Anna of Russia

Anna Ioannovna reigned as Empress of Russia from 1730 to 1740.

Portrait of Empress Anna Ioannovna (1693-1740)
pinterest button

Prior to her accession to the Russian throne, she was the regent of the Duchy of Courland from 1711 until 1730.

Early life

Anna was born in Moscow to Ivan V and Praskovia Saltykova. She was primarily raised by her mother, a very stern woman. By her orders she was to be raised for the nunnery; she grew up confined to a royal cult of domesticity. This type of confinement was known to not allow for development of personality and explains the cruel tendencies of Anna, who followed in her mother’s footsteps. Her education consisted of French, German, dancing, religious text, and folklore. As she grew older, she was obstinate and had a mean streak, earning her the nickname “Ivan the Terrible.” Her family moved to St. Petersburg under the order of Tsar Peter the Great and this had a significant effect on Anna; she enjoyed the grandeur society.

Peter the Great also arranged her marriage. With her dowry of 200,000 roubles, Anna was wed in a grand affair. A parody of their wedding was performed soon after by two dwarfs jumping out of pies immediately following the ceremony. Just a few short weeks after the marriage and only twenty miles out of St. Petersburg on the road to Courland, Duke Frederick died. The cause is debated between a chill and effects of alcohol.


Anna was the daughter of Ivan V of Russia, as well as the niece of Peter the Great. The latter married her to Frederick William, Duke of Courland in November 1710, but on the return trip from Saint Petersburg in January 1711, her husband died. Anna proceeded to rule Courland (now western Latvia) from 1711 to 1730, with the Russian resident, Peter Bestuzhev, as her adviser (and sometimes lover). She never remarried after the death of her husband, but her enemies said she conducted a love affair with Ernst Johann von Biron for many years.

Portrait of Empress Anna Ioannovna (1693-1740)
pinterest button Portrait of Empress Anna Ioannovna (1693—1740) Louis Caravaque (1684–1752), Public Domain

On the death of Peter II, Emperor of Russia, the Russian Supreme Privy Council under Prince Dmitri Galitzine made Anna Empress in 1730. They had hoped that she would feel indebted to the nobles for her unexpected fortune and remain a figurehead at best, and malleable at worst. In the hope of establishing a constitutional monarchy in Russia, they convinced her to sign laws that limited her power. However, these proved a minor inconvenience to her.

The laws that were drawn to limit her power were points drafted to completely limit her power. She could not start war, call for peace, create new taxes, or promote individuals to high ranks. She could not punish nobility without trial, could not grant estates or villages, could not promote anyone, either foreigners or Russians, to court office, and she could not spend the revenue generated by the state. She was presented with a petition by eight hundred noblemen at the foot of the Kremlin urging her that Russia could only be ruled in an autocratic style to continue carrying out Peter’s political, social, and economic advances. Anna already knew very well how ruling Russia involved being an experienced actress in regards to handling the noble gentry. Being raised in a court her entire life, she was very prepared to handle the political structure and knew how to get her way. She soon established herself as an autocratic ruler, using her popularity with the imperial guards and lesser nobility.


Cadet Corps

Anna founded the Cadet Corps in 1731, one year after coming to the throne. The Cadet Corps was a group of young boys starting at the age of eight being trained for the military. There was a very rigorous training program and this also included all the schooling that was necessary for someone to be in an important position in the military. As time went on though, the program was later improved by other emperors and empresses, such as Catherine the Great. They began to include the arts and sciences into their schooling, rather than just the knowledge that is considered necessary for only a career in the military.

Ministers Cabinet of Empress Anna Ivanovna, painting by Valery Jacobi
pinterest button Ministers Cabinet of Empress Anna Ivanovna, painting by Valery Jacobi Valery Ivanovich Jacobi (1834–1902), Public Domain

Academy of Science

Started by Peter the Great, Anna continued to fund the Academy of Science. The point of this school was to further the sciences in Russia and to help bring the country that was so far behind up to where the Western Countries were. Some of the sciences that were taught were mathematics, astronomy, and botany. The Academy of Science was also responsible for a lot of the expeditions, specifically to the Bering Sea. The Bering Sea Expedition is one of the more famous ones that was done by the Academy of Science. While they were trying to find out if America and Asia had been at one point connected, they also studied Siberia and its people, these studies were used long after they returned from Siberia. But there were also some troubles for the scientists. Oftentimes, the government and the church would meddle in their funding and their experiments, changing the data to how they wanted to see it. This school of science was very small, never exceeding a population of twelve students in the university and barely over a hundred in the secondary school. But still it was a huge step forward for education in Russia. Many of the teachers and professors were imported from Germany bringing more of a Western feeling to what the students were learning about. Some of the students to learn from these German professors later became advisors or teachers to some of the future leaders, such as Catherine the Great’s tutor, Adodurov. During Anna’s reign, the Academy of Science began to include the Arts into their program. For not only was there not a school for the arts yet, but Anna was a firm supporter of the arts. Theater, architecture, engraving, and journalism were all added to the curriculum. During this time, the foundations of what is now the world famous Russian Ballet was laid down as well.

The Secret Office of Investigation

There have been many rumors since the time of Anna’s reign that Biron had a large impact on this office, but truly it was run by the senator A. I. Ushakov. This office was resurrected during Anna’s reign to punish those for political crimes mostly, but sometimes they would take cases that were not as political. The punishments that came from the crimes that were committed, were often very painful and disgusting. For example, some people that had supposedly been plotting against the government had their noses slit as well as being beaten with the knout.

Anna of Russia on 1739 coin
pinterest button Anna of Russia on 1739 coin [show]Valery Ivanovich Jacobi (1834–1902), CC BY-SA 3.0


There is a lot of mention of Germans throughout the reign of Anna. For example, she often gave them ruling positions in her cabinet and other important decision making positions. This was because she had very little trust in the Russians. It was because of this strong German influence in government that many Russians came to resent them. Anna gave many privileges to those that were considered the nobility. In 1730, she made sure that the law of Peter the Great outlawed states from being subdivided, the primogeniture law, was repealed. Starting in 1731, landlords were responsible for their serfs' taxes and their economic bondage was tightened again. In 1736, when the age of service changed to twenty with a twenty-five year service time, Anna and her government also determined that if the family had more than one son, one could stay behind so that he could work the estate.

Foreign Affairs

During Anna’s reign, Russia became involved in two major conflicts, the War of Polish Succession and the Turkish wars. The Turkish Wars were due to her German cabinet member, Osterman, believing that Russia should not have stopped trying to take over more land for themselves. The reason that Russia stopped was due to a treaty, the Peace of Pruth, signed by Peter the Great in 1711. In the end though, all of the land, except for one piece had to be given up, back to the Ottoman Empire. But before the Turkish wars was the War of the Polish Succession. Russia had allied themselves with Charles VI, who was the Holy Roman Emperor at the time, and committed Russia during the War of the Polish Succession. Afterwards, they made Augustus III the king of Poland at the expense of Stanisław Leszczyński and other candidates. Not only were these wars deadly but they cost more money than many of the past military expenditures of Russia combined, causing a lot of stress on the country.

Anna of Russia rips Conditions
pinterest button Anna of Russia rips Conditions   unknown, Public Domain

In 1732, on the eve of the Russo-Turkish War of 1735—1739, the government of Anna Ioannovna was forced to cede back all the annexed territories in the North Caucasus, South Caucasus, and northern Persia conquered in the Russo-Persian War of 1722—1723) by Peter the Great several years earlier back to Persia, now led by the military genius Nader Shah, as a part of the Treaty of Resht in order to construct an alliance against the Ottoman Empire.

Death and succession

Anna was famed for her big cheek, «which, as shown in her portraits», Carlyle says, «was comparable to a Westphalian ham». As her health declined she declared her grandnephew, Ivan VI, should succeed her, and appointed Biron as regent. This was an attempt to secure the line of her father, Ivan V, and exclude descendants of Peter the Great from inheriting the throne.

It was recorded she had an ulcer on her kidneys. She continued having attacks of gout, and as her condition worsened, her health began to fail. Anna died on October 17, 1740, from a terrible kidney stone that made for a slow and painful death. The tsaritsa’s final words focused on Biron. Anna died at the age of 47 of kidney disease. Ivan VI was only a one-year-old baby at the time and his mother, Anna Leopoldovna, was detested for her German counsellors and relations. As a consequence, shortly after Anna's death Elizabeth Petrovna, Peter I's legitimized daughter, managed to gain the favor of the populace, locked Ivan VI in a dungeon and exiled his mother. Anna was buried three months later on January 15, 1741, leaving behind uncertainty for the future of Russia.

Years of life: 7 February [O.S. 28 January] 1693 – 28 October [O.S. 17 October] 1740

Useful Information

Anna Ioannovna
Russian: Анна Иоанновна)

Relationship with Biron

Anna’s reign is often referred to as “Bironovschina” or “The Age of Biron,” in regards to her German lover Ernest Johann Biron. What separates Anna’s reign from the majority of imperial Russian history is the fact that her courts were almost entirely made up of foreigners, and the majority of whom were German. Historians isolate her rule from Russian history due to long-term prejudice towards Germans.

Historians would also argue that Biron not only had a strong influence on Anna’s domestic and foreign policies, but that he also reigned solely at times. Anna was attracted to Biron’s charm and he proved to be a good companion to her after her tragic past love life. But Biron’s name became synonymous with cruelty, terror, and evil, ensuring Anna’s reign with a dark mark. Anna never remarried; as empress of Russia she enjoyed the power she held over all men and viewed marriage as unnecessary.


Anna continued lavish architectural advances in St. Petersburg. Anna completed a waterway that began construction under Peter the Great and called for seafaring ships to accompany this new canal and continue naval expansion. Westernization continued after Peter the Great’s reign in areas of prominent Western culture such as the Academy of Science, cadet corps education, and imperial culture including theater and opera. Although not at the fast-paced speed of Westernization under her Uncle Peter’s reign, it is evident that a culture of the expansion of knowledge continued during Anna’s rule and affected mostly nobility. It is argued that this success in Westernization is due to the efforts of the German court nobility; the foreigners’ impacts are viewed both positively and negatively.

Dark legacy

Anna’s rule is often overlooked in Russian history due to its unfavorable consequences during the decade. It is often referred to as the “dark era.” A Russian autocrat could not afford to be weak of character, yet Anna’s rule does portray questionable recurring evil instances towards subjects and situations. There were continued issues with serfdom, or peasant and low class slavery, taxation, political dishonesty, and a reign marked by constant fear. Her empire was described by Lefort, the Saxon minister, as being “comparable to a storm threatened ship, manned by a pilot and crew who are all drunk or asleep . . . with no considerable future.” Anna’s war with Turkey, economic issues, and conspiracy revolving around her accession all bring to light an ominous glow of the empress’s reign. Such lavish court life was overshadowed by the thousands of men at war being slaughtered like cattle. It is undeniable she had a vast impact in science and culture, but it came with a price. The positive aspects of Anna’s reign are typically ignored though, and it is important to note that she had no more influence on domestic and foreign relations and policies than any other eighteenth century ruler.

Anna’s reign was almost unidentifiable during the 1730s when compared to any East or West court when it came to the grandeur and lavish display of wealth in the palace. The issue with Anna’s reign derives from her personality flaws. She was known to enjoy hunting animals from the palace windows and on more than a few occasions humiliated individuals with disabilities. On a positive note, she restored the courts in St. Petersburg and brought Russia’s political atmosphere back to where Peter the Great had intended progress.