Ivan VI of Russia

Ivan VI

Portrait of a young Ivan VI
Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias
Reign 28 October 1740 – 6 December 1741
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 Brunswick-Bevern
Father Duke Anthony Ulrich of Brunswick
Mother Grand Duchess Anna Leopoldovna of Russia
Religion Russian Orthodoxy

Ivan VI Antonovich of Russia (Ioann Antonovich; Russian: Иоанн VI; Иоанн Антонович; 23 August [O.S. 12 August] 174016 July [O.S. 5 July] 1764) was nominally Emperor of Russia in 1740-41. He was only two months old when he was proclaimed Emperor and his mother named regent. Scarcely a year later his first cousin twice-removed, Elizabeth, seized the throne in a coup, ruling thereafter as Empress of Russia. Ivan and his parents were imprisoned far from the capital and spent the rest of their lives in captivity. After more than twenty years as a prisoner, Ivan was killed by his guards when some army officers (unknown to Ivan) attempted to free him. His surviving siblings, who had been born in prison, then were released into the custody of their aunt, the Queen of Denmark, but none could live normally after a lifetime of confinement.

Emperor of Russia

Ivan was born on 12/23 August 1740 at Saint Petersburg, the eldest child of Duke Anthony Ulrich of Brunswick-Lüneburg by his wife, Duchess Anna Leopoldovna of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, the only niece of the childless Empress Anna of Russia, and the only granddaughter of Tsar Ivan V.[1] She had lived in Russia almost all her life, and her husband had also made his home in that country, in the expectation that they or their progeny would inherit the throne upon the death of the empress.

This expectation was fulfilled within two months of the birth of their first-born child. On 5 October 1740 the infant Ivan was adopted by his grandaunt (who was on her deathbed) and declared her heir apparent. The empress also declared that her longtime lover and advisor, Ernst Johann von Biron, duke of Courland, would serve as regent until Ivan came of age. Indeed the desire to ensure that her lover would enjoy power and influence after her death was the primary reason the dying empress chose to name as her heir the infant rather than his mother.

Empress Anna died soon thereafter on 17/28 October 1740. The following day the infant was proclaimed emperor as Ivan VI, Autocrat of All The Russias, and Biron became regent. However, the idea of Biron wielding power was not acceptable either to Ivan's parents or to most of the nobility. During his years as Anna's lover he had made many enemies, and was tremendously unpopular at court. Within three weeks Ivan's father had engineered Biron's fall. At midnight on 8/19 November 1740 Biron was seized in his bedroom by partisans of the royal couple and banished to Siberia (he was later permitted to reside at Yaroslavl). Ivan's mother, Anna Leopoldovna, was made regent, though the vice-chancellor, Andrei Osterman, effectively ran the government during her brief regency.

Deposition and imprisonment

Ivan's reign, and his mother's regency, lasted but thirteen months, for on December 6, 1741 a coup d'état placed Elizabeth of Russia on the throne, and Ivan and his family were imprisoned in the fortress of Dünamünde (13 December 1742) after a preliminary detention at Riga, from where the new Empress had at first intended to send the unhappy family home to Brunswick. In June 1744, following the Lopukhina Affair, the Empress transferred Ivan to Kholmogory on the White Sea where, isolated from his family and seeing no one other than his jailer, he remained for the next twelve years. When news of his confinement at Kholmogory circulated more widely young Ivan was secretly transferred to the fortress of Shlisselburg (1756) where he was still more rigorously guarded; not even the commandant of the fortress knowing the true identity of "a certain prisoner". Throughout Elizabeth's reign her predecessor's name was subjected to a damnatio memoriae procedure; all coins, documents, and publications bearing Ivan's name and titles were systematically confiscated and destroyed, and now are of an extraordinary rarity.

Upon the accession of Peter III in 1762 Ivan's situation 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 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, in the Summer of 1762, still more stringent orders were sent to the officer in charge of "the nameless one"; if any attempt were 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 herself 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). Instructions had been given not to educate him, but 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 own 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 at Horsens in Jutland. There they lived under house arrest for the rest of their lives under Juliana's guardianship and Catherine's expense. Although they were prisoners they lived in relative comfort and retained a small "court" of forty to fifty people, all Danes 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)
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
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