Peter the Great

Copyright Michael D. Robbins 2005


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  Peter the Great—Tsar of Russia

June 9, 1672, Moscow, Russia, 12:30 AM, LMT. (Source: according to Marc Penfield, source recorded. Also, 1:00 AM, LMT. LMR quotes Robert Massie, “Peter the Great,” p.37.  May 30, 1572 OS. Style dates confirmed by Britannica) Died,  January 28, 1725, OS      .

LMR quotes Robert Massie, “Peter the Great,” p.37.  May 30, 1572 OS.  (Style dates confirmed by Britannica)

(Ascendant Pisces, with Uranus rising in Pisces and Mars and NN also in Pisces, H12; MC, Sagittarius with Moon in Sagittarius; Sun and Mercury in Gemini; Venus in Taurus; Jupiter in Virgo loosely conjunct H7; Saturn in Aries; Neptune in Aquarius; Pluto in Cancer)

Peter the Great, ruler of Russia with his half-brother Ivan V, 1682-96, and sole ruler until 1725, transformed his isolated, backward nation into a major European power. He picked up ideas from an 18-month tour of western Europe 1697-98 and used them as a basis for restructuring Russia's institutions and ways of life. Peter replaced old systems of government, promoted education, reorganized the church, and made promotion in state service more merit-based. He sent young Russians to western Europe to study military, naval and industrial techniques and formed a professional army of 300,000 men, as well as Russia's first navy. He fought against and defeated Sweden (1700-21) which gave him access to the Baltic Sea.

In 1703 he build a new city, on the edge of the Baltic, which he called St. Petersburg. In 1712 he made it Russia's capital. Peter the great made himself emperor of all the Russias in 1721.

Almost seven feet tall, Peter's physical presence matched his unforgettably powerful character. An energetic and strong-willed man, he could also be terrifyingly brutal. Those who opposed him found no mercy.

His enthusiasm for doing things himself extended to learning practical skills such as shipbuilding (he was fascinated by boats), watch-mending, gunnery, woodcarving, boot-making and tooth-pulling. He succeeded in reshaping Russia forever.


I have conquered an empire but I have not been able to conquer myself.


(9 June 1672–8 February 1725 [30 May 1672– 28 January 1725] O.S.1]) ruled Russia from 7 May (27 April O.S.) 1682 until his death. Known as Peter the Great (Pyotr Velikiy), he was at first a joint ruler with his weak and sickly half-brother, Ivan V, who died in 1696. Peter then ruled alone until 1724, whenceforth he ruled jointly with his wife, Yekaterina I. Peter carried out a policy of "Westernization" and expansion that transformed Russia into a major European power. He abandoned Tsar as his primary title in 1721 and replaced it with "Emperor."

Peter was extraordinarily tall at six foot seven inches (2.04 meters) and a powerful man, although his gangly legs and arms are said to have limited his handsomeness and he had very small feet which he could conceal in his specially designed double-layered boots.

Peter, the son of Aleksey I and his second wife, Nataliya Kyrillovna Naryshkina, was born in Moscow. Alexei I had previously married Maria Miloslavskaya, having five sons and eight daughters by her, although only two of the sons—Feodor and Ivan—were alive when Peter was born. Aleksei I went on to have two further daughters by Nataliya Naryshkina before dying in 1674, to be succeeded by his eldest surviving son, who became Fyodor III.

Fyodor III's uneventful reign ended within six years; as Fyodor did not leave any children, a dispute over the succession between the Naryshkina and Miloslavskaya families broke out. Properly, Ivan was next in the line of succession, but he was an invalid and of infirm mind. Consequently, the Boyar Duma (a council of Russian nobles) chose the ten-year old Peter to become Tsar, his mother becoming regent. But one of Aleksei's daughters by his first marriage, Sophia Alekseyevna, led a rebellion of the Streltsy (Russia's élite military corps). In the subsequent conflict, many of Peter's relatives and friends were murdered—Peter even witnessed the butchery of one of his uncles by a mob. The memory of this violence may have caused trauma during Peter's later years.

Sophia insisted that Peter and Ivan be proclaimed joint Tsars, with Ivan being acclaimed as the senior of the two. Sophia acted as Regent during the minority of the two Sovereigns and exercised all power. For seven years, she ruled as an autocrat. Peter, meanwhile, was not particularly concerned that others ruled in his own name. He engaged in such pastimes as ship-building and sailing. The ships he built were used during mock battles. Peter's mother sought to force him to adopt a less unconventional approach and arranged his marriage to Eudoxia Lopukhina in 1689. The marriage was an utter failure, and ten years later Peter forced her to become a nun and thus freed himself from the marriage.

By the summer of 1689, Peter had planned to take power from his half-sister Sophia, whose position had been weakened by the unsuccessful campaigns in The Crimea. When she learnt of his designs, Sophia began to conspire with the leaders of the streltsy. Unfortunately for Sophia, a rival faction of the streltsy had already been plotting against her. She was therefore overthrown, with Peter I and Ivan V continuing to act as co-Tsars.

Still, Peter could not acquire actual control over Russian affairs. Power was instead exercised by his mother, Nataliya Naryshkina. It was only when Nataliya died in 1694 that Peter became truly independent. Formally, Ivan V remained a co-ruler with Peter, although he was still ineffective. Peter became the sole ruler when Ivan died in 1696.

Early reign
Early in his reign, Peter implemented sweeping reforms aimed at modernising Russia. Heavily influenced by his western advisors, Peter reorganized the Russian army along European lines and dreamt of making Russia a maritime power. He faced much opposition to these policies at home, but brutally suppressed any and all rebellions against his authority.

To improve his nation's position on the seas, Peter sought to gain more maritime outlets. His only outlet at the time was the White Sea. The Baltic Sea was at the time controlled by Sweden. Peter instead attempted to acquire control of the Caspian Sea, but to do so he would have to expel the Tatars from the surrounding areas. He was forced to wage war against the Crimean Khan and against the Khan's overlord, the Ottoman Sultan. Peter's primary objective became the capture of the Ottoman fortress of Azov, near the Don River. In the summer of 1695, Peter organized the Azov campaigns in order to take the fortress, but his attempts ended in failure. Peter returned to Moscow in November of that year, and promptly began building a large navy. He launched about thirty ships against the Ottomans in 1696, capturing Azov in July of that year.

Peter knew that Russia could not face the mighty Ottoman Empire alone. In 1697, he traveled to Europe along with a large delegation of advisors—the "Grand Embassy"—to seek the aid of the European monarchs. Peter's hopes were dashed; France was a traditional ally of the Ottoman Sultan, and Austria was eager to maintain peace in the east whilst conducting its own wars in the west. Peter, furthermore, had chosen the most inopportune moment; the Europeans at the time were more concerned about who would succeed the childless Spanish King Charles II than about fighting the Ottoman Sultan.

The Grand Embassy, although failing to complete the mission of creating an anti-Ottoman alliance, still continued to travel across Europe. In visiting England, the Holy Roman Empire and France, Peter learnt much about Western culture. He studied shipbuilding in Deptford and Amsterdam, and artillery in Königsberg. His visit was cut short in 1698, when he was forced to rush home by a rebellion of the streltsy. The rebellion was, however, easily crushed before Peter returned; of the Tsar's troops, only one was killed. Peter nevertheless acted ruthlessly towards the mutineers. Over 1200 of them were tortured and executed, with Peter acting as one of the executioners. The streltsy were disbanded, and the individual they sought to put on the Throne—Peter's half-sister Sophia—was forced to become a nun.

Also, upon his return from his European tour, Peter sought to end his unhappy marriage. He divorced the Tsaritsa, Eudoxia Lopukhina, whom he had deserted long earlier. The Tsaritsa had borne Peter three children, although only one—the Tsarevich Aleksei—had survived past his childhood.

In 1698, Peter sent a delegation to Malta under Field Marshall Boyar Boris Petrovich Sheremeteff, to observe the training and abilities of the Knights of Malta and their fleet. Sheremeteff also investigated the possiblity of future joint ventures with the Knights, including action against the Turks and the possibility of a future Russian naval base. [1]

Peter's visits to the West impressed upon him the notion that European customs were in several respects superior to Russian traditions. He commanded all of his courtiers and officials to cut off their long beards and wear European clothing. Boyars who sought to retain their beards were required to pay an annual tax of one hundred rubles. In 1699, Peter also disbanded the traditional Russian calendar, in which the year began on 1 September, in favor of the Julian calendar, in which the year began on 1 January. Traditionally, the years were reckoned from the purported creation of the World, but after Peter's reforms, they were to be counted from the birth of Christ.

Great Northern War
Peter made peace with the Ottoman Empire and turned his attention to Russian maritime supremacy. He sought to acquire control of the Baltic Sea, which had been taken by Sweden a half-century earlier. Peter declared war on Sweden, which was at the time led by the sixteen-year old King Charles XII. Sweden was also opposed by Denmark, Norway, Saxony and Poland.

Peter I interrogating his son Alexei.Russia turned out to be ill-prepared to fight the well-trained Swedes, and their first attempt at seizing the Baltic coast ended in disaster at the Battle of Narva in 1700. Russia could not meaningfully participate for years, and Charles meanwhile concentrated on Poland and Saxony. Peter improved his own army, conquering modern Estonia. Confident he could beat Peter at his leisure, Charles ignored these campaigns, and continued to wage war primarily in Poland and Saxony.

As the Poles and Swedes fought each other, Peter founded the great city of Saint Petersburg (named for Saint Peter the Apostle) in Ingria (which he had captured from Sweden) in 1703. He forbade the building of stone edifices outside Saint Petersburg — which he wanted to become Russia's capital — so that all the stonemasons could participate in the construction of the new city. He also took Martha Skavronskaya as a mistress. Martha converted to Orthodox Christianity and took the name Catherine, allegedly marrying Peter in secret in 1707.

Following several defeats, the Polish King August II abdicated in 1706. Charles XII turned his attention to Russia, invading it in 1708. After crossing into Russia, Charles defeated Peter at Golovchin in July. In the Battle of Lesnaya, however, Charles suffered his first ever loss after Peter crushed a group of Swedish reinforcements marching from Riga. Deprived of this aid, Charles was forced to abandon his proposed march on Moscow.

Peter I in the Battle of Poltava (a mosaic by Mikhail Lomonosov).Charles refused to retreat to Poland or back to Sweden, instead invading Ukraine. Skillfully, Peter withdrew southward, destroying any Russian property that could assist the Swedes along the way. Thus, the Swedes became incapable of capturing Russian supplies, and suffered in the bitterly cold winter of 1708–1709. In the summer of 1709, they nevertheless resumed their efforts to capture Ukraine. Charles then found Peter much more aggressive, and the battle both yearned for took place at Poltava on 27 June. Peter reaped the benefits of years of work on improvements to the Russian army, inflicting almost ten thousand casualties and afterwards capturing what remained of the Swedish army. In Poland, August II was restored as King. Charles fled to the then-neutral Ottoman Empire, where he tried to convince the Sultan, Ahmed III, to help him in a renewed campaign.

Peter foolishly attacked the Ottomans in 1711. Normally, the Boyar Duma would have exercised power during his absence. Peter, however, mistrusted the Boyars; he abolished the Duma and created a Senate of ten members. Peter's campaign in the Ottoman Empire was disastrous; in the ensuing peace treaty, Peter was forced to return the Black Sea ports he had seized in 1697. In return, the Sultan expelled Charles XII from his territory.

Peter's northern armies took the Swedish province of Livonia (the northern half of modern Latvia, and the southern half of modern Estonia), driving the Swedes back into Finland. Most of Finland was occupied by the Russians in 1714. The Tsar's navy was so powerful that the Russians could penetrate Sweden. Peter also obtained the assistance of Hanover and the Kingdom of Prussia. Still, Charles refused to yield, and not until his death in battle in 1718 did peace become feasible. Sweden made peace with all powers but Russia by 1720. In 1721, the Treaty of Nystad ended what became known as the Great Northern War. Russia acquired Ingria, Estonia, Livonia and a substantial portion of Karelia. In turn, Russia paid two million Riksdaler and surrendered most of Finland. The Tsar was, however, permitted to retain some Finnish lands close to Saint Petersburg, which he had made his capital in 1712.

Later years
Diamond order of Peter the Great.Peter's last marked by further reforms in Russia. In 1721, soon after peace was made with Sweden, he was acclaimed Emperor of All Russia. (Some proposed that he take the title "Emperor of the East," but he refused.) His imperial title was recognized by Augustus II of Poland, Frederick William I of Prussia and Frederick I of Sweden, but not by the other European monarchs. In the minds of many, the word "Emperor" connoted superiority or pre-eminence over mere Kings. Several rulers feared that Peter would claim authority over them, just as the Holy Roman Emperor had once claimed suzerainty over all Christian nations.

Peter also reformed the government of the Orthodox Church. The traditional leader of the Church was the Patriarch of Moscow. In 1700, when the office fell vacant, Peter had refused to name a replacement, allowing the Patriarch's Coadjutor (or deputy) to discharge the duties of the office. In 1721, he erected the Holy Synod, a council of ten clergymen, to take the place of the Patriarch and Coadjutor.

In 1722, Peter created a new order of precedence, known as the Table of Ranks. Formerly, precedence had been determined by birth. In order to deprive the Boyars of their high positions, Peter directed that precedence should be determined by merit and service to the Emperor. The Table of Ranks continued to remain in effect until the Russian monarchy was overthrown in 1917.

Peter also introduced new taxes to fund improvements in Saint Petersburg. He abolished the land tax and household tax, and replaced them with a capitation. The taxes on land on households were payable only by individuals who owned property or maintained families; the new head taxes, however, were payable by serfs and paupers.

In 1724, Peter had his second wife, Catherine, crowned as Empress, although he continued to remain Russia's actual ruler. All of Peter's male children had died—the eldest son, Aleksei, had been tortured and killed on Peter's orders in 1718 because he had disobeyed his father and opposed official policies. Aleksei's mother Eudoxia had also been punished; she was dragged from her home and tried on false charges of adultery. Aleksei's friends had also been tortured.

In 1725, construction of Peterhof, a palace near St Petersburg, was completed. Peterhof (Dutch for "Peter's Court") was a grand residence, becoming known as the "Russian Versailles" (after the great French Palace of Versailles).

The first and the most famous statue of Peter I in St Petersburg (1782), informally known as the Bronze Horseman. In fact, the whole city may be considered as a vast monument to him.A law of 1722 had allowed Peter to choose his own successor, but he failed to take advantage of it before he died from an illness in 1725. The lack of clear succession rules led to many succession conflicts in the subsequent "era of palace revolutions." Peter was succeeded by his wife Catherine, who had the aid of the imperial guards. Upon her death in 1727, the Empress Catherine was succeeded by Aleksei's son, Peter II, bringing the direct male line of Romanov monarchs to an end. Thereafter, inheritance of the Throne was generally chaotic—the next two monarchs were descendants of Peter I's half brother Ivan V, but the Throne was restored to Peter's own descendants through a coup d'état in 1741. No child would simply and directly succeed his or her parent until Paul followed Catherine the Great in 1796, over seventy years after Peter had died.

Peter I was originally styled, "Peter, Tsar and Grand Duke, Autocrat of All Great, Small and White Russias, of Moscow, Kiev, Vladimir, Novgorod, Tsar of Kazan, Tsar of Astrakhan, Tsar of Siberia, Lord of Pskov and Grand Duke of Smolensk, Tver, Ugra, Perm, Viatka and Bulgaria, Lord and Grand Duke of Novgorod of the Lower Lands, of Chernigov, Riazan, Rostov, Yaroslavl, Belozero, Udor, Obdoria and Conda, Ruler of All The Northern Lands, Lord of the Iverian Lands of the Cartalinian and Georgian Tsars, and of the Carbardinian Lands of Cherkassian and Gorsian Princes, and of other Lands Hereditary Lord and Dominator."

The title changed in 1721, with "Tsar and Grand Duke, Autocrat of All Great, Small and White Russias" being replaced by "Emperor and Autocrat of All Russia." Furthermore, "Grand Duke of Smolensk, Tver Ugra, Perm, Viatka and Bulgaria" was amended to "Grand Duke of Smolensk, Duke of Estonia, Livonia, Karelia, Tver Ugra, Perm, Viatka and Bulgaria." He also began to use an ordinal ("the First") after his name, despite the earlier practice of not using any ordinals at all in the monarch's formal style.

HIH Alexei Petrovich, Tsarevich of Russia
18 February 1690
26 June 1718
married 1711, Princess Charlotte of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel; had issueHIH Alexander Petrovich, Grand Duke of Russia 13 October 1691
14 May 1692
HIH Pavel Petrovich, Grand Duke of Russia 1693

By Ekaterina I
HIH Anna Petrovna, Grand Duchess of Russia
7 February 1708
15 May 1728
married 1725, Karl Friedrich, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp; had issueHIM Empress Yelizaveta
29 December 1709
5 January 1762
reputedly married 1742, Alexei Grigorievich, Count Razumovsky; no issue
HIH Natalia Petrovna, Grand Duchess of Russia 20 March 1713
27 May 1715

HIH Margarita Petrovna, Grand Duchess of Russia 19 September 1714
7 June 1715

HIH Peter Petrovich, Grand Duke of Russia 15 November 1715
19 April 1719

HIH Pavel Petrovich, Grand Duke of Russia 13 January 1717
14 January 1717

HIH Natalia Petrovna, Grand Duchess of Russia 31 August 1718
15 March 1725

Heritage in the Twentieth Century
In the twentieth century, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union took it as its point of honor to surpass in every regard anything that any Tsar had ever done. They looked to Peter the Great as a model to surpass, for they wanted to over-complete the modernization of Russia. His project for a canal to link the Baltic and the White Seas for both commercial and naval use was carried out under Stalin, for example, though in a haphazard manner with great loss of life and resulting in a militarily useless canal. The Russian communists consider the modern era as beginning with Peter's reign, and being surpassed by the contemporary era with the October revolution.

Peter I of RussiaPeterhof - Peter the Great's summer palace
Peter the Great and the Russian Empire
Peter I or Peter the Great, 1672–1725, czar of Russia (1682–1725), major figure in the development of imperial Russia.
Early Life
Peter was the youngest child of Czar Alexis, by Alexis's second wife, Natalya Naryshkin. From Alexis's first marriage (with Maria Miloslavsky) were born Feodor III, Sophia Alekseyevna, and the semi-imbecile Ivan. On Feodor III's death (1682), a struggle broke out for the succession between the Naryshkin and Miloslavsky factions. The Naryshkins at first succeeded in setting Ivan aside in favor of 10-year-old Peter. Shortly afterward, however, the Miloslavsky party incited the streltsi (semimilitary formations in Moscow) to rebellion. In the bloody disorder that followed, Peter witnessed the murders of many of his supporters. As a result of the rebellion Ivan, as Ivan V, was made (1682) joint czar with Peter, under the regency of Sophia Alekseyevna.
A virtual exile, Peter spent most of his childhood in a suburb of Moscow, surrounded by playmates drawn both from the nobility and from the roughest social elements. His talent for leadership soon became apparent when he organized military games that became regular maneuvers in siegecraft. In addition, Peter began to experiment with shipbuilding on Lake Pereyaslavl (now Lake Pleshcheyevo). Peter learned the rudiments of Western military science from the European soldiers and adventurers who lived in a foreign settlement near Moscow. His most influential foreign friends, Patrick Gordon of Scotland, François Lefort of Geneva, and Franz Timmermann of Holland, came from this colony. In 1689, Sophia Alekseyevna attempted a coup against Peter; this time, however, aided by the loyal part of the streltsi, he overthrew the regent. For several years, until Peter assumed personal rule, the Naryshkins ran the government. Ivan V, whose death in 1696 left Peter sole czar, took no part in the government.

Sole Ruler
Foreign Policy
Russia was almost continuously at war during Peter's reign. In the 16th and early 17th cent. the country had fought periodically in the northwest against Sweden, in an attempt to gain access to the Baltic Sea, and in the south against the Ottoman Empire. While continuing the policy of his predecessors, Peter drew Russia into European affairs and helped to make it a great power. His earliest venture was the conquest of Azov from the Ottomans in 1696, after an unsuccessful attempt in 1695. Peter then embarked on a European tour (1697–98), traveling partly incognito, to form a grand alliance against the Ottoman Empire and to acquire the Western techniques necessary to modernize Russia's armed forces. He failed to form an anti-Ottoman alliance, but his conversations with the Polish king and others led eventually (1699) to a coalition against Sweden.
Peter also gained considerable knowledge of European industrial techniques (he even spent some time working as a ship's carpenter in Holland) and hired many European artisans for service in Russia. In 1698 he returned to Russia, began to modernize the armed forces, and launched domestic reforms. After concluding (1700) peace with the Ottomans, Peter, in alliance with Denmark and the combined Saxony-Poland, began the Northern War (1700–1721) against Charles XII of Sweden. Although disastrously defeated at first, he routed Charles at Poltava in 1709 and by the Treaty of Nystad (1721) retained his conquests of Ingermanland, Karelia, and Livonia.
Peter's conquests in the south were less permanent. Azov was restored to the Ottoman Empire in 1711; Derbent, Baku, and the southern coast of the Caspian Sea, conquered in a war (1722–23) with Persia, were soon lost again. In the east, Russia extended its control over part of Siberia but failed to subjugate either Khiva or Bokhara. Peter's first diplomatic missions to China were unsuccessful but his efforts led to the Treaty of Kyakhta (1727), which fixed the Russo-Chinese border and established commercial relations. Peter's interest in imperial expansion led to the financing of the first voyage of Vitus Bering.
Domestic Policy
Peter had returned to Russia in 1698 at the news of a military revolt allegedly instigated by Sophia Alekseyevna. He took drastic vengeance on his opponents and forced Sophia into a convent. On the day after his return, Peter personally cut off the beards of his nobles and shortly thereafter ordered them to replace their long robes and conical hats with Western dress. This attack on the symbols of old Muscovy marked the beginning of Peter's attempt to force Russia to adopt European appearance and other features of Western culture. Most of Peter's reforms followed his predecessors' tentative steps, but his demonic pace and brutal methods created an impression of revolutionary change.
The reforms were sporadic and uncoordinated; many of them grew out of the needs of Peter's almost continuous warfare. He introduced conscription on a territorial basis, enlarged and modernized the army, founded and expanded the navy, and established technical schools to train men for military service. To finance this huge military establishment, he created state monopolies, introduced the first poll tax, and placed levies on every conceivable item. Peter encouraged and subsidized private industry and established state mines and factories to provide adequate supplies of war materials. Peter reformed the administrative machinery of the state. He introduced a supervisory senate and a new system of central administration and tried to reform provincial and local government.
Peter also attempted to subordinate all classes of Russian society to the needs of the state. He enlarged the service nobility (the body of nobles who owed service to the state), imposed further duties on it, and forced the sons of nobles to attend technical schools. To control the nobles he introduced the Table of Ranks, which established a bureaucratic hierarchy in which promotion was based on merit rather than on birth. The nobility's economic position was strengthened by changes in the laws of land tenure. The serfs (who paid the bulk of taxes and made up most of the soldiery) were bound more securely to their masters and to the land. Peter subordinated the church to the state by replacing the patriarchate with a holy synod, headed by a lay procurator appointed by the czar.
Peter introduced changes in manners and mores. The ban on beards and Muscovite dress was extended to the entire male population, women were released from their servile position, and attempts were made to improve the manners of the court and administration. Peter sent many Russians to be schooled in the West and was responsible for the foundation (1725) of the Academy of Sciences. He reformed the calendar and simplified the alphabet. The transfer of the capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg, built on the swamps of Ingermanland at tremendous human cost, was a dramatic symbol of Peter's reforms. Although Peter sought to enforce all his reforms with equal severity, he was unable to eradicate the traditional corruption of officials or to impose Western ways on the peasantry.
His reforms were often considered whimsical and sacrilegious and met widespread opposition. The conservatives among the clergy accused him of being the antichrist. The discontented looked to Peter's son, Alexis, who was eventually tried for treason on flimsy evidence and was tortured to death (1718). In 1721, Peter had himself proclaimed “emperor of all Russia.” In 1722 he declared the choice of a successor to be dependent on the sovereign's will; this decree (valid until the reign of Paul I) preceded the coronation (1724) of his second wife as Empress Catherine I. She was a Livonian peasant girl whom Peter had made his mistress, then his wife (1712) after repudiating his first consort. Her accession on Peter's death was largely engineered by Peter's chief lieutenant and favorite, A. D. Menshikov. Although many of Peter's innovations were too hasty and arbitrary to be successful, his reign was decisive in the long process of transforming medieval Muscovy into modern Russia.
Personality and Achievements
Peter's personal traits ranged from bestial cruelty and vice to the most selfless devotion to Russia; his order to his troops at Poltava read, “Remember that you are fighting not for Peter but for the state.” Despite the convulsive fits that plagued him, he had a bearlike constitution, was of gigantic stature, and possessed herculean physical prowess. He drank himself into stupors and indulged in all conceivable vices but could rouse himself at a moment's notice, and he was willing to undergo all the physical exertions and privations that he exacted from his subjects.
Peter subordinated the lives and liberties of his subjects to his own conception of the welfare of the state. Like many of his successors, he concluded that ruthless reform was necessary to overcome Russia's backwardness. Peter remains one of the most controversial figures in Russian history. Those who regard Russia as essentially European praise him for his policy of Westernization, and others who consider Russia a unique civilization attack him for turning Russia from its special path of development. Those impressed by imperial expansion and state and social reforms tend to regard Peter's arbitrary and brutal methods as necessary, while others appalled by his disregard of human life conclude that the cost outweighed any gains.

PETER I, ALEXIEVITCH, Czar of Russia, generally denominated Peter the Great, was the son of the Czar Alexei Mikailovitch, by his second wife, Natalia Naryskine, and was born at Moscow, on the 9th of June, 1672. Up to Peter's coronation, his education had been greatly neglected, but after this he became acquainted with Lieutenant Franz Timmerman, a native of Strasburg, who gave him lessons in the military art and in mathematics; after which he had the good fortune to fall under the guidance of Lefort, a Genoese, who initiated him into the sciences and arts of civilzation, and, by showing him how much Muscovy was, in these respects, behind the rest of Europe, influenced the whole of his future career.
His first care, on assuming the government, was to form an army disciplined according to European tactics. He also labored to create a navy, both armed and mercantile; but at this period, Russia presented few facilities for such an attempt, for she was shut out from the Baltic by Sweden and Poland, (the former of whom possessd Finland, St. Peterburg and the Baltic provinces), and from the Black Sea by Turkey, which, extending along the whole of the north coast, had reduced that sea to the rank of an inland lake. Peter, thinking the possession of a portion of the Black Sea would best supply the required facilities of accessible sea-board and port, declared war against Turkey, and took the city of Azov, at the mouth of the Don. Skilled engineers, architects, and artillerymen were now invited from Austria, Venice, Prussia and Holland, and many of the young nobility were ordered to travel in foreign countries, chiefly in Holland and Italy, for the purpose of acquiring such information as might be useful in the modernization and civilization of their country. Not quite satisfied with this arrangement, Peter was eager to see for himself the countries for which civilization had done so much, and which had so highly developed the military art, science, trade and industrial pursuits. In the guise of an inferior official of the embassy, he visited the three Baltic provinces, Prussia and Hanover, reaching Amsterdam, where, and subsequently at Saardam, he worked for some time as a common shipwright. His curiosity was excessive; he demanded explanations of everything which he did not understand; and to his practice of shipbuilding and kindred trades, he added the study of astronomy, natural philosophy, geography, and even anatomy and surgery. On receipt of an invitation from William III, King of England, he visited that country, and for three months, spent partly in London and partly at Deptford, labored to amass all sorts of useful information. He left England in April 1698, carrying with him English engineers, artificers, surgeons, artisans artillerymen, etc., to the number of five hundred, and next visited Vienna, for the purpose of inspecting the Emperor of Austria's army, then the best in Europe. He was about to visit Venice also, when the news of a formidable rebellion of the Strelitz recalled him to Russia. General Gordon had already crushed the revolt, but these turbulent soldiers had so enraged Peter against them by their frequent outbreaks, that he ordered the whole of them to be executed, even occasionally assisting in person on the scaffold. A few, however, were pardoned, and sent to settle at Astrakan. The Czarina Eudoxia, who was suspected of complicity in the conspiracy, which had been the work of the old Russian or anti-reform party, was divorced and shut up in a convent; the Czar's own sister, Martha, was likewise compelled to take the veil. To show his gratitude to his faithful adherents, Peter conferred upon the chief of them the Order of St. Andrew, now first instituted.
In 1700, Peter, desirous of gaining possession of Carelia and Ingria, provinces of Sweden, which had formerly belonged to Russia. entered into an alliance with the kings of Poland and Denmark to make a combined attack on Sweden, taking advantage of the tender age of its monarch, Charles XII, but he was shamefully defeated at Narva. In the long contest with Sweden, the Russians were almost always defeated, but Peter rather rejoiced at this, as he saw that these reverses were administering to his troops a more lasting and effective discipline than he could have hoped to give them in any other way. He had his revenge at last, in totally routing the Swedish king at Poltavia, July 8th, 1707, and in seizing the whole of the Baltic provinces the following year. After reorganizing his army, he prepared for strife with the Turks, who had declared war against him. In this contest Peter was reduced to such straits that he despaired of escape. But the finesse and ability of his mistress, Catharine, afterwards his wife and successor, extricated him from his difficulties, and a treaty was concluded, by which Peter lost only his previous conquest - the port of Azov and the territory belonging to it. On the 2nd of March, 1712, his marriage with his mistress Catharine, was celebrated at St. Petersburg, and two months afterwards, the offices of the central government were transferred to the new capital. In 1722, Peter commenced a war with Persia, in order to open up the Caspian Sea to Russian commerce. The internal troubles of Persia compelled the Shah to yield to the demand of his formidable opponent, and to hand over the three Caspian provinces, along with the towns of Derbend and Baku. For the last years of his life Peter was chiefly engaged in beautifying and improving his new capital, and carrying out plans for the more general diffusion of knowledge and education among his subjects. In the autumn of 1724, he was seized with a serious illness. the result of his imprudence and now habitual excesses; and after enduring much agony, he expired Febraary 8th, 1725, in the arms of the Empress.


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