Ivan VI of Russia

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Ivan VI
Ivan VI Antonovich (Oranienbaum).jpg
Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias
Reign 28 October 1740 – 6 December 1741
Coronation never crowned
Predecessor Anna
Successor Elizabeth
Born (1740-08-23)23 August 1740
Saint Petersburg
Died 16 July 1764(1764-07-16) (aged 23)
Burial Kholmogory or Shlisselburg
Full name
Ivan Antonovich
House House of Brunswick-Bevern
Father Duke Anthony Ulrich of Brunswick
Mother Grand Duchess Anna Leopoldovna of Russia
Religion Russian Orthodoxy

Ivan VI Antonovich of Russia (Ivan Antonovich; Russian: Иван VI; Иван Антонович; 23 August [O.S. 12 August] 1740 – 16 July [O.S. 5 July] 1764) was proclaimed Emperor of Russia in 1740, as an infant, although he never actually reigned. Within less than a year, he was overthrown by the Empress Elizabeth of Russia, Peter I's daughter. Ivan spent the rest of his life as a prisoner and was killed by his guards during an attempt made to free him.

Emperor of Russia

Ivan was born in Saint Petersburg to Prince Antony Ulrich of Brunswick-Lüneburg and Duchess Anna Leopoldovna of Mecklenburg, niece of Empress Anna of Russia and grandson of Tsar Ivan V.[1] His grand-aunt Empress Anna of Russia adopted the eight-week-old boy and declared him her successor on 5 October 1740. Upon the death of Anna (17 October of the Julian Calendar/28 October of the Gregorian Calendar, 1740) Ivan was proclaimed Emperor, and on the following day Ernst Johann von Biron, duke of Courland, became regent. With the fall of Biron on 8 November, the regency passed to the baby Tsar’s mother, though the vice-chancellor, Andrei Osterman, ran the government.

Fall from the throne and imprisonment

Thirteen months later, a coup d'état placed the Empress Elizabeth on the throne (6 December 1741), and Ivan and his family were imprisoned in the fortress of Dünamünde (13 December 1742) after a preliminary detention at Riga, whence the new Empress had at first decided to send them home to Brunswick. In June 1744, following the Lopukhina Affair, they transferred him to Kholmogory on the White Sea, where Ivan, isolated from his family, and seeing no one other than his jailer, remained for the next twelve years. When rumours of his confinement at Kholmogory became more prevalent, he was secretly transferred to the fortress of Shlisselburg (1756), where he was still more rigorously guarded, not even the very commandant of the fortress knowing the identity of "a certain prisoner". Throughout the reign of Elizabeth Ivan's name was made subject to a damnatio memoriae procedure: all the coins, documents and publications bearing his name and titles were systematically confiscated and destroyed, and now are of an extraordinary rarity.

On the accession of Peter III (1762) the situation of Ivan seemed about to improve, for the new emperor visited and sympathised with his plight; but Peter himself was deposed a few weeks later. New instructions were sent to Ivan’s guardian, who received orders to place manacles on his charge, and even to scourge him should he become refractory.


Mirovich Standing over the Corpse of Ivan VI (1884). by Ivan Tvorozhnikov

On the accession of Catherine II (summer 1762) still more stringent orders were sent to the officer in charge of "the nameless one". If any attempt was made from outside to release him, the prisoner was to be put to death; under no circumstances was he to be delivered alive into anyone's hands, even if they should produce documents signed by the Empress authorising his release. By this time, twenty years of solitary confinement had disturbed Ivan's mental equilibrium, though he does not seem to have been actually insane. Nevertheless, despite the mystery surrounding him, he was well aware of his imperial origin, and always called himself Gosudar (Sovereign). Though instructions had been given not to educate him, he had been taught his letters and could read his Bible. Since his presence at Shlisselburg could not remain concealed forever, its eventual discovery was the cause of his demise.

A sub-lieutenant of the garrison, Vasily Mirovich, learned of his identity and formed a plan for freeing and proclaiming him Emperor. At midnight on 5 July 1764, Mirovich won over some of the garrison, arrested the commandant, Berednikov, and demanded the release of Ivan. His jailers, on orders of their commander, an officer surnamed Chekin, immediately murdered Ivan in compliance with the secret instructions already in their possession. Mirovich and his supporters were arrested and executed shortly thereafter. Ivan was buried quietly in the fortress, and his death secured Catherine II's position on the throne until her son came of age.

Ivan's siblings, who were born in prison, were released into the custody of their aunt, the Danish queen dowager Juliana Maria of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, on 30 June 1780, and settled in Jutland. There they lived under house arrest in Horsens for the rest of their lives under the guardianship of Juliana and at the expense of Catherine. Although they were prisoners, they lived in relative comfort and retained a small "court" of between 40 and 50 people, all Danish except for the priest.[2]


See also


  1. Detlev Schwennicke, Europaeische Stammtafeln (vol. I.1, table 27, Frankfurt/Main, 1998)
  2. Marie Tetzlaff : Katarina den stora (1998)

External links

Ivan VI of Russia
Cadet branch of the House of Brunswick-Lüneburg
Born: 23 August 1740 Died: 16 July 1764
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Emperor of Russia
28 October 1740–6 December 1741
Succeeded by