Symbol, Ritual, and Dynastic Legitimacy in the Weddings of the First Romanov Tsars

Thursday, January 4, 2018: 3:50 PM
Columbia 9 (Washington Hilton)
Russell Edward Martin, Westminster College
How does a new dynasty establish legitimacy? How does it create an image of dynastic continuity when links to the previous dynasty were indirect? What tools does it have to project an image of legitimacy and continuity? These are questions that the new Romanov dynasty had to answer after their election to the throne in 1613. 

This paper examines how the Romanov dynasty created an image of legitimacy and continuity through the careful manipulation of rituals at court. It analyzes the wedding rituals of the first two Romanov tsars, Mikhail Fedorovich (ruled 1613–1645) and Aleksei Mikhailovich (ruled 1645–1676). The paper isolates three key rituals in the weddings: the procession to the graves of previous rulers of Muscovy, the texts of speeches delivered at several moments during the three-day wedding, and gift exchanges. Analysis of these three elements shows the way the centuries-old Muscovite royal wedding ritual was modified under the Romanovs so as to broadcast an image of dynastic continuity with the previous ruling house.

No one in 1613 could have known that the election of the first Romanov was going to be any more enduring a solution to the question of succession than the election of the others who tried and failed to establish new dynasties during the interregnum. The Romanovs succeeded where these others had failed because of the way they portrayed themselves as a legitimate and entrenched dynasty through the manipulation of established court rituals. While Romanov attempts to conjure an imagine of themselves as linked to the Old Dynasty has been noted and studied before, this paper is the first to demonstrate how royal weddings fulfilled this dynastic purpose, and in so doing, highlights customs and practices that have been largely ignored by historians of early modern Russia.