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The reform period of Russian History began in the generation immediately preceding Peter the Great. His amiable and inquisitive father, Tsar Alexis, was peculiarly susceptible to new impressions. He also possessed, in a high degree, the royal gift of discerning genius, and the Patriarch Nikon, who renovated the Russian Church, and the en­lightened boiars Athanasius Ordin-Nashchokin and Artemon Matvieeff, who first turned the Russian nation westwards, were the beloved friends and the directing counsellors of Alexis. Their great merit was to prepare a suitable atmosphere in Russia for the new ideas which were finding their way into the empire—the reforms which under Theodore III, Alexis’ eldest son and immediate successor (1676-82), took root in the soil and became substantial facts. By far the most important of these reforms was the abolition, at the suggestion of another enlightened boiar, Prince Vasili Vasilevich Galitsin, of the ancient and mischievous abuse miestnichestvo, or “family precedence,” described in the preceding chapter. By a single stroke of his pen the hopeless invalid Theodore III had, in 1681, removed an abuse which, for centuries, had appeared unassailable. He was, indeed, as thorough and devoted a reformer as a man who was obliged to issue his orders from his litter or his bedchamber could possibly be. The mere fact that, on his very deathbed, he could so easily remove so deep-lying and far-reaching an abuse, is a striking testimony to the steady, if silent, advance of liberal ideas in Muscovite society, even since the death of Alexis.

But a still more emphatic demonstration of the progress of the new ideas was the appearance in public, surrounded by her aunts and sisters, of the Tsarevna Sophia, acting as Regent for her little brothers, Ivan and Peter, on July 5,1682 (O. S.), on the occasion of the revolt of the Strieltzy and their allies the Old Believers. Sophia, seated on the throne, not only confronted the schismatic rebels, but quelled their insolence and refuted their arguments. For the first time in Russian history, the women of Muscovy had boldly quitted the claustral seclusion of the terem (women’s apartments), to preside over a public assembly. Sophia, like her brother Theodore, had had a relatively superior education, under the guidance of learned monks from Kieff. Even Theodore’s great foundation, the Academy of Sciences in the Zaikonnospasky monastery, was intended to be as much a bulwark of Orthodoxy as a university. Thus the chief difference between the Theodorian and the Petrine reforms was that the former were primarily for the benefit of the Church, the latter for the benefit of the State. The government of Sophia (1682-9) began with a grievous blunder, the murder of Artemon Matvieeff, the chief Muscovite representative of Western culture in its practical form. Matvieeff had been banished from Moscow, in 1676, for advocating the election to the Tsardoin of the healthy and vigorous Peter, then in his fourth year, instead of the sickly Theodore. Summoned back from exile, on the death of Theodore, in May, 1682, he found that Peter had been declared sole Tsar by his mother’s family, but that a dangerous rebellion already threatened the young sovereign. In courageously attempting to quell this rebellion, Matvieeff was literally hacked to pieces by the Strieltzy as he clutched desperately at the sleeve of little Peter for protection.

This recollection never forsook Peter; and there is a pretty general agreement that the convulsions from which he suffered so much in later years must be partly attributed to the effect of this violent shock on the very impressionable child. From the day of his father’s death to his tenth year, when he was first raised to the throne, Peter shared the miseries and the perils of the rest of his family. On the other hand, he had peculiar advantages. From his very cradle he must have been made acquainted with Western ideas, for his mother, the Tsaritsa Natalia, had been the favorite pupil of Matvieeff, though she does not seem to have been very intelligent. After the triumph of Sophia, Natalia was altogether excluded from the conduct of affairs, and lived for nine months out of the twelve at Preobrazhenskoe, on the outskirts of the capital. During this period Peter was rarely to be seen at Moscow, except when he and his semi-imbecile brother, Ivan V, had to undergo the ceremony of receiving foreign ambassadors at the Kremlin. The boy soon felt cramped and stiffed in the dim and close semi-religious atmosphere of Natalia’s terem, and escaped from it, as often as he could, into the dirty streets of Moscow. There was no one near him of sufficient character and authority to keep the passionate fiery nature within due bounds.

From his tenth to his seventeenth year, Peter amused himself in his own way at Preobrazhenskoe with his “blackguards,” as Sophia dubbed the lads of the rougher lower classes whom he gathered around him. But it was not all amusement. Instinct was already teaching him his business. From the first, the lad took an extraordinary interest in the technical and mechanical arts, especially in their application to military science. From his twelfth year onwards he used to build wooden fortresses on earth foundations, with walls, ditches and bastions. One-half of his band of lads would then defend “Preshpur” (Pressburg) as he called it, against the other half headed by Peter himself. About the same time, he learnt the rudiments of geometry, and fortification from the Dutch­man Franz Timmerman. In his fourteenth year, Peter began to take an absorbing: interest in boats and ships, the final result of which was to be the creation of the Russian Navy. After preliminary experiments with small craft, he practised sailing on a larger scale at the Lake of Pereyaslavl, eighty miles from Preobrazhenskoe, where the German ship­master Brandt built larger boats for the indefatigable young navigator. To wean him from these dangerous pursuits and accustom him to domesticity, his mother, in January, 1689, compelled him to marry Eudoxia Lopukhina. The match was most unfortunate. The tempers of the spouses were quite incompatible. The bride, brought up in the strict old school, though beautiful arid pious, had no attraction for the young groom of seventeen. Three months after the wedding, Peter broke away from her and returned to Pereyaslavl. The revolution of 1689, which overthrew Sophia and placed the government of Muscovy in the hands of Peter’s kinsfolk, made no difference in his mode of life. Most probably at the beginning of 1690, he had found a new friend in the Swiss adventurer Francis Lefort, a reckless soldier of fortune, infinitely good-natured and amusing. We are told that “things impossible to describe” went on in the large hall, added at Peter’s expense, to Lefort’s house in the German settlement. But he was a shrewd as well as a pleasant scoundrel. For his own sake, he felt bound to divert Peter from mere amusement to serious enterprises which would place both the Tsar and his “jolly companions” in a more favorable light. It was this drunken, disreputable mentor who first persuaded Peter to undertake the expedition against Azoff, and then to go abroad to complete his education—in a word it was Lefort who put “Peter the bombardier” in the way of becoming “Peter the Great.”

By this time Peter had tired of the Lake of Pereyaslavl and even of the White Sea, which he had already visited twice, on the second occasion launching the first vessel built by “skipper Peter” which he christened St Paul (May, 1695). But the White Sea, frozen nine months. out of the twelve, had become too narrow for him, and he was looking about him for more hospitable waters. All sorts of projects were forming in his. head. At first he thought of seeking a passage to India or China: by way of the Arctic Ocean. Next he turned his eyes in the direction of the Baltic; but the Baltic was closed to Muscovy, and the key to it was held by Sweden, still the strongest military monarchy of the North. The Caspian remained; and it had long been a common saying with foreign merchants that the best way of tapping the riches of the Orient was to secure possession of this vast inland lake. But, so long as Turk, Tartar, and Cossack nomads made the Volgan steppe uninhabitable, the Caspian was a possession of very doubtful value. The first step towards security was to build a fleet strong enough to overawe those parts, for the anarchy of which the presence of the hordes of the Khan of Crimea was mainly responsible. But the Khan, to whom Muscovy actually paid tribute, was himself the tributary of the Grand Turk—it was therefore necessary for the Muscovite authorities to attack the. Turks direct. War against the Ottoman Porte was therefore resolved upon; and, the experience of Vasili Galitsin, in 1687 and 1689, having demonstrated the unpromising character of a Crimean campaign, the Turkish fortress of Azoff, which could be approached by water from Moscow, became the Russian objective. Early in 1695 the army of the new order, and the Strieltz, or arquebusiers, 31,000 strong, proceeded partly by land and partly by the rivers Moscova, Oka and Volga, to the Cossack town of Panshino on Don, reaching Azoff by the beginning of July. The bombardier regiment was led by “bombardier Peter.” The Russian batteries were opened on July 19, bombardier Peter directing the guns himself for the first fortnight; but no impression could be made on the fortress. In the beginning of August, the Turks surprised the Muscovite camp during its midday siesta, captured five guns and ruined the Russian siege artillery. After two subsequent fruitless attempts to storm Azoff, the siege was abandoned (September 27), and on November 22 the young Tsar reentered Moscow.

Peter’s first military expedition had ended in unmitigated disaster; yet from this disaster is to be dated the reign of “Peter the Great.” Fully accepting his failure, he determined to repair it by a second campaign. On his return from Azoff we hear no more of revels in the German settlement, or of sham fights at Preobrazhenskoe. Immediately after his arrival, Peter sent to Austria and Prussia for as many engineers, sappers, miners, and carpenters as money could procure. He meant to build a fleet strong enough to prevent the Turkish fleet from relieving Azoff. A model galley was ordered from Holland. All the workmen procurable were driven together in bands to Voronezh and other places among the forests of the Don, to fell timber. In the course of the next few months, 26,000 labourers, working night and day, turned out hundreds of barks and smaller vessels. Difficulties multiplied at every step. Thousands of workmen deserted; other thousands dawdled on the road; many of them never appeared at all. Forest fires destroyed the shipping sheds; severe frosts at the end of March, heavy snowstorms in the beginning of April, were fresh impediments. Yet, by dint of working all through Lent and Holy Week, a fleet of two warships, twenty-three galleys, four fire-ships, and numerous smaller craft, were safely launched in the middle of April. “We have finished our task, because, like our father Adam, we ate our bread in the sweat of our brows,” wrote Peter to his uncle Peter Stryeshheff. His own portion of this bread of labor had been eaten in a small two-roomed wooden hut at Voronezh, where he lived among his workmen, himself the most strenuous of them all. 

On May 14, the “sea-caravan” sailed from Voronezh, Peter, now captain, and commanding eight galleys of the flotilla from the galley Principium, built by his own hand. Nor was all this labour in vain. The new Russian fleet prevented the Turks from relieving Azoff by water; and in the daily fighting, the advantage was always with the besiegers. On July 29 the fortress surrendered. Its capture was one of those triumphs which strongly appeal to the popular imagination. It was the first victory ever won by the Muscovites over the terrible Turks. On October 11 the Muscovite army made its triumphal entry into the capital. The procession was headed by Admiral Lefort and Generalissimo Shein; and behind their gilded sledges marched Captain Peter, with a pike across his shoulder.

Peter now felt able to advance along the path of progress with a quicker and a firmer step. At two councils held on October 31 and November 15,1696, it was resolved to consolidate the victory by converting Azoff into a fortress, by establishing a new naval station at the head of the Sea of Azoff, to which the name of Taganrog was given, and by building a national fleet under the supervision of foreign ship­builders at the national expense. But it was necessary to guarantee the future as well as to provide for the present. It was therefore resolved to send a grand embassy to the principal Western Powers, to solicit their cooperation against the Turk. At the same council it was decided that fifty young Muscovites of the best families should be sent to England, Holland and Venice, to learn the arts and sciences of the West, especially shipbuilding, fortification, and foreign languages, so as to make Russia independent of foreigners in the future. The experiment had already been tried, on a smaller scale, by Tsar Boris Godunoff (1598-1605). It foiled, because the young Muscovites refused to return from civilization to barbarism. Peter proposed to obviate this by being the pioneer as well as the ruler of his people. He would, first of all, be a learner himself, that he might be able to teach his people afterwards. But Peter’s ideas, just because they were so much in advance of his age, scandalized the respectable classes of Muscovy. Their sense of dignity was shocked by the spectacle of the Gosudar (“Sovereign”) walking behind the sledge of a drunken Swiss adventurer; and they disliked the notion of sending their sons abroad to learn new-fangled practices from foreign heretics. Amongst the Strieltzy too, we notice the first symptoms of discontent which, a year later, was to burst forth in open rebellion. All these causes together led (March 16,1697) to a secret conspiracy against Peter’s life. It was repressed with the ferocity of panic fear. Six of the ringleaders were executed. Under torture they had confessed that the Tsar’s uncle, Ivan Milaslovski, had counselled Sophia to murder Peter. Ivan was beyond Peter’s vengeance; but his corpse was dug up, dragged by swine to the foot of the block at Preobrazhenskoe, and defiled by the warm blood of the decapitated traitors. This is the earliest instance of the would-be regenerator’s frequent relapses into savagery, under the overpowering stress of terror or hatred.


1697-8] The grand embassy to the west.


On March 21, 1697, the grand embassy, under the leadership of Lefort and Golovin, set out on its travels. Peter attached himself to it as a volunteer sailor, “Peter Mikhailoff,” so as to find greater facilities for learning shipbuilding and other technical sciences. The details of this adventure are so familiar, that there is no need to recapitulate them here. Though Peter completed his technical education in the dockyards of Deptford and Saardam, and so far was the gainer by his expedition, the embassy itself failed, as it was bound to fail, in its main object of obtaining the help of the Western Powers against the Turk. All Europe, divided into two hostile camps, was anxiously awaiting the death of the childless Charles II of Spain; and neither France nor the Grand Alliance pitted against her by William III was willing to plunge into the distant eastern War, with an armed conflict as to the Spanish Succession at their very doors. So far, indeed, were the allies from intervening in the Turkish War, that it was their earnest desire to bring about a peace between the Emperor, and the Porte, in order that the forces of the Empire might be exclusively employed against France. For the same reason, the prospect of the prolongation of the Russo-Turkish War was by no means disagreeable to England and Holland, as thereby the Porte would be prevented from giving assistance to Louis XIV.

Peter was about to go on to Venice to persuade the Seigniory to cleave firmly to the fast dissolving Holy League, when he was suddenly recalled to Russia by tidings of the revolt of the Strieltzy. Analyzed into its ultimate elements, the dissatisfaction of the Strieltzy with Peter’s administration was the protest of indolent, incapable, ultraorthodox, and excessively privileged troops against a new system which demanded from them more work and greater efficiency. When then, on June 6,1698, a letter, supposed to have been written by the Tsarevna Sophia, urging them to join her in force at the Dyevichesky monastery, was read to them, the Strieltzy, 2200 strong, resolved to march forthwith against Moscow, and to begin by destroying the German settlement there as the source of the new heretical ideas and projects. The importance of this rising has been much exaggerated. Three volleys from Peter’s foreign mercenaries under Shein and Patrick Gordon sufficed to scatter the Strieltzy on the banks of the Iskra (June 17, 1698). In an hour’s time all the rebels were in the hands of the Tsar’s troops, of whom only one man was mortally wounded. It was only after the battle that the carnage began. Peter had ordered the authorities to deal “severely” with the rebels, as nothing but “severity” could extinguish this fire. In Muscovy “severity” meant cruel severity; “severe” capital punishment pronounced against rebels meant breaking on the wheel, or impalement. Peter himself arrived secretly at Moscow on August 26, and; after spending a riotous evening at Lefort’s house in the German settlement, had slept in his little wooden hut at Preobrazhenskoe. That very night he had determined to drown all contradictions in torrents of blood. The new era of enlightenment was to be inaugurated by a reign of terror.

Peter was well aware that behind the Strieltzy stood the sympathizing masses of the Muscovite people, whom it was his mission to reform against their will. His foreign tour had more than ever convinced him of the inherent superiority of the foreigner; and, this superiority once admitted, imitation of the foreigner was, to his mind, inevitable. Any such imitation had, necessarily, to begin with externals; and Peter, with characteristic insight and thoroughness, at once fell foul of the long beards and Oriental costumes which symbolized the archconservatism of Old Russia. Other enlightened Princes, Boris, Theodore III, and the first pseudo-Demetrius for instance, had, in some respects, anticipated him. But all their more or less tentative efforts had foundered against the tyranny of ancient custom, and the strong opposition of the clergy: The famous protopope Avvakum had refused to bless the son of the boiar Sheremetieff, because he presented himself in indecent guise—in other words with a shorn head, after the Polish fashion. Beardless officials had small chance of promotion. More than one Patriarch had excommunicated members of their flocks who shaved. Against this powerful superstition Peter struck with all his might on the day after his return. On August 27, 1698, the chief men of the Tsardom were assembled round his wooden hut at Preobrazhenskoe; and Peter, emerging with a large pair of shears in his hand, deliberately clipped off the beards and moustaches of his chief boiars. After thus vindicating the claims of common-sense, he prudently condescended to a compromise. He decreed that after September 1 (the Old Russian New Year’s Day), 1698, beards might still be worn, but a graduated tax was imposed upon their wearers. Thus the beard ceased to be an object of worship in Muscovy; but the people were not provoked too far; and a new source of revenue had been found for the Treasury.

And now, without giving the reactionaries time to recover from this rude shock, the Tsar proceeded to horrify them by a strange and awful series of bacchanalia. From the middle of Septemher to the end of October, 1698, banquets and orgies alternated with torturings and executions, in which the Tsar and his favorites played the parts of inquisitors and headsmen. During these six weeks, no fewer than a thousand of the captive Strieltzy were done to death with every refinement of cruelty. At the same time, Peter seized his opportunity of breaking definitely with the past. The death of his half-brother Ivan V, in 1696, had left him sole Tsar; but Sophia in her monastery had been a possible source of danger. He determined that she should be such no longer. An intention on Peter’s part to implicate her in the conspiracy is transparent; from the first; but the utmost that the most excruciating torments could wring from the wretched Strieltzy was the admission that Sophia had sympathized with, the movement and would have helped it if she could. The letter supposed to have been sent by her turned out to have been written by her elder sister Martha. Both the Tsarevnas were shorn as nuns, and imprisoned for life under military surveillance. But Peter’s most cruel act of tyranny was his treatment of his unhappy wife. Eudoxia was guilty of no offence. She had nothing to do with the rebellion. But Peter, profiting by the general consternation and imbecility of the reactionaries, gladly shook off an encumbrance whose very presence was a nuisance and a reproach. While still in London, he had attempted to persuade Eudoxia voluntarily to embrace the religious life; but, the gentle creature proving unexpectedly obstinate, she was, on his return, shut up in the Pokrovsky monastery at Suzdal (September 23,1698). So convinced were the ecclesiastical authorities of the uncanonicity of the whole proceeding that, for nine months, they hesitated to shear the Tsaritsa. Then the Patriarch bowed before the first gust of Peter’s fury, and in June, 1699, the Tsaritsa Eudoxia disappeared from the world beneath the hood of “Sister Elena.”


1698-9] The extirpation of the Strieltzy.


The terrible deeds of September and October, 1698, were not without an injurious effect on Peter himself, and, more than once, his nervous irritation exploded in tempests of frantic passion. Thus, at a banquet at Lefort’s, on September 14, a dispute with General Shein over some trivial matter caused the Tsar to lose all control over himself. He rose from the table, drew his sword, fell furiously upon the company, and would have murdered them all on the spot, but for the soothing influence of his new friend, Alexander Danilovich Menshikoff. This extraordinary man was of so obscure an origin that it is doubtful whether his father was an ostler or a bargee. He first emerges into history as a vendor of meat-pies in the streets of Moscow. Lefort took him up and introduced him to Peter; and, on the death of Lefort, in 1699, Menshikoff succeeded him as prime favorite. Ignorant, brutal, grasping and corrupt, Menshikoff, nevertheless, well deserved the confidence of his master. After Peter, there was not a more alert, lucid, unprejudiced and versatile intellect than Menshikoff’s in all Muscovy, while his energy was boundless and inexhaustible. He could drill a regiment, build a frigate, administer a province, and decapitate a rebel, with equal facility. During the Tsar’s first foreign tour, Menshikoff worked by his side in the dockyards of, Amsterdam, visited all the Dutch workshops, and at the same time acquired a thorough knowledge of colloquial Dutch and German.

Two days after the punishment of the Strieltzy Peter wrote to his friend Andrei Vinius: “The shadow of a doubt crosses my mind. What if the fruit of my labours be delayed, like the fruit of the date-palm, the sower whereof sees it not?”. Evidently the disquieting suspicion that the work of regeneration would remain undone, unless he did it himself, spurred him on to fresh efforts. To save the people from the gross and notorious exactions of the voivodui, or provincial governors, and, at the same time to accustom them to self-government, burgomasters and town-councils, on the Western model, were now introduced. But the inherent corruption of Muscovite officialdom at once asserted itself. The starostui, or elders, whose duty it was to see that “good and worthy men” were chosen, systematically excluded from voting those of the electors who refused to pay for the privilege. In order to extirpate these corrupt practices by flogging and banishment, and to prevent their recurrence, Peter appointed a new order of officials, the Pribuilschchiki (Inspectors), who were to provide for the purity of public life, and look after the interests of the Government. The first of them was Alexis Kurbatoff, who had studied commercial and financial questions abroad, and was an intelligent man of many expedients. Shortly after his appointment he suggested to Peter as a new source of revenue, the introduction of stamped paper into Muscovy. Peter was so pleased with the idea that he straightway appointed Kurbatoff his confidential financial adviser. At the same time Peter established trading companies in Muscovy, for the better protection of the native merchants against foreign competition. The last year of the seventeenth century saw another notable reform, which drew a sharp line of demarcation between old and new. By the ukase of December 20, 1699, it was commanded that henceforth the new year should not be reckoned from September 1, supposed to be the date of the Creation, as heretofore, but from the first of January, Anno Domini.

Peter had brought home with him in 1698 the conviction that he must conclude peace with the Porte. This conviction was accompanied by the melancholy reflexion that such a peace would mean the relinquishment of the Black Sea, and the hope of a Russian navy along with it. But, if the Black Sea were abandoned, why should he not compensate himself on the shores of the Baltic? The Baltic was nearer both to Russia and to Western Europe than the Euxine, and, frequently, a much more desirable possession. On the other hand, if it were impossible to continue the Turkish War without allies, they were still more indispensable in a war with Sweden, the great Power from which the Baltic littoral was to be wrested. With these ideas already germinating in his mind, Peter, on his homeward journey in 1698, encountered the lately elected King of Poland, Augustus II, at Rawa. The inexperienced young Tsar was enchanted by the worldly wisdom and the exuberant jollity of this facile and self-indulgent potentate. The Baltic question seems to have been discussed over their wine-cups, and Peter was delighted to find that Augustus was willing enough to meet his ambitions half-way. Charles XI of Sweden, whose genius had enabled Sweden to recover the rank of a great Power, had died the year before; and the Swedish Government was now in the hands of his son, an untried youth of sixteen. If the Baltic Provinces were to be stolen at all, now was the time. But no definite agreement was reached on this occasion. Augustus had not yet matured his plans, and Peter could not embark on a new war till he had terminated the old one.

On returning to Moscow, Peter at once set about concluding peace with the Porte. It was his good fortune, at this period, to possess a Minister of foreign affairs of the highest ability in Theodore Golovin, who, like so many others of his countrymen in later times, had learnt the business of a ruler in the Far East. On Lefort’s death he succeeded him as Admiral-General. The same year he was created the first Russian Count, and from 1699 to his death in 1706 he was the premier Minister of the Tsar. Golovin’s first diplomatic achievement was the conclusion of peace with the Porte. The Turks, worsted by the Imperial troops in Hungary and on the Danube, were themselves anxious to come to terms with Muscovy. A preliminary truce for two years had been concluded in 1698, and in 1699 two Muscovite plenipotentiaries were sent to Stambul to convert the truce into a definitive peace. Everything was done both to mollify and to impress the Turk. The ambassadors were provided with 5000 roubles’ worth of precious furs and 10 poods (400 lbs.) of walrus ivory, for bribing purposes; and they were not to go by land as heretofore, but by sea. A man-of-war awaited them at the new arsenal of Taganrog, and they were escorted out of the Sea of Azoff by a fleet of nine war­ships and two galleys. On August 28 a Russian line-of-battle ship sailed for the first time into the Golden Horn, fired a salute, and cast anchor at the very gates of the Seraglio. The Russian plenipotentiaries demanded peace on a uti possidetis basis, and the Turks were willing at first to accept the terms offered; but unfortunately Russia now found all the Western Powers arrayed against her. Great Britain and Holland feared the commercial competition of Russia in the Euxine and the Levant, while France dreaded her political rivalry. Thus it came about that the Divan, secretly encouraged by the foreign Ministers, grew more and more exacting and peremptory. Not till July, 1700, was a truce for thirty years concluded between Russia and the Porte. By the terms of the truce the Azoff district and all the land extending from thence to the Kuban district were ceded to Muscovy, who undertook on her part to demolish all the extra-Azovian forts. On August 8, 1700, Peter heard from his chief plenipotentiary, Emelyan Ukraintseff, that peace had been concluded with the Porte. On the following day his army received orders to invade Livonia. The great Northern War had begun.

Hitherto historians have regarded the great Northern War, of which an account is given in a later. chapter, too exclusively from a military point of view; yet, from the Russian standpoint, it was not so much an arena for the strife of heroes as, in the first, place, a training-school for, a backward young nation, and, in the second place, a means of multiplying the material resources of a nation as poor as she was backward. Peter the Great entered into the war with Sweden, in order that Russia might gain her proper place on the northern Mediterranean. The possession of an ice-free sea-board was essential to her national develop­ment ; the creation of a fleet followed, inevitably, upon the acquisition of such a sea-board; and she could not hope to obtain her due share of the trade and commerce of the world till she possessed both.


Civilising effect of the great Northern War. [1700-3


But, in the meantime, Russia had to be educated so far as possible up to the European level, in order that she might be able to appreciate; and utilize the hardly-won fruits of Western civilization. And thus it was that, during the whole course of the great Northern War, the process of internal reformation proceeded slowly but unceasingly. The whole fabric of the State was gradually changing. Brand new institutions, formed on Western models, were gradually growing up amidst the cumbrous, antiquated, worn-out machinery of old Muscovy, and new men, capable and audacious brimful of new ideas, were being trained, under the eye of the great regenerator, to help him in his task, and to carry it on when he himself should have vanished from the scene. At first, indeed, the external forms of the administration remained much the same as before. The old dignities disappeared of their own accord; for the new men, those nearest to Peter, did not require them. Between 1701 and. 1703, the naval, artillery, mining, and coining Directories sprang into existence. The great drag on the wheels of the Government—a drag which grew more and more acute as the war proceeded—was its penury. The expense of the fixed embassies at foreign Courts (one of the earliest of the Petrine innovations) was a particularly severe strain upon the depleted treasury. Every expedient to increase the revenue was eagerly snatched at. Taxation was made universal. The sale of spirits became a government monopoly. A great impediment to commerce was the deplorable state of the currency. The only coins in circulation were the well-worn silver kopeks and half-kopeks, most of which were further deteriorated by bisection and trisection. In many places, goods were paid for by leather and other tokens. The currency was reformed by the coinage ukase of March, 1700, which established mints for the stamping and testing of gold, silver, and copper coins by qualified masters. Before 1700, only from 200,000 to 500,000 coins had been annually struck in Russia. In 1700 the number rose to 1,992,000, in 1701 to 2,559,000, and in 1702 to 4,534,000.

Peter’s two great objects at this period of his, reign were external security and internal prosperity. The former he had obtained by the creation of a new army on the European model; the latter he hoped to promote by a whole series of administrative measures. In April, 1702, he issued the celebrated ukase for facilitating the immigration of foreign specialists into Russia, on a scale never before contemplated. The invitation was made as tempting as possible, all such visitors being allowed free ingress and egress, full liberty of worship, and permission to be tried by their own tribunals. To the better sort of Russian Dissenters, also, Peter was very tolerant. Religious persecution, indeed, he abominated; thus, when he could not prevent the Church from persecuting heretics, he always endeavored to give to the proceedings a political motive. His attitude towards the Bezpopovshchina, or “priestless community,” is characteristic of his general policy. The enter­prise and organising genius of this wealthy body enabled it practically to monopolize the rich fisheries and hunting-grounds of the White Sea, while the abundant harvests, which filled its granaries to overflowing, ultimately gave it the command of the corn-market of St Petersburg, which, in the course of 1703, began to spring up among the thickly-wooded marshes of the Neva. All danger from without was avoided by a composition with Peter, the community agreeing to pay double taxes and work, at set times, for nothing, in the state mines and foundries at Povyenets. In return for such services, the practical Tsar, in a ukase of 1703, permitted these lucrative nonconformists full liberty of worship with the use of the ancient rites and the old service-books. The only people to whom he denied toleration were the Jews, whom he regarded with the liveliest hatred.

From the first, Peter did much to promote education, especially education of a practical sort. Schools of mathematics and navigation were established, about 1702, at Moscow, and in 1703 another school was founded there, at which geography, ethics, politics, Latin rhetoric, the Cartesian philosophy, dancing, and the elements of French and German were taught. Great efforts were made to provide cheap books for the new schools. The chief worker in this field was the Protestant Pole, Ilia Kopienski, who set up a press at Amsterdam and, having the privilege of printing all Russian books, issued a considerable number. In 1698, by Peter’s special command, he printed an abridgment of Leo the Philosopher’s Art of War, and in 1700 a version of Aesop, remarkable as being the first Russian translation from an ancient classical author. In 1703 the first Russian Gazette appeared, entitled News of military and other events worthy of knowledge and remembrance.

Undeterred by repeated failures and the most discouraging relapses, Peter, though himself a semi-barbarian, labored hard to civilize those who were even more barbarous than himself. In 1702, in order to reduce the number of conflagrations, a ukase directed that all houses were to be built of brick instead of wood, and fire-hose were introduced. In 1704, ukases were issued forbidding midwives to kill misshapen children, and ordering the construction of stone bridges at Moscow. Other ukases of the same period endeavored to raise the tone of public morality, and inculcate self-respect. Thus the ukase of April, 1704, sternly prohibited compulsory marriage, which had been one of the chief scandals and miseries of old Muscovite life, released women from the captivity of the terem, and compelled their husbands and fathers to admit them to all social entertainments. The ukase of December 30, 1701, forbade falling on the knees before the Tsar, or doffing the hat before the Imperial Palace. “What difference is there between God and the Tsar, if equal honor be shown to both?” asked Peter on this occasion.


Abolition of the Patriarchate. [17oo-4


In 1700 died the Patriarch Adrian. His administration had, latterly, been so negligent, that his enemies accused him of sleeping away his time, and eating up his revenues. Adrian’s dilapidations could be repaired only by a very energetic successor, but where was a Patriarch in sympathy with the reforming Tsar to be found? An energetic but unfriendly Patriarch would be the natural leader of a whole army of malcontents; he would be a most dangerous rival, a second Nikon. In January, 1701, therefore, the administration of the temporalities of the patriarchate was entrusted to a layman, Count Ivan Musin-Pushkin. His appointment was the first step towards a rigid inquisition into the government and revenues of the Russian monasteries, which resulted in the ukase of December, 1701, depriving the religious houses of the control of their estates, and making the monks the salaried officials of the State. The care of the spiritualities was confided to a Little Russian prelate, Stephen Yavorsky, with the title of Exarch of the Most Holy Patriarchal See, whom Peter now promoted to the archi-episcopal see of Riazan. The ignorant Great Russian clergy detested this more enlightened Little Russian interloper, and such pressure was brought to bear upon him that he hid himself in a monastery on the day appointed for his consecration, declaring that he could not accept his new dignity so long as his episcopal brethren accused him of simony, heresy and wine-bibbing. But Peter, well aware that the same people who repudiated Yavorsky called him (the Tsar) Antichrist, overruled Yavorsky’s objections, and insisted on the consecration of a man whom he already rightly regarded as a fellow-worker.

All this time, the popular disaffection against the Tsar was steadily growing. As the War proceeded, as the burden of taxation became more grievous, and the number of the recruits ever larger, the murmuring of every class of the population grew louder and louder. “What manner of Tsar is this?” they said, “who takes us all for soldiers, and gives us no rest, and makes our wives and children widows and orphans? If he lives much longer he will ruin the whole land. He is a miroyed, he eats up the whole world.” The people explained to their own satisfaction Peter’s fondness for the Germans. He was the supposititious child of a stray German mother. He was the son of Lefort. The real Peter had remained abroad. In fact, Antichrist now sat on the Muscovite throne. On January 4, 1700, the Tsar still further irritated the reactionaries by issuing the ukase directing the general use of short Saxon or Magyar jackets, and French or German hose. This was followed, in 1701, by the ukase forbidding from henceforth, under heavy penalties, the wearing of the cumbrous old Muscovite garments. The European nations of the West had long since discarded the long, heavy, flowing garments customary among Asiatics. Muscovy still clung to Oriental costumes as well as to Oriental ideas; and, by substituting for these Western dress, Peter emphasized in the most public and striking manner his intention of completely Europeanizing his still semi-Asiatic subjects. This latest innovation was bitterly resented as both indecent and irre­ligious. In Moscow itself open resistance was out of the question; but in July, 1705, a dangerous rebellion broke out at Astrakhan, under the leadership of Cossack officers and ex-Strieltzy. It was only suppressed on March 13, 1706, when Sheremeteff, with a regular army, took Astrakhan by assault, and three hundred and sixty-five of the rebels were sent to Moscow to be broken on the wheel and decapitated.

After 1703 the reform movement necessarily proceeded more slowly. Peter, now constantly at war, had no time to give to domestic affairs. Yet never for a moment was the great work of progress suspended. In 1705, a ukase ordered the paving of Moscow. In 1706, the first modem hospital and medical training-school was built on the river Yanza, close to the German settlement at Moscow. In February, 1706, sanitary inspectors for Moscow were appointed, one for every ten houses. In 1707, a commission was appointed to devise the best means of dealing with the wholesale vagabondage and highway robbery which was the perennial curse of Muscovy. Peter had already done much to promote education; in 1707, he proceeded a step further by introducing into Russia the so-called “civil script.” Hitherto, the old Cyrillic alphabet of forty- eight letters (still used in liturgical books) served for all Russian books. Peter deleted eight of the more cumbersome letters, simplified the remainder, and sent to Holland to have the new alphabet cast into type. It was brought back to Russia in 1707 by the typographer Anton Demei, and, with some few later modifications, has been in use ever since. This simplification of the old alphabet was the first step towards the composition of the modem Russian written language, and therefore a reform of capital importance for civilization. The first three books printed in the new script appeared at Moscow in 1708. Peter himself corrected the proofs and supervised the translations of the earlier books, which included a history of Russia down to his own times, issued by his express command.


Administrative reforms. [1710-20


In 1708 Russia was divided into eight “governments”—Moscow, St Petersburg, Kieff, Smolensk, Archangel, Kazan, Azoff, and Siberia—in order that the country might be administered “in a more orderly and tranquil manner. The chief duty of the eight “Governors” was to see that the taxes were duly collected and transmitted to Moscow. On January 27, 1710, the first imperial budget was framed, when it was discovered that the annual revenue amounted to 3,016,000 roubles, or, taking a three years’ average, 3,133,000 roubles, while the total expenditure came to 3,824,000. Thus expenditure exceeded revenue; but it is indubitable that the revenue would have been much larger but for the wholesale peculation which diminished the amount in transit. According to these estimates, the army cost 1,252,000, the navy 444,000, the diplomatic service 148,000, ordnance 84,000, and the garrisons 977,000 roubles.

Absorbed as he was at this period by the Swedish and Turkish wars, which required his prolonged absence from Russia, Peter could not properly attend to the details of the domestic administration; but, as it could no longer be neglected, he instituted (by the ukase of February 22, 1711) a supreme governing board to which he gave the name of the “Administrative Senate.” It was to take the place of the Tsar during his absence, and to receive the implicit obedience due to himself. In a word, it was responsible for the whole burden of the administration. In order to facilitate the communications of the Senate with the governors and the fiscal functionaries, the office of Revisor General of Ukases was instituted in November, 1715. In 1717 Colleges or Departments of State were introduced. The idea of this administrative reform was first suggested to Peter by Leibniz. By the ukase of April 18, 1718, the “Colleges” were to be, in all points, exactly on the model of the Swedish “services”; so that Peter may be said to have learnt the science of government as well as the art of war from his Scandinavian rivals. As finally constituted, these new public offices were nine in number, and corresponded roughly with the Ministries of Western Europe. The Presidents of the Colleges were the principal Senators, all of whom were Russians. Most of the Vice-Presidents were foreigners. Peter invariably acted on the patriotic principle, not always followed by his immediate successors, that natives should always fill the highest posts, and that no alien should occupy any place that a Russian was equally capable of filling.

Efforts were also made to simplify local government as much as possible by subdivision of labour. Thus the various governments were split up into counties or districts (uezdui), each district having its own president assisted by a council of assessors, called Landrathe, elected by the gentry. In 1720 nadvorniue sudbui, or Courts of justice, were established in every town, and zemskie kontorui, or land-offices, where public accounts had to be regularly kept. In April, 1718, the old ulozhenie, or Code of laws, was remodelled according to the existing Swedish Code. By the ukase of June 15, 1718, insolvent debtors were compelled to work off their debts in public institutions, at the rate of a rouble a month, during which time they were to be fed at the expense of the State like convicts. A new law of succession was also introduced. The old practice of partitioning real estate was abolished, and the custom of primogeniture introduced. Henceforth, however, younger sons were to be allowed to buy landed estates after seven years’ civil or ten years’ military service. By the ukase of January 16, 1721, all officers in the army, whatever their origin, and their children after them, were declared to be noble, and entitled to patents of nobility. But education had previously been declared to be the indispensable qualification for advancement in every branch of the service. Thus the famous ukase of January 20, 1714, ordered professors from the mathematical schools to go the round of the provinces, and teach the children of the gentry arithmetic. No gentleman was henceforth to marry unless he had first been properly educated. The Guard was to serve as a training-school for inferior officers, while the sons of eminent persons were to be sent abroad to learn the science of war from famous generals.

Now, as formerly, the poverty of the Government was its chief impediment. There was no money to pay shipbuilders; yet ships had to be built, if the sea was to be held; and the command of the sea was necessary for. the growth of commerce, the increase of which would, eventually, recoup the Government its expenses. But, if trade is to be promoted, traders must be encouraged and taken care of. Peter fully realized this. In November, 1711, half a dozen mercantile experts were transferred from Moscow to St Petersburg, to advise and assist the Government in concluding a new commercial treaty with England and Holland. A further effort to promote trade and industry is seen in the institution of the glavnuy magistrat, or chief magistracy (ukase of January 26, 1721)—a supreme local government board, subordinated to the Senate, consisting of the members of the St Petersburg civic authorities, half of whom were foreigners, the Tsar himself nominating the President. The “chief magistracy” was to appoint and superintend the magistrates in all the Russian towns, which were now divided into categories, according to wealth and population.

Great efforts were made by the regenerator to utilize Russia’s latent resources. All landed proprietors were urged to search for and work the minerals on their estates, or the Government was to do it for them. In 1719 we find the silver mines of Nerchinsk, the iron mines of Tobolsk, and the copper mines of Kungura in full working order. At Tula and Kashirsk, about the same time, Alexis Naruishkin founded iron-works. Still more lucrative were the Lipski iron-works, which were bound by contract to turn out 15,000 small arms of all sorts, including 1000 pistols, per annum. The Olonets iron-works were important because of their proximity to St Petersburg. No improvement was too small for the attention of the Tsar. Thus in May, 1725, he ordered that corn should, henceforth, be reaped with scythes instead of with sickles. The cloth manufactory of Moscow had engaged Peter’s attention since 1705, and he at last committed it entirely to private firms, both to save expense and to accustom the Russians to commercial enterprises. The manufacture of sails was introduced into Russia in 1702, but languished till taken in hand by Prince Odoevsky in 1716. The leather trade had always been of the utmost importance. In 1716 alone 135,467 poods were sent to Archangel for export. Peter did much for the leather industry. Master-tanners were sent from Reval to Moscow to teach the people there how to tan the leather properly; and, after two years of such instruction, those of the Moscow tanners who persisted in the old way were liable to imprisonment and confiscation of property.

The needs of the Government compelled it to use forced labour, and recruit its artisans as well as its soldiers from the peasantry; and the period of reform was too close to the old Muscovite period of peasant serfdom to admit of any amelioration in the general condition of the serfs as regards the State. Yet the Government did what it could to protect the serfs from “their worst enemies, those drunken and disorderly masters who deteriorate their estates, laying all sorts of unbearable burdens on their peasants, and beating and tormenting them so that they run away from their grievous burdens, for which cause waste lands multiply and the arrears of taxation increase.” All such masters were to be placed under restraint as lunatics; and their property was to be administered by their nearest relatives, or by the State. Moreover, by the ukase of April 21, 1721, proprietors were forbidden to sell their serfs separately; they were only to be sold in families.

But there was worse than poverty to contend with. Peter knew well that the emptiness of the Treasury was very largely due to peculation, that ancient and ineradicable vice of Russian society. The Russian official had come to regard the public service mainly as a source of personal income. Having no regular salary, he looked to his underlings “ or nourishment,” as the phrase went, and he took from them according to his needs, most liberally interpreted. Peter was not the man to leave the improvement of public morals to the gradual operation of time; and, as he always adopted the most energetic measures by preference, he was speedily committed to a struggle with the robbers of the Treasury, almost as bloody as his struggle with the rebellious Streltzy. The vileness of some of the expedients which he found it necessary to adopt is eloquent of the extent and virulence of the evil with which he had to cope. By the ukase of August, 1718, informers were invited to report all cases of defalcation to the Tsar, and promised the rank and property of those whom they denounced. The ukase of December 24, 1714, further encouraged delators to come forward, and not be afraid of reporting against even their official superiors. The ukase of January 23, 1721, instituted an order of official public accusers, the so-called Imperial “Upper-fiscals,” whose principal duties were to protect the revenue and supervise the administration of the Senate. The fiscals were to warn the Senators thrice of any dereliction of duty and, if the third warning was disregarded, they were to report the matter to the Tsar direct. In consequence of a sermon preached by Stephen Yavorsky, Archbishop of Riazan, on March 17,1712, vigorously attacking the whole system of official espionage and pointing out its consequences, the ukase of March 17, 1714, was issued. This ukase imposed upon any fiscal or delator convicted of a false accusation the penalty which would have been imposed upon the alleged delinquent if he had been found guilty; but mistakes arising from carelessness were only lightly punished.

Villainous as the system was, it certainly brought much rascality to light. One of the most active and courageous of these delators was the Upper-fiscal Alexis Nestoroff, who, in 1711, reported to the Tsar that the Governor of Siberia, Prince Gagarin, was plundering the Treasury and had succeeded in monopolizing the lucrative China trade. Nestoroff sent a whole chestful of incriminating documents to the Senate for investigation, and the Senate promptly destroyed them all. But the indefatigable Upper-fiscal set about collecting fresh evidence, and in 1717 he presented a still stronger case against Gagarin and his abettors. The case was ultimately transferred to a committee of the officers of the Guard, when it was proved conclusively that Gagarin had not only systematically corrupted all the Siberian officials to wink at his depredations, but that many of the Senators and heads of Colleges were his accomplices. Finally, Gagarin made a free and full confession of his crimes, and petitioned for leave to pass the rest of his days in a monastery. Peter sent him to the gallows instead.

The recrudescence of highway robbery led to the policing of the Russian towns, and civic guards were chosen from among the male inhabitants. The police were also to see that no wares unfit for food were exposed for sale, to examine and test all weights and measures, and to act as firemen. Science was promoted by the ukase of February, 1710, encouraging, by a system of rewards, the collection of natural objects. Especial attention was paid to geography; and in 1719 the geodesists Evreimoff and Luzh were sent to survey Kamschatka, and decide the question whether north-east Asia and America were united or not. By this time St Petersburg was emerging from its scaffolding, and foreigners were beginning to speak well of it. Already it could boast some fine buildings. The imposing Nevsky Prospect, built entirely of stone by gangs of Swedish prisoners, was especially admired.


Ecclesiastical reforms. [1716-21


Extraordinarily difficult during this period of transition and trans­formation was the position of the Russian Church. As the sworn guardian of Orthodoxy, she was bound, in many respects, to observe a conservative attitude; yet patriotism equally obliged her not to oppose the beneficent civilising efforts of a reforming Tsar. But the Church herself was very much in need of discipline. The number of unworthy priests had greatly increased in consequence of the influx into the ministry of many members of the gentry who evaded military service by becoming candidates for holy orders. This abuse was met by the ordinance directing the Bishops not to ordain anyone under twenty-five a deacon, and anyone under thirty a priest. Efforts were also made to raise the religious tone of the community. The ukase of 1716 commanded everybody, under heavy penalties, to go to confession at least once a year. The ukase of 1718 went further still. It compelled all parishioners to attend church every Sunday and holyday, and absentees were henceforth to be ineligible for public offices. The real motive of this ordinance was that the people might hear the ukases read after divine service, as, in those days of general ignorance, comparatively few could read the ukases posted up on the gates of the towns. 

The patriarchate still remained unoccupied, and Archbishop Yavorsky found some difficulty in filling up the vacant bishoprics, because he could not always agree with the members of the Senate who were associated with him in the election. Yavorsky’s position at this time was somewhat anomalous. He had alienated the Tsar by openly espousing the cause of the unfortunate Tsarevich Alexis. He had frequently alluded in his discourses to “the raging waves” beating continually against “the solid shore”; and, after he had explained “the solid shore” to mean “the law of God,” his hearers readily guessed whom he meant by “the raging waves.” He was presently eclipsed by Theophan Prokopovich, prefect of the Kieff Academy, who won Peter’s favor by his brilliant sermon on “the most glorious victory,” i.e. Poltawa. At last, the regenerator had found a priest after his own heart, a man of vast learning, brilliant gifts, and great force of character, who fully sympathised with the reform movement and was determined to promote it. The “Light of Kieff” was consecrated Bishop of the opulent see of Pleskow, despite an accusation of crypto-Calvinism brought against him by the indignant Yavorsky. When Peter, for the better regulation of church affairs, proposed the establishment of a “Spiritual Department,” Theophan alone was entrusted with the drafting of the project; so that he may be regarded as the creator of what was subsequently known as “the Holy Synod.” In January, 1721, an imperial manifesto formally established the “Spiritual Department.” The new College was to spread enlightenment and the knowledge of God’s law, and extirpate superstition by composing and publishing books on the dogmas of the faith, and the duties of every order of men, and collections of sermons from the Fathers, explanatory of dogmas and duties generally. Henceforth, in filling up a vacant see, the Tsar was to elect one of two candidates presented to him by the “ Spiritual Department.”

The strong and terrible reforming Tsar had triumphed over every obstacle—triumphed so thoroughly that any interruption of his work during his lifetime was inconceivable. But, in the midst of his triumph, the thought perpetually haunted him: “Will my work survive me?” His health was uncertain, his half taught pupils were few and divided, the adversaries of his reforms were many and of one mind, and they believed, and believed rightly, that in the heir to the throne, the Tsarevich Alexis, they possessed a secret sympathiser who would, one day, reverse the whole policy of the Tsar-Antichrist and restore the old order of things.


1690-1704] The Tsarevich Alexis.


Peter’s sole surviving son, Alexis, born on February 19, 1690, was utterly ignored by his father till he was nine years old. Peter’s son, who loved his mother, could have little affection for a father who had ever been her worst persecutor. Only after the disappearance of Eudoxia into a monastery did Peter take his son in hand. He confided the care of his education to learned foreigners like Neugebauer and Huyssens, who taught him French, history, geography, and mathematics. In 1703, in order that he might practically apply his lessons, Alexis was ordered to follow the army to the field as a private in a bombardier regiment; and in 1704 he was present at the capture of Narva. At this period, Huyssens had the most favorable opinion of his pupil. He reported that the Tsarevich was of a precocious intelligence, and a singularly amiable disposition. He had already read the Bible six times—five times in Slavonic, and once in German; he had mastered the works of the Greek Fathers, read all the spiritual and profane books translated into the Slavonic tongue, and could speak and write French and German with facility. Of the ability of Alexis there could be no question; unfortunately it was not the sort of ability of which his father could make use. The Tsarevich was, essentially, a student, with strong leanings towards ecclesiology. The quiet seclusion of a monastic library was the proper place for this gentle, emotional dreamer, who clung so fondly to the ancient traditions, and was so easily moved by the beauty of the Orthodox Liturgy. To a prince of this temperament, the restless, vehement energy, the racket and bustle of his abnormally active father, were odious. Yet Peter, not unnaturally, demanded that his heir should dedicate himself to the service of New Russia, and help to fashion his future inheritance. He demanded from a youth with the nature of a recluse, practical activity, unceasing labor, unremitting attention to technical details, the concentration of all his energies on the business of government, upon the herculean labor of maintaining the new State at the high level of greatness to which it had already been raised. In consequence of these stem paternal demands and his own invincible repugnance against carrying them out, Alexis, quite apart from the personal antipathies already existing, could not but regard his father in the light of a tormentor. Moreover, Yavorsky and the other arch-pastors of the Russian Church openly expressed their disapprobation of the Tsar’s new and strange ways; and, as a loyal son of the Church, the Tsarevich gladly listened to those who had the power to bind and loose. He even told his confessor, Yakoff Ignateff, whom he had promised to obey as “ah angel and apostle of God,” that he had wished for his father’s death, and Ignateff encouraged him in such sentiments.

After the marriage of Alexis to the Princess Sophia Charlotte of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel (October 25, 1711), Peter made a determined effort to tear his son away from what he conceived to be a life of indolent ease. Three weeks after his wedding, Alexis was hurried away by his father to Thom to superintend the provisioning of the Russian troops in Poland. For the next twelve months he was kept constantly on the move. In April, 1712, a peremptory ukase ordered him off to the army in Pomerania; and, in the autumn of the same year, he was forced to accompany his father on a tour of inspection through Finland. On his return to the capital, Peter, in order to see what progress his son had made in mechanics, asked him to produce for inspection his latest drawings. His father’s command threw Alexis into a state of panic; and, to escape the ordeal of such an examination, he resorted to the abject expedient of disabling his right hand by a pistol shot. In no other way could the Tsarevich have offended his father so deeply. He had behaved like a cowardly recruit who mutilates himself to shirk military service, and, for a time, Peter washed his hands of his son.

Alexis had the great advantage of knowing that, in any case, the future belonged to him. Most of the magnates, all the higher clergy with a single exception, and the mass of the Russian nation were on his side. All he had to do was to sit still, keep out of his father’s way as much as possible, and await the natural course of events. But Peter could not afford to leave anything to chance. All his life he had been working incessantly with a single object—the regeneration of Russia—in view. All that he now required from his successor was sympathy and goodwill. But what if that successor refused to tread in his father’s footsteps, or, still worse, tried to destroy his father’s work? By some such process of reasoning as this, must the idea of changing the succession to the throne, by setting aside Alexis, have first occurred to the mind of Peter.

The subject was first broached by the Tsar in his letter to Alexis on October 22, 1715, the day of the funeral of the Princess Charlotte who had died four days after giving birth to a son (the subsequent Peter II). This letter was severe and menacing; yet the Tsarevich was asked to do no more than acquiesce in his father’s plans. “It is not work I want from you, but goodwill,” wrote Peter; “I have thought well to address this last appeal to you, and wait a little longer, to see if, perchance, you will turn from the error of your ways. If you do not, be quite sure that I will deprive you of the succession; I will cut you off as though you were a gangrenous swelling.”

Peter naturally expected that this final appeal would have led to a personal explanation, followed by reconciliation and an effort at amendment; but again Alexis acted abjectly. He wrote a pitiful reply to his father, offering to renounce, on the grounds of sickness and general incompetence, the succession in favor of his infant half-brother Peter, born on the day after the Princess Charlotte’s funeral, but only to die a few months later. Rage and mortification, and the effort to drown them in a debauch, brought on a serious attack of Peter’s old malady, epilepsy. So ill was he that the Senators were hastily summoned and slept all night at the Palace, and the last sacraments were administered to the Tsar. Not until January 19,1716, was he able to reply to his son’s letter; and he now offered Alexis the choice between amending his ways or becoming a monk. Alexis consulted his friends, who advised him to submit to the tonsure and await better times in a monastery. Hereupon Alexis wrote to his father for permission to become a monk, signing the letter “your slave and useless son Alexis.” Still Peter did not despair. On the eve of his departure for the Pomeranian and Mecklenburg campaign he visited Alexis, who was ill at the time, and urged him to do nothing in a hurry. On August 26, 1716, he wrote to him from abroad commanding him, if he desired to remain Tsarevich, to join the army without delay.

Alexis at once saw a chance of escaping from his false position altogether. Accompanied by his mistress Afrosina, a Finnish peasant- girl, and four servants, he fled to Vienna and placed himself under the protection of his brother-in-law, the Emperor, who sent him for greater security to the fortress of St Elmo at Naples.

Peter’s agitation was extreme. The flight of the Tsarevich to a foreign potentate was a reproach and a scandal. He must be recovered and brought back to Russia at all hazards. But the operation was one of exceptional difficulty, and it was therefore confided to the most subtle, astute and unscrupulous of all the Muscovite diplomatists, Count Peter Tolstoi, with Captain Alexander Rumyantseff as his assistant. On September 24, 1717, Tolstoi and Rumyantseff arrived at Naples. They were to assure the Tsarevich that, if he returned home with them at once, everything would be forgiven, and he would be restored to favor and have perfect liberty; but, if he refused to return, his father, as his sovereign, would publicly denounce him as a traitor, while the Church would simultaneously excommunicate him as a disobedient son, in which case he might be sure that he was doomed, both in this world and the next. They found Alexis almost insane with terror. He declared, outright, that he was afraid to face his father’s wrath. Tolstoi reported that only the most extreme compulsion could, as he brutally phrased it, “melt the hard-frozen obstinacy of this beast of ours”—and we can imagine what such words meant in the mouth of a man who had not hesitated to remove an inconvenient secretary by poison at Stambul.

The unfortunate Tsarevich knew, instinctively, that he was fighting for his life. At first, however, relying on the Emperor’s solemn promise of protection, he stood firm and refused to depart. But the most villainous expedients, remorselessly employed, compelled him at last to surrender. He promised to return to Russia with Tolstoi, but only on two conditions: his father was to allow him to marry Afrosina and retire into private life. To these terms Tolstoi agreed, and Peter himself solemnly confirmed them in a letter to his son in which he swore, “before God and His judgment seat,” that, if Alexis came back, he should not be punished in the least, but be cherished as a son.

On January 81, 1718, Alexis reached Moscow. On February 19 the names of his accomplices were extorted from him. His wretched confederates, tom from their hiding places and dragged to the torture-chamber, supplied the prosecution with evidence which would not be accepted in any modern Court of justice. On the conclusion of the “Moscow Process,” as it was called, the most salient feature of which was the trial and condemnation of the ex-Tsaritsa Eudoxia for adultery, the impalement of her alleged paramour, and the degradation of many of her friends, including Dositheus, Bishop of Rostoff, there was a lull in the prosecution of the Tsarevich’s affair. Alexis, on the supposition that something was now due to one who had unhesitatingly confessed everything required of him, bent all his efforts to obtain the fulfillment of his father’s promise that he should marry Afrosina. The girl arrived at St Petersburg in April, 1718; but, instead of being taken to the arms of her lover, as she had expected, she was suddenly brought before the Tsar’s inquisitors. As the mistress and confidante of Alexis, she was the chosen depository of his secrets; and those secrets the prosecution, which so far had failed to establish a charge of conspiracy, was determined to get hold of. The helpless woman’s revelations did not amount to much, but were sufficient to destroy Alexis. He had told her that, when he was Tsar, he would order things very differently. He would live at Moscow and let St Petersburg remain a mere provincial town. He would have no ships, and keep the army solely for defensive purposes. He predicted that, on the death of his father, a civil war would break out between his own partisans and those of his little brother, in which he would ultimately prevail, because the Russian people would not endure the government of women.

Immediately after this “confession” had been obtained, Peter sent for Alexis, confronted him with it, and reproached him for concealing material facts and thereby forfeiting his pardon. To save the miserable remnant of life which his tormentors might allow him to call his own, Alexis now said “yes” to everything. He had wished for his father’s death; he had rejoiced when he healed plots against his father; he had been ready to accept his father’s throne from rebels and regicides. All had now been said. The worst was known at last. True, there were no frats to go upon. The Tsarevich had, so far, done nothing, whatever he might have intended to do. Nevertheless, Peter henceforth regarded his son as a self-convicted and most dangerous traitor. His life was forfeited, the future welfare of Russia imperatively demanded his extinction.

But now a case for casuists arose; and Peter himself was casuist enough to recognize that it was a case of unusual and peculiar difficulty. Even if Alexis deserved a thousand deaths, his father had sworn by the most solemn of oaths to pardon him and let him live in peace, if he returned to Russia; and it was only on these conditions that Alexis (very foolishly, in the pinion of his friends) had placed himself once more in his father’s hands. The question whether the enormity of the Tsarevich’s crime absolved the Tsar from the oath which he had taken to spare the life of this prodigal son, was solemnly submitted to a grand council of prelates, senators, ministers, generals and other dignitaries, on June 13,1718. Five days later, the clergy presented their memorial. It is a cautious, non-committal document, plainly inspired by fear, but unmistakably inclining to mercy, and finally leaving the matter entirely in the Tsar’s hands. But the clergy entirely passed over the strongest, the most irrefragable argument in favor of Alexis, namely, the Tsar’s solemn promise of forgiveness to his son, although Peter had explicitly exhorted them to relieve his conscience on this very point.

He was now in a dilemma. There can be little doubt that he had at last determined to rid himself of his detested son; but he certainly shrank from a public execution, the scandal of which would have been enormous and its consequences incalculable. The temporal members of the council helped him out of his difficulty by expressing a desire to be quite convinced that Alexis had actually meditated rebellion against his father. This seems to have been a pretext for bringing the Tsarevich to the torture-chamber, where he might very easily expire, as if by accident, under legal process. The most ordinary mode of administering the question extraordinary was by the knout, and there were few instances of anyone surviving thirty strokes of this terrible punishment as then administered. On June 19, Alexis, never very robust and severely reduced by mental suffering and prolonged anxiety, received five-and-twenty strokes with the knout, and betrayed the confidences of his confessor, Ignateff, who was also savagely tortured. On June 24, Alexis received fifteen more strokes; but even the knout could now extract nothing but feeble protests from the mangled wretch. The same day the Senate condemned the Tsarevich to death for “imagining” rebellion against his father, and for “hoping for” the cooperation of the common people, and the armed intervention of his brother-in-law, the Emperor. The solemn promise of the Tsar, which the clergy had ignored, was sophistically explained away by the Senators. He had, they said, promised his son forgiveness only if he returned willingly; he had returned unwillingly, and had therefore forfeited the promise. This shameful document, the outcome of mingled terror and obsequiousness, was signed by all the Senators and Ministers, and by three hundred persons of lesser degree. Two days later, June 26, 1718, the Tsarevich died in the Trubetskoi guard-house of the citadel of St Petersburg. The precise manner of his death is still something of an enigma, most of the existing documents relating to it being apocryphal; but a careful examination and comparison of the only two extant contemporaneous and genuine Russian documents, seems to warrant the following conclusion. At eight o’clock in the morning of June 26,1718, the Tsar, accompanied by some of the chief dignitaries of the Empire, proceeded to the fortress; and Alexis was produced and placed before them within a zastyerwik (partition). His death-sentence Was then, suddenly, read to him. The shock, acting on an enfeebled frame, and crushing the last hope of life with which the poor wretch had hugged himself in the midst of his awful sufferings, brought on a swoon which lasted some hours. On his recovery, he was carried into the close-adjoining Trubetskoi guard-room, where he died. Abominable, unnatural as was Peter’s conduct to his unhappy son, there is no reason to suppose that he ever regretted it. He argued that a single worthless life stood in the way of the regeneration of Russia, and was therefore forfeit to the common weal.


Peter proclaimed Emperor. [1718-24


But, however its foundations had been cemented, the Russian Empire was now an established and imposing fact. Its official birthday dates from October 22, 1721, when, after a solemn thanksgiving-service for the Peace of Nystad, in the Troitsa cathedral at St Petersburg, the Tsar proceeded to the Senate and was there acclaimed: “Father of the Fatherland, Peter the Great, and Emperor of All Russia.” Some would have preferred to proclaim him Emperor of the East; but Peter himself adopted the more patriotic title.

Prussia, the new ally, and the United Provinces, the oldest friend of the Tsar, were the earliest among the European States to recognize Peter’s imperial title; but in other quarters the novelty was received with disfavor, especially at Vienna, where the emergence of a second Empire which threatened to overshadow the Holy Roman Empire gave great offence. Curiously enough, the friendship of Prussia, which might have counterbalanced the hostility of the Emperor, was imperilled by Peter’s withdrawal from Berlin of the gigantic grenadiers whom he had previously lent, or given, to Frederick William I. Peter in consequence contracted an offensive and defensive alliance, for twelve years, with his ancient enemy Sweden, which, under the pacific administration of Count Arvid Horn, was being gradually nursed into political convalescence. By the Treaty of Stockholm (February 22,1724) Russia contracted to assist Sweden, in case of need, with 12,000 infantry, 4000 cavalry, nine ships of the line, and three frigates; while Sweden undertook to assist Russia, in similar circumstances, with 8000 infantry, 2000 cavalry, six liners and two frigates.

The relations between France and Russia had also become much more cordial than heretofore. It was a favourite ambition of the Tsar to marry his second surviving daughter, the Tsesarevna Elizabeth, to the young King of France, Louis XV. But Bourbon pride proved an insurmountable obstacle; and equally abortive were the efforts of successive French Ministers to bring about a better understanding between Great Britain and Russia.

For some years after the termination of the War of the Spanish Succession Great Britain was, indisputably, the dominant Power of Europe. To prevent a renewal of the Anglo-Austrian alliance, and to isolate the Emperor, were now the chief aims of the French Ministers, especially in view of the break-up of the Austrian dominions in the event of the death of the sonless Charles VI, who, by the Pragmatic Sanction, had settled the succession on his daughter, Maria Theresa, now a child of eight. France, moreover, was anxious to keep Russia free from complications elsewhere; so that her troops might be available against Maria Theresa at the proper time, and a reconciliation between Great Britain and Russia was considered at Versailles to be the best way of steadying and restraining Peter. But such a reconciliation was extremely difficult. George I had an ancient grudge against the Russian Emperor; Peter’s supposed friendship for the Jacobites was an additional obstacle. But Fleury, still at the height of his authority in France, believed himself capable of performing successfully the part of political peace-maker. He assured Prince Kurakin that the best thing for Russia at the present time was reconciliation with England; indeed he made an Anglo-Russian reconciliation the condition precedent of a Franco-Russian alliance. Peter himself was anxious to come to terms with England; but, on the other hand, he did not want to quarrel with the Tories; indeed, the extreme Tories, or Jacobites, now hailed him as their prospective deliverer, and expected more from him than from any other European potentate. In April, 1722, the Pretender’s agent, Thomas Gordon, informed the Tsar that the English nation was ready to rise for its lawful King, if only they had 6000 men and arms for 20,000 more. In June of the same year, the Old Pretender wrote to Peter expressing his gratitude for the sympathy of his Imperial Majesty, and transmitting a plan for the invasion of England. But, as Peter would not embark on so vast an enterprise without the cooperation of France, and as France desired to unite England and Russia instead of dividing them, the Jacobite project never had the remotest chance of success, even if the Persian campaigns of Peter had not, at this very time, engrossed his attention. It should also not be forgotten that the Tsar had now obtained all he wanted in Europe; for, from first to last, he had aimed solely at the conquest of the Baltic Provinces. During the last four years of his reign, his policy was predominantly Oriental.

Well aware that Russia was the natural commercial intermediary between the East and the West, Peter never lost sight of the necessity of establishing and extending his influence in Asia. In 1719 Captain Lev Izmailoff of the Guards was sent to Pekin as the first Russian envoy extraordinary; but he was not allowed to establish an embassy or consulates, nor could he even obtain a commercial treaty.


1721-4] The Persian War.


The first Russian expeditions into Central Asia were disastrous failures owing to the ignorance or incapacity of their leaders. In 1716 Colonel Buchholtz was sent to build a fortress on Lake Yamuish, but was driven back by 12,000 Calmucks. In the same year Prince Alexander Cherkasky set out to explore the mouths of the Amu Daria and the shores of the Sea of Aral, to win over the Khans of Khiva and Bokhara to the Russian interest, and to attempt to open up a way to India. In February, 1717, he returned to Astrakhan, after planting a few forts in unsuitable places. This expedition excited a general rising of Tartars, Bokharans, and Khivans, and, in attempting to suppress it, in 1717, Cherkasky was defeated and slain. In the vast plain lying between the Euxine and the Caspian Russia, Turkey and Persia were equally interested. The beginning of the Russian influence in these parts dates from the appointment of the capable Artamon Voluinsky as Russian Minister at Ispahan, in 1715. It is clear from his instructions, written by Peter’s own hand, that he was sent rather as a pioneer than as a diplomatist. He was to find out which rivers fell into the Caspian “and to which places on these rivers we can get by sea, and whether there are any rivers flowing into this sea which rise in India.” He was also to take note of Gilyan and the other Caspian Provinces, and, if possible, with the assistance of the Armenians, divert the raw-silk trade from Turkey to Russia through Persia. Voluinsky quitted Ispahan in September, 1717, after concluding a commercial treaty with the Shah very advantageous to Russia. On his return journey he wintered at Shemak, where he had excellent opportunity for still further spying out the nakedness of the land. Voluinsky persistently urged Peter to invade Persia, and events played into his hands. In September, 1721, two Lesghian princes revolted against the Shah, seized Shemak and plundered Russian merchandise in the bazaar to the value of 500,000 roubles. In the beginning of 1722 the state of affairs in Persia became still more favorable for Russian intervention; for the Afghans invaded the devastated land, defeated the Persian troops in two pitched battles, seized Ispahan, and dethroned the Shah in favor of his third son Tokmash. Peter hesitated no longer. On May 8, the Guards left Moscow. On July 18, Peter sailed from Astrakhan to Derbent with an army of 22,000 infantry, 9000 cavalry, 20,000 Cossacks, 20,000 Calmucks, 30,000 Tartars and 5000 sailors. On September 3, the Governor of Derbent delivered up the silver keys of the city to the Russian Emperor. Owing, however, to difficulties of transport, and the persistence of a fierce north wind which wrecked half the transports on the sand-banks of the Caspian, the campaign proved abortive. In December; 1722, however, a Russian army corps, under Colonel Shipoff, seized the great trading centre of Rescht; and, almost simultaneously, General Matyushkin stormed Baku, which, as the key of the south-western Caspian district, Peter had been very anxious to capture. On Sep­tember 12, 1722, a Persian embassy, then at St Petersburg, was forced to sign a treaty of peace, ceding Baku, Derbent, and the provinces of Gilyan, Mazandevan and Astrabad. The Persian Government refused, however, to ratify the treaty. Only by Peter’s threat of a league of partition against her between Russia and Turkey was the Shah’s Government finally brought to consent to the cession of these provinces.

These acquisitions and the subsequent intrigues of the Russian Government with the Armenians, with whom Russia now came into direct communication for the first time, seriously disturbed the Porte. In August, 1722, the Grand Vezir told the Russian ambassador, Nepluyeff, that Russia had better declare war against the Porte at once, and then they would know where they were. The whole of the Tsar’s reign, he added, had been one uninterrupted war, in which he gave no rest to his neighbors. Subsequently Nepluyeff reported to his Court that the Turks intended to conquer Persia and Georgia, and drive the Russians out of Daghestan. He earnestly advised the Emperor to be ready for war, as immense stores of ammunition were being constantly sent to Erzerum and Azoff from Stambul. Fortunately, Turkey was not ready for war, and the acquisition of the Caspian Provinces by Russia was a matter of comparative indifference to the Sultan. It was the spread of Russian influence in the Caucasus that he really feared. Still, throughout 1723, the. aspect of affairs was very threatening. Peter regarded the Caspian provinces as indispensable; and Nepluyeff was instructed to inform the Porte that the Russian Emperor would allow no other Power to approach the Caspian Sea. The English Government used every expedient to induce the Porte to declare war, and even held out the hope of simultaneous cooperation on the part of Great Britain and Denmark. In the beginning of 1724 Nepluyeff demanded his passports; but, on June 12, by the Treaty of Constantinople, a compromise was arrived at: Shemak was to belong to a vassal of the Porta; but the region extending from Shemak to the Caspian was to be divided into three parts, two of which, adjacent to the Caspian, were to belong to Russia, while the third, stretching southwards from Derbent, was to be divided between Russia and Persia.

The reform of the internal administration engaged Peter’s attention immediately after the termination of the Swedish War (1721). He began with the highest tribunal of all, the Administrative Senate. Experience had already shown that the Senators, following the old Muscovite laissez-aller principle, were apt to neglect business, disregard the laws, and quash all complaints from inferior tribunals against themselves personally. To obviate this, Peter, at the beginning of 1722, instituted the office of the Procurator General, whose duty it was to sit in the Senate and see that the Senators performed their duties “in a faithful, zealous and orderly fashion, according to the direction of the standing rules and ukases.” The worst cases were to be reported direct to the sovereign, if the admonition of the Procurator General was of no avail. “He is in fact to be our eye,” ran the ukase. It required no ordinary courage and resource to occupy an office which must necessarily embroil its holder with all the highest dignitaries in the State; but Peter found the man he wanted in Paul Yaguzhinsky, the son of the Lutheran organist at Moscow, whose geniality and capability had long endeared; him to Peter and who was the only man in Russia who could stand before the Tsar, when in his worst moods, without trembling.

To keep a watchful eye upon defaulters and malingerers among the gentry, the office of Herald-master was instituted, in 1721. This functionary had to keep lists of all the landowners in the Empire, showing who were in the service of the State and who were not, and giving the fullest details as to their families and occupations. A third newly established functionary, the “Master of Petitions,” had to examine all the petitions presented to the various departments of State and see that they received proper attention.  

But it was of small avail to simplify and specialize the administration, and fence it about with safeguards, so long as the new institutions were infected by the fatal maladies of the old. The most inveterate of these maladies was the universal corruption for which Muscovy had always been notorious; and Peter himself, though, he cauterized it freely, could not wholly eradicate the evil. In the course of 1723 and 1724 he made terrible examples of two of his most confidential find meritorious servants, Vice-Chancellor Shafiroff and the Upper-fiscal Nestoroff.

Despite a constant if gradual increase in the revenue, the financial needs of the Government, owing to the expenses of the long war, were heavy, and led to all sorts of ingenious but oppressive fiscal experiments. It was even found necessary, at last, to cut down all official salaries by one-half. The difficulty of housing the soldiers properly led to the introduction of barracks into Russia. At the end of Peter’s reign the army numbered 210,000 men, besides 109,000 irregulars. The fleet consisted of 48 ships of the line, with 787 galleys and smaller vessels, whose full complement of crews was 27,939 men. There was also a considerable increase in the mercantile marine, and native Russian merchants now began to appear in the principal non-Russian Baltic ports.

Much also was now done to develop and improve the local, administration. In all the towns magistracies were formed, consisting of a president, two burgomasters, and four councillors, whose, duty it was to gather all the traders and artisans together and prevent them from drifting into the ranks of the untaxable by, flying to, the, steppes. The whole body of citizens was divided into three classes; the first guild, consisting of the chief merchants, doctors, apothecaries and cloth manufacturers; the second guild, consisting of the petty traders and artisans; and, thirdly, the common people.

By the ukase of January 13,1724, the foundations were laid of an Academy of Sciences, which was to be a university, a gymnasium, and an elementary school at the same time. The tolls levied on merchandise in the towns of Narva, Dorpat, Reval, and Arenberg were set apart for its maintenance. The Academy also relieved the Synod of the duty of translating and circulating books. After the death of its first President, the Metropolitan Yavorsky, the office of President of the Synod was abolished, but it received a civil assessor in the person of the “Upper procurator of the Synod,” May 22, 1722. Another official, the Proto­inquisitor, or, “Chief-fiscal in spiritual matters,” was to exercise the same supervision over the Synod as “the Procurator General” already exercised over the Senate.


1722-4] The succession ordinance.


Towards the end of the reign, the question of the succession to the throne caused the Emperor some anxiety. The rightful heir in the natural order of primogeniture was Grand Duke Peter, a child of six ; but Peter decided to pass him over because, as the son of the Tsarevich Alexis, any acknowledgment of his rights would, infallibly, have excited the hopes of those people who had sympathized with his father, and the fears of those who had had a hand in the murder of Alexis. Who, then, was to succeed the reigning Emperor? His own daughters, Anne and Elizabeth, were still mere children, and his nieces, the daughters of his brother Ivan, had married foreign princes and were living abroad. The Tsaritsa Catharine alone remained. About 1702 he had picked up Martha Skovronskaya at Menshikoff's house. She had been first his mistress, then, after her conversion to Orthodoxy under the name of Catharine Aleksyevna his wife. He now resolved to secure the throne for her also. That curious document, the ustaff, or Ordinance, of 1712, heralded this unheard-of innovation. Time-honored custom had hitherto reckoned primogeniture in the male line as the best title to the Russian Crown; in the ustaff of 1722 Peter denounced primogeniture in general as a stupid, dangerous, and even unspiritual practice. He concluded by declaring the succession to the Russian Empire to be, in future, absolutely dependent on the will of the reigning sovereign.

The succession ustaff was but a preliminary step to a still more sensational novelty. In 1723 Peter resolved to crown his consort, the Tsaritsa Catharine, Empress. The whole question as to what were the proper titles of the Emperor’s family had previously been submitted to the consideration of the Senate and Synod, which decided that Catharine should be called Imperatritsa, or its Slavonic equivalent Tsesareva, while the princesses were to be no longer Tsarevnas (daughters of a Tsar) but Tsesarevnas (daughters of an Emperor). On November 15, 1723, Peter issued a second manifesto, in which he proceeded, at some length and in very affectionate terms, to cite the services rendered to him by his Tsesareva in the past, especially during the Turkish War. “Wherefore,” proceeds the manifesto, “by the authority given unto us by God, we have resolved to reward such great services of our consort by crowning her with the Imperial crown.” The whole nation listened aghast to the manifesto. The only princess who had ever enjoyed the same distinction was Maria Minszka, the consort of the first pseudo-Dimitri, in the sixteenth; century, and, heretic as she was, she had at least been of noble birth. The present Empress had come to Russia not merely as a stranger, but as a captive; yet now, forsooth, she was to wear the Imperial crown and sit on the Imperial throne! On this point, however, Peter was utterly regardless of the feelings and the prejudices of his people. And, in truth, Catharine, coarse and ignorant as she was, had inalienable claims upon his gratitude and affection. An uncommonly shrewd and sensible woman, endowed with an imperturbable good-humour, and an absolute indifference to the hardships of a roving life, she was an ideal wife for a rough and ready peripatetic Russian soldier. But, more than this, she was, on the whole, the least unsuitable of Peter’s potential successors. Her frank bonhomie had won for her the devotion of the army, every member of which regarded her as a comrade; while a vivid consciousness of the peril of her position had made her deliberately adopt, betimes, the rôle of an habitual protectress of all who incurred the displeasure of the Emperor; so that most of the men of the new system had already made up their minds to stand or fall with her. On May 18,1724, the coronation of Catharine took place in the cathedral of the Assumption at Moscow, with extraordinary pomp and splendour.

In the course of the same summer the state of Peter’s health caused grave anxiety. His labors and his excesses had already undermined his splendid constitution; and, though not yet fifty-three years of age, he was already an old man. On October 3 he had another very violent attack of his paroxysms. Yet in the same month, ignoring the advice of his physicians, he undertook a long and fatiguing tour of inspection of the latest of his great public works, the Ladoga canals, proceeding thence to inspect the iron-works at Olonets, where he dug out a piece of iron ore, 120 lbs. in weight. In the beginning of November, at Lakhta, perceiving a boat full of soldiers on a sand-bank, in imminent danger of being drowned, he plunged into the water to render them assistance and was immersed to his girdle for a considerable time. He reached St Petersburg too ill ever to rally again, though he showed himself in public so late as January 16, 1725. After a long and most painful agony, he died at six o’clock on the evening of the 27th. All that could be deciphered of his last message, painfully scrawled with pen and ink on a piece of paper, were the words “otdaite vse!” (forgive everything!).

When Peter I expired, prematurely and somewhat suddenly, at the beginning of 1725, it was the confident expectation of the politicians of Europe that his work would perish with him. During the last thirty years, the terrorized Russian nation had been compelled to break with the traditions of centuries and accept a whole series of social and political reforms secretly loathed by it as so many abominations; but, now that the master-mind was withdrawn, a recoil seemed inevitable and, to the enemies of Russia, desirable. But for the promptitude of the half­dozen capable men whom Peter, with singular felicity, had gradually selected and trained up to assist him in his work, and carry it on after his death, a lapse into “the quagmire of Byzantinism” must inevitably have taken place. The stem and ever increasing severity of the late Emperor’s system of government had produced universal discontent—a discontent the more bitter and intense because, hitherto, denied an outlet. The vast majority of the clergy, at least half the Senate (though that was a purely Petrine institution) and all the old boiar nobility without exception, were ripe for revolt, and they made no secret of their intention of elevating to the throne the infant Grand Duke, Peter Aleksyevich. The reactionaries included more than a half of the wealth of Russia, and nearly all the influence that unofficial rank still retained in that country; but their faction was much weakened by internal dissensions and possessed no leader of sufficient force of character. On the other hand, Peter’s pupils, as we may call the opposite party, led by Alexander Danilovich Menshikoff, Peter Andryevich Tolstoi and Paul Ivanovich Yaguzhinsky, were men of extraordinary energy, sufficiently enlightened to understand perfectly the real needs of their country, and well aware that a moment’s hesitation on their part would mean the subversion of Peter’s system and their own ruin. These three men detested each other as rivals; but common interests and a common danger now drew them together, and they were agreed that the only way of preserving the new system was to raise to Peter’s throne the widowed Empress Catharine Aleksyevna. The energy and presence of mind of her partisans overawed all opposition. Only a few moments after her consort had breathed his last in her arms, a deputation from the Senate, army and nobility petitioned her to occupy the vacant throne, and on February 22,1725, Catharine I was solemnly proclaimed autocrat of all Russia.


1725-7] Accession of Catharine I.


Her short reign (February, 1725 to May, 1727) was chiefly remarkable for its humane and conciliatory measures at home, and its cautious, pacific, but, nevertheless, dignified, consistent and independent policy abroad. Something was done to mitigate the suffering of the nation. The grinding poll-tax was reduced; a large part of the army was disbanded; many of the restrictions upon commerce imposed during the last reign were removed; attempts were made to stimulate the copper, iron and other industries. But at home the Government was able to effect but little. Time alone could teach the nation at large gradually to assimilate so much of Western civilization as was necessary for its development and welfare. From this time to the great awakening which followed upon the disasters of the Crimean War, the history of Russia is mainly the history of her diplomacy, and of the wars which resulted from it. She had to assert herself in Europe, in order to remain European. Thus Russia’s foreign conquests, her aggressions and her usurpations, during the eighteenth century, were but the successive phases of a determined struggle to carry out the programme of Peter the Great in its entirety. The other great Powers would have confined this semi-Asiatic interloper within her native steppes; she herself, as represented by her ablest rulers, saw in every, fresh advance, westwards and southwards, an additional guarantee of her present stability and her future progress.

For at least fifteen years after the conclusion of the great Northern War, continental diplomacy was dominated by the influence of the foreign Prince who sat upon the English throne. George I had succeeded in rounding off his Hanoverian electorate by despoil of Sweden in her direst extremity; but his territorial acquisitions had been so recent and so extensive, that he was nervously apprehensive of losing them again. The readiest allies of George I were those States which, like himself, had. snatched something from the general scramble for Sweden’s continental possessions, such as Prussia and Denmark. France, exhausted by the War of the Spanish Succession, was pacifically inclined. The Empire and Sweden were doubtful Powers. Spain, on the other hand, was hostile to England. The interests of Russia were regarded as inimical to the House of Hanover, and Peter’s matrimonial alliances had also fluttered the German Courts. One of his nieces, Catharine, had married Duke Charles Leopold of Mecklenburg-Schwerin; her younger sister, Duke Frederick William of Courland. Then, too, the new great Northern Power Russia was an object of distrust and jealousy to England, especially as the English Baltic trade had already suffered severely from the arbitrary restrictions imposed upon it by Peter. Finally, Russia had given an asylum to the exiled Duke Charles Frederick of Holstein Gottorp, and had appeared to support his interests, especially after he had become the Empress’ son-in-law by his marriage with the Tsesarevna Anne (June 1, 1725). George I feared above all things the reopening of the Schleswig-Holstein question. He had purchased Bremen and Verden from Denmark, on the secret understanding that Denmark should be put into possession of Schleswig. If Denmark were forced to surrender part of the duchies, his own enlarged electorate might be endangered. The effects of the “Hanoverian Alliance” (Treaty of Herrenhausen, September 3, 1725, N.S.) between England and France, to which Prussia immediately acceded, were first felt by Russia. In the spring of 1726, the British Government, startled by unfounded rumors that the Empress Catharine was massing troops in Finland, and equipping her fleet to promote the interests of the Duke of Holstein, sent into the Baltic a squadron, under Admiral Wager, which anchored before Reval. Wager was the bearer of a letter from George I in which his Britannic Majesty declared that the armaments of Russia, in times of profound peace, could not but arouse the suspicions of Great Britain and her allies.  “Our fleet,” continued this dispatch, “has been sent to preserve the peace of the North and prevent your fleet from putting to sea.” The Empress protested with energy and dignity, and the British fleet was withdrawn; but the able Westphalian Andrei Ivanovich Osterman, who had entered Peter’s service in 1717, and as Vice-Chancellor was to control the foreign policy of Russia for the next sixteen years, instantly took the precaution of throwing himself into the arms of England’s enemies. On August 6,1726, he advised the Empress Catharine to join the Austro-Spanish League, each of the three contracting parties engaging to guarantee each other’s possessions, while Austria and Russia were to help each other, in case of need, with 30,000 men.

Thus the Hanoverian Alliance found itself confronted by an Austro-Russo-Spanish League, and both began forthwith to compete for the support of the rest of Europe. Denmark acceded to the Hanoverian Alliance by the Treaty of Copenhagen (April 16,1727), concluded for four years, whereby both England and France promised to assist her against Russia, and assure her the tranquil possession of Schleswig. Sweden took the same course, despite all the efforts to, the contrary of the Russian ambassadors Michael Bestuzheff and Vasily Dolgoruki.

The one great administrative innovation of Catharine I was the formation of the Supreme Privy Council. The idea was Osterman’s. It was not, as the French ambassador Campredon supposed, a move in the direction of limited monarchy, by associating the leading magnates in the Government, after the model of an English Cabinet Council, but rather an attempt to strengthen the executive, by concentrating affairs in the hands of a few persons, instead of leaving them, as heretofore, to the care of a turbulent and distracted Senate. After much deliberation between the Empress and her advisers, the ukase of March 9, 1726, established the Supreme Privy Council. It was to consist of not less than six, and not more than nine members, under the presidency of the sovereign. No ukases were in future to be issued, till they had received the approbation of the Council. The control of the War Office, the Admiralty, and the Foreign Office was transferred from the Senate to the Council; and, subsequently, the Council received authority to revise the work of all the other departments of State; even the election of Senators was subject to its approval.

Towards the end of 1726 Catharine’s health began to fail, and for a time she was seriously ill. Early in January 1727, she recovered; but her partisans had received a severe shocks and thought it high time to begin to look out for themselves. The position of Menshikoff in particular was highly critical. During the last four months he had ruled almost like an absolute sovereign, and some were even inclined to believe that he aimed at the imperial crown for himself. On the other hand, his enemies were “as numerous as the hairs of his head,” and his violence and tyranny had revolted, them to the last degree. He knew that if he made a single; false step he was lost. At this juncture, he was approached by .the Austrian ambassador, Rabutin, with a project for securing the succession to the Grand Duke Peter. Menshikoff eagerly snatched at the project. He stipulated for himself, however, the first vacant electorate in the Empire, and for his daughter Maria the hand of the young Grand Duke. To these conditions Rabutin cheerfully agreed. Osterman, who all along had represented the impossibility of keeping the Grand Duke out of his rights, joined Rabutin and Menshikoff, not so much from interest as from conviction, and it was his secret but powerful influence which ultimately secured victory for the Austrian faction. A desperate attempt of Peter Tolstoi (who had even more reason to dread the accession of the Grand Duke than that of Menshikoff himself) to counteract the plans of Menshikoff by elevating the Tsesarevna Elizabeth to the throne with a Council of Regency, came too late. On January 21, 1727, Catharine caught a chill at the ceremony of the benediction of the waters of the Neva. She rallied at the beginning of April; but on the 21st the fever increased, and her frequent fainting fits, left but little hope of her recovery. Menshikoff at once took his measures. He surrounded the dying Empress with his creatures, so as to make it impossible for anyone else to approach her. On April 26, she was seized by so violent a paroxysm that the end was momentarily expected. On the same evening Tolstoi and his associates were apprehended. When, contrary to all expectation, Catharine rallied once more and lived eleven days longer, Menshikoff, acting nominally under her orders, succeeded in rushing a conspiracy aimed against himself. A special ukase banished Tolstoi and his associates to the shores of the White Sea, or to Siberia. This ukase was issued on the morning of May 16; on the same evening Catharine I expired.

Early on May 17, the members of the Imperial Family, the Supreme Privy Council, the High Senate, the Holy Synod, and the chief officers of the Guard, assembled at the Palace to hear the will of the late Empress read. Although it was supposed to have been signed by her it is doubtful whether she ever saw it; but it so exactly expressed the wishes of the nation that its authenticity was never questioned. It declared the Grand Duke Peter Aleksyevich her successor. During his minority, the Government was to be in the hands of a Regency composed of the Supreme Privy Council, the Duke and Duchess of Holstein, and the Tsesarevna Elizabeth. 


Accession of Peter II. [1726-7


Peter II was still only eleven years old, but unusually tall and well-proportioned for his age. From his childhood he had been kept in the strictest seclusion. His grandfather, who hated him because he was his father’s son, had systematically ignored him; but had not, as some have supposed, allowed his education to be absolutely neglected. To do Menshikoff’s justice, it was now his first care that the young Emperor should be trained in a manner more befitting his exalted rank and his sovereign responsibilities; and to the learned and experienced Vice­Chancellor Osterman the care of the education of Peter II was wisely committed. He had, moreover, another more intimate and affectionate mentor in his sister Natalia, who had been the sole companion of his lonely infancy. Although only twelve months older than her brother, Providence had endowed her with wisdom and prudence, and other choice gifts of heart and mind.

During the first four months of the new reign, the Government was entirely in the hands of Menshikoff, who, despite frequent acts of tyranny, on the whole acquitted himself well of his enormous responsibilities. It is true that old enemies or troublesome rivals were, with small compunction, removed to a safe distance; But, on the other hand, Menshikoff tried to attach to himself all able officials who were not over-ambitious and to win over such members of the old boiar families as were not too exacting in their demands. Foreign affairs were left entirely in the hands of Osterman. The chair in the Supreme Privy Council vacated by Tolstoi was given to Prince Vasily Lukich Dolgoruki; and Menshikoff’s old colleagues were not a little disgusted to find that his new friend, Prince Demetrius Galitsin, had as much to say in the Council as themselves. All the Dolgorukis and Galitsins were arch-conservatives and deeply attached to the family of the new Emperor. At the same time, the Emperor’s grandmother, the Tsaritsa Eudocia, was released from her prison at Schlusselburg. In the beginning of August, the Duke and Duchess of Holstein were requested to quit Russia, and the Tsesarevna Elizabeth was kept in the background.

Tyrannous as it was, there can be little doubt as to the vigor and economical efficiency of the administration of Menshikoff. The humane and conciliatory policy of the last reign was continued. Peter I’s export duty of 37 per cent on hemp and linen yam was reduced to 5 per cent.; a commission for enquiring into the state of commerce was appointed by Osterman; the trade in Siberian furs was made absolutely free. As a first step towards softening the barbarous customs of the day the ukase of July 21,1727, ordered the immediate removal and destruction of the stone columns and iron hooks on which the heads and limbs of executed criminals had hitherto been exposed in the great square of St Petersburg.

But, salutary as the rule of Menshikoff was, it was still a usurpation. The will of the late Empress had transferred all her authority to the Supreme Privy Council, and the Council was now treated as if it did not exist. Menshikoff ruled because he was so much stronger than anyone else. One of his first: acts had been to kidnap the young Emperor by carrying him off to his palace in the Vasily Island. Shortly afterwards, Osterman announced to the Council his Majesty’s intention to wed Menshikoff’s eldest daughter, Maria. But he was never to become the father-in-law of Peter II. The young Emperor, who had a will of his own, already began to chafe against the constant and often petty interference of the dictator. At this juncture, Menshikoff was suddenly prostrated by the pulmonary complaint from which he had long been suffering. On his return to Court six weeks later, he found that the young Emperor had flitted to Peterhof, taking Osterman and the Dolgorukis with him. Menshikoff precipitated his fall by quarrelling with Osterman, his only friend, of whom he was growing jealous, even going the length of threatening to have him broken on the wheel for his insolence. On September 19, 1727, an ukase, issued in the name of the Emperor, forbade obedience to any orders proceeding from Menshikoff; on the 20th, the Supreme Privy Council deprived him of all his charges and emoluments on the charge of conspiracy against the Crown; and on the 21st he and his family were expelled from the capital and ultimately banished, to Berezoff in Siberia, where he died in 1730.

The triumph of Menshikoff’s enemies was the triumph of the reactionary old Russian nobility, as represented by the princely families of the Galitsins and the Dolgorukis. At the head of the Galitsins stood Prince Demetrius Mikhailovich, a thoroughly honest, upright man, whose many good; qualities were ruined by an inflexible haughtiness and an insatiable ambition. He had always regarded the Petrine reforms with hatred and suspicion. The most conspicuous of the Dolgorukis were Prince Vasily Lukich, who had now a considerable reputation at half the Courts of Europe for diplomatic adroitness, and Prince Vasily Vladimirovich, the military celebrity of the family, though as a general he had been outshone by Prince Michaei Galitsin. The domination of these men might have proved highly injurious to Russia, but for the counteracting influence of the Vice-Chancellor. To the Dolgorukis and the Galitsins Osterman was detestable both as a foreigner and as the ablest pupil of Peter I. The Dolgorukis tried at first to poison the mind of the young Emperor against him; but Peter II told them plainly that he would not abandon Osterman; on the other hand, he requested Osterman not to interfere with the Dolgorukis. A sort of tacit truce thereupon ensued. The Dolgorukis carried Peter off to Moscow, where the young Emperor was crowned on March 4, 1728. The lion’s share of the coronation honors naturally fell to the dominant old Russian party, especially to the Dolgorukis who were gradually usurping an authority unattainable by Menshikoff in the plenitude of his power. Peter II, who had learnt to regard the new capital as a prison, was charmed by the superior natural attractions of the old capital, and gave himself up entirely to hawking and hunting, forbidding those about aim even to mention the name of St Petersburg. The conduct of affairs was left almost entirely to Osterman. Fortunately, the reforms of the last two reigns were now beginning to bear good fruit. Trade was reviving, money was beginning to flow steadily, if slowly, into the Treasury; the people were happier, and the land was much more prosperous than it had been for many years. Abroad, too, such political changes as had taken place were, on the whole, favorable to Russia. On the death of George I, the English Government had politely hinted (through Horace Walpole at Paris to the Russian Minister there, Prince Kurakin) that the new King desired nothing so much as the reestablishment of friendly relations; and, shortly afterwards, an unofficial political agent, Claudius Rondeau came to Russia to find out how the land lay. The chief political event of this period was the attraction of Spain to the Hanoverian Alliance by the Treaty of Seville (1729), whereby her Italian possessions were guaranteed to her by England and France; and England received some important commercial concessions. But the only result of this defection was to draw Austria and Russia still more closely together; and their growing influence in the east of Europe counter­poised the influence in the west of “the Allies of Seville,” as the Hanoverian Alliance now began to be called. The two Powers maintained the integrity of Polish territory against Prussia frustrated the dynastic schemes of Augustus II, by dissipating the Diet of Grodno, and succeeded in keeping Maurice of Saxony out of Courland. England was, as usual, suspected at Moscow of intriguing at Stockholm to bring about a war with Russia; but a violent quarrel between the Swedish King Frederick: and his premier, Count Arvid Horn, told rather in favor of Russia, and was skillfully taken advantage of by her ambassador Golovkin,

The chief domestic event of the period was the death of the Grand Duchess Natalia on December 7, 1728.  The influence of the Dolgorukis over Peter II was, henceforth, uncontested; and they now bent all their efforts to bring about Peter’s marriage with Catharine, daughter of Alexis Dolgorukis They were actually betrothed with the greatest solemnity, on December 11, 1729, and the wedding was fixed for January 30, 1730, when the whole design was frustrated by the death of Peter II from small-pox on the morning of what was to have been his wedding day.

From midnight on January 30 till five o’clock the next morning, the members of the Supreme Privy Council had been in anxious consultation behind closed doors. Death, or misadventure, had reduced their number to five persons; and the most sagacious, but also the least courageous, of the five, Vice-Chancellor Osterman, was prostrated by an attack of gout. Of the four remaining, Councillors, the aged Grand Chancellor, Count Golovkin, was practically a nonentity; while the two Dolgorukis were too diffident of themselves and of each other, to propose anything definite. All the more readily, therefore, did they listen to the one man of character among them. Prince Demetrius Galitsin, after patiently awaiting his opportunity for more than thirty years, was now to rule Russia for something less than thirty days. His theory was that all the ills of Russia were due to that odious system of low favoritism which had enabled stable-boys, flunkeys, pie-vendors, and the dregs of the German settlement to monopolize all the offices and dignities of the State, while the Russian aristocracy was kept at arm’s length. His remedy was the abolition of autocracy. Let the monarchy be limited, and favoritism must disappear. Only thus could the national nobility take its proper place round the throne. In the second daughter of Ivan V, Anne, the widowed Duchess of Courland, Galitsin fancied that he had discovered the candidate he wanted for the throne. He easily brought round his colleagues, as well as a general assembly of the Synod, the Senate, the Guard and the nobility, to his opinion; whereupon the election of Anne was announced to the troops and a deputation was sent to Mittau (January 31) to offer the Crown to Anne, condition ally upon her subscribing; in their presence nine articles which the Supreme Privy Council had drawn up for her signature. By these articles she was solemnly to engage to govern solely through the Council; not to marry, or appoint her successor, without its consent; to relinquish the rights of declaring war and concluding peace, with that of conferring any military appointment above the rank of a colonel, and that of bestowing gifts of land or money; to surrender the command of the army and the guards to the Council; not to degrade any member of the nobility without legitimate cause; not to impose fresh taxes, and finally to agree to everything which should be for the good of her subjects. In a word, she was to sign away her whole authority, in exchange for a high-sounding title. 

On February 21 the Council was relieved of much anxiety by the arrival of a courier from Mittau, with the articles signed by the new Empress, who had further added beneath her signature the words, “I hereby promise to observe everything herein contained unreservedly.” Her obsequious alacrity on this occasion was due to the fact that she had been warned by Paul Yaguzhinsky of the secret machinations of the Council, and had resolved to take back her word on the first opportunity. Meanwhile, Galitsin’s public announcement of his audacious political innovation had been received with chilling silence, and only by the use of the most extreme measures were “the Republican gentlemen”, as Rondeau called the Galitsin faction, able to keep the capital quiet till the arrival of the Empress.

From February 26, when she made her public entry into Moscow, till March 8, Anne was kept under the strictest surveillance by the Council. But Osterman, whose keen political instincts told him that a limited monarchy in eighteenth century Russia was impossible, was secretly working against them; while Prince Alexis Cherkasky, the richest nobleman in the empire, was entrusted with the practical management of the impending coup d’état, which was fixed for March 8. Early in the morning of that day, 800 noblemen and 150 of the officers of the Guard boldly ascended the staircase of the Palace in the Kremlin, and demanded an audience of her Majesty, whom they found seated on her throne surrounded by her Court. General Usupoff of the Guards, on behalf of the deputation, thereupon presented a petition to the Empress, begging her to cancel the “Articles of Mittau”; and, after some hesitation, and despite the respectful protests of the Council, she cancelled the Articles accordingly. At four o’clock after noon, the nobility returned with a fresh petition, imploring Anne to accept the absolute authority as possessed, from time immemorial, by her ancestors of glorious memory. On the same evening, the accession of the new autocrat, amidst the roll of drums and the firing of salvos, was proclaimed; a new oath of allegiance was duly administered to everyone in the capital; and couriers were dispatched to the provinces, to announce the glad tidings. Nowhere was there the slightest symptom of opposition.