21.5.1: The Triumphs of Tsarina Elizabeth I
Elizabeth’s reign was marked by domestic reforms that continued the efforts of her father, Peter the Great, strengthening Russia’s position as a major participant in the European imperial rivalry.
Characterize Elizabeth I’s two decades in power
- Elizabeth (1709 – 1762), the daughter of Peter the Great and his second wife, Catherine I, was the Empress of Russia from 1741 until her death in 1762. She came to power as a result of a daring coup that, amazingly, succeeded without bloodshed.
- Elizabeth aimed to continue changes made by Peter the Great. She reconstituted the senate as it had been under his reign, with the chiefs of the departments of state attending. Her first task after this was to address the war with Sweden. In 1743, the Treaty of Åbo was signed, with Sweden ceding to Russia all of southern Finland east of the Kymmene River.
- The triumphs of Elizabeth’s foreign policy were credited to the diplomatic ability of Aleksey Bestuzhev-Ryumin, the head of foreign affairs. Bestuzhev reconciled the Empress with the courts of Vienna and London; enabled Russia to assert itself in Poland, Turkey, and Sweden; and isolated the King of Prussia by forcing him into hostile alliances. All this would have been impossible without the steady support of Elizabeth.
- The critical event of Elizabeth’s later years was the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). Elizabeth regarded the 1756 alliance between Great Britain and Prussia as utterly subversive of the previous conventions between Great Britain and Russia and sided against Prussia over a personal dislike of Frederick the Great. She therefore entered into an alliance with France and Austria against Prussia.
- A year before the Seven Years’ War formally ended, Elizabeth died. Her Prussophile successor, Peter III, at once recalled Russian armies from Berlin and mediated Frederick’s truce with Sweden. This turn of events has become known as “the Second Miracle of the House of Brandenburg.”
- Elizabeth was renowned throughout and beyond Russia for her fierce commitment to the arts, particularly music, theater, and architecture.
- the Second Miracle of the House of Brandenburg
- Events that led to Russia’s sudden change of alliance during the Seven Years’ War: in January 1762, the Empress Elizabeth of Russia died. Her nephew Peter, a strong admirer of Frederick the Great of Prussia, succeeded her and reversed Elizabeth’s anti-Prussian policy. He negotiated peace with Prussia and signed both an armistice and a treaty of peace and friendship.
- the Seven Years’ War
- A world war fought between 1754 and 1763, the main conflict occurring in the seven-year period from 1756 to 1763. It involved every European great power of the time except the Ottoman Empire, spanning five continents and affecting Europe, the Americas, West Africa, India, and the Philippines. The conflict split Europe into two coalitions, led by Great Britain on one side and France on the other.
- the Winter Palace
- From 1732 to 1917, the official residence of the Russian monarchs in Saint Petersburg.
Elizabeth of Russia
Elizabeth Petrovna (1709 – 1762), the daughter of Peter the Great and his second wife, Catherine I, was the Empress of Russia from 1741 until her death in 1762. After Peter died in 1725, his wife succeeded him as the Empress of Russia but died only two years later. Elizabeth’s half-nephew Peter II (the son of her half-brother from her father’s first marriage) succeeded her mother. After his death in 1730, Elizabeth’s first cousin, Empress Anna (ruled 1730-40), daughter of Peter the Great’s elder brother Ivan V, ruled Russia. During the reign of her cousin, Elizabeth was gathering support in the background but after the death of Empress Anna, the regency of Anna Leopoldovna (Empress Anna’s niece) for the infant Ivan VI was marked by high taxes and economic problems. As the daughter of Peter the Great, Elizabeth enjoyed much support from the Russian guards regiments. She often visited them, marking special events with the officers and acting as godmother to their children. The guards repaid her kindness when on the night of November 25, 1741, Elizabeth seized power with the help of the Preobrazhensky Regiment. The regiment marched to the Winter Palace and arrested the infant Emperor, his parents, and their own lieutenant-colonel, Count von Munnich. It was a daring coup and, amazingly, succeeded without bloodshed.
Elizabeth remains one of the most popular Russian monarchs due to her strong opposition to Prussian policies and her decision not to execute a single person during her reign, an unprecedented one at the time.
Domestic and Foreign Policies
The substantial changes made by Peter the Great had not exercised a formative influence on the intellectual attitudes of the ruling classes as a whole, and Elizabeth aimed to change that. Her domestic policies allowed the nobles to gain dominance in local government while shortening their terms of service to the state. She encouraged Mikhail Lomonosov’s establishment of the University of Moscow and Ivan Shuvalov’s foundation of the Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg. She abolished the cabinet council system used under Anna and reconstituted the senate as it had been under Peter the Great, with the chiefs of the departments of state attending. Her first task after this was to address the war with Sweden. In 1743, the Treaty of Åbo, by which Sweden ceded to Russia all of southern Finland east of the Kymmene River, was signed.
This triumph was credited to the diplomatic ability of the new vice chancellor, Aleksey Bestuzhev-Ryumin, the head of foreign affairs. He represented the anti-Franco-Prussian portion of Elizabeth’s council and his object was to bring about an Anglo-Austro-Russian alliance. By sheer tenacity of purpose, Bestuzhev not only extricated his country from the Swedish imbroglio but also reconciled the Empress with the courts of Vienna and London; enabled Russia to assert itself in Poland, Turkey, and Sweden; and isolated the King of Prussia by forcing him into hostile alliances. All this would have been impossible without the steady support of Elizabeth, who trusted him completely in spite of the Chancellor’s many enemies, most of whom were her personal friends. However, in 1758, Chancellor Bestuzhev was removed from office, most likely because he attempted to sow discord between the Empress and her heir and his consort.
Seven Years’ War
The critical event of Elizabeth’s later years was the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). Elizabeth regarded the 1756 alliance between Great Britain and Prussia as utterly subversive of the previous conventions between Great Britain and Russia and sided against Prussia over a personal dislike of Frederick the Great. She therefore entered into an alliance with France and Austria against Prussia, insisting that the King of Prussia must be rendered harmless to his neighbors for the future by reducing him to the rank of Prince-Elector. During the first six years of the war, Elizabeth focused on diplomatic (both covert and overt) and military efforts that aimed to deprive Frederick the Great and Prussia of their position as a the major European ruler and power. However,Elizabeth died in 1762, a year before the war formally ended. Her Prussophile successor, Peter III, at once recalled Russian armies from Berlin and mediated Frederick’s truce with Sweden. He also placed a corps of his own troops under Frederick’s command. This turn of events has become known as “the Second Miracle of the House of Brandenburg.”
Arts and Culture
Elizabeth was renowned throughout and beyond Russia for her fierce commitment to the arts, particularly music, theater, and architecture. The Empress had a longstanding love of theater and had a stage erected in the palace to enjoy the countless performances she sanctioned. Although many domestic and foreign works were shown, the French plays quickly became the most popular. Music also gained importance in Russia under Elizabeth. Many attribute its popularity to Elizabeth’s relationship with Alexei Razumovsky, a Ukrainian Cossack and the supposed husband of the Empress, who reportedly relished music. Elizabeth turned her court into “the country’s leading musical center.” She spared no expense, importing leading musical talents from Germany, France, and Italy. The Empress also spent exorbitant sums of money on the grandiose baroque projects of her favorite architect, Bartolomeo Rastrelli. The Winter Palace and the Smolny Convent in Saint Petersburg are among the chief monuments of her reign. Although the original construction of the Palace started under Peter the Great, Elizabeth commissioned an entirely new scheme (of the current structure) and oversaw the construction but died before its completion.The Convent, built when Elizabeth considered becoming a nun, was one of the many religious buildings erected at her behest, using the nation’s funds rather than those of the church. The Convent was one of many buildings erected for religious purposes under Elizabeth’s rule.
During the reign of Elizabeth, Rastrelli, still working to his original plan, devised an entirely new scheme in 1753 on a colossal scale—the present Winter Palace. The expedited completion of the palace became a matter of honor to the Empress, who regarded the palace as a symbol of national prestige. Work on the building continued throughout the year, even in the severest months of the winter. The deprivation to both the Russian people and the army caused by the ongoing Seven Years’ War were not permitted to hinder the progress.
- The Triumphs of Tsarina Elizabeth I
“Rulers of Russia family tree.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rulers_of_Russia_family_tree#Romanov_dynasty. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.
“Miracle of the House of Brandenburg.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracle_of_the_House_of_Brandenburg. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.
“Winter_Palace_Panorama_2.jpg.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_Palace#/media/File:Winter_Palace_Panorama_2.jpg. Wikipedia CC BY 4.0.
“Elizabeth_of_Russia_by_V.Eriksen.jpg.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_of_Russia#/media/File:Elizabeth_of_Russia_by_V.Eriksen.jpg. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.