Peter I of Russia
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Peter the Great (Russian: Пётр I Алексеевич or Pyotr I Alekséyevich; or Peter Alexeyevich Romanov) (9 June 1672–8 February 1725 [30 May 1672–28 January 1725 O.S.] <ref>Dates indicated by the letters "O.S." are Old Style. All other dates in this article are New Style.</ref>) ruled Russia from 7 May (27 April O.S.) 1682 until his death, before 1696 jointly with his weak and sickly half-brother, Ivan V. Peter carried out a policy of "Westernization" and expansion that transformed Muscovite Russia into a major European power. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has a portrait of Peter the Great in his office.
 Early life
Peter, the son of Alexei Mikhailovich of Russia 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<ref>There is some general confusion over transliterations into the Latin alphabet from the Russian Cyrillic. Although the variant "Feodor" often appears as in the title of the referenced article, "Fyodor", as the name is rendered here, is a more accurate representation. The Russian Cyrillic equivalent is Фёдор, the second letter of which [ё] takes the sound "yo". It should be noted passim that one very rarely sees the form ё in print. The dieresis is almost always omitted leaving a bare e, unless the text is a primer with a target audience of young children who have not yet learned to read.</ref> and Ivan V—were alive when Peter was born. Alexei I died in 1676, 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 Naryshkin and Miloslavskyi 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 Alexei'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 earlier years.
The Streltsy uprising of April-May 1682 made it possible for Sophia, the Miloslavskys [the clan of Ivan] , and their allies, to insist that Peter and Ivan be proclaimed joint czars, 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. Peculiarly, a large hole was cut in the back of the dual-seated throne used by Ivan and Peter. Sophia would sit behind the throne and listen as Peter conversed with nobles, also feeding him information and giving him responses to questions and problems. This throne can be seen in the Kremlin museum in Moscow. For seven years, she ruled as an autocrat.
Throughout the ages it has been the habit of many historians to portray Sophia as an ambitious, Machiavellian woman who would do whatever it took to achieve power. By early middle age Peter himself came to associate Sophia with the dark forces of opposition, forgetting [as do many historians] that in the seven years of her Regency that Peter and his mother, while pushed out of the scene, were never threatened nor harmed. Indeed, the often overlooked fact that Peter lived, busy and content, through the Regency speaks volumes.
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 more conventional 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 two Crimean campaigns. When she learned of his designs, Sophia began to conspire with the leaders of the streltsy. Unfortunately for Sophia, Peter, warned by the Streltsy, escaped in the middle of the night to the impenetrable monastery of Troitsky; there he slowly gathered his adherents and others, who perceived he would win the power struggle. She was therefore overthrown, with Peter I and Ivan V continuing to act as co-czars. Peter forced Sophia to enter a convent, where she gave up her name and position as a member of the royal family.
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.
Peter grew to be a giant of a man. Standing at nearly six feet eight inches he was literally head and shoulder above his contemporaries both in Russia and throughout Europe. But his height was almost certainly a genetic defect. For Peter lacked the overall proportional heft and bulk generally found in a man that size. Both Peter's hands and feet were very small, and his shoulders surprisingly narrow for a man that size; likewise, his head was also small for his body. Add to this Peter's noticable facial tics, and, judging by descriptions handed down, the fact that he almost certainly suffered from petit mal epilepsy, and you have the image of a big man -- but not a big, healthy man.
Filippo Baltari, a young Italian visitor to Peter's court, wrote:
"Tsar Peter was tall and thin, rather than stout. His hair was thick, short, and dark brown; he had large eyes, black with long lashes, a well-shaped mouth, but the lower lip was slightly disfigured...For his great height, his feet seemed very narrow. His head was sometimes tugged to the right by convulsions."
From the artist Valentin Serov comes a less flattering description of Peter:
"He was frightful: long, on weak, spindly little legs and with a head so small in relation to the rest of his body...he looked more like a sort of dummy with a badly stuck on head than a live person. He suffered from a constant tic and was always making faces: wrinkling, screwing up his mouth, twitching his nose, wagging his chin."
Otherwise, judging by documents -- or lack thereof -- that have managed to survive to the present day, few contempories, either in or outside of Russia, commented on Peter's great height or appearence.
 Early reign
Peter implemented sweeping reforms aimed at modernizing 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, the rebelling of streltsy, Bashkirs, Astrakhan and including the greatest civil uprising of his reign, the Bulavin Rebellion.
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 Arkhangelsk. The Baltic Sea was at the time controlled by Sweden in the north, while the Black Sea was controlled by the Ottoman Empire in the south. Peter attempted to acquire control of the Black Sea, but to do so he would have to expel the Tatars from the surrounding areas. He was forced, as part of an agreement with Poland, which ceded Kiev to Russia, 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. On September 12, 1698 Peter The Great officially founded the first Russian Navy base, Taganrog.
Peter knew that Russia could not face the Ottoman Empire alone. In 1697, he traveled to Europe incognito with a large Russian delegation–the so-called "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 learned much about Western culture. He studied shipbuilding in Deptford seeing a Fleet Review, Royal Navy in 1700, Amsterdam and Zaandam, and artillery in Königsberg. Thanks to the mediation of Nicolaas Witsen, mayor of Amsterdam and expert on Russia par excellence, the Tsar was given the opportunity to gain practical experience in the largest private shipyard in the world, belonging to the Dutch East India Company in Amsterdam, for a period of four months. The Tsar helped with the construction of an Eastindiaman especially laid down for him: Peter and Paul. During his stay in the Netherlands the tsar engaged, with the help of Russian and Dutch assistants, many skilled workers such as builders of locks, fortresses, shipwrights and seamen. The best-known sailor who made the journey from the Netherlands to Russia was Cornelis Cruys, a vice-admiral who became the Tsar's most important advisor in maritime affairs. The visit of Peter 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. The Tsaritsa had borne Peter three children, although only one—the Tsarevich Alexei—had survived past his childhood.
In 1698, Peter sent a delegation to Malta under boyar Boris Petrovich Sheremetyev, to observe the training and abilities of the Knights of Malta and their fleet. Sheremetyev also investigated the possibility of future joint ventures with the Knights, including action against the Turks and the possibility of a future Russian naval base. 
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—causing his Boyars, who were very fond of their beards, great upset—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 abolished 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. Russia moved to the Julian calendar just as the rest of Europe was moving to the Gregorian calendar. Russia would stay on the Julian calendar until the October Revolution in 1917.
 Great Northern War
Peter made a temporary peace with the Ottoman Empire that allowed him to keep the captured fort of Azov, 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 King Charles XII. Sweden was also opposed by Denmark, Norway, Saxony and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Russia turned out to be ill-prepared to fight the Swedes, and their first attempt at seizing the Baltic coast ended in disaster at the Battle of Narva in 1700. In the conflict, the forces of Charles XII used a blinding snowstorm to their advantage. After the battle, Charles XII decided to concentrate his forces against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, giving Peter I time to reorganize the Russian army.
As the Poles and Lithuanians on one side and Swedes on the other, fought each other, Peter founded the great city of Saint Petersburg (named after Saint Peter the Apostle) in Izhora (which he had re-captured from Sweden) in 1703. He forbade the building of stone edifices outside Saint Petersburg — which he intended 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 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.
Charles XII refused to retreat to Poland or back to Sweden, instead invading Ukraine. Peter withdrew his army southward, destroying any property that could assist the Swedes along the way. Deprived of local supplies, the Swedish army was forced to halt its advance in the winter of 1708–1709. In the summer of 1709, they nevertheless resumed their efforts to capture Ukraine, culminating in the Battle of Poltava on 27 June. The battle was a decisive defeat for Swedish forces, ending Charles' campaign in Ukraine and forcing him into exile in the Ottoman Empire. In Poland, August II was restored as King.
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
Peter I's last years were marked by further reform in Russia. On 22 October, 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. Gavrila Golovkin, the State Chancellor, was the first to add "the Great, Father of His Country, Emperor of All the Russias" to Peter's traditional title Tsar following a speech by the archbishop of Pskov in 1721.
Peter's 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. Twenty-one years later, in 1721, Peter followed the advice of Feofan Prokopovich and 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 remained Russia's actual ruler. All of Peter's male children had died—the eldest son, Alexei, had been tortured and killed on Peter's orders in 1718 because he had disobeyed his father and opposed official policies. Alexei's mother Eudoxia had also been punished; she was dragged from her home and tried on false charges of adultery. A similar fate befell Peter's beautiful mistress, Anna Mons, in 1704.
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).
In the winter of 1723, Peter, whose over all health was never robust, began having problems with his urinary tract and bladder. In the summer of 1724 a team of doctors performed the necessary surgery releasing upwards of four pounds of blocked urine. Peter remained bedridden till late autumn. Then in the first week of October, restless and certain he was cured, Peter began a lengthy inspection tour of various projects. According to tradition, it was in November, while at Lakhta along the Finnish Gulf to inspect some ironworks, that Peter saw a group of soldiers drowning not far from shore and, wading out into near-waist deep water, came to their rescue.
This icy water rescue is said to have exacerbated Peter's bladder problems and caused his death on January 28, 1725. The story, however, has been viewed with skepticism by some historians, pointing out that the German chronicler Jacob von Stählin is the only source for the story, and it seems unlikely that no one else would have documented such an act of heroism. This, plus the interval of time between these actions and Peter's death seems to precludes any direct link. However, the story may still, in part, contain some grain of truth.
In early January 1725 Peter was struck once again with uremia. Legend has it that before lasping into unconsciousness Peter asked for a paper and pen and scrawled an unfinished note that read: "Leave all to...." and then, exhausted by the effort, asked for his daughter Anna to be summoned.<ref>The 'Leave all..." story first appears in H-F de Bassewitz Russkii arkhiv 3 (1865). Russian historian E.V. Anisimov contends that Bassewitz's aim was to convince readers that Anna, not Empress Catherine, was Peter's intended heir.</ref>.
Peter died between four and five in the morning January 28, 1725. An autopsy revealed his bladder to be infected with gangrene. He was fifty-two years, seven months old when he died, having reigned forty-two years.
Many emotions swept through Russia, indeed throughout all of Europe, on the news of Peter's death, but geniune grief was not shared by all. In the words of Russian historian P. Kovalevsky:
"We could enthuse forever about the greatness of Peter's actions and still not deplict in all its fullness, brilliance and worth everything that he accomplished...But in creating, he destroyed. He caused pain to all in whom he came into contact. He disturbed the safety, peace, prosperity, interests, strength, well-being, rights and dignity of everyone he touched. He made things unpleasant for everyone. He did harm to everyone. He touched intellectual, political, social, financial, family, moral and spiritual interests. Is it possible to love such a statesman? In no way. Such men are hated."<ref>P. Kolvaevsky, 'Petr Velikii i ego genii', Dialog, 1992</ref>
 Legitimate issue
|By Eudoxia Lopukhina|
|HIH Alexei Petrovich, Tsarevich of Russia||18 February 1690||26 June 1718||married 1711, Princess Charlotte of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel; had issue|
|HIH Alexander Petrovich, Grand Duke of Russia||13 October 1691||14 May 1692|
|HIH Pavel Petrovich, Grand Duke of Russia||1693||1693|
|By Catherine I|
|HIH Anna Petrovna, Tsesarevna of Russia||7 February 1708||15 May 1728||married 1725, Karl Friedrich, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp; had issue|
|HIM Empress Elizabeth||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|
 See also
- Russian history, 1682-1796
- History of the administrative division of Russia
- Government reform of Peter I
- Other Tsars of Russia
- RFS Pyotr Velikiy, a Russian Navy battlecruiser named after Peter the Great
- Picture of his throne
 References and further reading
- Massie, Robert K. Peter the Great: His Life and World. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980 (hardcover, ISBN 0-394-50032-6); New York: Ballantine Books, 1981 (paperback, ISBN 0-345-29806-3); 1986 (paperback, ISBN 0-345-33619-4); New York: Wings Books, 1991 (hardcover, ISBN 0-517-06483-9); London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001 (paperback, ISBN 1-84212-116-2). Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Peter I.
- Hughes, Lindsey. Russia in the Age of Peter the Great. New Haven, CT; London: Yale University Press, 1998 (hardcover, ISBN 0-300-07539-1; paperback, ISBN 0-300-08266-5)
- Hughes, Lindsey. Peter the Great: A Biography. New Haven, CT; London: Yale University Press, 2002 (hardcover, ISBN 0-300-09426-4); 2004 (paperback, ISBN 0-300-10300-X).
- Peter the Great and the West: New Perspectives (Studies in Russian and Eastern European History), edited by Lindsey Hughes. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001 (hardcover, ISBN 0-333-92009-0).
- Troyat, Henri. Peter the Great. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1987 (hardcover, ISBN 0-525-24547-2).
|Tsar of Russia|
with Ivan V 1682–1696
|Emperor of Russia|
|Duke of Estonia and Livonia|
|DATE OF BIRTH|
|PLACE OF BIRTH|
|DATE OF DEATH|
|PLACE OF DEATH|
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