The late Prince Vladimir Kirillovich of Russia had a significant claim to be head of the Imperial House. The main argument against him was that his fathers mother the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna was not a member of the Russian Orthodox Church at the time of the Grand Duke Kirill's birth. Apart from various other conditions the heir to the throne of Russia must be the issue of Russian Orthodox parents. Furthermore, criticism has been often levelled whether justly or not at the Grand Duke Kirill with regard to his breaking the oath of allegiance to the Emperor Nicholas II in 1917 and his assumption of the imperial title in 1924 which was against the express wishes of the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna. Nonetheless genealogically speaking with the death of the Grand Duke Kirill his son Prince Vladimir Kirillovich was the senior male and as such head of the family. Since his death, however, his daughter's assertion that she is now head of the family is false and wholly unjustifiable. Neither she nor Prince Vladimir Kirillovich were entitled to the self appointed rank of Grand Duke nor is Prince Vladimir's widow.
The rules of succession to the throne and headship of the family were laid down and promulgated by the Emperor Paul I on the 6 April, 1796 (17 April, 1796). Succession was strictly by primogeniture, eldest male following eldest male and only in the event of the total extinction of the male line was a female permitted to succeed. This law known as the Pauline Law was reinforced by the Imperial Ukase issued by the Emperor Alexander III on 2 July, 1886 (14 July, 1886). This Ukase went on further to regulate the criteria pertaining to the rank of Grand Duke or Grand Duchess and the qualification of Imperial Highness. In order to avoid the Austrian example where all members of the Imperial House were designated Archdukes, in Russia only sons and daughters or grandsons and granddaughters (in the male line) of a reigning Emperor were permitted to the rank of Grand Duke or Grand Duchess and the qualification of Imperial Highness. Great grandchildren of a reigning Emperor, in the male line only, were Princes of Russia with the qualification of Highness. All other descendants of a reigning Emperor, in the male line only, were Princes with the qualification of Serene Highness. However, the eldest son of a great grandchild was permitted the qualification of Highness.
Under Clause 188 of the rules of the Imperial House of Russia pertaining to marriage; only marriages of equal rank were permitted. This rule was taken from the German ruling houses (ebenbuertig, standegemaess). Any member of the Imperial Family contracting a marriage with an individual no matter how noble but not of equal rank (i.e. not from one of the recognised sovereign or royal families) forfitted the right to remain part of the Imperial Family and any descendants or issue of such legal marriages enjoyed no rights to membership of the Imperial Family and no rights to the succession.
Given the increasing difficulty of enforcing this clause in an ever growing family, under the Emperor Nicholas II an Imperial Ukase no. 1489 dated 11 August, 1911 (24 August, 1911) was issued which modified clause 188 but only for Princes and Princesses of the Imperial House namely great grandchildren and onwards of a reigning Emperor. This modification allowed Princes and Princesses of the Imperial House to contract marriages with individuals of "good standing" but not necessarily of equal birth. The rule pertaining to Grand Dukes and Grand Duchesses and their obligation to contract marriages with individuals of equal birth remained in force. This Ukase of 1911 was inacted in time for the Princess Tatiana Constantinovna of Russia to marry Constantine Alexandrovich Prince Bagration-Mukhransky who was not of equal rank.
Following the murder of Emperor Nicholas II, his son (Czarevich Alexis) and his brother (Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich), the next in line was his first cousin the Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich. I have already shown above that there was some question about his elegibility. Furthermore, this was compounded by his marriage to a divorced first cousin (Princess Victoria Melita) again something not permitted by the Russian Orthodox Church. On his death in 1938 he was succeeded by his son Prince Vladimir Kirillovich who as a great grandson of a reigning Emperor was not entitled to the rank of Grand Duke. His assumption of that rank was not recognised by most members of the Imperial house and led to an increasing schism in the family.
In 1948 Prince Vladimir Kirillovich contracted a marriage with Leonida Kirby, divorced wife and widow of Sumner Moore Kirby. She was born Leonida Georgievna Princess Bagration-Mukhransky. It was claimed by Prince Vladimir Kirillovich that his wife was of equal rank as a descendent of the early Kings of Georgia. However, this claim is obviously incorrect and inconsistent. This is proven by the marriage of Princess Tatiana Constantinovna of Russia to Prince Constantine Bagration-Mukhransky a cousin of Princess Leonida in 1911. If in 1911 the Bagration-Mukhransky family was not considered of equal rank why should have been such in 1948? Their claim to headship of the Royal House of Georgia which had anyway passed to the Emperor of Russia is based on the possible but not certain extinction of the House of Grouzinsky in 1931. Furthermore, the House of Grouszinsky itself was not recognized in Imperial Russia as being of equal rank to the Imperial Family. Therefore, Prince Vladimir Kirillovich's claim for his wife's equal rank is incorrect and rather more wishful thinking than fact. Indeed, if the Bagration-Mukhansky's claim to equal rank as descendants of the early Kings of Georgia is given credence this would also pertain to various wives of the later Princes of Russia such as the Galitzines who themselves are of royal descent. It must be obvious from the above that this is not the case.
Accordingly, Prince Vladimir Kirillovich's further claim that his daughter is his heir is not viable. Prince Vladimir Kirillovich being a great grandson of a ruling Emperor contracted a marriage with an individual of a good standing and his daughter Princess Maria Vladimirovna is accordingly a Princess of Russia but follows in the line of succession after all the Princes of the blood. Prince Vladimir Kirillovich's appointment of his son in law Prince Franz Wilhelm of Prussia as a Russian Grand Duke verges on the farcical and it is interesting to note that since Prince Franz Wilhelm and Princess Maria Vladimirovna's divorce, Prince Franz Wilhelm has reverted to his correct rank of Prince of Prussia. Their son Prince George of Prussia is a member of the Imperial House of Hohenzollern and certainly not a member of the Imperial House of Romanov.
In accordance with the laws of succession to the Imperial House of Russia the undisputed head of the family is His Highness Prince Nicholas Romanovich, son of the late Prince Roman Petrovich and Grandson of the Grand Duke Peter Nikolaievich. He is also chairman of the Romanov Family Association to whom all members of the Imperial Family of Russia, with the exception of Princess Maria Vladimirovna, belong.
This article is the Copyright of Pieter Broek, author of A Genealogy of the Romanov Dynasty, The Imperial House of Russia 1825-1994 and is available from The Czar's Bookshop.