Life After Peter
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Russia 2012 Information 1 - Early History 2 - Peter the Great 3 - St Petersburg 4 - Life After Peter 5 - Road to Moscow

Russia After Peter

A quick study of the men and women who succeeded Peter makes it even more clear why early Russian history ends with Peter and modern Russian history starts with Peter.  

For all his penchant for cruelty, there can be no denying that Peter rescued Russia from centuries of weak leadership and set Russia on a path to glory.

Perhaps the only thing Peter completely failed at was providing his new Russian Empire with an adequate male heir to continue his line. However, it wasn't for lack of trying. He had 15 children in all.  Six of his male heirs died very young and he murdered the seventh... some say with his own hands.

Peter was survived by only two children - Anna and Elizabeth.  A cursory review of the Tsars and Tsarinas who followed Peter is very complicated.

1. Catherine (not Catherine the Great) was Peter's wife. She sat on the throne for just two years before she too died.  A man named Menshikov was the actual ruler.

2. Peter II was the young son of Peter the Great's murdered son Alexei. He lasted four years before dying of smallpox on his wedding day at age 15. 

3. Anna (not Peter's daughter) ruled for ten years.  Anna was the daughter of Ivan V, the mentally-challenged man who was Peter the Great's half-brother.  Anna was mentally competent but very strange.  Once she had fire bells rung throughout St Petersburg just to see the panic.  She was reportedly greatly amused.  Anna wasn't very interested in running the government so she let her boyfriend Biron take over.  Anna's main goal was making sure her cousin Elizabeth, Peter the Great's remaining daughter, didn't take her place.

4. Ivan VI was Anna's nephew.  He became Emperor at age 2 months and "ruled" for a year. Actually his mother was running the show and not very well at that. 


Tsarina Elizabeth

Elizabeth Petrovna was Peter the Great's last surviving child.  It was now 1741.

Upon her father's death, Elizabeth had been passed over in succession because she was too young.  Now at age 32, due to her grace and charm, practically every noble in Russia deeply preferred her as a leader to the buffoons currently running the show. So one day Elizabeth decided it was time to grow up.

At the time, Elizabeth perhaps enjoyed her life of luxury a bit too much.  Elizabeth was very popular.  Intelligent and charming, Elizabeth was the leading lady of Russian society as well as one of the great beauties of Europe.  Elizabeth enjoyed the company of handsome men and she loved to dance and party.  She lived a life of ease and found many ways to amuse herself.

However, at heart Elizabeth was a patriot.  As she watched the nonsense of an infant running the Empire and the chaotic state of the Russian government, Elizabeth put her foot down and said this was ridiculous.  Enough! It had been 16 years since her father's death and Russia had yet to have a decent ruler. Her father had not spent his entire life making Russia great so this Ship of Fools could take over.

Elizabeth took the throne in 1741 in a highly amusing way.  Elizabeth, a deeply religious woman, had been praying all morning for guidance.  From there, she walked over to the headquarters of the Palace Guard with a metal breastplate over her dress while holding a silver cross in her right hand.

Elizabeth was very popular with the guards.  The men of the Palace Guard had known the Princess her entire life. Elizabeth was a very gentle woman who had always treated these men with kindness and courtesy.  Elizabeth was even godmother to some of their children.

The guards could see there something was different about Elizabeth today.  The guards had never seen her look so determined before.  They immediately rose to attention.

Smiling, Elizabeth stated to the shocked men, "Who do you want to serve?  Me, the natural sovereign, or those who have stolen my inheritance?"

The guards took one look at this incredible beauty, looked at each other & nodded. Yeah, let's pick her!

So with the guards at her side, Elizabeth walked over to the Palace and announced she was taking over, so get the hell out of here.  The pretenders took one look at the faces of the men standing behind Elizabeth, then went and packed their bags.  Not a shot was fired.  Not a drop of blood was shed.  For that matter, no one had even raised a weapon.  Just like that, Elizabeth became the Tsarina.

The Grand Ball

Elizabeth would reign for 20 years. Elizabeth was definitely Peter's daughter.   She would prove to be a highly competent ruler in many ways. However, most people would admit Elizabeth wasn't nearly as interested in running the affairs of state as she was in throwing a good party.  When it came to dancing and splendor, no one could hold a torch to Elizabeth.

Perhaps Elizabeth's greatest gift to Russia was bringing a sense of majesty to the crown.  Yes, this impressive woman had considerable flair.  With her beauty and fondness for dancing, Elizabeth brought the Grand Ball to Russia.  Elizabeth's presence created an elegance in Russian Court and society that had never been seen before.  Where her father had ruled with force, Elizabeth ruled with style.

Perhaps a bit vain, Elizabeth was said to own 15,000 dresses - none of which she ever wore twice!

Elizabeth changed outfits two to six times a day.  Definitely a woman. 

Under the reign of Elizabeth, the Russian court was one of the most splendid in all Europe. Foreigners were amazed at the sheer luxury of the sumptuous balls and masquerades.

The notorious extravagance of Elizabeth came to define the Court in many respects.  Elizabeth created a world in which aesthetics reigned supreme, producing a Court in which a tacit competition existed amongst courtiers to see who could look best... second only to Her Majesty of course.

Historian Mikhail Shcherbatov stated her court was “arrayed in cloth of gold, her nobles satisfied with the most luxurious garments, the most expensive foods, the rarest drinks, that largest number of servants and they applied this standard of lavishness to their dress as well.”

It is reported that Elizabeth threw two balls a week. One would be a large event with an average of 800 guests in attendance, most of whom were the nation’s leading merchants, members of the lower nobility, and guards stationed in and around the city of the event.

The other ball was a much smaller affair reserved for Elizabeth’s closest friends as well as members of the highest echelons of nobility.

In matters of state, Elizabeth could be lazy and perhaps enjoyed luxury a bit too much to attend to her job daily.  Official documents often waited on her desk for months to be signed.

Nevertheless, in the eyes of the world, Elizabeth brought prestige to Russia.

Elizabeth did not enjoy taking Russia to war. She would prefer to serve as the peacemaker. 

Fortunately Elizabeth inherited her father's genius for government, but she definitely had a style of her own. 

While her illustrious father was best known for his brute force, Elizabeth was known for her gentleness. She preferred to use diplomatic tact to get her way

Her father had been known to execute entire towns because one person was said to have given food to the enemy. 

In stark contrast, Elizabeth never had a single person executed during her reign.  Elizabeth held a vehement opposition to the death penalty.

Elizabeth is best known for restoring dignity to the Russian crown. It was said of Elizabeth, "She makes me proud to be a Russian."

Elizabeth goes down in history as one of her country's most beloved rulers.


Catherine the Great

Born as Sophia Augusta Fredericka to a Polish prince and Prussian general, the future Catherine the Great did not have a drop of Russian body in her body.

Sophia was personally selected by Tsarina Elizabeth to marry Peter III, Elizabeth's nephew by her deceased sister Anna. 

Catherine, as she was renamed, gave birth to Paul, the future Tsar, in 1754.  This was a joyous event in Russia because it meant that Romanov bloodline would be continued.  Peter the Great had been a Romanov, Anna was his daughter, Peter III was a grandson, and now baby Paul was a great grandson.

Only one problem.  In her memoirs, Catherine claimed the father was her lover Sergei Saltykov. Right there that little tidbit is all the evidence we need to see that Catherine was a bit out of the ordinary.

Even if it was true, what sovereign writes, "Oh, by the way, my son the Tsar of Russia is illegitimate"?  Aren't monarchs supposed to appear respectable? 

What do you suppose her son Paul thought when he read that? 

The matter of her son's true father was important. Peter III was the son of Peter the Great's daughter Anna.  Sadly, his mother died in 1728 shortly after giving birth.  Peter, the future Emperor of Russia was the progenitor of every single 19th-century Romanov ruler all the way to Nicholas and Alexandra. 

That brings up an interesting question. Did Catherine break the Romanov bloodline with her self-admitted infidelity? In other words, who's your Daddy?

There seem to be two lines of thought.  Lots of people point out how much Catherine disliked her son and may have wanted to hurt him.

These commentators generally add that Catherine's poison pen notwithstanding, Paul looks more like Peter III than his potential father Saltykov.  Wikipedia states "
Paul does in fact seem to physically resembled the Grand Duke (Peter III) so one might doubt any claims of illegitimacy."

The other point of view is more like "So what?  At least the kid had some Russian blood in him along with that Polish whore."

Most modern historians believe that there is ample evidence that the House of Romanov died out with Peter the Great's grandson, Peter III. They cite that Peter Feordorovich (Peter III) sired no children on his mistresses and his professed revulsion at Catherine makes relations between them unlikely.  His early impotence was known at court, and after his surgery, sterility was also suspected.

On the other hand, there are four good arguments to the contrary.

First, no one can deny a resemblance between other Romanovs and Paul.  There were also numerous physical and personality similarities between Paul and Peter III.

Second, Peter III never denied paternity.  His hatred of his wife was so intense that had he suspected Paul's being sired elsewhere, he would likely have denounced Catherine as an adulteress. But he did not.

Third, Catherine's suggestion of Saltykov's paternity might have been an attempt to minimize her guilt in Peter III's subsequent murder by her partisans. If indeed she had her husband killed, she did not want to give the appearance of murdering the father of her son.

Last, and perhaps most persuasive, keep in mind that Catherine was one of the world's most skillful politicians. As a native of Poland, her position in Russia at the time was shaky at best.  With her husband clearly dissatisfied with her, Catherine's only hope for advancement was to perpetuate the Romanov dynasty.

Are we to believe this most ambitious of women would jeopardize her hopes and dreams by not fulfilling her dynastic function?  It seems more likely that Catherine took care of business, then moved on to look for romance elsewhere.

Everyone seems to agree a little genetic testing might be an interesting way to end speculation, but that has not yet come to pass.

Palace Intrigue

The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that Catherine was a very different kind of monarch indeed.  Very different.

Hey, we are just getting started!  This woman's middle name was "Scandal". 

There are books that chronicle the stories of twelve different affairs, concluding there may well be many more yet to be uncovered. 

Here we have a perfect example of the Double Standard.  Rumor has it that Peter the Great took mistresses and visited brothels on a regular basis, but people just yawn.  Catherine has twelve affairs and sets tongues clucking around the world.

Nevertheless, the myths and legends about the woman's ribald sex life are be very distracting.  These stories are so salacious that a reader just sits there slack-jawed.  Once they finally get to reading about her achievements, they are too tired to pay any attention.

Here's a good example.  Catherine, Polish by birth, first met Peter III at the tender age of ten. Based on her writings, she claims she found Peter detestable upon meeting him. She disliked his pale complexion and his fondness of alcohol at such a young age.

So with that attitude, why did she marry him?  Apparently Catherine's mother was a cold, scheming, highly ambitious woman who spent her life angling to find ways to get her daughter on the Russian throne.  Elizabeth, Tsarina of Russia, couldn't stand the woman.  However Elizabeth was very impressed by young Catherine. 

Elizabeth allowed her nephew Peter to marry Catherine for political reasons.  It was a loveless marriage, but apparently so were many other European marriages.  At the time Peter III became Emperor, Catherine had been married to him for 16 years.

There is quite a bit of circumstantial evidence that Catherine was involved in a conspiracy to have her husband Tsar Peter III assassinated. 

That's right... Catherine quite likely had her boyfriend murder her husband.

If you watch the cable station LMN (short for "Lifetime Murder your Husband Network"), you realize this sort of stuff happens a lot more often than most people realize. 

But for crying out loud, this guy was the Emperor of Russia!  How do you get away with murdering the Emperor of Russia?  And why isn't this story on cable? 

Before we start, surely you lose track of all the characters, so let's quickly review. 

Peter the Great had two surviving children: Anna (not Empress Anna) and Elizabeth.  While Peter was still alive, Anna married a Swedish prince who lived in Germany.  Anna's son Peter III was born in Germany.  Empress Elizabeth hand-picked Catherine from Poland to be her nephew Peter III's wife. They were married in 1746.


Anna, Peter's mother had passed away in 1754.  Tsarina Elizabeth died in 1762.

Peter III was about to take the throne.  No one was happy about this.  Elizabeth had been very popular, but Peter III was disliked.

For starters, let's be clear his wife definitely didn't care for him. Oh no, not by a long shot.  She wasn't the only one.  Although Peter III was the grandson of Peter the Great, none of the Russian nobility cared much for him either. 

Peter III didn't fit anyone's idea of being "Russian".  He had a long list of shortcomings.

  •   Peter III was a direct descendent of Charles XII of Sweden, Peter the Great's bitter rival and enemy during the Great Northern War.
  •   Peter III had German roots and lived there for long stretches of his life.
  •   Peter III openly stated he much preferred Frederick the Great, Prussia's current leader, over Russian leaders as his hero.  Peter was on record talking about how much he "admired" Frederick.  This was a raw wound.  Prussia had been Russia's bitter enemy during the recently ended Seven Year's War.  Frederick was responsible for many devastating Russian defeats.
  •   Peter III could not have cared less that he was the grandson of Peter the Great. 
  •   Peter III was constantly ridiculed by his ambitious wife Catherine.  She openly stated there were things "wrong" with Peter III.  He was ugly.  He was a pig.  He was a deviate.

Catherine described him as an “idiot”, “retarded”, “a drunkard from Holstein”, and a “good-for-nothing lout”.  For good measure, Catherine also claimed she had never even slept with the man.  Ouch!

Considering Catherine had slept with everyone else in the Russian Empire, that admission convinced everyone there really was something wrong with Peter III.

For that matter, Peter was said to detest his wife.  There was great animosity between the two of them.

Peter was murdered soon after he took the throne.  So there does appear to be motive on Catherine's part, yes?

Maybe so, but Catherine's biography in Wikipedia clearly states:

"Historians find no evidence for Catherine's complicity in the supposed assassination."

Oh really?  Catherine probably didn't raise the knife, but c'mon now...

Let's review the circumstantial evidence.

In February 1762, Tsarina Elizabeth died.  Her nephew Peter III was named Emperor.

In April 1762, Catherine gave birth to an illegitimate son.  Grigory Orlov, Catherine's lover, was the father.  He and Catherine had been lovers for some time.  In fact, this was their second illegitimate child.  Catherine had another child the year before.

In July 1762, six months into his reign, Peter III was deposed in a bloodless coup. At the time, Alexei Orlov and none other than his brother Grigory Orlov (yes, that Grigory Orlov) were directly involved in the conspiracy.

In August 1762, Catherine was promoted to Empress. Eight days later, Alexei Orlov (brother of that Grigory Orlov) murdered the deposed Tsar in cold blood. 

The next sentence in Wikipedia states:

"Catherine was cleared of all complicity in the death in the supposed assassination.."

Oh really?  Cleared by who?  The same jurors in the OJ Trial?  Give us a break.

Whoever wrote the Wikipedia passage was clearly a Catherine admirer.  For one thing, they called Peter's death a "
supposed assassination"

What is "supposed" about it?  Peter was murdered in cold blood!!

Furthermore, not everyone agrees that Catherine was innocent.  There are writers who say Catherine initiated Peter's murder for the oldest reasons in the book - she detested the man and wanted his throne.

The theory goes that Catherine spent the rest of her career speaking ill of the dead Emperor in order to improve her own bad reputation in the affair among the people of Russia.  Guilty conscience perhaps?   Draw your own conclusions.

People have long been fascinated with Catherine because she is a prime example of a highly ambitious woman who would do anything to get to the top.  That included ingratiating herself to Tsarina Elizabeth so that she could marry Elizabeth's nephew to become a royal. That included murdering her husband at the right time.  That included sleeping with a lot of men who she promoted to influential positions in government when she was done with.  It helps to have friends in the right places.  What better way to make friends?

Considering how she felt about Peter III, perhaps Catherine's greatest accomplishment was staying married to the man until it was the right time to get rid of him. 

And how did Catherine cope with her pathetic marriage?  The same way a lot of royals do who are stuck in a loveless marriage.

What makes Catherine different though was that she didn't seem to care who knew about what she was doing.  Gossip about Catherine spread through every court in Europe.

Her affair with Sergei Saltyov produced Paul, heir to the throne, in 1754.

Her affair with Stanley Poniatowski, the love of her life, produced her second child in 1757.

Her affair with Grigory Orlov produced the conspiracy that eliminated the so-called pig husband and produced her third child in 1762.

Considering her list of illegitimate children and the wild tales that overshadow the career of Catherine, it seems like much of her label "Great" was given to her as much for being "interesting" as for what she accomplished. 

Fortunately, Catherine was almost as good an Empress as she was scandalous.  She reigned for 34 years. 

A major part of her legacy was bringing education and culture to Russia.  Similar to the Elizabethan Era in England, Catherine presided over a Golden Age of Russian creativity.

The government ran smoothly and this was a time of great prosperity for Russia.  Catherine had come along at the right time to build on the legacy of Peter the Great.  Under Catherine, Russia continued its rapid climb to become one of Europe's major powers. 

Tsar Paul I

Paul I is one of history's sad figures. Paul lived his entire life certain that he would die of assassination like his father Peter III.  Paul was right. He was assassinated in 1801 after serving as Tsar for five years.

Despite his lonely childhood and the terrible end to his life, Paul was at least able to enjoy great happiness in his adult life.

His 1776 marriage to Princess Sophia Dorothea of Wurttemberg turned out to be an extremely happy marriage.

Maria Feodorovna, her Russian name, was not only lovely, she was serious and purposeful. Her feat of royal childbirth - 10 children in a 22 year period - brought her great esteem.

Even better, every single child was healthy and talented. 

Ten children.  What an incredible blessing!  Among the children were two future tsars -Alexander I and Nikolai I - as well as two future queens - Catherine of Wurttemberg and Anna of the Netherlands.  The present Dutch royal family is descended from Anna Pavlovna, who is still greatly loved in her adopted country.

By all accounts, Paul was a good father.  His children remembered him as a tender, nurturing parent.

Paul's death darkly echoes the sad fate of Peter the Great's son Alexei, the kid who died of torture.  Although the circumstances of Paul's death are completely different, Paul's adversarial relationship with his illustrious mother Catherine set him on the same risky course as Alexei's disrespect for his father's policies.

Catherine almost bypassed Paul as her successor in favor of his son Alexander because she was well aware her son disapproved of many of her policies.  Like Peter the Great, Catherine the Great wanted things done her way after she was gone. 

Catherine had appropriated Paul's first son Alexander practically from birth. Alexander grew up in Catherine's household, not Paul's. She made Alexander was her protégé.  Catherine spent a great deal of time indoctrinating young Alexander in her own image. 

Knowing full well how much Paul disagreed with her, Catherine's final years were spent trying to figure out a way to leapfrog past Alexander.  Catherine was so pleased with Alexander's progress that she openly would talk about skipping her own son and picking Alexander instead.  Unfortunately for Catherine, while Paul tweaked her from time to time, he never boldly stepped out of line to give her a reason.  Nevertheless, the question of who would succeed Catherine had much of the same suspense as the Oscars.

When Catherine died suddenly in 1996, Paul quickly darted to her bedroom to see if her last testament had named him or his son to succeed him.  To his surprise, Paul was the winner.  He sighed with great relief. 

It was later said that Catherine was almost certain to name Alexander, but she putting it off because it upset her so much. The sudden heart attack felled her before she could force herself to make the switch.

Interestingly, Paul was quite prepared to be Tsar.  Paul really wanted the job and for all the right reasons - to serve the people.  Born in 1754 (8 years before Catherine the Great seized power),  Paul had waited 42 years for this opportunity.  In addition to being a good father to his children, Paul had used much of his wait studying statesmanship.  Similar to Peter the Great, Paul had a natural bent for study.  He was owner of 40,000 books.  Paul was just as avid a scholar as his mother had been.

Paul had all the makings of a knowledgeable leader.  An analysis of his writings shows that Paul was clearer and more precise than his august mother Catherine.   Unfortunately, his ideas were wasted.  Paul was precluded from practicing what he preached by his mother before he became tsar... and then the changes he enacted were short-circuited by the nobles who ended his life.

As Catherine suspected he would, Paul immediately reversed many of his mother's directions. So what did Paul do that was so horrible?

Paul contradicted his mother in many ways, but two areas stood out.

First, Paul helped the serfs.  In fact, he was the Tsar of Russia version of Robin Hood - steal from the rich and give to the poor.

Catherine, a highly educated woman, had spoken greatly of her enlightened attitudes towards the serfs during her reign. Unfortunately, she never put her actions behind her words.  In fact, she made things worse.  While Catherine caused many ordinary Russians to be enslaved through serfdom, Paul was the first Russian tsar to limit the work required of these unfortunate people. 

Lurking in the shadows of Russian society was the horrible fate of the serfs.  Although the serfs were "free" on paper, they were tied to their landlord's estate for life.  The serfs were no better off than the slaves of the Southern farmers here in America pre-Civil War.  The quality of the serf's life depended directly on how well or how badly they were treated by their landlords.  When they tried to escape, they were hunted down in much the same way as were the negro slaves in America.

During the years of his apprenticeship to become Tsar, Paul was a model landlord to the serfs, Russia's most humble people.  Paul educated their children, lent them money, instituted a system of free medical care, gave them more land for their use, and upgraded agricultural technology.

In Paul's treatment of the serfs as both tsar and grand duke, he sought to end their suffering and improve their lives. I n this, he put into action the Enlightenment ideas parroted by his mother, but never followed unless it suited her.

Paul's second action proved to be his undoing.  To the nobility, Paul was a scourge.  Paul sought to undo most of the privileges they had gained under Catherine.  Paul may have been book-smart, but he lacked political savvy.  No one had ever trained him in the ways of politics.  Not only did Paul's actions alienate the rich, but he had no idea the risk he was taking.

Catherine never dispensed a reward or a punishment without carefully thinking it through. Paul wasn't this cunning.  Furthermore, he let his own need for revenge color his actions.  Blinded by hatred of his mother, and lacking her as an available target for his rage, the Tsar struck out instead at the aristocracy.  His targets included many of the people who been Catherine's supporters.  Naturally, these powerful people began to plot against this tsar who so loved the peasants and so mistrusted the rich.

Plots to remove Paul as tsar brewed for at least a year before it took place.

Among the chief conspirators were Count Pahlen, the head of the State Police and Count Zubov, Catherine's last lover.

While Pahlen provided the means to dethrone his tsar due to his control of strategic offices, the spark for the successful conspiracy came from the Zubov family.

Zubov used his favorite status as Catherine's lover as a career opportunity to advance himself and his family.  Naturally, this was lost with Catherine's death.  Not trusting him, Paul had put Zubov in captivity in 1797.

The tsar made a tactical error when he issued a general amnesty in 1800. The parasitic Zubovs used this chance to return to the capital.  Zubov immediately went to work plotting his own revenge.

On the night of March 12, 1801, Pahlen, Count Bennigsen, and the Zubov brothers Nikolai and Platon entered the Mikhailovski Castle

They were able to bypass the Palace Guards thanks to an insider.  The co-conspirator was an unfaithful aide-de-camp of Paul's who snuck them through the doors.

The conspirators found the tsar's bed empty. The men were drunk, but still managed to locate Paul hiding behind a screen in his chamber.  In an alcohol-induced frenzy, they ordered Paul to sign a document professing he was abdicating the throne.  When he refused, one of the assassins lost his temper and struck Paul with a sword.  Falling to the ground, Paul was strangled and trampled to death.  He never had a chance.


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