Alexis Mikhailovich Romanov (1629-1676), czar of Russia from 1645 to 1676, was an extreme conservative, a devoted churchman, and a firm believer in the divine origin of his power.
Born on March 10 (O.S.), 1629, in Moscow, Alexis was the son of Michael Romanov, the first of the dynasty which was to rule Russia until 1917. When Michael died in 1645, Alexis, only 16 years of age, succeeded to the throne. Although his formal education had been rudimentary and had stopped when he was 10 years old, Alexis was actually well educated by Moscow standards and had literary pretensions, even trying his hand at writing poetry.
Alexis's reign was beset by many popular revolts, the most serious one in southeastern Russia under the Cossack leader Stenka Razin. Other outbreaks included an insurrection by monks of the Solovetskii Monastery and civil revolts in the cities of Pskov, Novgorod, and Moscow. Although Alexis suppressed the uprisings, he also took steps to improve administration and justice in order to quiet the general discontent. Of major importance was his introduction of a new legal code in 1649. Although a great improvement over its predecessors, the reform had the unfortunate result of tying the peasants even more closely to the land and their landlords.
Alexis presided over renewed Russian expansion in the tradition of earlier Muscovite monarchs, but he was by no means a fighting ruler. Significantly his chief territorial acquisition, a large Polish territory centered on the Dnieper River and part of the later Ukraine, was gained by invitation from the Ukrainian Cossack inhabitants. After a prolonged conflict with Poland, the boundaries of the annexed territory were confirmed by the Armistice of Andrusovo with Poland in 1667.
A conflict with Nikon, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, also figured prominently in Alexis's reign. Despite the dispute and Nikon's eventual exile to a northern monastery, the patriarch did enact, with Alexis's approval, the ecclesiastical reforms which led to the great schism within the Russian Church.
Unofficially titled "the Quietest One," Alexis also displayed rougher characteristics. He often lost his temper and once slapped his father-in-law in the face, pulled his beard, kicked him out of the room, and slammed the door on him.
Alexis was married twice, first to Maria IIinishna Miloslavskii and after her death to Natalya Kirillovna Naryshkina. Alexis died suddenly on Jan. 29 (O.S.), 1676, in Moscow at the age of 47. Three sons and six daughters survived him, the two elder sons, Feodor and Ivan, by his first wife, and Peter, the future emperor, by the second.
The best sketches of the Czar are in Ronald Hingley, The Tsars:1533-1917 (1968), and in Robert N. Bain, The First Romanovs (1613-1725): A History of Moscovite Civilisation and the Rise of Modern Russia under Peter the Great and His Forerunners (1905; repr. 1967). The classic study of the Nikon episode is William Palmer, The Patriarch and the Tsar (6 vols., 1871-1876). See also John Bergamini, The Tragic Dynasty: The History of the Romanovs (1969).
Fuhrmann, Joseph T., Tsar Alexis, his reign and his Russia, Gulf Breeze, FL: Academic International Press, 1981.
Longworth, Philip, Alexis, tsar of all the Russias, New York: F. Watts, 1984.