Book: The Romanovs



The Romanovs

The Romanovs


The Romanovs

Early in 1613 chosen representatives of the Russian people began to arrive in Moscow on horseback or by sled. All had faced severe hardships and dangers because travel was especially dangerous during the winter. Other threats included the bands of Cossacks, Tatars, Russian brigands, Poles, and Lithuanians who destroyed the land, burning down villages, murdering and robbing at will. The chosen men had nevertheless hurried to attend the Assembly of the Land (Zemsky Sobor) to elect a new tsar.

These men came not only from the great boyar families (members of the old aristocracy), the gentry and provincial nobility, but also from the townsmen and even the village peasantry. For three days they fasted and prayed before they began to work on their task. The first question was whether to elect a tsar from among the contending foreign princes or to limit their choice to a Russian. The decision was prompt and unanimous that “the Lithuanian and Swedish Kings and their children, and others of foreign faith, and foreign powers occupying Muscovite territory, shall not be chosen . . .”

However, they could not agree which of the Russians they should choose. No man had emerged from the Time of Troubles (1598-1613) as a national leader. The boyars who claimed position and power had contributed little to the national revival or to the defeat of the Poles and Swedes. Prince Pozharsky had led the second national militia, but had mediocre ability and lower social status. The Church, the gentry, the townsmen, and the Cossacks had saved the nation. But they could not choose a tsar from those classes.

The representatives split into rival factions, supporting different candidates. But then the representatives of the gentry, the townsmen, and the Cossacks began demanding Mikhail Romanov. A member of the gentry from Galich presented a paper stating that they should elect Mikhail Romanov as tsar because he was closest by birth to the old dynasty. During these angry disputes, the Ataman of the Don Cossacks advanced from the crowd and placed a written note on the table.

“What is this writing you have submitted, Ataman?” asked Prince Pozharsky.

“It is about the natural Tsar - Mikhail Fedorovich,” replied the Ataman.

Suddenly they had reached agreement. Without further debate, they elected Mikhail Fedorovich Romanov as tsar. Because the general public then had to confirm the decision, they sent trusted envoys to all towns. Though it is not known how they collected votes, within a few days they began returning to Moscow with the popular demand that Mikhail should be tsar.

The members had not chosen this frail sixteen-year-old boy because of any special abilities. The powerful boyar families saw his youth and weakness as guarantees that their privileges and power would be secure from attack by the autocrat (a ruler with absolute power). But Mikhail’s strongest claim to the throne was his link with the previous dynasty. His grandfather, Nikita Romanov, had been the brother of Anastasia, the first wife of Ivan the Terrible, and uncle of Tsar Fedor I, the last of the Rurik line. In Mikhail, they saw a continuation of the old dynasty.

The Romanov family was not among the oldest of the noble Muscovite families. Its earliest members had come to Moscow from Lithuania or “the Prussian lands” in the fourteenth century. It had been the one untitled boyar family that had remained prominent in the following century when the titled provincial nobles had crowded to the court of Ivan III. But the Romanovs had won goodwill at court and among the people. Nikita Romanov was famous for his efforts to moderate the severity of Ivan the Terrible. His six sons were also popular; in exiling them to distant parts of the country, Boris Godunov had made them even more popular as martyrs.

The Assembly of the Land then appointed a mission, headed by an archbishop, to find Mikhail and beg him to accept the throne. After searching, they found him in the walled Ipateev Monastery at Kostroma. On March 14, 1613, bearing ikons (idols) and chanting prayers, they approached Mikhail and his mother to explain the purpose of their visit. Mikhail rejected them “with great wrath and tears.” He stated that he did not want to be tsar, and his mother would not give her blessing. It took a lot of persuasion to even get the mother and son to go into the chapel so that they could all pray together.

For six hours the representatives argued and pleaded with Mikhail “to go to his Tsar’s throne in Moscow and by his noble presence to grant us relief from all our present misfortunes and humiliations; for when you, Sovereign, are on our Tsar’s throne in Moscow, then hearing of your arrival the Lithuanian people and all the enemies of the state will be in terror and all the people of Muscovy will rejoice.” But Mikhail and his mother rejected this flattery, pointing out that the people had sworn allegiance to previous tsars, like Boris Godunov, and then had betrayed them. The mother said that her son was too young and inexperienced for such dangerous office, and that he could not accept without the blessing of his father, who was a prisoner in Polish hands.

The archbishop and other members of the group became desperate. They threatened that, if Mikhail continued to refuse the throne, God would hold him responsible for the final destruction of the tsardom. Finally, the threats of these churchmen wore down the resistance of the young Mikhail. He would have been content to lead a prayerful life in the monastery, but he gave in to their pressure. Declaring himself to be in God’s hands, he consented to be tsar. He allowed each member of the mission to kiss his hands to show their loyalty and promised to go to Moscow immediately.

With his acceptance of the throne, the Time of Troubles ended and a new era began. The Romanov dynasty would last for 300 years.


The Romanovs

By the beginning of the seventeenth century, there was a definite pattern to Russian society. The tsar had absolute power and ruled a nation divided into the landowning nobility and gentry that owed the tsar service; the Church, which was wealthy and upheld the tsar’s authority; and the peasantry, farmers burdened with taxes and tied by the bonds of serfdom to the land and the landowners. The tsar was more important than any other part of this pattern. When the ruling dynasty of Rurik died out toward the end of the sixteenth century, the nation nearly collapsed. But there were other factors that contributed to the tragedies of this period.

The enormity of the Russian plain had been a major influence in the nation’s development. Rolling eastward to the low-lying Ural Mountains, the plain provided no natural frontiers for defense or to promote a sense of unity. At the same time, the vast network of rivers encouraged the people to relocate.

In their early history, the Russians lived mainly in the Dnieper Valley. They were then primarily traders who were involved in the rich commerce between the Turkish and Byzantine empires and northern Europe. Kiev, their great commercial center, became a splendid city. But the steppeland was like a vast sea across which merchant caravans passed and Asiatic hordes swept in destructive waves. Concerned only with commerce and defense, the Russians did not make much progress toward nationhood in this period.

The Grand Princes of Kiev tried to unite them. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, Kievan Rus became a powerful state, extending across the steppelands and into the dense forests to the north. But Kievan Rus was never more than a loose federation. Conflicts over the succession to the Grand Princes and rivalry over trade undermined the unity of the people. Pounded by Asiatic invasions and then by the Mongols who in 1240 razed Kiev to the ground, this first political union of the Russian people disintegrated.

In the previous century, however, the Russians had begun to move from the Dnieper Valley. Some went into Galicia and White Russia, and some came under the rule of Poland-Lithuania. The main flow was from the exposed steppelands to the northeast into the dark forests of the upper Volga region. Here the Russians were still not united. They had been traders in Kievan Rus; now they worked the land of different principalities, each ruled by an independent prince. Moreover, they were still a people on the move. They spread over the Russian plain to the south and east, settling the lands watered by the Don and Volga rivers. Soon they were pressing beyond the Ural Mountains and colonizing Siberia. But the lands between the Volga and Oka rivers remained the heart of what was already emerging as the new Russian nation.

No chapter in Russia’s history is more fascinating than the rise of Moscow during the 250 years of the Mongol-Tatar occupation. The Mongol empire had split into several political divisions, or khanates, after the death of Genghis Khan. The Golden Horde with its capital at Sarai (now part of Volgograd) had exercised political control over the Russians. The Khans found that the Grand Princes of Moscow were useful agents in collecting tribute and representing the Golden Horde among the other Russian principalities. Gradually, the Muscovite Grand Princes extended their authority over the Russian lands.

In the sixteenth and seventeen centuries, Moscow became the capital of the nation formed by the union of the Great Russian people under the rule of the Muscovite sovereign. Some thought that wealthier and more powerful neighbors, such as Tver and Ryazan, would play a greater leadership role. But Moscow had certain advantages. Because the city was at the center of river and land communications, this inner position afforded some protection from invading enemies. But the character and ability of her rulers were more important factors in the rise of Moscow.

Not enough historical records have survived to give much information about the early Muscovite Grand Princes. Historians know little about even Ivan III, who in the fifteenth century was the chief architect of the unification of Muscovy. Tsar Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible), is the first Muscovite ruler to come to life in the pages of Russian history. But all of them from Ivan Kalita, the Purser, to Ivan III were ambitious, unscrupulous, and tenacious. Each tried to strengthen his principality by quietly and relentlessly extending his authority over other principalities.

The unification of the Russian lands progressed slowly under the early Grand Princes. By the mid-fifteenth century, Muscovy was still only a comparatively small region between the upper Volga and Oka rivers. The three city states of Pskov, Vyatka, and Lord Novgorod the Great remained independent. Novgorod had escaped destruction at the hands of the Mongols and during the Mongol-Tatar occupation. When the Khans had guaranteed its political and trading privileges, the city’s trade with the Baltic countries and down the Volga to the Caspian Sea had flourished. Novgorod had prided itself on its freedom and its republican constitution and on its empire that stretched northward to the White Sea. But Novgorod, like Pskov and Vyatka, was an obstacle to the Muscovite policy of uniting all the Russian people and their lands under the rule of Moscow.

The unification process accelerated in the second half of the fifteenth century. Ivan III (1462-1505) brought Novgorod and its empire under his rule and also the lands to the south and southwest of Tula, nearly to Kiev. Vasily III, his son, tried to continue this expansion, but repelling assaults by the khanates of Kazan and the Crimea, allied with Poland-Lithuania, limited his progress.

Ivan IV finally achieved the unification of Muscovy as a strong centralized state. He conquered the khanate of Kazan in 1552, thus freeing Muscovy from the most immediate Tatar threat. By seizing the khanate of Astrakhan, he then extended his authority over the entire Volga and the Don region. Before the end of Ivan IV’s reign, the Russians advanced into Siberia and began to colonize it. But it was the conquest of Kazan that historians recognize as the birth of a nation.

In the west, Ivan IV tried to conquer Livonia to secure a permanent foothold on the Baltic Sea and thus revive trade with Western Europe. But this policy brought him into conflict with the Poles, Lithuanians, Swedes, and Teutonic Knights. At first his armies were successful, but defeats followed that strained the young nation’s resources.

In just over 100 years (1462-1584), Muscovy had had three strong rulers in succession - Ivan III, Vasily III, and Ivan IV. Their reigns included periods of rapid expansion and constant war. The nation now needed a tsar who would consolidate these gains. Tsarevich Ivan Ivanovich, son of Ivan IV by his first wife, Anastasia Romanovna, showed promise that he would rule wisely and continue his father’s work. But on November 15, 1581, the tsar killed this son during an angry outburst. Ivan IV’s second surviving son, Tsarevich Fedor, lacked normal intelligence. In addition, his health was frail and his life expectancy was short. A third son, Tsarevich Dmitri, was only an infant when Ivan IV died in 1584.

During the last years of Ivan the Terrible’s reign, all Russians worried about who would be his successor. The nation had suffered constant upheavals in the process of unification under Moscow’s rule. These upheavals had disrupted the lives of the people and spread discontent. They believed that their security and national survival depended on the tsar and dreaded the chaos that would result if the throne became vacant and the great boyar factions began struggling for power. Internal struggles would also be the signal for Poles, Lithuanians, Germans, Swedes, Tatars, and Cossacks to invade and plunder. However, the Russians would experience all their worst fears during the fifteen years known as the Time of Troubles.

Fedor occupied the throne for fourteen years but was incapable of ruling. His brother-in-law, Boris Godunov, who had been one of Ivan IV’s trusted favorites, controlled the power throughout Fedor’s reign. When Fedor died in 1598 without an heir, the Rurikid dynasty ended in Russia, and the patriarch (male head of the family) offered the crown to Boris Godunov. He demanded that they convene the Assembly of the Land to make the decision, especially since this was the first time they would elect a tsar. The representatives decided unanimously to offer the crown to Boris, who reluctantly accepted.

Boris was, however, uncomfortable as tsar and immediately got rid of all his rivals. He forced Fedor Nikitch Romanov to become a monk under the name of Filaret and incarcerated him in a distant monastery. He sent Romanov’s infant son, Mikhail to Beloozero, more than 150 miles to the north of Moscow, and scattered the rest of the Romanov family. During Ivan IV’s reign, Boris had been a moderating influence on the tsar. Now he became a suspicious monarch who dealt ruthlessly with all boyars who aroused his mistrust. But he was careful to show concern for the welfare of the people and to nurture his popularity. However, the tide of events was flowing against him. Social conditions deteriorated, and a terrible famine from 1601 to 1603 made the people suffer. Peasants fled in thousands to the South and East to seek food and freedom. Many joined the large bands of thieves who plundered and murdered at will. Tsar Boris found himself powerless to stop the growing disorder and discontent.

At this time a pretender to the Russian throne, calling himself Tsarevich Dmitri, suddenly appeared in Poland. Tsar Ivan IV and his seventh wife, Maria Nagoi, had a son named Dmitri, who had to go to Uglich soon after Ivan’s death. In May 1591, Dmitri died while playing with a knife when he had an epileptic seizure. However, the Nagoi and the people of Uglich believed that agents sent from Moscow by Boris Godunov had murdered him. Although Boris certainly had a motive for killing Dmitri, they could not prove his guilt. Evidently, the Russian people cleared him of the charges because he remained popular. In 1598, they elected him as tsar.

No one knew the true identity of the pretender who now appeared. Records in Moscow listed his name as Grigori Otrepev, a serf from one of the Romanov estates who had once been a monk. Whatever his true identity, he was a remarkable young man who knew Polish and Latin; he was a swordsman and an accomplished courtier. The Poles readily accepted him as the true tsarevich (eldest son of a Russian emperor). Without giving him official support, they allowed him to prepare on Polish soil for his march on Moscow. They hoped he would help weaken the government of their traditional enemy. In addition, because the false Dmitri had embraced Roman Catholicism, the powerful Church element in Poland saw in him an instrument to unite the Eastern and Western Churches.

As discontent increased, Boris’s popularity declined. There were rumors among the Russians that Tsarevich Dmitri had not died in Uglich and was about to claim his throne. In October 1604, the false Dmitri with a small army of Poles and runaway serfs began his march on Moscow. In the Ukraine, the people and the Cossacks rallied to support him. Although the troops sent by Boris defeated him at times, he continued to move forward. As he approached the capital, Tsar Boris suddenly died. His son, Fedor Godunov, ascended the throne; soon afterward, enemies brutally murdered him and his mother. The enemies of the Godunovs were quick to kill anyone who had supported the former regime.

On June 20, 1605, the false Dmitri entered Moscow and received an enthusiastic welcome, but his popularity didn’t last very long. He was not the right man to solve the serious problems or to reconcile the conflicting interests of classes or factions. Moreover, his large entourage of Poles and Jesuits and his disregard for Orthodox rituals and Russian customs offended the Muscovites. With the citizens being encouraged by the boyars, popular uprisings took place. On May 17, 1606, less than a year after his triumphal entry into the city, his enemies attacked and murdered him in the Kremlin. Two days later Vasily Ivanovich Shuisky, a member of a branch of the Rurik dynasty, became tsar.

Shuisky made no reference to the Assembly of the Land when he ascended the throne. In effect, the nobility and boyars appointed him. Moscow citizens accepted him because their greatest fear was that the throne would be vacant. But Shuisky was not capable of uniting the nation or leading it. In fact, his supporters fought among themselves for greater power and rewards, and the Muscovites remained dangerously unruly. The peoples of the southern provinces, and especially the Cossacks, refused to accept him as tsar.

Rumors circulated again that the true Tsarevich Dmitri was still alive. Among the Cossacks, Ivan Bolotnikov emerged as leader of a mass movement. Claiming that he would restore Dmitri to the throne and advocating a revolution in which the peasants and runaway serfs would take over the lands and wealth of the landowners, he quickly massed a large army that in October 1606 advanced on Moscow. Many of the boyars and the gentry had at first supported the rebels. Now they united to resist this dangerous challenge to the established regime and their own interests. In December 1606, Shuisky defeated Bolotnikov’s forces, and the government armies swept through the southern provinces during 1607, killing all who had supported the rebellion. Shuisky pursued policies of ruthless repression in putting down rebels and enforcing order and preventing flight among the peasantry.

In June 1607, a second pretender claiming to be Tsarevich Dmitri emerged. He, too, used Poland as his base, and he had more active Polish support. Trained Polish and Lithuanian troops formed the core of his army. In the spring of 1608, this pretender crossed the frontier and advanced to Tushino, not far from Moscow, where he established his headquarters. Shuisky managed to repel the first attempt to take Moscow, but his position was desperate. Maintaining a blockade of Moscow, the invading force advanced through the northern provinces, expecting to be able to gain a lot of stolen goods. However, the citizens surprised them with stubborn resistance and forced them to retreat. Meanwhile Shuisky had negotiated an agreement with Sweden whereby he gave up Russian territories on the Gulf of Finland in return for Swedish military help. With reinforcements of 15,000 Swedish, English, Scottish, and French mercenaries, Prince Mikhail Skopin-Shuisky, commanding the Muscovite army, forced the pretender to abandon Tushino and to flee to Kaluga.

In September 1609, however, Sigismund, King of Poland, felt justified in invading Russia now that Russia had allied with Poland’s enemy, Sweden. He invaded Russia and laid siege to Smolensk, but citizens stopped him by strongly defending the town. In June 1610, the Poles defeated the Russian armies at Klushino and advanced on Moscow. The threat to the capital did not unite the Muscovites; it exposed the bitter rivalries among the boyars and gentry, and also made the people more restless. Shuisky abdicated and became a monk. The Boyar Council with Prince Fedor Mstislavsky as its leader then provided a provisional government, but it was ineffective. With the Polish army at the gates of Moscow, representatives of the hastily convened Assembly of the Land elected the Polish Prince, Vladislav, then only fifteen years old, to the Russian throne. In Moscow, they hoped this would unite Poland and Russia. The Poles did not agree with this and regarded Russia as a conquered territory. They established a military government in Moscow and treated the Russians as their subjects. The Russians strongly resented this arrogant foreign rule. Supported by the Cossacks, they formed a national militia and advanced to Moscow in the spring of 1611, forcing the Polish garrison to withdraw into the Kremlin.

The leaders of the militia and of the Cossacks, massed around Moscow, now tried to form a national government. But again the conflicts of interests among boyars, gentry, Cossacks, and peasantry led to internal struggles. The militia dissolved, leaving Russia defenseless. Celebrating the fact that the Poles had captured Smolensk, Sigismund celebrated in Warsaw, even parading Vasily Shuisky, the deposed tsar, as his prisoner.

By 1612, Russia was close to disintegration, and national morale was quite low. Kuzma Minin, a butcher who was mayor of Nizhni-Novgorod, chose this time to convince the people of the upper Volga region that it was time for action. He was the organizing force behind the second national militia. Prince Dmitri Pozharsky, a provincial noble, provided the military leadership. The movement grew, gradually becoming truly national. Led by Minin and Pozharsky, the second national militia cleared Russia of foreign troops, reached a working arrangement with the Cossacks, and then prepared for the most important task of all - the election of the tsar.

The election of a tsar who would establish a strong dynasty was important to the Russians. They expected the tsar to govern the country and lead its defense against enemies. Muscovite society centered on the tsar and considered his kingdom to be the hereditary estate of the dynasty. The people could conceive of no rights or interests apart from those of the tsar. They believed that they existed merely to serve him and his realm and that without him the nation could not exist. Olearius observed that “No people in the world have a greater veneration for their Prince than the Muscovites . . .” They took servile pride in being his subjects; “No Muscovite, what quality soever he be of, but makes it his brag to be the Great Duke’s kholop or slave.”

In 1504, a Church council defined the position of the tsar, stating that “by nature the Tsar is like any other man, but in power and office he is like the highest God.” This exalted status was a fairly recent development. Ivan III had begun the transformation. In 1472, when he married Sofia Palaeologa, niece of the last Byzantine emperor, their marriage supported the legend that the Grand Princes of Moscow were direct descendants of the Byzantine emperors.

The main legend was that Vladimir, Grand Prince of Kiev, after his coronation in Kiev, sent troops against Emperor Constantine Monomachus (1042-1054). But Constantine responded by sending the Greek Metropolitan to Kiev with gifts and his imperial crown to propose peace so that all orthodoxy could live in harmony “under the combined power of our Tsardom and your mighty autocracy, ‘Great Rus’.” When Vladimir received Constantine’s crown, he took the name of Monomakh, divinely ordained ruler of Great Rus. Thereafter, they always used the Shapka Monomakhus for the coronation of the tsars of Russia.

After 1480, when 250 years of Tatar political control over Muscovy ended, Ivan III began using more pompous titles. Ceremonies at his court became very elaborate as they followed Byzantine ritual. He was “Tsar of All Russia” in his diplomatic relations with Western courts. Occasionally, he added “Samoderzhets,” the Russian equivalent of the Byzantine title of “Autocrat.” By using these titles, Ivan III proclaimed, not that he was an absolute sovereign, but that he was independent and not ruling as the vassal of the khan or other power. But soon both titles were carrying the full significance of autocrat. He was “Ivan by the Grace of God, Sovereign of All Russia,” and his seal incorporated the double-headed eagle of the Byzantine emperors.

The new titles also reflected the religious source of the tsar’s authority. The emperors of Byzantium had been absolute in both temporal and spiritual spheres. The Russian Orthodox Church had consistently supported the Grand Princes of Moscow in uniting the Russian people under their rule. It now endorsed the conception that the tsar’s power was God-given and the tsar himself was the sole defender of the true faith.

Ivan IV elevated the prestige and power of the throne still further. At the age of sixteen, he had announced that he would “assume the titles of our ancestors . . . and of our kinsmen, Grand Prince Vladimir Vsevolodovich Monomakh.” Following Byzantine precedents and using the regalia received five centuries earlier from Emperor Constantine, they crowned him Tsar of All Russia on January 16, 1547. He was the first Russian sovereign to be crowned tsar. He immediately demonstrated that for him the title meant more than independent ruler. He believed that he was absolute and answerable only to God. Ivan IV was tall, strongly built, extremely intelligent, and had a personality that captivated those who met him. He wielded power naturally. Even though they suffered from some of his actions, the people drew comfort and strength from his presence on the throne.

The tsar was the chief pillar of the nation, but in the early centuries the Orthodox Church was nearly as important. The Russians converted to Christianity in the tenth century. According to the legend, Vladimir, Grand Prince of Kiev, considered various faiths and sent his ambassadors abroad to study various forms of worship. They reported to him that in Constantinople they had been so impressed by the Orthodox services that in the Cathedral of Saint Sofia, “We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth.” Influenced by the fact that the baptism of his grandmother, Olga, had taken place in 955, he accepted the report on the Greek Church and embraced Orthodox Christianity. After his baptism in 988, he had outlawed all forms of pagan worship and told his people to accept baptism. At about the same time, Christianity had spread northward into Hungary, Poland, and Scandinavia, but they had embraced the Church of Rome, while the Russians adopted the Orthodox faith from Constantinople. This religious difference eventually divided the Slavs and caused hatred and wars.

The Russians followed the Church of Constantinople closely in worship and organization. The Patriarch of Constantinople appointed the Metropolitan of Kiev, primate of the Russian church, who was at first usually a Greek. The local bishops, nominated by the princes and consecrated by the Metropolitan, were usually Russians. Following Greek practice, the black clergy, the monks who were celibate, appointed the church hierarchy. Marriage was a requirement for the pastoral or secular clergy, known as the white clergy. Instead of enjoying the advantages and security of the monasteries, these men were illiterate and merged with the peasantry.

Eastern Christianity had deep roots among the Russian people. They considered Byzantium to be the source of authority in matters of faith and also in art, writing, and architecture. The tremendous destruction caused by the Mongol invasion in the thirteenth century did not suppress the Church. The Khans were sympathetic toward Christianity and at one time seriously considered embracing it as the religion of the Horde. Even toward the end of the thirteenth century when they were adopting Islam, they continued to favor the Russian Church by granting it exemption from payment of taxes and by allowing it to have a great deal of autonomy in managing its affairs.

During the Mongol-Tatar occupation, the Russian Church grew rich and powerful and its influence over Russian life deepened. Isolated from the rest of Christendom, it developed its own distinctive forms of worship, religious life, and spiritual tradition. The greatest manifestation of this religious resurgence was the monastic movement of the fourteenth century. The Church established no fewer than 150 new monasteries between 1340 and 1440. Nearly all of them were in the forests to the North and in the wilderness beyond. Usually the monks were pioneers who led the way for the peasants who were moving out to colonize new lands.



The new monasteries grew out of communities of monks who were strong leaders. The chief initiator of the movement, however, was the humble monk, St. Sergius of Radonezh, one of the most highly respected saints of Russia. He resembled St. Francis of Assisi in many ways, but he was too humble to preach or to found a monastic order. He led wholly by example. His followers founded a chain of monasteries in the northern forests, dedicated to his ideals.

Other outstanding leaders of monasticism in the fifteenth century were St. Stephen of Perm, St. Nilus of Sora, St. Joseph of Volok, and St. Cyril of Beloozero. They dedicated their lives to the “loving communion of souls,” to humility and brotherly compassion for suffering and poverty.

In the example of such men as St. Sergius, St. Alexei, and St. Stephen, and in its teaching of humility, compassion, and communion of souls, the Church actively pursued the ideals of Christianity. Religion was an intimate part of the daily lives of all Russians, but the influence of the Church was often negative because it encouraged an attitude of submission and fortitude. In its attempt to preserve Orthodoxy unchanged, the Church also promoted conservatism. Guided by a largely illiterate clergy, the people observed each detail of the rituals of their faith with superstitious awe. They went too far with their worship of ikons. In every church, there were numerous ikons - often of great beauty and believed to have miracle-working powers – that attracted worshipers. In every house, at least one ikon hung on the wall with a tallow candle burning before it. When people entered the house, they stopped to pray before the ikon. This faith in the powers of the ikon was part of the childlike simplicity and superstition that were as characteristic of the Russians and their church as their conservatism.

For Russians, Moscow was their capital and the white-walled city of the tsar. But it also had for them a far greater significance than London or Paris had for contemporary English or Frenchmen because Moscow was the center of the Orthodox Church. The Metropolitan of “Kiev and All Russia,” the Primate of the Russian Church, had resided in Moscow since about 1300; the presence of the primates and their consistent support for the Grand Princes of Moscow had contributed to the rise of the city.

In the fifteenth century, two major events led to Moscow being vested with divine majesty as the “third Rome.” The first event occurred in 1439 when the Council of Florence tried to reunite the Eastern and Western churches under the papacy. Isidore, the Metropolitan of Kiev, agreed to this reunion. However, when he returned to Russia, he had such a hostile reception from the Grand Prince, the Russian clergy, and citizens that he had to flee for his life. The second event was the capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453. The city that had become the center of Orthodoxy for Russians was now in the hands of the unbelievers. The Russian Church quickly asserted its independence and became more nationalistic. The Metropolitan was Russian, and there was no longer any question of his appointment by the Patriarch of Constantinople.

Soon Russians were proclaiming Moscow as the center of Orthodox Christianity, the successor to Constantinople, and the “third Rome.” In a letter to Vasily III, the son and successor of Ivan III, Philotheus, a monk in a monastery in Pskov, expressed this when he wrote the following: “I wish to add a few words on the present Orthodox Empire of our ruler; he is on earth the sole Emperor [Tsar] of the Christians, the leader of the Apostolic Church which stands no longer in Rome or in Constantinople, but in the blessed city of Moscow. She alone shines in the whole world brighter than the sun . . . All Christian Empires are fallen and in their stead stands alone the Empire of our ruler in accordance with the prophetical books. Two Romes have fallen, but the third stands, and a fourth there will not be.”

In the seventeenth century, Moscow was “one of the greatest cities in Europe,” according to Adam Olearius, who was secretary to the Holstein embassy to the tsar in 1633-1639. John Perry, an English engineer, wrote that “The numerous churches, the monasteries, and noblemen’s and gentlemen’s houses, the steeples, cupolas, and crosses at the tops of the church, which are gilded and painted over, make the city look to be one of the most rich and beautiful in the world, as indeed it appeared to me at first sight coming from the Novgorod road.”

Standing on a small hill on the bank of the Moskva River, the Kremlin was the heart of the city and the administrative center of state and church. It contained the tsar’s palace, the prikazi or government ministries, the patriarch’s palace, and the most magnificent cathedrals in the land. In the twelfth century, it had been merely a country seat - built of timber and surrounded by a barricade of logs - that belonged to Yuri Dolgoruky, Prince of Rostov. It had grown into a city during the Mongol-Tatar occupation and especially in the fourteenth century when the Grand Princes of Moscow began asserting their authority over the other Russian principalities. But it was Ivan III who transformed the Kremlin and Moscow into the capital city.

Ivan believed that the timber buildings, which included his own palace, were not splendid enough for the now powerful Grand Prince. He ordered the reconstruction of the Kremlin in stone, and workers nearly completed the task during his reign. In 1472, he ordered a new cathedral to take the place of the Uspensky Cathedral, built over a century earlier of timber and now collapsing. Because the Russians had little experience in working with stone, Ivan III had to find replacements for the two Russian masters hired to build the new cathedral after the newly constructed walls fell down. Influenced by his wife, Sofia, who received her education in Rome, Ivan sent agents to Europe to try to hire foreign artists and craftsmen to work in Moscow. They were most successful in Italy. Among the masters hired there, Aristotle Fioraventi proved to be an excellent architect and builder. He began work on the Uspensky Cathedral in 1475 and completed it in four years. It was a spacious building with five cupolas. He decorated its pillars, ceiling, and walls with murals and the finest ikons that he could find. Here they anointed and crowned the tsars, celebrated their baptisms and marriages, and entombed the patriarchs.

Next Ivan instructed two Italians, Solario and Ruffo, to build him a palace of stone. In 1491, workers completed the Granovitaya or Faceted Palace. With its magnificent exterior staircase and vaulted audience chamber, it reflected the new majesty and power of the Grand Prince. In the following year two Russian masters from Pskov finished the new Blagoveshchensky Cathedral. Toward the end of his reign, Ivan gave orders to rebuild the old Arkhangelsky Cathedral. His successors carried on the work of transformation. Boris Godunov completed the bell tower, Ivan Veliky, the tallest building in Moscow, in 1600. Workers built the Terem Palace in 1635-1636 to house the women of the tsar’s family and their attendants.

Although they were responsible for most of the new buildings in the Kremlin, the Italian masters did not impose a foreign style. Their influence was apparent, but they worked from Russian models and their buildings were Russian in character. Moreover, the Russian builders learned quickly from the foreigners. This was especially noticeable in the great cathedral, built on the Red Square, by Ivan the Terrible to commemorate the conquest of Kazan and Astrakhan. The two master builders, Postnik and Barma, entrusted with this task, created in their cathedral one of the triumphs of Russian architecture.

Beyond the Kremlin walls and the Red Square, Moscow sprawled in untidy squalor. They had used timber to construct most of the buildings, the roads, and outer walls that surrounded the city. In winter, residents had to deal with snow and slush; in summer, it was impossible to escape the filth and stench. Fires were common. Primitive stoves burned in every house in the winter; in the heat of summer, the timber was tinder dry. In 1633, shortly before the arrival of Adam Olearius in Moscow, fires destroyed one-third of the city. The Muscovites quickly rebuilt. They could buy ready-made houses in sections in the market and erected at once on the old sites.

With its magnificent structures, Moscow reflected the power and prestige of the tsar and the grandeur of the Orthodox Church. But the widespread squalor of the city revealed the poverty and oppression of the great majority of the people. Moscow was, in fact, a city of contrasts. Squalid huts surrounded the cathedrals, palaces, and mansions. Beggars appeared at the doors of every church.

The tsar stood apart, isolated by his absolute power and surrounded by Byzantine ceremony. Church dignitaries belonged to the social hierarchy; in wealth and wellbeing, they contrasted with the simple priests who were poor and merged with the masses. The princes and great boyars also stood apart. Wearing long-sleeved coats of velvet or brocaded cloth, they rode on horseback or on sleds through the streets with large entourages. They moved against a background of peasant-serfs, ragged clergy, beggars, and peddlers. In fact, the population divided into two distinct categories: the landowning nobility, embracing the princes, boyars, and the gentry, who owed the tsar service; and the traders, artisans, townsmen, and peasantry who were the taxpayers.

The princes and boyars were relics of the time when there were principalities, and they could serve the Grand Prince of their choice. But now they owed their allegiance and service to the Grand Prince of Moscow who had absorbed the other principalities. Even though they had not been able to unite as a class to resist the growing absolutism of the Muscovite tsars, many continued to cherish ideas of independence and voluntary service. When the tsar was weak, they scrambled for power; a strong tsar kept them in check. As a class, the princes and boyars never recovered from the savage assaults of Ivan the Terrible.

The serving gentry began to expand rapidly as a class in the sixteenth century as the military needs of the Grand Prince increased. The gentry received grants of land on condition of military service. Such lands were at first distinct from the hereditary estates of the princes and boyars, but soon this distinction was lost and all estates became hereditary. The gentry themselves merged with the nobility.

Of the taxpaying people, the traders, artisans, and townsmen were never a large group and failed to develop into the strong middle class that played a leading part in the development of the countries of Western Europe. The peasants made up the vast majority of the population. They worked the lands of the tsar and the landowners. If they paid the prescribed taxes, theoretically they were free to move to the lands of other owners after the harvest ended. In practice, the peasants had to struggle to pay not only these taxes but also dues to their landowners that they could pay with additional labor or with money. Often they were heavily in debt to their landowners.

Working under harsh conditions and crippled by debt, many peasants chose to leave. Some fled eastward to the Urals and beyond; others moved south to settle in the regions of the lower Volga and the Don rivers. The central provinces began to suffer from a shortage of labor. Powerful landowners and monasteries offered rewards to lure peasants from the smaller estates. The government had to intervene to stop this poaching. The smaller estates belonged to the serving gentry, and the defenses of the country depended on them. The tsar needed to ensure that they had labor to work their lands, so that they were economically secure and able to provide men and their own services for the army.

Runaway peasants remained a problem. Landowners had a limited right to reclaim their peasants if they found them within five years. Soon the period was extended even further. This tied the peasant to the land, where he became the serf of the landowner, attached to his land and to him as his property.

By the beginning of the seventeenth century, there were many social and economic inequalities between the small landowning class and the vast mass of the people. They emphasized the problems at the root of Russian society that would remain unresolved and eventually create unrest and rebellion throughout the three centuries of the Romanov dynasty’s rule.

Cruelty and human misery were evident in all levels of Russian life. Drunkenness was the national vice; all classes accepted it as part of normal living. Tsar Mikhail, who was, like his son, Tsar Alexei, sober and moderate in his habits, hated drunkenness, but was unable to stop it. The people used intoxication as a way to escape their misery. This condition affected women as well as men. “They are often the first to become raving mad with immoderate drafts of brandy and are to be seen half-naked and shameless in almost all the streets,” Dr. Samuel Collins observed.

Olearius remarked on the amount that the women drank. He described an evening “in the house where I lodged, whither many Muscovian women came one day to their husbands, sat down with them, and took off their cups as smartly as they did. The men, being got drunk, would have gone home, but the women thought it not yet time to draw off, though invited thereto by a good number of boxes o’ th’ ear, and got their husbands to sit down again, and to drink roundly as before, till such time as that the men being fall’n down asleep upon the ground, the women sate upon them, as upon benches, and drunk on until they also were forc’d to lye down by them.”

Instead of combating this evil, the Church condoned and encouraged it. Drunkenness was common among the priesthood. For all classes the times of greatest indulgence were the church festivals. Dr. Collins wrote that “In the carnival before Lent they give themselves to all manner of debauchery and luxury and in the last week they drink as if they were never to drink more . . . Some of those going home drunk, if they are not attended by a sober companion, fall asleep upon the snow, a sad, cold bed, and there they are frozen to death . . . ‘Tis a sad sight to see a dozen people brought upright in a sledge, frozen to death; some have their arms eaten off by dogs, others their faces, and others have nothing left but bones. Two or three hundred have been brought in after this manner in time of Lent.”

Heavy drinking went hand in hand with debauchery (excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures). Olearius considered that they were “wholly given up to all licentiousness, even to sins against nature, not only with men, but also with beasts . . .” The postures of their dancing and the insolence of their women are infallible marks of their bad inclinations. We have seen at Moscow both men and women come out of the publick brothel-houses stark naked and incite some young people of our retinue to naughtiness by filthy and lascivious expressions.”

The Russian attitude toward women contributed to the extreme cruelty common in their lives. The code of chivalry had influenced manners and raised standards of social behavior in Western Europe. But Russians, under the Mongol-Tatar yoke, had become increasingly brutal. Women were no more than property or, among the peasantry, beasts of burden. In the upper classes, their sole function was childbearing, and they had no household or other duties. They lived segregated in the terem or women’s quarters and fell prey to boredom, drink, and fear.

Many women feared their husbands. Because marriage arrangement was common, often the bride and groom never met before the wedding ceremony. Wives were often at the mercy of cruel husbands. Olearius and Collins both observed that Russian men treated their wives harshly. “Some of these barbarians will tie up their wives by the hair of their head and whip them stark naked,” Dr. Collins wrote. But Olearius considered this something “not to be much wondered at,” because the women “have lewd tongues, are given to wine, and will not let slip the opportunity to pleasure a friend.” There was no punishment for a husband who whipped his wife to death because everyone assumed he had done it after the woman had done something wrong. However, punishment for a woman who murdered her cruel husband was severe. They buried her alive with only her head above the ground and left her to die.

Crime was widespread in this degraded society, with many people living in extreme poverty. The Time of Troubles had resulted in countless bands of robbers who lived by violence and stealing. The dense forests of the Volga-Oka region provided cover for these robbers. On the roads leading to Moscow, the dangers of being robbed and murdered were so great that those who had to travel moved in armed groups. In Moscow itself, violence and crime were commonplace. Olearius noted that it was unsafe to go out at night without an armed escort. Murder was a nightly occurrence; at festivals when drinking was at its height, the number of dead rose sharply. On St. Martin’s Eve, Olearius counted fifteen corpses in the courtyard. Later family and friends would claim most of these bodies. Workers dragged the unclaimed bodies to a common ditch and left them there to rot.

Punishments were savage. If a man committed treason or rebellion, he died a painful, slow death by being forced to sit on sharpened and greased stakes that cut into his internal organs. Olearius describes the execution of a certain Timoshka who was guilty of fraud and deceit. They first tortured him and then condemned him to death. The executioner cut off “with an axe first his right arm below the elbow, then the left leg below the knee, and afterwards the left arm and right leg, and last of all the head.”

It was common punishment to beat someone with a batogi, which was a rod the thickness of a man’s finger; for more severe beatings, they used a knout, a thick leather thong of some three and a half feet in length. They used the batogi indiscriminately for minor offenses, although it sometimes caused death. The offender lay with his back bare, his arms and legs extended, while two men, one kneeling on his legs and the other on his arms, beat him with the rods.

The knout was a dreaded punishment. For less serious crimes, they lifted the offender onto the back of another man and the knoutmaster laid on the number of strokes ordered, each stroke falling in a different place and cutting the flesh to the bone. For more serious crimes, they tied the offender’s arms behind his back and lifted him from the ground by a rope tied to his wrists. To make sure that this pulled his arms out of joint, the knoutmaster usually fixed a weight to his feet. He then laid on his back the number of strokes ordered or continued until an official told him to stop. The knoutmaster then took the offender down and pulled his arms into joint again. In extreme cases, they tied the victim to a pole, thus slowly roasting his tortured back over a fire, while they tried to get him to confess to the crime. They also subjected women to this type of punishment. The fact that so many men and women survived this barbaric punishment was a tribute to the incredible toughness of the Russians.

Even through the seventeenth century was a time of cruel punishments and barbaric customs throughout all of Europe, the extreme degradation and barbarity of the Russian people still shocked Western travelers. They lived like animals, fighting, murdering, and cheating to survive. The Orthodox Church comforted them in their misery but did not teach and guide them by establishing standards by which they could live. During this time, the nation was suffering from the aftermath of invasion and the breakdown of order and just beginning its struggle to develop. Western travelers saw only the backwardness and barbarity. But Manstein, a German soldier in the tsar’s service, considered them to be certainly as intelligent as people in the West. Others noted that the people were clever and possessed great stamina and fortitude.

Russia was, in fact, a country of unlimited natural wealth, inhabited by a people of great ability and strength. History and geography had combined to slow down its development. But at the time of the accession of the new dynasty, the Russian nation was beginning to develop. Within a few decades, the nation would become a European power.


The Romanovs

Tsar Mikhail, the inexperienced youth who became the first of the Romanov dynasty, had to deal with conditions that would have discouraged the strongest autocrat. The past fifteen years had reduced the country to chaos and economic collapse. Fields lay untilled; trade had ceased; hunger was widespread. Villages were burned ruins, their inhabitants scattered or murdered. War had scarred Moscow, and fires had destroyed most of the city.

On March 19, 1613, Mikhail had set out from Kostroma for Moscow. Crowds of people of all ranks gathered at Yaroslavl, Rostov, and other places to swear loyalty to him. He was a nervous traveler because he didn’t have enough money to hire people to protect him from the robbers that roamed at will. The devastation that marked every village through which he passed greatly upset him. He stopped at the Troitsa Monastery and threatened to go no farther until the lawlessness and bloodshed ceased. It took a great deal of persuasion to get him to continue his journey. On May 2, the entire city welcomed him as he entered Moscow.

On July 11, Mikhail received his crown in the Uspensky Cathedral. The celebration that followed was very modest because the treasury was empty; he could not even pay or provide equipment for the troops needed to guard the capital and maintain order. He needed to ask for help from the Stroganovs, the merchant family that had prospered by colonization in Siberia and by shrewd business dealings. In his letter, he asked “for Christian peace and order loans of money, grain, fish, salt, cloth, and other goods for the troops.” The Church also sent a letter to the Stroganovs to support the tsar’s request. In addition, there was a special appeal to all towns for loans of money and goods.

Mikhail’s first concern was to eliminate the robbers and looters who were terrorizing the citizens and preventing cultivation of the land. The Cossack, Zarutsky, who called himself Tsar Dmitri, posed a special danger. He had set himself up in Astrakhan with Marina Mnishek, the Polish widow of the first false Dmitri. He wanted to establish a personal kingdom at the mouth of the Volga under the protection of the Shah of Persia and to add Kazan and Samara to his empire. But he and the Nogai Tatars who provided his bodyguard behaved so barbarously that the local people rebelled and fought him in Astrakhan. On the night of May 13, 1614, he escaped with Marina to the Yaik River. There the Muscovite governor captured him and executed him in June in Moscow.

The first six years of Mikhail’s reign were, in fact, as troubled as the years between regimes. He led wars against the Tatar, Cossack, and other robber bands. It was difficult to collect the money, food, and men needed to finance these battles. The tsar needed troops to escort his agents. Often the church had to intervene with threats of excommunication in order to gather contributions. Even with these difficulties, the restoration of order slowly progressed.

The next important task facing the young tsar was to deal with Sweden and Poland. Mikhail did not have the military strength or the money to fight either country. His only choice was to negotiate the best terms possible so he could gain time to allow Russia to restore the economy and build up an army.

In 1611-1612, while Russia was in a state of turmoil, the Swedes had taken Novgorod and the towns on the Gulf of Finland that gave the Russians access to the Baltic Sea. The new Swedish King, Gustavus Adolphus, was determined to capture Pskov. In the summer of 1615, Russian troops were able to repel his attack. Impressed by the defense of Pskov and concerned with developments in Germany where a long war threatened, Gustavus Adolphus decided to come to terms with the tsar.

Meanwhile Mikhail’s government had turned to England to mediate between Russia and Sweden. King James I extended every courtesy to the Russian envoy and promised help. He appointed as his special envoy an English merchant, John Merrick, and knighted him for the occasion. Merrick immediately departed for Moscow with gifts for the tsar. He worked diligently to gain the best terms possible for Russia. When he returned from the Gulf of Finland to report his success, the tsar richly rewarded him before he returned to England. By the Treaty of Stolbovo, signed on March 10, 1617, Russia recovered Novgorod and the Swedes recognized Mikhail as tsar. But the price was the surrender of all the Russian towns on the Gulf of Finland, which meant the loss of direct access to the Baltic Sea. Officials in Moscow were happy to accept these terms - but only as a temporary arrangement - because the Russians could never rest until the Baltic Sea was open to them and they could trade freely by this ancient route.

Russia’s greatest and most hated enemy was the kingdom of Poland-Lithuania. The Poles had humiliated the Russians when they had burned down part of their capital and had occupied and defiled the Kremlin. Moreover, the youthful Vladislas, as tsar and heir to Sigismund as King of Poland-Lithuania, was actively preparing for war. He still insisted on his claim to the Russian throne, refusing to recognize Mikhail. Meanwhile Russia and Poland were still formally at war. A conference, opened in September 1615 in Smolensk, led only to bitter recriminations. Early in 1618, Vladislas marched from Smolensk and quickly captured Vyazma and Dorogobuzh. In the autumn of 1618, joined by Zaporozksky Cossacks from the south, he advanced on Moscow. But with the support of the Assembly of the Land and the people of Moscow, Mikhail was able to defend the capital and the Polish expedition failed.

With his troops ill equipped and fearing the onset of winter, Vladislas was willing to discuss terms. Negotiations took place in the village of Deulino, near the Troitsa Monastery; they agreed on a truce for fourteen and a half years. Vladislas recognized Mikhail as tsar and abandoned his own claims to the Russian throne. But Mikhail had to surrender territories to Poland, while confirming Polish possession of the ancient Russian lands on the Dnieper and in the North. With their new territorial acquisitions, the Poles had the advantage for further attacks on Russia. However, the Poles never achieved any farther eastward expansion. They also reached an agreement at Deulino for a prisoner exchange that resulted in the return of the tsar’s father, Filaret, Metropolitan of Rostov, from his long captivity in Poland.

On June 24, 1619, the tsar, his boyars, and great crowds met him five miles from Moscow. Ten days later they enthroned him as patriarch with the title “Great Autocrat” (Veliki Gosudar). He ruled jointly with his son until his death in 1633. Although Filaret was sixty-six years old when he returned from captivity, he brought a new strength and purpose to his son’s rule. Except for the powerful boyar families who feared that he would reduce their influence, the Russians respected and loved him. Indeed, many of the people believed that Tsar Fedor I, the last of the old dynasty, had made his cousin, then Fedor Romanov and now Filaret, his successor. But Filaret was now able to exercise supreme power and concentrate on uniting the nation and strengthening the dynasty, the throne, and the Church.

Many of the boyars had wanted to limit the absolute power of the tsar. But they did not attempt to impose restraints or conditions on Mikhail’s powers at the time of his election or later. Perhaps they felt that this mild-tempered youth would be incapable of ruling as Ivan the Terrible had ruled. In fact, most of the boyars had supported his election, because he was so unlikely to challenge their privileged position. But when he returned to Russia, it became obvious that Filaret wanted to establish the absolute power of the tsar so that it was beyond challenge or limitation.

However, while Filaret was still a prisoner in Poland, Mikhail’s immaturity and the critical state of the country had made him rely on the guidance of the Council of Boyars. For important matters, he relied on the Assembly of the Land, which included both the Council of Boyars and the Church council. After he returned, Filaret directed that major changes be made to the Council of Boyars and the prikazi or government ministries, which shared legislative and executive power with the tsar. He broadened the composition of the Council and narrowed its scope of activity, which severely reduced its importance. The Council no longer settled disputes over land and the serfs, and Council members did not participate in secret diplomatic matters. Soon it met only to consider business referred to it by the tsar or the patriarch. A Privy Council of four boyars became responsible for the machinery of government. At the same time, as part of his policy of strengthening the autocracy, Filaret gave increased powers to the prikazi.

At the beginning of Tsar Mikhail’s reign, the Assembly of the Land and his practice of referring to it and heeding its views contained the seeds of parliamentary government. These men represented all classes except the peasantry; even though they were serving as advisors, they made important decisions. But, as the dynasty became more secure and the threats of economic collapse receded, the need for such a representative body weakened. Once the nation was stronger, the Russians were content to allow the autocrat to have absolute power.



The Orthodox Church had played a distinctive role in uniting the nation. It now upheld the authority of the throne, and its support was a major factor in establishing the new dynasty. As patriarch and joint ruler with his son who deferred to him in all things, Filaret strengthened the position of the Church. By special deed, signed by the tsar, he extended his authority over the priesthood and monastery serfs, except in major criminal proceedings. As patriarch, he also wielded more power over church finance and administration. He established a patriarchal court that was as magnificent as the tsar’s court. The Russian Church was in a position to rival the monarchy, which is what had happened in the West. But this rivalry did not develop in Russia. Filaret and his successors did not challenge the authority of the tsar and followed their Byzantine heritage in proclaiming his power.

With the gradual return of order, agriculture revived. Farmers began to plow more and more fields around Moscow. Though the cultivated areas rapidly increased, the peasantry still could not produce enough to feed the growing towns and the armed forces. The government’s policy of exporting grain, primarily to purchase much-needed military weapons, aggravated the food shortage. In exporting grain, the government didn’t seem to show concern for domestic food requirements. Yields were small, and when crops failed the villagers went hungry. Peasants continued to flee in growing numbers from the burdens of taxation and the demands of their landlords. They settled the frontier lands to the south of the Oka River, in the mid-Volga region, and in western Siberia. Generally the runaway peasants managed to settle peacefully among the Turkish tribes (Tatars, Chuvash, Morvin, and others) in these vast regions where land was plentiful for farming.

The continued movement of peasants from the central regions alarmed the government, the great boyar landowners, and the serving gentry. Mikhail’s government paid special attention to the needs of the gentry. The country desperately needed their military service not only against the Ottoman Porte, Poland, and Sweden, but also against the marauding Tatars and others. In the spring, the gentry assembled in Tula with their troops to repel invaders from the South. In 1639, this frontier force comprised 2,089 musketeers and 13,634 men. Because they needed this many men to defend the southern area, the interests of this class were a matter of government priority. But the peasants suffered.

The restraints imposed on peasants to prevent flight and also to end the practice of enticing or abducting peasant labor to serve on the estates of the great landlords had resulted in serfdom in the previous century. Boris Godunov’s decrees in the 1590s had introduced a system of registers that entitled a landowner to legally recover a peasant as long as five years after the peasant had fled from an estate. But the government had to deal also with evasion of taxes and obligations to the state on the part of free peasants and townsmen. To become exempt from paying these taxes, peasants voluntarily gave up their freedom and became the household dependents of the monastery or landowner, who was not liable to pay taxes.

Filaret and the government of Tsar Mikhail took aggressive action to end this tax evasion and to keep the peasants from fleeing. Work began on a census of lands and population in 1619; in spite of obstruction and delays, they finally completed this project in 1628. This register listed landowners, estates, and peasants of the entire country and tied the peasant to the estate on which he worked. In 1642, they extended the period within which the landowner could recover a runaway to ten years; later they abolished the time limit, thus completely shackling the peasants as serfs. But still the peasants fled in large numbers to the large expanses of free land to the East and the South. Many joined the Cossacks. Those who could not escape became more and more resentful about the hardships of serfdom, which in time resulted in savage peasant rebellions.

The revival of the Russian economy was not limited to agriculture. Manufacturers recovered, especially in the northern lands. Linen and cloth weaving were of special importance. Making rope became a major industry, developed primarily by English merchants to supply the king’s ships. In the sixteenth century, the two centers for making rope had been Kholmogory and Vologda, but now a far bigger rope manufacturing industry sprang up in Archangel. Military needs stimulated the expansion of foundries that produced guns and other weapons. The government encouraged the iron industry and those prospecting for iron ore. In the 1620s, they established metal works in the region of Tomsk and in the Urals; they recruited workers from Moscow. Even more successful was the metal industry established in the Tula region by the Dutch merchant, Andrei Vinius, who had discovered rich deposits of iron ore there. On February 29, 1632, he had received a monopoly for ten years to work these deposits and had developed a profitable foundry.

Foreign trade revived notably during Mikhail’s reign. England and Holland became rivals for trade with Russia, with both using the port of Archangel on the White Sea. English merchants continued to enjoy the privilege of duty-free trading, first granted to them by Ivan the Terrible. The tsar was under constant pressure from his own merchants to revoke these privileges. Fearing that he might act, the English Muscovy Company sent a mission to Moscow in 1618, but their efforts were unsuccessful. In 1620, a second mission, this time led by Sir John Merrick, whom the Russian’s knew and trusted, arrived in Moscow, bearing gifts for the tsar and Filaret. Merrick obtained confirmation of the exemptions enjoyed by the English traders. Dutch merchants paid half-duty but benefited by importing a wider range of goods.

At the beginning of June each year, the ships began to arrive in the White Sea; sea traffic continued until the autumn when ice closed the port for the winter. The chief imports were iron, copper, tin, articles manufactured from these metals, cloth, paper, dyes, chemicals, sugar, wine, and glass. The main exports were leather, canvas, linen, bristles, tallow, fur pelts, linseed, hemp, and large quantities of fish, especially salmon.

The English merchants kept permanent trade representatives in Russia. Dutch, Swedish, and Danish merchants followed their example and competed for a larger share of the Russian market. Virtually excluded from the rich trade with the West, Russian merchants continued to petition the tsar to revoke the special rights of the English and Dutch merchants. But Mikhail’s government acted cautiously. He was reluctant to do anything that might damage the growing trade with the West, and in particular the import of military weapons. Finally, in July 1646, after Mikhail’s death, Russian merchants successfully abolished the exemptions that the English and Dutch had enjoyed for so long.

There was a critical need to build up Russian military strength. In equipment, training, and morale, the serving gentry had proved inadequate. They had begun to enjoy their quiet lives on the estates granted to them in return for military services and answered the tsar’s summons reluctantly. Both cavalry and infantry had old-fashioned weapons, which put them at a serious disadvantage against the well-mounted and fast-moving Tatars and Cossacks and against the disciplined formations of Western troops. Easy living and privileges had also softened the streltsi or musketeers. Regular troops quartered on the outskirts of Moscow and certain other cities, they received pay and special allowances. Their favorite privilege was the right to engage in trade free of taxes, when not needed by the army. But their desire for military service had lessened as they became more and more involved in trade. Moreover, the streltsi had become a hereditary military caste, because only sons of serving streltsi were eligible for recruitment. Mikhail’s government took steps to make certain the men fulfilled their service obligations. Filaret introduced severe regulations requiring all serving men and streltsi to justify their estates and salaries by giving real service.

Early in Mikhail’s reign and increasingly after Filaret had returned, they needed to enlist foreign mercenaries to serve in the tsar’s forces and train the Russians in the latest Western formations and weapons. They were also intended to provide a strong nucleus in battle that would keep the Russian forces from deserting. Scots, like Leslie, Matthison, and Keith; Englishmen, such as Fox and Sanderson; and Germans, such as Scharl, Fuchs, and Samuel, were prominent among the officers training and commanding Russian troops.

As war against Poland became more imminent, Filaret increased his efforts to build a strong army. He sent officers to the West to recruit experienced mercenaries in greater numbers. The only restriction was that they should not be Roman Catholics. He instructed Colonel Leslie, the Scot, “to engage soldiers in Sweden and other countries, except for Frenchmen and others of the Roman faith who must not be engaged on any account.” Many of the foreign officers received estates on the same basis as the serving gentry; others received a lot of money for their services. The tsar expected all of them to remain permanently in his service and rarely granted them a leave of absence to visit their homelands.

The new weapons and equipment, imported from abroad or manufactured in Russian foundries; the reorganization and training of the Russian forces; and the recruiting of experienced mercenaries were transforming the armies of Tsar Mikhail. But time was needed to make these measures fully effective. War interrupted the process too soon, and the Russian armies again failed.

All parties regarded the Treaty of Stolbovo with Sweden and the Truce of Deulino with the Poles as temporary agreements. They had given Russia a chance to become stronger and develop armed forces before dealing with both of these Western enemies.

When Filaret had returned from being a prisoner, he was obsessed with the policy of forming a coalition against Poland-Lithuania. Events seemed at first to favor him. In 1620, war broke out between the Swedes and Poles over the Baltic lands. Gustavus Adolphus appealed to the tsar to join him against the Catholic Poles, the enemies of Orthodox and Lutheran alike. Then in August 1621, the Turkish Sultan, Osman II, sent Foma Cantacuzene as his special ambassador to Moscow with proposals for alliance and joint action against the Poles. Filaret seized this opportunity to destroy Russia’s most dangerous enemy. He summoned the Assembly of the Land; the representatives endorsed his coalition policy in October 1621. But the Polish forces defeated the massive army of the Ottoman Porte. The Turks were so humiliated that the sultan’s followers murdered him when they were returning to the capital. The next disappointment for Filaret was that Gustavus Adolphus, having captured Riga, agreed to an armistice with Poland.

During the ten years that passed before Russia was again ready to embark on war against Poland, Filaret desperately tried to build up a coalition, based on an alliance with Sweden and the Ottoman Porte. He proposed that Gustavus Adolphus should occupy the Polish throne on the death of Sigismund, who was now old and ailing. At the beginning of 1631, the tsar informed the Kings of Sweden, England, Denmark, and the government of the Netherlands that he was ready to march against Poland and thus become part of the Thirty Years’ War against the Catholic powers, led by the Habsburgs. In May 1631 the Swedes proposed plans for a joint Russo-Swedish attack on Poland. The Russians agreed to engage a large force of Swedish troops for the campaign. Morale improved in Moscow when Gustavus Adolphus defeated Catholic forces near Leipzig.

Russian plans for marching on Poland-Lithuania met with delays several times during 1631-1632. Filaret wanted to make certain that the Russian army was fully prepared. He increased imports of military materials and the output of Russian foundries. He gave orders to complete a chain of fortresses and defense points along the western frontier, begun in 1630. He financed this campaign by levying special taxes and duties on merchants, townspeople, and the peasants. A further reason for delay was that negotiations with both Swedes and Turks dragged on without agreement on coordinated action.

Sigismund III died in April 1632. Polish and Lithuanian nobles immediately became involved in disputes over the succession. It was clear in Moscow that this was a good time to attack. Even after the Assembly of the Land met in June and approved immediate military action, the Russian government still delayed. Crimean Tatars had launched attacks from the South on the undefended Russians lands, knowing that all the Russian troops were preparing to march westward. The Tatars advanced so far north that they even threatened Moscow before they had to retreat.

In August, they received the Swedish campaign plan. Commanded by Boyar M. B. Shein, who had distinguished himself in the defense of Smolensk in 1609-1611, the Russian armies advanced to the frontier. In October, Shein captured Dorogobuzh and other towns. He then laid siege to Smolensk, the stronghold that was the key to the advance westward. In November, however, Gustavus Adolphus, after winning a brilliant victory at Lutzen, died in battle. A few days later Vladislas became King of Poland. He hurriedly mustered an army and marched to the relief of Smolensk.

Shein with his army of 30,000 men had held Smolensk under siege for eight months. The Polish garrison was small, but it made fullest use of the almost impenetrable fortifications of the town. Constant bombardment and assaults nevertheless brought the Poles near to surrender. Meanwhile, morale was dangerously low in the three Russian camps from which Shein had surrounded the town. The serving gentry and the Cossacks were not accustomed to long operations like this siege. They wanted to go home before the winter started.

Toward the end of August 1633, Vladislas reached Smolensk with 15,000 troops. He captured two of the Russian camps and laid siege to Shein’s camp for four months. A Polish detachment defeated a Russian army that was advancing to relieve Shein at Dorogobuz. This last defeat and the news of the death of Filaret in Moscow made Shein’s position seem hopeless. In January 1634, he readily accepted Polish proposals to negotiate an armistice.

Vladislas imposed harsh terms. The Russians had to surrender all artillery and other weapons. All foreign mercenaries were to be free to transfer to the Poles. At Smolensk, on February 19, 1634, there were 8,056 foreign officers and men under Shein’s command who went over to Vladislas. The final humiliation was that Shein and his senior officers had to bow before the Polish king. After returning to Moscow, officials arraigned and beheaded Shein and Izmailov, his second in command.

Encouraged by his victory at Smolensk, Vladislas went on to besiege the small fortress of Belaya, held by a Russian garrison of only 1,000 men. But despite bombardment and numerous assaults, Belaya did not surrender. Vladislas became more and more concerned as weeks passed because he had received reports that the Turkish sultan was about to lead a large army against Poland. He entered into negotiations with the Russians and in June 1634 signed the treaty of Polyanovsky. This treaty confirmed Polish possession of all the towns and territories, tentatively conceded under the Deulino armistice. The tsar surrendered all claims to Livonia, Esthonia, and Courland and paid a war indemnity of 20,000 rubles. Vladislas finally renounced his claims to the Russian throne, acknowledging Mikhail as tsar, but not “Tsar of All Russia.”

Throughout these years Russia also had to endure raids by the Crimean and Nogai Tatars. Every year the tsar sent gifts of money and furs to the Khan to try to keep him from sending his Tatars on their plundering expeditions. But the Tatars continued their raids. Their main purpose was to take prisoners to be sold into slavery. In the first half of the seventeenth century alone, they captured about 200,000 Russians, and the fair Russian slaves brought high prices in the markets of the East.

Dispatching troops to the southern frontiers of the kingdom in the spring every year was costly in men and equipment, which were needed in the West. In 1635, Mikhail’s government began constructing a massive defense line along this frontier. They established twenty-nine new towns. By 1650, they had completed the Belgorod defense line, stretching from the Vorskla River through Belgorod and Voronezh to Tambov and farther eastward. It gave the central provinces greater security from Tatar attack; from these positions the Russians began pressing southward.

Beyond the Tatars, however, lay the powerful Ottoman Empire that the tsars had always treated with special respect because they didn’t want to give the sultan any reason to march on Russia. The danger was that the Cossacks of the Don might provoke the Turks into declaring war. With their numbers constantly growing by runaway peasants and townsmen from the North, the Don Cossacks were a formidable force. With their support, they had helped make possible Tsar Mikhail’s election to the throne in 1613. He acknowledged their existence as a political unit and annually sent envoys to the Don with gifts of money, cloth, grain, and weapons. The Don Cossacks for their part swore loyalty to the tsar and were invaluable as a frontier force, always ready to attack the Tatars and even the Ottoman Porte itself. But at times they were unreliable and unpredictable. The tsar constantly warned and ordered them not to attack the Turks; if they did, the Turks might retaliate against the tsar as their overlord. In the period from 1620 to 1640, many representatives from Moscow went to Istanbul, bearing rich gifts of sables and other furs for the sultan and seeking his support against the Poles or his forgiveness for raids by the Don Cossacks. But in 1637, the Don Cossacks shocked Istanbul, Moscow, Warsaw, and Bakhchisarai when they captured the important Turkish stronghold of Azov.

Controlling the mouth of the Don River, Azov contained three towns with walls of stone, all surrounded by a strong outer wall and a deep trench. The Turkish garrison of 4,000 troops with 200 guns mounted in eleven towers did not take the Cossack force with its four cannons seriously when it began its siege preparations. But after eight weeks, the Cossacks managed to destroy part of the outer wall and then stormed the fortress. Fighting raged for three days before the Turks surrendered.

The sultan had been occupied with the Persian War. After it ended in 1639, he announced a campaign to recover Azov. In June of the following year, a Turkish army of more than 200,000 men and the latest equipment began what they thought would be a brief siege of the Cossacks in Azov. With only 5,000 men, the Cossacks repelled no less than twenty-four Turkish assaults. In September, the Turks ended the siege. But the Cossacks had suffered heavy losses, and it was clear that they would not be able to hold out again in the following year. In October 1641, their leaders proposed to Tsar Mikhail that he should annex Azov and defend it with a strong garrison.

The initial alarm in Moscow over the daring act by the Cossacks had passed as the small garrison held out against the massive Turkish forces. The tsar and the Boyar Council now seriously considered the Cossack proposal. Possession of Azov would be a significant compensation for the failure to take Smolensk. But it was clear that a force of 1,000 troops would be needed to man the fortress, and the danger of a Turkish invasion of Russia in retaliation was a strong deterrent. In January 1642, he referred this question to the Assembly of the Land, summoned for this purpose. All of the representatives agreed that they should hold Azov, but long arguments took place about how to raise the money to repair and defend the fortress. Finally on April 30, 1642, the tsar ordered the Don Cossacks to evacuate Azov. They obeyed, but only after destroying the fortress.

Once Mikhail was secure on the throne, the Russians wanted him to marry so that his children would ensure the succession. The chosen bride-to-be was Maria Ivanovna Khlopova. But when the Russians learned that she suffered from an incurable illness, they exiled the unfortunate young woman and her family to Tobolsk.

Filaret resolved to find a bride for his son from a foreign ruling family. This would both enhance the dignity of the new dynasty and also advance his policy of forging a coalition against Poland. His envoys had no success in Denmark and in Sweden. He then began seeking a Russian bride. He had long suspected the truth about the alleged illness of Maria Khlopova. An investigation revealed that she was perfectly healthy and that the vomiting, which had led to the exile of her and her family, was the result of emetics deliberately administered by Mikhail Saltykov who had quarreled with her family. Because the Saltykovs were guilty of “interruption to the Tsar’s pleasure and wedding,” officials confiscated their estates and exiled them to Siberia. They were able to return after Filaret’s death.

Tsar Mikhail had decided by this time, however, that he no longer wanted Maria as his bride. He married Maria Dolgorukaya, who died within a few months. He then chose Evdokiya Streshnevaya, daughter of a minor member of the gentry, and she gave birth to the son who was to carry on the dynasty.

Like his father, Mikhail was anxious to forge links with royal families in the West. In April 1642, he sent an embassy to King Christian of Denmark, proposing the marriage of his daughter, Irina, with the Danish prince, Waldemar. This mission failed because the envoys told the king that his son would have to accept the Orthodox faith before he could marry Irina. In December, Peter Marselis, a Dane who was a resident of Russia and had the respect of the tsar, arrived in Copenhagen to renew proposals for this marriage. He expressed regret on behalf of the tsar that the earlier envoys had misinformed him. He assured them that the tsar would not insist on the prince embracing Orthodoxy in order to marry Irina.

Prince Waldemar arrived in Moscow with a large entourage in January 1644. The king had emphasized that the prince would have complete freedom of worship while he was there. No sooner had Waldemar arrived in Moscow, however, than the patriarch began urging him to embrace Orthodoxy. Next the tsar tried to persuade him to be rebaptized in the true faith. Waldemar heatedly reminded the tsar of his promise not to put pressure on him to change his faith. The tsar replied that he would not use force or put pressure on the prince, but that this did not mean that he could not try to persuade him. Waldemar next demanded that they allow him to return to Copenhagen. The tsar refused permission and doubled the guards posted at Waldemar’s house. For months the dispute raged. Now a prisoner, the prince refused to consent to be rebaptized and angrily complained about his treatment. He even tried with his entourage to break out of Moscow by force, hoping to make his way to the frontier. One Russian guard died and others received wounds during the escape attempt. The Russians then increased the guard on the prince and his companions.

In November, 1,644 letters reached Moscow from the Danish king, demanding the immediate release of his son. The tsar protested that Waldemar was like a son to him and that he could not let him go. An extremely devout man, perhaps Mikhail thought that with time Waldemar would inevitably recognize in Orthodox Christianity the true faith, and that he would thus save a soul. But the stubbornness of the captive prince and the bitter disputes with him, his entourage, and with Waldemar’s father deeply distressed him. He had never been healthy and was now forty-eight years old. Except for the fourteen years when Filaret had wielded power, his reign had been difficult. Early in 1645, Ivan and Vasily, his two eldest sons, died within a few weeks of each other. This tragedy, coming after the long months of dispute with Waldemar, affected him deeply and he reacted with much weeping while he grieved.

On July 12, 1645, while attending service, he suddenly collapsed. It was clear that he was near to death. When he regained consciousness, he summoned Tsarevich Alexei, his surviving son. In the presence of the patriarch, the tsaritsa, and Boyar Boris Ivanovich Morozov, he declared Alexei to be his successor and begged Morozov to watch over and guide him. Soon afterward he died.

Tsar Mikhail had carried out his duties conscientiously, but he had always been a sickly man. Because of a weakness in his legs, he had seldom ventured beyond the Kremlin. By his mere presence on the throne, he gave the nation the focal point that it needed to keep it from disintegrating. His reign then became a time of recovery from all the evils of the Time of Troubles and a time of national revival. Through his son, he ensured the continuity of the new dynasty.


The Romanovs

Alexei, the second tsar of the dynasty, was sixteen years old when he ascended the throne. He was a gentle, exceedingly pious boy, who seemed at first to resemble his father closely. But as he developed in intelligence and character, he soon revealed a powerful personality.

Dr. Samuel Collins, his English physician, was to write of him as “a goodly person, about six foot high, well set, inclined to fat, of a clear complexion, lightish hair, somewhat low forehead, of a stern countenance, severe in his chastisements, but very careful of his subjects’ love.”

As a child, Alexei had lived in the special apartment in the Kremlin, set aside for the tsarevich. Some noble ladies took care of him. When he was old enough, a group of playmates shared in his games. At the age of six, he had begun lessons with an alphabet book especially ordered for him by his grandfather, Patriarch Filaret, which contained simple prayers and a shortened catechism. As soon as he could read, he received the psalter, a book of hours, and other religious works. By the time he was ten, he had learned the details of Orthodox ritual.

The education of the tsarevich usually ended at this point. Alexei benefited from the Western customs that were already spreading within the Kremlin. Filaret, influenced by his period of Polish captivity, had been more tolerant of Western fashions and ideas than his predecessors. He and other relatives as well as some members of the court gave Alexei toys of Western manufacture. But the most important influence in the boy’s life was his tutor, Boyar Boris Morozov, who was among the most ardent Westernizers in Russia. If he had been educated and intelligent, he might have been a leading statesman. But he was too greedy for money and power to be able to treat his own interests as less important than those of the tsar and the nation. His influence over Alexei was evidently not harmful, especially after 1645, the year in which both his mother and father died and Morozov took their place. Alexei rewarded him with his friendship, which never wavered.

He was certainly one of the most attractive of the Romanovs. Russian historians referred to him as the quietest or gentlest tsar. However, he was prone to violent outbursts of anger at times. He could not tolerate arrogance or incompetence. In 1660, when the Russian armies had suffered disastrous defeat by the Poles, he summoned the Council of Boyars to consider what should be done. Miloslavsky, his own father-in-law, although inexperienced in military matters, suddenly boasted that he would readily defeat the Poles and capture the King of Poland himself if he commanded the army. This idle boast infuriated Alexei. He leaped from his throne, boxed Miloslavsky’s ears, physically dragged him to the door, and threw him out of the room.

In church, when the priest made mistakes in the ritual, Alexei stopped the service, cursed him for his incompetence, and made him repeat the service until he performed it correctly. He did not hesitate to reprimand the patriarch himself. But he always followed his outbursts of anger with lenience or pardon. If he saw that he had been in the wrong, he would ask forgiveness; for the tsar to apologize to one of his subjects was truly remarkable.

In a deeper sense, the description of Alexei as a quiet and gentle tsar was appropriate. In his outlook and his daily living, he embodied the humility, devoutness, and spiritual striving that were the essence of Orthodox teaching. He combined these qualities with a strong sense of duty to his people and country. Moreover, he had a gift for choosing competent advisers to whom he gave his trust and friendship.

In the nineteenth century, the Slavophiles who believed fervently in the unique culture and institutions of Orthodox Russia, as they had been before Peter the Great’s Westernizing onslaught, looked back on Alexei’s reign as a golden age. As tsar, he seemed to justify the legend of old Muscovy with its firm but just and kindly paternalism and its magnificence, order, and piety.

Alexei cultivated the pomp and ceremony of his court. He always appeared before his people splendidly robed and attended by an entourage. When visiting a monastery outside Moscow, 1,000 horsemen accompanied him, and longer journeys required an escort of 5,000-10,000 men. At Easter and other festivals and when receiving foreign ambassadors, he wore even more magnificent robes.

Alexei was also a man of great piety. The routine of his day began at 4 a.m. with prayers in his private chapel. He then joined the tsaritsa and attended morning prayer service with her. He also took part in a late morning service, lasting some two hours. In the great Easter celebrations, he would stand for five or six hours without relief and make as many as 1,500 prostrations to the ground. Moreover, he strictly observed the fasts in Lent, dining only three times during the week and on other days eating a piece of black bread and a salted mushroom. In general his habits were moderate; he ate simple dishes and drank sparingly.

Such arduous devotions and aesthetic living befitted a monk rather than an autocrat who ruled a large and troubled country. Alexei nevertheless found time for public business. Early every morning his boyars and councilors assembled at the palace or in the appointed church. If anyone was absent or late without good reason, he would become very angry and at times even imprison the offender.

When they first saw the tsar, everyone bowed low to the ground; if seeking special favor, some might bow as many as thirty times. In church at convenient times during the service, the tsar listened to reports and gave instructions, but he always observed every detail of the ritual. At midday he often dined alone. He then slept until about 3 p.m. when he attended a service of evening prayer. If business was pressing, he followed an afternoon routine like that of the morning, but usually he relaxed with his family or conversed with those close to him or with the old men who enjoyed favor because of their age and piety, and lived in quarters near the palace.

In his way of life, Alexei came close to the Muscovite ideal. His conception of his power and position as tsar also belonged to the Muscovite heritage. He believed in his divine appointment to rule as absolute monarch and defender of the Orthodox faith. But in his humility and love for his people, he wielded power more moderately than Ivan the Terrible had done. Moreover, contrary to the Muscovite legend, he was far from being an archconservative who regarded all change as evil. He reflected the two currents in the Russia of his time and later: one driving the country toward equality and kinship with Western Europe, the other holding the country unchanged as the stronghold of Orthodox Christianity.

The mass of the people, working the soil, were staunchly conservative, and the Church strengthened their opposition to change. Among the nobles and gentry, however, were certain individuals who recognized that Russia would decline if they ignored the ideas and developments of Western Europe. Alexei was naturally conservative, but he did not have a closed mind. He listened to the men at his court when they talked about education and reforms.

The thirty years of his reign were years of tremendous change. The new legal code, the schism in the Church, the influx of Western ideas, and developments in foreign relations affected every aspect of Russian life. It was also a time of widespread discontent, rebellion, and mounting crisis. His reign was one of the most turbulent in Russia’s history, but the even more dramatic reign of his son, Peter, obscured its importance.

The general unrest had carried over from the Time of Troubles. Russia had recovered from the chaos of that period and the economy had revived. However, the recovery was superficial, and the Smolensk war in the 1630s had further strained the nation. The great social problems remained; in fact, the hasty measures adopted in the reign of Tsar Mikhail had even made them worse. His government had been concerned with collecting higher taxes to strengthen the armies needed to impose order internally and to defend the nation against enemies on its frontiers. But the Russian people were growing more and more restless. They endured increasing burdens as an arbitrary and corrupt bureaucracy gained more authority.

During the reign of Alexei, there was a series of violent rebellions. In 1646-1647, outbreaks took place on the lower Don, in the extreme North, and in Siberia where peasants and townsmen refused to pay increased taxes. But the first serious revolt was in Moscow in 1648, only three years after Alexei had come to the throne. In the capital as in other parts of the country, the burden of paying all of the taxes fell on only one-third of the population. The people who were exempt belonged to the large estates of the nobles and the Church. The tsar probably never saw the petitions sent from the provinces and from Moscow. The officials of the prikazi, wielding almost unlimited power, ignored complaints, while adding to the burdens of the people by their own dishonesty.

Boris Morozov virtually ruled the country in the first years of the young tsar’s reign. He condoned the widespread corruption in the bureaucracy and became extremely wealthy. During 1646-1647, he changed the chief officials in many prikazi. Two of his appointees, L. S. Pleshcheev and P. T. Trakhaniotov, carried their corruption and arbitrary rule to new extremes.

As the discontent of the Muscovites mounted, they directed their anger primarily at Morozov because he was responsible for the new salt tax introduced in February 1646 and for subsequent tax changes that imposed impossible burdens on the people.

Thwarted in their efforts to petition the tsar for justice, a group of Muscovites planned to deliver their petition directly into his hands. They had an opportunity to do this on June 1, 1648, when the tsar and tsaritsa were returning from prayers at the Troitsa Monastery. But the bodyguard scattered them and arrested some of them before they could get near him. On the following day, the tsar rode to the Sretensky Monastery outside Moscow. This time, as the bodyguards pushed the petitioners aside, the angry crowd began shouting for Pleshcheev to be handed over to them and for the release of the men arrested the previous day. As the tsar returned to Moscow, a crowd of several thousand people surrounded him. The streltsi, posted by Morozov to guard the entrances to the Kremlin, refused to fire on them. Holding an ikon in his hands, Alexei finally came before the people and asked them to stop their unruly behavior. His appeal had little effect. The crowd destroyed the palaces of Morozov, Pleshcheev, Trakhaniotov, and others who had angered them.

On June 3, fire broke out in the city. It spread rapidly, destroying thousands of houses as well as the city’s grain supplies. The rumor spread that servants of Morozov had started the fire. The people gathered on the Red Square and laid siege to the Kremlin palace, noisily demanding the immediate punishment of Morozov, Pleshcheev, and Trakhaniotov.

Alexei, then only nineteen, faced a dangerous crisis. He could not surrender Morozov whom he regarded as a father and on whom he depended. On his own decision or on the advice of Morozov, he had officials give Pleshcheev to the crowd. The crowd dragged him to the Red Square and tore his body to pieces. But the death of one hated official was not enough to calm the people. The next day, the crowd again gathered at the Kremlin Palace and noisily demanded Morozov and Trakhaniotov. Alexei had tried to save Trakhaniotov by sending him to a distant province, but the people had become so threatening that he recalled him. He then surrendered Trakhaniotov to the crowd who promptly killed him at the execution place on the Red Square.

The turbulence continued. It seemed that only the execution of Morozov would satisfy the Muscovites. Alexei appeared before the people and tearfully begged them to spare Morozov, promising to remove him from office and to send him far from Moscow. Because the people were not angry at the tsar, they agreed to let Morozov live. Morozov remained for a time in the Kirillov-Belozersky Monastery, where the tsar had sent him for his safety. Later he returned to Moscow, but he never again held the same power and position as in the first years of Alexei’s reign.

The rebellions in Moscow and all over the country had alarmed the tsar and his government. He took steps to ensure the loyalty of the serving gentry and the streltsi. The streltsi received special payments as well as wine and honey. Many among the serving gentry received new grants of land and increased payments. He replaced officials in the prikazi with men held in higher respect. Moreover, Alexei immediately agreed to summon the Assembly of the Land in response to the demands of merchants and townsmen in Moscow and the provinces. The representatives resolved that they needed a second meeting to consider a new code of laws. They entrusted the drafting of this new code of laws to a special commission under the chairmanship of Prince N. I. Odoevsky.

The Assembly of the Land that met in September 1648 remained in session for six and a half months. There were about 350 deputies who represented all classes except the peasantry. Members of the gentry who held their lands in service tenure were the dominant group. The representatives divided themselves into a lower house, comprising the deputies from towns and provinces, and the upper house of the tsar, the patriarch, the Council of Boyars, and the Church council.

The new code of laws enacted the principle of the primacy of the state and recognized the people only as a source of taxes, of grain, and of manpower for the armed forces. It divided the population into classes to facilitate the collection of taxes. The new code eliminated several forms of tax evasion. The serving gentry and townsmen in particular could not assign themselves to great landowners, thereby escaping tax liability. Townsmen needed to live in the towns in which they were registered. The code confirmed the duty of the gentry to serve in the army. It was decided that the Church, which already owned a lot of land, could not purchase any additional land. The code abolished the time limit within which landowners could recover runaway serfs. By this ruling, the peasant became permanently tied not only to the estate but also directly to the landowner.

The code thus gave legal form to the rigidly centralized autocratic regime. It regimented the people, subordinating them completely to the financial and military needs of the state. It entrenched a system that crippled the development of Russia in the following centuries. But the code, endorsed by the leading classes as represented in the Assembly of the Land, also reflected the requirements of the young nation at this time. Because of its vast expanse, the need to restore order and at the same time to defend itself against the enemies on its frontiers required a strong centralized power as well as a dependable revenue and an adequate army. The tragedy was that when Russia attained internal stability and secured its frontiers early in the eighteenth century, leaders did not revise the code to give a more liberal system in which individual citizens and society as a whole could develop freely and strongly.

In approving the new code, Alexei merely was responding to the immediate needs of the nation and to his belief in his own role as autocrat. Later in his reign, with his choice of such advisers as Ordin-Nashchokin and Rtishchev, he would show that he cared about the welfare of his subjects as individuals, and he took some steps to lessen hardships. But the autocratic system was so much a part of him that he was incapable of modifying it for the benefit of the majority of the people.

Meanwhile unrest continued. The summer of 1650 was a time of major uprisings in Pskov and Novgorod, resulting in the possibility of a threat to Moscow. Rebellion erupted in Pskov in February when townsmen, artisans, and streltsi stationed there objected forcibly to the passage of grain to Sweden. The Pskov region was suffering at the time from a food shortage. The people were in no mood to understand that the government was sending the grain to Sweden under the terms of the Treaty of Stolbovo. They rebelled against the governor and refused to allow the grain to be moved. In March the people of Novgorod rose against their governor and the local nobility, and the streltsi supported them. Prince Khovansky arrived from Moscow with troops to restore order. He succeeded within a month in Novgorod. But the collapse of the Novgorod rebellion made the citizens of Pskov more determined to resist. In May, Alexei sent a force, again commanded by Khovansky, to put down the revolt in Pskov. In the course of three months, Khovansky lost many men before the rebels finally came to terms.

The 1650s were a time of mounting crisis for Alexei’s government. War against Poland-Lithuania was exhausting the financial and manpower resources of the country. In 1654, plague caused countless deaths and depleted the manpower shortage so much that the grain harvest suffered. But the first concern of the government was to raise money to finance the war. Even though wealthy monasteries and prominent merchants made special loans and contributions to the treasury, this was not enough.

The government had in 1654 reduced the value of coinage by halving the amount of silver in coins while keeping their nominal value. In 1656, Alexei adopted the drastic policy of minting copper coins that would have the same value as the silver coins. Initially, this gave the treasury tremendous profits by exchanging copper for silver. But popular confidence in the new coinage did not last long. Soon one silver coin could buy fifteen copper coins of the same nominal value. Counterfeiters began to multiply. Rumors circulated that Miloslavsky, the tsar’s father-in-law, and others at court were buying copper and minting their own coins. The prices of food and goods soared. More and more people became poverty-stricken and desperate from hunger.

Toward the end of July 1662, thousands of people began walking from Moscow to Kolomenskoe, the country palace to which Alexei retreated with his family whenever he could get away from the pressures of the Kremlin. The crowd was furious about certain boyars alleged to be traitors who communicated with the King of Poland; the crowd also thought that these same boyars were responsible for the copper coinage and all the suffering that had resulted from it.

Alexei was at prayers when the crowd reached Kolomenskoe. The terrified tsaritsa and her children waited in the women’s quarters as they heard the roar of the approaching mob. Alexei left the church to face his subjects. He heard their demands and quietly told them to return to their homes. He did not call upon his bodyguard when two of the leaders came closer and gave him a petition or when others grasped the buttons of his robes, demanding his guarantee that they would receive justice. He swore before God that he would order a thorough investigation. The crowd then dispersed and made its way back to the capital.

Meanwhile, the escape of two of the wealthiest merchants - rumored to have counterfeited copper money – greatly angered the people who had remained in Moscow. These people decided to see the tsar in Kolomenskoe. They were on the road when they met the first mob returning. The latter group, now even angrier than before, turned around; it seemed that the whole population of Moscow was on the road to Kolomenskoe and in a savage mood.

By this time, however, the streltsi regiments had received orders to defend the tsar. They arrived as Alexei was facing the angry mob, which had started to shout threats and abuse at him. Learning of the arrival of the streltsi, Alexei ordered them to put down the rebellion. They at once fired into the crowd. In this massacre, 7,000 people died from bullets or drowned in the Moscow River. The streltsi rounded up many others for interrogation and punishment. Hundreds of innocent people among them perished.

Unrest increased because of the bondage of serfdom on so many people. The peasants reacted to the Code of 1649, which made them the slaves of their landowners, by rebellion; outbreaks of arson, murder, and destruction; and above all by flight to the East into Siberia or to the South to the lands of the Don and the Volga. Here they could find freedom, joining the Cossacks of the Don, the Yaik, and the Kuban. They formed a great brotherhood of runaway serfs, deserters, and the nomadic peoples. While acknowledging the political control of the tsar, the Cossacks continued to pursue their own interests as marauders, hunters, and robbers, raiding and plundering where they saw profit. The tsar sent gifts and occasionally punitive expeditions, but they did not seriously interfere with the Cossacks’ way of life, which provided a better life for all who were enslaved and desperate.

The flood of runaway serfs to the South was still growing despite all government efforts to halt it. Instead of seeking the causes of the discontent, the government applied more repressive measures; peasants still braved the savage punishments and escaped. From this southern region of the Don and Volga arose a challenge that threatened the tsardom. Its leader was a Cossack named Stenka Razin, a very ambitious man. In the spring of 1661, the Don Cossack leaders had sent him on a mission to persuade the Kalmyks to join with them against the Crimean Tatars. Stenka visited Moscow later the same year and then went on a pilgrimage to the Solovetsky Monastery in the White Sea. Historians don’t have any details about his movements during the next five years. But in 1667, Alexei warned his commanders on the Volga that a great Cossack horde was preparing to plunder the towns and traffic along the Volga and to occupy Tsaritsyn. The leader of this Cossack horde was Stenka Razin.

Starting his campaign by moving north along the Don, Stenka Razin took Tsaritsyn. He then proceeded down the Volga to occupy Astrakhan. In 1669, he commanded a fleet of ships that plundered vessels trading on the Caspian Sea, engaged and defeated a Persian naval squadron, and even invaded northern Persia. The people of Astrakhan greeted him as a hero when he returned.

Alexei was alarmed by these exploits. Stenka Razin might easily involve Moscow in war with the Persians or with the Ottoman Porte. In addition, he was disrupting trade on the Volga, challenging the tsar’s authority, and rallying the poor, the oppressed, and other people in the South to support him. Alexei offered him full pardon if he gave up the ships, the tsar’s commanders, and officials and other prisoners he had taken, and if he committed no further acts of plunder and piracy. Stenka Razin rejected this offer and continued with his plans.

In 1670, he advanced up the Volga, taking Saratov and Samara. His advance detachments moved as far west as Tambov and Nizhni-Novgorod. He had begun his campaign as a typical Cossack, leading his men in search of action and stolen goods. He now launched a class war, calling on peasants to kill their landowners, to rebel against all authority, and to follow him. A born leader whose exploits and generosity were already legendary among the Russians, he rallied thousands to his cause and soon posed a grave threat to the tsar and the whole regime.

At Simbirsk, in October 1670, however, Stenka Razin met with strong resistance by the garrison and townsmen. The tsar’s army, commanded by Prince Baryatinsky, routed his forces. Razin suffered a wound in battle and had to flee by night to Samara. In the city that had so recently hailed him as a liberator, the citizens refused him admission and also at Saratov. He made his way south to the Don where he began raising forces to renew his campaign. But on April 14, 1672, the Don Cossacks seized him. Under strong escort, they took him to Moscow and on June 6 executed him on Red Square. But he had made an indelible impression on the Russian people. He became part of a popular tradition as the savior of the oppressed, the great rebel against autocracy, and the champion of the free.

Against this background of unrest, a change in Russia’s relations with Western Europe was taking place. The influx of Western ideas into Muscovy had begun in the late fifteenth century. In the reign of Tsar Mikhail, the people had recognized the need for the reform and modernization of Russia. The process gathered real momentum under Tsar Alexei. During the reign of Peter the Great, it became a dynamic movement.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, those living in Western Europe left behind the shackles of feudalism and became very involved in industry, military science, and intellectual life. Russia was not a part of these developments. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the unification of the state under the rule of Moscow and defense against neighboring enemies had absorbed the energies of all Russians. Since the fifteenth century, they had also retained a sense of self-sufficiency. The Orthodox Church, and especially the idea of Moscow as the heir of Constantinople, the third and perfect Rome, had made them arrogant and complacent. Suddenly in the seventeenth century, the tsar and leading men at court finally realized that Russia had fallen far behind the rest of Europe and that they would continue to lag behind and remain vulnerable unless they were prepared to learn from the West.

Late in the fifteenth century, Ivan III had employed architects and artists from Italy. Ivan IV had did not have much success engaging foreign engineers and artisans, especially those skilled in the manufacture and use of the latest military equipment. The first real influx of Western influence happened in the reign of Tsar Mikhail. He began enlisting foreign mercenaries to improve their defense capabilities.

Conservative Orthodox Russians reluctantly accepted Western military and industrial techniques because they felt that they didn’t affect the spiritual life of the nation. But with these innovations inevitably came a broader Western influence that was soon permeating the daily life of the capital. An important channel of this influence was the Foreign Quarter.

In the previous century, the foreign officers and soldiers, doctors, merchants, and artisans in Russia had established this Foreign Quarter on the banks of the Yauza River outside Moscow. During the Time of Troubles, events forced them to scatter as invaders destroyed their Quarter. But they had returned and their numbers had begun to increase in the reign of Tsar Mikhail. They settled in Moscow and even built Protestant churches within the city. But this invasion of their city by foreign heretics offended Orthodox churchmen and Muscovites who disliked people from other countries. A ukaz (decree), issued by Tsar Mikhail, banned the purchase of houses and building of churches by foreigners in Moscow. Another ukaz in 1652 resettled all foreigners on the banks of the Yauza River beyond the city limits, and the new Foreign Quarter arose on the site of the old.

The Quarter had a population of some 1,500 at the beginning of Alexei’s reign, but it grew rapidly until it was soon about one-fifth the size of Moscow. Most of the inhabitants were Scots, English, Dutch, and Germans, and all apparently lived in harmony. They utilized the skills of the artisans among them and built a town with broad avenues and attractive timbered houses with gardens. It included two Lutheran churches and two schools. The Quarter provided a strong contrast to Muscovite towns and villages that were unplanned and unkempt. In those villages, the houses remained unrepaired until they fell or were burned to the ground.

The foreigners enjoyed freedom to pursue their own way of life within their Quarter. Their community, which included a high proportion of cultured and educated men, was a civilized society. Many of them managed to keep informed of the cultural and scientific developments of their own countries. General Patrick Gordon, a Scot greatly respected by the Russians, regularly received reports of the proceedings of the Royal Society in London. The diplomatic missions of England, Holland, Sweden, and other countries, which were in the Quarter, received mail regularly from their capitals. The foreigners in Russia were, in fact, better informed about developments in Western Europe than the tsar’s embassies.

Already in Alexei’s reign, the Foreign Quarter had begun to make a deep impact on Russian life in the capital. Russians lived in primitive conditions, and they had no social life as it was understood in the West. Forbidden to travel abroad, except on the tsar’s commissions, they had no idea of any other way of life. From returning missions and contact with the Poles earlier in the century, the tsar and members of his court learned about the elegance of other capitals. But the Foreign Quarter served as a visible example of Western standards of living.

Certain men at Alexei’s court, and especially Boris Morozov, Nikita Romanov, Fedor Rtishchev, Afanasy Ordin-Nashchokin, and Artamon Matveev, were strongly attracted not only by the comfort, but also by the culture and learning of the West. They recognized that Russian society was coarse and illiterate. They were eager to adopt Western standards, to study and to encourage education in Russia. But it was the elegance and comfort of Western life that first attracted them.

Prestige was another reason for this growing eagerness to learn from the West. Russians were always sensitive about comparisons with other countries, and it was a matter of honor that the tsar’s court should not appear inferior to the courts of other monarchs. Before they traveled abroad, Alexei gave his ambassadors instructions to report on the arrangements and entertainments of other courts. Thus Likhachev, who went in 1659 on a mission to Tuscany and was invited to a ball and a theater in Florence, gave a very detailed description of the occasion. Officials in Moscow carefully studied similar reports by other envoys.

Western theatrical and musical entertainments were especially interesting, because they were unknown in the Kremlin. They condemned even the simple folk dances and music of the Russian peasants as ungodly pastimes. Early in his reign Alexei had issued a ukaz, forbidding his subjects “to dance, play games, or watch them; at wedding feasts either to sing or to play on instruments; to give over one’s soul to perdition in such pernicious and lawless practices as word-play, farces and magic.”

Thus, it was an indication of how much Alexei’s outlook had changed that a few years later he was listening to music and sending instructions to his ambassadors abroad to engage good trumpet players. Even more significant was his sudden interest in the theater, which Russians had always forbidden. After consulting with his spiritual advisers, he had finally agreed that such performances were acceptable because the Byzantine emperors had attended them. He ordered the erection of a theater at Preobrazhenskoe, another of his country residences. He found a Lutheran pastor, Johann Gregory, in the Foreign Quarter and ordered him to produce a play. The pastor assembled a cast mainly among the Quarter’s older children and produced a play called Esther. Alexei was enthralled. According to a contemporary account, he “watched for ten hours without once moving from his seat.” He had ordered the performance to celebrate the birth of his son, Peter.

Even though the theater became one of Alexei’s regular entertainments, music was his great passion. Banquets at his court were occasions for music and at dinner “a foreigner played the organ, trumpeters trumpeted, and kettledrums beat.” They soon decorated the palace and boyars’ mansions with Western items. Paintings, clocks and mirrors, velvet hangings, and upholstery appeared in rooms that had been bare except for ikons. At times, this enthusiasm for elegance led to extremes. This became evident when the wedding present Alexei gave Boris Morozov was a carriage covered with gold brocade, lined with sables and with silver instead of iron even for the axles.

At the same time, Alexei and those close to him recognized that they must also embrace the intellectual life of the West. They had to end the general ignorance and illiteracy at least among the boyars and gentry by introducing education. Schools were nonexistent in Russia. Any education was private and limited to a few boyar families and to certain monasteries. Instead of turning to the West again, Alexei chose to get guidance about education and learning from the Ukraine and Poland.

Southwestern Russia had long been under Roman Catholic Polish rule. But except for the Polish landowning nobility, the population was Orthodox Russian. While stubbornly defending their faith against Jesuit persecution, the Orthodox had studied Latin, adopted Jesuit methods, and absorbed elements of Western culture. They were far ahead of their fellow believers in Moscow in intellectual activity. In 1633, the Metropolitan of Kiev, Peter Mogila, established an academy that quickly became the center of Orthodox learning, but it was Orthodox learning revitalized and in part transformed by Latin culture.

Moscow’s approach to Kiev happened in 1649-1650 when they engaged three educated monks - Slavinetsky, Satanovsky, and Ptitsky - from the academy. Their task was to produce a Slav version of the Bible; for six centuries only the Greek text had been available, and few in Russia understood Greek. At the tsar’s request, the monks from Kiev also translated into Russian a number of nonreligious books. Many at court eagerly read the new books. This aroused their intellectual curiosity and they made them want more education.

In 1665, Simeon Polotsky, from the Kiev academy, started a small school in a building especially erected in the Spassky Monastery in Moscow. Alexei also hired him as a tutor for his elder sons and his daughter, Sofia. Polotsky taught them Latin and Polish and how to write verse. A gentle, dedicated scholar, he earned wide respect. Others at court followed the tsar’s example. Ordin-Nashchokin, the outstanding Russian statesman of the day, surrounded his son with Polish prisoners of war so that he would learn Polish and absorb Western culture.

One of those who greatly encouraged education during the reign of Alexei was Fedor Mikhailovich Rtishchev, a saint, scholar, and an active official. He had built the Andreevsky Monastery outside Moscow at his own expense, and in 1649 he brought from the Ukraine some thirty educated monks to live there. Their purpose was to translate foreign books into Russian and teach anyone who wanted to learn Greek, Latin, Slavonic languages, philosophy, and other subjects. Rtishchev also studied at the school, going every night to learn from the monks.

The moral authority that he gave to the promotion of education in Russia was as important as his school. Loved and respected, Rtishchev was a selfless man who dedicated his life to serving his country. Alexei often turned to him as a friend and counselor. He promoted him and gave him many responsibilities, but Rtishchev declined the rank of boyar and other rewards. He freed his serfs and gave away his own money and estates. In 1654, when traveling with Alexei to the Polish campaign, he filled his carriage with poor and sick people lying by the road. Soon there was no room for him and he had to continue on horseback, although in pain from an injured leg. He later made provision for the care of these people. Others often helped him gather the sick and the drunk from the streets of Moscow; he then gave them shelter until they had recovered. For the aged and the incurable, he built poorhouses where he provided treatment for them at his expense. His example as a social reformer produced wider results. In 1681, Alexei proposed to the patriarch and Church council that they erect such shelters and poorhouses throughout the city for the needy, and the Church undertook this responsibility.

The spread of Western influence and the intellectual awakening, represented by Peter Mogila’s Kievan academy, and in particular the study of Greek, led to the reform of the Church books and ritual and then to the Raskol, the great schism within the Church, an event of dramatic importance not only for the Russian Church but for the whole nation.

The Russian Church had become very nationalistic since the fifteenth century and interpreted Orthodoxy to mean the preservation of the faith in pristine purity. Church leaders hated change of any kind. They believed that the smallest details of ritual had divine ordainment. Russians refused to acknowledge that copying the liturgical texts by hand over the years had introduced errors, and that the introduction of printing in 1552 had multiplied these errors, spreading them throughout Russia. Visiting Greek prelates had often emphasized the need to have the books corrected. But the Russians held the Greeks in contempt and believed they had failed in their mission as guardians of the faith. Greek churchmen had come begging and had lost the respect of the Russians. They were merely foreigners of questionable faith and certainly in no position to advise the Holy Russian Church.

In turning to Kiev for instruction in Greek, Latin, and other subjects, Alexei and those close to him alerted many to the fact that the Russian Church needed a change from unyielding past beliefs. Alexei had not only invited Satanovsky and Slavenitsky to Moscow to make a Russian translation of the Bible, but had encouraged Greek clerics to visit the tsardom to discuss church matters. He also supported Rtishchev and others in their efforts to stimulate learning and especially the study of the Greek texts.

A movement toward reform within the church had thus begun. Patriarch Nikon, a man of great energy and ability, who was also brutal and autocratic in his methods, accelerated the reform movement and brought it to a climax.

Nikon was born the son of a peasant in 1605 when the country was enduring the worst horrors of the Time of Troubles. He lost his mother when he was quite young; his stepmother treated him so badly that he was near death several times. Somehow he learned to read and write, the one road to advancement for the son of a peasant. Although he admired monastic life, he left it to marry. However, he retained his vocation and became a parish priest at the age of twenty as a member of the white clergy. He had three children, but all died in infancy. Feeling frustrated by parish life, he persuaded his wife to become a nun, while he entered a White Sea hermitage (a dwelling of an isolated religious group that prefers solitude). Here, however, he quarreled with the brothers and moved on to a monastery where he found acceptance and outlets for his restless energy and ambition. In 1643, the monks chose him as their leader. His fame spread and when he visited Moscow on monastery affairs in 1646, he received an invitation to the court.

Tsar Alexei, then only seventeen, was always eager to meet and talk with outstanding churchmen. He at once came under the spell of this forceful monk. Nikon was soon settled in Moscow as archimandrite (head of a large monastery) of the Novospassky Monastery. Every Friday he participated in morning prayers in the palace church and then talked with the tsar. In 1648, he became Metropolitan of Novgorod. During the rebellion there two years later, he condemned the rebels and apparently intended to burn down the cathedral in protest against their godlessness. Alexei sent urgent instructions, forbidding such drastic action. This order offended Nikon and he wrote at great length to justify the stand he had taken.

On his return to Moscow in 1651, however, Nikon was able to regain his influence over the tsar. When the Patriarch Iosif died the following year, the Church council, obedient to the tsar’s wishes, elected Nikon in his place. He initially declined the office. On July 22, 1652, he agreed to accept only after the tsar publicly prostrated himself at his feet in the Uspensky Cathedral and tearfully begged him. They consecrated him three days later.

Nikon at once took action to support the movement to bring the Russian and Greek Churches closer together and eventually to establish a “universal” Orthodox Church. The first step was to purge the Russian Church of the errors that had become part of its worship. In 1653, Nikon without reference to the Church council ordered the use of three fingers, not two, in making the Sign of the Cross. He reduced genuflections from twelve to four at certain points in the service. He next ordered the destruction of all ikons that departed from the Byzantine model. His priests entered homes to examine the ikons. He took part in the inspections and in the public burning of corrupted ikons.

The changes provoked an outcry among parish clergy and the people because their ikons were an intimate part of their daily existence. They prayed before them frequently, and the ikons often served to comfort them. But Nikon would not tolerate any opposition and punished anyone who dared to protest.

In 1654, educated Greek and Kievan monks began correcting the liturgical texts and issued the revised missal in 1655. Again changes of detail - writing “Iisus” in place of “Isus” and similar points - distressed the great mass of the Russian Orthodox. The fact that the monks had revised the new manual from a Greek text, published in Venice in 1602, confirmed their belief that the changes amounted to sacrilege. Opposition to the reforms mounted in a great wave that swept over the country.

Early in this period of church reform, Nikon had a disagreement with Alexei. He was eager not only to cleanse the Church of corruption, but also to assert the authority of the spiritual over the temporal power. He resented the Muscovite adoption of the Byzantine practices with their implication of imperial authority, such as when the tsar summoned the Church councils, stated the matters to be considered, and made their decisions law. In his arrogant ambition, he saw himself as “Lord Sovereign,” wielding power in the same way as Patriarch Filaret had wielded power in the reign of Mikhail. He had always been able to establish his power over Tsar Alexei, and he believed that he could assert the primacy of the patriarch over the tsar. He created a patriarchal court that rivaled the tsar’s court in magnificence. He used regal titles, normally applied only to the autocrat. His name was soon appearing immediately after that of the tsar in official documents. But he underestimated Alexei.

Alexei had shown great respect for the patriarch. But he could not tolerate Nikon’s increasing arrogance and interference in matters of no concern to the Church. Nikon’s obvious ambition offended the tsar.

Nikon’s fall came about suddenly in 1658. What he considered to be an insult suffered at court by a member of his entourage offended him. He hurriedly set out for the Voskresensky Monastery, declaring that he was no longer patriarch. He expected Alexei to follow him and beg him to return to Moscow. Alexei made no move and sent no message. Nikon next declared that he was still Russian patriarch, but not in Moscow. Alexei and Nikon became deadlocked in a conflict that continued for eight years, causing confusion within the Church and among the Orthodox faithful. As the bitterness between the two men grew, Nikon became more and more vindictive.

Toward the end of 1666, the patriarchs of Antioch and Alexandria arrived in Moscow following Alexei’s invitation. He consulted with them about Nikon’s misconduct. He then summoned a council, including the Church hierarchy, the boyars, and many state counselors, to try him, and the two Greek patriarchs attended. He sent the Archbishop of Pskov to the Voskresensky Monastery to summon Nikon, who refused to come. Alexei sent a firm order to him to appear in Moscow by a certain time. But Nikon had already changed his mind, because the envoy bearing the second summons met him on the road to Moscow.

Nikon made a ceremonial appearance before the Church council on December 1. The proceedings quickly turned into a heated dispute. When asked why he had renounced the patriarchate and had left the faithful without their pastor, Nikon said that he had left because of the tsar’s anger and his refusal to attend church. They exchanged additional charges and countercharges, but Nikon - always the outspoken accuser of others - now found that the entire Council accused him and that his arrogant conduct had left him with no friends in the group. They found him guilty of deserting his high office for eight years, of abusing two archbishops, of accusing the tsar of heresy, and of other serious misconduct. The sentence was that he would no longer serve as patriarch, he would become an ordinary monk, and he would have to stay in the Ferapont Belozersky Monastery. But when they placed the simple cowl of a monk over his head, they did not take the archbishop’s staff and mantle from him; Alexei did not want to humiliate him more than necessary.

Alexei had lost his temper several times during the sessions because of Nikon’s arrogance, his insulting behavior toward the two visiting patriarchs, and toward himself. But his anger passed and he tried to forgive him. He had admired Nikon, a man of great ability, strong personality, and deep faith. Alexei sent a message to Nikon proposing that they should as Christians forgive each other; Nikon rejected the message. When Nikon left Moscow by sled under close escort, the tsar sent him money and furs for his comfort on the long journey; Nikon refused to accept them. When Alexei asked for his blessing, Nikon merely sent a warning that he should await God’s judgment.

By the end of the year, however, Nikon was tired of exile; he sent his blessing and asked for pardon. Now it was Alexei’s turn to withhold his reply for a year, reluctant to allow him to return to Moscow where he would cause trouble. Further messages passed between them, and they finally reconciled in 1672. Nikon did not return to Moscow, and he frequently complained about his accommodations and treatment. Alexei treated his complaints with patience and tolerance.

The Church council that had judged Nikon had also endorsed his reforms. The members even excommunicated anyone who rejected the revised liturgy and sacred books. Most of the people, including those at court and in the Church hierarchy, accepted the reforms endorsed by the tsar. But their sympathies were with the large numbers of believers who wanted to keep the old books. Following their leaders, especially the Archpriest Awakum, a man of great dedication and humanity, they prepared for martyrdom.

The schism tore apart the Russian Church. The Church persecuted the Raskolniki (Schismatics) who rejected the changes and expelled them from the Church as heretics. They burned their leaders at the stake, including Awakum. The monks of the Solovetsky Monastery on the islands in the White Sea condemned the reforms as blasphemy and closed their gates. In 1668, they opened fire with cannon when a detachment of streltsi sent from Moscow approached their gates. Entrenched behind the strong walls of their monastery, the monks were under siege for nine years before they finally surrendered.

The Schismatics formed strongholds, particularly in the northern forests. In a spirit of martyrdom, men, women, and children crowded together in their wooden churches and set fire to them when agents approached from Moscow. Thirty-seven of these mass suicides took place between 1672 and 1691, and more than 20,000 Schismatics died in this way. The fact that Patriarch Nikon had launched the reforms and that the church hierarchy and the state had enforced them convinced many Russians that the reign of the Antichrist had begun. Some even identified Alexei as the Antichrist.

Conversion to Christianity had been one of the strongest bonds uniting the Russians. But the influx of Western influence had opened a gulf between the autocrat and landowning nobility on the one hand and the Church and people on the other. Now the schism had broadened this gulf and divided the Church hierarchy from the lower clergy, who sympathized with the people in their dislike of the reform of the liturgy and books. Moreover, the schism had weakened the authority of the Church and its ability to oppose the mounting wave of Western influence.

The reign of Alexei was also a time of important development in Russia’s relations with neighboring powers. The traditional objective of Russian policy remained unchanged: it was to bring under Moscow’s rule the Russian lands still in foreign possession. Under Tsar Mikhail, the primary concern had been to recover the Smolensk and Seversk regions of western Russia and to re-establish direct access to the Baltic Sea. At the end of Mikhail’s reign, however, Sweden still barred the way to the Baltic and the Poles still held the western regions. Moreover, after the Polish war of 1632-1634, Russia was exhausted and desperately needed time for recovery. But shortly after Alexei had ascended the throne, another problem arose that expanded the field in which Russia had to take action. The new factor was the rebellion of the Ukraine against Polish rule.

Lying at the center of the triangle between the powerful Ottoman Porte in the South and Poland and Russia in the North, the Ukraine was a huge, fertile steppeland. Lithuania had conquered the western and southwestern parts of Russia in the thirteenth century. Lithuania and Poland had taken the first step toward union in 1836. The Orthodox people of the Ukraine then came under the pressure of Roman Catholic propaganda and became increasingly resentful. In 1569, Poland and Lithuania welded themselves into a single political unit; the rearrangement of territories brought the Ukraine under direct Polish rule.

Polish landlords and the Jesuits harassed the Orthodox inhabitants of the Ukraine. Revolts against Polish authority broke out as early as 1591. Roman Catholic propaganda began to prove effective among Orthodox bishops and nobles. In 1596 at the Council of Brest, they agreed to create the Uniat Church, which amounted to a union of the two Churches under the authority of the pope.

However, most of the Orthodox clergy and the peasants opposed the Uniats and the Roman Catholic Poles. They joined forces with the Cossacks, united by religious and national fervor. During the first half of the seventeenth century, anti-Polish uprisings were frequent, but the Poles suppressed them. They even attempted to eradicate the Cossacks, except for the “registered Cossacks” whom they sought to train as a frontier force. It was not easy to suppress either the Cossacks or the peasantry, and in 1648 they arose in a massive rebellion.

The leader of this rebellion was Bogdan Khmelnitsky, a resourceful Cossack of great energy and ability who had received his education in Kiev and Lvov. Imprisoned by the Poles, he had escaped at the end of 1647 and fled to the South. He had proposed an uprising against the Poles to the Zaporozhskaya Sech, the ancient center of authority of the Dnieper Hetman (military commander).

In May, supported by Crimean Tatars, Khmelnitsky defeated the main Polish forces. When he realized that he was going to need more help, he sent a letter on June 8, 1648, to Tsar Alexei, asking him to take the Ukraine under his protection. Moscow hesitated, remembering the defeats suffered by the Russian armies at Polish hands in the 1630s. The tsar sent grain to the Ukraine, where the harvest had failed in 1648, as well as other goods. But he stopped short of proclaiming Russia’s sovereignty. Meanwhile in subsequent action against the Poles, Khmelnitsky had suffered defeat and Polish troops were devastating the Ukraine.

Khmelnitsky then threatened to turn to the Turkish sultan for help if he did not receive the tsar’s support. Leaders in Moscow gradually recognized that Russia had no alternative but to support the Ukrainian rebellion against Poland. The dangers and the economic stress that would result from war with Poland were preferable to having the Mohammedan Turks on Russia’s southern frontiers. In February 1651, the Assembly of the Land met in Moscow and supported the decision to declare the tsar’s sovereignty over the Ukraine. The Cossacks, gathered in Pereyaslavl, swore allegiance to the tsar in January 1654. The “Articles of Agreement” signed in Moscow in March 1654 guaranteed the right of the Cossacks to self-government and the maintenance of their existing social and legal system. The Ukrainian peasantry had no hope of improvement in their conditions, but at least they would be free from their Polish landlords and from the incessant pressure of the Jesuits.

Alexei declared war against Poland in 1654. Charles X of Sweden also marched against the Poles. The Russian armies swept over White Russia and other regions of Lithuania. The Swedes occupied immense areas of Poland. Only rivalry between Swedes and Russians saved the country. Sweden wanted Lithuania, occupied then by Russian troops. Tsar Alexei had designs on the Polish throne. In 1656, Russia and Poland signed the Treaty of Vilna, which gave White Russia and the Ukraine to Moscow. The Russians then declared war against Sweden in the hope of recovering access to the Baltic Sea. But now Alexei found his fortunes reversed. The war against Sweden ended with the Treaty of Kardis (1661), which confirmed the Treaty of Stolbovo, shutting Russia off from the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland.

Khmelnitsky, fearing now a Russo-Polish coalition, began secret negotiations with Charles X of Sweden, with the Crimean Khan, and with others who might ensure Cossack independence of Moscow. He died in 1657. Two years later, Hetman Vygovsky, his successor, went over to the Poles and with Tatar support defeated the Russian army at Konotop. The Cossacks then elected Bogdan’s son, Yury Khmelnitsky, to be hetman. He revived their allegiance to Moscow but almost immediately turned back to Poland.

This left the Ukraine now divided in its allegiances. On the right or west bank of the Dnieper, the Ukraine, under Yury Khmelnitsky’s leadership, adhered to Poland. On the left or east bank, the Ukraine elected a new hetman, Bryukhovetsky, who was loyal to the tsar. Meanwhile the Russians suffered defeat in the new war against Poland and lost all that they had gained under the Treaty of Vilna. By this time, both Poland and Russia were exhausted and their peoples were in a rebellious mood. In addition, both countries feared that the Turkish sultan might take advantage of their exhaustion to extend his power northward into the Ukraine. Under the shadow of this threat, they came to terms.

By the Treaty of Andrussovo, signed in 1667, Russia secured the Seversk province and the whole of left-bank Ukraine, as well as Kiev and a small surrounding enclave on the right bank. They agreed that Kiev would be returned to Poland after two years, but Alexei could not bring himself to honor this when the time came. Poland retained right-bank Ukraine.

The Treaty of Andrussovo, marking a reorientation of Russian policy, was the work of Afanasy Ordin-Nashchokin, one of the most remarkable men close to Alexei. Born a member of the provincial nobility of the Pskov region, he had had an advanced education, embracing subjects considered heretical by the Muscovites. Bordering on the Baltic states, Pskov had always enjoyed close contact with Western Europe, and Ordin-Nashchokin grew up in conditions free from the conservatism of Moscow. He was strongly attracted to the West and became a bitter and outspoken critic of Muscovy, its medieval methods, and bigoted complacent outlook.

To the service of the tsar, he brought a brilliant mind, vision, and humanity. He first attracted attention during the reign of Tsar Mikhail; soon everyone who dealt with him recognized him as the most able Russian of his time. Dr. Collins wrote of him that he was one “who will not be corrupted . . . a very sober, abstemious man, indefatigable in business, a great politician and a very grave and wise minister of state, not inferior to anyone in Europe.”

Ordin-Nashchokin’s greatest achievement was the Treaty of Andrussovo, which ended thirty years of war between Russia and Poland. It opened a new era in Russian foreign policy and formed part of his great plan of uniting Russia and Poland and eventually all the Slav peoples under their leadership. The treaty won him national acclaim because its terms included the return of Kiev to the tsar’s rule. Troubled by more immediate problems, the Russians were not at this stage interested in his broad vision of the future.

It was during this period, when he was head of the Possolsky Prikaz or Foreign Office and the tsar’s chief minister, that he reviewed the whole machinery of government. Diplomacy was his first concern, but he recognized that diplomatic and military success depended on efficient administration and a sound economy. He attacked the indolence, corruption, nepotism, and bureaucracy of Muscovite officials. He drew up a series of projects providing a plan of reform of the whole government. He gave special attention to the reorganization of the administration, the selection and training of officials, and fairer allocation of tax liability, which would increase the national revenue without adding to the burden on the people.

He was especially concerned with the development of trade and industry. In his native Pskov, he organized the merchants in an association that enabled them to compete with foreign merchants. He tried to open up trade with Central Asia, Persia, and the Far East. His proposals included reorganization of the army, creation of fleets in the Baltic and Caspian seas, a regular postal service, and the improvement of towns by laying out gardens.

Ordin-Nashchokin was, however, an extremely outspoken and difficult man who had many enemies. He remained in office only because Tsar Alexei supported him. When Ordin-Nashchokin’s son, as a result of his Western education and the influence of his Polish tutors, fled to the West, he refused to return, fearing his father’s anger and punishment by death. Enemies called the son a traitor like his father. Expecting exile or some other punishment for his son’s crime, Ordin-Nashchokin at once petitioned to be allowed to retire into a monastery. But Alexei would not accept his petition. Breaking with custom and overruling the law, he even defended the son. “You ask me to allow you to resign,” he wrote. “But why do you make such a request? It must be because of your great sadness. But what is so remarkable about your son’s foolish behavior? He has acted stupidly. He is a young man and he wishes to see God’s world and all its wonders. Like a bird which flies here and there and, when weary, flies back to its own nest, so your son will remember his home and his holy bonds with it and he will return to you.”

Between Alexei and Ordin-Nashchokin, and also Rtishchev who was the close friend of both, the special bonds uniting them were their piety and their sense of humanity. Ordin-Nashchokin maintained that the state existed to serve the wellbeing of the people and that this was the basic principle in all his plans. It was an attitude well in advance of the ideas of the seventeenth-century Russia and of Western Europe. In his personal life, too, he was a kind man. Tsar Alexei in the citation elevating him to the rank of boyar in 1658 described him as one who “feeds the hungry, gives drink to the thirsty, clothes the naked, is considerate to humble people, and gives no quarter to the wrongdoer.” He was also a man of high principle in diplomacy. This finally brought him into conflict with Tsar Alexei who refused to return Kiev to Poland under the terms of the Treaty of Andrussovo. He petitioned to be released from office and this time Alexei reluctantly agreed. Ordin-Nashchokin retreated into a monastery, took holy orders, and died in 1680.

Allexei’s thirty-one-year reign was a time of hardships and near-calamities, both internally and in Russia’s relations with her neighbors. Fortunately they did not happen at the same time and Russia, although unstable and economically weak, was able to gather enough strength to meet each new crisis.

In his family life, too, Alexei knew anxiety and grief. Maria Miloslavskaya, his first wife, gave birth to six daughters and five sons. The daughters were healthy, but the sons were all frail. Three sons died in childhood, and the tsaritsa died in March 1669. Everyone hoped that the tsar would marry again. All Russians feared a return of the horrors of the Time of Troubles that had followed the extinction of the previous dynasty. Of Alexei’s two surviving sons, Ivan was not intelligent and Fedor was not expected to live long. It made the people happy when the tsar announced in February 1670 that he was planning to remarry.

Alexei met his second wife at the house of Artamon Matveev, who had succeeded Ordin-Nashchokin as chief minister. He had married a daughter of the Scots family of Hamilton that had entered the Russian service at the turn of the century. As much as was possible in Moscow, he lived as a Western European. Strongly attracted to the Western way of life, Alexei sometimes went informally to Matveev’s house, even though it was very unusual for a tsar to visit the home of a subject. There he met Natalya Naryshkina, the young daughter of an impoverished landlord of Tatar origin. The tsar fell in love and married her on January 22, 1671.

Alexei was devoted to his young wife. She was used to Western customs, not to the seclusion of the Muscovite terem, and she encouraged him in his Western tastes. The birth of a healthy son, Peter, in the Kremlin Palace on May 30, 1672, made Alexei very happy. But he was not to enjoy this new happiness for long. Alexei had always been strong and energetic. He was forty-seven years old and, when he caught a chill, it did not seem serious. It was a shock when his condition suddenly deteriorated and he died on January 29, 1676.

As tsar, Alexei had been far more effective than his father, the first of the Romanovs. He had not dominated the government and country as his son would, but he was an ideal autocrat and had ruled in a way that commanded the respect and affection of his people. His strength was that he had recognized the capable men among his subjects and had the courage to break from the past and support their policies. Often the immediate results distressed him. The schism in the church, followed by the excommunication and persecution of the Schismatics, must have saddened a man as devout as he was. But he did not waver in his support for the revision of the liturgy and the Church books. Although he was devoted to the Orthodox Muscovite heritage, he did not close his eyes or his mind to the need for reforms and modernization. He listened to Rtishchev, Ordin-Nashchokin, Matveev, and others, and he encouraged and supported them. He was unable to achieve very little improvement in the conditions of his people. But with the acquisition of Kiev and eastern Ukraine, he added to the power and prestige of the nation. His greatest achievements, however, were that he opened the gates to Western ideas and reform more widely and that he left to Russia as a successor his son, Peter.


The Romanovs

Fedor succeeded to the throne without dispute. On September 1, 1674, the Russian Orthodox New Year’s Day, his father had presented him as his heir to the people and the representatives of foreign rulers. It had been an impressive occasion when the crowd had heard the tsar formally proclaim his eldest son as their next tsar. But few had expected Fedor to ascend the throne. Then a frail thirteen-year-old boy who was suffering from scurvy, he had seemed unlikely to outlive his robust father. But the sickly boy was now tsar of Russia.

The savage rivalries that had smoldered for years within the court surfaced immediately after Alexei’s death. The family of the tsaritsa had always enjoyed prominence and power at court. After some twenty years, the Naryshkini, the family of Tsar Alexei’s second wife, now replaced his first wife’s family. The daughters of Maria Miloslavskaya, and Tsarevna Sofia in particular, resented the change. The usual fate of the tsarevni was to be isolated in the terem and, when they were older, to become nuns and spend their lives in religious seclusion. Maria’s daughters had hoped to avoid that type of life. No subject could marry a daughter of the tsar, and attempts to arrange marriages with ruling families in the West had all failed. But now the Western influence spreading through the Kremlin was raising the hopes of the tsar’s daughters that they might at least take part in court life.

Tsarevna Sofia, a strong-willed and intelligent young woman, had seized these new opportunities. She had shared Fedor’s tutor, Simeon Polotsky, and had received an exceptional education for a woman in seventeenth-century Russia. She had also had contact with her brothers and leading men at court and had been especially close to her father. Suddenly Alexei’s second marriage had threatened her new position and her ambition to break free from the terem. The hatred that she felt for her stepmother, who was about her age, grew because of Natalya’s influence over Alexei and by the fact that she refused to accept her stepdaughters. Despite her own Western upbringing, Natalya wanted to push them back into the terem. But now with Fedor on the throne and the Miloslavsky once more prominent at court, Sofia was in a strong position. Natalya and her children, Peter and Natalya, born in August 1673, had no influence. Artamon Matveev, Alexei’s chief minister, had not anticipated the sudden death of the tsar, and he now felt the hostility of the Miloslavsky.

With the aid of two of Matveev’s enemies at court, Bogdan Khitrovo and Vasily Volynsky, the Miloslavsky planned his downfall. First he was told that the tsar had appointed him to be governor of the Verkhoture region beyond the Urals. This was honorable exile, but he had hardly left Moscow when his enemies stopped him and accused him of numerous charges. The main accusation was that he had failed to taste the tsar’s medicine before and after giving it to him, the standard precaution against attempts to poison the autocrat, and thus by implication was responsible for his death. They stripped Matveev of the rank of boyar and of his estates and exiled him with his son to Pustozersk, a primitive settlement within the Arctic Circle.

Tsar Fedor approved or at least condoned this treatment of his father’s minister. But he would soon show that he was not a puppet of the Miloslavsky and their faction. Although so young and ailing, he did not lack character and could form his own ideas. While they disposed of Matveev and other rivals and while Ioakim dealt with his personal enemies in the Church, whom Alexei had protected, Tsar Fedor chose his own favorites. Confined most of the time by illness to his own room, he found the men he trusted in his personal court. Chief among them were Ivan Yazykov, whom he would promote to the rank of boyar, and Alexei Likhachev.

Allied with them was the young boyar, Prince Vasily Vasilievich Golitsyn, who would become for a time the most powerful man in the land. Golitsyn belonged to one of the oldest and most respected Muscovite noble families. He had received an excellent education and enjoyed Western culture. He furnished his palace in Moscow in Western style. Many foreigners considered it to be among the most magnificent palace in Europe. On the walls were mirrors, portraits, maps, and fine carpets; the ceilings featured a painting of the planetary system as then known; and every room contained clocks and instruments of the best European workmanship. His library included a valuable collection of manuscripts and printed books in Latin, Russian, Polish, and Greek, because he was fluent in all of those languages. He entertained lavishly and kept open house for foreigners of learning. Golitsyn shared the ideas and policies of Ordin-Nashchokin and tried to advance them after he gained a position of power. His plans for internal reform, for instance, went so far as to include the freeing of the peasants from serfdom and grants of land to them together with a system of direct taxation that would increase the tsar’s revenues.

When Fedor ascended the throne, there was immediate concern about who would become his wife. The Miloslavsky, in particular, were anxious that he should marry someone of their choosing who would ensure their position at court both at present and, through heirs to the throne, in the future. They could lose no time in finding a wife for Fedor if they were to prevent the succession of Peter and the return of the Naryshkini.

Fedor, however, made his own decision. During the procession of the cross at Easter, he saw a young woman and asked Yazykov to learn more about her. When he discovered that she was Agrafya Semenovna Grushetskaya, the daughter of a Clerk to the Council, he gave orders that she was not to marry without his approval. Meanwhile, Ivan Miloslavsky did not approve the match and did everything to blacken the reputation of the family. Fedor was distressed to learn this. He married Agrafya in July 1680 and ordered the expulsion of Ivan Miloslavsky from court. The young tsaritsa interceded on his behalf, but Fedor mistrusted his uncle so much that he excluded him from positions of influence.

During Alexei’s reign, the movement for change and reform had gathered momentum. Although young and destined to reign so briefly, Fedor made his own contributions. Probably encouraged by Golitsyn, he tried to modify the savagery of Russian life. For example, the usual punishment for theft was to cut off two or more of the offender’s fingers, a hand or a foot, depending on the gravity of the crime. In 1679-1680, Fedor issued decrees that outlawed such punishments and directed that officials should send offenders to work the land in Siberia with their wives and any children over three years old. He also sent instructions to all towns in 1680 that they should no longer hold people accused of crimes in prison for lengthy periods awaiting trial, but should deal with them promptly. Fedor also sought to improve the position of women. In 1677, when he learned about a peasant woman who had cut off her husband’s head with a scythe and who had survived partial burial for several days, he released her on condition that she live in a monastery. He also pardoned two other guilty wives on the same condition. In 1679, women had a right to their inheritances. In addition, husbands and wives could no longer dissolve their marriages by entering a monastery with the result that the other spouse could not remarry and might be destitute. This regulation benefited women whose husbands often deserted them in this way. But a patriarchal society would not grant extensive rights to its women, and women continued to have very difficult lives.

The persecution of Schismatics continued. They settled in small groups in the Ukraine, in Siberia, and in the northern forests, worshiping according to the old rites, and ready to suffer as martyrs. But the church itself, shaken by the fury of the schism, now turned its attention to reform. A Church council, summoned in 1681, considered a series of propositions from the tsar. The reforms that resulted affected the appointment of archbishops, changed the domestic arrangements of monasteries, and included a ban on alcohol in religious establishments as a step to counteract the widespread drunkenness among priests and monks.

They designed ambitious projects for the reform of the national financial system, for the division of the landowning nobility and gentry into those performing civil service and those providing military service to the state, and for establishing a college or academy. The three projects were probably the work of Golitsyn. Fedor approved these plans but did not live to introduce them. However, he did manage to abolish mestnichestvo as a preliminary to further reform of the army. Vasily Golitsyn was also responsible for this reform and as one of the great nobles of the day had enough influence to promote it. Mestnichestvo was the crippling system under which no member of a boyar family would accept an appointment in the tsar’s service that was inferior to an appointment held by a family member who preceded him. This system didn’t take into consideration experience and ability; only the position of the family and its members in the hierarchy mattered. They carefully kept records of appointments and referred to them in all disputes. In most of the major campaigns in the reigns of Mikhail and Alexei, mestnichestvo had been set aside by general agreement and then revived by jealous boyars as soon as the campaign was over.

On January 12, 1682, at a formal session of the Council of Boyars, Tsar Fedor, followed by the patriarch, condemned this system and threatened punishment by the state and excommunication by the church for any boyar who again invoked it. Surprisingly, the boyars agreed to this and immediately burned the records. Abolition of mestnichestvo not only cleared the way for reform of the army, but it also broke down the entrenched position of the nobles. They served now on equal terms with the gentry; eventually the two groups would merge.

During Fedor’s brief reign, he had to spend a lot of time trying to defend his lands. As the Russians colonized new lands, the local citizens became unsettled. Moscow received reports of disputes between Don Cossacks and Kalmyks, of unrest along the Yaik (Ural) River, among the Tatars and Bashkirs, the Kirgiz, and even the Samoeds in the North and the Yakuts and Tungus in the East. The Russians had to send small detachments of troops to settle each dispute.

These incidents at great distances from the capital helped define the three main problems of Fedor’s reign. First, there was the Ukraine and the question of Hetman Doroshenko’s loyalty to the tsar; second, the Polish demanded that Fedor should honor the terms of the treaty of Andrussovo and surrender Kiev and the right-bank enclave; third, and by far the most serious threat, was war with Turkey.

In the summer of 1677 Turkish and Tatar forces invaded the Ukraine, causing Russia and Turkey to be at war for the first time in history. The Russo-Ukrainian army, commanded by Prince Romodanovsky and Hetman Samoilovich, comprised some 60,000 men, but the invading army had double this strength. Fedor ordered Don Cossacks and Russian reinforcements to move up in support. In Moscow, there was great anxiety over the outcome of this campaign because the Ottoman Porte had far greater resources than Russia.

The Turks planned to take Chigirin, which was then the political center of the Ukraine, and from there conquer the whole steppeland. They began their assault in August 1677 expecting an easy victory, but the small garrison held out for three weeks until the relief armies arrived. On August 28, the Russians and Turks fought, and the Russians defeated the sultan’s forces. The sultan sent an army of 200,000 men to take Chigirin and get revenge in the summer of 1678. Although the defending forces again resisted bravely, the Turks captured and destroyed Chigirin. Having suffered heavy losses, the Turks then retired to the Bug River.

Fearing a new campaign by the Turks, the Russians quickly reinforced their positions while seeking allies. Turkey was a threat to both Austria and Poland. But Austria refused to join Russia in an alliance against Turkey, and Poland made the return of Kiev the condition of participation. Left to face Turkey alone, the tsar proposed peace with the sultan. Anxious to concentrate his forces against Austria, the sultan readily agreed.

Negotiated at Bakhchisarai in the Crimea and ratified by the sultan in May 1681, the treaty gave the Russians an advantage that they wanted. The Turks agreed to a twenty-year armistice and acknowledged Russian sovereignty over both left-bank Ukraine and Kiev and its right-bank enclave. Moreover, the treaty gave Russia a new sense of security, especially in relations with Austria and Poland. Both countries had often sought to deflect Turkish aggression from themselves against Russia, and this threat had always disturbed Moscow. But the Treaty of Bakhchisarai now exposed Austria and Poland rather than Russia to attack by the Ottoman Porte.

As always, there continued to be concern among the court and the citizens about succession to the throne. They rejoiced when Tsaritsa Agrafya gave birth to a son, Tsarevich Ilya, on July 11, 1681. But the joy didn’t least because both mother and son died within six days. There was immediate discussion of remarriage. Ivan Yazykov, who was closest to Fedor, proposed Marfa Matveevna Apraksina, who was related to him and was also a goddaughter of Artamon Matveev. On February 14, 1682, Fedor married her. Soon afterward, he died at the age of twenty-one.


The Romanovs

On April 27, 1682, shortly after 4 p.m., the bell of the Ivan Veliky tower in the Kremlin tolled three times to tell the people of Moscow that Tsar Fedor had died. In the presence of the patriarch and other church dignitaries, the boyars and gentry respectfully filed past the funeral bier. It was the custom at that time to kiss the hand of the tsar’s successor as a token of loyalty. On this occasion, mourners kissed the hands of both Peter and Ivan, who were equal in title to the throne. Because Fedor had not left an heir and had not named a successor, it was not clear who should be tsar. Tsarevich Ivan, Alexei’s surviving son by his first marriage, was the elder, but he was physically and mentally not capable of ruling. Most people wanted Peter to ascend the throne.

After the ceremony, the patriarch, church hierarchy, and members of the Council of Boyars gathered in the palace antechamber to consider the succession. They agreed at once that only the Assembly of the Land could make the decision. Most of the representatives were already in Moscow. Many from the provinces had come a few days earlier to consider certain taxation proposals, and others were more or less permanently in the capital. The group that gathered in the Kremlin was fairly representative of the population. Most of the representatives chose Peter as the new tsar. The patriarch then returned to the palace and blessed him as tsar.

However, the succession would not be that simple, and violence would soon follow. Of the three factions directly interested, Yazykov and Likhachev, the favorites of Fedor, had joined with the Naryshkini in promoting Peter’s accession. They had strong support from the Dolgoruky family and from Princes Boris and Ivan Golitsyn, cousins of Vasily Golitsyn. All were anxious to prevent the return of the Miloslavsky to power, which is what would inevitably happen if Tsarevich Ivan became tsar. Moreover, because Peter was a minor, his mother, Natalya, would be regent and her rule under the guidance of Artamon Matveev was generally acceptable. Patriarch Ioakim favored Peter because he was clearly more qualified to be tsar. But the fact that the Miloslavsky leaders, Sofia and Vasily Golitsyn, were dangerous innovators and Westernizers was a grave concern for him. A staunch conservative, he believed that Peter and the Naryshkini would uphold Orthodoxy.

As soon as her son ascended the throne, Natalya recalled Artamon Matveev from exile. She had been living at Preobrazhenskoe during Fedor’s reign, and her new responsibilities as regent frightened her. She was a nervous woman who was not fit to rule. The Naryshkini, her father and brothers, were greedy for the spoils of office and lacked both the political sense and ability to help her in her task. She waited desperately for Matveev’s return, but he did not reach Moscow until the evening of May 12. By that time, Sofia was ready to put her plans into action.

Although only twenty-five years old and faced with the strong prejudice of a society that relegated the daughters of the tsar to the terem, never allowing them to be seen in public, Sofia managed to dominate during these days. She had fought against being locked away in a monastery. But with Peter’s accession and the elevation of her hated stepmother to the position of regent, she faced defeat. She now showed that she was capable of cruelty to get what she wanted. Her first goal was to displace Peter, Natalya, and the Naryshkini. To do this she had to gain the support of public opinion and to remove Matveev, who was already on the road to Moscow.

At Fedor’s funeral, the two widowed tsaritsi, Natalya and Marfa, Fedor’s second wife, and Peter were present in accordance with custom. The tsarevni were not supposed to be present. But Sofia boldly entered the Arkhangelsky Cathedral alone and took up a prominent position near the coffin where everyone could see her. Natalya was so upset by this brazen disregard for proper etiquette and the insult to her that she hurriedly left the cathedral, taking Peter with her, before the end of the funeral service. Her abrupt departure showed that she considered Sofia’s presence to be an act of disrespect. But the people sympathized with Sofia’s display of grief for her dead brother. Walking from the cathedral to the palace she turned to the crowds, crying out that enemies had poisoned her brother. “Have mercy on us, orphans,” she cried, “or let us depart into the care of a Christian king of a foreign land!” Her appeal made a deep impression on the Muscovites.

Natalya, alone and afraid, waited in the Kremlin for Matveev to arrive. She could not understand how Sofia and the Miloslavsky were managing to get more and more support from the public. But most troubling of all was the fact that the streltsi were rebelling, which made her feel powerless.

During Fedor’s reign, discontent among the streltsi had grown. One regiment had presented a petition, shortly before Fedor’s death, alleging that their colonel had withheld their pay and had ordered them to work on his estate during Holy Week. Prince Yuri Dolgoruky, commanding the streltsi jointly with his son, had dismissed the petition as an act of insubordination. He ordered that the streltsi who had presented it should receive severe punishment. But his comrades had attacked his guard and had released him. This incident brought the streltsi closer to mutiny. Seventeen regiments joined in demanding punishment of their colonels for disregarding their privileges. The death of the tsar delayed their plans, but on the day after the funeral they presented their petitions. Natalya and the Naryshkini were afraid. Without investigation, she ordered that the colonels should lose their rank and receive beatings. The mutinous streltsi took charge and beat their officers savagely.

Discipline broke down and the streltsi were soon in a dangerous mood. The one man to whom they would listen was Prince Ivan Khovansky, who supported the Miloslavsky. Following Sofia’s instructions, he told them that under the regency of Natalya and with Matveev as chief minister, the foreigners would quickly gain power and destroy Orthodoxy. The streltsi would lose their privileges and become serfs. The rumors spread rapidly and the streltsi became more incensed. Sofia took her time before unleashing them, believing that she was in complete control of the situation. With her uncle, Ivan Miloslavsky, Khovansky, and a trusted band of streltsi with whom she had direct contact, she directed the anger of the streltsi against the Naryshkini. She planted rumors among them and convinced them that the Naryshkini had poisoned Tsar Fedor and were preparing to murder Tsarevich Ivan. She was waiting now only for the return of Matveev.

When Matveev reached Moscow on May 12, Natalya was happy to see him. All of the boyars, except the Miloslavsky, and numerous representatives of the church and the people of Moscow called to express pleasure at his return. Streltsi of all regiments showed respect for him. The tensions in the city suddenly relaxed. Misled by the warmth of his welcome, Matveev evidently thought that the reports he had received had exaggerated the situation. He also underestimated Sofia as she prepared to strike.

On the morning of May 15, while Matveev was attending a meeting of the Council of Boyars in the Kremlin, two horsemen, Alexander Miloslavsky and Peter Tolstoy, both associated with Sofia, galloped into the streltsi quarter. “The Naryshkini have strangled Tsarevich Ivan!” they shouted. Sounding alarms and grabbing their weapons, the streltsi headed for the Kremlin in search of the traitors.

Matveev was leaving the council chamber when he learned that the streltsi were in the outer suburbs of the city. He ordered the Kremlin gates to be closed, but it was too late. The streltsi were already surging into the square in front of the Granovitaya Palace. They halted at the foot of the Red Staircase, the grand entrance to the palace, and began clamoring for the Naryshkini.

Matveev learned from their shouts that they believed that someone had murdered Ivan. He advised Natalya to appear before the mob with Peter and Ivan. Though fearful, she knew she had no alternative.

Holding the hands of the two boys, Natalya stepped onto the staircase where all could see her. The streltsi became silent. Raising her voice she called to them: “Here is the Lord Tsar Peter Alexeevich! Here is the Lord Tsarevich Ivan Alexeevich! Thanks be to God they are well and have not suffered at the hands of traitors!”

This confused the streltsi. A few of them even climbed the staircase to ask Ivan if he was truly alive and unharmed. He stammered a reassurance, and the streltsi slowly walked down the staircase to rejoin their silent comrades.

At this point a group of streltsi began demanding the surrender of certain boyars whom Sofia had listed. Others resumed shouting and the mob again became threatening. Matveev now stepped forward, accompanied by the patriarch. He spoke to them quietly, reminding them of their great deeds in the past and asking how they could threaten violence against those nearest to their tsar. They listened in silence. They had seen Ivan alive and well and realized that the rumors had been lies. They turned to go back to their quarters.

This mutiny had angered Prince Mikhail Dolgoruky, who jointly with his father commanded all streltsi regiments. He now spoke to them from the head of the Red Staircase. In the heat of anger, he threatened them with beatings and ordered them to dismiss immediately. His curses and threats drove them to take action. They rushed the staircase, seized him, and threw him over the railing onto the pikes of their comrades below, who hacked his body to pieces.

Another band of streltsi, led by Sofia’s men, now appeared and began demanding Matveev. Others took up their cry. Natalya dropped Peter’s hand and threw her arms around Matveev in an attempt to protect him. But the streltsi brushed her aside and threw him over the railing onto the pikes below.

The streltsi were now uncontrollable. They stormed the Red Staircase and began searching the palace for Ivan Naryshkin and others they hated. They found several of their victims and threw them down onto the pikes below the staircase. They found one of Natalya’s brothers, Afanasy Naryshkin, and hacked him to death. But their anger grew when they failed to find Ivan Naryshkin and Natalya’s three younger brothers. All four were hiding in the apartments of Tsarevna Natalya, Peter’s eight-year-old sister; the streltsi had not searched her rooms. As night fell, the streltsi withdrew to return to their quarters. They posted guards so no one could escape and vowed to return the next day; they threatened a general massacre if Ivan and Natalya’s three younger brothers didn’t surrender.

At dawn the next day, the streltsi returned. Again they stormed through the Kremlin, killing anyone who aroused their suspicions. Still they could not find the Naryshkini. Returning on the third day, they gave their ultimatum. They would kill all boyars in the Kremlin unless Ivan Naryshkin surrendered. Sofia then approached Natalya and declared loudly for all to hear: “Your brother will not escape the streltsi. Nor is it right that all should perish on his account.”

Natalya had endured three days of terror. Her son’s life and her own life had been in constant danger. Now she feared a massacre of boyars that would lead to the death of her son. She had no choice but to give up her brother. She ordered personal servants to summon him. He came and bravely received the last rites. Natalya then took from Sofia’s hands the holy ikon of the Mother of God and, weeping bitterly, blessed him with it. He then surrendered to the streltsi who surged forward with shouts of triumph. For hours they tortured him, trying to extract confessions that he had poisoned Tsar Fedor and was plotting to seize the throne. He refused to answer. He was nearly dead when, his arms and legs broken, they dragged him to the Red Square and hacked his body to pieces.

The streltsi gathered again at the Red Staircase. They declared their loyalty to the tsar, the tsarevich, and the tsarevni, and dispersed to their quarters. But having plundered and terrorized the city, they were still unruly. Sofia and Khovansky, whom she had appointed commander of the regiments, were the only people who could control them. Her agents petitioned, on May 23, that Peter and Ivan should occupy the throne jointly. The Boyar Council and the hurriedly convened Assembly of the Land promptly agreed to their request. Two days later, another petition declared Tsar Ivan to be senior to Tsar Peter. On May 29, the streltsi announced that they wanted Sofia to be regent for the young tsars. The patriarch and boyars begged her to accept the office and she consented.

Sofia had now attained the position of power that she wanted. She had dominated the Kremlin during the streltsi attacks. She alone could have restrained them, but she had allowed the massacre to continue because she wanted not only Matveev but also Ivan Naryshkin and certain others killed. She had displayed courage and ruthlessness, but her triumph would not last.

The streltsi had terrified everyone in the Kremlin and in the city, except those close to Sofia. Historians do not mention Peter’s reaction. Although he was only ten years old at the time, he was advanced both mentally and physically for someone his age, and the experience was something he would not forget. Later he would punish the streltsi for their actions.

Sofia soon discovered that her position was not secure. She had used the streltsi and took it for granted that she could rely on Khovansky as their commander. Ambitious and unscrupulous, he boasted that he held the real power in the land. Sofia acted promptly to eliminate this threat. On August 19, 1682, she took the two young tsars with her to Kolomenskoe. From there she sent couriers into the provinces with the report that Khovansky was planning to kill the tsars. She asked the boyars and gentry to come to their defense with men and arms. She then moved on to the Troitsa, the renowned fortress-monastery. From there she sent a detachment of troops who arrested Khovansky and his son and beheaded them.

Learning that the militia was being mobilized, the streltsi humbly petitioned to be forgiven for their sins and prayed for the safe return of the tsars to the Kremlin. On November 16, 1682, Sofia, attended by a strong escort, made a triumphant entry into Moscow with the two tsars. She had secured her position for the time being and could now begin to rule.

Sofia had appointed Vasily Golitsyn as chief minister; he guided and supported her throughout the seven years of her regency. It was a partnership of two remarkable people. Sofia, an able, strong-willed, and fearless young woman, was devoted to the brilliant prince and had complete confidence in his abilities and policies. But the record of these seven years is disappointing. They made few attempts at reform. The regency took harsh measures especially against runaway serfs and Schismatics. Sofia and Golitsyn were more active in foreign affairs.

On ascending the throne, the tsar usually confirmed treaties made by his predecessor. Now that Ivan and Peter were serving as joint tsars, Sofia sent embassies to Stockholm and Warsaw to do this. The Swedes welcomed the Russian envoys because they came to confirm the Treaty of Kardis (1661) whereby Sweden held the Baltic territories and barred Russia from access to the Baltic Sea.

The envoys to Warsaw met with no welcome. They came to confirm the Treaty of Andrussovo (1667) that provided for an exchange of embassies to negotiate a permanent peace between Russia and Poland. All past attempts had failed because the Russians had refused to return Kiev to the Poles. But Poland and Austria were now at war with Turkey, and a major defeat by the Turks and the threat of Turkish invasion had made King Sobieski of Poland very anxious to secure Russian help against their common enemy.

Negotiations were lengthy, but in 1686 he agreed to yield Kiev to Russia permanently if Russia declared war on Turkey and the Crimean Khan, defended Polish territories against Turkish invasion, and mounted a campaign against the Crimean Tatars in the following year.

Sofia and Vasily Golitsyn were very happy to finally secure permanent rights to Kiev. The conditions of the new treaty were difficult, but they and the Russian people as a whole accepted them readily. The Turks and Tatars were hated enemies not only because they were nonbelievers, but also because of their constant raids in which they destroyed the land and kidnapped the young people to sell into slavery. In the seventeenth century, one could find Russian slaves chained to the oars of galleys in every Mediterranean harbor.

Sofia immediately ordered mobilization of the army and preparation for the campaign against the Crimean Khan. In May 1687, nearly 100,000 Russian men began moving southward. Vasily Golitsyn was supreme commander. He lacked experience and was afraid that the Tatars, moving swiftly on their small sturdy horses, might take him by surprise. His excessive caution and the hardships of the march undermined the morale of his troops. Then at Bolshoi Lug, not far from the Dnieper River, the Russians found that the tall feathergrass of the steppes was on fire. Golitsyn ordered a retreat. He sent reports to Moscow that the Tatars had fled to the Crimea after setting fire to the steppe, and that Russian troops had chased them as far as Perekop. The truth was that he had lost some 45,000 men on the march without once sighting the enemy. But when he returned to Moscow, on September 14, 1687, Sofia hailed him as a victor.

The Russians heard rumors that the Cossacks, not the Tatars, had set fire to the steppe. They suspected Hetman Samoilovich because many thought that he was conspiring with the Tatars. He had spoken strongly against the alliance with Poland and the war on the Crimean Tatars. He regarded Poland as the main enemy and feared that the Ukraine would suffer retaliation from the Tatars. His opposition to Sofia’s policies led to her distrust of him. He also did not know that his chief lieutenant, Ivan Mazepa, whom he had befriended and promoted, was plotting to displace him. Mazepa’s approaches to Golitsyn had their effect. Only the Cossack elders could elect the hetman, but they did not ignore Golitsyn’s advice. Mazepa became hetman of the Cossacks of the Ukraine, and he would play a treacherous role in later years.

A Polish campaign against the Turks had proved as unsuccessful as Golitsyn’s Crimean expedition. The Austrians and Venetians had some victories that gave hope to the Orthodox Christians in Southern and Eastern Europe that liberation was at hand. But they dreaded liberation by the Roman Catholic Austrians, and they begged Moscow to send Russian armies to liberate them. Sofia and Vasily Golitsyn were concerned that the Austrians, Venetians, and Poles should not make a separate peace, leaving Russia alone to face the Turks and Tatars. They were anxious to begin a second expedition against the Crimean Khan to keep their allies in the war.

At this time, the Russian settlements on the banks of the Amur River and its tributaries were making desperate appeals to Moscow for armed support. In their movement across Siberia to the shores of the Pacific Ocean, the Russians had settled the Amur region in the 1630s and 1640s; by the mid-century, they had many fortified towns. However, the Chinese wanted to evict them, and for some forty years they had been struggling to hold their settlements. But Sofia was concentrating all resources on the second Crimean campaign and could not spare troops or arms to send to the distant Amur River. She sent an embassy to make peace. The Russian and Chinese envoys met near Nerchinsk in Transbaikalia in 1689 and after long discussions signed a treaty in Nerchinsk, the first to be signed by China with any foreign power. According to the terms of the treaty, the Russian settlers had to withdraw from the Amur basin, which halted the Russian advance in this region for nearly two centuries.

The Russian army, again commanded by Vasily Golitsyn, began its southward march in February 1689. At the Samara River, Mazepa and the Ukrainian Cossacks joined him, bringing his strength to 112,000 men. Nearing Perekop, the Russians engaged the Crimean Tatars and defeated them. But Golitsyn now found that heat, shortage of water, and loss of horses were weakening his forces. He decided to retreat and lost even more men on the homeward march.

The second campaign, like the first, had cost some 20,000 lives and achieved nothing. But again his reports to Moscow told of great victories. Sofia granted him and his troops a triumphal entry into the city and prepared a proclamation of the special rewards and decorations for all who had taken part. She was furious when Tsar Peter refused to sign it. Angry about the two unsuccessful campaigns and the false reports of victory, he refused to see Golitsyn when he rode to Preobrazhenskoe to receive the formal congratulations and thanks of the tsar.

Sofia had ruled as regent for seven years, but the tsars were now old enough to rule. In anticipation of this inevitable happening, in 1687 she had assumed the title of Gosudarynya or sovereign in a bid for supreme power. Through her agent, Shaklovity, whom she had made commander of the streltsi after the execution of Khovansky, she tried to get support from the streltsi for her coronation on September 1, 1687, the Russian New Year’s Day. But the streltsi did not give her this desired support.

Tension mounted between the two parties of Sofia, Vasily Golitsyn, and the Miloslavsky on the one hand and Peter and the Naryshkini on the other. On July 31, 1689, General Patrick Gordon noted in his diary that “the heat and bitterness are ever greater and greater, and it appears that it must soon break out.” A few days later he wrote of “rumors unsafe to be uttered.”

Sofia and Shaklovity, fearing an attack by the Naryshkini, had assembled some 700 streltsi in the Kremlin and the Lyubyanka early in August. Peter and his mother were at Preobrazhenskoe. On the night of August 7-8, two streltsi rode there to warn Peter that Sofia was planning to kill him. Peter immediately rode to the Troitsa Monastery. On the following day his mother and wife, the boyars, and his two “play regiments” as well as one regiment of streltsi joined him there.

From this stronghold, Peter sent orders for all colonels and ten streltsi from each regiment to report to him in person. Gradually the people rallied to him. Sofia begged the patriarch to intercede in what she called a family quarrel. When he reached the Troitsa, the patriarch remained there, supporting Peter’s cause. On August 29, Sofia tried to go to the monastery to talk with Peter, but he ordered her to return to Moscow. The foreign officers were in an awkward position. Sofia had ordered them to remain in Moscow, but some had already gone to the Troitsa. On September 4, Gordon and the remaining officers took the same road and this was, as Gordon noted in his diary, “the decisive break.”

Sofia was now alone. Vasily Golitsyn remained at his country estate; when it was clear that Sofia no longer had power, he made his way to the Troitsa. But Peter refused to receive him and, having confiscated his estates and stripped him of the rank of boyar, exiled him to the Arctic. Golitsyn might have served Peter well because he was an educated man, but he was fortunate to escape torture and execution through the intervention of his cousin, Prince Boris Golitsyn, who was close to Peter. Peter ordered executions for Shaklovity and others who had served Sofia.

Peter now wrote to his half-brother, Ivan, proposing that they should no longer allow Sofia to interfere in affairs of state. Ivan readily agreed to this and other proposals. Three weeks later, they ordered Sofia to be escorted to the cells prepared for her in the Novodevichy nunnery where, after her bold struggle for freedom and power, she spent the rest of her days.


The Romanovs

The Romanov dynasty had made a faltering start. Of its first five tsars, all were minors when they came to the throne, and three of them lacked normal intelligence and were physically frail. The succession had been a continuing source of anxiety. But the dynasty had fulfilled the basic need of the young nation to have a tsar on the throne. Moreover, Tsar Alexei had grown to be an impressive autocrat, who established the Romanovs more securely. But then the dynasty produced Peter, one of the most dynamic and creative rulers in history.

Born in the Kremlin Palace on May 30, 1672, Peter displayed strength and vitality as a small child and developed rapidly. He was three and a half years old when his father, Tsar Alexei, died. He may have noticed that his mother became sad and anxious, but his daily life did not change noticeably. Tsar Fedor showed no desire to victimize his stepmother and half-brother. At the age of seven, Peter left the care of the women of the terem and began working with tutors. Historians didn’t record the names of his initial tutors. But from 1683 to 1690, Nikita Zotov, a clerk from one of the prikazi, gave him lessons. Peter had little formal education; he could read and write, but his spelling, grammar, and handwriting were poor.

The revolt of the streltsi shattered his happy and stable childhood routine and made a deep and lasting impact on him. He was then ten years old, but mentally and physically developed well beyond his age. He witnessed bloodshed in which the streltsi savagely killed Matveev, Naryshkin, uncles, and others close to him. The streltsi, raging through the Kremlin, had threatened a general massacre that also put his life in danger. For the first time in his life, he experienced danger and fear. The terror of these days probably caused the mad rages that he experienced in later years, making it unsafe to be near him, and caused the twitching that contorted his handsome face.

This experience also marked the beginning of his dislike of Moscow. He never felt comfortable in the city that was the ancient seat of the Orthodox tsars, the spiritual and temporal center of Russia. Later he would avoid Moscow, sometimes for years. Finally he moved the capital to the new city that he built and that overlooked the Gulf of Finland, the Baltic Sea, and the West.

During the regency of his half-sister, Sofia, Peter was free most of the time to pursue his own interests. She was busy with Vasily Golitsyn, her chief minister, and the government of the country, and she paid no special attention to him. He had to be present on formal occasions when he took part in Church festivals or received foreign envoys while seated beside Ivan, his half-brother and co-tsar. He escaped as soon as he could from these functions.

Peter was now at the age when the noise and excitement of playing war games strongly appealed to him. Perhaps he had in mind Sofia, the Miloslavsky, and the streltsi as real personal enemies against whom he had to prepare. His first troops were his companions, the stewards appointed to attend him, and recruits from among his father’s grooms and falconers. He drilled them on a small parade ground that he had others prepare in the Kremlin. As tsar he was able to get weapons from the state arsenal. At first he had wooden cannons, but soon he enlisted into his army a foreign gunner, Simon Zommer. Under his direction, he arranged a full artillery display to celebrate his eleventh birthday.

Natalya, his mother, continued to live in the Kremlin after his father died. But she was not happy there. While Sofia was regent, she left Moscow as often as possible, spending her time at Preobrazhenskoe and other country residences. Peter was delighted with this arrangement. He was always eager to get away from the Kremlin and to engage in military exercises in the open country, especially now that his war games were growing in scale. He established his military headquarters at Preobrazhenskoe in 1687 and began recruiting in earnest. Tsarevna Sofia and Vasily Golitsyn were preparing for the first Crimean campaign and did not interfere. Soon he had two regiments at full strength, named the Preobrazhensky and Semyonovsky after the neighboring villages that served as their respective headquarters. He trained and exercised both regiments in maneuvers and mock battles.

Although Peter’s formal education had ended, he was constantly learning. He liked using his hands. When he saw a craftsman at work, he worked to master the craft. He quickly qualified as a stonemason, smith, carpenter, and printer.

Two incidents at this time were important in his future development. Prince Yakov Dolgoruky returned from Paris, where he had been Russian envoy, bringing an astrolabe, an instrument used to make astronomical measurements. Peter was fascinated, but could find no one among his people to teach him how to use it. Finally in the Foreign Quarter, he met a Dutchman, Franz Timmerman, who explained how it worked. Timmerman became his tutor in the study of mathematics, geometry, and military science.

The second incident was more momentous. Shortly before his seventeenth birthday, Peter was visiting a village near Moscow. In a storehouse on the estate of a Romanov ancestor, he noticed a boat unlike the flat-bottomed boats on the Russian rivers.

“What kind of boat is that?” he asked Timmerman, who was constantly at his side.

“An English boat,” the Dutchman replied.

“What is it used for? Is it better than our Russian boats?”

“Yes, if it had a new mast and sails, it would move not only with the wind, but against the wind as well.”

Peter was fascinated and could not rest until workmen had refitted the boat and Timmerman showed him how to sail it on the Yauza River. He took Karsten Brandt and Kort, two Dutch boatbuilders from the Foreign Quarter, into his personal service. With them and other companions, Peter set out for Lake Pleshchev, some fifty miles north of Moscow, which provided a suitable expanse of water. Here during the winter he set to work with them to build three yachts and two small frigates.

He returned to Moscow in January 1689 only because his mother insisted. He did not want to leave his boatbuilding. His mother had found him a bride, Evdokiya Lopukhina, and wanted him to marry her immediately. His marriage would indicate that he was no longer a minor and that the regency of Sofia would legally end. His mother also hoped that marriage would settle him and distract him from boatbuilding and other pursuits that she considered dangerous and inappropriate for a tsar. As a dutiful son, he married Evdokiya on January 27, 1689.

Peter remained with his mother and his young wife for a short time. As soon as he could, he hurried away to help in the boatbuilding. Again his mother called him back. He protested in a letter: “Your unworthy son, Petrushka, sends his respects. As to your instructions to return to Moscow, I am ready to obey; only I have work to do and he whom you sent has seen it and will report to you about it.” But he returned for a short time and then escaped again to the lake. In the late summer, he remained with his mother in Preobrazhenskoe. He realized that he needed to be there because tension was growing between his supporters and Sofia and the Miloslavsky.

By this time, Peter was more prepared to be away from Lake Pleshchev because he had plans for the future. His talks with foreigners about the sea and sailing ships had made them real to him. He wanted to see Russian ships sailing the seas. This seventeen-year-old boy, born hundreds of miles from the sea, tsar of a nation of landsmen and peasants, dreamed of being a sailor and creating a navy.

He forgot about the little English boat that had launched these dreams. Many years later, workers found it rotting in a storehouse. They preserved it so that later generations of Russians could see it and call it, in Peter’s own words, “the grandfather of the Russian navy.”

In August 1689, the conflict with Tsarevna Sofia erupted. She had wielded the powers of regent for seven years and had sought desperately to usurp the supreme power, but could find no support even among the streltsi. She could not challenge the rights of Peter and Ivan to the throne. They imprisoned Sofia under guard in a nunnery, and the Naryshkini, the family of Peter’s mother, returned to power.

When Peter returned to Moscow on October 6, 1689, the bells of the city rang out in welcome and the people joyfully celebrated the return of their young tsar. However, Peter was in no mood to celebrate because he had reluctantly returned to the Kremlin. He was not ready to rule as autocrat. For the next five years, he left affairs of state to his mother and the small group of ministers he had appointed while at the Troitsa Monastery.

At this time Peter began a new stage in his education as he began visiting the Foreign Quarter. There he found men who could answer his questions and instruct him in the crafts and sciences of the West. But he had to exercise some restraint. His mother insisted that he attend to his formal duties as tsar. Patriarch Ioakim, a conservative Muscovite, was also watching him. Ioakim was horrified when he saw the young tsar in the company of people he considered to be foreign heretics. Moreover, he reflected the mood of the Muscovites at this time. Sofia and Vasily Golitsyn had extended patronage to foreigners in a way that angered most Russians. In fact, soon after Sofia’s exile, a Muscovite mob had seized a foreigner in the city and burned him alive. All Russians looked on Peter as the tsar who would rid the country of these foreigners. Soon they would find that they were gravely mistaken.

Patriarch Ioakim died in March 1690. His successor, Adrian, Metropolitan of Kazan, was equally conservative but lacked Ioakim’s authority. Peter’s visits to the Foreign Quarter became more frequent, and the friendships he formed there, especially with General Patrick Gordon and Franz Lefort, strongly influenced him.

Patrick Gordon, a Scot from Aberdeenshire, had entered the Russian service as a major in September 1661, when Alexei was tsar. By distinguished service against the Crimean Tatars, he had risen to the rank of general. An honorable, conscientious, and brave man, he had won the respect of the Russians. In fact, when he requested that they allow him to retire to Scotland, they told him they still needed him in Russia. He was a cultured man who combined the abilities of a man of action with the learning of a scholar. Already in his mid-fifties when he became Peter’s companion, he took pleasure in instructing and guiding his dynamic eighteen-year-old master.

Franz Lefort, son of a prosperous merchant in Geneva, had come to Russia in search of adventure because he wanted to escape the Calvinistic life of Geneva. He had served under Gordon, who had commended him for bravery under fire. Lefort was high-spirited, idle, and irresponsible. He had captivated Peter by being able to talk fluently about Western science, institutions, and life; in addition, he served as a charming drinking companion for Peter.

Peter now gathered around him eighty to 200 members of different trades, faiths, and languages. The inner circle included Gordon, Lefort, Andrei Vinius, Jacob Bruce, and other foreigners. This company, taking the place of the traditional court of the tsars, went everywhere with him in pursuit of military and naval experience, and diversion. Peter spent his days working hard on training exercises or as a gunner, smith, or boatbuilder, and his evenings dining with members of his company. Often these evenings ended in debauchery and drunkenness. But at dawn the following morning, while his companions were still sleeping off the effects of the alcohol, Peter would rise to work furiously through the day. It was a pace too hectic for some of the company, including General Gordon.

Fireworks provided another source of entertainment. Displays often went on for five hours without a break. As Peter mastered pyrotechnics, the displays became more and more elaborate. Peter also reveled in ridiculous behavior that was often cruel. It included the “All-joking, All-drunken Assembly” of which his old tutor, Nikita Zotov, was president or “Prince-Pope.” The drunken assembly observed ceremonials that mocked the Church and the patriarchate in a way that distressed his people. Peter himself was deeply religious, although he did not follow the devout routine of his father and did not share the bigotry of his people. His mockery of the Church was in part youthful irreverence and in part an expression of his anger against the conservatism and incompetence of the hierarchy and the clergy and their influence on the nation. Later he would recognize that the Church, as distinct from the Orthodox faith, was a retrograde force in Russian life and began to reform it.

Diversions and drinking consumed only a small part of his time and energy. Throughout the winter of 1689-1690, he was preparing for military maneuvers. He devoted the summer of 1691 to planning “the great and terrible battle,” waged in the autumn between the army of Generalissimo Prince Romodanovsky, comprising the Preobrazhensky and Semyonovsky regiments, and the army of Generalissimo Ivan Buturlin, comprising streltsi regiments. Peter took an active part in Romodanovsky’s army, which was victorious. He hurried from the field of battle to Pereyaslavl to assist Karsten Brandt and his team of carpenters to complete the two frigates and three yachts. Master Shipwright Peter Alexeevich, as he was known in the yard, also laid down the keel of a ship of war and throughout the winter he labored from dawn until late every night, eating his food in the shipyard and sleeping only when exhausted. On May 1, he launched the ship with full ceremony. Nothing gave him as much satisfaction as the launching of a ship, especially one that he had helped to build with his own hands.

In July, Tsaritsa Natalya and the court journeyed to Pereyaslavl to watch maneuvers on the land and water directed by Peter. But already he had passed beyond this stage of his naval training. He was planning to visit Archangel to examine seagoing ships and to sail the White Sea.

Archangel was then the center of Russia’s trade with the rest of Europe. Every spring as soon as the ice broke, foreign merchantmen began crowding the wharves. Throughout the brief summer, the port was the scene of frantic activity as workers unloaded the ships and people hurried to buy goods at the Uspensky market. Workers then quickly sailed again before ice closed the river and sea.

To Peter, who paid his first visit to Archangel in the summer of 1693, the port was an exciting discovery. The great merchant ships fascinated him. When a number of English and Dutch ships sailed in convoy, escorted by a Dutch warship, he sailed with them in a small yacht, the St. Peter, that workers had made ready for him. He sailed nearly 200 miles before he reluctantly turned back.

The experience of Archangel deepened his obsession with the sea and ships. He examined every ship in port and spent hours questioning captains and seamen. He was always learning and planning. He ordered a new wharf to be built at Solombala and laid down the keel of a ship to be constructed there during the coming winter. Finally he wrote to Nicholas Witsen, Burgomaster of Amsterdam, who acted on occasion as agent for the tsar, to purchase a forty-four-gun frigate to be delivered the following summer.

Returning to Moscow, Peter busied himself with turning blocks and preparing rigging as well as casting cannons to be mounted on the ship under construction at Solombala. But on January 25, 1694, his mother died. The grief of early widowhood, the horror of the streltsi revolt, and constant anxiety for her son, especially during the regency of Sofia, had aged her prematurely. She had been ill since her visit to Pereyaslavl. According to Patrick Gordon, Peter was “exceeding melancholy and troubled” by her death. He did not attend the funeral, and for three days he did not leave Preobrazhenskoe or see anyone. But he had to be active and soon was planning his next visit to Archangel. His mother’s death marked the end of a stage in his life. She had kept him in touch with Muscovite ritual, ensuring that he was present as tsar on ceremonial occasions. After her death, he ignored this function. On April 8, he accompanied Tsar Ivan in the Easter procession; this is the last reference in the court records to his participation in Kremlin ceremonies. The Foreign Quarter now became the center of his interests, and his court moved between the Quarter and Preobrazhenskoe.

The visit to Archangel in the summer of 1694 was highly successful. He launched the St. Paul, the keel of which he had laid down at Solombala. The forty-four-gun frigate, ordered from Holland and called The Holy Prophesy, arrived in July. He sailed to Svyatoi Nos at the entrance of the White Sea and back to Archangel. All the while, his mind was racing ahead to new projects. By the time he returned to Moscow, he was actively planning a major venture to the South.

The second expedition against the Crimean Tatars, led by Vasily Golitsyn, during Sofia’s regency, had not ended with an armistice or a peace agreement. Russia was thus still formally at war with the Crimean Tatars and the Turks. The Russian government, distracted by the tsar’s activities, had taken no further action, and Russia’s allies, Poland and Austria, complained that Russia was failing in her obligation to them. Moscow also was receiving reports from Hetman Mazepa in the Ukraine that the Zaporozhsky Cossacks were restless and urging that the tsar should send an army to remind them of their allegiance.

Peter had a more important incentive for launching a campaign to the South. This was his driving ambition to create a navy. For about eight months of the year, the White Sea was not navigable because of the ice. He couldn’t realize his ambition on the Baltic because of the Swedes or on the Black Sea because of the Turks. Thus, he had to commit to some action against the Crimean Tatars and the Turks. He decided to challenge the Turks at Azov, which controlled access to the Sea of Azov. He would have warm water harbors in which to build his fleet; then, having seized Kerch, he could challenge the Turks for command of the Black Sea.

The Ottoman Porte was then still a formidable power. But Peter was confident after large-scale maneuvers in the autumn that his army, trained and led by foreign officers, could take Azov. His campaign plan was that Boyar Sheremetev with 120,000 men and a detachment of Cossacks, led by Mazepa, would march against the Crimean Tatars and prevent their going to the aid of the Turks at Azov. Peter with his chosen regiments and some 30,000 troops would proceed against Azov.

This first attempt to take Azov was a failure and might have ended in disaster if General Patrick Gordon had not taken precautions. But the defeat was a valuable lesson for Peter. It matured him and helped him become a responsible tsar and begin his rule as autocrat at the age of twenty-three. He blamed no one for the failure of the campaign, and he acknowledged the reasons for it. One reason was that there were three generals who commanded parts of the Russian army - Gordon, Lefort, and Artemon Golovin. In practice sessions, Peter filled the role of supreme commander, but he refused to assume it openly and to command in person. Another reason was lack of experienced engineers, and he wrote at once to the Austrian emperor and also to Denmark and Brandenburg, asking each to send him six to ten competent engineers. The most important reason for failure had been lack of warships to prevent the Turks from transporting supplies and reinforcements to the Azov garrison by sea. Peter at once set about remedying these faults and planning a new campaign to take place the following summer.

The building of a fleet was a tremendous undertaking. Russia had no tradition of shipbuilding and lacked both facilities and trained workmen. Moreover, Peter was planning a fleet of twenty-five galleys, 1,300 river barges, and numerous small craft. He had to decide on the site and build the shipyards, assemble materials, enlist shipwrights and carpenters, and train crews. They had to get everything done during the five winter months. This huge undertaking was typical of the scale on which he thought and worked and showed how dynamic he was as a leader. By the end of April, they had launched all the vessels and many were already heading down the Don from Voronezh, where he had established the shipyards.

Early in June, the Russian galleys anchored at the mouth of the Don River, effectively blockading Azov. The artillery on the land began bombarding the garrison. The Austrian engineers and gunnery experts arrived a few weeks later. They inspected and approved the extensive siege works carried out by the Russians and continued the bombardment. A council of war decided that they should make a general assault on July 22, but the Turkish garrison surrendered on July 19.

In Moscow, the citizens rejoiced to hear about the capture of Azov. Victory over the mighty Ottoman Porte was unbelievable. The patriarch wept with joy as he read the official report of this defeat of the heretic Turks. Meanwhile Peter was busy drawing up plans with the advice of the Austrian engineers for the rebuilding and fortification of Azov. He also inspected the northern shore of the sea and finally chose Cape Taganrog as the site of the new harbor.

On his return to Moscow, he marched in procession through the city and under the triumphal arch, especially erected on his instructions. The whole ceremony confused the Russians. They were accustomed to Church dignitaries, resplendent in their robes, carrying holy ikons and long services of thanksgiving in the cathedrals. This traditional religious character was absent from Peter’s triumph. The arch was classical in style, embellished with allegorical statues, dominated by huge figures of Hercules and Mars. But most horrifying of all to the people of Moscow was to see their tsar, not in the place of honor, but following behind the gilded sled of Admiral Lefort and wearing a German cloak of black and with a white feather in his hat. He was on foot and marched the full distance of the triumphal route.

Peter, now aged twenty-four, had grown to nearly seven feet in height and was a powerfully built man. He would have been strikingly handsome except for his facial tics and the habit of rolling his eyes in a frightening way. Another characteristic that set him apart was his dynamic energy. He was constantly on the move. When he walked, his companions had to break into a run to keep up with his long strides. His energy was not merely physical; it was also mental. He was constantly learning, planning, and building. At the same time he was uncompromising and determined. He had been concentrating on the creation of a navy and the training of the army to the exclusion of all else. But his vision was now broadening.

On his return from Azov, Peter was actively planning two projects, both revolutionary and involving great problems for Russia, but both were at the same time simple and logical developments of his grand enterprise. The first was to begin building his navy, and the second was to send young Russians abroad to study seamanship, navigation, and shipbuilding, and to visit the West himself for the same purpose. Within five months, work on the navy was under way, many young Russians were already abroad, and he was ready to depart.

The new shipbuilding program imposed heavy burdens on all classes of the Russian people. He sent 3,000 families from the Kazan region and 3,000 streltsi with their families to colonize Azov. He assembled a labor force of 20,000 men from the Ukrainian towns to build the new harbor at Taganrog. He augmented the already large labor force at Voronezh for the new shipbuilding program. He imposed the responsibility for building the ships equitably on the boyars, gentry, senior churchmen, and the monasteries, with each producing one or more ships or parts of ships according to the number of serfs owned. It required ownership of 8,000 serf families to build, rig, and arm one ship. Thus if a patriarch owned private estates containing 8,761 serf families, he had to build one ship and pool his remaining 761 households with those of two metropolitans, an archbishop, and twelve monasteries to produce another ship. The merchants in the capital and provinces had to build twelve ships. After they petitioned the tsar to reduce the number, Peter immediately increased it to fourteen ships. He would allow no exceptions. Failure to have the ships ready for service by April 1698 meant confiscation of all property. Nearly all landowners contracted with foreign shipwrights, engaged in the work at Voronezh, for the construction of their ships.

The Russian people grumbled and accepted these new burdens. But they were distressed by Peter’s order that their young men had to train in England, Holland, and Venice. To all but a handful of Russians, the countries of the West were unknown, and the people believed that the tsar was corrupting these men and seducing them from the Orthodox way of life by sending them away for training. The rumors that the tsar also was going abroad distressed them even more. The tsar had never traveled beyond his own frontiers, except on rare occasions of war. They did not understand why he wanted to go. Already for many of them, Peter was the “tsar-stranger” who had broken away from their cherished traditions. But they also felt that he was deserting them, that he would disappear or suffer some deep change.

Peter was not concerned or even interested in the reactions of his people. His immediate plans absorbed his thoughts. Each young Russian who trained abroad had to obtain a certificate of proficiency from the host country; he had to take one soldier with him and ensure that he too received training; he also had to engage and bring back with him to Russia two skilled mariners. Peter saw nothing strange or dangerous in his plans to travel to the West. He believed that he needed to learn so that he could teach. As tsar this was his special duty, and he said, “a monarch should feel ashamed to lag behind his subjects in any craft.”

The problem was how he could travel without being committed to the diplomatic formalities that would hinder his work. He resolved the problem by deciding to appoint a grand embassy to the courts of Western Europe with which he could travel incognito. By the capture of Azov, he understood that he was committed to war with Turkey, and he knew that Russia alone could not stand against such a mighty power. The purpose of the embassy was to negotiate a grand alliance of Russia, England, Denmark, Prussia, Holland, Austria, and Venice against Turkey.

Peter personally directed the preparations for his embassy. He wrote lists of what he required for his navy, including such details as types and quantities of blocks and tackles, navigation instruments, and cannons. His ambassadors were to enlist personnel, especially ships’ captains and officers “who have themselves been sailors and have reached their rank by service and not other means.” The embassy grew rapidly until it included more than 250 persons, including a group of thirty-eight “volunteers” with Peter listed under the name of “Peter Mikhailov.”

Trying to travel incognito was not effective. Everyone knew that the tsar was traveling with the embassy. One speculation was that he was making a pilgrimage to Rome and hopes were high that he would decide to convert, thus uniting the Eastern and Western Churches. The Austrian resident in Moscow reported to Vienna that the embassy was “merely a cloak to allow the Tsar to get out of his country and travel in freedom, and has no other serious purpose.” Other theories circulated. But the reason for his tour was simple, as were the reasons for most of his actions. He was visiting Western Europe’s shipyards to learn all that was relevant to create a navy. The tour proved to be a turning point in his reign, and Macaulay did not overstate when he wrote that “his journey is an epoch in the history not only of his own country but of ours and of the world.”

The embassy departed from Moscow on March 9, 1697. Flooding of the Dvina River delayed it at Riga. When Peter was inspecting the defenses of the city, an incident occurred there that led to recriminations that he would later use as an excuse for declaring war on Sweden. The embassy with Peter and a few chosen companions proceeded from there by way of Mitau, the capital of the Duchy of Courland, Koenigsberg, and Berlin. He inspected fortifications and in Pilau and Koenigsberg studied gunnery with the artillery expert of the Elector of Brandenburg, Frederick III, who would soon become the first King of Prussia.

In Courland, the Duke offered a feast to the embassy, discreetly showing respect to the tsar. Baron de Blomberg wrote that “open tables were kept everywhere with trumpets and music attended with feasting and excessive drinking all along, as if his Tsarish Majesty had been another Bacchus.” The Russians with their coarse manners did not make a good impression, and he noted that the foreign officers in the embassy usually referred to them as “the baptized bears.”

Because of Peter’s unusual height and his obvious authority, crowds tended to stare at him, which made him uncomfortable. In the small fortress town of Kustrin, some Frankfurt students broke into the house where he was resting in order to see him. He dreaded a repetition of this incident and sat in the corner of his carriage to avoid being seen when they traveled through Berlin.

At Koppenbrugge, officials asked him to dine with the Electress Sophia Charlotte, a remarkable woman of beauty and intelligence. It was his first contact with the gracious and cultivated aspect of Western life. Shyness overwhelmed him and he covered his face with his hands. Later he relaxed and enjoyed the dinner, which lasted for four hours. Sophia considered him a man with a good heart and noble instincts. Her final judgment, written two months later, was more circumspect: “He is a ruler both very good and very evil at the same time,” she wrote. “His character is exactly the character of his country. If he had had a better education, he would be an exceptional man, for he has great qualities and unlimited natural intelligence.”

Peter then headed for Holland to work in the shipyards. At this time Holland was at the height of its power and prestige, known especially as a naval and mercantile nation. Here he believed he would be able to study shipbuilding at its best while also recruiting experts and purchasing equipment.

With eighteen companions, Peter rushed ahead to Zaandam, then the center of a flourishing shipbuilding district. Zaandamers, serving in Moscow, had spoken as though this was the foremost shipbuilding town in Holland. But he found Zaandam disappointing, and he hated the great crowds that shadowed him wherever he went. He traveled to Amsterdam to join the embassy on its arrival on August 16. There he had his first meeting with Nicholas Witsen, a wealthy patron of the arts and sciences who shared his passion for ships and who acted unofficially as Dutch minister for Russian affairs.

Witsen, as a director of the East India Company, proposed to Peter that he would find it more convenient and profitable to work in the company’s yards. He added that the directors had agreed to build a new frigate so that he could study the whole process of ship construction. This proposal excited Peter. He hurried back to Zaandam the same evening to collect his tools and started work the next morning under the direction of a master shipwright.

During the next four months, Peter worked and studied in the shipyards. He laid down his tools only for special visits. Once he went to Utrecht to meet William III; on another occasion, he examined the work of the celebrated anatomist, Professor Ruysch, whose techniques for preserving corpses fascinated him. He traveled to The Hague where his embassy sought to negotiate an alliance against Turkey. Embassies from the leading European powers had gathered there for the Congress of Ryswyk. But the Russian project made no headway. All Europe now wanted peace with Turkey because conflict over the Spanish succession was threatening. France and the balance of power, not the infidel Turks, preoccupied the West. News of Turkish defeats by Prince Eugene and by Russian troops near Azov made Turkey seem a far less formidable enemy, however, and the failure of the diplomatic mission did not seem so devastating to the Russians.

Meanwhile, Peter was becoming more disappointed in Dutch shipbuilding methods. His master shipwright and other Dutch experts worked by rule of thumb and were unable to teach him the principles of ship construction. Already he was assuming that England was the country where he would learn the basic principles. His interest grew after he received a gift from William III of a magnificent new yacht, the Royal Transport. Admiral Lord Carmarthen, who had designed it, wrote to him about its grace and speed. On January 8, 1698, with sixteen companions he went on board the Yorke, flagship of Vice-Admiral Sir David Mitchell who commanded the small squadron, sent to take him across the Channel. The crossing was an exciting experience for Peter. He was at sea in a large ship of war for the first time. Although the weather was stormy, he stayed on deck so that he could study the seamanship and handling of the great ship.

London was at this time one of the largest and wealthiest cities in Europe. The Great Fire of 1666 had destroyed the city between the Tower and the Temple, but new mansions, now of brick and stone, had risen from the ashes within a few years. Sir Christopher Wren was responsible for the rebuilding of fifty-one churches and his masterpiece, St. Paul’s Cathedral, towered majestically over the city. But the masts of the ships moored in the Pool of London interested Peter most of all. For a month he remained in London, living in a house in Norfolk Street off the Strand. He visited watchmakers and learned to repair watches. He even found time to observe the English method of making coffins, which was more economic in its use of timber, and he sent a coffin to Moscow to serve as a model.

Accompanied by two companions and by Admiral Mitchell, Peter paid an informal call on the King at Kensington Palace. He had long admired William III, but historians report that no records survived of their meetings in Utrecht or in Kensington. If they were attracted to each other, it was the attraction of opposites. William was cold and restrained, ailing and gloomy; Peter was tempestuous and impulsive, explosively energetic and healthy. They were alike only in their purposefulness and determination. William persuaded Peter to sit for Sir Godfrey Kneller, the foremost portrait painter in Europe at the time. Kneller’s portrait of Peter, which hangs in Kensington Palace, shows the handsome face of the young tsar in his prime. His expression is both chivalrous and benevolent, and the picture contains no suggestion of the fierce will, the savage anger, and the volcanic energy that would make his reign so outstanding.

Early in February, Peter moved to Deptford, then the center of important docks and shipyards. He had a suite in Sayes Court, the country house of the diarist, John Evelyn. It was a fine house with a magnificent garden, but the Russians were, according to Evelyn’s bailiff, “right nasty” and caused extensive damage. For Peter this was the crucial stage of his training when he was mastering the principles underlying all that he had learned by practice in Russia and in Holland. A journeyman-shipwright, employed at Deptford at the time, testified that “The Tsar of Muscovy worked with his own hands as hard as any man in the yard.”

At Deptford and in London, Peter visited churches and also went to Quaker meetings. But the Anglican Church interested him most because it was part of the English way of life that manifested a spirit of enterprise and independence so different from the humility and submission encouraged by the Orthodox Church in Russia. He had numerous discussions with Gilbert Burnet, Bishop of Salisbury, and made a favorable impression on him. Later, when Burnet wrote his History of His Own Times, after receiving horrifying reports of the suppression of the streltsi, he revised his opinion of the tsar. He then wrote: “After I had seen him often and had conversed much with him, I could not but adore the depth of the providence of God that has raised up such a furious man to so absolute an authority over so great a part of the world . . . Man seems a very contemptible thing in the sight of God while such a person as the Tsar has such multitudes put, as it were, under his feet, exposed to his restless jealousy and savage temper.”

During these weeks, Peter spent a lot of time with Peregrine Osborne, Marquis of Carmarthen, who was high-spirited, a sturdy drinker, and an able ship designer and seaman. Through him Peter granted a monopoly of the import of tobacco into Russia, a deal that provided him with money to pay for the equipment that the Russians were buying to take back with them. He spent hours at Woolwich Arsenal, Greenwich, and at the Tower of London, which then housed the Royal Society and the Mint. As a result of proposals made by Isaac Newton and John Locke, the English had recently changed their coinage system. Two years later, Peter reformed Russian coinage to conform to the English model. Meanwhile, he and his companions had been hiring English seamen, ship officers, and experts in every field. Sometimes he found that Englishmen who were willing to serve in Russia demanded too much payment. But he did engage a mathematician from Aberdeen University, named Henry Farquharson, who with two young students from Christ’s Hospital, Stephen Gwyn and Richard Grice, later established the School of Mathematics and Navigation in Moscow.

The King of England had been a considerate host to Peter. He had given him access to naval and military establishments. He had invited him to inspect the fleet and to observe maneuvers in the Solent. On board the flagship Humber, Peter excitedly watched the great ships of war maneuver, fire their broadsides, and turn to attack again.

England had delighted him. He had met such men as Mitchell and Carmarthen, and he developed a great respect for English engineers, gunners, and shipwrights. He always acknowledged that, in naval matters, “If he had not come to England he had certainly been a bungler,” and frequently observed that “The English island is the best, most beautiful, and happiest there is in the whole world.”

Returning to Amsterdam, Peter found the embassy surrounded by men and equipment. They had hired more than 700 officers, seamen, engineers, and artisans and purchased large quantities of arms and equipment. He had to charter ten ships to transport them to Russia. He planned a personal leisurely journey with visits to Vienna and Venice. However, reports reached him that the streltsi had again rebelled, and he was disturbed that Romodanovsky had not put down the revolt with sufficient harshness. It disturbed him even more to learn that Romodanovsky and others in Moscow were ready to believe that he was dead because they hadn’t heard from him. He sent letters reprimanding them for behaving like “old women” and then set out on his travels. He hurried to Vienna after receiving news that the emperor and the Venetian Senate were discussing proposals for peace with Turkey. Soon after arriving in Vienna, he realized that he could not keep the emperor from coming to terms with the sultan. He had indeed failed not only to forge a grand alliance against the Turks but also to prevent the collapse of the existing alliance. The political purpose of his embassy had, however, been a secondary goal. Now he was eager to go on to Venice, famous at this time for its galleys.

On July 15, Peter was ready to leave Vienna when news arrived from Moscow about another outbreak of the streltsi. Romodanovsky reported that four regiments were marching on Moscow and that he had sent troops, commanded by Generals Gordon and Shein, to stop them. Because the letter had taken a month to reach Vienna, Peter didn’t know whether or not the streltsi had been successful in their march on Moscow. He cancelled his plans to visit Venice and headed for Moscow on July 19. He was almost at Cracow when he learned that the troops had defeated the streltsi and executed 130 and arrested 1,860.

Peter traveled at a more leisurely pace after receiving this report. On July 31, he reached Rawa and met with Frederick-Augustus, Elector of Saxony and now King Augustus II of Poland. Augustus was a handsome, powerfully built man, but self-indulgent and deceitful. There were rumors that he had fathered over 300 illegitimate children with numerous mistresses. He had had ambitions of achieving military fame, but in two campaigns in Hungary had displayed neither courage nor ability. He had been elected to the Polish throne, thanks to large-scale bribery, to the presence of Saxon troops, and to the support of the tsar and the emperor. Peter would soon learn that his new ally was weak and treacherous.

The Great Northern War had its beginnings in this meeting at Rawa in August 1698. The idea of a Northern League against Sweden was not new. Thirty years earlier, Ordin-Nashchokin had proposed it as a national policy and, as with so many of the plans of his father’s great minister, Peter was now trying to make it a reality. But the meeting with Augustus was timely because Peter, having seen his proposals for a crusade against the Turks fail, was ready to turn northward. By concentrating Russia’s strength against Sweden, he would be able to break through to the Baltic Sea and there establish ports and his navy. This policy was to dominate most of his reign.

The Western tour was coming to an end. Peter had set out primarily to obtain the knowledge and equipment needed to build his navy. But with his roving curiosity and capacity for learning, he had ranged far more widely. He had expected to see the technical superiority of the West, but the trade and industry, the wealth and the intellectual vitality, and the cultured world of Holland, England, and Austria had also impressed him. Everything in the West had contrasted with the lethargy and conservatism of Russia. His people did not want to depart from their medieval way of life, dominated by the Church. But he now wanted to transform Russia into a modern nation.

As he hurried toward Moscow, he was thinking about policies of reform. At the same time, a savage anger consumed him. The streltsi, who had terrorized him as a boy, had rebelled twice while he had been abroad. They were a dangerous force that the Miloslavsky might incite again; he could not trust them. He had made up his mind to deal with them once and for all, so that he could devote himself to his new policies, free from fears of their rebellion. As a contemporary diarist in Moscow wrote: “It had come to pass that Muscovy was to be saved by cruelty, not by pity.”

On the evening of August 25, 1698, Peter entered Moscow quietly and unexpectedly so that he could avoid the lengthy ceremony that had always greeted the tsar on his return to the city. He did not remain in the Kremlin or call to see his wife and young son. He visited Anna Mons, the daughter of a German wine merchant in the Foreign Quarter, and then rode to Preobrazhenskoe, where he spent the night. But news of his return spread rapidly, and crowds of people made their way to Preobrazhenskoe to greet him early the next day. They wanted to see their tsar and pay him homage. He received them all and, when they prostrated themselves on the ground in Muscovite fashion, he lifted them up and kissed them because he disliked this practice.

Then, as his subjects crowded about him, Peter took a pair of scissors and began cutting their beards. He did this to everyone except for the patriarch and two elderly boyars. This shocked the patriarch and nobles and horrified the others. The beard was fundamental to their Orthodoxy and to salvation. At the beginning of the century, a few young nobles had begun shaving, but the patriarch had sternly condemned the practice and Tsar Mikhail had legislated against it. The present patriarch, Adrian, had proclaimed from the pulpit that “God did not create men beardless, only cats and dogs . . . the shaving of beards is not only foolishness and dishonor, it is a mortal sin.” Peter now outlawed the beard but relaxed the ban a few months later when he saw that a beard tax would help the treasury. Next he ordered the wearing of Western dress. The flowing Muscovite robe reaching to the ground and with wide sleeves was inconvenient and interfered with work. He had adopted Western clothes for efficiency and convenience; he decided that his people should follow his practice to get ready for the work that lay ahead.

With this assault on two of the main symbols of old Muscovy, Peter launched a new era in Russia’s history. It was an era when he displaced old traditions and forcibly introduced new ideas, when he attacked the conservatism and lethargy of Muscovite life, and when he struck down the barriers against Western ideas and techniques. It was an era of war and hard labor for everyone from the tsar to the humble peasant. Peter did not spare himself and labored harder than any of his subjects. It was his era because he created it. Leaders had outlined and planned many of his reforms long before his reign; someone might have implemented them in time. But he could not wait and plunged his people into a revolution.

Peter’s purpose was to reform and revitalize Russia so that the nation would stand as a great power on equal terms with the Western powers not only in military strength but also in trade and industry, as well as government and civilization. He directed all of his reforms, his assaults on old Muscovite traditions, and his military and naval campaigns to accomplish this. It involved him in constant war, and war became the source and pressure behind many of his reforms. War was an instrument of policy to Peter and was unavoidable in achieving his basic aims. He had no love of war and no hunger for military fame or personal glory. He was indeed a selfless man without personal vanity. He was a reformer and builder, and of necessity he became a conqueror.

Peter now directed his attention to two tasks. He wanted to get rid of his wife and to deal with the streltsi. He had married Evdokiya to obey his mother’s wishes, but had never felt the slightest interest in her. A typical product of the Muscovite terem, she was narrowly Orthodox and conservative and had no sympathy with all that he thought and did. When he was abroad, he had sent instructions for her to be shorn as a nun, the normal method of disposing of a wife, but she had resisted. She was afraid that action would separate her from her son, Alexei. Peter told his sister, Tsarevna Natalya, to take care of the boy. On September 23, a carriage took Evdokiya from the Kremlin to the Suzdal Pokrovsky Nunnery, where she became a nun under the name of Elena.

The purging of the streltsi was bloody and barbarous. Within a few days of his return from abroad, Peter had ordered Boyar Shein to assemble all streltsi who had been involved in the rebellions but had not received punishment. He was not satisfied with the investigations and believed that his half-sister, Sofia, and the Miloslavsky had been behind the new outbreaks. He had not forgotten their uprising in 1682 when they had murdered so many and had terrorized the city. Now he saw them as a threat to himself and to the nation at a time when he was impatient to launch new policies. He approached the new investigation in a mood of cold fury.

Workers prepared fourteen torture chambers in Preobrazhenskoe. The main interrogation began on September 17 and continued until mid-October. The procedure was that they questioned the accused. If they considered his evidence to be incomplete, they raised him on the gallows, pulled his arms out of joint, and beat him with the knout. Between strokes of the knout, they questioned him further. If the streltsi proved stubborn in spite of this torture, they exposed them to fire in attempts to make them confess. They gave the same punishment to some women also.

The investigations continued for many days, enveloping Preobrazhenskoe in a haze of fire and blood as the village echoed with the screams of the victims. Although Peter believed that Sofia and the Miloslavsky had instigated the rebellions, he had no conclusive evidence to prove this. He even questioned Sofia personally, but she denied all charges. Toward the end of September, they hanged 196 of the rebels from gallows erected at various points in Moscow. Some two weeks later, another mass execution of 144 of the rebels took place; two days later, they hanged 278 streltsi.

In all 799 streltsi died. The winter had set in early and the icy cold emphasized the horror of the tsar’s justice. Frozen corpses hung from the Kremlin walls and over all the gates through which the people passed on their daily business. For nearly five months, the bodies remained on display as a grim warning of the fate of rebels and traitors.

Further interrogations and executions took place in the following months, but on a smaller scale. In June 1699, Peter disbanded the remaining sixteen regiments of the Moscow streltsi. He dispersed these men to distant parts of the country and forbid them to serve again as soldiers. He had thus eliminated the undisciplined and rebellious force that could challenge the throne, and now he relied on his own loyal guard regiments.

Since his return from abroad, Peter had been eager to inspect progress on the construction of the navy. Now, having dealt with the streltsi, he could leave Moscow; he set out for Voronezh on October 23, 1698. He found that his workers had transformed the small river town into a great sprawling shipbuilding center. They had launched twenty ships and had many more at advanced stages of construction. Shipwrights of many nations were directing the work under difficult conditions. Shortage of labor was the chief problem. Peasants fled in hundreds and sickness also decimated the labor force; they needed twice as many workers as they had. Other problems troubled Peter, who in a moment of despair wrote: “A cloud of doubt covers my mind, whether I shall ever taste these fruits or whether they will be like dates which those who plant them never gather.” But he put his doubts aside and, personally laying down the keel of a sixty-gun ship, the Predestination, he worked furiously with his own hands to help create the navy.

In February 1699, Peter hurried to Moscow after he heard that his close friend, Lefort, was ill. One evening during Lent, Lefort caught a chill after a drinking bout. Debauchery had weakened his health, and on March 2 he died at the age of forty-three. Arriving in Moscow, grief overwhelmed Peter when he found that his friend was already dead. Lefort received a state funeral more magnificent than that granted to any Russian, except the tsars and patriarchs. Though Peter was still mourning the loss of his friend, he returned to his shipbuilding two days later. He had much to do and, as after the death of his mother, he could not stand still to grieve.

Peter was now increasingly impatient to negotiate a peace with Turkey. The time was ripe to launch his attack on Sweden jointly with Augustus of Saxony and Poland, but he refused to commit himself to the campaign in the North until he had secured his position in the South. Lord Paget, the English ambassador in Constantinople, had as mediator brought about agreement between Austria and Turkey at Karlowitz. Having made concessions to the Austrians, the one enemy that they feared, the Turks were in no hurry to make peace with the Russians. Finally, however, the Turks proposed that a Russian envoy should go to Constantinople to negotiate. Peter appointed Councilor E. I. Ukraintsev as his envoy and decided to send him by warship.

He chose the forty-six-gun frigate, Krepost, newly launched and fitted out, for the mission. On August 6, Peter sailed with the small fleet that escorted the frigate as far as the entrance to the Straits of Kerch. Because the unexpected arrival of so many Russian ships of war alarmed the Turks, the Russians had to convince them to provide an escort for the frigate. The little ship made an even greater impression in Constantinople, and some Turks recognized that they were dealing with a new Russia.

Peter impatiently awaited a decision from the Turks during the next few months. Augustus sent agents to Moscow to convince Peter that he should attack Sweden by no later than December 1699. King Christian V of Denmark sent a special envoy to Moscow to propose an alliance and immediate action against Sweden. To each envoy Peter asserted his eagerness to march but confirmed his determination not to begin war in the North until he had reached an agreement for peace, or at least a lengthy armistice, with the Ottoman Porte in the South.

However, the negotiations in Constantinople were quite lengthy, and Peter could never be sure that they would not break down. Because of this danger, he had received the King of Sweden’s embassy and agreed to confirm existing treaties between the two countries. He had solemnly gone through the formalities of confirming these treaties while secretly discussing with Danish and Saxon agents the plans for their combined assault on Sweden. Repeatedly, he sent instructions to Ukraintsev in Constantinople to speed up the negotiations, but the Turks wanted to take time to make their decision. On August 8, 1700, he finally received word from Ukraintsev that they had reached an agreement. On the following day, Peter proclaimed war on Sweden from the Bedchamber Porch as was traditional for the Muscovite tsars.

Peter had not begun to create an army until the end of 1699. The navy and other matters had claimed his attention; after his success at Azov, he was confident that he could recruit, train, and equip his army to defeat the Swedes. He had decided to break from the Muscovite practice of drafting untrained peasants to serve for a campaign and then go back to their villages. He called for volunteers who were to serve as regular troops, receiving the same pay, rations, and drink allowance as the guards. The response was good. Within three months, he had formed twenty-nine new regiments, with a combined strength of 32,000 men. Foreign colonels who had commanded Russian troops at Azov and in earlier Crimean campaigns led the new regiments and were responsible for training their men in Western military methods. According to two foreigners, the new Russian army was an impressive force that would be formidable when it reached its planned strength of nearly 64,000 men.

In creating this new army, one man was absent who would have been at Peter’s right hand. General Patrick Gordon had noted in his diary on December 31, 1698: “In this year I have felt a sensible failing of my health and strength - but Thy will be done, O my gracious God.” In September 1699, he commanded the Butyrsky Regiment in the procession in honor of the Swedish embassy. A few days later, he became very weak, and Peter visited him several times. On his visit on November 29, Peter found him near death. The Jesuit priest who had given the Last Sacraments to General Gordon moved away from the bedside as the tsar entered. “Stay where you are, Father,” he said. “Do what you think fit. I will not hinder you.” A few minutes later, the dying man suffered convulsions. Peter held a mirror to his friend’s face but saw no signs of breathing. He closed his friend’s eyes, kissed him, and tearfully left the house. Gordon received a state funeral, attended by all Russians of importance. Peter walked in the funeral procession of this Scot whom the Russians had respected and who had faithfully served three tsars.

As the time approached for the opening of his Swedish campaign, Peter was confident of victory. He believed that he would readily conquer Ingria and Karelia and that with access to the Baltic he would then develop his naval plans. But he overestimated the strength of the Northern Alliance. Even as he declared war on Sweden, the King of Denmark was secretly signing a peace treaty with the King of Sweden. Augustus of Poland, Peter’s one remaining ally, would prove to be a liability in the campaign. Peter also overestimated the strength of his hastily trained army. But his greatest miscalculation, and one in which all Europe shared, was in underestimating the new King of Sweden, Charles XII, who was then only eighteen years old.

The accession of a minor to the Swedish throne in 1697 had encouraged Sweden’s enemies to take action to settle their scores with Sweden. They expected easy victories, but they were to find that young Charles XII was an outstanding general who made his mark in the age that produced Marlborough, Prince Eugene, Vauban, and Turenne. He believed he was invincible, and he dazzled Europe with his bold exploits and his courage.

The Great Northern War that began with attacks on Sweden by Russia, Denmark, and Saxony would soon become a duel between Peter and Charles. Both monarchs were young and had shown early promise of remarkable abilities. But in every other respect they differed. Charles was brilliant, arrogant, and in the long run destructive. Peter was exceedingly able and dynamic but always ready to acknowledge mistakes and to learn. Charles reveled in the excitements and dangers of war; Peter hated war and resorted to it only when it was unavoidable to pursue his objectives. Charles was contemptuous of his enemy, but Peter was to prove a greater monarch, a greater general, and a greater man. He was eventually victorious. Russia would become dominant in the Baltic and displace Sweden.

Peter had decided to launch his campaign by taking Narva on the Narova River, some ten miles from the Gulf of Finland. The Russian forces took up siege positions during October and began bombarding the fortress. But Peter was anxious because he had learned that the Saxon army had failed to capture Riga and that Augustus had raised the siege. Reports that Charles XII had landed at Pernau with a force of nearly 32,000 seasoned troops also disturbed him. Peter quickly prepared to meet the oncoming Swedes in battle and then left Narva before dawn for a secret meeting with Augustus. Eight hours later, Charles led his army in a direct attack on the Russian positions. Then a violent snowstorm reduced visibility to a few feet. The main Russian forces fled from their positions. Thousands drowned in the Narova River. Only the guard regiments stood their ground. With the whole army in disarray, the Russian commanders had to surrender to the Swedes. Charles allowed them to retreat with colors and weapons, but without their artillery, and he held a number of senior officers as prisoners of war.

Peter had suffered a crushing and humiliating defeat. Many Europeans called Peter a coward for leaving his army on the eve of battle. Charles himself considered it disgraceful behavior. But considerations of pride, glory, and chivalry played no part in Peter’s actions. He had not planned to risk himself in battle at this stage against the veteran Swedish army. He regarded his defeat not as a disgrace, but a hard lesson in the development of his army and of Russia. He made no accusations but accepted the mistakes made as his own.

He quickly worked to train and equip his army again. His immediate fear was that Charles would follow up his victory by marching on Moscow. Because there was nothing to stop Charles if he decided to attack Moscow, Peter hurriedly strengthened the defenses of Novgorod and Pskov, the two fortified cities that might hinder a Swedish advance. It soon became clear that the Swedes would not be able to invade so quickly. They were exhausted after the forced marches and the fighting at Narva. Moreover, Russia lay in the grip of a severe winter. But Peter did not relax his efforts. In January 1701, Pleyer, the Austrian resident in Moscow, reported to Vienna that the tsar’s army was already twice as strong as before Narva. At the same time Peter was making ineffective attempts to gain the support of England, Holland, Austria, and Brandenburg, and to convince the Poles to join him against the Swedes. But his immediate concern was to prevent Augustus, Elector of Saxony as well as King of Poland, his one ally, from dropping out of the war. In February 1701, Peter and Augustus met at Birze and confirmed their alliance and agreed to fight until the Swedes were defeated. To obtain this assurance, Peter had to guarantee Augustus considerable assistance in troops and money that he could not afford to spare.

From Narva, Charles moved his army into winter quarters near Dorpat in Livonia and awaited reinforcements from Sweden. Toward the end of the spring, nearly 10,000 fresh troops joined him and he marched to Riga. The Saxon army of 27,000 men with four Russian regiments in reserve was on the left bank of the Dvina River, ready to take this important stronghold, as Augustus and Peter had agreed. Charles at once crossed the river and routed the Saxons. The Russian regiments fled as soon as the firing began. Now Charles had even more contempt for the Russians because he believed they would never learn to fight.

Because of the lack of effort on the part of the Russians, Charles didn’t believe that Peter could match his strength as an enemy. He decided he could crush the tsar when he was ready. Thus instead of following up his great victory at Narva by marching on Moscow, Charles turned south and spent the next six years in Poland. He left his capable colonel, Schlippenbach, with a detachment of only 8,000 men to defend Livonia and Ingria. He was confident that this token force could hold off the Russians. But he gravely misjudged his adversary, Peter, and he would pay dearly for his arrogance.

During those six years when Charles was in Poland, Peter trained his men and molded them into an army. They gained experience in action. Boyar Sheremetev, who had emerged as Peter’s most competent general, defeated Schlippenbach at Erestfer in December 1701 and even more decisively at Hummelshof in July 1702. Sheremetev’s victories gave him control of Livonia and raised Russian morale by demonstrating that the Swedes were not invincible. On receiving Sheremetev’s report, Peter exclaimed: “Praise God; at last we are able to beat the Swedes!” and this new confidence spread quickly through his army.

In October 1702, Peter captured the fortress town of Schlusselburg, situated on an island in the Neva River near Lake Ladoga. He took another fortress town, named Nyenskantz at the entry of the Okhta River into the Neva in May 1703. The action involved an attack on a small Swedish squadron in which Peter captured two Swedish ships. With the capture of Yamburg and Koporie in the summer, he had completed his conquest of Ingria. He had attained his objective for declaring war on Sweden. Russia now had access to the Baltic. But, as Peter well knew, the Northern War was not yet at an end because Charles XII had won brilliant victories in Eastern Europe. Peter knew that his hold on Ingria and Livonia would not be secure until he had defeated Charles. He did not underestimate his enemy and even expected to lose battles, but not to lose the war. He demonstrated his complete confidence in ultimate victory at this time when he laid the foundations of a new city at the mouth of the Neva River.

The estuary of the Neva was marshy, unhealthy, and desolate. But here on Yanni-Saari or Hare Island, one of the nineteen islands in the estuary, Peter laid the foundations, on May 16, 1703, of the new fortress and port, to be called St. Petersburg after his patron saint. His decision on the site was hasty, but it embodied the instinctive wisdom of a monarch deeply rooted in his country’s history and needs. In effect, he was transplanting Novgorod to the Baltic coast. (With Kiev, Novgorod had been the earliest Russian center of trade and contact with the West.) Moscow represented the traditional Russian Orthodox outlook. Early in his reign, he had rejected Moscow; now in his new city, he was creating the symbol and center of his reformed Russia.

Peter gave a lot of his attention to the plans and building for St. Petersburg. He sailed in the Gulf of Finland and took soundings. He decided to make Kotlin Island, eight miles to the west of the city, a fortress to defend its approaches. Later he would change its name to Kronstadt. The labor force, numbering hundreds of thousands, suffered hardships and the death rate was high, but the work continued at a frantic pace. St. Petersburg grew rapidly and became a beautiful and important city, which he made the capital in place of Moscow; by the end of the century it had become a world metropolis.

The years 1705 to 1709 were for Peter the most critical of the Northern War. He had captured Dorpat and Narva and had secured his hold on Livonia and Ingria. But he had yet to fight the fateful battle to decide the final outcome of the war. Adding to the general anxiety was the unpredictability of Charles. Many rumors that he was about to march on Russia proved false. The Russian and Swedish armies nearly met in a major battle near Grodno in the summer of 1706, but the Russians retreated. Charles then turned to defeat the Saxons and in October 1706 compelled Augustus to sign the Treaty of Altranstadt. This ended Poland’s alliance with Russia. Stanislas Leszcynski became the new King of Poland after the Swedes pressured the Poles to elect him. This treaty alarmed Peter because it meant that he now stood alone against Charles.

The general expectation was that Charles would invade Russia in the spring of 1707. However, he remained in Saxony until late summer and then marched slowly through Poland. It was to Peter’s advantage that Charles did not launch his invasion at this time. Following a rebellion in Astrakhan at the mouth of the Volga River in 1706 that he had suppressed, Peter had to deal with more serious uprisings by the Bashkirs and among the Cossacks of the Don and Dnieper. Led by Ataman Bulavin, a major Cossack uprising developed during 1707, threatening to become a challenge on the scale of Stenka Razin’s movement of the previous century. But toward the end of 1708, Peter’s forces destroyed the last of the rebel armies, and the Russian armies were then free to meet the challenge in the West.

Charles had already begun his invasion of Russia. In July 1708, he had defeated a Russian army at Golovchina, but the fighting had been severe and his casualties were heavy. He then crossed the Dnieper River, but Russian detachments continually harried his troops. The Swedes stubbornly continued their advance, and the Russians fell back slowly before them, leaving the earth scorched. At this point instead of waiting for General Adam Lewenhaupt to join him with his army, Charles turned southward. Learning that Lewenhaupt was crossing the Dnieper, Peter drew up his forces at Lesnaya, where on September 28 they completely routed the Swedish army of 16,000 men. Peter was jubilant, but soon afterward he received the disastrous news that Mazepa had defected to the enemy.

The treason of the old hetman shocked Peter. He had always ignored secret reports of his duplicity. He always had difficulty in believing that someone he trusted could betray him. His immediate fear was that Mazepa might manage to persuade the people of the Ukraine and the Cossacks to also transfer their support to Charles. But Mazepa’s position as hetman was difficult. The Ukraine was in a constant state of agitation. Resentment of Russian rule, and especially of the heavy burdens imposed by Peter, had been growing. Mazepa wanted to preserve the freedom of the Ukraine from further Russian encroachment. But he was far more concerned for his own welfare. He had entered into secret negotiations with Stanislas, King of Poland, and then with Charles. Now he switched his support to Charles because he thought he would be the victor. In spite of all their discontent, the Ukrainians did not follow him.

Charles crossed the Desna River and advanced to Romny. He had suffered two major disappointments. General Lewenhaupt had joined him from Lesnaya with the battered remnants of his army and without the supply train on which the Swedes were depending. Then Mazepa arrived with 2,000 Cossacks instead of the army of over 20,000 men that the hetman normally commanded. At the same time, the Russians were shadowing them from the North and attacking them in well-executed movements. The Swedes found that the Russians were no longer the raw recruits that they had defeated at Narva nine years earlier.

In April, Charles moved farther south with the intention of taking Poltava, an important town on the Vorskla River. Learning of this move, Peter rejoined his army and assumed command. On June 26, the Russians and Swedes battled; Peter fought courageously. A musket ball knocked off his hat, and another bounced off the iron crucifix around his neck. He was constantly in the thick of the fighting, encouraging his men. Charles fought with his usual disregard for danger. Even though he had a wounded foot and his men needed to carry him on a litter, he insisted on being taken to the center of the fighting so that he could encourage his men.

The Russian troops were experienced and disciplined. They drove back the Swedes and forced them to flee from the battlefield. The Swedish army had numbered 60,000; half had lost their lives in the march eastward and into the Ukraine. The Russians captured the remnants of this army, numbering only 16,947, at Poltava or to the south as they tried to escape. Charles, Mazepa, and a few companions managed to get away and find refuge on Turkish territory.

This was Peter’s great moment of victory. He attended a service of thanksgiving on the field of battle and then celebrated. He was exultant but not arrogant. He brought the Swedish generals to his tent and sat them down at his side. He was courteous and praised Rehnskjold for his bravery and presented him with his own sword. After the cannon salute to the Russian victory, Peter rose and proposed a toast to his teachers in the art of war. “Who are your teachers, sire?” asked Rehnskjold. “You are, gentlemen,” Peter replied. “Then well have the pupils returned thanks to their teachers,” commented Rehnskjold.

Peter wrote to his colleagues in Moscow to tell them about the victory. In one of these letters, he expressed the chief reason for his great joy and summed up the significance of Poltava for him. “Now,” he wrote, “with the help of God, the final stone in the foundation of St. Petersburg has been laid.”

Among the first letters Peter wrote from the field of battle was one to his mistress, Catherine Skavronskaya. The letter was brief: “Little Mother, good-day. I declare to you that the all-merciful God has this day granted us an unprecedented victory over the enemy. In a word, the whole of the enemy’s army is knocked on the head, and you will hear about it from us. Come here and congratulate us. Piter.” He married her in 1712, and in 1724 she formally received the crown as his empress.

Catherine was born in 1685 near Dorpat in Livonia. She belonged to the family of a peasant, Samuel Skavronsky, but was probably illegitimate. When she was three, her mother died, apparently leaving her alone and destitute. The local pastor took her into his home; a few years later, Ernst Gluck, the Lutheran pastor of Marienburg, hired her to look after his children and help with domestic work. When she was seventeen, she married a member of the Swedish cavalry. He needed to return immediately to his regiment, and she never saw him again.

At this time, Sheremetev’s army was approaching Marienburg. He laid siege to the fortress, threatening to destroy it completely if the garrison did not surrender. The desperate Swedish commander decided to blow up the fortress instead of surrendering. He kept his plan secret but warned Gluck who escaped to the Russian camp with his family, including Catherine. Sheremetev received him kindly and accepted Gluck’s proposal to serve the tsar as a translator; he sent Gluck and his family to Moscow.

During the interview with Gluck, Sheremetev did not take his eyes off Catherine. She was full-figured, dark, and attractive. When Gluck told him that she was an orphan who had just been married, he replied, “That’s of no importance. She will stay with me.” Catherine kept house for him for about six months. But Menshikov, a quick-witted rogue of humble origin who had served in the tsar’s play regiments and had accompanied him on his Western journey, took her for himself. Some months later, Peter met her in Menshikov’s house and she became his mistress.

Peter was not greatly interested in women primarily because he devoted his energies to his work. He was a conscientious and dedicated monarch and highly critical of Augustus and others who allowed mistresses to distract them from the important things of life. By nature he was monogamous. Only four women played any real part in his life. They were his mother; his sister, Natalya, with whom he felt an affectionate bond; Anna Mons; and Catherine, who would be his intimate companion for over twenty years. He had met Anna Mons in the Foreign Quarter when he was only seventeen. She had reigned unchallenged as his mistress and might have become tsaritsa except that she was foolish enough to become engaged to another man while she was still Peter’s mistress. He was angry but allowed her to keep the palace and most of the jewelry he had given her.

Catherine was a worthier mate for Peter. She had grown to be an attractive woman, remarkable for her good nature and generosity. Alexander Gordon, another of the Scots in the Russian service, considered that “The reason why the Tsar was so fond of her was her exceeding good temper; she was never seen peevish or out of humour; obliging and civil to all, and never forgetful of her former condition.” She provided a haven of affection and comfort for Peter.

Often Catherine accompanied him, enduring hardships without complaint. She had great physical and mental stamina and gave birth to twelve children. She was with the army on the Pruth and later in the exhausting Persian campaign. She was the idol of the troops who saw in her not only the tsaritsa, but also the perfect commander’s wife. She could review regiments, speaking kindly to the men, showing sympathy and understanding of the soldier’s life, and awarding small amounts of vodka on special occasions.

Peter depended on Catherine in many ways. Often she appeared more as a mother than as a mistress and a wife. When agonizing headaches signaled that he was going to become enraged and everyone became afraid of him, Catherine had no fear. She would call him to her and stroke his forehead until he relaxed in sleep. For hours she would sit motionless, holding his head; when he awoke, the rage was gone and he was in the best of humors. Only Catherine could drive out his furies, and on these occasions she alone stood between the tsar and his people.

Their companionship deepened with the passing years but would change toward the end of his life. Whenever they were not together, they wrote to each other, indulging in private jokes and exchanging small presents, such as fresh lemons and figs, oysters, flowers, clothes, and even mint. He addressed her as “Muder” or “Moeder” or in English “Little Mother,” and affectionately as “Katerinoushka,” referring to himself as “the old fellow.” Peter recognized that fate had granted him a true mate and he expressed his gratitude to her publicly.

News of the Russian victory at Poltava spread quickly through Europe. Countries that had declined Peter’s proposals to join with him against Sweden now sought alliance with the victorious tsar. In October 1709, Peter met Augustus in Thorn, and they readily agreed to revive their alliance. With the pope’s dispensation, Augustus had rejected the Treaty of Altranstadt and once again ascended the Polish throne. Peter didn’t hesitate to support Augustus in spite of his treachery and constant failure in battle.

Meanwhile, the possibility of the Turks declaring war disturbed Peter. The sultan had not forgotten the humiliation of the defeat at Azov. Now Charles XII, supported by France, was pressing for Turkish action against Russia. Peter demanded the surrender of Charles; when Charles refused, Peter issued an ultimatum. The Turks refused to be intimidated and declared war on November 20, 1710.

Peter had been hasty and overconfident in provoking this war, but he was counting on the support of the Orthodox Slavs under Turkish rule and also on the cooperation of the Hospodars of Wallachia and Moldavia with whom he had made secret alliances. But the Orthodox Slavs did not rise in force to support the Russian advance, and the Hospodars gave no effective aid. In July, the Russian army repelled a Turkish attack at the Pruth River. But Peter now was in a desperate position with 38,246 troops, far from supplies and surrounded by a Turkish army of 119,665 men, supported by 70,000 Tatars from the Crimea. Fortunately, the Turkish official in command wanted no additional casualties and was ready to negotiate. In the peace treaty signed on July 12, 1711, Peter had to surrender Azov and make other concessions. Because he failed to recognize the desperate position of the tsar, the Turkish official had demanded far less than Peter was prepared to concede. Peter was happy to save his army and to escape capture. But the campaign on the Pruth was a severe humiliation, especially after his great triumph over the Swedes.

Poltava had not, however, meant the end of the Northern War. Peter wanted to force the Swedes to an early peace, but peace would elude him for another ten years. If he had concentrated all his forces on crushing Sweden, he would probably have gained peace earlier. Because he was eager to have Russia play a role in Western affairs, he allowed himself to become involved in complex and time-consuming diplomatic situations.

Peter effectively used the navy that he had carefully built up since the capture of Ingria and the foundation of St. Petersburg. In April 1713, a Russian galley fleet of ninety-three galleys, sixty brigantines, and fifty large boats, carrying altogether 16,050 troops, sailed from St. Petersburg and, with the support of an army sent by land, conquered Finland in the following year. A naval victory off Cape Hango in the same year was a source of tremendous pride for Peter who considered this victory equal in importance to Poltava. In that battle, the Russian fleet had twenty ships of the line and some 200 galleys. Having outmaneuvered the veteran Swedish fleet, the Russians pursued and destroyed it. In less than ten years, Peter had created a navy that had outsailed and defeated the Swedish navy that had dominated the Baltic Sea for many decades.

The sudden emergence of Russia as the new northern power disturbed the rest of Europe. Holland and England were concerned that Peter might monopolize their trade with Russia. But other factors now complicated the rivalries in the Baltic. The War of the Spanish Succession had ended, and France had become the ally of England and Holland. In 1714, Queen Anne died and the Elector of Hanover ascended the English throne as George I. Because the new king was eager to expel the Swedes from northern Germany, Peter thought that George I would be anxious to be his ally. But George I was equally nervous about the growing Russian ascendancy in the North and did not want to be a part of the final destruction of Swedish power.

Further complications arose from Peter’s attempts to establish dynastic alliances with ruling families in the West. Anna, the daughter of his half-brother, Ivan, who until his death in 1696 had been co-tsar, married Frederick Wilhelm, Duke of Courland, in 1710. In the following year, Tsarevich Alexei married Princess Charlotte of Wolfenbuttel, but she died shortly afterward. Catherine, the other surviving daughter of Tsar Ivan, married Charles Leopold, Duke of Mecklenburg in 1716. Finally, in 1724, Charles Frederick, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, who was a nephew of Charles XII and was in line for the succession to the throne, became engaged to Anna, one of Peter’s elder daughters, and they married in May 1725.

The general effect of these dynastic marriages did not earn goodwill and strengthen Russian influence in the North, as Peter hoped. Instead, the marriages aroused suspicions and antagonism among the other countries of Europe. In fact, Peter’s diplomatic offensive probably delayed the ending of the Northern War for several years, and the dynastic marriages added sordid chapters to the history of the dynasty and of Russia.

Peter’s greatest objective at this time, however, was to secure an alliance with France, sealed by a dynastic marriage of his son, Tsarevich Alexei, with the daughter of the Duke of Orleans or between his daughter, Elizabeth, and the boy-King, Louis XV. In 1717 he visited France to promote this proposal. The negotiations were lengthy, involved, and unsuccessful. But Peter made a strong impression in Paris. The gentleman of the court, attending upon him, wrote that “He is dark and there is a fierceness in his expression. He appears to have a lively mind and a certain grandeur in his movements, but little restraint.” Marshal Villeroi wrote to Madame de Maintenon that “This Prince, said to be barbarous, is not so at all; he has displayed to us sentiments of grandeur, of generosity, and of politeness that we by no means expected.” But several considered that savagery and barbarism were mingled with the noble qualities.

During his six weeks in Paris, Peter inspected royal buildings, bridges, glass factories, and the Mint. He made several visits to the Gobelin tapestry workshops and hired workmen to establish similar workshops in Russia. Since his visit to London nineteen years earlier, his interests had expanded. He had achieved his ambition of creating a navy, and now he was devoting his attention on the development of his new city. He made repeated visits to Versailles, Fontainebleau, and St. Cloud, studying the architecture and decoration of the palaces, and the planning of the gardens. His visit to Paris and these palaces would soon bear fruit in St. Petersburg.

Recognizing that he wasn’t making much progress in trying to create an anti-Swedish alliance and frustrated by his involvement in complicated diplomacy, Peter was ready to adopt other methods. Baron Goertz, the Holstein minister, introduced a new plan that involved direct negotiation with Sweden; this method appealed to Peter. Goertz wanted to restore Sweden to its former position as a powerful nation, allied with Russia. Sweden would give to Russia all the territories that Peter had conquered and with his cooperation would receive compensation at the expense of Denmark and the German states. Goertz presented the scheme to Charles XII when he returned to Sweden from Turkey. This impressed Charles, and he immediately made Goertz his minister. But he did not fully understand the policy and certainly did not plan to permanently give up the territories conquered by the Russians. Goertz hoped that with time Charles would accept the terms. He was also assuming that the Duke of Holstein would ascend the Swedish throne on the death of Charles XII and counted on the Duke’s marriage with the tsar’s daughter to cement the Russo-Swedish alliance.

Negotiations between Russian and Swedish ministers at a congress at Lafo, one of the Aland Islands, raised Peter’s hopes in 1718, but the negotiations reached a deadlock and broke down. In December 1718, however, Charles XII died while conducting the siege of the Norwegian fortress of Frederickshald. He had made no provision for succession. The Swedes, who hated Goertz and the Holstein party, elected Charles’s sister, Ulrica Eleanora, to the throne. England, Denmark, Prussia, and Saxony hurried to sign treaties with the new Swedish government as a precaution against Russia’s expanding power. George I sent an English squadron into the Baltic to cooperate with the Swedish fleet in an attempt to force Russia to accept England’s mediation.

Peter responded by breaking off diplomatic relations with England and mounting new attacks on Sweden. In July 1719, a Russian fleet landed Russian and Cossack troops on the Swedish coast and caused widespread devastation. Another Russian army landed near Stockholm and ravaged the surrounding districts. Further destructive raids took place in 1720 and 1721. Finally, in April 1721, through the intercession of Campredon, the French ambassador in St. Petersburg, who had previously been ambassador in Stockholm, Russians and Swedes resumed negotiations at Nystadt.

Peter was on his way to inspect the disputed frontier near Vyborg when couriers from Nystadt overtook him. They reported that on August 30 his envoys had signed the peace treaty with Sweden on his terms. The Swedes had formally permanently given up the Baltic states of Livonia, Esthonia, Ingria, part of Karelia, and the Vyborg district, all of which he had conquered. In return, the tsar had agreed to return Finland to Sweden, to pay compensation for Livonia, and to grant the Swedes certain duty free rights in Riga, Reval, and Arensburg.

The Treaty of Nystadt had sealed his great victory. The Northern War had been a long cruel struggle, but finally he had gained his objectives. Russia now had a secure foothold on the Baltic and ports from which its ships could sail. He hurried back to St. Petersburg and sailed into the Neva with trumpets sounding, drums beating, and cannons firing. The news flashed through the city and the people hurried to the Troitskaya wharf to welcome their tsar. He attended a thanksgiving service in the Church of the Holy Trinity and then spoke to the large crowd on the square.

Peter quickly made arrangements to celebrate the peace treaty. He ordered that there should be proclamations throughout the tsardom and that they have three celebrations. The first celebration would occur on receiving the news, the second would be on October 22, and the third would be on January 28, 1722.

At a joint meeting of the Senate and the Holy Synod as the date of the second celebration approached, the representatives unanimously decided to petition the tsar on behalf of the nation to take the title of emperor and the people would know him as Peter the Great. Peter showed reluctance when Menshikov gave him the petition. On October 22, Peter with his family, his court, and all officers and ministers attended a victory service in the Church of the Holy Trinity in St. Petersburg. An official read the treaty and its ratification, and Prokopovich, the Archbishop of Pskov, praised the tsar with an oration. Then the whole Senate came before him and the Great Chancellor, Count Golovkin, spoke of his heroic endeavors: “Through which alone and by your tireless labors and leadership, we, your loyal subjects, have stepped from the darkness of ignorance onto the theater of fame of the whole world and, so to speak, have moved from nonexistence to existence, and have joined in the society of political peoples - for that and for winning a peace so renowned and so rewarding, how can we render our proper gratitude? And so that we may not be with shame before the whole world, we take it upon ourselves in the name of the All-Russian nation and of all ranks of the subjects of Your Majesty, humbly to pray you to be gracious to us and to agree, as a small mark of our acknowledgment of the blessings that you have brought to us and to the whole nation, to take the title - Father of the Fatherland, Peter the Great, Emperor of All Russia!”

Through St. Petersburg and through Russia, the people who had obeyed their tsar unwillingly, but had endured their hardships and had learned and served, now united in celebrating the fruits of their labors and in paying tribute to the Father of their Fatherland, Emperor of All Russia, Peter the Great.

On his return in August 1698 from his first visit to the West, Peter had embarked on a policy of change and reform. His series of decrees confused his people and touched every aspect of Russian life. Their tsar was turning their lives upside down. He had started with his assault on their beards and on Muscovite costume, both powerful symbols of the traditional way of life. But a minor reform that heralded the new era was his reform of the calendar. With the Russian calendar calculated from the creation of the world, the year began on September 1. Peter now adopted the Julian calendar and ordered everyone to celebrate the start of the new era on January 1, 1700.

During the rest of his reign, Peter launched reforms and new projects one after the other, sometimes modifying them later, and sometimes deciding to cancel them. It was a wasteful method, but he had few ministers on whom he could rely and had to supervise and direct everything himself. In the years after Poltava, he was able to legislate more carefully. He still worked under pressure, but the urgent threat of war no longer complicated his life. He was a practical man who worked by trial and error. By the end of his reign, however, the new institutions of military, civil, and ecclesiastical administration were more coherent.

During the first stages of the Northern War, Peter had concentrated his attention on the immediate needs of his armies and, above all, on finance. The war made unprecedented demands on the nation’s resources. He had launched his war on Sweden with an army of 40,000 troops. During the next ten years, he called up 300,000 men and maintained the military strength at 100,000 men. By the end of his reign, the regular army exceeded 200,000 men in addition to 100,000 Cossacks and a large force of Kalmyks, Bashkirs, and other native troops. Military expenditure increased from an estimated 2.3 million in 1701 to 5.2 million rubles in 1724; in the same period, the national revenue increased from 3 million to 8.5 million rubles.

Peter resorted to many ways to raise the finances so urgently needed for the war. He debased the coinage by reducing its silver content, but this led inevitably to depreciation of the currency. He tried various methods of raising new taxes. Alexei Kurbatov, a serf, wrote a paper, proposing a new stamp duty, which Peter noticed. He imposed the tax, and it proved to be profitable. Kurbatov became a leading pribylshchik, the name given to the new officials whose task was to devise sources of revenue; later he received another promotion. Meanwhile taxes multiplied. Some of the taxed items included hats, boots, hides, harnesses, beehives, watermelons, and cucumbers. At the same time, the number of state trading monopolies expanded greatly.

Peter ordered a review of the system of direct taxation in 1710. The household was the unit on which they levied the main direct tax, based on the census of 1678. After long consideration, he decided that a poll tax should take the place of the tax on households; levied on the basis of a new census, the poll tax produced more satisfactory results.

While raising new taxes, Peter was also tireless in his efforts to build up Russia’s economic strength. He encouraged prospecting for minerals and utilizing mineral resources. He established heavy industry in Russia. He had begun developing iron foundries early in his reign, primarily to equip his army. Twenty or so small foundries were working at the time of his accession. He expanded several of them, but also established fifty-two new foundries, including thirteen large and well-equipped facilities that opened up the important industrial region of the Urals.

He first directed his efforts in light industry exclusively to supply his army and navy. He established textile mills to produce cloth for uniforms, and then factories to produce sailcloth and ropes, and he organized the lumber industry. As the pressures of war relaxed, he began encouraging the manufacturing of other items. Workers set up glass and china works in St. Petersburg in 1715, followed by new factories to produce silk and velvet textiles, stockings, and other luxury goods.

Delays and setbacks affected the founding of most of these new industries, arising from lack of workmen, from bad management, and generally from inexperience. His achievements were nevertheless remarkable. When Peter died, there were 233 new industrial undertakings in production, and Russia was manufacturing a wide range of goods that the nation had formerly imported. Peter had also paid close attention to developing trade since his first visit to Archangel in 1693. Gradually he had made St. Petersburg the center of Russia’s trade with the West. Russian and foreign merchants resisted, but Peter overcame their resistance and St. Petersburg replaced Archangel. Moreover, as a result of his numerous measures encouraging and protecting Russian merchants and developing natural resources, Russia’s foreign trade quadrupled in value during his reign.

The old Muscovite administration suffered from too much centralization, slowness, corruption, and incompetence. Peter was only partially successful in his efforts to eliminate these faults. Corruption and extortion had long been a part of Muscovite life. Though he imposed extremely severe punishments, he could not eliminate corruption and extortion. But with his numerous reforms, he did transform the administration, and the basic system that he instituted survived until 1917.

The administrative reform began in 1707 with the division of the country into eight provinces. They created the new provinces to provide greater efficiency in financing the army. But the country was left virtually without a central government. In February 1711, Peter took the first step toward filling this gap. As he prepared to leave for the Pruth campaign, he established the Senate to exercise power in his absence. But the new institution failed to function as he had hoped because the Senators were inexperienced and constantly quarreled either among themselves or with the powerful provincial governors. He appointed an “Inspector-General or Supervisor of Ukazi” and later even detailed guard officers to ensure that Senators carried out their duties and behaved themselves. He lectured them on the need to dispatch business promptly and with dignity. He punished those who misbehaved and heavily fined five Senators in 1719. Gradually, however, the Senate played a more important role in coordinating the administration of the country and in acting as the central office, ensuring control over the collection and allocation of finance. The appointment of Menshikov, Golovkin, Apraksin, and other leading men of the time further strengthened the Senate. In 1722, Peter created the office of Procurator-General; that individual was responsible only to the sovereign. Gradually, the Senate began to function more effectively.

Peter next tried to replace the old prikazi who were not competent to deal with the mass of new public business and could not relieve the Senate of its financial burden. Most countries of Northern Europe at this time made use of the collegial system that the Board of Admiralty represented in England. The system appealed to Peter, especially because the collegial board would reduce the dangers of corruption and of the domination of one man, and because group decisions would probably be sounder than the arbitrary judgments of a single minister. He studied reports on the system for five years and hired experienced administrators from abroad to guide and train his people. He established nine colleges in 1717. Disputes between foreigners and Russians and among the Russians themselves nearly brought state business to a standstill in certain colleges. In July 1721, he decided to place the college under the control of the Senate. Gradually, the colleges began to make significant contributions to the administration of the country.

Peter rewarded and promoted men using service and ability as his criteria; he also applied these criteria throughout the army, the navy, and the civil departments. In January 1722, he introduced the Table of Ranks, which transformed the social and service conditions of the landowning class as a whole. The table separated the military from the civil branch of service and classified all officers and officials in fourteen parallel grades. Everyone had to start at the lowest grade and earn promotion. All persons, whether Russian or foreign, could acquire the titles and privileges of nobility by reaching a certain grade in the hierarchy of rank. The table did not abolish titles of nobility, but they became distinctions, conferring no rights or privileges; even at court, rank gained by service took precedence over other titles. Inevitably, the old landowning nobility complained about the newcomers of lower social status who had precedence and took command over them. But Peter’s goal was to attract the newcomers and to broaden the composition of the landowning class in the interests of the nation. He was fairly successful in doing this. His Table of Ranks remained in force until 1917, although in later years it developed the faults of an entrenched bureaucracy.

From the time when he had made his first tour of the West and had sent the first groups of young Russians to study abroad, Peter had been concerned about the education of his people. He believed that education was essential not only to enable them to serve efficiently but also to raise Russian society to Western standards. Some of the young Russians sent abroad failed through laziness or debauchery to study properly, but most returned with the certificate that he required as evidence that they had completed their apprenticeship. The foreign officers and experts, engaged in increasing numbers to serve in Russia, had as their main duty “to teach the Russian people without reserve and diligently.” In general, they honored their terms of service. The Russians were quick to learn in every field, and Peter could soon rely on Russian ships, military weapons, and a great variety of manufactured goods. But laziness and reluctance to learn were widespread, and his attempts to introduce elementary education met with passive resistance and evasion.

Henry Farquharson had founded the first Russian secular school, the School of Mathematics and Navigation, in Moscow in 1701. With its name changed to the Naval Academy, it moved later to St. Petersburg. Farquharson’s school had flourished, but other schools, established by Peter in Moscow and St. Petersburg, had attracted few pupils. He found it was necessary to make education compulsory. In 1716, he decreed that children of landowners must attend one of three special schools in St. Petersburg - the Naval Academy, the Engineering Academy, or the Artillery Academy - and this system proved successful in imposing a degree of education on the landowning class as a whole.

Peter’s innovations in education and in other fields had all tended to diminish the authority and influence of the Church. Since early in his reign, he had felt that the Church and Orthodoxy were holding back advancements in Russian life. He had major reforms in mind, but he approached them carefully. On the death of Patriarch Adrian in 1700, he did not appoint a successor, mainly because of the danger that a strong patriarch would rally opposition to his reforms. He had made Stefan Yavorsky, an educated monk from the Ukraine, the Metropolitan of Ryazan and then had appointed him to the new office of “Exarch of the most holy patriarchal throne, guardian and administrator,” with the special task of cleansing the church of various abuses. Yavorsky, however, became increasingly critical of Peter and his policies. After Poltava, Peter turned to Feofan Prokopovich, another educated clergyman, who enthusiastically supported his ideas. Early in 1721, he issued the Spiritual Regulation, composed by Prokopovich and revised by Peter. This regulation, applying the collegial system to the Church, established the Holy Governing Synod, which was responsible instead of the patriarchate for the spiritual and temporal affairs of the Church. The special reform tasks of the Holy Synod were to combat superstition, spread knowledge of the Gospel, and establish schools. His program of reforms brought a revolution in the Orthodox Church, but it was a revolution of customs and institutions, not of doctrine. Quickly absorbed into the life of the Church and the nation, most of his reforms endured.

Peter’s interests and activities covered a wide range of topics. He reformed the Cyrillic alphabet, commissioned books and translations of foreign works, and encouraged the printing of books of all kinds in Russia. He had collected books during most of his reign and especially during his visits to the West. His personal library covered a wide variety of subjects, including history, science, medicine, law, religion, and military and naval affairs. This library would provide the foundation of the library of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The German philosopher, Leibnitz, had proposed the idea of such an academy to Peter. Peter’s visits to the French Academy in 1717 further stimulated his interest. He completed the charter and arrangements for the Academy in January 1724. After Peter’s death, his widow Catherine I established and inaugurated the academy.

Other projects that he promoted were the training of doctors, the building of hospitals, the care of illegitimate and unwanted children, the organization of fire-fighting services, and the planting and maintenance of gardens. In the last years of his reign, he was working on plans to instruct his people on the principles of good citizenship and the creation of an ordered society, based on law and honest service. But while he did not live long enough to launch this program of instruction, he made considerable changes in Russian social life. To accustom his people to mixing as in Western countries, he decreed in November 1718 that they should hold receptions at regular intervals. He drew up lists of hosts and made provision for dancing, card-playing, and polite conversation. Although they were stiff and awkward at first, these receptions quickly became part of the life of the city. But their main importance was that these events freed women from the gloom and idleness of the Muscovite terem because Peter insisted that women must play a full part in these occasions.

Like his predecessors, Peter was anxious about the succession to the throne, but his problem was more tragic in its outcome. Tsarevich Alexei, his son by his marriage with Evdokiya Lopukhina, had grown to manhood as a weak person with the outlook of an old Muscovite. All the embittered conservatives who hated the new Russia supported him. It became clear to Peter that if his eldest son ascended the throne, he would try to undo everything his father had accomplished during his reign.

During the first eighteen years of his life, Alexei saw little of his father because Peter was busy with the Northern War and the needs of his armies. But his father did not completely forget him. His father gave instructions that his son should witness the storming of Nyenskantz and Narva. Peter later sent him to Smolensk to direct the preparation of army supplies and the mobilization of recruits. He wanted this experience to supplement his son’s formal education and to equip him for the responsibilities of the throne. At this stage, Alexei evidently admired his father and took pride in the new army and its victories over ancient enemies. He tried anxiously to please him but felt inadequate. He began to dread meeting his father and drank heavily to escape his fear and weakness.

Peter treated his son harshly during these formative years. Driven by his own sense of service, he sought to harden the boy to the tasks ahead. Noting Alexei’s submissiveness and timidity, Peter handled him with Spartan firmness, withholding the warmth and kindness that he might have shown; when later he tried to show him sympathy and understanding, it was too late. Peter overwhelmed his son without realizing it. He expected too much of a boy who broke under the weight of his demands and example, and who in the end became a pitiful alcoholic.

Toward the end of the summer of 1709, he sent Alexei abroad to study. Alexei went to Dresden and then to Karlsbad. It was at this time that he first met Princess Charlotte of Wolfenbuttel who would become his wife. She was then a charming sixteen-year-old girl. She thought that Alexei was clever and attractive; although she impressed him, he did not want to marry a foreigner and a Protestant. Because he was afraid to express any opposition to his father’s wishes, he married Charlotte on October 14, 1711. She accompanied him to Thorn where he was supposed to arrange army supplies and river transport. He then had to join the army for the campaign in Pomerania. She waited alone in Elbing and was nearly destitute because no one had thought to provide her with money. Menshikov found her there, gave her money, and reported the situation to Peter who ordered her to go to St. Petersburg.

Charlotte was homesick and miserable after these months of loneliness, and the prospect of traveling alone to Russia terrified her. Instead of obeying the tsar’s orders, she fled to her old home in Braunschweig. Peter was angry when he learned of her flight and wrote expressing his disapproval, “for we would never have thwarted your wish to see your family, if only you had informed us beforehand.” In February 1713, he went to see her and readily forgave her. She then made the journey to St. Petersburg and settled with Alexei in the small palace built for them on the bank of the Neva. But she was very unhappy there. Alexei ignored her except when he was drunk and then he abused her. When she was eight months pregnant, he suddenly departed for Karlsbad in June 1714. She gave birth to a daughter, named Natalya. When Alexei finally returned to St. Petersburg, he paid little attention to her or their child. Soon she learned that he was living with a peasant girl, named Efrosinia. By this time, Charlotte was pregnant again and on October 12, 1715, gave birth to a son, christened Peter. She had joked with the tsar about fulfilling his wish for a son and now she took a sad pride in having pleased him. Four days later she became very ill. She didn’t want her death to be attributed to grief and unhappiness, and she repeatedly expressed her gratitude to the tsar for being so kind to her. Although he was also ill, Peter still visited her and tenderly said goodbye to her. During Charlotte’s last hours, Alexei was at her bedside and so distressed from grief and remorse that he fainted three times. At midnight on October 22, 1715, Charlotte died; she was just twenty-one years old.

Returning from her funeral in the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, Alexei received a letter that his father had written two weeks earlier while in Schlusselburg. “A Declaration to my Son” was its heading and it gave Alexei an ultimatum. Opening with a reference to the Swedes whom the Russians had learned to defeat, the letter continued:

“But, when considering this joy granted by God to our country, I think on the line of succession, a bitterness almost equal to my joy consumes me, seeing you unfit for the handling of state affairs (and God is not to blame, for he did not deprive you of intelligence, nor did he take away from you bodily strength; for, although not very strong by nature, still you are not weak); worst of all, you wish to hear nothing of military matters, through which we have come from darkness into light, and while before we were not known in the world, now we are respected. I do not teach that you should be eager to fight without cause, but to love this subject and in every way possible to further and learn it, because this is one of the two factors essential in governing, namely, order and defense . . . And having no desire, you do not learn anything of military matters and you know nothing of them . . . You give weakness of health as your excuse for being unable to endure military hardships. But that is not the reason! For I do not desire labors, but willingness, which no illness can prevent . . .

Considering with grief and seeing that in no way can I incline you to good work, I have written this last testament to you, deciding to wait yet a little to see whether without hypocrisy you will change. If not, then know that I will cut you off wholly from the succession like a gangrenous growth, and do not imagine that because you are my only son I write this merely to frighten; in truth by the will of God I will do it, for as I have not spared and do not spare myself for my country and my people, how should I spare you who are useless? Better a worthy stranger than an unworthy son!”

The words in the letter terrified Alexei. He consulted with his friends, looking for a way out of his predicament. On October 31, he replied in a letter of deceitful humility, asking to be allowed to renounce the succession to the throne. Peter was not satisfied because he knew that Alexei was not being truthful.

On January 19, 1716, Peter sent him “a further last warning,” reprimanding him for ingratitude and opposition.

“Everyone knows that you hate the works which I have carried out for the people of my nation, without sparing myself, and that finally after my death you will destroy them. And so, to remain as you desire, neither fish nor flesh, is impossible; thus, either change your nature and without hypocrisy be worthy to be my successor, or become a monk, for without this my soul cannot be easy, and especially since now my health is poor. And so, on receiving this, reply promptly by letter or in person, giving your decision. And if you do not do this I will treat you as a criminal.”

Alexei replied promptly with the statement “I desire the monastic state and ask your kind permission thereto,” and signed himself “Your slave and unworthy son, Alexei.” Again Peter was uneasy, suspecting that Alexei would set aside the monastic vows after his father’s death. Moreover, he was still nursing the hope that his only son might mend his ways. Before departing for Copenhagen and Paris, he called on Alexei and found him in bed, pretending to be ill. He spoke kindly to him. Commenting on Alexei’s decision to become a monk, he said, “That’s not easy for a young man. Think again without haste, then write to me what you want to do . . . I’ll wait another six months.”

Alexei did not reply and spent his time drinking. A letter from Peter demanding a decision reduced him to a state of panic. Often he had thought of fleeing abroad, but had never found the courage for such a drastic action. Now he decided to make this move.

On September 26, 1716, Alexei set out from St. Petersburg accompanied by his mistress, Efrosinia, her brother, and three servants. A friend had promised to find him somewhere to hide. Near Libau he met his aunt, Tsarevna Maria Alexeevna. He told her that he was traveling to join his father, and she gave him her blessing. Alexei then began weeping and muttered that he wished that he had somewhere to hide. But his aunt offered no comfort. “Where could you go from your father; he would find you no matter where,” she answered. He did not tell her of his flight.

From Libau, carefully covering his tracks, Alexei traveled to Vienna, where he threw himself upon the mercy of the emperor, his brother-in-law. He was by this time hysterical. When questioned about his relations with his father, he tried to show his innocence, but he was excited and confused, maintaining at one moment that his father was ruthless and bloodthirsty, and the next that he was good at heart and just. Finally, the emperor told him that he would protect him and intercede with his father, but that Alexei needed to hide in the mountain fortress of Ehrenberg in the Tyrol.

Two months passed before Peter, then in Copenhagen, realized that his son had fled and was in some secret hiding place. He then sent trusted guard officers to search through Europe. He was sure, however, that they would find Alexei in Austria under the emperor’s protection. He was distressed by this final breakdown in his relationship with his only son and also felt that it was a disgrace to Russia and to himself as tsar, especially at this time when he and the emperor were not on good terms.

Within three months, one of Peter’s officers had located Alexei’s hiding place in the Tyrol. Peter sent an envoy to Vienna where he told the emperor that the tsar knew where Alexei was hiding and asked him to surrender him to his father. The emperor found himself in an acutely difficult position. He did not want to withdraw his protection because Alexei had convinced him that this would mean sentencing him to death. At the same time, he did not want to interfere between father and son, and was afraid of the tsar and his armies. He decided to move Alexei to a new hiding place in Naples. Alexei set out with an imperial secretary and one servant who was Efrosinia, dressed as a page. In spite of the secrecy surrounding their movements, however, Peter’s officers shadowed them all the way.

Peter was then in Paris, continuing to worry about his son. Finally he sent Count Tolstoy to Vienna to ask the emperor again to surrender Alexei. Tolstoy carried out his instructions and warned the emperor that the tsar was ready to take drastic steps if his son did not return to him. The imperial government knew what this meant, because many Russian troops were in Poland and along the Silesian frontier. Tolstoy also threatened that, if Alexei did not return, the tsar would place a curse upon his son, Peter. This threat to her grandson horrified the Duchess of Wolfenbuttel, the mother of the emperor and mother-in-law of Alexei. The emperor finally acknowledged that Alexei was under his protection and promised to persuade him to return voluntarily to Russia. Tolstoy accompanied the emperor’s messenger to Naples, where face to face with Alexei, he gave him a letter from his father. The letter read:

“My son, it is known to all what disobedience and contempt you have shown to my wishes and that neither words nor punishment have made you obey my instructions, finally deceiving me and invoking God at your parting from me. Then what did you do? You ran off and like a traitor placed yourself under foreign protection. This has been unheard of not only among our children but even among our true subjects! By this act what shame and grief you have inflicted on your father and what disgrace on your country! And so I am sending to you now for the last time a message which Tolstoy and Rumyantsev will report to you. If you will obey me, then I assure you and promise before God and his judgment that you will suffer no punishment; but I will show you my best love, if you obey and return. But if you refuse, then as your father by the power given me by God I will curse you through eternity, and as your Sovereign I will declare you a traitor, and I will neglect no means to bring you to justice as a traitor and vilifier of your father, in which God will aid me in my right. Remember that I have done nothing to you by force, and if you had so desired all would have been now as you wanted. What you wish, do!”

Alexei was hysterical and refused to return. But Tolstoy by threats and promises left him no alternative. He threatened to take Efrosinia away from him and that Peter would himself come to Naples to get him. Finally, Alexei agreed and arrived in Moscow at the end of January 1718.

On February 3, guards brought Alexei as a prisoner to the audience chamber of the Kremlin Palace. In the presence of his father, all ministers, nobles, and the Church hierarchy, he made a solemn renunciation of the succession and swore to recognize as heir to the throne the new tsarevich, Peter Petrovich, born to Catherine on October 29, 1715. The whole assembly then proceeded to the Uspensky Cathedral where he swore the oath on the holy relics.

Peter was still not satisfied and suspected some conspiracy. Alexei had given the names of his closest associates. After interrogation, Peter ordered several of them to be executed. Meanwhile Alexei had returned with his father to St. Petersburg to live in freedom in a house adjoining Catherine’s palace. He waited impatiently for the return of Efrosinia, who was traveling at leisure because she was pregnant. She arrived in St. Petersburg in mid-April. Historians presume that she gave birth to her baby in the Petropavlovsky Fortress.

Four weeks later, when Peter was at Peterhof, he requested that she be brought to him from the fortress so that he could question her. She spoke readily and openly on all that Alexei had said to her and to others and, whether moved by hatred, contempt, or mere indifference, she hid nothing from the tsar.

She said that Alexei had written many times to the emperor, condemning the tsar and his policies. He was happy when he learned about reports of a revolt in the army and over the illness of the tsarevich, Peter Petrovich. He had repeatedly told her how he hoped for his father’s death. On ascending the throne, he would live in Moscow, leaving St. Petersburg deserted. He would abandon the navy, leaving the ships to rot. Efrosinia’s evidence contained countless instances of his disloyalty and treason. Confronted by his mistress, Alexei had to confess. They arrested him and took him to the Petropavlovsky Fortress to await trial.

Peter was determined that he would not conduct the trial of his son. He ordered senators, ministers, and senior officers to form a court and to judge Alexei honestly without fearing him, especially if they considered that his crimes merited only lenient punishment. This civil court consisted of 127 of the leading men of the day. The first examination took place on June 19, 1718, when they raised Alexei on the scaffold and gave him twenty-five strokes of the knout. Three days later, Peter sent Tolstoy to question Alexei further about certain evidence. The questions Tolstoy was to ask suggested that Peter was anxious to understand the reasons for the failure in his relationship with his son. But Alexei’s answers did not help to clarify the basic reasons for his failures or his fear of his father.

On June 24, Alexei suffered his second examination and received fifteen strokes of the knout. His evidence in both examinations confirmed the charges of treason laid against him. The full court assembled and unanimously passed sentence of death. But Alexei, who had suffered forty lashes of the knout in five days, was already failing. On June 26, in spite of the sentence of death, they questioned him again under torture and Peter was present. Alexei died later that day. He received the state funeral of a tsarevich, and they buried his body in the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul.

Although committed in the West during most of his reign, Peter also wanted to expand Russian interests in the countries to the East and South. He was eager to develop trade with China, Central Asia, Persia, and India. But his attempt to initiate commercial relations with China by sending an embassy, led by Guards Captain Lev Izmailov, to the emperor in 1719 achieved nothing. The Chinese were not interested in trade with Russia. Peter nevertheless pressed ahead with exploration of the Pacific coast to the north of China. He had already annexed Kamchatka and the Kurile Islands. In January 1719, he sent an expedition by land to chart the shores of the Sea of Okhotsk and to discover whether Asia and North America were joined by land. When the expedition returned without having solved this problem, he sent Captain Bering on the voyage that many years later resulted in the discovery of the Bering Strait. But Peter died without learning the solution to this mystery that had intrigued him for so long.

He was also interested in trade with Persia and India. His first attempts to penetrate into Central Asia and Persia met with setbacks. The Khan of Khiva annihilated a Russian expeditionary force of 3,500 troops, commanded by Bekovich Cherkassky, in 1717. Meanwhile, seeking closer relations with Persia, Peter had appointed Artemy Volynsky, a cavalry officer, as his ambassador in Isfahan. Volynsky’s instructions were to gather intelligence about the strength of the Persian army and the route to India. He was also to try to persuade the shah that the tsar, rather than the Sultan of Turkey, was his natural ally and that he should take advantage of Russian waterways to rout Persian trade through St. Petersburg. Because the Persians had knowledge of Russian power and had heard about the tsar’s expeditions into Central Asia, they believed that Russian forces were massing to attack them. The shah was anxious to have Volynsky leave before he could report fully on the weakness of his regime.

Peter then named Volynsky to serve as governor of Astrakhan. From there, he continued to urge Peter to launch a campaign against Persia, which was then very weak. However, Peter was cautious because he had not forgotten how close to disaster his impetuous campaign on the Pruth had brought him in 1711. But an incident took place in September 1721 that made him take action. Led by Daud Bek, the Lesghian mountaineers invaded the Persian provinces, and a small band of warriors captured the important town of Shemaha, the center of Russian trade with Persia. The Lesghian raid caused heavy damage to Russian merchants, but it also demonstrated how weak the Persian defenses were.

Volynsky urged Peter to send troops immediately to protect Russian interests. Further reports that Persia was on the point of collapse made Peter fear that the Turks might stop him by occupying the Persian provinces adjoining the Caspian Sea.

Peter sent troops ahead to Astrakhan. Accompanied by Catherine, he set out on May 13, 1722, to command his army. He had trouble with some of the wild mountain tribesmen and, although all finally swore loyalty, he had to take special precautions against surprise attacks. He took Derbent without opposition, but he was concerned about the heat and lack of provisions. Many of his troops fell ill from the heat and from eating melons and fruits that were new to them. He had intended to march as far south as the Kura River, which flowed into the Caspian south of Baku, and to establish a stronghold there that would dominate the caravan trade routes to India and Persia from the Caucasus. Heat, illness, and the hostility of the Daghestan mountaineers made him give up these plans. He ordered his army to retreat to Astrakhan, where they arrived early in October. But he continued his campaign, sending strong detachments southward that in 1723 captured Resht and Baku.

Threatened now by the Afghans, the Persians were desperate for Russian help, and the shah sent an envoy to St. Petersburg to negotiate. They signed a treaty on September 23 that gave Russia the provinces on the southern and southwestern shores of the Caspian in return for helping to drive the Afghans from Persia and thus keep the shah on his throne. Peter was pleased with this result. But before long, the threat of war with Turkey again plagued him. The Lesghian mountaineers turned to the sultan for protection, while the Armenian and Georgians appealed to the tsar for support against the Turks. Meanwhile, the English ambassador in Constantinople was trying to persuade the Turks to declare war on Russia. This pressure had some result in that the Turks demanded the withdrawal of the Russians from the Caspian provinces and the Caucasus. Peter refused to be intimidated and in April 1723 ordered preparations for war against Turkey. But neither side wanted war, and they welcomed the mediation of the French ambassador. By the Treaty of Constantinople, signed on June 12, Russia and Turkey agreed on the limitations of their respective possessions in the region.

During the Persian campaign, Peter became ill several times and had to spend a month quietly in Astrakhan before returning to St. Petersburg at the end of the campaign. He had always enjoyed robust health, but now suffered from strangury (a painful blockage of his bladder) and kidney stones. These were problems that had troubled him for a number of years. Now they became chronic and would soon contribute to his death.

Peter was over fifty years old but still had great capacity for work. John Bell, a Scot who accompanied him on the Persian campaign, noted that “he could despatch more affairs in a morning than a house full of Senators could do in a month.” His daily routine was rigorous. He rose at 4 a.m., or earlier, in St. Petersburg, going at once to his cabinet where Makarov, a humble clerk in Volodga whose ability Peter had recognized and who had become his chief secretary, was awaiting him. He worked through the morning in his cabinet and then went to the Senate or to one of the colleges to supervise and give instructions. He usually inspected the shipyards or new buildings in the city after dinner. He worked even longer hours when he had a task of special importance. In November 1721, for instance, when revising the draft of the naval code, he worked on it for fourteen hours a day until he completed it. He always carried a notebook in which he jotted down any idea or suggestion that seemed useful. “Dispatch to Siberia for information in Kamchatka” and “A short history of present day and ancient affairs for the instruction of young people after the alphabet” were two notes, but many were so cryptic that only Peter could understand them.

During these years, the relationship between Peter and Catherine matured and deepened. He had married her privately in November 1707, and they were together as much as his campaigns and frequent journeys permitted. They disliked the separations that disrupted their lives. “Praise God, all is merry here,” he wrote to her from Reval in 1719, “but when I come to a country house and you are not there I feel so sad.” In another letter, he wrote: “But when you state that it is miserable walking alone, although the garden is pleasant, I believe you, for it’s the same for me: only pray God that this is the last summer we’ll spend apart and that we may be always together in future.”

Catherine had been with him in the campaign on the Pruth and again during the Persian expedition. On both occasions, he was grateful for her devoted companionship despite discomforts and dangers. He had acknowledged his indebtedness to her after the Pruth campaign by publicly celebrating their marriage on February 19, 1712. Two years later, he instituted a new decoration, the Order of St. Catherine, commemorating her conduct when she had behaved “not as a woman, but as a man.” After the Persian campaign, he resolved to proclaim her services to the nation.

On November 15, 1723, Peter declared in a decree that “Our best beloved spouse, consort, and Empress, Catherine has been a great support to us and not only in this, but also in many military operations, putting aside womanly weakness, of her own free will she has been present with us and has helped in every way possible . . . and for these labors of our Spouse we have decided that by virtue of the supreme power given us by God she shall be crowned which, God willing, is to take place formally in Moscow in the present winter . . .” A severe attack of strangury made him postpone the ceremony, but the coronation took place on May 7, 1724. Peter spared no expense for this occasion. Catherine’s robes were magnificent. He had her cloak embroidered in gold with the imperial double-headed eagle, and her crown gleamed with priceless jewels.

From the Red Staircase - where as a boy Peter had stood with his mother in mortal fear of the streltsi - the dignified coronation procession slowly moved to the Uspensky Cathedral. There during the elaborate magnificence of the Orthodox ceremony, Peter placed the imperial crown on the head of the former peasant girl who was now his wife. He then retired to the palace while she proceeded to the Arkhangelsky Cathedral to pray at the tombs of the Muscovite tsars. Peter and Catherine presided over a large banquet in the evening at which guests received a medal, struck for the occasion, bearing on one side profiles of Peter and Catherine and on the other the portrayal of Peter, placing the crown on her head and the words “Crowned in Moscow 1724.”

The succession to the throne was never far from Russian minds. Many assumed that Catherine’s coronation meant that Peter intended her to succeed him, because their infant son, Peter, had died in 1719. On February 5, 1722, Peter had by decree abolished the Muscovite custom whereby the tsar had presented his chosen son as his heir. He had cited the example of Ivan the Great and had provided that the emperor should decide who should ascend the throne. This decree caused widespread anxiety. Many believed that the heir should be his grandson, Tsarevich Peter Alexeevich, but Peter clearly had no intention of allowing him to succeed. Now the people feared that he might appoint some foreigner to occupy the throne of the tsars. Other possible contenders were Catherine, Duchess of Mecklenburg; Anna, widow of the Duke of Courland; the two daughters of Tsar Ivan, Peter’s half-brother; and Catherine’s three surviving children - Anna, Elizabeth, and Natalya. But a woman had never occupied the Russian throne, and the prospect was far from popular. Peter did not share this prejudice, however, and may have intended in presenting this decree that Catherine and then his own daughters should succeed.

Peter spent most of the year 1724 in St. Petersburg. He was busy with numerous projects and took special interest in the new buildings under construction in what was already a beautiful city. The reform of the Church in all branches of its administration and the creation of the Academy of Sciences were his other chief preoccupations. But attacks of strangury became more frequent and severe. Toward the end of the summer, the pain became unbearable. His physician, Blumentrost, anxiously consulted with other doctors and Peter agreed to an operation. An English surgeon, named Horn, performed it, cutting open the lower abdomen and through to the bladder from which blood and urine flowed freely. Peter endured the surgeon’s probing, although without anesthetics the pain must have been excruciating. In spasms of agonizing pain, he grabbed and crushed the hands of the two doctors at his side during the operation. The operation gave him only temporary relief, and he suffered additional attacks as he spent the following weeks in his bed. But then medicines gave him full relief, and he began to think that he was cured. He set out on strenuous journeys, visiting the Olonetsky ironworks and the Ladoga Canal then under construction. Blumentrost frequently advised him to live more quietly, but he was incapable of taking life easy or resting when he saw so much to be done and when time was so short.

Returning from Olonets on November 5, he sailed at once for Lakhta on the Gulf of Finland to inspect a military weapons factory. He was nearing Lakhta in a storm when he saw a boat run aground and in danger of capsizing. He sent a sloop from his own yacht, but his men were unable to refloat the vessel and the members of the crew were in danger of drowning. Unable to watch any longer, Peter himself went in a skiff to help. He jumped into the freezing water and waded to the boat with a rope and helped to refloat the boat. He gave orders to his men to take the twenty men of the crew ashore and accommodate them in peasants’ huts while they recovered from exposure. Peter went on to inspect the factory at Lakhta, but he had been severely chilled and suddenly suffered stomach convulsions and fever.

Returning to St. Petersburg, he discovered a domestic crisis that upset him and aggravated his illness. There was evidence that Catherine’s chamberlain, William Mons, and one of her ladies at court, Matrena Balk - who were brother and sister of the Anna Mons who had been his mistress long ago - were guilty of serious corruption. They had taken bribes and extorted large sums from petitioners. Catherine had probably been aware of their dishonesty but was too easygoing to take any action. To make matters worse, there was some evidence that Makarov, Peter’s trusted cabinet secretary, was involved.

Peter had fought against corruption among his people throughout his reign. He had punished severely all who were found guilty, but now he had found that those close to him and his wife were corrupt. Catherine begged him to pardon her chamberlain and lady in waiting, but Peter would not relent. He ordered the execution of Mons; Matrena Balk received the punishment of a knouting and being exiled to Siberia. Then Peter issued a new decree, condemning to death without mercy anyone who held a court position and used that position for personal gain, especially by extorting bribes for passing petitions to the emperor or empress.

During the next few weeks, Peter tried to follow his usual busy routine, but he was clearly ill and his strength was ebbing. On January 16, 1725, he suffered an attack of strangury so severe that he cried out in pain. Doctors gathered around him but could do nothing. They set up a chapel near his bedchamber where priests prayed constantly for his recovery. But there was not much hope that he would recover.

On January 26, 1725, Senators, members of the colleges, the army high command, the guards, and naval officers assembled at the palace to keep vigil, and many were in tears. Peter rallied twice and gave orders for an amnesty for criminals. But then he sank into a coma. On the evening of January 26, the archbishops of the Holy Synod administered the last rites, but still Peter clung to life. About 2 p.m. on January 27, he asked for pen and paper, but his writing was illegible except for the words “Give all to . . .” He asked for Anna, his eldest daughter, but then he lost the ability to speak. He lingered unconscious until the morning of January 28 when at 6 o’clock Peter, the greatest of the Romanovs, and one of the outstanding rulers in history died.


The Romanovs

Because of Peter’s personality and tremendous accomplishments during his reign, his death was a shocking event for all Russians. They were suddenly missing the force that had shaped and dictated their lives. He had been unique and was irreplaceable; now they didn’t even know who would succeed him.

By a decree on February 5, 1722, Peter had proclaimed that the autocrat had the right to nominate whomsoever he chose as his successor. Now that he had failed to exercise this power, a series of crises would follow his death.

From his death in 1725 until 1762, when Catherine II seized the throne, Russia had seven autocrats, and palace revolutions were responsible for choosing the tsar. The old nobility and the new aristocracy of men of ability, created by Peter, struggled for power through their candidates for the throne. But the decision was not made by the Assembly of the Land or by the Senate. The Preobrazhensky and Semenovsky Guard Regiments were the decisive authority. Recruited mainly from the gentry, the guards had become a privileged elite. Their devotion to Peter and regimental pride had united them. But their power extended far beyond their military duties as the personal troops of the sovereign. Peter had called on them to exercise authority in policing and administrative matters, and had made them an important arm of government. Now contenders for the throne depended on their support.

As Peter lay dying, the urgent question in every mind was who should succeed. The great majority of Russians expected that Tsarevich Peter Alexeevich, the son of Tsarevich Alexei and grandson of the dying emperor, would ascend the throne. He was the sole remaining male representative of the Romanov dynasty, and the old nobility supported him. Because his father had opposed Peter’s policies, people assumed that he represented the old Muscovite way of life. In fact, the old nobility did not advocate reversal of the policies of Peter and return to the Muscovy of Tsar Alexei. They simply wanted to recover their power and prestige, and the first step to accomplish this was to remove the arrogant newcomers whom Peter had raised to high office. They believed that the son of Tsarevich Alexei would aid them in this purpose. But the new aristocracy realized that they would be the first to suffer if Tsarevich Peter became tsar. Menshikov and Tolstoy in particular feared this event, because some believed they were in part responsible for the prosecution and death of Tsarevich Alexei. They were men of energy and ability who were more than a match for the old Muscovite families.

Catherine, Peter’s widow, was their choice for the throne. Opponents said that she was the daughter of a peasant who was not even Russian, that she had been only a camp follower when Peter had made her his mistress, and that her subsequent marriage to him was of doubtful legality. They also showed prejudice against a woman occupying the throne of the tsars. But Catherine had the support of the guards and the army generally. She had campaigned at Peter’s side, and her bravery and concern for the troops had won their respect and affection. Menshikov and Tolstoy reminded members of the nobility, the Senate, the Holy Synod, and the Generalitet (those holding positions in the four highest grades, established by the Table of Ranks) that the emperor had ordered that she be crowned and that everyone had sworn allegiance to her. Tolstoy also claimed that “she had learned the art of ruling from her husband, who entrusted to her the most important state secrets.” But it was the support of the guards that ensured her accession.

Guard officers came voluntarily to her when Peter first fell ill and declared their devotion. The troops also demonstrated their loyalty. Taking no chances, however, Catherine used her own money to pay them the sixteen months’ backpay that they had earned. They recalled guard officers who had received leave to work on their estates to pray for the recovery of the emperor. They reinforced all sentry posts and maintained patrols of infantry detachments in St. Petersburg.

On the night of January 27, Senators, members of the Synod, and all senior officials gathered in the palace to discuss the succession. The two factions faced each other. Seeing the strength of the support for Catherine, Prince Dmitri Golitsyn, proposed as a compromise that Tsarevich Peter should ascend the throne but that Empress Catherine and the Senate should be entirely responsible for the government of the country during his minority. Tolstoy firmly rejected this proposal. A group of guard officers loudly cheered his demand that Catherine alone must succeed.

At this time, the rolling of drums resounded around the palace. That was how they learned that both regiments of guards were in the courtyards. Repnin protested: “Who has dared to order them here without my knowledge? Am I not the Field Marshal?” His rival, General Buturlin, who was, jointly with Menshikov, Lieutenant Colonel of the guards, answered, “I ordered them home in accordance with the wishes of the Empress, to whom every subject, not excluding even you, owes obedience!”

Both factions argued violently for hours. Eventually, everyone recognized that the presence of the guards, loyal to a man to Catherine, had been the deciding factor. By 4 a.m. they reached agreement. By virtue of her coronation and the oath of loyalty sworn to her by all ranks of the people, Apraksin announced that the Senate declared Catherine empress and autocrat with all the powers that had belonged to her husband.

On the morning of January 28, they reported Peter’s death and announced that Catherine was now empress. The citizens of St. Petersburg received the news quietly. They expected trouble in Moscow, the old capital where citizens resented Peter’s Westernizing reforms. Moscow’s loyalty was likely to be with Tsarevich Peter. As a precaution, they stationed troops in Moscow, but they had to arrest only a few individuals.

Menshikov was jubilant. The succession of Catherine had saved him from the threat of disgrace and exile. A prince whose wealth and power none could rival, he was now at the pinnacle of his extraordinary career. He came from humble origins and had sold pies in the streets of Moscow as a boy. His father had served as a corporal in the Preobrazhensky Regiment, and Menshikov had been one of Peter’s original play soldiers. He was an entertaining companion, known to everyone as Alexashka. He accompanied Peter on his grand embassy to Europe in 1697-1698 as a sergeant and orderly and personal attendant and then as the tsar’s private treasurer. Peter had become fond of him. But it was not until a few years later, early in the Northern War, that he had discovered Menshikov’s abilities, his courage, and capacity for bold initiatives. He was the only one of Peter’s companions to master the craft of shipbuilding; he displayed great talent as a field commander; and he gave enthusiastic and unquestioning devotion to Peter and his policies.

At the same time, however, Menshikov was a dishonest man, hated and feared by many at court and throughout the country. He was greedy for power and wealth and unprincipled in his pursuit of them. He needed to serve a strong master who could control him. Peter waged a relentless campaign against corruption among those in authority and on many occasions threatened Menshikov with severe punishments. Discovery of his misdeeds infuriated the tsar who “often kicked him publicly and beat him like a dog, so that bystanders concluded him undone, but always next morning the peace was made up.” Indeed, Menshikov was so skilled in winning forgiveness that many believed that he used witchcraft. But he owed his escape from the full weight of the tsar’s anger mainly to Catherine who interceded many times on his behalf.

Menshikov received the title of Prince of Izhora and had received large estates and other rewards for his work, especially during the Northern War. But wealth, honors, and power had inflamed his greed and ambition. Peter had become more and more disappointed in his old companion and had withdrawn his trust and friendship. In the last year of his reign, he dismissed Menshikov from office as President of the War College and was considering far more drastic punishment. Peter’s death saved Menshikov. Now with Catherine alone on the throne, his greed knew no limits. He regained the presidency of the War College, but he wanted also the office and title of Generalissimo and the large region of Baturin, which Peter had refused him. He gained both of these objectives, but his power and arrogance intensified the hatred and fear that so many felt toward him.

Catherine tried to restrain him from time to time, but without success. She was under his influence and dependent upon him. She had proved to be an admirable companion for Peter and the perfect commander’s wife but, uneducated and self-indulgent, she could never be a commander. She could not make decisions and delayed important matters that needed her signature for months. Rumors circulated about her excessive drinking and her numerous lovers, especially Peter Sapieha and Reinhold Lowenwolde.

Catherine gave some early indication that she intended to rule, but Menshikov probably prompted her to do that. In April 1725, she ordered that the Senate should report to her every Friday on business in hand. It was soon clear, however, that the Senate would not have real authority. Major General Munnich, in charge of the construction of the Ladoga Canal, requested 15,000 troops to complete the project. The Senate agreed after long debate to meet this demand, but Menshikov overruled them and the empress supported him. The Senators were infuriated. Several began discussing plans to curtail Menshikov’s authority, but they were powerless to do so.

Unrest spread at court, through the city, and into the country. There were rumors of plots to place Tsarevich Peter on the throne, supported by the Ukrainian army. The army’s commander was Prince Mikhail Golitsyn, the brother of Prince Dmitri Golitsyn, then the most active representative of the old nobility in St. Petersburg. Recognizing that the general unrest might readily erupt in civil war, Menshikov, Apraksin, Tolstoy, and others agreed to set up a small council, superior to the Senate, that would govern the country.

A decree on February 8, 1726, appointed the Supreme Privy Council. The six members were Prince Menshikov, Count Apraksin, Count Golovkin, Count Tolstoy, Prince Dmitri Golitsyn, and Baron Ostermann - all of them men who had held high office in Peter’s reign. Menshikov, Golitsyn, and Ostermann held the power within the Privy Council. Menshikov was the dominating member, but he needed his two colleagues.

Prince Dmitri Golitsyn was one of the most educated and cultured Russians of the time. In 1697, when he was already over thirty, he had traveled in Italy and other parts of Western Europe. He had since amassed a valuable library and had made a study of Western political philosophy. Under Peter the Great, he had served as governor in Kiev and later as a Senator but had attained no higher office although distinguished for his intelligence and practical ability. His rough outspoken honesty may have offended Peter, but a more important factor was his fundamental opposition to the reforms. At heart, Dmitri Golitsyn remained a Muscovite boyar, who wanted Russia to be modernized within the framework of the old Muscovite order, preserving the rights of the nobility and limiting the powers of the autocrat. His alliance with Menshikov was a temporary and uneasy stratagem because he wanted to get rid of the newcomers, including Menshikov.

Vice-Chancellor Ostermann, the son of a Westphalian pastor, had risen to prominence because of his hard work and intelligence. He was devious and very skilled in negotiations.

The Privy Council had power to legislate by decree on matters of internal and external policy, to supervise all Colleges, and in general to serve “to relieve Her Majesty of the heavy burden of ruling.” Catherine did not play a large role in the council meetings, and the council became the supreme governing body. A decree in March 1726 demoted the Senate from the “Governing” to the “High” Senate. Menshikov’s rival, Yaguzhinsky, had held the powerful office of procurator-general of the Senate. They omitted him from the Privy Council, transferred him, and left the office of procurator-general vacant. Others who had held high office under Peter resented their exclusion but could do nothing. Menshikov, who had triumphed over rivals and over the Senate, had carefully planned the membership. But even he was unable to prevent Catherine from appointing the Duke of Holstein to the council by special decree. The Duke, Charles Frederick, had married Tsarevna Anna in May 1725. Taking advantage of the high regard in which the empress held him, he and his minister, Bassevitz, interfered more and more in Russian affairs. The Supreme Privy Council tried to carry on the work of Peter the Great in its policies. Inevitably, however, there was a decline in activity. The people missed Peter’s dynamic leadership, but his reign had exhausted them. The council needed to relieve the people of some of the pressures that Peter had imposed. Many of the peasants were still unable to pay the poll tax, and the estates of the gentry suffered. In 1724, officials failed to collect twenty percent of the poll tax, and this figure was increasing. Unrest and threats of popular uprisings were widespread. The council believed it was necessary to reduce the poll tax and to enact other measures to lighten the burdens of the people and the conditions of military service. The council also canceled many trading monopolies and eased conditions of trade.

Concern about the succession was growing at court and throughout the country. Catherine’s robust peasant strength, worn down by childbearing, by her strenuous life with Peter, and lately by alcohol and debauchery, was clearly declining. Early in April 1727, she became seriously ill. Her condition deteriorated rapidly, and she died on May 6.

On the following day, the imperial family, members of the Supreme Privy Council, the Holy Synod, the Senate, and the Generalitet assembled in the palace to hear the reading of the final testament of the empress. There was a rumor that it was a forgery, but the journal of the Privy Council recorded that it contained Catherine’s signature. It was an attempt to establish an order of succession and to eliminate the uncertainty that Peter’s decree, asserting the right of the autocrat to nominate his successor, had caused.

According to this testament, Prince Peter Alexeevich was to succeed to the throne. He was to take no part in state affairs during his minority. During this time, the Supreme Privy Council - enlarged to include the tsarevni, Anna, Duchess of Holstein, and Elizabeth – would take care of government affairs. If Peter died without heirs, then Anna and her descendants, followed by Elizabeth and her descendants, were to succeed. The testament did not mention the daughters of Ivan V, the half-brother of Peter the Great. At this stage, however, the urgent concern was that the nation should have a tsar. They immediately proclaimed the accession of Emperor Peter II, and all Russians joined in celebrating the event.


The Romanovs

The new emperor, Peter II, was eleven years and four months old, but advanced physically and mentally for his age. The Supreme Privy Council was supposed to take care of government affairs as long as he was a minor. Because Menshikov dominated the council, he should have been content with this arrangement. But he had dynastic ambitions and even might have wanted to ascend the throne. When Catherine I was still empress, he had recognized that he could not deny Peter’s claims to the throne. Therefore, he had supported him and had also obtained Catherine’s approval for the marriage of his daughter, Princess Maria A. Menshikova, to young Peter. It was a shrewd move. On May 25, less than three weeks after Catherine’s death, they formalized the betrothal.

Menshikov had already taken action to ensure his control over the young emperor. He did not allow him to reside in the imperial palace on the other side of the Neva River from Vassilevsky Island where Menshikov lived in magnificence. He moved the boy into his own palace so he could keep an eye on him. He appointed Andrei Ostermann, who had always been Menshikov’s dependable ally, as the boy’s tutor. As a foreigner, promoted by Peter the Great, Ostermann was not likely to support the old nobility.

At the same time, Menshikov attempted to draw closer to the old nobility. As a newcomer, suddenly possessed of great wealth and power, he felt the resentment of the old boyar families that had always treated him as an outsider. But he hoped to gain acceptance through marriage with the imperial family and alliance with the Golitsyns. He now cultivated the Dolgoruky, giving them influential appointments. Prince Alexei Dolgoruky became chamberlain at the court of Princess Natalya, the sister of the emperor. He also brought to court Prince Ivan Dolgoruky, the son of Prince Alexei, even though he had expressed opposition to the betrothal of Menshikov’s daughter to the emperor. He also promoted other members of the Dolgoruky family. While forging new alliances, Menshikov disposed of rivals. Among them were the Duke and Duchess of Holstein who left Russia in July 1727. In Kiel, Anna Petrovna, the daughter of Peter the Great, gave birth to a son and soon afterward died in May 1728.

As Generalissimo, the commander-in-chief of the army, and with his authority over the Privy Council and the Senate established, with the emperor under his direct personal control and his daughter betrothed to him, Menshikov was in an advantageous position. The Saxon ambassador reported, “Never did anyone so shake with fear even before the deceased autocratic Emperor Peter I, as they are forced to tremble now before Menshikov.” But there is no security for those in power under an autocrat, and especially when the autocrat is an uncontrolled and stubborn boy.

While adept in manipulating the leading men in the government and at court, Menshikov had difficulty handling the emperor. The boy was willful and knew that he was above punishment. He was not interested in the lessons that Ostermann had carefully planned for him. He developed a strong respect and affection for his tutor, but he pursued his own pleasures in spite of Ostermann’s restrictions. He had three favorite companions. He was fond of his sister, Natalya - a gentle, serious girl, one year older than himself - who had a calming influence on him. He enjoyed the company of his young aunt, Elizabeth Petrovna, the daughter of Peter the Great, who was then seventeen years old. She was very pretty with fair hair and bright blue eyes, and she was an entertaining companion. Someone had suggested that he might marry her some day, and that prospect pleased Peter. But his closest companion was Prince Ivan Dolgoruky, who was nineteen years old and could always find pleasant ways of spending time with Peter. He shared Peter’s passion for hunting, and they spent days together on horseback. Often Peter was up all night, taking part in some escapade created by Prince Ivan. He would fall into bed in the early hours of the morning and sleep through most of the day.

Menshikov and Ostermann decided that this was not a way of life that would train and equip Peter for manhood and the responsibilities of the throne. Ostermann admonished him and tried to impose some discipline; Peter ignored his efforts but did not resent them. But Peter did object when Menshikov tried to serve as a father to him, and it was soon evident that Peter and his sister hated him. They probably regarded him as one of those responsible for their father’s death. Peter was also upset about his betrothal to Menshikov’s daughter because he disliked her. Most of all, Peter and his sister resented the power that Menshikov wielded over them as well as over the court and the country. His companions fostered this hatred. Elizabeth Petrovna was hostile toward Menshikov, especially for forcing her sister, Anna, to leave St. Petersburg and return to Kiel. Prince Ivan Dolgoruky and other members of the Dolgoruky family were his staunch enemies and used every opportunity to incite Peter against him.

Open conflict broke out between the stubborn boy and the all-powerful Generalissimo as a result of an incident when Peter was twelve. A guild of masons sent him a gift of money, which he ordered to be taken to his sister. Menshikov intercepted the messenger, directed him to take the money to his cabinet, and said, “The Emperor is still very young and does not know how to handle money properly.” When he learned about this, Peter confronted Menshikov and angrily asked him how he dared to interfere with his instructions. Surprised, Menshikov tried to explain that he had taken the money because the treasury was empty and he had a better use for it. This excuse did not lessen Peter’s anger. “I will teach you that I am emperor and that I am to be obeyed!” he shouted as he walked out of the chamber. Soon afterwards at court, Peter turned his back on Menshikov and got pleasure by humiliating him publicly. He also ignored his betrothed, Princess Maria Menshikova.

This treatment infuriated Menshikov. He knew now that he could not win over the Dolgoruky. They were his enemies who were turning the emperor against him. But his anger was also directed against Ostermann, who had informed him that both Peter and his sister liked him. Because Ostermann had misinformed him, he assumed that he was secretly working against him. Menshikov had a meeting with Ostermann in which he charged him with deceit and even threatened that he would sentence him to be broken on the wheel for seducing the emperor from Orthodoxy.

Ostermann was in a difficult predicament. He enjoyed the respect and goodwill of the emperor and his sister, but he had many enemies at court, including the Dolgoruky. He had supported Menshikov in the past, but he had to think of his own survival when Menshikov fell from power, and he was too smart not to see that this would soon happen.

Menshikov evidently believed that he could recover the emperor’s goodwill. On September 3, he planned a magnificent ceremony on his estate in Oranienbaum for the consecration of a church he had built. He especially wanted the emperor to attend so he could demonstrate to the court and the foreign ambassadors in St. Petersburg that the two of them were friendly. In spite of Menshikov’s petitions and special arrangements, however, the emperor stayed away. On September 5, Menshikov thought he would see the emperor at Peterhof at the celebration of the name day of Elizabeth Petrovna. But Peter went off hunting in order to avoid him, and Natalya, his sister, escaped through a palace window when she learned of his arrival. On the same day, the Privy Council met without Menshikov being present and gave orders for the emperor’s personal property to be removed from Menshikov’s palace. They did this on the following day, and the emperor took up residence in the Summer Palace on September 7. He also sent instructions that the guards were to obey orders only from him, conveyed through Guards Majors Yusupov and Saltykov.

On the morning of September 8, Guards Major Semen Saltykov arrived at Menshikov’s palace and informed him that the emperor had ordered his arrest. Menshikov fainted when he heard this news. His wife, son, and sister hurried to the palace to ask for pardon, but the emperor and Elizabeth Petrovna ignored their tearful pleas. In fact, others rejoiced when they learned of the fall of Menshikov and, other than his own family, no one else defended him. At a special meeting, the Privy Council sentenced him to be stripped of all offices and decorations and to be confined to his estate in Oranienbaum. In the following April, they pronounced him guilty of additional charges. They confiscated his remaining property and deported him to Berezov in Siberia, where he died in 1729.

After the fall of Menshikov, citizens in St. Petersburg thought that the Supreme Privy Council would govern until the emperor came of age. Within the Council, Prince Dmitri Golitsyn would be the leading member, enjoying the confidence of Peter and the court. Golitsyn certainly deserved this confidence, for he had consistently supported Peter’s cause. His brother, Field Marshal Prince Mikhail Golitsyn also merited recognition for his competent management of the army in maintaining order in the Ukraine. But Peter disliked the Golitsyns, especially Dmitri Golitsyn. Though he was a man of ability, culture, and integrity, he was too blunt and outspoken to be a courtier and had probably offended Peter. His personally beneficial understanding with Menshikov probably prejudiced Peter against him.

For a time Ostermann was the most powerful man at court. He had access to the emperor and continued to enjoy his affection and respect. But his position remained exceedingly difficult. He could not fulfill his duties as tutor because Peter refused to attend lessons or to study. The Dolgoruky were among his many enemies at court, and their influence over the emperor made him fear for his future. The young Prince Ivan Dolgoruky was an undesirable companion for a boy, but Peter enjoyed his company. Ostermann asked to be relieved of his duties, but Peter tearfully begged him to remain as his tutor and adviser.

In January 1728, Peter departed with his court from St. Petersburg. Officials had made extensive preparations for this move and welcomed the emperor with magnificent ceremonies in Moscow. He had come for his coronation, but many believed that he would remain in the old capital. This move had great significance. Peter had said: “I do not want to go to sea, like my grandfather,” and they now believed that he was deliberately turning his back on his grandfather’s reforms. Many old boyar families were still hostile to Peter the Great’s city. It was far from their estates, and it was very expensive for them to maintain homes there. Most Russians were emotionally attached to Moscow; they took a certain pride in St. Petersburg, but Moscow was for them the heart of the nation and its real capital. There was, however, no general demand for a reversal of Peter the Great’s policies.

Another factor that might influence Peter to turn his back on St. Petersburg and all that it stood for was his meeting with his grandmother. The nun, Elena, whom Peter the Great had forced in 1698 to take holy orders, but who had always referred to herself as tsaritsa, was surprisingly still alive and now emerged from her seclusion. She had requested that her grandson visit her in Moscow. She had always been a conservative, narrowly Orthodox, Muscovite, who did not agree with the new policies. Now she wanted to impose her opinions on her grandson. When the meeting took place, however, soon after the emperor’s arrival in Moscow, it was a cold, uncomfortable reunion. Peter and his sister, Natalya, accompanied by Elizabeth Petrovna, had never had any contact with this elderly nun, who came from a different age, almost a different world. She scolded the young people for leading useless lives and for endangering both their health and their souls. In the coming months, Peter avoided her as much as possible and the fears that Ostermann and others had had about her influence proved unnecessary.

On arrival at the court in Moscow, Peter had appointed Prince Vasily Lukich and Prince Alexei Grigorievich Dolgoruky to the Supreme Privy Council. He also made his inseparable companion, Prince Ivan Alexeevich Dolgoruky, the Ober-Kamerger or Lord Chamberlain of his court. These promotions increased their challenge to the Golitsyn and to Ostermann. Natalya, his sister, was the only one who had any restraining influence on Peter. Ostermann urged her to try to curb the excesses of the boy’s way of life. But Natalya was frail; she became ill in the summer of 1728 and died on November 22.

By indulging his passion for hunting, the Dolgoruky gradually gained even greater influence over Peter. At the beginning of September 1729, he set out from Moscow with them and 620 hunting dogs and did not return to the capital again until November. He announced that he would marry Catherine, the seventeen-year-old daughter of Prince Alexei Grigorievich Dolgoruky, and there was a full betrothal ceremony on November 30.

The Dolgoruky family had some misgivings about this marriage. Certain members of the family spoke of the unpopularity of Menshikov, who had planned a similar marriage for the emperor, and they were fearful that the same fate might befall them. In addition, there was hostility among certain members of the family. Prince Alexei detested his son, Prince Ivan, and his sister now betrothed to the emperor also hated her brother. The savage struggle for power had swept aside family loyalties.

Nevertheless, they went ahead with preparations for the marriage. On January 6, 1730, the ceremony of the blessing of the waters took place on the Moscow River. On the following day, the emperor became ill with smallpox. His condition declined rapidly and on January 19, the date set aside for his marriage, he died at the age of fourteen years and three months.


The Romanovs

The sudden death of the young emperor shocked and agitated the nobility and gentry. They had come into Moscow for his wedding and now awaited his funeral. For the third time in the past five years, there was urgent and anxious concern about the succession to the throne. Their anxiety was even more acute because Peter II was the last of the male line of the Romanovs. His death seemed to threaten the extinction of the dynasty. Citizens recalled terrible tales of the Time of Troubles, which had followed the end of the previous dynasty. There were several female Romanovs alive and eligible. But in the midst of the winter, the Muscovites were apprehensive about their future.

The Supreme Privy Council immediately held a secret meeting. It now had only five members, but Field Marshal Prince Mikhail Golitsyn, Field Marshal Prince Mikhail Dolgoruky, and Prince Vasily Dolgoruky attended these special meetings. The most forceful member was Prince Dmitri Golitsyn. Confident in his own superior intelligence and ability and his noble birth, he saw himself as the champion of the old Muscovite nobility. He grasped now at the opportunity to revive their authority, while limiting the autocratic power and the elevation of favorites to positions of high authority.

At the start of the Privy Council’s meetings, Prince Alexei Dolgoruky advanced the claim of his daughter to the throne because of her betrothal to the emperor. He produced “a certain letter as the testament of Peter II.” The letter was a forgery that Ivan Dolgoruky had signed and that he had planned to use with the support of Field Marshal Vasily Dolgoruky to rally the guards. However, the field marshal disapproved of the plot, and the Privy Council decided that the alleged testament did not deserve serious consideration.

The two surviving branches of the Romanov family were the daughters of Peter the Great by his second wife, Catherine, and the daughters of his half-brother, Ivan V. The Privy Council rejected the pretensions of Peter’s first wife, Tsaritsa Evdokiya, to the throne. The claims of Tsarevna Elizabeth and of her nephew, the young Duke of Holstein, to the succession were strong. But Prince Dmitri Golitsyn had never approved of the marriage of the emperor with the humble peasant girl who became Catherine I. He maintained also that, because the children had been born before Peter’s marriage with their mother, they had been born out of wedlock. He rejected the line of succession, provided in the testament of Catherine I, as having no validity because she had had no true title to the throne. Because the male line from Peter the Great had died out, Prince Dimitri argued that it was necessary to turn to the senior branch of the dynasty, represented by the descendants of Ivan V. Of the three surviving daughters, the eldest, Catherine, Duchess of Mecklenburg, was not acceptable because the Duke, her husband, a contemptible man, was alive. But the second daughter, Anna, widow of the Duke of Courland, seemed suitable.

Anna was the victim of Peter the Great’s policy of dynastic marriages. At the age of seventeen, she had married Frederick William, Duke of Courland. But in January 1711, only a few weeks after their wedding, the Duke had died. Anna had spent the next nineteen years in Courland as the widowed Duchess without power or money. The dukedom had passed to Ferdinand, uncle of Frederick William, but he lived in Danzig and took no interest in it. The Russian resident in Courland, Peter Bestuzhev-Ryumin, who was Anna’s lover, managed the affairs of the duchy. Anna then replaced him with Ernst Johann Buhren or Biron, the grandson of a groom, who had risen in the service of Duke Jakob III of Courland. Biron had studied for a short time at the University of Koenigsburg until they expelled him for some misdemeanor. He had attracted Anna at first by his expert horsemanship and soon wielded a strong influence over her.

The rivalries over the duchy kept Anna from remarrying. Several considered marriage with the young widowed Duchess, with Courland in mind as a dowry. Anna herself had pleaded with Empress Catherine for permission to marry Count Maurice of Saxony. But Catherine would not consent, fearing that the marriage might weaken Russian influence in Courland, which Poland claimed as a fief of the Polish crown. Anna had thus remained a widow, and throughout her years in Mittau she lived in extreme poverty. She depended almost entirely on small grants that she was able to beg from St. Petersburg. She wrote badly composed and ungrammatical letters to Catherine, Menshikov, Ostermann, to the Golitsyn and the Dolgoruky, asking for money. She gave the impression to those in St. Petersburg that she was sensible, restrained, and submissive.

At 10 a.m. on January 19, only a few hours after the death of Peter II, members of the Senate, the Holy Synod, and the Generalitet gathered in the palace. The Chancellor, Count Golovkin, announced to them that the Privy Council considered that Anna should succeed to the throne. Everyone present approved the selection. But neither Golovkin nor any other member of the Privy Council mentioned the plans, which they had been discussing secretly, to limit her powers. Nevertheless, rumors circulated.

Prince Dmitri Golitsyn was the author of the eight “Conditions” for Anna to ascend the throne. The “Conditions” required her to promise that she would not marry or nominate a successor to the throne and that she would maintain the Supreme Privy Council of eight members. Further, she had to guarantee that without the consent of the Privy Council, she would not declare war or conclude a peace, impose taxes, or confer army, naval or civil ranks above the equivalent of colonel in the Table of Ranks, that she would not deprive members of the nobility of property or honor without trial, that she would not grant estates, or confer titles on Russians or foreigners, and that she would not expend state revenues. She had to acknowledge, too, that the guards and other forces were under the command of the Privy Council. The letter, which she had to sign, ended with the words, “And if I do not fulfill this promise then I will be deprived of the Russian crown.”

In proposing such drastic restraints, Dmitri Golitsyn was trying to protect the nobility and the gentry from arbitrary onslaughts on their property and position such as those they had suffered at the hands of Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great and to ensure that they participated in the government with the autocrat. His “Conditions” contained the seed of what might have been the beginning of a movement toward constitutional monarchy, as had happened in England. The Supreme Privy Council might have become a cabinet for which the Assembly of the Land was responsible. These representatives might have served as a parliament, or the combined Senate, Holy Synod, and the Generalitet, now often convened to consider matters of special importance, might have developed into the parliament. But this seed did not take root. The nobility and the gentry lacked a sense of community of interest. Even the ancient nobility lacked coherence as a class. They didn’t cooperate because of rivalries and petty greed. Other classes opposed them, fearing that power would make them a greater menace than the most savage autocrat.

January 19th was a day of frantic activity in Moscow. Peter II had died in the early hours of the morning, and Prince Vasily Dolgoruky was on his way to Mittau by evening. His task was to inform Anna of her election to the throne and to secure her signature to the “Conditions.” Like other members of the Privy Council, he was worried that Anna might learn - before he had secured her signature - that the “Conditions” represented the will only of the council and not of the nation as a whole. Indeed, they had posted guards on all the gates of Moscow to prevent anyone taking the road to Mittau. But Yaguzhinsky, the former procurator-general and now a bitter opponent of the council, managed to send a messenger who evaded the guards and warned Anna against accepting the “Conditions.” Dolgoruky arrested this messenger in Mittau and sent him back to Moscow in chains. The Privy Council also gave orders to arrest Yaguzhinsky. Meanwhile, despite this warning, Anna had signed the “Conditions” as well as a letter of acceptance of the throne drafted by Vasily Dolgoruky, which stated also that she would leave Mittau on January 29.

Hostility toward the Privy Council was growing in Moscow. No one wanted to be ruled by an oligarchy and especially by this eight-member council with four members of the Dolgoruky and two members of the Golitsyn families. They wanted the composition of the council to be broader and more representative. But there was also general objection to this form of government, which had weakened Poland and Sweden. Russians feared that their nation would suffer in the same way if the Privy Council had extensive powers. They believed that Russia must have an absolute monarch to ensure the order, unity, and strength of the nation.

On February 2, the Privy Council summoned the Senate, Synod, Generalitet, and leading members of the provincial nobility and gentry - some 500 men in all - to the Kremlin Palace. They read aloud the letter and the “Conditions” signed by Anna. The attendees reacted with hostile silence. Then the Privy Council invited them to propose reforms. This was a gesture by Golitsyn to win general support. Petitions for reforms began to pour into the palace. The proposals were wide-ranging but dwelt especially on the need to broaden the membership of the council, revealing the general concern that one or more families of the old aristocracy should not dominate it.

On February 10, Anna arrived in the village of Vsesvatskoe on the outskirts of Moscow, where she remained for several days. A battalion of Preobrazhensky Guards and a detachment of horseguards came to swear loyalty to her. Anna received them and, despite the “Conditions” she had sworn to observe, declared herself to be Colonel of the Preobrazhensky and Captain of the horseguards, presenting to each of the guards a tumbler of vodka.

Anna made her ceremonial entry into Moscow on February 15. All ranks of the people came to the Uspensky Cathedral to swear the oath of allegiance. Feofan Prokopovich, Archbishop of Novgorod and the senior member of the Holy Synod, insisted on a new oath of allegiance, which referred to the absolute power of the autocrat and made no mention of the council or “Conditions.” Prince Dmitri Golitsyn tried to forbid the new form of oath, but his fellow councilors agreed to its use because they feared demonstrations of popular support. In his address to the empress in the cathedral, Feofan emphasized the Russian tradition of devotion to the autocrat.

Anna had been away from Russia for so long that she was not aware of the factions striving for power. Vasily Dolgoruky now closely guarded her and allowed no one to approach her directly. Initially, she did not realize that there was a bitter struggle over the “Conditions” that she had promised to observe. Then they made her aware of the situation.

Within the Privy Council, the Golitsyn and the Dolgoruky had decided to arrest Golovkin and Ostermann and others of their leading opponents. But on February 25, before they had time to act, Prince Vasily Dolgoruky hurriedly called them into the presence of the empress. In the great audience chamber, they found Anna and about 800 of the leading men in the land. They read aloud a petition that expressed the fears of her subjects that observance of the “Conditions” would encourage the enemies of the nation and bring disaster. They asked for approval to convene a special assembly to make recommendations on the institution of an effective system of government.

Prince Vasily Dolgoruky suggested to Anna that she might discuss this proposal first with her Privy Council. However, she agreed to approve the proposal for such a commission. All of a sudden, there was a loud uproar. Guard officers and other members of the company loudly demanded full restoration of the autocracy. These conflicting demands confused Anna. But she agreed to a request that the guard officers and others in agreement with them should have some time to prepare a new petition, and she promised to grant them audience after she had dined. She then invited members of the Privy Council to join her, which prevented them from consulting each other or taking action during this critical interval.

The new petition was a straightforward request that she should rule as her predecessors had ruled, that she should destroy the “Conditions,” and that she should abolish the Supreme Privy Council and revive the Senate as instituted by Peter the Great. The petition had 150 signatures.

Anna appeared shocked. “What!” she exclaimed. “Were the points which were brought to me in Mittau not in accordance with the will of the whole people?”

“No!” came the answer from the crowd.

“This means,” she said, “that you, Prince Vasily Lukich, have deceived me!”

They then brought to her the “Conditions” and the letter that she had signed in Mittau, and she tore them up.

The people were greatly relieved that an absolute monarch would continue to rule Russia. On the night of February 25, the Aurora Borealis spread across the horizon, bathing the city in red light, like blood. To the highly superstitious Russians, this was a dire omen. Many later claimed that it had been a warning of the Bironovshchina, the terror caused by Biron, Anna’s favorite. For Prince Dmitri Golitsyn, the phenomenon had a special meaning. He said to a small circle of friends: “The banquet was ready, but the guests were not worthy. I know that I will be the sacrifice for the failure of this business. So be it: I suffer for the fatherland; even now I have only a little time and those who now force me to weep will have to weep longer than me.”

Anna was thirty-seven years old when she arrived in Moscow. She was an imposing but unattractive woman, coarse and masculine in her features and her tastes. A Holstein courtier who had seen her six years earlier described her as “handsome and she carries herself in a way that makes one feel respect for her.” But in an account of her ceremonial entry into Moscow, Princess Natalya Sheremetev who, as the betrothed of Prince Ivan Dolgoruky, wrote, “It was terrible to see: she has a repulsive face; she is so tall that when she walks among her officers she is a head taller and she is exceedingly fat.”

During her life in Mittau, she had been merely a pawn in the political game, played by Russia, Prussia, and Poland over Courland. Constant humiliation had made her hard, proud, and vengeful. She had longed for money and power. Now she was empress with absolute power, free at last from restraints and poverty, and free to indulge her tastes.

Anna enjoyed shooting and riding. She kept loaded guns by the windows of the palace so she could fire at passing birds. She collected animals and birds, but sometimes she would ask a servant to open the cages and aviaries so that she could practice her skill with gun and with bow and arrow. Her stables contained about forty horses that she often rode to the hunt. In three months of one year, she killed nine stag, sixteen deer, four boars, a wolf, 374 hares, 68 wild duck, and sixteen seabirds.

She hated to be alone and demanded constant diversion. She kept in her palace a number of women who could be counted on to keep up a lively conversation. She wrote to the governor in Pereyaslavl: “Seek out in Pereyaslavl among the impoverished gentry and townspeople maidens who would be similar to Tatiana Novokshchenova for she, so we believe, will soon die, so that this would be a successor. Thou knowest our pleasure that we maintain those who are about forty and talkative . . .”

Anna also maintained a large troupe of freaks, dwarfs, and clowns. Any malformed or sufficiently grotesque human being could be sure of a place at court. The tsars had always kept dwarfs and jesters, and the custom was not peculiar to Russia, but was common in all the courts of Europe in this age. Anna’s delight in the deformed and grotesque was extreme because the pleasure she took in humiliating and mocking others was sadistic. She sometimes lined up the clowns and ordered them to kick or otherwise hurt each other. Blood flowed and injuries were frequent during these bizarre performances for the entertainment of the empress.

The pleasure she took in humiliating others also showed in how she treated members of old noble families. She made Prince Nikita Volkonsky a court clown with the special duty of looking after the imperial white rabbit. But she subjected Prince Mikhail Golitsyn to a far more degrading ordeal. He had married a Roman Catholic and had changed his own faith, hoping to keep his marriage and conversion secret. But Anna, a bigoted Orthodox believer, discovered his secret and became very angry. She made him become a jester and cruelly humiliated him before the whole court, making him sit upon a large basket of eggs and try to hatch them, cackling like a hen all the time. Golitsyn’s wife died, perhaps from remorse over her husband’s persecution. Although he was then fifty years old, Anna decided that he should marry again and that she would provide him with a new wife and a magnificent wedding. She chose for his bride a Kalmuck named Anna Buzheninova, who was so ugly that she was a court freak.

The winter of 1739-1740 was exceptionally cold. On the frozen Neva, midway between the old Winter Palace and the Admiralty, workers built an ice palace for the couple. Constructed entirely of ice, the palace was thirty-three feet high by eighty feet long, and twenty-three feet deep. Trees carved from ice surrounded the palace, and ice birds perched on the branches. In the elaborate decorations and furniture, she overlooked no detail. The bedchamber had a four-poster bed with pillows and bedclothes, and even two pairs of slippers, all made of ice. She ordered that the reception and dining rooms be fully furnished, with every item including plates and mock foods being carved from ice. They created four small cannons and two mortars from ice and even fired them several times, using half an ounce of powder for each charge, without bursting them.

The wedding procession and celebrations were fantastic. Golitsyn and his bride sat in a large iron cage, strapped on the back of an elephant. There were more than 300 guests. Some rode in sleds drawn by reindeer, dogs, oxen, swine, and goats, and some rode camels. They feasted in Biron’s palatial riding school. Natives from all parts of the Russian empire had come to St. Petersburg for this wedding. All now enjoyed their special native dishes and danced to their own music. When the banquet was over, the noisy throng escorted the married couple to their palace. They led them to their bedchamber, disrobed them, and put them into their ice bed. There were guards at the door to see that they did not escape before morning.

Court life in Moscow and St. Petersburg was coarse, cruel, and often grotesque. In the reign of Anna, however, it began to acquire a certain crude magnificence. The court of the tsars had always displayed a barbaric splendor. The abundance of gold and riches had greatly impressed Richard Chancellor, the English sea captain, who visited the court of Ivan the Terrible. But the display, demonstrating the wealth and power of the sovereign, didn’t do anything to hide the squalor of Muscovite life. Peter the Great had noted the great contrast between Muscovite manners and standards of living and those of the courts and capitals of England and France. He had founded St. Petersburg, determined to create a rich port and a beautiful city where cultured civilized living would be possible. After 1712, when he had declared it to be the capital of Russia, it had begun to acquire the spaciousness and grandeur worthy of the capital of a large and growing nation. After his death, however, St. Petersburg had lost its vitality. It revived early in 1732 when Anna moved the court there again from Moscow and introduced new fashions.

After her years of poverty in Mittau, Anna, with the national revenue at her disposal, became very extravagant and delighted in opulent entertainments. In Courland, she had witnessed the efforts of German princelings to imitate the fashions of Versailles. Now as empress she sought to emulate Versailles on a grand scale and, according to Manstein, “to have her court the most brilliant of all Europe.” They had firework displays, a feature of all European courts, in St. Petersburg with a skill and magnificence unequaled elsewhere. Balls, banquets, and masquerades were frequent events. Court dress became richly westernized. Peter the Great had campaigned against the old Muscovite robes with long coats and wide sleeves that hampered the wearer, especially on board a ship. He had preferred the Dutch coat and breeches that were practical but far from elegant. Anna required everyone at court to wear the finest clothes, imported from abroad, and no one could appear twice in the same dress at court functions. The results were, however, often ludicrous. “The richest coat would be sometimes worn together with the vilest uncombed wig; or you might see a beautiful piece of stuff spoiled by some botcher of a tailor; or, if there was nothing amiss in the dress, the equipages would be deficient.” Some of the old Muscovite families and others were soon complaining about the extravagance.

Even with all of her diversions, Anna did not feel wholly secure on the throne. She had not forgotten that members of the old nobility had tried to impose restrictions on her power as autocrat. She remembered that the gentry and others had also sought opportunity to promote reforms that would undoubtedly have had the same result. The guards alone had come forward as the ardent supporters of absolutism, and she had promptly raised two new regiments, the Izmailovsky and the cavalry guards. But this was not enough to make her feel secure, and she continued to mistrust the Russian nobility and gentry. She had lived much of her life among Germans and was more German than Russian in outlook and sympathies. Now she relied increasingly on Germans in her service. Soon Germans held the most senior positions in the government and the army.

Nevertheless, Anna heeded certain of the demands made by the nobility and the gentry. On March 4, 1730, she abolished the Supreme Privy Council and revived the Senate. In practice, however, these changes were little more than gestures. She did not allow the Senate to exercise real authority, and a new central executive soon succeeded the Privy Council. Known as the Cabinet of Her Imperial Majesty, it functioned unofficially at first, but she formally instituted it on November 10, 1731. Ostermann was its main author and became “the first Cabinet Minister.” With his clear but devious mind and his remarkable instinct for survival, he had pleaded illness while the Privy Council was having secret discussions on the “Conditions.” Soon after the accession of Anna he had, in the words of a contemporary, “thought it was high time to be entirely cured of his convenient disorder. His eyes which had been out of order, now saw clearer than before, and he felt himself to be in a condition to do any service that should be required.” He gained the confidence of the empress and was soon one of the most influential men in the country.

Among the new Senators were the members of the Dolgoruky and Golitsyn families who had served on the Privy Council, but they did not retain their positions for long. Anna’s vengeance fell most heavily on the Dolgoruky. Her followers seized all princes of the family and charged them with various crimes. The court found them guilty of having distracted Emperor Peter II from his studies, of having ruined his health with hunting parties and wild living, and of having in this way caused his premature death. They all received sentences of banishment or imprisonment. Subsequently, certain members of the family received orders to return to the imperial service and then faced new accusations. Found guilty, Prince Vasily Dolgoruky and his son, Prince Ivan, suffered being broken on the wheel before execution; the court condemned two other members of the family to be quartered and had others put to death by different means.

On the return of the court to St. Petersburg in January 1732, Anna gave attention to army reforms, primarily to meet the complaints of the gentry about conditions of entry into the army and length of service. Peter the Great had required that they should serve until old age, injury, or ill health made them unfit for service. Anna ordered that they could retire after twenty-five years of service, begun at the age of twenty. In addition, the landowning nobility and gentry had complained that their estates deteriorated because all male members of their families were away on military duties. Anna now provided that the head of the family should be able to nominate one son to remain on the estate, free from compulsory service.

Anna appointed Count Munnich to be President of the War College, Field Marshal, and commander-in-chief of the army. He had served Peter the Great, winning his praise for resolving the engineering problems in building the Ladoga Canal, completed after Peter’s death. Anna chose him to implement a series of reforms in the army. He established the Corps of Cadets and housed them in the large palace built for Menshikov in St. Petersburg. They chose these cadets from the Russian and Livonian nobility and the sons of serving foreign officers. They educated them and trained them to enter the army as officers. He reviewed the pay of Russian officers so that they received the same as foreign officers. He revised army regulations and in many ways raised standards of discipline and conditions in the army. But efficiency and morale did not improve because his discipline was harsh and impersonal, and he did not inspire the comradeship that had made the army so effective under Peter the Great.

While Ostermann directed foreign affairs and much else and Munnich commanded the armed forces, Anna felt free to indulge her favorites. Biron, her lover, who had followed her to Russia, was foremost among them. On the occasion of her coronation in Moscow on April 28, 1731, she had made him a count. His position and power then grew rapidly. Under pressure from St. Petersburg, the Diet of Mittau had elected him Duke of Courland in 1737. But despised by all Russians, he remained in Russia at the side of the empress.

Arrogant, ambitious, greedy, and cruel, Biron was a fine horseman; other than that, none of his contemporaries had anything good to say about him. He had engineered the cruel execution of six or seven of the Dolgoruky at a time when Anna wanted to make use of their services. He was behind the Kantselyariya Tainikh Rozysknykh Del (The Chancery for Secret Investigations) that was responsible for the interrogation, torture, and punishment of Russians suspected of being critical or hostile to the empress or her favorites. He exiled more than 20,000 to Siberia, and thousands died under torture or at the hands of executioners. Indeed, Russian historians referred to the latter part of Anna’s reign as Bironovshchina, the rule or terror of Biron.

Anna clearly cared deeply for her companion of many years. She indulged him and allowed him great authority, but she did not permit him to dominate her completely or to interfere freely in affairs of state. Biron resented Ostermann and Munnich but could not have them dismissed or override their authority in their respective fields. Moreover, in Count Karl Augustus Lowenwolde, another intimate friend since her years in Mittau, Anna had a second lover. She had appointed him to be Colonel of the new Izmailovsky Guards Regiment, while Keith, a Scot of long service in Russia, was its Lieutenant Colonel, and Biron’s brother, Gustavus, was only Major. But Biron exercised enough power to arouse the hatred of the Russian people against the court and increasingly toward the empress herself.

During Anna’s reign, when foreign policy was under the direction of Ostermann, Russia entered into two wars, and her relations with neighboring powers continued to be complicated by the dynastic unions with the houses of Holstein and Mecklenburg. Russia fought both wars in pursuit of the two traditional purposes of foreign policy. The first purpose was to reunite all Russians, many of whom were still under Polish rule. The second purpose was to extend Russia’s frontiers to their natural geographical limits. Because Peter had established Russian power on the Baltic Sea, this meant the Black Sea in the South. But, although the Russian army won emphatic victories, losses in lives and equipment were heavy, and the outcome didn’t advance Russia any closer to her two objectives.

Since the last years of Peter the Great’s reign, Russia had been at war with Persia. Ostermann, who had always had misgivings about this costly venture, negotiated a peace that surrendered to Persia the provinces that Peter had annexed in 1723. He believed that he had justification for making this move because a conflict with France over the succession to the Polish throne was threatening and war with Turkey, France’s ally, was an ever-present danger.

The Russians based their policy on alliance with Austria and Denmark against France. Russia, Austria, and England had resumed friendly relations after the death of King George I in 1727. After the accession of Anna, France tried to secure an understanding with Russia, hoping to weaken the alliance with Austria. Ostermann opposed this policy, pointing to the conflict that was inevitable with France over the Polish succession. The others agreed with him.

On February 1, 1733, King Augustus II of Poland, the ally of Peter the Great in the Northern War, died. The European powers were very interested in the election of his successor. For France, Roman Catholic Poland was the main stronghold of her eastern defenses, and it was French policy to maintain a strong influence in Poland. The French candidate for the throne was Stanislas Leszczynski. Although Charles XII had made him King of Poland, he had to abandon the throne after the Russian victory at Poltava. Leszczynski’s daughter had married Louis XV, which was another reason for the intensive French diplomacy to secure his election. Moreover, he had visited St. Petersburg and had promised Anna the Duchy of Courland in return for her support. In Vienna, he had committed to recognize the pragmatic sanction if Emperor Charles VI would help him to gain the Polish crown.

After some hesitation, however, Russia and Austria decided that Frederick Augustus, son of the late King and Elector of Saxony, should be their candidate. In August 1733, Russia, Austria, and Saxony agreed to use military force, if necessary, to ensure his election. They were surprised when on September 12 Leszczynski was the choice to ascend the throne.

This demonstration of French influence disturbed Ostermann, and he took prompt action. An army of 20,000 Russian troops, commanded by Anna’s Irish general, Count Peter Lacy, advanced into Poland to the Vistula River. Leszczynski fled with his closest supporters to Danzig. The Poles, under Russian and Austrian pressure, then elected Frederick Augustus to the throne as King Augustus III. The Russian army next laid siege to Danzig and, after terrible losses, took the city. Meanwhile the Austrians, engaged by the French and their allies, Spain and Sardinia, had suffered defeats and appealed to St. Petersburg for support. Lacy marched his army into Saxony and advanced toward the Rhine. His approach brought an end to hostilities. The Treaty of Vienna in 1735 confirmed Augustus III as King of Poland, and soon afterward Leszczynski abdicated. Ostermann had ensured that interests hostile to Russia should not dominate Poland.

However, France was a powerful enemy and at once exerted diplomatic pressure in Constantinople to provoke the Turks to take action against Russia. French influence was an important factor in the outbreak of the Russo-Turkish War of 1735-1739. The Turks now complained of Russian intervention in Polish affairs, which they alleged had damaged Turkish interests. The defeat that they had inflicted on Peter’s army in the Pruth campaign in 1711 encouraged them to believe that further victories would be easy. The Russians had not forgotten the humiliation of the Pruth campaign, and the reports from their ambassadors in Constantinople encouraged them. These reports portrayed the Ottoman Porte as being in decline and unprepared for war.

Anna finally yielded to the persuasion of Munnich and others who were anxious to embark on war. At first, however, Ostermann maintained that the army, commanded by Munnich, which had crossed the Don in August 1735, was marching against the Crimean Tatars and not against Turkey. Russia did not declare war on Turkey until the spring of 1736.

The Russian army advanced on two fronts - the main force under Munnich against Perekop and a smaller force commanded by Lacy against Azov. Munnich succeeded in overcoming the strong defenses of Perekop on the isthmus linking the Crimea with the mainland, and then took Bakhchisarai, the capital of the Crimean Khans. Lacy captured Azov and a strong detachment, commanded by the Russian general, Leontev, took Kinburn. The Russians had won a series of huge victories, but at heavy cost in lives, resulting in part from the fierce resistance of the Tatars, but in part also from poor organization and inadequate provisioning of the Russian forces. By the end of the summer, all Russian troops had withdrawn into the Ukraine.

The campaign of summer 1737 enjoyed further success when the Russians captured the important fortress of Ochakov. But the campaign of the following year was disastrous. In May 1738, Ostermann called on the French ambassador to mediate for peace with the Turks, but they refused to negotiate. The campaign of 1739 resulted in the Russian conquest of Moldavia. At this time, however, Austria began suing for a separate peace, and Ostermann hurried to begin negotiations with the Turks. But the Treaty of Belgrade, which ended the war in 1739, yielded small gains in return for the heavy losses of life and the crippling expense that Russia incurred. Ostermann led the Russian negotiations but was no match for the French ambassador in Constantinople, who served Turkish interests. The Russians demanded that Turkey give up the land surrounding the Black Sea from the Danube to the Kuban, including the Crimea. The Turks vigorously rejected this demand, and Ostermann managed to secure only Azov and a short strip of adjoining territory. The Russians had to raze the fortress of Azov and promise not to fortify Taganrog. Further, Ostermann had to accept confirmation of the ban on Russian ships sailing the Black Sea.

The outcome of the war had caused bitter disappointment. It intensified the anger and discontent that had been mounting among Russians of all classes throughout Anna’s reign. The power and arrogance of the clique of German favorites were a constant insult and humiliation to them. Biron treated everything and everyone Russian with a contemptuous superiority that deeply offended them. At the same time, those in power extorted heavier taxes from them, and both landowners and local officials were accountable for any money that the court couldn’t collect. The war against Turkey, far from being over in one summer campaign, had dragged on for four years and had been a serious drain on resources. The personal extravagance of the empress and the expenditure of her court added significantly to the strain on the economy. Burdens of taxation and service had been heavy under Peter the Great, but he had spent revenues in the national interest.

Now the Russians, observing the waste of the court, grew more resentful as taxes increased and as the collection methods of governors and officials, under pressure from the government, became more brutal. The anger did not, however, erupt in rebellion. Secret agents were everywhere, and the smallest complaint could result in interrogation, torture, and banishment or execution. Opposition groups could not develop. But as Anna’s reign neared its end, the mood of the Russian people was growing explosive.

Childless and aging prematurely, Anna was frequently ill during 1739-1740. She suffered from both gout and kidney stones. As her health declined, succession became a matter of concern. Her sister, Catherine, had married Charles Leopold, Duke of Mecklenburg; their daughter, Anna Leopoldovna, was born in 1718. Biron had planned to have his son marry her, but Ostermann and Anna Leopoldovna frustrated this plan. In 1740, she had married Anthony Ulrich, Prince of Brunswick-Bevern-Luneburg. Their son, Ivan, was born in August 1740.

Anna was near death when, on October 16, 1740, she designated the infant, Ivan, to be her successor. At the same time she appointed Biron to be regent until the boy came of age. Biron and others close to her arranged all of this at her bedside without reference to the Senate, the Holy Synod, or representatives of the Russian people. When Anna died on October 17, there were few in Russia who mourned her.


The Romanovs

The Russian people were silent but angry when they heard about the death of the empress and the accession of Ivan VI. They felt that Anna had humiliated and shown disrespect for the nation during her reign. Arrogant, contemptuous of everything Russian, and greedy for wealth and power, the Germans in her court had abused the people and the country. There was now hostility toward all foreigners, but especially against the Germans in the imperial service. But the Russian people did not rebel. Anna had been the daughter of a tsar and had a legitimate title to the throne. The guard regiments initially had supported her, ensuring that she wielded absolute power as an autocrat. Soon they regretted their action but hesitated to rebel against the legitimate empress.

However, the two-month-old infant, proclaimed as Emperor Ivan VI, had only a weak claim of descent from the tsar. He was the great-nephew of the deceased empress. His father, Prince Anthony Ulrich of Brunswick, was a German; his mother, Anna Leopoldovna, was the daughter of another German, the Duke of Mecklenburg, but her mother had been Russian and daughter of a tsar. But most Russians felt that Anna Leopoldovna was German and the Brunswicks were a German family. Moreover, since she and her husband quarreled and lived apart from each other, Anna had appointed Biron to act as regent until the emperor came of age.

The Russians could not endure the prospect of Biron exercising autocratic power. The general public hated him. His behavior was so offensive that even his fellow countrymen detested him, and they feared that he might provoke a popular uprising that would sweep them aside. But Biron’s greatest mistake was to antagonize the guards. Fearing that the Preobrazhensky and Semenovsky, the proud regiments raised by Peter the Great, would rebel, he ordered other army units to the capital as a counterbalance and made preparations to send guard detachments to distant parts of the country, probably far to the South where they could defend the frontiers against Tatar invasions. He also had a longer-term plan to recruit guardsmen from lower classes, a change so fundamental that it would disband the regiments.

Their existence threatened, the guards were ready to rebel. Led by Munnich, a detachment of the Preobrazhensky entered the palace in the early hours of November 9, 1740, and arrested Biron, who was in bed. They carried him away wrapped in a blanket. A proclamation, made in the name of the Senate, the Holy Synod, and the Generalitet, appointed Anna Leopoldovna as regent in his place. Biron’s regency had lasted just twenty-two days.

But the new regime was hardly more acceptable. Anna Leopoldovna did not have any understanding or capacity for ruling a vast empire. She would stay for days in her bedchamber with her lady-in-waiting, Julie Mengden. She also had a lover, Count Lynar, the Saxon Minister in St. Petersburg; for some perverse reason, she wanted him to marry Julie Mengden. Consumed with her desire for sensual pleasures, she left all affairs of state to Field Marshal Munnich, who had become chief minister. But he was no match for his rival, Ostermann, who gained the regent’s confidence. On January 28, 1741, a decree restored Ostermann to the position of first minister and limited Munnich’s authority to the army and the Ladoga Canal. Incensed by this treatment, Munnich at once resigned.

Ostermann now had no direct rival, but he ruled in the midst of plots and conspiracies initiated by Austria, France, and Prussia. The War of the Austrian Succession had broken out in 1740. Russia was still a formidable power, despite popular discontent and economic decline due to misgovernment and gross extravagance since the death of Peter the Great. Austria and France competed for Russian support, and their ministers were active in St. Petersburg. Munnich’s hostility toward Austria and his support for France and Frederick II of Prussia had contributed to his displacement. Ostermann, the author of the Austro-Russian treaty of 1726, pursued an alliance with Austria. In St. Petersburg the French ambassador, Marquis de la Chetardie, and the Swedish minister, Count Nolcken, conspired to reverse this policy. He tried to take advantage of popular discontent to promote a coup that would place Tsarevna Elizabeth on the throne. They were mistaken in their belief that she was pro-French. But they were correct about her bitter hostility toward Ostermann himself, whom she regarded as having treacherously betrayed her father’s family.

In return for Swedish support, Nolcken demanded the return of the Baltic territories gained by Russia in the Northern War, but Elizabeth firmly rejected such terms. Sweden, encouraged by France, then went so far as to declare war. The pretext was to relieve Russia of the rule of foreign ministers, but the Swedes were in fact taking advantage of the apparent disarray of the government. At Vilmanstrand in August 1741, however, the Russian army under the command of Field Marshal Lacy soundly defeated them. De la Chetardie continued to scheme. Armand Lestocq, Elizabeth’s French physician, served as the intermediary between them. But beyond lending her 2,000 ducats instead of the 15,000 that she requested, he took no part in her coup and didn’t learn until later that it had taken place.

The Preobrazhensky and her close companions were responsible for trying to get Elizabeth to seize the throne. The revolution itself was an expression of Russian exasperation and hostility toward the German adventurers who ruled the country. The banishment of Biron had removed the most offensive member of this group, but the fact that Germans still held the most important offices and commands remained a national humiliation. The assumption that the Russians would prove incapable of governing the country if they banished the foreigners caused further damage to Russian pride.

The conspiracy would not have developed so quickly if Ostermann had not provoked a crisis. On November 23, 1741, Anna Leopoldovna, the regent, summoned Elizabeth to reveal that she and Ostermann knew of the plot and had decided to arrest Lestocq. On the following day, the guards received orders to prepare immediately to move to the Swedish front. The regent did not order Elizabeth to be arrested or sent under guard to a nunnery, nor did she immediately order the arrest of Lestocq. It was clear to Elizabeth that this was her last opportunity to act, if she was to avoid life in a nunnery and if Russians were to be able to get rid of Anna Leopoldovna.

After months of hesitation, Elizabeth now took the initiative and acted decisively. After midnight on November 24-25, she traveled swiftly by sled to the Preobrazhensky barracks. With her were Lestocq; Mikhail Vorontsov, her chamberlain; Herr Schwarz, her old music master; Alexei Razumovsky, her lover; and Alexander and Peter Shuvalov, two gentlemen of her household. When she appeared in the barracks, holding a silver cross in front of her, the guards welcomed her with enthusiastic oaths of support and loyalty. Elizabeth then traveled with them to the Winter Palace where they arrested the regent, her consort, and the infant, Ivan VI. Detachments of guards took Ostermann, Munnich, and others into custody. There was no resistance or bloodshed.

Elizabeth had intended to send Ivan VI and the Brunswick family back to their duchy, but a revolt in their support by certain guardsmen and others made her realize that they would always be a threat to her security on the throne if they were free. She then banished Anna Leopoldovna and her consort to Kholmogory on the Northern Dvina River, not far south of Archangel.

The guards imprisoned Ivan VI in the fortress of Schlusselburg, where for eighteen years he grew up in solitary confinement except for contact with his guards. Separated as a small child from his family, Ivan did not know love or companionship. He was dressed in rags and often hungry, and his guards sometimes abused him.

If Elizabeth had known of this abuse, she would not have allowed it. Ivan’s plight had saddened her. She had cried on the one occasion when she had guards bring him to St. Petersburg so that she could see and talk to him. But she still felt that he could not be free because he would be a threat to the throne.

Peter III was sadistic and had no capacity for sympathy or kindness. If Ivan misbehaved by calling himself a prince or angered his guards, Peter ordered them to put him in chains and beat him. He also told them that if anyone should try to release him, they should kill Ivan.

After seizing the throne, Catherine II intended to imprison Peter III in Schlusselburg and ordered that Ivan should be moved to Kexholm. The death of Peter III made this unnecessary, and they took Ivan back to his old prison.

In August 1762, Catherine went to see Ivan. She found that “apart from his painful and almost unintelligible stammering, he was bereft of understanding and human intelligence.”

In July 1764, guards murdered Ivan VI, apparently as a result of an attempt to release him. Surrounding circumstances suggest that someone in St. Petersburg might have been behind his death.

The tragic story of Ivan VI began with the arrival of Elizabeth at the Winter Palace. On the morning following his arrest, Elizabeth made a ceremonial entry into the palace. St. Petersburg rang with cheers, for this was a popular and bloodless revolution. The Senate, the Holy Synod, the Generalitet, and other senior representatives of the nobility, the gentry, and the army then fervently took the oath of allegiance to Elizabeth, as empress and autocrat.


The Romanovs

Elizabeth’s accession awakened a new spirit among the Russian people. She was the daughter of Peter the Great whose memory they respected, because he had brought the nation “from the darkness of ignorance onto the theater of fame of the whole world.” She put an end to the German domination and restored to Russians their sense of national pride. They could once again personally identify with their ruler, which was a vital source of the strength and unity of the nation.

In her foreign policy, she was tenacious and determined to maintain Russian interests. The twenty years of her rule brought a period of stability and relative prosperity. Although later overshadowed by the reign of Catherine II, this was a time of growing strength and of preparation. For many Russians, too, it was a time of happiness, a rarity in Russia’s history.

Historians usually portrayed Elizabeth as a vain, fickle, and amorous woman because they relied mainly on the dispatches of foreign ministers in St. Petersburg for their information. However, many of these men were prejudiced because she thwarted their plans, and they gave incorrect information about her to explain away their failures. Most of them reported to their capitals that, with Elizabeth on the throne and native Russians appointed to all high offices, the Russian empire would speedily disintegrate and Russia would no longer be a factor of importance in European affairs. But under Elizabeth’s rule, Russia did not disintegrate; the nation actually became stronger and assumed a more dominant role in Europe.

Elizabeth, the youngest daughter of Peter the Great and Catherine, was born in December 1709, on the day that Peter made his triumphal entry into Moscow after his victory at Poltava. She was similar to her father in her physique, her energy, her honesty, and her sense of duty. From her mother she inherited her beauty, sensuality, and her easygoing nature. Her parents neglected her during her childhood. Her father was constantly rushing away to inspect some new project or to embark on a campaign, and often her mother went with him. Although Elizabeth grew up in the midst of the new Westernizing reforms, she received a limited education from clergymen who taught her in the spirit of old Muscovy. She was extremely religious and strictly observed the Orthodox rites throughout her life. Her lack of formal education showed in such matters as her ignorance of the fact that the English Channel separated England from the continent. She disliked reading, except devotional works, and then she insisted on large type, for she firmly believed that excessive reading of small type had contributed to the death of her sister, Anna Petrovna. On the other hand, she learned enough English, German, and French to be able to address the ambassadors in their own languages, and she displayed a shrewd common sense when considering state matters. Her upbringing had in fact given her a deep love for Moscow and old Russia. Like her predecessors, she received her crown in Moscow and remained there for a year. She returned to Moscow for long visits throughout her reign. The people loved her not only for her brilliant court but also for her piety in worshiping at the holy shrines of the old city. But she was also devoted to St. Petersburg and all that it represented. Indeed, she resembled her grandfather, Tsar Alexei, in embracing the old and the new currents that were flowing through Russia.

Elizabeth resembled Tsar Alexei also in her goodness of heart. She could be quick-tempered, like him, and she was candid and harsh when other nations threatened Russian interests or someone insulted her dignity or vanity. But generosity and what a contemporary called “her tender, indeed bewitching, kindness” were among her most attractive qualities. She liked to make people happy and “like a good godmother” took a personal interest in the problems of young people. For instance, she would arrange the weddings of her servants, would help dress the bride and provide the wedding banquet, and then watch the pleasure of the guests.

Her character was a sharp contrast to Empress Anna, because she was neither malicious nor sadistic. In removing Anna’s German favorites from office, she did not allow them to be tortured or executed. Even though Ostermann and Munnich received death sentences and had to go through the ordeal of preparing for execution, she pardoned them at the last moment. She did not show any animosity toward foreigners. Like her father, she believed that foreigners should receive jobs but should not displace Russians from senior positions.

Elizabeth detested cruelty and tried to moderate the acts of violence that were common in Russia at this time. She had vowed before seizing the throne that she would abolish the death penalty, so freely imposed in Anna’s reign. In her decree of May 17, she honored this pledge. Again in 1754, she refused to approve the new criminal code, prepared by a special commission and endorsed by the Senate. She considered the new code to be barbaric and refused to make it law even in the face of strong pressure from the Church hierarchy.

As a young woman, Elizabeth was beautiful. Even in her mid-thirties, she was radiant. She was tall but shapely in build and moved very gracefully. None could compare with her in dancing and horseback riding. She had lively blue eyes, a full, well-shaped mouth, and her skin was so clear that she had no need of the cosmetics that Russian women usually applied heavily. Her hair was fair, but for some strange reason she often dyed it and her eyebrows black. She was exceedingly vain about her beauty. She dressed extravagantly, refusing to wear a gown more than once. When she died, there were more than 15,000 gowns in her wardrobes, as well as two trunks filled with silk stockings, and masses of unpaid bills.

By nature she was lazy and undisciplined. Often she did not go to bed until dawn and then slept late into the following day. She ate, dressed, and arose when the spirit moved her. She disliked affairs of state and work of any kind. Days and even weeks went by without her ministers being able to come near her to discuss urgent matters. Nevertheless, she was an autocrat who commanded the respect and loyalty of her people. Her laziness and extravagance did not corrupt her. She retained a basic simplicity and integrity, and she had a strong sense of her duty to the nation and to the memory of her father. Often she showed common sense and an instinctive wisdom that were more profound than the devious reasoning of her ministers. She imposed her personality on her era and accomplished far more than her successors conceded in laying the foundations of a cultural renaissance in Russia.

At this time, St. Petersburg and its court were still evolving, unlike Moscow where tradition and the Church had imposed rigid ceremonies. The tastes and character of the autocrat dictated the court life of St. Petersburg. The court of Empress Anna had displayed a crude magnificence and the grotesque entertainment that she enjoyed. Fear of secret agents and denunciations, especially during the Bironovshchina, had made it oppressive. In Elizabeth’s court, a new spirit – reflecting the warmth and kindness of the empress herself – replaced the heavy fear-laden atmosphere.

Elizabeth had lived a secluded life within her own small court while Anna was empress. As discontent mounted under the rule of the German favorites, Anna’s agents watched her closely because they suspected she might be plotting to seize the throne. She had many supporters who urged her to act, but she knew that the time was not right for such action. Her behavior was beyond reproach. Anna would probably have sent her to a distant nunnery, but Biron’s intercession saved her from this fate. During the ten years of Anna’s rule, Elizabeth had to curb her natural gaiety and gregarious tastes. However, once she ascended the throne, she was able to indulge her passion for banquets, balls, masquerades, and theatrical displays.

First introduced into Russia toward the end of Tsar Alexei’s reign, the theater had not immediately attracted a following. Peter had looked on the theater solely as a means of educating his people, but they had not shown interest. The theater remained a court entertainment. German and Italian troupes had played in St. Petersburg during Anna’s reign, and she had directed Rastrelli to include a theater in his plans for the new Winter Palace in 1732.

Elizabeth loved the theater. During her reign, theaters began to flourish not only at court but also in other parts of the country. In 1749, actors performed the first tragedy written by a Russian playwright, the actor-manager-dramatist Alexander Sumarokov, and many of his dramas soon followed. Lomonosov and other Russians wrote plays that they eagerly presented. In Yaroslavl, Fedor Volkov, a brilliant actor-manager, established a theater with its own company of actors. It was so successful that Elizabeth heard of it, and Volkov and his company performed often at court. By a decree on August 30, 1756, she established a state theater with a generous budget and a permanent site on Vassilevsky Island, adjoining the quarters of the Corps of Cadets who regularly assisted in theatrical productions. Sumarokov was the state theater’s first director. But while Elizabeth and the court encouraged Russian dramatists and players, the classical dramas of Racine, Moliere, Voltaire, and others were the main attraction at least twice a week.

Elizabeth took even greater pleasure in Italian comic opera and ballet. Lavishly produced, with singers and dancers from Italy, France, and Germany, the comic operas became the center of court life for a time. The sounds of Italian and German music and the plaintive songs of the Ukraine constantly filled the palace.

Elizabeth’s greatest pleasure was, however, the masquerade ball. Every Tuesday during winter, she held these masquerades and usually insisted on the men dressing as women and the women as men. She sometimes wore the uniform of an officer of the guards, but more often she put on the simple costume of a Dutch seaman. This was also an act of devotion because her father had worn similar clothing in the shipyards of Amsterdam; he had then taken the name of Peter Mikhailov, and Elizabeth, when dressed as a seaman, insisted on being called Mikhailovna.

Night after night, there were dramatic and operatic spectacles, balls, banquets, or masquerades. Elizabeth always wore a magnificent outfit, and members of her large court went into debt with their efforts to be equally fashionable. Behind the gallant façade, however, the empress and the nobility lived in what a leading Russian historian called “golden poverty.” All but the most powerful and wealthy nobles returned from the palace to houses that were small and bare, with doors that fit poorly and windows through which the wind whistled, while water flowed down the walls from condensation or leaks in the roofs. Elizabeth lived little better in her palace. The stove in her bedchamber had enormous cracks in it. Her personal furniture was sparse and simple. There was such a shortage of beds, chairs, and tables that, when the court moved on one of the frequent visits to Moscow and to other parts of the country, her servants had to transport the furniture with them. Such discomforts did not trouble her.

Elizabeth was an enthusiastic patron of architecture. Her good taste and the genius of her architect, Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli, produced great architectural memorials of her reign. Rastrelli had designed all the larger government buildings and had supervised all the major architectural activity in Russia during the previous twenty years. His real opportunity to express himself came with the accession of Elizabeth, who put him to work on a grand scale. The new Summer Palace that he built for her, carefully merging Russian and Western styles, was the most magnificent and attractive palace in St. Petersburg. He then built the Anichkov, the Vorontsov, and the Stroganov palaces. Under Elizabeth’s personal direction, he rebuilt Peterhof, expanding it vastly while preserving the original palace that her mother, Catherine I, had built. He was also responsible for the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Kiev and of the Smolny Convent in St. Petersburg, which she commissioned. His last major work for Elizabeth was the rebuilding of the Great Palace at Tsarskoe Selo and the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg that - with his new version of Peterhof - established the basic Russian baroque style of the residential architecture of the Russian autocrats for years to come.

Historians report that Elizabeth had countless lovers. Allowing for the exaggerations of court gossip, this was probably true. She was a woman of generous affectionate nature and not one to exercise self-restraint. But the man she loved sincerely was quite unlike the courtiers and favorites of the age both in origin and in character. He was a simple peasant from the Ukraine, named Alexei Razumovsky. As a boy, he had tended sheep until the local priest, attracted by his gentle nature and his fine voice, had taken him under his care and taught him reading, writing, and singing. An imperial courier, traveling from Budapest to Moscow, stopped at the village to attend the service in the local church. Mesmerized by the magnificent voice of the young Razumovsky, the courier persuaded him to go to St. Petersburg where he was soon one of the leading singers in the court chapel. Elizabeth, then tsarevna, liked this young singer and asked that he be appointed to her small court. On becoming empress, she made him a count and a field marshal. In 1742, on the advice of her spiritual adviser, Father Dubyansky, a devout and wise priest who had great influence over her, she secretly married Razumovsky. The marriage was evidently childless; however, imposters came forward after her death, claiming them as their parents.

Sudden riches and elevation to the highest offices did not change Razumovsky. When she made him a field marshal, he roared with laughter and assured his friends that he would not expose Russian soldiers to such dangers as to command them in battle. Simple honesty and shrewdness kept him from interfering unwisely in state affairs. If he drank too much, he became boisterous and inclined to roughhousing, but normally he was a man of quiet dignity and courtesy. Elizabeth showed great devotion to him. When he was confined to his apartments with gout, she would cancel all court functions and take care of him.

As was the custom, Razumovsky’s family came to court to share in his good fortune. His mother, an old peasant woman, wore a fashionable gown and Elizabeth respectfully received her. But she stayed only briefly, preferring to return to the humble village where she had spent her life. Razumovsky looked after his younger brother, Kyril, sending him to be educated in the universities of Berlin and Paris. Kyril learned rapidly and acquired many Western tastes and interests. He married, under pressure from the empress, Princess Ekaterina Naryshkina, who was her cousin. When he was still a very young man, she appointed him to be the first president of the Academy of Sciences and later made him a count and hetman of the Cossacks of the Ukraine. Like his elder brother, he was a patron of Russian writers and dramatists, and kept open house for actors, dancers, and musicians. Indeed, while both Alexei and Kyril Razumovsky owed their fortune entirely to the favor of the empress, they earned the goodwill of nearly all who came into contact with them, because they were friendly, generous, and shrewd.

Alexei Razumovsky kept the affection of the empress until his death. It was a good thing that he was good-natured and not possessive because the empress also enjoyed the intimate company of other men. At Easter 1750, for instance, Grand Duchess Catherine noted that the empress was not in a good mood because at church she was sitting near four favorites: Alexei Razumovsky; Ivan Shuvalov, the newly appointed Gentleman of the Bedchamber; a chorister named Kachenevsky; and Cadet Beketov. Catherine said, “It must be admitted that anyone but Her Majesty would have been embarrassed with less than that. To deal with four men and conciliate them all is not a task that everyone could accomplish.” As she grew older, Elizabeth was increasingly attracted to young men, often half her age. But Alexei Razumovsky evidently was content to stay in the background as her trusted confidant and companion.

Ivan Shuvalov, the chief favorite of the latter part of Elizabeth’s reign, was amiable, unpretentious, and generally popular. He was, however, highly educated and an able and cultured patron of the arts and of education in Russia. He corresponded with Voltaire and the Encyclopaedists and had such an enthusiasm for French culture that he was probably more responsible than any other man for introducing it and the French language into Russian court life. He promoted secondary schools and took the initiative in establishing the University of Moscow and the Russian Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg, both modeled closely on the French institutions.

The Shuvalovs had been among those who formed part of Elizabeth’s small court when she was tsarevna. They belonged to the gentry. Though the family had not won special fame, they apparently thought education was very important. Like Ivan, his two cousins, Peter and Alexander Shuvalov, who now became influential at court, were well educated. However, both of them were ambitious and ruthless in cultivating favor and eliminating rivals. Others at court feared and hated them. They particularly dreaded Alexander Shuvalov, who was head of the Secret Chancellery. One of his eyes was half closed; whenever he was excited or angry, one side of his face twitched convulsively, which added to his sinister appearance.

Peter Shuvalov was the outstanding member of the family. He was vindictive and unscrupulous, but he also had a brilliant inventive mind. He married Elizabeth’s favorite lady-in-waiting; through her and the influence of his young cousin, he quickly gained Elizabeth’s confidence. He was greedy and amassed a large fortune, but in the process introduced many measures that benefited the national economy and the army. The national finances were disorganized, and the nation suffered from chronic budget deficits. It was always difficult to collect the poll tax. Peter Shuvalov promoted a sweeping reform of taxation policy by reducing the poll tax and increasing indirect taxes, especially on salt and alcohol because they were state monopolies. By these and other measures affecting trade, he revived the economy enough to help finance the heavy expenditures from the Russian campaigns in the Seven Years’ War. He was responsible for the abolition in 1753 of most of the internal tariffs and duties that had severely hampered trade. As Grand Master of Artillery, he improved the general level of efficiency and personally invented a new type of howitzer. He contributed also by army reforms and by ensuring that the 30,000-man army was ready for service.

Alexei Bestuzhev-Ryumin was Elizabeth’s chief adviser and responsible for foreign policy for most of her reign. She appointed him vice-chancellor in 1741 and chancellor three years later. He was probably of English origin. His ancestor seems to have been a Kentish farmer, named Gabriel Best, who went to Russia in 1403 where one of the Muscovite Grand Dukes made his son a boyar. Alexei’s father had won the favor of Peter the Great and had later become the adviser and lover of Anna in Courland. An able diplomat and a distinguished chemist whose tonic or elixir was quite popular, Alexei Bestuzhev was by nature secretive, irritable, and ruthless. Already in his fifties when he attained high office, those at court feared him as a man of sinister influence. Although an unattractive man, he was honest and devoted to his country. This was why Elizabeth - who disliked him as a person - retained him in office for so long, ignoring the attempts of the agents of Prussia and France to have him dismissed.

Bestuzhev had been the personal enemy of Ostermann, but he pursued the same policy of supporting Austria against Prussia and France. He based his policy on alliances with the maritime powers, England and Holland against Prussia, and with Austria and Poland-Saxony against the Ottoman Porte. But he had to be extremely cunning to maintain this policy in the face of the opposition at court.

Frederick of Prussia, having seized Silesia in the Austrian Succession War, was eager to strike again, this time to take Bohemia. But he could not be sure how Elizabeth, guided by Bestuzhev, would react. His own minister in St. Petersburg, Mardefeld, and the Frenchman, de la Chetardie, plotted unscrupulously to bring about the dismissal of Bestuzhev and to draw Russia into alliance with Prussia and France. Their success seemed probable at one stage. Many thought Elizabeth’s accession was a triumph of French diplomacy and now they expected her French physician, Armand Lestocq, and de la Chetardie to have a strong influence on her. Working with the Frenchman, Baron Mardefeld disbursed bribes wherever he thought they would be beneficial to Prussia.

Frederick II had another agent in St. Petersburg to influence the Empress. This was Princess Johanna of Anhalt-Zerbst, who had accompanied her daughter, the future Catherine II, to Russia to marry the Grand Duke Peter, the heir to the Russian throne. The young Grand Duke already admired Frederick, and the Prussians expected that marriage with the Princess of Anhalt-Zerbst would consolidate Prussian influence in the Russian capital. Bestuzhev had opposed the marriage for this reason and had hoped that a Saxon princess would marry Peter. However, Elizabeth had made her decision without consulting him. But Bestuzhev was soon able to demonstrate to her the disloyalty of the pro-Prussian party at court.

Those who opposed Bestuzhev’s policies usually gathered in the apartments of Princess Johanna where they gossiped and plotted, but their lack of success in displacing Bestuzhev made them increasingly unhappy. De la Chetardie in his dispatches complained about the empress and described her as frivolous, lazy, and incapable of dealing with affairs of state. He spoke highly of Princess Johanna and referred to her as the special agent of the King of Prussia. Although suspecting that Bestuzhev intercepted his dispatches, he was so confident that no one could break the code he used that he took no further precautions. Bestuzhev not only managed to break the code but also assembled in a report many extracts from these dispatches and presented them to the empress.

Elizabeth was shocked. Like her father she was honest in her personal relationships and both surprised and infuriated by deceit and betrayal. She gave De la Chetardie, with whom she had been on very friendly terms, twenty-four hours to leave Russia. The Prussian ambassador also had to leave. She severely reprimanded Princess Johanna and a few months later sent her home. She placed Grand Duke Peter and his young German wife under close supervision, and expelled two of their Holstein attendants from Russia the following year.

Bestuzhev had triumphed over the pro-Prussian party at court for the time being. He now worked to consolidate the alliance with England that formed the basis of his foreign policy. The Anglo-Russian treaties of 1747 had provided that Russia would station an army in Courland and send another to the Rhine in return for British subsidies. An army under General Repnin had begun its march to the Rhine in January 1748 and, although not involved in action, its presence helped England to convince France to sign the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748. But these treaties had now expired; England and France had to protect their colonial territories. George II of England was concerned about the safety of Hanover because it lay exposed to Prussian attack.

Bestuzhev’s most difficult task was to convince Elizabeth to enter into a new treaty with England. She was hostile toward Frederick, but she also mistrusted England. New proposals came from London early in 1750. Elizabeth delayed her reply for three years. Negotiations with the English plus his efforts to win the approval of the empress were exhausting Bestuzhev. The English were driving a hard bargain and continued to make petty demands.

Sir Charles Hanbury-Williams, a new ambassador, arrived in St. Petersburg in June 1755. His instructions were to obtain immediate agreement. This elegant diplomat managed to secure Elizabeth’s approval of the new alliance, which she signed on September 16, 1755. Its terms required Russia to provide an army of 55,000 men to defend Hanover against Prussia in return for a substantial annual subsidy. When she had to ratify the treaty two months later, Elizabeth again hesitated, suspicious of England’s good faith and reluctant to sacrifice Russian troops for England’s cause. Finally on February 1, 1756, they exchanged ratifications.

Incredible news reached St. Petersburg a few days later. It confirmed Elizabeth’s worst suspicions and crushed Bestuzhev. George II of England and Frederick II of Prussia had secretly joined in alliance under the Treaty of Westminster. It had happened only two weeks before the final ratification of the Anglo-Russian treaty. Both monarchs had disregarded their existing alliances and now shamelessly tried to justify their new treaty. This resulted in a spectacular reversal of the pattern of European alliances. Austria managed to bring France, her traditional enemy, into a defensive alliance against Prussia, and Russia later joined this alliance, confronting Frederick with three powerful enemies.

His influence fading and his position as chancellor in jeopardy, Bestuzhev tried to salvage what he could of his policy. In his hatred of France and his opposition to Russia joining the Franco-Austrian alliance, he still had some common ground with Hanbury-Williams. They joined forces in opposing the Shuvalovs and Mikhail Vorontsov, the vice-chancellor, who were pro-French.

Elizabeth had been seriously ill in 1755-1756 and, although she recovered, many believed that she would not live much longer. Factions at court turned their attention increasingly to the young court of the Grand Duke and Duchess. The Shuvalovs tried to gain the favor of the Grand Duke who hero-worshiped Frederick of Prussia; Bestuzhev and Hanbury-Williams paid careful attention to Catherine. Bestuzhev had displayed hostility toward her from the day she arrived in Russia and believed that, like her mother, she was an agent and supporter of the Prussian king. Now he began to realize that she was highly intelligent and uncommitted, and that one day she might be influential.

The real power still rested in the hands of the empress who continued to show hostility toward Frederick of Prussia. However, the Conference of Ministers guided and influenced her. Bestuzhev had instigated the creation of this group after the setback of the Anglo-Prussian alliance. Elizabeth had welcomed this proposal because she disliked the heavy burden of responsibility for foreign affairs and hoped that these men would alleviate some of the pressure surrounding her. The Conference of Ministers met twice in February 1756 and agreed on the basic principles of Russia’s opposition to Prussia in alliance with Austria and France. Bestuzhev was unsuccessful in his argument against the inclusion of France. Unknown to him, Mikhail Vorontsov, with Elizabeth’s approval, was already negotiating a treaty with France. Bestuzhev was now chancellor in name only, but he fought to retain his position and Elizabeth refused to dismiss him despite the efforts of the Shuvalovs and Vorontsov.

Frederick invaded Saxony in August 1756, thus unleashing the Seven Years’ War on Europe. The Russian army began to mobilize, and toward the end of the winter it was ready to march on Prussia. Field Marshal Apraksin received the appointment of commander-in-chief. A lazy, self-indulgent, but likable man, he seemed unlikely to lead the army to victory. However, he was a friend of both Bestuzhev and of the Shuvalovs and was one of the most senior officers available. He advanced slowly and reluctantly because he was in an unenviable position. The empress was ill and not expected to live long; Grand Duke Peter, the heir to the throne, opposed going to war against his hero, Frederick. Apraksin knew that success against the Prussians would earn him the antagonism of the Grand Duke and certain disgrace after he had ascended the throne. Apraksin felt that his mission was political suicide.

In St. Petersburg, the empress and her ministers suspected him of deliberate delaying tactics and sent him messages demanding action. A Russian force, led by General Fermor, the second in command, captured Memel in June; on August 19, Apraksin won a great victory over the Prussians at Grossjaegersdorf. There was general rejoicing in St. Petersburg. The Prussians were retreating and the road to Koenigsburg lay open. But then came the report that Apraksin had failed to take advantage of his success and had retreated across the Nieman River to take up winter quarters in Poland. The sad news that their empress had suffered a severe stroke and was gravely ill added to the confusion and anxiety of the citizens in the capital.

On the morning of September 8, Elizabeth was attending service in the small church with its single gilded cupola, close by the palace in Tsarskoe Selo. The service had just begun when she moved out of the church alone and, as she stepped from the porch, fell to the ground unconscious. A group of peasants, walking to the church, stood at a respectful distance from her, not knowing what to do. Members of her entourage hurried from the church. Doctors performed the customary bloodletting but failed to revive her. For two hours she lay in the shadow of the cupola. Finally, servants brought screens and a couch and carried her into the palace. When later in the day she regained consciousness, she could not speak clearly and her mind seemed confused. But by the end of the month, she appeared to have recovered fully.

Elizabeth devoted her remaining energies to the war against Prussia. She couldn’t understand Apraksin’s retreat from his victory at Grossjaegersdorf. She sent a decree that ordered him to advance into East Prussia and to engage the enemy. Apraksin complained of lack of supplies and equipment and the exhaustion of his men. Even though some of his complaints were justified, Elizabeth believed that he was avoiding battle. She suspected that Bestuzhev was sending him secret instructions to delay. Elizabeth now listened to the old chancellor’s enemies, who alleged that he was pursuing an independent policy in liaison with the young court. On February 14, 1758, when he failed to attend the meeting of the Conference of Ministers because he was ill, Elizabeth sent for him. Bestuzhev slowly dressed and made his way to the palace. As he entered the conference room, they arrested him. They also relieved Field Marshal Apraksin of his command at this time and placed him under arrest.

In these last years of Elizabeth’s reign, when her health was failing, the prospect of Grand Duke Peter succeeding to the throne made every Russian very apprehensive. He was outspokenly pro-German and at the same time mentally unstable. His accession held the threat of the return of the German domination of Anna’s reign, and also of weak government and insecurity.

Meanwhile Elizabeth continued to demand action against Prussia. She felt that the lack of action after Grossjaegersdorf had disgraced the Russian army; the criticisms that her allies were making about the inaction of the Russian army angered her. She had appointed Fermor as the new commander-in-chief, and by January 1758 he had completed the occupation of East Prussia. He then marched into Brandenburg, intending to join with the Austrian army at Frankfurt on the Oder. Turning aside to lay siege to the fortress of Kustrin, he was shocked to learn that Frederick, at the head of the Prussian army, had made forced marches from the south to defend his hereditary territory and was about to attack him. Fermor moved his troops into strong positions at Zorndorf. There on August 25, the two armies joined in one of the bloodiest battles in modern times. In nine hours of fighting, the Russians lost 10,886 men and 12,788 received wounds, and the Prussians suffered similar casualties. But the battle was indecisive.

The results of this battle deeply disappointed Elizabeth, and she even considered going to the front to lead the army in person. She accused Fermor of hesitancy because he failed to pursue the Prussians after the battle. Her criticisms were not justified, but she was upset about the terrible casualties among her soldiers and the mounting cost of this war that remained unresolved. In addition, she felt that the only way she could eradicate the deceit that surrounded her was to beat Frederick. Meanwhile, an extraordinary situation had developed in the capital. While Elizabeth was concentrating on the war, Frederick had a team of spies and agents in her court that kept him informed not only about Russian policy but also about the detail of Russian tactics. There were times when he knew the military orders sent by the empress and the Conference of Ministers before they reached the commander-in-chief. His agents were Grand Duke Peter, Mikhail Vorontsov, the Shuvalovs, and Keith, the new English ambassador, who passed information promptly to Frederick in Berlin by diplomatic couriers. Grand Duchess Catherine had never shared her husband’s enthusiasm for Frederick and Prussia and she was openly contemptuous of him, the Shuvalovs, and Vorontsov for their disloyalty to the empress and to their country.

Elizabeth’s health deteriorated steadily during 1759-1760, but her determination to wage the war against Prussia remained as strong as ever. Fermor was advancing with his army across the Vistula River and into Saxony to join the Austrian army. In April 1759, he suddenly received a decree from the empress that relieved him of command and appointed Count Peter Saltykov to take his place. This alarmed Russian officers and troops, but the news made Frederick happy. Saltykov was an odd little old man without great military experience, who wore a plain white kaftan instead of the usual decorated uniform of a general. But the Russians quickly learned to respect their new commander-in-chief because he acted with energy and decision that raised their morale. Frederick’s rejoicing didn’t last long. Saltykov, supported by Austrian auxiliaries, routed the Prussian army at Kunersdorf near Frankfurt. Of his army of 48,000 men, Frederick could muster only 3,000 after this battle. Saltykov lost about 16,000 men, but this was the price to be paid for such a victory.

News of the Russian victory resounded throughout Europe. In St. Petersburg, Elizabeth attended a thanksgiving service and the people rejoiced; in Vienna and at Versailles, the people celebrated the victory with equal enthusiasm. Frederick contemplated suicide and appealed to England to mediate on his behalf. Counting on the uneasy relations between Russia and her allies, Austria and France, and even more on Elizabeth’s known hatred of losing more troops, he believed peace was possible. But he failed to understand Elizabeth. To the English ambassador who conveyed peace proposals in December 1759, she replied firmly that she would never make peace without her allies and then she would consider only such items as would guarantee an honorable and lasting peace. Moreover, she made it clear that she would never trust Frederick and that she would not rest until she had finally broken Prussian power. But events again opposed her determination. Saltykov had delayed and the campaign of 1760 was unsuccessful. The allies began pressing her to make peace, but she refused. She knew that her army had to invade Prussia now to deliver the final blow. For the campaign of 1761, she appointed Alexander Buturlin as commander-in-chief. He was the most senior officer in the Russian army, having served under her father in the Northern War and the Persian campaign. But now – because he was old and an alcoholic - he proved inadequate. Nevertheless, the capture of Schweidnitz and Kolberg by Rumyantsev and the occupation of Berlin brought Frederick to the point of unconditional surrender. But the death of the empress saved him.

Elizabeth’s health was failing. Although she was only fifty-two years of age, her legs were so swollen that she was unable to walk. She had always been very religious by nature, and now she spent most of her time in prayer. Her other concern was the war. But she worried, too, about succession. She knew that her nephew, Grand Duke Peter, was pro-Prussian, that he would reverse her policies after she died, and that he was incapable of ruling. Her one hope was the infant Paul, the son of the Grand Duke and of Catherine, his wife.

Elizabeth lingered for months. She suffered fevers and further strokes, and her strong constitution pulled her through after each attack. But on December 23, 1761, she suffered a particularly severe stroke. She recovered consciousness on the following day and twice repeated with her confessor the deeply moving Otkhodnaya, the prayer for the dying. Then, shortly after 4 p.m. on Christmas Day, the doors of the bedchamber opened. Prince Nikita Trubetskoy, one of the oldest Senators, came out into the anteroom where nobles, clergymen, and courtiers were waiting for news. Many were already on their knees praying and others were weeping. Trubetskoy tearfully formally proclaimed the death of the empress and the accession of Emperor Peter III.


The Romanovs

The whole country grieved because all Russians felt the death of Elizabeth as a personal loss. But they also felt a sense of hopelessness, evoked by the prospect of the new reign. It showed in their faces, and they even gave voice to it. Marching to the palace to take the oath of allegiance, the guards murmured aloud and, according to one who was present, it “sounded so menacing and alarming, so desperate.” The new emperor was jubilant. While St. Petersburg was in mourning, he celebrated his accession and freedom. His conduct was crude and offensive to all Russians. During the weeks when the body of the empress lay in state and the people crowded past the open coffin in the solemn ceremony of leave-taking, Peter held rowdy drunken parties and insisted that all guests should wear their brightest clothes. When he appeared at the lying-in-state, he behaved foolishly, joking with the ladies in attendance, ridiculing the priests, and making an inappropriate noise. At the state funeral, he played childish games that disrupted the solemn procession to the cathedral.

One of his first acts as emperor was to order an armistice with Prussia. He then invited Frederick to draft his own peace terms. The resulting treaty restored to Prussia all the territories occupied by the Russian army. The war had never been popular, but the Russian people had accepted the immense effort and the casualties, and took pride in their victories over the Prussians. The army in particular was incensed to find that its sacrifices and victories no longer had value. But the new emperor offended the army even more. He introduced Prussian uniforms to be worn in place of Peter the Great’s uniforms in which all Russians took special pride. He also constantly drilled the troops in the rigid Prussian style. He went on to form a regiment of household guards, composed entirely of German and foreign soldiers, which posed a direct threat to the Preobrazhensky and Semenovsky regiments. He prepared for war against Denmark with the sole purpose of recovering Schleswig for his Duchy of Holstein. He made it abundantly clear to his new subjects that this meant far more to him than Russia ever would. Thus the army had orders to prepare for a campaign that had nothing to do with Russian interests and that they did not understand. Moreover, because Frederick had agreed to join in this venture, Russian officers and men would be marching side by side with Prussians – those whom they had so recently fought with great bitterness and had defeated.

Peter demonstrated his contemptuous disregard for Russian interests, traditions, and loyalties not only in his treatment of the army but also of the Church. He had been brought up in the Lutheran faith until the age of fourteen when the Russian Orthodox Church received him. But he remained a Lutheran at heart. He had no respect for the faith of others and was incapable of understanding how much Orthodoxy meant to every Russian. When he attended church, he would disturb the congregation and mock the officiating priests, often sticking out his tongue at them. He criticized the rich vestments of the Orthodox clergy and the opulence of the Russian churches. He ordered the removal of many of the ikons, decreed that priests should shave their beards, and told them to dress like German pastors. He had a Lutheran chapel built in the palace and decreed freedom of worship for all Protestants. Finally, he issued a decree confiscating Church property and providing for a scale of payments to be made from the treasury for the maintenance of the clergy. His decree brought a storm of protest from the clergy and the people, but he disregarded their wishes. Protestants and Roman Catholics in the foreign embassies expressed amazement at his treatment of the established Church.

While Peter antagonized the Russian people and the Orthodox Church, Catherine supported them. From the first day of her arrival in St. Petersburg, she had embraced Russia ardently. She studied the language and was devout in her observance of Orthodoxy. During the lying-in-state, she maintained a vigil, kneeling in prayer by the open coffin for hours every day. The French ambassador observed sagely that she “more and more captures the hearts of the Russians.”

Catherine’s Russian career had started in January 1744 when as the Princess Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst she had departed with her mother, Princess Joanna, from Zerbst, bound for St. Petersburg. The urgent summons from the empress had not stated the purpose of their visit, but they knew that the empress was anxious to have the Grand Duke married. She had chosen Catherine because of her link with the Holstein family and also because it was important that the bride should come from a family that was noble but insignificant and unlikely to involve Russia in further European commitments.

Halting in Berlin on their journey, the king received Catherine and her mother. He carefully briefed Princess Johanna and saw her as a valuable agent who could influence the empress in his favor. But he also observed this young princess who might one day occupy the throne of Russia as the emperor’s consort, and she evidently impressed him. Catherine was then a spirited, highly intelligent girl of fifteen, slender in build and neither pretty nor plain. She was dark in coloring with brown hair. Only her chin and her firm mouth gave indication of the strength of will and the purposefulness that would play an important part in her extraordinary career.

Grand Duke Peter, whom she was to marry, was a tall, frail, unhealthy youth. Born in Kiel in 1728, he was only three months old when he lost his mother, Anna Petrovna, the beloved sister of Empress Elizabeth. His father had neglected him and had died in 1739. Through childhood he had suffered poor treatment, and he had grown to be cruel, cowardly, and boastful.

Elizabeth had sent for him immediately after her coronation. She was fervently devoted to the memory of her father and sister, and was determined to cherish this nephew as a mother. Because he was the grandson of Peter the Great and in her view the only surviving male of the Romanov dynasty, she would raise him as her successor. From the time when he arrived in Russia, she had lavished care and affection on him, but he had always been an exceedingly difficult, unlovable boy. He was backward and infantile and slow to learn from his tutors. She soon recognized that he would never be fit to rule, but she could not bring herself to disinherit him or to send him back to Holstein. She sought comfort in the hope that he would have a son worthy of the succession. For this reason she was urgently planning his marriage, although he was only sixteen.

From their first meeting, Peter’s childishness and inadequacy amazed Catherine, but she humored him. She was tremendously ambitious and never lost sight of the fact that he was the heir to the throne. In July 1744, Catherine and Peter accompanied the empress on a pilgrimage to Kiev. Soon after their return to Moscow, Peter fell ill with smallpox. Elizabeth nursed him devotedly through this highly infectious illness, for although vain about her beauty she was a woman of courage and generous affection. Catherine was not able to see him until February 1745. By this time, he had grown taller and thinner; his skin, puffed and hideously pockmarked, made him repulsive to her. She tried to control her feelings, but as the wedding day approached she spent hours weeping unhappily.

Elizabeth’s impatience to have them married increased because of the Grand Duke’s poor health. If he were to die, the deposed boy-Emperor, Ivan VI, alive in the grim fortress of Schlusselburg, would ascend the throne; the succession would be lost to the family of Peter the Great, and the German favorites would again rule Russia. There could be no delay to his marriage to Catherine and the birth of a son and heir to the throne.

The wedding took place with great magnificence on August 21, 1745. A court ball followed in the evening, but the empress impatiently led the bride and groom off to their apartment soon after the ball had begun. Ladies-in-waiting undressed Catherine and put her to bed. She sat alone, unsure what to do. According to her memoirs, she was so innocent at this time that she knew nothing of sexual relationships. After a time Madame Krause, the new maid appointed by the empress came to tell her that the Grand Duke would join her as soon as he had eaten. Two hours later he appeared. He remarked with a laugh that it would surprise the servants in the morning to find them in bed together. Clearly he had no idea that he had a duty to perform. The next morning, when Madame Krause questioned them about their first night of marriage, she learned nothing to encourage the hopes of the empress.

The winter of 1745-1746 passed with the usual round of entertainments. Catherine enjoyed dancing and she had made friends with certain members of her husband’s entourage. Her relations with Peter were, however, far from intimate; indeed, two weeks after their wedding, Peter told her that he had fallen in love with a Fraulein Korf, and he made it clear that she was far more beautiful than his wife. Catherine had bouts of weeping, especially after Princess Johanna had gone home. She had never been close to her mother, who had shown her no affection, but she missed her in this strange country where she felt exposed and insecure.

As the months passed without signs of pregnancy, the empress began to be suspicious of Catherine. She felt that Princess Johanna had disappointed her and that Catherine was also working for, or at least sympathetic toward, the Prussian king. But the real reason for her growing hostility was Catherine’s failure to become pregnant. Elizabeth blamed her entirely. The possibility that Peter might be impotent and unable to consummate the marriage did not occur to her. He had had several boyish infatuations for young women at court, which made him seem normal and mature. In her view, it was the wife’s duty to inflame the passions of her husband.

One morning in May 1746, the empress suddenly stormed into Catherine’s apartments. She accused her of deceit and betrayal of Russia’s interest, of having affairs with gentlemen of the Grand Duke’s entourage, and of failing to ensure that her marriage was consummated. This angry meeting was the beginning of a long persecution for Catherine. A trusted lady-in-waiting, Maria Choglokova, was appointed to watch over her and to ensure consummation. Choglokova who was young, married, and constantly pregnant, seemed particularly suited to do this. Bestuzhev, convinced that Catherine was a Prussian agent, drafted instructions that reflected the extent of Elizabeth’s suspicions. The first instruction was to ensure that Catherine practiced Orthodoxy with true devotion and “not just for the sake of appearances.” The second and most important instruction was that Choglokova should guard “the marital fidelity between both Imperial Highnesses” and impress on Catherine that she had been elevated to imperial rank to produce an heir to the throne. In addition, she had to prevent Catherine from interfering in political matters and make certain that all of her correspondence, even with her father and mother, went through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Similar instructions applied to Peter. They also removed the members of their respective courts with whom they were friendly.

Catherine was lonely and bored. Peter was an inadequate companion. He spent his time playing the violin badly, training and abusing packs of dogs in his apartments or playing with toy soldiers, and drinking heavily. Catherine spent her time riding, dancing, and reading for six years. In 1752, however, she became fond of a young chamberlain of the grand ducal court, named Sergei Saltykov, whom she considered to be “handsome as the dawn.” Saltykov courted her, although he had two years earlier married one of the empress’s ladies-in-waiting. Choglokova evidently turned a blind eye on the affair because by this time she understood that Catherine was not at fault for her failure to become pregnant.

The Grand Duke laughed about Saltykov’s pursuit of his wife but showed no concern. When on December 14, 1752, Catherine set out with the court on a visit to Moscow, she was pregnant but suffered a miscarriage during the journey. The following May, she was again pregnant but had another miscarriage, this time because of horseback riding and a hunting excursion. In February 1754, she was pregnant for the third time and needed to rest and live quietly. The empress appointed the sinister Alexander Shuvalov to be chamberlain of the grand ducal court to watch over her. On September 20, 1754, after an exhausting labor she gave birth to a boy, Paul. The empress took him away to a specially prepared nursery, and Catherine was unable to see her child for forty days.

By this time, Peter preferred the company of Elizabeth Vorontsova, the niece of the vice-chancellor, and Catherine was carrying on her affair with Sergei Saltykov. But Peter’s attitude had changed from one of indifference to one of active hostility. Catherine had tried to stay away from the factions at court. She had, however, developed a new maturity and independence after the birth of her son. She had read widely and Montesquieu’s Esprit des Lois, the Annals of Tacitus, and Voltaire’s Essai sur les Moeurs et l’Esprit de Nations had made a deep impression on her, preparing her for the role of enlightened autocrat. But she had also shed some of the loyalties that she had brought with her from Anhalt-Zerbst. Peter’s unreasoning enthusiasm for Frederick of Prussia had antagonized her, and she regarded Holstein as unimportant. The Shuvalovs, who now curried favor with Peter, were her enemies, but she no longer saw Bestuzhev as her archenemy and now welcomed him as an ally.

In the months following the birth of Paul, she felt a desperate need for friends and allies. Sergei Saltykov was now serving as Russian minister to Hamburg; on the few occasions that she had seen him before his departure, he made it clear that he had lost interest in her. But in June 1755, the new English ambassador, Sir Charles Hanbury-Williams, arrived in St. Petersburg. Stanislas Poniatowski, a young Polish count on his staff, soon made her forget Saltykov completely.

A member of the powerful Czartoryski family, which led the pro-Russian party in Poland, Poniatowski was tall, good-looking, gentle, highly educated, and intelligent. Hanbury-Williams had become friendly with his family during visits to Poland, and had invited him to join his embassy as secretary to gain experience. Catherine and Poniatowski felt a strong, immediate attraction to each other. Within a few weeks of their meeting, she was sneaking out of her apartments, dressed as a man, to meet him. To do this, she needed to pass through the Grand Duke’s apartment. Because he usually was drunk when he went to bed, the risk was not great. In any case, he was busy courting Elizabeth Vorontsova and was not interested in his wife’s movements.

After the formation of the Anglo-Prussian alliance when Bestuzhev and Hanbury-Williams were still working together, united now only in their opposition to France, and to the Shuvalovs and Vorontsovs, who were pro-French, many at court misunderstood Catherine’s position. She was the personal friend of Hanbury-Williams and indebted to him for making possible her affair with Poniatowski. Many took this to mean that she supported his pro-Prussian policy. Hanbury-Williams even reported to the Prussian king that she was a dependable ally. But Bestuzhev knew otherwise. He had persuaded her to write personally to Apraksin, urging him to march on the Prussians without further delay. He knew that she had little influence on policy, but he counted on her support after Elizabeth’s death and he knew that Apraksin would consider her appeal. Bestuzhev had even prepared a plan whereby on her husband’s accession she would wield power directly with him and not merely through her influence, if any, on him. Another of his plans was to prevent Peter’s accession and to ensure the election of the infant Paul as emperor with Catherine serving as regent. She politely rejected his proposals as being impractical at this stage. But the more important reason was that her ambition had grown, and she intended to possess the absolute power alone, sharing it with no one, not even her son.

On December 9, 1757, Catherine gave birth to a daughter. The empress named her Anna Petrovna after her eldest sister, the Grand Duke’s mother. Most of those at court assumed that Poniatowski was the father of the child. Peter had expressed great surprise on learning that she was pregnant again. A few weeks after the birth of her daughter, Catherine was distressed to learn of the arrest of Bestuzhev and Apraksin. Of even greater concern to her was the imminent recall of Poniatowski to Poland, which she was powerless to stop. Moreover, the Grand Duke had now begun talking openly of sending her back to Zerbst and of making Elizabeth Vorontsova his wife.

Catherine suffered from loneliness and isolation at this time and grew desperate. On the advice of Ivan Shuvalov, the only one of the Shuvalovs who liked her, she wrote to the empress, throwing herself on her mercy. Having already gotten sympathy from the empress’s confessor, Catherine said “her soul was in danger.” Most of the clergymen were sympathetic to her because she had always worshipped respectfully and humbly in the Orthodox rite. He spoke to the empress in such terms that she sent Alexander Shuvalov to ask if she would be well enough for an audience the following night.

The empress summoned Catherine to this dramatic meeting after midnight on April 13, 1758. As she entered the empress’s chamber, she noticed that the Grand Duke was present as well as Alexander Shuvalov. She at once threw herself at Elizabeth’s feet, begging tearfully to be sent home to Zerbst because she could not bear the hostility of her husband and the disfavor of the empress. To return to the court of Zerbst was the last thing that she wanted because it would mean the denial of all her ambitions. But she hoped that such an appeal would gain some sympathy from Elizabeth. To the charge that she had sent orders to Apraksin, contrary to the instructions she had received, she replied convincingly. She noted that the empress was softening toward her. The Grand Duke, who had been watching her angrily, now began to verbally abuse her. She replied with dignity and noticed that his abuse made Elizabeth more sympathetic toward her. Finally Elizabeth ended the audience, quietly promising her that they would meet alone and talk privately. The second meeting took place toward the end of May. No one has found a record of that meeting, but it marked the beginning of a warm and friendly relationship between the two women. Catherine did not need to return to Zerbst. She was no longer in disfavor, and her dignified conduct, which quickly became known to all at court, had won her general approval.

Catherine continued, nevertheless, to lead a lonely life. No one had replaced Bestuzhev as her ally, or her friend, Hanbury-Williams, because she did not admit his successor, Sir Robert Keith, to her confidence. The departure of Poniatowski in August 1758 saddened her, and a few weeks later the death of her infant daughter deepened her grief. But, although isolated at court and without direct influence, she was attracting wide and sympathetic support from Russians of all classes by her loyalty to the empress, for her open opposition to Prussia, for devotion to the Orthodox Church, and for her respect for Russia and the people.

Now aged twenty-nine, Catherine had developed into a distinguished rather than a beautiful woman. However, she possessed what a contemporary described as “sheer magic of personality” that captivated the crowds and appealed to most of those who came into contact with her. Poniatowski had succumbed at their first meeting. A few months after his return to Poland, a guard officer, Grigori Orlov, came under her spell, and he was able to play a vital part in her bid for power.

There were five Orlov brothers, and all were heroes to their brother officers and men of the guard regiments. They could boast neither noble ancestry nor wealth, but all were handsome and famous for their courage. Grigori and Alexei were the most outstanding of the brothers. Alexei had far more intelligence and initiative, but Grigori was of the stuff that makes legends. In the savagery of the fighting at Zorndorf, he received three wounds but continued to command his men; his fiery courage made them idolize him. As other women had done before her, Catherine quickly yielded to his dashing appeal. But she was now older and wiser, and she saw in him not only a lover but also an important ally who would rally the guards behind her when the time was right.

Catherine also gained other influential allies. In 1760, the empress had selected Nikita Ivanovich Panin, the former Russian ambassador in Stockholm, to serve as tutor to Grand Duke Paul. A precise, courtly man, Panin was also very capable and devoted to his country. He was representative of the small liberal group of the nobility who favored a system, limiting the powers of the autocrat, similar to the oligarchic council in Sweden, and the parliamentary system in England. His plan was to arrest Peter when the time came and to make Paul emperor with Catherine acting as regent until he came of age.

Another ally was the young Princess Dashkova, who late one evening toward the end of 1761 came to Catherine with impassioned protestations of her loyalty. Before her marriage, this princess had been Catherine Vorontsova, the youngest sister of the Grand Duke’s mistress and she was also his goddaughter. Unlike her sister, she was small, highly intelligent, and educated, but all too ready to be carried away by her enthusiasm and loyalties.

Catherine and Grigori Orlov were now carrying on their affair in secrecy. The empress’s health was failing and the capital was full of rumors. Late in June 1761, when she was approaching the most crucial stage of her career, Catherine became pregnant. She could not pretend that the Grand Duke was the father of the child, but she kept her pregnancy secret. With the fashions of the day, it was not difficult to do this.

The death of Empress Elizabeth placed her future in jeopardy. Peter had repeatedly stated that after his accession he would send her away to Zerbst, dissolving their marriage so that he could marry his mistress. Meanwhile, in the first weeks of his reign, his behavior had offended Russians of all classes. The English minister, Keith, was heard to say on one occasion to a Russian lady, “Really, your Emperor must be mad to misbehave as he does!”

In some of his actions, however, Peter revealed some sanity. On February 21, 1762, he abolished the Secret Chancellery and directed that they should not interrogate or arrest anyone on political charges until the Senate had investigated the case and given approval. He also ended the persecution of Schismatics and granted them freedom of worship. He approved measures to promote domestic and foreign trade. He reduced the price of salt, which aided the peasantry, and also extended some protection to them from industrial serfdom. But his most important reform was to release the gentry from the duty of service, making their service voluntary in the future and also granting them the right to resign from the army except in time of war.

These reforms would improve life for the peasants.  However, the sense of humiliation felt by most Russians over the announcement of peace with Prussia that included a mandatory three-day celebration wiped out the joy that the peasants should have felt. Moreover, they knew that he implemented these measures to try to win their support. The army was seething with discontent as preparation for the Danish campaign neared completion. But Peter seemed wholly unaware of this hostility from his subjects.

Catherine remained quietly in the background during the first months of her husband’s reign. She rarely went out and avoided his dinners and drinking parties. She was unwilling to expose herself to the contempt and rudeness that he now showed her in public. In addition, she was nearing the end of her pregnancy. On April 11, 1762, she gave birth to Grigori Orlov’s son, an event that passed without the Grand Duke knowing about it.

Grigori Orlov’s son bore the name of Alexei Grigorevich Bobrinsky. The name Bobrinsky derives from the Russian word bobr, meaning a beaver. The family explanation of this name was that Catherine, anxious to keep all knowledge of the impending birth from her husband, the emperor, worked out a scheme to get him out of the palace when her labor started.

Peter enjoyed fighting fires, and there was a standing order to inform him immediately of any outbreak of fire in the city so that he could direct operations. Catherine had a trusted servant, named Shkurine, who had a timbered house on an island in the Neva, facing the Winter Palace. He agreed to sacrifice his house to help her scheme.

On April 11, as Catherine felt the first pains of labor, she gave a signal from a window of the palace. Soon afterward, dense smoke began to rise from Shkurine’s house. They told the emperor about the fire, and he immediately rode over the bridge to direct the firefighting. While he was away, Catherine delivered her son. A trusted servant then smuggled him out of the palace, wrapped in a rug of beaver skins.

There were a number of conspiracies developing. All involved Catherine in some degree, but she made no attempt to coordinate them. Dashkova was plotting feverishly without revealing her plans; while encouraging her, Catherine handled her with great caution. Panin, too, had a plan to arrest Peter and elevate Paul to the throne. She did not welcome this plan, yet she said nothing to discourage him. She was depending chiefly on the Orlov brothers. By mid-June they had won over all the guard officers with a few exceptions, and discontent was spreading more widely in the army. Another conspirator of great influence was Count Kyril Razumovsky. He plotted quietly, confiding his plans to Catherine who kept them secret even from the Orlovs.

During June, as troops prepared to leave for the Danish campaign, anger and discontent mounted dangerously in St. Petersburg. Peter was in Oranienbaum, intending to leave from there with his troops. On June 19, Catherine attended a theatrical performance in Oranienbaum, returning to Peterhof on the same evening. It was the last time that she saw her husband.

The tension erupted a few days later. They interrogated a corporal of the Preobrazhensky guards after he asked an officer when they were going to dethrone the emperor. This led to the arrest of a certain Captain Passek who was a friend of the Orlovs and a supporter of Catherine. Grigori Orlov told Dashkova, who was alarmed, but Panin dismissed the arrest of Passek as being of no importance. At some stage, however, the Orlovs decided to take action.

When he heard what was happening, Kyril Razumovsky sent for Taubert, the keeper of the printing press of the Academy of Sciences, of which Razumovsky was president. He told Taubert to go down to the cellars to supervise the printers who were waiting to produce overnight a proclamation announcing the overthrow of the emperor and the accession of Empress Catherine. Taubert asked to be excused from such a dangerous task. Razumovsky dealt with him brusquely. “You already know too much,” he said. “Now your head as well as mine is at stake. Do as I tell you!”

During the night of June 28, 1762, Alexei Orlov and a brother officer rode to Peterhof, arriving at 6 a.m. Alexei Orlov went to Catherine’s bedside and awakened her. “It’s time to get up. All is ready for you to be proclaimed,” he said. Learning of what had happened, she did not hesitate. She quickly put on a black dress and with her trusted maid, Shargorodskaya, she set out in the waiting carriage on her momentous journey.

Grigori Orlov met them a few miles from St. Petersburg. Catherine transferred to his carriage and continued the journey at a brisker pace. Near the village of Kalinkina, Grigori galloped ahead to alert his colleagues of the Izmailovsky regiment who were quartered there. Catherine approached more slowly but received a tumultuous welcome by the officers and men as soon as she arrived. The whole regiment at once swore the oath of allegiance to her as Empress Catherine the Second. Razumovsky, colonel of the regiment, then arrived and knelt down to kiss her hand to show his allegiance.

Accompanied now by Razumovsky, Alexei and Grigori Orlov, and the Izmailovsky, Catherine rode to the barracks of the Semenovsky regiment. Again the whole regiment eagerly swore allegiance to her. Among the Preobrazhensky, however, were certain officers who knew nothing of the conspiracy and tried to hold their men to the oath of loyalty to Peter, but the troops swept them aside.

As Catherine proceeded down the Nevsky Prospekt, escorted by the noisy guards, the townspeople joined in welcoming her. The procession halted at the Kazan Cathedral. Catherine dismounted from her carriage and with the Orlov brothers, Razumovsky, and a crowd of guard officers, she attended a short service in which priests pronounced the blessing on her as the “Autocrat Catherine the Second” and on “the heir to the throne, Tsarevich Paul Petrovich.” As with the guard regiments, there was no attempt to proclaim Paul other than as heir and successor to his mother.

Catherine rode on to the Winter Palace where Panin hurried to her with the eight-year-old Grand Duke whom he had snatched from his bed when he learned of the coup. They posted sentries but admitted to the palace all members of the Senate, the Holy Synod, heads of colleges, army officers, and others who wished to kiss her hand and swear loyalty to the new empress. About midday, the people heard Razumovsky’s.

In the midst of this excitement, Catherine and her supporters took all precautions, especially in mounting sentries and maintaining patrols. But in the city there was no disorder or rioting. Members of foreign embassies walked freely in the streets, and all reported on the good conduct of the crowds. They sent officers to the troops in Livonia and to the naval fortress in Kronstadt to proclaim the manifesto and administer the new oath of allegiance. There, outside the capital, trouble was most likely.

Catherine had, meanwhile, settled in the Winter Palace in the apartments that Elizabeth had occupied. When she appeared on the balcony, she saw the troops who were crowded in the forecourt. At first she did not recognize them. Quartermasters, acting on their own initiative, had brought from their stores the old uniforms introduced by Peter the Great. The troops had at once torn off their hated Prussian uniforms that Peter II had forced on them, and they had stood with great pride cheering their empress. It had been a small incident but was indicative of the upsurge of national feeling, released by this revolution.

On the morning of June 28, Peter had inspected the troops in Oranienbaum and then had set out with his large entourage to celebrate his name day with the empress in Peterhof. They didn’t realize anything was wrong until Peter and his entourage arrived there and found that Catherine had gone to St. Petersburg. On the advice of the chancellor, Vorontsov, Munnich, and others, he agreed to set out for the city. Then he learned from a young lieutenant of the Preobrazhensky Regiment, who was in charge of a boat carrying fireworks to Peterhof, that all the people in the city were excitedly hailing their new empress. This was the first direct news Peter had of the revolution. He agreed to send a colonel to Kronstadt to bring a force of 3,000 men by sea to Peterhof. By this time, however, the Kronstadt garrison had sworn the oath of loyalty to Catherine. Later when they rowed Peter in a galley to Kronstadt, a midshipman who threatened to fire on him stopped him at the entrance to the harbor. Peter was terrified and hurried back to Oranienbaum.

Meanwhile from St. Petersburg, Catherine, now wearing the uniform of a guard officer, mounted on a white horse, and holding a saber, set out at the head of her army for Peterhof. Alexei Orlov rode ahead with an advance guard of hussars. He surrounded Peterhof, meeting with no opposition from the Holstein guards whom he disarmed. On arriving, Catherine received a letter from Peter, asking her forgiveness, resigning all rights to the throne, and begging to be allowed to retire with Elizabeth Vorontsova to Holstein. Catherine would not consider allowing him to reside in freedom in Holstein, plotting against her. She sent General Izmailov and Grigori Orlov to him, demanding first that he write out and sign a declaration of abdication. He readily signed away the throne. Then they brought him under strong guard to Peterhof where they stripped him of his Russian uniform, insignia, and sword. Catherine appointed Alexei Orlov in charge of a guard to take Peter to Ropsha and to hold him there until the fortress of Schlusselburg was ready for him.

Catherine’s revolution had been an easy triumph. She was now eager to return to St. Petersburg to consolidate her position and to begin her reign. On the morning of June 30, she entered the capital. The whole population lined the streets as, still wearing a guard uniform and mounted on her white charger, she led the Preobrazhensky, the Semenovsky, and the Izmailovsky through the city and finally halted at the Winter Palace. It had been an extraordinary revolution.


The Romanovs

Catherine had attained her ambition. She was empress and autocrat of the Russian Empire. But she had to hold her throne and to rule; at the beginning of her reign, she did not understand the magnitude of that task.

The most dangerous threat arose because of her background. A German without a drop of Russian blood in her veins, a Protestant convert to Orthodoxy, and a usurper, she had ascended the throne of the Romanovs on a wave of patriotic feeling by a people who strongly hated Germans, who were bigoted in their devotion to Orthodoxy and in their suspicion of converts, and who were staunchly conservative in their traditions. Through her personality and shrewdness, she had convinced the Russians that she was one of them, and they entrusted her with maintaining all that they treasured in their national life. But popular enthusiasm could wane, and strong policies would incur hostility, such as had mounted against Peter III.

A more serious danger arose from the fact that the guards and the people of St. Petersburg looked upon her as the empress they had created. The Muscovite tsars had succeeded by hereditary right, and all Russians had accepted them as appointed by God. But Catherine would always be seeking and buying goodwill and the support of those who maintained her on the throne.

During the first weeks of her reign, Catherine was mainly concerned with preparations for her coronation. Peter had not given special thought to this ceremony, although Frederick of Prussia had written to him, stressing its importance. Catherine did not make this mistake. She recognized the religious significance of coronation to her people. She saw also the opportunities that it would provide for celebrations and for her to appeal to her subjects, and she had an extraordinary talent for using such public occasions for her benefit.

It was traditional to crown the Russian autocrats in the Uspensky Cathedral in Moscow. Catherine gave instructions for the streets of the old capital to be covered with green fir branches, for special viewing stands to be erected at every vantage point, and for the buildings to be gaily draped. For the occasion, she made Moscow the center of government, moving the Senate and several colleges there. It seemed that she intended to restore Moscow to its former greatness, and this appealed strongly to popular sentiment. Moscow was still the holy city, and its citizens were pleased that the new empress was showing respect for it.

Catherine had appointed Prince Trubetskoi to be in charge of arrangements, allocating 50,000 rubles for the purpose. But Catherine also received 600,000 rubles in coins in oak barrels to use at her discretion. She took care of the amnesties to be granted to prisoners and exiles. In these and other preparations, she demonstrated her great capacity for work and her concern for detail, which were to be important factors in her reign.

Throughout Moscow, excitement mounted in anticipation of this great public event. On September 13, Catherine made her ceremonial entry into the city. The people crowded at the windows and on the roofs of buildings and lined the streets. Nine days later the coronation took place. Twenty bishops, thirty-five archimandrites, other churchmen chanting psalms, and the guard regiments, brilliantly equipped, escorted her to the Uspensky Cathedral. After the magnificent ceremony, conducted by the Metropolitan of Novgorod, she proceeded to the Arkhangelsky and Blagoveshchensky Cathedrals in the Kremlin to pray before the holy relics. She then returned to the palace and there received the congratulations of the nobility and the foreign ambassadors. She presented the Orders of St. Andrew and of Alexander Nevsky, bejeweled swords, new titles, and other rewards to all who had supported her. She treated the Orlovs with special generosity and made them all counts.

Catherine was delighted with her coronation. To her ambassador in Warsaw she wrote: “It is impossible to describe to you the joy which the masses of the people show here on seeing me. I have only to make an appearance or to show myself at a window and the cheers are renewed.” She was always at her best on such great public occasions. She gave gifts and honors with a personal kindness. Her charm cast a spell over individuals and crowds alike.

From the moment of her accession and throughout these celebrations, Catherine did not relax her determination to strengthen her grip on the throne. The immediate threat was that two dethroned emperors were still alive; she was concerned that people might use them as figureheads to rally malcontents, especially among the oppressed peasantry. Catherine knew that only death could remove this threat, and within two years both emperors died by violent means.

Guards had taken Peter to Ropsha on the evening of June 29, 1762. Suffering from shock, he fainted several times. But, although under close guard, they treated him well. Catherine gave instructions that he was to have his violin, his favorite dog, and attendants. When he complained that he could not sleep, she had workers send his own bed from Oranienbaum. But he was difficult and abusive, making the lives of the duty officers miserable.

Catherine had still not decided whether to incarcerate him in the fortress of Schlusselburg or to hold him in some place farther from St. Petersburg. Suddenly, on the evening of July 6, she received from a frightened courier a grubby piece of paper on which Alexei Orlov had scribbled a message, apparently in a state of drunken remorse. The message was that Peter was “no longer in this world”; he had perished in a brawl among the officers of his guard. There was no evidence of a plot to murder him, and the events didn’t implicate Catherine in his death. She appears to have played the passive role, as in the revolution, of waiting on others to take the action she desired. But once Peter was dead, she acted decisively. On the following day, she signed a manifesto that stated the death of the former emperor was from natural causes. Two years later, guards cruelly murdered the unfortunate Ivan VI, imprisoned for most of his life in Schlusselburg. Again she was not implicated directly.

In these first months of her reign, Catherine found her great skill in handling people tested. To gain support, she drew around her everybody of ability and experience, retaining the services of those who had sided with her husband, whenever possible. She recalled Bestuzhev, the former chancellor, from exile, but kept Vorontsov in office. Count Nikita Panin was her chief adviser. She had few men of his caliber on whom to rely. Because she was aware of his ideas on limiting the power of the autocrat and on the rights of Paul to the throne, she handled him with special care.

Her intimate supporters, Dashkova and Grigori Orlov, posed the most troublesome problems. They were possessive toward her and fiercely jealous of each other. Moreover, Dashkova was a bitter opponent of all the Orlovs. The nineteen-year-old princess made enemies fearlessly and in her arrogance, her high moral principles, and her conceit, she was a constant source of friction. In particular, she resented the special attention that Catherine showed to Grigori Orlov, and also the role that he had played in the revolution. She was sincere in her high morality, as in her idolizing of Catherine; thus, her realization of her friend’s moral lapse, especially with someone she hated, depressed her.

On the march to Peterhof to crush the emperor, Dashkova had ridden at Catherine’s side. She, too, wore the uniform of a guard officer and reveled in the drama of the occasion. While there, she issued orders, inspected sentries, and tirelessly took it upon herself to represent the empress. Entering Catherine’s apartment, she found Grigori Orlov lounging on a sofa and casually opening state papers. She demanded to know on what authority he was reading such important papers.

“The empress asked me to open them,” he replied.

“I doubt it,” she said heatedly. “No action has to be taken on them for a few days yet and the Empress will appoint people to deal with them officially. Neither you nor I are qualified for that work.” Dashkova then swept out of the room. When she returned later, Grigori was still reclining on the sofa with the papers. But Catherine was with him and clearly she accepted what he was doing.

Dashkova was too intemperate in her enthusiasms and prejudices to be an easy friend and ally. She lacked the fusion of hypocrisy essential for success at court. Her own family, especially Chancellor Vorontsov, considered her to be dangerous. He wrote that “her capricious and intemperate behavior and opinions will so anger the Empress that she will be sent from court and through her downfall our family will incur unjust public disgrace.” Catherine soon had to admonish her for taking too much on herself. Dashkova became angry, but Catherine handled her with the gentle patience that was part of her power over people. Catherine also recognized Dashkova’s exceptional abilities. Later as Director of the Academy of Sciences, she was a brilliant success.

Grigori Orlov caused Catherine greater anxiety. He still saw her as his mistress and felt he deserved credit for making her empress. Proud, ambitious, and not highly intelligent, he did not appreciate her strength of character and her abilities, and he resented his new position as her male courtesan. In his current position, he now played only a small role in her life. Already she had established her own disciplined routine of rising at 5 a.m., working fifteen hours a day and falling exhausted into bed at night. She could spare only a few minutes each day for her lover. Grigori thought he would have more power if she married him. He began pressing her to marry him, but received only evasive answers.

There were persistent rumors in Moscow and St. Petersburg that the empress would marry again and that her choice would be Grigori Orlov. Bestuzhev gathered signatures to a humble petition that she should take a husband, indicating that Grigori Orlov would be the popular choice. But many Russians had misgivings. The Orlovs had lost much of their popularity through arrogance and abuse of their newfound prestige. It alarmed Catherine to learn of a conspiracy to murder them. A gentleman at court, named Khitrovo, was the leader of the conspiracy. Interrogation established that he was a loyal and devoted subject and that - provided that she married someone worthy of her and the throne - he was in favor of her taking a second husband. But he considered that marriage with one of the Orlovs would bring disaster. Catherine did not punish him for conspiring, but merely sent him from the court to live quietly on his country estate. She also issued a general instruction, forbidding idle gossip on this subject of her remarriage. As people at court and in the cities realized that she did not intend to marry again, the rumors ceased.

Grigori Orlov became more moody and boorish. He threatened to resign from the imperial service and she gently discouraged him from doing that. He courted other women to provoke her. She humored him because she knew that he might be dangerous, but also because she had a deep affection for him. He had completely displaced Stanislas Poniatowski, who was in Warsaw and wanted to marry her, not for the throne, but because he sincerely loved her. She gave no answer to either suitor. She had decided that, although they might serve as her lovers, neither Grigori Orlov nor Poniatowski would ever share her throne, because love of power was more important than anything else in her life.

Catherine was insatiable in her ambition. She was not content with attaining the throne and wielding absolute power over the Russian empire. Power and position had extended her horizons. She was determined now to achieve fame that would resound throughout the civilized world and would make such a great impact on the time of her reign that her contemporaries and generations to come would acclaim her. To a remarkable degree, she achieved her ambition, although her achievement in many areas was no more than an imposing façade.

Being a genius with publicity and promotion was one important reason for her success. She considered presentation to be an essential instrument in the art of government. She took pains in personally drafting decrees and used her public appearances to appeal to her people and to create the image of herself as their wise and humane autocrat. As time passed and she felt more secure, she became more concerned about her impact upon the rest of Europe and in projecting herself as the most enlightened of monarchs. They translated many of her manifestoes for European distribution. Within Russia, no one challenged her imperial voice; for the rest of Europe, she had to be careful not to appear too controversial. She shrewdly secured the services of an influential group that included the leading publicists, artists, and intellectuals of the day. She won their support by flattery and generosity. An example was her kindness to Denis Diderot, a prominent French philosopher and writer. He needed to sell his library collection because of financial troubles. She immediately purchased the collection but left it in his possession. Then she appointed him librarian of his own library with a generous salary. Many of the leading writers and artists of the day enjoyed her patronage; in fact anyone who showed her affection, rendered her service, or sang her praises found her to be extremely generous.

However, the most influential of her correspondents and allies was Voltaire, and he was quick to praise her. Nearing seventy years of age, Voltaire corresponded with many persons and received distinguished visitors from all countries at Ferney, his wealthy estate on French soil but conveniently near Geneva. He was already a legend as the sage whose wit, energy, and fearless denunciations of injustice and tyranny inspired the young men of the day. To them, as Goethe later testified, he “governed the whole civilized world.”

Voltaire had long been interested in Russia. He had written the Histoire de Charles XII, dwelling in detail on the Northern War, and as early as 1745 had asked Empress Elizabeth to commission him to write a history of her father. For twelve years she had delayed her answer, mainly because of her suspicion of this Frenchman who never went to church. Ivan Shuvalov had finally negotiated the commission and the second volume of the Histoire de l’empire de Russie sous Pierre le Grand had appeared in 1763.

Within a few weeks of her accession, Catherine began making approaches to Voltaire. He was reserved toward her at first, because she was a usurper who seemed unlikely to hold her throne and because Westerners were spreading rumors that she had something to do with the murder of her husband. By flattery and acts of generosity to his friends, however, she won him to her cause. The correspondence that they began in 1763 continued until his death fourteen years later. She was very careful in composing her letters to him because they were “always in some degree documents of state,” representing what she wanted him to pass on to his many influential friends. She wanted him to think of her as the Empress of the Enlightenment, who would save Russia by applying the principles of justice and tolerance that he had tirelessly proclaimed. As the years passed, he must have realized that she was an extreme reactionary hiding behind the façade of enlightenment.

The project that first aroused his enthusiasm was her Nakaz or Instruction for the recasting of the laws of Russia. This was her way of announcing to the rest of Europe that a new era was beginning in the East. She planned to summon a grand legislative commission, comprising representatives of governmental institutions and deputies from all social classes and races of the empire to carry out a radical reform and reordering of the Russian legal code.

In January 1765, Catherine began working on the Nakaz for the guidance of the legislative commission. She methodically devoted three hours to it each day and finished it two years later. She had drawn on the advanced philosophical ideas then current in the West. Of the 526 articles of the Nakaz, as finally published, she took 250 directly from Montesquieu’s L’Esprit des Lois and 100 articles came from Beccaria’s Of Punishments and Crimes. She had copied the articles literally. She made no claims to original or creative intelligence. As she wrote frankly when sending a copy of the Nakaz to Frederick of Prussia, “You will see that, like the crow in the fable, I have decked myself in peacock’s feathers; in this work merely the arrangement of the material and here and there a line or word belong to me.”

The Nakaz was nevertheless a remarkable document. Chapter 1 asserted that “Russia is a European nation.” Chapter 2 stated that “the Sovereign is absolute . . .” and contained the characteristic statement that “the intention and end of monarchy is the glory of the citizens, of the state, and of the Sovereign.” Many articles showed that she recognized the evils at the root of Russia’s problems. She pointed to the burdens of the peasantry and especially to the taxes imposed by nobles “who seldom or never reside in their villages” and were “without the least regard to the means by which the peasants may be able to raise this money.” She stressed that misery and oppression of the people were the reasons for the depopulation of large areas of the country. Other articles defined political freedom and equality, condemned corruption, and the use of torture in obtaining evidence.

By June 1767, deputies of various races, ranks, and creeds from every part of the Russian empire had assembled in Moscow. Moslem Tatars and Bashkirs, Buddhist Kalmyks, and pagan Samoeds mingled with Orthodox Russians of every class, except the serfs, the largest and most sorely oppressed class, who did not have any representation. Catherine entered the city and on June 30 formally opened the legislative commission in the ancient Granovitaya Palace. She read the Nakaz aloud to the deputies, who interrupted with outbursts of applause. However, the instructions confused them because they were alien to Russian thought and experience. Dividing them into various committees to work complicated the proceedings. Reports by deputies on the wishes of their people took up so much time that they had to be ignored. The commission moved to St. Petersburg at the end of the year but - burdened by its procedure and the impossibility of its task of reforming and codifying the law - it had already ceased to function. At the end of 1768, the commission postponed this work until another time. Deputies returned to their homes to await a further summons, but no summons ever came.

The grand legislative commission had thus failed completely to fulfill its purpose. However, it successfully projected Catherine’s image and won acclaim for her throughout Europe. Voltaire declared in a letter to her that the Nakaz was “the most beautiful monument of the century. It will bring you more glory than ten battles on the shores of the Danube, for it is in the end your work; your genius conceived it, your fair hand has written it . . .” In Russia, after the dissolution of the legislative commission, she kept the Nakaz under lock and key; it circulated in twenty-three versions in Europe. When in 1771 the French prohibited the import of 2,000 copies of a French translation, the seal was set on her fame as the truly enlightened monarch of the age.

Meanwhile, the Nakaz no longer reflected her own ideas and became merely a scheme in her great promotion campaign. As Grand Duchess, she had admired the advanced ideas then current in France. She had probably cherished dreams of developing Peter the Great’s reforms further, of creating in Russia a society of freemen, ruled by law and watched over by herself as benevolent autocrat. But the experience of power and responsibility and concern for her security made her abandon such idealistic plans. She owed her throne to the nobility and gentry, and she tried to ensure their continued support. She was sympathetic to the suffering of the peasants, but they were of no direct use to her. Therefore, instead of relieving them of their burdens, she met the demands of the landowning class for wider powers over them. In 1765, for instance, when embarking on the Nakaz, she granted landowners the power to sentence their serfs to hard labor in Siberia. They had had the power to exile serfs to Siberia during Elizabeth’s reign, and many serfs had pioneered new lives for themselves in this virgin expanse. Now the landowners would have the power to condemn them as convicts to hard labor without hope of freedom. In August 1767, when the deputies were studying the injunctions of the Nakaz, Catherine approved a decree that the Senate submitted. That decree condemned any peasant who petitioned or complained against his landowner to the knout and exile with hard labor for life. In Peter the Great’s reign, serfs had frequently exercised their right to petition against poor treatment, and he had made strenuous efforts to ensure that officials investigated such petitions and that action followed. By this monstrous decree, Catherine had condemned the serfs to suffer in silence. During her reign, serfdom developed into its extreme form as an institution of slave labor.

Unrest grew among the oppressed peasant masses. At a crucial stage in her reign when Russia was at war with Turkey and Sweden was threatening, the peasants united and rebelled. They called the rebellion Pugachevshchina, after its leader the Don Cossack, Emelyan Pugachev. Uniting serfs, Cossacks, and Asiatic nomads in Eastern Russia in what rapidly developed into a social revolution, the rebellion swept like a steppe fire toward Moscow, threatening to reduce Catherine’s throne to ashes.

Pugachev had served with bravery in the Russian army and then had deserted. He took refuge with the Schismatics in the Ukraine and finally escaped down the Volga to the Irgiz River, several hundred miles farther to the East. In May 1773, he suddenly turned up at the head of a motley band of troops in the Orenburg region. He now proclaimed that he was the Emperor Peter III who had made a miraculous escape from Ropsha before Catherine’s henchman could murder him. Peasants and Cossacks believed his story. The simple people were always ready to accept false tsars. There had already been three or four imposters claiming to be Peter III, but guards had caught and executed all of them before they could cause trouble. Pugachev was to prove more dangerous because he was an inspiring leader. In addition, his appearance coincided with the spreading of a curious rumor that Peter III had intended to free the serfs and give them the land that they worked, and that the empress had prevented him from doing this.

Pugachev’s first supporters came from the Yaik Cossacks who were mainly Schismatics in revolt against the Orthodox Church and against the imperial government. The Bashkirs, Kalmuks, Kirghiz, and other Tatar tribes as well as industrial serfs from the mines and foundries of the Ural region soon joined his followers. By autumn 1773, he had extended his authority along the Volga and in the Urals, repelling detachments of government troops sent against him, and laying siege to Orenburg.

Pugachev’s strength grew day by day. He now set up his own court, copying the imperial court. He gave his leading courtiers such names as Orlov, Panin, and Vorontsov, and produced an heir whom he called Grand Duke Paul. He even appointed, in a startling inversion of Catherine’s reputed custom, six concubines to serve him as maids of honor. He issued his own decrees that proclaimed his intention to kill the nobility, distribute the land among the peasants, and lock Catherine away in a nunnery. No program could have appealed more strongly to the people, and it released a destructive fury. Pugachev brutally murdered all landowners and officers who came into contact with him, enlisting into his army the peasants and troops.

Savage rebellions, led by Cossacks, the wild, treacherous, marauding horsemen of the southern and southeastern borderlands, had broken out in every century. Stenka Razin had defied Tsar Alexei for two years, and Peter the Great had crushed a similar revolt led by Bulavin. Each rebellion had drawn its strength from the support of the peasants, fighting for freedom from the burdens of serfdom and for the land that they worked. Pugachev’s movement was, however, far larger in scale. From the outset, it was a war for peasant liberation from the landowning nobility. Catherine had freed the nobles from all duties of service, and her early manifestoes had given the peasants false hopes. Then the final decree had crushed all their hopes of liberation. All of these things had made the serfs very bitter.

Spurred by a desperate urge for vengeance and freedom, peasants throughout Eastern Russia set fire to the houses of their landowners, savagely killing them and their families, and their hated overseers. Smoke from burning mansions and forests, fired by peasant bands, hung like curtains on the horizon. There had been many local uprisings since Catherine had come to the throne, but the troops had always managed to promptly put them down. Punishment for the rebels had been quite severe and officials then sent them to perform hard labor in Siberia. But Pugachev’s rebellion was far more formidable. His army had 15,000 men and was growing rapidly. Many landowners had taken refuge in Moscow, where a feeling of panic spread as they awaited the dreaded news that Pugachev’s army was marching on the city.

Catherine was well aware of the gravity of this revolt and of the dangerous mood of the peasantry in all parts of the country. But with her army fully engaged against the Turks, she could spare only small detachments instead of the large number of troops needed to put down the rebellion. She was deeply disturbed, but she did not outwardly display the stress that she felt. In December 1773, when the menace of Pugachev was mounting dangerously, she welcomed Diderot in St. Petersburg. She dined with him every night of his visit, lasting several weeks, and spent many hours talking with him about freedom and the rights of man. At this time she also had frequent meetings with Melchior Grimm, a gallicized German. People in all the courts of Europe were reading his bulletin of literature and gossip, Correspondence Litteraire. He would become her most regular correspondent, the influential vendor of her news and views, and her main agent in carrying out commissions in Paris and elsewhere.

News of Pugachev’s rebellion spread quickly through Western Europe. Catherine was anxious to downplay its importance. Writing to Voltaire in January 1774, she dismissed Pugachev as a mere “highwayman” and complained that the newspapers were giving him too much publicity. But in a later letter, she confessed to him “for more than six weeks I have been obliged to devote my uninterrupted attention to this affair.”

In the early months of 1774, Catherine was at a serious disadvantage. The rebellion was spreading and Pugachev was preparing to march on Moscow. The Turkish Grand Vizir had massed a mighty army and, with civil war raging over a large part of Russia, he was confident of victory. But Catherine had in Suvorov a general of genius. At Kirsova, with a force of 3,000 men, he routed 12,000 Turks. Then at Kozludji, he defeated a Turkish army of 40,000 men. Rumyantsev won the decisive victory by surrounding the main Turkish army at Shumla, compelling it to surrender. They signed the famous treaty of Kuchuk-Kainardji on July 21.

Catherine acted promptly. She ordered Count Peter Panin to march eastward immediately to suppress the rebels. Panin drove Pugachev toward Chernoyarsk, and he escaped only by swimming across the broad Volga. After this encounter, he seemed to lose his capacity for leadership. His followers, dreading the conflict with the imperial army, began deserting. Finally, a group of his closest lieutenants betrayed him in return for pardon for themselves. They delivered him, bound hand and foot, to an advance detachment, commanded by Suvorov, who took him to Simbirsk. From there they took him in an iron cage to Moscow, tried him, and publicly beheaded him in January 1775.

Catherine had insisted that the troops should treat the rebels humanely. She refused to allow torture and showed mercy to all the rebels, except the leaders. She recognized that peasant unrest continued to be acute and that it might readily lead to further rebellions on a similar scale. Indeed, she knew that the enslavement of the peasants under serfdom would inevitably lead to a great disaster that would sweep across Russia in a destructive wave. Soon after the execution of Pugachev, she wrote to her minister of justice concerning the peasants: “If we do not consent to diminish cruelty and moderate a situation which is intolerable to the human race, then sooner or later they will take this step themselves.” She clearly counted on it happening later rather than sooner. While acknowledging the cruelty and inhumanity, she made no attempt to combat or moderate it. In the early part of her reign, she depended on the support of the landowning classes who perpetuated serfdom. But this dependence had diminished. Indeed, the Pugachev revolt had brought them rallying around her throne for protection. This factor, together with the prestige of her victories over the Turks and the strong support of the army, now gave her the strength and opportunity to meet this great challenge of her reign. But she ignored it and even extended the powers of the nobility and the gentry; this increased the number of peasants condemned to serfdom. At the same time her public protestations of humane principles and the rights of man became more frequent and vehement. She took special pains to make certain that Western Europe publicized her proclamations so that she could bask in the false glory of being the enlightened empress.

By contrast with the hypocrisy and oppression of her internal rule, Catherine’s foreign policies were very successful, although at times her concern for immediate glory limited her vision and her capacity for statesmanship. On becoming empress, her first thought had been to secure peace. Her opposition to Peter III’s pro-Prussian policy had been no more than a political strategy, allowing her to appeal to the strong anti-Prussian feelings of the Russian people. In fact, she had embarked on a policy, known sometimes as the Northern System, involving the reorientation of Russia’s alliances. Devised by Panin, this system provided for a coalition of all the northern non-Catholic countries including Poland, under the leadership of Russia and opposed to the southern Catholic alliance of Austria, France, and Spain. But the interests of the countries in the northern alliance were too different to allow them to work in harmony, and they would not accept the leadership of Russia.

The Polish succession posed the first major problem of foreign policy after her accession. Catherine wrote to Stanislas Poniatowski, her former lover, to tell him that she wanted him to be King of Poland. She knew that his personal devotion to her and his gentle, indecisive nature would make him the ideal Russian puppet, and he would do nothing to stop what she called “the fortunate anarchy” that kept Poland weak and subservient. Again Austria and France were conspiring to secure the election of their candidate, this time the Elector of Saxony. Catherine and Frederick of Prussia concluded a general defensive alliance on March 31, 1764, and agreed to hold a secret convention to ensure that Poland remained weak. The election took place in August. Russian troops had entered Poland the previous May to make sure that the Poles elected the Russian candidate, and Poniatowski duly became King Stanislas Augustus of Poland. But the new Russo-Prussian alliance and Russia’s complete domination of Poland alarmed and antagonized Austria and France, who now applied all their influence in Constantinople to bring the Ottoman Porte to war against Russia.

Alarmed by the growing power of Russia, the sultan was ready to heed the appeals from protesting Poles and the advice of the French and Austrians. He declared war toward the end of 1768. During the winter of 1768-1769, Turks and Russians hurried to mobilize their forces. The main Russian army, commanded by Prince Golitsyn, advanced toward Moldavia to prevent the Poles supporting the Turkish army and to threaten Turkey in the Balkans. In September, Golitsyn captured the fortress town of Khotin on the Dniester River. However, because Golitsyn inspired no confidence as commander, Catherine appointed Prince P. A. Rumyantsev to replace him. General Peter Panin, brother of her chief minister, took command of the army, posted near Bender. Both were very competent generals. Catherine was fortunate to have in her service a number of outstanding commanders such as Rumyantsev and Suvorov. She was grateful that Elizabeth had given these men opportunity to gain experience in the Seven Years’ War and also that she had revitalized Peter the Great’s army.

Catherine also gave urgent orders to refit the ships and construct new squadrons in the Baltic shipyards. She enlisted the services of three English admirals and a large number of English officers and seamen. In September 1769, two Russian squadrons sailed from the Baltic and passed into the Mediterranean, after getting additional provisions in English ports. Never before had Russian ships of war sailed along the European coast. This alarmed many in the West who saw it as a threat, and Catherine used propaganda to aggravate their fears.

The purpose of this naval expedition was to challenge the Turks in the Aegean Sea, to force the Dardanelles, to take Constantinople, and then join up with the Russian armies on the northern shores of the Black Sea. This ambitious plan was somewhat successful and might have succeeded completely except for the limitations of Alexei Orlov, the Russian commander-in-chief. He had no naval experience and was too impulsive to have so much responsibility. But he had under him three able admirals in the Russian, Spiridov, and the two Englishmen, Greig and Elphinston. The Russian squadrons engaged off Chios and defeated the far stronger Turkish fleet. The Turks then took refuge in Chesme Bay. Admirals Elphinston and Greig immediately barred their exit from the bay and sent in fire ships that destroyed the whole Turkish fleet. The Russians were now masters of the Aegean, but Alexei Orlov failed to press his advantage by immediately sailing to force the Dardanelles. The Battle of Chesme was nevertheless a significant naval victory, comparable with Peter the Great’s defeat of the Swedish navy at Hango fifty-six years earlier. Catherine and all Russians celebrated with magnificent festivities. She also quickly spread the news through Western Europe and sent a special account of the battle to Voltaire.

Couriers were soon bringing to St. Petersburg reports of other great land victories. Rumyantsev had advanced into Moldavia and had captured Jassy, the capital. Next he had defeated a far stronger Turkish army at Fokshani and had annihilated the Turks at Kagul on the Pruth, thus confirming Russia’s conquest of the Turkish provinces north of the Danube.

In the midst of her happiness, however, Catherine had to exercise restraint. Such tremendous victories threatened her with war on a scale that was beyond the strength of the nation. These demonstrations of Russian power and concern that Russia would seek to conquer the Balkans alarmed both Austria and France. The danger of another European war disturbed Frederick of Prussia because if Austria marched against Russia, Prussia would be involved, and France was bound to intervene. This was not part of Frederick’s plan. He took the initiative of meeting with Joseph II of Austria and then of proposing that Catherine should limit her Turkish conquests and compensate herself at the expense of Poland.

Meanwhile, Prince Dolgoruky had conquered the Crimea in the campaign of 1771. For centuries, the Tatars had invaded Russia from this base, at times threatening to conquer Moscow. In addition to causing terrible devastation, they carried off thousands of young Russians to sell as slaves. At any other time, all Russians would have celebrated the conquest of the Crimea, but now the country lay in the grip of a terrible plague. Brought from the Turkish front, it found many victims in Moscow. About 800 people died each day in the city. Corpses lay piled in the streets. Those who remained healthy lived in a constant state of fear and opposed all attempts to enforce quarantine regulations. They took refuge in superstition, believing that only the intercession of the saints could help them. They believed that the holy ikon of the Mother of God, near the Varvarskaya Gate of the Kremlin, worked miracles. Crowds gathered in prayer before the ikon, and the contagion spread. Catherine’s efforts to enforce order in the old city were not effective. Finally, she sent Grigori Orlov to intervene. Catherine publicly gave him credit for the decline of the plague. It was, however, the onset of winter that checked the contagion. By mid-November, deaths had fallen to 150 a day, and there were no more victims by January 1772. But during 1771, more than 133,000 people in Moscow, Kiev, and other parts of Russia had died because of the plague.

Adding to the strains of war and plague at this time was the difficulty of establishing control over Poland. The Polish confederates, fighting against Russian control, were acting with new boldness and even managed to kidnap King Stanislas Augustus. They were receiving aid from France and Austria, and their resistance was growing in scale. Because Catherine realized that the domination of Poland might become a serious drain on Russian resources, she readily accepted the proposals of Frederick of Prussia for a partition of Poland in which Austria would share. They signed the treaties of partition in July 1772. The Polish Diet, meeting under the shadows of Russian guns and with many of its members in Russia’s pay, formally approved the partition the following year. Russia gained a large part of White Russia that was, in fact, Russian territory. But neither Prussia nor Austria could claim similar justification for their gains.

During the Turkish war and the Pugachev rebellion, Catherine acutely sensed the loneliness of her position. She needed a man who would not only be an intimate companion and partner, but a partner who would not lessen her power and prestige. Grigori Orlov had been a satisfactory lover but was not the type of man she needed. Although he was a gallant officer, he was uneducated and lacked capacity for government affairs or diplomacy. He had tried unsuccessfully to remedy these defects. He studied physics and astronomy but made slow progress and lost interest. Because Catherine corresponded with Voltaire and Diderot, he began corresponding with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose philosophy Catherine despised. He became the patron of Lomonosov and bought his papers and library from Lomonosov’s widow after his death. He gave orders for a special library to be built to house these items. But he still remained unsuitable for high office.

For nearly ten years Catherine had kept him at her side, in spite of his uncertain moods and temperament. She knew she could never depend on him except in such an emergency as the plague. In fact, his success in restoring order in Moscow in 1771 was the highlight of his career. But his personal relations with Catherine had been declining, and she decided to make the break. She appointed him as her representative at the conference with the Turks at Fokshani in the spring of 1772. She did not expect great results from this conference and was confident that he could do nothing to damage Russian interests there. She just needed to put some physical distance between them for a while. Within a few weeks of his departure, a new favorite, Alexander Vassilchikov, a handsome young guard officer, was living in the palace as his successor.

Learning of this change, Grigori Orlov became enraged. He immediately left the conference to make the long journey to St. Petersburg as quickly as he could. Everyone at court feared his arrival. Catherine had new special strength locks fitted to the doors of her apartments and those of her new favorite and posted extra sentries throughout the palace. Grigori finally reached Moscow. Then as he was leaving, a messenger handed him special orders from the empress that made him stop his journey. Her orders were that he was to retire to his estate at Gatshina and remain there. Officially he was in quarantine because he had come from the plague area in the South. Grigori obeyed, his anger suddenly gone. Moreover, he accepted her generous terms of dismissal. She deprived him of all military ranks and appointments that gave him command of troops, and banned him from appearing at court. But she gave him a palace, a gift of 200,000 rubles, a life pension of 15,000 rubles, and authority to choose from crown lands an estate with 10,000 peasant serfs.

The dismissal of Grigori Orlov caused a major upheaval at court, and many expected that he would soon be back in court. But Catherine had no intention of reviving the relationship. She was relieved that the other Orlov brothers continued to serve her loyally. She had feared that they might join with Panin in some plan to place Grand Duke Paul, who had now come of age, on the throne in her place. But a new favorite, who proved to be one of the most brilliant and bizarre characters in Russia’s history, would soon affect Catherine’s life, the court, and indeed the whole country.

The empresses who had ascended the throne after the death of Peter the Great all had their favorite male companions. Some of them became powerful and influential. Catherine was no exception and had numerous favorites during her reign because she craved the attention of handsome, virile young men. Because she feared venereal disease, she always insisted that her personal physician, Dr. John Rogerson, examine any young officer or courtier who appealed to her. Then the young man would become personal adjutant-general to Her Imperial Majesty. She would give him an apartment that connected with hers by way of a special staircase. He received an installation present of 10,000 to 20,000 rubles, an estate with several hundred peasants, and a monthly stipend. His duties were to escort the empress and to be available when she required him. In later years, after Catherine had discovered that certain of her favorites had been unfaithful, she ordered that they be confined to the palace and watched carefully. Then Grigori Alexandrovich Potemkin came into her life.

As a child, Potemkin suffered abuse from his father, a difficult man who was insanely jealous of his intelligent and spirited young wife. His parents could not afford tutors for him, but he received some education from the village deacon. After 1746, when his father died and his mother moved to Moscow with his five sisters, he obtained more education from a cousin named Kislovsky, who was a senior civil servant and treated him as his own son. Potemkin showed unusual brilliance in his studies. He had a special interest in theology and thought seriously of taking holy orders, but a military career also appealed to him. While still a boy, he entered the newly established University of Moscow; he won the gold medal for the outstanding scholar and an opportunity to meet Empress Elizabeth. Suddenly, however, he lost all interest in study; in 1760, the university expelled him for laziness. He joined the Horse Guards as a private and in due course received a commission.

The excitements and splendor of life in the capital captivated him. Although poor by the standards of most of his fellow officers, he joined in their wildly extravagant lifestyle. He spent a lot of time with the Orlovs and eagerly joined in their conspiracy to place Catherine on the throne. He was active during the revolution and was among those who received rewards for their support. Moreover, he received a minor appointment, giving him access to the court.

Now aged twenty-three, Potemkin was very tall, but slender in build, brown-haired, and striking rather than handsome. He was widely read, intelligent, and a brilliant conversationalist. He could enliven any company by his sense of humor, his gift of mimicry, and his pleasant singing voice. Soon he was a member of Catherine’s small inner circle of intimates, and she thought that he was charming. Once, talking of his talent for mimicry, she asked whether he could impersonate anyone. He at once gave a perfect imitation of her way of speaking, even reproducing her strong German accent. It was an entertaining but impertinent performance. Laughing heartily, she forgave him. She already felt a strong attraction for this young officer who had a bold imagination and fine intellect, allied with tremendous energy and ambition, and who was clearly in love with her. But suddenly he lost one eye and withdrew from court. For a year and a half, he lived like a hermit on his small estate. He read and meditated and refused to see any one. Catherine inquired frequently about him and gently persuaded him to return to her court.

During the next ten years, Catherine advanced him in the army, preparing him for high office. He assisted the chief Procurator of the Holy Synod and then served as Protector of the Tatars and other Asiatic races of the empire. In 1768, he became a chamberlain of the court, an office bringing him into closer contact with her. He was eager, however, to distinguish himself as a soldier and volunteered for active service during the outbreak of war with Turkey. He fought with outstanding bravery, gaining promotion and decorations and the praise of his commander-in-chief, especially for his inspiring leadership of the cavalry.

Potemkin hurried to St. Petersburg to report to the empress on conditions at the front. It was presumably during this short visit that he declared his love for her. She was very fond of this dynamic young giant, known as “Cyclops” at court. She gave him permission to write personal letters to her; this was a significant concession because an elaborate protocol surrounded the empress. While engaged in the siege of Silistria after he returned to the front, he received a cryptic letter from her that he believed signified the beginning of their affair.

When Potemkin arrived in St. Petersburg in January 1774, he was shocked to find that Vassilchikov was still apparently established as favorite. He requested a private audience with the empress, who was then at Tsarskoe Selo, about twenty miles from the capital. During a long meeting with the empress, he learned that she planned to remove Vassilchikov. Gentle, good-looking, and intelligent, Vassilchikov was entertaining company but not the companion she needed to support her in bearing the heavy burdens of the throne. He had given her a period of quiet after the storms of Grigori Orlov, but now she was bored with him. However, she did not want to act too quickly because the favorite was a person of influence at court. She particularly did not want to disturb Panin, who would not like the prospect of someone as impetuous, ambitious, and energetic as Potemkin in office.

Meanwhile, while Vassilchikov remained officially the favorite, Potemkin became very impatient. He became moody and did not spend time at court. Catherine was anxious as to what this unpredictable man might do next. Finally, he retired into the Alexander Nevsky Monastery; knowing his strong religious inclinations, she began to fear that she had lost him. She sent Countess Bruce to the monastery to tell him that, if he returned to court, he could count on receiving the greatest favors. He put aside his monastic robe, shaved off his beard, and returned with the countess. Catherine delayed no longer. Vassilchikov retired to Moscow with many presents, and Catherine installed Potemkin in his place. A few days later, she appointed him Lieutenant Colonel of the Preobrazhensky Guards, of which the sovereign was always the colonel; this was the first of the innumerable honors she showered upon him.

Potemkin had by this time lost his slim, elegant figure. He was aged thirty-four, ten years younger than Catherine, and the British ambassador reported that “his figure is gigantic and disproportioned, and his countenance very far from engaging.” But he possessed a compelling vigor that made Catherine’s passion for him understandable. “I have put away a certain excellent but very boring citizen [Vassilchikov],” she wrote to Grimm, “who has been immediately replaced, I know not how, by one of the greatest, the most strange, and the most amusing eccentrics of this iron age.” Deeply in love and supremely happy in the passionate full-hearted devotion that he gave her, she became a different woman. They spent part of every day alone together and exchanged notes when they were apart.

Potemkin was not an easy lover. He had moods of depression, of fury, of mad jealousy, and it was Catherine who wooed him.

Catherine had surrendered herself almost completely to Potemkin, and some said that they were secretly married. She consulted him on everything and usually followed his advice. He worked furiously on a number of major projects; with his capacity for work and his abilities as soldier and administrator, he added to the accomplishments of her reign. But even during this stormy affair, Catherine still retained a certain common sense. She tried to limit his contacts with the Orlovs and with Panin, who resented his power. Potemkin was usually gentle and courteous toward inferiors but could be extremely arrogant and rude to equals. However, he listened to her advice and tried not to provoke hostilities.

Even though they loved each other deeply, the union of this remarkable couple lacked harmony. Catherine remained at heart an orderly, disciplined German princess. Potemkin was distinctively Russian in his furious excesses, his moods of exuberant joy followed by deepest depression, and his tremendous bouts of work that alternated with spells of lethargy.

Catherine was probably the only one who understood Potemkin, who impressed everyone at court and was a legend in his own lifetime. She recognized the deep conflict within him between the deeply religious man who longed to humble himself before God, and the dynamic, ambitious man who felt he was superior to others. After two years as Catherine’s favorite, he preserved his authority by an arrangement that formed one of the most extraordinary chapters in his relations with Catherine.

Incessant quarreling began to take its toll on their relationship. Potemkin saw that it might lead to his final departure from court. He offered her a plan that he should gradually withdraw from being her lover, while remaining her partner and in effect co-regent. At the same time, he would choose her future lovers, making certain that they were loyal to him. Catherine evidently agreed to this arrangement that would ensure his continued strong support but give her calm in her personal life.

In the first months of 1776, the court and foreign ambassadors in St. Petersburg heard rumors that Potemkin was falling from favor. He appeared moody and unapproachable, and he spent less time with the empress than usual. The Orlovs and Panin in particular awaited further signs of the end of his reign. They were delighted when Catherine presented him with the Anichkov Palace on the Nevsky Prospekt in June because they believed this meant that he was moving from his apartments in the imperial palace. Then Potemkin obtained leave to tour the Novgorod region of which he was governor. In his absence, Catherine named a young Ukrainian named Zavadovsky as her personal adjutant-general.

Those in the court anxiously awaited Potemkin’s return. Everyone expected him to explode in fury at his displacement. His return was, however, quiet and Catherine received him with her usual warmth. The court was amazed and confused because Potemkin still reigned supreme, even though another man was intimate with the empress. Zavadovsky was in fact no more than a male concubine, chosen by Potemkin. Indeed, Potemkin now became director of Catherine’s love life and appointed and dismissed all her lovers, with one exception, during the next thirteen years. Potemkin himself had innumerable mistresses, and the five beautiful daughters of his sister, Maria Engelhardt, became the leading women of his entourage. All loved him as he loved them, even after they had made the brilliant marriages that he helped to bring about by his influence and generosity. But the bond between Catherine and him remained inviolable. In fact, the elimination of the stormy passion led them into a harmonious relationship in which they complemented one another.

The time of splendor in Catherine’s reign, when she became known as the Semiramis of the North, properly began after Potemkin had taken his place as her partner and co-regent. Under his influence, she tackled many new projects and planned on a grander scale.

The court of St. Petersburg was already magnificent at the time of her accession. Western influences had refined and civilized the Asiatic opulence of the Muscovite court, especially during the reign of Elizabeth. But it was the scale and richness of the entertainments and appointments of the imperial court that overwhelmed foreigners, and Catherine surpassed all her predecessors in elegance and extravagance. In celebrating the birth of a son to Grand Duke Paul, she gave a banquet that impressed the English ambassador so much that he reported on it in detail, remarking in particular that “the dessert at supper was set out with jewels to the amount of upward of two million sterling.” At balls and masquerades, held frequently during the winter, there were as many as 800 guests crowded into the twenty large reception rooms of the palace. Everyone dressed in the latest fashions from the West and wore beautiful jewelry.

Catherine usually wore a crown of diamonds, the ribbons of two orders, the bejeweled collars of three other orders, and the Stars of St. Andrew and St. George. But she reserved this type of display for special celebrations, when she required the whole court to be magnificent.

In private life she dressed simply. Her favorite garment was a long loose coat with wide sleeves that she had adapted from the Muscovite kaftan. Comte de Segur remarked maliciously that she wore it to hide her excess weight. While it was true that with the passing years she had put on weight, she liked her loose robe for its comfort and simple dignity. At ease in the Hermitage, the private apartments and galleries that she added to the Winter Palace, she pursued her special interests. She kept up an extensive correspondence with her ambassadors, friends, and agents abroad, and she was well aware of the latest developments in literature and the arts, especially in England and France. Literature was her first interest, but it was in the architecture of her reign that she expressed most fully her taste and achievement.

Building gave Catherine pleasure. She saw also that the handsome mansions, palaces, and churches that she erected would stand for future generations to admire and acknowledge as evidence of the grandeur of her reign. St. Petersburg was a beautiful and impressive city where she could continue the work of Elizabeth in making it the great capital that Peter the Great had envisaged.

Catherine’s reign was indeed a golden age of art and architecture in Russia. She spent large sums to erect numerous buildings and to collect and commission works of art. Her favorites and the wealthy nobility followed her lead. She was fortunate also in having a number of outstanding architects at her disposal. Vallin de la Mothe, a Frenchman brought to Russia by Elizabeth, built the Hermitage in the neo-classical style that she preferred rather than the baroque and rococo styles of previous reigns. In the Hermitage galleries, she assembled a large collection of works of art that her agents purchased for her regardless of cost and that later included the famous private collections of Sir Robert Walpole, Baron de Thiers, and Count Heinrich Brühl. Foreign architects were eager to carry out the generous commissions of the empress. She especially enjoyed the work of the Scot, Cameron, who built new apartments for her at Tsarskoe Selo, as well as the Agate Palace and the Cameron Gallery. His classical style had a strong influence, and soon members of the nobility were following Catherine’s lead in erecting Palladian mansions and in laying out English gardens of extensive lawns and groves.

Catherine’s reign was remarkable, too, for the emergence of several talented Russian architects and artists. Ivan Starov worked in the style of classic simplicity. The new Alexander Nevsky Cathedral that he built impressed Catherine so much that she commissioned him to build the Taurian Palace, which was his masterpiece. In its design and the grandeur of its conception, it was one of the wonders of Europe, and Catherine considered it worthy of Potemkin, who had become Prince of Tauris after the conquest of the Crimea, and for whom she had commissioned this palace. Among the artists who contributed to the splendor of her reign were Dmitri Levitski, the son of a Ukrainian priest, who became the leading court painter; Borovikovsky, a Cossack; and Shibanov, a serf belonging to Potemkin.

Literature was, however, Catherine’s greatest interest. All her life she had a genuine ambition to be a writer and dramatist. She was happy with pen in hand and said that the sight of a freshly cut quill always made her fingers restless. Her literary output was extraordinary, keeping in mind her responsibilities as empress and her vast correspondence, extending over the thirty-four years of her reign. Her literary works alone, as published by the Russian Academy of Sciences, filled twelve large volumes. In 1769, she launched under her own editorship a new literary magazine, called Vsyakaya Vsyachina or All Sorts, modeled directly on The Spectator of Addison and Steele, and containing mild satires on Russian life. Three years later she started writing plays, finishing no less than five plays in that year. The plays were comedies of manners. They inspired Fonvizin, the leading Russian dramatist of the day, to write Nedorosl (The Minor or The Simpleton), which was the outstanding play of the whole era. She had a second burst of playwriting that began in 1786 and lasted for four years. Again she was a forerunner and exercised a profound influence by introducing Shakespeare to the Russian stage.

The Russian theater came to life during Catherine’s reign. Her Hermitage Theater was the leader of fashion. Many other theaters were, however, also active, apart from the magnificent theaters in Tsarskoe Selo and in the Taurian Palace. Certain of the great nobles maintained their own private theaters with companies composed of domestic serfs, trained for the stage. Some said that the theaters of Count Sheremetev and Princes Yusupov, Prozorovsky, and Naryshkin rivaled the imperial theaters in the magnificence and quality of their productions. It was, however, far from being a golden age of the Russian theater. Foreign models dominated and the Russians imitated them. Moreover, censorship, often exercised personally by Catherine, shackled expression and suppressed all attempts to examine the social problems lying at the root of the general unrest. She insisted that the writers and dramatists who persisted in pursuing forbidden subjects be cruelly persecuted.

For all her industry and her astonishing output, Catherine’s literary works lacked talent. She never mastered the Russian language, and others had to severely edit her writings in French. Her contribution was to introduce new ideas and fashions and to stimulate her people, although she imposed severe restrictions on them. In later years, after the outbreak of the French revolution, she became increasingly tyrannical. But to some degree, she deserved her fame as a patron of the arts and even more as a patron of learning.

The Academy of Sciences, planned by Peter the Great and instituted by his widow, Catherine I, had taken root, but much remained to be done. Catherine II gave her attention to the Academy early in her reign. She created the new office of director, responsible to her personally. But Vladimir Orlov, the first director, and Domashnev, the second director, both were young and inadequate. For seventeen years the Academy stagnated. In 1782, however, she made Princess Dashkova the director of the Academy and it proved to be a brilliant appointment, even though the reason she made the appointment was to ensure that the turbulent princess had no time to make trouble. Dashkova developed the Department of Geography, promoted exploration, and published charts. She embarked on an important program of publications. She wanted to raise the prestige of the Academy abroad. In addition to the Academy of Sciences, she recommended the establishment of the Russian Academy for the study and development of the Russian language.

The 1780s brought new military and diplomatic triumphs that raised Russia’s prestige. Catherine played the role of arbiter of Europe’s destinies on two occasions. The first was when Prussia and Austria appealed to her mediation in their dispute over the successor to the Elector of Bavaria. Next Catherine played the leading role in organizing the armed neutrality of continental maritime powers against English domination of the seas during the American War of Independence. But her main concern was to consolidate Russia’s dominion over the lands to the south, known at this time as New Russia. Potemkin was already developing these southern provinces. He founded the town of Kherson and used strategies to attract settlers from other Slav countries, including the Balkans. The Zaporozhian Cossacks, whom Peter the Great had condemned for their treachery as “a nest of vipers,” had disbanded in 1775 after the Pugachev rebellion. Potemkin now scattered the remnants of this Cossack horde. As long as the Crimea remained independent, however, New Russia could never be secure.

On July 23, 1783, Catherine boldly proclaimed the incorporation of the Crimea into the Russian Empire. At the same time, her troops were subduing the Tatars of the Kuban and the Budzhak. A declaration of war by the sultan seemed inevitable because the Turks had been massing troops on their northern frontiers. However, the great Ottoman Porte was in decline. Russia’s new strength intimidated the sultan, and he was anxious to negotiate. Catherine’s terms were recognition of Russia’s sovereignty over the Crimea, the Taman peninsula, and the Kuban, and the formal acknowledgment of the right of Russian ships to pass freely through the Dardanelles and to sail the Black Sea. The sultan submitted to these demands and signed the Treaty of Constantinople in 1784. It marked the triumphant end to a long chapter in Russian history of efforts to master the northern shores of the Black Sea and to sail its waters. Inspired by Potemkin, Catherine had a more grandiose plan, which was to partition the Turkish Empire, create a new Kingdom of Dacia, and revive the old Byzantine Empire. In his devotion to the Orthodox Church, Potemkin could never forget that Constantinople had been the center of Eastern Christianity until the Turks captured it in 1453. It was his dream to restore the city and revive Byzantium and become King of Dacia. Catherine planned that her second grandson, Constantine Pavlovich, should occupy the throne of the Byzantine emperors.

In January 1787, Catherine set out from Tsarskoe Selo to visit the Crimea. Potemkin made all the arrangements, and the triumphal progress of her journey impressed Turkey and all of Europe. Potemkin, who had ridden ahead, greeted Catherine in Kiev and together they enjoyed the splendid entertainments provided in the ancient city. Then the strong religious tradition of Kiev overcame him, and he retired into the Pecherskaya Lavra for Lent. But he maintained control of the arrangements through a stream of couriers. Emperor Joseph II of Austria joined Catherine at Kherson. He had traveled incognito to accompany her on part of her journey. The entry of the empress into Bakhchisarai, the former capital of the Khans, was the occasion for an astonishing display which, like so much on this Crimean tour, “resembles the dreams of the Thousand and One Nights” as Catherine herself wrote. The climax came when she drove to the heights of Inkerman and saw below the new town and harbor of Sevastopol. Forty warships lay at anchor in the harbor; as the empress saw them for the first time, all of the ships fired salvoes in her honor.

Potemkin was the hero of the whole journey. Catherine and everyone in her entourage was amazed that he had accomplished so much, especially in the Crimea. Comte de Segur, who traveled with the empress, wrote that “It seemed incredible to us that at a distance of 800 leagues from the capital and in a country so recently conquered, Prince Potemkin had found it possible in two years to raise such an establishment, to build a town, construct a fleet, to erect forts, and to assemble such a large number of inhabitants: this was prodigal activity.”

The visit of the empress to the Crimea, the display of Russian strength, and the open declaration of her decision to revive the Byzantine Empire alarmed and provoked the Turks. Catherine had hardly returned to St. Petersburg when the sultan declared war. Potemkin, who had been waiting impatiently, now ordered his formidable army of 100,000 men to march. Rumyantsev commanded operations in the Danubian lands, and Potemkin commanded the Black Sea army and fleet. He was too impetuous to make a great general but Suvorov, Samoilov, Repnin, and others serving under him made up for his failings. They repelled the Turkish attacks and captured the key stronghold of Ochakov.

At Kronstadt in the north, the Baltic fleet was hurriedly preparing to sail under the command of the British admiral, Greig, when Sweden declared war in June 1788. This caught Catherine off guard because she had confirmed her alliance with King Gustavus III in 1783. But with the Russians engaged against Turkey, he had yielded to the persuasions of England and Prussia to declare war with the goal of recovering Finland. However, the discontent of his nobles hampered Gustavus’s efforts because many of them were receiving bribes from Russia. After several indecisive military and naval actions, he had to sign the Treaty of Verela in August 1790, confirming the position as it was before his declaration of war.

The Russian army in the South, supported by Austrian troops, won a series of outstanding victories during 1789-1791, mainly as a result of the brilliant leadership of Suvorov. The successes of the Russian armies at Fokshani, Rymnik, Bender, Akkerman, Kilia, and Izmail finally compelled the sultan to sue for peace.

Potemkin had been so occupied with the war and with his extensive projects in the south that his visits to St. Petersburg had become rare and brief. In his absence, Catherine had taken a new favorite, Plato Zubov. Potemkin did not approve of Zubov, which caused friction between him and Catherine. However, on April 28, 1791, on what would be his last visit to St. Petersburg, Potemkin arranged a festival in the Palace of Taurida in Catherine’s honor. This festival was so grand that it became legendary as “Potemkin’s feast.” It began with a banquet provided for the ordinary people in the adjoining squares. He invited 3,000 guests to the palace, all masked and in fancy dress. They were all present when Catherine arrived. Potemkin received her, dressed in a suit of red silk with a cloak of black lace, and his buttons were large solitaire diamonds, while his hat was so heavy with precious stones that his aide-de-camp had to carry it for him. In the vast hall of the palace, the new marble statue of Catherine by Kozlovsky had the place of honor. A banquet followed dancing, two ballets, and two plays. At the banquet, 600 guests dined at one time.

Potemkin escorted Catherine as she departed in the early hours of the morning. An orchestra and choir presented a cantata in her honor while she walked through the palace. After Catherine thanked Potemkin for the magnificent entertainment, he fell to his knees and kissed her hand. Both were in tears as though they knew that this was their final parting.

Soon afterward Potemkin traveled again to the South. He was only fifty-two years old, but exhausted by excesses of work and pleasure. He became ill with malaria in Jassy but insisted on traveling on to Nikolaev. He had ridden only a short distance when he stopped the carriage. He asked his aides to place him on the ground and there, on October 5, 1791, he died.

Catherine collapsed when she learned of his death. For weeks she was inconsolable; she had lost her partner and closest friend, and at the age of sixty-two she felt completely alone. All who had known or served under him, even rivals and enemies, mourned Potemkin. In his excesses, his flashes of inspiration, his magnificence, and his devotion to Russia and to his empress, he had been a great man. The Prince de Ligne wrote: “He is the emblem of the immense Russian Empire; he also is composed of deserts, of gold mines, and of diamonds - he was the most extraordinary man that has ever lived.” This was the view of his contemporaries.

By the Peace of Jassy, signed on December 19, 1791, the sultan formally abandoned all claims to the Crimea and confirmed the Russian gains under the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainardji. He further conceded the coastal region between the Bug and Dniester rivers, where Odessa was soon to rise as the great trading center. But the treaty fell far short of the grandiose plans of Catherine and Potemkin to establish the Kingdom of Dacia and revive the Byzantine Empire. It nevertheless marked the end of the long period during which Turkish power had constantly menaced Russia.

The last years of Catherine were not, however, a time of serenity. The cost of her magnificence and extravagant generosity, of maintaining her armies, and waging the long war against Turkey had burdened her people. In January 1790, the French chargé d’affaires in St. Petersburg reported that:

“The great landed proprietors are beginning to raise their voices in all seriousness, and it has been found necessary to despatch to Moscow Monsieur Sheshkovsky, Chief of the Secret Chancellory, to repress several of them; the people groan in every province to see the best cultivators being continually torn from the land (to serve in the army) and lamenting families being robbed of their sole means of support; money has completely vanished from circulation, and it is evident that the government, under the guise of banknotes, is manufacturing a veritable paper currency; the harvest has been bad, next year’s is going to be even worse; no snow has fallen, it is freezing only at intervals, and the grain is fermenting and rotting in the bosom of the earth; the revenues of the crown lands have fallen; trade is languishing; the rate of exchange is sinking steadily; finally, everything proclaims that it is time to finish the war and repair the evils which it has occasioned.”

Throughout Catherine’s reign, the nation suffered from chronic inflation. Revenues had risen impressively. A contemporary Englishman estimated that the national income, which was approximately £1.6 million in 1725, approached £4.4 million under Elizabeth, and £6 million in Catherine’s reign. Rapidly expanding trade had made an important contribution in the early years of her rule. But expenditures had risen yet more steeply. She had to increase taxes, issue bank notes, and raise loans abroad. The Russian economy, which had been solvent at the time of her accession, had a heavy burden of debt at the close of her reign.

In Poland, unrest and anti-Russian feeling had been mounting since the first partition in 1772. The war against Turkey, which occupied both Russia and Austria, and the French Revolution seemed to offer the Poles the opportunity to recover the territories that they had lost. Frederick William II, who had succeeded to the Prussian throne in 1786, and was uneasy about the close alliance existing between Russia and Austria, approached King Stanislas Augustus of Poland with proposals for an alliance. Emboldened by this proposal, the Poles did away with the hated Russian constitution and in May 1791 introduced a new constitution of their own. Both Frederick William of Prussia and Leopold II of Austria, who had succeeded on the death of Josef II in 1790, approved the new Polish constitution. Catherine was ominously silent. As soon as the Turkish war had ended, the Russian army marched into Poland and enforced a further partition of Poland in which Frederick William shared.

A desperate movement to expel the Russians developed among the Poles. Its leader was the Polish patriot, Thaddeus Kosciusko, who had studied military science in France and had taken part in the American War of Independence. The fact that Russia, Prussia, and Austria were quarreling among themselves encouraged the Poles. A general rising in Great Poland and brave fighting in defense of Warsaw forced the Russian and Prussian troops to retreat from the city that they had held under siege for two months. But a combined Russian and Prussian force 100,000 strong in the west, an invading Austrian army from the south, and in the east a Russian army commanded by Suvorov now threatened Kosciusko. On October 10, 1794, these forces defeated the Poles at Macie-jowice and captured Kosciusko. In the following month, Suvorov captured Warsaw and Polish resistance came to an end.

Catherine now planned the third partition, dividing the spoils with Prussia and Austria, and removing Poland from the map of Europe. Frederick of Prussia had taken the initiative that had led to the first partition, but Catherine had inspired and dominated the second and third partitions of Poland. In supporting Prussian and Austrian demands and in the third partition, she had demonstrated her obsession with personal glory and with immediate gains without thought for the future. The policy of successive tsars had been to recover the lands within Poland’s frontiers, inhabited by Orthodox Russians. She had achieved this traditional objective, but in doing so she had greatly strengthened Prussia. By the final partition, she had provoked hatred of the Russians in the Polish nation; with statesmanship and generosity, she might have lessened the old hostility and gained in Poland an ally.

Catherine became obsessed by the threat to her throne, posed by the forces released by the revolution in France. The fall of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, had not greatly alarmed her, but she did not underestimate the significance of the events in France. She recognized, too, that the oppressive conditions that had created the revolution in France were present in more extreme forms in her own empire. She now enforced repressive policies, seeking to suppress the ideas that she had introduced with such enthusiasm in the early years of her reign. She now banned the writings of Voltaire, the old friend and correspondent whom she had revered. Everything French became suspect, and she closed down all newspapers and periodicals believed to be promoting the revolutionary spirit.

In May 1790, Catherine’s anger over the publication of a simple book by Alexander Radishchev demonstrated how much age and her reaction to the French Revolution had changed her. A gentle idealist, Radishchev had witnessed the sufferings of the peasantry, especially during the famine of 1786-1787, and recognized that the nation needed basic reforms. Although a respected civil servant, he had written papers and pamphlets that criticized the autocracy, and no harm had come to him. He installed a press in his own house on which he printed A Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow. It was no more than a series of sketches, cast in the form of Sterne’s Sentimental Journey, at that time well known in Europe. The chief of police in St. Petersburg, acting as censor, gave permission for its publication after a cursory glance. But the sketches amounted to an indictment of absolutism and serfdom, and it was possible to interpret one section as a direct attack on Catherine and Potemkin.

Catherine read the book some weeks after its publication. She furiously annotated her copy and then ordered the arrest of this “rebel worse than Pugachev.” The empress’s anger and the interest that his book was arousing confused Radishchev. His approaching trial was the talk of the day. Foreign envoys in St. Petersburg saw his book as an indication of the widespread disapproval of her regime, felt by the Russians. Although Catherine had banned the book, there was so much interest in it that copies written by hand circulated secretly. Some people paid as much as 100 rubles for a copy, and some merchants paid twenty-five rubles just to peruse it for one hour.

At his trial, officials found Radishchev guilty and sentenced him to death. After Radishchev lay in prison for several weeks awaiting execution, Catherine commuted the sentence to one of exile in Siberia. His health broken, in heavy chains, and under close guard, guards carried him off in a rough open cart on his long journey. But his case had repercussions throughout the country. Alexander Vorontsov, who had been his friend and protector, retired from public life because of his disgust with the court. Dashkova also asked to be released from the Academy of Sciences. This case of persecution troubled the consciences of some of the nobles, and the poorer people admired Radishchev as one who had spoken against oppression.

Meanwhile, Catherine averted her attention from domestic problems and concentrated on foreign projects that held promise of yet greater glory. She had always been vain, but now her vanity exceeded all bounds. “She is willing,” so the British ambassador reported to London, “to give credit to any assertion that she supposes to be in consequence of her own greatness and power.” She had not abandoned the grandiose Greek project of reviving Byzantium and was hoping to gain the support of Britain and Austria for it. She had sent troops against Persia and planned to conquer the whole Caucasus region. She was still dreaming and planning on the scale that Potemkin had inspired. But the Russian people as a whole were disenchanted with their empress and her magnificence for which they had had to pay so heavily. Toward the end of her reign, the splendor was tarnished and the people were weary.

Catherine herself did not live, however, to pursue her ambitious plans further. She had always enjoyed robust health, and even with advancing years she was rarely ill. But death came suddenly. On November 6, 1796, she arose at the usual early hour and attended to business. She broke off to retire to her inner chamber where she suffered a stroke. After lingering for some thirty hours, she died.

Her life had been an astonishing saga. An insignificant German princess, she had usurped the Russian throne to become autocrat and the most powerful monarch in Europe. She had reigned with splendor, supported by brilliant men like Potemkin, Rumyantsev, Suvorov, and others, and had momentous successes with her foreign policies. But her reign had also entrenched and extended the privileges of the landowning nobility and gentry and the evil institution of serfdom. Except for those close to her at court, there were few who sincerely mourned her death.


The Romanovs

Paul succeeded to the throne with relief and rejoicing. He was forty-two years of age, a small and unattractive man with a strangely flat face and a voice that became shrill when he became very angry. He and his family had gathered with ministers and courtiers in the imperial bedchamber as Catherine lay dying. His children were in tears and most of the courtiers were crying openly. But he had shed no tears for the mother who had treated him with contempt and hostility, and had deprived him of his throne for so many years. He had even heard rumors that she intended to exclude him from the succession and to make his son, Alexander, her heir. Even as they waited in the bedchamber, they expected her to regain consciousness and displace him with a last testament. However, she died without regaining consciousness and spared him this final humiliation.

Paul had hated and mistrusted his mother since he was a boy. He had not been close to her and never really got to know her. Empress Elizabeth had carried him away at birth, determined to bring him up herself as a worthy successor to the throne of Peter the Great. In her memoirs, Catherine attributed the estrangement between her son and herself to Elizabeth’s action. But the truth was that she had taken no interest whatsoever in him after Elizabeth’s death. Her indifference had turned to contempt and then to hostile behavior when he grew older because he represented a threat to her throne.

Paul hated Catherine not only because she had rejected him and had cheated him of his birthright by usurping the throne, but also because he believed she was guilty of the murder of Emperor Peter III, whom he looked up to as his father. Paul gave orders for the body of the martyred emperor to be exhumed from its grave in the Alexander Nevsky Monastery and reinterred in the Fortress of Peter and Paul alongside the grave of Catherine. In the somber procession bearing the emperor’s remains, he ordered Count Alexei Orlov, who had murdered Peter III and who was now old and in ill health, to walk behind the coffin, bearing the imperial crown. It was a reminder to the people of St. Petersburg that the splendors and triumphs of the thirty-four years of Catherine’s reign should not erase memories of their legitimate emperor.

Throughout his short reign, Paul tried to erase memories of Catherine from the minds of his people. At times, it seemed as if he was trying to exorcise her from his own mind. He refused to wear at his coronation the imperial crown that she had worn. Although he had protested constantly against her extravagance while she was alive, he did not hesitate to order Duval, the Genevan who served as court jeweler, to make him a new crown that cost several million rubles. He either destroyed or allowed to fall into ruins all of the palaces that his mother and her favorites had occupied. He allowed the cavalry guards to exercise their horses in the halls of the magnificent Tauride Palace, one of the architectural glories of Catherine’s reign. He ordered the desertion of Tsarskoe Selo, one of the most magnificent of the imperial residences. In the savage winters of St. Petersburg, it deteriorated rapidly. Its ornamental lakes, lined with marble, became weed-choked marshes. For his own residence, Paul had workers erect the Mikhailovsky Castle on the ruins of the old Summer Palace. The castle was a somber fortress, which reflected his obsessive fear that he would be assassinated. In fact, he resided in the castle for only three weeks before what he feared came to pass.

Paul was short-tempered, unstable, impetuous, and eccentric. He had periods of kindness and generosity, but his hatred of his mother and the humiliations and anxieties that he had suffered during her long reign had negatively affected his personality. Many who had contact with him believed that he was mentally unbalanced and even insane. In many ways, however, he was intelligent. Elizabeth had appointed as his tutor Nikita Panin, who later became Catherine’s minister of foreign affairs. Nikita Panin and his brother, General Peter Panin, both became close to Paul and strongly influenced his ideas about government. They also appointed his teachers, who gave him a sound general education. He showed ability in mathematics; he learned to speak French and German fluently and he understood Church Slavonic. He possessed a considerable library and was widely read. But instable and impetuous, he was never able to apply his abilities effectively.

Paul was more fortunate in his domestic life. At the age of nineteen, he had married the daughter of the Landgrave of Hesse, but she had died in childbirth in 1776. Six months later he married the young Princess of Württemburg, a niece of King Frederick II of Prussia. He traveled to Berlin to meet his bride and there, like Peter III before him, he fell under the spell of Frederick and the Prussian army. His marriage with Maria Fedorovna, which was her name after her baptism into the Orthodox Church, proved stable and fruitful. She was a devoted wife who gave him affection and companionship during the bleak years while Catherine occupied the throne. She also gave birth to four sons and six daughters.

In 1781-1782, Catherine had allowed them to make an extensive tour of Western Europe. They tried to travel incognito as the Count and Countess du Nord, but everyone gave them the courtesies due to the heir to the Russian throne. Paul made a good impression at the courts that he visited, which annoyed Catherine. She had placed her agents among his entourage and received regular reports on everything that Paul and his wife did and said. Catherine then began to see him as a serious rival and gave him no further opportunities to achieve acclaim. When she was absent from the capital, she did not appoint him in charge of the city or of government affairs, even though it was normal practice for the heir to the throne to be in charge. Although by birth he was a generalissimo of the Russian armies, she would not allow him to command even a regiment in time of war; although he was a grand admiral of the Russian navy, she did not permit him to visit the naval headquarters at Kronstadt.

Paul was bitter about the fact that Catherine virtually adopted his first two sons, Alexander, born on December 12, 1777, and Constantine, born on April 27, 1779. She had indeed repeated the behavior of Elizabeth toward Paul. She personally supervised the education and training of Alexander for the throne. For her second grandson, Constantine, she planned a special future. He would succeed to the throne of the great Byzantine emperor after whom he had been named. Because Greek nurses from the island of Naxos cared for him as a baby, and Greek children were his playmates, as a boy he spoke Greek fluently. In 1786, she planned to take him south to the frontier of the empire over which she intended him to rule. However, he caught measles and could not travel with her on the triumphal journey to the Crimea.

The fear that plagued Paul constantly was that Catherine would disinherit him. He knew that this was her intention. She idolized his eldest son, Alexander, who was handsome, charming, and intelligent, and possessed the qualities that she found lacking in her own son. On September 28, 1793, at the young age of sixteen, Alexander married a young German princess. After his marriage, everyone expected that Catherine would proclaim him as her heir. Evidently, Catherine did not make this pronouncement because Alexander’s Swiss tutor, La Harpe, strongly objected. But, while Catherine was alive, Paul lived under the threat of being disinherited.

Confined to his estate at Gatchina, some thirty miles south of St. Petersburg, Paul lived quietly with his wife, Grand Duchess Maria Fedorovna, and their small court. They kept away from the capital and avoided contact with Catherine’s ministers and favorites. Only the Panins and certain others risked incurring Catherine’s displeasure by maintaining relations with the “young court.” Paul especially valued the friendship of Sergei Pleshcheev, a naval officer who had received training in England and who was an enthusiastic freemason. Nikita Panin had introduced Paul to freemasonry, and Paul enjoyed its mystic rituals and secret signs. He took a close interest in the lodges that were active in Russia at this time.

Paul’s fondness for idealistic principles and mystic doctrines led to a platonic affair that greatly upset the small community at Gatchina. The object of his passion was Catherine Nelidov, one of his wife’s ladies-in-waiting. She was romantic and devout and had a calming influence over him. But Maria Fedorovna did not like to see her husband lavishing his attentions on the young lady. Distressed by the disturbance that their friendship was causing, Catherine Nelidov withdrew into the Smolny Convent, but she still visited Gatchina from time to time. On Paul’s accession, however, Maria Fedorovna and Catherine Nelidov put their rivalry aside and promised to work together “for the good of the tsar and the empire.” Later Paul became enamored of a young noblewoman, named Anna Lopukhina, who married Prince Paul Gagarin. She became his mistress, and Maria Fedorovna had to accept their relationship.

At Gatchina, Paul actively tried to improve the conditions of his serfs by providing schools and hospitals, and even founding small industries. He was devout, but tolerant of other faiths, and built Lutheran and Roman Catholic as well as Orthodox churches. But his great obsession was the army and military dress and parades, and he turned Gatchina into a military camp. He completely shared Peter III’s worship of Frederick and all things Prussian. He drilled and paraded daily his private army of about 2,000 troops like a ballet company. All wore Prussian uniforms adapted to his orders. The uniforms were so tight-fitting that officers and troops could not sit and, if they fell down, they could not get to their feet without help. Regimental barbers plaited their hair, setting it in a thick paste made chiefly of lard and flour that gave off a terrible stench after a time. Details of uniform, the wearing of insignia, the number and positions of buttons, and exact obedience to regulations and drill orders were all matters of passionate concern to Paul. He was a savage martinet, obsessed with the paraphernalia of war. A breach of any regulation made him scream with fury, and punishments were summary and harsh.

On his accession, sentries and armed patrols suddenly surrounded the Winter Palace and other parts of St. Petersburg. It was as though the army had taken over the city. Wielding absolute power as emperor, Paul’s military parades now became more elaborate and severe. Officers and men dreaded them. If Paul found an officer guilty of a real or imagined misdemeanor, he sent the officer directly from the parade ground to Siberia in one of the sealed carriages held ready for the purpose. He ordered troops to be flogged mercilessly for mistakes in drill and breaches of discipline. Someone even reported that on one occasion Paul, having inspected a regiment, gave the order: “Files, by the right, to Siberia . . . Quick march!”

By contrast with his futile passion for military parades and paraphernalia, Paul’s domestic policy was rational. He believed in order and equality among his subjects and opposed the privileges of the nobility and gentry. He abhorred Republicanism and thought that the absolute sovereign was the keystone of national life. He cherished the ideal of a society reflecting the order of the parade ground, with all subjects obeying the same regulations. He believed that the only way the nation would flourish was by such unquestioning obedience to the law. But in his insistence on extreme centralization of government with the emperor exercising his power through a series of sharply defined central organs, he contributed greatly to the growth of the bureaucratic regime that was to cripple the nation in the years to come.

One of Paul’s earliest and most important decrees, made public on April 5, 1797, the day of his coronation, regulated the succession to the throne. Peter the Great’s decree of 1722, giving the autocrat the right to nominate an heir of his own choice, had led to disorder. Paul had suffered from the lack of an effective law regulating succession. His decree, establishing the rule of primogeniture, made the eldest son of the autocrat the legal heir. If the autocrat had no son, then his brothers in order of seniority and their sons would inherit. This law remained in force for the remaining years of the dynasty.

Also on April 5, 1797, Paul issued a decree declaring that landowners should not call on their serfs to work their lands for more than three days a week. The serfs would then be free to cultivate their own lands three days each week, and Sunday was to be a day of rest. It was difficult, if not impossible, to enforce this decree. Like his partial restoration of the right of the serfs to petition the emperor, however, it showed his concern to protect the common people. But with typical inconsistency, he also introduced several measures that added to their burdens. He revived the right of merchants to purchase serfs to work in industry; he increased certain taxes paid by the peasantry; and most serious of all, he granted extensive state lands with their peasants to favorites and thus greatly increased the number of privately owned serfs. He ordered that troops should put down all signs of peasant unrest harshly. He even had a manifesto, calling on serfs to show complete obedience to their owners and threatening severe penalties to the rebellious serfs.

In spite of his sporadic efforts to reform conditions, Paul was more reactionary than Catherine had been in the last years of her reign. He banned the import of all books and journals. He applied strict censorship to all correspondence and refused to allow Russians to travel abroad. In his obsession with discipline and conformity, he issued detailed instructions on the dress to be worn by men and women, prohibiting fashions that came from revolutionary France. He produced regulations concerning the carriages and number of horses, appropriate to the ranks of their owners. But the worst aspect of his petty repressive rule was his unpredictable temper and his summary removal and punishment of officials, often for no apparent reason. The army, government officials, and the court were at the mercy of his whims and rages, and all suffered from insecurity and mounting discontent.

In his conduct of foreign policy, Paul was erratic and confusing to both his enemies and allies. He had strongly criticized Catherine’s expansionist ventures; when he ascended the throne, he had tried to free Russia from all military commitments. But he soon reversed his policy of nonintervention in France. The revolutionary movement, which he detested, was spreading into Italy and Switzerland and had to be stopped. In addition, after the success of Napoleon’s campaign in Italy, concluding with the Franco-Austrian Peace of October 1797, Paul had provided refuge for Prince Conde’s small army and generous hospitality for Louis XVIII in Mittau. But his unrealistic defense of the Order of Knights of St. John of Jerusalem in Malta also influenced his decision to join the coalition against France. Soon after Napoleon’s occupation of Malta in June 1798, Paul declared that he had taken the Order under his personal protection; when the Knights elected him to the supreme office of Grand Master of the Order, he accepted. This resulted in an extraordinary situation whereby the Russian autocrat, a devout member of the Orthodox Church, became head of a Roman Catholic Order that owed direct allegiance to the pope.

By 1799, Russia was again a member of the coalition of England, Austria, Turkey, and the Kingdom of Naples against France. Paul ordered an army commanded by Suvorov to join with the Austrians in northern Italy. Age, retirement, and increasing eccentricity had not blunted Suvorov’s military genius. He gained a number of brilliant victories in Italy and was planning to march on Paris, when he received orders to proceed immediately to Switzerland. He led his army over the Alps by way of the St. Gotthard Pass, but his losses of men were heavy. Moreover, the Austrian army had suffered a defeat at Zurich, and Suvorov managed with difficulty to keep his weakened army intact. Disputes between Russians and Austrians grew bitter, and the behavior of Suvorov’s troops in Switzerland and Bohemia aggravated relations even more between the allies. Infuriated by Austrian complaints, Paul suddenly broke off relations and early in 1800 recalled Suvorov and his army. Soon afterward, because of dissatisfaction with English cooperation with Russian forces in Holland and incensed by English occupation of Malta and refusal to give up the island to Russia, he broke off relations with England. He imposed an embargo on English ships that severely damaged Russian trade, and in December 1800 joined with Sweden, Denmark, and Prussia in armed neutrality directed against England. Russia and England were now on the brink of war.

Toward the end of 1799, Paul had decided that Napoleon was not a dangerous adventurer, but the savior of France and Europe. The dramatic change in his opinion resulted from Napoleon’s offer to give him Malta, which the British were about to seize, and from the unconditional release of all Russian prisoners of war held in France. Now completely captivated by Napoleon, Paul dismissed the French force of Prince Conde and gave orders for Louis XVIII to be evicted from Mittau. He envisioned the prospect of a Russo-French alliance in which Austria and Prussia would unite to partition Turkey and destroy English power. The expansionist policies for which he had criticized his mother now became his obsession. In January 1801, he formally annexed Georgia and was planning the conquest of India. Without adequate preparation, he gave orders for an expeditionary force of about 23,000 Cossacks assembled under the command of Vasily Orlov to advance to Khiva and Bokhara, and then into India. It was an ill-conceived venture. After Orlov and his forces had been marching for only a few weeks, Paul recalled them. By this time, they had already suffered severe casualties from heat and other hardships.

The reason for the conspiracy that ended in the coup of March 11, 1801, was his threat to the position of the nobility. They had so recently gained their freedom from the burdens of compulsory service that Peter the Great had imposed. Peter III had released them from this obligation. Then came the golden age of the nobility and gentry in Catherine’s reign. Indeed, she had granted them a charter in May 1785 that confirmed and even extended their rights. This charter guaranteed their exemption from personal taxation, corporal punishment, and state service. Judgment of their peers was the only way they could lose their estates, ranks, and lives; they alone could own estates and serfs.

Paul did not abolish this charter, but he modified certain of its provisions and virtually abolished others. He confirmed that the nobility could choose whether or not they would serve. However, in practice, they could not avoid service, especially in the army. Paul didn’t question exemption from payment of taxes, but he would “invite” members of the nobility to contribute toward the cost of government projects. To refuse would result in disgrace and worse punishments. Immunity from corporal punishment was the right that they especially valued because the savagery of these punishments had not lessened. Many peasants died from these ordeals.

In January 1797, however, Paul declared that anyone who lost the title of nobility because of some transgression could no longer claim immunity from such punishments. In Catherine’s reign, it had been rare for anyone to lose the rank of nobility. But in his fits of temper, Paul frequently deprived offenders of their noble status. His ruling thus made the threat of corporal punishment direct and real.

Unrest among the nobility and gentry grew dangerously as they saw their charter overridden. Because of Paul’s restrictions on their powers of local self-government as he tried to centralize government, they saw their role in the provinces reduced to nothing. They wondered what further assaults the emperor would make on their position and privileges. Another source of unrest was his determination to model the army after the Prussian army. Paul introduced rigid codes of discipline and administration to try to increase efficiency and eliminate the waste and corruption that were widespread in the Russian army. Officers and troops found themselves in the straitjackets not only of their Prussian uniforms but also of Prussian discipline. Paul gave extremely severe punishments for even the most ludicrous misdemeanors. Finally, Paul’s contempt for the guards brought him hostility from the strongest and most united section of the nobility. In these and other measures, Paul repeated all the mistakes of his father, Peter III. As a result, he lost his throne and his life.

From the beginning of his reign, Paul had antagonized all classes of his people. Rumors of plots to depose him had soon begun circulating. His enemies had formed the conspiracy that succeeded in the autumn of 1799. Count Nikita Petrovich Panin, the son of General Peter Panin, and Count Peter Pahlen, the military governor of St. Petersburg, were its chief instigators. In fact, Paul dismissed Panin from the office of vice-chancellor in November 1800 and ordered him to live on one of his country estates. Nevertheless, he had played an important role in the conspiracy, especially in approaching Paul’s eldest son, Alexander, and obtaining his support for the plan to depose his father.

Count Peter Pahlen evidently directed the operation on the night of March 11, 1801. He brought together the other conspirators. They included a group of guard officers, one of whom was Count Leon Bennigsen, and the three Zubov brothers, of whom Plato had been the last of Catherine’s favorites. They met over supper and most of them were drunk before they set out for the Mikhailovsky Castle. They entered without difficulty and made their way to the emperor’s bedchamber.

When he heard noises in the corridor, Paul, who lived in fear of plots and assassination, scrambled from his bed and hid in the fireplace behind a screen. At first the conspirators thought that the room was empty. Then one of them pulled away the screen and saw Paul’s bare feet. As they dragged him from the chimney in which he had been standing, he begged them to spare his life. In the drunken confusion, someone struck him on the head with a heavy gold snuffbox. He fell to the floor, and one of the conspirators strangled him with a scarf. Count Bennigsen, who alone was sober, made sure that the emperor was dead. He had the body dressed and the room set in order. At this point Count Peter Pahlen arrived, having delayed in order to avoid being involved in the actual capture. He and Bennigsen then arranged the proclamation of the death of the emperor. The official cause was given as apoplexy, a plausible explanation, for Paul had been notorious for his rages.

At court and throughout the city, the people were so happy to be free of the harassments of Paul’s rule that few worried about the cause of his death. But his sudden death disturbed many in the army and at court. Certain officers insisted on seeing the body. Although they suspected that someone had murdered him, they did not seek to press their inquiries further. All were, in fact, united in welcoming Alexander as their new emperor.


The Romanovs

Alexander was in his early twenties at the time of his accession. He was tall, fair with blue eyes, and strikingly handsome. He had great presence and natural dignity, and seemed born to the role of emperor. He contrasted sharply with his father and predecessor, Paul, who had been homely and undignified. In personality, too, Alexander was unlike his father. He possessed a charm of manner like his grandmother, Catherine, but shyness and even an occasional stutter, made his charm seem natural and less of an act. He endeared himself to everyone and especially to women. He gave the impression of being simple and straightforward in character. But among all the rulers of Russia and, indeed, of Europe, he was the more complex and unpredictable.

Alexander, the greatest enigma among the Romanovs, seemed to take on different characters during his reign. The shy young emperor, burdened by remorse for his involvement in the murder of his father, was different from the majestic emperor, enthusiastically cheered as he made his triumphal entry into Paris on March 19, 1814. He was a sensualist who had many mistresses, including perhaps his own sister. Yet the Congress of Vienna would later acknowledge him as the pillar of Christian morality. At Austerlitz, when Napoleon defeated the Russian and Austrian armies, his first battle experience overwhelmed him to the degree that he cried. However, eight years later at Leipzig (October 16-19, 1813), the same man acted so decisively under fire that he saved the allied armies and made the French troops flee. He began his reign as an enlightened and liberal monarch; he closed it as a harsh reactionary, close to religious mania. In countless ways, he confused allies and enemies alike both on the battlefield and at the conference table. Napoleon, whom he vanquished, called him “the Sphinx,” “the cunning Byzantine,” and “the Talma of the North.” Talleyrand, Castlereagh, Metternich, and other statesmen of the age, echoed these nicknames. Even his death was mysterious.

Throughout his early life, family divisions tormented Alexander. His grandmother, Empress Catherine, had taken him from his parents to supervise his care. Catherine adored him and never noticed his extraordinary talent for concealing his thoughts and feelings. He never told her how much he longed for contact with his parents. On the recommendation of Melchior Grimm, her agent and correspondent in the West, she appointed a Swiss man, La Harpe, as his tutor when Alexander was seven years old. His instructions were “to educate the Grand Duke for the throne,” using only the French language. Catherine was still promoting herself as the Empress of the Enlightenment in 1784 and believed that choosing a republican as tutor to the heir to the imperial throne was striking proof of her enlightenment.

The ideals of liberty and social justice preoccupied La Harpe. He lectured the boy for hours on these high principles and the importance of reason. Even though Alexander probably understood only a small part of what he heard, La Harpe’s teaching made a deep impression on him and aroused the strong idealistic element in his character. He became devoted to the principles of the Enlightenment, and this devotion would result in extraordinary events later in his reign. It was, however, only one element in his complex character.

After the outbreak of the Revolution in France, Catherine began to mistrust the Grand Duke’s Swiss tutor. She also resented his opposition to her plans for the boy. La Harpe was not a courtier and had genuine concern for the welfare of his pupil. In 1793, he told her that he didn’t think it was a good idea to have Alexander proclaimed as heir to the throne. He thought that his pupil should have normal relations with his parents. In the spring of 1795, after Catherine had finally dismissed him, he went to Gatchina to beg Paul to be more kind and friendly toward his sons, Alexander and Constantine. Evidently Paul listened to his advice but still resented and mistrusted his son’s former tutor. Paul interpreted Alexander’s shyness and reserve as dislike; he also failed to understand that if Alexander would be too responsive toward him, Catherine would find out about it. Paul was certain that Alexander had agreed to become Catherine’s heir. Rumors and suspicions, carried between the imperial court and Gatchina, constantly poisoned relations between father and son.

Alexander, who was not yet sixteen, married Princess Louise, one of the five daughters of the Crown Prince of Baden in September 1793. The previous May, she had joined the Orthodox Church, received the name of Elizabeth after her baptism, and become formally betrothed. This graceful and intelligent nearly fifteen-year-old girl had fallen in love with Alexander. For the first years of their marriage, they were very happy together. Alexander enjoyed the companionship of his affectionate young wife. He needed her sympathetic support because his relationship with his parents had worsened with his marriage, which Catherine had arranged without asking them. Moreover, Paul was upset that Catherine had granted Alexander a larger court than he had at Gatchina; such matters of protocol were very important to him.

Alexander and his brother, Constantine, visited Gatchina during Easter of 1795. Catherine was confident that they would have no interest in their father, the petty tyrant of the parade ground. But his father’s military fever captivated Alexander, who had enjoyed the splendor of the court of St. Petersburg and the idealism of La Harpe. The order and discipline of life at Gatchina appealed to him. Moreover, he felt sympathy for his father because Catherine had deprived him of his throne. He shared his disgust over the partitioning of Poland. His mother began to influence him, and his attitude toward his grandmother hardened. But he did such a good job of concealing his feelings that Catherine had no idea of his true thoughts.

After Catherine’s death, Alexander’s enthusiasm for the military life rapidly diminished. His father as emperor required him to devote himself to drill and parades. He didn’t give him special treatment but seemed to believe that Catherine’s spoiled grandson would benefit from the harsh discipline that he inflicted on others. Alexander was often the victim of his father’s abuse, and his wife, Elizabeth, suffered equally at the hands of her mother-in-law, who did not disguise her dislike. This petty tyranny probably brought this young couple closer to each other than at any other time in their married life. Alexander soon became alienated from his father, which was a factor in his decision to support the conspiracy to remove him from the throne. Another reason was that Paul’s erratic rule, the impending war against Britain, the reconcilation with Napoleon, and the campaign to conquer India, were leading the nation to disaster.

Alexander ascended the throne without question after Paul’s death. His mother, the widowed empress, who was hysterical after learning the fate of her husband, laid claim to the succession. However, this was not a problem because some time earlier under the new law of the succession, it was clear that Alexander would become heir to the throne. At court and throughout St. Petersburg, the people enthusiastically cheered him because everyone believed that his reign would be a time of peace, recovery, and reform. Few paused to consider his disrupted and inadequate training for the supreme office of emperor. His only education had come from La Harpe’s instruction, and even this had ended when he had married at the age of fifteen. He spoke fluent English and French, but his Russian was poor and he knew little about his own country. In addition, a terrible sense of guilt burdened him. He had not taken part directly in the murder of his father, but he had supported the conspiracy. He may have believed that the conspirators would simply remove Paul and hold him in custody. Even though the conspirators may not have planned to assassinate the emperor, his death was nevertheless the responsibility of all of them. This feeling of guilt would always haunt Alexander.

As emperor, Alexander acted promptly to counteract the worst consequences of Paul’s policies. He ordered the immediate recall of Orlov’s Cossack force that Paul had sent to Khiva and Bokhara for the first stage of the invasion of India. He restored diplomatic relations with England. His action was timely because Nelson’s fleet had gained a brilliant victory over the Danish navy at Copenhagen on April 2, 1801, and was preparing for action against other members of the Second League of Armed Neutrality. On June 17, 1801, representatives agreed to an Anglo-Russian convention in St. Petersburg. Denmark and Sweden signed it, thus abandoning the Armed Neutrality. Moreover, in spite of Napoleon’s dislike of the new Anglo-Russian accord, a Franco-Russian treaty became official in October 1801.

The new agreements with England and France reflected Alexander’s policy of peace. He asserted that understandings between Russia and England, France, and Austria would maintain peace. In a letter to his ambassadors, he wrote: “If I ever raise arms, it will be exclusively in defense against aggression, for the protection of my peoples, or of the victims of ambitions that endanger the peace of Europe . . .” His two predecessors, Catherine II and Paul, had on their accessions proclaimed similar policies of Russian neutrality and pursuit of peace. Like them, Alexander would find that involvement in the European vortex of war and diplomacy was necessary both to further Russia’s interests and to maintain the balance of power.

At the same time, Alexander made friendly approaches to Prussia and would champion Prussian interests throughout his reign. Doing this was an act of homage to the memory of his father. Another influence was the beautiful Queen Louise, wife of the Prussian King, Frederick William III. He met her and Frederick William on a private visit that he made to Memel in June 1802 and found her to be enchanting. In the course of a week of banquets, balls, and military parades, the two monarchs reached an understanding that baffled the chancelleries of Europe and the emperor’s own ministers.

Alexander had begun his reign in a mood of exaltation, mingled with remorse, and with some misgiving, because the problems were so formidable. But he was also eager to embark on liberal reforms and to improve the conditions of the peasantry. His fervor came partly from a need to atone for his sense of guilt and partly from the idealism and sense of mission that La Harpe had given to him.

He began with a flood of decrees and manifestoes. He had proclaimed his intention of governing “according to the laws and spirit of Catherine II.” He confirmed the rights and privileges, set out in her Charter of the Nobility that Paul had restricted in practice, and he restored her system of local government. But he actually had disagreed with much that she had done, and this became clear in his subsequent measures. He abolished the security police on which she had depended. He decreed that “all crimes must be provided for, tried and punished by the general laws.” He abolished the sovereign’s council, which she had established, and appointed a “Permanent Council” of twelve experienced advisers to take its place. He set up a commission to pursue the difficult task of codifying the chaotic laws of the land. These measures were, however, merely the beginning of a far broader program.

To assist him in his task, Alexander brought together four young friends in what they referred to as the “Private Committee.” They were Viktor Kochubey, Prince Adam Czartoryski, and Count Nicholas Novosiltsev, all of whom had spent some time in England, and Count Paul Stroganov, who had studied in France. His “young friends” shared his enthusiasm for liberal reforms. They dined with the emperor and empress on appointed days. After dinner they retired to a room near the private apartments and began their business meeting. Alexander would join them later in the evening. He always listened attentively but made few contributions. This Private Committee, which never had legal standing, functioned fairly regularly from June 1801 until the end of 1803 or even later. It strongly influenced Alexander and his internal and foreign policy. This committee never attained its main objectives. The four friends had worked under pressure to draft a “Charter of the Russian People,” to be proclaimed at Alexander’s coronation. Their draft was bold and wide-ranging; it contained guarantees of freedom of the individual, of speech and of the press, as well as religious tolerance and an independent judiciary. But Alexander never allowed it to be proclaimed. He enjoyed the excitement of enlightened discussion and liberal dreams but hesitated to apply them in practice.

The most difficult task of the committee members was to make sure they were “thoroughly acquainted with all existing constitutions, to digest them, and on the basis of their principles to prepare a constitution for Russia.” But their work resulted in only two administrative reforms and fell far short of Alexander’s grandiose proposals. One reform replaced the colleges of Peter the Great by eight ministries. Initially, it appeared to impose restrictions on the absolute power of the autocrat. However, the change was only symbolic because each of the eight ministers was responsible directly to the emperor and to him alone. A decree proclaimed on the same day, September 8, 1802, sought to make the Senate the highest judicial and administrative organ.

Alexander was fully aware of the urgent need to improve conditions among the peasantry. The problem was, however, too large for him and he retreated from difficulties of reforming serfdom. On May 28, 1801, he issued a decree, intended to put an end to the practice of advertising serfs for sale like livestock. But landowners were soon evading this prohibition by advertising serfs as being “for hire,” which everyone knew meant the same as “for sale.” A more important decree of February 20, 1803, established a new rural class, the free peasants. It applied only to serfs who, by voluntary agreement with their masters and in accordance with the terms laid down, became free men. But serfs found that the price of freedom, ranging from 139 to 5,000 rubles for each male, was beyond their reach. The total number of male serfs emancipated during Alexander’s reign was only 47,153, a mere one percent of the serf population.

Alexander and Elizabeth were married seven years before his accession to the throne. They had a close relationship during Paul’s reign, because the military discipline and the emperor’s unpredictable demands had harassed both of them. She was a calm and intelligent partner who helped alleviate her husband’s stress. As empress, she welcomed the meetings of the Private Committee and encouraged her husband in his reforming zeal. She was happy in the comparative austerity of their way of life because, like Alexander, she was unaccustomed to the extravagance and excessive court functions of Catherine II’s reign. But storm clouds gathered over their marriage.

Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter who died in infancy in 1799; at the time, there was some doubt as to whether she could have more children. Her health was frail, and she suffered often from migraines, fatigue, and colds. By 1801, she was in her twenties and had matured. She remained devoted to her husband but increasingly had to rely on the tolerance and strength of character that were part of her nature.

Alexander did not hesitate to use other women to satisfy his sensual needs. Elizabeth heard rumors of his affairs. Other than a brief visit from her mother, the Margravine of Baden, to St. Petersburg in the summer of 1801, she had only her younger sister, Princess Amelia, to comfort her in her loneliness. But she found it easier to tolerate the more or less discreet affairs than the official mistress chosen by Alexander.

In 1803 Alexander became attracted to Maria Naryshkina, a Polish woman of great beauty who was a natural courtesan. She had married Lev Naryshkin, a Russian noble who held high office at court. He accommodated his wife’s affairs and condoned her relationship with the emperor. Accustomed to Catherine II’s practice of appointing official lovers, the court readily accepted the emperor’s mistress as a person of influence. Alexander’s mother, the Dowager Empress Maria, became friends with her. No one sympathized with Elizabeth and her position. Indeed, Maria Naryshkina’s rudeness and disrespect made her anguish even more unbearable. This was evident when she went out of her way to tell Elizabeth that she was pregnant by Alexander and then continued to appear at court, flaunting her condition, until shortly before she gave birth. Maria Naryshkina bore several children that Alexander acknowledged as his own, although he knew that she had other lovers.

Elizabeth took refuge in semiretirement from court. She had given birth to another daughter in 1806, but this child also died in infancy. She had to accept that she would never give Alexander a son and a family. Adding to her distress was the untrue court gossip that she also had lovers. But she remained devoted to her husband and did not blame him or find fault with him. She waited for him to return to her, and few women would have had such patience.

Elizabeth had to endure Alexander’s mistress, Maria Naryshkina; the hostility of her mother-in-law, the Dowager Empress Maria; and of the rest of the family. Catherine, Alexander’s favorite sister, who was Grand Duchess of Württemberg, was her most active enemy. She was ambitious, interfering, vindictive, and indiscreet. Many believed that she had caused the estrangement between Alexander and Elizabeth. However, this was unlikely because he was not under her influence and often ignored her insistent advice. Nevertheless, he was extremely devoted to her. His letters, as carefully edited by Grand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovich, reveal tenderness toward her and at times an intimacy unusual between brother and sister.

The Franco-Russian treaty of friendship, signed in October 1801, had been part of a general movement toward peace throughout Europe. France had even concluded the Treaty of Amiens with England and similar treaties with other nations. But the peace was no more than an uneasy armistice. Napoleon maintained a blockade against English trade and threatened invasion by massing ships and troops to cross the Channel. He became critical toward Russia, especially over the nation’s close relations with England. But it was the cruel murder of the Due d’Enghien, son of the Due de Bourbon, on March 21, 1804, that led to the break between the two nations. The murder shocked Alexander, and the imperial court at once went into full mourning. He sent a severe note of protest to Paris. Napoleon’s reply, prepared by Talleyrand, questioned his concern over the death of the Due d’Enghien, when he had failed to investigate the murder of his own father, Emperor Paul, and to punish the assassins. It was a shrewd and cutting response that hurt Alexander deeply.

Napoleon’s greed and his dominance over Europe made lasting peace impossible. By the end of 1804, nations were forging a new coalition against France. Alexander had devised an impressive plan to ensure permanent peace, while allowing Russia to acquire vast territories. His idealistic plans usually served also as a façade for Russia’s glorification. In November 1804, Novosiltsev traveled to London to present to William Pitt the emperor’s plan for an Anglo-Russian league designed to destroy the Napoleonic regime and create a new Europe. The scheme provided also that Russia would annex the areas of Poland under Prussian and Austrian control as well as acquire Moldavia, Corfu, Constantinople, the Dardanelles, Malta, and other areas. Novosiltsev also requested substantial amounts of money as well as certain modifications in the English maritime code.

Pitt was a practical man who was determined to bring down Napoleon. He expressed warm respect for the high principles and ideals of the emperor’s policy, but he was noncommittal about the proposals not directly concerning England and the war against France. On April 11, 1805, representatives signed an Anglo-Russian Treaty. The English government allocated £5 million for subsidies to those monarchs who would put troops in the field against Napoleon. Both England and Russia began pressing Austria, Prussia, and Sweden to join the coalition. Only Prussia embraced neutrality with the hope that she might secure Hanover, then occupied by French troops.

For many years, Napoleon had seemed determined to go forward with his plans to invade England. Suddenly, toward the end of August 1805, he abandoned these plans and ordered the Grand Army to march into Germany. The allied leaders calculated that Napoleon’s army could not reach Bavaria before November. However, the French advanced so quickly that they took the Austrian army by surprise. At Ulm, on October 19, the Austrian commander, General Karl von Mack, surrendered with 25,000 men.

Napoleon was now in a delicate position. He was 400 miles from France and winter was approaching. He had just received the devastating news of the annihilation of the Franco-Spanish fleet by Nelson at Trafalgar. The Russian army was still intact, and with allied troops it far outnumbered his forces. Kutuzov, the Russian commander-in-chief, believed that his tactics should be to avoid direct conflict and to fall back, fighting rearguard actions. By doing this, he would draw the French farther and farther from their bases and expose them to the hardships of winter. Alexander, under pressure from Emperor Francis of Austria, overruled him. Toward the end of November 1805, the Russian army marched from its headquarters at Olmutz with the intent of cutting off the French from Vienna. Alexander made a terrible mistake when he ordered this advance. During the four or five hours of battle at Austerlitz, the 90,000-man Austro-Russian army lost 26,000 men and all their artillery, while the French lost only 9,000 men. It was Napoleon’s most brilliant victory; for Alexander, it was a shattering defeat. With Francis of Austria, he fled from the field in shame.

Two days after the battle, Emperor Francis requested an interview with Napoleon, who agreed to an armistice on the condition that all Russians troops leave Austria. He made an additional proposal that, if Francis persuaded Alexander to make peace with Napoleon and to enter into alliance with France against England, he would leave Austria intact in the final peace treaty. Alexander withdrew his troops from Austria, but he refused to make peace or to join the alliance against England. On December 26, 1805, at Pressburg (Bratislava), Francis signed a punitive treaty. Talleyrand had tried to moderate his master’s terms, but he had failed to convince Napoleon that a strong Austria was necessary to the balance of European nations.

Meanwhile the Prussian minister, Count von Haugwitz, had come to Pressburg to conclude an offensive alliance with Napoleon. Only two months earlier, in October 1805, Alexander had traveled to Potsdam where Frederick William had exchanged eternal vows of friendship with him. The two monarchs had agreed to have a convention on November 3, 1805, binding Prussia to present an ultimatum to Napoleon that Prussia would enter the war on the side of the allies unless Napoleon made peace. After Austerlitz, however, Frederick William hurried to sign a treaty of alliance with Napoleon, and his reward was Hanover. Napoleon and others regarded him with contempt. Only Alexander accepted his excuses and continued to heed Prussian interests.

This alliance with France cost Prussia dearly. Support of the Continental System crippled her economy, and both England and Sweden declared war. Another factor that deeply disturbed Frederick William and all Prussians was Napoleon’s reorganization of Germany into the Confederation of the Rhine (July 1806), closely allied with France. He had not bothered to consult Prussia or Austria in making this major change. He tormented Frederick William even more by offering to restore Hanover to England. The alliance with France was highly unpopular among all Russians. Queen Louise personally led the opposition to it at court. Frederick William turned again to Alexander and in July 1806 concluded a secret military alliance with him. In the following September, he sent an ultimatum to Napoleon that resulted in the defeat of the Prussians at Jena and Auerstadt. On October 25, Napoleon entered Berlin.

In mid-October 1806, primarily because of the French scheming in Constantinople, Alexander found himself at war with Turkey. He sent a large Russian force to the west. With some Prussian support, this force engaged the French in the savage battle of Preussich Eylau on February 8, 1807. It was a terrible bloodbath with inconclusive results. Alexander feared that Prussia, already engaged in peace negotiations, would come to terms with Napoleon, leaving Russia to continue the war alone. In April 1807, he held meetings with Frederick William in Memel; the two monarchs signed a new convention, confirming the Russo-Prussian alliance. The grim winter campaigns, especially the battle of Eylau, had seriously weakened the French army. The French troops were in rags and hungry; they needed time to recover. Intent on taking advantage of their poor condition, the Russian commander, Count Bennigsen, attacked a French corps near Friedland in East Prussia with 60,000 troops on June 14, 1807. Victory was within the Russians’ grasp when Napoleon brought up reinforcements. Fighting bravely, the French recovered and the Russians had to retreat.

Alexander had to admit defeat, and he desperately needed peace. Defeats and failures in supplies and equipment had demoralized his army in the West. His generals had shown incompetence and allowed squabbles and rivalries to divide them, even in battle. He had an army of 80,000 men fighting in the war against Turkey in the South, but he could not weaken this force. In addition, he now had to pay attention to the serious strains on his people. England was not willing to grant further large subsidies, and he thought that the amounts they offered were grossly inadequate. His brother, Grand Duke Constantine, as well as Novosiltsev, Stroganov, and others close to him were pressuring him to sue for peace. They recognized that the Russian army would fail against Napoleon’s army because they lacked the barest necessities and had incompetent generals. But Alexander refused to heed their advice. After the battle of Friedland, he changed his mind and immediately wrote to Napoleon to propose an armistice. Napoleon consented. The two emperors signed the armistice on June 21, 1807, and agreed to meet four days later.

The historic meeting of Alexander and Napoleon took place on a beautifully decorated raft, moored in the middle of the Niemen River, opposite Tilsit. The pomp surrounding each emperor and the brilliance of the uniforms of the Russian and French troops, drawn up on each side of the river, greatly impressed many observers. The two men met alone on the first occasion and talked for three hours.

Alexander had always wanted to meet Napoleon, and he evidently fell under his spell. He had obstinately fought against him, but now he was eager to become his ally. Alliance with England had been the cornerstone of Russian policy for many years. On the eve of their meeting, Alexander wrote to Napoleon that “An alliance of Russia with France has always been the object of my desires and I am convinced that it alone can guarantee the happiness and peace of the world.” When they first met face to face, Alexander’s first words supposedly were: “I hate the English no less than you do and I am ready to assist you in any under-taking against them.” Napoleon answered: “If such be the case, then everything can be settled between us.”

Napoleon had every reason to be satisfied. He was at the pinnacle of his fortunes. He had crushed and humiliated Austria and Prussia. His great enemy, William Pitt, had died, and he now had Russia as his ally against England. Alexander had publicly recognized his conquests and had bound himself in a secret treaty to offer to mediate between England and France; if England declined the offer, he would then join in the Continental Blockade. The two emperors discussed elaborate schemes for dividing Europe, the East under Russian and the West under French authority. Alexander liked planning on such a scale. However, when Napoleon proposed erasing Prussia from the map, with Russia taking all territory east of the Vistula and Niemen rivers, he refused. He was not prepared to betray his friend, Frederick William, to that extent, although he annexed the district of Belostok.

When the Prussian king joined their meeting, Napoleon was quite arrogant. He acknowledged the charm and beauty of Queen Louise, who evidently offered herself to him if he would deal less harshly with Prussia in his peace terms. But Napoleon would not yield. He insisted on the cession to France of all Prussian territory west of the Elbe and on Prussia’s Polish provinces being formed into the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. Alexander reluctantly accepted the creation of the Grand Duchy, although it was a reversal of Catherine II’s policies, and it would later prove to be a source of anxiety for Russia. The Poles themselves were disappointed, for it fell so far short of what Napoleon had led them to expect. Alexander welcomed Napoleon’s offer of support against Turkey.

Alexander left Tilsit feeling relieved and exhilarated. “God has saved us,” he wrote to his sister, Catherine. “Instead of sacrifices we emerge from the struggle with a kind of luster.” To his mother he wrote, “Happily Bonaparte with all his genius has a vulnerable side. It is his vanity, and I have made up my mind to sacrifice my own self-respect to save the Empire.” As it turned out, the three treaties of Tilsit were examples of arrogance, double-dealing, and deceit. Both emperors initially may have intended to honor their pledges, but their conduct soon proved otherwise.

The Tilsit treaties were not popular in Russia. As the months passed and the Russians felt the full effects of the treaties, their resentment and hostility toward the French grew. Alexander proceeded to carry out his commitments. On November 7, 1807, he broke off relations with England. Next, on Napoleon’s instigation, he invaded Sweden and annexed Finland on March 20, 1808. But it was soon clear that the policies of the two emperors differed with regard to Turkey, Prussia, and Poland.

On February 2, 1808, Napoleon wrote to Alexander, outlining a master plan for Russo-French action in Scandinavia, Turkey, and Asia. This plan would culminate in the conquest of India. Alexander enthusiastically accepted the plan and agreed to meet Napoleon in Erfurt to discuss it further. But Alexander was already on his guard and concealing his real thoughts and intentions. “Bonaparte imagines that I am nothing but a simpleton,” he wrote to his sister in September 1808, “but he laughs best who laughs last.” He had been under Napoleon’s spell at Tilsit; at Erfurt, he seemed more confident and clear about his course of action. He had accepted the advice of Talleyrand, Napoleon’s former minister of foreign affairs, who believed that Napoleon’s arrogance and excessive greed was leading France to disaster. Talleyrand suggested that Russia should lead in forming a new coalition against France.

The Congress of Erfurt took place from September 27 until October 14, 1808. Four kings and countless princes and dukes were present. All were Napoleon’s followers and anxious to show him every respect. For Alexander, however, the congress was difficult and involved frequent arguments with Napoleon. He made few concessions in the document that he signed on October 12. The document reaffirmed the Franco-Russian alliance, but there was no agreement concerning the partitioning of Turkey. Alexander got Napoleon to consent to Russia’s annexation of Moldavia, Wallachia, and Finland, but said he would declare war on Austria if its troops attacked France.

During these months Francis, Emperor of Austria, had been preparing for war against France. The resistance in Spain to Napoleon’s troops had made him bolder, and the friendly attitude of the Russians had encouraged him. But Alexander was playing a double role. He assured the French that he would honor his undertakings, but he led the Austrians to believe that the Russian army would not march against them.

The Austrians opened hostilities in April 1809. The French narrowly escaped defeat in the battle of Aspern and Essling; but on July 6, they routed the Austrian army at Wagram. Napoleon again imposed harsh conditions on his defeated enemy. The Treaty of Schönbrunn (October 14, 1809) reduced Austria to a second-class power and forced that country to join France against England. During the Austrian campaigns, Alexander had not assisted France. His troops, massed at the Galician frontier, took no part in the fighting. The Russians in St. Petersburg sided with the Austrians, and Napoleon’s terms horrified them. They believed that the inclusion of Western Galicia in the Duchy of Warsaw was part of a deliberate policy to strengthen the Poles against Russia. Hostility toward Napoleon and the French was increasing.

Napoleon wanted to maintain his alliance with Alexander, although the Russian failure to lend support against Austria disappointed him. He had no dependable European allies and was anxious to consolidate his empire and to create his own legitimate dynasty. To do this, he needed to divorce Josephine and marry an Austrian or Russian princess who would produce a male heir to his throne. He had decided to seek the hand of Grand Duchess Anna, the fifteen-year-old sister of Alexander. He was ready to accept a Russian convention, providing that Poland would never be resurrected, in order to ensure approval of his marriage with the Grand Duchess. But he still had not received a reply from Alexander in mid-December when the divorce from Josephine became final. Convinced that Alexander was going to reject his proposal, Napoleon announced suddenly on February 6, 1810, that he would marry Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria. Alexander received this news in two notes, one withdrawing Napoleon’s marriage proposal and the other giving notice of his marriage with Marie Louise. Napoleon sent these notes before he received a courteous note from Alexander in which he refused to permit his sister to marry for two years because of her youth. The Russian court, however, regarded Napoleon’s announcement of his marriage with the Austrian princess as insulting. It also alarmed them because it suggested the reorientation of French policy from alliance with Russia to alliance with Austria. Feelings against Napoleon intensified even more by his rejection of the Russian convention on Poland that the French ambassador had signed in St. Petersburg and that Alexander had ratified.

Meanwhile Russia’s participation in the Continental System was taking a heavy toll on the Russian economy. Merchants and landowners whose estates provided the goods and materials for export depended almost entirely on the English trade; all felt the loss acutely. The cost of maintaining the army for war generally had added to the strain on an economy that was in the grip of severe inflation. All of these factors had intensified the anti-French feeling among the Russians. Toward the end of 1810, Alexander issued a series of decrees that relaxed the embargo on English trade with Russia. Napoleon protested that this was a violation of the Tilsit treaties. Alexander refused to repeal his decree. Napoleon insisted because he thought Alexander would yield. When Alexander remained firm, Napoleon began to talk about the inevitability of war with Russia. Alexander was not seeking war because he was an extremely cautious man by nature. But he recognized that war with France was inevitable, and he had faith in the power of the Russians to survive the assault of the French army.

Russo-French relations deteriorated steadily during 1811. Napoleon tried to make the Continental System more effective. He had annexed Holland in July 1810, and in December he seized the Hanseatic towns of Hamburg, Bremen, and Lubeck. But his seizure of the Duchy of Oldenburg, the heir apparent of which was his brother-in-law, angered Alexander the most. The Tilsit treaties had guaranteed the security of the duchy. However, Napoleon brusquely rejected his protests. Meanwhile, he pressed ahead with the reorganization of the army. The military weapons factories at Tver, in St. Petersburg, and in the Urals, worked under pressure to provide equipment. He was concentrating troops on his western frontier. French forces were massing in Prussia and the Duchy of Warsaw.

Freed by the Tilsit treaties from the immediate pressures of war, Alexander had turned again to domestic reforms, prompted by his own lofty liberal ideals and by Mikhail Speransky, rather than by the angry discontent among his people. Several people influenced him during his reign, but he did not submit himself wholly to any one person. Even his favorites never knew exactly where they stood with him. Alexei Arakcheev and Mikhail Speransky were very close to him at this period in his reign. They represented the extremes of his nature. Speransky was a champion of liberal ideas. Arakcheev was a reactionary, a parade-ground tyrant, and a sadistic disciplinarian, whose period of greatest dominance was known as the Arakcheevshchina. Of the two men, Arakcheev was closer to him and for a longer period.

Alexei Arakcheev came from the minor gentry. He received his training at the St. Petersburg Military Academy and in 1792 accepted a post to the garrison at Gatchina. He made an impression on the Grand Duke, as an expert in drilling troops and in gunnery; after Paul’s accession, he received rapid promotions. He was a major general at the age of twenty-seven, a count in 1799, and held many high offices. Alexander had met Arakcheev at Gatchina. Occasionally, Arakcheev had protected Alexander from his father, and the two young men had become friends. However, not even Arakcheev was immune from Paul’s insane outbursts, and Paul suddenly exiled him to his estate at Gruzino in the Novgorod province. After he became emperor, Alexander recalled him in 1803 and appointed him Inspector-General of Artillery. He made the appointment because Arakcheev was the outstanding artillery expert in Russia at the time. Five years later he became minister for war. No one was closer to Alexander during the campaigns of 1805-1807.

Everyone at court and in the army thought of Arakcheev as a monster and a disturbing influence on the emperor. He was, in fact, a strange mixture. He was devout, but also given to debauchery; he was arrogant, vengeful, ambitious, and reactionary, but occasionally also generous and charitable. His serfs at Gruzino, who lived harshly regimented lives, hated him. Unable to tolerate any longer the abuse they received from him and his mistress, Anastasia Minkina, they murdered her, and he savagely and indiscriminately punished them. The “Gatchina sergeant-major,” as he was called, was also an administrator of great ability. He carried to extremes his obsession with order and discipline, but protected the finances of the state and reorganized the Russian artillery after Austerlitz. He even made efforts to protect serfs against excessive demands by their landowners and to provide for the poor and destitute. On occasions in later years, he prevailed on Alexander to show mercy and reduce sentences that were unduly severe. Although he had an evil reputation, he was a devoted and effective servant of the emperor and the nation. In his concern for discipline and order, and his devoutness, he revealed the qualities that Alexander respected and shared to some degree.

By contrast, Mikhail Speransky was a gentle, modest man of great ability and industry. The son of a village priest, he was born in 1772 and received his education in the Kiev Seminary. He showed such striking promise that at the age of eighteen, he was teaching in the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. By a stroke of good luck, Princes Alexander and Alexei Kurakin noticed him and persuaded Empress Catherine to have him released from the obligation to enter the priesthood. He became secretary to the Kurakins and later to Count Victor Kochubey, who was then minister of the interior. As time went by, he continued to distinguish himself and receive additional promotions.

Speransky impressed Alexander and accompanied him on his visit to Erfurt. Alexander appointed him to be assistant minister of justice in 1808 and secretary of state two years later. After Tilsit, when concerned again with internal reforms, Alexander treated him as his closest and most trusted adviser; strangely, it was during this period that he was also promoting Arakcheev.

Alexander instructed him to prepare an overall plan of constitutional reform in 1808. Speransky devoted himself to this work and submitted his plan to Alexander in October 1809. “An Introduction to the Code of State Laws” was a comprehensive and systematic project. The first part contained a critical examination of the existing order; the second proposed major reforms. The opening review was devastatingly critical.

“Of what good are civil laws when their tablets can be smashed every day upon the first rock of autocracy?” he wrote in a typical passage, “People complain of the confused finances. But how can finances be organized in a state which lacks public confidence, where there are no national laws or order which could protect them? Of what use is education? Only to enable the public to observe more clearly its miserable condition . . . In the legal chaos there are laws not only vague and insufficient, but contradictory to each other . . . I do not mention here subjects of a more important character, namely, the relation of the peasants to their owners, that is, the relation between millions of people, composing the most useful part of the population and a handful of parasites who acquired, God knows why and how, all rights and privileges.”

Speransky’s main recommendation was that there should be strict separation of legislative, administrative, and judicial powers while still retaining the autocracy. Many more people would have political rights that would be subject to property qualification. He envisaged the eventual emancipation of the serfs but believed that this had to happen gradually; at this stage he excluded them from his plan. He wanted government to be organized like a pyramid with the autocrat at the apex and beneath him a State Council that would be responsible for coordinating the legislative, executive, and judicial powers, and extending to county level. Although the plan had many shortcomings, it represented a distinct improvement on the existing conditions.

Alexander studied Speransky’s proposals; presumably he approved the plans because they promoted the liberal ideals that he cherished. Nevertheless, he did not implement them. He did not order the draft plan to be published but kept it in his private archives. Speransky obtained approval for setting up the State Council, but as an appointed, not an elective, body. More important, he succeeded in introducing basic reforms of the central administration and in financial organization.

In his efforts to modernize the bureaucratic system, Speransky gave special attention to raising the standard of civil servants. A decree of April 3, 1809, ruled that court appointments would no longer bestow a status in the Table of Ranks, allowing the holder to acquire a higher position on transfer to the civil service. Another decree on August 6 required that promotion beyond a certain grade would depend on passing examinations or holding a university degree.

At court and in the bureaucracy, these decrees caused angry protests. Speransky’s financial policies also received bitter criticism, although they were clearly directed toward curing the inflationary chaos of the economy. Apart from such obvious measures as cutting back expenditures and increasing taxes, his most striking innovation was the imposition of a progressive tax on the revenue, as distinct from the number of serfs, on the estates of landowners. The nobility interpreted this as a direct assault on their time-honored exemption.

Hostility toward Speransky increased. He had never been popular. At court and among civil servants, the dramatic rise of this man of humble origin had aroused furious resentment. His reforms had intensified feeling against him, and his opponents began a campaign to remove him from office. He probably knew nothing about it. He lived quietly with his English wife in a modest apartment. If he had any spare time after long hours of work, he devoted it to the study of history and political economy. He had no time or inclination for court life. He did not try to gain friends or supporters, and he showed no interest in acquiring riches or honors. He worked in a closed world of his own, reporting directly and privately to the emperor. His secrecy aggravated the suspicion and antagonism of the court and the nobility against him.

Alexander’s mother, the Dowager Empress; his sister, Grand Duchess Catherine; and Grand Duke Constantine condemned him as a Jacobin. They mistrusted his influence. Arakcheev disliked his liberal ideas and was also jealous of his primacy among those close to the throne. At first, the complaints and hostility directed against his chief adviser did not seem to bother Alexander. In 1811, however, his sister gave him A Note on Ancient and Modern Russia by Nicholas Karamzin, the leading literary figure of the day, whom Alexander had virtually appointed official historian. Karamzin was a fervent champion of the autocracy, and he idealized ancient Russia. He had written this note as an indictment of Speransky’s reforms. Karamzin’s note probably impressed Alexander, because he thought highly of him. The mounting hostility at court and among the landowning nobility also influenced him. On the evening of March 17, 1812, he summoned Speransky to the palace and met with him for two hours. What was said during this long audience is not known, but the result was the exile of Speransky first to Nizhni-Novgorod and a few months later to Perm. In his single-minded devotion to the national interest and in his liberal policies, he had appeared as the enemy of the landowning nobility. Alexander was too weak to ignore their protests and support him.

On June 24, 1812, Napoleon ordered his army to cross the Niemen River and to advance into Russia. It was the beginning of an epic chapter in Europe’s history. It was a time of greatness for Alexander. Never were the Russian emperor and his people more completely united. He embodied their will to resist and their deep faith that no other nation could ever conquer Mother Russia. Only a few months earlier, the Austrian ambassador, Count Saint Julien, had reported to Metternich in Vienna that “the Emperor has little confidence in the talents of his generals . . . he puts his trust in the courage of his troops, their discipline and their passive obedience, but even more so in the obstacles which in his dominions are offered by the terrain—wooded, swampy, primitive, and sparsely populated. His Majesty greatly relies on the difficulty of supplies and the rigor of the climate. The Emperor also depends on public spirit, the sacrifices which are promised him in the name of the nation, and the justice of his cause which he considers sacred.” To the French ambassador he had said earlier: “I shall withdraw to Kamchatka rather than cede any of my provinces or sign in my capital, occupied by the enemy, a peace that would be merely an armistice.” Several people expected him to surrender, but even those closest to him, including his own sister, did not appreciate the strength of his resolve to resist as long as one French soldier remained on Russian soil.

Alexander was attending a grand ball in Vilna when General Balashev, his minister of police, drew him aside to report on the French invasion. He received the news calmly and returned at once to headquarters, after apologizing to his hostess. There, after discussion with Admiral Shishkov and General Prince Peter Volkonsky, he wrote a strong but dignified appeal to Napoleon to halt his aggression. Balashev set out at dawn bearing the emperor’s note. He met with Napoleon at Rykonti, not far from the Niemen. Napoleon maintained angrily that Alexander had provoked aggression by his alliances with England and Sweden. He was boastful and arrogant, and he refused to halt his army.

In spite of their preparations, the Russians were far from ready to meet the French onslaught. The Treaty of Bucharest, concluded with Turkey on May 28, 1812, had ended the war in the South. Russia had gained Bessarabia but had to yield Moldavia and Wallachia. The treaty had, however, ensured that Russia would not have to fight two enemies on two fronts. Against the French army of about 575,000 men, Alexander could muster only 220,000 troops; his effective forces were probably no greater than 180,000. Barclay de Tolly, the commander-in-chief, was in an unenviable position, because he had no choice but to retreat before the superior French forces. Napoleon took Vilna on June 28, but the Russians expected to stop him at Smolensk, where the armies of Barclay and Bagration had come together. Meanwhile, Alexander had made a difficult decision that showed he was capable of listening to advice and of putting the national interest ahead of himself and his feelings. Arakcheev, Balashev, and Shishkov wrote him a letter, proposing that he should leave the army and return to the capital. As head of the nation, they believed that was where he should be. By remaining with the army, he would be responsible for failures, his presence would hamper the high command, and they would need to detach troops to serve as his guard. Alexander had always wanted to lead his armies in the field. He was deeply hurt by this proposal, but he recognized the problems that his presence caused. He set out for Moscow in July and received a patriotic welcome from his people. His firmness of purpose aroused demonstrations of loyalty that deeply moved him. He traveled on to St. Petersburg, where he met with a less ardent welcome. He drove to the small palace on Kamenny Island and stayed there throughout the French invasion.

Expecting that the Russian troops would stop Napoleon at Smolensk, it shocked the Russian citizens when Barclay surrendered the city and fell back toward Moscow. Everyone condemned him. Grand Duke Constantine accused him of treason and of “leading the enemy to Moscow.” Barclay’s position became impossible. In St. Petersburg, Alexander found that everyone wanted him to name Kutuzov as commander-in-chief. From Moscow reports reached him that only the appointment of Kutuzov would restore confidence. Alexander once again needed to make an unpleasant decision. He personally disliked Kutuzov and had no faith in his leadership. But again he put aside his personal wishes; Kutuzov became commander-in-chief on August 20.

Field Marshal Prince Mikhail Kutuzov was sixty-seven. He had only one eye and had limited mobility because of his obesity. His father had served under Peter the Great, and he was the last of the great generals of Catherine’s reign. He was long past his best as a commander in the field, but he possessed the magic quality of leadership. The troops loved him for his plain language, his bluntness, and his devotion to the army and Russia. He inspired confidence, and he was not afraid to make unpopular decisions. Barclay had gained the hostility of all Russians by his tactics of retreat. When he assumed command, Kutuzov at once ordered further retreat. Reluctantly, he decided to face the enemy in open battle at Borodino. He did this because most Russians couldn’t conceive of the possibility of Napoleon advancing to Moscow without being challenged.

Fought on September 7, the battle of Borodino was a savage engagement. The Russians lost 58,000 men and the French 50,000. Napoleon considered it the worst battle that he had ever fought. Both sides claimed victory. However, the significant factors were that Napoleon lost forty-seven of his best generals and that the Russian army fell back.

Kutuzov now made a decision that stunned all Russians. They thought of Moscow as the heart of the nation. But he saw that he had to choose between saving Moscow or his army, and he chose the latter without hesitation. On September 13, he ordered the army to evacuate the city and fall back to the southeast toward Ryazan. Napoleon entered Moscow on the following day. He was amazed to find the city almost deserted. Fires broke out that same evening and raged for four days, destroying whole districts. Napoleon had believed that Alexander would surrender when Moscow fell, and now he learned his mistake. He made three peace offers during his thirty-three days in the city, and Alexander ignored all of them.

Although confused by the surrender of Moscow, Alexander was determined not to make peace. He worried about his uselessness in St. Petersburg. He was also hurt by the unjust criticisms directed against him for having brought disasters upon the nation. But he discovered in himself a stubborn strength that reflected the mood of his people. To his sister, who thought that his resolve might weaken, he wrote: “Rest assured that my determination to fight on is firmer than ever.”

Napoleon began his retreat from Moscow on October 19. He had been acutely uneasy ever since he had entered the empty city and it had become a burned ruin. His army was far from its bases. Hostile people who fought with surprising fierceness surrounded him and his men. Moreover, winter was approaching. The Grand Army, hampered by the weight of valuable stolen goods and by the sick and wounded, could make only slow progress. Partisan groups incessantly harried them. Kutuzov followed at a distance, still unwilling to engage the enemy. He saw no need to sacrifice his men in battle when the winter and the partisan bands were slowly destroying the French army. Criticism against him increased. Hatred of the French was so great that Russians could not understand why he did not attack. When he finally committed to a plan, drawn up in St. Petersburg, to operate with two other forces in preventing the French from crossing the Berezina River, the plan failed. Although outnumbered and with an army decimated by cold and hunger, Napoleon withdrew his forces brilliantly. But the invasion and retreat had in effect destroyed the magnificent Grand Army. Of 575,000 men who had invaded Russia five months earlier, only some 30,000 ragged and frostbitten survivors struggled across the Niemen River on December 14.

Russia no longer had to deal with the invaders, but conditions were desperate throughout the country. The French had completely destroyed large areas. The people now longed for peace and the chance to rebuild and to cultivate the land again. The army was exhausted and needed rest, as Kutuzov emphasized to the emperor. Against the advice of everyone, even those closest to him like Arakcheev, Grand Duke Constantine, and Shishkov, Alexander decided to advance westward. He had rejoined his army in Vilna in December and said he would remain with the army until they had overthrown Napoleon and he had signed a peace agreement in Paris. Many Russians believed that it was the influence of certain foreigners close to him that had encouraged him in this desperate venture. But one could find the real explanation of his new purpose and determination to advance westward into Europe in the transformation that had taken place in the man and in his outlook.

The events of 1812 had a tremendous impact on Alexander. He began to display a religious ardor that grew stronger with the passing years. He had never been noted for his piety. He had participated in the formalities of religious observance required of the emperor, and no more. But concealed in his many-sided nature was evidently a strong religious bent that developed into an obsession.

Two members of his intimate circle, Prince Alexander Golitsyn and Rodion Koshelev, had undergone a similar conversion and undoubtedly influenced him. Golitsyn had led a wild life as a young man. But about 1803, when he became procurator of the Holy Synod, he began to take an interest in religion and became exceedingly devout. Instead of embracing Orthodoxy, however, he evolved a faith of his own, containing a strong mystical element.

Koshelev had served in the Horse Guards and had been ambassador for a time in Copenhagen. He had made contact with various esoteric groups in Western Europe and was also an enthusiastic freemason. He became more and more immersed in mystical cults. He had an apartment in the Winter Palace that he retained after he had resigned his various appointments in order to devote himself to the study of various mysterious doctrines. Foreign ambassadors in St. Petersburg reported skeptically on both Golisyn and Koshelev. Alexander felt deeply indebted to the two men. He wrote to Koshelev on December 13, 1815: “You have powerfully contributed to make me adopt the course I am now following by conviction and which alone has brought me success in the most difficult task the Very High One has assigned me.”

He frequently exchanged notes with Golitsyn on religious matters. Golitsyn attributed his own conversion primarily to reading the Bible, which one does not usually read or study in the Orthodox Church. Alexander, too, began reading the Bible and it became the mainstay of his faith. In December 1812, the Russian Bible Society had its beginning in St. Petersburg. It drew on the British and Foreign Bible Society in London for its aims and rules, except that the Russian government liberally financed it; it had the ardent support of the emperor, who was one of its founding members. It recruited Roman Catholics and Protestants as well as the Orthodox. Alexander believed that through this Bible Society he would achieve “one Christian faith which will unite all Christian denominations.”

The fervor of Alexander and his religious advisers, their unorthodox worship, and their spreading influence disturbed the Russian hierarchy and also the Holy See. From Rome came directions that Catholics should not support the Bible Society. Strong opposition was developing among leaders of the Orthodox Church against the emperor’s religious activities. But this did not deter Alexander. He believed that he was committed to a desperate struggle against the “reign of Satan” and that, in his own words, “I am the depository of a sacred, holy mission.” The messianic purpose, which had long been an element in the Russian religious outlook, appeared in Alexander in an extremely personal, mystical form.

In Vilna, Alexander complained about the lack of smartness and discipline of his troops. The fact that they had marched from Ryazan in winter and had engaged the French at the Berezina was for him no excuse. He ignored Kutuzov’s pleas that the men should be allowed to rest and insisted that they must be drilled into smartness. He wanted to be rid of “old Kutuzov” as he called him but could not do so because the Field Marshal was a national hero.

Early in January 1813, the Russian army of 110,000 troops crossed the Niemen River to carry out their emperor’s mission of liberating Europe. Kutuzov was in command but, like his men, he had no enthusiasm for this expedition. He was old and tired and died when they reached Silesia. The nation mourned him. Alexander was relieved, however, because he felt that now he could press forward more rapidly. The advance of the Russians had given courage to the Austrians and Prussians, who sent troops to reinforce them. But soon after leaving Dresden, the allied army encountered Napoleon with a new army. Napoleon defeated the allied army at Lutzen. The allies fought a further battle at Bautzen on May 20 that was indecisive. At Dresden, on August 26-27, Napoleon was again victorious. Three days later, the allied army defeated him at Kulm.

The allied commanders mistrusted and disliked each other, but Alexander was able to encourage and coordinate them. The battles of the past months had been leading to the decisive engagement at Leipzig, and the allies gained a resounding victory there because of Alexander’s efforts. On October 16, when the French cavalry seemed to have the upper hand and the Austrian and Prussian monarchs were expecting defeat, Alexander galloped to his Cossack regiments and ordered them to halt the enemy. They made a furious attack and made the French cavalry flee. On the following day, Napoleon sent peace proposals and Alexander ignored them. On the third day of fighting, the Allies forced the French to flee beyond the Rhine.

Emperor Francis of Austria and King Frederick William of Prussia were anxious to make peace, now that Germany had been liberated. Alexander argued that Napoleon would rise again and plunge Europe into new disasters, unless they got rid of him and signed a peace treaty in Paris. The others finally agreed with him because of his obstinate faith and determination. But his was a blind purpose. The arrival of Castlereagh, the English minister of foreign affairs, brought the Allies together on the rational basis of the Quadruple Alliance, established by the Treaty of Chaumont, signed on March 9, 1814, and binding Britain, Russia, Prussia, and Austria not to make separate peace with France.

On March 31, 1814, Alexander made his entry into Paris at the head of the allied army. The French welcomed him with wild enthusiasm; they were tired of war, and the benevolent attitude of the Russian emperor toward them greatly impressed them. Their reception deeply moved Alexander. He wrote to Golitsyn that his soul “was almost dissolved in gratitude to God . . . I was hungry for solitude so that I could pour out my heart before Him.” The liberal terms of the Treaty of Fontainebleau, April 11, 1814, under which Napoleon abdicated and then suffered exile to Elba, and of the first Treaty of Paris, May 30, 1814, justified the faith of the French in his benevolence. But he had to yield to his allies on certain matters. They insisted on the restoration of the Bourbons in the person of Louis XVIII. Alexander would have preferred someone else on the throne or, even better, the creation of a republic. He agreed to this because Louis XVIII would reign not as an absolute but as a constitutional monarch.

In June 1814, Alexander visited England and received a warm welcome all the way from Dover to London. But during his visit, he and his sister Catherine behaved badly. They showed discourtesy toward the Prince Regent, later George IV, and blatantly took sides in domestic politics by cultivating the Whigs and ignoring the Tory government. Catherine was evidently the main offender, but he should have restrained her. There were often conflicts in Anglo-Russian relationships, and Alexander’s visit aggravated English mistrust of him and his policies. The timing was especially bad because the allies were about to assemble to establish a new and stable order in Europe.

The Congress of Vienna, convened for this purpose, met from September 1814 until June 1815. It brought the monarchs, ministers, delegates, and special agents from every country of Europe into the Austrian capital. The city provided a brilliant succession of receptions, parades, grand balls, and banquets. The Congress itself did not meet; the main powers – Austria, Russia, England, Prussia, and, at a later stage, France - carried on the negotiations in informal meetings. Emperor Francis served as host but took little part in its work, preferring to leave the negotiations to Metternich, who had originally proposed the Congress. Alexander led the Russian delegation and was active throughout the proceedings. Castlereagh, later succeeded by the Duke of Wellington, led the English delegation. Talleyrand represented Louis XVIII in its later stages.

The complexity of the issues and the conflicts of interest were formidable, but the future of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw and of Saxony presented the most serious problems. Russia, Austria, and Prussia had agreed in 1813 to partition Poland among them. In Vienna, however, Alexander claimed the whole duchy and proposed that Prussia should have Saxony as compensation for the losses of Polish territory. Most of the German states directly concerned in the fate of Saxony objected. The proposed annexation of the entire Duchy of Warsaw by Russia deeply disturbed Austria. In November 1814, when Prince Nicholas Repnin, commanding the Russian army in Saxony, transferred the supreme command there to Prussia, the German states and France protested furiously.

Alexander’s brother, Grand Duke Constantine, issued a manifesto in Warsaw on December 11 that called on all Poles to unite as an independent nation under the Russian emperor. This manifesto brought into the open the clear rift between the allies. On January 3, 1815, Castlereagh, Metternich, and Talleyrand formed a secret military alliance directed against Russia and Prussia. Castlereagh in particular felt the need to unite Europe against Russia. Austrian troops moved up to the Polish frontier; France ordered partial mobilization. Only eight months after Napoleon’s abdication, Europe was again moving toward war. Realization of this danger made Alexander more ready to compromise. In the Final Act of the Congress, most of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw became a constitutional kingdom of which the Russian emperor was king, but Prussia gained certain Polish territory. Austria regained Galicia, and Cracow became a free city. The Saxon King, Frederick Augustus, regained his throne but had to give more than one-third of his kingdom to Prussia.

Alexander’s stubborn efforts to procure the entire Duchy of Warsaw had demonstrated that he had to put aside his lofty principles when Russian interests were involved. The escape of Napoleon from Elba and his return to Europe in March 1815 helped diminish Alexander’s authority, because the Russians generally believed that his lenient treatment of the French had made this possible. When Alexander asked to be nominated as commander-in-chief of the allied army in the West, Wellington curtly refused. After the battle of Waterloo, on June 18, 1815, Wellington dominated the allied negotiations. Alexander, who arrived in Paris almost a month later than Wellington, had little input in the drafting of the second Peace of Paris, on November 20, 1815, which imposed more severe terms on France.

Alexander liked to play the leading role. He saw himself as the noble Christian emperor the whole world relied on for moral leadership. He was disappointed by the markedly less warm welcome that he received on his return to Paris. At the same time his religious mania and his sense of special mission had become more intense. He never tired of meeting and talking for hours with people who claimed to have a religious vocation or mystical knowledge. Some of them were sincere and devout men, like the two Quakers, William Allen and Etienne de Grellet, whom he had met in London in 1814 and who introduced him to the simple peace of silent prayer. However, most of them were imposters but readily accepted by the gullible emperor. Among the latter was Baroness von Krudener, who greatly influenced him for about a year until he became bored with her.

Julie Krudener was the young, attractive widow of a Baltic diplomat in the emperor’s service. She had a striking personality, and was both wildly extravagant and ambitious. She cultivated the leading people of the day, and in every city of Europe where she stayed she formed her own salon. Suddenly, through a shoemaker who belonged to the Moravian Brethren, she found her mission. She would convert the world into the Kingdom of God. Soon she was claiming to be in direct communication with God and to have prophetic vision. At this stage in her career, she realized that the Russian emperor would be a wonderful conquest. She achieved this in a dramatic midnight meeting.

Alexander had heard about her through his wife’s lady-in-waiting, with whom he corresponded on religious matters. Leaving Vienna after Napoleon’s escape from Elba, Alexander stopped at Heilbronn. He was feeling depressed and was unable to find his usual comfort in the Bible. He found himself thinking of the Baroness, wondering where she was and what she was like. At this moment his aide knocked on his door. Apologizing for the late hour, he explained that a lady was waiting to see him. For three hours, Julie Krudener sat with him, talking about sin and forgiveness. The dramatic coincidence of her appearance while he was thinking of her and then their long conversation made him credit the meeting to divine providence. He saw her often and they corresponded. She followed him to Paris, where he visited her daily. He gave her presents of money because she was always in debt. She made certain that many knew that she was serving as spiritual adviser to the emperor.

Alexander’s Holy Alliance, dramatically proclaimed to the world on September 26, 1815, was the result of his mixed emotions and such influences as Julie Krudener’s teachings. It was, in fact, not an alliance, but a pompous manifesto, prepared by Alexander and reluctantly signed by the Emperor of Austria and the King of Prussia. Subsequently, all the monarchs of Europe endorsed it, except the King of England, the pope, and the Turkish sultan. The President of the United States also refused to subscribe to it.

The Holy Alliance was an extraordinary document, lofty in ideals but vague in application. The monarchs who signed it pledged themselves to regulate their conduct among themselves and toward their subjects in accordance with the principles of Christianity. To Alexander it was a declaration of faith that would commit those who signed it to a “universal union.” Castlereagh dismissed it as “a piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense,” and Metternich called it “a loud-sounding nothing.” In fact, most quickly forgot about the Holy Alliance. In subsequent congresses, Alexander tried “to give the soul of the Holy Alliance a body” by transforming the Quadruple Alliance into a “universal union” in which the powers guaranteed the frontiers and regimes then existing in the countries of Europe. Castlereagh would not agree, however, and Alexander’s attempts failed.

The real basis of cooperation between the allies was the Quadruple Alliance of November 20, 1815, agreed on the initiative of Castlereagh who wanted to give the alliance some permanence. Alexander had readily accepted Castlereagh’s proposals. Certain provisions of the new treaty appealed strongly to him. Clause 6, for example, provided that the four allied sovereigns or their respective delegates should meet at regular intervals, and he welcomed this arrangement. Most important to him, however, was the underlying principle established during the Congress of Vienna, that the great powers had the special duty of maintaining peace and internal order throughout Europe and the world. He always saw himself as the moral arbiter in world affairs.

The opinions of the four allies differed on fundamental issues, however, and the Quadruple Alliance soon existed in name only. Alexander insisted on the principle of great power intervention in support of legitimate governments. England held firmly to the policy of nonintervention in the internal affairs of foreign states. Five revolutions broke out in the years 1820-1821, and Alexander tried each time to get his allies to join him in suppressing the revolution and re-establishing the existing regimes. Prussia supported him, and Austria and France eventually joined him. Castlereagh and, after his death in August 1822, Canning strenuously opposed such action, which amounted to the defense of reactionary regimes. The revolt in Greece in March 1821 tempted Alexander to abandon his policy in order to support the Orthodox Greeks in their rebellion against their legitimate monarch. Castlereagh and Metternich persuaded him to take no action.

At the beginning of his reign, Alexander had admired liberal ideas and had even talked of republicanism. Liberals throughout Europe expected him to launch great reforms. His noble appearance and Christian sentiments at the time of his triumphal entry into Paris in 1814 had won him the name of “Alexander the Blessed,” and this reflected the public opinion of him. But his ideals, embodied in the Holy Alliance, had proved to have no practical significance. Russia had gained large areas of Poland, all of Finland and Bessarabia, and parts of the Caucasus; the rest of Europe had decided that he was only the champion of Russian interests and of reactionary regimes.

Russian citizens were disappointed in their hopes for reform. Although most people realized that serfdom was an evil system – and even Alexander knew he should end - it remained virtually unchanged. The military colonies that he established on a large scale in 1816 in an attempt to achieve economies and train and maintain regular troops resulted in greater hardships for many peasants.

The sudden death of his sister, Catherine, in January 1819 stunned him and intensified his religious mania. Although distracted from affairs of state, he continued to harbor vague ideas of reform. In October 1820, however, a mutiny in the Semenovsky Guards Regiment convinced him that dangerous revolutionary ideas were spreading. The mutiny alarmed and distressed him. He disbanded the regiment and became openly reactionary, abandoning even his lip service to liberal reform of any kind.

Alexander’s secretiveness and religious obsessions in the last years of his reign coincided with the birth of a national Russian literature and the growth of a restless political movement. Nicholas Karamzin had been the dominant writer during the first part of his reign. He was a staunch conservative, but he contributed toward the forging of the modern Russian literary language, especially in his notable twelve-volume History of the Russian State. Large numbers of translations, ranging from political studies to contemporary novels and verse, promoted literary expression. Arakcheev’s censorship eventually restricted the number of approved topics. Three highly respected writers - Krylov, Griboedov, and above all by Pushkin, who remains the greatest of Russian poets - were responsible for the birth of national literature.

The ferment of political ideas began during the long reign of Catherine II. She had encouraged the influx of the radical doctrines of the day; then when they erupted in revolution in the West, she had become reactionary. Her cruel persecution of Radishchev for his comparatively harmless book, A Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow, was typical of the harsh repression of her last years. But the radical ideas didn’t die out in small liberal circles among the nobility and the gentry. During Alexander’s reign, the political ferment had spread and developed in intensity until it erupted in revolution when he died.

Young nobles and especially guard officers were keenly aware of the need for reform and attracted by the liberal ideas of the West. Alexander’s rule disappointed them. His reign had opened with such high promise and ended with disillusionment. He had declared his interest in republicanism and the rights of men. When he annexed Finland and Poland, he had granted both countries liberal constitutions with representative government. But he never allowed his own people to have similar rights. On many occasions, he showed that he had a low opinion of their ability and political maturity, and he depended mainly on foreigners as advisers. The fact that Russians saw themselves as the saviors of Europe made Alexander’s attitude more difficult to bear.

The conditions they found when they returned to Russia made army officers who had taken part in the campaigns in Western Europe very angry. Some of them had been in France as part of the army of occupation for as long as three years. Their own people led harsh lives without even basic freedoms. Heavy taxation burdened them; the courts were corrupt and there was nowhere to find justice; corruption was widespread in the bureaucracy. The peasantry – those who made up the great majority of the population - were like slaves at the mercy of their landowners.

The emancipation of the serfs was the fundamental problem that troubled most Russians. There was a feeling of anger and revolt growing among them. Leaders had promised them change and improvement and then disappointed them too often. They felt that Alexander had betrayed them and the nation. Under cover of the Holy Alliance, he had pursued reactionary policies abroad and changed nothing at home. The young liberals and army officers had to be very careful when they discussed their discontent. At the beginning of his reign, Alexander had abolished the security police that Catherine II had organized. At the end of his reign, a far larger secret police service was operating under Arakcheev. His agents were everywhere. He slipped a special branch into the guard regiments and later placed more agents in the army. If they suspected officers and men of having radical ideas, the agents reported this information promptly. He imprisoned thousands or exiled them to Siberia. But repression and spying were responsible for the creation of secret societies.

The practices of the Masonic lodges influenced the first secret political societies in Russia. The first society was the Union of Salvation (Soyuz Spaseniya), founded in St. Petersburg in 1816. The Union of Public Good (Soyuz Blagodenstviya) followed it in 1818. Composed of local organs under a central executive board, its goals were to abolish serfdom and introduce representative government. Among its members - never more than 200 and often less - Colonel Paul Pestel was the most radical. At a meeting in Moscow in 1820, he was able to get the central executive board to vote in favor of a republic. This new political aim alarmed the more conservative members, and the union dissolved in January of the following year. Pestel was with his regiment in the South at this time and refused to accept the dissolution. He gathered together a few supporters and established the Southern Society. At the end of 1822, the union re-formed in St. Petersburg as the Northern Society. This was an act of great courage because earlier in the year, the agents had reported many officers accused of subversive activities to the emperor and officials had arrested several of them. Sometimes these so-called subversive activities amounted to no more than taking an active interest in Western political ideas. Alexander had issued a decree on August 1 that banned all secret societies and Masonic lodges, and required all army officers and government officials who had been part of such groups to swear that they would abstain from political activities in the future.

The Northern Society was far more moderate than the Southern Society. The draft constitution, prepared by Nikita Muraviev, one of the leaders of the Northern Society, provided for representative government, a federal system, and a constitutional monarch. Pestel, the leader of the Southern Society, called for a revolutionary dictatorship and the assassination of the imperial family, followed by the creation of an egalitarian republic. Conflicts of personalities complicated cooperation between the two societies. But Pestel’s passionate faith in the need for revolution and his eloquence greatly impressed supporters. In November 1825, Prince Serge Trubetskoy, one of the Northern Society leaders, returned from the South and reported that Pestel’s army was ready to rise. He and his fellow conspirators in the North knew that the St. Petersburg garrison was unprepared, but they agreed that the revolution should take place in the spring of 1826.

Alexander had no legitimate children because his two daughters by his wife, Elizabeth, had died in infancy. He was concerned less, however, about the succession than about his dream of abdicating. In Kiev in 1817, he had spoken openly to his aides about his intention to abdicate. But no one knew how to interpret such remarks because he was always an enigma. However, it was clear that his brother, Constantine, would not be his successor. In 1801, at the time of his father’s assassination, Constantine had said: “After what has happened my brother may reign if he likes, but if the throne ever comes to me I shall certainly not accept it.” He had consistently refused to take any interest in the succession, but it was his marriage to a commoner that led to his formally renouncing his title to the throne. His first wife, a daughter of the Prince of Saxe-Coburg, had left him. Constantine had had several mistresses, but Alexander did not grant his request for permission to marry a commoner until March 1820. He then promptly married Countess Jean Grudzinska, a Pole and a Roman Catholic. But he could marry her only if he formally renounced the succession. He confirmed his decision in a letter dated January 14, 1822, to Alexander, who wrote on February 2 approving his renunciation.

Alexander had always wanted his younger brother, Nicholas, to succeed him. On April 17, 1818, the birth of Nicholas’s son, who was to become Alexander II, secured the succession. According to the diary of Grand Duchess Alexandra, the wife of Nicholas, Alexander dined with them on July 5, 1819, and later in the evening told them that he wanted Nicholas to be his heir. This statement apparently took them by surprise and husband and wife both burst into tears, a reaction that astonished Alexander. Four years later, Alexander signed a manifesto, drafted by Philaret, Archbishop of Moscow, making Nicholas heir to the throne.

The desperate confusion that subsequently arose was due to the secrecy surrounding these arrangements. Alexander had never made public the manifesto and Constantine’s letter of renunciation together with Alexander’s letter of approval. He had deposited them in a sealed envelope in the Uspensky Cathedral in Moscow. Under vows of strictest secrecy, Prince Alexander Golitsyn had made three copies of each document and deposited them in sealed envelopes in the offices of the State Council, the Senate, and the Holy Synod. They were supposed to open the envelopes “before any other action” when they received news of Alexander’s death. Nicholas and Constantine knew their own positions, but not the provisions made to give them legal effect. Only the Archbishop, Golitsyn, and Alexander himself knew the provisions. The nation continued to think of Constantine as the heir apparent. Official documents described him in such a way as well as in prayers in all churches for the imperial family.

Alexander had always been secretive. The habit had developed in boyhood when he had had to conceal his feelings before his grandmother, Empress Catherine, and his father, then Grand Duke Paul. His religious mania had also taken on the character of a private mystical rite. For such a man, it was strangely appropriate that he should die in a small town, hundreds of miles from St. Petersburg and Moscow, where the grandeur associated with the imperial throne always surrounded him.

In the last years of his life, Alexander had reunited with Elizabeth. She had been waiting patiently for him to tire of Maria Naryshkina. It happened finally in 1816, after the affair had lasted some thirteen years. She had returned to St. Petersburg after a long vacation in France. When she was alone with Alexander, however, he “talked to her of nothing else except the Cross and divine love, a language rather novel to this lady who, complaining that her lover had turned into a father confessor, had but one wish — to return at once to Paris.” So the Comte de la Ferronays reported her conversation with him on the eve of her departure from St. Petersburg.

Empress Elizabeth rejoiced. She could tolerate his casual affairs, but the arrogant Polish woman had been like a rival wife. Now that he had broken with her and loosened his bonds with his family, after the death of his sister, Catherine, he again sought Elizabeth’s companionship. She was a religious woman, although not obsessed with mystical doctrines as he was, and with her quiet patience she shared his domestic life again.

In the autumn of 1825 they set out together for the warm South. Her doctors had advised her to avoid the cold of St. Petersburg’s winter and had recommended Taganrog, a small town on the shores of the Sea of Azov. The imperial couple arrived there as though on a long-delayed honeymoon. But they had only a few weeks together. Suddenly on November 19, 1825, Alexander died after a brief illness. Elizabeth wrote to her mother: “Our angel is in heaven.” His death gave rise to a mysterious legend.


The Romanovs

The death of Alexander caused a dynastic crisis that lasted for three weeks and had serious repercussions. The news from Taganrog didn’t reach St. Petersburg until November 27. Nicholas was then in the capital, but his brother, Constantine, was in Warsaw. When he first learned about Alexander’s illness, Nicholas had consulted with the leading advisers at court. They all confirmed that the throne must pass to Constantine, the oldest surviving brother, because the emperor had no children and had not proclaimed a successor. Nicholas knew that Alexander had intended him to succeed, and he wanted to be tsar. But he also knew that the guard regiments would not tolerate his accession unless Constantine had publicly renounced the throne. Officers and men of the St. Petersburg garrison hated him as a cruel drillmaster. Constantine was an equally ruthless disciplinarian, but he had been away in Warsaw for about ten years. Memories of him had softened. People even said that he would abolish serfdom and reduce the term of military service from twenty-five to eight years, as in the Polish army. Driven by his strong sense of duty and anxious to avoid an interregnum (an interval between reigns), Nicholas immediately swore the oath of allegiance to his brother and ordered the nation to do the same.

In the State Council, they had opened the sealed envelope deposited by Alexander that contained the manifesto naming Nicholas as his successor. The councilors had nevertheless sworn allegiance to Constantine. The Archbishop of Moscow and the Senate did not even open their sealed envelopes, but took the oath. The army, government officials, and the people did likewise. Constantine thus became the new Russian emperor.

However, Constantine had no intention of withdrawing his renunciation of the throne. In fact, he had immediately sworn allegiance to Nicholas as soon as he received the news of Alexander’s death. Couriers raced between St. Petersburg and Warsaw, bearing from each brother assurances of loyalty to the other. Nicholas and their mother, the Dowager Empress, frantically urged Constantine to make a public statement and to come immediately to St. Petersburg. He flatly refused. “I am not able to accept your proposal to hasten my departure for St. Petersburg,” he wrote on December 6, “and I warn you that I shall leave Warsaw only to retire to some greater distance if everything is not arranged according to the will of our deceased Emperor.”

Constantine’s blunt letter reached St. Petersburg at the same time as a report from Baron Ivan Dibich in Taganrog, giving information of a conspiracy among officers of the guards and of the southern army. Nicholas received on the same day a personal report from a young officer, Yakov Rostovtsev, whom Prince Evgenie Obolensky had tried without success to enlist into the conspiracy. Nicholas was desperately afraid that the guards would mutiny. He decided to proclaim his own accession and chose December 14 as the day on which all would swear the new oath of allegiance.

During the days leading up to December 14, the apartment of Konrad Ryleev was the scene of furious activity as young officers came and went. Although only a retired junior lieutenant, he had emerged as a strong force within the conspiracy. He was not a particularly attractive young man, “but when he touched on his favorite theme - love of his country - his face lit up, his black glowing eyes shone with an unearthly light and his words flowed like a stream of lava. Never have I seen him so beautiful as on that evening.” So wrote Count Bestuzhev, one of the conspirators, in his memoirs. The other leading members of the conspiracy were Colonel Prince Sergei Trubetskoy, Prince Evgenie Obolensky, and a certain Kakhovsky, a former officer of the guards, who was as passionately devoted to the revolutionary cause as Ryleev.

The conspirators were unprepared for their rebellion. In the Northern Society, they had talked vaguely of action in the spring of 1826. But the confusion after Alexander’s death provided an opportunity for them to make their move. However, they were few in number and all were idealists, not practical men capable of planning and carrying out such a daring venture. They recognized the defects of their plans, and they accepted that they would probably be sacrifices in the cause of freedom. Ryleev had written: “A cruel fate awaits the one who first rises against the oppressors of the people. But liberty has never been gained without victims.” Prince Odoevsky, a twenty-year-old lieutenant of the Horse Guards, declared: “Death is waiting for us, but what a glorious death!” They were all young men, the elite of the nation, with privileged careers before them. But they were prepared to sacrifice their future and perish in the cause of the ideals that they had embraced. Their self-sacrifice would make them the heroes of generations to come. Their uprising, poorly planned and doomed to tragedy from the start, was to mark the beginning of the revolutionary movement in Russia.

Known by historians as the Decembrists, they had planned a military uprising without civilians taking part. Success depended on the conspirators gaining support from a sufficient number of officers and men of the guards and the garrison. During the confused weeks of the interregnum, members of the Northern Society had actively spread rumors that Nicholas was holding Constantine and Mikhail, his younger brother, under arrest; that Nicholas had destroyed Alexander’s “testament” that had provided for a reduction in the military term of service; and that his accession was illegal. Because so many people disliked Nicholas, they gained many supporters with these rumors, but not enough.

The morning of December 14 was bitterly cold with temperatures far below freezing. Icy winds blew across the Neva as the insurgents prepared to assemble in the Senate Square. Their immediate goal was to prevent the State Council and the Senate from swearing the oath of allegiance to Nicholas. They would then prevail on the Senate to issue a manifesto, convening a constituent assembly that would serve as the first step to a constitutional monarchy. At least, that was Trubetskoy’s plan; Ryleev’s idea was to seize the Winter Palace and arrest the imperial family; Captain Yakubovich had talked of popular rebellion with mass murder and arson. But they all agreed that the first step was to prevent the swearing of the oath to Nicholas.

However, the insurgents were too late. The State Council had taken the oath on the previous evening, and the Senate had sworn at 7 a.m. on December 14 before the rebels had arrived. The majority of the St. Petersburg garrison had also sworn allegiance to Nicholas early in the morning. At 8 a.m., Grand Duke Mikhail arrived in the city, thus refuting the rumor that he was under arrest. This strengthened Nicholas’s cause.

It was about 10 a.m. when the insurgents reached the Senate Square. Before very long, there were about 700 men of the Moscow regiment with them who had refused to swear the oath to Nicholas. They were shouting for “Constantine and Constitution.” Some said that many of the uneducated soldiers were under the impression that Constitution - Konstitutsia in Russian - was the wife of Constantine. Rebels from other regiments also joined them until thirty officers and about 3,000 men were demonstrating in the Senate Square against Nicholas.

Standing in their parade uniforms of white breeches and dark green uniforms with gold piping, the rebel troops were cold, hungry, and impatient. Their leaders - Trubetskoy, Bulatov, and Yakubovich - were away on some errands of their own. Obolensky was supposedly in command but seemed to be at a loss as to what to do. Crowds of civilians mingled with the rebels and urged them to attack the government troops that were beginning to arrive in force. Many people pelted these troops with stones. The mood of angry defiance was spreading through the square. While this was happening, the Governor-General of St. Petersburg, Count Miloradovich, in full dress uniform, an old warrior whom the troops respected, rushed to the scene in a horse-drawn sled. He quickly mounted his aide’s horse and, approaching the rebel troops, spoke as a father to them. “I myself would rather Constantine became our Emperor,” he said. “I am his friend; this sword was given to me by him. But if he refuses the throne, what can we do? I have seen his abdication with my own eyes.” His words made a strong impression on the troops, and they appeared to hesitate. Obolensky then approached the Governor-General and asked him to go, but he ignored the request. Then Kakhovsky fired his pistol at him point blank, and the old Count fell from his horse.

In the palace, reports of the insurrection were growing more alarming. Fear and panic seemed to be mounting throughout the city. After making sure that the palace and his family had full protection, Nicholas went to take command. He placed himself at the head of the first battalion of the Preobrazhensky Guards, who were famous for being the tallest and best troops in Russia. He also ordered troops to block the roads leading out of the square because he wanted to avoid having the fighting spread throughout the city.

The rebel crowds were increasingly unruly, but Nicholas showed great courage as he calmly lined up his troops opposite them and the Horse Guards on his right. The distance between Nicholas and the rebels was only thirty paces, but no rebel attempted to fire at him. He hoped that this confrontation with their emperor, backed by this display of force, would calm the uprising. But the rebels stood firm and refused to heed the lectures of the Archbishop and of the Metropolitan of St. Petersburg who told them to retire obediently. Finally, Nicholas ordered the Horse Guards to charge the rebel lines. But this proved to be a complete disaster. The ground was covered with ice and the horses slid and fell. When they attempted to charge again, the rebels jeered and threw snowballs at them.

The early darkness of the St. Petersburg winter was beginning to descend. Discontent was spreading. Nicholas knew that more troops and civilians would join the rebels under cover of night and that the mutiny would become a popular uprising. He maintained an icy composure while his generals and aides became more and more anxious. But he ordered them to bring a battery of four guns to the square. He was clearly reluctant to fire and twice gave the order only to cancel it immediately. But he did not retract his order the third time. The shots went over the heads of the rebels, who reacted at once by preparing to attack with bayonets. Then the guns fired into the middle of the rebels and continued firing. Panic spread among the rebels; they broke ranks and suddenly fled. Within minutes the square was empty except for seventy or eighty bodies sprawled in the snow where they had fallen. The insurrection had ended. It had failed, the Resident British Minister, E. C. Disbrowe, reported to London, “from want of management and want of head to direct it, and was too premature to answer any good purpose, but I think the seeds are sown which one day must produce important consequences.”

Nicholas did not go to bed that night. The palace was like an army headquarters in the middle of a great battle, as generals and couriers came and went. They rounded up all the rebel leaders and brought them to him for interrogation. He was calm and precise in his questioning. But beneath his composure, he was both exhilarated and distressed. He was distressed because so many officers and troops had betrayed the throne and the nation and because he had shed Russian blood. At the same time he was exhilarated because he had led the guards in suppressing the rebellion and had fulfilled his strong sense of duty. In the early hours of the morning he wrote hurriedly to his brother: “Dear, dear Constantine! Your will has been done. I am Emperor, but great God! At what a price - at the price of my subjects’ blood!”

The uprising planned in the South was also unsuccessful. After uncovering evidence in Taganrog of the conspiracy, Baron Dibich had arrested Pestel and other members of the Southern Society on December 13. A leading member of the Society, Lieutenant Colonel Sergei Muravev-Apostol, escaped and made a desperate effort to incite the Chernigov regiment to rebel, hoping that other regiments would then respond. But he found little support, and government troops crushed his small force on January 3, 1826.

Nicholas at once appointed a commission of inquiry to investigate under his personal supervision those who had been involved. They interrogated about 570 people and put 121 on trial before a special court. They sentenced more than 100 of the accused to penal servitude and deportation to Siberia. Pestel, Ryleev, Kakhovsky, Bestuzhev-Ryumin, and Muravev-Apostol received death sentences. The death sentences, which Empress Elizabeth had formally abolished, shocked all Russians including Nicholas, even though he had confirmed them. He shut himself in his chapel and spent hours in prayer. To his mother he wrote: “It is difficult to express what I am feeling: it is as if I were shaken by fever . . . Added to this I feel extreme anguish and at the same time gratitude to God who has allowed us to bring this horrible case to an end . . . Only the idea of a terrible duty permits me to endure such martyrdom.”

The Decembrist uprising made a deep impression on Nicholas. On his work desk in the Winter Palace stood a richly bound volume, kept in a locked casket, and also a notebook. The first contained the full list of the 570 persons implicated in the uprising; the notebook was a precise record of the reforms proposed by the Decembrists. He kept both volumes on his desk throughout the thirty years of his reign.

Nicholas was twenty-nine at the time of his accession. He was very tall, handsome, and military in bearing. Like his brother, he had great presence and stood out in any crowd as emperor. Alexander Herzen, the brilliant writer and revolutionary, saw him for the first time shortly after the execution of the Decembrists. “He was handsome,” Herzen wrote, “but there was a coldness about his looks; no face could have more mercilessly betrayed the character of the man than his. The sharply retreating forehead and the lower jaw, developed at the expense of the skull, were expressive of iron will and feeble intelligence, rather of cruelty than of sensuality; but the chief point in the face was the eyes, which were entirely without warmth, without a trace of mercy, wintry eyes.” In 1830, seeing him for the second time, Herzen noted his “pewtery eyes in which one could read distinctly the fate of Poland.”

Eighteen years later when Nicholas was in England, Queen Victoria, who was then only twenty-five, also observed him closely. “The expression of his eyes is terrible,” she wrote. “I have never seen anything like them; he is severe and gloomy, imbued with principles nothing on earth could change; I don’t think he is very intelligent; his mind is without refinement; his education is very inadequate; politics and the army - those are the only subjects that interest him.” The acute observations of the young queen confirmed Herzen’s earlier description. The emperor was both formidable and forbidding.

Nicholas’s childhood and early years had been uneventful. His chief tutor was General de Lambsdorff, a German perfectionist. He and his staff taught the boy something of universal and Russian history, geography, cosmography, French, German, English, and Latin. Nicholas was not interested in school lessons; his interests lay only with the army. At the age of eighteen, he traveled in Western Europe where he delighted all who met him. But the highlight of the tour for him was his meeting in Berlin with Princess Charlotte, daughter of the Prussian King, Frederick William III. Their parents had already tentatively arranged their marriage, but they fell in love at first sight. Nicholas wrote later that “It was here in Berlin that Providence decided the happiness of my whole life; it is here that I saw (in 1814) her who from the first glance and of my own free choice, awoke in me the desire to belong to her all my life.” She returned his love with equal passion. After reception and baptism into the Russian Orthodox Church, she received the name of Alexandra Feodorovna. Their marriage took place on July 13, 1817, in St. Petersburg with great ceremony, and during the next eight years they lived happily together. Their first child, the future Alexander II, arrived on April 29, 1818. In later years, Alexandra gave birth to three daughters. She enjoyed her husband’s tenderness, his simple manners, and his cheerfulness. But in the intimacy of the family circle, he was quite unlike the man who occupied the Russian throne.

A few days after the execution of the Decembrist leaders, Nicholas traveled to Moscow for his coronation. Following his entry into the ancient city and his coronation, there were celebrations that lasted for a week. Descriptions of the parades and balls soon circulated in the capitals of Europe. Then Nicholas settled into a routine; he was orderly and austere in his personal habits, and he had an immense capacity for work. He was determined to bring order, discipline, and efficiency into Russian life. He approached his task as a military disciplinarian. Because he was an autocrat and absolute in his power, the whole nation suffered. “I cannot permit,” he wrote at this time, “that a single person should dare to defy my wishes the moment he had been made exactly aware of them.” He began a detailed review of the law and the administration. But most important of all for him were army regulations and the training and uniforms of his troops. The grenadiers and gunners formerly had worn breeches, but he now required them to wear trousers. The number and position of their buttons were also varied. Only military men could wear mustaches, which had to be black, although for many this meant dyeing them. Soon he issued regulations on the dress of civilians. Because he detested dress coats, gray hats, and beards, he banned them in 1837. His concern about uniforms and dress had become an obsession.

“The principal occupation of the Emperor,” the Austrian ambassador reported in Vienna, “is always the army and this absorbs more than three quarters of his day.” Matters of important military policy as well as trivial details totally absorbed him, and he could not order priorities. Thousands of recruits came annually to the St. Petersburg barracks, and he would spend hours personally assigning them to the various guard regiments, according to the height and coloring of each man. He liked to take command of a parade and while on maneuvers. His voice was deep and resonant, and everyone could clearly hear his orders over the largest parade ground. Being at the head of his “beloved soldiers,” as he called them, was for him always an exciting experience. But Nicholas was seldom aware of the suffering of his people; his sole concern was that they did their duty.

He was soon governing Russia as though it was a large army camp. Nicholas granted each of his ministers an audience once a week, but his specially chosen Household Guards were constantly at his side. He would entrust one of these officers with important missions, such as putting down a peasant revolt, handling delicate diplomatic negotiations, or commanding the army. Few people outside this military circle ever really gained his confidence. He thought of those outside the army and to a lesser extent the navy, which he revived, as an inferior class of citizens.

To be one of Nicholas’s “beloved soldiers” was, however, a fate that every Russian peasant dreaded. Landowners and administrators of state lands supplied recruits on the basis of so many recruits for every 1,000 male serfs. The village communes usually kept a roll of recruits and decided by lot who should go. But the owner or his steward often intervened, and domestic serfs were entirely at their disposal. A landowner could send a disobedient serf to the recruiting office even when there was no levy. He then received a recruiting receipt that he could sell to another landowner who did not want to lose any of his serfs.

Landowners often gave domestic serfs as recruits. Prince Peter Kropotkin in his Memoirs of a Revolutionist described the gloom that descended upon a household when they learned that one of them was to become a recruit. The landowner placed the unlucky man under close guard so that he would not escape. When it was time for him to leave, all his fellow serfs would come to bid him farewell. He would make a deep bow to them and ask forgiveness for any offense that he might have caused. He would bow to the ground before his family and they would intone passionate expressions of grief, using the same words as for a burial. Then he would leave his own family and village. The landowner would send the man’s male children to a military orphanage to be brought up as soldiers. Deprived of husband and children, his wife could remarry after three years. Her husband needed to provide twenty-five years’ service to the army; he was dead to her, his family, and his village.

Conditions in the army were inhuman and sadistic. It was normal for the officers to flog the soldiers with birch rods and with sticks for the slightest fault. Even in the Cadet School, which educated sons of the aristocracy, sometimes an instructor would administer 1,000 blows with birch rods, in the presence of the whole school, for a trivial matter such as having a cigarette. A doctor would stand by the tortured boy and order the punishment to stop only when he determined that the boy’s pulse was getting faint. Then they would carry the unconscious, bleeding victim to the hospital.

The troops suffered far worse punishments. When one of them appeared before a court martial, the sentence was that 1,000 men should form two ranks facing each other, with every soldier armed with a sack of the thickness of a little finger. They would drag the condemned man numerous times between these two rows, with each soldier administering a blow. Sergeants made certain that the soldiers used full force. After the victim received 1,000-2,000 blows, they took him to a hospital. If he died under the torture, they completed the execution of the sentence on his corpse.

Nicholas introduced no real changes in Russia’s government and administration, but he carried to greater extremes the absolutism, centralization, and bureaucratic rule that kept the nation from thriving. He sought to impose his direct personal rule over all aspects of government. He appointed many secret committees to report to him on matters of importance, but the most notable means for exercising this personal rule was His Majesty’s Own Chancery. Section I of the Chancery dealt with matters requiring the emperor’s personal attention and with the carrying out of imperial commands; it later became responsible for supervision of the civil service. Section II worked with the codification of the Laws of Russia, a project that others had attempted unsuccessfully in the past and that Nicholas achieved in two great compilations: The Complete Collection of the Laws of the Russian Empire in 51 volumes, and The Code of the Laws of the Russian Empire, bringing together in fifteen volumes the laws then in force.

Section III of His Majesty’s Own Chancery was in charge of the state and security police, and Nicholas made it the instrument of his personal rule. Previous autocrats had relied on special police, but he reorganized and expanded this force, virtually creating a police regime. He believed that by this means he could ensure public security, as well as check corruption and inefficiency in the administration. But foremost in his mind when setting up Section III was the need to ensure that the events of December 14, 1825, never occurred again.

The Third Section operated through a uniformed military force, known as the gendarmery, and through secret informers. He divided Russia into five, later eight, gendarmery districts, with specially appointed officers commanding each district. They enlisted secret agents from all walks of life, including even schoolchildren. The Third Section was in effect “outside and above the law,” as Herzen observed. The main reasons for its ascendancy were Nicholas’s direct participation in its work and also the position of the director. Count Benckendorff, who held the office from 1826 until his death in 1844 and who had originally proposed the setting-up of the Chancery, was exceptionally close to Nicholas, as was his successor, Prince A. F. Orlov. They held his complete confidence, shared his outlook, and ranked immediately below him in authority. Indeed, the director of the Third Section was not only a member of the committee of Ministers but also, according to A. P. Butenev, the Russian ambassador in Constantinople, was “actually a kind of prime minister.”

Nicholas also made few changes in the field of social reform, although he was aware of the urgent need for reform. He feared that reform would encourage rebellion among the people, and he did not want to do anything that might endanger absolutism or undermine the landowning nobility as a class. In fact, his relations with the nobility were uneasy. He could never forget that members of this class had provided the leadership for the Decembrist uprising. At the same time, he recognized that the two main pillars of the regime were the autocrat and the nobility, and that they had to stand firmly together. He curtailed some of the privileges of the nobility as set out in their Charter because, like his father, Emperor Paul, he maintained that their first duty was to serve the nation in the army or the civil service. He was careful, however, to do nothing that would affect their basic position, and his caution was especially obvious in his handling of the problem of serfdom.

“There is no doubt that serfdom, in its present form, is a flagrant evil which everyone recognizes,” Nicholas declared in the State Council on March 20, 1842, “yet to attempt to remedy it now would be, of course, an evil even more disastrous.” This was his attitude, but he was uneasy about the conditions of the peasantry and did not shy away from discussion of the problem. He appointed a secret committee to consider the possibility of emancipation. On December 6, 1826, the committee reported that there were too many obstacles to make emancipation possible and that they should just try to improve the conditions of the serfs. Nine additional secret committees met to consider possible improvements. They produced a number of proposals and even implemented some of them, but they made little difference to the lives of the unfortunate peasants. Count Kiselev, one of the few men in Nicholas’s close circle who believed that emancipation with land grants was the solution, suggested the only noteworthy proposal. But his major proposals encountered such strenuous opposition from the nobility and especially from Nicholas’s brothers, Constantine and Mikhail, that they abandoned them. Nevertheless, he did manage to introduce a law in 1842, allowing landowners to transfer land to serfs on payment of an agreed amount, and the serfs then became “bound peasants” and were in effect independent. But as with the “free farmers” of the previous reign, the number of serfs able to take advantage of the law (24,708 male serfs) was insignificant.

Surveillance by the army and the police of every aspect of national life was the chief method employed by Nicholas to ensure the loyalty of his people. But the intellectual ferment in the West continued undiminished, as the outbreaks of 1830 and 1848 demonstrated, and his fear was that Western influence might inspire liberal groups in Russia to rebel. To counter such influence, he proclaimed the guiding principles of autocracy, Orthodoxy, and nationality like a slogan. At the same time, he made every effort to regiment the intellectual life of the country and to restrict education.

Count S. S. Uvarov was the main author of this repressive policy. He was an educated man of wide interests and great ability who had discarded the liberal ideals of his youth. In a report to the emperor, dated December 4, 1832, he maintained that only an educational system rooted in “the truly Russian conservative principles of Orthodoxy, autocracy, and nationality, our last anchor of salvation and the best guarantees of Russia’s strength and greatness” could counter dangerous liberal ideas. This type of argument appealed to Nicholas. He appointed Uvarov to serve as minister of education in 1833. Uvarov approached his task with two practical objectives. The first was that students should receive an education appropriate to their social class; the second was “to collect and consolidate in the hands of the government the control of all intellectual resources.”

In Alexander I’s reign, the law of 1803 had marked an important advance in education. It had divided the country into six regions, each of which was to contain parish, county, and regional schools or gymnasiums, and a university. The law arranged the curricula of the schools so that every student had the opportunity to eventually attend a university. Leaders only partially achieved this plan, but it was a bold conception in Russia where education was drastically inadequate and the majority of the people were illiterate. But now Uvarov’s laws of 1828 and 1835 broke up this educational structure, narrowed school and university teaching, and limited university autonomy. These changes and the restraints imposed by the security police and censorship might have retarded education further for decades; fortunately, they were not effective. The government could not suppress the general intellectual ferment and the demand for education. The number of university students rose from 1,700 in 1825 to 3,600 in 1854. Primary church schools increased from 100 in 1837 to 4,830 in 1853. By the early 1850s, there were probably about 300,000 school pupils. In a population of over 70 million, the number of those privileged to gain education of any kind was pitifully small. If Nicholas had sought to develop the law of 1803 more rapidly, the results would have been spectacular. But he pursued narrow reactionary policies and sought to suppress all change.

It is one of the paradoxes of Russian history that the oppressive reign of Nicholas was also a time of remarkable intellectual activity and the golden age of Russian literature. The Decembrist uprising and then the repression stimulated the growth of the intelligentsia, a new and restless element in Russian society, which would play a significant role in later decades. This new class consisted of “repentant nobles” and of the children of impoverished nobles, of the clergy, and of townspeople who had managed to obtain some education. They were the paznochintsi, people of no specific class who shared with a few others a “profound feeling of alienation from official Russia.” In St. Petersburg and Moscow and some provincial towns, they met in small informal groups to talk about philosophy and social and political questions. Even though they were few in number, they soon began to have an influence on Russian life. In the 1820s and 1830s, they tended to be concerned with the work of the German philosophers. Grappling with the problems of man’s existence provided some escape from the stagnant society in which they lived. But they could not close their minds to the poverty, corruption, and injustice surrounding them. The need for social justice led them to study the writings of the French socialists. Foremost among these intellectuals was Alexander Herzen, the son of an impoverished nobleman, who was remotely connected with the Romanovs by his common-law German wife. At the age of fourteen, Herzen pledged himself to the cause of revolutionary liberty; he became committed to Utopian socialism and political action while at Moscow University. Officials accused him of being involved with unreliable political elements and banished him to a provincial town in 1834. But Herzen and his circle gave a momentum to the concept of Russian socialism that would bear revolutionary fruits in the next century.

From the passionate discussions of the Russian intellectuals, two broad currents of thought emerged in the 1840s. The intelligentsia split into two opposing camps of the Slavophiles and the Westernizers, reflecting the basic division in outlook that is notable throughout Russia’s history. The Slavophiles were deeply religious and conservative. They believed that Holy Russia with its unique culture and traditional institutions, like the peasant commune, had the mission of giving to the world a new civilization or of cleansing and revitalizing Western civilization, which materialism and individualism had corrupted. Within Russia, they believed that the first need was to purge the nation of the innovations made by Peter the Great and to return to the old Muscovite customs and outlook. They thought of Peter as the Antichrist who had turned Russia from her true heritage. St. Petersburg was the symbol of his abhorrent policies; Moscow was the true capital of Russia.

Although the Slavophile cause appealed to Nicholas and his circle, it also antagonized them. The Slavophiles were critical of the government; in particular, they opposed the primacy of the state over the Church. Uvarov expressed the fear that Slavophilism might lead to “the excitement of minds and the spreading of dangerous propaganda, criminal and obnoxious.” The Slavophile journal Moskovsky Sbornik (Moscow Magazine) appeared only once before the government shut it down and punished the editor.

The government had even less sympathy with the Westernizers who argued that Russia was stagnating and that her past and traditions were without value. They believed that the future depended upon the revival of the policies of Peter the Great, whose memory they revered. They felt that the only hope for the nation to survive was to learn from the West and adopt up-to-date methods. Peter Chaadayev, a guard officer and a man of the world who enjoyed great popularity in Russian high society - but was at the same time a religious thinker of sincere and profound views - was one of the most outspoken of the Westernizers. He criticized Orthodoxy as a sterile faith and held that Russia would have fared better as a Roman Catholic or Protestant country. “During our entire existence as a society we have done nothing for the common good of man; not one useful thought has been born on our arid soil . . . Led by a malevolent fate we have borrowed the first seeds of our moral and spiritual enlightenment from decadent, generally despised, Byzantium,” he wrote, and this was typical of his forthright comments. His philosophical letters, proposing the need to unify the Christian churches and much else, circulated freely in the salons of St. Petersburg and Moscow. In September, one of his letters, published in The Telescope, a Moscow journal, caused a disturbance. This letter described in some detail the backwardness and stagnation of Russia compared with conditions in Western countries.

Nicholas was astonished by such abandonment of political beliefs. He could not understand how a guard officer, highly respected in responsible circles, could even think about, let alone circulate, such heretical ideas. He could only conclude that Chaadayev was insane. He gave orders to close down The Telescope, exile its editor, and dismiss the censor who approved the article. He publicly declared that Chaadayev was insane but did not confine him to an asylum. For a year he had to receive a daily visit from a doctor, a punishment that Nicholas devised. Chaadayev suffered only inconvenience, however, because everyone treated him like a celebrity; even those who did not share his views respected him as an opponent of the repression.

Many intellectuals of this period, however, suffered far worse fates. Kostomarov, professor of history in the University of Kiev, had organized an informal group to study the socialism of Saint-Simon and Fourier. This group developed into a secret society, known as the Kiev Brotherhood of Cyril and Methodius, to work for the emancipation of the serfs and for autonomy in the Ukraine. In April 1847, officials arrested all the members of the brotherhood. Kostomarov and others received only light sentences. But the sentence for Taras Shevchenko, the outstanding Ukrainian poet and painter, required him to not write or paint during the whole period.

The Petrashevsky group merits special attention because it involved the novelist, Fedor Dostoevsky. An official in the ministry of foreign affairs, named M. V. Butashevich-Petrashevsky, who was interested in the socialistic theories of Fourier, held Friday literary receptions that became so well known that they attracted the attention of the security police. The revolutions of 1848 had awakened new hopes among liberals but had led also to more intensive repression. On April 7, 1849, Petrashevsky and his circle attended a dinner in honor of Fourier. Two weeks later, the police arrested thirty-nine members of the group. An investigation revealed that their only crime was “a conspiracy of ideas.” A special military court sentenced fifteen of them to be shot and six to hard labor in Siberia. However, at the last moment as the drums rolled and they awaited the order to the firing squad, a courier dashed into the Semenov Square and announced that the tsar had commuted the death sentence to banishment to Siberia. Dostoevsky and his comrades never forgot this experience, which served as a warning to all liberals.

The Decembrists had been a small group of young men, dedicated to liberal ideals, but their example had inspired the new generations. In the twenty years that had passed since their uprising, the ferment of political ideas and the interest in reform had spread in spite of censorship and police repression. The intelligentsia began drawing its members from among the middle and lower classes and even from among the peasantry. But the autocrat, the government, and the massive bureaucratic machine continued to take refuge in repression and became increasingly isolated from the intelligentsia and the people.

At this time, too, literature began to flower in Russia, giving expression to the discontent that so many felt. Of the writers who emerged, three were men of outstanding genius - Pushkin, Lermontov, and Gogol. Alexander Pushkin, one of the great figures of world literature, descended from an old noble family, which included on the maternal side General A. Gannibal, an Ethiopian. He had been friendly with the Decembrists and sympathetic to their ideas; officials had banished him twice from St. Petersburg. Expecting to be arrested after the uprising of December 1825, he had burned his papers. A few months later, after having an audience with Nicholas, he accepted his personal patronage. Pushkin, who had always proclaimed the poet’s need for freedom, found himself in a difficult position. He was grateful to the emperor for recalling him from banishment, for giving him money, and for providing him with an easy job so that he could write. He was deeply troubled as a writer and also in his personal life. He loved passionately the society beauty he had married but allowed himself to be tormented by jealousy over her flirtations that eventually involved him in a duel in which he was killed.

During the years from 1825 until 1837 when Pushkin died, Nicholas showed a genuine concern for the poet. He tried to protect him, while also exercising his personal censorship. He prohibited the printing of Boris Godunov, Pushkin’s tragic drama, for three years, and hampered the poet in other ways. Because Nicholas seemed to realize that he was dealing with a writer of genius, he tried to help him within his limits.

Mikhail Lermontov, an officer of the Hussars and of Scottish ancestry, was fiery and uncontrollable. Officials exiled him twice to the Caucasus. He had fought in a duel, had insulted Grand Duchess Maria, Nicholas’s daughter, and had written an impassioned indictment of “the greedy crowd about the throne, the executioners of freedom, genius and fame” in his verses on the death of Pushkin. Nicholas received a copy of this poem; after reading it intently, he commented: “these verses are beautiful and true; for them alone one could pardon the author all his folly.” As mild punishment, Nicholas simply sent him to a frontier garrison where Lermontov, the violent romantic and poet of genius, met his death in a duel.

Pushkin and Lermontov were of the nobility, highly educated and cultured, but Nicholas Gogol, a Ukrainian, was of comparatively humble origin. He wrote as a realist about everyday life in Russia. He knew the lives of the poor, oppressed, and humble people and was the founder of the realistic school of writers in Russia. In his great comedy The Inspector-General and his masterpiece, Dead Souls, he portrayed the life of provincial Russia in all its snobbery, corruption, ignorance, and humanity. Liberals praised his writings and conservatives criticized them. But then he revealed his own deeply religious nature and his obscurantist outlook in his Correspondence with Friends, published in 1847, which the liberals savagely denounced for its defense of the autocracy and of serfdom. From these three writers and those who followed them came a literature that defied the reactionary policies of the autocracy. They would exercise an influence that Nicholas and many others didn’t fully understand.

When he ascended the throne, Nicholas had issued the usual proclamation that he would follow the foreign policies of his predecessor. This meant endorsing the Holy Alliance and in particular the principle of legitimacy that involved supporting established regimes against nationalist and revolutionary challenges. He honored these principles, except when Russian interests involved departing from them. But his personal conduct would soon make those in the West mistrust him.

The once-mighty Ottoman Porte was stumbling toward collapse. The possible disintegration of “the sick man of Europe” raised critical problems, which the chancelleries of Europe referred to as “the Eastern Question.” Aspects of the Eastern Question involved the control of Constantinople, the Bosphorus, and the Dardanelles, as well as the protection of the Christian minorities in Turkey. The danger that Russia would dominate the whole region and would press eastward in an attempt to conquer India particularly disturbed Britain. France shared the fear of Russian dominance in the Eastern Mediterranean. Nicholas was hostile toward France as the home of liberalism and revolution. He had no such feelings toward Britain and tried to gain a close alliance, but he was incapable of understanding the people and in particular the constitutional monarchy. Initially, however, he appeared to succeed in his foreign policy.

The insurrections of the Greeks and Serbs against their Turkish masters did not excite him. He disliked rebellion, even when the minorities were co-religionists fighting against infidel Muslims. When, however, Sultan Mahmud II called in the help of his vassal, Mehemet Ali, the Pasha of Egypt, and threatened the Greeks with extermination, he hurriedly reached an agreement with Britain to handle the Greek question. The Duke of Wellington, who paid a goodwill visit to St. Petersburg in the spring of 1826, negotiated this agreement. It provided that Britain would mediate with Turkey to secure an autonomous Greek state under Turkish political control. This appalled Austria and Prussia; support for the Greek rebels against their legitimate Turkish master was in their view absolutely contrary to the Holy Alliance. Nicholas was not concerned about this, but he did not really want British mediation and was determined to safeguard Russian interests. Without reference to the British government, he made a series of demands on the sultan in what amounted to an ultimatum. The Turks met his demands in the Treaty of Akkerman, signed on October 7. Turkish troops withdrew from Moldavia and Wallachia; the Serbs recovered their rights, as granted in the Treaty of Bucharest (1812); certain disputed territory on the shores of Caucasus recognized Russian political control; and Russian merchant ships gained the right of free passage through to straits and sailing in Turkish waters.

Nicholas’s action upset Canning, then British Prime Minister. But because the sultan had rejected offers of mediation, it was now a matter of saving the Greek insurgents from mass destruction. On July 6, 1827, Britain, Russia, and France signed the Treaty of London to put pressure on Turkey. However, when British, French, and Russian naval squadrons in the Aegean Sea engaged and destroyed the Turkish fleet in October 1827 because of a misunderstanding, the situation became complicated. The sultan protested vehemently. He closed down the allied missions in Constantinople, denounced the Christian powers, revoked the Treaty of Akkerman, and called on his people to wage a holy war.

Nicholas at once called for allied action against Turkey. Britain still refused to declare war on Turkey. After Canning’s death, Wellington, who became Prime Minister in January 1828, adopted a more neutral policy toward Turkey. He was content to let Russia and Turkey fight without intervening. Nicholas was in a belligerent mood and impatient to order a campaign against the Turks. He delayed for several months because Russia was already involved in war against Persia.

The Persians had invaded the Caucasus at the time of Nicholas’s coronation. They had long resented and feared the growth of Russian power that now extended over most of the Caucasus as confirmed by the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813. The British, too, disliked this southward extension of Russian power, and British agents were influential in persuading the shah to declare war. At first the Persians had some success, but soon the Russians were pushing them back. By the end of 1827, the Russian army had captured Erivan and was advancing toward Teheran. The Persians surrendered. By the Treaty of Turkmenchay (February 22, 1828), Russia gained the provinces of Erivan and Nakhitchevan, the exclusive right to maintain a fleet in the Caspian Sea, and a contribution of 20 million rubles.

Encouraged by this proof of Russian military might, Nicholas declared war on Turkey in April 1828. His troops occupied Moldavia and Wallachia but met with sturdy resistance elsewhere. In the following year, the Russians inflicted severe defeats on the Turks and advanced on Constantinople. Sultan Mahmud was under a lot of pressure, including the threat of an uprising of his own people. On September 14, 1829, he accepted the Russian terms, which the Treaty of Adrianople outlined. Nicholas could take pride in the gains he had secured from Russia’s traditional enemy. They included the mouth of the Danube and certain Caucasian territories and the virtual annexation of Moldavia and Wallachia, although they remained nominally under Turkish political control.

This further growth of Russian power in the Eastern Mediterranean alarmed Britain and France. It slightly pacified their fears to learn at the St. Petersburg conference, held in September 1829, that Russia shared the view that it would be a mistake to dismember the Ottoman Empire. They noted at the same time that Nicholas was doing everything to entrench Russian influence over Turkey. Meanwhile he accepted the proposal that Greece should become an independent state. Prince Otto, second son of the King of Bavaria, would occupy the Greek throne. But, determined to have no further interference from Russia, the Greek regime turned to the Western powers.

The events of the second half of 1830 horrified Nicholas. The French Revolution in July, followed by revolutions in Belgium and unrest in Germany and Italy, threatened the old European order. Metternich and Count Nesselrode, the Russian foreign minister, promptly signed an agreement in Karlsbad, to which Prussia later subscribed, to defend “the internal peace of European states.” Nicholas urged that the three powers should mount an armed crusade to achieve this. But suddenly he had to deal with a major uprising in Poland.

Russo-Polish relations had worsened. The constitution of 1815, granted to the Poles by Alexander I, had provided for autonomy under a hereditary monarch who was to be the Emperor of Russia. The bicameral legislature had extensive powers, including control over the executive and exclusive power to raise taxes. Freedom of the individual and a Polish army independent of the Russians army were important clauses of the constitution. But Alexander and Grand Duke Constantine, who was commander-in-chief of the Polish army, had often violated the constitution. The Poles resented the Russian attitude of arrogant superiority, and strong nationalist and revolutionary movements had developed among them.

Nicholas had no love for the Poles, and he positively disliked the Polish constitution. Nevertheless, he had sworn the oath to uphold it when he had made a state visit to Warsaw to be crowned King of Poland in May 1828. Discontent continued to grow among the Poles. The news that Nicholas planned to include the Polish army in a military crusade to suppress the revolutionaries in both countries lit the fuse for the explosion. On the night of November 29, 1830, groups of cadets and students tried to capture Constantine and the Russian cavalry barracks. They failed, but the spirit of rebellion spread throughout the country. The Polish executive council called on the people to uphold order. The council represented conservative Poles who stood by the constitution and were anxious to avoid war with Russia. But the radicals, organized in the Patriotic Society, were soon in charge. Constantine had shown tolerance toward the insurgents, but Nicholas was uncompromising and refused to negotiate with their leaders. Amnesty in return for unconditional surrender was his final offer.

On December 18, an extraordinary Polish diet proclaimed the insurrection as a national movement. In January 1831, the diet voted to dethrone Nicholas and end the rule of the Romanov dynasty in Poland. Divided among themselves and unprepared to fight the overwhelming superiority of the Russian army, the Poles nevertheless struggled bravely. The Russians finally captured Warsaw and crushed the insurrection in September. The Poles then suffered the full weight of Nicholas’s retribution. He revoked the constitution of 1815 and imposed the Organic Statute (February 26, 1832) by which Poland became “an indivisible part of the Russian Empire.” The Statute provided for civil liberties, local government, and the use of the Polish language, but Nicholas soon ignored such rights. During the next fifteen years, Russia brought Poland under its direct administration and enforced a crushing policy of Russification.

As soon as Nicholas had managed to suppress the Polish insurrection, the Eastern Question again became critical. The Pasha of Egypt, Mehemet Ali, had marched against his suzerain, Sultan Mahmud II, and had advanced so rapidly that he was threatening Constantinople. The sultan appealed to the Western powers for support but received little response. Nicholas was, however, eager to help him, partly because of his hatred of rebels, but mainly because he wanted to strengthen Russia’s grip on Turkey. In December 1832, his emissary, General N. N. Muravev, arrived in Constantinople. He assured the sultan of the emperor’s friendship and counseled him to make peace with the Pasha. But he also informed him that he could call on a Russian naval squadron to defend Constantinople. The sultan waited until February 1833 to request Russian aid. By that time, his position was in even greater danger.

The further consolidation of Russian influence in Turkey again disturbed the British and French. They brought pressure to bear on the sultan who then asked the Russian ambassador to delay the dispatch of armed support. It was too late. The Russian squadron had already sailed. By the end of April 1833, convoys had carried about 10,000 Russian troops into the Bosphorus and landed on the Asiatic shore. At this point the sultan and the pasha made peace. But hostility toward Russia was increasing, and the arrival of British and French naval squadrons at the Dardanelles seemed to threaten war with Russia. In July, however, the naval squadron escorted the Russian troops from the Bosphorus.

The Russians had gained a notable diplomatic victory. On the day before their withdrawal, General Orlov - who was close to Nicholas and had been negotiating for some weeks with the Turks - had signed the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi (July 8, 1833). The treaty provided for alliance between Russia and Turkey and, according to Nesselrode, gave a legal basis for Russian intervention in Turkish affairs. A secret article dealt with the closing of the Dardanelles to foreign ships of war. They interpreted this provision, which became known to the British, to mean that Russian ships of war would have free passage, while the Straits would remain closed to the ships of other powers.

The treaty provoked a storm of protest from Britain and France. Palmerston considered that it gave Russia “a kind of protectorate over Turkey.” A meeting in September 1833 of the Emperors of Russia and Austria and the Crown Prince of Prussia in Bohemia served to increase his alarm. At this meeting, they revived the Holy Alliance for the defense of the established order in Europe. Russia and Austria signed a special convention in which they agreed “to maintain the existence of the Ottoman Empire under its present dynasty.”

As it turned out, the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi that Nicholas and his foreign minister, Nesselrode, regarded as a resounding diplomatic success would have dire consequences. In particular, it earned for Nicholas and his regime the relentless hostility of Palmerston and the British Parliament. Suspicion of Russian intentions convinced them that Russia would threaten India and British interests in Persia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. A fever of Russophobia swept through Britain, which interpreted every move by Nicholas, his ministers, and ambassadors as evidence of further Russian aggrandizement.

At this time Nicholas wanted to reconcile with Britain. The revived Holy Alliance was not satisfactory, because neither Austria nor Prussia was a dependable ally. The Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi had not ensured Russian ascendancy in Constantinople, where Britain actually wielded greater influence. The treaty was due for renewal in 1841. Nicholas’s chief motive was to revive the Quadruple Alliance of 1814, which had included Britain, and had defeated Napoleon. By this means he would isolate France, the nation that he hated as the home of revolution. Concerning the Eastern Question, he favored an international agreement on closing the Straits to warships and the maintenance of the Ottoman Empire. Russia and Britain easily might have been able to agree on these terms, but Palmerston and others in power in Britain remained suspicious of Nicholas’s good faith and of his intentions.

The struggle between Turkey and Egypt continued. By June 1839, the Turks had suffered disastrous defeats in which they had lost their navy and their army. The sultan died and his sixteen-year-old son succeeded him. Turkey was on the point of collapse. Some frantic negotiations by the powers followed, resulting in a note being presented in Constantinople by the ambassadors of Russia, Britain, Austria, France, and Prussia. The note announced that the five powers had agreed on a solution of the Eastern Question and requested the Turks to make no further move, pending their joint action. The powers then mediated between Turkey and Egypt and got them to agree on a treaty. Finally on July 13, 1841, the powers signed the Straits Convention, pledging to honor the rule that the sultan would not allow passage to any warships through the Straits. This guaranteed the integrity of Turkey and seemed to settle the problem of the Straits. Both British and Russian governments welcomed the convention. But it had created a dangerous situation. Russia began building up her naval strength inside the Black Sea; Britain and France built up their fleets outside. A decade later, the Eastern Question would provoke a major war.

Nicholas’s antagonism toward France remained undiminished. He redoubled his efforts to bring Britain into the Holy Alliance and to exclude France. In 1839 he sent his son, the future Alexander II, to England on a goodwill visit. In 1844, Nicholas made an official visit and the British received him with every courtesy. He had great faith in his own personal diplomacy. He believed that he could conquer English suspicions with his courteous nature and charm. He was very impressive in the drawing rooms of the leading hostesses in London and received an ovation while mixing with the public in the enclosure at Ascot. He made certain that he was very attentive to the queen at Windsor. But his visit was far from being as successful as he had hoped. His open manner and frank speech only intensified English mistrust. He overstated his protestations of good faith. To the Prince Consort, Palmerston, Peel, and other leading men of the day he said: “I have not come here for political ends. I want to gain your confidence. I want to persuade you to believe that I am an honest and sincere man . . . I know I am considered an imposter . . . But it is not true; I say what I think and I keep my word.” But this was precisely what the British statesmen would not believe. Palmerston often said, “Russia is a great humbug.” No matter how often Nicholas assured the British that he did not want another inch of Turkish territory, he could not allay their deep suspicion.

Revolutions convulsed Europe in 1848. National liberation movements erupted in France, toppled the monarchy of Louis Philippe, and spread through Italy, Austria, and Prussia. The whole continent was in turmoil. The fall of Louis Philippe did not bother Nicholas, but the demands of so many people for liberation and for constitutional government alarmed him. They challenged the autocratic regimes that he saw as God’s will. Propelled by his “terrible duty,” he prepared to resist.

On March 14, 1848, his manifesto referred to the “lawlessness and rebellion” in Austria and Prussia that were threatening “our Holy Russia,” and rallied his people to stand fast “for faith, Tsar, and country.” The manifesto closed with the words: “God is with us! Understand, ye people and submit, for God is with us!” Meanwhile, having reluctantly cancelled his plans for military intervention in France, Nicholas gave all his attention to holding Russia’s position in Turkey, putting down the uprising in Poland, and supporting the regimes in Austria and Prussia. In July 1848, his troops occupied Moldavia and Wallachia. But the progress of the revolutionaries in Austria disturbed him. The suppression of the Italian and Czech revolts was satisfying, but the Hungarians, led by Louis Kossuth, continued to resist stubbornly. In March 1849, the Austrian government asked Nicholas for military aid. He responded eagerly. The Hungarians were a real threat to the Austrian monarchy, and an independent Hungary would threaten Russia’s Polish provinces. In June, a Russian army of 170,000 men with 576 field guns invaded Hungary, joining the Austrian forces of similar strength. Although the Hungarian insurgents fought gallantly, the massive opposing force overwhelmed them. On August 13, 1848, they surrendered.

In Britain and France the struggle of the Hungarians had been a concern. Accounts of atrocities inflicted on Hungarian patriots aroused furious indignation. However, neither government had given any support to the insurgents. Palmerston believed that the maintenance of the Austrian Empire was essential to the balance of power in Europe. But he could not go against public opinion when a major crisis broke out over the fate of the Hungarians who had sought refuge in Turkey. Nicholas and Francis Joseph, the Austrian Emperor, had demanded the surrender of these Hungarians, but the sultan refused on the advice of Britain and France. The two emperors then suspended relations with Turkey. Tension between the powers mounted, but Britain and France stood firm, believing that the sovereignty of Turkey was involved and suspecting that Russia and Austria were moving toward trying to make the Porte subordinate to their joint rule. Finally Nicholas yielded to this pressure and resumed relations with the sultan.

The movement of the German states toward unity also disturbed Nicholas. He was anxious to maintain the Austrian Empire intact and opposed the proposals for unification of the German states under the Prussian crown. He disapproved of his brother-in-law, Frederick William IV of Prussia, who - in spite of his devotion to the principles of monarchy and his dislike of constitutional government - stood for German nationalism and unification. In Nicholas’s eyes both were dangerous and undesirable. He gave strong support to Austria. When the Prussians finally surrendered to Austria at Olmütz (November 29, 1850), they directed their anger more against Russia than Austria.

Nicholas had little idea of the hostility that had been mounting over these years in Europe toward him personally and toward Russia. It was not limited to liberal circles that in the words of De Tocqueville saw him as “the cornerstone of despotism in the world.” They would never forgive him for crushing the Poles and the Hungarians. The British people saw Nicholas as a cruel despot who repressed all freedom-loving people and considered him a threat to British interests. Tennyson’s references to the “o’ergrown Barbarian of the East” and to the “icy Muscovite” reflected the picture of the Russian Emperor that the British and the peoples of Western Europe shared.

Nicholas had antagonized not only the people of Europe but also his brother monarchs in the West. Emperor Francis Joseph was tired of his clumsy protective friendship. Frederick William of Prussia wanted no more of his bullying and interference and would never forgive him for Olmütz. Napoleon III and the Kings of Sardinia and Belgium all held painful memories of offensive actions suffered from him. All Europe, monarchs and people, shared in this general hostility toward this interfering despot and self-appointed “policeman.”

As the tide of revolution receded in the early 1850s, Nicholas began to hope again that he could forge a close understanding with Britain. He was still anxious to isolate France, and he wanted a firm agreement with Britain on the future of Turkey. But just as he did not realize the depth of the mistrust and hostility toward Russia, he also did not recognize the dangers of the outbreak of a European war. The sudden realignment of the powers took him completely by surprise, and the outbreak of the Crimean War had a devastating impact upon him.

The Crimean War arose out of the claims of the Greek and the Roman Churches to custody of the Holy Places in Jerusalem, but its roots lay deep in fear of Russia and concern over Russia’s growing strength and the balance of power. The dispute over the Holy Places was a minor matter; Palmerston called it “the churchwardens’ quarrel.” But it developed into a Franco-Russian conflict because the French championed the Roman claims and the Russians supported the Greek claims. Bitter and protracted diplomatic wrangling ended in a decision by the Turks in December 1852, awarding custody to the Roman Church. The French were pleased, but Nicholas resented it deeply. He mobilized troops on the Pruth and in February 1853 sent Prince Alexander Menshikov as his special envoy to the sultan. His instructions were to demand satisfaction in Jerusalem and much else, including a secret alliance and rights that would give to Russia direct protection over the 12 million Christians who were Turkish subjects. Believing that he had British and French support and resenting this attempt to encroach on his sovereignty, the sultan rejected Menshikov’s demands. On July 1, 1853, the Russian army crossed the Pruth and invaded the Danubian principalities.

To the immense surprise of Nicholas, Austria and Prussia joined Britain and France in promptly protesting against this military action. The four powers agreed to the terms for negotiating a settlement of the Russo-Turkish dispute, which were set out in the “Vienna Note.” Nicholas accepted these terms as a basis for talks, but the sultan proposed amendments that amounted to rejecting the note. The Turks were in a belligerent mood. They were emboldened, too, by the reinforcements of the Egyptian army and navy and by the proximity of the British and French naval squadrons on which they felt they could depend.

On October 4, Turkey declared war on Russia. It seemed at first that this would be merely another war in the Russo-Turkish struggle that had extended over centuries. The event that proved to be the turning point was the battle of Sinope in the Black Sea in which Admiral Nakhimov’s squadron destroyed part of the Turkish fleet. This battle inflamed public opinion in Britain and in France. The conflict between Russia and the Western powers had been developing with an inevitability that certain Western statesmen had observed. Nicholas had never suspected the problem was this serious, and now it erupted. On February 27, 1854, representatives presented an Anglo-French ultimatum demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Danubian principalities in St. Petersburg. On March 12, Britain, France, and Turkey formed a defensive and offensive alliance.

When this growth of the war had become a real threat in January 1854, Nicholas had sent his trusted general, Count Orlov, to Vienna to ensure that Austria would maintain an “armed neutrality” favorable to Russia. He was confident that he had earned the gratitude and support of Emperor Francis Joseph by crushing the Hungarian rebellion and in other ways. But the Austrians rejected his proposal. Moreover, Francis Joseph and Frederick William of Prussia joined with Britain and France in a declaration of support for maintaining the Ottoman Empire and in demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Danubian principalities. Francis Joseph went further by telling the sultan to secure this Russian withdrawal, if necessary, by force of arms. He moved troops into Transylvania. When faced with this threat of war with Austria, the Russian troops withdrew over the Pruth. The Austrians then occupied both principalities. Representatives of Britain, France, and Austria had met in Vienna in the meantime and agreed on four conditions for peace negotiations on August 8, 1854. The conditions were, first, a European guarantee of the integrity of Moldavia, Wallachia, and Serbia in place of the Russian protectorate; second, free navigation of the Danube; third, revision of the 1841 Straits Convention; and fourth, the collective guarantee by the five powers of all Christians in Turkey and the abandonment of Russia’s claims. Finally, on December 2, 1854, Francis Joseph had concluded a treaty of alliance with the Western powers.

In the course of one year, Nicholas had seen his foreign policy collapse in ruins. At a time of crisis, he could count on no allies; Russia had only enemies. These events confused him because he felt that his brother monarchs had betrayed him. It was especially hard to bear the betrayal of his brother-in-law, Frederick William, in withholding support and insisting on Prussian neutrality. The Austrian Emperor’s betrayal and threat of war against him were far worse. Nicholas was a shattered man. On the day that he received the Austrian demand for the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Danubian principalities, an eyewitness reported that Nicholas “was unrecognizable, his face had a greenish pallor, his profile had lengthened, and his eyes had a fixed expression; only his step was firm. Half a century has passed since that day, but I can still see him, broken by suffering.”

The course of the war brought him further bitter disappointments. The Danubian campaign had been a humiliating failure. His army had been unable to take the Turkish fortress of Silistria by siege or by assault and had finally withdrawn. In the Crimea, which was the chief military objective of the allies, the Russians fought gallantly, but without success. Ninety British and French warships had escorted transports with about 62,000 troops to the peninsula to try to capture the great naval port of Sevastopol. Totleben, a military engineer of genius, and a small but courageous and determined garrison, defended Sevastopol for nearly a year before the British and French troops overwhelmed them. But the Russians had suffered disaster at Balaklava (October 25) and at Inkerman (November 5).

Distressed by these reverses, Nicholas had finally accepted as the basis of negotiations the four points agreed by the allied powers in Vienna in August. To him this was an act of final surrender, and he was already a completely broken man. The final blow had been the realization that his army, the love and prize of his life, had failed against the armies of the West and was inferior to them in equipment, transport, and organization. He could concentrate only 350,000 men against the allied forces. He had believed the Russian army to be invincible. He began to see all around him the collapse of the work of the thirty years of his reign.

In January 1855, Nicholas attended a wedding and wore the red full dress uniform of the Horse Guards. He caught a severe chill and had to rest. But he would not permit the publication of health bulletins. The chill grew worse, especially after he insisted on going out into the bitter cold to bid farewell to troops leaving for the war. He became confined to bed, and his breathing became labored. At first, he had regarded his illness as a minor ailment, but now he realized that he was dying. He said goodbye to each member of his family and his entourage and then awaited death with dignity and fortitude.

A courier arrived from Sevastopol with dispatches, which he always read eagerly. But already the war was beyond him. “These things no longer concern me,” he said. “Let him give the dispatches to my son.”

On March 5, 1855, he took the last sacraments. To the priest who blessed him, he said: “I believe I have never done evil knowingly . . .” In these dying words, he expressed something of the bleak tragedy of his life. He had worked devotedly to carry out his “terrible duty,” believing that he was doing God’s will, but he had inflicted on the whole Russian nation a sinister and cruel tyranny.


The Romanovs

The reign of Alexander II, the eldest son of Nicholas I, began a new era in Russian history that was a time of great reforms. The years of his reign witnessed the beginnings of a capitalist economy and of an industrial revolution in the backward agricultural society of Russia. It was a time when the nation was able to break out of the strait jacket of the militant personal autocracy that Nicholas I had imposed during the thirty years of his reign. The writer A. I. Koshelev commented that “it seemed as if out of a depressing dark dungeon we were emerging, if not into God’s light, at least into an antechamber where we could sense refreshing air.” But this access of reform and freedom released forces beyond the control of the tsar and the government. Alexander II began his reign as the tsar-liberator and ended it as the tsar-martyr.

By training, character, and ability, Alexander was poorly equipped for either role. Like his uncle, Alexander, he remains something of an enigma. He was thirty-six years old at the time of his accession and had more training for the throne than any of his predecessors. When he was only six, his father had appointed Captain Merder as his military tutor. He had then begun learning the rudiments of drill and parade ground maneuvers. He made his first visit to his grandparents in Berlin when he was eleven years old. Although he was proud of his Cossack dress, when the king made him colonel of the 3rd Uhlan Regiment, he changed into Prussian uniform and began to love it. The obsession with parades and military paraphernalia and love of Prussia appeared as strong in him at this early age as they had been in each of the previous five Emperors of Russia.

The civilian tutor appointed in 1828 - probably as a result of his mother’s influence - was the renowned poet, Vasily Zhukovsky, who tried to counteract the military education on which Nicholas insisted. “Passion for military occupation will narrow his soul,” Zhukovsky wrote to the empress. “He will be accustomed to see in the people only a regiment, in his fatherland only the barracks.” It was a bold comment to make during the reign of Nicholas I, but he permitted Zhukovsky to pursue his program, which aimed to make the tsarevich a man of virtue and a lawgiver.

However, both tutors soon discovered that Alexander was intelligent, but inattentive, vague, and hesitant whenever faced with problems. He disliked lessons and preferred to wander dreamily in the palace gardens. The boy’s lack of diligence disturbed his father who even prepared a detailed syllabus of military studies for him. But Alexander continued to procrastinate about doing his work. Unlike his father, however, he often displayed warmth and humanity. In the autumn of 1832, Merder suffered a heart attack. Because he felt that Merder’s concern for him might have contributed to the attack, Alexander at once mended his ways and became attentive. Merder went to Italy in an effort to improve his health. For over a year, Alexander wrote to him every Saturday. When Merder died in Rome in the spring of 1834, Alexander grieved for him.

At the age of nineteen, Alexander’s formal education was complete. In spite of his lack of diligence, he spoke Russian, English, German, Polish, and French. He had had a six-month course on the laws of the Russian Empire, conducted by Speransky, and the appropriate ministers had tutored him in diplomacy, finance, and military matters. In fact, he had learned a great deal. In 1837, he made a seven-month tour of Russia. He visited thirty provinces and traveled east as far as Tobolsk and was the first Romanov to set foot in Siberia. Although hurried and crowded with official engagements, the tour made a deep impression on him, awakening in him a fervent love of his country, “our mother Russia,” as he usually called it.

Traveling with him, Zhukovsky took every opportunity to show him how his people lived. He took him to peasant huts and made certain that he met some of the Decembrists, surviving after more than twenty years of banishment. Alexander was moved by their difficult situation. He sent a special courier to his father with a request to make some changes to make their lives easier, and he was delighted when Nicholas sanctioned improvements in their conditions. The surviving Decembrists had to wait, however, until Alexander’s coronation before they, and later political prisoners including Dostoevsky, could return to the cities.

In Vyatka, deep in the forests to the northeast of Moscow, Alexander met Herzen, who charmed him. Again he wrote to his father, asking him to allow Herzen to return to St. Petersburg. Nicholas knew that he could not single out one political exile for favorable treatment, but he gave permission for Herzen to move to Vladimir, which was much nearer to Moscow. In his memoirs, Herzen described Alexander as he appeared in Vyatka: “The Tsarevich’s expression had none of that narrow severity, that cold merciless cruelty which was characteristic of his father; his features were more suggestive of good nature and listlessness. He was about twenty, but was already beginning to grow stout.”

In the following year, Alexander set out on a tour of Western Europe that lasted sixteen months and included nearly every country except France and Spain. He made a good impression at the courts he visited. He had a gentle dignity, modesty, and charm that were attractive, but he was also reserved and timid at times. The highlight of his grand tour was his meeting in Darmstadt with Princess Mary of Hesse-Darmstadt, a beautiful girl of fifteen with whom he fell in love. “She is the woman of my dreams,” he told his entourage. “I will never marry anyone but her.” But he feared that his parents might not sanction the marriage. The Grand Duke Louis II of Hesse-Darmstadt was not actually Princess Mary’s father. He had separated from her mother after two years of marriage. The duchess had many lovers; about fourteen years after the separation from her husband, she gave birth to a son and then a daughter, Princess Mary. The Grand Duke had accepted paternity, but everyone knew that her father was a man of humble birth.

Alexander had written to his parents, asking permission to marry his princess. His parents told him to return to St. Petersburg at once to discuss the matter. He displayed determination when he faced them, declaring that he would renounce the throne rather than give her up. The scandal surrounding her birth did not affect his feelings. Faced by such resolution - surprising in a son who had always seemed weak in character - Nicholas yielded. Alexander and his princess announced their betrothal formally in 1840, and Mary received baptism in the Orthodox Church with the name of Maria Alexandrovna. Their marriage occurred in the following year. Nicholas and the empress grew to love their beautiful daughter-in-law who was pious and devoted to charitable works. In time, she gave birth to four sons and a daughter.

Nicholas had had misgivings about his eldest son. He was pleased now to find that Alexander sincerely revered him and held sacred the same autocratic principles. He entrusted him with far greater responsibilities. Alexander attended meetings of the Council of Ministers. In 1846 and 1848, he served as chairman of the secret committees appointed to study the problems of serfdom. Alexander began to act as regent during the frequent absences of his father from the capital. On his deathbed, Nicholas felt that he had done everything possible to prepare his son for the throne. “I hand over to you my command,” he said, adding, “but unfortunately not in such order as I should wish. I am leaving you many labors and anxieties.” The responsibilities of the throne awed Alexander. In the past, he had expressed reluctance to succeed his father. But now he was emperor and, although he believed that he was carrying on his father’s policies, he had the sense and courage to promote fundamental reforms.

On Alexander’s accession, there were widespread hopes that a new era was beginning. His people knew about his conservative outlook and support for the autocratic system. Nevertheless, many believed that he would recognize the inevitability of change, especially after the calamities of the Crimean War that had caused the bankruptcy of Nicholas I’s policies.

Alexander’s first task was to put an end to the Crimean War. Russia desperately needed peace. But as an ardent patriot, he rejected the request of Prince Mikhail Gorchakov to be allowed to evacuate Sevastopol. The allied capture of the fortress in September 1855, after the loss of 100,000 Russian troops, was a terrible blow to him. He sought to rally his forces, even sending to his army the banner of St. Sergei that had accompanied Peter the Great at Poltava. He traveled to Nikolaev, Russia’s second naval stronghold on the Black Sea, to supervise the defense preparations. But allied pressure was mounting. The King of Prussia warned that he might have to join the allies. In December 1855 in St. Petersburg, representatives presented the terms as coordinated by Austria with Britain and France. Alexander learned that all members of his Council of Ministers favored peace. The nation was isolated, had exhausted its resources, and had difficulty raising more troops after total losses of about 600,000 men. It was with deep reluctance that he agreed to negotiate and then signed the Treaty of Paris on March 30, 1856. He had lost everything that Nicholas had gained and sought to make permanent - especially Russian occupation of Wallachia and Moldavia, and rights amounting to domination of the Black Sea. He hated the treaty, but the Russian people were relieved to receive the news.

Alexander gave the first promises of reforms in a manifesto proclaiming the peace to his people. He had already relaxed the severity of his father’s reign. He had eased censorship, raised restrictions on foreign travel, amended regulations that severely limited entrance to universities, and instituted other measures that promised a more enlightened reign. The emperor’s coronation was customarily an occasion of benevolent gestures, but Alexander’s coronation manifesto, proclaimed in September 1856, was notably generous. It suspended all recruiting for three years and abolished the evil institution of cantonists, whereby the sons of men enlisted for military service had to live in military orphanages and be raised as soldiers. He extended amnesties to political prisoners. He cancelled arrears of taxes owed by the poorest people and made tax concessions in many regions. All Russians could feel that they were experiencing the beginning of a new era in the life of their country.

At the heart of all such hopes lay the problem of the serfs. Rumors had begun circulating at the time of his accession that Alexander intended to abolish serfdom. This possibility alarmed landowners, but the majority of the people excitedly awaited this great reform. Like his father, Alexander recognized that serfdom was an evil and also that the landowning nobility was, in his own words, “the mainstay of the throne.” From his chairmanship of the two secret committees, he was aware of the obstacles to abolition. He decided first to invite proposals from and seek the cooperation of the landowning nobles.

In an address to an assembly of the nobility in Moscow on March 30, 1856, Alexander spoke of the rumors that he would emancipate the serfs. “I consider it necessary to inform you that I have no intention to do this now,” he declared. “But, of course, you yourselves understand that the existing order of serfdom cannot remain unchanged. It is better to abolish bondage from above than to wait for the time when it will begin to abolish itself spontaneously from below. I request, gentlemen, that you think over how this could be accomplished. Convey my words to the nobility for their consideration.”

But the landowning nobility, concerned only by selfish interests, did nothing to meet the emperor’s request. Alexander appointed a secret committee late in 1856, but its conclusion was merely that the reforming process needed to occur gradually and cautiously. Because landowners made up the committee, their conclusion was not a surprise. Except for S. S. Lanskoi, the Minister of the Interior, they were reluctant to consider any solution affecting their possession of the land. Initially, Alexander thought that the process of emancipation should occur over a lengthy period. Now he was beginning to think that the resolution of the problem must be swift.

In October 1857, V. I. Nazimov, Governor-General of Lithuania, arrived in St. Petersburg with a petition from the nobles of his region, requesting that the tsar should permit them to free their serfs without land. Most members of the secret committee recommended that he grant the petition because they hoped to establish a precedent for emancipating the serfs without losing their land. But Alexander then took a decisive stand. He firmly rejected the petition and directed that the committee should draft legislation implementing Lanskoi’s plan. This plan provided that serfs should gain their personal freedom and also their homesteads - paying for the latter over a period of ten to fifteen years - while they would pay for the land allocated for their use in money or labor on terms to be negotiated with their masters. Landowners would thus retain full title to their lands, and there would be no question of compensation. On November 20, 1857, Alexander signed his official order to Nazimov and the nobility of Lithuania, directing them to prepare a plan that enacted these principles. He circulated the official order and an instruction from Lanskoi to all governors and marshals of the nobility in European Russia, inviting them to take a similar initiative.

Alexander had now made up his mind. At a ball in St. Petersburg, he addressed the Governor-General and the nobility of the capital and ended with the words: “I hope that you will show a sincere interest in this matter and will turn your attention to a class of people who deserve that their situation should be justly assured. Further delay is impossible. The matter must be dealt with now . . . that is my unshakeable resolution.”

On January 8, 1858, the name of the secret committee became the Main Committee. By the end of the year, special committees were at work in every province, preparing their reports. In February 1859, he appointed two editorial commissions to formulate the emancipation statutes. The commissions met together under the chairmanship of General Yakov Rostovtsev, who as a young officer had refused to join the Decembrist conspiracy and had informed Emperor Nicholas of the plot. He would serve now as a leading champion of the abolition of serfdom.

Alexander had taken a stand against the massed landowning class, and there was no turning back. He had the support of the intelligentsia and of the small but influential merchant class as well as the support of the peasant mass. Lanskoi and his department were the moving forces behind the reform within the government. His wife, Empress Mary; his mistress, Princess Alexandrina Dolgorukaya; and others, including in particular his brother, Constantine, strongly supported emancipation. Alexander toured the northern provinces to appeal personally to the nobility for their support. He led the Main Committee. While they were studying reports from the provincial committees, the basic elements of the reform took shape as the liberation of the peasants with land, redemption payments assisted by the government, and the effective completion of liberation within a minimum time.

Opposition inside the Main Committee became increasingly bitter. Alexander stood firm. He would not allow the request of Count P. A. Shuvalov, Marshal of the Nobility of St. Petersburg, and Prince Paskievich to record a minority report. Ownership of the land was the crucial problem. Paskievich questioned whether it was really the government’s intention to make the serfs landowners and asked whether he would use force to ensure such a revolutionary change. Alexander replied that nothing would weaken his resolve that the peasants should own the land and he added that he would use force “if the nobility persist in their obstinacy.”

The conflict raged now between Rostovtsev’s editing commission and the Main Committee under the chairmanship of Prince Alexei Orlov, a stubborn conservative. The pressure and the slanders spread by his opponents began to take a toll on Rostovtsev’s health, although Alexander tried to reassure him. Finally, Rostovtsev succumbed to an illness that proved fatal. Before Rostovtsev’s death, Alexander visited him frequently and prayed by his bedside as he died. With other members of the imperial family, he carried the coffin in the funeral procession. The death of this dedicated servant of Russia deeply grieved him.

Alexander appointed Count V. N. Panin, the Minister of Justice, and an ardent opponent of emancipation, as chairman of the editing commission. It was an extraordinary appointment, strongly criticized as a betrayal of Rostovtsev and of the reform. But Alexander did not intend for it to be a betrayal. He kept a close watch on Panin and on the commission to ensure that they did not depart from his policy. He had given directions for the commission to finish its work by October 10, 1860, and on that day he disbanded it. The next task was to ensure that the Main Committee adopted the statutes that the commission had drafted. The illness of Orlov and the appointment of Grand Duke Constantine in his place facilitated this action. After strong opposition by the conservatives, the Main Committee adopted the statute. The final stage was approval by the Imperial Council, and again Alexander used his imperial authority to make this happen. On February 19, 1861, six years to the day since his accession, he signed the statute and a manifesto – to be read from the pulpits of all churches and carried to all provinces by special couriers – that proclaimed freedom for the serfs.

The emancipation statute was an enactment of tremendous significance. It abolished a system, akin to slavery, which had provided the basis of the feudal social order in Russia. The serfs had become free men; they were free to marry, to own property, to take part in commerce, and to enjoy other rights of ordinary citizens. Alexander could claim that “an end had been put to centuries of injustice,” and the great reform was the result of his stubborn effort.

However, disillusionment soon followed the general elation that gripped the nation. Most people including the peasants themselves did not understand the emancipation statutes, which contained more than 1,000 sections with a volume of 360 pages. To them the great reform meant freedom and possession of the land that they had always considered their own because they worked it. But now they believed that the emperor had cheated them of both freedom and land. The allotments of land that they received were inadequate, and they now had the additional burden of redemption payments. Landowners used every means to retain as much of their land as possible, especially in the South where the black soil was exceptionally fertile. Seventeen years after emancipation, official figures revealed that thirteen percent of former private serfs had plenty of land; about forty percent had an adequate amount of land; the remaining forty-seven percent did not possess enough land to maintain themselves and their families. Household serfs received no land; when they gained their personal freedom, they had to find work or starve.

Freedom also eluded the peasants. They were no longer dependent upon their masters, but the commune dominated their lives. The commune was the assembly of the householders of a village or town, who held all property in common and elected as their spokesman an elder and sometimes an executive board. Every peasant had to belong to a commune and was actually in bondage to it. The emancipation statutes strengthened this bondage. The commune received land allotments rather than the peasants. It was responsible for paying taxes and enforcing the other obligations of its members. No peasant could leave the commune district without a passport, and withdrawal from the commune was virtually impossible. Rumors began to spread that the true liberation was yet to come. Many predicted that it would happen at the end of the first phase of the emancipation process, lasting two years. However, in many districts the peasants rebelled, and troops had to restore order. At Bezdna in the province of Pensa, the unarmed peasants attacked the troops; the troops fired on them, killing fifty and wounding over 300. The Bezdna incident sent shock waves throughout the country.

The nobility, who had lost about one-third of their land, felt that the emancipation decree had robbed them. Most of the nobles were free-spenders; they had soon spent the compensation received from the government and by 1870 were heavily in debt. The application of the emancipation deeply disappointed the liberals and radicals who had welcomed the emancipation enthusiastically. The general disillusionment, intensified by the spreading unrest, fed the fires of revolution.

Alexander had devoted all his energies to ensuring the enactment of emancipation. There had been the inevitable compromise, but he had not sacrificed the basic principle of freedom with land for the peasants. Now he found that all classes of his people were dissatisfied and that the spirit of rebellion was gathering strength. He wanted to act more severely, but he did not revert to his father’s policy of repression. He recognized that further major reforms were essential to the dismantling of the feudal system and the modernizing of the nation.

Alexander took the initiative and supervised the drafting and enactment of each of these reforms. He leaned heavily on his brother, Grand Duke Constantine, who had given enthusiastic support to the liberation of the serfs and worked with similar zeal for further reform. As Minister of Marine, he encouraged criticism of the navy and proposals for improvements. The Naval Almanack, the official publication of his ministry, was one of the most outspoken publications in Russia. He attracted into his circle some of the most capable radicals of the time, several of whom became ministers in 1861 and were able to promote important reforms.

In March 1859, Alexander had given instructions for the reform of local government. Nicholas Milyutin, then assistant minister of the interior, was chairman of the commission responsible for drafting appropriate legislation. He favored the participation of all classes in the Zemstvos, the new elective councils. In April 1861, however, Alexander dismissed both Lanskoi and Milyutin because he believed their outlook was too liberal. He was seeking to make some concession to the landowning nobility who were distressed because they had lost land to the peasants and had not received any increase in political power as compensation. It was because of such compromises between liberal reforms and the need to retain the support of the nobility that Alexander disappointed so many of his people. He appointed Count P. A. Valuev as the new minister of the interior. His policy was to ensure that members of the nobility were dominant in local government. The liberals made strenuous attempts to gain greater autonomy and powers for the Zemstvos, but their efforts had very limited success.

The Zemstvo statute, which Alexander signed on January 1, 1864, provided for local government at district and provincial levels. There were three categories of electors, according to property qualifications, and peasants elected their representatives indirectly. By carefully defining the membership of every Zemstvo, the law ensured that no single social class could dominate. Members of the district Zemstvos, elected for a three-year term, chose from among themselves the members of the provincial Zemstvos. The new system had many drawbacks. The provincial governor had to approve the election of the Zemstvo chairman, and the minister of the interior had to confirm in office the provincial Zemstvo chairman. The Zemstvos had no executive powers and had to rely on the cooperation of the police and other officials who were under the control of the governor or the ministry.

In spite of these problems, the Zemstvos were soon achieving remarkable results. They brought about improvements in hospitals and other institutions, such as orphanages and insane asylums, entrusted to their care. They organized medical and veterinary services in rural districts, and their most outstanding achievement was in the field of elementary education. There were about 8,000 elementary schools throughout Russia in 1856. The number increased to 23,000 in European Russia alone by 1880. Toward the end of Alexander’s reign, Zemstvo or Zemstvo-assisted schools were increasing at the rate of 1,000 annually.

A statute in 1870 established Dumas or elective town and city councils with powers similar to those of the Zemstvos. The Dumas provided public services that Western Europeans took for granted but were still lacking in Russia. Some of the new amenities included water supplies, the paving and lighting of streets, upkeep of bridges, and better organization of benevolent institutions. As with the Zemstvos, the most spectacular achievement of the Dumas was the provision of schools. In St. Petersburg alone between 1873 and 1880, the number of schools increased from sixteen to eighty-eight. In Moscow and other cities and towns, the achievement was on the same scale.

In cities, towns, and villages, Russians were beginning to appreciate the need for education. From the time of his accession when he had facilitated entrance to universities, Alexander had sought to expand educational facilities, and after 1861 the movement gathered momentum. In place of the obscurantist Admiral Putyatin, Alexander appointed as Minister of Education, A. V. Golovnin, a close associate of Grand Duke Constantine, who applied himself to liberalizing education. He had opposed the claim of the Church to exclusive responsibility for primary education and had thus made it possible for the Zemstvos and Dumas to attain their striking results. He encouraged secondary education. By a statute of 1864, anyone who passed the entrance examinations could attend such schools, a right that had in the past belonged exclusively to children of the nobility. He increased the number of secondary schools, revised teaching methods, and commissioned new textbooks.

However, Golovnin’s outstanding achievement was the university statute of June 1863. He had sent a team of professors to study Western universities and to make recommendations for Russian universities. The resulting statute restored to universities their autonomy, first granted in 1804. It provided them with an independent administrative system, including tribunals responsible for student discipline. There was full freedom in the academic field. He also provided for special training for future professors and strongly encouraged higher education by scholarships and other means. Universities entered into a brilliant and fruitful period during the second half of Alexander’s reign largely because of Golovnin’s work.

Another reform of great and enduring importance was the reorganization of the judicial system. This reform was close to Alexander’s heart because he knew that the courts were corrupt, savage in their sentences, arbitrary, and slow to act. On his accession, he had expressed the wish to establish in Russia “expeditious, just, merciful, and impartial courts for all our subjects; to raise the judicial authority by giving it proper independence and in general to increase in the people that respect for the law which national well-being requires and which must be the constant guide of all and everyone from the highest to the lowest.” Nicholas I had been aware of the need for reform of the courts and had set up a commission to prepare draft laws. At the end of 1861, Alexander enlarged this commission by appointing several eminent jurists to serve on it.

The basic principles of the reform, submitted by the commission and approved by Alexander on September 29, 1862, included the complete separation of the judiciary from all other branches of the administration; the fullest publicity for court proceedings; trial by jury in criminal cases; the institution of summary courts, presided over by Justices of the Peace; and the simplification of legal procedures.

After Alexander widely publicized the proposals, the enactment took place on November 20, 1864. The new system of courts was simple. Justices of the peace tried minor civil and criminal cases; the district session of justices of the peace handled appeals. District courts and higher courts tried more important cases. The Crown appointed these judges from lists of experienced jurists, compiled by the judiciary. After reorganization, the Senate served as the supreme court. But more significant than the structure of the courts was the new spirit of justice, impartiality, and courtesy that began to permeate the administration of justice. The liberation of the peasants, formerly at the mercy of their landowners, and independence from the bureaucracy introduced a sense of pride and fairness that had never been part of the administration of Russian law in the past.

The armed forces were another field of spectacular reforms. Defeat in the Crimean War had demonstrated the inefficiency, corruption, and inadequacies of the Russian army. With few exceptions, the army lacked capable commanders; transport and supplies had failed; medical services had been so deplorable that more men had died from sickness than from enemy action.

Alexander was keenly aware of the need for reform in the army and he heeded his brother, Constantine, who as Minister of Marine introduced sweeping changes in the navy. Constantine was instrumental in securing the appointment of Dmitri Milyutin as Minister of War. Milyutin, a liberal possessed by great reforming zeal, received a wound when serving as an officer in the Guards Artillery in 1840. He had written extensively on military subjects and was a professor in the Military Academy for fifteen years. But he had varied interests. Bismarck described him in 1861 as “the most daring and radical spirit among the reformers . . . the bitterest enemy of the nobility.” He was Minister of War for twenty years; with the steady support of Alexander, he transformed the army in spite of frantic opposition.

Milyutin first eliminated the harshest forms of punishment and discipline. He had opponents even in this most humanitarian reform. The Minister of Justice, Panin, and the Orthodox Metropolitan, Philaret, strongly defended branding and flogging, which often ended in death, as necessary instruments of discipline. But on April 17, 1863, Alexander signed a decree that prohibited the more barbarous forms of punishment not only in the army and the navy but also for civil offenses.

Milyutin then began to introduce methods and efficiency into every branch of the armed forces. He greatly improved the conditions of the ordinary troops. He introduced the most modern weapons in place of the obsolescent equipment that had been one of the reasons for Russian defeats in the Crimean War. For the training of officers, he established army gymnasia in place of the aristocratic Cadet Corps. He even made provisions for teaching recruits to read and write, a development that would have astonished Nicholas I.

However, the institution of conscription was Milyutin’s greatest achievement. He maintained that all men, regardless of birth or wealth, should be liable for service. Although Milyutin set up a commission to draft the new statute on military service in 1863, more than a decade passed before it became official because the uproar against this egalitarian proposal was so loud and harsh.

In signing this statute on January 1, 1874, Alexander stated the principles underlying it. He said that under present legislation the duty of military service falls exclusively on the lower class of town dwellers and on the peasants. Many of the Russian people are exempt from a duty that all should share. Such an order of things, which came into being in different circumstances, no longer is appropriate for the changed conditions of national life nor does it satisfy Russia’s military needs. Recent events have shown that the strength of armies is based not only on the number of soldiers but also on their moral and intellectual qualities.

The statute provided that all men would be eligible for military service at twenty years of age. Ballots would choose the conscripts to be taken from each military district annually. Men needed to serve for six years and then would be on the reserve for nine years after which they were liable for service until the age of forty. Educational qualifications shortened the period of service, but men could obtain exemptions on only clearly defined compassionate grounds. The introduction of the principle of social equality was a striking innovation, as was the encouragement that education received.

Alexander also gave his support to policies of reform and expansion in the economic field. His Minister of Finance, Count Mikhail Reutern, brought all the accounts of the various departments under the control of his ministry. He established effective methods of audit, made the national budget public, and abolished the malevolent system of farming out the sale of spirits. Reutern proposed these and other reforms in financial administration to try to eliminate the corruption and inefficiency that crippled the nation, which was still recovering from the cost of the war and of maintaining as many as 2 million men under arms in the previous reign.

Reutern’s contribution to Russian economic expansion was even more striking. He was especially active in developing railways. Communications in Russia were primitive and not only hampered trade but also had contributed directly to the defeat in the Crimean War. Proposals to build a network of railways in 1835 had met with strong opposition. The then Minister of Finance, Count Igor Kankrin, had considered the project an extravagance and a threat to “public morals”; he maintained that railways would “encourage frequent purposeless travel, thus fostering the restless spirit of our age.” It was primarily because of Reutern that the railways, covering less than 660 miles in 1855, extended over about 14,000 miles by 1881. The development of the railways was part of the general economic expansion of Alexander II’s reign. He also encouraged the establishment of banks and other credit institutions. Trade flourished and exports trebled, thus giving the country a surplus on balance of payments. Socially and economically, Russia was in a state of revolution as it began transforming from a feudal into a capitalist nation.

The reign of Alexander II was also a time when the arts flourished. In music, there were five active brilliant composers - Balakirev, Cui, Musorgsky, Borodin, and Rimsky-Korsakov - and Tchaikovsky began producing some of his operas and other compositions. But it was in the field of literature that the remarkable eruption of works of genius took place. His father’s reign had been a golden age of poetry, and Alexander II’s reign was notable as the age of the Russian novel. Turgenev, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy all wrote and published their greatest works during this period. They were all so outstanding as writers that they overshadowed others, like Aksakov, Goncharov, Saltykov-Shchedrin, and Alexei Tolstoy, who also produced works of merit.

Alexander had begun his reign under the cloud of Russia’s humiliating defeat in the Crimean War. It had lowered the nation’s prestige as a military power and authority in international affairs. At the same time, most of Western Europe watched Russia suspiciously. In particular, England remained in the grip of strong anti-Russian feelings. The English attitude as expressed by one statesman was that Russia was a “great grim shadowy power which sits brooding over Europe and Asia, and of which no man knows whether it be strong or weak.”

The immediate purpose of Alexander’s foreign policy was to find allies, especially against Russia’s chief enemies, England and Austria, and to recover the losses confirmed by the Treaty of Paris. Prince Alexander Gorchakov, who succeeded Count Nesselrode as Minister of Foreign Affairs in April 1856 and held this office throughout Alexander’s reign, was responsible for the conduct of foreign policy. He was an impressively loquacious man whose command of diplomatic French obscured his lack of real ability. Alexander listened to his advice, but also the advice of others, before deciding on the policy to be followed.

Prussia seemed to be Russia’s only reliable ally at this time, although the policy Prussia had followed during the Crimean War had not been helpful. Alexander counted on Prussia to look to him for support against Austria. Gorchakov also hoped for closer understanding with France. Napoleon III wanted to gain Russia’s friendship and was ready to support Russian efforts to have the more unpleasant terms of the Treaty of Paris moderated. But their three-day meeting in Stuttgart in September 1857 did not lessen Alexander’s mistrust of Napoleon. It was clear that Napoleon would do nothing to jeopardize the Anglo-French alliance. Although there was strong support for a pro-French policy in St. Petersburg, Napoleon destroyed all hopes of alliance when he supported the Polish cause at the time of the insurrection in 1863.

Alexander was counting on Prussia’s help to further his policies in the South. King William I and Bismarck conferred with Alexander and Gorchakov at Ems in June 1870. Alexander gave assurances that Russia would prevent Austrian intervention on the side of France in the Franco-Prussian War, and in return William undertook to support Russian demands for revision of the Treaty of Paris. The Franco-Prussian war ended with the defeat of France, the fall of the third empire, and the final unification of Germany, with King William of Prussia being proclaimed Emperor of Germany at Versailles on January 18, 1871.

Meanwhile on October 31, 1870, Gorchakov sent notes to all signatories of the Treaty of Paris, renouncing the Black Sea provisions of the treaty. This unilateral act provoked a major crisis. England protested furiously. But the Russian note was well timed. France was at war with Prussia, and Austria was isolated diplomatically. England was not prepared to go to war alone against Russia. When Bismarck proposed a conference of interested countries, all agreed. The seven-power conference met in London in January 1871, and Russia achieved a diplomatic victory thanks to German support.

Alexander was, however, uneasy about the emergence of the German Empire. Bismarck was eager to strengthen German friendship with Russia and also with Austria in order to isolate France. Alliance with France as a counterweight to German power would have been a logical policy for Russia at this time, but Alexander had no love for republican France and was afraid that French influence would promote revolutionary ideas inside Russia. He was therefore ready to accept Bismarck’s proposals, which resulted in the formation of the League of the Three Emperors in 1873. The Emperors of Russia, Germany, and Austria mutually guaranteed the frontiers of their respective countries; they agreed to consult on all problems arising from the Eastern Question; and they agreed also to concert action against threats of revolution. The League appealed strongly to Alexander as a revival of the Holy Alliance that his uncle, Alexander I, had conceived and his father, Nicholas I, had endorsed. But, like the Holy Alliance, the League would prove to be ineffective.

The Treaty of Paris had not resolved the Eastern Question as the signatories had hoped; in fact, the Eastern Question was entering a more complex phase. Ottoman power was declining rapidly, and the people were clamoring for independence. The Bulgars and the Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina were demanding freedom; Serbia and Rumania, although already autonomous, wanted full independence. Many in Russia began to champion the cause of the Orthodox Slavs in the Balkans. They argued that Russia, as the greatest of the Slav nations, should free brother Slavs from the yoke of the Muslim Turks. Nicholas Danilevsky and General Rostislav Fadeev, whose book Opinion on the Eastern Question was especially influential, professed the doctrine of Panslavism. Alexander and Gorchakov did not support this emotional nationalistic concept and tolerated it only because of its strong appeal to many Russians. But the policies advocated by the adherents of Panslavism would prove to be an embarrassment to the government, and they alarmed Western powers that interpreted the doctrine as a form of aggressive pan-Russianism.

The Eastern Question erupted in 1875 with revolts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, followed by a Bulgarian insurrection. The sultan suppressed these uprisings savagely, and most Europeans were incensed. Under the Treaty of Paris, the great powers had planned to intervene jointly in such a situation, but now their policies divided them. The primary goal of the British government under Disraeli was to halt any extension of Russian power. Austria and Germany were anxious to avoid another European war. Russia alone was prepared to intervene, but Alexander was cautious and tried to resist strong panslavist pressure for action. However, he had to commit because the situation developed rapidly.

In July 1876, Serbia and Montenegro declared war on Turkey, and their small armies were soon in danger of annihilation. Russia proposed an armistice, which the Turks rejected. The new sultan, Abdul Hamid III, was warlike and did not want to give in to Russian demands because he believed that he could depend on English support. Russia began secret preparations for war with Turkey. But Alexander was uneasy, remembering the disastrous escalation that had led to the Crimean War. Neither the economy nor the army, then in the midst of reform, was ready for a war on a broad scale. But Alexander was emboldened by a secret treaty signed in January 1877 with the Austrians, who promised to take up a position of benevolent neutrality in the event of war; in return, Russia would not annex Serbia, Montenegro, or Constantinople and would allow Austria a free hand with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

After the declaration of war in April 1877, the Russians pressed forward on the Balkan and the Transcaucasian fronts until they were poised to advance on Constantinople early in 1878. Having declared that England would never permit Russian occupation of the city, Disraeli sent an English fleet to guard the straits. But the Turks had already agreed to an armistice; on March 3, 1878, they signed the Treaty of San Stefano, conceding extensive gains to Russia.

Alexander now faced the threat of the European war that he had been so anxious to avoid. He grasped at the alternative course - a result of frantic diplomatic exchanges in London, Berlin, and Vienna - to have a congress of representatives of the powers meet to reconsider the Treaty of San Stefano. This congress, held during June and July 1878 in Berlin, produced the Treaty of Berlin that drastically revised the earlier treaty. This treaty confirmed the independence of Serbia, Montenegro, and Rumania, as well as the cession to Russia of Ardahan, Kars, Batum, and southern Bessarabia. But the treaty placed Bosnia and Herzegovina under the supervision of Austria; it divided Bulgaria into two provinces and deprived the country of direct access to the Aegean Sea.

The Treaty of Berlin provided no permanent solution of the Eastern Question. In spite of considerable gains, it was still a humiliation for Russia. Twice in Alexander’s reign, Russia had to submit to the European powers and frustration, particularly by England. Alexander himself felt isolated and welcomed the opportunity to re-establish friendship with the German Emperor, William I. On Bismarck’s instigation, they included the Austrian Emperor so that they could revive the League of the Three Emperors in 1881 on the eve of Alexander’s death.

Russian expansion in Central Asia and the Far East also revived during the reign of Alexander II. It began as a more or less spontaneous movement. Governors and frontier garrisons, remote from the central government, were eager for conquest, booty, and fame. A contemporary remarked: “It was indeed impossible that such desires should be resisted when by gratifying them it was possible for a Lieutenant in four years to become a General.” Close on the heels of the conquering forces followed the Russian merchants, impatient to share in the enormous and quick profits. In spite of his caution, Alexander became involved. He tried to exert restraint, fearing conflicts with other powers, but he was also an ardent Russian patriot, who rejoiced over any extension of Russia’s territory or power. In effect, he encouraged the expansionist movement.

In Central Asia, there had been no conflicts between the nomad Kazakh, Kalmyk, and other tribes and the Russians for many years. Russians had reached down the Volga to the Caspian Sea and also eastward beyond the Urals in the reign of Ivan the Terrible in the sixteenth century. Peter the Great and other tsars had shown interest in conquering Central Asia, but other commitments had distracted them. Now in the nineteenth century, they finally completed the conquest of this large region. Count Vasily Perovsky, the dynamic governor-general of Orenburg, built a network of strongholds into the Kazakh lands as the first stage in his conquest of the rich valleys of the Syr-Darya and the Amu-Darya, belonging to the rulers of Khiva, Bokhara, and Kokand. By 1854, he had established positions along the Syr-Darya from which the Russian forces were able to subdue the nomads and capture Tashkent. Three years later they had taken Samarkand.

They incorporated the new territory into the province of Turkestan with Tashkent as its capital. General Constantine von Kaufmann, the efficient but brutal governor-general of Turkestan, firmly established Russian control over the region. The Emir of Bokhara and then the Khan of Khiva acknowledged Russian political control. Next came the conquest of the Amu-Darya Valley. Russia was soon on the frontiers of Afghanistan, Persia, and China, a development that was disturbing to several powers.

In Eastern Siberia, the Treaty of Nerchinsk, signed with China in 1689, and limiting Russia’s further expansion southward, had remained in force until 1858. The Russians had, however, moved northward along the Pacific coast of Siberia and into the Kamchatka Peninsula in search of furs and tribute from the native tribes. They had taken possession of many of the Kurile Islands, but only in 1855 under the Treaty of Shimoda were they able to establish trade relations with Japan.

Meanwhile Russian hunters and traders had moved into the Aleutian Islands and Alaska and down the Pacific coast of North America. They behaved with such greed and brutality, however, that the native people rebelled. The Russian government had to take action to establish order and set up the chartered Russian-American Company with a monopoly of the fur trade in Alaska, the Aleutians, the Kuriles, and other North Pacific islands.

Russian activities in the North Pacific alarmed the Spanish and also the Americans and the British. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams attacked Alexander I’s decree in 1821, claiming the Pacific coast of North America south to the 51st parallel and insisting on Russia’s monopoly of trade in the North Pacific. Then in December 1823, President James Monroe, in his message to Congress, declared the opposition of the United States to further colonization of the Americas by European powers. Alexander I had heeded the strong stand taken by the United States, which Britain supported. In 1824, he had agreed that the southern limit of Russian claims should be 54 degrees 40 minutes, and that the United States and Russia should both be free to trade and fish in the North Pacific.

Meanwhile the Russian-American Company had declined in importance, its finances being negatively affected by corruption and inefficiency. This was the primary reason that Alaska had become an economic liability. When a Franco-British naval squadron attacked the port of Petropavlovsk during the Crimean War, it became clear that Alaska was also a strategic liability. In 1854, informal discussions began between St. Petersburg and Washington on the sale of Alaska. The discussions dragged on until March 1867 when the Russian-American Company transferred all of its properties, including Alaska, to the United States at the price of $7.2 million.

Interest in Russo-Chinese relations had also reawakened at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The successful war waged by England against China from 1839 to 1842 had impressed Nicholas I. In 1847, to protect Russian interests, he had appointed Count Nicholas Muraviev, later known as Muraviev-Amursky, one of his most capable and energetic advisers, to be governor-general of Eastern Siberia.

Muraviev-Amursky had promptly extended Russian settlements of Cossacks and freed convicts through the large area north of the Amur River. He established the town of Nikolaevsk at the mouth of the river in 1851. After China had become involved in war with France and England, Alexander decreed the creation of a new province, including the north Amur region. This was a blatant annexation of Chinese territory, but China was in no position to resist. Indeed, Muraviev-Amursky on his own initiative proceeded to negotiate the Treaty of Aigun with the Chinese commander of the region. The treaty provided for joint Russo-Chinese occupation of the lands from the Amur and the Ussuri Rivers to the Pacific coast.

Meanwhile, Admiral Putyatin had opened negotiations with the Chinese government, resulting in the Treaty of Tientsin, signed in June 1858, which conceded to the Russians the right to trade in certain Chinese ports and to maintain an embassy in Peking. England and France had just snatched similar rights from China. But then the Chinese government repudiated these agreements and renewed hostilities against France and England. Alexander sent General Nicholas Ignatiev to take over from Putyatin and to obtain confirmation of the Treaties of Aigun and Tientsin. Weakened by the war against England and France, China signed the Treaty of Pelting in 1860, ceding to Russia the lands between the Amur and Ussuri and the Pacific. Russia divided the large region into two provinces: the Amur with its administrative center at Blagoveshchensk, and Maritime Province with its center at Vladivostok, founded in 1860.

Alexander deserved the gratitude and support of his people. It shocked him to be the object of their bitter criticism and hostility. He had eased the shackles of his father’s rule, but the people had interpreted this as weakness. The people demanded greater freedom, and he rejected their demands as encroaching on his autocratic power. The landowners for the most part opposed the changes that destroyed their traditional privileges and that they considered politically dangerous. People of other classes were critical because the reforms - the emancipation of the serfs in particular - had fallen so far short of their expectations. The reforms suffered, too, from many defects in operation, especially because the old bureaucracy administered them. Not only were the bureaucrats grossly inefficient and corrupt; they were also unsympathetic to the reforms.

The liberals seemed to have expected the reforms to result in an overnight transformation of their country, and this made their disillusionment all the greater. They were, however, moderate in their demands. The ferment was greatest among the intelligentsia, and advocates of revolutionary and socialist programs became more vehement. Unrest broke out in the universities. Students demonstrated against regulations in Kiev in 1857 and more violently in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Socialist policies gathered greater support among them, encouraged in particular by Herzen’s publication Kolokol (The Bell), published by the Free Russian Press in London, which had a wide clandestine circulation in Russia. In the autumn of 1861, new regulations introduced by Admiral Putyatin, a severe disciplinarian, led to a massive student demonstration in St. Petersburg. Alexander had recalled him from the Far East and appointed him to serve as Minister of Education. Police and troops suppressed the rioters; they closed the university and held about 300 students in the St. Peter and St. Paul Fortress.

Alexander had been away from the city at the time. Angered by the brutality of the police and the imprisonment of the students, he had hurried back and had intervened personally. He had the students released and replaced both the Governor-General of the city and the Minister of Education. But his moderation did not quiet the unrest, which erupted again in the following year. A leaflet called Young Russia aggravated the ferment. It demanded radical policies that included elective national and provincial assemblies, dissolution of monasteries, and abolition of marriage. Serious fires broke out in various parts of the country a few weeks later, and fires destroyed about 2,000 shops and warehouses in St. Petersburg. Although authorities strongly suspected arson and there were no charges filed, many people blamed the Poles and the socialists. The fires intensified the general uneasiness and insecurity throughout the country.

Alexander reacted angrily to these disorders, and the government turned its attention to the press, closing some publications and prosecuting writers believed to be fomenting the troubles. Officials arrested Mikhailov, a poet responsible for producing radical leaflets, in September 1861 and sentenced him to penal servitude in Siberia, where he died four years later. The police next arrested Nicholas Dobrolyubov and Nicholas Chernyshevsky, who had displaced Herzen as spokesmen of the young Russian radicals. Both were sons of priests, highly intelligent and well educated. They believed in the socialist transformation of society. In The Contemporary, then the leading journal of the intelligentsia, they attacked the slowness and the inadequacy of the reforms. While in prison, Chernyshevsky wrote about his vision of Russia’s future in a novel under the title of What Is to Be Done? (Chto delaf). Published despite the censorship regulations, the book became one of the basic documents of the intelligentsia.

Opinion throughout Russia had generally favored the struggle of the liberal intelligentsia against the emperor and the government. But the outbreak of the fires and the Polish insurrection in January 1863 had hardened feelings against all radicals. However, a strong body of opinion was pressing for a national assembly. The constitutionalists were gaining wide support. Thirteen nobles of Tver went so far as to submit an address to the emperor, having printed and circulated it, calling for the convening of a national assembly that would represent all classes of the Russian people. Alexander was furious. He ordered the thirteen nobles to be imprisoned in the St. Peter and St. Paul Fortress; then a special court sentenced them to be detained in an insane asylum and to lose all civil rights. They spent only four days in the asylum, but they never regained their civil rights.

Alexander was not opposed to the principles of constitutional government and was prepared to concede that participation in government by popular representatives might have advantages. But he did not accept that this could ever apply to Russia. Like his father, Nicholas I, he believed fervently that God had appointed him and that he held his power in trust to be administered for the good of the nation. He could never share his special relationship with his people. In 1865 and again in 1866, the Zemstvo of St. Petersburg demanded that they needed a central Zemstvo office, similar to a national assembly. Alexander firmly rejected the proposal.

The agitation in the Polish provinces of Russia also disturbed Alexander at this time. The Poles were restless under Russia’s tutelage and eager to regain their freedom. In 1861, when Alexander began extending a degree of autonomy to Poland, it encouraged the Polish landowners who represented moderate opinion. But this did not satisfy nationalist Poles who could think only of a free Poland, restored to the boundaries of 1772. Tempers mounted, and in January 1863 rebellion broke out against Russian garrisons in Poland, Lithuania, and White Russia. The Poles were disappointed in the help they had expected from France, and the Russians finally suppressed the insurgents in 1864.

Alexander had tried to extend greater freedom to the Poles while maintaining Poland as part of the Russian Empire. He had dealt leniently with the nationalists, but he needed to revert to repression. He renamed the ten provinces of the Kingdom of Poland the Vistula Provinces and placed them under a Russian governor-general. He used stern measures to stamp out all signs of Polish nationality. Russian was the compulsory language of administration and education; even in the University of Warsaw, which reopened in 1869, Russian was the sole language of instruction.

By contrast, the Finns - always more skilled in managing their relations with Russia - accepted Alexander’s concessions and quietly but stubbornly pressed for a Diet and for autonomy. They were able to hold elections in 1863 and, when opening the Diet in September, Alexander declared: “in the hands of a wise nation . . . liberal institutions not only are not dangerous but are a guarantee of order and well-being.” Alexander provided the foundations upon which the Finns built their independence, and to the Finns he remained the tsar-liberator.

The unrest in Russia, insurrection in Poland, struggles over the emancipation statutes and other reforms, and the hostility directed against him personally oppressed Alexander. The gains in Central Asia and the Far East and also against Turkey were no compensation. When he returned to St. Petersburg from Warsaw in 1860, he was so exhausted that certain ambassadors thought that he was seriously ill. He lived in a state of tension, and it was easy to provoke him to anger. He also had troubles in his private life. He had retained in their privileged positions the small clique of his father’s favorites and had made his friends among them. It disappointed their many opponents at court when Alexander did not displace them upon his accession. Allegations of corruption among members of the clique and counterattacks against certain of those close to Alexander poisoned the atmosphere at court.

Empress Mary tried to offset the influence of those persons if she felt their advice was harmful to her husband. She also began to interest herself in state affairs. On retiring for the evening, she would read state papers and discuss proposed measures with him. Alexander respected her advice and often acted on it. But the clique of favorites, fearing her influence upon him, spread rumors that she was seeking to Germanize Russia. Her position became more difficult in the spring of 1857 when she was pregnant and Alexander became involved in an affair with one of her maids of honor, Princess Alexandrina Dolgorukaya. Members of the clique were quick to refer to the position of the princess as that of an official mistress. The empress, distressed by her husband’s infidelity, found fault with him, and for a time they were estranged.

Avoiding his wife and the palace, Alexander now sought refuge in the company of members of the clique. He had always been a keen hunter and was often away from the capital hunting bears or wolves. His wife, feeling neglected in the palace, recognized that she would have to overlook his frequent affairs if her marriage was to endure and she was to have any influence on him. She cultivated her friendships with other members of the imperial family, especially the Dowager Empress. With their help, the couple was able to reconcile. The imperial couple lived again as husband and wife, and she was able to influence and encourage him in his reforms.

In 1865, however, Alexander, then aged forty-seven, fell desperately in love with Princess Catherine Dolgorukaya, an attractive girl of eighteen. She became his mistress in the following year. He vowed that “at the first opportunity I will marry you: from now onward and forever I regard you as my wife before God.” Several times a week, the young princess would drive to the Winter Palace, enter by a hidden door to which she had the key, and would meet secretly with her lover. Soon their affair was the talk of the court and of the city. Catherine’s family took her to Italy in the hope that the infatuation would lessen. But they wrote to each other daily; in May 1867, when Alexander visited Paris, they met again. Soon afterward, she returned to St. Petersburg where he installed her in a luxurious apartment.

Most of the tsars had had several mistresses. Catherine II had had a series of young men as official favorites. People had always accepted the private life of the tsar without causing scandal or harming the prestige of the throne. But Alexander lacked the imperious self-confidence of so many of his predecessors, and he so mishandled this affair that it offended the court, split the imperial family, and damaged his authority. They respected the empress and felt sympathy for her predicament. The difference in the ages of Alexander and his mistress was the subject of harsh comment. The imperial family and especially Alexander’s sons, Nicholas and Alexander, later to be Alexander III, were bitterly antagonistic toward Catherine Dolgorukaya.

The affair took a more serious turn in May 1872 when Catherine gave birth to a son, christened Yury. Later she gave birth to three more children. The health of the empress was failing. Many discussed the possibility that Alexander would marry his mistress when the empress died and nominate her son as heir to the throne. The imperial family and nearly all at court supported Alexander as heir. This increased the isolation of the emperor from his family and his people.

The double life that Alexander was forced to lead created special problems for those responsible for protecting him. It was clear now that he needed close protection. One morning in April 1866, he was the object of an intended assassination while walking in the Winter Garden in St. Petersburg. Only the timely intervention of a bystander saved him. They arrested the would-be assassin, a young revolutionary named Dmitri Karakozov, who had been a student at Kazan and Moscow universities. They rounded up his associates; all of them were connected with the universities. They banished thirty-five of his associates and hanged Karakozov.

This attempt on his life frightened Alexander. It was easy for his advisers to persuade him that the universities - the breeding ground of revolutionary ideas – needed stricter control. He dismissed Golovnin, who had achieved so much as Minister of Education and appointed in his place Count D. A. Tolstoy, a strong reactionary and an enemy of academic freedom in any form. Tolstoy at once applied police methods to suppress all liberal and revolutionary ideas in the universities and to curtail the new programs in secondary education. He met with strong opposition from students and others, but authorities enforced his repressive policies.

The conservatives and nationalists were now firmly in power. In M. N. Katkov, moreover, they had an able journalist who had cast aside his early faith in liberal policies and constitutional government to promote conservative policies and militant Russian nationalism. The liberals became passive. The radicals went underground to work for political and social revolution.

At this time the intelligentsia began to produce a number of remarkable men, including Mikhail Bakunin, Sergei Nechaev, and Peter Lavrov. Bakunin, a nobleman of striking presence and personality, was the father of revolutionary anarchism. Among his disciples was Sergei Nechaev, a young fanatic who believed in complete dedication to the revolutionary ideal, and who first enunciated political terror as an essential tactic of revolution. Peter Lavrov was most influential at this stage. A professor of mathematics who had embraced the theories of Marx, Lavrov argued that the revolution must stem from the peasantry and the natural socialism of the commune because Russia had no proletariat. From the teaching of Lavrov and others, the Populists emerged as the foremost socialist group in the 1870s. Young radicals, their numbers swollen by the return on government orders of all Russian students in Switzerland, eagerly embraced their mission of “going to the people” to educate them politically. Starting in 1873, the movement developed into a crusade by the summer of 1874 when about 2,000 young radicals dressed as peasants flocked into the villages, expecting the peasants to embrace them as brothers. But they found only suspicion and hostility. Peasants even attacked them and handed them over to the police. Authorities arrested many and imprisoned them or banished them to Siberia.

Disillusioned by this experience, many Populists assembled in St. Petersburg in 1876 when they formed the first Russian revolutionary party or secret society, which later became known as Land and Liberty. They planned a more realistic movement to the people, but the significant development was the adoption of terrorism as a weapon against the regime. The spectacular trial of Vera Zasulich encouraged the use of terrorist methods. In January 1878, she fired at the military governor of St. Petersburg, General F. F. Trepov, and severely wounded him. Even though the evidence against her was conclusive, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. The whole city wildly celebrated the verdict.

Terrorists became more active, concentrating on the high officials whom they saw as special enemies. In August 1878, terrorists assassinated General N. V. Mezentsov, head of the security police; the following February, they assassinated the governor-general of Kharkov. On April 2, 1879, Alexander Solovyev, a member of Land and Liberty, fired five shots at the emperor but missed him. At a secret conference in Lipetsk in June 1879, representatives endorsed the policy of terror with the assassination of the emperor as their immediate objective. Land and Liberty now divided into two independent groups with the Peoples’ Will advocating immediate violent action.

Led by fanatical revolutionaries, the party planned at least seven attempts on the life of Alexander. In November 1879, they blew up the imperial train near Moscow. In February 1880, terrorists who posed as workmen managed to place a charge of dynamite in the banquet hall of the Winter Palace. Because the guest of honor, Prince Alexander of Bulgaria, was late, the emperor and his family had not yet entered the hall when the dynamite exploded.

The police seemed powerless to stop the daring and the increasing activity of the terrorists. This worsened the uneasiness in the capital and elsewhere in the country. Alexander himself became more indecisive and unsure of himself, as though feeling that he was doomed. He became cynical and mistrustful. He remarked, when told that someone had spoken ill of him, “Strange, I don’t remember ever having done him a favor; why then should he hate me?” He turned to Catherine and her children for comfort because only among them could he find the love that he craved. His great concern was to give her and their children security. Two months after the death of the empress in May 1880, he married Catherine and gave her the title of Princess Yurevskaya.

Meanwhile, the bold ventures of the terrorists in gaining entry to the Winter Palace and blowing up the Banquet Hall called for urgent action. Alexander presided over a conference of high officials lasting three days. The heir-apparent urged that they coordinate all government activities to fight the terrorists under one person. This proposal led to the creation on February 12 of the Supreme Executive Commission. Count M. T. Loris-Melikov, a former governor-general of Kharkov, who was generally popular, was president of the commission with quasi-dictatorial powers. He considered that it was essential to revive support for the government, especially among the liberals. Many Russians had resented the fact that Alexander had granted a liberal constitution in Bulgaria but not in Russia. Several Zemstvo assemblies requested powers and privileges like those the Bulgarians enjoyed. The repressive policies of Dmitri Tolstoy had antagonized all Russians.

The new policy that Loris-Melikov and his commission proposed and that he called “a dictatorship of the heart” sought to relax tension. He dismissed Tolstoy and dissolved Section III of His Majesty’s Own Chancery; a new department of the police under the Ministry of the Interior took its place.

Loris-Melikov announced further, with the approval of the emperor, that the reforms enacted earlier in the reign would continue as originally enacted. Another proposal was that an assembly of elected representatives of the Zemstvos and the city Dumas should gather to advise and assist the government in preparing new legislation. The new proposals did not amount to constitutional reforms, but they were important in seeking to bridge the gulf that had been growing between the government and the people. In August 1880, satisfied that the Supreme Executive Commission had fulfilled its function, Loris-Melikov dissolved it.

Liberals welcomed these proposals, seeing in them a step toward the constitutional reform that they considered essential. The revolutionaries, who had halted many of their activities pending the announcement of the Commission’s proposals, decided to renew their opposition and their policy of terror. They were now convinced that the only way they could provoke a revolution was to assassinate the emperor.

On the morning of March 1, 1881, Alexander gave his formal approval to the statutes, embodying Loris-Melikov^s proposals. He then left the palace to attend the Sunday parade, which he had not attended for three weeks in response to the pleas of his wife, Princess Yurevskaya. Now she asked him to avoid two streets that they later discovered the terrorists had mined. On his return journey, he drove in his sled along Catherine Street, which they had not closed to the public because of a police error. As the imperial sled passed along this street, a student named Rysakov threw a bomb. It exploded near the escort, wounding several Cossacks, but Alexander was unharmed. He stepped down from the sled to help the injured men. At that moment a Polish student, Hriniewicki, threw a bomb at Alexander’s feet. It exploded, shattering both his legs and mutilating his face and body. When his brother, Grand Duke Mikhail, came to his aid, he could only whisper: “Home to the palace to die there.” Held in his brother’s arms, they drove him back to the Winter Palace where Princess Yurevskaya, not knowing what had happened, was awaiting him, and there he died.

Alexander’s reign had been a time of momentous reforms. He had emancipated some 40 million serfs; he established a new legal system and the principle of equality before the law; he had abolished barbarous punishments; and he had sought to eliminate the arbitrary bureaucratic rule to which the people were prey. Like Peter the Great in the previous century, he had launched Russia on the road to modernization. But throughout the country, people didn’t seem to care about the news of his death. He had never been popular. He was too reserved to make any personal impact on his people, and his love for Princess Yurevskaya had damaged his reputation irreparably. But, in the words of the French ambassador, “He was a great Tsar and deserved a kinder fate.”


The Romanovs

Alexander III was tall, heavily built, and so strong that he could bend an iron bar in his bare hands. He did not possess great intellect or outstanding abilities, but he knew his intentions and had common sense as well as the talent to choose competent ministers. More important, he was a natural autocrat who expected to be obeyed. He was, in fact, the last of the Romanov autocrats.

As the second son of Alexander II, he had not expected to become tsar and had had no special training. With his brother, Nicholas, his education came from tutors led by Lieutenant General N. B. Zinoviev. One of these tutors was Constantine Pobedonostsev, a brilliant jurist and an extreme reactionary, who had great influence on him and would be a powerful force throughout his reign. Alexander was not a good pupil, compared with his clever brother. But this didn’t matter because everyone assumed that he would serve in the army, which was the usual function of the Grand Dukes.

In 1865, Alexander became heir to the throne after Nicholas died of consumption. He took a course on Russian history that S. M. Solovyev, the great historian, conducted. But in 1866 at the age of twenty-one, his education was complete and he was ready for marriage. His brother, Nicholas, had planned to marry Princess Sophie Frederica Dagmar of Denmark, and Alexander now became engaged to her. She became part of the Orthodox Church. Their marriage took place on October 28, 1866. Although arranged, the marriage was very happy. Alexander was sincerely devoted and faithful to his wife, who was a sympathetic companion. He had strict ideas on morality, and his own private life was free from scandal. Avoiding the formal court life of St. Petersburg, he lived much of the time in the seclusion of the imperial residence at Gatchina. There he could relax with his family and close friends. With them he was good-natured and jovial. He was fond of the theater and of music, and often during musical evenings he played the trombone. But he was also conscientious; he had an enormous capacity for work and never neglected his duties as emperor.

The assassination of his father made a deep and enduring impression on Alexander. He had strongly disapproved of his father’s long affair and subsequent marriage with Catherine, Princess Yurevskaya. But the liberal reforms had disturbed him most of all, and he saw the assassination as a demonstration of the evil of liberal and revolutionary ideas. He was not alone in this reaction. The murder of the tsar had sent a wave of horror through the country. It had destroyed the sympathy and support that so many Russians had felt for the populists and for liberal and revolutionary policies, and had strengthened the position of the conservatives and reactionaries. The mood of the Russian people encouraged the counter reforms, the chauvinism, and bigotry that would characterize the reign of Alexander III.

Like his father and grandfather, Alexander held sacred the principle of autocracy and the holy bond between the autocrat and his people. He was devoutly Orthodox in his personal faith. The Panslavists had influenced him when he was a young man, but then he had reacted strongly against the obstinate demands of the Balkan Slavs for democratic institutions. By the time he came to the throne, his outlook was narrowly and aggressively nationalistic. On a dispatch from his ambassador in Berlin he stated: “To exact from every situation all that is needed by or is useful to Russia, to disregard all other considerations, and to act in a straightforward and resolute manner. We can have no policy except one that is purely Russian and national; this is the only policy we can and must follow.”

Proclaiming that he would honor the example of his father, Alexander immediately had to deal with the statutes embodying Loris-Melikov’s liberal proposals. His father had given them his formal approval on the morning of March 1 before dying. Filial devotion made Alexander hesitate to renounce this last act. At a meeting of high officials on March 8, however, Pobedonostsev, the Chief Procurator of the Holy Synod and leader of reactionary opinion in Russia, attacked the proposals as an insult to the principle of autocracy. Alexander fully agreed with his criticism. He allowed the statutes to expire without further discussion.

Pobedonostsev confirmed his triumph in the imperial manifesto, which it was customary to issue on the accession of a new sovereign. He himself had drafted the manifesto, which Alexander approved.  The essence of the manifesto was contained in the declaration that:

“In the midst of our great grief God’s voice commands us to stand courageously at the helm of the government, relying upon Divine Providence, with faith in the power and truth of the autocracy which for the benefit of the people we are called upon to strengthen and guard from any encroachments.”

Loris-Melikov and A. A. Abaza, the Minister of Finance, resigned immediately because Alexander had not consulted them and this reactionary declaration shocked them. Dmitri Milyutin and Grand Duke Constantine soon also resigned. Alexander made the new appointments, following the advice of Pobedonostsev. He did not choose them from the extreme reactionaries. However, by May 1882, Dmitri Tolstoy, the hated Minister of Education whom Alexander II had dismissed, had become Minister of the Interior and Ivan Delyanov, a reactionary and friend of Tolstoy, had taken over the Ministry of Education.

Constantine Pobedonostsev was now the dominant influence behind the throne. He was close to Alexander and enjoyed his complete confidence. The publicist of the repressive policies of the new government was M. N. Katkov, the capable journalist who had been active in the previous reign. People read his articles in the Moscow News and admired them. Even Alexander read them regularly. Occasionally, Katkov allowed his chauvinistic fervor to have the upper hand, and his articles embarrassed the government, such as when he attacked the Russo-German alliance in 1887. But he could always count on the protection of Pobedonostsev.

One of the most urgent tasks of the new emperor and his ministers was to crush the revolutionaries and all political opposition. The police had acted promptly in rounding up all concerned with the assassination of Alexander II. On April 3, 1881, they hanged five young terrorists of the People’s Will publicly on the Semenovsky Square in the presence of a large crowd of troops, clergy, officials, and foreign diplomats. During the following months, they hunted down and imprisoned all members of the party still in Russia. In August 1881, the Law on Exceptional Measures extended the powers of the police. Enacted initially for three years, the law received a regular extension until 1917. This measure gave governors and police officials extraordinary powers in areas that needed special attention. In effect, it empowered the authorities to declare a state of emergency in such areas, which were then placed under the equivalent of martial law.

Censorship, which Loris-Melikov had planned to relax, became more repressive. Pobedonostsev had written to Alexander before his accession: “I believe that the government should not allow the control of the press to slip from its hands, that it should not relieve itself of this responsibility. To entrust it to the courts would give the press unbridled licence; this would cause great injury to the state and the people.” Censorship remained one of Pobedonostsev’s obsessions. As Chief Procurator of the Holy Synod, he was a member of the committee, set up by the new regulations, which had power to close any offending publication and to ban an editor from future activity.

Count Delyanov revived the restrictive policies in education that Dmitri Tolstoy had introduced under Alexander II. Tolstoy, Pobedonostsev, and Delyanov were in complete agreement that liberal policies in the schools and universities were the source of revolutionary agitation. They urged, too, that the Church should control all primary schools. Delyanov was able, however, to have only a few of the existing schools transferred to the Church. In the rural areas, where church schools competed with those maintained by the Zemstvos, the latter were superior.

He amended Golovnin’s statute of 1864, opening the secondary schools to all who passed the entrance examinations. In March 1881, Pobedonostsev reported to Alexander that “Unfortunately our gymnasiums aim at leading the students further and further to universities; hence the fallacious trend towards higher education, and those half-educated students who fail are doomed, having lost contact with the social environment to which they belong.” Delyanov raised the tuition fees to ensure that “Children of coachmen, servants, cooks, laundresses, small shopkeepers and the like” would have difficulty attending, and imposed other restrictions for the same reason. Education was once more a class privilege.

They introduced the restrictions that Tolstoy had tried to impose on the universities and that Alexander II had vetoed. The new code of 1884 deprived university councils of all authority, and universities came completely under the control of the Ministry of Education. Those in charge suppressed all student organizations and increased fees. They severely restricted and sometimes prohibited the admission of women to universities.

As Alexander recognized, the autocratic regime depended on the support of the landowning nobility, a group weakened by the reforms of the 1860s. He now took active steps to strengthen their economic and political standing. In 1885, he established the Nobles’ State Bank to provide mortgage credit on favorable terms as a “means of preserving for their posterity the estates in their possession.” The nobility made full use of the bank’s facilities, but even this aid failed to prevent the break-up of many large estates and their passing into the hands of merchants and the small class of wealthy peasants.

The Zemstvos, providing local government at district and provincial levels, were soon fighting for their existence. Tolstoy and Pobedonostsev disapproved of them, both because they were elective and because the 1864 statute prevented their domination by the nobility. The new statute, introduced in 1890, provided that the nobles would in the future have a fifty-seven percent majority of the delegates elected to most of the Zemstvos. At the same time, the statute severely restricted the electoral rights of the peasants. The governor had the authority to veto any act that he considered harmful to the interest of the state or the region. The Zemstvos could appeal to the Senate against a governor’s veto, but they usually threw out such appeals.

At the same time, the government brought the peasants more closely under the supervision of the nobility, partially reviving the patriarchal authority that landowners had wielded before the emancipation. The government achieved this by appointment of a “land captain” chosen from the nobility in each locality and confirmed by the Minister of the Interior. The land captains possessed extensive, almost dictatorial, powers over the communal life of the peasants. They even interfered in their private lives. In bondage to the commune and subject to the control of the land captains, the peasants were hardly better off than they had been as serfs.

The economic conditions of the peasants were certainly worse than under serfdom. The lands allocated in 1861 did not allow the majority to maintain themselves and their families; now both taxes and redemption payments burdened them. The natural increase in population, resulting in the subdivision of holdings into smaller, even more uneconomic, lots, further aggravated their hardships. The communes imposed the old methods of cultivation and thwarted efforts to improve cultivation. Peasants had no capital and in most areas they could not rent extra lands, because landowners discovered that the growth of markets for their produce at home and abroad was so profitable that they would not part with land, preferring to hire cheap peasant labor. Migration remained difficult, but many peasants sought work in the towns, and many more moved eastward into Siberia where land was plentiful.

The mass of the peasants remained in their villages, where conditions deteriorated so seriously that the government had to take action. A law of December 28, 1881, made the redemption of holdings of land compulsory; at the same time, it reduced redemption payments. It abolished a poll tax, introduced originally by Peter the Great. But peasants still needed to pay taxes out of proportion to their earnings. The government recognized the need to make more land available to them. It made it easier for the communes to rent state lands. In 1882, the government set up the Peasant Land Bank to help peasants buy land. It made loans to the wealthier peasants, who could be counted on to repay. The poor peasants, who were the great majority, did not benefit. Against the opposition of the landowners, new legislation facilitated and even encouraged migration to Siberia. S. J. Witte, the active and far-sighted Finance Minister appointed in August 1892, promoted this legislation.

There was still a need for bolder and more extensive reforms. The calamities that overtook the nation in 1891-1892 demonstrated the inadequacy of the measures the government had taken. Harvests had been poor during the 1880s, and in 1891 there was a total failure of crops. Famine and disease overwhelmed twenty provinces. The government was slow to organize relief, and the relief measures were too limited. But the liberals, and especially the students, worked devotedly to help the starving peasants. They came closer to the villages of rural Russia during this catastrophe than at any time during the Populists’ mission to the people. Moreover, the Zemstvos proved their worth, gaining a new moral authority and attracting wider support.

Conditions of workers in the towns were just as deplorable. The minor industrial boom of the 1870s had given way to a recession. Workers lost their jobs, wages fell, and strikes became frequent. The government stopped some of the worst abuses in the use of child labor in factories in 1882. They appointed factory inspectors who met with constant obstruction from the managers. Further legislation in 1884 brought considerable improvements in the working conditions. But, like the peasants, the workers still lived harsh, poverty-stricken lives.

Alexander III continued the policies adopted toward the end of Alexander II’s reign in trade and finance. High tariffs protected Russian industry from foreign competition. This policy added to the burdens borne by the mass of the people, but industry was able to earn vast profits. Witte introduced currency reforms and in 1897 adopted the gold standard, which attracted investment from abroad. The coal and iron industries expanded rapidly. Railway construction boomed and in 1891 the Trans-Siberian Railway got its start. Exports mounted, especially of grains, with the result that there was often not enough left for home consumption and the peasants suffered.

Russia appeared to be a most prosperous nation during these years, but the prosperity was on the surface and dependent on the people continuing to bear burdens of direct and indirect taxation and poverty. It was these intolerable burdens that caused the seeds of revolution to take root even though the revolutionary movement was inactive inside Russia at this time. The only notable revolutionary act was the attempt in March 1887 to assassinate Alexander III. The plot failed and five young university students received the death sentence. One of the five was Alexander Ulyanov, the elder brother of Lenin.

The chauvinism and bigotry of Alexander’s rule over the minority peoples matched the repressive policies that he imposed on his own people. Aggressive nationalism, called “official Russification,” led to widespread persecution. Again Pobedonostsev exercised a sinister influence. He was bitterly hostile to Jews, Poles, Russian dissenters, Roman Catholics, and Protestants. Like many Russians, he was obsessively suspicious of racial and religious minorities; he saw them as active threats to the unity of the Orthodox Russian Empire.

From the beginning of Alexander’s reign, the leaders enforced the Russification policy in Congress Poland. Teachers and students could speak only the Russian language in Polish schools. Roman Catholic Poles could not hold official positions. This repressive policy was evident in every area of Polish life. The Finns and the Baltic Germans and the people of Central Asia and the Caucasus had to tolerate similar regulations, enforced by governors-general with policy and, when necessary, troops.

Persecution awaited anyone who was not a member of the Russian Orthodox Church. They more or less tolerated the Schismatics, who in 1881 numbered as many as 13 million. Stundists, who were similar to Baptists, were subject to banning and severe punishment. The Dukhobors were those who rejected the Orthodox liturgy and sacraments and who refused to bear arms; Nicholas I had persecuted them during his reign, and Alexander III harassed them even more savagely.

Anti-Semitism, which had long been widespread, became an active policy under Alexander III. Many Russians blamed Jewish revolutionaries for the assassination of Alexander III’s father. In April 1881, the first pogrom (organized massacre of an ethnic group) took place. During the next few months, there were 215 pogroms in which police murdered Jews and destroyed their property. Alexander and his ministers officially condemned these excesses, but they condoned the pogroms in practice. They encouraged anti-Semitism in “dry pogroms,” which meant persecution without bloodshed. They further curtailed the rights of Jews.

Because of quotas, only a minimum number of Jewish children could obtain secondary and university education. Jews could not hold government service jobs or practice law.

In foreign affairs, Alexander departed from his father’s policy. He endorsed the terms of the revived League of the Three Emperors in June 1881. But it was an uneasy alliance. Russian and German interests conflicted in the Baltic, and Alexander actively disliked and mistrusted Germany, unlike so many of his predecessors. Gorchakov, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, shared this mistrust because he had never forgiven Bismarck for the part that Germany had played in the Congress of Berlin in 1878. However, he was an old man, and N. K. Giers, who succeeded him in April 1882, was more flexible and was a realist. Although Alexander claimed that he was his own foreign minister, Giers influenced policy and succeeded in restraining the emperor from chauvinistic ventures. Indeed, Giers deserved much of the credit for the fact that the reign of Alexander III was a period of peace, although not without its crises.

The first crisis, erupting in 1885, brought Russia close to war with England. The Russian advance south of the Sea of Aral toward Afghanistan had aroused English concern for the security of India. The violent anti-Russian feeling of earlier decades had quieted, however, and there was general agreement that a joint commission should decide on the delimitation of the Russo-Afghan frontier. Russia requested the suspension of the first commission, appointed in July 1884. Russian forces then advanced closer to Afghanistan, and on March 30, 1885, defeated the Afghans in a battle.

This incident aroused strong feeling in England because they regarded it as proof of Russian bad faith. Queen Victoria had appealed personally to Alexander to prevent a conflict with the Afghans. Actually, the battle had taken place in violation of his instructions, but the British leaders did not know this. Parliament approved 11 million pounds for war purposes and ordered reserves to be called up. But the storm passed. An Anglo-Russian commission reached agreement on the northwestern frontier of Afghanistan on September 10, 1885.

The crisis that developed over Bulgaria was more serious and disrupted the alliance between Russia, Austria, and Germany. The Treaty of Berlin had provided for Russian occupation of Bulgaria for only nine months. But Alexander III considered that country a vassal state and assumed that its prince, Alexander of Battenberg, the nominee of his father, would obey his wishes. But neither the prince nor his people would accept subordination to the Russian Emperor. Relations between Russia and Bulgaria became strained. Then, in September 1885, as the result of a coup, Eastern Rumelia united with Bulgaria under Prince Alexander, who became a national hero to the Bulgarian people.

Alexander was furious because the prince had not consulted him about these events. He struck the name of the prince from the Russian army list and recalled all Russian officers from the Bulgarian army. In August 1886, against the advice of Giers, he supported a palace revolution that forced Prince Alexander to abdicate. But Russia failed to secure the election of a new prince who would advance Russian interests. The arrogance and interference of the Russians had antagonized all Bulgarians, and they rallied in support of the Austrian candidate, Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg, who became Prince of Bulgaria. Alexander III refused to recognize him, and relations between Russia and Bulgaria did not resume until after his death.

During the Bulgarian crisis, anti-German and anti-Austrian feeling had become intense among all Russians. The Russian press, and Katkov in particular, had published violent attacks on both allies. Alexander angrily told Giers that there could be no renewal of Russia’s alliance with either country. But then, recognizing the dangers of Russia’s isolation, he agreed to the negotiation of a treaty with Germany. Bismarck welcomed this because the anti-German stand of the Russian press had disturbed him and he feared that Russia and France would become allies. Representatives signed a secret Russo-German treaty on June 12, 1887. But despite mutual assurances of goodwill, relations between the two nations were still strained. While Bismarck remained in power, there was no fear of a complete rupture. But in March 1888, the aged Emperor William I died and his successor, William II, felt no emotional attachment to Russia. When the new German Emperor paid a state visit to Russia and Alexander reluctantly returned the visit later, it was obvious that the two monarchs didn’t share the same opinions. In March 1890, Bismarck unwillingly resigned. German policy was now to strengthen the alliance with Austria and to cultivate England’s friendship. When, later in 1890, the date for the renewal of the Russo-German alliance approached, the German ambassador politely informed Giers that he would not extend the alliance.

The lapse of the alliance did not greatly disturb Alexander, but it took all of Giers’ persuasion to overcome his aversion to alliance with France, the home of revolution and republicanism. Giers had the same prejudice against France. But with the collapse of the alliance with Germany, Russia was friendless and isolated, and alliance with France was the obvious alternative. Already, in 1888, France was providing Russia with military equipment, and French bankers and industrialists were taking an active part in Russia’s economic development. Commercial relations paved the way for closer political understanding. In July 1891, the French fleet stopped at Kronstadt and received a warm welcome. Negotiations for an alliance began soon afterward. Representatives signed a military convention in August 1892, but they did not finalize the terms of the alliance until January 4, 1894. This alliance committed Russia to extend military aid to France if Germany or Italy with German support attacked France, and committed France to render similar aid to Russia if Germany or Austria-Hungary with German support attacked Russia.

Alexander had always impressed everyone with his great strength, energy, and robust health. It seemed impossible that such a man could fall ill. In 1894, however, he began to suffer from insomnia, migraines, and weakness in the legs. Doctors prescribed rest in the warm climate of the Crimea. Alexander decided to go to his country residence at Spala in Poland. His condition worsened and a specialist brought from Vienna diagnosed nephritis. This time Alexander agreed to retire to the Crimea.

At first the warmth and sunshine brought improvement, but then his health began to decline. His family surrounded him, including his son, Grand Duke Nicholas, and his fiancee, Alix, Princess of Hesse-Darmstadt. Alexander received her in his bedroom, sitting in a chair and wearing full-dress uniform. He had insisted on being properly attired to receive the future Empress of Russia. During the next ten days his strength slowly ebbed, and he died on October 20, 1894.


The Romanovs

Nicholas II, the last of the Romanovs, bore some resemblance to Tsar Mikhail who had begun the dynasty’s rule three centuries earlier. Both were gentle and devout men, and both had ascended the throne reluctantly. But their fates were quite different.

Mikhail had had the active support of his father, Filaret, and the Russian people had rallied around him in order to survive as a nation. Nicholas had succeeded on the death of his father, who had not prepared him for the throne and had burdened him with a reactionary heritage. While the people still needed their tsar as the center of national unity, they were now straining desperately to break away from the feudal institutions that shackled their lives. It was a time when the tide carrying Russia into the twentieth century was flowing strongly, and he tried to resist it.

Tsar Mikhail had established the dynasty and had enabled it to take root. Tsar Nicholas allowed the autocratic regime to collapse about him and was responsible for the extinction of the dynasty.

Nicholas was born on May 6, 1868, the eldest of Alexander III’s five children. He was a shy, gentle boy, devoted to his mother, who closely supervised the upbringing of her children. His father, immersed in affairs of state, spent little time with his children. His great size, gruff voice, and autocratic manner made his children fear him. Nicholas was in awe of his father and revered him as a god. Even as a small boy, it troubled Nicholas that one day he would have to succeed him. He felt that he would never be able to measure up to his father’s standards and to rule with the same authority. He regretted that the first-born son of his parents, Alexander, had died in infancy, because he would have been heir to the throne.

Nicholas studied under private tutors. He was a diligent pupil and a good linguist, speaking Russian, English, French, German, and some Danish. But the dominant force in his education was Constantine Pobedonostsev, who had been his father’s tutor and then Chief Procurator of the Holy Synod. Pobedonostsev had become even more bigoted and reactionary as he had aged, and he instilled in Nicholas the blind faith in autocracy and Orthodoxy that he never lost. The assassination of Alexander II had further entrenched this lesson in Nicholas’s mind. A boy of thirteen at the time, Nicholas never forgot this tragic event. After servants had carried the shattered body of the emperor into the Winter Palace, Nicholas had gone with other members of the imperial family into the room to say goodbye to his grandfather. The grim drama of the occasion, intensified by the mutilation of the face and body of the dying man, had left an indelible impression. Pobedonostsev had stressed to him that this horror was the result of liberal and constitutional reforms.

Nicholas was nearly twenty-two when his formal education came to an end. He was short and slender in build, but handsome, and he had a gentle charm and goodness of heart that gained him friends. He enjoyed army life and attended summer maneuvers with the Imperial Guard. Although he was heir to the throne, he had few duties and went to theaters and balls like other young officers. In the spring of 1890, he became attracted to Mathilde Kschessinska, a young dancer in the Imperial Ballet, and began to see her regularly. In October, Nicholas and his brother, George, went on a nine-month cruise, which included visits to Egypt, India, Southeast Asia, and Japan. While in Japan, a Japanese man suddenly attacked him with a sword for no apparent reason. The gash in his forehead was superficial, but the incident might have strengthened his strong prejudice against the country and its people. In Vladivostok, he laid the first stone of the eastern terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railways.

On his return to St. Petersburg, Nicholas resumed his few functions at court and his attendance at meetings of the committee of ministers and the State Council. He took little interest in these activities, and his father did not bother to involve him further in government affairs. Count Witte, the Minister of Finance, proposed that Nicholas should serve as chairman of the Siberian Railways Company. This proposal astonished Alexander III. “He’s a mere boy,” he said. “His judgements are truly childish: how can he be chairman of a committee?”

Although he was twenty-four years old, Nicholas was young for his age. Believing that he would reign for many years, Alexander may have been waiting for him to mature. But he did not even keep him informed on subjects of major national interest. Nicholas didn’t learn about the existence of the Franco-Russian alliance and other important matters until after his accession.

Meanwhile Nicholas had resumed his friendship with Kschessinska, who had become very fond of him. But he also felt an attraction to Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt, the younger sister of Grand Duchess Elizabeth, wife of Grand Duke Sergei, Nicholas’s uncle. He met her when she visited Russia to stay with her sister; it was during her visit in 1889 that he fell in love with her. Early in 1894, Nicholas told Kschessinska that he planned to propose to Princess Alix, and they ended their relationship.

Alix was tall, fair haired, and intense. She had not made a favorable impression on the high society of St. Petersburg. She lacked elegance, danced poorly, spoke French indifferently, and was awkward in company. She had been a happy child until at the age of six she had lost her younger sister and then her mother from diphtheria. She became solemn and withdrawn, and she would always be shy and ill at ease in company. Her mother, Princess Alice, had been the daughter of Queen Victoria, who had virtually adopted the grandchildren; Alix was her favorite. The queen took special interest in the welfare and education of her grandchildren and was especially happy about the rapid progress of Alix, who was intelligent and musical. Regarding the old queen as a mother, and making frequent visits to England, it was natural that she should have become, as one contemporary described her, “in the deepest sense a Victorian gentlewoman.”

Because Nicholas’s parents were both staunchly anti-German, they were upset when he asked permission to marry Princess Alix. They suggested that either Princess Margaret of Prussia or Princess Helene, daughter of the Comte de Paris, Pretender to the throne of France, would be a more suitable bride. Nicholas was relieved when both princesses declared that they were unwilling to embrace Orthodoxy, because this meant that his parents could not press either proposal. Alexander’s illness early in 1894 made his parents more anxious to see Nicholas married and settled with his wife before he succeeded to the throne. As a result, they reluctantly agreed that he could propose to Alix.

In the spring of 1894, the wedding of Ernst, Grand Duke of Hesse-Darmstadt, the elder brother of Alix, brought most of the royalty of Europe to Coburg. Queen Victoria herself attended and Nicholas, accompanied by three of his uncles, represented the Russian Emperor. Alix was at the railway station to greet him when he arrived; he proposed on the following day. But she dissolved into tears, declaring that she could not renounce her Protestant faith to embrace Orthodoxy, which was necessary before she could marry the heir to the Russian throne. She was desperately earnest in everything she did, and changing her religion made her conscience-stricken. But the persuasions of Nicholas, supported by those of Queen Victoria and of her own sister who had voluntarily adopted the Orthodox faith, finally overcame her scruples. She accepted his proposal the next day. Deeply in love, the young couple enjoyed their remaining days together in Coburg. In June, Nicholas and Alix reunited in England where Granny, as they called Queen Victoria, lavished affection on them. The six weeks spent together in England were among the happiest in their lives; in the years to come, they would fondly recall incidents from their carefree sojourn in the English countryside.

On his return to Russia, Nicholas learned that his father’s health was declining. He wanted to go to Germany to be with Alix, but dutifully he accompanied his father and the rest of the family to Livadia in the Crimea. When it became clear that the emperor was seriously ill, Alix traveled to the Crimea so that she could meet him and be with Nicholas. For the young couple it was a harrowing experience, but they were able to comfort each other. Nicholas needed her support at this time. He had always lived in dread of his succession to the throne. On the day of his father’s death, he felt overwhelmed and inadequate. “What is going to happen to me, to you, to Xenia, to Alix, to all Russia?” he exclaimed to Alix’s brother, who had accompanied her. “I am not prepared to be the Tsar. I never wanted to become one. I know nothing of the business of ruling. I have no idea of even how to talk to ministers.”

On November 14, 1894, one week after the formalities of Alexander III’s funeral, Nicholas married Alexandra Fedorovna, the name she received through baptism in the Orthodox Church. They loved each other passionately and remained completely united throughout the twenty-three years of their marriage. But this harmonious union eventually would give rise to terrible tragedy.

Alexandra became the dominant influence in Nicholas’s life. She was a dedicated wife and mother, but frantic and inflexible. After deep searching of heart and conscience, she had embraced Orthodoxy with the extreme fervor of a convert. She had no understanding of Russia or of the court. In comparison to the gaiety and easy charm of Nicholas’s mother, the Dowager Empress, Alexandra’s reserve and unbending dignity made her unpopular in the court. When she married Nicholas, she became a chauvinistic Russian nationalist who was dedicated to the principle of autocracy. Ill at ease at court and jealous of her mother-in-law, who took precedence over her, she was lonely in St. Petersburg. But she was anxious, too, about Nicholas. “I weep and worry all day long,” she wrote to a friend, “because I feel that my husband is so young and inexperienced.” A woman of great courage and inflexible prejudices, she felt it was her duty to give him strength and ensure that he ruled as autocrat. She advised him and in later years interfered more and more in matters of government. Devoted but misguided, she played the major role in the tragedy of his reign and the extinction of the dynasty.

On the accession of Nicholas, many Russians hoped for some relaxation of the repressive rule of his father. Nicholas destroyed such hopes at the first opportunity. On January 17, 1895, when addressing an assembly of Zemstvo delegates, he said:

“I am happy to see the delegates of all social classes assembled here to express their feelings of loyalty. I believe in the sincerity of those sentiments which have always been characteristic of the Russians, but I am aware that lately there have been in certain Zemstvo assemblies raised voices of certain persons who have permitted themselves to be carried away by the senseless dream of participation by Zemstvo representatives in internal government. Let all know that, in devoting all my strength on behalf of the welfare of my people, I shall defend the principles of autocracy as unswervingly as my deceased father.”

He evidently believed that the nation would continue in the same obedient and loyal mood as under his father’s rule. He had little inkling of the ferment seething beneath the surface of Russian life.

The liberals had grown in number and in authority since the famine years of 1891-1892. Working together for the relief of the peasants and other poor, they had found a sense of common purpose. They were no longer prepared to accept the rule of the autocrat and of the massive bureaucratic machine that had proved so inadequate. Conditions on the land were growing worse and further crop failures occurred in 1897, 1898, and 1901, adding to the urgency of the problem. Unrest was increasing also in Russia’s expanding industries, and strikes were frequent. The revolutionaries were organizing in the Social Democrat Party and the Socialist Revolutionary Party, but they were not yet active and their influence was negligible.

Nicholas’s declaration of autocracy antagonized many of his subjects. In addition, there were many calamities during his reign that made the people think of this mild and kindly man as a cruel tyrant. The first calamity happened on May 18, 1896, the day after his coronation in Moscow. He scheduled the traditional banquet for the people on the Khodynka Field outside Moscow. By dawn about 500,000 people had gathered to feast and drink to the health of their new sovereign. Suddenly, someone started a rumor that there would not be enough beer and food, and there was a stampede. The thousands of people pressing forward pushed aside the squadron of Cossacks who were trying to keep order. As men, women, and children fell, the large crowds rushing over them trampled them into the muddy ground. By the time police and troops finally arrived, there were thousands of bodies of people killed or injured lying on Khodynka Field.

This tragedy shattered Nicholas and Alexandra, and he wanted to retreat to a monastery to pray. He said that he could not attend the ball at the French embassy on that evening, but his uncles insisted that he must go. It was bad advice. Word spread among the people that the emperor and empress had danced while Russia was in mourning. Although during the following days, they both visited the injured in hospitals and Nicholas did what he could to help the families of the dead, the people did not forget Khodynka Field. It was considered a bad omen.

During the early years of his reign, demonstrations against the tsar and his government became so violent and widespread that it was difficult to suppress them. The universities became stormy centers of unrest, and police and troops acted with brutal severity. Russians in increasing numbers everywhere took part in secret political gatherings to work for reforms. A small number were revolutionaries, but few even among the moderates would cooperate with the police or with government officials. The number of people charged with political crimes rose from 1,580 in 1900 to 5,590 in 1903, and these figures did not include the many cases of administrative arrest and exile. Workers came out on strike in waves. Violent strikes broke out in Rostov in 1903 and spread like a forest fire across southern Russia from Odessa to Baku. The peasants, unpredictable and at times like a destructive elemental force, set fire to the houses and barns of landowners and murdered all who came in their path.

Terrorism was soon on the increase. In February 1901, a Socialist Revolutionary terrorist assassinated N. P. Bogolepov, the Minister of Education. It was the first political murder of Nicholas’s reign. In the following month, there was an attempt made on the life of Pobedonostsev, the man most hated by liberals and revolutionaries alike. Terrorists killed D. S. Sipyagin, Minister of the Interior, in April 1902. In other parts of the country, the terrorists chose as their victims the governors and high officials known for their severity.

Nicholas reacted uncertainly. He wanted to appoint men who would exercise firmness. But he was haphazard and usually mistaken in his choice of ministers. More and more under the influence of his wife, he chose the most reactionary. To succeed as Minister of the Interior, he appointed Vyacheslav Plehve, a narrow police bureaucrat who had won recognition by bringing to justice all those who had been involved in the murder of Alexander II. Plehve acted energetically. He was virulently anti-Semitic and forged the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Supposedly, these were the plans prepared by the Zionist Congress of 1897 for the domination of the world by the Jews. He was primarily responsible for the increased persecution of the national minorities, especially the Finns, Poles, and Armenians. But he was most active in promoting police action. His agents infiltrated every political group in Russia and among emigrants abroad. They provided detailed reports on Lenin and the Bolsheviks, who were then organizing in Western Europe. A terrorist’s bomb killed Plehve in July 1904. But during his short term in office, he had wielded a sinister influence and had aggravated unrest throughout Russia.

Bewildered by the growing threat of revolution, Nicholas allowed himself to be drawn into a policy of aggrandizement that led to war against Japan. He hoped that the prospect of annexing Manchuria would surely distract the people from their general unhappiness. He listened to the advice of Plehve who argued that “a small victorious war” would take away his troubles. But this war would prove to be a humiliating disaster.

After the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, revealing the weakness of China and the emergence of Japan as a new power, Russian ambitions in the Far East had quickened. China had agreed to cede the Liaotung Peninsula to Japan. After China appealed to them for help, Russia - supported by France and Germany - brought pressure to bear on Japan to restore the peninsula to China. In the following year, Witte took advantage of the presence of the Chinese chief minister at the coronation of Nicholas to exact the price for Russia’s intercession. This price was alliance with Russia against Japan and rights to continue the Trans-Siberian Railways across northern Manchuria to Vladivostok with a branch line from Harbin to Mukden and Dalny. In further negotiations two years later, Witte secured a twenty-five-year lease of the southern tip of the Liaotung Peninsula with rights to establish a naval base at Port Arthur and a commercial port at Dalny.

The possibility that Russia would now seize Manchuria and dominate the Far East alarmed other powers. Fearing an attack from Russia, Japan formed an alliance with Britain. The United States made clear its dislike of Russian policy in the Far East. Such strong opposition disturbed Nicholas and his ministers. Nicholas suddenly dismissed Witte, the practical politician who recognized the dangers of the situation and urged caution. Instead, he chose to listen to Plehve, who discounted all the risks and held that a small emerging power like Japan would not dare to attack the greatest land power in the world. His arguments emboldened Nicholas, who was eager to prove himself as a strong tsar but understood little about world affairs. While many governments saw clearly that war between Russia and Japan was imminent, he was evidently blind to the danger.

On the night of February 8-9, 1904, the Japanese attacked without warning. They were counting on a quick victory while they had superior forces in the Far East. They virtually immobilized the Russian naval squadrons in Port Arthur and Vladivostok. The main Japanese army landed in Korea in April and gained a clear victory against the small Russian force holding the line of the Yalu River. At Nanshan in the following month, they again defeated the Russians, whom they outnumbered by ten to one. With those victories, they effectively cut off the Russian garrison in Port Arthur from Manchuria.

On August 25, the Japanese engaged the main Russian force at Liaoyang. They intended this to be the decisive battle of the war, but the Russians withdrew in good order even though the Japanese defeated them. Realizing that the Japanese were nearing the end of their resources, Kuropatkin took the offensive. But the battles fought in October and then in January 1905 were costly and indecisive. Meanwhile, the small Russian garrison in Port Arthur had bravely fought off repeated Japanese attacks. However, after Kondratenko’s death, Strossel became his successor and treacherously surrendered. Defeated in the battle of Mukden, the Russians retreated to the North. Russian prestige suffered a final devastating blow in the Straits of Tsushima on May 27. The Russian Baltic Fleet, commanded by Admiral Rozhestvensky, had sailed from Kronstadt to assert Russian naval superiority in the Far East but suffered numerous mishaps on the long voyage. When the fleet finally reached the China Sea, the Japanese navy, commanded by Admiral Togo, annihilated them.

Japan had failed, however, to win a quick and decisive victory. With Japan’s economy strained by the war, the troops now had to face the Russian forces massing in Manchuria. Russians had resented the war from the start as a costly, unnecessary venture resulting from the incompetence of the tsar and his ministers. The humiliating defeats had merely demonstrated their lack of skill, and the citizens were demanding peace.

Alarmed by the unrest and criticism, Nicholas grasped at the offer of mediation that President Theodore Roosevelt made. He recalled Witte to conduct the negotiations with the Japanese, and he handled them with skill. By the Treaty of Portsmouth, signed on September 5, 1905, Russia had to surrender to Japan the Liaotung Peninsula, give up half of Sakhalin, evacuate Manchuria, and acknowledge Korea as a Japanese sphere of interest. The Amur and the Maritime Provinces would remain in Russian hands.

In January 1905, when public anger over the disasters in the Far East was mounting, a calamity in St. Petersburg irreparably damaged Nicholas’s position and authority as tsar. A strike in the Putilov works had spread until it involved all workers in the capital. They were not interested in the slogans of the Social Democrats or the socialist revolutionaries; they looked to Father Georgii Gapon, an Orthodox priest, as their leader. Gapon was a devious, excitable man who had organized the St. Petersburg Society of Russian Factory and Workshop Workers; he was also a police agent.

Addressing a mass meeting on January 20, Gapon declared that the workers must march in procession to the Winter Palace and present a petition to the tsar that listed their demands. He grew more excited as he spoke. He said that they would force their way through the palace gates, if necessary. “If the troops fire on us, we will defend ourselves. Part of the troops will then come over to us. We will then make a revolution. We will build barricades . . . The Socialist Revolutionaries have promised us bombs . . . We will win through!”

Gapon notified the Minister of the Interior that the procession would take place and assured him that it would be a peaceful demonstration. He also sent him a note of the demands to be presented to the tsar; their demands included full civil and political freedom and a constituent assembly. But the police agents who had heard his inflammatory speech had reported that the procession would not be peaceful; it would be a violent revolutionary demonstration. Nicholas and his family were at Tsarskoe Selo, not at the Winter Palace. But the ministers and the police ordered military and police reinforcements because they feared that Gapon’s workers would take over the city.

On the morning of Sunday, January 22 – later referred to as “Bloody Sunday” - workers gathered from all parts of the city for the procession to the Winter Palace. Many had their wives and children with them. Resplendent in Orthodox robes and with ikons carried on either side of him, Gapon led the great crowd. The workers were orderly and peaceful, and many carried ikons and portraits of the tsar. But as the crowd surged forward, the authorities became fearful because they thought the workers had bombs. In the approaches to the palace, military and police detachments called on them to halt. But with the momentum of their numbers, they continued to move forward. In the square before the palace, troops and police lost control and began firing into the crowd. They killed many and wounded hundreds. The cries of the injured and dying and the screams of the women and children echoed through the city, as the people scattered.

The news of this massacre of innocent people sent a wave of horror through the country. Many believed that the tsar had deliberately ordered his troops to shoot down helpless men, women, and children, who had gathered to present a loyal and humble address. The people had always cherished their tsar. Even in the midst of the violent unrest of the nineteenth century, most citizens – except for a few extremists – had admired the tsar as the protector of his people. The tragic events of Bloody Sunday damaged this traditional image of the tsar. Gapon, who had made his escape unharmed, later told Lenin, “We have no Tsar any more. Rivers of blood separate the Tsar from the people.”

Nicholas was confused, as he had been after the tragedy of Khodynka Field. Reports of the hostility of his people toward him now alarmed him. He sincerely loved them as a father and protector but discovered that many thought he was a monster. He tried to make amends by ordering payments of compensation to families of the dead and wounded, and by appointing a commission to investigate the workers’ complaints. It was too late to undo the damage. The change in the traditional attitude of the people toward their tsar weakened one of the main foundations on which the regime rested.

After the assassination of Plehve in July 1904, Nicholas had intended to appoint a successor who would pursue the same repressive policies. But he finally selected Prince Svyatopolk-Mirsky, a liberal and a man of integrity who commanded respect. This appointment opened a new period, known as the “Russian Spring,” when the liberals organized themselves more effectively. A conference of Zemstvos in St. Petersburg in November 1904 approved a petition to the tsar that requested full civil liberties for all classes, including the national minorities, and the creation of a national assembly. Nicholas told the Zemstvos to stop discussing political matters but said that he intended to grant some reforms. Nevertheless, all progressive elements in Russia confirmed their strong support for the proposals of the Zemstvo conference. Lawyers, teachers, doctors, authors, and other professions came together in unions. In the following years, they united in the Union of Unions under the chairmanship of P. N. Milyukov, a historian and an outstanding liberal. The pressure of the demands for constitutional government was becoming irresistible.

Meanwhile, following the massacre of Bloody Sunday and the news of the shameful surrender of Port Arthur to the Japanese, violence and unrest erupted again. On February 17, 1905, a terrorist assassinated Grand Duke Sergei in the Kremlin in broad daylight. The Grand Duke had been a harsh reactionary; even his own cousin had written: “Try as I will, I cannot find a single redeeming feature in his character.” But Nicholas felt now that firmer control had to be exerted. He dismissed Svyatopolk-Mirsky and appointed Alexander Bulygin as Minister of the Interior. He told Bulygin to prepare a plan whereby “the most worthy persons should be elected to share in the drafting and discussion of laws.” But the imperial decree, proclaimed on August 17 enacting Bulygin’s law, provided only for a consultative body with minimal powers.

Agitation grew for a constituent assembly with real powers. Late in September, spontaneous strikes spread from printers in Moscow and St. Petersburg to railway workers, teachers, and other professions until the whole country was at a standstill. In desperation, Nicholas turned for advice to Witte, who had just returned from a peace negotiation with Japan. Witte faced him bluntly with two alternatives: a military dictatorship, with which he would not be associated, or the granting of civil rights and of an elected Duma or council that would need to approve any proposed law. Nicholas hesitated, but he knew that he had no choice because a military dictatorship would lead inevitably to a bloody civil war.

On October 30, an imperial manifesto proclaimed the granting of civil rights, the institution of a Duma in the election with all classes participating, and the guarantee that the consent of the Duma would precede the enactment of all laws, including decrees of the tsar. This October manifesto amounted to a revolution, and all Russians welcomed it because it established the beginnings of a parliamentary democracy and of a constitutional monarchy.

On July 30, 1904, Nicholas and Alexandra were overjoyed by the birth of Tsarevich Alexei. Between 1894 and 1901, Alexandra had given birth to four daughters, but they had longed for a son who would ensure the continuity of the dynasty.

Nicholas and Alexandra were devoted parents who gave a lot of attention to their children without spoiling them. In spite of the opulent surroundings of the palace and the innumerable servants and attendants, their family lived lives of ordered simplicity. With the birth of Alexei, they felt themselves to be a complete and united family.

But ten weeks after his birth, they learned that he suffered from the fearful, incurable disease of hemophilia.

This news devastated Alexandra because she had prayed earnestly that she might produce an heir to the throne of her beloved Nicholas. But she adored the boy and dedicated herself to protecting him. Nicholas, too, loved the boy and gave his wife tender and patient support. But the illness of his son greatly disturbed him and increased the sense of fatalism that he had sensed since his accession. He was certain that he would always have trials and tragedy in his life.

Alexandra had leanings toward the occult. When desperate for a son, she had turned to a certain “Dr. Philippe” from Lyons and, although he had been prosecuted in France for practicing medicine without being qualified, he had quickly gained her confidence. In 1902, he had persuaded her that she was again pregnant, and the court had made the customary announcement. When she realized that it was a false alarm, Dr. Philippe had to leave Russia. Alexandra nevertheless retained her faith in his powers. But now that she was seeking a miracle to save the life of her son and, obsessively devout and given to superstition, she was easy prey for cranks and charlatans.

On November 1, 1905, Nicholas made the fateful entry in his diary: “We have got to know a man of God, Grigori, from the Tobolsk region.” Like many Russian peasants, he had no surname; from an early age, they had called him Rasputin, meaning “the debauched.” He had had to flee from Tobolsk as a young man and for some years had roamed through Russia as a penitent who searched for truth and salvation. People revered him as a holy man; he lived on charity and had a certain freedom and authority so that he spoke to all, including the tsars, with simple bluntness. Rasputin had wandered as far afield as the Balkans and had twice made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Late in 1903, he made a strong impression when he appeared at the Theological Academy in St. Petersburg. He had learned to read and write during his wanderings and had also acquired some theological knowledge. Many thought that he had great powers of healing and prophecy. The Bishop of Saratov, Hermogen, and the Inspector of the Academy, Archimandrite Feofan, both eminent and saintly men, gave him their blessing and support.

Rasputin was sturdily built, of medium height with pale skin, long greasy hair and beard, bushy eyebrows overhanging steely gray eyes, and an unpleasant odor because he never bathed. He was a typical Russian peasant in many ways. He combined cruelty and kindness, cunning and innocence, viciousness and piety; he was a drunkard and a crude sensualist, but he also had a capacity for religious devotion and mystic feeling. He was a man of extremes and seemed to have evolved the dangerous creed that, because repentance alone could secure salvation, it was needful to sin in order to repent. But he was not entirely a charlatan; he seemed to have healing powers. On several occasions when doctors were powerless, as the tsarevich lay bleeding or writhing in agony from internal hemorrhage, Rasputin alone was able to give relief.

Alexandra lived in fear of every cut and fall that might threaten her son with death. She spent hours alone in her chapel, praying for a miracle, and believed that Rasputin was the man sent by God in answer to her prayers. She believed in him completely and revered him as a holy man. His drunken sexual orgies gave rise to terrible scandals. He seemed to take special pleasure in degrading ladies of the nobility. But women put up with his gross sensuality and poor treatment. One of his victims turned on him, stabbing him in the abdomen, but he recovered quickly. Alexandra rejected such scandals angrily. She simply refused to believe that he was corrupt and evil.

Nicholas also accepted Rasputin as a holy man. He had witnessed his power to relieve the suffering of his son. But he was less of a fanatic than his wife and was not blind to some of Rasputin’s failings. At the same time, he saw in him not only a man of God but also a true Russian peasant. This was important to him, for after the revolution of 1905 that culminated in the October manifesto, he had retired with his family from the Winter Palace to live quietly at Tsarskoe Selo, fourteen miles away. He was content in his quiet family circle but increasingly felt isolated from his people. He welcomed Rasputin because he felt that through him he was in contact with the peasant masses.

Rasputin was soon wielding a powerful influence over Alexandra, and Nicholas condoned their relationship. Rasputin had convinced her that while he lived the tsarevich could not die. His sinister power over her was soon so great that she felt that he needed to guide her in everything, including the policies that she should encourage her husband to follow. Unwilling to distress his wife, Nicholas usually accepted the advice even when he was not convinced that it was right. The time soon came when the empress and Rasputin were virtually ruling Russia.

The experiment in democracy under the new constitution, provided by the October manifesto, gave rise to furious activity. The people hurriedly formed political parties and held elections. The first Duma opened on May 10, 1906. The constitution provided for an upper house, formed by enlarging the State Council, established by Alexander I in 1810, and an elected lower house, which was the Duma. It introduced the cabinet system in which the Prime Minister was responsible for his ministers; he would give the tsar recommendations, and the tsar then would make the appointments. The constitution had many faults. Article 87 in particular empowered the government to make laws to deal with any emergency when the Duma was not sitting. However, they had to resubmit such laws for the Duma’s approval within two months after its reassembly. In addition, the tsar retained wide powers. He could dismiss the government and dissolve the Duma at will. He could proclaim a state of emergency, thus suspending the constitution, and he held sole command over the armed forces. Even with all of its faults, the constitution - which provided that the Duma must approve all new legislation - laid the foundations of parliamentary government.

Five days before the first Duma met, Nicholas dismissed Witte. He hated Witte, who had opposed his Far Eastern policy, had drafted and pressed him to accept the October manifesto, and who was the chief architect of the new constitution, which reduced him to the status of a constitutional monarch. Witte believed in autocracy and had served Alexander III wholeheartedly. But he was an astute and practical politician. He had promoted the new constitution because he recognized the inadequacy of Nicholas as autocrat. An arrogant, crude, vindictive man, who had risen to power by his own abilities, he felt contempt for Nicholas and he did not hide it. The empress was his most bitter enemy. She hated him particularly for the October manifesto and because she believed that he was seeking to emulate the British Prime Minister and to relegate Nicholas to the impotence of a constitutional monarchy. Witte was, nevertheless, one of the few men in Russia with experience and political sense who might have saved the dynasty from the tidal wave of revolution that was about to engulf it.

Aroused by Alexandra’s blind faith in autocracy, Nicholas soon began to question the great constitutional concessions that he had granted. He had believed them to be inevitable at the time and had been sincere in his intention to implement them. But now he sought to reassert his autocratic powers because of her insistence. He appointed as his Prime Minister I. L. Goremykin, a bureaucrat who hated change and did not conceal his belief that the tsar was absolute and that his ministers were merely his servants. The empress approved this appointment and spoke of him affectionately as “the old man.” Certain other members of the cabinet chosen earlier by Witte or Nicholas would have been good candidates for the position.

The Duma with its liberal majority immediately conflicted with the government. The Duma submitted an address to the throne, setting out its main legislative proposals, including compulsory appropriation of the land for distribution to the peasants. Goremykin came before the Duma, lectured the deputies, and dismissed their address as “inadmissible.” There followed a debate in which the deputies vehemently condemned the government for incompetence.

Nicholas wanted to dissolve the Duma because he thought it was exceeding its powers and privileges. His advisers persuaded him not to take this step because they feared the anger of the public and also because it might antagonize opinion in Britain and France. He considered a proposal to call on the liberals to form a government; he felt that such a government would fail so disastrously that it would give him justification for establishing a military dictatorship. He made an informal approach to Milyukov, leader of the Constitutional Democrats, but Milyukov’s conditions for accepting office were unacceptable. The inflexible attitude of the liberals and their lack of experience and moderation were already casting aside the opportunity to establish a working parliamentary.

On July 20, Nicholas finally dissolved the Duma, which infuriated the deputies. Many rushed to Vyborg in Finland, where they had greater freedom from police interference. From there they appealed to the country to demand the recall of the Duma and to withhold taxes and recruits until this happened. This action was not effective. Moreover, all deputies who had signed the appeal had to face charges under Russian law, which meant that they were not eligible for re-election.

When he dissolved the first Duma, Nicholas had appointed dates for new elections, knowing that he didn’t dare to dissolve it permanently. But he approved a revision of the franchise, which was intended to ensure the election of a majority of conservative deputies. As it turned out, the new Duma opposed the government as strongly as its predecessor. But in appointing Peter Stolypin to be the Prime Minister in place of Goremykin, Nicholas made one of the wisest decisions of his reign.

Stolypin was a big, impressive man whose ability, courage, and integrity commanded wide respect. He was a constitutionalist who was eager to work with the Duma and “to show the country that it had parted company forever with the old police order of things.” During the period between the dissolution of the first and the election of the second Duma, Stolypin ruled the country, relying on the controversial Article 87 for authority. He held that the government must not delay any longer in tackling essential reforms. In a series of decrees, he transformed the conditions of the peasantry. He gave every peasant the right to leave his commune, claiming his share of the communal lands as his personal property that he could bequeath to his heirs. More than 2,500,000 peasants withdrew from their communes between 1906 and 1915. This and other land reforms brought a marked advance in agriculture. Landowners began to take a direct interest in improving their estates. The new prosperous class of yeomen farmers increased the productivity of their lands. The problems of overpopulation and poverty remained, but the further encouragement of migration to Siberia gave some relief.

Stolypin’s ministry lasted only five years, but it was a period of exceptional political, economic, agricultural, and industrial development. A series of good harvests brought widespread prosperity. Industry expanded with growing momentum. Indeed, it was the judgment of Bernard Pares, the leading British authority on Russia in this period, that the seven years from 1907 to 1914 were the most prosperous in Russia’s history.

The growth of political consciousness was especially important during these years. Stolypin was keenly aware of it and deeply concerned that nothing should disrupt it. In July 1911, he wrote to Izvolsky, the Russian ambassador in Paris: “every year of peace fortifies Russia not only from the military and naval point of view, but also from the economic and financial. Besides, and this is most important, Russia is growing from year to year: self-knowledge and public opinion are developing in our land. One must not scoff at parliamentary institutions. However imperfect, their influence has brought about a radical change in Russia . . .”

Such vision was beyond the narrow mind of the empress. She had become increasingly antagonistic toward Stolypin. In physique, personality, and ability he towered over Nicholas, and she resented him. She arranged an interview between Stolypin and Rasputin so that the holy man could report to her. Stolypin felt only “an indescribable loathing for this vermin,” as he described Rasputin, who reported unfavorably on him to the empress. Early in 1911, accounts of the monstrous behavior of Rasputin alarmed Stolypin. He ordered an investigation and submitted the results to Nicholas, who read the report but took no action. Stolypin then acted on his own initiative and ordered Rasputin to leave St. Petersburg. This enraged Alexandra, who begged her husband to intervene. For once Nicholas stood firm, refusing to overrule his Prime Minister, and Rasputin set out on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Alexandra became determined to persuade her husband to dismiss Stolypin and took every opportunity to poison his mind against him. Then fate intervened.

In September 1911, Stolypin and V. I. Kokovtsov, the Finance Minister, accompanied the tsar on a visit to Kiev to unveil a statue of Alexander III. As the curtain was about to rise for the final act of the gala performance in the opera house, an assassin shot Stolypin at point-blank range. Hearing the noise, the tsar looked down from his box to see Stolypin turn slowly, make the sign of the cross in the air toward him, and then slump in his seat. The police quickly arrested the assassin, a man named Bogrov who was apparently active both as a revolutionary terrorist and a police agent.

The murder of Stolypin caused a public protest. The people strongly criticized the police for failing to protect him. An official inquiry recommended a public trial to determine negligence. But Nicholas, whose son had just nearly died but was now recovering, refused to sanction the trial. His gesture of forgiveness was doubtless genuine, but it encouraged the rumors that plans for the assassination implicated high officials and that the tsar was anxious to avoid publicity.

Kokovtsov succeeded Stolypin and immediately had to deal with the public outcry against Rasputin. The Duma criticized his influence and his scandalous conduct early in 1912. The Russian press began a campaign, condemning “that cunning conspirator . . . that fornicator of human souls and bodies.” Nicholas gave orders that there should be no further references to Rasputin in the press. But this violated the law abolishing censorship, and it antagonized the liberals. In any case the press ignored the ban. Far worse than the press campaign were the rumors and gossip that alleged that Rasputin was the lover of Anna Vyrubova and the empress.

The Dowager Empress, mother of Nicholas, invited Kokovtsov to call on her and they discussed Rasputin’s influence over Alexandra. She promised to speak with the tsar but did not expect to achieve anything. “My poor daughter-in-law does not perceive that she is ruining both the dynasty and herself,” she said. Mikhail Rodzyanko, the president of the Duma, also spoke with the Dowager Empress and agreed to seek audience with Nicholas to warn him of the harm that Rasputin was causing. A huge man, Rodzyanko, at the thanksgiving service in the Kazan Cathedral in June 1913, had lifted Rasputin out of his seat and ejected him from the cathedral. After the tsar granted him an audience, he spoke bluntly to Nicholas. Nicholas authorized him to make a detailed report; Rodzyanko prepared and delivered the report but Nicholas still did nothing. Alexandra’s own brother, Duke Ernst of Hesse, was present when Nicholas read the report. He later commented sadly: “The Emperor is a saint and an angel, but he does not know how to deal with her.”

The Octobrists, a moderate conservative party, and the nationalist and reactionary groups dominated the third Duma, which met in November 1907 and continued for its full five-year term until June 1912. This leadership resulted from arbitrary revision of the franchise. The third Duma, nevertheless, functioned effectively, primarily because of the leader of the Octobrists, Alexander Guchkov, and his cooperation with Stolypin. The fourth Duma, which continued until 1917, was similar in composition, but lacked such men as Stolypin and Guchkov, and was far less effective. Police interference prevented the reelection of Guchkov.

During the period of the first three Dumas, unrest on the land and in industry had declined remarkably. The Social Democrats and the Socialist Revolutionaries were still a negligible force. Unrest revived, however, in 1912 on a smaller scale, and the revolutionary parties sought to take advantage of it. But the main threat to the constitution and the Duma came from the ultraconservatives.

There was a celebration of the tercentenary of the Romanov dynasty in 1913. The Winter Palace came to life with its old splendor, when Nicholas and Alexandra received and entertained the notabilities of the land, and large crowds cheered them as they rode in their carriage for the magnificent thanksgiving service in the Kazan Cathedral. In May they visited Kostroma, where in 1613 Mikhail had received the delegation bearing the news from Moscow that he was the chosen tsar. They had then traveled downriver to Moscow, the ancient capital. Everywhere the people greeted them with demonstrations of loyalty. The culmination of the celebration was the entry of Nicholas ahead of his Cossack guard into Moscow. He dismounted in the Red Square and walked in procession into the Kremlin to give thanks in the hallowed Uspensky Cathedral.

This was the last of the great imperial occasions. It had moved Nicholas deeply, but the experience had also confirmed Alexandra’s faith in the bond between the autocrat and his people. It also had the effect of rallying the monarchists and reactionaries as well as the landowning nobility. Stolypin’s land reforms had incensed many of the landowners, and they were a powerful force. Alexandra now harassed Nicholas with demands that he dismiss the Duma and all who lessened his autocratic powers. She waged a tireless campaign especially against Kokovtsov, Guchkov, and others who were critical of Rasputin. Certain people at court and in the government were also pressuring Nicholas to dissolve the Duma and to abrogate the 1905 constitution. But the most that he ever considered was to reduce the Duma to a consultative body; he did not even do this because there was strong opposition to this proposal from certain quarters. If it had not been from the restless zeal of his wife, he probably would have fulfilled the role of constitutional monarch with dignity and effect.

On August 1, 1914, the German declaration of war united the Russian people suddenly and completely under their tsar. They gathered before the Winter Palace in thousands from all parts of St. Petersburg and listened with patriotic fervor as Nicholas publicly swore word for word the oath that Alexander I had sworn at the time of the French invasion. He swore that he would never make peace while one enemy soldier remained on Russian soil. The large crowd then knelt on the cobblestones and sang “God save the tsar.” Over a century had passed since the nation had been so united in this spirit of dedication and loyalty.

The war against Germany and Austro-Hungary had full popular support. The liberals welcomed it particularly because it brought Russia into alliance with republican France and constitutional England against the reactionary monarchal Central Powers. The hostility of the Russians toward Germany, suppressed for so long, now erupted. St. Petersburg received its Slav name, Petrograd. Everyone believed that the war would be short and victorious.

Some warned the tsar of serious concerns. Kokovtsov had advised Nicholas that Russia could not afford a major war, even with foreign loans. He had repeated Stolypin’s warning of July 1911 that “we need peace: a war during the coming year and especially in the name of a cause which the people would not understand would be fatal for Russia and the dynasty.” When he was in Pokrovskoe in 1914 recovering from the knife wound, Rasputin sent a cable to the tsar: “let papa not plan war, for with war will come the end of russia and of yourselves.” Nicholas angrily tore up the cable and brushed aside other warnings.

Nicholas was overjoyed to feel so united with his people. He threw himself into war preparations, and his family ties with Germany did not affect his determination to fight to the end. The nation prepared feverishly. Full mobilization required three months. However, in spite of poor roads, inadequate railways, and great distances, over 4 million men had answered the call-up by September 30. Morale and discipline were high, but the Russian forces were at a terrible disadvantage against the Germans because of their lack of equipment and poor roads.

Within five days of the German ultimatum, the French government demanded through its ambassador that the Russian armies should invade Germany to hinder the German advance on Paris. Nicholas, whom Bernard Pares described as “the simple, impressionable Tsar . . . conspicuous in his chivalry to his country’s allies,” responded promptly. The Russians were far from ready for action. The Russian army should have remained on the defensive, drawing the enemy deeper into the country so that they would perish as the Swedes and the French had done in previous centuries. But Nicholas ignored this traditional strategy and ordered three armies to march into East Prussia. Even with their inferior equipment, the Russians came near to victory. Eventually, they experienced defeat in the battle of Tannenberg. Against a strong Austro-Hungarian army, which had 1 million men, the Russians won a decisive victory.

Morale remained high among the troops and throughout the country; everyone expected that 1915 would be a year of victories. However, it turned out to be a year of retreats, and the appalling casualties began to disturb the nation. By the end of the first ten months of the war, 3,800,000 Russians had lost their lives. Equipment of every kind was in desperately short supply. Men moved into the front lines without rifles and had to wait for comrades to fall to seize their equipment. They rationed shells so that the artillery could fire a limited number of shells a day. In part, the shortages of essential supplies resulted from the incompetence of the War Office and its minister, Sukhomlinov, who later suffered the humiliation of impeachment. But in part, the shortages occurred because of the backwardness of Russian industry.

Nicholas worried about the casualties and hardships suffered by his troops. On the advice of Rodzyanko, he appointed a new War Minister, General Alexei Polivanov, and set up a special defense council to expedite supplies to the army. He recalled the Duma, which opened its new session on August 1, 1915. Although the majority of the deputies were conservatives, they strongly criticized the government, and especially Goremykin, for the mismanagement of the war. Milyukov and the leaders of certain other parties agreed to form a coalition under the name of the Progressive Block, with a moderate program that gained wide support, even among the conservatives. The majority of ministers were eager to negotiate with the coalition, but Goremykin refused to consider negotiations. Alexandra was furiously opposed to the Progressive Block and all that it proposed. Nicholas, while not unsympathetic to the coalition, insisted he would not consider it until the Russians had won the war. On September 16, he adjourned the Duma until November.

The deputies dispersed, deeply disturbed by the feeling that the nation was drifting without leadership. A mood of hopelessness and defeatism began to spread among the people, and Nicholas’s decision to assume supreme command of the army profoundly deepened this mood. Since the beginning of the war, he had wanted desperately to be with the army, sharing its fortunes and misfortunes, and demonstrating that he was personally committed to the war. It was a fateful decision because he knew nothing about military matters. Grand Duke Nicholas, who had been commander-in-chief from the outset, had impressed his own troops and the allies as a man of courage and ability. General Ludendorf acknowledged him to be “a really great soldier and strategist.” It was a tragic mistake to displace him at this critical stage of the war.

Eight ministers protested in a letter to Nicholas that for him to assume the supreme command would “threaten with serious consequences Russia, your dynasty, and your person.” Goremykin and other reactionaries urged him to reverse his decision. On September 2, the entire cabinet met at Tsarskoe Selo and begged him to reconsider. Nicholas, pale and withdrawn, stood his ground, clutching in his hands the small ikon that Alexandra had given him.

During the first year of the war, Alexandra had not interfered in government matters. She tended the wounded in hospitals, cheerfully accepting the most menial tasks. But she worried constantly about Nicholas and felt that men who should be serving him were pushing him aside. She knew his goodness of character and his weakness and devoted herself to strengthening him with her firmness and courage. She exhorted him: “Be firm, remember you are Emperor,” and she wrote repeatedly to him when he was away at the Stavka, the Supreme Headquarters at Mogilev. She believed it was her duty as his wife to try to maintain the autocracy for him, their son, and Russia. Her motives were selfless and noble although her advice and activities were disastrously misguided.

Early in the war, Alexandra concentrated her hostility against Grand Duke Nicholas. As commander-in-chief, he completely overshadowed Nicholas – an act that she believed was deliberate on his part. The Grand Duke was actually a loyal subject who showed respect and obedience to the tsar. But Alexandra also hated him because he had rejected Rasputin when he had wanted to visit the Stavka to present an ikon to the commander-in-chief, who was a deeply religious man. The Grand Duke’s response to Rasputin’s proposal was curt. He telegraphed the message: “come and i’ll hang (you)”. Alexandra began to blame the Grand Duke for the bloodshed on all fronts. She readily believed and repeated any rumor against him. She urged her husband to relieve the Grand Duke of his command and assume the role of leading the nation to victory.

From the day that Nicholas departed for the Stavka at Mogilev, the government passed into the hands of the empress and Rasputin. This had been the greatest fear of everyone who had urged Nicholas not to assume the supreme command. Now it had come to pass. Alexandra got rid of many of those who did not support her or Rasputin. She removed Goremykin from office and appointed Boris Sturmer, a crude and incompetent reactionary, but one of Rasputin’s associates, to take his place. The government became more and more debased, and the people could only watch powerlessly. There were rumors that the empress and Rasputin were German agents, that she was Rasputin’s mistress, and that the tsar had lost all faith in victory. Rumors tarnished the reputation of the imperial family and demonstrated how the throne as the great symbol of national unity was now cheap and degraded.

By frantic efforts, especially on the part of voluntary organizations and with military supplies from the allies, the Russians had managed to relieve the most critical shortages by early 1916. But once again, the Russian armies had to act before they had properly prepared. The Austrians had opened an offensive against Italy that was so successful that the King of Italy had appealed to the tsar to attack Austria from the east. This meant bringing forward the Russian offensive; they had planned for this to take place later in the summer. In June, General Alexei Brusilov advanced along a 300-mile front from Lutsk to the Carpathians. The Russian forces moved forward rapidly until the hurried transfer of fifteen German divisions reinforced the Austrians and slowed down the Russian advance. The campaign, which continued until September, was highly successful for the Russians, but they lost more than 1,200,000 men. In addition, Brusilov’s offensive brought Rumania into the war on the side of the allies. This became a heavy liability for the Russian army, which had to go to their aid.

Russian morale remained high at the front. Hindenberg noted that, while the Austrian army was at breaking point, the Russians showed no signs of weakening. Indeed, the Russians were planning an offensive for the spring of 1917. But conditions in the rear had deteriorated seriously. The cost of living had risen by 300 percent, and food shortages were acute. But the main cause of the breakdown of morale and order in Russia was the general feeling that the nation was drifting toward disaster because of lack of leadership.

The Duma had begun its new session on November 1. Deputies of all parties denounced the government so violently that Sturmer had to resign. Alexander Trepov took his place as Prime Minister, but he was powerless. He tried desperately to remove Alexander Protopopov, the Minister of the Interior, and the most hated and despised man in the government. But Protopopov remained in office because he was Rasputin’s friend. On December 2, Vladimir Purishkevich, an extreme conservative, condemned Rasputin as a Judas and destroyer of the dynasty and the nation. Relations between the Duma and the government had reached a crisis point; that session of the Duma ended on December 17.

That same day, enemies attacked and murdered Rasputin. Purishkevich, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, a nephew of the Tsar, and Prince Felix Yusupov had organized the conspiracy. Yusupov invited Rasputin to his home and gave him cakes and wine that contained poison. When this had no effect, Yusupov shot him. While he was still alive, they pushed his body through a hole in the ice of the Malya Neva River, and he died finally by drowning. They found his body two days later and buried it secretly in the grounds of the imperial residence in the presence of Nicholas and Alexandra and their children. There was no action taken against the conspirators except the banishment of Yusupov to his country estate and the young Grand Duke had to go to the Persian front.

The people were relieved to learn about Rasputin’s death, but it brought no dramatic changes. Yusupov had maintained that within two weeks of his death the empress would become mentally unbalanced and that Nicholas would then rule as a constitutional monarch with power being exercised by the Duma. But Alexandra did not collapse. The death of her holy man was a terrible tragedy for her because she believed that he was the protector of the tsar and her children and the savior of the tsarevich. But she would never collapse while Nicholas and the children needed her. She drew strength from her faith and had tremendous courage. She retired with Nicholas and the family into a closed world of their own. Anna Vyrubova wrote that “Never had the Emperor and the Empress . . . seemed so lonely or so helpless.”

In Petrograd and throughout the country, unrest, strikes, and food riots increased. When Trepov resigned, Alexandra asked Nicholas to appoint Prince Nicholas Golitsyn, who by now was an old man who was incapable of dealing with the explosive situation. Antagonism between the government and the Duma mounted dangerously. The State Council, composed of ultraconservatives, joined with the Duma in demanding the appointment of a Prime Minister and cabinet members who commanded the confidence of the nation. All senior members of the imperial family warned Nicholas that he was leading Russia to disaster, but he ignored their warnings. Hatred of the empress grew so strong that there was talk of removing or killing her. The threatening revolution distressed Sir George Buchanan, the British ambassador, so much that he put aside protocol and earnestly warned Nicholas in a long audience of the terrible crisis that was imminent.

The most dramatic warning came from Mikhail Rodzyanko a few days later. In the past Nicholas had resented the respectful but forthright reports of this giant of a man, but this time he listened. Rodzyanko spoke of the “Indignation against and hatred of the Empress . . . growing throughout the country.” He named the capable and honest ministers that Rasputin and the empress had dismissed or replaced. Most of the replacements were despicable men like Protopopov.

“Your Majesty,” Rodzyanko continued, “do not compel the people to choose between you and the good of the country. So far the ideas of the Tsar and the Motherland have been indissoluble, but lately they have begun to be separated.”

The tsar pressed his head between his hands and then said: “Is it possible that for twenty-two years I have tried to act for the best, and that for twenty-two years it was all a mistake?”

It was a hard moment. With great effort at self-control, Rodzyanko replied: “Yes, Your Majesty, for twenty-two years you have followed a wrong course.”

In the first weeks of 1917, the unrest in Petrograd was nearing an explosion point. But the gravity of the crisis was not apparent. Strikes and demonstrations had become commonplace in the city. The British ambassador telegraphed to London early in March that some disorders had occurred but didn’t indicate that the situation was serious. No one realized that Russia was on the point of revolution and that the Romanov dynasty was about to collapse, leaving the people without everything that had given order and stability to their lives.

Nicholas was at Mogilev at the beginning of March but received reports regularly on the unrest in the capital. The troops at the fronts were loyal and disciplined, and he considered the industrial unrest in the rear to be irresponsible sabotage of the war effort. He sent peremptory instructions to the commander of the Petrograd military district to suppress all disorders, using such force as was necessary. Leaders posted proclamations and warnings to this effect throughout the city, and troops first fired on demonstrators on March 11. But a mutinous spirit was spreading among the regiments in the city.

At this point Mikhail Rodzyanko sent an appeal to the tsar at the Stavka. It read: “The situation is serious, there is anarchy in the capital. The government is paralyzed, it is necessary immediately to entrust a person who enjoys the confidence of the country with the formation of a government, any delay is equivalent to death . . .”

Receiving no reply, Rodzyanko sent a more urgent warning on the following morning: “The situation is growing worse, measures must be adopted immediately, for tomorrow will be too late, the last hour has come when the fate of the fatherland and the dynasty is being decided.” Still Nicholas made no reply.

Conditions in the capital had, in fact, sharply deteriorated. On March 12, there was mutiny in the Preobrazhensky and other regiments. Troops made their way on foot across the frozen Neva River to the Vyborg district, where they joined with strikers. The mutiny of the troops was the turning point. While they obeyed their officers, order could be maintained. But now revolution swept through the city.

Late in the afternoon of March 13, Nicholas set out from Mogilev to return to Petrograd. Instead, his train headed westward to Pskov, the headquarters of General Ruzsky, commanding the northern front. When he arrived, Nicholas told Ruzsky that he would accept the proposals of Rodzyanko and others. He would appoint a Prime Minister, commanding the confidence of the nation, and would give him full authority over the cabinet and general policy, excluding foreign policy and the armed forces, which would remain under his own control.

Ruzsky spoke at once with Rodzyanko by telephone. The city was already in the grip of revolution. Some had organized to form the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, and a committee of the Duma was seeking desperately to avert the impending anarchy. Rodzyanko’s blunt reply to Ruzsky was that the tsar’s concessions had come too late.

Rodzyanko then communicated with General Alekseev, the chief of staff, in Mogilev. Alekseev got in touch with the commanders on all fronts, including Grand Duke Nicholas, commanding in the Caucasus. They unanimously agreed that Nicholas must abdicate. Alekseev informed Ruzsky of this decision on the morning of March 15, and he immediately shared this information with the tsar.

Nicholas was taken by surprise. It had never occurred to him that he would have to face such a demand, least of all from his own generals whom he regarded as brother officers. But he made his decision promptly. To Alekseev he sent a telegram that read: “in the name of the welfare, tranquility, and salvation of my dearly beloved russia i am ready to abdicate from the throne in favor of my son. i request all to serve him truly and faithfully.”

Meanwhile Ruzsky had received a message from Petrograd that two representatives of the Duma committee had already set out for Pskov to propose the tsar’s abdication. This was why he did not send a copy of Nicholas’s telegram to Rodzyanko.

The Duma spokesmen, Alexander Guchkov and Vasily Shulgin, reached Pskov by train on the evening of March 15. Both men believed sincerely that this was the only way to save the country, the dynasty, and the life of the tsar.

Nicholas received both men kindly. He knew their purpose and tried to put them at ease and help them in their task. Guchkov, unaware of the decision already taken, explained why abdication was in the Duma’s view unavoidable. Nicholas had felt throughout his entire life the burden of the responsibilities of the throne and of his Romanov heritage. He had made mistakes but had always been sincere in his efforts to honor his coronation oath and to preserve the autocratic principles bequeathed to him by his father. But he had realized that the task was beyond him. He was always a humble, devout man, who now submitted quietly to the demand for his abdication. Some who knew him felt that he welcomed this release from intolerable burdens and that he looked forward fondly to days to be spent in freedom with the wife and children whom he loved deeply.

Nicholas listened to Guchkov and then indicated his acceptance of the deed of abdication, subject to one amendment. He wanted to abdicate in favor of the tsarevich. But after sending his telegram to Alekseev, he had made a different decision. He knew that his son would not live for long and wanted Alexandra and himself to care for the boy. He therefore appointed his brother, Mikhail, as his successor. He signed the deed. Guchkov and Shulgin sadly departed.

In the imperial carriage, standing at the deserted railway station in Pskov, the Romanov dynasty that had reigned for three centuries quietly came to an end.

The dynasty of the Romanovs had not expired under the assaults of popular rebellion or revolution; it had collapsed feebly and undramatically. The vast majority of Russians were in 1917 still loyal to their tsar, but Nicholas had made such slight impression upon them that the sudden news of his abdication made no great impact. It was as though the Romanovs had slipped away ignominiously from the throne. Indeed, the failure of the last tsar and the anticlimax of the regime’s demise tended to cast a shadow over the whole dynasty and its significance. It was, however, a dynasty that produced several remarkable autocrats who ruled with dedication and purpose, and that, having forged the vast Russian Empire, held it united for nearly three centuries. The Romanovs belong, in fact, among the great dynasties in history.


The Romanovs

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Managing Editors


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The Romanovs


The Romanovs

Published by New Word City LLC, 2016


www.NewWordCity.com

© Ian Grey

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, in any form or by any means, without permission in writing from the publisher.

ISBN 978-1-61230-954-5


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