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First Romanov Coins: Wire Money of Michael I


Michael Romanov (1596-1645) did not want to be tsar. He was sixteen years old, a quiet, shy, and deeply religious young man; nothing in his nature pointed to an ability to rule. His claim to the throne—he was a nephew of one of Ivan the Terrible’s eight wives—was tangential at best. When told that the council of elders had unanimously chosen him as tsar, he wept in his mother’s arms, and refused. Certainly nothing about the moment suggested that Michael would be the first in a new line of Russian royalty, a dynasty that would endure for more than 300 years.

However ”terrible“ Ivan IV may have been, he was at least a viable ruler. His son and lone heir, the imbecilic Feodor I, was not. Feodor’s death in 1598 ended the Rurik line, plunging Russia into a 15-year period of hardship known as the Time of Troubles. A succession of pretenders to the throne—not one but two imposters known as the False Dmitris, as well as any number of usurpers—wreaked havoc on the nation’s politics; two consecutive years of famine killed off a third of the population; and the Western borderlands were occupied by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This was the climate when Michael, with great reluctance, agreed to take the crown 400 years ago. Michael ruled Russia for 32 years, and, just as important, had ten children, ensuring a plentitude of heirs.

This crude silver coin, struck during the reign of the first Romanov, helped finance a dynasty that lasted for more than three centuries.