Five Empresses: Court Life in Eighteenth-Century Russia

By Evgenii V. Anisimov; Kathleen Carroll | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
The Poor Relative
Who Became Empress
(Anna Ioannovna)

The night of January 18, 1730, was a sleepless one for many Muscovites. The Russian autocrat Peter II (Alekseevich) lay dying in the Lefortovo Palace, his imperial residence on the Iauza River. He had caught cold twelve days earlier, on January 6, while taking part in the Epiphany celebration on the frozen Moscow River. To complicate matters he came down with smallpox, a common disease in those days. At first the tsar became delirious, then his fever continued to rise, and by the night of January 18 he was in a grave state. The doctors, priests, and courtiers keeping constant watch at his bedside could do nothing to help their sovereign: Peter II died without regaining consciousness. According to contemporaries his last words were: “Harness the sledge, I want to drive to my sister’s.”1 The tsar’s sister, the Grand Duchess Natalia, had died in the autumn of 1728. The night of January 18 was a terrifying one for Russia. Not only had the tsar died, the autocrat, a fourteen-year-old boy who should have lived a long full life, but with him died the last direct descendant of the male line of the Romanov dynasty, which extended back to its founder and the first Romanov tsar Mikhail Fedorovich (1613–1645). Now Aleksei Mikhailovich’s great grandson, Peter the Great’s grandson, son of Tsarevich Aleksei, was dead. Everyone present that night in the Lefortovo Palace was thinking the same thing: “Who will inherit the throne?”

Many times in Russian history, after the death of a ruler who had left behind no direct heir, the horror of interregnum threatened the country. People remembered the terrible years of the Time of Troubles in the early

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