Anna Ivanovna

Anna Ivanovna (1693-1740) was empress of Russia from 1730 to 1740. She continued the policy of westernizing Russia initiated by Czar Peter I.

Born in Moscow on Jan. 29, 1693, Anna was the daughter of Ivan V, co-czar of Russia with his half-brother Peter I. After her father's death in 1696, she and her mother and sisters became dependent on Czar Peter I.

In 1710, acquiescing to Peter's wish, Anna married Frederick William, Duke of Courland. Although her husband died shortly after the wedding, the Czar ordered her, as the duke's widow, to take up residence in Mitau, the capital of Courland, counting on her to strengthen Russian influence in the duchy. That arrangement was quickly disrupted by a hostile political faction in Courland, which forced Anna out of Mitau; she was obliged to make her home in Danzig. In 1717 she was permitted to return to Mitau, where she remained as de facto ruler of Courland for 13 years. During that period she received slight attention from her homeland and no special consideration when, after the death of her uncle Peter I, the Russian throne was occupied first by his wife, as Catherine I, then by his grandson, as Peter II.

Anna's Courland experiences had important consequences for her later career: her regard for the German-speaking ruling class made her appear more partial to Germans than she actually was; her years of existence on a paltry allowance deepened her desire for luxuries; the pervasive political intrigues she encountered reinforced her distrustful nature; and lonely life led her to form an attachment for her secretary, ambitious Johann Ernst Biron, upon whom she became excessively dependent.

When Peter II, the last Romanov male in line of succession, died without having made provision for a successor, the Supreme Privy Council, a small body exercising dominant power in the Russian government, saw Anna as the Romanov most likely to be amenable to their suggestions. Accordingly, they informed her that the throne would be hers if she agreed to certain conditions that would, in effect, transfer power from the ruler to the Council. She agreed to the conditions and returned to Russia in February 1730. Once established as empress, however, she promptly disavowed the conditions.

During her reign Anna was held in generally low esteem. She persisted in her infatuation for Biron, whom she installed in her palace, showered with honors, and treated with unbecoming deference. Some of her official appointments led to the charge that she favored Germans over Russians. Moreover, even by the cruel standards of the time, she was immoderately severe in her treatment of any who aroused her disfavor; she was responsible for the arrest, torture, or exile to Siberia of thousands.

Despite her shortcomings, Anna did not work against Russian interests as they were then interpreted. Rather, she entrusted major responsibilities to men who had served Peter I and would continue his policies.

As a result, in foreign affairs Russia was strengthened in three strategic areas: the War of the Polish Succession (1733-1735) brought the pro-Russian Augustus III of Saxony to the throne of Poland; the war with Turkey (1735-1739) confirmed Russian possession of Azov; and the selection of Biron as Duke of Courland in 1737 increased that duchy's dependence on Russia and thus improved Russia's position on the Baltic.

In domestic affairs, also, Anna followed in the steps of Peter I, continuing his policy of westernization. She declared St. Petersburg the capital and brought back the offices of government that Peter II had moved to Moscow. She created the Cadet Corps for training officers. She encouraged the sciences, promoted the arts in general, and approved the development of the ballet in Russia.

Having no direct heir, Anna was determined to ensure that her successor would come from her side of the Romanov family—that is, from the descendants of Ivan V rather than those of Peter I. To that end, she chose her niece Anna Leopoldovna to provide the heir and selected her husband. A son was born to them in August 1740 and christened Ivan. Two months later the Empress became gravely ill and, fearing the approach of death, formally named the infant as her heir. Shortly thereafter she appointed Biron to serve as regent during the minority of the child, who would succeed her as Ivan VI. The empress Anna died on Oct. 17, 1740.


Further Reading on Anna Ivanovna

R. Nisbet Bain, The Pupils of Peter the Great: A History of the Russian Court and Empire from 1697 to 1740 (1897), contains a detailed treatment of Anna's reign. See also George Vernadsky, A History of Russia (1929; 5th ed. 1961); Nicholas V. Riasonovsky, A History of Russia (1963; rev. ed. 1969); and Marc Raeff, Origins of the Russian Intelligentsia: The Eighteenth Century Nobility (1966).