.[6]

The principal resistance from within the dynasty to 47 year old Kirill’s 1924 proclamation came from 68 year old Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolayevich (9th in line in 1924 and 16th in line on 1 January 1917).  Nicholas Nikolayevich never publicly disputed Kirill’s position as the senior living dynast.  But he declined to sign a statement of allegiance to Kirill.  And as was their custom, Nicholas Nikolayevich’s devoted younger and only brother Grand Duke Peter (10th in line in 1924) and the latter’s only son Prince Roman of Russia (11th in line in 1924) followed the old grand duke’s lead.  It is widely thought that, in the event the monarchy was restored, Nicholas Nikolayevich, then the oldest living male dynast, believed that he would be the most suitable Romanoff to sit on the throne, not based on his distant place in the line of succession but based upon the respect and prestige he had earned as commander-in-chief of the Russian army in the first year of World War I.  A few weeks after Kirill’s 1924 announcement, Nicholas Nikolayevich, not to be outdone, announced he was assuming “supreme leadership” of all Russian armed forces in exile. And when a couple of monarchist groups announced their support of him as future tsar, he did nothing to discourage them.  But his health soon started to fail, and he died in early 1929.  Nicholas Nikolayevich was strongly slavophile and anti-German.  Encouraged by his royal Montenegrin wife, he perhaps also had disdain for the strict Germanic succession rules of male primogeniture instituted in 1797 by Tsar Paul. Before Paul I, the question of who would be the next tsar was often uncertain, and more than once the Romanoff with the strongest support had simply seized the crown.[7] 

Thus, we see that in the 1920s, with the exception of this one small cadet branch of the dynasty (the so-called “Nikolayevichi line”[8] consisting of just three male dynasts, Nicholas Nikolayevich, followed as always by his younger brother Peter and nephew Roman), the overwhelming majority of male dynasts of the Imperial House supported Kirill as dynastic head and Wladimir as his heir.

Today the only male descendants of the male line of the Nikolayevichi branch are Nicholas Romanoff (born 1922) [9] and his younger brother Dmitry, who, as sons of the morganatic marriage of Prince Roman of Russia, are not dynasts.  Despite the unwillingness of the 3 Nikolayevichi male dynasts to agree to issue a declaration of loyalty to Kirill in the 1920s, even the morganatic Nicholas Romanoff(born 1922) has publicly conceded after the fact that Kirill and Wladimir were the successive lawful Heads of the Imperial House. In a published letter to a French magazine in 1992, he described Kirill’s position as head of the dynasty as “incontestable” (indisputable).[10]  And his unfounded assertion that he himself succeeded as dynastic head in April 1992 on the death of Grand Duke Wladimir (an assertion analyzed below) is an obvious acknowledgement that Wladimir was indeed head of the Imperial House.[11]

Aside from the members of the Imperial House who survived the revolution, the institution with perhaps the strongest interest in knowing the identity of the head of the dynasty was the Russian Orthodox Church. Although the identity of the head of the dynasty is solely a legal matter determined exclusively by the succession laws, it is interesting to note the strong legitimism of the church.  As Emperor Paul I stated in his declaration of 5 April 1797, the day of his coronation, the Orthodox faith is “inseparable” from the Russian throne “because the sovereign in Russia is the Head of the Church.”  After the revolution, the Russian Orthodox Church splintered into two principal branches.  The Russian Orthodox Church in Russia, headed since November 1917 by a patriarchate in Moscow restored after the fall of the monarchy, was subject to the pressures of the Communist state during the Soviet period and had no contact or association with the dynasty.  In exile, however, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), headed by a Synod of Bishops with its headquarters first in Yugoslavia and later in New York City, ministered to the spiritual needs of the emigration.  From the formation of ROCOR in 1922 until the last days of the Soviet Union in 1991, the senior dynast of the day (first Grand Duke Kirill and then his son) was recognized as the dynastic head by the four successive First Hierarchs (Metropolitans Anthony, Anastasy, Philaret, and Vitaly) of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.[12]  At the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia, headed by Patriarch Alexei II and with its headquarters in Moscow, asserted its independence from the state.  Alexei II acknowledged the Grand Duke Wladimir as head of the dynasty and in 1992 delivered the eulogy during the Grand Duke’s funeral liturgy, formally describing him as "head of the Russian dynastic house".[13]  Both Patriarch Alexei II (died 2008) and his successor, the current Patriarch Kirill I, also recognized Grand Duchess Maria as head of the Russian dynasty.

In conclusion, despite whatever debates may have raged at different times in the past, the position of the Grand Dukes Kirill and Wladimir as successive dynastic heads was unquestioned by the overwhelming majority of senior dynasts.  This is an important point, because the pronouncements of these two Heads of the Imperial House during the decades of exile are highly relevant to the succession question.



A male dynast had the imperial title either of Grand Duke of Russia or Prince of Russia (technically, “Prince of the Imperial Blood”), depending upon his seniority.  Similarly, female dynasts were either Grand Duchesses of Russia or Princesses of Russia.  The children of morganatic marriages had the right to neither imperial title.

Emperor Alexander I promulgated the equal marriage rule in unambiguous language in 1820, language never revoked: 

... We consider it good, for the firm maintenance of the dignity and tranquility of the Imperial Family and of the Empire itself, to add to the existing enactments of the Imperial Family the following additional regulation:  if any person of the Imperial Family enters into a marriage alliance with a person of a status unequal to his, that is, not belonging to any royal or ruling house; in such a case the person of the Imperial Family cannot pass on to the other person the rights which belong to members of the Imperial Family, and the children issuing from such a marriage have no right of succession to the Throne.  Expressing this Our Will to all present and future members of Our Imperial Family and to all Our faithful subjects, in accordance with the exact right established in article 23 of the Statute on the Imperial Family, We, in face of the King of Kings, make it incumbent upon one and all whom it may concern solemnly and inviolably to maintain for all time this Our additional enactment.”

Here are several examples of some of the principal laws and documents which specify that membership of the dynasty is limited to children of equal marriages only, and that the children of morganatic marriages are not dynasts.

First, Article 188 of the succession laws in effect in 1917 provided:

“188. A person of the Imperial Family who has entered into a marriage alliance with a person of a status unequal to his, that is, not belonging to any royal or ruling house, cannot pass on to that person, or to the posterity that might issue from such a marriage, the rights which belong to members of the Imperial Family.

         Addendum (1911):  Henceforward none of the grand dukes or grand duchesses may enter into a marriage with a person of unequal status, that is, not belonging to a royal or ruling house.”

Thus, again, the children born of a marriage of a member of the Imperial House with a commoner cannot themselves be members of the Imperial House.  And the Addendum, inserted by Nicholas II in 1911 at the time he was trying to prevent the marriage of his grand ducal brother to his mistress (a commoner), meant that henceforth the emperor would not give permission to the grand dukes, the senior members of the dynasty, to marry non-royal spouses.

The marriages of the Grand Duke Paul of Russia (1860-1919), uncle of Nicholas II, illustrate how the equal marriage rule operated.  Grand Duke Paul married twice and had a son by each wife.  His first wife was Princess Alexandra of Greece, a member of a royal house.  Because this was an equal marriage, their only son, Grand Duke Dmitry of Russia (1891-1941), was a member of the Russian Imperial House.  Paul’s second wife was a commoner, Mme. von Pistohlkors.  Because this was a morganatic marriage, their only son, Vladimir Paley (1897-1918), was not a member of the Russian Imperial House.  In 1915, Nicholas II gave Vladimir Paley and his mother the morganatic titles of Prince and Princess Paley. These were noble, non-royal titles, quite different from the dynastic title of Prince of Russia.  Nicholas II gave them the surname of Paley, because, as explained in more detail later, in imperial Russia it was forbidden for morganatic descendants of dynasts to bear the name Romanoff, which was the surname of the dynasty.

Second,  Articles 36 and 126 of the succession laws are also very straightforward.  Article 36 states:

“Children issuing from a marriage of a person of the Imperial Family with a person not having the corresponding dignity, that is to say, not belonging to a royal or ruling house, have no right of succession to the Throne.”

Article 126 specifies:

All persons of imperial blood who are born of a marriage between a person of imperial blood and a person of corresponding birth which marriage was authorized by the reigning emperor are recognized as members of the Imperial House."

Third, Nicholas II in 1911 issued a similarly clear pronouncement that, although he would not prohibit Princes of Russia, the junior dynasts, from marrying suitable non-royal wives, the children of such morganatic marriages would not be members of the dynasty and would not have the right to the Romanoff surname and coat of arms. This document[14] is a letter dated 14 June 1911, sent on behalf of Nicholas II by Baron Vladimir Frederiks, Nicholas II’s Minister of the Imperial Court, to Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolayevich, who had presided at a meeting of grand dukes convened to advise the emperor on the question of permitting dynasts to contract unequal marriages.[15]  The letter informs Grand Duke Nicholas of the following firm decisions made by the emperor:  1)  Grand Dukes of Russia may not contract unequal marriages;  2) Princes of Russia (“Princes of the Imperial Blood”), if they receive the emperor’s specific permission and if they renounce their succession rights beforehand, may contract unequal marriages;  and3) “surnames and coats of arms of the spouses and descendants of Princes of the Imperial Blood who have contracted marriages with persons not possessing corresponding rank will be granted in each specific case by the Lord Emperor.” The letter also states that Nicholas II was completely unwilling to countenance recognition of any middle category between that of “equal marriage” and of “unequal marriage.”[16]

In the 1980s, Nicholas Romanoff (born 1922), the morganatic son of Prince Roman of Russia, who is discussed in more detail below, twisted the 1911 addendum to Article 188 (the addendum holding that henceforth no grand duke would be permitted to marry a non-royal bride) out of context to construct an illogical argument:  namely, that, because of this addendum, Princes of Russia could marry morganatically and pass dynastic status to their children.  But the language stated nothing of the kind.  It simply prohibited grand dukes from marrying morganatically.  It did not change the various articles (such Articles 36, 126 and 188) making clear that children of morganatic marriages were not dynasts.  And his suggestion that Nicholas II intended that the morganatic children of the most senior members of the Imperial House, the grand dukes, would have no dynastic status whilst the children of morganatic marriages by the junior dynasts, the Princes of Russia, would have full rights is ludicrous.[17]  The 1911 letter by Baron Frederiks, discovered in the state archives by Dr. Stanislaw Dumin in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union, exploded Nicholas Romanoff’s theory.

Fourth, the heads of the Russian Imperial House from 1918 to the present, that is, the Grand Duke Kirill of Russia (head of the dynasty from 1918 to 1938), the Grand Duke Wladimir of Russia (head of the dynasty from 1938 to 1992), and the Grand Duchess Maria of Russia (head of the dynasty from 1992 to present) have reiterated that these morganatic descendants are not and cannot be members of the Imperial House.  The Grand Duke Kirill gave them morganatic titles and the surname of Romanovsky, to denote kinship to but not membership of the dynasty.  His son, the Grand Duke Wladimir, did the same.  The Grand Duke Wladimir’s daughter, the Grand Duchess Maria, has in 2012 made clear that there are now only two living members of the Imperial House, herself and her son and heir.[18]

Due to the numerous morganatic marriages contracted by Russian dynasts after the revolution, the Grand Duke Kirill, as head of the Imperial House, promulgated in 1935 an addendum to the house laws to address the question of morganatic titles and surnames:

“In order to establish the position of wives of Members of the Imperial House in cases of unequal marriage and the position of the issue of such marriages, I have established the following order in supplement to and development of the Statute on the Imperial Family:

The wives and children of Members of the Imperial House in cases of unequal but lawful marriages…receive the title and surname of Princes Romanovsky with, added to it, the maiden surname of the wife of the said Member of the Imperial House or a surname granted by the Head of the Imperial House of Russia... May these marriages lay the foundation for new Russian princely families with a blood relationship to the Imperial House of Russia and, as a result of this relationship, may they always give their faithful support to the Imperial House. Given at Saint Briac on 28th July 1935.  KIRILL”  

Fifth, various members of the Imperial House who married commoners in the decades after the revolution acknowledged their understanding and acceptance of the equal marriage rule by seeking from the exiled heads of the Imperial House morganatic titles for their wives and children.  A Grand Duke of Russia or Prince of Russia who married a royal princess with the permission of the head of the dynasty would not have to seek a separate title for his spouse and children, because they would have automatic status and titles as members of the Imperial House.  So, for example, Prince Dmitry Alexandrovich of Russia (1901-1980) (son of Grand Duke Alexander), following his morganatic marriage in 1931, requested and received from the Grand Duke Kirill a morganatic title for his wife.  Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovich of Russia (1891-1941), following his 1927 marriage to an American commoner, requested and received from the Grand Duke Kirill a morganatic title (Prince / Princess Romanovsky-Ilyinsky) for his wife and his son.  Similarly, Prince Vsevolod of Russia (1914-1973), upon his morganatic marriage in 1939 to Lady Mary Lygon, requested and received from the Grand Duke Wladimir a morganatic title (Princess Romanovsky-Pavlovsky) for his wife.  There are numerous other examples.

Sixth, when the Head of the Imperial House, the Grand Duke Kirill, died in 1938 and was succeeded by his only son, the then 21 year old Grand Duke Wladimir, the five members of the Imperial House most senior in the line of succession after Wladimir issued a public declaration of loyalty to the young Grand Duke Wladimir.  These were Grand Duke Boris (1st in line after Grand Duke Wladimir), Grand Duke Andrew (2nd in line), Grand Duke Dmitry (1891-1941) (3rd in line), Prince Vsevolod of Russia (4th in line), and Prince Gavriel of Russia (1887-1955) (5th in line).  What is highly significant about this declaration is that the six[19] most senior members of the Imperial House set forth in this document a list of all the living male dynasts in their order of succession to the throne.  In doing this, they made clear that their own morganatic sons and the many living morganatic sons of other male dynasts were neither members of the Imperial House nor in the line of succession.

It is useful to read the 11/24 October 1938 declaration in its entirety:

"We, members of the Imperial House of Russia, having assembled after the death of the Head of our House, the Grand Duke Kirill Wladimirovich, consider it our most sacred duty solemnly to declare that the rights of each of the members of the Imperial House of Russia are exactly determined by the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire and the Statute of the Imperial Family, that they are known perfectly to all, and that we must observe them religiously, by virtue of a special oath, which is why the question of the order of succession to the throne has never caused the slightest doubt among us and still less a disagreement of any kind.  We reject any departure from the order provided by the law, because that would be an offense against the intangibility of our laws and of our family traditions.

"By virtue of the laws indicated above, we recognize that the succession to the throne belongs by right, in order of primogeniture, to the senior member of the Imperial House of Russia, the Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich, which he assumed by inheritance after the death of his father on 29 September/12 October 1938, with a profound awareness of the sacred duty which devolves upon him according to law as Head of the Imperial House of Russia, bestowing upon him all the rights and duties belonging to him by virtue of the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire and the Statute of the Imperial Family.

The members of the Imperial House of Russia appear as follows by primogeniture in the order of succession:  Grand Duke Boris Wladimirovich, Grand Duke Andrew Wladimirovich[20], Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovich[21], Prince Vsevolod Ioannovich, Prince Gavriel Constantinovich, Prince George Constantinovich, Prince Roman Petrovich[22], Prince Andrew Alexandrovich[23], Prince Feodor Alexandrovich[24], Prince Nikita Alexandrovich[25], Prince Dmitry Alexandrovich, Prince Rostislav Alexandrovich, and Prince Vassily Alexandrovich.

(signed)    Boris                Vsevolod”






By 1969, more than half a century had passed since the fall of the monarchy and the exile of the dynasty.  As the decades of exile wore on, the ranks of a once large dynasty thinned dramatically.  Death from natural causes slowly but surely reduced the number of dynasts of a sovereign house already decimated by Bolshevik murder squads.  Dozens of morganatic marriages after 1917 deprived the dynasty of an opportunity to replenish its ranks.  In fact, the only dynasts who felt an obligation to contract equal marriages after 1917 were the children of the first two successive heads of the dynasty in exile. All three of the children of the Grand Duke Kirill (that is, the Grand Duchess Maria Kirillovna, the Grand Duchess Kira, and the Grand Duke Wladimir, who married Princess Leonida Bagration, of the former Georgian royal house) contracted equal marriages. And the Grand Duchess Maria, only child of the Grand Duke Wladimir and Grand Duchess Leonida, married a Prussian dynast, Prince Franz-Wilhelm of Prussia, in 1976.  Of the 30 marriages contracted by dynasts after 1917, these 4 were the only equal marriages; the other 26 unions were morganatic.  Various aging dynasts scattered around the world and lost contact with each other.  Long gone was the hope, still common when Grand Duke Kirill declared himself emperor in exile in 1924, that the Soviet Union might be of short duration.  Meanwhile, a swelling number of morganatic spouses and morganatic children included several ambitious people who resented the non-dynastic status to which they were relegated by imperial laws which they barely understood, and fissures developed.

On December 23, 1969, the dynastic head, Grand Duke Wladimir, issued a message that greatly ruffled the feathers of the other surviving male dynasts.  In 1969, apart from Wladimir himself, there were only 7 other surviving male dynasts. They were, in order of succession, Prince Vsevolode of Russia (who would die in 1973), Prince Roman of Russia (died 1978), Prince Andrew Alexandrovich of Russia (died 1981), Prince Nikita of Russia (died 1974), Prince Dmitry Alexandrovich of Russia (died 1980), Prince Rostislav of Russia (died 1978), and Prince Vassily of Russia (died 1989).

Of these seven, none had married a royal spouse.  All had contracted morganatic marriages.  The oldest of them was 73 years old, and the youngest was 55.

The Grand Duke’s message stated in essence that, at his death, his daughter, the Grand Duchess Maria, would act as curatrix of the dynasty.  And that, when the last of these male dynasts had died, she would become head of the dynasty in her own right.  The message stated in relevant part:

“The office of Head of the Imperial House of Russia, lawful inheritor of the rights and duties of the Emperors of All the Russias, with which I have been charged by the Lord God by virtue of the paramount right of primogeniture that has passed to me, makes me duty bound to maintain the State Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire on Succession to the Throne and the Statute on the Imperial Family inseparable from the aforesaid laws. By virtue whereof I recall the essential condition contained in the law whereby the issue of a marriage contracted between a person of the Imperial Family and a person of a status not corresponding in equality of birth does not inherit the rights belonging to members of the Imperial Family, one of which is the right of succession to the Throne. Such is the position of the issue of the Princes of the Blood Imperial now living, as also that of the issue of morganatic (to wit, unequal) marriages contracted by members of the Imperial House now deceased. It can hardly be envisaged that any of the Princes of the Blood Imperial now living, in view of their age, could now enter into a marriage equal in status of birth or have issue possessing the right of succession to the Throne. In view of the aforesaid, in accordance with the State Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire, succession to the Throne, after the demise of all male members of the Imperial House, inevitably passes to the female dynasts of our family. In accordance with the same laws, my first born daughter, Her Imperial Highness the Lady Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna, is at present senior in succession to the Throne in the female issue and at the same time the only one capable of having issue enjoying the right to succession.[26] … Wherefore, while in no way infringing on the order of succession to the Throne provided by the State Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire, I declare that, in the event of my demise, my daughter the Lady Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna, shall become Curatrix of the Imperial Throne of Russia, with all the rights and functions connected with that office, for the service of Russia and for the protection of our Dynasty from any encroachments from any quarter whatsoever. When the right of succession to the Throne, after the demise of the last of the male representatives of the Dynasty, will have inevitably passed to the female issue, then the Lady Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna, Curatrix of the Throne, shall become Head of the Imperial House of Russia.”

The Grand Duke Wladimir had sworn a solemn oath, when he reached his dynastic majority in 1933, to uphold the State Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire on Succession to the Throne and the Statute of the Imperial Family.  He swore the oath in the presence of his father, and he took it seriously.  From his point of view, he sought to maintain the inviolability of the succession laws in the event any of these 7 male dynasts as potential future heads of the dynasty was inclined not to uphold these laws faithfully. His view was that over the years several of these 7 men had shown little interest in the laws, traditions and continuation of the dynasty.  Based on the 1911 letter issued by Baron Frederiks on behalf of Nicholas II, quoted above, it is also clear that, had the monarchy continued, these 7 male dynasts would have had to renounce their succession rights as a condition of receiving the Emperor’s permission to contract morganatic unions.  From the points of view of the 7 male dynasts, however, the Grand Duke was seeking to tie their hands, in the event they succeeded him as head of the dynasty.  Presumably, Prince Vsevolode of Russia, first in the line of succession to the Grand Duke Wladimir in 1969, was of the view that, if he were to succeed the Grand Duke, he would become Head of the Imperial House with exactly the same rights as his predecessor, and without any need for the intermediary of a curatrix or guardian.  Similarly, Prince Roman of Russia, second in line, may have been of the view that, if he became Head of the House, a 1969 declaration from his predecessor could not validly block him from formally amending the succession laws to eliminate the equal marriage rule and make his morganatic sons dynasts and Princes of Russia, if he were to choose that course of action.

Three Princes of Russia, Princes Vsevolode, Roman and Andrew, protested the 1969 pronouncement of the head of their house.  This caused a permanent rift within the dynasty.  This rift in turn led a decade later to the formation by Prince Roman’s morganatic son Nicholas Romanoff (born 1922) of the Romanoff Family Association (RFA). As the latter wrote on his website in 2010, “In 1978, after the death of my father Prince Roman Petrovich and whilst organizing his papers, I, to my great surprise, found a scheme for the creation of a Family Association was practically ready.”  Two male dynasts, Prince Dmitry Alexandrovich of Russia (who died a few months later in July 1980) and Prince Vassily of Russia, became RFA members.  The vast majority of other RFA members, however, were descendants of morganatic marriages.  By the 1990s, except for two elderly Princesses of Russia, the two dozen or so members of the RFA were all morganatic descendants.  Today, the organization is composed 100% of morganatic descendants. 

In the end, however, the 1969 declaration of the Grand Duke Wladimir turned out to be completely unnecessary. The Grand Duke Wladimir outlived all of the 7 male dynasts still alive at the time of the 1969 declaration.  The last of the 7, Prince Vassily of Russia, died in 1989, at which point the Grand Duchess Maria became first in the line of succession to her father.  When Wladimir died in 1992, the male line of male dynasts of the dynasty died with him, and the succession then passed to a female, the Grand Duchess Maria, as expressly provided for in the house laws promulgated by Emperor Paul I at the time of his coronation in 1797.

Article 27 specifies that both genders have the right of succession to the throne, with preference to male dynasts by order of primogeniture but with the succession of female dynasts by substitution upon extinction of the male dynasts.  Article 6 provides that, when the throne passes to a female dynast as empress, she has the same power that an emperor would have.  Article 30 clarifies that the female dynast who succeeds is the one most closely related to the last emperor. 

Whether one considers the last emperor to have been Nicholas II or (as do the legitimists) the Grand Duke Wladimir, the female dynast most closely related to him is the Grand Duchess Maria, who is the Grand Duke Wladimir's only child and is descended from Nicholas II's senior uncle.  The other female dynasts alive in 1992, Princesses Vera and Ekaterina, were more distantly related to Nicholas II and the Grand Duke Wladimir. Under the laws, the Grand Duchess Maria succeeded her father in 1992 as head of the house.  Her heir, as stated above, is her son and only child, the Grand Duke George of Russia .[27]

Meanwhile, certain morganatic descendants within the so-called Romanoff Family Association continued to push themselves forward.  The RFA, although privately organized without the approval of the Head of the Imperial House, had an official sounding name which misled several journalists into thinking incorrectly that it was the dynasty or at least the mouthpiece of the dynasty. In the 1990s, this grouping of numerous morganatic descendants using the Romanoff surname interspersed with two elderly female dynasts increased the confusion of those who viewed the RFA as being synonymous with the dynasty.[28]   Nicholas Romanoff’s elected position as its president in the 1990s also gave him a kind of platform to purport to speak for the “Romanoff family.”  Although the RFA expressed criticisms of the Grand Duke Wladimir and attacked his 1969 declaration, nobody challenged his position as head of the dynasty.  Instead, they bided their time and awaited his passing.  Thus, Nicholas Romanoff (born 1922), flanked by 6 other morganatic sons of dynasts, held a press conference in Paris shortly after the April 1992 death of the Grand Duke Wladimir, during which Nicholas Romanoff called himself by the dynastic title of Prince of Russia and purported to have succeeded the Grand Duke Wladimir as head of the dynasty.

The claim of Nicholas Romanoff (born 1922) to be head of the dynasty is of course without legal merit.  In order to be the head of a dynasty, one must first be a member of the dynasty.  As mentioned earlier, he is the elder son of the morganatic marriage of Prince Roman of Russia to a non-royal spouse.  The legal texts discussed above make clear that morganatic children of a dynast cannot themselves be dynasts:  namely, the 1820 decree of Alexander I instituting the equal marriage requirement; the several sections of the succession laws in effect in 1917 that implement Alexander I’s decree;  the 1911 letter of the minister of the imperial court explaining Nicholas II’s position that children of a morganatic marriage contracted by a Prince of Russia are not only not members of the dynasty but have no right to the Romanoff surname or coat of arms; the 1935 declaration of Grand Duke Kirill approving noble, non-royal titles for children of morganatic marriages;  the 1938 declaration issued with the approval of Grand Duke Wladimir and signed by the 5 dynasts most senior after him in the line of succession which listed all the then living male dynasts by seniority and pointedly excluded from the list the many morganatic sons (including Nicholas Romanoff) alive in 1938; and the declarations of the Grand Duke Wladimir during his 53 years as head of the dynasty.

Nicholas Romanoff’s claim is based on his consistent refusal to acknowledge the legal fact that the equal marriage rule applied to all members of the Russian dynasty.  Speaking of his father, Prince Roman of Russia, a dynast, and of other dynasts who contracted morganatic marriages, Nicholas Romanoff once said, “Our parents married commoners.  So what?[29]  Roman, along with his father and his father’s brother, was, as explained above, one of the 3 male dynasts who declined to acknowledge Kirill as head of the dynasty in the 1920s.  From 1973 until his death in 1978, Prince Roman of Russia was first in the line of succession to the head of the dynasty, the Grand Duke Wladimir. As suggested above, if Roman had outlived Wladimir and become head of the dynasty in his own right, he might well have revised the succession laws and dropped the equal marriage rule, declaring his two morganatic sons as dynasts.  Only the head of the dynasty would have the authority to amend these rules. [30]

The suggestion that Nicholas Romanoff, as the morganatic son of a dynast, may claim membership of the dynasty by embracing those aspects of the succession laws which suit him and ignoring those which do not is unreasonable.  And in the light of Article 36 of the succession laws (“Children issuing from a marriage of a person of the Imperial Family with a person not having the corresponding dignity, that is to say, not belonging to a royal or ruling house, have no right of succession to the Throne”), it is very odd that he would take the additional step of claiming to be head of the dynasty.

By 1983, when he was already in his sixties, and by which time all but 2 (Grand Duke Wladimir and Prince Vassily) of the genuine male dynasts had died, Nicholas Romanoff started calling himself by the title of Prince of Russia.[31]  His brother Dmitry (born 1926) followed suit.  But they are not members of the dynasty, and therefore they are not Princes of Russia.  Nicholas Romanoff is not, and is ineligible to be, the head of the dynasty.

Several factors contributed to the confusion which in the minds of some people surrounds Nicholas Romanoff’s claim to head the dynasty.[32]  First, there were two kinds of princely titles in Russia:  there were noble, non-royal princely titles (such as Prince Paley or Prince Yurievsky) and there was the Russian dynastic title of Prince of the Imperial Blood, that is, Prince of Russia.[33]  The legal distinction between the two was a difficult point for some non-Russians to grasp.  Second, as previously mentioned, Russian imperial law and practice before 1917 prohibited the morganatic children of dynasts from even bearing the name Romanoff, the surname of the dynasty, in Russia.  Instead, they received new surnames, such as Brassov, Paley and Iskander.  In post-revolutionary exile, however, when the morganatic child of a dynast was born in France, Britain or the United States, he or she received the father’s surname, Romanoff, under the laws of their country of birth.  Third, Grand Dukes Kirill and Wladimir, as successive dynastic heads, bestowed the noble title of Prince or Princess Romanovsky on the morganatic children and wives of dynasts.  As stated earlier, these were not royal titles, and they denoted kinship to but not membership of the dynasty.  Over time, several of those who bore the surname Romanoff based upon birth in the West and had been granted the title of Prince Romanovsky dropped the “sky” ending and began to call themselves simply Prince Romanoff, a title which never existed in Russia.  But to some journalists and others not conversant with Russian imperial law the joinder of a princely title to the Romanoff surname seemed to indicate a member of the Imperial House. Over the years, this invented, self-assumed title of “Prince Romanoff” gradually received a degree of social recognition, although it actually had no legal basis.[34]  It was but a short step for a morganatic Prince Romanovsky, using the name “Prince Romanoff”, suddenly to start calling himself “Prince of Russia.”  In 1992, Grand Duke Wladimir, head of the dynasty and by then the only surviving male dynast of the 19 alive in 1924, was dismissive in a New York Times interview of Nicholas Romanoff’s self-assumption of a dynastic title:  “He can call himself what he wants, but he is not a Prince of Russia.[35]




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 appendix.  The present writer has thought it appropriate to provide a brief treatment, however, because, in connection with his own dynastic claim, Nicholas Romanoff (born 1922) 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…

 Art. 2. 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,…

Art. 6. 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:

Art. 12. 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..”[36]

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?[37]                                                                          

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. 




[1] Guy Stair Sainty, The Russian Succession – Another View, at

[2] The writer was the late Grand Duke Wladimir’s lawyer, a role he continued with the Grand Duchess Maria. The Grand Duke was Head of the Russian Imperial House from 1938 to 1992. This essay limits itself strictly to a summary of the main points of the succession question.  Those interested in a more thorough analysis might wish to read the writer’s more detailed treatment of the issue, The Russian Imperial Succession, which first appeared in 1997 and has been subsequently updated.  It was translated into Russian by N. Dmitrovskii-Baikov and published in Russia under the title Rossiiskoe Imperatorskoe prestolonasledie (Moscow, 2001, ISBN 5-900053-024-0), with an introduction by Viktor Nikolayevich Yaroshenko, Trade Representative of the Russian Federation in France and, under Yeltsin, the first Minister of Foreign Economic Development of the Russian Federation.

[3] From the introduction by Prince Cyril Toumanoff, professor emeritus of history, Georgetown University, to the excellent and authoritative Succession to the Imperial Throne of Russia, first published in 1984 under the editorial supervision of Archbishop Antony, Archbishop of Los Angeles and Southern California, of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

[4] In the Service of the Imperial House of Russia, 1917-1941 by Rear-Admiral H.G. Graf (private secretary of Grand Duke Kirill) (privately published, 1999), p. 76.

[5] This number includes Grand Duke Nicholas Constantinovich of Russia (1850-1918), although some accounts attribute his death during the revolution to illness.

[6] Although 5 of Grand Duke Alexander’s 6 sons recognized Kirill, only 4 signed Alexander’s 1924 statement of loyalty.  His son Prince Dmitry Alexandrovich of Russia, who could not sign it because he was in New York when it was written, recognized Kirill separately.

[7] Before the revolution, the Russian dynasty was a large one, and Grand Duke Kirill and Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolayevich (“N.N.”) had not known each other well; the latter, 20 years older than Kirill, was of the same generation as Kirill’s late father.  If there was a major bone of contention between them, it was perhaps the role of N.N. in persuading Nicholas II to abdicate, given Kirill’s strong view that this decision by the isolated and abandoned emperor was a disaster which precipitated the fall of the monarchy.  On 2 March 1917, Nicholas II had received a telegram from N.N. in which the Grand Duke said it was necessary for him "to beg…on bended knee" that the emperor abdicate.  (Mark Steinberg and Vladimir Khrustalev, The Fall of the Romanovs  [Yale University Press, 1995], pp. 89-90, citing State Archive of the Russian Federation, Document f. 601, op. 1, d. 2102, l. 1-2).  On the afternoon of 2 March, Maj. Gen. Vladimir Voeikov, commandant of the palace, entered the emperor's railway car to express his grief and astonishment at the emperor's abdication.  In his memoirs, Voeikov described Nicholas II's pointing to the many telegrams on his desk and stating, "What else could I have done when everyone has betrayed me?  And first among them Nikolasha [N.N.]."   Mark Steinberg and Vladimir Khrustalev, The Fall of the Romanovs (Yale University Press, 1995), p. 63, citing V.N. Voeikov, S tsarem i bez tsaria (1936), p. 212.  In his famous diary entry of 2 March 1917, Nicholas II finished his description of the day with this sentence:  "All around me is treachery, cowardice and deceit."  In the first volume of his memoirs, Once A Grand Duke (New York, 1932, p. 145), Grand Duke Alexander of Russia, Nicholas II’s brother-in-law and N.N.’s first cousin, wrote of N.N.: “Had Nicholasha [N.N.] advised the Czar on March 2, 1917 to remain with the army and to accept the challenge of the revolution, Mr. Stalin would not have been entertaining Mr. G.B. Shaw in the Kremlin in 1931.”  There were already internal factions among the numerous dynasts long before the revolution.  In the same book of memoirs (pp. 40-42, 143-145), Grand Duke Alexander described how various grand dukes at young ages took sides in the bitter lifelong feud between two first cousins, Grand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovich (a prominent historian and a member of the French Academy, assassinated in 1919) and Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolayevich.  It was even alleged by Grand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovich that N.N.’s Montenegrin sister-in-law was pushing N.N., very distant in the line of succession, as a future tsar well before the outbreak of the revolution. On 11 May 1916, when N.N. was only 16th in line of succession to the Tsar, Grand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovich wrote a letter to his cousin Emperor Nicholas II hinting "darkly that Nikolasha's [N.N.'s] popularity, in view of the nervous mood of the Russian public, threatened the legitimate line of succession, inflating the potential importance of Nikolasha's brother Peter and nephew Roman, suggesting that, through them, the childless Nikolasha could found an alternative branch of the dynasty."  The Flight of the Romanovs by John Curtis Perry and Constantine Pleshakov (New York, 1999), p. 125, citing Nikolai II i velikiye knyazya, ed. by V.P. Semennikov(Leningrad-Moscow, Gosudarstvennoye izdatelstvo, 1925), pp. 63-64.  Grand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovich’s letter to the emperor was as follows: … Regarding the popularity of Nicholas [N.N.], I will say this: His popularity was masterfully prepared at Kiev by Militsa [Grand Duchess Militsa, born Princess Militsa of Montenegro, was married to N.N.’s only brother Grand Duke Peter; Militsa’s sister Stana was married to N.N.] quite gradually, during a long period of time and by making use of all means, such as distributing to the people pamphlets, all kinds of booklets, pictures, portraits, calendars, etc. Thanks to this well-planned preparation, his popularity did not go down after the loss of Galicia and Poland, and rose again after the victories in the Caucasus. From the very start of the campaign, I repeatedly wrote to your dear mother, warning her of these Kiev intrigues, but I could not write to you, without infraction of discipline, while I was attached to the staff of Adjutant-General Ivanov. Now I am speaking freely. I said, when you personally took the Supreme Command of the armies, and I repeat now, that Militsa is not asleep in the Caucasus. I make bold to assure you, from a deep conviction, that this popularity frightens me, in a dynastic sense, especially in the excited state of our public opinion, which appears to take more and more definite shape in the provinces. This popularity [of N.N.] does not contribute in the least to the benefit of the Throne or the prestige of the Imperial family, but only to the advertising of the husband [N.N.] of the Grand Duchess [Stana] - a Slav woman [Montenegrin] and not a German - as well as of his brother and nephew, Roman. In view of the possibility of all kinds of troubles after the war, one has to be watchful and observe closely every move in support of this popularity. You are aware of my boundless devotion to your late father, your mother, yourself, and your line, for which I am ready at any moment to lay down my life, but I do not recognize any other possibilities, in the dynastic sense, nor shall I ever recognize any…”  See  The present writer does not read the letter of Grand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovich (a sometimes divisive figure within the dynasty) as accusing N.N. of disloyalty to the emperor.  The letter does, however, directly claim that amidst the chaos of 1916 Grand Duchess Militsa (wife of Grand Duke Peter and mother of Prince Roman of Russia) was working hard to advance the stature and popularity of N.N. Did she view him as a future tsar who could take charge and save the dynasty?  The wives of N.N. and his brother Grand Duke Peter were both daughters of King Nicholas I of Montenegro.  It was the two ambitious Montenegrin princesses, known for their love of intrigue, who had introduced Rasputin to Empress Alexandra.  In Once A Grand Duke (pp. 145-146), Grand Duke Alexander wrote that they “exercised an exceptionally bad influence on the young Czarina.”  Unlike the royal dynasties of northern Europe where Russian grand dukes traditionally sought their wives, the Montenegrin dynasty, which held secular sovereignty only from the 1850s until 1918, had neither an equal marriage rule nor a well-rooted tradition of primogeniture. It is indeed plausible to suggest that, at least after the fall of the dynasty, the two sisters may well have contributed to a slavophile disdain for these two rules and for legitimism in general on the part of their grand ducal husbands and descendants.  If so, this may partially explain why N.N., his brother Peter, and Peter’s son Roman were the only male dynasts to decline in the 1920s to recognize Grand Duke Kirill as the rightful dynastic chief by right of primogeniture.  To the extent they influenced his views, it may also explain why the claim of Militsa’s grandson and Roman’s morganatic son Nicholas Romanoff (born 1922) to be head of the dynasty ignores both the equal marriage rule and the primogeniture rule.  [2014 Note:  In 2014, the family of Prince Felix Yusupov and his wife Princess Irina of Russia (only daughter of Nicholas II’s sister Xenia) sold at public auction the private letters of Felix and Irina, and a pre-auction catalogue was published containing the texts of the letters (often in French translation, as most of the letters were in Russian).  There are several letters from the Montenegrin sisters, Stana and Militsa, to Felix Yusupov’s mother showing their implacable hostility to Russian legitimism.  One fascinating letter suggests that Militsa was still trying to put her son Prince Roman of Russia on the Russian throne during World War II.  This is a letter from Felix Yusupov to his wife Irina of Russia, written during or following a trip by the former to Rome.  Although undated, it was clearly written in the early 1940s, after Fascist Italy and its ally, Nazi Germany, had declared war on Soviet Russia. The letter claims that Militsa, through the influence of her sister, the Queen of Italy, was pushing the Italian government to pressure Nazi Germany to set up a puppet monarchy in Russia with Roman as tsar, once Germany and Italy overthrew the Soviet regime.  If the French translation of the letter is correct, it also states that Roman’s son (presumably Nicholas Romanoff, then aged about 20 years) was using the title of Grand Duke of Russia in Rome.  Was this merely second-hand gossip that Yusupov was repeating or was it based on actual facts?  As the husband of Nicholas II’s only niece, Yusupov was certainly in an excellent position to receive reliable information from the leading members of the Russian community in Rome.  On the other hand, the tendency to spread gossip was not unkown in émigré communities.]

[8] All 20th century male line dynasts of the Imperial House descended from one of the four sons (in order of birth: Alexander, Constantine, Nicholas and Michael) of Emperor Nicholas I.  These four branches of the dynasty were informally known as the Alexandrovichi (that is, descendants of Alexander), the Constantinovichi, the Nikolayevichi, and the Mikhailovichi.  In the 1920s, as stated above, only the 3 male dynasts of the junior Nikolayevichi branch declined to endorse Kirill as dynastic head and his son Wladimir as heir.  All male dynasts of the other three branches (except Vassily of the Mikhailovichi branch, because he was a minor and was not asked to sign the declaration of loyalty to Kirill issued by his father and older brothers) supported Kirill and Wladimir.

[9] Nicholas Romanoff is referred to in these pages as “Nicholas Romanoff (born 1922)” to avoid confusion with others named Nicholas, such as Emperor Nicholas II, Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolayevich of Russia and Grand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovich of Russia.  [2014 Note:  Nicholas Romanoff died in 2014.]

[10] Point de Vue-Images du Monde, 12 May 1992, p. 17.

[11] On his website,, on which he called himself “Nikolai Romanov, Prince of Russia,” Nicholas Romanoff wrote, “In April 1992 I became the head of the Romanov Family.” 

[12]Metropolitan Vitaly, First Hierarch of ROCOR from 1985 to 2001, opposed the notion of reconciliation between ROCOR and the Patriarchate.  Long a supporter of the Grand Duke Wladimir as head of the dynasty, the octogenarian Vitaly was angered by the Grand Duke’s historic meeting with Patriarch Alexei II in November 1991, and he de-emphasized the monarchism of the Church.  He resigned as First Hierarch in 2001 and was succeeded as ROCOR First Hierarch by Metropolitan Laurus.  In May 2007, the Patriarchate and ROCOR formally reconciled during a solemn ceremony in Moscow during which Patriarch Alexei II and Metropolitan Laurus signed an Act of Canonical Communion.  The Church Outside of Russia thereupon came under the Patriarch, although retaining a quasi-autonomy.  At his death in 2008, Metropolitan Laurus was succeeded as ROCOR First Hierarch by Metropolitan Hilarion.  On December 10, 2013, after a liturgy at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign in New York City and in the presence of the Grand Duchess Maria, Metropolitan Hilarion gave a homily, during which he welcomed the Grand Duchess as head of the dynasty.  The following week, the official website of ROCOR published, at, a description of her visit, entitled “The Visit of the Head of the Romanov Dynasty to America.” 

[13] In his eulogy at the funeral service on April 29, 1992, before dozens of bishops and priests and some 15,000 mourners in St. Isaac Cathedral, St. Petersburg, the Patriarch stated in part as follows:  "I was very impressed by his deep faith, his love for Russia and her people, whom he wished to help…His whole life outside, all his feelings and efforts, Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich dedicated to a country he considered his own…His faith and long patience were not in vain.  On the eve of his passage to the other world, he stepped on his native soil…On his return from Russia, he never ceased to dedicate all his strength to assist his country, and despite his fragile health, he went to the United States to persuade various American business circles to help Russia and to have faith in his country.  He died during this trip."   See also, New York Times, April 30, 1992, page 1 (“With Old-World Pageantry, Russia Buries A Romanov”) by Serge Schmemann).


[14]  State Archives of the Russian Federation [GARF], Fond 601 (“The Emperor Nicholas II”), Opis’ [Inventory] 1, Delo [File] 2143, Folios 58-59.

[15] The letter begins as follows:  “Your Imperial Highness – After I presented [to the Lord Emperor] my loyal report on the project undertaken at the meeting of the Grand Dukes, at which Your Imperial Highness presided, regarding amendments and additions to the Statute of the Imperial Family, together with a determination by the Minister of Justice, the Lord Emperor has seen fit to set the following conditions under which His Imperial Majesty might permit marriages of Princes and Princesses of the Imperial Blood [Princes and Princesses of Russia] to persons not possessing corresponding rank…”

[16]  The exact language of this portion of the letter is:  “In relation to the categorization of marriages of Princes and Princesses of the Imperial Blood, the Lord Emperor has seen fit to recognize only two categories of marriages:  (a) equal marriages, that is, those contracted with persons belonging to a royal or ruling house, and (b) unequal marriages, that is, those contracted with persons not belonging to a royal or ruling house, and He will not recognize any other categories.”

[17] Nicholas Romanoff (born 1922) also used this meritless argument in another context. Among the male line morganatic descendants of Emperor Paul I alive in 1992, Nicholas Romanoff was still rather junior.  Ahead of him, for example, were 3 Ilyinskys, the morganatic son and grandsons of Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovich.  According to Nicholas Romanoff’s unreasonable argument, Paul Ilyinsky was not a dynast because his father was a grand duke, whilst Nicholas Romanoff was a dynast because his father was only a Prince of Russia.  Later, he apparently backed away from this argument and suddenly expanded his definition of dynast to include all morganatic descendants in the male line:  he now describes all the members of his “Romanoff Family Association” as Princes and Princesses of Russia, at least according to Wikipedia, even though in 2012 every single one of them is a morganatic descendant.

[18] Aside from the Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna and her son, the only other Russian dynasts by birth who were alive in the 21st century were Princess Vera of Russia (1906-2001) and the latter’s niece Princess Ekaterina of Russia (1915-2007).

[19] Six, because it was issued with the express approval of the Grand Duke Wladimir and signed by the five dynasts most senior in line after him.

[20] His morganatic son (and only child) Wladimir Andreivich (born 1902) was not included in the succession list, because he was the child of a (subsequent) unequal marriage and thus was not a member of the dynasty.  His uncle, the Grand Duke Kirill, gave him the morganatic title of Prince Romanovsky-Krassinsky on 28 July 1935.

[21] His morganatic son (and only child) Paul (born 1928) was not included in the succession list, because he was the child of an unequal marriage and thus was not a member of the dynasty.  The Grand Duke Kirill gave him the morganatic title of Prince Romanovsky-Ilyinsky.

[22] His two morganatic sons (and only children), Nicholas (born 1922) and Dmitry (born 1926), were not included in the succession list, because they were children of an unequal marriage and thus were not members of the dynasty.

[23] His two morganatic sons, Michael (born 1920) and Andrew (born 1923), were not included in the succession list because they were children of an unequal marriage and thus were not members of the dynasty.

[24] His morganatic son Michael (born 1924) was not included in the succession list because he was the child of an unequal marriage and thus was not a member of the dynasty.

[25] His morganatic sons Nikita (born 1923) and Alexander (born 1929) were not included in the succession list because they were children of an unequal marriage and thus were not members of the dynasty.

[26] At the time of the 1969 declaration, Grand Duchess Maria had just reached the age of 16. The other female dynasts alive in 1969 were all well past the age in which it was likely that they could have children, were they to contract equal marriages.

[27] Grand Duke George of Russia, Prince of Prussia, born in March 1981, was created a grand duke shortly after his birth by his grandfather, Grand Duke Wladimir.  Grand Duke George’s father, H.R.H. Prince Franz-Wilhelm of Prussia, had converted to Orthodoxy before his marriage and remains Orthodox.  Grand Duke George's eventual accession as head of the dynasty will mark the first time that the Romanoff succession has passed through the female line since the promulgation of the present succession laws in 1797, but it will not be the first time in the history of the Romanoff dynasty.  In 1762, the Romanoff dynasty technically became extinct in the male line upon the death of the Empress Elisabeth.  The throne then passed to her German nephew, Emperor Peter III, whose mother was a Romanoff grand duchess but whose father was a German prince, the reigning Duke of Holstein-Gottorp.  (In 1742, Peter of Holstein-Gottorp had been summoned to Russia at age 14 by his aunt, the Empress, who created him a Grand Duke of Russia and named him heir to the throne.)  Although after 1762 the dynasty still was known as the House of Romanoff, it had technically become the House of Romanoff-Holstein-Gottorp.  Peter III's son, Emperor Paul I, instituted the present succession laws.  Assuming the eventual succession of her son, the present Grand Duchess Maria thus will be the last Romanoff-Holstein-Gottorp to head the dynasty.  Nonetheless, upon the succession of her son Grand Duke George, the dynasty, as it did in 1762, will continue to be called the House of Romanoff.

[28] In one pronouncement of the Romanoff Family Association dated March 25, 1981, Prince Vassily of Russia, elected president of the RFA, referred to the Romanoff Family Association as being composed of two categories of members:  “members of the Imperial House of Russia” (presumably, dynasts like himself) and “members of the Romanoff Family” (presumably, morganatic descendants who were not dynasts). Today, the RFA is composed exclusively of morganatic descendants.

[29] Robert K. Massie, The Romanovs – The Final Chapter (New York, 1995), p. 278.  Nicholas Romanoff’s mother was from one of the most distinguished noble families of imperial Russia, but her family had never occupied a sovereign throne and thus was not a reigning or formerly reigning house.

[30] In respect of the many dethroned dynasties in which the equal marriage rule still applies, it is the head of the dynasty who has sole authority to amend the rule, interpret the application of the rule, and decide whether a marriage satisfies the rule. Several foreign dynastic heads have used their authority to allow exceptions to the rule.  For example, Archduke Otto, head of the Habsburg dynasty of Austria from 1922 to 2007, strictly enforced the ancient Habsburg equal marriage laws, recognizing the children of equal marriages as archdukes and archduchesses but bestowing morganatic titles (like Count von Habsburg) on morganatic descendants.  In 1993, however, when his elder son and heir Archduke Karl married a commoner, Otto relaxed the rule, recognizing the union as a dynastic marriage and bestowing archducal rank on his son’s wife and children.  The dethroned Emperor William II of Germany also made an exception for the wife of one of his younger sons.  When his son Prince Oskar of Prussia married morganatically in 1914, William II at first gave his new daughter-in-law the morganatic title of Countess von Ruppin.  Later, in 1920, after the fall of the monarchy, William II, living in exile, recognized his daughter-in-law and her children as members of the dynasty, giving them the titles of Prince and Princess of Prussia, with the predicate of Royal Highness.  Similarly, Crown Prince Rupprecht, head of the deposed Bavarian royal house, elevated his daughter-in-law and grandsons, previously considered morganatic, to dynastic status in 1949.


[31] See, for example, his introduction to a book published in 1983, Les Descendants de Pierre le Grand, Tsar de Russie (Sedopols, 1983) by Nicolas Enache, in which he uses the name “Nicholas Romanoff, Prince of Russia.”

[32] The authoritative European reference work, the Genealogisches Handbuch des Adels, was never confused on this point.  Its 1953 edition of princely houses, Genealogisches Handbuch der Fürstlichen Häuser (C.A. Starke Verlag, 1953, volume II), is divided into 3 sections.  Section I lists reigning and formerly reigning dynasties, Section II lists the mediatised princely houses that were formerly co-states of the Holy Roman Empire, and Section III lists “other, non-sovereign European princely houses.”  Prince Roman of Russia, father of Nicholas Romanoff (born 1922), is, as a dynast, listed in Section I under the House of Russia.  Prince Roman’s wife and sons are, as non-dynasts, listed in Section III under the article on “Romanovsky.”  The Section III entry (p. 428) states:  “The spouse of Prince Roman Petrovich of Russia…(see Section I), Prascovia Dmitrievna, Countess Sheremetiev (born 1901) has received for herself and her descendants (by a Ukase of the Grand Duke Wladimir as Head of the House of Romanoff  dated 7 May 1951) the name and title of Princess Romanovsky and Prince Romanovsky, respectively…Prascovia, Princess Romanovsky, born Countess Sheremetiev (at Poltawa 2 October 1901) married (in a union not in accordance with the house laws) at Antibes 3 November 1921…Roman Petrovich, Prince of Russia…(see Section I)…”

[33] Until the late 19th century, all male dynasts of the Russian Imperial House had the title of Grand Duke of Russia.  In 1886, Emperor Alexander III altered this rule so that there were two titles for male dynasts:  Grand Duke of Russia for the sons and grandsons of emperors, and Prince of Russia (“Prince of the Imperial Blood”) for more distantly related dynasts.

[34] The late Alexander Romanoff (1929-2002) was the morganatic son of Prince Nikita of Russia.  Born in Paris, he bore the Romanoff surname under French law.  He was created Prince Romanovsky on 7 May 1951 by the Grand Duke Wladimir.  He called himself Prince Romanoff socially.  As he recounted to his Scottish friend Ian Lilburn, Alexander Romanoff was once included on the guest list of a function planned in England during the 1950s.  His grandmother, the Grand Duchess Xenia of Russia, the sister of Nicholas II living in exile in England, reviewed the guest list in advance.  When she saw her grandson named on the list as “Prince Alexander Romanoff,” she crossed off the title of prince and changed his name on the list to “Alexander Romanoff, Esq.”  She knew that the title “Prince Romanoff” did not exist.

[35] New York Times, 9 February 1992.

[36] 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.

[37] 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.