Pushkin once illustrated the ancestry of the Romanov tsars by pouring a small amount of wine into a large glass. This, he explained, represented the purely Russian blood of Peter the Great. To this he added for each succeeding dynast of non-Russian ancestry an equivalent amount of water. By the time he reached the contemporary Nicholas I the content was tinged a faint pink. The moral, of course, was that the Romanovs were not Russian at all – a view carried to absurdity by subsequent adversaries of the regime who claimed that in consequence Alexander III spoke Russian with a German accent.
It is true that by this criterion the last wholly Russian ruler was the Empress Elizabeth (reigned 1740–61), while the greatest of all the ‘Romanovs’, Catherine II, was a purely German princess related to the dynasty only by marriage. However, the slur is effectively meaningless when one considers the extent