The Sole Heirs to the Romanov Dynasty
© John Cilia La Corte 2007

with contributions by the Rev. Dr Michael J. Foster



HIH Grand Duchess                                                                                                                  HIH Grand Duke
Maria Vladimirovna of Russia                                                                                              Georgiy Mikhailovich of Russia  
de jure                                                                                                                                             de jure

HIM Empress Maria I of All the Russias                                                                           HIH Tsarevich Georgiy
1953-                                                                                                                                                1981-



A great deal of controversy surrounds the question of succession to the Russian Imperial throne, fuelled mostly by Western, particularly British, conceptions of Royal succession. The rule in the United Kingdom is that, on the death of the monarch, the eldest son succeeds automatically or, if there is no issue, the eldest surviving brother or his issue. If there are no surviving brothers, the eldest surviving sister and her issue are next in line, followed similarly by surviving sisters. Only when there is no surviving direct descendant of the monarch does the succession move to cadet branches of the Royal family.

The situation in Imperial Russia was very different. 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. In effect, this meant that a female dynast could succeed only when all the males in every branch of the Imperial family had died. Crucially, 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 facto excluded their descendants  from the dynasty.

Many people in the West accustomed to the British model find it hard to understand how a direct and legitimate descendant of a monarch can be regarded as non-dynastic. And yet, even British laws of succession have an exception. At this moment in time, only one impediment can prevent succession to the British throne, and that is if the heir to the throne were to convert to Roman Catholicism. Thus, in both British and Russian models, if for different reasons, a direct and legitimate heir to the throne is precluded from succeeding  because of an action taken by the heir against the rules.

The post exilic chaos and the passage of time all but wiped out the dynastic successors to the Russian throne. 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 jure Empress Maria I of All the Russias. 

Various arguments contesting the eligibility of Grand Duke Kirill, Grand Duke Vladimir and Grand Duchess Maria have been aired in the press and on the internet, all of which have been authoritatively dismissed by Brien Purcell Horan and Guy Stair Sainty in the websites quoted below.

Moreover, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna is recognized by the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia as the “Head of the Former Imperial Family” and she has been received and acknowledged by two Russian presidents, Yeltsin and Putin.

Although circumstances forced her to live in exile from the Russian Motherland, she was groomed by her father for the throne from childhood. She was brought up in the Russian Orthodox faith, speaks fluent Russian and has a commanding knowledge of Russian law, history and politics. Had she been brought up in Russia in the days of the Empire, she would not have been better equipped to lead the nation, which she will do once the people of Russia decide to restore the Romanoffs to their proper place in history.

On the death of her father in1992, Maria Vladimirovna issued a succession decree in which she stated, “I ever remember that my grandfather, the Grand Duke Kirill Wladimirovich, in the wake of the defeat of the White Armies in the civil war, took it as his duty, as the senior member of the House of Romanoff, to secure the future of the dynasty so that, at any moment, in the short or the long term, there should always be an Heir, keeping alive his Russian spirit, fully aware of his rights and obligations and prepared to fulfil his duty…It is precisely in this spirit that my grandfather and my grandmother…raised my father, and, after their demise, my father and my mother…educated me. The great historical accomplishment of my father…, now departed in the Lord, has been to assure, during his 53 years as Head of the Russian Imperial House, that “the candle should not die out”, thus following the words of Simeon Ioannovich, Grand Duke of Moscow, in his testament to his heirs at the time of the Tatar yoke. My father kept this candle lighted even to the present day and handed it over to me. Therefore, now, abiding by my oath, I resolve to carry it further. I hereby declare that, fully conforming to my father’s will and deeply conscious of my sacred duty, I assume, by virtue of my position as Head of the Imperial House, all the rights and duties passing to me in accordance with the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire and the Statute of the Imperial Family.”