Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Michael II: The Real Last Tsar?

"Left-liberal and Soviet propaganda for years maligned and dismissed the only act Michael signed on March 16, 1917 in response to his brother´s declaring him the Emperor of Russia. They called it a yet another abdication following the one by Nicholas. In fact, it was far from it. In his Manifesto Michael declared his readiness to assume the supreme power contingent upon the decision of the Constituent Assembly on the best form of government for Russia. He stipulated the Constituent Assembly to be elected through universal, direct, equal, and secret ballot. He thus introduced to Russia the most democratic electoral law anywhere at the time, including the US. He finally empowered the Provisional Government to run the country until the Constituent Assembly was elected."
Via Tea at Trianon comes a debate about the alleged "reign" of Tsar Michael II, who was initially nominated to succeed his brother Nicholas II during the February Revolution of 1917 before apparently refusing the throne unless his succession was ratified by the Duma and empowering the Duma to rule Russia until the elections for the Constituent Assembly were held - a move which, then and now, has led to Michael been blamed for the final ruination of the monarchy in Russia since Russia was declared a republic, which lasted until the Bolshevik coup in October. With Michael II ruling for a day in 1917 and Michael I being the first Romanov tsar, elected in 1613, some historical enthusiasts have claimed that the House of Romanov began and ended its rule in Russia with a Tsar Michael.

Michael's most recent biographer, Donald Crawford, asserts that Michael did not, in fact, abdicate and that the Duma's actions were an illegal parliamentary coup. That may very well be true, but if we're playing that game then it's also worth bearing in mind that the process by which Michael had inherited the crown in the first place was also more or less illegal. Nicholas II had every right to abdicate for himself, but he did not have the right to abdicate for his twelve year-old son, Alexei, who should have acceeded as Tsar Alexei II the moment the ink was dry on his father's signature. Citing fears over the boy's health and a worry that  once he became emperor, Alexei would be separated from the care of his parents, (a separation which would almost certainly kill his mother), Nicholas insisted that he be allowed to relinquish the claims of both himself and his son in one go and pass the throne to his brother, Grand Duke Michael. For years since, the legality of Nicholas's decision has quite rightly been contested and although now it is nothing more than a historical curiosity (much like styling Michael as "the last tsar," in fact), if monarchist purists are right and Nicholas II's second act of abdication was illegal, then everything that happened within the Imperial Family in the February Revolution of 1917, including Michael's so-called accession, becomes a good deal murkier.

Referring to Grand Duke Michael as Tsar Michael II seems to me to be the kind of absurd game of armchair politics which royalists are unfortunately renowned for and it's particularly infuriating when it reaches the level it does within French and Russian monarchist circles. If one is following the laws and rules of monarchy, then the inheritance of the doomed French crown from Louis XVI to Louis XVII in 1793 or the toppled British ones from Charles I to Charles II in 1649 flow with perfect and indisputable logic, as long as one is only insisting upon it as a de jure inheritance. The transition from Nicholas II to Michael II has no such assurances, either legally or culturally. In any case, it's certainly an interesting historical debate for an evening and I'm grateful to Elena Maria's always superb blog for bringing this debate to my attention.

For me personally, referring to Michael's legacy as 'worthy of any tsar' seems a bit dubious. If he was emperor, he ruled for less than twenty-four hours and his actions throughout the last crisis of the Russian monarchy to date were almost criminally weak, especially at a time when a show of decisive strength had been more necessary than ever. In Michael's defence though, I suppose everyone is wise with hindsight. 


  1. Thanks for weighing in on this, Gareth. I did not quite know what to think of it myself. And thank you for the link! xxx

  2. You're welcome, Elena Maria. Thanks so much for linking to it on "Tea at Trianon." xxx

  3. Dear Gareth!
    You have strange opinions for a man who has turned his academic research into a fiction.
    What do you know about internal politics of the Russian court? I would think not much. The Russian and for that matter the French culture is by and large alien to you. That does not prevent you from expressing your half baked opinons. Just antother fictional excursion into unknown.
    Grand Duke Michael almost won the civil war. It hung in balance for months.

    I hope you find something more interesting to do with your free time.

    1. "Grand Duke Michael almost won the civil war." Hahaha. You really are fucking stupid, aren't you? Grand Duke Michael was arrested within hours of the revolution; he never led or fought in the civil war. There were four main contingents to the White army, not one of which had any allegiance to Michael or even had the restoration of the monarchy as their firm goal in combating the Bolsheviks.

      On the subject of fiction, some people are capable of being good at more than one thing. You seem incapable of even that. People can have more than one interest. Chantal Thomas had an academic background and she wrote a novel about Marie-Antoinette. Or do you think the point of education is that someone can only be good at one thing? A curious definition of it.

      But, enough of that. Please get off my blog and if you do want to reply, have the backbone to sign your own name. Your comment was as offensive as it was poorly structured. It was also historically inaccurate and misleading, which made me laugh. Open a book before you open your mouth.


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