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The Romanov Dynasty
© John Cilia La Corte 2005

The Succession of Paul I Emperor of all the Russias

In 1797 Emperor Paul I of Russia promulgated fundamental Laws regulating the succession to the throne. With subsequent additions by his successors, these laws required that succession to the Imperial throne passed by primogeniture to the senior male dynast with the proviso that, upon the death of the last male dynast of the House of Romanoff-Holstein-Gottorp, the succession would pass to his nearest female relative. A strict and unequivocal rule was also introduced to determine who could be regarded a dynast. A dynast had to contract an equal marriage with a member of another royal or sovereign house in order to pass dynastic eligibility to his children.

This rule posed no problem in the days of the Empire when the dynasty was flourishing and royal matches easily arranged. The fall of the monarchy in March 1917 and subsequent exile of the surviving members of the family led to an almost total abandonment of the rule, most of whom contracting morganatic marriages which ipso fact excluded them from the dynasty. There was one exception.

As the reign of Nicholas II, last Emperor of Russia drew to its tragic close, the order of succession by primogeniture ran, firstly, from his only son, the Tsarevich Grand Duke Alexei, secondly, to his only living brother Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich and, thirdly, to his senior first cousin, Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich. With the murders of the Emperor and the first two dynasts in July 1918, Grand Duke Kirill succeeded automatically as head of the imperial dynasty and proclaimed himself Emperor in exile. Kirill died in 1938 and was succeeded  as head of the dynasty by his only son, Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich de jure Emperor of Russia. By 1989 the only other male dynasts had died without heirs and with the death of Grand Duke Vladimir,  the male dynastic line came to an end. This situation having been envisaged in the Russian Imperial Succession laws, the headship was inherited by the only eligible candidate,  Grand Duke Vladimir's only child, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, now de facto Empress Maria I of Russia, by his equal marriage with Leonida Princess Bagration of Mukhrani, daughter of the Head of the Royal House of Georgia.

Grand Duchess Maria's heir is her only son by her equal marriage to His Royal Highness Prince Franz-Wilhelm of Prussia who was christened Mikhail Pavlovich when he adopted the Orthodox faith before his marriage. Following the precedent established by Peter of Holstein-Gottorp, her son bears the title of Grand Duke Georgij Mikhailovich of Russia, de jure Tsarevich of Russia, and has taken the dynastic name of Romanoff. 

Further reading:
THE RUSSIAN IMPERIAL SUCCESSION by Brien Purcell Horan, a Juris Doctor and practising lawyer, formerly in charge of the legal section of the United States Embassy in Paris. He is a student of the history and laws of the Russian dynasty, and he served for a number of years, until April 1992, as the late Grand Duke Vladimir's personal lawyer.

HIM Emperor
Paul I

HIM Emperor
Alexander I

HIM Emperor
Nicholas I

HIM Emperor
Alexander II


HIM Emperor
Alexander III

HIH Grand Duke
Vladimir Alexandrovich
of Russia

HIM Emperor
Nicholas II

HIM Emperor
Michael II

Kirill Vladimirovich



HIH Grand Duke
Vladimir Kirillovich of Russia
de jure HIM Emperor Vladimir III

HIH Grand Duchess
Maria Vladimirovna of Russia
de jure HIM Empress Maria I

HIH Grand Duke
Georgiy Mikhailovich of Russia
de jure HIH Tsarevich Georgiy


The Greater Russian Imperial Arms above reproduced
by kind permission of Commander Valery Yegorov