5 most important women who ruled Russia
Russia Beyond (Dmitry Levitsky; Nikolai Bruni, Sergey Nikitin (CC BY-SA 3.0), Ivan Veshnyakov, public domain)
1. Princess Olga
Nikolai Bruni. Saint Olga, 1901
10th century Olga is best known for the legendary revenge she took after the murder of her husband, Igor. According to the first Russian chronicles, Prince Igor of Kiev was a grandson of Rurik, the Varage called by the Slavic tribes to rule them and create order. Igor, like his grandfather, collected tributes from the tribes. But one of them, the Drevlians, maddened by massive taxes, ends up killing the Prince.
A Varagian herself, Olga became the regent of her grandson, but she was not a shy girl. First, she killed the Drevlian matchmakers who dared to ask her to marry their prince. And then set the Drevlian villages on fire.
At the same time, Olga was the first Russian ruler to be baptized into Christianity, even before Old Russia was massively baptized (by her grandson Vladimir). In the 13th century, she was canonized, and since then she has been venerated as a Christian saint and later an Orthodox.
2. Elena Glinskaya
Elena Glinskaya. Image reconstruction
Sergei Nikitin (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Another powerful regent in Russia was the mother of the future Tsar Ivan the Terrible. She was descended from a Lithuanian noble family whose roots go back to Mongolian rulers. Her male parents were powerful people alongside her husband, Grand Prince Vasily III. But after her death, she nearly committed a coup, pushing her own parents out of power (and in fact imprisoning them).
She was reportedly poisoned after only five years of reign, however, she managed to do several important things. One of them was a monetary reform of 1535 which unified currency in the Russian state (this was only recently united after many centuries of division due to feudal fragmentation). It had also ended a long-term war between Russia and Lithuanian Sigismund I. And finally, she built the Kitai Gorod Wall, an important fortification of the city of Moscow.
3. Sophie Alexeïevna
Unknown artist. Portrait of Sofia Alekseevna
Despite the fact that her father, Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, had many children, including other daughters, Sophia was the only girl who had a good education, learned several languages and read a lot of office books. She was incredibly smart and also a very strong person who managed to handle the Game of Thrones in 17th century Russia. After the death of his father and the death of his older brother Feodor Alekseevich, the succession to the throne became a matter of clan conflict. His two younger brothers, Ivan and Peter, were born to different wives of Alexis: Ivan was ill and was unable to rule on his own, while the next son Peter was too young and single. As a compromise, they were both crowned. And Sophia became regent.
During her reign, Russia ended the war with Poland, began the first official negotiations with China in which she established a border, and joined the Holy League against Turkey.
READ MORE: The FIRST woman to rule Russia
In 1689, Peter turned 17, got married, gathered his army of toys – and finally managed to commit a coup, putting power in his hands. Officially, Ivan was yet another Czar, but he was actually too weak and died several years later.
Ilya Repin. Sophia Alekseyevna in a cell of the Novodevichy Convent
Sophia ended up in a monastery where she lived until her death.
4. Elisabeth of Russia
Ivan Vechniakov. Portrait of Elizaveta Petrovna, 1743
Daughter of Peter the Great, she was incredibly beautiful and her father was planning to marry her to Louis XV of France. Being young, she had no royal ambitions and had a fairly frivolous lifestyle. However, the game of thrones still resonated: the great-grandson of the brother of Peter the Great, the child Ivan VI ascended the throne of Russia with a foreign regent. The court and the noble families were not satisfied, and at the same time Elizabeth was very popular. With the support of courtiers and the royal guard, she committed a coup as her father had once done. She seized power and imprisoned the child and his rulers.
She was a very Western person and devoted to Enlightenment absolutism: she did not even use the death penalty. However, during his reign, Russian serfdom was shaped and corporal punishment was commonly used.
Less than twenty years after her reign, Elizabeth had made Russia an incredibly cultural country. She started the Enlightenment in Russia, she created the Imperial Theater, created Moscow University and the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. She was a fan of Baroque and brought the style to Russa, where it was named Elizabethan Baroque. With the help of the Italian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli, she built several splendid palaces, including the Winter Palace and the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo.
5. Catherine the Great
F. Rokotov. Portrait of Catherine the Great, 1763
She was a German princess born under the name Sophie Auguste Friederike von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg, but she eventually became the Russian Empress and one of the country’s most important leaders, in power for over 30 years .
She married the Russian Crown Prince, later Emperor Peter III, but their relationship was very complicated, and Peter was a weak person. As a result, Catherine committed a coup against her husband and later died under mysterious circumstances. Catherine ascended the throne after her death.
She continued the course of enlightened absolutism introduced by Elizabeth, and made several important reforms in domestic politics. She created a commission to systematize the laws, she reorganized the administrative division of Russia, supported the trades and freed the nobles from corporal punishment, giving them at the same time an enormous rank of rights. However, some historians believe it was Catherine and her multiple favorites who initiated massive corruption in Russia.
Catherine was an incredibly intelligent person and she supported education by establishing the country’s first girls’ school. The Empress was also a patron and a vast collection of her paintings made up the Hermitage Museum which she founded alongside the first public library. She read a lot and corresponded with the most enlightened Westerners, including the French philosopher Voltaire.
At the same time, of course, she was a very absolutist monarch, who spared neither men nor money for her goals. One of them was expanding and strengthening the Empire.
Read more: What’s so great about Catherine?
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