Birthday: August 23, 1740
Died At Age: 23
Sun Sign: Leo
Also Known As: Ivan VI Antonovich of Russia
Born Country: Russia
Born in: Saint Petersburg, Russia
Famous as: Emperor of Russia
Emperors & Kings
father: Duke Anthony Ulrich of Brunswick
mother: Anna Leopoldovna
siblings: Alexei Antonovich of Brunswick, Catherine Antonovna of Brunswick, Elizabeth Antonovna of Brunswick, Peter Antonovich of Brunswick
Died on: July 16, 1764
place of death: Shlisselburg, Russia
Cause of Death: Assassination
City: Saint Petersburg, Russia
Ivan VI or Ivan Antonovich was the infant Tsar of Russia who became the emperor when he was barely two-months-old and was deposed soon after. He was the grand-nephew of the Empress Anna of Russia who had no children and she therefore chose Ivan VI, the eldest son of her niece, to be her heir. The baby Tsar’s reign was a short-lived one and barely a year after he was named Tsar, his aunt Elizabeth staged a coup and took over the throne. Ivan VI and his family were imprisoned. The infant was separated from his parents and sent into solitary confinement. He never saw his family for the rest of his life. As Ivan VI was the legal heir to the throne, the rulers of Russia saw him as a threat and tried to obliterate him from Russian memory. He was held in such secrecy that even the guards did not know his name. Having spent all his life in confinement, he became mentally unstable. When word of his whereabouts finally got out some soldiers tried to rescue him. This led to the murder of Ivan VI, bringing to end one of the most tragic chapters in Russian history.
Childhood & Early Life
Ivan VI was born on August 23, 1740, at St.Petersburg, Russia, to Prince Anton Ulrich of Braunschweig-Bevern-Lüneburg and Anna Leopoldovna of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Ivan was his parent’s eldest son and had four other siblings.
Prince Anton was the nephew of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI(1) and Anna Leopoldovna was the niece of Empress Anna of Russia. Their marriage was planned to consolidate the Romanov and Habsburg ties.
Empress Anna was a childless widow. On October 5, 1740, baby Ivan was adopted by his grandaunt and named her successor. This was done to ensure that the line of the Empress’s father remained secure and did not pass on to the descendants of Peter the Great.
Upon the death of Empress Anna on October 28, 1740, Ivan then a two-month-old baby became the Emperor of Russia. The Empress had also wanted her longtime advisor and lover Ernst Johann von Biron to have a role in the running of the empire and had nominated him as the regent.
Biron had made many enemies during Empress Anna’s reign. The fact that he was German was also against him. Three weeks after he became regent Prince Anton devised his downfall and had him banished to Siberia. Anna Leopoldovna, became the new regent.
Though they had seized power, 22-year-old Anna and her husband were too inexperienced to run a country like Russia. It was vice-chancellor Count Andrei Osterman who actually managed the affairs of the state.
Official duties demanded that the infant Tsar be present in court. One such occasion arose when the French envoy Marquis de la Chétardie had to read a letter from the king of France. The Marquis asked that the Emperor be present, thus baby Ivan sat playing on the throne while the letter was read.
The government run by Anna Leopoldovna was unpopular among the Russians. The high officials weakened the situation further by quarrelling among themselves. The situation proved advantageous to Elizabeth, Peter the Great’s daughter and Anna’s cousin and she put together a plan to overthrow the regime.
On November 25, 1741 at St. Petersburg Winter Palace, Elizabeth entered Anna Leopoldovna’s room accompanied by Royal guards. They detained her and her husband. Ivan, then a one-year-old baby was asleep and Elizabeth forbade the guards to wake him up.
The guards waited for an hour and when Ivan woke up, he started crying at the sight of the guards. They also took his younger sister, four-month-old Catherine. One of the guards dropped the infant Catherine and she lost her hearing for life. Ivan was taken to Elizabeth who left the palace with him.
The deposed royal family was kept at the Dünamünde prison. The new Empress had planned to send them to Brunswick. However, her advisors suggested that Ivan who was the legal heir to the throne might become problematic for her later on.
The whole family was then sent to a remote northern region and kept under house arrest in the village of Kholmogory in northern Arkhangelsk. They were kept in an isolated house. Ivan was kept in the same building but the family was not aware of this.
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Life in Captivity
Ivan VI stayed in solitary confinement at Kholmogory for the next 12 years, seeing no one else but his jailer. At the same time all the traces of his reign, were removed from Russia. Books or coins with his image were destroyed and it was forbidden to mention his name.
The Tsarina could not set her mind at ease about Ivan VI reclaiming the throne and in 1745 possessing any image of Ivan VI became a crime. If his name needed to be mentioned in official proceedings it was bypassed by saying “documents under a certain title”.
When Ivan VI’s presence in the Kholmogory prison came to be known, he was transferred to the Island fortress of Shlisselburg. Here, even the guards did not know who their prisoner was. His name was never used and he was always referred to as “a certain prisoner”.
A secret order was given saying that unless there was an order written in the Empress’s own hand, he was not to be handed over to anyone. If any attempt were made to rescue the prisoner then he was to be killed.
Having lived all his life in solitary confinement, Ivan VI eventually became mentally and physically unstable. He was consciously anxious and worried that witchcraft was being used against him.
However, he was aware of his imperial lineage and referred to himself as ‘gosudar’ or sovereign. It had been decided that it was too dangerous to give him an education, but he knew how to read and could read the bible.
When Catherine the Great, took over the throne, she went to visit Ivan VI in his prison. It was 1762 and the former Tsar was 21 years old. Catherine saw his mental state but did not do anything to help, possibly fearing that Ivan VI had a greater right to the throne than she had.
Even though Ivan VI was kept under utmost secrecy, word got out that the “certain prisoner” was the former Tsar. A sub-lieutenant of the garrison named Vasily Mirovich got together some of the soldiers and an attempt was planned to rescue him.
On the midnight of July 5, 1764, Mirovich and the soldiers arrested the commandant of the garrison, Berednikov. They then demanded that the prisoner be released. The guards acted in accordance to the imperial order and murdered Ivan VI.
Thus the tortured life of the infant Tsar came to an end. He was buried discreetly in the fortress itself. His death secured the line for Catherine’s son to eventually become emperor. Mirovich and the soldiers who were with him were captured and executed.
Fate of the Family
While in prison, Anna Leopoldovna and Anton Ulrich had three more children. They were born between 1743 and 1746. The family spent their years as prisoners in great hardship. They were denied basic necessities and all communication with the outside world was cut off. The children were banned from having an education.
in 1746, at the age of 27, Anna Leopoldovna died during childbirth. She was buried in St. Petersburg with full honours given to a member of the Imperial family.
In 1762, Catherine allowed Anton Ulrich to leave Russia but laid the condition that he leave his children behind which he refused. He eventually lost his eyesight and died in prison on March 19, 1776 at the age of 59. He was buried in secret at an unknown location.
Ivan VI’s four brothers and sisters were finally released from prison on 30 June 1780. They were physically weak and aged between 34 to 39. They were handed over to their paternal aunt Juliana Maria who was the Danish queen dowager.
They continued to live their lives under house arrest at Horsens in Jutland in Denmark. Their aunt never visited them. They kept a small court of forty to fifty people and lived in reasonable comfort with a pension given to them by Catherine.
The children raised in captivity found the freedom hard to adjust to. They were also unable to communicate in Dutch. In 1803, Catherine Antonovna wrote to the Tsar requesting him to let her return to Russia but never got a reply. She passed away in 1807, the last of her siblings to die.