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 the dynasts 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, 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. 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.
Doubt has been cast in some quarters on this rock solid lineage by assertions that Grand Duke Vladimir’s marriage to Leonida Princess Bagration of Mukhrani was morganatic on the grounds that the princess did not belong to a royal house. This controversy is easily resolved from an examination of the genealogy of the House of Bagration.
In 1490 the Kingdom of Georgia broke up into the three kingdoms of Kartli (Karthlia), Kacheti (Kakhetia) and Imireti (Imertia). Konstantini II (Bagration) was the last king of a united Georgia by agnatic primogeniture (senior male succession) and became first King of Kartli. All the kings of Kartli and their descendants became extinct in the male line with the exception of the Princes of Mukhrani, who were equally direct descendants of King Konstantini II. The Bagration of Mukhrani line is therefore the senior succession to the 15th century kingdom of Georgia.
Princess Leonida’s father, Prince George Bagration enjoyed agnatic primogeniture: he was the senior male descendant of King Konstantini II and thereby heir to the throne. There can be no doubt therefore that Princess Leonida belongs to a Royal House.
There is a complication in that the descendants of Alexander I, first King of Kacheti (1476-1511) made an attempt to reunite Georgia into one kingdom between 1762 and 1801. They succeeded but only under the vassalage of Russia, and thus were but nominal Kings of Georgia, the second of whom, George XIII, finally abdicating in favour of the Russian emperor in 1801. Nevertheless there are living descendants who claim the throne of Georgia.
Regardless as to which claim to the Georgian throne is the accepted one, the indisputable fact remains that both lines evidence legitimate direct descent in the male line from the 15th century kings of Georgia and therefore pertain to a Royal House. This proves that the marriage between Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich and Princess Leonida Bagration of Mukhrani is an equal marriage in conformity with the Fundamental Laws of Russian Imperial Succession.
Consequently, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, as the only issue of the last dynastic heir to the Russian Imperial Throne, Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich through his equal marriage to Princess Leonida Bagration of Mukhrani, is the undoubted successor to the throne as de jure Empress Maria I of Russia. Similarly, Grand Duke Georgiy Mikhailovich is de jure Tsarevich Georgiy as the only son from the equal marriage of Empress Maria I of Russia to Prince Franz von Hohenzollern, Prince of Prussia, christened Mikhail Pavlovich into the Orthodox faith and created Grand Duke by the Head of the Imperial House, de jure Emperor Vladimir II of Russia.