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History - Statesman's Handbook on Russia 1896

Statesman's Handbook for Russia

1896 - By the Chancery of the Committee of Ministers, St. Petersburg

[This version was written primarily for the English diplomatic corps, therefore the spelling conventions are those of Victorian England and are as found in the original text. -ed. These are a few interesting excerpts from Volume 1.]


The rights of state power in their entire extent belong to the Sovereign Emperor. but the Emperor does not directly exercise all of his rights. Catherine II explained in her Instructions or Nakaz, that "the fundamental laws of the State necessarily assume middle channels, ie: institutions, through which the Sovereign power is exercised." Hence the division of the government into supreme and subordinate. In the supreme government the power of the Sovereign operates in a direct manner. In subordinate government a degree of power is entrusted by him to persons and institutions, acting in his name, by his orders, and within the limits, laid down for them by law. The general principle, defining the sphere of direct application of the Sovereign power, is clearly deducible from what has been stated above as to the law and its significance in the organization of the State. The direct application of the Sovereign power is indispensable either when the general necessity of altering a law presents itself, whereas all, that is sufficiently defined by the law, is subject to the jurisdiction of subordinate powers.

Consequently the Imperial power acts directly in the first place in legislation; no state institution can independently establish a new law, and no law can be carried out without the confirmation of the Sovereign power. But even in the administration it sometimes becomes necessary to take measures, which owing to their importance, can be put into force only by the Sovereign power. Such are, firstly: the most important external relations, as the declaration of war, conclusion of peace, of conventions and treaties with foreign countries; secondly - general internal matters in extraordinary cases, as for instance - in matters, concerning the public peace and safety, public alimentation, the building of railways, etc.

As representative of Sovereign power in the State, the Monarch is the source of all distinctions and privileges: preferment to the dignity of nobility, the granting of hereditary titles and other callings, ranks, orders and forms of distinction all depend on him.

As head of the State, the Emperor disposes independently of all the personal and material forces of the Empire. He commands the army and navy, appoints to all offices in the civil service, the army and the navy and confirms the appointment of officials to certain posts in the provincial, municipal and class administrations. The Sovereign power alone can impose general taxes and contributions, can order the employment of state funds, by confirming the estimates of state revenues and expenditure, etc.

As head of the government, the Emperor has supreme supervision over the course of the whole government of the State; therefore the ministers and governors present annual reports to His Majesty, showing the course of affairs in the departments entrusted to them.

Finally, as a christian Sovereign, the Emperor acts with supremacy in Church affairs, in as far at they refer to civil relations, independently of dogma and internal hierarchal administration. His is supreme defender and protector of the dogma of the established Orthodox Greek-Catholic Church.

He therefore protects the orthodoxy and purity of the Church, and assumes the right of appointing bishops from among candidates nominated by the Synod and of controlling the functions of ecclesiastical institutions.

The same rights, exclusive of the protection of the purity of creed, belong to His Majesty in respect to other christian and unchristian religions, existing in the Empire.

Though the duty of Justice consists exclusively in the exact application, under His Majesty's authority (by Ukas), of the acting laws to separate cases, nevertheless the Monarch confirms the verdicts of the Courts of Law, as far as regards the deprivation of the rights of nobility, officials, church functionaries and all persons, possessing orders or badges of distinction; as no subordinate power can enforce deprivation of what has been granted by the Sovereign.

As the source of mercy, being above Justice, the Sovereign has the right of pardon and mitigation of punishments beyond the limits assigned to Justice itself. Finally, in certain cases even proceedings may not be instituted without Supreme resolution, namely, in violations of duty by high dignitaries, as these persons are appointed by direct selection of the Sovereign.


As distinguished from the rights of the Sovereign power in the regions of legislation, administration and justice, stand the prerogatives, enjoyed by the Monarch, which raise him above all persons and institutions in the State. To these belong:

1. Exemption of the Monarch from the action of the general laws, as these laws proceed from himself, and personal impunity in breaking them, as the power does not exist, which could call the Sovereign to account.

2. Inviolability, consisting in the appointing of especially strict punishments for attempting the life, health and honour of the Monarch.

3. The Imperial Court. The Monarch has his Court, ie: persons for the purpose of executing his honorary service. These persons enjoy all the privileges pertaining to the state service. The Imperial Court is maintained by the State.

4. As prerogatives of honour - the Monarch's title and coat of arms.

The title of the Russian Monarch is Emperor and Imperial Majesty. Originally the Russian Sovereigns bore the title of grand dukes. With the uniting of Russia under the dominion of Moscow, the title of Tsar began to be used, and was, definitely adopted by Ivan IV in 1547. This remained the title of the Russian Sovereigns unil 1721. In 1721, by the peace of Nishtadt, the Great Northern war, carried on so successfully by Peter the Great, was concluded. In celebration of this event, the Senat and Synod resolved t beg Peter I to accept the titles of Emperor, Great, and Father of his Country. A supreme Ukas was issued to that effect, on November 11, 1721, which gave rise to a protest on the part of many European states, as it placed the Russian Sovereign on the same level with the Emperor of Germany, the sole Monarch of that rank then existing. First to acknowledge the new title were Prussia, the Netherlands and Sweden, last - Poland in 1764.

The Coat of Arms has for its principle element the two-headed eagle, adopted by the Grand Duke Ivan III, after his marriage (in 1472) with Sophia Paleolog, niece of the last Byzantine Emperor. On the eagle's breast is depicted the coat of arms of Moscow: St. George on horseback, slaying the dragon with a golden spear.


In its substance the Sovereign power is perpetual ie: its functions do not terminate with the death of the Monarch, as by the law his rights are immediately transferred to his Successor. The order of succession to the state power in hereditary monarchies, as in Russia, is determined by the laws of succession to the throne.

In contemporary European states there exist three systems of succession to the throne, distinguished by the degree of female participation in them: firstly, the system of complete exclusion of females and female issue, called the Salic system. This system was adopted by the Salic Franks in cases of succession to landed property, but it has survived principally in state law, and is practice in present in Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Italy, Denmark and Prussia.

In England females are admitted to the succession to the throne in the following order: male heirs in the same degree of relation excluding females; so if, for instance, the daughter of the king is older than the son, still the son succeeds to the throne. But if the king leaves a daughter and a nephew, then the daughter succeeds to the throne, as being in a closer degree of relationship. Besides England, this system is in practice in Spain and Portugal. It is called the cognate or Castile system.

Lastly comes the third system, occupying, as it were, the middle between the two foregoing: females and female lines are not absolutely excluded, but the male heirs enjoy superiority in all the lines and all the degrees of relationship. Only in the case of the entire extinction of the male descent in all the male lines, does the throne pass to the female line.

This system, called the German-Dutch, was established originally in Austria by Leopold I, in 1703. At present it is in practice, except Austria, in Holland, Greece, Bavaria, Wurtemberg and likewise in Russia b the act on the succession to the throne, April 5, 1797.

Several systems had hitherto been used in Russia. Previous to the growth of Moscow, during the Kief period of Russian history (from the end of the Xth until the middle of the XIVth century) there existed in fact no system. By a general rule the inheritance belonged to the whole family of the Grand Duke; each brother had the right to a part of the domains and a thrown in a certain town. The throne of Kief was considered the principal one, and it passed with the dignity of Grand Duke to the eldest brother. But the seniority became obscure, through the numerous growth of the ducal family, the birthright led to armed strife, when not unfrequently the elder would submit to the younger.

In the Moscow period single succession was gradually attained. But in 1598, the dynasty of Rurik came to an end, and the throne was ascended by Boris Godounoff. The electing system prevailed during the whole of the Turbulent Period until 1613, when the Romanoff dynasty was elected to the throne, as being the most proximate to the Rurik family, the mother of Theodor Ionnovitch, the last Tsar of that dynasty, having been a Romanoff. In this dynasty the throne passed at first from father to son by right of primogeniture, till Peter the Great, urged by the opposition which all his reforms met with from his eldest son, the Cesarevitch Alexey Petrovitch, determined to adopt the system of bequeathment. He died however intestate, but his nearest successors adhered to this plan, giving not unfrequently rise to riot and discord.

Consequently in 1742, Elizaveta Petrovna issued a manifesto, declaring the heir to the throne to be her nephew, the duke Peter of Holstein, "as nearest by blood" to the Empress; and subsequently the Empress Catherine II, on ascending the throne, ordered the oath of allegiance to be taken to her and to her son, the grand duke Pavel Petrovitch, lawful heir to the throne of all the Russias.

Thus the principle of succession to the throne by law was again proclaimed, the legal order only of succession to the throne was unestablished. This was accomplished by the Emperor Paul I by an act on the succession to the throne, which established the following system:

The right of succession to the throne belongs to the members of the now reigning Imperial House. Both the sexes are admitted to the succession, though the preference is given to the male sex. The Emperor is immediately succeeded by his eldest son, after whom comes the entire male issue of that son, namely: the grandson, etc until its complete termination; then the throne is ascended by the second son of the Emperor, followed by his male issue; upon that the third son, etc. At the extinction of the last male line of the Emperor Paul I, the throne passes into the female lines, according to the degrees of proximity to the Emperor, who reigned last. In each of the female lines, preference of male over female heirs is shown according to the general rule.

The person, possessing the right to the throne, may ascend it only if he or she professes the orthodox faith. In the event of belonging to another creed, orthodoxy must first be embraced.

It is permissible to abnegate the rights to the throne, provided only no complications in the succession to the throne arise. Whereupon, when the abnegation is proclaimed and made law it may not be withdrawn.

The heir ascends the throne immediately after the death of his predecessor, but he begins to reign only on coming of age. The heir is held at be of age at 16 years, earlier than the subject (21), as is likewise the case for other European states.

In the event of a minor Emperor ascending the throne, a guardianship and an administration are established.

The new Emperor publicly proclaims his accession to the throne by means of a special manifesto. In the manifesto the lawful heir, if he already exists, is announced.

On the appearance of the manifesto, all male subjects, from the age of 12 upwards, are summoned to take the oath of allegiance, each according to the rites of his creed. The oath is taken to the Emperor and to his lawful heir, even though he is not mentioned in the manifesto. The ceremonies of coronation and annointment of the new Emperor are then performed in the Moscow Cathedral of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin, in the presence of the highest state institutions and classes, summoned for this purpose by Sovereign power.

By their right to the throne, a special privileged position is created for the members of the Imperial House.

At the head of the Imperial Family stands the Sovereign himself. He is its perpetual supreme guardian and protector. The members of the Imperial House on coming of age take the oath of loyalty to their Sovereign and Country and swear to maintain the rights of succession and the family order. Therefore each member of the Imperial Family owes the Emperor, as to the head of the house, and as to an Autocrat - absolute respect, submission, obedience and subjection.

All persons of both sexes, proceeding from the Imperial blood in the male line, and in lawful marriage, are considered as members of the Imperial House. The rights of the male persons are communicated to their wives, who thereby likewise become members of the Imperial House, but without the right of succeeding to the throne.

Thus the principal condition of belonging to the Imperial House is lawful marriage. In order to be lawful these marriages require the observance of certain special conditions, different from those set down for ordinary subjects. Namely it is indispensable, firstly, to have the sanction of the reigning Emperor; secondly, that the persons about to be married should be equally high born and thirdly, a person of the male sex, with the possible right of succeeding to the throne may marry a person of another faith, only on condition that she embrace the orthodox faith.

The prerogatives enjoyed by the members of the Imperial House are diverse.

The highest position belongs to the Empress, who by sanction of the Emperor is crowned, either together with him or separately if the marriage take place after the coronation of the Emperor. But the dowager Empress takes precedence over the wife of the reigning Emperor.

The next position in the line of the members of the Imperial House belongs to the Heir Apparent of the throne, and to his wife. He bears the title of Heir-Apparent Cesarevitch, Grand Duke, and Imperial Highness. The wife of the Heir-Apparent is called Cesarevna and Grand Duchess, her title being Imperial Highness.

Then follow, firstly the Emperor's sons, daughters and grandchildren (children of his sons); they enjoy the title of Grand Duke, Grand Duchess, and Imperial Highness. Secondly, the great grandchildren of the Emperor in the male line, and all the senior male descendants of the great grandsons, ie: the eldest sons, etc.; they have the title of Prince and Princess of Imperial Blood and Highness. And at length, thirdly all the remaining members of the Imperial House, consequently the younger sons and daughters of the great grandsons etc., are all entitled to the calling of Princes of the Imperial blood, but with the title of Serenissime.

The other prerogatives of the members of the Imperial Family vary according to the difference in station and titles.

They possess the right to the Imperial Coat of Arms, orders, a court staff, and other distinctions.

For the maintenance of the Imperial Family, special landed estates and a fund are appointed under the name of Appanages. The appanage property was founded by the Emperor Paul I, in 1797, and a special institution was established for its superintendance - originally the Ministry of Appanages, at present Head office of the Appenages, forming a part of the Ministry of the Imperial House.

As a subsidy to the appanage estates certain sums are furnished by the State Treasury for the maintenance of the Empress, the Heir-Apparent and his wife, all the other sons and daughters of the Emperor and the Heir-Apparent, till they come of age, and also for supplying the marriage portions of the Grand-Duchesses and Princesses of Imperial blood.

Besides the enumerated prerogatives, all the members of the Imperial Family without exception enjoy an enforced protection of the law; offences against their life, liberty, health, and honour are punished with the same strictness, as those attempted against the person of the Sovereign Emperor.

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