Decree on the Succession to the All-Russian Imperial Throne, Confirmed on April 5, 1797 by Emperor Paul I on the Day of His Holy Coronation and Placed by Him for Safe Keeping on the Altar of the Cathedral of the Assumption, January 4, 1788

We, Paul, Heir, Tsesarevitch and Grand Duke, and We His Consort, Maria, Grand Duchess.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

By Our common, free, and mutual agreement, after careful reflection and in a tranquil spirit, We have enacted this Our general Decree, whereby, witnessing Our love of the Fatherland, We designate as successor after My—Paul’s—death, in accordance with natural law, Our eldest Son Alexander, and after Him all His male issue. In the event of the extinction of this male issue, the succession will pass to the branch of My second Son, and so on will it follow, should I have more Sons; which is primogeniture.

With the extinction of the last male issue of My Sons, the succession will remain in that branch, but in the female line of the last one to have reigned, as being nearest to the throne, in order to avoid the difficulties involved in the transference of the succession from one branch to another, in which it will follow the same order, with preference to a male over a female person; one should, however, note here once and for all time that the female from whom the right directly proceeds never loses this right.

With the extinction of this branch, the succession passes to the branch of My eldest Son in the female line, in which the heiress is the nearest relative of the last one to have reigned in the branch of My aforementioned Son, or, if she is wanting, to the male or female person who occupies her place, observing that preference is given to a male over a female person, as has already been said above; which is substitution.

With the extinction of these branches the succession passes to the female branches of My other Sons, following the same order, and then to the branch of My eldest Daughter, to the male issue therein and, with its extinction, to the female issue, following the order observed with the female issue of My Sons.

With the extinction of the male and female issue of My eldest Daughter, the succession passes to the male and thereafter to the female issue of My second daughter, and so on. Here the principle should be laid down that a younger sister, even if she has sons, does not deprive an elder sister of her right, even if the latter be unmarried, inasmuch as the latter could marry and bear children; but a younger brother succeeds before his elder sisters.

Having established the regulations for succession, I must explain the motives that have prompted them. They are the following:

  • That the State should never be without an Heir.
  • That the Heir should be determined by the law itself.
  • That there should never be the slightest doubt as to who is to succeed.
  • That the right of succession of the branches of the dynasty be maintained without violation of natural right, and in order to avoid difficulties in the passage of the succession from one branch to another.


Having established the order of succession in this manner, it is necessary to add the following supplement to this law:

When the succession reaches a female branch which is already reigning on another throne, it is left to the person who succeeds to make a choice of faith and throne and, together with that person’s heir, to renounce the other faith and throne, if such a throne is tied by Law with a religious denomination, inasmuch as the Sovereign of Russia is the Head of the Church; and if there is no renunciation of faith, the succession passes to the person next in order. Heirs must pledge, at the time of their accession and anointment, to observe solemnly this law on succession.

If a female person succeeds to the Throne, and such a person is married or will be married, her husband should not be regarded as Sovereign, but should nevertheless be accorded honors on an equal footing with Consorts of Sovereigns, and enjoy their other privileges, except the title. Marriages must not be regarded as lawful if they have been contracted without the permission of the Sovereign.

In the case when the person succeeding is a minor, the order and the security of the State and that of the Sovereign require that a Regency and a Guardianship be instituted to function until his or her majority is reached. The majority of Sovereigns of both sexes and of their Heirs is established at the age of sixteen in order to shorten the duration of the Regency. If the last reigning Sovereign has not appointed a Regent and a Guardian, a choice consigned to Him for the sake of greater security of the decision, then the Regency of the State and the Guardianship of the person of the Sovereign belong to the father or mother, but the step-father and the step-mother are excluded; and if there is no father or mother, these duties then fall to the nearest in succession to the Throne among the minor’s relatives of both sexes who have reached their majority.

The majority of other members of the Imperial Family of both sexes is established at the age of twenty. Incapacities that would legally bar one from assuming the Regency and Guardianship include the following: insanity, even if temporary; the remarriage of widowed persons during the tenure of the Regency and Guardianship. The Regent must have a Regency Council, and there can be neither a Regent without a Council nor a Council without a Regent; but the Council is not concerned with the Guardianship. The Council is to consist of six persons of the first two classes selected by the Regent, who will also appoint others as needs arise. This Regency Council deals with all matters, without exception, that are subject to the decision of the Sovereign Himself, and with all matters that are submitted to Him and to His Council; the Regent has the decisive vote. Male dynasts of the Imperial Family selected by the Regent may attend sessions of this Council but not before reaching their majority and not as one of the six persons constituting the Council. The appointment of this Council and the selection of its members are provided for in the event of there being no other directives from the deceased Sovereign, for which He should have made provision well in advance of His own death.

With this Decree, We have made Our contribution to the tranquility of the State, which is based on a firm law of succession, which every right-thinking person would agree is essential. We desire that this Decree should serve, in the eyes of the whole world, as the most powerful proof of Our love of the Fatherland, of the love and concord in Our marriage, and of the love for Our Children and Our Posterity. In witness whereof We have signed Our names and affixed Our heraldic seals.

(The original act is signed in Their Imperial Majesties’ own hands:)

Paul         Maria

(Seal)         (Seal)

Saint Petersburg, 4 January 1788

(The original transcript is thus signed in His Imperial Majesty’s own hand:)

Correct.        Paul.

Note to Document 1: Simultaneously with this Decree, on 5 April 1797, a Statute on the Imperial Family was confirmed, and subsequently it constituted Section II of the Fundamental Laws. A new Statute was confirmed by Emperor Alexander III on 2 July 1886. In the1906 edition, from which the articles given above have been taken, the Statute is contained in Articles 126-223.

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