Ivan VI and Anna Leopoldovna

Portrait of Ivan VI and Anna Leopoldovna painted by Anonymous

Ivan VI

Born: St. Petersburg, 12 (23) August 1740
Died: Shlisselburg, 5 (16) July 1764
Reigned: 1740-1741

Anna Leopoldovna

Born: Rostock, 7 (18) December 1718
Died: Kholmogory, 7 (18) March 1746
Regent: 1740-1741

Grand Duchess Anna Leopoldovna was the daughter of Princess Catherine (the daughter of Ivan V and sister of Empress Anna Ioannovna), and Duke Leopold of Mecklenburg-Schwerin in northern Germany. Princess Catherine had been married off to this German duke for political reasons but, unable to bear her husband's difficult character longer than six years, she fled to Russia with her young daughter in tow and settled on the Izmailovo estate near Moscow.

At the recommendation of her advisors, Empress Anna brought her sister's daughter to her Court in order to instruct the girl in the Russian Orthodox faith, and then to marry her to a foreign prince, which would hopefully to lead to heirs for the Russian throne. Empress Anna Ioannovna wanted to ensure that the throne went to descendants of her father, Tsar Ivan, and not to those of Peter the Great. And so it came to pass that the young Anna was given in marriage to the Duke of Brunswick, Anton Ulrich, whom she did not love, but with whom she had a son who was called Ivan in honor of his great-grandfather and who was declared by the Empress heir to the Russian throne.

Portrait of Tsar Ivan VI with lady-in-waiting Julia von Mengden
Portrait of Tsar Ivan VI with lady-in-waiting Julia von Mengden
by Unknown artist

The fate awaiting the young Tsar Ivan IV and his family was tragic. As Ivan was only an infant, the Empress's favorite, Duke Ernst Johann von Biron, was declared regent. After Anna's death, the baby was indeed proclaimed Emperor, but two weeks later, the Guards, under the command of Field Marshall Burkhard Christoph von Munnich, arrested von Biron and the Emperor's new regent became his mother. Anna was repeatedly warned that a group of Guard officers was collecting around Peter the Great's daughter, Elizabeth, and planning a palace coup. However, Anna did not take these warnings seriously, saying that she had spoken with her "sister Elizabeth" and was not expecting any such tricks from her.

Portrait of Regent Anna Leopoldovna
Portrait of Regent Anna Leopoldovna
by Louis Caravaque

Nonetheless, in November 1741, Elizabeth's supporters, with active participation from Elizabeth herself, staged a palace coup, and arrested the infant Tsar, his father Anton Ulrich, and his mother Anna, who at the time was pregnant with her daughter, Catherine. The family was rapidly dispatched to Riga, and would most probably have enjoyed a long happy life in Europe had the new Empress Elizabeth not been plagued by vague doubts about that young great-grandson of Ivan V. Elizabeth was an unmarried and childless woman, and Ivan VI, as long as he was alive, remained heir to the throne via the male line and thus posed a rival threat to her own reign. Therefore, the whole Brunswick family was again arrested and sent into exile in Kholmogory in northern Russia. In 1746, Anna died. Duke Anton Ulrich spent more than twenty-nine years in Kholmogory after the death of his wife, whereas the deposed Tsar Ivan VI was transferred to the Shlisselburg Fortress near St. Petersburg at the beginning of 1756; the other children - two daughters and two sons - lived in detention for thirty-six years.

Lieutenant Vasiliy Mirovich standing over the body of Ivan VI 5 July 1764 in Shlisselburg Fortress
Lieutenant Vasiliy Mirovich standing over the body of Ivan VI 5 July 1764 in Shlisselburg Fortress
by Ivan Tvorozhnikov

Ivan VI was imprisoned in Shlisselburg for twenty-three years and for that entire time he remained a hidden threat to the women who sat on the Russian throne, first to Elizabeth, and then to Catherine the Great. During the latter's reign, Lieutenant Vasily Mirovich, who was serving at Shlisselburg, won over some of the garrison and an attempt was made to free the "Mystery Prisoner". However, the conspirators were unaware that the Ivan's guards had been instructed to kill the prisoner immediately upon any attempt to free him, which they promptly did. Mirovich was arrested and subsequently executed in St. Petersburg.

Ivan died in 1764 and the exact location of his grave remains unknown.