- Describe Peter the Great’s early life
- Peter the Great of the House of Romanov ruled the Tsardom of Russia and later the Russian Empire from 1682 until his death. The Romanovs took over Russia in 1613, and the first decades of their reign were marked by attempts to restore peace, both internally and with Russia’s rivals.
- After Alexis I’s (Peter’s father) death, a power struggle between the Miloslavsky family (of Alexis’s first wife) and the Naryshkin family (of Alexis’s second wife) ensued. Eventually, Peter’s half-brother, Ivan V, and ten-year-old Peter became co-tsars, with Sophia Alekseyevna, one of Alexis’s daughters from his first marriage, acting as regent.
- Sophia was eventually overthrown, with Peter I and Ivan V continuing to act as co-tsars, yet power was exercised mostly by Peter’s mother. It was only when Nataliya died in 1694 that Peter became an independent sovereign, and the sole ruler after Ivan’s death in 1696.
- Peter implemented sweeping reforms aimed at modernizing Russia. Heavily influenced by his advisers from Western Europe, he reorganized the Russian army along modern lines and dreamed of making Russia a maritime power.
- Knowing that Russia could not face the Ottoman Empire alone, in 1697 Peter traveled incognito to Europe with the so-called Grand Embassy to seek the aid of the European monarchs. The mission failed, as Europe was at the time preoccupied with the question of the Spanish succession.
- The European trip, although politically a failure, exposed Peter to Western European artists, scientists, craftsmen, and noble families. This broadened his intellectual horizons and convinced him that Russia should follow Western Europe in certain respects.
Members of the highest rank of the feudal Bulgarian, Moscovian, Ruthenian (Ukraine and Belarus), Wallachian, and Moldavian aristocracies, second only to the ruling princes (or tsars), from the 10th century to the 17th century.
A Russian diplomatic mission sent to Western Europe in 1697–1698 by Peter the Great. The goal of this mission was to strengthen and broaden the Holy League, Russia’s alliance with a number of European countries against the Ottoman Empire in its struggle for the northern coastline of the Black Sea.
The status of many peasants under feudalism, specifically relating to manorialism. It was a condition of bondage that developed primarily during the High Middle Ages in Europe and lasted in some countries until the mid-19th century.
Peter the Great of the House of Romanov (1672–1725) ruled the Tsardom of Russia and later the Russian Empire from 1682 until his death, jointly ruling before 1696 with his elder half-brother, Ivan V. The Romanovs took over Russia in 1613, and the first decades of their reign were marked by attempts to restore peace, both internally and with Russia’s rivals, most notably Poland and Sweden.
In order to avoid more civil war, the great nobles, or boyars, cooperated with the first Romanovs, enabling them to finish the work of bureaucratic centralization. Thus, the state required service from both the old and the new nobility, primarily in the military. In return, the tsars allowed the boyars to complete the process of enserfing the peasants. With the state now fully sanctioning serfdom, peasant rebellions were endemic.
Peter the Great: Early Years
From an early age, Peter’s education (commissioned by his father, Tsar Alexis I) was put in the hands of several tutors. In 1676, Tsar Alexis died, leaving the sovereignty to Peter’s elder half-brother, Feodor III. Throughout this period, the government was largely run by Artamon Matveev, an enlightened friend of Alexis, the political head of the Naryshkin family (Natalya Naryshkina was Alexis’s second wife and Peter’s mother) and one of Peter’s greatest childhood benefactors. This changed when Feodor died in 1682. As he did not leave any children, a dispute arose between the Miloslavsky family (Maria Miloslavskaya was the first wife of Alexis I) and the Naryshkin family over who should inherit the throne. Peter’s other half-brother, Ivan V, was next in line for the throne, but he was chronically ill. Consequently, the Boyar Duma (a council of Russian nobles) chose 10-year-old Peter to become tsar, with his mother as regent. However, Sophia Alekseyevna, one of Alexis’s daughters from his first marriage, led a rebellion of the Streltsy (Russia’s elite military corps), which made it possible for her, the Miloslavskys (the clan of Ivan), and their allies to insist that Peter and Ivan be proclaimed joint tsars, with Ivan being acclaimed as the senior. Sophia acted as regent during the minority of the sovereigns and exercised all power. For seven years, she ruled as an autocrat.
Taking Over the Power
While Peter was not particularly concerned that others ruled in his name, his mother sought to force him to adopt a more conventional approach. She arranged his marriage to Eudoxia Lopukhina in 1689, but the marriage was a failure. Ten years later Peter forced his wife to become a nun and thus freed himself from the union.
By the summer of 1689, Peter planned to take power from his half-sister Sophia, whose position had been weakened by two unsuccessful Crimean campaigns. After a power struggle, in which the Streltsy was forced to shift its loyalty, Sophia was eventually overthrown, with Peter I and Ivan V continuing to act as co-tsars. Yet Peter could not acquire actual control over Russian affairs. Power was instead exercised by his mother, Natalya Naryshkina. It was only when Nataliya died in 1694 that Peter became an independent sovereign, and the sole ruler after Ivan’s death in 1696.
Peter implemented sweeping reforms aimed at modernizing Russia. Heavily influenced by his advisers from Western Europe, he reorganized the Russian army along modern lines and dreamed of making Russia a maritime power. He also implemented social modernization in an absolute manner by introducing French and western dress to his court and requiring courtiers, state officials, and the military to shave their beards and adopt modern clothing styles. One means of achieving this end was the introduction of taxes for long beards and robes in September 1698. The move provoked opposition from the boyars.
To improve his nation’s position on the seas, Peter sought to gain more maritime outlets and attempted to acquire control of the Black Sea, at the time controlled by the Ottoman Empire. To do so, he would have to expel the Tatars from the surrounding areas, but the initial attempts ended in failure. However, after the 1695 initiative to build a large navy, he officially founded the first Russian Navy base, Taganrog (Sea of Azov).
Peter knew that Russia could not face the Ottoman Empire alone. In 1697 he traveled incognito to Europe on an eighteen-month journey with a large Russian delegatio—the so-called Grand Embassy—to seek the aid of the European monarchs.
The mission failed, as Europe was at the time preoccupied with the question of the Spanish succession. Peter’s visit was cut short in 1698, when he was forced to rush home by a rebellion of the Streltsy. The rebellion was easily crushed, but Peter acted ruthlessly towards the mutineers. Over 1,200 of the rebels were tortured and executed, and Peter ordered that their bodies be publicly exhibited as a warning to future conspirators. The Streltsy were disbanded.
Peter’s European Education
Although the Grand Embassy failed to complete its political mission of creating an anti-Ottoman alliance, Peter continued the European trip, learning about life in Western Europe. While visiting the Netherlands, he studied shipbuilding and visited with families of art and coin collectors. From Dutch experts, craftsmen, and artists, Peter learned how to draw teeth, catch butterflies, and paint seascapes. In England, he also engaged in painting and navy-related activities, as well as visited Manchester in order to learn the techniques of city building that he would later use to great effect at Saint Petersburg. Furthermore, in 1698 Peter sent a delegation to Malta to observe the training and abilities of the Knights of Malta and their fleet.
Peter’s visits to the West impressed upon him the notion that European customs were in several respects superior to Russian traditions. Unlike most of his predecessors and successors, he attempted to follow Western European traditions, fashions, and tastes. He also sought to end arranged marriages, which were the norm among the Russian nobility, because he thought such a practice was barbaric and led to domestic violence, since the partners usually resented each other.