27 May 2011

15 Minutes of Fame: The Emperor Who Wasn't

By Anna Randol

In November 1825, Tsar Alexander I died unexpectedly of typhus while taking his sick wife to a southern Russian city. The heir to the throne was Alexander’s younger brother Constantine. Coins were immediately minted with Constantine’s image. Nicholas, a third brother, swore an oath of allegiance followed by a large portion of the military.

There was only one problem— Constantine didn’t want to be the Emperor.

Constantine had been content with his life as a military man and in his more recent post of viceroy of Poland. His marriage to a delicate Polish countess also strengthened his ties to Poland, and since the countess was not of royal birth, no children of their union could ever be heirs to the throne. In fact, shortly after his marriage several years earlier, Constantine had sent a letter to his brother Alexander declaring his intent to abdicate. Constantine had flatly stated that he did not “possess the genius, the talents, or the strength necessary to qualify [him] for the dignity of sovereign”.

Unfortunately for all those involved, the letter wasn’t made public. It was stored away to be opened upon Alexander’s death along with a letter accepting the abdication and a letter naming their younger brother, Nicholas, emperor. It is unclear whether Nicholas knew of the change in succession in advance, but after reading the letters, he declined the crown and sent an envoy to try to convince his brother to change his mind. But the envoy was met by a messenger carrying Constantine’s adamant refusal to accept the empire.

Revolutionaries took advantage of the uncertainty to stir up discontent, accusing Nicholas of unjustly usurping the throne. With full-blown revolution brewing, Nicholas finally agreed to rule. Instead of taking a new oath of allegiance, the revolutionaries convinced 3,000 soldiers to march in the streets in defense of Constantine’s rule. On December 14th, the same day Nicholas was crowned, he ordered the rebellion crushed. Constantine later arrived to swear allegiance to his younger brother in person, thus ending his twenty day rule of the Russian empire.

Anna Randol writes sexy, fast-paced, Regency romances for Avon. Her debut novel set in Constantinople, Secret in Her Kiss, will be published in February, 2012.