Ivan VI: Who was the infant ruler of Russia?

Announcer: Welcome to Stuff You Missed in History Class from www.HowStuffWorks.com.

Katie Lambert: Hello, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Katie Lambert.

Sarah Dowdey: And I'm Sarah Dowdey.

Katie Lambert: I am one of those people who really, really love babies. Molly of Stuff Mom Never Told You said that whenever we go out to lunch or dinner and I get really distracted and start smiling at someone behind her, she knows it's a baby and not a guy. So of course, I would love a baby king, and we're not talking about the kind you find in your king cake either.

Sarah Dowdey: Our topic is sandwiched somewhere in between Peter the Great and Catherine the Great. We have this infant who's been chosen to rule Russia, but if you are started to get a growing sense of unease here, because our royal children so often have terrible fates, you are right on track.

Katie Lambert: So who is this baby? He is Ivan the Sixth, also known as Ivan Antonovich, born in August, 1740. His parents are Prince Anton Ulrich, who's a nephew of Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Sixth, and Anna Leopoldovna, so he has rather illustrious beginnings.

Sarah Dowdey: That's because Anna, his mother, is also the niece of Empress Anna Ivanovna, who is one of four very important women in our story, and that is Anna Leopoldovna, Anna Ivanovna, and Elizabeth Petrovna, followed by...

Katie Lambert: Catherine the Second.

Sarah Dowdey: Yeah, the one who everybody knows, I'm sure. So this is just our major group of Russian political women in this story. Try to keep track of all their very similar names.

Katie Lambert: He's born into Anna's court, and she was Ivan the Fifth's daughter, and Peter the Great's niece. As a side note, Ivan the Fifth is an interesting man in his own right. He was rule only in name because he was plagued by several illnesses, and his sister, Sophia, was the real power behind the throne. In our story, Anna had become rule in 1730. She was elected by the supreme Privy Council, but the council tried to limit her power and take more of it for their own, but there were three entities opposed thing: Anna herself -

Sarah Dowdey: Of course.

Katie Lambert: The imperial guards, and the lesser nobility. Changing power from an autocracy to an oligarchy disadvantaged them. If the power is spread out, that means there are more obstacles to the ruler.

Sarah Dowdey: More people you have to bribe and court their favor. You can't just go to the queen's main folks.

Katie Lambert: That means you may have trouble ascending to the position of power you so dearly desire.

Sarah Dowdey: So Anna gets rid of the Privy Council altogether. That's one way to do away with that problem. She banishes and executes a few of them, and a few of her detractors. She gives most of the power of her court to Ernst Johann Buren, who is her favorite guy and restores the secret police under his command. He's her number-two, essentially.

Katie Lambert: He may have been Anna's favorite, but he was not a favorite with anyone else. He was Baltic German instead of Russian Russian. He has a reputation for being very cruel and corrupt. Enemies of the administration were banished, beheaded, and tortured, and the general impression was that his police force watched out for the Germans and punished the Russians, which did not endear him to the Russians.

Sarah Dowdey: Most of Anna's favorites are Baltic Germans anyway, so it's doubly bad almost. Because you have so many of these people in positions of power, it serves as an obstacle for anyone else to get access to the empress too.

Katie Lambert: Her rule was not particularly popular for some other reasons. She levied very heavy taxes. She liked humiliating nobles in front of the court, and she was rather an extravagant spender as far as clothes and gambling goes, which, again, the poorer people don' t enjoy, if you remember the story of Marie Antoinette.

Sarah Dowdey: Aside from her clothes and humiliating nobles, she does get involved in the war of Polish succession, and she attacks Turkey, so other less endearing qualities. In short, people are very disgruntled. They don't much like their empress, and some, of course, blame the fact that she's a woman on the country's problem. There's a sense of growing troubles for our empress here.

Katie Lambert: So she decides on a successor, and she didn't have children, but what about her great nephew, Ivan Antonovich? Buren or Ivan's mother could serve as regent. It's a good thing that she picks him when she does because she dies in October 1740. Ivan the Sixth is two months old, and he has the throne.

Sarah Dowdey: So Buren is initially appointed regent, but he's very quickly overthrown by other members of the German clique and sent off to Siberia, as so often happens. The men who overthrow him aren't that much better though. They're just as unpopular with everybody else. They don't even stick together. Their German clique is not very much a clique because there's a lot of in-fighting.

Katie Lambert: What have we learned about in-fighting? It weakens your government.

Sarah Dowdey: Definitely. So Anna Leopoldovna takes the reign. She is -

Katie Lambert: Ivan's mother again.

Sarah Dowdey: Yes, to keep all these Anna's straight. She takes the power, the power of the regent, but she's actually pretty out of touch with her people as well.

Katie Lambert: Her foreign policies are unpopular. She too favors the Baltic Germans, so it seems like more of the same, so we have an unhappy people, a baby ruler, his mother - the unpopular regent - and an in-fighting type of government. It's time for an uprising, so how about Elizabeth Petrovna?

Sarah Dowdey: Elizabeth has an even more illustrious background than our young Ivan here. She's Peter the Great's daughter with Catherine the First, and people like her so much. She's really smart. She's lovely. She's very Russian. As Katie would say, she's Russian Russian. She's the Peter the Great's daughter. What more can you ask for?

Katie Lambert: She wasn't very politically involved until this rule of Anna Leopoldovna. Then her eye is the prize. This is her chance if she's ever going to have one. The high officials support her, as do the guards, and plenty of foreign diplomats, so we begin a palace conspiracy. There is a coup d'état in 1741 in which she overthrows Ivan the Sixth and Anna Leopoldovna with the help of the guards after less than a year of rule, waking them up in the middle of the night and arresting them. Elizabeth is now the empress.

Sarah Dowdey: After the coup, the family and their advisors are arrested, and the family imprisoned in the fortress of Rega. They're actually exiled to Kholmogory. But just because they're far away doesn't mean they've been forgotten. In December 1741, the new government demands the return of coins minted with Ivan the Sixth as the figurehead, promising new coins in return. What would you do if your government told you to send in all of your coins, and, "Sure, we'll give you new ones once we get yours." Understandably, a lot of people hold on to their money, about 20,000 rubles worth of coins according to historians.

Katie Lambert: A lot of them liked Ivan the Sixth. They liked the promise of who he was supposed to be, and they wanted to hold on to that. They continued to hold on to this idea that perhaps he will come back, and he will take over the thrown. As popular as Elizabeth grew to be, he was still in the hearts of many Russians.

Sarah Dowdey: This is right in the heat of things too, of course. So life goes on for the exiled royal family too. Anna actually has more children in exile before she dies in March of 1746. These kids are eventually released because, of course, they're not so closely tied to the throne as Ivan is.

Katie Lambert: Although they always stayed - not scheduled but in their own kind of private, reclusive court, because they grew up in exile. They never quite had that socialization they should have when they were little.

Sarah Dowdey: Life doesn't exactly go on for Ivan. He's taken from his family at four years old, and he never saw them again. For most of his life, he was entirely isolated in solitary confinement under very strict guard. He was sent to Schlisselburg fortress in 1756, and there he would remain for the rest of hi s life. His jailers weren't even allowed to talk to him. It was said he only saw sunlight twice in his time there, though that may be a bit of a dramatic flourish to our story.

Katie Lambert: Imagine what he must've been liked - raised for 20-stomething years in prison from the time he was a little boy, without his family, without communications, without anything to do. I imagine him being a bit of a shell of a human being. He never got to that development that he should've had.

Sarah Dowdey: We have kind of a historical idea of what it could be like from our Catherine de Medici podcast and her husband raised - at least he has his brother though - but the two of them emerged from prison totally shattered, really sullen boys, and they don't even spend their whole lives growing up in prison like Ivan.

Katie Lambert: In the meantime, Elizabeth has died. Peter the Third has taken over, and then was mysteriously killed. Then Catherine the Great has become the ruler. Elizabeth had kept him in prison so long because, of course, he was this symbol - a possibly of a return to something else, an idea that people held on to. Catherine the Great feels the same way. He's always been a threat, even when he's locked up.

Sarah Dowdey: In July, 1764, Ivan is killed by his guards with sabers and bayonets - something we could probably could have seen coming this whole podcast. They had been ordered to slay him if there was ever an escape attempt at the prison. Someone, a Lieutenant Mirovich, tries to free him, so this plan goes into action. There are two theories about Mirovich's attempt. One is that he thought that if he could get Ivan out, they could unseat Catherine the Second, who had gotten the throne in 1762. So it would be starting a mutiny - starting a second coup. The second theory was that Ivan was murdered on Catherine the Great's orders. She knew full well the orders of the prison, that if anyone tried to free the young prince, anything like that happened -

Katie Lambert: She reinforced them. She made it sure that if there was any sort of escape attempt, any kind, you were supposed to kill him.

Sarah Dowdey: In that case, this would be a politically motivated assassination with Mirovich under Catherine's control.

Katie Lambert: People already thought that perhaps Catherine had had Peter the Third killed, and there were many who thought she was also responsible for Ivan's death. It made her very unpopular in parts of Europe. She was even called the "Devil in a Diadem" by a prime minister. Ivan the Sixth was buried in a secret place, and then his grave destroyed, but his legend lived on because this story of the sad little ruler locked away for life on the orders of two powerful women, how could that not mean something? It sounds like a really scary fairytale.

Sarah Dowdey: Of course, people persist in believing that he's really alive and would return sometime. It reminds us of our Romanoff episode. This podcast keeps on throwing back to earlier ones. The Romanoffs, people keep on believing in them. Of course, Ivan the Sixth was just this political pawn, again with our theme of how unfortunate it is to be born a royal child, he spends his infancy in a crown, and the rest of his whole short life in a prison, all because of what he symbolized. How many times will we explore this idea in the podcast?

Katie Lambert: While we were researching this podcast, we did get much more intrigued by the story of our possibly murderous Catherine the Great, so get ready for a podcast on her.: If you have any great ideas, like Lauren's that you would like to send to us, our email is www.HistoryPodcast@HowStuffWorks.com. You can also follow us on Twitter at MissedinHistory or join our Facebook fan page to see what we're up to. Please check out our home page at www.HowStuffWorks.com.

Announcer: For more on this and thousands of other topics, visit www.HowStuffWorks.com. Be sure to check out the Stuff You Missed in History Class blog on the www.HowStuffWorks.com home page.