Excerpts from CHAPTER 17 of the Cambridge Modern History [Full Text].




By R. NISBET BAIN, Assistant Librarian, British Museum.

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," ... 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 Kiev. 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 (1682-89) 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 Tsardom 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 favourite 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 stifled 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 inteiest 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 and 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 François 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 favourable 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 Strieltzy, 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 mid-day 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 Stryeshneff. His own portion of this bread of labour 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 failed, because the young Muscovites refused to return from civilisation 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, scandalised 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.

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. Analysed into its ultimate elements, the dissatisfaction of the Strieltzy with Peter's administration was the protest of indolent, incapable, ultra-orthodox, 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 sympathising 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 symbolised 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 Sheremebieff, 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 September to the end of October, 1698, banquets and orgies alternated with torturings and executions, in which the Tsar and his favourites 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 sympathised 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 S3, 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."

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 favourite. 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 10, 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, consequently, 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 halfway. 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 5,000 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 seaboard was essential to her national development; the creation of a fleet followed, inevitably, upon the acquisition of such a seaboard; and she could not hope to obtain her due share of the trade and commerce of the world till she possessed both.

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 utilise the hardly-won fruits of Western civilisation. 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 endeavoured to give to the proceedings a political motive. His attitude towards the Bezpopovshchina, or "priest-less community," is characteristic of his general policy. The enterprise and organising genius of this wealthy body enabled it practically to monopolise 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 JSsop, 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, laboured hard to civilise 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 endeavoured 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 honour be shown to both?" asked Peter on this occasion.


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 modern 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 Dernei, 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 modern Russian written language, and therefore a reform of capital importance for civilisation. 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.


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 Kiev Academy, who won Peter's favour 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 Kiev" 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.

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 favourable 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 labour, unremitting attention to technical details, the concentration of all his energies on the business of government, upon the herculean labour of maintaining the new State at the high level of greatness to which it had already been raised. In consequence of these stern 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 "an 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-Wolfenbuettel (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 Thorn 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 favour 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 favour 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 31, 1718, Alexis reached Moscow. On February 19 the names of his accomplices were extorted from him. His wretched confederates, torn 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 fulfilment 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 heard 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 facts 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 recognise 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 opinion 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 favour 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 zastyenok (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.


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 sympathised 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 Menshikoi'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-honoured custom had hitherto reckoned primogeniture in the male line as the best title to the Russian Crown; in the ustajff 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 bhould 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 labours 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, 1201bs. 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 vsef" (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 terrorised 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 half-dozen 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 stern 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.


O. S. = Old Style

Porte = European Ambassadors to the Ottoman Sultan were received at the gate (French = porte) of the court, so the terms Porte, Sublime Porte or High Porte came to signify the Ottoman court.

Seraglio = The Ottoman Sultan's palace

uti possidetis = a condition in a peace treaty that allows the states to retain land seized during the war

Divan = the chief council of the Ottoman Empire presided over by the Grand Vizier, i.e. the government of the Ottoman Empire

knout = a whip ending in a mass of knotted leather and wire

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