Olga of Kiev (c. 890-969) of the House of Rurik (reign as Regent: 945-964).
Wife of Prince Igor, the son of Rurik, Prince of Novgorod, a
founder and first ruler of the Rurik dynasty - the first ruling Russian dynasty. The marriage is
fought to be initiated by Oleg the Prophet, Prince of Novgorod, Rurik’s relative and founder of Kievan Rus’.
After Oleg’s death Igor assumed the rule over Kievan Rus’. Igor and Olga had one
known surviving son, Svyatoslav. In 945 Prince Igor went to the tribe of the Drevlians to gather tributes and the Drevlians killed him. Upon his death
Princess Olga took the powers in her hands and became regent, since her son was
only 3 years old. The Princess took revenge upon her husband’s death: she buried
alive matchmakers from Drevlians who came to her to propose that Olga marry
their Prince Mal, then she lured their most distinguished men into a bathhouse, locked the doors and
set fire to the building, burning them alive. After that she went to the land of Drevlians
in order to gather tributes. The Princess asked that each
household present her with a dove as a gift. Then she tied burning papers to the
legs of the doves and let them fly back to their homes. As a result, the entire
town was destroyed by fire.
As a ruler Olga established the system of tribute gathering, which is sometimes
considered to be the first legal tax system in Eastern Europe. She ordered the
creation of centers of trade and taxation, divided lands into administrative
units, which were controlled by the Princess’s representatives and set fixed
amounts of tributes, with a detailed schedule for their gathering. Princess Olga
is also thought to have been the initiator of the first stone city building in
She was first ruler of Rus’ to convert to Christianity and was baptized in Constantinople in Byzantine Empire. Her son Svyatoslav didn’t support his mother’s decision or her efforts to spread Christianity throughout Rus’ and was worried about losing the
respect of the army because of Olga’s new faith, yet after her death he would
bury his mother according to Christian customs. It would be Olga’s grandson,
Vladimir I (also known as Saint Vladimir, Vladimir the Great or Vladimir the Fair Sun), who in 988 made
Christianity the official religion of Rus’.
Olga was canonized as one of the first saints of the Russian Orthodox Church and thus is
known as Saint Olga.
of Lithuania (1371-1453) of the House of Rurik (reign as Regent: 1425-1432)
The only daughter of ruler of Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Vytautas the Great, and
wife of Vasily I, Grand Prince of Moscow, from the House of Rurik. She possibly
met her future husband while he was a guest at her father’s home while still
being a heir to his father, renowned Dmitry Donskoy. Sophia married Vasily
in 1391 and had at least 9 children with him : 5 sons and 4 daughters. Their eldest daughter,
Anna, was married to John Palaiologos, subsequently Byzantine Emperor. Their 3
sons died of plague and their youngest and last son, Vasily, was born when Sophia
was 44, the birth was difficult, she got sick not long before the birth and was
literally at death’s door. Throughout her marriage Sophia was a good helper to
her husband both in state and economic affairs. She had a vast amount of
lands in her possession and skillfully governed them. During his reign Vasily I
continued reunification of the Russian lands, while dealing with the Golden Horde
as the Rus’ at that time was under its dominance. Sophia’s marriage to Vasily helped to secure alliance
between her husband and Grand Duchy of Lithuania and use it as prevention
against severe attacks from the Golden Horde, though the alliance turned out to
be fragile, and they waged war against each other at one point. Sophia
tried to act as mediator between her husband and father.
After Vasily’s death in
1425 Sophia became regent for their 10-year-old son Vasily II. Her husband
Vasily bequeathed his wife a lot of lands into possession for life, which
provided large income for Sophia and made her into even wealthier lady. She
also secured the support from her father for Vasily II’s claim to the throne, as
it was disputed by his uncle, Yuri of Zvenigorod. Yet in 1430 Vytautas died and
from this time the ongoing battle for the throne started between Vasily II and
his uncle, where Sophia would be staunchly fighting for the rights of her son. Sophia arranged marriage for her son and during wedding festivities
she tore a golden belt from Vasily’s first cousin as this belt used to belong to
Dmity Donskoy and Sophia believed only her son had a right to it. When her son
at one point lost throne to his uncle she financed and organized public
discontent against Yuri’s rule and Vasily II returned his throne; Yuri made a
second attempt and managed to gain the throne for the second time, taking Sophia
hostage, sending her away from Moscow, but Vasily II managed to take throne back
again, Yuri died and Sophia returned. The troubles didn’t end then. When her son
was captured by Golden Horde, Sophia raised an enormous sum of money as a
ransom; when Vasily II was captured by his first cousin, Yuri’s son, he was
blinded and became known as Vasily the Blind yet still managed to get his
throne, with his mother helping to mobilize his supporters. In 1451 while her
son was away Horde attacked Moscow and Sophia organized defence of the city,
successfully thwarting their attack. Highly pious and devoted to Russian
Orthodox Church Sophia patronized and sponsored monasteries and churches,
including the famous Ascension Convent in Kremlin. She took the veil there not
long before her death, leaving her vast lands to her son and her numerous
grandsons as well as several religious artefacts.
Sophia’s grandson, Ivan III (also known as Ivan the Great), ended the
dominance of Golden Horde over Rus’, gathered Russian lands, significantly
expanding the territory under his rule and carried out effective reforms,
laying foundation for the powerful state.
Elena Glinskaya (c.1508-1538) of the House of Rurik (reign as Regent: 1533-1538)
Daughter of Prince Vasili Glinsky, a noble from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania,
and his wife Serbian Princess Anna Jakšić. Her uncle was powerful and wealthy
Michael Glinsky, who began an armed rebellion against Sigismund I, Grand Duke
of Lithuania. The rebellion failed and Glinsky family retreated to Russia, where
Michael served Vasily III of Russia (son of Ivan III the Great). In 1525 Vasily III resolved to divorce his
barren wife, Solomoniya Saburova, with whom he was married for 20 years and had
no children, and marry Elena Glinskaya. According to the chronicles, he chose
Elena “because of the beauty of her face and her young age.” Elena was
beautiful, lively, charming and well-educated (she knew German and Polish, spoke
and wrote in Latin). Vasily was so smitten with her, that he even broke the
ancient Russian male tradition and shaved his beard. Despite strong opposition
from the Russian Orthodox Church Saburova was forced to take the veil and it’s
said that she cursed the House of Rurik for it. Vasily married Elena and she
gave him the long awaited son Ivan in 1530 and then another son Yuri in 1532.
Vasily was overjoyed and doted on his wife and sons, yet whilst out hunting he
fell ill and died in 1533. On his deathbed Vasily appointed regency counsel for
his 3 year old son Ivan IV until he is mature enough to rule. The boyars from
the counsel had to report to Elena. Yet quite soon Elena removed all power from
the counsel (including her own uncle who was in it) and took power into her own
During her regency she challenged the claims of her brothers-in-law, Yury
Ivanovich and Andrey of Staritsa in order to protect her little son’s rights to
the throne from his uncles. The struggle ended with their incarceration in 1534
and 1537, respectively (both died in prison). Elena carried out a currency
reform that introduced a unified monetary system in the state and some new
currency units, one of those being famous kopeyka.
In foreign affairs, Elena succeeded in signing an armistice with Duchy of
Lithuania on beneficial terms for Russia in 1537 after three years of war with
it, while simultaneously effectively neutralizing Sweden. She had a new
defensive wall constructed around Moscow, made an attempt to change the system
of home rule which anticipated the reforms of Ivan IV. She is noted to have
visited several convents. Yet her rule was almost constantly disputed by boyars.
Some of the conflicts in government were caused by Elena’s close association
with her supporters, a boyar named Ivan Ovchina-Telepnev-Obolensky (rumored to
be her lover) and Metropolitan Daniel. Her uncle Michael criticized her and her
rule and was put into prison where he died of starvation. In 1538 Elena suddenly
died and was hastily buried. It was rumored that she was poisoned by the
Shuiskys - boyars, who usurped power after her death. Forensic studies of her remains
carried out in 20th century tend to support the thesis that Elena was
After Elena’s death her son Ivan IV was left alone, with regency being
alternated between several feuding boyar families fighting for control. Treated
with respect in public, but humiliated and abused by Shuiskys in private,
sometimes not being given food or new clothes, Ivan developed a ruthless and
suspicious nature while growing up with a hatred towards boyar class. At age 13
he called boyars to a meeting, condemned them for their neglect of him and the
nation and threw the head of Shuisky clan to a pack of hungry hunting dogs, who
tore him apart. This action is often seen by historians as act of revenge for his
In 1547 Ivan IV was crowned as first Tsar of All the Russias, establishing the
Tsardom of Russia. A complicated and controversial ruler during his reign he
transformed Russia from a medieval state into an emerging Empire. In history he is better
known as Ivan the Terrible.
Sophia Alekseyevna (1657-1704) of the House of Romanov (reign as Regent: 1682-1689)
Also known as Tsarevna Sophia. Third surviving daughter of Tsar Alexis of the
House of Romanov by his first wife, Maria Miloslavskaya. She was the only one of
her sisters educated by Simeon Polotsky who also taught her brothers, Tsar
Alexis’ heirs Tsarevich Alexei and Tsarevich Feodor. She grew up to be educated,
sharp-witted, headstrong and politically savvy. After death of Tsar Alexis his son
Feodor III ruled only for 6 years and died of poor health. Tsar Alexis left behind
him two families by his two wives, both of which boasted at least one male heir
after the death of Feodor III. By Miloslavskaya there was another son,
Ivan, and by Alexis’s second wife, Nataliya Naryshkina, there
was a son Peter. As the clans of Alexis’ two wives were in conflict, Sophia
crafted her scheme to ensure power for herself and her family. Promoting the
case of her weak brother Ivan as the legitimate heir to the throne, in 1682
Sophia attempted to convince the patriarch and the boyars that their recent
decision to crown Peter should be reversed. Upon the court’s swift and unanimous rejection of the
proposal, Sophia reached out to the discouraged military troops, the Streltsy,
for their aid and support. The unjust dismissal of Ivan’s rights acted as a
catalyst to the already displeased and frustrated troops and drove the Streltsy
to violently oppose the “unjust” election of Peter. After several members of the
Naryshkin family were murdered, the fighting ceased and Streltsy received their
initial demands. Weak and
inept Ivan was crowned senior Tsar as Ivan V and Peter, only 10 years old,
junior Tsar as Peter I. Sophia assumed the role of regent for the
youthful Tsars and had a double throne constructed for the co-Tsars with a hole cut in the back of it. Sophia would sit behind the throne and listen as Tsars conversed with nobles, while feeding them information and telling them how to answer questions. She arranged marriage
for Ivan V, hoping to control his heirs and thus remain in power, but the
marriage produced only daughters.
During years of her regency Sophia carried out improvement of tax
assessment and collection, made efforts to eradicate government graft and
corruption, improve peasant registration laws, tried to reorganize the army,
promoted the development of industry and encouraged foreign craftsmen to settle
in Russia. She signed all decrees, and her likeness appeared on all Russian
coins, she encouraged the growth of publishing houses. Notably intrigued by
baroque style architecture, Sophia actively promoted it. The
Slavonic-Greek-Latin Academy, the first Russian higher learning institution, was
founded under her reign. The most important highlights of her foreign policy
were the Eternal Peace Treaty of 1686 with Poland on beneficial terms for
Russia, the 1689 Treaty of Nerchinsk with China (the first treaty China ever
signed with a Western power), and the Crimean campaigns against Turkey which
were unsuccessful and caused discontent among general population with her rule.
Her half-brother Peter was growing up and in 1689 he turned 17. Naryshkins
expected Sophia to step down now that Peter was old enough to rule himself.
Meanwhile Peter, who didn’t trust his step-sister, fled to a fortified monastery
near Moscow. Sophia summoned him, but he refused to go to her. Then she
tried to rally the Streltsy regiments, nobles, and the populace but her pleas
for support fell on deaf ears. Instead, more and more of the army
officials abandoned her to serve Peter. Power was slipping through her hands and
soon, she had no choice but to renounce the throne. Peter had her arrested along
with her supporters, and confined Sophia to Novodevichy Convent. One of her
chief supporters and minister for foreign affairs Vasily Golitsyn (rumored
to be her lover) was exiled. Sophia still had her supporters and in 1698, when
Peter was out of the country, Streltsy tried to reinstate Sophia to the throne,
but failed. Their revolt was harshly suppressed and many of Streltsy were
tortured, executed or exiled. Sophia was forced to take the veil, was
kept in the strictest seclusion with other nuns not allowed to see her except on
Easter day. She died in the Novodevichy Convent 6 years later.
Her half-brother Peter became known as Peter the Great, one of the most
outstanding rulers in Russian history, who finalized the transformation of
Russia into a major Empire and became first Russian Emperor.
Pictured - Storming the Winter Palace. Illustration by Villi Trubkovichin The First Days of October, written by Vladimir Bonch-Bruyevich.
The first Russian revolution of 1917 toppled the Tsar in March. The second, in November, ended the period of Provisional Government in Russia and started the Bolshevik era.
On November 6, the forces acting under the Bolshevik Milrevkom (Military Revolutionary Committee seized important strategic areas in Petrograd. The organ, first created to defend the Russian government from the right, now became the instrument of its demise. When Russian Prime Minister Alexander Kerensky ordered loyalist troops to arrest Bolshevik leaders before a planned soviet congress meeting that day, he ignited a revolution
Pre-empting Kerensky’s small forces, Red Guards took over the state bank, the telephone exchange, and posted guards on bridges over the Neva. A small flotilla and more than 9,000 sailors from the Kronstadt naval base joined the revolutionaries on November 7. Than evening, more than 18,000 Bolshevik supporters surrounded the Russian Duma in the Winter Palace. Barely 1,000 loyalists, mostly women soldiers, defended Kerensky’s government. It had been abandoned by everyone else.
At 10 o’clock that night the cruiser Aurora, manned by Bolshevik sailors, anchored in the Neva and fired several blank rounds near the Winter Palace. By 1 o’clock the Bolsheviks had stormed the gates, and the resistance gave up without a fight. The Bolshevik coup was an almost entirely bloodless affair.
Kerensky scuttled out of Petrograd in an American envoy’s car. After an abortive attempt to take back the capital, he fled for France, and then the United States. Lenin became Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, de facto head of the city. Leon Trostky became Commissar for Foreign Affairs. “It could not possibly last,” said the British ambassador’s daughter, a witness to the day. “Petrograd itself might perhaps be forced to submit to such a rule for a short time, but that the whole of Russia should be governed by them was not credible.” The world both misunderstood and underestimated the new Russian rulers.
Why did the Russian Provisional Government fall so quickly? When it replaced the Tsar in March, Western liberals had rejoiced at the emergence of a mighty new popular democracy. Yet within six months it had gone the way of the Romanovs. The October Revolution was not inevitable, and had Kerensky even decided not to try and stop the soviet congress on November 6, his regime may have survived. Doubtless more trouble was the decision to carry on the war, which by late 1916 had become wholly unpopular among Russians. The failure of the Provisional Government to convene the Constituent Assembly and hold real elections during its tenure was equally fatal, and undermined its stated democratic ideals. By November 1917 many Russians had decided on those who promised change now.
Let’s begin with the premise that the Trump presidency and Trumpism more broadly have degenerated (if it was anything more substantial) into a cult of personality and a spasm of tribalism, white resentment and authoritarianism. Trump calls a free press the enemy of the people; Fox News leads the cheers. President Trump repeals the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and starts removing protections for Nicaraguans and Hondurans; the anti-immigrant crowd hoots and hollers. He’s for big business but also for trade protectionism; he’s against Islamist terror states but for their Russian patrons; he’s for religious liberty but also for a Muslim travel ban. This is incoherence on steroids.
If there is a single idea animating Trump’s GOP, it is that “blood and soil” (or race and religion, if you prefer) — not the American creed (“All men are created equal…”) — is the defining feature of the United States. Whatever else that is not white and Christian is foreign, alien and a threat to “real America.” Whether in day-to-day politics, foreign affairs or domestic policies, there is no right and wrong, only them and us. That’s Trumpism in a nutshell. The Republican Party’s inability to immediately and completely separate itself from and denounce Moore is the predictable result of this thinking.