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In one volume, large Crown Svo, cloth, 6s. each. 

of Russia). With a Portrait. 

The Times. — 'This book is based on the confessions of the 
Empress herself ; it gives striking pictures of the condition of the 
contemporary Russia which she did so much to mould as well as to 
expand. . . . Few stories in history are more romantic than that 
of Catherine n. of Russia, with its mysterious incidents and 
thrilling episodes ; few characters present more curious problems.' 

THE STORY OF A THRONE (Catherine ii. of 
Russia). With a Portrait. 

The World. — ' No novel that ever was written could compete 
with this historical monograph in absorbing interest.' 

London: WILLIAM HEINEMANN, 21 Bedford 
Street, W.C 


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Translated from the French 

Timitb a portrait 

VOL. I. 



All rights reserved 


v. I 


I3> .8.54r 




' Measure thy powers on thine undertaking— and not the undertaking 

by thy powers. ' 

This bold advice, the dictum of a poet and fellow-country- 
man of my own, has been the almost indispensable inspira- 
tion of this historical work of mine. The figure which forms 
its subject-^towering above the history, bound up, to this 
very hour, with the existence, of the Russian nation — is not 
one to be lightly approached. 

Therefore it is that I have come to him so late, that I 
have worked backwards, up the course of the years, from the 
great Inheritress to the creator of her inheritance. 

Have I dared, then, at last, to exchange glances with that 
great bronze giant, who, so the poets say, ' steps down, on 
twilight nights, from his granite pedestal, hard by the Neva 
river-bank, and rides through the sleeping city ' — triumphant 
even in death ? Have I indeed — oh, mighty ghost ! who, 
for well-nigh two hundred years, like some terrible and 
familiar demon, hauntest the places thou didst know in 
life, — have I, in good truth, happened on the magic formula 
which brings back speech to phantoms, and builds life up 
around them, out of the dust of bygone days? 

I have lived those dead hours over again, in fancy. I have 
seen the faces, I have felt the warmth, of the beings and 
the things that filled them. I have laid my finger on the 
miracle of that legendary reign — the realisation of the fabled 
grain of wheat which sprouts and straightway grows into a 


plant on the palm of the Hindu Yoghi's hand. And I have 
had speech with the Man of Miracles himself, — the one 
unique man, perhaps, in the history of the human race. 
Napoleon is the greatest of Frenchmen, or the greatest of 
Italians, according to the fancy of his historian. He is not 
France nor Italy incarnate. Peter is Russia — her flesh and 
blood, her temperament and genius, her virtues and her 
vices. With his various aptitudes, his multiplicity of effort, 
his tumultuous passions, he rises up before us, a collective 
being. This makes his greatness. This raises him far 
above the pale shadows which our feeble historical evoca- 
tion strives to snatch out of oblivion. There is no need 
to call his figure up. He stands before us, surviving his 
own existence, perpetuating himself — a continual actual 

The face of the world he seems to have called out of chaos 
may have modified, but the principle of its existence is 
unchanged. The immeasurable force is there, which, these 
three centuries past, has defied all calculation, which has 
transformed Ivan's wretched patrimony, — a sparsely inha- 
bited patch of wild steppe land, — into the inheritance of 
Alexander and of Nicholas — into an empire exceeding in 
size and population every other known sovereignty in 
Europe, Asia, and Africa — surpassing those of Alexander the 
Great, or Ancient Rome, the realm of the Khaliphs, and even 
the present British Empire, with all its colonies — an area of 
some eight and a half millions of square miles, a population of 
one hundred and twenty million souls ! Once upon a time 
that force was called ' Peter the Great.' The name is changed 
now. The characteristics are unchanged. It is still the 
soul of a great people — and the soul, too, of a great man, in 
whom the thoughts and wills of millions of human beings 
appear incarnate. That force is centred in him, and he in 
it. I have tried, in these pages of mine, to make it throb. 

Not, be sure, by mere dint of my imagination. Everything 
that could be drawn from documentary evidence — the only 
pass-key which can re-open the doors each passing hour 



closes upon us — I have used. I hope I have been exact. 
I know I have been sincere ; I may have roused surprise, 
disappointment, even anger. I would urge my Russian 
readers to weigh their impressions carefully. Courage to 
acknowledge what one is, and even what one has been, is a 
very necessary quality. For Russia, this courage is a very 
easy one. 

I would pray my Russian readers too, and all others, not 
to misunderstand the nature of the object I have set before 
me. When Poushkin was collecting materials for his 
biography of the national hero, he spoke of raising a monu- 
ment — acre perennius, which was to be too firmly set to be 
removed by human hand, and dragged from square to 
square. Some national grudge, it would appear, existed — 
some doubt was felt, as to the unchangeable stability of 
Falconnet's masterpiece. The poet's ambition, his care for 
his subject's reputation, common to most of my forerunners, 
not in Russia only, have never affected me. Peter — without 
any help of mine — already has the monument which, as I 
fain would think, befits him best. Not Poushkin's, nor yet 
the work of the French sculptor's chisel. The monument of 
which I speak was begun by his own rugged hands. His suc- 
cessors will labour on it, yet, for many a year. The last stone 
set, and that a mighty one, is the Trans-Siberian railway. 

My object, as I say, has been very different. The eyes of 
the whole modern world have long been fixed — some in 
sympathy, others, again, dark with suspicion and hostility — 
on the mighty sea of physical and moral energy which 
surged up suddenly between Old Europe, wearied out with 
eager life, and Ancient Asia, wearied, too, with the stillness 
and stagnation of hers. Will the common destinies of the 
two Continents sink in that huge abyss ? Or will its waters 
prove another Fountain of Jouvence? The whole world 
hangs over the chasm, on either side, waiting in anxious 
apprehension, peering into the depths, striving to fathom 
them. My part is simply to offer certain information to this 
universal curiosity and dread. 


Behold ! This may be the appointed hour ! The dawn 
of an unknown day whitens the sky. A mist, where phan- 
tom figures seem to float, rises over the broad river. 
Hark ! Was it a horse's hoof that rang on the silent 

stones? . . . 

K. W. 











RETURN, . . . . . -74 






IV. PRIVATE LIFE, . . . . . . 187 

VOL. I. b 




III. CATHERINE, ...... 263 



VOL. I. 



i. The marriage of Tsar Alexis — The choice of the bride — The crown to the 
fairest — The dormitory in the Kreml — Nathalia Naryshkin — The birth of 
Peter — His paternity contested — The struggle between the Naryshkin 
and the Miloslavski — Exile. 

II. The Kreml : Crypt, Seraglio, and Gaol — Ten centuries of history — Russia 
of Moscow, anil Russia of Kief — The Norman Conquest — Vanished glories 
— The sons of Rurik — Jaroslav the Great, and Henry the First of France 
— The Mongol invasion— Utter downfall — Recovery — Muscovite Hege- 
mony under a Mongol protectorate — Emancipation — Ivan the Great — 
Dawn of a new culture — European influences — Poles, Germans, English, 
and Dutchmen. 
III. The German faubourg — Europe and Asia — A Muscovite Ghetto — The work 
of civilisation — Expansion — Thither Peter will go. 

IV. Times of trial — The last attempt at an Asiatic rigime — Deaths of Alexis 
ami Feodor — An elected Tsar — The rile ^( the Patriarchs — The victory 
of the Naryshkin — Peter proclaimed — A short-lived triumph — The 
revenge of the Miloslavski. 

Peter ALEKSIEIEVITCH was born on the 30th of May 
1672 — the year 7180, according to the calendar then used 
in his country. 

Two years and a half before his birth, the ancient Kreml 
of Moscow had beheld a strange sight. Dozens of young 
girls, chosen amongst the loveliest discoverable, drawn from 
the most distant provinces, from every rank and station, — 
gentle and simple, from castle and from hut, and even from 
religious houses, had entered the Tsar's palace, on a day 

1 The name is thus spelt and pronounced in Russian. Kremlin is a spurious 
form, of Polish origin. 


appointed by himself. There, crowded haphazard into the 
six rooms appointed to their use, they had led the usual life 
of Muscovite wives and maidens of that age — the cloistered 
existence, idle and monotonous, of Eastern women, scarce 
broken by some slight manual task, scarce brightened, here 
and there, by an occasional song. Thus, all day long they 
dreamt, and pined, and sighed, and yawned over oft-repeated 
tales and legends, bristling with wonderful absurdities. But 
when night fell, ah ! then all the hours of weariness, and 
disgust, and impatient longing, were forgotten ; and each 
young creature, her every sense on the alert, felt her soul 
leap and tremble with the sudden palpitation of a tre- 
mendous chance, in the feverish but short-lived sensation, 
nightly recurring, of an exquisite terror, and anxiety, and 
hope. Masculine forms loomed on the threshold of the 
suite of rooms, which were converted into dormitories when 
darkness fell. Two men passed between the narrow beds, 
leisurely examining the lovely sleepers, exchanging signifi- 
cant words and gestures. And one of these was the Tsar 
Alexis Mihailovitch — the Tsar himself — in propria persona, 
accompanied by his doctor, and seeking, amongst those 
unknown beauties, his chosen wife, — ' the woman,' as the 
time-honoured formula has it, ' worthy to be the Sovereign's 
delight,' the woman whom, though she were the daughter of 
the meanest of his serfs, he might, on the morrow, make a 
Grand Duchess first, and then Tsarina of all the Russias. 

The custom, two centuries old already, had been borrowed 
from the Byzantines, partly for high political reasons, a 
little too, out of sheer necessity. Ivan Vassilevitch (' the 
Great,' 1435- 1505), had vainly sought a wife for his son 
among the princesses of foreign houses. The King of 
Denmark, the Margrave of Brandenbiurg, had alike rebuffed 
him scornfully. And he would have no more alliances with 
his neighbours and rivals, the Russian Dukes. So he caused 
fifteen hundred maidens to be gathered together at Moscow 
— the Grand Ducal coronet should be bestowed on the fairest, 
at all events, if not on the most nobly born. A century later, 
the Tsar Michael Feodorovitch, who attempted matrimony 
with a foreign princess, met with no better success. The 
Danish King even went so far as to refuse to receive the 
Russian Envoys. 1 From that time out, the custom had been 
] Zabielin, Domestic History of the Tsarinas (Moscow, 1S72), p. 245. 


definitely established. Certain ladies and gentlemen of the 
Court were deputed to examine the young girls who came to 
Moscow, in answer to the Imperial call. Their inspection, 
minute and severe, extended to the most intimate details. 
Thus, by a process of selection, only the daintiest morsels 
were actually presented to the Tsar. 1 

But occasionally, as in 1670, this custom became a mere 
formality. The dreams of the fair sleepers were doomed, 
this time, to disappointment ; their nocturnal wiles were 
to be displayed in vain. The Sovereign's choice had been 
fixed before their arrival in the city. The Tsar Alexis 
Mihai'lovitch was thirty-eight years of age when his first 
wife — a Miloslavski, who had borne him five sons and eight 
daughters — died, in the year 1667. Of these sons, three 
were already dead ; the survivors, Feodor and Ivan, were 
both sickly ; and the Tsar's evident duty was to consider 
the question of remarriage. He considered it seriously, when 
his eye fell, one day, in the house of Artamon Siergueievitch 
Matvieief, on a beautiful brunette, whom he took, at first, for 
the daughter of his favourite counsellor. Nathalia Kirillovna 
Naryshkin was only his ward, confided by her father, an 
obscure and needy country gentleman, to the care of the 
rich and powerful boyard. The fair Nathalia could never 
have burst on her Sovereign's dazzled eyes in any true 
Muscovite house, where local custom was held in due respect. 
The young girl must have remained invisible, behind the 
impenetrable portals of the terem. But the Matvieief house- 
hold was emancipated from the ordinary rule. Artamon 
had married a foreigner — a Hamilton. The tempest of 
revolution which had overwhelmed the great Jacobite fami- 
lies, had cast up some branches of them, even upon the 
inhospitable shores of that distant and barbarous empire. 
Alexis welcomed the strangers, and Matvieief actually owed 
a portion of his master's favour to his alliance with one 
of them. His marriage had also given him a certain culture. 
He read much ; he had a library, a museum, a small chemical 
laboratory. Nathalia had her place at her adopted parents' 
table — sometimes even amongst their guests. Alexis began 
by saying he would undertake to find the girl a husband 
' who would ask for no fortune with her.' Then, suddenly, 
he made up his mind and spoke out. Artamon Siergue- 
] Zabielin, Domestic History of the Tsarinas (Moscow, 1872), p. 222. 


ievitch was more alarmed than pleased. His position as 
imperial favourite had already procured him numerous 
enemies. Sprung from a somewhat obscure family, he had 
pushed himself into the foremost rank, he was at the head 
of various departments ; he managed Foreign Affairs, the 
Mint, he was Court Minister, Commander of the Streltsy, 
Governor of Little Russia, of Kasan and of Astrakan. He 
begged, at all events, to be shielded by appearances. Nathalia 
had to show herself in the dormitory at the Kreml. All the 
rites were scrupulously observed. The uncle of one fair 
aspirant actually had to face the justice of the Tsar for 
having used fraudulent manoeuvres in his niece's favour, and 
was put to the question, ordinary and extraordinary, by the 
knout, by the strappado, and by fire. The marriage was 
solemnised on 22nd January 1671, and on 30th May (12th 
June) 1672, Nathalia Kirillovna bore a son. 

On that very day, Louis xiv. supplied Boileau with the 
subject of a famous epistle, as he watched his army, led by 
Conde and Turenne, pass over the Rhine. On that very 
day, too, at the opposite end of Europe, the Turkish army 
passed the Dniester, to clasp hands across space with that 
of the Grand Monarque, and take the Empire in the rear. 
Neither of these events awoke much interest at Moscow, 
where all were rejoicing over the birth of the Tsarevitch. 
Life there was too circumscribed and obscure to be much 
affected by the great currents of European politics. Obscure 
and doubtful, too, to this very hour, is the birthplace of the 
greatest man Russia ever produced. Was it the Moscow 
Kreml ? the neighbouring country house of Kolomenskoi'e, 
dubbed the Russian Bethlehem ? Or was it Ismai'lovo? No 
absolute certainty exists. The dispute is carried further 
still. Peter bore no resemblance, physical or moral, to his 
elder brothers and sisters, — puny and feeble all of them, like 
Feodor and Ivan, all, even the fair Sophia herself, bearing a 
taint in their blood. And could Alexis, worn out by illness, 
foredoomed to an early death, have bestowed, on any son of 
his, that giant stature, those iron muscles, that full life? 
Who then ? Was it the German surgeon, who replaced the 
daughter Nathalia really brought into the world, by his 
own son ? Was it the courtier, Tihone Nikititch Streshnief, 
a man of humble birth, lately brought into prominence by 
the marriage of the Tsar Michael Romanof with the fair 


Eudoxia ? Once upon a time, Peter, heated with wine, sought 
(so at least the story goes) to peer into this shadow. ' That 
fellow,' he cried, pointing to one of the company, Ivan 
Mussin-Pushkin, ' knows, at all events, that he is my father's 
son! Whose son am I? Yours, Tihon Streshnief? Obey 
me, speak, and fear nothing ! Speak ! or I '11 have you 
strangled ! ' 

' Batiushka, mercy ! ' comes the answer. ' I know not 
what to say. ... I was not the only one ! ' l 

But every kind of story has been told ! 

The death of Alexis (1674) marks the beginning of a 
troubled period, out of which Peter's despotic power rises, 
storm-laden and blood-stained, like the times which gave it 

This period makes its definite mark on the destiny of the 
future Reformer. From its very outset, he becomes the hero 
of a drama, the naturally indicated chief of an opposition 
party. Beside the yet warm corpse of their common 
Master, the two families, called out of their obscurity by 
the Tsar's two marriages, engage in desperate struggle. 

The Naryshkins of a later generation have claimed a 
relatively illustrious origin, in connection with a Czech 
family, the Narisci, which once reigned at Egra. But the 
Tartar Narish, noted by the historian Muller as one of the 
familiars of the Kniaz Ivan Vassilevitch (1463), would 
appear a more authentic ancestor. 

The Miloslavski were the Muscovite branch of the Korsak, 
an ancient Lithuanian family, settled in Poland. Deprived 
by the new comers of their rank and influence, they felt 
themselves alike injured and humiliated. Nathalia's father, 
Kiril Poluiektovitch, had risen, in a few years, to be one of 
the richest men in the country, Court Councillor (dunmyi 
dvorianin) and Grand Officer of the Crown (okolnitshyl). 
The bells that tolled for the funeral of Alexis rang out the 
hour of vengeance on his rival's ears. ' Miloslavski against 
Naryshkin ! ' For the next thirteen years that war-cry 
was to rule the fate of Russia, casting it into the blood- 
stained struggle between the two parties fighting for power. 

1 Vockerodt, Correspondence (published by Herrmann, Leipsic, 1872), p. 10S. 
So\ox\tf, Hist, of Russia ( Moscow, 1864-1878), vol. xv. pp. 126-135. Siemievski, 
Study of the State Police in Kitssia (Slovo i Dido) (St. Petersburg, 1885), p. 139. 
Dolgoroukof, Mimoires (Geneva, 1867), vol. i. p. 102. 


Matvieief, Nathalia's adoptive father, beaten in his first 
skirmish, heads the list of victims. He was imprisoned, 
tortured, exiled to Pustoziersk in Siberia, where he almost 
died of hunger. 1 For a moment, there was some question of 
immuring Nathalia in a cloister ; but the mother and son 
were finally sent to Preobrajenskoie, a village near Moscow, 
where Alexis had built him a house. Thus Peter left the 
Kreml, never to return, save for a very short space of time, 
during which he was to endure the most cruel trials, the 
most odious outrages, to watch the murder of his own 
kinsfolk, to see the Sovereign's authority cast down into the 
lowest depths, to witness his own downfall. Then it was 
that he vowed relentless hatred to the gloomy palace. Even 
as Conqueror and all-powerful Master, he pointedly turned 
his back upon it. That rupture was the symbol of his life 
and of its work. 


The Kreml of the present day — a crowded and haphazard 
collection of incongruous buildings, utterly devoid, for the 
most part, of style or character — conveys but a faint con- 
ception of the palace of Alexis Mihai'lovitch, as it appeared 
at the end of the seventeenth century. The fires of 1701 
and 1737, and the reconstruction which took place in 1752,- 
have left the barest traces of the curious Italian Renaissance, 
introduced, at the close of the fifteenth century, by the 
daughter of a Paleologus, educated at Rome. 3 Some 
vestiges still exist of the struggle of the genius of Fioravante, 
of Solaro, of Alevise, with Byzantine tradition ; a few 
churches, a few fragments of palaces, and the outer walls — 
more like those of a fortified camp than of a royal residence, 
with their far-stretching low ramparts, and their brick towers 
showing in slim outline, here and there, like warriors on the 
watch. Without these walls, on the Red Square, the only 
edifice which powerfully conjures up the vanished past is 
the Church of Vassili the Blessed. Within them, doubtless, 
there was the same architectural confusion, — the same violent 

1 See History of his Captivity, published at Moscow, 1785, by Novikofi. 

2 Zabielin, Domestic History of the Tsars (Moscow, 1895), PP- no-118. 
Oustrialof, History of Peter I. (St. Petersburg, 1S5S), vol. iv. p. 33. 

a P. Pierling, La Kussie et le St. Siege (Paris, 1896), p. 107. 


juxtaposition of the German gothic style with those of India, 
of Byzantium, and of Italy, — the same tangle of edifices, 
packed one within the other like a Chinese puzzle, — the same 
strange, wild orgy of decoration, of form, of colour — a delirium 
and fever, a veritable surfeit of plastic fancy. Small rooms, 
surbased vaulted roots, gloomy corridors, lamps twinkling 
out of the darkness, on the walls the lurid glow of mingled 
ochres and vermilions, iron bars to every window, armed 
men at every door ; a swarming population of monks and 
warriors everywhere. The palace rubbed shoulders with 
the church and the monastery, and was scarcely distinguish- 
able from them. The Sovereign, on his throne, was like the 
neighbouring relic of some Saint, within its shrine. From 
one end to the other of that strange accumulation of build- 
ings, sacred and secular dwellings, cathedrals and convents 
by the score, confused noises, — dulled and stifled by massive 
walls, thick oriental hangings, and the heavy air imprisoned 
within them, — rose and fell, their echoes intermingling in a 
vague harmony of sound. From within the churches 
sounded the voices of chanting priests ; from the tercm 
came the singing of the women — now and again a sharper 
note would echo from some corner of the palace, scene 
of a secret orgy, and then a shriller cry, the plaint of 
some tortured prisoner in his dungeon. But, for the most 
part, silence reigned ; men whispered under their breath ; 
they stepped carefully, feeling their way. Each one watched 
his neighbour, and his neighbour him. It was a crypt, a 
seraglio, a gaol, in one. 

This being so, the Kreml was more than the mere 
residence of the Tsar. All Russia was here concentrated 
and summed up, — a strange Russia, ten centuries old, and 
yet an infant ; a long historic past behind her, yet standing, 
apparently, on the threshold of her history. This Russia, 
severed from her European neighbours, who know her not, 
yet has European blood of the purest in her veins, her annals 
teem with European traditions, alliances, relationships, ay, 
and with traces of a common fate, in good fortune and ill, 
in victory and disaster. 

Between the ninth and tenth centuries, when the earliest 
French Kings, Charles le Gros and Louis le Begue, are 
struggling painfully to defend their treasures from Norman 
robbers, other Sea Kings land on the Baltic shore. Yonder 


the Norman, Hrolf, wrests the coast country, called after his 
race, from Charles the Simple. Here, on the mighty plain 
that stretches from the Baltic to the Black Sea, among the 
scanty Finnish or Slavonic population which alone disturbs 
the solitude, the Norman Rurik and his followers found 
their Empire. 1 

A century and a half later, at the three farthest corners of 
Europe, three heroic leaders affirm the supremacy of the 
same race, covering it with the common glory of their 
conquests. In Italy, Robert Guiscard founds the House 
of Hauteville. William the Conqueror seats himself in 
England. Jaroslav reigns in Russia. 

But this Russia is not the Russia of Moscow. Moscow 
does not exist, as yet. Jaroslav's capital is at Kief, a very 
different place, far nearer to the Western world. Rurik's 
descendants, dwelling there, keep up close relations with 
Greece, with Italy, with Poland, with Germany. Byzantium 
sends them monks, and learned men, and stately prelates. 
Italy and Germany give them architects, artificers, merchants, 
and the elements of Roman law. Towards the year iooo, 
Vladimar, the ' Red Sun ' of the Rhapsodes, commands his 
lords to send their children to the schools he has established 
near the churches ; he makes roads, and deposits test weights 
and measures in the churches. His son Jaroslav (1015- 
1054) coins money, builds palaces, adorns the open spaces 
of his capital with Greek and Latin sculpture, and draws up 
a code of laws. The five pictures preserved in the Vatican, 
under the name of the Capponi Collection, are an authentic 
proof, and a most curious specimen, of Russian art as it 
flourished at Kief in the twelfth century. 2 The execution 
is masterly, in no way inferior to the best work of the early 
Italians, such as Andrea Rico di Candia. And these are 
not the only signs of culture at Kief. In 1 170, at Smolensk, 
we find the Kniaz, Roman Rostislavitch, busied with learned 

1 This conquest, although disputed by Slavophil historians, would seem to be 
an undoubted fact. See Solovief's refutation of Ilova'iski's opinion {Collected 

Works on Politics (Bezobrazof, 1879), vol. vii. ), and the Studies of Father 
Martynof {Revue des Questions Historiques, July 1875. Polybiblion, 1875). 
Solovief at all events makes the admission — a consoling one to the national 
vanity — that the Slav tribes submitted voluntarily to a foreign A'nia:, whom they 
called to rule over them. 

2 This collection was presented by Peter the Great to Count Capponi, in 
acknowledgment of his share in obtaining the signature of a commercial treaty 
with Genoa. 


subjects. He collects libraries, founds schools and seminaries, 
where the classical languages are taught. From one end to 
the other of the huge Empire just beginning to take shape, 
between the Don and the Carpathians, the Volga and the 
Dvina, a busy trade is already carried on with Europe — 
western, southern, and northern. Novgorod commands the 
commerce of the Baltic. At Kief a motley crowd of 
merchants — Norman, Slav, Hungarian, Venetian, Genoese, 
German, Arab, and Jew — fill the streets, and deal in every 
kind of product. In 1028 there were a dozen markets in 
the city. And these Dukes of Kief have no need to seek 
their wives within their subjects' terems. Jaroslav espouses 
a Swede, Ingegard, the daughter of King Olaf. He marries 
his sister to King Casimir of Poland ; one of his sons, 
Vsievolod, to the daughter of the Emperor Constantine 
Monomachus of Byzantium ; another, Viatcheslaf, to a 
Countess of Stade ; a third, Igor, to Kunigunde, Countess of 
Orlamiinde. His eldest daughter, Elizabeth, weds King 
Harold of Norway ; the third, Anastasia, King Andreas 1. of 
Hungary. Three Bishops, Gautier de Meaux, Gosselin de 
Chalignac, and Roger de Chalons, come to Kief, in 1048, to 
ask the hand of the second daughter, Anne, for Henry 1. of 

Before the middle of the thirteenth century all this crumbles 
and disappears, leaving no trace behind. The Empire had 
not as yet really found its feet : it was not founded upon 
the rock, firm to withstand any violent shock. Dukes of 
Kief, of Novgorod, of Smolensk, though they were, these 
Rurikovitch, in spite of their union of warlike instinct with 
very remarkable organising powers, bore about with them 
the brand of their origin — a ferment of disorder and violence, 
from which nothing but the action of time, bringing with 
it long established submission to the customs of civilised 
societies, and the laws of a strongly organised State, could 
have delivered them. Time played them false. The blow 
came in 1224, when Baty, with his Mongol hordes, appeared 
upon the scene. At that moment, after some attempt, early 
in the twelfth century, at concentration, under Vladimir Mono- 
machus, sixty petty princes were quarrelling over scraps 
of power and rags of sovereignty between the Volga and the 
Bug. Baty and Mangu, a grandson of Gengis Khan, forced 
them into reconciliation. 


Centuries of endeavour and of civilising effort were thus 
to disappear into the dust raised by the hoofs of a hundred 
thousand horses. Of ancient Russia, Europeanised, indeed, 
by its conquerors, but in no sense denationalised, — thanks 
to the rapid absorption of the scanty Norman element— not 
a trace remained. In the following century, between 13 19 
and 1340, Kief and the neighbouring countries fell into the 
hands of the future Kings of Poland, still Dukes of Lithuania. 

After the reign of Giedymine, Jagellon, annexing all the 
fragments of the ephemeral sovereignty of Monomachus — 
Red Russia, White Russia, Black Russia, Little Russia — to 
the new Polish-Lithuanian Empire, wielded the sceptre of 
' all the Russias,' — as the time-honoured formula now runs. 
And the countries he annexed were little more than deserts. 
At this moment the history of the Rurikovitch sovereignty 
seems utterly closed. 

But it springs up afresh, eastward of the huge space 
marked out by Fate as the dwelling-place of an innumer- 
able population, and the scene of an immeasurable develop- 
ment. In the upper basin of the Volga, on the banks of the 
Moskva, in the midst of a sparse Finnish population, a poor 
village, overlooked by a strong fortified castle, had, since the 
twelfth century, been the home and appanage of one of the 
descendants of Rurik. Destroyed, more than once, in the 
course of incessant warfare with its Rurikovitch neighbours, 
swept by the wave of invading Mongols, this village raised 
its head again and again, increased in size, and, in the begin- 
ning of the fourteenth century, already formed the nucleus 
of a fresh agglomeration of Norman, Slav, and Finnish 
elements. Taking docile submission to the yoke of the 
Asiatic conquerors for his rule, the Kitiaz of Moscow ended 
by making that yoke serve as an organising instrument, 
useful alike for internal government, and external expan- 
sion. Humbly, patiently, adroitly, he undertook the duties 
of an intermediary — welcomed by one side for his usefulness, 
endured by the other as a necessity — between the conquerors 
and the conquered ; stooping to play the part of tax-collector 
for the common master, of police agent, of executioner, if 
need be. Extending and strengthening, by slow degrees, 
the superiority thus dearly bought, the wily Kniaz succeeded 
each other, until the day should come — long waited, carefully 
prepared — when one should be strong enough to break the 


infamous compact, which had served him and his forebears 
as a tool for their own emancipation. 

Thus well-nigh two centuries passed. Two centuries, in 
the course of which the neighbouring Kniaz — of Pereiaslavl, 
Riazan, Vladimir, Ouglitch, Halitch, Rostov, Jaroslavl, 
Souzdal — became one by one, little by little, first of all 
vassals, and finally mere chief subjects, boyards, of the Kniaz 
of Moscow, whose power swelled visibly, while the Mongol 
Hegemony, worn out and broken up by internal discord, 
steadily declined. At last, somewhere about 1480, the 
period of probation drew to a close, and astounded Europe 
suddenly became aware that, between herself and Asia, 
there lay a new Empire, whose chief had formally declared 
its independence, having driven the Golden Horde beyond 
the newly traced frontiers of the immense territory under 
his rule, wedded at Rome, with a Greek Princess from Con- 
stantinople, and taken the double-headed eagle for his 
emblem. His name was Ivan, known by his subjects as 
' Ivan the Great.' 

But this new sovereignty was not that of Kief, and, but 
for the dynastic origin of its Head, it would seem to have 
nought in common with that which constituted the power 
and glory of Jaroslav and Vladimir. The Grand Duke of 
Moscow might indeed dub himself Sovereign of ' all the 
Russias,' but the provinces he thus claimed, and called his 
own, were not in his keeping. They belonged to Poland. 
The country he actually held was quite independent, so far 
as three-fourths of it were concerned, of that conquered by 
the ancient Normans, and, everything, or almost everything, 
both in his Empire and his Capital, was of newer origin, and 
essentially different in character. Europe, so to speak, had 
no place there. 

The flood, receding from this soil, had left behind it, like 
a heavy clay deposit, all its more stable elements — form of 
government, customs, habits of thought. No germ of culture 
remained, and for the best of reasons. Save for the traditions 
of the Byzantine-Russian Church, preserved by Greek monks 
and nuns, the state and the society which had struggled 
into organised existence, under the tutelage of the successors 
of Baty, were essentially Asiatic, and genuinely barbarous. 
State and society alike, during their long separation from 
Europe, had known nothing of the great school in which the 


intellectual and moral unity of the West was shaped ; of the 
feudal system, the Crusades, chivalry, the study of Roman 
Law, out of which the modern spirit has risen, stepping 
backwards from its first springs ; of the great struggle 
between the religious and the temporal powers, in which the 
spirit of freedom took its birth. When the Metropolitan of 
Moscow (only recently — 1325 or 1381 — called into existence) 
refused the amalgamation with Rome, decided at the Council 
of Florence, and accepted by the Metropolitan of Kief, the 
city, voluntarily and deliberately, broke with the Western 
World. The obscure and remote Eastern schism, condemned 
by the Pope, withdrew itself beyond the pale of Christianity. 
When men had grown weary of disputing over it, they were 
to cast it into oblivion. 

But culture began to sprout afresh, pushing up slowly, 
through the thick crust of Asiatic mire. It came as best it 
could — from Europe always — and first of all from Poland, 
through the great Lithuanian lords, who had been Russians 
before they were Poles. Before the insurgent Kurbski, 
Ivan the Great's whilom helper, took refuge with his neigh- 
bours, he kept up close correspondence with the Czartoryski, 
Russian and orthodox still, to the backbone. Ivan himself, 
returning victorious from Poland, brought back, as booty 
and symbolic trophy, the first printing press ever seen in 
Moscow. The conquest of Novgorod (1475) had served to 
bring the new Empire into contact with the Hanse towns. 
In 1553 the English discovered the mouth of the Dvina. 
Next came the foundation of the town of Archangel, and 
the beginning of commerce in the Northern seas. Then 
fresh invasion — and the struggle for existence began once 
more. This time, happily, the invading wave came from a 
different quarter. It rolled back from Europe, passing away 
more rapidly than the last, and leaving something more than 
mere mud behind it. The Polish armies brought the whole 
paraphernalia of Rome in their train. Jesuits and Sons of 
St. Bernard — Catholic propaganda, and the learning of the 
schools. After the Jesuits — learned, fluent, shrewd — come the 
mock Tsars, likewise of Polish origin, subtle and elegant. 
The Court of Dimitri and Marina Mniszech is modelled on 
that of Sigismund, who had formed his after the counsel of 
his wife, Bone Sforza, whose Polish orchestra mingles its 
secular strains with the rites of the Orthodox Church ! At the 


very moment of the definite triumph of the national cause, 
Western and Polish influences are affirmed, even in the very 
victories and re-establishment of the Muscovite element in 
Poland, and in the West. When the armies of Tsar 
Alexis entered Kief, they found no sign, doubtless, of what 
the Mongol conquerors had found there — no trace of former 
splendours. Yet they found something better than the empti- 
ness and void at Moscow. Some schools of Polish origin, a 
printing press too, ready to replace that of Ivan (promptly 
anathematised and long since destroyed), and a Greco-Latin 
Ecclesiastical Academy. A modest capital of civilisation, 
easy of assimilation, stood ready to their hand. 



From this time forward Moscow had power to turn her back 
on Asia, and re-enter Europe, without crossing the frontier. 
That Peter, driven out of the Kreml, and into the street, as 
it were, by the rival faction, felt no desire to return to his 
ancestral dwelling, must be written down to the fact that he 
had found another and a more attractive home in its close 
vicinity. When Ivan annexed Novgorod, — that stronghold 
of republicanism and insubordination, — he resolved to break 
its turbulent spirit by changing its population. Ten thousand 
families had thus to be removed. Russia owns the secret of 
these successful administrative coups d'etat, whereby whole 
masses of humanity are set in physical motion. The exiled 
Novgorodians departed to Moscow, where room was made 
for them, by sending an equal number of faithful and docile 
Moscovians — their very docility their punishment — to Nov- 
gorod. These new arrivals included certain Hanseatic 
merchants, who formed the first nucleus of the foreign 
colony on the banks of the Moskva. But it soon became 
evident, to Russian eyes, that these foreigners profaned the 
place. Local patriotism found its interest, even at that date, 
in claiming that Moscow was a holy city, and then, as now, 
the whole of Muscovy joined in this beatification. Beyond 
the gates of the old capital, towards the north-western corner 
of the modern city, in the quarter lying between BasmannaTa 
Street and PokrovskaTa Street, where, at the present day, 
most of the Protestant and Catholic churches stand, there 


arose, — on the banks of the Iaouza, a scanty affluent of the 
Moskva, — a kind of Ghetto, specially assigned to the Niemtsy, 
those who did not speak the tongue of the country, and who, 
in consequence, were niemoi, dumb. The Hanse merchants 
prospered little here, but, in the sixteenth century, Tsar 
Vassili lodged his bodyguard of Poles, Lithuanians, and 
Germans in the quarter. Vassili's successors brought in not 
foreign soldiers only — they sent abroad for artisans and 
artists, and, before long, for schoolmasters. An engraving 
in Adelung's curious book depicts the primitive appearance 
of the suburb, where the immigrants were crowded together, 
shut up and hemmed in, by severe and successive edicts. It 
was still a mere village of wooden houses, roughly built with 
unbarked tree-trunks, — huge kitchen gardens surrounding 
each dwelling. But a rapid change was working both in the 
appearance of the place, and in the nature of its inhabitants. 
Under Tsar Alexis, the only German quality about the 
Niemietskaia Sloboda was the name, or sobriquet \ of Niemiets, 
which had clung to the suburb — a relic of the German origin 
of its original inhabitants. English and Scotchmen now 
held the foremost place, and among them — thanks to the 
proscriptions of Lord Protector Cromwell, there were many 
noble names — Drummonds, Hamiltons, Dalziels, Crawfurds, 
Grahams, Leslies, and, at a later period, Gordons. No 
Frenchmen as yet. They were coldly looked on, as Catholics, 
and, yet more, as Jansenists. The Jacobites were the only 
exceptions to this rule, — their proscribed condition being 
taken to vouch for their fidelity. 

Later on, the revocation of the Edict of Nantes was to 
earn the same confidence for the subjects of the Most 
Christian King. The Jacobites lived somewhat apart. They 
were no traders, nor in any way industrious. Yet they 
were a powerful factor in the budding prosperity of the 
Sloboda. Their education and demeanour inspired the 
Muscovites with a sense of respect. The German troopers 
of the first period had taught the natives nothing, save the 
manners of Wallenstein's camp. In the professional class, 
soon to be added to this aristocratic one — merchants, teachers, 
physicians, apothecaries, traders, artists — the dominant cle- 
ment was Dutch ; but the quality of the German contingent, 
mingled with it, improved. Both nationalities brought with 
them, and exemplified, the special virtues of their race ; — a 


spirit of enterprise, perseverance, piety, family affection, a 
common aspiration towards an ideal of order, of domestic 
peace, and fruitful toil. The Dutch had a Calvinist, the 
Germans, two Lutheran pastors ; but, face to face with 
the barbarians, religious dissension appears to have died 
away. Liberty reigned in the Sloboda, save in the case of 
the Catholics, who were forbidden to have a priest. Schools 
became numerous. Patrick Gordon, a Scotchman, followed 
the proceedings of the London Royal Society. English 
ladies sent for bales of novels and poetry by British writers. 
Pleasure was moderate and decent in its course. At 
German gatherings, the dance known as ' Grossvatertanz ' 
was considered the wildest form of entertainment. There 
was a theatre, frequented by Tsar Alexis, where he saw a 
performance of OrpJiee. 

Politics played a considerable part in the life of the 
colony. The members of the Diplomatic Corps, who all 
resided in it, the English, Dutch, Danish, and Swedish 
residents, represented the interests, or stirred the passions, 
of the various Protestant powers. The Dutch resident, Van 
Keller — rich, cultivated, cautious, and adroit — held quite a 
special position, before which the Muscovites themselves 
respectfully bowed. He sent a weekly messenger to the 
Hague, and the Western news he thus received made the 
Sloboda quiver to the echo of those great events which were 
then working out the political fate of the European world. 1 
The German traveller, Tanner, 2 who visited the colony in 
1678, carried away a most pleasing impression, confirmed 
and justified by an engraving dated early in the eighteenth 

This shows us the suburb utterly transformed. Comfort- 
able-looking brick houses, approached through flowery 
gardens, straight alleys planted with trees, fountains in the 
squares. The contrast with Russian towns of the period, 
Moscow not excepted, is very striking. It was not to escape 
the eye of Peter the Great. 

In spite of Polish influence, in spite of its near neighbour- 
hood to a country which brought Europe, so to speak, to its 

1 Vulliemin, after Posselt, Revue Suisse, vol. xxix. p. 323. Bruckner, Cultur- 
historische Studien (Riga, 1S7S). 

-Tanner, Legatio Polouo — Lithuania! in Moscoviam (Nuremberg, 16S9), 
p. 71, etc. 

VOL. I. B 


very gates, Moscow was still, take it all in all, what three 
centuries of Asiatic slavery had made it. Some signs there 
were, indeed, which clearly marked a beginning of mental 
contact with the intellectual world of the West. Certain 
men here and there had cast off, physically and morally, the 
ancient Byzantine Tartar garb. Ideas were shooting up, 
some originating power had shown itself, a whole programme 
of reform, a more extended one, as will later on appear, than 
that which Peter himself undertook to execute, had been 
sketched out. 1 

The dawn of the new day was blushing in the sky ; but 
the growing light fell only on a chosen and restricted 
circle. Tsar Alexis did not, like Ivan, put out artists' eyes, 
on the plea of thus preventing them from reproducing their 
masterpieces ; but when Tsar Michael took it into his head 
to engage the services of the famous Oelschlager (Olcarius), 
there was talk of throwing the ' sorcerer ' into the river, the 
court mutinied, and the city was in an uproar. Another 
foreigner, who entertained some prominent Russian lords at 
dinner, saw them, to his astonishment, lay violent hands on 
everything on the table, and fill their pockets ! 2 Within 
the Kreml, after the Poles and mock Tsars were banished, 
nothing changed a jot. Before Peter himself was driven 
out, he never saw any faces but those of his immediate 
circle. When he went to church, or to the bath, a double 
row of dwarfs, carrying red silken curtains, followed him, 
a moving prison, always with him. 3 The child was almost 
stifled. At Preobrajenskoi'e he began to breathe again. 
One day — back in the open air at last, and free to move 
about at will — he will wander to the banks of the Iaouza, 
and once he has seen the Sloboda, he will not care to leave 
it. He will call all Russia to follow him thither. 

But dark times are before him yet, — the supreme test and 
ordeal of the Asiatic system. 

1 This point of view has led certain historians into paradoxical exaggeration. 
V. Klioutchewski, Lessons in History given at the Moscoiv University, 1SS7-1SS9 
(lithographed). I owe my knowledge of this work to the kindness of Mr. 
Stchukin, a young Russian savant living in l'aris, to whom I hereby beg to 
tender my grateful thanks. 

- Solovief, vol. xiv. p. 112. 

3 Kotoshihin, Russia during the Reign of Alexis (St. Petersburg, 1SS4), p. 19. 



In 1682 Feodor, eldest son and successor of Alexis, died 
childless. Who was to be his heir? Since the death of the 
last descendant of Rurik (1598) the throne had almost 
always been won by a revolution. Boris Godunof gained 
it by a series of assassinations. Dimitri conquered it by 
Polish swords. Vassili Shui'ski owed it to his election by 
the nobles. Michael Romanof to the voice of the people. 
Although some shadow of dynastic title grew out of this 
last selection, the accession of Alexis is believed to have 
been preceded by an appeal to popular suffrage. 

Of Feodor's two younger brothers, one, fifteen years old, 
— Ivan, the son of the Miloslavski, — was sickly, three parts 
blind, and more than half an idiot. A communication 
addressed in 1648 to the ministers of Louis XIV. mentions 
a ' growth on the eyelids, which prevents the young Prince 
from seeing anything, unless they are lifted up.' The great 
dignitaries of the Crown pronounced unanimously in favour 
of Peter, the son of the Naryshkin, younger than his 
brother by some five years. They shrank, so they averred, 
from being converted from court officials into sick-nurses. 
Doubtless the youth of the second brother gave them 
fair hope of a longer period of practical interregnum, 
during which they might continue to wield power. They 
swept the boyards, who chanced to be present at Feodor's 
death, and the patriarch Joachim, who had given him the 
last sacraments, along with them. Here, as in Poland, 
a vacancy on the throne conferred a sort of intermediate 
sovereignty on the Head of the Church. Thus, in 1598, 
the patriarch Job ensured the triumph of Boris. There was 
nothing legal in what happened then, any more than in 
what took place now. The prelate harangued the officers 
and courtiers who chanced to be within the Kreml, and 
made a brief appeal for their votes, which were given by 
acclamation. The improvised electors appeared outside 
the palace, on the Red Staircase, before the crowd attracted 
by the rumour of the great events which had set the Court 
aflame. A name flung to the mob, — and the thing was done. 
Russia had a Tsar, and that Tsar's name was Peter. 

Not a word of Ivan. Not an attempt to justify the 


violence done, in his person, to all the laws of heredity. The 
coup was nothing, in fact, but a victory won by the Narysh- 
kin over the Miloslavski, — taken by surprise, no doubt, 
and left defenceless, by the suddenness of the crisis, and 
the swiftness of the denouement. An ephemeral triumph, 
indeed, which scarcely lasted a month. On the very 
morrow of defeat, the vanquished faction re-entered the 
lists, backed by two unforeseen allies, two new political 
factors, destined to change the whole face of the struggle — 
the Tsarevna Sophia, and the Streltsy} . 

1 Sumarokof, Def Ersle Aufstand der Strelitzen (Riga, 1772), p. 10. 



I. The terem of the Kreml — Moscow and Byzantium — Memories of Fulcheria 

— By the Tsar's death-bed — Ambition and Love — Vassili Galitzin. 
ii. The Streltsy— Their greatness and their downfall — Soldiers and Merchants 
— Symptoms and causes of revolt — Popular movements — Sophia and 
Galitzin desire to use the revolt to conquer power — The Kreml besieged 
— Three days of carnage — Sophia's bloodstained power — Peter's down- 
fall — Ivan's enthronement — A twin throne— The Regent. 

in. The real Regent— An Idyll, and a domestic Drama — Dreams for the future 
— The stumbling-block. 

iv. The childhood of Peter the Great— Exile— Open-air life— Studies and 
games— The Astrolabe— The English boat— Soldier and Sailor— Preo- 
brajenskoie camp, and the Lake of Pereiaslavl— His companions— The 
first-fruits of reform — Rough models of an Army, a Navy, a Society. 
v. Youth — Marriage— Eudoxia Lapouhine — Early widowhood — Peter returns 
to his pleasures — Swept on by the current— The maker carried away by 
his work — The instrument of a party — Aristocratic opposition — Peter its 
leader — Betwixt two civilisations — Roman Europe and Protestant Europe 
— The choice — Preparation for the struggle — The convulsion. 

In 1682, seven of Alexis' daughters were still living. One 
alone, Sophia, has left a name in history. Born, like Ivan, 
of the Miloslavski consort, she had already reached her 
twenty-sixth year. I have alluded to her beauty ; certain 
Russian writers, notably Sumarokof, and some foreigners 
even — such as Strahlenberg and Perry, — praise it very 
highly. None of them ever saw the Tsarevna. The testi- 
mony of the Franco- Polish diplomat, La Neuville, who had 
that privilege, is more conclusive. He spoils the romance 
in which Peter's childhood is supposed to have been 
mixed up, but that is no fault of mine. 'A shapeless body, 
monstrously fat, a head as big as a bushel measure, hair 
growing on her face, sores on her legs,' — so his description 

runs. The Little- Russian historian, Kostomarof, tries to 



soften matters. Foreigners, he hints, might think Sophia 
ugly, but she may still have possessed great charm for the 
Muscovites of her own time. Excessive corpulence, even as 
in the East at the present day, was not likely to offend their 
taste. But the silence, on this point, of the Monk Miedvie- 
dief, the Princess's confidant and devoted servant, coupled 
with his persistent praise of her moral qualities, is very 

On this latter question, every one, even La Neuville, seems 
agreed. ' She is as acute, subtle, and shrewd in mind, as 
she is broad, short, and coarse in person. And though she 
has never read Machiavelli, nor learnt anything about him, 
all his maxims come naturally to her.' 

Up till the year 1682, Sophia's life had resembled, 
— outwardly, at all events, — that of all Russian girls of her 
time, aggravated, as in the case of persons of her great 
rank, by the increased severity of its retirement. The 
terem of the Kreml exceeded all others in this respect. It 
enforced solitude, minute and complicated acts of devotion, 
and frequent fasting. The Patriarch, and the nearest 
relations, were the only visitors. The physician was only 
admitted in cases of very serious illness. When he entered, 
the shutters were closed, and he had to feel his patient's 
pulse through a covering. The Tsaritsa and the Tsarevny 
passed through secret passages into the church, where the 
inevitable red silk curtains screened them from the curiosity 
of other worshippers. In 1674, two young lords, Butourlin 
and Dashkof, turning the corner of one of the inner courts of 
the palace, came suddenly upon a carriage, in which the 
Tsaritsa was driving, on pilgrimage to a monastery. This 
accident endangered their necks. There was a searching 
inquiry, which even took them as far as to the torture- 
chamber. The princesses had no allotted place in any of 
the solemnities, which, in the case of the rest of the Court, 
occasionally broke the hideous monotony of a life bound by 
rigid and unchanging etiquette. They never appeared, 
except at funerals, when they followed the bier, always 
impenetrably veiled. The nation knew nothing of them, 
save their names, spoken daily in the prayers of the official 
liturgy. They knew nothing of it — nothing, so to speak, 
of human life, beyond the narrow circle within which fate 
had imprisoned them. Unable, on account of their rank, to 


marry any subject, debarred, by their religion, from alliance 
with any foreign prince, they were doomed never to know 
love, nor marriage, nor maternity. So the law willed it. 

Probably, even at that date, some compromise was 
admitted. Otherwise Sophia would certainly never have 
been able to play, and at a moment's notice, the part in 
which we shall shortly see her appear. On 27th April 
1682, Peter was proclaimed Tsar. On the 23rd of the 
following month, a revolt of the Streltsy had overthrown 
his sole rule, and associated his brother Ivan with him on 
the throne. Everything points to the fact that Sophia was 
the arch inspirer of this coup d'etat — nay, more, that, for 
the most part, it was her handiwork. 

The terem of the Kreml must have felt the direct influence 
of Byzantine ideas, with all that historic mingling of 
asceticism and intrigue, which made up the life of the Lower 
Empire. Sophia and her sisters, watching by the bedside 
of their dying brother, must have called up memories of 
Pulcheria, the daughter of Arcadius, who seized the reins of 
power during the minority of Theodosius, and held them after 
his death, with the help of Martian, chief of the Imperial 
Guard. Some beating of wings against that barred cage 
there must have been, — body and soul alike rising in revolt, 
some dreams of liberty and love. Here, as elsewhere, doubt- 
less, most palace revolutions had their source in such 
hidden emotions. Sophia certainly saw some male faces 
within the Kreml, besides that of the Patriarch, or even 
those of her near kinsmen, the Miloslavski, — energetic men, 
but dull-minded. Feodor, who kept his bed long before the 
end, needed a woman's care. A member of his immediate 
circle was ready to incite him to break the terem rule, by 
taking his nurse from within its walls, and to recommend 
Sophia to his notice. That man was Vassili Galitzin. 

A remarkable man, in more ways than one. In con- 
temporary Russian history, in Peter's own life-history, he 
marks a period. Better, because more clearly than Mat- 
vieief, he indicates that slow preparation, that intellectual 
and moral evolution, the extent of which may indeed have 
been exaggerated since — but which certainly did precede 
the appearance of the great Reformer, and rendered his 
work possible. He personifies that elite of which I have 
already spoken, amongst whom such men as Morozof, 


Ordin Nashtshokin, and the Patriarch Nicone himself, had 
already, in preceding reigns, inaugurated a new period, 
an era of revolution. After playing an important part, for 
several years, in the government of his country, Vassili was 
concerned in the abolition of the Miestnitchestvo — an essen- 
tially Asiatic custom, in virtue of which no subject of the 
Tsar could occupy, with regard to a fellow-subject, any 
position inferior to that which one of his forebears might 
have occupied, in relation to an ancestor of the said fellow- 
subject — thus forming an insurmountable obstacle to any 
wise selection by merit, an endless source of wrangling, 
whereby the action of the Government was much enfeebled. 

He thought of organising a regular army. According to 
La Neuville, he carried his plans for the future further yet, 
and had dreams — far beyond anything Peter dared attempt — 
of freeing the serfs, and making them peasant proprietors. 
Father Avril himself, in spite of his having been detained 
in Moscow, and prevented from going to China, during the 
period when the future Regent was all-powerful, pays homage 
to his liberal-mindedness. The other boyards, in their 
hatred for Catholicism, overruled their colleague's decision. 1 

Galitzin spoke and wrote Latin with elegance and ease. 
He was constantly in the German suburb, and was in close 
relations with its inhabitants ; he received Gordon the 
Scotchman at his own table, and was himself attended by 
a German doctor, Blumentrost. The Greek, Spafari, who 
constantly appears in his circle, and who, by his favour, held 
a prominent position in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 
(Posolskii Prikaz), was quite a modern type of courtier-like 
diplomacy, and cosmopolitan experience, who had travelled 
the whole of Europe, and into China, who drew out plans 
for the navigation of the great Asiatic rivers, and corre- 
sponded with Witsen, the Burgomaster of Amsterdam. 

Galitzin's palace, within and without, bore every resem- 
blance to an important European dwelling, full of valuable 
furniture, Gobelins tapestries, pictures, tall mirrors. He 
had a library of Latin, Polish, and German books. This 
library was later to contain the manuscripts of Krijanitch, 
a Servian, and apostle of reforms, to whom Peter, very 
probably, may have owed his inspiration. He had three 
thousand houses built in Moscow, and even built a stone 
1 Voyagi en divers pays de /' ^Europe (Paris, 1692), p. 314. 


bridge, — the first ever seen in the country, — for which a Polish 
monk supplied the plan. He had a passionate affection for 
France, and caused his son constantly to wear a portrait of 
Louis XIV. 1 

His fall, and Peter's accession, ensuing on it, are honestly 
held by La Neuville, to be a catastrophe for civilisation. 
He did indeed still cling, to a certain extent, to the era he 
was striving to abolish. He was not free from superstition. 
He put a peasant, whom he suspected of trying to cast an 
evil spell on him, to the torture. 2 He was accused, in later 
days, of having tried to gain Sophia's favours by means of 
a love-philter, and of having caused the man who prepared 
the potion to be burnt. ;i But Peter himself was not altogether 
free from weaknesses of this kind. Take him altogether, 
this man, who was to end by being one of the young Tsar's 
adversaries, began by being his worthy forerunner. 

Born in 1643, Vassili Galitzin was thirty-nine years old 
when Feodor's illness brought him into Sophia's company. 
He was married, with tall children of his own. With him 
there stood, beside the dying man's pillow, Simon Polotski, a 
Little-Russian priest, a man of great knowledge for those 
times, Silvester Miedviedief, a learned monk, a bibliographer 
and court poet, and Hovanski, a soldier, much favoured 
by the Streltsy. Thus a political group, the elements of 
which may have previously drawn together, and fused in the 
dark shadow, was here assembled. Miedviedief was the soul 
of the combination, but Galitzin held the foremost place 
by Sophia's side, and held it by the power of love. 

The Tsarevna was twenty-five, and, to La Neuville's eyes, 
looked forty. Naturally hot-blooded and passionate, she had 
never, as yet, felt the full current of life ; and when, at one and 
the same moment, her mind and heart awoke, she cast her- 
self into the stream fearlessly, furiously, — surrendered herself 
utterly to the mighty flood which carried her along with it. 
Ambition came to her with love. She naturally associated 
the man without whom success would have had no charm 
for her, with her ambitious projects. She incited him, 
more than he her, to scale the heights of fortune they 
might share together. Personally, he appears to us timid, 

1 Solovicf, History of Russia, vol. xiv. p. 97. Avril, p. 296. 

- Jeliaboujski, ]\Jeiiioirs (Tazykop edition), p. 21. 

J Oustrialof, History of Peter the Great, vol. ii. pp. 4S, 344. 


suspicious, irresolute — he soon gives signs of dizziness and 
distress. He would even draw back at the supreme moment, 
but for Miedviedief and Hovanski. Miedviedief spurs the 
conspirators onward, inspires them with his own passion, 
his own feverish love of combat. Hovanski supplies the 
formidable weapon he needs, for the successful carrying out 
of his designs. 


In 1682 the Streltsy — called into existence by Ivan the 
Terrible and his companion in arms, Adashef — had but a 
short record and a somewhat tarnished glory behind them. 
Yet, such as it was, they had contrived to turn it into a 
capital, on which they lived in liberal fashion. Free men, 
all of them, soldiers from father to son, they formed a 
privileged military class, in the midst of the general servi- 
tude, and their very privileges had won them an importance 
quite out of proportion with their natural business and 
service. They were lodged, equipped, and paid by the 
state, in times of peace, while other free men were 
forced to serve unpaid, and at their own charges, even in 
time of war. They had a special administration of their 
own, and a separate commandant, who was always an im- 
portant boyard. In times of peace they kept order in the 
streets, did patrol duty, furnished sentries, and guards of 
honour, and served as firemen. One regiment of picked 
men {Stremiannyi), ('the spur regiment') attended the 
Tsar whenever he went beyond the city walls. In war time 
the Streltsy formed the vanguard and the backbone of his 
army. There were twenty regiments at Moscow, eight 
hundred to one thousand men in each, distinguished by the 
colour of their uniforms — red, blue, or green kaftans with 
broad red belts, yellow boots, and velvet fur trimmed caps, — 
and a varying number in the provinces. Their military 
duties not filling all their time, they went into trade and 
manufactures ; and, seeing they paid neither licence nor taxes, 
they easily grew rich. Hence many well-to-do burgesses of 
Moscow prayed for leave to be inscribed upon their lists, but 
they were an exclusive set, and would have no intruders. 1 

It was to them that Boris Godunof owed his victory 

1 Oustrialof, vol. i. p. 17, etc. Berg, The Reign of Tsar Feodor (Petersburg, 
1829), vol. ii. p. 36, etc. Herrmann, Geschichte Russlands (Gotha, 1846-1860), 
vol. iv. p. 1, etc. 


over the Samozvaniets Dimitri ; under Tsar Michael, they 
captured Marina Mniszech and her last partisan, Zaroutski ; 
they took Smolensk from the Poles under Alexis, and de- 
fended Tshiguirin against the Turks, under Feodor. During 
the long internal and external crisis of the seventeenth 
century, they constantly took sides with the regular power, 
they conquered Rasin, the rebel Cossack, and practically 
saved the monarchy ; but the troubles of that time reacted 
on them, set up the ferment of agitation in their ranks. 

Idleness completed the work of corruption. These natural 
champions of order had, for some time before the period of 
which I write, been making common cause with insurgents 
of all kinds, even giving the signal for riots. Riots, among 
the lower classes, had indeed become the order of the 
day. Official greed and corruption, and all their consequent 
abuses, had revolted the popular soul. Here, too, in this 
half-formed society, face to face with a rotting State, the 
way was prepared for Peter's coming. Though with less 
cause for complaint, the Streltsy raised their voices above 
those of all other grumblers. Their soldierly qualities, as 
was soon to be proved, had become, and were to remain, less 
than indifferent. But they were terrible brawlers. A day 
of tempest was to convert them, ere long, into the fiercest 
of ruffians. Alarming symptoms were evident among them 
before Feodor's death. The regiment of Siemion Griboiedof 
rose against its colonel, accusing him of peculation ; — of 
stealing their pay and forcing them to work on the building 
of a country house of his, on Sundays. Thanks to the 
weakness of the Government, standing between a dying 
Sovereign, and heirs still in their childhood, the contagion 
spread. When the Naryshkins came to power with Peter, 
they found sixteen regiments in a flame. Sorely puzzled, 
they sent for the exiled Matvieief, the founder of their 
fortunes, the experienced statesman ; and, pending the 
arrival of their saviour, they sacrificed the colonels of the 
regiments. The pravieje, a punishment reserved for in- 
solvent debtors, was applied. Before the assembled troops, 
the incriminated officers were beaten with rods on the fleshy 
parts of their legs, until they disgorged all their really, or 
presumedly, ill-gotten gains. This torture lasted many hours, 
but did not kill the colonels. But all discipline was destroyed, 
and the wild beast thus unmuzzled in the ranks of this 


Pretorian Guard, only waited the appearance of an easy 
prey to make its spring and use its claws. Sophia and her 
councillors offered it the Naryshkin party. 

The stroke was prepared, the insurrection planned, swiftly 
and boldly,— cynically too, almost openly. The Tsarevna's 
uncle, Ivan Miloslavski, denounced in later years by Peter 
as the chief author of the shameful deed, and hunted by 
him with savage hatred to his grave, made himself desper- 
ately busy, spreading lying tales, fanning the flames of rage. 
There was a story that the Naryshkins had poisoned 
Feodor, that they were ill-using Peter's elder brother, the 
dispossessed Tsarevitch, that one of the family desired to 
mount the throne. A Naryshkin, followed by a troop of 
armed men, was seen ill-treating the wife of one of the 
Streltsy. He was an agent of the Miloslavski in disguise. 
Feodora Rodinitsa, a confidant of Sophia's, went about the 
streets, slipped even into the soldier's quarters, sowing 
venomous words, and coin, and promises, broadcast. 

But the conspirators awaited their pre-arranged signal, 
Matvieief's arrival. The Streltsy, perfect in their part, 
welcomed their former chief, and lulled his suspicions to 
rest. On May nth, 1682, a deputation from the twenty 
regiments brought him bread and salt. ' Honey on a 
dagger's point,' said, later, the son of the unhappy old man, 
condemned, doomed to his death, at that very moment. 
Four days later, at dawn, the alarm sounded in all the 
Streltsy quarters, the twenty regiments flew to arms, and 
the Kreml was besieged. The gay-coloured kaftans had 
been put aside for the nonce, and the Streltsy all wore their 
red shirts, with sleeves rolled elbow high, — fell sign of the 
work for which they had risen so early. Soldiers they were 
no more, — judges rather, and executioners. They had drunk 
deeply before starting, and wild with brandy, even before they 
grew mad with carnage, they yelled in fury, brandishing their 
halberts. They believed, or feigned it, that Ivan and Peter 
himself had been assassinated, and professed to desire to 
avenge their deaths. In vain were the Tsar and the Tsarevitch 
brought out to them, safe and sound, on the top of the Red 
Staircase. Desperate efforts were made to appease them, 
but they would hear nothing, recognise no one ; louder and 
louder they gelled, 'Death to the assassins.' The head of their 
own prikas (office of management, — department,), the nged 


Dolgorouki, came out upon the steps to call them to order. 
Instantly two or three bolder spirits climbed the stairway, 
clutched the old man, and threw him into space, while others 
held up their pikes to catch him as he fell. ' Lioubo ! 
Lionbo ! " 'that's good, that pleases us,' shouted the mob. 
The massacre had begun. It lasted three days. Sought 
out one by one, hunted through the palace, tracked into the 
neighbouring houses, into churches, — the councillors and 
relatives of Nathalia, Matvieief, all the Naryshkins, shared 
Dolgorouki's fate. Some were slowly tortured to their end, 
dragged by their hair across the squares, knouted, burnt 
with red-hot irons, chopped up piecemeal, at last, with 
halbert strokes. Nathalia made a desperate struggle before 
giving up Ivan, her favourite brother. He finally sur- 
rendered, of his own free will, at the prayer of old Prince 
Odoievski, sacrificing his life for those of his family, which 
the savage Streltsy undertook to spare. After having par- 
taken of holy communion, in one of the churches within 
the Kreml, he issued forth, clasping like a shield, in that 
supreme moment, a sacred Icon. Instantly the image was 
dashed from his grasp, and he sank in the sea of blood and 
fury which still beat against the walls of the old palace. 
It raged further yet, dashing over the town, lapping round 
private dwellings and public edifices, wandering hither and 
thither in search of the supposed accomplices of an im- 
aginary crime, sacking and murdering everywhere as it 
went. The rioters even fell upon the city archives, and 
here we may discern a political intention — the desire to 
endue their excesses with a popular character, — an impression 
existed at the time that their object was to destroy all 
documents bearing on the institution of serfdom. 

And Sophia? Historians have essayed to clear her from 
personal responsibility. 1 This is all against the evidence. 
Never was the maxim, Is fecit cut prodcst, better applied. 
Many vanquished there were, in those terrible days. One 
conqueror alone appears, Sophia. So thoroughly does she 
control the movement that she stops it, dams it up, the 
instant she is so minded. A few words from Tsikler, a 
mere lay figure, suffice to restrain the most furious of the 
rioters. This Tsikler will be seen, on the very morrow 
of the convulsion, in the Tsarevna's immediate circle. The 

1 Aristof, Disturbances at Moscoiv, during the Regency of Sophia (Warsaw, 1S7 1 ). 


most important posts, too, fall to her former friends 
Hovanski, Ivan Miloslavski, Vassili Galitzin. After the 
hunt the quarry is divided. She takes her own share as a 
natural right. Peter still remaining titular Sovereign, she 
holds his power, as de facto Regent, till more come to her. 
Finally, she gives those who have done her such good 
service their reward. To the Slreltsy, ten roubles each for 
their pains, and, though the goods of their victims, which 
they claim, are not given them openly, means are found to 
afford them satisfaction, by putting the property up for 
sale, and reserving them the right of purchase. They are 
tenderly treated, for they will soon be needed afresh. And 
on May 23rd they are at the Kreml again, clamouring to have 
Ivan associated with Peter on the throne, which, thus divided, 
will be more easily held in subjection. Measures have been 
already taken to have the Patriarch and a few boyards at 
hand, there is talk of Joseph and Pharaoh, of Arcadius and 
Honorius, of Basil and Constantine. Michael and Philaretus, 
whose sovereignty left unpleasing memories behind it, are 
entirely overlooked. There is another mock election, and 
the famous double-seated throne is set up. Even this does 
not suffice. Ivan, infirm, an idiot, must have precedence. 
More rioting, yet another sham elective assembly. This 
time Sophia casts off the mask completely. When Ivan 
is proclaimed chief Tsar, the rioters are feasted, and the 
Tsarevna does the honours. Their hands, like their shirts, 
are bloodstained still, but she pours wine for them with 
her own. They prove their gratitude by returning on the 
29th of May, and conferring on her the title of Regent. 


She has gained the summit at last; but her sole object in 
reaching it, at the price of so many crimes, has been to taste 
the delights of power with, and through, the chosen one of 
her heart. All others must bow before him. Her will is 
that he should command. During her seven years of 
regency the real master of Russia — the real Regent — is 
Vassili Galitzin. 

The Tsarevna's virtue, like her political honesty, has 
found defenders ; but the amorous Princess has herself 
undertaken the task of enlightening us upon the point, and 


giving- the facts their true historical values. Five years 
have gone by. She reigns at the Kreml, and Galitzin is 
bringing a disastrous Crimean campaign — she alone believes 
it to have crowned him with laurels — to its close. Within a 
short time he is to be with her at Moscow, and she writes — 
' Batiushka, my hope, my all, God grant thee many years 
of life. This is a day of deep gladness to me, for God our 
Saviour has glorified His name, and His Mother's, by thee, 
my all ! Never did divine grace manifest itself more clearly. 
Never did our ancestors see greater proof of it. Even as 
God used Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, so has 
He led us across the desert by thy hand ! Glory be to Him, 
who has showed us His infinite mercy by thee ! What can 
I do, oh my love, to fitly recompense thy mighty toil ! Oh 
my joy, oh delight of my eyes ! Dare I really believe, oh my 
heart, that soon I shall see thee again, who art all the world 
to me? That day will be a great one to me, which brings 
thee once more to my side, oh my soul ! if that were 
possible I would recall thee now, in a few moments, by 
some magic invocation. Thy letters all come safely, by 
God's mercy. The news of the battle of Perekop arrived on 
the nth. I was making a pilgrimage that day, on foot, to 
the monastery of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross ( Vozdvi- 
jenski). Just as I neared the convent of St. Sergius, thy 
messenger joined me. I hardly know how the rest of my 
journey was accomplished. I read as I walked along. 
How shall I prove my gratitude to God, to His Blessed 
Mother, to the merciful Saint Sergius, worker of miracles ? 
Thou biddest me give alms to the convents, I have loaded 
them all with gifts. I have gone on pilgrimage to every 
one, on foot, as to the first. The medals are not ready yet. 
Have no care for them ; the moment they are ready I will 
send them. Thou wouldst have me pray ? I do pray, and 
God, who hears me, knows how I long to see thee, oh my 
world, oh my soul ! I trust in His mercy, which will grant 
me to see thee soon, oh all my hope ! As for the army, thou 
shalt decide as thou wilt. For myself, I am well, thanks, 
doubtless, to thy prayers ; all here are well. When God shall 
permit me to see thee again, I will tell thee all, oh all my world ! 
thou shalt know my life, my occupations ; but do not delay, 
come, — yet do not hurry over much, you must be weary. 
What shall I do to reward you for everything, and above all 


others? No other would have done what thou hast done; 
and thou hast spent so much pains before thou couldst 
succeed. 1 SOPHIA.'" 

This letter, though not precisely modelled on the style of 
Mile. Scuderi's heroines, is none the less conclusive. If La 
Neuville is to be believed, Sophia would have made no 
difficulty about bestowing the reward of which she held her 
hero worthy. But there was an obstacle to this expression of 
her transports of gratitude, — an obstacle called the Princess 
Galitzin ; and, unluckily, the hero refused to do what was 
necessary to get rid of it, — ' feeling naturally bound to her 
in honour, besides that he had received a great dowry 
with her, and that his children by her were far dearer to 
him than those he had by the Princess {the Tsarevna\ 
whom he only cared for on account of her fortune.' Yet, 
the chronicler proceeds, 'Women are ingenious, she (Sophia) 
contrived to persuade him (Galitzin) to induce his wife to 
become a nun, which done, according to Muscovite law, any 
husband, on the excuse of the physical impossibility of his 
remaining in celibacy, could obtain permission to marry 
again. The good lady having freely consented, the Princess 
counted fully on the success of her plans." 2 

She was reckoning without another barrier, which rose 
suddenly between her and what had looked like the 
approaching realisation of her dearest hopes. 


As may well be imagined, the son of Nathalia Naryshkin 
played a merely passive part amidst the terrible convul- 
sions which more than once shook the heavy diadem of 
Ivan the Terrible on his young brow, and filled his eyes 
with bloody visions. Flattering legends have indeed 
pictured him, as startling the world, by a courage beyond 
his years, braving assassins, and driving them back under 
the fire and majesty of his glance. At the same time his 
opening genius, no less precocious, threw the exploits of 
Pic de laMirandola quite into the shade. He is described, 
at three years old, as commanding a regiment, and present- 

1 Published by Oustrialof, vol. i. p. 383. 

- Despatch from the French Agent, La Vie, dated Nov. 10, 171S, quoting 
Peter's own words, in confirmation of these details (Foreign Ollice, Paris). 


ing reports to his father. At eleven, under the tuition 
of a Scotchman, Menesius, he has sounded all the mysteries 
of military art, and has adopted personal and generally 
innovating views, concerning several. I value legends, but 
I do not shrink from the necessity of contradicting them 
when they seem historically incorrect. In this matter they 
are completely so. Physically, and intellectually, the great 
man's development would, as a matter of fact, appear 
to have been somewhat slow. The colossus had some 
trouble in getting on its legs : at three years old, he had not 
parted from his wet nurse ; at eleven he could neither read 
nor write. The baby strategian and his regiment (Pietrof- 
Polk), on the subject of which another, and in most respects 
well-informed, historian, in what is otherwise a curious 
study, complacently dwells, are a pure and simple fiction. 1 
I go further : never, even at a more advanced age, does Peter 
give signs of great natural courage. He is far too nervous, 
too easily excited ; his first appearances on the stage which 
was to ring with the sound of his exploits, had nothing 
heroic about them. Courage, like wisdom, came to him 
late, and both were the result of one and the same effort of a 
will strengthened by repeated trials. The terrible experi- 
ences, the anguish, the terrors, which assailed his youth, left 
an indelible mark on his character and temperament ; — an 
evident proneness to the easy disturbance of the physical 
and moral faculties, by any violent shock, — an instinctive 
recoil of his whole being, in face of danger, — an inclination to 
bewilderment, and loss of self-control. His will takes the 
upper hand at last, and nature, once conquered, is all the 
better servant ; but there the nature is, always, and un- 
changing. Hence, Peter will all his life be a timid man, and 
for that very reason, a violent one as well, — with a violence 
not invariably conscious, and frequently calculated, like that 
of Napoleon, but absolutely unreflecting, breaking away, 
momentarily, from the control of his reason and his will. 
This defect, to which I have already referred, this brand of 
the cripple, he will carry with him all his life, graven in his 
flesh; — the fierce expression of his harsh imperious features 
twisted by a sudden convulsion. It has been said that an 
attempt to poison him thus left its mark ; whether the poison 
were physical or moral matters little, its effect is the im- 

1 Zabielin, '/'he Childhood of Peter the Great (Moscow, 1S72). 
VOL. I. C 


portant matter. The venom instilled into the poor child's 
veins, when the Streltsy drew his little feet through his 
uncle's blood, seems to me the most probable of the two. 

He was frightened, as any child in his position would 
have been frightened ; he hid himself, no doubt, in his 
mother's skirts, and once more, without a shadow of regret, he 
left the dreary palace, peopled with horrible nightmares. 
For Sophia's triumph condemned him to fresh exile — both 
him and his, — put him outside the law, at least, and, happily 
for him, outside the common rule. Exile, for this ten-year- 
old Sovereign who was to grow up such an extraordinarily 
turbulent man, meant room to stretch his limbs, air to 
breathe, health for body and mind ; exile here stands for 

He makes the most of it. He does, indeed, return to the 
Kreml, on days of high ceremony, to take his seat on the 
twin-throne, specially ordered in Holland — still to be seen in 
the Moscow Museum — but these are but transitory appear- 
ances. The rest of the time is spent at Preobrajenskoi'e, 
free from all the servitude and constraint of etiquette and 
sovereignty, and nothing could suit him better. It must not 
be forgotten that he is connected, on the maternal side, with 
a hotbed of relative independence. When Nathalie first 
arrived^ at the Kreml, her half Scotch habits caused a 
scandal. Did she not even dare to lift a corner of the 
curtain that screened her carriage window ? On his mother's 
side, too, he is linked to a centre of European culture, but 
fate has willed his separation from the Greco-Latin-Polish 
School, the influence of which has hitherto prevailed in 
Russia. The representatives of this school, led by Mied- 
viedief, all belong to Sophia's party. One of his tutors, 
Zotof, who also belonged to it, was forced to flee, and never 
was replaced. Left to himself, the child follows his own 
fancy, leaning instinctively to foreigners. Thus he learns 
many things, but hardly anything of military matters. He 
will never be a great soldier, his mind is too practical, I 
would even say too bourgeois. He is described, at an early 
age, as having laid the Oroujennaia palata, the court arsenal, 
under contribution. But this seventeenth century Mus- 
covite arsenal is only military in name. It really is a sort 
of Eastern bazaar ; Peter sends there for watches, which he 
amuses himself by taking to pieces, and horticultural implc- 


ments, the use of which he has explained to him. People 
have chosen to exaggerate the extent of his boyish curiosity. 1 
Let us take any child — a fairly gifted one, of course — with a 
bright intelligence, let us suppose him absolutely removed 
from the ordinary course of systematic education, and at the 
same time perfectly free to satisfy the needs of his awaken- 
ing intelligence, and his naturally active imagination. His 
instinctive desire for knowledge will evidently turn in a great 
variety of directions. Peter is an avTo8i'8atcTo<;, as a diplomat 
in his service, writing to Leibnitz, later expressed it. 2 

It does not in the least follow that he was a precocious 
student. His exercise-books are still in existence ; at the 
age of sixteen, his writing was bad, his orthography lament- 
able, and he had not progressed beyond the two first rules 
in arithmetic. His tutor, the Dutchman, Franz Timmer- 
mann, had some trouble, himself, in working out a sum in 
multiplication by four figures. It should be added that in 
his lessons, arithmetical problems alternated with theorems 
of descriptive geometry. 3 

We who have a regular process of scholastic training, in- 
variably and systematically graduated, shrink from seeing 
an order of intellectual progress to which we are accustomed, 
and which may after all be merely arbitrary, thus inverted. 
But such inversions are frequent, in less precise and rule- 
bound intellectual spheres than ours. 

It is a mere chance, too, which interested Peter, at this 
early age, in a class of studies which have but little charm 
for most very young minds. In 1686 his attention was 
accidentally drawn in conversation to a wonderful instru- 
ment brought back by Prince James Dolgorouki, from a 
journey abroad. With this instrument, he heard, distances 
might be measured without moving a step. Nothing of the 
sort had ever yet been seen in the Oroitjeiinaia palata. And 
forthwith the astrolabe was sent for. Alas! Dolgorouki 
came back empty-handed, the instrument had disappeared 
from his house — stolen, no doubt. Luckily, the Prince was 

1 Nastrof, The Early Education of Peter I. (Russian Archives, 1875), vol. ii. 
]). 470. Comp. I'ogodin, Early Years of Peter the Great (.Moscow, 1S75), 
]>. 17, etc. 

- Baron Urbich, 16th Nov. 1707, in Guerrier's Leibnitz in scinen Beziehungen 
zu Russland (Leipzig, 1873), vol. ii. p. 71. 

3 Oustrialof, vol. ii. p. 439, Cabinet of Peter I. [Imperial Archives), section i. 
1 Ii n >k 38. 


upon the point of starting once more for the countries where 
such wonders grew. Sophia and Galitzin were sending 
him to Louis XIV., to ask his help against the Turks. The 
Most Christian King gave the Ambassador the reception 
he might have expected, but the astrolabe was purchased. 
When it reached Peter's hands, he was sorely puzzled, not 
knowing how to use it. Somebody mentioned Timmer- 
mann, and the Dutchman, who had been building houses 
in the German quarter, became mathematical tutor at Preo- 

Peter had neither time nor wish — nor, with such a master, 
had he the means — to make great progress in this branch of 
knowledge. In his case, the astrolabe was evidently, and 
simply, the accidental manifestation of that instinct of touch- 
ing everything, which is at the bottom of all childish natures. 
Doubtless, the excessive prominence, in his character, of this 
itching curiosity, is in many ways unusual, and denotes not 
only a particularly formed and serious-minded nature in the 
child himself, but also the existence of very special external 
circumstances which influenced his mind. His ultimate 
destiny made it necessary that, in the surroundings amongst 
which he was placed, the things which should most power- 
fully attract his intelligence, ever on the alert for new sensa- 
tions — the most attractive, the most curious things — should 
also be the most useful and instructive points in the new 
world, full of wonders, with which the circle of his own 
existence was beginning to find contact. 

For, it is clearly improbable — all legends notwithstanding 
— that at ten years old, or even at sixteen, the future reformer 
should have realised the advantage Russia would find, one 
day, in being governed by a Prince who could ply fourteen 
different trades. Fourteen is the number hallowed by tra- 
dition ; but Peter never learnt fourteen trades. He did 
study and practise a few, such as turning and dentistry, with- 
out apparent profit to any one at all. By this dispersal of 
his attention, in spite of the breadth of an eminently compre- 
hensive intelligence, he ran the risk of superficiality — and he 
did not escape it. In later years, following the example of 
his peers, and converting his natural inclinations into reasoned 
aptitudes, he will perceive that to say to his subjects (a lazy, 
ignorant, and awkward-handed nation), ' Do this or that, be- 
stir yourselves, learn ! ' has less effect on them, than the 


powerful example of his own action. On principle, therefore, 
but also and always by taste, by instinct, by temperament, 
and in obedience to the pressure of the atmosphere around 
him, he will go on bestirring himself, gathering up here and 
there, pell-mell, and at random, every sort of knowledge, every 
kind of facility, working everywhere, and on every under- 
taking, with his own hands. And these same influences, 
again, drive him, early in life, into the only line in which he 
succeeds in becoming a good practical, if not a master-hand, 
at the same time providing him with an inexhaustible source 
of pleasure, if not of positive and enduring benefit, to himself, 
and to his country. 

Every one knows the story, — amplified and adorned, of 
course, by the tellers, — of the old English boat, found in the 
village of Ismailof, in a store of cast-off possessions, once 
belonging to the great-uncle of the young hero, Nikita 
Ivanovitch Romanof. The legend, ingenious to the last, 
will have it that Peter, as a child, had such a horror of 
water, that he grew pale and trembled at the sight of a 
brook. This may, perhaps, have been the mere symbolic 
expression of the natural difficulty felt by a landsman, an 
inhabitant of the hugest continent in the world, about 
entering into intimacy with that distant, invisible, unknown, 
well-nigh unattainable, element. Peter will give Russia a 
fleet before he gives her a sea. The whole character of his 
life-work — precipitate, abnormal, paradoxical — is seen in this 
one trait. When the old half-rotten wooden skiff, the 
Ismailof boat, attracted the child's attention, it overcame 
his instinctive repugnance, and confirmed him in his vocation 
as a sailor. 

No sufficient attempt has been made to explain the 
presence of this boat, in a village close to Moscow, in the 
very centre of terra firma. When, some time later, Peter 
established a shipbuilding yard some hundreds of versts 
away, on the lake of Pereiaslavl, he merely followed a course 
which had been already traced out, before him. That 
strange thing, a navy without a sea, was his creation, but it 
was not his invention. Properly speaking, indeed, he never 
invented anything ; this will be seen, as the series of his 
manifold realisations is unrolled. Attempts had been made 
in this direction, even under the reign of Tsar Alexis ; a 
yacht, The Eagle, having been built at Diedinof, on the banks 


of the Oka, with the help of foreign carpenters, brought in 
for the purpose. Struys notices this yacht fully in his 
Travels. 1 The idea was floating in the air. confused as yet, 
but clearly directed towards the desired goal. 

The Ismai'lof boat, like the astrolabe, at first appeared a 
mysterious object in Peter's eyes. The peasants, in old 
days, had seen it sailing against the wind, — wonderful indeed ! 
It was soon launched on a neighbouring pond. But how to 
sail it? Timmermann was completely at a loss. Luckily 
the artisans, Dutchmen too, who had worked at Diedinof, 
had not all disappeared. A few were living in the Faubourg. 
Thus, Peter had two more teachers, Karschten-Brandt and 
Kort, carpenters both. They advised the removal of the 
boat to Perei'aslavl, where there was a huge sheet of water. 
Peter took their advice, and set himself eagerly to work 
under their teaching ; but as a matter of fact, his principal 
occupation at that moment was that of playing truant. He 
did indeed learn some useful things, but chiefly he acquired 
habits, and inclinations, — some of them deplorable. He 
gained health, too, and vigour, iron muscles, a physical 
temperament of extraordinary toughness, — save for, and in 
spite of, his nervous attacks, the outcome of his hereditary 
stain, — and a moral organisation, of marvellous suppleness, 
robust, enterprising, except in those occasional moments of 

He made himself friends, too, — quite a little tribe, collected 
at random, in his large domestic circle, in the promiscuity of 
his vagrant existence — grooms from the paternal stables 
{koniouhy) who rode the little horses of the country with 
him, barebacked, — scamps picked up in the streets. He 
played soldiers with them, of course, and, naturally, he was 
in command. Behold him then, at the head of a regiment ! 
Out of this childish play rose that mighty creation, the 
Russian army. Yes, this double point of departure — the 
pseudo-naval games on the lake of Perei'aslavl, and the 
pseudo-military games on the Preobrajenskoi'e drill-ground 
— led to the double goal, — the Conquest of the Baltic, and 
the Battle of Poltava. 

But to realise all this, to fill up the space thus indicated, 
more was necessary than the passage of a unique personality, 
however exceptional, from childhood to ripe age ; more than 

1 Amsterdam, 1746. 


the humanly possible development of an individual genius ; 
there must have been a concourse of immense collective 
forces — prepared beforehand, but motionlessly awaiting the 
favourable hour, the man who should know how to use them 
— linked to the natural effort. The hour and the man once 
arrived, these were to be suddenly revealed, to use the 
individual as much as he used them, to urge him onward, 
quite as much as he was to stimulate their action. The 
man himself was but the product of this latent energy, and 
thus it is that, at the proper moment, he appears, rising out 
of, and with, and by it. 

Not only are the foundations of a fleet and an army laid, 
amidst the boyish undertakings, and the riotous companion- 
ships of the fiery youth. A whole new society is taking 
shape. All the old aristocracy, all the superannuated hier- 
archy of Moscow, will soon be crushed beneath the feet of 
the bold fellows, sprung from the stable and the kitchen, 
whom he will make Dukes and Princes, Ministers and 
Marshals. And in this again, he will only take up the 
broken thread of national tradition. He will improvise 
nothing, he will merely imitate his ancestors of the pre- 
Mongol epoch, chiefs of a droujina (fighting band) who 
fought beside their drouliy, drank with them, when the 
work was done, and refused to turn Mohammedan because 
'drinking is the Russian's joy.' 

Peter will always be a convivial comrade, and a heavy 
drinker ; always, too, he will keep the trace, an unpleasant 
one in some particulars, of his taste for the comradeship of 
the lowest of the population ; and he will leave something 
of it in his work, and in the national life he fashioned. 
The popular habits of the period preceding his accession 
have since found eager apologists. Such praise should 
surely be extended to the private personality of the great 
reformer. This would be a hazardous undertaking. Un- 
cleanly habits, coarse manners, degrading vices, the musty 
smell of the wine-shop, a general atmosphere of cynicism, 
all that is most shocking in his character, Peter picked up 
in the street, in the common life of his country, before the 
Reforms. He did wrong to keep these tastes, he did still 
more wrong in desiring that his subjects should keep them. 


The Tsarina Nathalia does not appear to have realised, 
until very late, the dangers her son ran among such com- 
panions. She herself had others, very little better chosen, 
who absorbed her. 

The origin of the 'pleasure' regiments (pothshnyie) goes 
back, according to the most reliable information, to the year 
1682 ; which fact suffices to deprive them, at the outset, of 
the serious character some people have attributed to them. 
Peter was then ten years old. 1 But in 1687, the young 
Tsar's military games began to take on proportions which 
attracted general attention. A fortress was built at Preobra- 
jenskoie, on the banks of the laouza, whence cannon was 
fired. The next year, the English skiff was discovered, and 
from that time forward, Peter, drawn to Perei'aslavl by the 
dual attraction of fire and water, escaped all domestic 
control. His life, it is reported, was frequently imperilled 
in these sports, during which accidents frequently occurred. 
To put a stop to them, Nathalia hit upon a plan which 
seemed to her a certain one. ' Marry and change,' says a 
Russian proverb. She looked about for a wife for her son. 
He let her have her way. Unlike his future adversary, the 
austere Charles XII., Peter was by no means indifferent to, 
nor scornful of, the fair sex. On the 27th of January 1689, 
he led Eudoxia Lapouhin, the daughter of a prominent 
Boyard, to the altar. But he set the proverb at nought. 
Three months later, the couple had parted. He was tacking 
about on the lake of Perei'aslavl, she, serving the apprentice- 
ship of a widowhood which was to last all her life. Naviga- 
tion has become more than a taste with the young Tsar, it 
is a jealous and exclusive passion. Some obscure atavism 
inherited from the ancient Varegians stirs his soul. He has 
never seen the sea, — he never ceases dreaming of it, — he will 
never know rest, till he has reached it. And this again is 
according to tradition. For two centuries, every war under- 
taken by his predecessors has had this object, — to reach the 
sea on the North-west, by driving back Poland or Sweden, 
or on the South-east, by driving back Turkey. Still, even for 
this, he will not part with his kouiouhy. Already he plans 

1 See Oustrialof, vol. ii. p. 329 ; comp. Memoirs of Matvieief (Toumanski 
edition), vol. i. pp. 194-196. 


strategical combinations, for using and combining the naval 
and land forces at his disposal ; and those same forces have 
grown with the youth, who has already reached a giant's 
stature. The toy has almost reached the proportions of a 
weapon. In September 1688, the young Tsar requisitions 
all the drums and fifes of a crack Streltsy regiment for his 
war game. In November, greatly to the displeasure of 
Prince Vassili Galitzin, he takes two-thirds of the effective 
strength of another regiment, and draws the teams for his 
'pleasure' artillery from the depot of the konioushenny'i 
prikaz (stable department). There is a regular recruiting 
station at Preobrajenskoie, and the grooms and cook boys 
are not the only recruits whose names appear on the lists. 
Those of 1688 contain the names of some of the greatest 
Muscovite families, such as Boutourlin and Galitzin. 

The presence of these aristocrats is in itself an absurdity, 
one of those ironical surprises with which history abounds. 
Peter, the unconscious artisan, as yet, of a great political and 
social renovation, who knows not whither he goes, save that 
he follows his own pleasure, has become the unconscious 
instrument of a party pursuing a very different aim. His 
work is confiscated, momentarily, for the benefit of tend- 
encies diametrically opposed to it. These new comers, who 
will shortly incite the future reformer to claim his stolen 
rights, will one day help to swell the army of the most 
resolute opponents of reform. But for the moment there is 
no question of reform — far from it. The means by which the 
Miloslavski, and, following them, Sophia, have ensured or 
obtained their power,— the abolition of the Miestnitdiestvo, 
the appeal to popular insurrection, — have bound their cause 
up with that of the lower classes. The great nobility, that 
section, at least, which remains most opposed to progress, — 
wounded in its prerogatives and its ancient customs — has a 
natural tendency to rally, first round Matvieief and Nathalia, 
and then round Peter. So that the weapon, which amuses 
Peter, is, in the eyes of those who now help him to forge the 
blade, and sharpen its edge, destined to hasten the retalia- 
tion of conservative and anti-European ideas, on the most 
European-minded man Moscow has ever seen. ' Down with 
Vassili Galitzin ' will be their war-cry. Preobrajenskoie 
has simply become a natural rallying point for malcontents 
of every kind, and among these, the reactionaries, being the 


most important, take the foremost place. Peter, himself 
wounded, outraged, and stripped, by the transitory regime, 
the close of which they so impatiently await, is their chosen 
leader, the future avenger, so they fain would hope, of the 
common injury. 

But of this he recks not. He only cares for amusing 
himself. He entertains himself, at Perei'aslavl, sailing boats 
whose canvas swells with no reforming breeze. Under cover 
of his name, and with his concurrence, a struggle is brewing 
between the silent Kreml and the noisy camp where he 
spends his youthful ardour. But in this game, in which his 
fortune and that of Russia are at stake, the only prize he 
sees and covets, is larger scope for his schoolboy fancies. 
Years must go by yet, before he finds his true path. Till 
that time comes, careless of where the road may lie, he will 
obediently follow his chance guides. On the day chosen by 
them, he will march to the assault of power, and will leave 
them the chief benefits of his victory. 

Thus, he steps backwards into history, indifferent alike to 
his destiny and to his glory. 

In July, 1689, the storm breaks. 



I. Government under the Regency — Its merits — Causes of weakness — Disap- 
pointments and bitterness — Diversion to external matters — The Crimean 
campaigns — Disasters — Galitzin's return — Popular indignation — Peter's 
party takes advantage of it — The Kreml and the Preobrajenskoie camp 
— Sophia faces the storm — The conflict. 
II. The night of the 7th of August — Attack or stratagem? — Peter's flight — The 
convent of the Troitsa — The Archimandrite Vincent — Boris Galitzin — 
The struggle is organised. 
111. Parleys and manoeuvres — Which way will the army go? — Sophia's courage 
— Vassili Galitzin's weakness — Defection — The Regent submits — lie 
comes to the Troitsa — Exile — Question and torture — Sophia acknowledges 
herself beaten — Her cloister — The new regime — Peter's comrades in 
power — The reaction — the Future. 



SOPHIA'S regency, justified, at all events, as it was, by Peter's 
youth, if not its natural outcome, might, in 1689, have still 
hoped to endure, more or less legitimately, for several years. 
Peter was barely eighteen years old, and no Russian law — 
like that of Charles V. in France — has advanced the hour of 
political maturity in the case of sovereigns. Impatient 
ambition may indeed endeavour to hurry the march of time. 
But not Peter's own ambition ; he still cares so little about 
power, that, for many a day yet, the accomplishment of the 
great event will bring no change in his occupations. 

The government of Sophia and of her co-Regent, inaugu- 
rating a gynecocracy which, for almost a century — from the 
days of Catherine I. to those of Catherine II. — was to become 
the general rule in Russia, does not strike me as having 
deserved either the criticisms, or the praises, — all of them 
equally exaggerated, — which have been showered upon it. 
Neither Voltaire, who follows La Neuville in describing the 
Tsarevna as a second Lucrezia Borgia, nor Karamzin, 

following Lcveque and Coxe, who calls her ' one of the 



greatest women the world has ever seen,' 1 has, in my 
opinion, done her justice. Among the old Russian historians, 
Muller in his criticisms of Voltaire's views, 2 Boltin in his 
notes of the History of Leclerc, 3 and especially Emin 4 with 
Aristof, 5 among the moderns, have endeavoured, not altogether 
successfully, to reconcile these contradictory exaggerations. 

For my part, the government seems to me to have had some- 
thing exceedingly Byzantine about it. No Byzantine quality 
is lacking — Court intrigues, party struggles, Pretorian revolts, 
liturgical quarrels as to how the fingers should be crossed 
in prayer, how many times the word hallelujah should be 
repeated, and whether, perchance, the Trinity should not 
consist of four Persons, with a separate throne for the 
Saviour of the world. Yet, other elements appear, which 
raise it to a higher level. There is a continuation of that 
economic springtime, so to speak, already inaugurated under 
Alexis; a beginning too, of an intellectual spring-tide. While 
Galitzin was building houses in Moscow, Sophia was writing 
plays. She had them acted at the Kreml ; she even, so some 
people say, acted in them herself. The policy of the regency, 
internal and external, lacked neither energy nor skill. It 
made a bold struggle against the abettors of religious quarrels, 
who had taken the place of the rioters of former days, and 
who came to the Palace, even as the Streltsy had once come, 
to seek the Patriarch, and wrangle with him. The chief of 
the raskolniks, Nikita, was put to death. It defended order 
with all its might, and, when the Streltsy claimed the right to 
disturb it, did not hesitate to punish its former allies. It 
appealed from the rebellious soldiery, to the nation at large. 
When the Kreml was threatened, it removed the throne into 
the protecting shadow of the altar. In October 1682 Sophia 
and Galitzin took refuge in the convent of the Troi'tsa. 

' The Trinity,' standing some six leagues from Moscow, — 
the traditional refuge of the Royal house in hours of danger 
— still retained all the characteristics of the great Russian 
Obitieh : little fortified towns with a population of monks, 
novices, and serving brothers, numbering their thousands, 

1 Karamzin, vol vii. p. 293. Leveque, Hist, de Russie (Paris, 1799), vol. iv. 
pp. 204-234. 

- Ei iiiics, 1 7 50- 1 764. 

:; St. Petersburg, 1788. 

4 Lives of the Russian Sovereigns [St. Petersburg, 1767-69). 

: ' Rebellions in Moscow during the Reign of Sophia (Warsaw, 1S71). 


churches by the dozen, not to mention shops, workshops, and 
trades of various kinds. Boris Godunof once sought shelter 
there ; and to this day the traces of the Polish balls which 
rained impotently on the ramparts of that holy spot are 
shown with pride. Thither, in his turn, and shortly too, 
Peter was to come, to crave help and protection. 

The appeal of the ad interim government had been heard, 
and had procured it an army. Falling into an ambush at 
Vosdvijenskoie, midway between Moscow and the Troi'tsa, 
Hovanski, now the hostile chief of the Streltsy, lost his head ; 
his son shared his fate, and the rebellion, decapitated with 
its chiefs, collapsed. 

Abroad, — in the field of diplomacy, at all events — Galitzin 
proved himself a faithful and fortunate exponent of the 
traditional policy of territorial expansion, which had gradu- 
ally set the frontiers of Muscovy farther and farther back, 
towards the South and West. Taking skilful advantage of 
the difficulties into which, in spite of Sobieski's victories, 
their long war with Turkey had thrown the Poles, he snatched 
Kief out of their hands. In June, 1685, a new Metropolitan, 
duly installed in the ancient capital, consented to receive 
his investiture from the patriarch of Moscow. This was a 
decisive step on the road which was to lead to the recovery 
of the territories of Little-Russia and to the partition of the 

But these successes were compromised, unfortunately, by 
the fatal consequences of causes connected with the very 
origin of the Regent's power. When Sophia and Galitzin 
put down the partisans of disorder and anarchy, they turned 
their hands against the authors of their own prosperity. 
Between the disappointment thus caused, on one hand, and 
the bitterness roused, on the other, their policy became an 
aimless struggle. It soon grew a hopeless one. The 
very next year they were at their wits' end. When the 
Boyards — ill-treated and deeply discontented — seemed in- 
clined to raise their heads, a mob was brought together on 
the Loubianka, the most crowded square of the city. An 
anonymous document had been found there, which coun- 
selled the people to hurry in their thousands to the Church 
of Our Lady of Kasan, where, behind the image of the 
Virgin, another paper which should guide their course 
would be discovered. Thither the crowd repaired, and a 


pamphlet, speaking evil of Sophia, and appealing to the 
people to rise and massacre the Boyards who supported the 
Tsarevna, was duly brought to light. This pamphlet, a mere 
farce, was the work of ShaklovityV, a new counsellor of 
Sophia's, a representative of ancient Muscovy, in the purest 
Byzantine style — a fierce and cunning schemer. The Tsar- 
evna feigned terror, and her good people acclaimed her, and 
offered to rid her of her enemies. 1 

And now, even abroad, the luck began to turn. The 
Regent, having promised Poland the help of the Muscovite 
troops against the Turks, in exchange for Kief, made two 
expeditions into the Crimea ; this again was the traditional 
course. The Crimean Tartars formed a barrier between 
Moscow and Constantinople, which Russia was not to over- 
throw for another century. But there was nothing of the 
great general about Galitzin ; in each campaign he left an 
army, vast military stores, and the remnants of his reputa- 
tion, on the steppes. Starting for his second expedition, he 
found, before his palace door, a coffin, with the insulting 
legend, ' Try to be more fortunate ! ' Returning to 
Moscow in June 1689, a wild clamour, yells, and threats of 
death saluted him. He was publicly accused of corruption ; 
barrels of French louis d'or were said to have been openly 
conveyed into his tent. Meanwhile the Preobrajenskoie 
camp was daily filling with new recruits, and Sophia saw 
the ranks of her partisans melt before her eyes. Yet 
she faced the storm bravely ; her ambition, and her love, 
indeed, were at their very height. She had taken advantage 
of the conclusion of peace with Poland to get herself pro- 
claimed samodierjitsa (autocrat), with equal rank to her 
brothers. This title figured, thenceforward, on all official 
documents, and on occasions of public ceremony the Tsar- 
evna took her place beside her brothers, or rather beside the 
elder one, for Peter hardly ever appeared. She caused her 
portrait, with the crown of Monomachus on her head, to be 
engraved in Holland. At the same time, and notwithstand- 
ing that, according to certain witnesses, she had given the 
absent Galitzin an obscure rival, in the person of Shak- 
lovityT, 3 she pursued the supreme object of her early dreams 

1 Shaklpvity'i's depositions, see Oustrialof, vol. ii. p. 39. 

2 Avril, Voyage en divers Etats if Europe et tfAsie, p. 315. 

;; Koitrakin Archives (St, Petersburg, 1S90-1S95), vol. i. p. 55. 


— her marriage with the Regent and a common throne — 
with ever-increasing ardour. To attain this end, she elabo- 
rated a very complicated plan, which called for the inter- 
vention of the Pope himself. Ivan was to be married, his 
wife to be provided with a lover so as to ensure the birth of 
children ; Peter, thus put on one side, would be got rid of 
somehow. Then, tempted by a proposed reunion, to be dis- 
cussed and negotiated, at any rate, between the Orthodox 
and the Roman Church, the Pope was to be induced to pro- 
claim the illegitimacy of Ivan's children. The ground thus 
cleared, Sophia and Galitzin would only have to cccupy it. 
Meanwhile the Tsarevna was resolved to brazen it out. 
While ShaklovityT, relegated by the Regent's return to the 
subaltern position of a partisan and a police agent, kept his 
eye on those few of Peter's friends who dared already to 
cast aside the mask, she defied public opinion, by decreeing 
a distribution of rewards to the companions in arms of 
Galitzin, whose victory she still persisted in proclaiming. 
Peter, well advised by those about him, refused his sanction. 
She did without it : — here was open conflict ! Generals and 
officers, . loaded with honours and with pensions, betook 
themselves to Preobrajenskoi'e to thank the Tsar. He re- 
fused to see them : — here was public rupture ! 


The historic night of the 7th of August 1689 closes in at 
last. A luminous summer night, darkened, unhappily, by the 
contradictions of legend and of history. This much seems 
tolerably clear. Peter was suddenly roused from slumber, 
by fugitives from the Kreml, who came to warn him that 
the Tsarevna had collected an armed band to attack Preobra- 
jenskoi'e and put him to death. Nothing is less clearly 
proved than this attempt of hers, nothing indeed is less 
probable. The evidence of documents collected by the best 
informed of all Russian historians, Oustrialof, 1 would rather 
go to prove that Sophia neither thought, nor, at that moment, 
dared to think, of attacking the camp at Preobrajenskoie. 
She knew it to be well guarded, kept on a war footing, 
secure against any surprise. She rather feared, or perhaps 

1 See vol. ii, p. 56, 


feigned to fear, an offensive movement on the part of 
these ' pleasure regiments,' full of spirit, all of them eager, 
longing to distinguish themselves by some bold stroke. It 
was a habit of hers, as we know, to feign terror, so as to 
give the Streltsy or the Moscow populace a longing to 
defend her. So little did she think of taking any action, 
that until the next morning, she knew nothing of the warning 
carried to her brother the night before, nor of its con- 
sequences. For months past, Preobrajensko'i'e and the 
Kreml had both been on the qui vive, watching, suspecting, 
and accusing each other of imaginary attempts. When 
Sophia, in the previous month, had paid a visit to Peter in 
his camp, on the occasion of the Blessing of the waters of 
the Iaouza, she had brought three hundred Streltsy with 
her. A few days later, when Peter went to the Kreml to 
congratulate his aunt Anna on her fete-day, Shaklovity'i 
posted fifty reliable men near the Red Staircase, in case of 

An armed band was indeed collected within the Kreml, 
on that fatal night. With what object? According to 
Sophia's later assertion, to escort her, next morning, on a 
pilgrimage. Among all those soldiers, several hundreds of 
them, picked from the Tsarevna's most devoted followers, 
there were only Jive who dropped a threatening word 
against Peter or his mother. Two others, whose names have 
gone down to posterity, Mielnof and Ladoguin, thought it a 
good opportunity to desert, slip over to the Preobrajensko'i'e 
camp, and ensure their welcome, by giving the alarm. Some 
historians have taken them for false zealots, who obeyed a 
watchword, given by the party instigating Peter to action. 1 
This may have been. Let us get to the result, which is a 

Peter begins by running away. Without thinking of 
verifying the reality of the danger threatening him, he 
jumps out of his bed, runs straight to the stables, throws 
himself, bare-legged, in his shirt, on to a horse, and hides 
himself in the neighbouring forest. A few of his Koniouhy 
join him there, and bring him clothes. Then come officers 
and soldiers — only a few as yet. The moment Peter sees 
himself surrounded, and provided with a sufficient escort, 
without waiting to warn his mother, his wife, or his other 

1 I'ogodin, The Early Years of Peter the Great, pp. 1S3-226. 


friends, he puts spurs to his horse and tears off full gallop, 
towards the Troi'tsa. He reaches it at six o'clock in the morn- 
ing - , tired-out in body, broken down in mind. He is offered a 
bed, but he cannot rest ; he sheds floods of tears, and sobs 
aloud, terrified, anxious, asking the Archimandrite Vincent, 
twenty times over, whether he may reckon on his protection. 
This monk had long been his devoted partisan, and even 
his banker, in those critical moments through which the 
deliberate parsimony of Sophia had caused him to pass. 1 
His firm and affectionate words reassured the young Tsar 
at last. Boris Galitzin, the Regent's cousin, Boutourlin, 
and the other chiefs of the PreobrajenskoTe camp, who 
join the fugitive at the Troi'tsa, do better still. The events 
which follow, like those already passed, give evident proof, 
both that measures had been taken long beforehand, by 
Peter's familiars, for the struggle now beginning, and that he 
himself was quite incapable of taking any personal initiative, 
or guiding part. His mind was wholly set on his lake at 
Perei'aslavl and the boats he meant to sail there, as soon 
as he could build as many as he chose. He left all the rest 
to his friends. And he will leave them, now, full masters of 
the situation they have created. 

Before the end of the day, the Monastery is invaded, the 
Tsarinas, Nathalia and Eudoxia, the Potieshnyie, the Streltsy 
of the Souharef Regiment, long since won over to the 
younger Tsar's cause, arrive in quick succession. People 
who found a road so quickly, must, surely, have been prepared 
beforehand to take it. There is no sign of hasty concep- 
tion about the measures for which Boris Galitzin forthwith 
assumes responsibility. Everything seems arranged and 
carried out according to a preconceived plan, and even the 
Tsar's own sudden flight, possibly a foreseen, and therefore, 
a prearranged event, would appear the signal designed to 
mark the opening of hostilities between the rival camps. As 
for the object of those hostilities, it is an understood thing ; 
it scarcely would appear necessary to mention it. The fight, 
if fight there is, will be to decide who is the master. 

1 Kourakin Archives, vol. i. p. 53. 

VOL. I. •» 




They began by parleying. Peter wrote to Sophia to ask 
for explanations concerning the nocturnal armaments at 
the Kreml. The Tsarevna sent an ambiguous reply. Both 
sides were trying to gain time. One important factor had 
not, as yet, taken any side in the struggle just beginning. 
The troops, native and foreign, the majority of the Strcltsy, 
and the regiments commanded by Gordon and Lefort, had 
made no sign. The question was, which party they would 
serve. On the 16th of August, Peter makes a forward step ; 
a gramota (message) from the Tsar, convokes detachments 
from all these troops, six men from each regiment, to 
attend him on the morrow. Sophia answers boldly. Her 
emissaries, posted at convenient spots, stop the Tsar's 
messengers, while another gramota, signed by the Regent, 
confines both troops and officers to their quarters, on pain 
of death. At first this measure seems successful ; the 
detachments do not answer to the call, and a story is 
spread that Peter's gramota was forged. Yet slowly, in- 
sensibly, the barracks empty, while the flow of soldiers and 
officers, of every arm, increases at the Troitsa. Symptoms 
of weakness are betrayed, even by those nearest to the 
Tsarevna. Vassili Galitzin is the first to show the white 
feather. He had thought for a moment, it is believed, 
of going over into Poland, bringing back an army of Poles, 
Tartars, and Cossacks, and then facing events ; but Sophia 
must have dissuaded him from a plan which would have 
separated her from her lover. Then, leaving her to her fate, 
he yields himself to his own, retires to his country house at 
Miedviedkof, three leagues from Moscow, and declares he 
has no further part in the government. When foreign officers 
come to take his orders, he gives them evasive replies, — the 
irretrievable signal for general defection. 

But the Regent herself will not, as yet, acknowledge that 
her brother has won ; she knows what she has to expect 
from him. Already the leaders of the insurgent Raskohiiks, 
crowding into the Kreml, have shouted, ' It is high time that 
you should take the road to the convent.' She would far 
rather die. She sends messengers of peace, — the Patriarch 
himself, — to the Troitsa. The august emissary takes the 
opportunity of making his private peace, and appears beside 


the Tsar at a solemn reception of the deserters, officers and 
soldiers, whose number daily increases. Then she resolves 
to play her last stake, and goes herself. Midway, at the 
village of Vosdvijenskoi'e, where, seven years before, Hov- 
anski's head had fallen in an ambuscade, Boutourlin stops 
her. She is forbidden to proceed, and the Boyard's armed 
followers load their muskets. She beats a retreat, but still 
stands firm, and showers caresses on the Streltsy, most of 
whom, bound by past complicity, by fear of reprisals, by the 
temptation of fresh reward, remain faithful to her. They 
swear to die for her, but, turbulent and undisciplined as ever, 
they appear before the Kreml on the 6th of September, 
demanding the person of Shaklovityi", the Tsarevna's con- 
fidant, right hand, and temporary lover, that they may give 
him up to Peter, desiring, so they say, to make him a scape- 
goat, an expiatory victim, whose punishment shall appease 
the Tsar's wrath, and effect a general reconciliation. She 
gives in at last, after a desperate resistance, and from that 
time it becomes evident that she can depend on nothing, nor 
on any person. 

Shaklovityi' is a terrible weapon in Peter's hands. Put 
to the question, under the lash, he supplies all the neces- 
sary elements of the charges which the Tsar's partisans 
desire to bring against Sophia and her adherents. The 
echo of his depositions draws Vassili Galitzin himself 
from his retreat, and leads him, submissive and repentant, 
to the Troitsa. This is the end. Peter refuses to receive 
him, but on the intervention of Boris, he consents to show 
him a measure of clemency. The ex-Regent is exiled to 
Kargopol, on the road to Archangel ; then, farther North, to 
Iarensk, a lonely village, where, all his wealth being con- 
fiscated, he will only have one rouble a day to support 
himself and his family of five persons. There he will drag 
on till 17 1 5 ; but the Tsar's half mercy goes no further. 
Shaklovityi' and his accomplices, real or supposed, are con- 
demned to death. Miedviedief, shut up at first in a monas- 
tery, after enduring the most horrible tortures, comes to the 
same end. The scaffold makes them all equal. 

As for Sophia, her fate is what she had foreseen — a 
convent, with some precautionary measures to increase the 
severity of the punishment. 

Peter's first care is to settle matters with his brother. In 


a carefully composed letter, he denounces their sister's 
misdeeds, but denies any intention of touching his elder 
brother's rights, when he claimed those she had usurped 
from himself. He even expresses his inclination to respect 
Ivan's precedence ; ' he will always love him, and respect 
him as a father.' He omits, nevertheless, to take his advice 
as to the treatment to be meted out to the usurper. Ivan 
TroTekourof, one of his early companions, is directly charged 
to order the Tsarevna to select a convent. After a short 
hesitation she too submits, and chooses the recently erected 
Convent of the Virgin (Novodievitchyi,) close to Moscow. 
The new regime has begun. 

It is still an intermediate regime. Between Ivan, who 
holds his peace, accepts accomplished facts, remains a mere 
figure-head for ceremonial occasions, and Peter, who, the 
tumult once hushed, disappears behind those who helped 
him to pass victoriously through it, and returns to his own 
amusements, the power falls to the real conquerors of the 
moment. Boris Galitzin, a Muscovite of the old stamp, the 
living antithesis of his cousin Vassili, begins by holding the 
foremost place, occupied later, when he has compromised 
himself and roused Naryshkin jealousy by protecting his 
guilty kinsman, by the Naryshkins themselves, and the 
other relatives of the Tsarina Mother. 

The future great man's hour has not yet struck. The 
serious struggle into which, for a moment, he has allowed 
himself to be drawn, has not carried him beyond the limits 
of the childish era of toy armies and sham fights. Yet, apart 
from its immediate results, it has not failed to exercise an 
all-important influence on Peter's destiny, on the develop- 
ment of his character and of his talents. The young Tsar 
does indeed leave business in the hands of his former com- 
rades, but he has found others, new comers these, who will 
rapidly oust the old ones from his affections, and who, if 
they do not actually join him in making the history of his 
great reign, are destined to point out the road and guide his 
feet upon it. 




i. Peter's new comrades — Patrick Gordon — Francis Lefort — The nature of their 
influence — Lefort's house in the Sloboda — A Russian Casino — The fair 
ladies of the Faubourg — The Tsar is entertained — The Government of the 
Boyards — Reactionary spirit — Amusements at Preobrajensko'ie — Warlike 
sports — Pleasures — Buffoonery — The King of Presburg and the sham King 
of Poland — The Lake of Pereiaslavl— A fresh-water fleet — On the road 
to Archangel — The Sea — Death of the Tsarina Nathalia— A short mourn- 
ing — Peter goes hack to his pleasures. 
II. Russia's precarious position — The Tsar's weariness — He seeks diversion and 
distraction — A foreign journey planned — Peter desires first to earn warlike 
glory — Fresh campaign against the Turks — First attempt on Azof — Com- 
plete failure— Peter's genius is revealed — Perseverance, 
in. The greatness of Peter and the greatness of Russia — The result of the Mongol 
Conquest — Redoubled efforts — A second attempt — Repetition of the Siege 
of Troy — Success — Peter can face Europe — He decides on his journey. 

There has been a great deal of hair-splitting as to the 
foreign companions who now make their appearance in 
Peter's circle. Facts and dates have been pretty generally- 
mixed up on this subject, even so far as to make Patrick- 
Gordon one of the young Tsar's confidants and instructors 
long before Sophia's fall, and to indicate Lefort as the organ- 
iser and principal worker in the coup d'etat of 1689. As a 
matter of fact, neither came into contact with Peter till 
during the time of his residence at the Troitsa, and it was 


not till much later that they were admitted into his intimacy, 
and there played an important part. Gordon had been a 
follower of Vassili Galitzin. Lefort had no special position 

Born in Scotland, towards 1685, of a family of small Royal- 
ist and Catholic lairds, Patrick Gordon had spent twenty 
years of his life in Russia, vegetating as an officer of inferior 
rank, and far from happy in the process. Before ever coming 
to Russia, he had served the Emperor, fought with the Swedes 
against the Poles, and the Poles against the Swedes. ' He 
was clearly,' say his English biographers, ' a genuine Dugald 
Dalgetty.' 1 All his knowledge amounted to some recollec- 
tions of the village school he had attended in the neighbour- 
hood of Aberdeen, his native county, and to his military 
experiences, in command of a dragoon regiment, in Germany 
and Poland. In 1665, Alexis, and in 1685, Sophia, sent him 
on diplomatic service. He thus travelled to England twice, 
on commissions relative to the privileges of English mer- 
chants in Russia, fulfilled his mission with success, but gained 
no reward save a tdiarka (goblet) of brandy, which Peter, 
then a boy of fourteen, offered him, on his return from his 
second journey. He considered himself ill-treated, requested 
permission to retire, failed to obtain it, and was thenceforward 
inclined to make common cause with malcontents. He took 
part, however, in the disastrous Crimean campaigns, and 
there won the rank of General. But, being naturally intelli- 
gent, active, and well born, in his own country, he thought 
himself justified in aspiring to a yet higher position. Person- 
ally known to the Kings Charles and James of England, 
cousin to the Duke of Gordon, who was Governor of Edin- 
burgh in 1686, he was the recognised chief of the Scotch 
Royalist Colony in the Sloboda. Speaking Russian, never 
shrinking from a bottle of wine, he was, to a certain extent, 
popular amongst the Muscovites themselves. His lively 
intelligence, his external appearance — redolent of civilisation 
— and his evident energy, were certain to attract Peter's 
attention. The Tsar was always to lean towards men of a 
robust temperament like his own. Patrick Gordon was, 
indeed, afflicted with an internal malady, which finally carried 
him off, but in 1697, at four-and-sixty years of age, he closes 
his journal with these words, ' During the last few days I have 
1 Leslie Stephen and Sydney Lee, Dictionary of National Biography. 


felt, for the first time, an evident diminution of my health 
and strength.' 1 

Francis Lefort arrived at Moscow in 1675, with fifteen 
other foreign officers, who, like him, had come to seek their 
fortune. He belonged to a family of Swiss origin, of the 
name of Lifforti, which had left the town of Coni, and 
settled at Geneva. His father was a druggist, and thus 
belonged to the aristocracy of trade. The women of this 
class had obtained leave from the Chamber of Reformation, 
towards the year 1649, to wear 'double woven flowered 
silk gowns.' At the age of eighteen, Francis departed for 
Holland, with sixty florins, and a letter of recommendation 
from Prince Charles of Courland, to his brother Casimir, in 
his pocket. Charles lived at Geneva: Casimir commanded 
a body of troops in the Dutch service. He made the young 
man his secretary, giving him his cast-off wardrobe, worth 
about three hundred crowns, and his card money, worth 
about fifty more per day, as salary.- This income, though 
large, was far from certain. Two years later, Lefort 
took ship for Archangel His first thought, when he set 
foot on Russian soil, was to leave it as quickly as possible ; 
but in those days, travellers could not leave the Tsar's 
Empire when and how they chose. Foreigners were closely 
watched — those who went abroad were looked at askance, 
as possible spies. He spent two years at Moscow, where 
he nearly died of hunger. He contemplated disappearing 
into the relatively respectable obscurity of the household of 
some member of the Diplomatic Corps. He wandered from 
the Danish envoy's antechamber, to the English Envoy's 
kitchen, finding no permanent position anywhere. Yet, by 
degrees, he won friends amongst the inhabitants of the 
Sloboda. He found some kindly protectors, and even one 
fair protectress, the rich widow of a foreign Colonel. In 
1678 he definitely decided to settle in the country, and began 
by taking him a wife. This was an indispensable beginning, 
it being necessary, in order to disarm suspicion, to have a 
family and a roof-tree. He married Elizabeth Souhay, the 
daughter of a Metz burgher, a Catholic, with a fair fortune, 

1 Unpublished as yet, except in a German translation. The original is in the 
Archives of the St. Petersburg War Office. Some fragments appeared at Aberdeen 
in 1S59, published by the Spalding Club. 

- Vulliemin, Revue Suisse, vol. \\i\. p. 330. 


and good connections. Two of Madame Souhay's brothers, 
of the name of Bockkoven, Englishmen by birth, were highly 
placed in the army ; Patrick Gordon was son-in-law to one 
of them. This fact, doubtless, induced Lefort to enter the 
career of arms, for which he had otherwise neither taste nor 
inclination. 1 It was not from these two foreigners, clearly, 
that Peter the Great and his army learnt what they had to 
learn before they won Poltava. As I have already indicated, 
their influence on the huge work of progress, of reform, and 
civilisation, which is bound up with Peter's name, was really 
very indirect. While it was yet in its infancy, they followed 
each other, in rapid succession, to the grave. For the moment, 
too, Peter cared for other things, and the lessons he learnt 
from the old Scotchman and the young Genevan had no 
connection with the science of Vauban and of Colbert. 

Lefort now owned a spacious house on the banks of the 

Iaouza, elegantly furnished in the French style, which had 

already, for some years, been the favourite meeting-place of 

the denizens of the Faubourg. Even during his absences, 

they habitually gathered there, to smoke and drink. Alexis 

had forbidden the use of tobacco, Sut in that respect, as in 

many others, the suburb was favoured ground. Nobody 

could organise a merrymaking so well as the Genevan. 

Jovial, full of lively imagination, with senses that were never 

jaded, he was a master in the art of setting people at their 

ease, a thoroughly congenial companion. The banquets to 

which he invited his friends generally lasted three days and 

three nights : Gordon was ill after every one of them, Lefort 

never appeared to feel the slightest evil effect. During 

Peter's first foreign journey, his drinking powers astounded 

even the Germans and the Dutch. In 1699, m tne month 

of February, after an unusually festive bout, he took a whim 

to finish his merrymaking in the open air. His folly cost 

him his life ; but, when the pastor came to offer him the 

last religious consolations, he dismissed him gaily, called for 

wine and for musicians, and passed away peacefully to the 

strains of the orchestra. 2 He was the perfect type of the 

1 Korb, Diarium itineris in Moscoviam (Vienna, 1700), p. 214— (\>nip. Oustri- 
alof, vol. ii. p. 13; Alex. Gordon, History of Peter the Great, vol. i. p. 136, vol. ii. 
p. 154. Solovief, History of Russia, vol. xiv. p. 142. I.a Biographic de Posselt, 
transcribed in French by Vulliemin (Der General uud Admiral Franz Lefort, 
Frankfort, 1S66), is full of curious information, but devoid of the critical quality. 

- Korb, p. 119. Oustrialof, vol. iii. pp. 262, 263. 


mighty reveller, a species now almost extinct, though it has 
left worthy descendants in Russia. Almost as tall in stature 
as Peter himself, and even more powerful than the Tsar, he 
excelled in every bodily exercise. He was a fine rider, a 
marvellous shot — even with the bow — an indefatigable 
hunter. Handsome in face, too, with charming manners ; his 
information was very limited, but he had a polyglot talent 
for languages, speaking Italian, Dutch, English, German, and 
Slav. Leibnitz, who tried to win his favour during his stay 
in Germany, declares that he drank like a hero, adding, that 
he was considered very witty. 1 His house was no mere 
meeting-place for merry boon companions of his own sex. 
Ladies were to be seen there too, sharp -featured Scotch 
women, dreamy-eyed Germans, and Dutch women of ample 
charms. None of these fair dames bear any resemblance to 
the recluses of the Russian terems, hidden behind their iron 
bars and silken veils (Jatas). Their faces are uncovered, and 
they come and go, laughing and talking, singing the songs 
of their own country, and mingling gaily in the dance. 
Their simpler dresses, more becoming to the figure, make 
them seem more attractive than their Russian sisters. Some 
of them are of somewhat easy morals. All this it is which 
first attracts and captivates the future reformer. 

During the seven years of the Regency, in spite of the 
tendencies common to Sophia and Vassili Galitzin, the 
history of Russian civilisation could boast but few days 
marked with a white stone. The government, ill at ease in 
its precarious situation, tormented, harried, fighting for exist- 
ence from its first day to its last, was scarcely in a position 
to take thought for anything, save its own existence. Rut 
during the seven years which followed on the coup d\ : tat 
of 1689, matters, as I have already hinted, grew even 
worse. This was a season of anti-liberal reaction, nay more, 
of frankly retrograde movement. Peter did not cause, 
but neither did he prevent it. He had no hand in the 
ukase which drove out the Jesuits, nor in the decree by 
virtue of which Kullmann, the Mystic, was burnt alive in 
the Red Square. These executions were the work of the 
Patriarch Joachim, and indeed, up till March 1690, when he 
died, the government was swayed by his authority. In his 
will, the prelate charged the young Tsar not to bestow 
1 Guerrier, Leibnitz in Semen Beziehungen zu A'ussiand, p. i~. 


military commands on heretics, and to destroy the Pro- 
testant churches in the Sloboda} Peter was by no means 
inclined to obey; he even thought of providing the Patriarch 
with a more liberal-minded successor, in the person of 
Marcellus, Metropolitan of Pskof, but he lacked the power. 
Marcellus, so he declared, in later days, was not appointed 
for three reasons. First, because he spoke barbarian 
tongues (Latin and French). Secondly, because his beard 
was not long enough. Thirdly, because his coachman 
was allowed to sit on the box of his carriage instead of 
riding one of the horses harnessed to it. Peter was power- 
less. In July 1690 Gordon thus writes to one of his friends 
in London : ' I am still at this Court, where I have a great 
deal of anxiety and many expenses. I have been promised 
great rewards, but up to the present I have received nothing. 
I have no doubt that when the young Tsar himself takes 
the reins of government, I shall receive satisfaction.' But 
the young Tsar was in no hurry to take the reins of govern- 
ment, and indeed he never was where the interests of that 
government demanded his presence. Where was he then? 
Very frequently, after 1690, in the Sloboda, particularly in 
Lefort's house. He dined there constantly — as often as two 
or three times a week. Often, too, after spending the whole 
day with his friend, he would linger in his company till the 
following morning. Little by little, he brought his other 
boon companions with him. Soon they found themselves 
cramped for space, and then a palace, built of brick, replaced 
the favourite's former wooden house. Within it was a ball- 
room for 1500 persons, a dining-room hung with Spanish 
leather, and a yellow damask bedroom, ' with a bed three 
ells high, and bright red hangings'; there was even a picture- 
gallery. 2 

All this luxury was not intended for Lefort alone, nor 
even for Peter, who cared but little for it. The young Tsar 
was thus beginning a system to which he was to remain 
faithful all his life. At St. Petersburg, many years later, while 
himself lodged in a mere hut, he insisted that Menshikof 
should possess a yet more splendid palace. But he ex- 
pected to be relieved, by him, of all court receptions and 
festivities. Lefort's palace, then, became, at one and the 

1 Oustrialof, vol. ii. p. 496. 
- Vulliemin, p. 590. 


same time, a kind of auxiliary to the very shabby establish- 
ment kept up by the Sovereign at Preobrajensko'i'e, and 
a sort of casino. The furthest gardens of the Sloboda 
bordered on the village where Peter and his fortunes had 
grown up together. There was dancing in Lefort's house 
in the Sloboda, — there were displays of fireworks at Preo- 
brajensko'i'e. This was a new mania of the young Tsar's. 
He endeavoured, in later years, to justify the excess to 
which he carried this pastime (originated by Gordon, who 
had some knowledge of pyrotechny) by asserting the neces- 
sity of inuring his Russian subjects to the noise and smell 
of gunpowder. This, after Poltava, would appear somewhat 
superfluous ; still Peter went on firing rockets, and com- 
posing set pieces, with the same eagerness as ever. The 
truth is, that from first to last he delighted in fireworks. To 
the end they were his favourite form of entertainment. He 
was no sportsman. Even as early as 1690 his predecessors' 
favourite hunting-box at Sokolniki was falling into ruin. 
Like his grandson, the unfortunate husband of the great 
Catherine, he loved noisy display, and he carried all things 
to extremes; the entertainment, to which a considerable part 
of his time was now devoted, involved considerable danger 
to himself and those about him, so incontinently did he set 
about the sport. Gordon's journal of February 26th, 1690, 
records the death of a gentleman, killed by the explosion of 
a rocket weighing five pounds. The same accident occurred 
on 27th January, in the following year. 

These displays of fireworks alternated with the manoeuvres 
of the Potieshnyie, also presided over by Gordon, and 
accompanied by serious risks. In a sham assault which 
took place on the 2nd of June 1691, Peter was burnt in the 
face by a grenade, and several officers close to him were 
seriously wounded. Shortly afterwards, Gordon himself 
was wounded in the leg. In October, 1691, Peter led a 
charge, waving his naked sword. Officers and soldiers, 
excited by the sight, fell on each other in real earnest, and 
Prince Ivan Dolgorouki was killed in the scuffle. 1 

The roughness and violence of these warlike games were 
not in themselves absolutely unusual ; the times were rough 
and violent. Charles XII. , preparing for his career as a 
mighty warrior, outstripped his future adversary in this re- 

1 < (ustrialof, vol. ii. p. 1S6. 


spect. But there is a special and characteristic feature about 
the sham warfare in which Peter so delighted, — the touch of 
comic buffoonery it invariably betrays, which indicates a 
special tendency, destined to be considerably developed in 
the young man's mind. The fort on the banks of the Iaouza 
had grown into a little fortified town, with a regular 
garrison, a flotilla of boats, a Court of Justice, Adminis- 
trative Offices, and a Metropolitan, — Zotof, a former tutor of 
the young Tsar's, whom he later created * Pope ' or ' Patriarch 
of the Fools.' It even had a King. This part was played 
by Romodanovski, who bore the title of King of Presburg, 
(the name now given to the town), and, in this quality, warred 
against the King of Poland, represented by Boutourlin. 
In 1694, the King of Poland was called upon to defend a 
duly fortified place against a besieging army led by Gordon. 
At the very first attack, without waiting for the effect, 
reckoned on beforehand, of the operations prescribed by 
science — lines of circumvallation, approaches, mines, and 
so forth — the garrison and its commander threw down 
their arms and took to flight. Peter was in a fury ; the 
fugitives were ordered to return to the fort, and to fight to 
the bitter end. There was a tremendous expenditure of 
cannon fire, which, in spite of the blank cartridge, killed and 
wounded several people. Finally, the King of Poland was 
made prisoner, and led into the conqueror's camp with his 
hands tied behind his back. 1 

It should not be forgotten, that at this period Russia was 
at peace, and even in actual alliance, with Poland, and that 
the real King of that friendly nation, whom all Europe ac- 
claimed, was called John Sobieski! In a series of manoeuvres, 
carried out in 1692, I see mention of cavalry drills, in which 
a squadron of dwarfs took part. In 1694, the church 
choristers, enrolled in some new military body, were fighting, 
under the command of the court fool, Tourguenief, against 
the army clerks. 

Peter was given up to his amusements. During this tran- 
sition period, lasting nearly six years, the whole life of the 
future hero would seem to have been one perpetual merry- 
making, one orgy of noise and bustle, broken, indeed, by 
some useful and instructive exercises, but falling, for the 
most part, into puerility and licence of the worst kind. At 

1 Jeliaboujski, Memoirs, p. 39. 


one moment he was learning to throw bombs, and climbing 
to the top of masts ; the next he was singing in church, in 
a deep bass voice ; then, straight from divine service, he 
would go and drink till the morrow, with his boon com- 

Von Kochen,a Swedish envoy, speaks of a yacht, entirely 
built, from stem to stern, by Karschten-Brandt's pupil ; and 
another foreigner mentions a note from the Tsar, inviting 
himself to his house, and warning him that he means to 
spend the night drinking. 1 In the list of objects brought 
from Moscow to Preobrajenskoie for the Sovereign's use, I 
see mortars, engineering tools, artillery ammunition, and 
parrots' cages. Within the fortress of Presburg, engineer 
officers, pyrotechnists, skilled artisans of every kind, elbowed 
the douraks (court fools), who killed soldiers for a joke, and 
escaped all punishment.- 

Peter's military pastimes had, for some time, taken on a 
more serious or would-be serious form. In 1690, a regiment 
of Guards, the Preobrajenski, was raised, with a Courlander, 
George Von Mengden, as colonel. This was soon followed 
by the Siemionovski regiment, — one-third of the effective 
strength, in both cases, consisting of French Protestants. 3 
But the approaching campaign of i\zof was to teach the 
young Tsar the real value of these apparently warlike 
troops, and the danger of not approaching serious matters 

Peter gave himself a world of pains to build a fleet on the 
lake at Perei'aslavl — the Pletcheievo-Oziero, but this work 
was not his only occupation there. It is a pretty spot, 
reached from Moscow by a pleasant road running through 
a succession of valleys, and over woody hills. The clear 
waters of the Viksa, pouring out of the western end of the 
lake, pass through the neighbouring lake of Somino, and fall 
into the Volga. Westward, the gilded cupolas of the 
twenty churches of the town of Perei'aslavl-Zaleski rise 
round the great Cathedral of the Transfiguration. Here 
Peter had built himself a one-storied wooden house, — the 
windows glazed with mica, — a double-headed eagle with a 

1 Oustrialof, vol. ii. p. 360. 

- Russian Archives, 1875, vol. iii. p. 221. 

3 Details as to the original constitution of these regiments, which were to play 
such an important part in the national history, will be found in the Saint 
Petersburg Journal, April 1778. 


gilded wooden crown, set over the entrance door, was the sole 
adornment of the humble dwelling; but life went cheerily 
within those walls. The shipyard was but a few steps 
distant, but it is hardly likely that Peter worked in it during 
his frequent midwinter visits to the shores of his 'little 
sea.' There was the greatest difficulty, in February 1692, 
in inducing him to leave it, to receive the envoy of the 
Shah of Persia in audience. 1 The fact was, doubtless, that in 
that retired spot, far from the maternal eye, and from other 
less kindly curiosity, he felt himself more free to indulge 
in other pastimes. These were shared with numerous 
companions, frequently summoned from Moscow. Their 
carriages often rolled past caravans, laden with hogsheads 
of wine, and beer, and hydromel, and kegs of brandy. There 
were ladies, too, amongst the visitors. In the spring, when 
the lake was open, shipbuilding and drill began again, but 
none of it was very serious. A year before the campaign 
of Azof, Peter has not made up his mind where, on what 
sea, and against what enemies, he will utilise his future war- 
fleet ! But he has already decided that Lefort, who has 
never been a sailor, shall be his Admiral ; that the vessel 
on which he will hoist his flag shall be called the ElepJiant ; 
that the ship will be full of gilding, have an excellent 
Dutch crew, and a no less excellent captain — Peter himself! 2 
The young Tsar's last journey to Perei'aslavl took place in 
May 1693. He was not to look upon his lake and his ship- 
yard again for twenty years — till 1722, when he was on the 
road to Persia. The fresh-water flotilla, which had cost him 
so much pains, given him so much delight, and never served 
any useful purpose, was lying in utter decay, — hulls, masts, 
and rigging, all rotten and useless. He fell into a fury ; — 
these were sacred relics, and he gave the strictest orders for 
their preservation. All in vain. In 1803 but one boat 
remained, lying in a pavilion, itself fallen into ruin. There 
was not a sign of the house in which Peter had lived ; every- 
thing, even to the birch trees, under the shade of which the 
carpenter's apprentice once rested from his toil, had utterly 
disappeared/ 5 

1 Gordon's Journal, Feb. 16, 1692. 

- Posselt, Der General 11 ml Admiral Franz Lefort (Frankfort, 1866), vol. ii. 

PP- 3I3-3I5- 
6 Oustrialof, vol. ii. p. 146. 


In 1693 he felt himself cramped on the Pletcheievo- 
Oziero, just as he had felt himself cramped, once before, 
on the ponds at Preobrajenskoi'e. He extracted his mother's 
long-refused consent, and started for Archangel. He was 
to see the real sea at last. He had been obliged to promise 
not to go on board any ship — he was only to look at 
them without leaving the shore. These vows, as may be 
imagined, were soon forgotten. He nearly drowned himself, 
going out on a miserable yacht, to meet a ship he had 
caused to be bought in Amsterdam. She was a warship, 
but she brought other things besides guns — rich furniture, 
French wines, apes, and Italian dogs. When Peter set his 
foot on board, he was transported with delight. ' Thou 
shalt command her,' he wrote to Lefort, ' and I will serve as 
common sailor.' And to Burgomaster Witsen, who had 
purchased the ship for him : ' MlN HER, all I can write you at 
this present moment is that John Flamm (the Pilot) is safely 
arrived, bringing forty-four guns, and forty sailors. Greet 
all our friends. I will write thee more fully by the ordinary, 
for in this happy hour I do not feel inclined to write, but 
much rather to do honour to Bacchus, who, with his vine- 
leaves, is pleased to close the eyes of one who would other- 
wise send you a more detailed letter.' 1 This is signed — 

' ScJiiper Foil schi 

i p santus profet 
' i ties' 
which is intended to mean ' Captain of the St. Prophet.' 
Peter, though already one-and-twenty, still treated ortho- 
graphy as a schoolboy joke, and, for the moment, he treated 
naval matters after much the same fashion — playing at 
being a sailor, as he had already played at being a soldier, 
or a civilised man. In Lefort's house in the Sloboda, he 
dressed after the French fashion. He walked the streets of 
Archangel, in the garb of a Dutch sea-captain. Holland was 
his passion ; he adopted the Dutch flag,— red, white, and 
blue — merely changing the order of the colours, and he was 
to be seen sitting in the wine-shops, emptying bottle after 
bottle, with the compatriots of Van Tromp and Van Ruyter. 

In January, 1694, fte was back in Moscow, beside the 
dying bed of his mother, Nathalia. When the end came he 
showed great grief, weeping freely. But three days after- 

1 Letters and Correspondence, vol. i. p. 23. 


wards he was back, merrymaking with Lefort. Was he then 
heartless, incapable of tender feeling ? Not altogether ; he 
showed nothing but kindness to Ivan, and, till the very end 
of that unhappy Sovereign's life, which occurred in 1696, he 
treated him with fraternal affection. Catherine was one 
clay to find him something better than a passionate lover 
— a friend, and, later on, a husband, not absolutely without 
reproach indeed, but trusty, devoted, and deeply attached, 
if not over-refined nor impeccably faithful. At the time of 
his mother's death he was very young ; and he was, and 
always remained, impatient of all constraint. His recovery 
from the loss of a parent, who had been a certain restraint 
on his actions, was as rapid and complete as his utter 
obliviousness of the actual existence of his wife. 

On the 1st of May, he started once more for Archangel, 
and recommenced his whimsical sailoring existence. He 
made promotions in his fleet, just as he had previously 
made them in his army. Romodanovski, Boutourlin, and 
Gordon, became respectively, Admiral, Vice-Admiral, and 
Rear-Admiral, without ever, the two first at least, having 
seen the sea, or set foot on the deck of any vessel. Peter 
himself remained a mere captain, just as he had remained a 
private of bombardiers in his own land forces. Determined 
efforts have been made to find some deep intention behind 
this deliberate appearance of modesty and self-effacement, 
which, in later years, was perpetuated, and developed into a 
system. I really believe that the dates, the circumstances, 
the very origin and earliest manifestations of this pheno- 
menon, stamp it as a mere freak of fancy, which, like all 
freaks of that nature, have their logical explanation in some 
characteristic quality. It is the constitutional timidity of the 
man, masked, transfigured, idealised by the contradictory 
external appearances of a strong, self-willed, extravagant 
nature, and by the deceptive brilliance of his marvellous 
career, which is thus betrayed. There is nothing very deep, 
nor very serious, in all that constituted the existence of the 
future great man at the time of which I write. But all these 
pleasures and studies, the new fancy for foreign company, — 
the casino in the Sloboda, — the Preobrajenskoie camp, and 
the Archangel wine-shops, — Lefort, Gordon, and the Dutch 
sailors, — all these, I say, had the effect of throwing him 
violently, and completely, out of the rut in which his 


ancestors had run, — out of the past, into a road of which the 
end was not yet evident, but which already gave promise of 
leading him towards a future, stuffed with surprises. 


And how was Russia faring, while her appointed lord 
rushed hither and thither, according to his capricious and 
vagabond fancy? Russia, so far as she was capable of 
understanding and reasoning over what befell her, was 
beginning to think she had gained but little by the coup 
d'etatoi 1689. The young Sovereign's friendships among the 
Nicmtsy, and his constant visits to the Sloboda, had caused 
his subjects little displeasure or alarm. Alexis had accus- 
tomed them to such practices. But the late Tsar's western 
tastes, though less pronounced than Peter's, had been far 
more attractive in their results — industrial successes, legis- 
lative reforms, real progress, bearing evident fruit. The 
sole apparent harvest of Peter's firework displays, and mili- 
tary games, amounted to several dead men, and numerous 
maimed cripples. Besides, though the young Tsar carried 
his European amusements to an extreme point, the Boyards 
who governed in his name were, in all serious matters, 
rather disposed to be retrograde. Added to which, they 
governed very ill. Galitzin's expedition against the Tartars 
had been a failure. But at all events he had been beaten 
far from the frontiers of his own country, on the plains of 
Perekop. Now these same Tartars threatened the very 
borders of Holy Russia! Alarming news, calls for assistance, 
reports of defeat, came pouring in from every side. Mazeppa 
was threatened in the Ukraine. Dositheus, patriarch of 
Constantinople, wrote letters filled with gloomy rumours. 
A French envoy, he averred, had met the Han of the Crimea, 
and the Grand Vizier, at Adrianople. He had bestowed 
10,000 ducats on the first, 70,000 on the second, on their 
promise that the Holy Places should be placed under French 
protection. The bargain had already been partly carried 
out. Catholic priests had taken the Holy Tomb, half 
Golgotha, the church at Bethlehem, and the Holy Grotto, 
out of the hands of the orthodox monks. They had 
destroyed the icons, and the Russian name had become a 

VOL. I. E 


scorn in the eyes of the Sultan, and his subjects. The Sultan 
had omitted the two Tsars of Russia from his written 
announcement of his succession, to all the other European 
rulers. News came from Vienna, where the Russian envoys 
had bought over the Foreign Office translator, Adam Stille, 
that the Emperor's ministers, and the Polish and the Turkish 
envoys, were in perpetual conference, to the utter exclusion 
of Russia. That country was completely put aside, and ran 
serious risk of being left alone to face the Tartar and the 

Public uneasiness and discontent, thus justified, grew 
louder day by day. Peter, meanwhile, had wearied of his 
toys. Archangel roads, and the White Sea, frozen for 
seven months out of twelve, were but a poor resource. He 
had thought of seeking a passage through the Northern 
Ocean, which might open the road to China and the Indies. 
But the lack of means for such an expedition was all too 
evident. On the Baltic, nothing was possible. The Swedes 
were there already, and did not seem likely to be easily 
dislodged. Lefort put forward another plan, and now it is, 
especially at this slippery corner in the young hero's life, 
that the Genevan adventurer's influence brings forth really 
important consequences. His position, for some years past 
has been pre-eminent. He is the first figure in the series, — 
carried on in the persons of Ostermann, Buhren, Miinich, 
— of great parvenus of foreign origin, who, for more than 
a century, were to sway the destinies of Russia. Two 
sentries mounted guard before his palace. The greatest 
lords in the country waited in his antechamber. Peter 
treated him, on every occasion, with a consideration hardly 
usual from a sovereign to a subject. He even publicly and 
soundly boxed the ears of his own brother-in-law, Abraham 
Feodorovitch Lapouhin, who fell out with the favourite, 
and damaged his wig. 1 During his absences, he wrote 
him letters, which breathed an exaggerated tenderness. He 
received, in return, missives revealing more unceremonious 
familiarity than affection. 2 

In 1695, the Genevan began to reflect on the satisfaction 
he might find in showing off his prodigious good fortune 

1 Pylaief, Old Moscow (St. Petersburg, 1891), p. 491. 

2 Peter the Great's Writings and Correspondence ', vol. i. p. 754. Compare 
Ouslrialof, vol. iv. part i. pp. 553-61 1. 


before his Swiss and Dutch friends. Peter had already sent 
certain of his young comrades abroad. Why not follow 
them in person, to see, and study at first-hand, the wonders 
of which Timmermann and Karschten-Brandt had only 
given him a partial and mutilated idea ? What delight for 
his eyes ! What diversion in his budding boredom ! What 
instructive sights ! And what new pleasures ! But an objec- 
tion crops up. What kind of figure would the Tsar of all 
the Russias cut in Europe? He could only bring an 
unknown name, darkened and humbled by recent and by 
former defeats, which he had made no personal effort to 
retrieve. This thought, doubtless, it was, which forced Peter 
to reflect on his own life, on the sports and occupations 
which had hitherto absorbed all his activity, and to recognise 
their complete futility. A light flashed across his brain. 
Before presenting himself to the men of the western world, 
such great men, in his estimation, — should he not raise him- 
self to their level, carry them something more than a record 
of schoolboy prowess? But how to set about it? At this 
point the young Tsar's fervid imagination fell in with the 
mental distress of the Boyards, to whom he had hitherto 
left the cares of state. They, too, felt the urgency of 
doing something to help themselves out of the unpleasant 
quandary, internal and external, into which the carelessness 
and awkwardness of a hand-to-mouth policy had led them. 
The impulse of these varied motives led up, at this particular 
moment, to the first attempt on Azof. 

The intuitive genius of the future conqueror of Poltava, to 
whom, with many praises, the plan of campaign elaborated 
on this occasion has been ascribed, had, I believe, nothing 
to say to it. There was no necessity, indeed, for his taking 
that trouble. The plan, a traditional and classic one in the 
history of Russia's relations with her redoubtable southern 
neighbours, had been prepared long beforehand. Bathory, 
the great warrior borrowed by Poland from Transylvania, 
proposed it to Tsar Ivan in 1579. 1 The town of Azof, stand- 
ing some ten miles from the Don, — called Tanais before the 
Christian era, the Tana of the middle ages, — a Genoese 
trading factory, captured and fortified by the Turks in 1475, 
had long been the natural point of attack and defence, for the 
two nations who had stood face to face, in perpetual quarrel, 
1 I', l'ierling, Popes ct Tsars (Paris, 1S90), p. 204. 


for centuries. It was the key of the river-mouth on one 
hand, the key of the Black Sea on the other ; but the chief 
effort of the Muscovite army was not to be turned in this 
direction. The Boyards, with the greater part of the 
available Russian forces, — with all the old army, that which 
had followed Galitzin in his disastrous undertakings 
against the Tartars, — were simply to follow in his steps, 
and fight his campaign over again, with much the same 
results. The attempt on Azof was a mere accessory, an 
isolated coup de main, wherein the young Tsar's originating 
power was to find its scope. The leaders of the huge camp, 
moving slowly down to the Crimea, were heartily glad to be 
rid of him. They let him work his own sweet will. Nor 
did he himself give much pains to his preparations. The 
undertaking, in his eyes (as one of his letters written at the 
outset of the expedition clearly proves), was a mere con- 
tinuation of the big manoeuvres round Presburg. 1 He 
reckoned on taking the town by surprise ; yet he refrained 
from confiding his 'pleasure' regiments to the improvised 
leaders he had given them during his sham battles on the 
banks of the Iaouza. These fights seem to have convinced 
him that the troops thus employed had developed into a 
real and serious military force, fit to face a great war ; but 
he also felt, apparently, that his present adventure, being 
very different in its nature, called for different precautions. 
The ' Kings ' of ' Poland ' and of ' Presburg ' were accordingly 
dismissed ; yet, faithful to a habit long since abandoned 
in western warfare, he determined to divide the supreme 
command. Three Generals-in-chief — Golovin, Gordon, and 
Lefort 2 — rode at the head of his army, which numbered all 
his newly raised regiments, those of the Guard, Lefort's, and 
some detachments of troops drawn from the court and from 
the cities, Streltsy and Tsaredvortsy, thirty-one thousand 
men in all. The expedition thus organised still bears a 
close resemblance to a pleasure party. The Generals, one 
of whom at least, Lefort, has not a notion of what real war 
means, wrangle from the outset. The young Tsar cracks 
jokes, carries on his favourite games of masquerade and 
rough buffoonery, interferes in all directions, gives contra- 

1 Letter to Apraxin, April 16, 1695. Writings and Correspondence, vol. i. p. 28. 
'-' Petrof, The A rmed Forces of Russia (Moscow. 1S92. Published under the 
auspices of the Ministry for War), vol. ii. p. 4. 


dictory orders, assumes the pseudonym of Peter Alexieief 
and the rank of captain, so as to parade at the head of his 
bombardier company. Though he has stripped Romo- 
danovski of his prerogatives, he has left him his title, and 
in the middle of the campaign he writes : — 

' Min Her Kenich, — Your Majesty's letter, dated from 
your capital of Presburg, has been duly delivered to me. 
Your Majesty's condescension binds me, in return, to be 
ready to shed every drop of my blood, with which object I 
am just about to march, BOMBARDIER PETER.' 1 

The end is what we might have expected. Peter, like 
Sophia and Galitzin, is reduced to misleading opinion by 
reports of imaginary triumphs. Te Deums are sung at 
Moscow for the capture of a couple of insignificant forts. 
But all the world knows that the attack on the fortress of 
Azof has failed, twice over, with great loss and slaughter. 
The new army and its young founder have been tried, and 
found wanting. Seven years of youthful extemporisation, 
on the value of which judgment has been deferred, have 
ended in piteous and humiliating failure. 

Here the history of Peter the Great begins. 


Peter was not a great man only — he was the most 
complete, the most comprehensive, and the most diversified 
personification of a great people that has ever appeared. 
Never, I should think, have the collective qualities of a 
nation, good and bad, the heights and the depths of its scale of 
morality, every feature of its physiognomy, been so summed 
up in a single personality, destined to be its historic type. 
Those same unsuspected powers of mind and soul, which 
drove Peter into sudden action, and raised him to greatness, 
were the very qualities which Russia has displayed from 
day to day, from year to year, these two centuries past, and 
which will make her greatness, as they made his. Beaten 
by the Turks, beaten by the Swedes, overrun by Europeans, 
as she had once been by Asiatics, after twenty defeats, 
twenty treaties of peace, forced on her by her conquerors, 
she was still to enlarge her frontiers at their expense, to 
dismember Turkey, Sweden, and Poland, to end by dictating 
1 May 19, 1695. Writings and Correspondence, vol. i. p. 29. 


laws to the Continent of Europe. And all this because she 

Perseverance, obstinate determination to reach the goal, 
even when that seemed utterly impossible, — never to swerve 
from the path once chosen, however dangerous, never to 
change adopted measures, though they be defective, simply 
to double and treble effort, panting, like some wearied wood- 
cutter, to multiply blows and await their result, resolutely, 
patiently, stoically, — this is the secret hidden in the Russian 
soul, tempered to adamantine hardness by centuries of slavery 
and centuries of redeeming toil. The greatness of Peter, the 
greatness of Russia, are the outcome of the Mongol conquest, 
and of the patient genius of the Moscow Kniaz, hardened on 
the anvil which wore out their conqueror's hammers. 

The Moscow grumblers had fine sport on the morrow 
of that first disastrous campaign, recalling the Patriarch 
Joachim's prophetic words and the anathemas he launched 
against the foreign soldiery, commanded by heretic generals. 
Nevertheless, Peter increased his calls on foreign science and 
industry. He sent to Austria and to Prussia for engineers, 
to Holland and to England for sailors and for shipwrights. 
The flotilla on the lake of Pereiaslavl had been utterly 
useless. He set about building another, at Voroneje, in the 
valley of the Don. He met with enormous, well-nigh in- 
superable, difficulties. The artisans engaged abroad first 
tarried in their coming, and then, when they saw the country 
and the proffered task, took to their heels. The native 
workmen, not understanding what was required of them, spoilt 
the work, and being punished, deserted, too, en masse. The 
forests where the timbers were cut caught fire, and hundreds 
of square leagues were burnt. The higher order of workers, 
officers, engineers, and doctors, imitated and exaggerated 
the freaks of conduct of which their master still set the 
example. There were scenes of orgy, quarrels, bloody 
scuffles. General and Lord High Admiral Lefort, being 
summoned by courier to render an account of certain 
details, connected with the administration of his Department, 
thus opens his report : — ' To-day Prince Boris Alexieievitch 
(Galitzin) is coming to dine with me, and we shall drink 
your health. I fear you have no good beer at Voroneje ; I 
will bring you some, and some Muscat wine as well.' 1 No 

1 Solovief, vol. xix. p. 227. Compare Oustrialof, vol. iv. part i. p. 5S5, etc. 


matter ! The work had been begun in the autumn of 1696. 
On the 3rd of the following May, three-and-tvventy galleys 
and four fireships were launched, and dropped down the 
river Don, on the way to the sea. At their head Captain 
Peter Alexieief on the galley Principium, built, in great part, 
by his own hands, did duty as pilot. Lord High Admiral 
Lefort, Vice- Admiral Lima, a Venetian, and Rear- Admiral 
Balthasar de L'Osiere, a Frenchman, followed on board the 
other vessels. This time the Russian fleet was created in 
good earnest. 

I must at once acknowledge that it was not a very brilliant 

fleet, nor did the land army, commanded by its new General- 

lissimo, the Boyard Shein, with which it was to co-operate 

in a new attempt on Azof, cover itself with laurels. The 

' pleasure' regiments had fallen too much into the habit of 

joking. As for the Streltsy, they had grown fit for nothing 

but besieging palaces ; one cannon shot threw them into 

wild rout. Peter, as he watched them, must have meditated, 

even under the walls of the impregnable fortress, on the 

fate to which he destined them, in the near future. The 

appearance and behaviour of this camp, previous to the tardy 

arrival of the military men promised by the Emperor, call up 

memories of the siege of Troy. The Generals lost their 

heads, and Gordon, the most capable of them ail, having 

vainly tried to open a breach in the wall, the whole body of 

troops, officers and men, were called into council, and invited 

to give their opinion as to the operations to be undertaken. 

A Strelets suggested that a mound of earth should be raised 

against the enemy's ramparts, so as first to overlook and 

then to bury them. Vladimir the Great had, it appeared, 

adopted this expedient to reduce Kherson. 1 This strategy 

was adopted with enthusiasm, with the sole result of causing 

the Turks some little alarm, and drawing smiles from the 

German engineers when they reached their destination, at 

last. Peter's own high spirits, cheerfulness, and boyish 

boldness were delightful. He writes jokingly to his sister 

Nathalia, who is alarmed at the dangers to which she fancies 

she is exposed ; ' It is not I who run after the bullets, they 

run after me. Will you not tell them to stop? ' But steady 

as he was, even then, in his long prepared resolutions, he was 

specially subject to fits of dismay and momentary discourage- 

1 Petrof, vol. ii. p. 6. 


ment, — very easily disconcerted, in fact. On the 20th of 
May, attempting to reconnoitre the Turkish fleet, which he 
desired to prevent from entering the Don, and re-victualling 
the fortress, he fell into a sudden terror of its formidable 
appearance, and beat a precipitate retreat with all his galleys. 
At ten o'clock the next morning he was in Gordon's tent, 
gloomy, depressed, full of the worst forebodings. At three in 
the afternoon, he was back again, beaming with joy. The 
Cossacks, without receiving any orders, following the inspira- 
tion of their own courage, had flown across the water in their 
tcJiaiki, frail leather skiffs, fleet as the bird whose name they 
bear {tchaika, seagull), had attacked the Sultan's huge vessels 
on the preceding night, and driven them into flight, with 
heavy loss. 1 Here was a fine opportunity for Gordon's 
artillery to distinguish itself! For, though, the guns never 
being properly trained, not a single shell fell within the town, 
a tremendous amount of powder was burnt in triumphal 
salvos. The arrival of a fresh detachment of troops, the 
taking of a redoubt, the capture of one of the enemy's skiffs, 
— everything was made a pretext for a cannonade. 

But no matter ! The effort, this time, is so tremendous, the 
determination to conquer so intense, that, with the help of 
Cossacks and German engineers, the thing is done at last. 
On the 16th of July the guns at last open an effective 
fire. On the 17th the Zaporojtsi (Dnieper Cossacks), who 
are as bold on land as on sea, carry part of the out- 
works of the fortress by a bold stroke, and on the 18th 
Peter writes to Romodanovski : ' Your Majesty will learn 
with joy that God has favoured your armies ; your Majesty's 
prayers, and your good fortune, have brought the people of 
Azof to surrender yesterday.' 

Now the young Tsar can dare to show himself to his 
western neighbours, and cruel experience has convinced 
him that he still has everything to learn from them. His 
mind appears broadened, and illuminated by a new bright- 
ness. He conceives a vast plan of naval policy, he fore- 
sees the share which the foreign element must have in 
its execution, and provides for it amply. He desires to 
unite the Don with the Volga by a network of canals, but 
he does not propose to go blindly about such an undertaking. 
It is not enough to engage constructors in Venice, in Holland, 

1 Gordon's Journal, May 10, 1696. 


in Denmark, and in Sweden. It is not enough to send fifty 
officers of his household into foreign countries — twenty-eight 
to Italy, twenty-two to Holland and to England. 1 He must 
follow them, he must put himself to school, and in grim 
earnest this time, seriously, laboriously, in the sweat of his 
brow. There is something childish still, about this thirst for 
knowledge, and passion for work, — more than one sign of 
puerility will mark the studious pursuits of the future car- 
penter's apprentice at Saardam, — but the goal is marked out, 
the impulse has been given. The great journey, the grand 
tour of Europe, is to inaugurate one of the most wonderful 
careers in history. 

1 Solovief, vol. xix. p. 238. 




Tsar's incognito — First disguise — The great embassy — 
Peter Mihailof — Impression in Moscow and in Europe — Departure de- 
layed — A conspiracy — Bloodstained ghosts — The woodcutter's hatchet 
and the axe of Ivan the Terrible — -Sweden — Riga, a chilly reception — A 
future casus belli — In Germany — Koenigsberg — Curiosity and eccen- 
triciiies — An artillery diploma — Koppenbrugge — Meeting with Charlotte 
Sophia of Prussia — Peter's first social appearances — Leibnitz. 

II. Holland — Zaandam — Legend and history — The house at Krimpenburg — A 
fair Dutchwoman — Amsterdam — Serious study begins — Shipwright and 
Sovereign — Weaknesses and oddities — The Russian Bacchus, 
in. England — An uncomfortable room — Peter at Kensington Palace — Unfavour- 
able impressions — Burnet — More legends — London and Deptford — Toil 
and pleasure — Mrs. Cross, the actress — General initiation. 

IV. En route for Vienna — The arrival a failure — Austrian pride — Moral depression 
— The Emperor and the Tsar — The drawbacks of incognito— A diplomatic 
check — Failure of the journey to Venice — Alarming news from Russia — 
' The seed of the Miloslavski ' — Hasty return — Interview with Augustus II. 
at Rawa — Close of the journey. 

To find any precedent, in Russian history, for Peter's journey, 
we must go back to the eleventh century. In 1075 the 
Grand Duke of Kief, Izaslaf, paid a visit to the Emperor 
Henry IV. at Mayence. Thus once again, unconsciously, no 
doubt, Peter took up an old tradition. From the days of 
Ivan the Terrible, the mere desire, on the part of any sub- 
jects of the Tsar, to visit foreign countries had been held 
high treason. In Tsar Michael's reign, a certain Prince 
Hvorostinin was severely prosecuted on this very score. 
He had spoken, before some friends, of a journey to Poland 
and Rome, which he was much inclined to take, ' to find 

somebody to talk with.' Yet a little later, the son of Alexis' 



favourite councillor, Ordin-Nashtchokin, having secretly 
crossed the frontier, there was some question of his being 
put to death abroad. 1 

Peter himself did not venture to brave opinion to the 
extent of giving any official character to his departure. All 
he dared permit himself was a kind of half clandestine frolic, 
and there is a sort of naive timidity about the precautions 
taken to ensure an incognito, which, with his constitutional 
petulance, he was to be the first to break. A great Embassy 
was organised, charged with a mission to request the 
Emperor, the Kings of England and of Denmark, the Pope, 
the Low Countries, the Elector of Brandenburg, and the 
Republic of Venice — the whole of Europe, in fact, save 
Erance and Spain — 'to renew the ancient bonds of friend- 
ship, so as to weaken the enemies of the Christian name.' 
The ambassadors were three in number. Lefort, as 
ambassador-in-chief, took precedence of his colleagues, 
Golovin and Voznitsin. Their suite consisted of fifty-five 
gentlemen and ' volunteers,' amongst them a non-commis- 
sioned officer of the Preobrajenski regiment, who answered 
to the name of Peter Mihailof, — the Tsar himself. During 
the whole course of the journey, letters intended for the 
Sovereign were to bear the simple superscription, 'To be given 
to Peter Mihailof This was mere childishness, — but there 
is something touching about one detail. The seal to be 
used by the mock non-commissioned officer represented a 
young carpenter, surrounded by his shipwright's tools, with 
this inscription : ' My rank is that of a scholar, and I need 
masters.' 2 

At Moscow, opinion as to the real object of the journey 
was very different. The Tsar was generally believed to be 
going abroad to do much as he had done, hitherto, in the 
Sloboda, in other words, to amuse himself. 3 Did Peter himself, 
at that moment, perceive the distant horizon towards which 
his steps were tending? It is very doubtful. He did 
indeed, as he travelled through Livonia, talk of trimming his 
subjects' beards, and shortening their garments; 4 but, judging 
from the faces and habiliments of his travelling companions, 
this may fairly be taken for an idle jest. Lefort was garbed 

1 Solovief, vol. ix. p. 461 ; vol. xi. p. 93. 

- Oustrialof, vol. iii. p. 18. :; Ibid. p. 640. 

4 Blomeberg, An Account of Livonia (London 1, p. y 3 z (French edition, 1705). 


in the Tartar style, and the young Prince of Imeretia wore a 
splendid Persian costume. 

The journey indeed, in its earlier days, was very far from 
possessing the importance, either from the Russian or from 
the European point of view, with which later events have 
invested it. It made, in fact, no sensation whatsoever. I regret 
to have to contradict, in this matter, another legend, very 
dear to the national vanity. Russians had already grown 
accustomed to see their Sovereign rushing hither and thither, 
or rather indeed to never seeing him at all ; European 
eyes were turned in quite a different direction. The moment 
Peter had pitched on, to make acquaintance with his western 
friends, and rouse their curiosity, was a solemn one for them. 
The Congress of Ryswick was just about to meet. It 
absorbed the attention of the whole world, political, com- 
mercial, and intellectual. Of this I will offer one proof only, 
— any one who goes to the Quai d'Orsay, may there con- 
sult the eight volumes containing the correspondence of 
Louis XIV. with the plenipotentiaries who were engaged, in 
the course of the year 1697, in defending his interests before 
that great diplomatic gathering. I will undertake that 
Peter's name will be found to occur only once, and that once 
in a most casual manner. The Tsar had paused in his work 
and scientific pursuits at Amsterdam, and had travelled to 
the Hague, where his embassy was officially received. The 
plenipotentiaries mention this fact, and that is all. He and 
they had been near neighbours for many months, they 
residing at Delft, he studying at Amsterdam, — yet they do 
not even seem to have suspected his existence. It is very 
doubtful whether they knew his name. Even in connection 
with Polish affairs, which constantly occupied their attention, 
they never refer to it. They have no suspicion, evidently, of 
the part which the future ally of Augustus II. aspires hence- 
forth to play. 

The appearance of the Russian Sovereign beyond the 
frontiers of his little-known Empire attracted interest in a 
special circle only. In the following year, it was to furnish 
the teaching body of Thorn with the subject of a public dis- 
putation. 1 Learned men had already turned their attention 
to Muscovy. In England, Milton had written a book on the 

1 Conjectures aliquot politico de susceptis magni Muscovite Ducis . . . itin- 
eridus (Thorunii, 169S, St. Petersburg Library). 


great Northern Empire, which had been followed by a whole 
literature devoted to the same subject. Leibnitz had 
recently expressed his opinion that the Muscovites were the 
only people capable of freeing Europe from the Turkish 
yoke. And it was with this learned world, especially, that 
Peter Mihailof desired to enter into relations. From this 
point of view, the brief interval of respite and relaxation 
which the exhaustion of France had granted Europe, between 
the great crisis which had placed Louis XIV. face to face with 
the most formidable of coalitions, and the approaching 
struggle of the Spanish Succession, was a most propitious 
moment for a tour, ' on business or on pleasure bent,' through 
the old European Continent. 

The Tsar's departure, which had been fixed for the month 
of February 1697, was delayed by the discovery of a plot 
against his life. At the head of the conspirators we find an 
old acquaintance, Tsikler, Sophia's former henchman, who 
had joined Peter's party, but whom the Sovereign's scorn 
had turned into a malcontent. As for his accomplices, 
they are easily guessed, — the Streltsy, again and always the 
Streltsy\ Was Peter doomed ever to find them in his path, 
breathing threats and hatred? This incident was quickly 
closed, a few heads were cut off, and at last, on the 10th of 
March, the start was made. But a shadow had fallen across 
the brightness of the journey, and the feeling of intense 
bitterness rose higher and higher in the young Sovereign's 
heart. Were these Streltsy to haunt him for ever? Were 
they never to cease recalling the bloodstained ghosts that 
had hovered round his cradle? 

Well, war it should be, since they desired it ! Their 
account should be settled on the first favourable oppor- 
tunity. And he swore to be on his guard henceforth, to set 
steel against steel, unsleeping watchfulness against perpetual 
plotting, the scaffold waiting on the Red Square, against the 
dagger lurking ready in the shadow. The friends and the 
most faithful helpers of the Sovereign must see to it, till he 
returned to do the work himself. But even from afar, he 
would stir up Romodanovski's zeal. Wheresoever he went, 
in Germany, in Holland, and in England, through all the 
new and wonderful and dazzling sights he was to behold, 
his eyes were to carry with them the terrible vision, the 
anguished nightmare, of the mortal peril which seemed 


bound up with his destiny. Thus does the distrustful, fierce, 
implacable genius of his ancestors revive and grow in him, 
wedding the splendour of his civilising work to the bloody 
shadows of a horrible carnage ; woodcutter and executioner 
at once, he wields alike the hatchet and the axe. 

The progress of the embassy was slow. There were 250 
persons to transport. Lefort alone had ten gentlemen, seven 
pages, fifteen serving-men, two jewellers, six musicians, and 
four dwarfs in his train. At Riga, on Swedish ground, the 
reception was courteous, but cold. The Governor, Dahlberg, 
sent word that he was ill, and did not appear. Later on, 
Peter was to try to turn this fact into a casus belli, and talk 
of personal insult to himself. Officially speaking, his person- 
ality cannot have been in question. At Riga, as elsewhere, 
the ambassadors gave the word that the reported presence 
of the young Sovereign in their company was to be treated 
as an idle story. He was supposed to be at Voroneje, busy 
with his shipbuilding. There may have been a touch of 
malice about the literal manner in which Dahlberg accepted 
this assurance. And the Russians, following, in this respect, 
an inclination which, I am inclined to fear, has grown 
hereditary, demanded all the rights of hospitality after too 
familiar and exacting a fashion. Peter went so far as to 
endeavour to take plans of the fortress with his own hands. 
This attempt was instantly cut short. The Swedes can 
hardly be said to have done wrong, for Peter's father had 
besieged the place. The fault, at all events, if fault there 
was, was on both sides. 

At Mittau, the travellers' ill-humour passed away. The 
reigning Duke, Frederick Casimir, was an old acquaint- 
ance of Lefort's. He gave the embassy a cordial and 
magnificent reception. Peter forgot his incognito, and 
surprised his entertainers by the unexpectedness of his 
remarks, and by his jokes on the habits, prejudices, and 
barbarous laws of his own country. The West was begin- 
ning to take hold of him, but he was still the same extra- 
vagant fantastic youth. At Libau, he beheld the Baltic, the 
Varegians' Sea, for the first time. Bad weather prevented 
his going farther, at that moment, and he spent his days in 
the Weinkeller, with the sailors of the port, drinking and 
joking, and insisting, this time, on passing himself off as a 
plain captain, who had been sent to arm a privateer for the 


service of the Tsar. At last he reached Koenio-sbersr, having 
outstripped his embassy, which travelled by land, while he 
made a short cut by sea, on a merchant vessel. He refused 
to receive the greeting of the Prince of Holstein-Beck, sent 
by the Elector of Brandenburg to meet him, made the master 
of the vessel vow he had no distinguished passenger, 
remained on board till dusk, and did not make up his mind 
to accept the lodging prepared for him till ten o'clock at 
night. There he found the Sovereign's Master of the 
Ceremonies, Johann von Besser, an accomplished courtier, 
a learned man, and a poet into the bargain. He rushed at 
him, snatched off his wig, and threw it into a corner. 'Who 
is he?' he asked his own people. The functions of the 
personage in question were explained to him as far as 

possible. ' Very good, let him bring me a ! ' This 

anecdote, I must acknowledge, although vouched for by 
a serious and a far from ill-natured historian, has a suspicious 
air. 1 But the numberless analogous traits preserved by 
tradition, leave us in no doubt as to the reality of the 
general impression it produces. This much is clear, the 
reformer of the future was still a young savage. The next 
morning he paid a visit to the Elector, conversed in bad 
German, drank a great deal of Hungarian wine, but, having 
once more assumed the character of Peter Mihai'lof, refused 
to receive the Sovereign's return visit. Later on he changed 
his mind, and prepared what he considered a magnificent 
reception, capped with some fireworks of his own composi- 
tion. At the very last moment the Elector begged to be 
excused. A sorry business, this, for the bearers of the 
unpleasant tidings, Count von Kreyzen and Provost von 
Schlacken : Peter was at table with Lefort and one of his 
dwarfs ; Lefort sat pipe in mouth, the Tsar, half drunk, 
and full of tenderness for his favourite, leaning across, 
from time to time, to kiss him. He invited the messengers 
to seat themselves beside him. Then suddenly, striking 
the table furiously with his fist, he cried : ' The Elector is 
a good man, but his counsellors are devils ! Gehe ! gehe ! 
(be off with you ! '), and rising, he seized one of the Branden- 
burgers by the throat, and dragged him towards the door, 
still shouting, ' Gehe ! Gehe ! ' 

1 Bergman, Peter der Grosse als Mensch unci Regent (Riga, 1823), vol. i. 
p. 256 (Russian edition, vol. i. p. 223, note). 


When he went out to walk the streets of Koenigsberg, as 
a simple tourist, every one took to their heels, to avoid 
meeting him, for he had a fertile fancy for jokes of a far 
from agreeable order. Meeting a lady of the court one day, 
he stopped her with a sudden gesture, shouting ' Halt ! ' in 
a voice of thunder. Then taking hold of the watch, which 
hung at her waist, he looked at the hour and departed. 1 

The Elector, notwithstanding, continued to show his guest 
a friendly face, and give him a hospitable welcome. His 
love of show and ceremonial was flattered by the presence of 
this extraordinary embassy, and he looked forward to the 
conclusion of a defensive alliance against Sweden. Thus 
he spent 150,000 crowns — it was wasted money. Peter 
slipped through his fingers, his mind distracted, taken up 
with other things. His attention, or rather that of his 
counsellors', was absorbed by political matters, and by Polish 
affairs. The death of Sobieski had been followed by the 
rival candidatures of the Elector of Saxony and the Prince 
de Conti. Peter sided with Augustus, — in other words, 
against France, the ally of the Turk. Writing from 
Koenigsberg to the Polish lords, he formally announced 
his intention of interfering in the struggle. Prince Romo- 
danovski should lead an army upon the frontiers of Lithuania. 
He had got to threats already. 

The embassy dallied at Koenigsberg, waiting on events. 
Peter seized the opportunity of satisfying his curiosity, his 
impatience to acquire knowledge — both of them as keen as 
ever. Certain of these curiosities of his were more than 
singular, as when he insisted on seeing a criminal broken on 
the wheel, which instrument of torture he apparently dreamt 
of introducing, as a matter of variety, into the criminal pro- 
cedure of his own country. The authorities demurred, on 
the score of the non-existence of any criminal deserving such 
a punishment. The Tsar was astounded. ' What, all that 
fuss about killing a man ! Why not take one of the servants 
of his own suite?' 2 He was working daily with the Master 
of Artillery, Stern feldt, and after a few weeks, was the 
recipient of a regular diploma, which should not be too 
seriously taken. Three years later, Peter was with the King 

1 Posselt, vol. ii. pp. 407, 600, 601 ; Theiner, Historical Monuments (Rome, 
1859), p. 369 ; Herrmann, Geschichte Russlands, vol. iv. p. 67. 
- Pollnitz (Baron Charles Louis), Memoirs (Berlin, 1 791 ), vol. i. p. 179. 


of Poland, at the Castle of Birze, in Lithuania. The two 
Sovereigns, both of them given to eccentricities, amused 
themselves by firing heavy cannon at a mark. Augustus 
made two hits, Peter never touched the target once. 1 

The young Tsar was already the strange creature with 
whom the European world was destined, later, to make 
acquaintance, and at whom it was long to marvel and to 
tremble. Active beyond all description, turbulent, prying, 
cheerful, as a rule, full of jokes and high spirits, good-natured 
too, with sudden shifts of temper, fits of gloomy depression, 
or violence, or melancholy, genial but wayward, restless and 
disturbing. One night, as he sat at supper with the Elector, 
in a low room floored with marble, one of the servants 
dropped a plate. In a moment Peter had bounded to his 
feet, with haggard eyes and features working ; he drew his 
sword, and thrust in all directions, fortunately without 
wounding any one. When he calmed down, he imperiously 
demanded that punishment should be inflicted on the guilty 
serving-man. The difficulty was got over by having some 
poor devil, already sentenced for a different peccadillo, 
whipped before his eyes. 2 

Early in July, Augustus seeming to be definitely taking 
the upper hand in Poland, the embassy started forth afresh. 
Vienna was the point on which the journey was to have 
been first directed, in the hope of negotiating a treaty of 
alliance. But the Tsar's envoy, Nefimof, desired, in appear- 
ance at all events, to forestall its efforts. According to his 
report, the alliance, offensive and defensive, was already con- 
cluded. Lefort, on the other hand, urged a direct move to 
Holland, though his somewhat tepid Calvinistic zeal weighed 
less in the matter than has been frequently supposed. 
Chance had far more to do than has generally been imagined 
with the direction of this journey, and even with the general 
appearance finally impressed on it by circumstances. 

It is strange that Peter did not pause at Berlin on his way 
to Holland — he merely passed rapidly across the town. The 
future capital of Frederick the Great appeared to him but a 
barren field for the gratification of his curiosity. He had 
the good fortune to behold, elsewhere, the most attractive 
thing in all Prussia, and thus to make acquaintance with one 

1 Oustrialof, vol. iv. p. 90. 

2 Pollnitz, Memoirs. Pollnitz is not altogether a reliable witness. 
VOL. I. F 


of the fairest fruits of German civilisation and culture. The 
Electress of Brandenburg, the future Queen Sophia of 
Prussia, had not accompanied her husband to Koenigsberg. 
She had taken advantage of his absence, to pay a visit to her 
mother, the Electress Sophia of Hanover. But the arrival of 
the ruler, — still a more or less fabulous monarch, — of 
mysterious Muscovy, had not failed to arouse her interest. 
Mother and daughter were numbered amongst the most well- 
educated women of their day. Sophia Charlotte, at one time 
the destined bride of the Due de Bourgogne, grandson of 
Louis XIV., had spent two years at the court of Versailles. 
Her French associations had clung to her. At the age of 
barely niue-and-twenty, she had the reputation of being the 
prettiest and the most witty woman in her country. Her 
intimate circle was eminently intellectual. Leibnitz, who 
was one of its members, had inspired it with the very 
lively interest with which the event, which had so excited 
the town of Koenigsberg, had personally filled him, open- 
ing, as it did, before his versatile mind whole new horizons, 
a fresh programme of study, ethnographical, linguistic, and 
archaeological, a huge scheme of great scientific enter- 
prises, in the execution of which, the part of the great 
German savant, aided by the Russian Sovereign, seemed 
clearly indicated. He had already set himself to learn the 
history and the language of the country. Long years before, 
he had called Poland the natural rampart of Christianity 
against barbarians of every kind, whether Muscovite or Turk. 
All this was forgotten. Peter might indeed be a bar- 
barian, but he was a barbarian with a great future before 
him, and Leibnitz rejoiced over him, ranking him with Kam- 
Ki-Amalogdo-Khan, the Sovereign of China, and Yasok- 
Adjan-Nugbad, the King of Abyssinia, his contemporaries, 
who likewise seemed to be meditating mighty undertakings. 1 
Sophia Charlotte had caused circumstantial reports concern- 
ing the Tsar's stay at Koenigsberg to be sent her. These, 
while giving her no very high idea of the degree of culture 
and education she might expect to find in the august 
traveller, had not diminished her desire of seeing him. She 
kept up an active correspondence on this subject with the 
state minister, Fuchs. In May 1697, she wrote: 'I would 
have him persuaded to come here, not to see, but to be seen, 

1 Gucrrier, Leibnitz in seincn Bezichungen zu Russland, pp. 8-20. 


and we would willingly keep the money generally spent on 
rare animals for use on this occasion.' And a month later, 
' Though I am a great enemy of dirt, my curiosity, this time, 
is too strong for me.' 1 

Peter, interested in his turn, urged, doubtless, by his 
pleasant memories of the fair ladies in the Sloboda, willingly 
agreed to a meeting, to take place at Koppenbriigge, in 
the Grand Duchy of Zell, a fief of the House of Branden- 
burg, belonging to the Prince of Nassau. At first the 
young Sovereign took fright at the number of people he 
noticed in the place, — the two Electresses having neglected 
to warn him they were bringing their whole family with 
them. He tried to steal away, hastily left the village, and 
more than an hour was spent in parleying before he could be 
induced to return. At last he made his appearance at the 
castle, but his only reply to the compliments addressed to 
him by the two Princesses, was to cover his face with his 
hands, repeating the words, ' Ich kann nicht sprechen.' 2 
Shyness this, if you will, but constitutional timidity as well. 
I hold to this opinion, and see a confirmation of it in the 
continuation of the interview. For the young Sovereign 
soon recovers from his agitation, and is, indeed, very quickly 
tamed. At supper he shows signs of awkwardness, and is 
guilty of some boorishness. He is puzzled with his napkin, 
which he does not know how to use, and eats in dirty and 
slovenly fashion. He forces the whole company to remain 
at table for four hours, drinking endless toasts to his health, 
and standing each time. But in spite of all, the impression 
he produces is not a bad one. He seems simple, with a great 
deal of natural wit, answers questions readily and promptly, 
and, once started, carries on the longest conversation without 
any difficulty. Asked if he cares for hunting, he answers by 
showing his hands, hardened by toil. He has no time for 
hunting. After supper, he agrees to dance, on condition 
that the two Princesses set the example. He desires to put 
on gloves, but finds he has none. The gentlemen of his 
suite take the whalebone stays of their partners for a natural 
physical feature, and loudly remark that ' the German 
ladies' backs are devilish hard.' The Tsar sends for one of 

1 Varnhagen von Ense, Leben der Kottigin van Preussen, Sophie Charlotte 
(Berlin, 1837), pp. 74, 76. 

2 ' I do not know how to talk ! ' 


his jesters, and as the silly buffoonery of that individual 
does not seem to please the ladies' taste, he seizes a huge 
broom and sweeps him outside. But here again, take him 
all in all, his attractiveness seems to have been stronger than 
the astonishment he aroused. He was a lovable savage at 
all events, and, better still, ' He is' (so writes the Electress's 
mother) ' an altogether extraordinary man — it is impossible 
to describe him or even to imagine what he is, without 
having seen him.' Neither the mother nor the daughter 
had found those four hours at supper a moment too long. 
Both of them would have willingly stayed longer yet, 'without 
feeling an instant's weariness.' The younger Electress 
closes her letter, recounting her impressions, to Fuchs with 
this unfinished but very suggestive sentence : ' I have said 
enough to weary you, but I cannot do otherwise. I find 
pleasure in speaking of the Tsar, and if I had only myself to 
consider, I would tell you that ... I shall always have 
real pleasure in being of service to you.' 1 

Leibnitz was not, unfortunately, present at this meeting. 
He had reckoned on the passage of the embassy through 
Minden, and had hastily sketched out a plan of work and of 
reforms to be presented to the Tsar. He only succeeded in 
gaining admittance to one of Lefort's nephews, who dismissed 
him civilly. Peter remained utterly inaccessible. Learned 
men who knew nothing of shipbuilding, and had no know- 
ledge of the preparation of fireworks, possessed, as yet, no 
interest for him. He panted to see the country of Karschten- 
Brandt and Kort. At Schenkenschen, a Dutch frontier 
town, on the road to Amsterdam, a woman asked the 
travellers whether they were Christians. There was a 
rumour that the Muscovites were on their way to Cleves, 
to receive Holy Baptism ! 


Saardam or Zaandam, and the shipwright-Tsar's cottage 
in that charming little Low-Country village, to which so many 
pilgrimages are now made, never knew fame till towards the 
middle of the eighteenth century. Baron Pollnitz, who 
devotes five pages of his memoirs, written in 1726, to a 

1 Ermann, Afemoirs bearing on the History of Sophia Charlotte (Berlin, 1861), 
pp. 1 16-120. The details of the interview arc taken from the Correspondence of 
the two Princesses with Fui h 1. 


description of this out-of-the-way corner, makes no mention 
of the illustrious guest to whom it has owed its later 
glory. The celebrated writer, Wagenaer, does not refer 
to Zaandam, in his account of Peter's visit to Holland. 1 
A curious example this, of the fashion in which popular 
imagination will add its own marginal notes to a given page 
of history. Historically speaking, we may be quite sure, 
the greater part of the time-honoured details of Peter's 
residence in the neighbourhood of Amsterdam, have no 
foundation in fact. It is not even absolutely certain that 
he ever occupied the cottage now so piously preserved. 
According to Scheltema, who quotes Noomen's diary, as 
yet unpublished, the dwelling belonged to a blacksmith 
of the name of Guerrit Kist. The records of the Lutheran 
community of the place speak of a different proprietor 
— Boij Thijsen. All the workmen's houses lining the little 
canal which falls into the Y so absolutely resemble each 
other, that some confusion may very well have arisen. 
Voltaire and his disciples have indeed followed the life of 
the heroic apprentice step by step, and hour by hour, down 
the whole course of his legendary freak ; they see him 
making his bed in his humble cottage, cooking his food, 
constructing first a model ship, and then a model windmill, 
each of them four feet long, with his own hands. He fits a 
mast into his sailing boat, spends long days in the ship- 
building yards, wielding the hatchet or the plane, and in 
spite of all these multitudinous occupations he visits saw- 
mills, spinning-mills, rope-walks, compass-makers' and lock- 
smiths' workshops. Going into a paper-mill, he lays hands 
on the apparatus for drawing the sheets, and performs 
this delicate task with the most perfect success. How long 
must it have taken him to do all these things? Almost two 
years, Voltaire assures us. 

The Tsar spent ojte week in the village of Saardam.- 

What brought him there? Chance, to a certain extent, 

and, to a very great one, that ignorant simplicity which was 

his constant companion throughout his first European tour. 

Zaandam was, at that time, a fairly important shipbuilding 

1 Wagenaer, History of Amsterdam (Amsterdam, 1750), p. 721. See also 
Vaderlandsche Historie (Amsterdam, 1757), vol. xvi. pp. 377"379- 

2 Voltaire has somewhat contradicted himself on this point. Compare his 
Works, 1S53 edition, vol. iv. pp. 576 and 663. 


centre, numbering some fifty ship-yards, but, whether as 
regards the importance or the perfection of the work turned 
out, none of these establishments could bear any comparison 
with the shipbuilding yards at Amsterdam. Peter, leaving 
the majority of his travelling companions at Koppenbriigge, 
and accompanied by some dozen of his ' volunteers, passed 
through the Capital without a halt, and hurried straight to 
the little village. Wherefore? because the best workmen 
amongst the Dutch carpenters, none of them, of course, first- 
rate, whom he had employed at Preobrajenskoie, at Pereias- 
lavl and at Voroneje had chanced to be natives of Zaandam. 
Whence he had concluded, that to see fine ships, and learn 
how to make them, it behoved him to go there, and not 

He established himself in the village inn. Faithful to his 
mania for dressing-up, he forthwith sent for suits like those 
worn by the local boatmen — red waistcoats with large 
buttons, short jackets, and wide breeches. Thus garbed, he 
and his followers wandered through the streets, visiting the 
work-yards, even entering the workmen's houses, to the 
huge astonishment of their denizens. These houses bore a 
strong resemblance to those Peter had been accustomed 
to inhabit in his own country. He found one that took 
his fancy, and settled down in it. He bought a boiejer 
or small sailing-boat, fitted it with a stepped mast, then a 
new invention, and spent his time sailing his little vessel on 
the Gulf. At the end of a week he had had enough of it. 
The ships he had seen on the waters of the Y, or in the 
shipbuilding yards, were mere merchant vessels, of moderate 
tonnage. His presence had flurried the quiet population of 
the place, causing trouble to the local authorities, and some 
inconvenience to himself. Nobody, it is quite clear, was 
deceived by his disguise. His arrival had been foretold, and 
a description of his person given to one of the local workmen 
by a relation employed in Russia ; ' Tall, with a head that 
shakes, a right arm that is never quiet, and a wart on his 
face.' Some children, whom he had treated roughly, threw 
stones at him. He lost his temper, forthwith' forgot his 
incognito, and loudly proclaimed his quality. He was given 
a hint that his departure would be hailed with satisfac- 
tion, and his Embassy having arrived at Amsterdam, he 
determined to rejoin it. 


One week he spent at Zaandam, — sailing about in a boat, 
and making love to a servant-girl at the inn, to whom he 
presented fifty ducats. 1 But his strange behaviour and his 
carnival disguise had made their impression. He had 
sowed the seeds, in that out-of-the-way spot, of a crop of 
picturesque anecdotes, out of which the legend was to grow. 
Before the end of the eighteenth century, Joseph II., Gustavus 
III. and the Grand Duke Paul of Russia — early in the nine- 
teenth, Napoleon and Maria Louisa, were to visit the dwelling, 
authentic or non-authentic, within which the posthumous 
worship of a late-born religion had been set up. Napoleon 
it appears, showed little interest, and Marie Louise burst out 
laughing, when she saw how poor a spot it was. 2 But in 18 14 
Alexander I. decorated it with a commemorative slab of 
white marble. The poet Joukovski, going thither with the 
future Emperor Alexander II., pencilled the cottage walls 
with some enthusiastic lines, saluting the cradle of Russia 
under that humble roof. Modern tourists may read the 
following distich, beside a portrait of the great man : 

' Nichts is 
den grooten man 

te Klein.' 

The cottage, which stands on the Krimp, in the western and 
somewhat retired quarter of the town, is a wooden structure 
on a brick-built foundation. Guerrit Kist, or Boij Thijsen, 
shared it, in the year 1697, with a widow, who relinquished 
her lodging to Peter in consideration of a rent of seven 
florins — which he omitted to pay ; he was always apt to 
forget such matters. There is one room only, a funnel- 
shaped chimney-corner, with wooden jambs and mantel- 
piece, a sort of wooden cupboard with folding doors, 
wire-latticed, and hung with curtains, in which the sleeping- 
mattress was placed {betsteede) and a ladder leading to the 
attic ; no other furniture which can have been used by the 
tenant in 1697, all the rest was bought by the Empress 
Elizabeth, and carried off to Russia. The house, which, after 

1 Meermann, Lecture on Peter the Great's First Journey (Paris, 1S12), p. 59, 
etc.; Nartof, Anecdotes of Peter the Great (St. Petersburg, 1891), pp. 5-7: 
Noomeri 's unpublished 'Journal in the Utrecht Library. This journal is shortly 
to be published by Professor Kort, of Dorpat (Iourief). Scheltema relied on il 
absolutely. Noomen was a Zaandam cloth-merchant. 

- Scheltema, Historical Anecdotes of Peter the Great (Lausanne, 1S42), y. 409. 


the Tsar's departure, was the home of several generations of 
artisans, was for a long time utterly forgotten ; it is just 
possible that it may have been recognised. A sort of arched 
shed, built by the King of Holland, surrounds and preserves 
what now remains of it ; — the western side, that is to say, 
consisting of two rooms with a loft above them, all of them 
sinking under the weight of the ruined roof. The right side 
of the building and the chimney have utterly disappeared. 
The Dutch quite lately made over these relics to the Russian 
Government, and this has taken fresh measures for their 
preservation, which may be indispensable, but which are 
somewhat distressing to lovers of the picturesque. There is 
even a Calorifere\ 

A picture of the Dutch school, once at the Mon Plaisir 
Palace at Peterhof, representing a man in a red waist- 
coat, clasping a girl of very opulent charms, long had the 
reputation of being a memento of the great man's visit to 
Saardam. This canvas, now at the Hermitage Palace, was 
certainly not painted from nature, for the artist, I. I. Hore- 
mans, was not born till 171 5. Nartof, who was. in later 
years, a member of Peter's intimate circle, mentions the girl, 
who, he says, would not consent to accept Peter's advances, 
till a glance into the stranger's purse had convinced her he 
was no common boatman ; and in a fragment of a letter in 
Leibnitz's collection, which bears no indication of its origin, 
I find, under the date of 27th Nov. 1697, the following 
lines : — ' The Tsar has happened on a peasant girl of Saar- 
dam, who pleases his fancy, and on holidays, he betakes 
himself there alone in his boat, to take his pleasure with 
her, after the manner of Hercules.' x 

Peter found better employment at Amsterdam. His 
arrival there was awaited by a friend, well-nigh a collabo- 
rator, the burgomaster of the town, Nicholas Witsen. This 
official, who had visited Russia during the reign of Alexis, 
and written a celebrated book on Eastern and Southern 
Tartary, who was the constant correspondent of Lefort, and 
acted as his master's intermediary in the matter of the ships 
ordered, and other purchases made by him, in Holland, could 
not fail to offer the traveller the heartiest welcome. He lost 
no time in obtaining access for him to the great shipbuild- 
ing yards of the East Indian Company. This marks the 
1 Guerrier, Leibnitz Correspondence (St. Petersburg, 1873), p. 31, 


opening of the serious work and usefulness of Peter's first 

The man himself was still unchanged, with his fads and 
his oddities, his queer habits and grimaces. He still pre- 
tended to hide himself under the name of 'Master Peter' 
(Peterbas) or ' Carpenter Peter of Zaandam,' shammed deaf- 
ness if he was addressed in any other manner, and thus 
contrived to make himself more remarkable than ever. 
When his Embassy went to the Hague, to be received in 
solemn audience, he refused to accompany it, but intimated 
his desire to watch the reception from a neighbouring room. 
Some company having entered this apartment, the Tsar 
desired to leave it, but, finding that, for this purpose, he was 
obliged to cross the audience-chamber, he requested that 
the members of the States-General should turn their faces 
to the wall, so that they might not see him I 1 He reached 
the Hague at eleven o'clock at night. At the Amsterdam 
hotel, to which he was first conducted, he refused the fine 
bed prepared for him, in the best room, and insisted on 
climbing up to the roof, to choose some tiny chamber. 
Then changing his mind utterly, he resolved to seek a 
lodging elsewhere. Thus it came about that the Old Doelen 
Inn had the honour of his presence. One of his servants 
was there already, sleeping in a corner on his bear-skin. 
The Tsar kicked him to his feet ; ' Give me thy place ! ' 2 

He stopped his carriage twenty times between Amsterdam 
and the Hague, to measure the width of a bridge, go into a 
mill, which he had to reach by crossing a meadow, where 
the water was often up to his knees, or enter some middle- 
class house, whose inhabitants he caused, first of all, to be 
sent outside. Wherever he went, his insatiable curiosity 
and whimsicality went with him. He barely escaped maim- 
ing himself by suddenly stopping a saw-mill. He clung to 
the driving wheel in a silk factory, at the risk of being 
carried away by one of the secondary wheels ; he studied 
architecture with Simon Schynvoet of Leyden, mechanics 
with Van der Heyden, fortification with Coehorn, whom he 
tried hard to enlist in his own service, — printing with one 
of the Tessing brothers, — anatomy with Ruysch, natural 
history with Leuwenhoek. He took the gentlemen of his 
suite into the celebrated Boerhaave's anatomical theatre, 
1 Scheltema, pp. 140-142. '-' Ibid. 



and when they expressed some disgust at the preparations 
they saw there, he forced them to bite into the corpse which 
was being dissected. He learned to use compass, and sword, 
and plane, and even the instruments of a tooth-drawer, 
whom he saw, one day, operating in the open air, in a public 
square. He built a frigate, he made his own bed, did his 
own cooking, constructed a Russian bath for his own use ; l 
he took drawing lessons too, and learned to engrave on 
copper, frequented the studio of Koerten Block, sat to her 
for his portrait, wrote his name in her album, and himself 
engraved a plate showing forth the triumph of the Christian 
religion over the Moslem faith. 2 

There is more feverish activity than reasoned application 
about all this, a great deal of caprice too, and even a touch of 
insanity. The notions of science and art thus picked up are 
somewhat disconcerting. ' If you want to build a ship,' we 
read in one of Peter's note-books belonging to this period, 
' you must begin, after taking the superficial area, by making 
a right angle at each end.' 3 Napoleon, with all the univer- 
sality of his genius, — the widest and the most comprehensive 
our modern world has ever known, — never pretended to be a 
great doctor or a skilful etcher. All his practical knowledge 
was specialised. Yet Peter was following an instinct which 
was not to play him false. He was giving himself the best 
of preparations for the real task which awaited him, — not 
the building of ships, or of factories, or of palaces (foreign 
specialists could always be brought in for such purposes), 
but the inauguration of a whole plan of civilisation. He was, 
after all, carrying on the process which had begun with his 
first uncertain gropings amongst the exotic riches of the 
Oroujennaia Pa lata, the inventory — inevitably hasty, and 
summary — of the various treasures, industrial, scientific, and 
artistic, which he proposed to borrow from the Western 
world. But as his field of curiosity enlarged, and, with it, his 
mind widened, the careless child, the inattentive youth, of 
former days, showed more and more of the qualities of the 
Sovereign. Often, at Pereiaslavl, or at Archangel, he had 

1 Meermann, p. 60. 

- Scheltema, Russia and the Low Countries (Amsterdam, 1S17). vol. i. p. 221 ; 
F. Miiller, Attempt at a Russian-Netherland Bibliography, pp. 164, 165 ; 
Piekarski, Literature and Science in Russia (St. Petersburg, 1S62), vol. i. p. 9. 
The engraving referred to is in the Amsterdam Museum. 

3 Oustrialof, vol. iii. p. 93. 


utterly forgotten Moscow, and the rest of his empire. But 
this was past. Far as he was from his capital, and the 
frontiers of his country, he insisted on being kept informed 
of the smallest details in the management of those public 
affairs, which he had once so willingly neglected. He would 
know everything that happened, hour by hour ; and many 
things were happening. Even the momentary application of 
his energetic activity in that direction had borne fruit. Near 
Azof, the forts of Alexis and of Peter were in course of 
building, at Taganrog, two more forts, named after the 
Trinity and St. Paul, and a harbour, were being constructed. 
On the Dnieper, the Turkish attacks on the fortresses of Kazy- 
kermen and of Tavan had been victoriously repulsed. The 
navy, too, was making rapid progress. The King of Sweden 
had sent 300 cannon to arm the ships, either not dreaming 
they might ever be turned against himself, or heroically 
indifferent to that possibility. Augustus was strengthening 
his position in Poland. Of all these things Peter was 
informed ; he kept up an active correspondence with the 
persons charged to represent him at the head of the 
Government. Romodanovski gave him news of the Streltsy, 
Vinnius wrote to ask him for Dutch gunsmiths. He did 
even better than to send him these. He set about recruit- 
ing a whole staff, most numerous and varied, which was to 
second him in that work of transformation, the plan of 
which was growing clearer and clearer in his brain ; — a 
skilled boatswain, of Norwegian birth, Cornelius Cruys, 
whom he made an admiral ; several naval captains, three- 
and-twenty commanders, five-and-thirty lieutenants, seventy- 
two pilots, fifty physicians ; three hundred and forty-five 
sailors, and four cooks. These men would need special 
stores. He set himself to collect and send them off. Two 
hundred and sixty cases, filled with guns, pistols, cannon, 
sail-cloth, compasses, saws, cabinet-makers' tools, whale- 
bone, cork, and anchors, and marked with the letters P.M. 
(Peter Mihailof) were despatched to Moscow. One consign- 
ment — the germ of the future School of Fine Arts — consisted 
of eight blocks of marble, designed, no doubt, to rouse the 
inspiration of future artists. Another case contained a 
stuffed crocodile. Here we have the nucleus of a museum. 1 
There were occasional checks in this wonderful activity, — a 

1 Oustrialof, vol. iii. pp. 104- 1 10. 


pause, now and then, in the Sovereign's correspondence 
with his representatives. Peter's answers were sometimes 
slow in coming. He would soon excuse himself shyly, 
almost humbly — the fault lay with Hmielnitski, the Russian 
Bacchus. 1 Lefort's pupil had not— never was to — cast off 
the old man in this respect. The weaknesses of the 
daily guest at the Sloboda banquets still clung to him. 
But, in spite of all, he found means, during those four 
months spent in Holland, to accomplish an enormous amount 
of work. 

He was left in perfect freedom for the purpose. His 
eight days' visit to Zaandam had revolutionised the vil- 
lage. At Amsterdam, once the first moment of surprise 
was past, his presence was almost unobserved. It was not 
till some years later that the greatness of the part he was 
called to play, and the frequency of his visits to Europe, 
drew public attention to his relatively obscure beginnings. 
And then, taken at a disadvantage, finding no trace of its 
hero in the turmoil of the great maritime city, the legend 
was fain to seek its guiding marks in a more modest spot, 
and thus settled at Zaandam. The immediate impression 
left there, by the visit of Peter Mihailof and his noisy 
comrades, is clearly shown in the two following extracts 
from contemporary chronicles. 

The Records of the Lutheran community at Zaandam : — 

' He came incognito, with very few followers, spent a 
week at Krimpenburg, in the house of a blacksmith, of the 
name of Boij Thijsen, and then went to Amsterdam, where 
his great Embassy had arrived. He was seven feet high, 
wore the dress of the peasants of Zaandam, worked in 
the admiralty dockyard, and is a great admirer of ship- 

Noomen's Journal : — 

' Thus were the State and our little town of Westzaandam 
delivered and released from these celebrated, numerous, 
distinguished, extraordinary, and very costly visitors.' 

A resolution of the States General, dated 15th August 
1698, informs us that the entertainment of the Embassy cost 
the State 100,000 florins. Neither this document, nor any 

1 Hmielnitski was the victorious Chief who led the Cossacks in their struggle 
against the Poles in the seventeenth century. Both in Russian, and in Polish, the 
word Ilmiel means hops, and also drunkcmies s. 


of the other resolutions referring to the stay of the Ambas- 
sadors at Amsterdam, contains any reference to Peter 
himself. 1 


In the seventeenth century, the Amsterdam shipbuilders 
had a well-deserved reputation, but they were more prac- 
tical than learned. Their processes differed in different 
ship-yards, but no consistent theory, no carefully thought- 
out justification of traditional proportions and methods, 
existed in any one of them. Peter, as his study of the craft 
advanced, became aware of this, and the fact distressed him. 
The why and the wherefore, and with that, all chance of 
making the principle his own, were beginning to escape him. 
An Englishman whom he met at the country house of the 
cloth-merchant, John Tessing, boasted of the superiority of 
English shipbuilders in this respect. ' In his country,' he 
said, ' theory and practice went hand in hand.' Thus it 
came about, that in January, 1698, the young Tsar was in- 
duced to cross the Channel. 

He had met William III. already, both at Utrecht and at 
the Hague, and was assured of a courteous welcome. A 
yacht belonging to the Royal Navy, with an escort of three 
battle-ships, was sent to fetch him from Amsterdam. Vice- 
Admiral Mitchell, and the Marquis of Caermarthen — this last 
an oddity, and almost as heroic a brandy-drinker as Lefort 
himself, — were attached to the person of the Imperial guest. 
Some uncertainty exists regarding the house inhabited by 
the Tsar, during his stay in London. Some believe it to 
have been 15 Buckingham Street, Strand, on the walls of 
which a commemorative inscription is now placed. Others 
opine that he lived in Norfolk Street. When the English 
King entered the room selected by Peter for his own use, 
and in which he slept, with three or four of his servants, His 
Majesty almost fainted. The air was foul, and quite un- 
breatheable ; in spite of the cold, all the windows had to be 
thrown open. Yet, when Peter returned William's visit at 
Kensington Palace, he gave proof of very evident progress, 

1 Dutch Stale Papers, The Hague. See, with reference to Peter's visit l" 
Holland, besides the authorities already <|uoted, A. Iazykof, Peter the Ureal at 
Zaandam and Amsterdam (Berlin, 1872). 


in many social matters. He had a long conversation in 
Dutch with the King, he was assiduously polite to Princess 
Anne, the heir to the throne, and was so much delighted 
with her conversation that, in writing to one of his friends, 
he described her as ' a true daughter of our church.' An 
apparatus for showing the direction of the wind, placed in the 
King's cabinet, interested him greatly, but he only cast a 
careless glance on the marvels of art which filled the palace. 
His visit was, on the whole, a failure, the impression he pro- 
duced being far from favourable. The inhabitants of this 
home of culture, and refined elegance, were more difficult to 
please than the ladies of Koppenbrligge. A few years later, 
Burnet, in his memoirs, almost seems to apologise to his 
readers, for speaking of so sorry a personage. 1 Was such a 
man likely to be fit to govern a great empire? The Bishop 
doubts it. A promising shipwright he might be. He had 
not been seen to interest himself in any other matter, and 
even in that, he was disposed to give too much attention to 
mere detail. Thus does the great Whig historian lay his 
unerring finger on the weak points of a marvellous genius, 
without ever seeming to suspect the existence of those powers, 
which, in a future page, I shall endeavour to demonstrate. But 
these written impressions cannot have been absolutely fresh, 
and distance, doubtless, deceived him with an optical illusion, 
analogous to that the effects of which we have already noticed 
in Holland. 

Peter remained in England almost as long as he had tarried 
with the Dutch, and here, too, he gave his mind to many 
things. With all his usual curiosity, minuteness, and practi- 
cal-mindedness, he made the tour of every public establish- 
ment likely to furnish him with useful information for his 
future creations — the Mint — the Observatory — the Royal 
Society. Though the pictures in Kensington Palace did 
not transport him with admiration, he had his portrait 
painted by Kneller, the pupil of Rembrandt and of Fer- 
dinand Bol. This picture, preserved at Hampton Court, is 
one of the best of him in existence. He took his pleasure 
too, giving free rein to his five-and-twenty years, and making 
practical acquaintance with local manners and customs. 
The servant-girl of the Zaandam inn was replaced by an 
actress, Mrs. Cross, who, so it would appear, had reason to 

1 Vol. ii. p. 221, etc. 


complain of the Tsar's stinginess ; but he sharply reproved 
the persons who ventured to lecture him on this subject. ' I 
find plenty of men to serve me well, with all their heart and 
mind, for 500 guineas. This person has only served me 
tolerably, and what she has to give is worth much less.' 1 
He won back his 500 guineas, over a match, fought in the 
house of the Duke of Leeds, between a Grenadier of his own 
suite, and a celebrated native boxer. Six weeks out of the 
three months were devoted to pursuing — at Deptford, a village 
formerly on the outskirts of the capital, now merged within 
it — those studies for which the Amsterdam shipyard had not 
sufficed him. Here too he delighted in masquerading as a 
working apprentice, walking through the streets with his 
hatchet on his shoulder, and drinking beer and smoking a 
small Dutch pipe in a tavern, which, until the year 1808, 
bore the name of the Tsar's Tavern, and showed his portrait 
on its signboard. Behold a new field for the legend-mongers, 
who did not fail to take advantage of it ! Even Burnet's 
usually clear vision and faithful memory were thus led 
astray. But there is no uncertainty as to the residence 
occupied by Peter at Deptford. Its identity has been 
further established by witnesses, before a Court of Justice. 
When the owner, John Evelyn, re-took possession of his 
dwelling, which he had given up temporarily for the use of 
the Russian Sovereign, he found it in a condition which 
might have suggested the idea that Baty-Han himself had 
been there. Doors and windows had been torn out and 
burnt, hangings dragged down and soiled, valuable pictures 
utterly ruined, and their frames smashed to pieces. Evelyn 
claimed, and received, reimbursement of his loss from the 
public Treasury.' 2 This mansion, Sayes Court, though half- 
ruined at the present day, standing in the middle of the 
docks, and used as a police-barrack and counting-house, — is 
still bound up with the memory of the illustrious guest it 
once sheltered. The street by which it is approached is even 
now called Tsar's Street. 

Peter toiled hard at Deptford, under the direction of the 
famous Anthony Dean, whose father had made himself 
unpopular by passing over into France, and there teaching 
the art of shipbuilding. In a letter dated March 4th, 1619, 

1 Nartof, ]>. 9. The original expression is even coarser yet. 
- Shuubinski, Historical Sketches (St. Petersburg, 1S93), P< 3°- 


referring to some excess committed at Moscow by one of his 
provisional representatives, while in a state of intoxication, 
he writes, not without a touch of melancholy regret, ' We 
run no risk of doing anything of that kind here, seeing we 
are immersed in study from morning till night,' But even 
at Deptford, his toil as an apprentice and his passion for all 
sea-faring matters did not completely absorb him. As in 
Holland, his interests and his studies took every possible 
direction. He kept adding recruits to the body of his 
future collaborators — workmen and overseers for his mines 
in the Ural, engineers who were to cut a canal which was to 
join the Caspian and the Black Sea by the Volga and the 
Don. He and Lord Caermarthen negotiated the concession 
of the Russian tobacco monopoly to a group of English 
capitalists, in return for the somewhat modest sum of 48,000 
roubles, which he needed to balance the budget of his Em- 
bassy. Burnet forgot all that. Yet legend speaks of an 
uncut diamond, wrapped in a scrap of dirty paper, — the 
symbolic gift which Peter is said to have conferred on his 
royal host ere he departed. But at Koenigsberg, if the 
story-tellers are to be believed, he tossed a huge ruby into 
the bosom of the Electress' low-cut gown, as he sat at table 
with her. 1 Now the Electress did not go to Koenigsberg ! 


By the end of April, Peter was back in Holland, and 
before long he was on his way to Vienna. The request 
for aid against the Turks, addressed to the States General 
by the Embassy, had not been favourably received. The 
States had even gone so far as to suggest to the King 
of England that he should mediate between the Ottoman 
Porte and Austria, so as to place that country in a position 
to turn all her forces against France, in the fresh struggle 
which was so evidently approaching, — for the health of 
Charles II. of Spain was rapidly declining. This blow must 
be parried. Unfortunately, the movements of the Russian 
monarch's huge Embassy were very slow. It must take 

1 Coxe's Travels (London, 1874), V(J1 - iv - P- $7- Niestroicf, ' Peter the Great's 
Visit to Holland and England,' in the Messpger Universe!, 1871. 


three weeks to reach the capital of the Holy Empire. 
According to German official sources, its retinue was thus 
composed : — One court marshal, one equerry, one major- 
domo, four chamberlains, four dwarfs, six pages, six trum- 
peters, one cup-bearer, one cook, one quarter-master, twelve 
lacqueys, six coachmen and postillions, twenty-four serving- 
men, thirty-two footmen, twenty-two carriage horses, thirty- 
two four-horsed carriages, and four six-horse waggons for 
the baggage, and twelve saddle-horses. 1 Yet Peter pro- 
posed to enter Leopold's capital at eleven o'clock at night, 
and in the fourth coach, so as to pass unnoticed. At 
the very last moment the plan failed, and everything 
turned out ill for every one. The Embassy, with its end- 
less train of followers, was forced to kick its heels one 
whole long day, just without the approaches to the town. 
The road was blocked by a great march-past of troops, not 
to be interrupted for such a trifle. Peter, caring nothing 
for the troops, jumped into a post-cart, with a single 
servant, and pushed forward. Yet the incident annoyed 
him much, and gave him an equal sense of discomfort. He 
was sorely put out of countenance, and the appearance of 
the Imperial residence only deepened the impression. The 
whole place awed him, with its air of implacable pride, 
haughty etiquette, and inaccessible majesty. The Imperial 
ministers, already deeply engaged with Holland and with 
England, sought every pretext to delay the audience 
solicited by his Ambassadors. Pie, to cut things short, 
demanded a personal interview with the Emperor, and met 
with a prompt refusal. By what right ? it was inquired. 
Here was Peter Mihai'lof's first lesson in diplomacy. He 
began to understand the inconvenience of disguises. Three 
times he returned to the charge. At last the Vice-Chan- 
cellor of Bohemia, Czernini, was sent to him. 'What do 
you want? ' 'To see the Emperor, and speak with him on 
urgent affairs.' ' What affairs ? Are the Ambassadors of 
your country not here to see to them ? ' The poor dis- 
guised Tsar beat a hasty retreat ; ' He would not even 
mention affairs,' he said. 

A meeting was appointed at the Favorita Palace. He 
was to enter by a private staircase, a small spiral one com- 

1 Weber, Arckiv fiir Sdchsische Geschichte (Leipzig, 1873), vol. xi. p. 338. 
VOL. I. ('. 


municating with the Park. He agreed to everything. Once 
in the Emperor Leopold's presence, he forgot himself so far 
as to attempt to kiss his hand. He evidently felt himself 
very small and inferior ; he kept putting his hat on, and 
pulling it off, nervously, and could not make up his mind to 
keep it on his head, in spite of the Emperor's repeated 
requests that he should do so. The interview, which lasted 
a quarter of an hour, was of the most commonplace descrip- 
tion. Lefort interpreted, for Peter did not dare to fall back 
on his own bad German. It was not till he had left the 
Palace that he regained his self-possession, and then, in an 
instant, all the natural and exuberant gaiety of the man 
returned. A boat lay moored on a little pond in the Park. 
He rushed to it, and rowed about till he was out of breath. 
He was like any school-boy, just escaped from the trials of 
a difficult examination. 1 

But the interview bore no fruit. The Emperor was quite 
resolved to respect Peter Mihai'lof's incognito. At the ban- 
quet which followed the audience at last granted to the 
Embassy, the young Sovereign, bitten afresh with his old 
mania, insisted on standing behind Lefort's chair. He was 
allowed to do so without protest. The political proposals 
he had come to make, by no means fell in with the decided 
intentions of the Austrian Court, which was bent on having 
peace with the Turks at any price. Yet Peter took great 
pains to give satisfaction in these new surroundings. He 
was much more circumspect than elsewhere. He paid a 
visit — at the Favorita, again, and almost secretly — to the 
Empress and the Imperial Princesses, and did his best to 
make himself pleasant. He even ventured some advances 
towards the dominant Church, and went so far as to rouse 
hopes among the Catholics, similar to those he had already 
roused amongst the Protestants. On St. Peter's Day he was 
present, with his whole Embassy, at a solemn service in the 
Jesuit Church, where he listened to a sermon preached in 
Slav by Father Wolff, and heard the preacher say ' that the 
keys would be bestowed a second time, upon a new Peter, 
that he might open another door.' He composed, and lighted 
with his own hands, the fireworks which formed part of an 
entertainment given, that same day, by his Ambassadors, to 

1 Vienna State Papers, Cercmoniall-rrotocolle. Compare Oustrialof, vol. iii. 
pp. 126, 127 ; Sheiner, p. 372. 


the cream of Viennese society, and which, according to the 
Tsar's testimony, wound up in very much the same fashion 
as the fetes in the Sloboda. According to one of his letters 
to Vinnius, a great deal of wine was drunk, and there was 
considerable love-making in the gardens. 1 Shortly afterwards, 
the Emperor invited the Ambassadors to a masked ball, at 
which Peter wore the dress of a Friesland peasant. The 
Emperor and Empress appeared as the host and hostess of 
an inn. Innkeeping (das Wirthschaft) was as much in 
fashion, at that moment, as shepherds and shepherdesses 
and all pastoral matters were soon to be. But this enter- 
tainment had no official character whatever. At supper 
Peter sat between Freilin von Turn, who was his own 
pendant, as a Friesland peasant, and the wife of Marshal 
von Staremberg, who wore a Swabian costume. A few days 
later the Embassy departed. The diplomatic object of the 
journey had utterly failed, and the scientific resources of 
Vienna had been no compensation for Peter's disappoint- 
ment in this respect. He desired to go to Venice, there to 
study a form of shipbuilding, new to him as yet — those 
oared galleys which were to play such a great part in the 
future of the Russian navy. Just as the travelling prepara- 
tions were completed, the Tsar was compelled to stop short. 
Serious news had arrived from Russia. 

' The seed of the Miloslavski has sprouted once again.' 
Thus he picturesquely describes it. There was a fresh 
mutiny amongst the Streltsy. Like a flash his mind was 
made up, and the direction of his journey changed from 
south to east. A few days later he was at Cracow. ' You 
will see me sooner than you think for,' he had written to 
Romodanovski, whom he accused of weakness and pusil- 
lanimity. But more reassuring news awaited him in the 
old Polish capital : SheTn, his generalissimo, had put down 
the rebels ; Moscow was safe. He slackened his pace a 
little, halted at Rawa, and there spent three days with 
Augustus II. The history of this meeting, which was to 
give birth to the Northern War, belongs to another chapter 
of this book. As far as Peter's studies are concerned, his 
journey ended at Vienna. Before setting forth its conse- 
quences, distant and immediate — the creation, in other words, 

1 Writings and Correspondence, vol. i. p. 263. 


on the confines of ancient Europe, of a new power, political, 
social, and economic, and the transformation, political, social, 
and economic too, of a certain area of the old European 
continent — I must fully describe the physical traits and 
mental characteristics of the man who was to be the in- 
strument to perform this revolution. Standing on the 
threshold of the work, I must endeavour to picture forth 
its maker. 





I. 1'en and pencil portraits — Kneller and Von Moor — St. Simon — Strength and 

nervousness — Twitchings — Oddities of dress — The lay figure in the Winter 
Palace — What his dress really was — Darned stockings and cobbled shoes 
— The Doubina. 

II. Temperament — The delight of action — An audience at 4 o'clock in the 

morning — A working day of 14 hours — Ubiquity and universality — states- 
man, drum-major, dancing-master, fireman, major-domo, physician — The 
Tsar and his negro boy — The individual and the race — Russian indolence 
— Agreement of physical and moral phenomena — Long winters, and short- 
lived springs — Periods of inertia, and fits of feverish activity — The heroes 
of the National Legend, 
in. Was Peter brave ? — Narva and Poltava — The idea of duty — Contradictions — 
Moral energy and weakness — Inconstancy and versatility in detail — 
Steadiness and perseverance in the whole undertaking — Peter's impulsive- 
ness — Traits of the national character — Brain and heart — Want of 
feeling — Cheery and sociable disposition — Boyish pranks — Why he was 
disliked — Frequent fits of violence and rage — Sword thrusts. 
[V. Drinking excesses — A scene of bloodshed in the Monastery of the Basilian 
Fathers — The Tsar not sober — Habitual drunkenness— Its results. 
V. Coarse pleasures — Banquets and orgies — Female drunkards — A regular 
tippler — Theological controversies at table — Peter's tastes are those of the 
public-house and the servants' had- -Was he cruel ? — Judge and execu- 
tioner — Reasons of State— Idealism and sensuality — The bondage of the 

TlIE picture of Peter, painted in London by Sir Godfrey 

Kneller, in 1698, shows us a fine young fellow of gracious 

and manly presence. The features are refined and regular, 

the expression full of dignity and pride ; the wide-open eyes 

and somewhat full, half-smiling, lips, are instinct with beauty 

and intelligence. The physical mark discreetly indicated on 

the right check — the wart of the description sent to the 

Zartndam workman — rouses confidence in the artist's fidelity. 

' 103 


Yet this same fidelity has been much disputed. Not to 
mention the hideous waxen figure which dishonours the 
gallery of the Winter Palace at St. Petersburg, Leroi and 
Caravaque, as also Dannhauer, and even Karl Von Moor— 
with whose work Peter himself was so well pleased, that he 
sent the portrait from the Hague to Paris, in 1717, to have it 
reproduced at the Gobelins Factory — were all of them far 
less flattering. 1 The portraits painted on the spot, and at the 
same period (17 17) by Nattier and Rigaud, pleased the Tsar 
less. They have a somewhat arch expression, and give 
nothing of that fierce, and almost savage look of power, 
which Moor so successfully indicated. 

True it is, indeed, that twenty years — and what eventful 
ones ! — had passed over the Tsar, between the date of 
Kneller's picture and that of Moor's. But Noomen saw the 
great man before Kneller met him, and in his Journals, I find 
this rough and evidently frank description : — ' Tall and 
robust, of ordinary corpulence, lively and quick in all his 
movements, the face round, the expression rather severe, the 
eyebrows dark, like the short curling hair . . . he walks with 
long steps, swinging his arms, grasping a new hatchet haft in 
his hand.' The vanished hero stands before us ! Again, 
about the same period, under the hand of Cardinal Kollonitz, 
Primate of Hungary, who met the Tsar at Vienna in 1698, 
and was rather benevolently inclined towards him than 
otherwise — I read as follows : — ' Neither in his person, his 
aspect, nor his manners, is there anything to specially 
distinguish him, and betray his princely quality.' 2 St. Simon's 
portrait is well known. I should be disposed to adopt it, as 
indicating a happy medium — for all the contemporary 
documents on which I have been able to lay my hand, agree 
with it in every essential point. Here are two, deposited 
amongst the papers of the French Ministry for Foreign 
Affairs, during the Tsar's residence in Paris in 1717. 'His 
features were rather handsome, they even showed a certain 
gentleness, and no one would have thought, on looking at 
him, that he would occasionally take to cutting off the heads 
of those of his subjects who displeased him. He would have 

1 Rovinski, Dictionary of Engraved Portraits, y> l S7 2 - The whereabouts of 
the original of this portrait is unknown. 

2 Theiner, p. 372. Compare Ruzini's Account sent from Venire lo Vienna', 
Fontesrerum Austriacarum (Vienna, 1867), Fart 11. vol. xxvii. p. 429. 



been a very well-built prince, but that he carried himself so 
badly. He walked with round shoulders, worse than any 
Dutch sailor, whose ways he seemed to copy. He had large 
eyes, a good nose and mouth, a pleasant face, though some- 
what pale, and light brown hair kept rather short. He made 
endless grimaces. One of his commonest tricks was to try 
to look at his sword by bending his head backwards over his 
shoulder, and to raise one of his legs and stretch it out 
behind him. He sometimes turned his head as if he desired 
to bring his face above the middle of his shoulders. Those 
who waited on him asserted that this kind of convulsion 
always came upon him when his thoughts were very earnestly 
fixed on any special subject.' 1 And again 'The Tsar is 
exceedingly tall, somewhat bowed, his head generally bent 
down, he is very dark, and there is a something wild in his 
look. His mind appears bright, and his understanding very 
ready. There is a sort of grandeur in his manners, but this 
is not always kept up.' 2 The disagreement as to the colour 
of Peter's hair may be put down to the fault of the wig- 
makers, he having adopted the style of hair-dressing pecu- 
liar to the European dress of that date. All are agreed as to 
his grimaces, and nervous tricks, the perpetual shaking of his 
head, the round-shoulderedness which struck the Emperor's 
Ministers in 1698, when he was only 24, and the fierce 
expression of his eyes. The Archbishop of Novgorod, 
Ianovski, admitted to audience to kiss the hands of Ivan and 
of Peter, when the two brothers shared the throne, felt no 
alarm when he approached the elder sovereign. But when 
he met the younger Tsar's glance, he felt his knees shake 
under him, and, from that day forward, the presentiment that 
(le would be done to death by that second hand, which his 
-embling lips had scarcely touched, was always with him. 
' It is well known,' says Staehlin, ' that this monarch, from 
I11V. early youth until his death, was subject to short but 
frequent brain attacks, of a somewhat violent kind. A sort 
of convulsion seized him, which for a certain time, and some- 
times even for some hours, threw him into such a distressing 
condition, that he could not bear the sight of any one, not 
even his nearest friends. This paroxysm was always pre- 

1 Mimoirei et Documents (Russie), vol. ii. p. 1 1 7- 

2 Despatch from M. de Liboy— sent to Dunkirk to receive the Tsar, April 

23. I7I7- 



ceded by a strong contortion of the neck towards the left 
side, and by a violent contraction of the muscles of the 
face.' * Hence arose, doubtless, Peter's perpetual recourse to 
remedies, some of them occasionally very strange, as for 
instance, a certain p owder , compounded of the interior and 
the wings of a magpie. 2 Hence too, his habit of sleeping with 
his two hands clasping the shoulders of an orderly officer. 3 
Some people have tried to believe this last fact to have given 
rise to the malevolent suppositions which have hovered round 
the private morals of this sovereign. But this explana- 
tion is, unfortunately, far from being sufficient. In 17 18, 
while at table with the Queen of Prussia, Peter began to 
wave one of his hands — that holding his knife — in so violent 
a fashion, that Sophia Charlotte took fright and would have 
left her seat. He, to reassure her, seized her arm, but 
squeezed it so tightly, that she cried out. He shrugged his 
shoulders. ' Catherine's bones are not so tender ! ' he was 
heard to remark aloud. 4 

These traits of nervous delicacy had already appeared in 
the case of Ivan the Terrible, and probably arose from the same 

f cause — the excess and violence of the shocks undergone in 
infancy and childhood. It was the legacy of old Russia — re- 
presented by the Streltsy, and doomed to death already — to 
her great Reformer. But with the poison, happily,she bestowed 
the antidote — that mighty work which was to purify his blood 
and invigorate his nerves. Ivan had no such good fortune. 

To sum it up, Peter may be described, physically, as a fine 
man, exceedingly tall (his exact height was 6 ft. 8\ in.), 5 dark 

' extremely dark, as if he had been born in Africa,' says 
one of his contemporaries c — powerful in frame, with a good 
deal of majesty about him, marred by certain faults of 
deportment, and a painful infirmity, which spoilt the general 
effect. He dressed carelessly, put on his clothes awry, 
frequently appeared in a most untidy condition, was always 
changing his garments, military or civil, and would occasion- 
ally select a garb of the most grotesque description. He had 

1 Anecdotes (Richou's translation, Strasburg, 1787), p. 80. 
- Scherer's Anecdotes (Paris, 1792), vol. ii. p. 82. 
:i Nartof, p. 29. 

4 Memoirs of the Margravine of Baireuth, 

5 Two Archines, and fourteen Verchoks, Golikof, History of Peter the Great 
(Moscow, 1842). vol. x. ]>. 170. 

'' Louville's Memoirs (Paris, 1818), vol. ii. p. 239. 


no sense whatever of propriety in dress. He showed himself 
to the Danes, at Copenhagen, in 17 16, with a green cap on 
his head, a black military cravat tightly buckled round his 
neck, and his shirt collar fastened by a big silver button, set 
with mock stones, such as his own officers were in the habit 
of wearing. A brown overcoat with horn buttons, coarse 
worsted stockings, full of darns, and very dirty shoes, com- 
pleted his costume. 1 He agreed to wear a wig, but insisted 
on its being very short, so that he might be able to thrust it 
into his pocket ; and his own hair, which he rarely cut, 
showed far below it. 

His hair grew naturally very long and thick. In 1722, 
during his Persian Campaign, being inconvenienced by its 
quantity, he had it cut, but, being very economical in mind, 
he insisted on having a new wig made out of it, which wig 
now figures on the lay figure in the Winter Palace. It is 
indeed the only genuine thing about that figure ; the waxen ' 
face, with its glass eyes, was modelled on a cast taken after 
death, and the weight of the plaster on the decomposing 
flesh threw all proportions out. Peter's cheeks were 
naturally full and round. He never wore the coat of pale 
blue gros de Tours, silver-trimmed, nor the sword-belt 
embroidered to match, and the silver-clocked poppy-coloured 
stockings, in which the figure is dressed up, but once in all 
his life. That was at Moscow, in 1724, on the day of 
Catherine's Coronation. She had worked with her own hands 
on the splendid garment, and he consented to wear it for 
the occasion. But he kept to his old cobbled shoes. The 
rest of his authentic and everyday garments are placed in 
two wardrobes which surround the throne — itself a mock 
one, on which the lay figure is seated. There is a thick cloth 
cloak, worn threadbare, a hat devoid of lace, pierced by a 
bullet at Poltava, and some grey woollen stockings, full of 
darns. In the corner stands the famous doubina, a fairly 
thick ivory-headed rattan cane, with which we shall make 
closer acquaintance. 

The sovereign's intimate circle frequently saw him in his 
shirt-sleeves, for, even at table, he never scrupled to take off 
his coat if he was too hot. Restraint, of any kind, he never 
would endure. 

1 Lundblad, Life of Charles XII. (German Translation. Jenssen-Tuch, 
Hamburg, 1837), vol. i. p. 86. 



' The soul's joy lies in doing.' The greatest of northern 
poets was swift to recognise the hero of that mighty series 
of brilliant exploits, the image of which I would fain evoke, 
and has summed him up — his temperament, his character, 
and almost all his genius — in those few words. As Posselt 
says, 'In TJiatendrange war sein wahres Genie'': — Yes; his 
strength, his greatness, and his ultimate success, were all 
of them due to that vrtal__energy which made him, both 
physically and morally, the most turbulent man, the most 
indifferent to fatigue, the most intensely sensible of the joy 
of action, whom the world has ever seen. Nothing more 
natural than that the legends should have described him as 
a supposititious child, the son of foreign parents. His whole 
nature appears utterly _at varia nce with the surroundings 
into which he was born. He has no^preju dices, and his 
Russian subjects brim over with them. THeyare fanatics in 
their own religion ; he is almost a Free-thinker. They look 
askance at every novelty ; he is never weary of innova- 
tions. They are fatalists ; he, an originating force. They 
worship form and ceremony ; he views all such things with 
an almost cynical scorn. Finally, and above all, they are 
indolent, lazy, emotionless, — frozen, as it were, into a per- 
petual winter, or slumbering in some everlasting dream. 
He, driven by the feverish love of movement and of labour, 
which I have already described, wakes them roughly from 
their torpor, and their sluggish inactivity, with downright 
blows, falling on them with sticks, and, not unfrequently, 
with axes. It would be interesting to follow his perpetual 
comings and goings, even during the space of a few months. 
Cast a mere glance over the list of his correspondence with 
Catherine — some 223 letters, published, in 1861, by the Minis- 
try for Foreign Affairs. The various dates — from Lemberg 
in Galicia, from Marienwerder in Prussia, from Tsaritsin on 
the Volga, — in the south of his empire, from Vologda, in the 
north, from Berlin, Paris, Copenhagen — make the brain reel. 
One moment he is in the depths of Finland inspecting 
forests ; then again in the Ural inspecting mines. Soon he 
is in Pomerania, taking part in a siege ; in the Ukraine, 
where he is occupied in breeding sheep ; at the brilliant 


Court of some German prince, where he acts as his own 
Ambassador ; and then, suddenly, in the Bohemian moun- 
tains, where he enacts the part of a private tourist. On the 
6th of July, 171 5, I find him at St. Petersburg, about to put 
to sea with his fleet. On the 9th he is back again in his 
capital, sending the Montenegrins a consolatory letter con- 
cerning the excesses committed on them by the Turks, 
signing a convention with the Prussian Minister, and giving 
Menshikof instructions as to the preservation of the timber 
in the neighbourhood of the town. On the 12th he is at 
Revel : on the 20th he has rejoined his fleet at Kronstadt, 
and has forthwith embarked with it. 1 And so on, year in 
and year out, from the beginning to the end of his life. He 
is always in a hurry : he makes his coachman drive full 
gallop ; when he is on foot he never walks — he runs. 

When did he take his rest, then ? It is not easy to con- 
ceive. He would sit far into the night, glass in hand, but 
even then he was discussing, holding forth, trying his guests 
sorely, from time to time, with his sudden changes from 
gaiety to ill-humour, his sallies, his ill-bred jokes, and fits of 
fury ; and he would give audiences at four o'clock in the 
morning. This was the hour for which he summoned his 
two Ambassadors, Ostermann and Boutourlin, before send- 
ing them to Stockholm, after the conclusion of peace with 
Sweden, in 1721. He received them, garbed in a short 
dressing-gown, below which his bare legs were exposed, a 
thick nightcap, lined with linen, on his head — for he per- 
spired violently — and his stockings dropped down over 
his slippers. According to his orderly officer, he had been 
walking about for a considerable time, awaiting the arrival 
of the two gentlemen. Forthwith he fell upon them, ques- 
tioned them closely, and in every direction, to make sure 
they thoroughly knew what they were about, and then, having 
dismissed them, dressed hastily, swallowed a glass of vodka 
(Russian brandy), and hurried off to his dockyards. 2 

Even the pleasures he permitted himself — banquets, illumi- 
nations, masquerades — imposed extra labour on him ; he 
took more pains than actual relaxation, letting off his own 
fireworks, directing the order of processions, beating the big 
drum — for he was drum-major among other things — and 
leading the dances, for he had made a study of the chore- 

1 Golikof, vol. vi. pp. 33, 35, 321. " Scherer, vol. iii. p. 267. 


graphic art. In 1722 at Moscow, at the wedding of Count 
Golovin with the daughter of Prince Romodanovski, he 
performed the duties of the house-steward. The heat 
having become oppressive, he had the necessary tools for 
opening a window brought to him, and thus employed him- 
self for half an hour. He went about gravely, carrying the 
staff, which was his sign of office, pirouetted before the 
bride, remained standing during the feast, directing the 
waiting, and ate nothing himself until all was over. 1 He 
gave personal and active attention to the treatment of his 
negro page, who suffered from taenia.- 

But indeed his favourite occupation, even in his hours of 
recreation, was work, perpetual work. Thus he engraved 
on copper, and turned in ivory. In May 171 1, the French 
envoy Baluze, to whom he had granted audience at Jaworow, 
in Poland, found him in the garden, in the company of a 
fair lad\'. He was pushing his suit with a charming Pole, 
Madame Sieniawska, and meanwhile, saw and plane in hand, 
he was busily engaged in building a boat ! 3 

Nothing but illness, and consequent sheer inability to 
move, would induce him to cease, or even diminish, this wild 
expenditure of strength. And if this did occur, he was full 
of distress and regret, showering apologies on those who 
worked under him. ' Let them not,' so he writes, ' fancy he 
was idle ; he was really incapable of moving, quite worn 
out.' And even while complaining and chafing against this 
condition of enforced inaction, — as, for example, in 1708, 
during a violent attack of scorbutic fever, — he would per- 
sonally direct the repression of a Cossack revolt on the Don, 
the victualling of his armies, the building operations of 
various kinds already begun in his capital, and a mass of 
other details of every kind. 4 

Not one escapes him. At Archangel, on the Dvina, lie 
takes it into his head to inspect every one of the boats 
which carry the rustic pottery, made in the neighbourhood, 
to the market. So vigorously does he set about it, that he 
ends by tumbling into the hold of one vessel, and smashing 

1 Bergholz's Journal, Biischings-Magasin, vol. xx. p. 462 ; Ilyncrof, The 
Countess Golovkin (St. Petersburg, 1S67), p. 102, etc. 

- For this anecdote, with its coarse details, see Poushkin's Works, 1S7S 
edition, vol. v. p. 27S. 

J Despatch from Baluze to the King, May 12, 1711, French Foreign Office. 

4 Golikof, vol. iii. p. 301. 


a whole cargo of the fragile ware. 1 In January, 1722, at 
Moscow, after a night in carnival time, spent in driving from 
house to house in his sledge, singing carols after the manner 
of his country, and gathering a harvest of small coins, besides 
swallowing numerous glasses of wine, beer, and vodka, he 
hears, early in the morning, that a fire has broken out in a 
distant quarter. Thither he flies at once, and for two whole 
hours does fireman's duty ; after which he mounts his sledge 
again, and is seen tearing along as if he really desired to 
break his horses down. Be it remarked that he is occupied, 
at that same moment, with a serious change in the higher 
administration of his empire. He is about to break up his 
' council of revision,' the duties of which are to be trans- 
ferred to the Senate, besides which, he must shortly give 
orders concerning the funeral of a regimental major. 2 

In 172 1, when he undertook the work of drawing up his 
Navy_Fiegulations, he laid out a plan for the employment 
of his time,~tcTwhich he closely adhered. According to his 
Journal, he wrote, during four days of the week, for fourteen 
hours a day, — from five in the morning till noon, and from 
four in the afternoon till eleven at night. This lasted from 
January to December 1721. 3 The MS. of these Regula- 
tions, entirely in his hand, and full of corrections, is now 
amonest the Moscow archives. These also contain rough 
copies, written by the Tsar, which prove that a great number 
of the diplomatic documents respecting the Northern war, 
signed by the Chancellor Golovin, were directly inspired, 
and originally written, by his master. And the same 
may be said of the majority of the memorandums and 
important despatches signed by his ordinary political col- 
laborators, Golovin, Sheremetief, and General Weyde, and 
yet more so in regard to the legislative and administrative 
work of his whole reign — the creation of the army and 
the fleet, the development of commerce and industry, the 
establishment of mills and factories, the organisation of 
justice, the repression of official corruption, the constitution 
of the national economy. He wrote all minutes, often 
several times over, drew up all schemes, and frequently 

1 Staehlin's Anecdotes, p. 1 10. 

2 Bergholz's Journal, Busckings-Magazin, vol, xx. p. 360; Writings ami 
Correspondence, vol. i. p. 81 1. 

3 Golikof, vol. ix. p. 27. 


several editions of the same scheme. This did not prevent 
him from attending to all the details of the management of 
his own house, and even of the houses of his kinsfolk : as 
when, for example, he fixed the quantity and quality of 
the brandy to be supplied to his sister-in-law, the Tsarina 
Prascovia. 1 

And yet in spite, and even because of it all, he was 
the true son of his country and of his race, and I, for my 
part, would readily stake my reputation on my certainty 
of his Russian origin. He corresponded to a certain phase 
of the national life, which clearly seems to betray the in- 
fluence of the special conditions of physical existence in these 
latitudes. In Russia, after long and cruel winters, there 
come late and sudden springs, which instantly cover the 
waking earth with verdure, in a sudden explosion, as it were, 
of vernal forces. The same springtime awakenings, the same 
rushes of energetic growth, stir the souls of the men who 
inhabit these countries. The length and rigour of the winter 
season, which condemns them to a certain slothfulness of 
existence, make them indolent, without, as in hot Eastern 
countries, making them effeminate. Mind and spirit are 
braced, rather, by the enforced struggle with inclement and 
ungrateful nature. When the sun returns, the swiftly work- 
ing elements must be swiftly followed, so as to crowd the 
work of several months into the space of a few weeks. This 
fact brings forth special physical and moral habits, — special 
aptitudes too ; and of these habits and aptitudes Peter is 
simply a particularly powerful expression. Such exceptional 
extremes as he may betray in these respects are doubtless the 
survival of the savage elementary forces, peculiar to the epic 
heroes of the Russian legend, — superhuman giants all, who 
bore the heavy burden of an excess of vigour they could not 
use, — wearied out by their own strength ! 

Peter, when he passes out of our sight, will leave the 
Raskohiiks, who seek to relieve themselves of the same 
burden by galloping to and fro, on January nights, barefoot 
and in their shirts, and rolling in the snow.' 2 

1 Siemievski, The Tsarina Prascovia (St. Petersburg, 1 883), note to p. 5S. 
'-' Solovief, History of Russia, vol, >;iii, p. 166, etc, 



Did Peter's energy, and his enterprising — nay, his extra- 
ordinarily venturesome — genius, equal his coiifagc? 

He never sought danger, like his great Swedish adversary, 
—never found pleasure in it. In his earlier days, he gives us 
the impression of being a downright .coward^ My readers 
will not have forgotten his precipitate flight, on the night 
of August 6th, 1689, and his far from heroic -appearance 
at the Troltsa. The same thing came to pass in 1700, 
under the walls of Narva : — In spite of the most ingenious 
explanations and apologies, the hideous fact remains. At 
the news of the unexpected approach of the King of Sweden, 
the Tsar left his army, made over the command to an as yet 
untried, and newly-enlisted Chief, to whom he gave written 
instructions, which bore traces, according to all competent 
judges, not of ignorance only, but of the greatest perturbation 
of mind. ' He is no soldier,' was the outspoken comment of 
the Saxon General Hallart, who saw him on this occasion, 
in the tent of the new Commander-in-Chief, the Prince de 
Croy, sca£e_d _put of his wits, and half distracted, making loud 
laments, and drinking~bumper after bumper of brandy to 
pull himself together, — forgetting to date his written orders, 
or to have his official seal affixed to them. 1 Peter, in his own 
journal, has given us to understand that he was unaware 
of Charles Xll.'s rapid march, and this flagrant falsehood 
amounts to an acknowledgment of his weakness. 

Yet, he did his duty bravely at Poltava, exposing his 
person in the hottest of the struggle. 2 To this he made up 
his mind beforehand, as to any other trying and painful 
experience, showing no eagerness, but yet betraying no 
weakness, coldly, almost mournfully. There was nothing of 
the paladin about him, not a spark of the spirit of chivalry ; 
and, in that point also, he was essentially Russian. Ill, and 
confined to his bed, early in that same year, he wrote to 
Mcnshikof, in a somewhat melancholy strain, desiring to be 

1 Documents published by Herrmann, in his History of Russia, vol. iv. p. 1 16 ; 
Vockerodl's Journal, published by Herrmann, Russland unter Peter </. G. 
(1872), p. 42; and Kelch, Lieflandische Gcscliichtc (1875), vol. ii. p. 156. All 
agree on this head. 

2 This is acknowledged even by Swedish historians. See Lundblad, vol. ii. 
p. 141. 



warned whenever there was any certainty of a decisive action, 
for he ' could not expect,' he said, ' to escape that sort of 
affair.' His mind once made up, all the risks of the 
adventure, personal and other, seem equalised in his mind. 
He calculated them all, with the same composure, and 
accepted whatever came, with the same calmness of mind. 
When, in 17 13, Vice- Admiral Cruys, desiring to prevent the 
Sovereign from exposing his person in a dangerous cruise, 
referred to recent catastrophes, and instanced the story of a 
Swedish Admiral who had been blown up with his ship, 
Peter wrote on the margin of his report, 'The okolnitcJiyi 
Zassiekin strangled himself with a pig's ear ... I neither 
advise nor order any one to run into danger ; but to accept 
money, and then not to give service, is a shameful action.' 
The idea of service owed, of duty, was always before him, 
like a landmark, — beckoning him to climb the steep and 
rugged slope of virile virtue, and heroic sacrifice. But his 
progress towards the summit was always slow. This man, 
who proved himself, in the end, one of the most intrepid, the 
most resolute, and the most stubborn in the world, was also, 
at certain moments, one of the most easily discouraged, 
and, on some critical occasions, one of the most chicken- 
hearted. -N a-puLeo n, — another great man, compact of nerves, 
— was subject, in moments of .failure, to the same sudden and 
passing fits of we akness , and the same quick revulsions of 
spirit, which brought him back, like a flash, to self-possession, 
and to the power of using his faculties and resources, still all 
aflame with excitement, and thus multiplied tenfold. But, 
in Peter's case, the proportions of the phenomenon were far 
more marked. When he heard of the defeat of his army 
under the walls of Narva, he disguised himself as a ^peasant, 
so as the more easily to escape from the enemy, which he 
fancied already on his heels. He shed floods of tears, and 
fell into such a prostrate condition, that no one dared mention 
military matters to him. He was ready to submit to any 
conditions of peace, even the most humiliating. 1 Two years 
later, he was before Noteburg, a paltry town to which he 
had laid siege with his whole army. An assault, led by him- 
self in person, not being so successful, at the outset, as he 

1 Voekerodt, who describes this scene, may have exaggerated, but (he multi- 
plicity of analogous traits in existence would appear to me conclusive in his 


had hoped, he hastily gave orders to retreat. ' Tell the Tsar,' 
replied Michael Galitzin, a Lieutenant-Colonel in command 
of a detachment of the Siemionovski, ' that at this moment 
I belong to Peter no longer, but to God ! ' According to 
some other witnesses, the Tsar's order was never delivered ; 
but with it or without it, and, it may even be, without having 
dropped the heroic sentence enshrined in legend, Galitzin 
continued the attack, and carried the place. 1 

To a much later date, and even after Poltava, Peter was 
unchanged, in this respect. The occurrence on the Pruth, to 
which I shall later have to refer, proves it. He was an 
almost parodoxical mixture of strength and weakness, in 
which the conflict of contradictory constituent elements may 
be clearly traced. Unflinching in his attachment to the 
great lines of a life and work, which, for unity and con- 
sistency, form one of the marvels of history, he was 
inconstancy and versatility personified, in all matters of 
detail. His ideas and resolutions, like his temper, changed 
suddenly, like a gust of wind. He was essentially a man of 
impulse. During his French journey, in 17 17, a chorus 
of complaint rose from all those who had dealings with him, 
concerning his perpetual change of plans. No one ever 
knew what he might take it into his head to do on the 
morrow, or even within the next hour, — whither he might 
choose to go, — and how to travel. Nowhere could the 
length of his stay be reckoned on, never could the pro- 
gramme be laid out in advance, even for a single day. This 
quality is eminently characteristic of the Slavonic race, that 
most composite product of different and various origins, 
cultures, and influences, both European and Asiatic. To 
these, perhaps, it partly owes that power of resistance and 
extraordinary grit, of which it has given proof in under- 
takings which have necessarily been of considerable duration. 
The frequent relaxing of the spring relieves it, and prevents 
its wearing out. But this mixture of suppleness and rigidity 
may also exist as an individual characteristic. It has been 
very evident in the case of some historical imitators of the 
great Reformer, and would almost seem destined by Provi- 
dence, as a means of husbanding their strength. It rendered 
Peter admirable service, even in matters involving most 
important interests. The facility with which he would 
1 Oiutrialof, vol. iv. pp. 197-202. 


change front, — turning his back on Turkey, to face Sweden, 
— abandoning his projects in the Sea of Azof, to turn his 
mind towards the Baltic, — but throwing himself, always and 
everywhere, thoroughly into the matter in hand, without 
ever dispersing his efforts, — certainly proceeded from it. So, 
too, did the very great facility with which — in matters of 
detail — he would acknowledge a personal error of judgment, 
or fault in practice. When, in 1722, he revoked the Ukase 
by which he had introduced the Presidents of the Adminis- 
trative Bodies into the Senate, which was a legislative 
assembly, he unaffectedly described it as ' an ill-considered 
measure.' This did not prevent him, on other occasions, 
from holding out against wind and tide, against all other 
opinions, and all extraneous influences. No man ever knew 
better what he wanted, and how to have it done. The 
inscription 'Facta puto qucecumque jubeo ' which some student 
of Ovid placed on one of the medals struck in commemora- 
tion of the great events of this reign, was the most appropriate 
motto the Tsar could have chosen. 

It should be noted, that in his mistakes and in his failures, 
it was his brain alone, always, that was at fault — feeling 
had nothing at all to do with it. Peter was absolutely 
devoid of sentiment. That weakness for Menshikof and other 
favourites, which so offends us, would appear to be simply 
the outcome of miscalculation. He had a very high opinion 
of the intellectual standard of certain of his collaborators. 
His opinion of their moral standard, in the case of every 
one, was of the very lowest. Menshikof was a rascal, in his 
eyes, but a rascal who was also a genius. In the case of 
the others, whose genius was not sufficient to compensate 
him for their peccadilloes, he could, even when they were his 
closest friends, prove himself very firm, and even exceedingly 
harsh. He coolly informed one of them, Andrew Vinnius, 
that he had removed him from his position at the head of 
the Postal Administration, because he felt convinced that he 
had, while occupying that post, enriched himself and cheated 
the State, more than was fair and reasonable. But this 
implied no change in his favour, ' No favourite of mine 
shall lead me by the nose,' he asserted on this occasion. 1 

I have never seen any instance of such absolute insensi- 
bility of feeling. During the course of the trial of his son 

1 Letter, dated April 16, 1701, Writings and Correspondence, vol. i. p. 444. 


Alexis — the incidents of which might well have moved 
him — he had strength, time, and inclination to give his 
attention both to his usual amusements, and to other State 
business, which demanded all his clearness of mind. A 
great number of Ukases relating to the preservation of the 
Forests, the management of the Mint, the organisation of 
various industrial establishments, the Customs, the Raskol, 
and Agriculture, bear dates coeval with those of some of 
the gloomiest episodes in that terrible judicial drama. And 
at the same time, none of the anniversaries which the Tsar 
was accustomed to celebrate, with much pomp and noise, 
were forgotten or neglected. Banquets, masquerades and 
fireworks, all pursued their course. 

He had an immense fund of unalterable gjuety, and a 
great love of social intercourse. In certain respects, his 
character and temperament remained that of a child, even in 
his ripe age. He had all the naive cheerfulness, the effusive- 
ness, and the simplicity of youth. Whenever any lucky 
event happened to him, he could not refrain from announcing 
his delight to all those who, as he thought, should take an 
interest in it. Thus he would write fifty letters at a sitting, 
about a military achievement of very second-rate import- 
ance — as, for example, the taking of Stettin in 1 7 1 3. 1 All his 
life he was easily amused. He was seen at Dresden in 171 1, 
mounted on a hobby horse, shouting ' Quicker ! quicker ! ' 
and laughing till he cried when one of his companions 
turned giddy and fell off. 2 At the popular rejoicings which 
followed the conclusion of the Peace of Nystadt, in 1720, he 
behaved like a schoolboy on a holiday. He pranced and 
gesticulated in the middle of the crowd, jumped on the 
tables, and sang at the top of his voice. To the last days of 
his life, he loved teasing and rough play, delighted in coarse 
pleasantries, and was always ready for a practical joke. In 
1723, he caused the tocsin to be sounded in the night, turned 
all the inhabitants of St. Petersburg — where fires were 
frequent, and terrible in their results — out of their beds, and 
could not contain himself for joy, when, rushing half dis- 
tracted in the direction of the supposed disaster, they came 
upon a brazier, lighted, by his orders, in a public square, 
by soldiers, who laughed in their faces, and greeted them 

1 ( lolikof, vol. v. p. 543. 

- Archiv fUr Sacksiscke Gesckickte, vol. xi. p. 345. 


with shouts of ' April fool's day ! ' 1 One day, when sitting 
at table with the Duke of Holstein, he praised the curative 
qualities of the waters of Olonets, which he had used for 
several years. The duke's minister, Bassevvitz, expressed 
his intention of following his example. The Tsar, with a 
mighty blow upon the diplomat's fat round back, cried out, 
' What ! pour water into such a cask ! Come, come ! ' 

How was it then, in spite of his cheerful qualities, that he 
inspired mere fear than affection ? How was it that his 
death came as a relief to all around him ? — the end of a 
painful nightmare, of a reign of terror and constraint. In 
the first place, on account of those habits of his, which bore 
the mark of the society in which he had lived since child- 
hood, and of the occ-upattons in which he had always found 
the most delight. To the roughness of a Russian barin, he 
joined all the coarseness of a Dutch sailor. Further, he was 
•violent, and frequently hasty, just as he was often cowardly ; 
ancftrTis arose from the same cause, the same radical vice of 
his moral constitution — his total lack of self-control. The 
power of his will was, more often than not, inferior to the 
impetuosity of his temperament, and that will, which always 
met with prompt obedience in external matters, could not, 
consequently perhaps, sufficiently restrain the surging tumult 
of his instincts and his passions. The extreme servility of 
those about him contributed to the development of this 
innate disposition. ' He has never been over polite,' writes 
the Saxon Minister Lefort, 3 in his Journal, in May 172 1, 'but 
he grows more and more intolerable every day. Happy is 
the man who is not obliged to approach him.' 4 The progress 
of this fault was so gradual as to be almost insensible. In 
September 1698, at a banquet given in honour of the 
Emperor's Envoy, Guarient, the Tsar lost his temper with 
his Generalissimo, Shein, in the matter of certain army 
promotions, of which he disapproved. He struck the table 
with his naked sword, exclaiming, ' Thus I will cut the whole 
of thy regiment to pieces, and I will pull thine own skin over 
thine ears ! ' When Romodanovski and Zotof attempted to 

1 Bergholz, Journal, Biischings-Magazin, vol. xxi. p. 238. 

2 Ibid., vol. xx. p. 387. 

3 This Lefort must not be confounded with the favourite, who will be referred 
to later ; the relationship between the two is somewhat disputed. 

4 Collected Woi'ks of the Imperial Russian Historical Society (Sbornik), 
vol. iii. p. 333. 


interfere, he flew at them. One had his fingers almost cut 
off, the other received several wounds on the head. Lefort 
— or, as some other witnesses declare, Menshikof — was the 
only person who could succeed in calming him. 1 But, only 
a few days later, when supping with Colonel Tchambers, he 
knocked that same Lefort down, and trampled on him, and 
when Menshikof ventured, at some entertainment, to wear 
his sword, while he was dancing, he boxed his ears so soundly 
that the favourite's nose began to bleed. 2 In 1703, taking 
offence at the remarks addressed to him, in public, by the 
Dutch Resident, he gave immediate proof of his displeasure, 
by a blow from his fist, and several more with the fiat of 
his sword. 3 No notice was taken of this outburst ; the 
Diplomatic Corps in the Tsar's capital having long since 
learnt to make a virtue of necessity. The Raab family, 
resident in Esthonia, still preserves a cane with which Peter, 
enraged at not finding horses at the neighbouring posting- 
house, wreaked his fury on the back of the proprietor of the 
country-house. This gentleman, having demonstrated his 
innocence, was permitted to keep the cane by way of com- 
pensation. 4 And again, Ivan Savitch Brykin, the ancestor 
of the celebrated archaeologist Sneguiref, used to tell a story 
that he had seen the Tsar kill a servant, who had been slow 
about uncovering in his presence, with blows from his cane/' 
Even in his correspondence, the Sovereign would occasionally 
get into a fury, and lose all self-control ; as, for example, 
when he fell on the unfortunate competitor of Augustus II., 
Leszczynski, and called him 'traitor, and son of a thief,' in 
a letter which ran more than the ordinary risk of not being 
treated as confidential. 


The dxinidngrbouts in which the Tsar habitually indulged 
had a great deal to do with the frequency of these outbreaks. 
' He never passed a single day without being the worse 

1 Oustrialof, vol. iii. p. 625 ; vol. iv. p. 211. 

2 Korb, pp. 84, 86. 

:; Despatch from Baluze, Nov. 28, 1703, French Foreign Office. 
4 Russian State Papers, vol. ii. pp. 249 and 390. 
"' Popof, Tatihtehef and his 7 imes (Moscow, 1861). p. 531. 
,; Memoirs, vol. ii. p. 66. 


for drink,' so Baron Pollnitz affirms, in his account of the 
Sovereign's visit to Berlin in 17 17. 

On the morning of the nth July 1705, Peter, who was 
paying a visit to the Monastery of the Basilian Fathers at 
Polock, paused before the statue of the illustrious martyr of 
the Order, the blessed Jehosaphat, who was represented 
with a hatchet sticking in his skull. He desired an explana- 
tion. ■ Who put that holy man to death ? ' said he. The 
monks answered, ' The Schismatics.' That single word drove 
him beside himself. He thrust with his sword at Father 
Kozikowski, the Superior, and killed him. His officers 
threw themselves on the other monks. Three were killed 
outright ; two others, mortally wounded, died a few days 
later. The monastery was sacked, the church was dese- 
crated and used as a military store. A contemporary 
description sent from Polock to Rome, and published in the 
Uniate Churches there, gave various horrible and disgusting 
details. The Tsar was described as having called his Eng- 
lish mastiff to worry the first victim. He was said to have 
ordered the breasts of certain women, whose sole crime had 
consisted in being present at the horrible scene and having 
testified their terror and emotion, to be cut off. There was 
a certain amount of exaggeration about this, but the facts 
I have already indicated are quite unshaken. A first draft 
of the Journal of the Swedish War, prepared by Makarof, 
the Tsar's Secretary, contained this laconic mention of the 
incident: 'Went on the 30th of June (nth July) to the 
Uniate Church at Polock, and killed six monks for having 
spoken of our generals as heretics.' Peter struck the entry 
out with his own hand, and thus strengthened the acknow- 
ledgment of the fact. On one point every description of the 
incident is agreed. Peter, when he went to the Basilian 
Church, was in a state of intoxication. He had only just 
quitted some nocturnal orgy. 1 

He never failed indeed, once the wine had died out in 
him, to regret the harm done, and endeavour to repair it. 
His repentance was as easy as his wrath was swift. In May 
1703 I find these significant lines, written by his own hand, 
in a billet addressed to Feodor Apraxin : ' I know not how 
I left you, for I was too much overwhelmed by the gifts 

1 See, on this subject, Theiner, Monuments, p. 412 ; Dom (hu'pin, Vie de 
Josaphat (Paris, 1S74), vol. ii. p. 430; Oustrialof, vol. iv. p. y]^. 


of Bacchus ; wherefore I beg you all to forgive me if I 
caused distress to any of you, . . . and to forget all that 
is past.' 

He frequently drank to excess, and insisted that those 
who had the honour of sitting at table with him should do 
the same. At Moscow, and, in later years, at St. Petersburg, 
the complaints of the Diplomatic Body on this subject were 
never-ending. It was a positive danger to life. Even the 
very women of the Tsar's circle were subject to the common 
rule, and Peter would find unanswerable arguments to force 
them to bear him company, glass in hand. The daughter 
of Shafirof, his Vice-Chancellor, a baptized Jew, refused a 
goblet of brandy. ' Vile Hebrew spawn,' he shouted, ' I '11 
teach thee to obey ! ' and he punctuated his remarks with 
two hearty boxes on the ear. 1 

He was always in the forefront of the -revel, but so robust 
was his constitution, that though, in the end, his health 
broke down, his excesses often left him steady in body, and 
clear in mind, while legs were trembling, and senses reeled, 
in the case of every one around him. On this fact another 
legend has been built. This perpetual and almost systematic 
debauch was, we are told, an instrument of government, 
a means of reading the most secret thoughts of his guests, 
to which the great man deliberately resorted. A somewhat 
shady expedient, if indeed, this were true. In any other 
country the Sovereign who attempted such a game would 
have risked his authority, and his prestige. And even in 
Russia, the political benefit would not have outweighed the 
moral loss, — that degradation of the whole of society, of 
which local customs still bear some trace. My readers will 
remember the story of the toast, 'A toi ! France ! ' proposed in 
the presence of Louis xv. by a guest who had been carried 
away by the freedom of some too familiar merrymaking. 
' Gentlemen, the King is here ! ' answered the monarch, thus 
recalled to a sense of his dignity. And no more such 
festivities took place. But Peter allowed himself to be 
addressed in the second person singular, every day of his 
life, in a constant succession of such entertainments. If 
any one went too far, and it suited him to take notice of the 
fact, the only means of repression he would ever resort to 
took the shape of an enormous bumper of brandy, which the 
1 Weber's Correspondence (published by Herrmann, 1S80), p. 173. 


offender was forced to swallow at a single draught. This 
was perfectly certain to put an end to his pranks, for, as a 
general rule, it sent him under the table. 1 

I should be sorry, indeed, to admit that all this shows any 
trace of a deep-seated idea or deliberate design. I can see 
nothing that would lead to such an opinion. I am, on the 
contrary, struck by the fact, that, especially towards the end 
of his reign, the more and more frequent recurrence of the 
prolonged and extravagant orgies in which the Sovereign so 
delighted did not fail to considerably prejudice the conduct 
of State affairs. ' The Tsar,' writes the Saxon Minister, 
Lefort, on the 22d of August 1724, 'has kept his room for 
the last six days, being ill in consequence of the debauches 
which took place at the Tsarskai'a-Mysa (the TsarskoTe- 
Sielo of the present day) on the occasion of his baptizing a 
church, with 3000 bottles of wine. This has delayed his 
journey to Kronstadt.' 2 In January, 1725, the negotiations 
for the first Franco-Russian alliance received a sudden 
check. The French Envoy, Campredon, much disturbed, 
pressed the Russian Chancellor, Ostermann, and ended by 
dragging from him this expressive admission : ' It is utterly 
impossible, at the present moment, to approach the Tsar on 
serious subjects ; he is altogether given up to his amuse- 
ments, which consist in going every day to the principal 
houses in the town, with a suite of 200 persons, musicians 
and so forth, who sing songs on every sort of subject, and 
amuse themselves by eating and drinking at the expense of 
the persons they visit.' 3 Even at an earlier period, during 
the most active and heroic epoch in his life, Peter would 
make these temporary disappearances, and thus bear testi- 
mony to the faults of his early education. In December 
1707, when Charles XII. was making his preparations for the 
decisive campaign which was to carry him into the very 
heart of Russia, the defensive efforts of the whole country 
were paralysed, because the Tsar was at Moscow amusing 
himself. Courier after courier did Menshikof despatch, 
entreating him to rejoin his army. He never even broke 

1 Scherer, vol. v. p. 28. 

- Sbornik, vol. iii. p. 382. 

:: Despatch, dated Jan. 9, 1725, French Foreign Office. See also, in agree- 
ment, a letter from the Dutch Resident, De Bie, to the Secretary ol the Slates- 
General, Fagel, dated Dec. 3, 17 17, Dutch Archives. 


the seals of the packets, and went on making merry. 1 He 
could stop himself short in a moment, it must be allowed, 
and he had a genius for making up for lost time. But it 
can hardly be said that it was for the sake of the internal 
affairs of his country that he thus forgot, during many weeks, 
to make war against his terrible adversary. 


Coarse tastes naturally go hand-in-hand with public- 
house morals. In the society of women, to which he was 
always partial, what PeteFseems tcThave cared for most, was 
mere vulgar debauchery. And especially he loved to see 
his female companions drunk. Catherine herself, according 
to Bassewitz, was ' a first-rate toper,' and owed much of her 
success to that fact. On gala days, at Court, the sexes were 
generally separated, and Peter always reserved to himself 
the privilege of entering the ladies' banqueting-room, where 
the Tsarina presided, and where nothing that she could do 
to render the spectacle agreeable to the master's eye 
was neglected. But in more intimate gatherings, the meal 
was shared by both sexes, and then the close of the festivi- 
ties took a character worthy of the feasts of Sardanapalus. 
The clergy , too, had their place in these banquets, at which 
they were frequently to be seen. Peter had a particular 
liking for sitting near these ecclesia stical d ignitar ies. He 
would mingle the most unexpected theologicaluiscussions, 
with his most copious libations, and would apply the 
regulation punishment of a huge bumper of brandy, to the 
errors of doctrine which he loved to detect, — whereupon, now 
and again, the controversialists would come to blows, to his 
huge delight. His favourite guests — Dutch sea-captains 
and merchants — were by no means the humblest of the com- 
panions with whom he would sit at table, and familiarly 
clink his glass. At Dresden, in 171 1, at the Golden Ring, 
his favourite lounge was the serving-men's room, and he 
breakfasted with them in the courtyard.' 2 

There was nothing delicate, n othing refi ned, about Peter. 
At Amsterdam, during his first visit there, he fell in love 

1 Essipof, Life of Menshikof (Russian State Papers, t S 7 5 ) . p. 52. 

2 Archiv fiir Sachsische Gesckickte, vol. xi. p. 345. 


with Testje-Roen, a celebrated clown, who gave open-air 
performances, and whose silly jokes were the delight of the 
lowest populace, and would have carried him off with him 
to Russia. 1 

He was a boor. In certain respects, he never, to his last 
day, lost any of his native savagery. But was he a cruel 
savage ? This has been affirmed. Nothing, apparently, 
could be more clearly established, than his reputation for 
ferocity ; yet, this matter should be looked into. He was 
frequently present in the torture-chamber — where prisoners 
were submitted to the question, the strappado, or the knout 
— and also at executions in the public squares, when all the 
apparatus for inflicting the most revolting torments was 
openly displayed. It is even believed that he did not always 
play the part of a mere spectator. I shall have occasion to 
return to this point, with reference to the terrible scenes 
which closed the existence of the Streltsy. But any dis- 
cussion on this matter strikes me as idle. He may occasion- 
ally have acted the part of executioner. Why not ? He 
was already familiar with the sailor's trade, and with the 
carpenter's, and he did not feel — he was not capable of 
feeling — any difference. He was merely the man in whose 
person the greatest number of functions were united, in a 
country where the accumulation of functions was a feature of 
public life. The name of the executor of his principal works 
in St. Petersburg, also figures on the lists of his Court 
Jesters ! 2 

Did Peter, then, actually cut off men's heads ? It may be. 
But did he find pleasure in the act? That, too, is 
probable; — the pleasure he found in doing anything, the joy 
of Qction^—-h\\t there it ends. I do not believe one word of 
the story told by Frederick the Great to Voltaire, about the 
meal during which, in presence of the King of Prussia's 
Envoy, Baron Von Printzen, the Tsar amused himself by 
decapitating twenty Streltsy, emptying as many glasses of 
brandy between each stroke, and finally inviting the Prussian 
to follow his example. 3 Round every trait of Peter's 
character, and every chapter of his history, innumerable tales 
have thus clustered, which should be put aside a prion, for 
no other reason but that of their evident a bsurdi ty. As 

1 Scheltema. Anecdotes, p. 157. - Siemievski, S/oro i Dielo, p. 262. 

:; Voltaire's Works, vol. x. p. 71. 


regards the rest, they deserve careful investigation. I have 
already referred to my own habitual guide — an agreement 
of general data, which, in spite of some diversity in detail, 
all tend steadily, and precisely, in the same direction. Now, 
I can discover nothing, in Peter's case, which would point to 
the authentic mark of the reaj__wi]d__±i£ast — the greedy 
delight in inflicting suffering, the downright taste for blood. 
He shows no sign of anything of this kind ; there is not even 
any appearance of an habitual condition of sanguinary fury. 
He is hard, rough, and unfeeling. Su ffering^ in his eyes, is 
a mere fact—like health or sickness— ancT has no more 
effect on him than these ; — therefore I am ready to follow the 
legend so far as to believe that he pursued the men he had 
doomed to death, on to the very scaffold, with reproaches and 
invectives — that he jeered at them, even in their death-agony. 1 
But inaccessible as he is to pity, he is moved, and easily 
moved, by scruple, when reasbhs of State do not seem to 
him to be involved. That famous axiom which has been 
ascribed, with so much praise, to Catherine II. ' It is better 
to set six guilty persons free, than to condemn one innocent v 
man to death,' is no part of the historic legacy of that great 
Sovereign. Before her days, Peter had written it with his 
own hand, and on the page of a Military Regulation ! ' 2 

Some of his contemporaries have, indeed, admitted the 
impossibility of explaining many of his actions, otherwise 
than by the pleasure he seems to find in doing disagreeable 
things to other people, or even by causing actual pain. 
Thus they quote the story of one of his favourites, Admiral 
Golovin, who refused to eat salad because he hated the 
taste of vinegar, which always made him ill. Peter immedi- 
ately emptied a great flask of it down his throat, and almost 
choked him. 3 I am disposed to believe this anecdote, because 
I have heard so many others of the same nature : — delicate 
young girls forced to drink a Grenadier's ration of brandy — 
decrepit old men obliged to prance about the streets, dressed 
up like mountebanks. These things were matters of daily 
occurrence all through Peter's reign. But this fact may 
bear a different interpretation. Peter had adopted certain 

1 Sicmievski, Sloi'o i Dielo, p. 260. 

- Rosenheim, Military Legislation in Russia (St. Petersburg, 187S), p. 155. 
Sec also Filippof, Pel cr the Great's Reform, and his Penal Laws, p. 143, etc. 
;; Korb, as quoted above, p. SS. 


fashions in dress, in food, and in amusement, which he judged 
fitting, and which, because they suited him, must, so he 
argued, suit everybody else. This was his fashion of under- 
standing his autocratic functions, and his duties as a 
Reformer. On that he took his stand. Vinegar, looked at 
from this point of view, was part of the national law, and 
what happened to Golovin, with respect to that condiment, 
was repeated, in the case of others, with regard to cheese, 
oysters, or olive oil — the Tsar never losing an occasion of 
forcing them down the throats of any persons in whom he 
noticed a shrinking from his gastronomic novelties. 1 In the 
same way, having chosen to set his capital in a marsh, and 
to call it 'his Paradise,' he insisted that every one else should 
build houses in the city, and delight, or appear to delight in 
it, as much as he himself. 

Clearly he was not a man of very tender feeling. In 
January 1694, when his mother was lying seriously, and 
even dangerously, ill, he fretted furiously at being kept 
in Moscow, would not endure it, and fixed the day for his 
departure. At the very hour when he should have started, 
her death-agony began, and he lost no time about burying 
her. Neither must I overlook the blood-stained ghost of 
Alexis, and the weeping shadow of Eudoxia. But, even here, 
the circumstances, which, morally speaking, went so far to 
make up the man's character, and certain other facts, — such 
as the terrible events inseparable from any revolutionary 
period, and the rebellious instincts of a nature which would 
brook no contradiction, not forgetting the uncompromising 
nature of his whole policy, the most personal and most self- 
willed that ever existed, — must be taken into account. 

He adored his second son, and his correspondence with 
Catherine — always most affectionate, as far as she is con- 
cerned — teems with expressions proving his constant soli- 
citude for the health and happiness of his two daughters, 
Anne and Elizabeth, whom he jokingly described as 
' thieves,' because they took up his time, but whom he also 
calls 'his bowels ' (Eingeweide). He went every day to their 
school-room, and looked over their lessons. 

He did not shrink from entering the cell of a prisoner, 
one of his former favourites, and informing him that he 
very much regretted being obliged to have his head cut off 
1 Vockerodt, according to Herrmann, p. 19. 


on the following morning. This he did to Mons, in 1724. 
But, so long as his friends appeared to him worthy of his 
friendship, he was not only affectionate, he was coaxing and 
caressing, even to excess. 

In August 1723, at the Fete in commemoration of the 
creation of the Russian Navy — in presence of the 'Ances- 
tress ' (Diedoushka) of his fleet, the English boat found in a 
barn in 1688 — Peter, not altogether sober, it is true, kissed 
the Duke of Holstein on the neck, on the forehead, on the 
head — having first pulled off his wig — and finally, according 
to Bergholz, embraced him in a yet more tender manner. 1 

Even from the point of view with which we are now 
engaged, these peculiarities can hardly be taken to mark 
him as a mere imitation of an Asiatic despot. Something 
better he surely is, both as a Sovereign and as a private 
individual — something quite different, at all events, removed, 
in many respects, from common humanity, above it, or below 
it, but never, either instinctively, or intentionally, inhuman. 
A series of Ukases which bear his signature prove that his 
mind, if not his heart, was open to ideas, if not to sentiments, 
of a gentler kind. In one of these, he claims the title of 
' Protector of Widows, of Orphans, and of the Defenceless."- 2 
The moral centre of gravity, in the case of this great uncon- 
scious idealist, who was also (and his was not a unique case) 
a mighty sensualist, must be sought for on the intellectual 
side. In spite of the natural heat of his temperament, he 
succeeded, on the whole, in the majority of instances, in 
subordinating his sensations to that common law of which 
he had proclaimed himself the Chief Slave — believing that 
he thus acquired the right of bringing all other wills, all 
other intelligences and passions, without distinction, and 
without favour, under its rule. 

1 Buschings-Magazin, vol. xxi. p. 301. 

- Collated Laws, pp. 337, 462, 777, S39, 3279, 3290, 3298, 3608. 



I. Mental capacity — Power and elasticity — Comparison with Napoleon I. — 
Slavonic acceptivity — Intercourse with the Quakers — Law — Curiosity and 
impatience for knowledge — A night spent in a museum — Incoherent and 
rudimentary nature of the knowledge thus acquired — Peter's diplomacy — 
Was he a great leader? — Lack of proportion — Mixture of gravity and 
puerility — Peter as surgeon and dentist — Scientific and artistic creations — 
Peter and the Abbe Bignon. 

II. His clearness and perspicuity of mind — His epistolary style — The Oriental 
touch — Proposal to reconstruct the Colossus of Rhodes — Contradictory 
features — Generosity and meanness — Loyalty and roguery — Modesty and 
love of bragging — History and tradition — The Western spirit of chivalry, 
and the Byzantine influence in Russia — Joan of Arc and Queen Olga — 
bayard and St. Alexander Nevski — Peter's morality — Lack of scruple 
and scorn for convention — Causes and results, 
in. Strength and narrowness of insight — Intellectual short-sightedness — Absence 
of the psychological sense — Disinclination for abstract conception — Want 
of comprehension of the ideal elements of civilisation — Yet he was an 

iy. Love of disguises — Buffoonery — Moral debauch, or political intention — 
The Court jesters — Popular manners — The Tsar's amusements — The ugly 
side of these recreations — Mingling of masquerade and of real life — A 
jester made Keeper of the Seals — Masked senators sit in council. 

v. The mock Patriarchate — 1'heobject of its establishment — Pope or Patriarch ? 
— Did Peter intend to cast ridicule on his clergy? — Origin and develop- 
ment of the institution — The mock Pope and his conclave— Grotesque 
ceremonies and processions — lather Caillaud's habit — The marriage of 
the Knes-papa — The Princess Abbess — Synthesis and explanation of the 
phenomenon — Local causes and foreign influences — Byzantine asceticism 
and Western Satanic practice-; — Moral compression and reaction — Ori- 
ginality, despotic fancy, ami levelling tendencies — Peter and Ivan the 
Terrible — Louis XI. and Falstaff. 

THE brain of Peter the Great was certainly a phenomenal 
organism. Irresistibly, both by its nature and by its force, 
it enforces a comparison with that of .Napoleon J. We note 
the same power of continuous effort, without apparent weari- 



ness, the same spring and flexibility, the same faculty of 
applying itself, at one and the same time, to an indefinite 
number of subjects, all absolutely dissimilar and of most 
unequal importance, without the smallest visible scattering 
of the mental faculties, or anv diminution of the attention 
devoted to each particular object. At Stockerau, near 
Vienna, in 1698, when the Russian Ambassadors were in 
conflict with the Imperial officials over the details of their 
solemn entry into the capital, Peter Mihai'lof, while sharing 
in ail the discussions, which cause him not a little irrita- 
tion, writes orders, to Vinnius, concerning the building 
of a Russian church at Pekin ! In one of his letters to 
Admiral Apraxin, dated September 1706, I find instruc- 
tions for the campaign then in course, directions as to the 
translation of a cargo of Latin books, and advice as to the 
education of a couple of puppies, with the following details 
of what they are to be taught : — ' First, to retrieve ; second, 
to pull off their hats ; third, to present arms ; fourth, to 
jump over a stick ; fifth, to sit up and beg for food.' On 
the 15th of November 1720, writing to Iagoujinski, whom 
he had sent on a mission to Vienna, he holds forth on the 
retrocession of Schleswig to the Duke of Holstein, mentions 
the picture of a pig-faced girl, brought back to Russia by 
Peter Alexieievitch Tolstoi, desiring to know where the 
girl is, and whether it is possible to see her ; and speaks of 
two or three dozen bottles of good tokay, which he would 
like to possess, desiring to know the price and the expense 
of transport, before he gives the order for purchase. 1 

His was a mind open to every perception, with that 
eminently Slav faculty, which Herzen describes under the 
name of acceptivity , carried to the extremest point of develop- 
ment. Until he arrived in London he had probably never 
heard of the Quakers, nor of their doctrine. By a mere 
chance, the house he inhabited was that in which the famous 
William Perm had lived during that critical time in his 
stormy existence, when he was prosecuted as a traitor, and 
as a conspirator. This fact sufficed to throw the Tsar 
into almost intimate relations with Penn himself, and his 
co-religionists, Thomas Story and Gilbert Mollyson. He 
accepted their pamphlets, and listened devoutly to their 

1 Writings and Correspondence, vol. i. p. 253; Golikof, vol. ii. p. 296; 
vol. viii. p. 120. 

VOL. I. I 


sermons. When, some nineteen years later, he arrived at 
Friederichstadt, in Holstein, with a body of troops who were 
to assist the Danes against the Swedes, his first question 
was as to whether there were any Quakers in the town. 
Their meeting-places having been pointed out to him, he 
duly attended their gatherings. 1 He did not understand 
much of Law's system, nor of finance in general, yet Law 
himself, his system, and his fate, interested him deeply, from 
the first moment when he had any knowledge of him. He 
corresponded with the adventurous banker, and followed his 
course with curious eyes — delighted at first, indulgent after- 
wards, but always sympathetic, even in the speculator's 
hour of darkest disgrace. 2 

The moment there is a question of seeing or learning 
anything, his eagerne ss and anxiety of mind make Napoleon 
appear a comparatively patient man. Arriving at Dresden 
one evening, after a day of travelling which had reduced all 
his suite to a state of utter exhaustion, he insisted, the 
moment he had supped, on being conducted to the Kunst- 
kamera, or museum of the town. He reached it at one 
o'clock in the morning, and spent the night there, feeding 
his curiosity by torchlight. 3 And indeed, this curiosity, as 
has already been made evident, was as universal and as 
indefatigable as it was devoid of taste and of propriety. 
When the Tsarina, Marfa Apraxin, Feodor's widow, died, 
in 171 5, at the age of fifty-one years, he desired to verify the 
truth of a general public belief, which had its foundation 
in the sickly constitution of the late Tsar, and the austere 
habits of his widow. To attain this object, he insisted on 
performing the autopsy of the corpse with his own hands, 
and satisfied himself completely, so it would appear, as to 
his sister-in-law's virtue. 4 

The sum of his knowledge and q ualifi cations, thus per- 
petually increased, preserved, in spTteof its prodigious 
variety, a certain incoherent and rudimentary quality. 
Russian was the only language he could speak fluently ; 
his Dutch would only carry him through conversations with 
seafaring men and on naval subjects. In November 1721, 

1 Clarkson, Life of William Penn (1S13), p. 253. 
- Russian State Papers (1874), p. 1578. 
:! Arckivfiir Sdchsische Gcschichtc, vol. xi. p. 345. 
4 Dolgoroukof's Memoirs, vol. i. p. 14. 


finding it necessary to hold a secret conversation with the 
French Envoy, Campredon, who had resided in Holland 
and made himself familiar with the language of that country, 
he was fain to have recourse to an interpreter, and made 
a somewhat unlucky choice. 1 He was scantily acquainted, 
indeed, with the usual methods of Western diplomacy. In 
May 17 19, La Vie, the French Resident at St. Petersburg, 
remarked 'that he had allowed the Conferences at Aland to 
proceed without insisting on " the preliminary points," ' 
thus allowing the Swedes to mislead him by means of a 
most compromising sham negotiation, the only result of 
which was to separate him from his allies. In his foreign 
policy, he worked on a system peculiar to himself, or to his 
nation. He combined Slavonic shrewdness with Asiatic 
cunning. He threw foreign negotiators off their guard, by 
a manner peculiar to himself, by unexpected acts of famili- 
arity or of rudeness, by sudden caresses. He would inter- 
rupt a speaker by kissing him on the brow ; he would make 
long speeches, really intended for the gallery, of which his 
hearers could not understand a word, and would then dis- 
miss them before they had time to ask for an explanation. 2 

He has passed, and does still pass, even in the eyes of 
certain military historians, for a great militar yleader. Cer- 
tain new and happy ideas as to the duty oT~Keserves, the 
part to be played by cavalry, the principles of the mutual 
support to be rendered by isolated bodies of troops, simpli- 
fication of military formation, and the employment of impro- 
vised fortifications, have been ascribed to him. The Battle 
of Poltava, so we are assured, furnishes an unique example, 
and one which aroused the admiration of Maurice de Saxe, 
of the use of redoubts in offensive warfare, — which redoubts 
are said to have been Peter's own invention. We are further 
told that he personally conducted the numerous siege opera- 
tions which took place during the Northern War, and that 
this direct intervention on his part ensured their success. 3 I 
am not qualified to enter into any controversy on such a 
subject, and I should have been disposed to bowunquestion- 
ingly before the admiring testimony of Maurice de Saxe. 
But a contradictory witness stops me short — the Journal of 

1 Campredon's Despatch, Dec. I, 1721, French Foreign Office. 

2 De Bie, to the States General, May 3, 1712, Dutch State Papers. 

3 Petrof, as already quoted, vol. ii. p. 84, etc. 


the Northern War, to which I have already referred. This 
record, drawn up under Peter's personal superintendence, 
does not make him appear either a great historian or a good 
strategian. The descriptions of battles which I find in these 
pages — and there is indeed little else to be found — are de- 
plorably scanty, as in the case of the battle of Narva, or, 
when they enter into detail, flagrantly inexact. I know not 
whether the great man was the real inventor of the redoubts 
which played such an important part at Poltava, but all the 
world knows that he contented himself, in that battle, by 
leading a regiment, leaving the chief command, as always, 
to his generals. He studied military engineering with some 
care, and took measures to put his new acquisitions on the 
Baltic shores into a due state of defence. But the fortress 
of St. Peter and St. Paul at St. Petersburg can hardly be 
called a masterpiece of engineering skill ; and even his 
greatest admirers admit that not one of the other works of 
this kind, commenced under his direction, has ever been 
completed. 1 As to the sieges, the success of which may have 
been ascribed to him, they appear to me to have invariably 
ended in an assault, all the credit for which was due to the 
brilliant qualities, the courage, and the discipline of the new 
Russian army. These qualities strike me as forming the 
only increase in this particular line which may be written 
down to the undisputed personal credit of the great creator. 
He did, as I shall elsewhere show, create almost every 
portion of that wonderful instrument by which the power 
and prestige of his country have been ensured. He was an 
unrivalled organiser, and I am even willing to admit, with 
some of his apologists, that he outstripped his own time — in 
recruiting matters, for instance — in the application of cer- 
tain principles which had been proclaimed and theoretically 
affirmed in Western countries, long before, but which had 
been pushed to one side by established routine, and elbowed 
out of practical experience. 

What prevented him from acquiring a real mastery of any 

particular branch of knowledge was not only his lack of a 

sense of pr oport ion, but also a radicaLdefect which, from the 

\beginning to the end of his life, led him to joke, as it were, 

v ^with serious things, and take childish matters seriously. 

Of this fact, his " studies and pretensions, in matters of 

1 Petrof, as already quoted, vol. ii. p. S4, elc. 


surgery and dentistry, are a more than sufficient proof. 
After the date of his return from Holland he always carried 
a case of surgical instruments upon his person, and never 
allowed an opportunity of using them to slip through his 
fingers. The officials connected with the St. Petersburg 
hospitals had orders to warn him whenever an interesting 
surgical case occurred. He was almost always present at 
the operations, and frequently wielded the surgeon's knife 
with his own hand. Thus one day he tapped a woman 
afflicted with dropsy, who died a few days later. The poor 
creature had done her best to defend herself, if not against 
the operation, at all events against the operator. He made 
a point of attending her funeral. A bag_J\ill of teeth, 
extracted by the august pupil of the travelling Amsterdam 
dentist, is still preserved in the Museum of Arts at St. 
Petersburg. One of the surest methods of paying court to 
the Sovereign was to claim his assistance for the extraction 
of a grinder. He not unfrequently pulled out a sound tooth. 
His valet de chambre, Polouboi'arof, complained to him one 
day that his wife, under pretext of a bad tooth, had long 
refused to perform her conjugal duties. He sent for her, 
operated on her then and there, in spite of her tears and 
screams, and warned her that if she continued obdurate he 
would pull out every tooth in her two jaws. But it is only 
fair to recollect that Moscow owes him the first military 
hospital, built in 1706, to which he successively added a 
school of surgery, an anatomical collection, and a Botanical 
Garden, in which he himself planted a certain number of 
specimen trees. In that same year, too, dispensaries were 
established, by his care, in St. Petersburg, Kazan, Glouhof, 
Riga, and Revel. 1 

Artistic or scientific studies and creations were far from 
being, in his case, simple matters of taste or natural inclina- 
tion. It is a well-known fact that he possessed no artistic 
sense, no taste for painting, nor even for architecture. His 
low wooden cottage at Preobrajenskoie, soon so sunken in 
the soil that he could touch the roof with his hand, amply 
sufficed for his own personal needs. For many years, he 
would not live in any other kind of house, even at St. Peters- 
burg. Yet he held it proper to build palaces for his col- 
laborators to dwell in. But building operations flagged at 
1 Shoubinski, Historical Sketches, p. n, elc. 


last. Once more he saw the necessity for setting a personal 
example, and so he ended by having a Winter and a Summer 
Palace of his own. These were a somewhat clumsy imitation 
of Western models — for he insisted, too, on being his own 
architect. The main body of the buildings clashed with the 
wings, and formed ungraceful angles. Further, he would 
have double ceilings in the rooms reserved for his own use, 
so that he might still fancv he was living in a wooden cabin. 
But the impulse had been given, and in course ot time, 
the French architect, Leblond, retained at the heavy salary 
of 40,000 livres a year, succeeded in correcting past errors, 
and in giving the new capital that monumental and decora- 
tive appearance appropriate to its dignity. Peter took pains 
also, to add to the small collection of works of art made 
during his first stay in Holland. When he reappeared in 
Amsterdam in 17 17, he had learnt to put on the airs of an 
enlightened amateur. He ended by possessing works by 
Rubens, Vandyck, Rembrandt, Jan Steen. Van der Werf, 
Lingelbach, Bergheim, Mieris, Wouvermann, Breughel. 
Ostade, and Van Huyssen. He had a collection of sea 
pictures in his Summer Palace. In his country house at 
Peterhof there was a whole gallery of paintings. A talented 
engraver and draughtsman, Picard, and a curator named 
Gsell, of Swiss origin, formerly a picture-dealer in Holland, 
were engaged to look after these collections, the first ever 
seen in Russia. 

But there was not a touch of pej^QJial-Lnterest in these 
matters. We may venture to doubt whether the Tsar took 
much pleasure in his correspondence with the Abbe Bignon, 
the King's librarian, and a member of the Academie des 
Sciences, of which Peter had become an honorary member 
after his stay in Paris in 17 17. In 1720 he sent his librarian, 
— for by this time he had provided himself with a library — 
a German, Schuhmacher by name, to the Abbe with a 
manuscript, written in gold on vellum, which had been 
found at Siemipalatinsk, in Siberia, in the vaults of a ruined 
church. He desired to have the document deciphered, and 
to know, first of all, in what language it was written. He 
appears to have been greatly delighted when the Abbe, 
having called in the assistance of the King's regular 
translator, Fourmont, informed him that the mysterious 
language was that of the Tangouts, a very ancient Kalmuk 


tribe. It was not till after his death that it occurred to two 
Russians whom he had sent to Pekin to study Chinese, and 
who had remained there for sixteen years, to look more 
closely into this scientific process, and thus to make a dis- 
covery which somewhat compromised the reputation of the 
Parisian Orientalists. The manuscript was of Manchurian 
origin, and the text was absolutely different from that given 
by Fourmont. 1 But Peter died in the conviction that he 
had elucidated an important point in the national paleo- 
graphy and ethnography, and thus conscientiously performed 
his duty as a Sovereign. 

Among the curiosities collected by him in his Museum of 
Art and of Natural History, contemporary writers mention 
some living specimens of the human race : a man with 
some monstrous infirmity, and children afflicted with physi- 
cal malconformations.' 2 The great man believed that such 
exhibitions as these might serve the cause of science. 


His mind was clear, perspicuous, exact, going straight to 
its point , unhesitatingly and unswervingly — like a tool 
wielded by a sure hand. In this respect, his correspondence 
is exceedingly characteristic. He never writes long letters, 
like his heiress, Catherine IT. — he has no time for that. He 
has no—style, no rhetoric — he fails both in caligraphy and in 
spelling. His handwriting is generally as illegible as that 
of Napoleon. In most of his words there afeletters missing. 
A note addressed to Menshikof begins thus: — ( Met hez 
brude in Kamamara' which is intended to mean 'Mein Herz- 
bruder unci Kamarad ' (my heart's brother, and comrade !). 
Even in his signature, 'Tie. pi ." , he introduces a whim- 
sical abbreviation, borrowed from the Slavonic alphabet. 
But he says what he has to say, well and quickly, 
finding the right expression, the words which best con- 
vey and sum up his thoughts, without any delay or 
apparent effort. He is rather fond of a joking style of 
composition, and the great Catherine's peculiarity in this 
respect may have been a mere imitation of his. Thus, for 
example, he writes to Menshikof in the character of a dog of 
which his favourite is particularly fond. Very often he will 

1 Golikof, vol. viii. p. 84. - Biischings-AIagazin, vol. xix. p. 115. 


break out into sallies, often carried much too far, both in 
thought and in expression ; but oftener still, he is incisive 
and sarcastic. Vice-Admiral Cruys sent him a Report, in 
which he complained of his officers, and complimented the 
Tsar himself, saying, that Peter, ' himself an accomplished 
sailor, would know better than any one how indispensable 
discipline was in the Navy.' He replied, 'The Vice- 
Admiral chose his own Subordinates, he can therefore blame 
none but himself for their faults. On quite a recent occasion, 
he appeared less convinced of the qualities which he now 
attributes to the Sovereign. His criticisms and his com- 
mendations were doubtless made after he had been drinking. 
They have not a leg to stand on. Either he must cease to 
include vie in his list of skilful sailors, or he must no longer 
say white when I say black! x 

There' is something oriental in the natural imagery and 
picturesqueness of his style. Referring to his alliance with 
Denmark, and the disappointment it had caused him, I find 
this reflection, written in his hand, ' Two bears in the same 
lair never agree.' And another, ' Our alliance is like two 
young horses harnessed to a carriage.' 2 Speaking of Poland, 
where the public mind is in a state of continual ferment, he 
writes, 'Affairs there are just like new braha' (a drink made 
of barley and millet). A man who talks idly is compared to 
'a bear who talks about gelding a mare.' Even as a 
legislator, he makes use of this sort of language. When he 
creates the post of Attorney-General in the Senate, he de- 
clares his desire to prevent that body from ' playing at cards 
with the laws, and sorting them, according to their colours,' 
adding that the Attorney-General is to be ' his eye.' 

Though a poor historian, from the artistic point of view, 
he was far from lacking the historic sense. He described 
events very ill, but he understood their meaning and their 
bearing very well indeed. Even in his letters to Catherine, 
which are of the most confidential kind, his comments are 
exceedingly correct. He evidently had the clearest compre- 
hension of what he was doing, and of what was happening 
to him. 

His fancy was naturally attracted by what was large, and 
even by what was exaggeratedly huge — a very oriental 

1 Oustrialof, vol. iv. p. 272. 

- 1712, and 1 716, Letters to Catherine I. (1S61 edition), pp. 29 and 49. 


quality, again. In his last years he meditated a sort of 
reconstruction of the Colossus of Rhodes. A huge tower 
was to have been set astride over the strait, between Kron- 
stadt and Kronsloot. It was to be crowned by a fortress 
and a lighthouse, and below it the largest vessels were to 
pass with ease. The foundations were actually laid in 1724. 1 
He would fall into fits of feverish enthusiasm, epic or tragic, 
and this, with freaks of eccentricity, and stains of coarseness, 
which have puzzled many excellent judges. There is some- 
thing Shakespearian about some of his inspirations. In 
1697, when his departure for Europe was delayed by the 
discovery of Tsikler's plot — struck by the link existing 
between the criminality of the present and that of the past 
— he caused the corpse of Ivan Miloslavski, which had been 
rotting in the tomb for twelve years past, to be disinterred. 
The remains were taken to Preobrajenskoi'e on a sledge, 
dragged by twelve hogs, and placed in an open coffin under 
the scaffold on which Tsikler and his accomplice Sokovnin 
were to die by inches — cut to pieces, hacked slowly limb 
from limb. At every knife-thrust the blood of the con- 
demned men was to flow, in an avenging stream, on all that 
remained of the hated enemy, who had been snatched from 
his silent grave, to undergo the ghastly reprisals of his 
conqueror." 2 In 1723, another scene, less hideous, but quite 
as extraordinary, was enacted at Preobrajenskoi'e. Peter 
caused his wooden cottage, which — (it had been temporarily 
removed) — had been replaced, by his orders, in its original 
position, to be burnt. In those days, and in a country, the 
inhabitants of which were so little removed from the nomadic 
form of existence, dwellings were looked upon as furniture. 
It was a symbolic and commemorative conflagration. Under 
that roof — as Peter confided to the Duke of Holstein — he 
had conceived the plan of his terrible duel with the Swedish 
monarch, now brought to a happy close ; and in his joy over 
the peace thus restored, he desired to efface every memory of 
the anguish of the past. But he took it into his head to 
heighten the solemnity of this pacific demonstration by a 
display of fireworks. He kindled the half-rotten timbers of 
his cottage with Roman candles, and set the roof alight 

1 < rolikof, vol. x. p. 425. 

- Jeliaboujski's Memoirs, p, 112: Gordon's Journal, March 4, 1697: Ous- 
trialof, vol. iii. p. 22. 



with many-coloured fires, beating the drum himself, mean- 
while, from the beginning to the end of the auto daft'} 

Now and again, even in a far more elevated sphere of con- 
ception and of feeling, he seems to rise without an effort, and 
hover with those choicest souls in history, whose flight soared 
highest, and whose scope was widest. In 17 12, Stephen 
Iavorski, the Little-Russian monk whom he had brought 
from Kief to Moscow, and raised to a bishopric, publicly 
found fault with him, thundering reproaches, in one of his 
sermons, against husbands who forsook their wives, and 
men who would not fast at the appointed seasons. This was 
rank high treason, and a report to this effect was sub- 
mitted to the Sovereign. Peter merely made this note on 
the margin of the document : ' First of all, face to face, — then 
before witnesses.' 

When Iavorski made as though he would retire into a 
monastery, he would not hear of it ; but he caused the 
Patriarch of Constantinople to send him a dispensation, 
which relieved him from the necessity of observing the 
Russian Lent. 2 A fanatic attempted, one day, to murder 
him, firing two pistol shots at him in his sleep. The weapon 
missed fire each time, and the would-be assassin, overcome 
with terror, woke the Tsar, and told him what had happened. 
' God,' he said, ' must have sent him to give the monarch a 
miraculous sign of His protection,' adding, 'now kill me!' 
' Nobody kills Envoys,' responded Peter calmly, and he let 
the fellow go. 3 This anecdote may not be absolutely 
authentic ; and it was somewhat unlike Peter, I confess, to 
allow such a fine opportunity for judicial proceedings — with 
all the paraphernalia of examination, search for accomplices, 
and sittings in the Torture Chamber — to escape him. He 
may, indeed, have allowed Iavorski, if he were the only 
person clearly implicated, to go free. But the adventure, — a 
pure invention, possibly, or at all events an arrangement of 
facts, — corresponds to an attitude of mind very characteristic 
of the Sovereign, and especially of his later manner. I 
frequently notice him giving himself airs of superior-minded- 
ness, and of a scornful philosophy as regards his own person, 
and this under the most varied circumstances. When he 
returned from Warsaw, after his disastrous campaign on the 

1 Bergholz, Btuchings-Magazin, vol. xxi. p. 202. 

2 Solovief, vol. xvi. p. 324. :; (iolikof, vol. x. p. 176. 


Pruth, he was complimented on his happy return. ' My 
happiness,' was his reply, 'amounts to this — that instead of 
having received a hundred strokes with a rod, I have only 
been given fifty.' Then, speaking to himself, ' I came, I 
saw, I conquered,' and as if correcting himself, ' hardly that ! 
hardly that !' Nieplouief, one of his favourite pupils, arrived 
late for a morning appointment with the Tsar, in one of 
the naval workshops. The Sovereign was waiting for him. 
Nieplouief made his excuses. He had sat up late the night 
before with friends. ' Very well, I forgive thee, because thou 
hast told the truth ; and besides ' — here Peter would seem 
to have reverted to his own peculiarities, and applied one of 
the national proverbs to the incident — ' is not every man the 
grandson of a woman ? ' (Kto babie nie vnouk ?) 1 

Were these methods of thought, of speech, of action 
natural to the Tsar? Did they really correspond to his 
innate qualities of mind and character? Were they not 
rather a deliberate pose, which he would occasionally cast 
aside, through inadvertence, caprice, or downright weari- 
ness? The idea is admissible, at all events, so frequently 
did he belie and contradict his own behaviour. When he 
made his entry into Derbent in 1723 he was heard to say, 
' Alexander built this town ; Peter has taken it ! ' On his 
return from his Persian campaign he caused his easy con- 
quest to be thus described on one of the innumerable 
triumphal arches already erected at Moscow, even before the 
victory of Poltava : 

' Struxerat forlis, sed fortior hanc cepit urbem.' 

That day, evidently, he had quite forgotten to be modest ! 
At the taking of Narva, in 1704, he forgot even to be 
generous — struck the enemy's commandant, Horn, whose 
only fault was that he had defended the place too bravely ; 
and caused the corpse of his wife, who had been killed in the 
assault, to be cast into the water. 2 In 17 10, at the taking of 
Wiborg, he granted the honours of war to the besieged, and 
then, when the capitulation was signed, he kept the garrison 
prisoners. This incident occurred again both at Derpt and 

1 Nieplouiet's Memoirs (St. Petersburg, 1893), p. 106. 

- Lundblad, vol. i. p. 17 ; Adlerfeld, Histoire militaire de Charles XII. 
(Paris, 1 74 1), vol. ii. p. 224. 


at Riga. 1 Yet this same man, after the battle of Twaer- 
mynde (in July 17 14), embraced Ehrenskold, a naval captain, 
and declared himself proud of having had to struggle with 
such an adversary. He carried out the conditions of peace 
signed with Sweden, in 172 1, loyally enough, but the fashion 
in which he had opened hostilities on that occasion was 
a very pattern of knavery. In May 1700, returning to 
Moscow from Voroneje, he reproached the Swedish Resi- 
dent, Knipercron, in the most friendly terms, with the alarm 
apparently felt by his daughter, then paying a visit to 
Voroneje, as to the imminence of a conflict between the two 
countries. He had done his best to calm her. ' Silly child,' 
he had said, 'how can you imagine that I would be the first 
to make an unjust war, and break a peace which I have 
sworn shall be eternal?' He embraced Knipercron before 
witnesses, and made him the most reassuring protestations, 
vowing that if the King of Poland were to seize Riga, he, 
Peter, would take it back, and restore it to the Swedes. 
At that very moment he had actually undertaken to join 
Augustus against Sweden. The common plan of attack 
was prepared, and the partition of the expected booty duly 
arranged. On the 8th of the following August, having heard 
from Oukraintsof, his Envoy at Constantinople, that the 
signature of peace with the Porte, which he had been await- 
ing before throwing off the mask, was an accomplished fact, 
his troops were instantly set in motion, and marched towards 
Narva. At that very instant his other Envoy, Prince Hilkof, 
was received in audience by Charles XII., and gave him fresh 
assurances of his master's pacific intentions. 2 

The essentially practical turn of his mind not unfrequently 
rendered it narrow and mean. When Leibnitz proposed to 
him to establish magnetic observatories all over his Em- 
pire, the great savant very nearly forfeited the Tsar's good 
graces. 3 But this did not prevent him from endeavouring 
to discover the strait which was later to bear the name of 
Behring. That was an evident commercial outlet, and there- 
fore a desirable end to be attained. His economy amounted 

1 Polevoi, History of Peter the Great (St. Petersburg, 1845). vol. iii. pp. 79, S9. 
Compare Peter's Writings and Correspondence^ vol. iii. pp. 09, and III. 

2 Oustrialof, vol. iii. p. 369; vol. iv. Pari ii. pp. 159-161 ; Fryxell, History 
of Charles XII., translated by Jensen (Brunswick, 1S61), vol, i. p. 78. 

3 Baer, Peters Verdienste urn die Erweiterung der Geographischen Kentnisse 
(St. Petersburg, 1S68), p. 56. 


to absolute stinginess. He would use the mathematical 
instruments, which never left his person, to measure the 
daily consumption of the cheese served up to him ; and to 
make amends for the shabby salary he gave his chief cook, 
Velten, he turned the meals to which he invited his friends 
into picnics, at a ducat a head. 1 His love of interfering 
with everybody and everything made him always willing 
to act as godfather, but the present he bestowed on the 
child's mother, when, according to the custom of the 
country, he kissed her cheek, never exceeded a ducat slipped 
below her pillow, in the case of an officer's wife, or a rouble, 
in that of the wife of a private soldier. 2 He gave thirty 
roubles to a pilot named Antip Timofieief, who saved his 
life in a hurricane on the White Sea in 1694. 3 And this 
was a great effort of generosity on his part. 

And yet I believe he was always, and everywhere, per- 
fectly sj ncere with hi mse lf, and perfectly natural, even in his 
most contradictory moments. He was naturally diverse in 
character, for reasons to which I shall have to refer again, 
and both his constitution and his moral education were per- 
fectly different from those to which we are accustomed. 
The country which gave him birth, the race to which he 
belonged, the tradition from which he proceeded, must 
never be forgotten. Rurik, Oleg, Saint Vladimir, Sviato- 
polk, and Monomachus, those heroes of Russian history and 
legend, are great figures indeed, but they must not be con- 
founded with the historic and legendary glories of ancient 
Euro pe. They are as different from these, in character, as 
they are in name. There is nothing about them of Bayard 
or of Francis I. Rather, with their patriarchal customs, they V 
bear a moral resemblance to the kings of Scripture. The 
Russians of the present day will not, I am sure, consider 
this assertion either as a gratuitous insult, nor as an unjusti- 
fiable denial of their possession of the i nstin ct of chivalry ; 
I would just as soon deny the immense knowledge, and the 
admirable education, by which so many of them are distin- 
guished. But not the less true is it that, in Peter's days, 
most Russians could not read, and that, no knightly lance 
having ever been broken in their country, they passed 
through the Middle Ages without any knowledge of chivalry, 
just as later they passed through the Renaissance period 

1 Scherer, vol. iii. p. 254. - Ibid. '• Oustrialof, vol. ii. p. 367. 


without knowing much of Greek or Roman art. 1 The time 
and distance thus lost have indeed been successfully re- 
couped, but the fact remains that for many years the country 
knew nothing of that brilliant and noble-hearted line which, 
from the days of Roland to those of Bayard, made the word 
honour synonymous, in Western Europe, with fidelity to a 
plighted promise ; and further, that it underwent the contrary 
influence of the Greek Empire, from which it imbibed not 
only arts and sciences, habits, religion, and form of policy, 
but also all the Greek traditions of fraud and wily cunning. 
Even the legendary type of womanhood in Russia has no 
heroically ideal quality. She is no Joan of Arc, the inspired 
virgin, driving a whole people to victory through the im- 
pulse of her faith ; nor is she Wanda, the gentle Polish 
martyr, who preferred death to espousing a foreign prince 
offensive to the national instinct. She is Olga, a brisk 
and bold-hearted lady, who hunts, and fights, and trades, 
triumphs over her enemies as much by cunning as by 
strength, and, when the Greek Emperor would marry her 
against her will, dismisses him in most uncompromising 
fashion. Peter, like Alexander Nevski, — that Ulysses among 
saints, as Custine called him, 2 a prince more wise than 
valiant, a model indeed of prudence, but no type of gener- 
osity and good faith, — was her true descendant ; and so it 
came to pass that Campredon, the French Envoy, writing 
in 1725, concerning one of the Tsar's collaborators in his 
work, described him thus : ' He is far from upright, and 
this it is which acquired him the confidence of the late 
Sovereign.' 3 

The same apparent contradictions are noticeable in Peter's 
daily moral s and religion. Was he a believer? It would 
seem almost doubtfuT7 so off-handedly did he sometimes 
treat the ceremonies and ministers of a religion which, at 
other times, he would practise with the greatest fervour. 
When his sister Maria lay dying, he drove away the monks, 
who hastened about her to perform the traditional cere- 
monies, such as offering the dying woman food and drink 

1 ' The breath of chivalry never stirred the depths of Russia ' (Pierling, Russia 
and the Holy See, p. 189). The chapter in this interesting work, entitled, 'The 
Renaissance in Moscow,' is quite conclusive, as regards my view of this subject. 

2 Russia, vol. i. p. 265. 

J May 3, 1725, Sbornik. vol. lviii. p. 255. 


of various kinds, and inquiring plaintively whether she 
desired to leave life because she had not enough to eat ! 
He would do away with all such mumm e ries ! Let it be 
admitted, then, that he clings to simple faith, and will have 
no superstitions. But yet I note his habit of writing down his 
dre arfrsT 1 The" English Envoy, Whitworth, in his despatch 
of 25th March 17 12, speaks of a victorious struggle with a 
tiger during tJie Tsars sleep, which has strengthened him in 
ftis - warlike intentions. 2 At the same time, all propriety, 
morals, good or bad, civility, and decency, seem to have been 
a dead-letter to him. In 1723, Iajoujinski, one of the par- 
venus by whom he was surrounded, took it into his head to 
cast off his wife, with whom he had no fault to find, and by 
whom he had grown-up children, to marry the daughter of 
the Chancellor, Golovkin. As the wife on one side, and 
the Chancellor on the other, objected violently, Peter, who 
liked the plan, because it lowered the ancient aristocracy for 
the benefit of the new, intervened without hesitation. The 
woman was thrown into a convent ; the father was ordered 
to give his consent. The Tsar declared the first marriage 
null and void, and undertook to bear all the expenses of the 
second. From the respect thus shown for family ties his 
regard for the rest of the moral law may easily be argued. 3 
At Berlin in 1718, during a visit to a collection of ancient 
medals and statues, his attention was attracted to the 
figure of a heathen divinity, one of those with which the 
ancient Romans frequently adorned the nuptial-chamber. 
He beckoned to the Tsarina, and commanded her to kiss 
the figure. When she appeared to object, he shouted 
brutally, ' Kop ab ' ('Head off'), giving her to understand 
the risk entailed by disobedience ; after which he requested 
the King, his host, to present him with that rare objet 
(Tart, as well as with several other curiosities, includ- 
ing an amber cabinet, which, according to the Margrave 
of Baireuth, had cost an enormous sum of money. In 
the same way, having remarked a mummy in a Natural 
History Museum at Copenhagen, he manifested his inten- 
tion of appropriating it. The head of the museum referred 

1 Siemievski, Slovo i Die/o, p. 273, etc. 

2 Sbornik, vol. lxi. p. 167. 

A Campredon's Despatch, dated .March 22, 1723, French Foreign Office; 
Dolgorouki's Memoirs, vol, i, p, 17. 


the matter to his royal master, who answered by a polite 
refusal. The mummy was an exceptionally handsome and 
large one : there was not another like it in Germany. Peter 
went back to the museum, fell on that mummy, tore off its 
nose, mutilated it in all directions, and then took his de- 
parture, saying, ' Now you may keep it ! ' x On his departure 
from the Golden Ring Hotel at Dresden, in 171 1, he took 
down with his own hands, and would have carried off, in 
spite of the servants' opposition, the valuable curtains sent 
by the Saxon Court, to decorate his apartments. At Dantzic, 
in 17 16, finding himself inconvenienced by a draught of cold 
air during the performance of divine service, he stretched 
out his hand, without a word, snatched the wig off the 
head of the Burgomaster, who stood beside him, and put it 
on his own. 2 

I do not believe that Baron von Printzen was ever obliged 
to climb to the top of a mast to present his credentials to the 
Russian sovereign, who was busy in the rigging, and would 
not allow any interruption of that work. This anecdote 
— also related by the great Frederick to Voltaire 3 — appears 
to me to stamp one of its tellers — I know not which — as a 
downright liar. Baron von Printzen arrived in Russia in 
1700. At that period, St. Petersburg — the only place where 
he could have met with such a reception — had no existence. 
There was no shipbuilding there till 1704, when von Printzen 
had already been succeeded in his office by Keyserling. 
Further, the envoy of the Elector of Brandenburg, and 
future King of Prussia, having started from Berlin on the 
1 2th of October, must have arrived at his post in the very 
heart of a Russian winter, a season which reduces all rigging 
operations in the open air to a condition of forced idleness. 
On the other hand, Campredon's assertion that when, on the 
occasion of the peace negotiations with Sweden, in 172 1, he 
asked for an audience of the Tsar, Peter came from the 
Admiralty to receive him, wearing a sailor's blouse, seems 
to me worthy of belief. 

This entire absence of scruple, this disdain for the usual 
rules of conduct, and scorn of propriety, were accompanied 

1 Scherer, vol. ii. p. 15. 

2 Polevoi, vol. iv. p. 4. There are several versions of this anecdote ; see 
Scherer, vol. ii. p. 77- 

8 Voltaire's Works, vol. x. p. 71. 


by a very deep feeling, and absolute respect, for law, for 
duty, and for discipline. Why and how did this come to pass? 
Doubtless because, in this case, we have something beyond a 
mere unthinking negation of the indispensable foundations 
of any social edifice; in spite of a large amount of caprice and 
whimsicality, which gave birth to many inconsistencies, a 
more worthy motive did exist in Peter's mind. He had 
undertaken to reform the existence of a whole people, whose 
scruples and prejudices made up a good half of their religion 
and morality. He regarded these, with a good deal of 
correctness, as the principal obstacle to any progress, and 
therefore, very logically, he never lost an opportunity of 
warring against them. When piloting his flotilla of galleys 
on the waters of the Don, in 1699, he noticed a Dutch sailor 
enjoying a fricassee of tortoises, caught in the river. He 
mentioned it to his Russians, and there was a general outcry 
of disgust. Such food appeared to them abominable and 
unclean. Straightway his cook had orders to serve the 
horrid dish at his own table, under the guise of chicken. 
Shei'n and Saltykof, who dined on it, fainted away when, by 
their master's order, the plumage of the bird they believed 
themselves to have devoured was respectfully presented to 

Peter felt himself called to clear the national conscience of 
the dross left by centuries of barbarous ignorance. But he 
was too impetuous, too rough and coarse, personally, and, 
above all, too passionately eager, to perform this work with 
real discernment. He hit out wildly, in all directions. 
Thus, even while he corrected, he depraved. The mighty 
teacher was one of the greatest demoralisers of the human 
species. Modern Russia, which owes him all its greatness, 
owes him most of its vices also. 


His genius, indisputable as it is, and huge as was its field 
of action, does not give us the impression of taking in vast 
spaces and mighty w hole s in one swift lightning glance. It 
rather gives us the idea — so great is its comprehension of, 
and passion for, - detail — of a multitude of glances, simul- 

\ •( IL. I. K 


taneously fixed on a variety of objects. And, indeed, 
Peter's general ideas, when such become apparent to us, 
always strike us as being somewhat vague and inconsistent. 
His plans and combinations are very apt to lack accuracy 
and precision, and, when his gaze turns on a distant object, 
his sight would seem to grow confused. Intellectually 
speaking, he suffered from short-sight. Of this the building 
of St. Petersburg is sufficient proof. Here execution came 
before conception. The plans were left for future considera- 
tion ; and thus there came to be quarters without streets, 
streets without issue, and a port without water. The usual 
instinct of that lightning mind was to act at once — leaving 
reflection to a later date — without taking time to discuss 
projects, so long as they seemed attractive, nor weigh means, 
provided these lay close at hand. Peter's power of judg- 
ing his collaborators, which, according to his panegyrists, 
amounted to a sort of divination, would seem to be open to 
much discussion. The means he employed, such as taking 
hold of the hair of the individuals he thought of selecting, 
lifting their heads, and gazing for an instant straight into 
their eyes — those summary processes which roused the ad- 
miration of even so serious an historian as Solovief 1 — are 
only an additional proof of that superficiality which I have 
already pointed out, as being the essence of all his know- 
ledge and all his aptitudes. He had not the smallest 
knowledge of psychology. One day he found, in the house 
of a schoolmaster, a servant girl, who took his fancy. He 
made her his mistress, until he could make her his Empress ; 
and, forthwith, he proposed to make the schoolmaster 
the founder of the national education. That is the plain 
story of Catherine and of Gllick. The woman began by 
wandering from camp to camp, the prey of the officers 
and soldiers of her future lord ; the man, a humble pastor 
in a Livonian village, began by teaching the little Russians 
confided to his care to sing the Lutheran Psalms. The 
Tsar, on becoming aware of it, closed the school and dis- 
missed the master. But the national education proceeded 
no further. 

One day, at the launch of a new ship, a sight which 
always heated his imagination, Peter fell to descanting on 
historical philosophy. Recalling the march of civilising 

1 Studies (1882), p. 205. 


culture in Europe, from its Greek cradle, and on through its 
Italian glories, he finally expressed his conviction that 
Russia's turn had come. ' Let us hope,' he said, ' that within 
a few years we shall be able to humiliate neighbouring 
countries by placing our own on the highest pinnacle of 
glory.' His conception of civilisation is here clearly be- 
trayed — the sentiment of a manufacturer in strong competi- 
tion with the factory over the way. He had too little 
cultivation to analyse and understand the elements of the 
superiority of those foreign rivals whom he envied, and 
desired to excel. All he saw was the exterior, and therefore 
he esteemed the whole below its value. His intelligence, 
vast and comprehensive though it was, shows, on one side, a 
certain quality of limitation. It is radically inaccessible to 
any abstract conception. Hence he was very unskilful in 
judging any series of events, in deducing the consequences 
of a particular point of departure, in tracing effects back to 
their causes. He was quick to seize the practical advan- 
tages of civilisation, but he never had any suspicion of the 
necessary premises of all civilising undertakings. He was 
like a man who would begin to build a house from the 
roof, or who would work at the foundations and summit 
of an edifice, at one and the same time. His being a 
good carpenter, or even a fair naval engineer, did not 
suffice to set the moral forces of his people in organic 

To sum it up, Peter possessed more ingenui ty than actual 
genius. His government was the handiwork of an artisan 
rather than that of an artist, of an active official rather 
than of a statesman. He had an extraordinary gift of 
man ipulati ng men and things ; and his surprising dexterity 
in this respect, coupled with a marvellous power of assimila- 
tion, is still noticeable in almost any modern Russian, who 
will come from the banks of the Don, where he never saw a 
machine nor a factory, and, after a few weeks spent in some 
western industrial centre, will be perfectly informed on the 
latest improvements of modern machinery, and well able 
to apply them in his own country. But Peter had not an 
original idea of his own, and cared little for originality in 
other people. He did not even attempt to put the elements, 
external or internal, which he used in his attempts at 
political or social construction, into independent motion. 


His work was a mosaic, a mere patchwork. Even this 
imitation of the foreigner was not, in itself, his own original 
invention. It had been the constant rule in Russia since 
the days of Boris Godunof. All he did was to substitute a 
torrent, a cataract, a perfect avalanche, of German, Dutch, 
English, French, and Italian products, for the little stream 
of importation which had passed from Poland and slowly 
filtered into the arid Russian soil. His work — I say it again — 
was a mechanical performance, — superficial always, and far 
from intelligent, sometimes, — directed solely to external 
ends, without a thought of internal possibilities. It had been 
begun with so much carelessness as to the real nature, and 
inner values, of the materials selected, that its end and object 
perforce escaped the understanding of the nation called 
upon to perform it. It was heterogeneous, incongruous, and 
ill-arranged, useless in many particulars, harmful in others : 
a Dutch fleet, a German army, and a Swedish Government, 
the morals of Versailles, and the lagoons of Amsterdam — all 
included in the same series of borrowed treasures. Not a 
perception of the ideal side of the undertaking, nothing but 
a perpetual bondage to the tyranny of preconceived ideas. 
When he was informed that the canals he had cut through 
the Island of St. Basil ( Vassili-Ostrof) — the only scrap of 
firm ground in his new capital — were useless, and too narrow 
for traffic, his first thought was to hurry off to the Dutch 
Resident, borrow a map of Amsterdam, and compare the 
dimensions, compass in hand. 

Yet I have said he was an i dealis t, and I hold to that 
opinion. An idealist he was, in virtue of that part of his 
nature which escaped from the chances and incoherence of 
his daily inspiration. An idealist — after his own fashion — 
by the general subordination of his thought, and the constant 
sacrifice of his own person, to an end without any material 
or immediate tangibility. I mean the splendid destiny to 
which he believed his country appointed. Not, indeed, that, 
in the limited range of his mental sight, and amid the passion 
and perpetual tumult of his career, this end ever took very 
precise shape. That famous Will, which has been the theme 
of so many ingenious politicians, was, as I shall later prove, 
a mere hoax, with which he had nothing to do. The 
far horizon towards which his course was shaped loomed 
up before him, uncertain and confused : like a camp, it 


may be, filled with the clatter of armed men, or else a busy 
fruitful hive — a centre of life, at all events — industrial, 
intelligent, even artistic. He dreamed indeed, but with 
wide-open eyes ; and, with all the positiveness of his mind 
and nature, he ended — so great was his effort, so mighty his 
faith — by almost touching and possessing this phantom 
dream of his. He went a step farther. He would ensure 
the continuity of this hallucination of what was to be, that 
far-distant, tremendous destiny, and, like the splendid 
despot that he was, he drove it into the very marrow of his 
subjects' bones — beat it in mercilessly, with blows of sticks, 
and hatchet strokes. He evolved a race of eager vision- 
aries out of a people of mere brutes. He left something 
better behind him than a mere legend. He left a faith, 
which, unlike other faiths, is spiritualised, instead of material- 
ised, in the simple minds which have enshrined it. ' Holy 
Russia' of this present day — practical, brutal, and mystic, 
above all things, even as he was, — standing ready, like a 
many-headed Messiah, to regenerate Ancient Europe, even 
by submerging her, is Peter's child. 

An idealist, yes ! A dreamer too, a great poet in active 
life, was this horny-handed woodcutter! Napoleon, the 
soldier mathematician, with conceptions less extravagant 
than Peter's, with a more judicious sense of possibilities, and 
a more real grasp of the future, was an idealist too. 


One of the most sharply marked and peculiar traits in 
Peter's character — a character offering contrasts so strong as 
to endue it, from certain points of view, with an appearance 
of absolute deformity — is the intense and never-ceasing 
strain of buffoonery, which sets an harlequin's cap on that 
imperious brow, twists those harsh features into a merry- 
andrew's grin, and everywhere and always — through all the 
vicissitudes of a career crammed with great events and 
mighty actions — mingles the solemn with the grotesque, and 
carries farce even into the region of absolute tragedy. This 
is betrayed very early, quite in the dawn of Peter's reign, by 
the disguises adopted by the young ruler, from the very 


outset, for himself, and imposed, by him, on his friends and 
collaborators. So early as 1695, Prince Feodor Romodan- 
ovski united the title of King of Presbursr with that of 
General. And even when writing to him on the most serious 
subjects, Peter never failed to address him as ' Min Her 
Kciiich, ' and to sign himself ' Your Majesty's very obedient 
Slave, KnecJi Piter Komondor,' or else, ' Ir Daheleix Knek,' 
which last formula was unintelligible to any one but himself. 
He lost no opportunity of expressing his resolution to shed 
the last drop of his blood in the service of this mock 
sovereign. Meanwhile he had created Zotof, his former tutor, 
Archbishop of Presburg, Patriarch of the banks of the 
Iaouza, and of the whole Koukoul (a name of German origin 
given to the quarter known as the German suburb). Tihon 
Nikititch Streshnief was made Pope. He was addressed as 
' Most Holy Father,' and 'Your Holiness,' and all his replies, 
whether they were business letters or official reports, were, by 
order, couched in the same style. Romodanovski addressed 
his letters to ' Bombardier Peter Alexieievitch,' and closed them 
with a simple formula of politeness, appropriate from a 
sovereign to a subject. In May 1703, after the taking of 
Nienschanz, Peter, acting as secretary to Field-Marshal 
Sheremetief, drew up, with his own hands, a report to the 
King — in other words, to Romodanovski — informing him 
that the Field-Marshal had promoted him and Menshikof to 
be Knights of St. Andrew, 'subject to His Majesty's appro- 
bation.' And so settled was the determination to take this 
burlesque seriously, that it actually survived the original 
actors in it. In 1719, when Feodor Romodanovski died, the 
title and privileges of his imaginary sovereignty passed 
to his son Ivan, and Peter, in an autograph letter con- 
gratulating Captain Sieniavin upon a victor)- won at sea, 
assures him of the satisfaction this success will cause 'His 
Majesty.' 1 

On the 3rd of February 1703, he writes to Menshikof — 
calling him 'My heart' — to inform him of the opening 
of a fort, built on a property he had lately bestowed on 
him, and christened under the name of Oranienburg — the 
present Ranenburg, in the Government of Riazan. The 
Metropolitan of Kief presided at the ceremony. This 
mock Metropolitan was Mussine-Pushkin, one of the real 

1 Golikof, vol. vii. p. 264. 


sovereign's boon companions, and by no means one of the 
least debauched. A plan of the fortress, showing the names 
given to the bastions, was enclosed in this letter. The first 
bastion was baptized with brandy, the second with lemonade, 
the third with Rhine wine, the fourth with beer, and the fifth 
with hydromel. The score, or thereabouts, of persons who 
made up the party, amongst whom were the Prussian and 
Polish Envoys, Keyserling and Koenigseck, an English 
merchant named Stiles, and several important Russians, 
appended their signatures to this letter, substituting joking 
sobriquets for their real names. Menshikof's reply was 
couched in a serious strain, for the Swedes were giving him 
much trouble, and he was in no laughing mood ; but he 
did not forget to express his thanks to his august friend for 
the honour he had done him, by getting drunk upon his 

In 1709, when the victory of Poltava was to be celebrated 
at Moscow, a huge wooden palace was built on the Tsaritsine 
Lougue ; Romodanovski, enthroned in the Hall of Audience, 
and surrounded by the principal dignitaries of the Court, 
summoned the leaders of the victorious army to present their 
reports on the incidents and happy issue of the battle. The 
first to advance was Sheremetief: 'By the grace of God and 
the good fortune of your Caesarean Majesty, I have overcome 
the Swedish army.' ' By the grace of God, and the good 
fortune of your Caesarean Majesty,' said Menshikof, in his 
turn, ' I have taken General Loewenhaupt and his army 
prisoners at Perevolotchna.' Last of all came Peter : ' By 
the grace of God, and the good fortune of your Caesarean 
Majesty, I and my regiment have fought and conquered at 
Poltava.' All three presented the mock Caesar with the 
regulation reports, and retired, bowing. After which, the 
astounded Swedish prisoners were brought in, and marched 
past the throne. A banquet, presided over by this strange 
substitute for the Sovereign, who was seated upon a raised 
dais, and condescended to summon Colonel Peter Alexie- 
ievitch to his own table, closed the ceremony. 1 

Efforts have been made to justify these pasquinades — 
almost revolting, at such a moment, and in such serious cir- 
cumstances — by various interpretations of their meaning. 
Some will have it that this was Peter's method of inculcating, 

1 Golikof, vol. xi. p. 567, elc. 


by his own example, the principle of subordination which he 
desired to instil into his subjects. Others, that it was an 
attempt to destroy all memory of the Miestnitchestvo, by a 
deliberate confusing of all ranks, and every precedence. 
Such ideas may, indeed, have occurred to him. He always 
showed the deepest intuition of the true foundation of all 
real discipline — the sense that he who will be obeyed must 
know how to obey — that he who desires service must him- 
self learn how to serve. The expressions, ' I serve,' ' since 
I have been in the service/ were very habitual with him ; and 
not less evident and enduring was his constant desire to 
familiarise his subjects, to fill their eyes and their souls, with 
that great ideal, to which he sacrificed his own life, and to 
which everything was to be sacrificed — to which all things 
must bow, and, in comparison with which, all else, even the 
Tsar himself, was to be accounted nothing. Such a design 
may have existed, at the back of such scenic effects as I 
have just described. But the means used by Peter for the 
furtherance of this object, proceeded solely and directly 
from his whimsicality, his love of disguises, of humbug and 
mystification, and from a licence of imagination which no 
sentiment of propriety, of respect, or even of self-respect, 
could keep within bounds. It should not be forgotten that 
masquerades were at that time a great fashion in western 
countries, and they had long had a settled home in Russia. 
Ivan the Terrible delighted in them. Peter thus merely 
followed the prevailing custom, which his inherent prone- 
ness to exaggeration, of view and of practical action, led him 
to carry to so extreme a pitch, that the means he employed 
finally far exceeded, and even ran counter to, his original 

Nothing but the extreme docility of a national tempera- 
ment, long since broken in to every form of despotism, saved 
the very idea of sovereignty from fading out of the public 
mind at this period. This will appear especially true 
when we consider that certain of the wildest and least justi- 
fiable of the sovereign's disguises lowered human dignity, in 
his own person, to the most abject and shameful level. In 
1698, just after his first foreign journey, he took part in a 
procession, in which the mock patriarch, Zotof, wearing a 
mitre decorated with a figure of Bacchus, led a troop of 
disorderly bacchantes, their heads adorned with bundles of 


lighted tobacco instead of vine-leaves. 1 Here, of course, 
we have an allusion to the monopoly, lately acquired by 
the Marquis of Caermarthen, and, therefore, a political 
intention. But the manner selected for intimating this does 
not strike us as being any the less objectionable. In the same 
year, on the very day after that on which one hundred and 
fifty Streltsy had horrible tortures, Peter's cheerfulness 
was unabated. He kept the Brandenburg Envoy, whom he 
had received in farewell audience, to dinner, and regaled him, 
at dessert, with a scene of buffoonery, during which the mock 
patriarch, having bestowed his benediction on all present, 
with two crossed pipes, gave the signal for the dances to 
begin. The Tsarevitch Alexis, and his sister Nathalia, 
watched this entertainment from behind a hanging which 
was pushed aside for their convenience. 2 

Twenty years later the same thing was going on. During 
the carnival of 1724, a troop of sixty or seventy individuals — 
gentlemen, officers, priests (including the Tsar's Confessor, 
Nadajinski), burghers, and common people, amongst whom 
one, a sailor, walked on his hands with his head down, 
making strange faces and wild contortions, attended the 
Sovereign through the streets. These people, chosen from 
amongst the greatest drunkards and vilest debauchees in the 
country, constituted a regular brotherhood, which met on 
fixed days, under the name of ' Council which knows no 
sadness' {Bezpietchalnyi sobor), and indulged in orgies which 
occasionally lasted for twenty-four hours. Ladies were 
invited to these gatherings, and the most important officials, 
ministers, generals, and grave and aged men, were frequently 
obliged to take part in them. In January 1725, Matthew 
Golovin, a man of illustrious family, eighty years of age, 
was ordered to appear in one of these processions, dressed 
as a devil. He refused, and, at a word from Peter, he was 
seized, stripped naked, a cap with pasteboard horns was 
put upon his head, and he was forced to sit, for a full hour, 
on the frozen Neva. He caught a violent fever, of which 
he died. 3 

Not an event, during the whole course of the reign, from 
the Peace of Nystadt, to the wedding of a favourite dwarf, 
but was made the pretext for fresh doings of the kind. 

1 Korb, p. 115. - Ibid., p. 1 iS. 

:: Dolgoroukof, Memoirs, vol. i. p. 136. 


When the dwarf died, Peter ranged maskers round his 
coffin, even as he had already ranged them round his 
marriage-bed. Every dwarf in St. Petersburg thus appeared, 
in 1724, at the funeral of one of their number, all of them 
dressed in black, and following a tiny hearse, drawn by six 
little Spanish horses. The same year, during a masquerade 
which lasted a week, senators were forbidden to unmask, 
even in the council chamber, during the hours devoted to 
important business. 1 

Peter had a great number of Court jesters or fools. 
Strahlenberg 2 gives a list, which contains many names 
possessing other claims to importance. Zotof, Tourguenief, 
Shansko'i, Lanin, ShahofskoY, Tarakanof, Kirsantievitch, 
and Oushakof, the most admired of all. These names can 
be accounted for. Flogel, in his history of Court jesters, 3 
divides those who surrounded the Tsar into four categories. 
Firstly, fools by natural infirmity, in whom the Sovereign 
finds amusement. Secondly, fools by punishment, con- 
demned to play the part, for having failed in wisdom, in 
their former functions, — this was the case of Oushakof, 
who, as a captain in a guard regiment, had been sent from 
Smolensk to Kief with important despatches, reached the 
town during the night, found the gates shut, and, when there 
was some delay about opening them, turned round, rode 
back to Smolensk, and complained of his discomfiture to 
his commanding officer. Thirdly, simulated fools, who 
shammed mental disturbance to escape death, after having 
been implicated in some plot — a stratagem which did not 
always impose upon Peter, who, however, judged the 
self-chosen punishment of the poor wretches sufficient. 
Fourthly, fools by lack of education. Peter, who was in the 
habit of sending a great number of young men abroad, 
examined them, when they came back, as to the information 
acquired. Those who did not give him satisfaction escaped 
severer punishment by assuming the cap and bells. In the 
great Tsar's time these private jesters had a certain part 
assigned them, and a political importance of their own. 
They supplemented his police force. They boldly and 

1 Bergholz, Biischmgs-Magazin, vol. xxii. p. 436, etc. 

- J~)as Nord and Oestliche Theil von Europa and Asia (Stockholm, 1730), 
P- 235. 

- Geschichte der Hofndrren (Liegnitz, 1789), p. 409. 



loudly reported the evil deeds of his ministers, at his table, 
relating their thefts and their embezzlements. Peter even 
occasionally deputed them to avenge him. On these occa- 
sions they would carefully contrive to make the guilty 
person drunk, would pick a quarrel with him, and then 
thrash him soundly. 1 Strahlenberg's list does not give the 
names of the two most famous members of this burlesque 
and pitiful legion : the Russian, Balakiref, and the Portu- 
guese, D'Acosta, a relation, doubtless, of the celebrated con- 
vert Uriel. To this last, Peter confided the functions of 
director-general and organiser of the revels, and Head of the 
staff employed in them. In 17 13 he gave him the title of 
Count and Han of the Samoyedes. This last promotion 
was made the occasion of a series of burlesque ceremonies, 
in which several families of real Samoyedes, brought for 
the purpose from the depths of Siberia, were forced to figure. 
Amongst them appeared one of the Empress's cooks, dis- 
guised as a Samoyede, with a huge pair of stag's horns 
on his head, and girt with a yellow ribbon, to which was 
suspended a medal, bearing the name ' Actaeon ' engraved 
upon it. Peter occasionally associated this man with 
Oushakof and Balakiref, and frequently made him his 
favourite butt. The poor wretch had a wife, whose reputa- 
tion was of the lightest, and the Tsar never failed, when he 
saw him before company, to lift two of his fingers, with a 
symbolic gesture, above his forehead. 2 

These forms of amusement, coarse as they seem, especially 
in these days, might have passed_almost uncriticised. They 
were the natural, and, in a sense, the indispensable, rebound 
of an existence devoted to a toil, which, without them, would 
have exceeded the limit of human strength, even in the case 
of such an exceptionally robust nature as Peter's. The great 
man thus instinctively sought relief for his overstrained 
nerves, and, extreme as he was in all particulars, inevitably 
fell into the worst excesses. It might even be urged that 
the disgusting, cynical, or inhuman side of his behaviour 
was atoned for by the unconstrained gaiety and large- 
hearted good-humour which usually marked it. Half a 
century later, Christian VII. of Denmark caused a certain 
Count Brandt, who had been set upon on the score of his 

1 Kourahin Papers, vol. i. p. 73. 

- Scherer, vol. iii. p. 56; Bergholz, Buschings-Magazhi) vol. xix. p. 87. 


conjugal misfortunes, to be tried and condemned to death, 
because, in his fury, he had raised his hand against the 
Sovereign. Peter bore the hearty blows showered upon him 
by Catherine's head cook, when that functionary was not in 
a joking humour, without a word of complaint. 1 It may be 
said that he should have chosen the subjects of his jests 
elsewhere than in the kitchen, but that was his style. He 
was no aristocrat. He was essentially vulgar, on the con- 
trary — as much allied, by certain traits of rustic humour 
and childish gaiety, with the plebs of every country, as he 
was distinguished and widely separated, by the general 
tendency of his mind and character, from the native plebeian 
element. His earliest comrades, the Koniouhy, had made 
him thoroughly acquainted with the manners and habits of 
the Russian populace, and to that, in part, he owed his 
knowledge of the masses, and his gift for ruling them. I 
have described him during the Christmas festivities as fol- 
lowing the practice, traditional in the lower classes, of the 
Slavlenic ' {Chris ta slavit, 'praising Christ') — that is, of sing- 
ing the Saviour's praises before the doors of houses, and 
claiming the gifts usually bestowed. One day the richest 
merchant in Moscow, Filadief, refused to be sufficiently 
generous in his donation. Peter forthwith collected the 
inhabitants of the whole quarter before his house, and 
forced him to pay a ransom of one rouble for every head 
in the crowd.-' Here a certain quality of his genius appears : 
his aptitude for stirring the mob by appealing to its lowest 

The really dangerous side of these pleasures and relaxa- 
tions resided in the deliberate confusion, kept up by Peter, 
of madness with r easo n, of mere masquerade with serious 
existence. These sham_cqunts and patriarchs, these buffoons 
and harlequins, constantly added to their carnival dignities 
and functions, and mingled with them, others, which made, 
or should have made, them, very serious personages. £otof 
was Keeper of the Seals ; Ivan Golovin, who, though he had 
been with Peter in Holland, knew nothing of naval matters, 
was, for that very reason, created head of the Admiralty, 
The Sovereign and his friends found this a very pretty sub- 
ject for jesting, but the fleet, — which, amongst themselves. 

1 Bergholz, BUschings-Magazin, vol. xix. p. St. 
- lvorli, p. 101. 


whenever they drank Ivan Mihailovitch's health, they called 
his family, — was far from being the better for it. 

No justification nor excuse can be offered for these dis- 
orders. They were the clear and evident weak point of a 
most superior mind, — too far removed from the common 
track, too completely bereft of the balance which education, 
tradition, and social surroundings, generally enforce, even in 
the most independent natures, — to be able to maintain its 
equilibrium in that huge space wherein it moved, and 
traced out its own path. 

It will naturally be inquired whether the public and official 
institution of the mock Patriarchate, to which I have already 
referred, really was intended, as some think, to prepare 
the way for the suppressio n of the real one. I would 
willingly admit this,^were^miot for my sense of the evident 
dangers such an indirect course would have involved. Would 
not Peter have thus risked, not only the dignity of the whole 
clergy, but the very idea of religion ? Some people have 
looked on this burlesque as a mere parody of the Papac y. I 
cannot share their opinion. I find Zotof alternately desig- 
nated Knes-papa and Patriarch. And, when Peter set the 
mock Caesar, Romodanovski, beside the Knes-papa, whose 
rank was it, whose title, whose function, that he sought to 
ridicule and roll in the mud? I am rather disposed to 
believe his chief desire was to divert a mind predisposed 
by certain hereditary germs of Eastern despotism, certain 
constitutional vices, and certa in fau lts of early education, 
to whimsical eccentricities. 1 will not deny that more 
serious intentions may have occasionally existed, and may 
even have been at the root of this wild and licentious 
debauch of fancy. But these soon disappeared — carried 
away, and fairly drowned, in the muddy waves of that 
tumultuous stream. 

This is by no means the opinion of a recent apologist, so 
convinced in his own opinion as to express astonishment 
that no one before him had become aware of the real and 
abiding depth of the plans and calculations thus set in 


motion by the great sovereign. How is it, he wonders, that 
no one has perceived that this was the Tsar's manner of 
hiding the forces secretly prepared, and the work of de- 
struction to which he had already doomed them, from the 
eyes of his enemies? The Knes-papa and his Conclave, 
so we are told, drunk, or seemingly drunk, as they may 
have been in the daytime, spent their nights in unrelent- 
ing toil. The correspondence of the mock Pontiff with 
his Deacon (the title taken by Peter himself), with all its 
apparent ravings, and its filthy jokes, was a mere matter of 
cypher. Thus, in Zotofs letter to the Tsar, dated 23rd 
February 1697, Carnival, with his companions, Ivashka 
(drunkenness) and Ieremka, (debauchery), against whom 
Peter was warned, are said to stand for cunning and servile 
Poland, with her allies, the Hetman of the Cossacks, and the 
Han of the Tartars. 1 This interpretation has not even the 
virtue of ingenuity. Is it likely that, in 1697, Peter or his 
collaborators would have taken so much pains to convince 
the Swedes or the Poles of the poverty of their resources? 
It was only too apparent, at that moment, and the optical 
delusion they would have desired to produce was a very 
different one. As for the laborious nights of such a man as 
Zotof, my imagination rebels at the very thought. In a 
despatch from the French envoy Campredon, dated 14th 
March 1721, I find the following words : 'The Patriarch, of 
whom I have spoken above, and who is here known as 
Kncs-papa, is a professional drunkard, chosen by the Tsar 
himself, with the purpose of turning his clergy into ridicule.' 
This is a true description, so far, at least, as the moral 
identity of the personage is concerned, although the indivi- 
dual actually referred to was Zotofs successor. Did Peter 
really think of turning his own clergy into ridicule? He 
may, indeed, have desired to lower the Patriarchate, as 
being a rival authority to his own. Up till this time, the 
Tsar, according to immemorial custom, had always walked 
in the solemn Palm-Sunday procession at Moscow, leading 
the Patriarch's mule. Thus, from year to year, the supre- 
macy of the ecclesiastical power, dating from the prepon- 
derating part played by the Patriarch Philaretus during the 
reign of the first of the Romanoffs, was formally affirmed. 

' Sec Paper, by M. Ivan Nossovitch, in Russian Antiquities (1S74). p. 


Peter replaced this solemn procession by the burlesque 
cortege of his Kues-papa, who rode on an ox, and was 
followed by an army of vehicles drawn by hogs, bears, and 
goats. 1 The political intention is here quite manifest. But 
it is equally clear that this intention rapidly faded, and 
became more and more debased, in the prolonged course 
of the huge and irreverent parody, which a very sensible 
eye-witness, Vockerodt, described as a ' mere mental and 
physical debauch." 2 Yet this phenomenon calls for another 
explanation. Its depth, its extent, its duration, were all so 
remarkable, that I cannot accept it as the outcome of a 
single individual inspiration, however fanciful and licentious. 
And, indeed, I remark a very general tendency, during the 
period immediately preceding Peter's accession, to irony, to 
satire, and to the comic representation, or caricature, of all 
the important acts of life. This may be the mere rebound 
from the asceticism to which I have already referred, and 
which, as I have pointed out, had led to a denial of every 
outward manifestation of social existence. 3 As to the form 
which Peter gave, or, perhaps, only contributed to give, this 
tendency, it may bear some relation to the excesses in which 
popular imagination and passion indulged, in other countries, 
under the action of so-called demoniac influences. My 
readers will recollect the orgies of the nocturnal revels and 
messes noires so common in France early in the seventeenth 
century, of which the mystifying performances of modern 
disciples of the occult arts are but a pale reflection. 4 The 
analogy of causes would here seem to confirm the analogy 
of facts. Both in Russia and in France we have a revolt, 
physical and mental, against the ordinary course of life, 
which compressed and wounded body and spirit alike ; and 
human beings, seeking for momentary relief, dashed at a 
bound beyond the pale of reality, outside the limits of law, 
and religion, and society. The strange thing is that Peter 
should have presided at these Saturnalia. But surely he — 
the first and willing prisoner within the iron circle of his 
own Ukases — sharing, as he did, the common condition, 
may well have felt the common need. 

1 Hergholz, Buschin^s-Magazin, vol. \i\. p. 12S. 

- Vockerodt. See Herrmann, p. 19. 

:; Zabielin, Lives of the Tsarinas, p 426. 

* See Michelet, Histoire de France (Flammarion edition), vol. \i. p. 54. 


I must now proceed to facts, and these, I believe, will 
strike my readers as being conclusive. 

The origin of the scenes of desecration in which the Pope 
or Patriarch Zotof and his successors played their part, 
dates, as I have said, from the earliest years of this reign. 
But its decorative accessories were successively developed. 
Peter, after he had created a pontiff, proceeded to appoint 
him cardinals and a conclave. This was the Vsic'sJwntchie- 
idiyi or Vsicpiianieicliyl Sobor, 'the Conclave or Council of 
the maddest or the most drunken ' — a fixed institution, almost 
official in its character. The Tsar worked out its organisa- 
tion from year to year, inventing statutes and regulations, 
which he drew up with his own hand, even on the very eve 
of the battle of Poltava. 1 Its members consisted of the most 
dissolute of his boon companions, with whom, — either out of 
mere brutal and despotic caprice, or in the idea of debasing, 
so as the more easily to control them, — he associated a certain 
number of men of serious mind, and rigid morals. The 
members' first duty was to present themselves at the house 
of the Knes-papa, called the Vaticanum, and there offer him 
their homage and their thanks. . Four stutterers, conducted 
by one of the Tsar's footmen, were spokesmen on this 
occasion, in the course of which the new arrivals were 
invested with the red robe which was to be their future 
official costume. Thus garbed, they entered an apartment 
called the Hall of the Consistory, the only furniture of 
which consisted of casks ranged round the walls. At the 
end of the room, on a pile of emblematic objects, such as 
barrels, bottles, and glasses, was the throne of the Knes-papa. 
One by one the cardinals defiled before him, each receiving 
a glass of brandy, and listening to this formula: ' Reverend- 
issime, open thy mouth, swallow what thou art given, and 
thou shalt tell us fine things.' After which, all being seated 
on the casks, the sitting was opened, and continued many 
hours, during which copious libations were mingled with 
low jests. The Conclave was held in a neighbouring house, 
to which the members went in procession, headed by the 
Knes-papa, sitting astride on a wine-butt drawn by four 
oxen. He was attended by mock monks — Jacobins, Fran- 
ciscans, and so forth. The habit of Father Cailleau, a 
French Franciscan, resident in Moscow, had supplied the 

1 Sec Nossovilch'b Paper. Compare Siemievski, S/ovo i Dido, p. 281. 


pattern for their dresses. Peter went so far as to try to 
force the monk himself to take part in the procession, and 
only desisted in face of the energetic opposition of the 
French minister. He himself, dressed as a Dutch sailor, 
generally ordered the march of the procession. A spacious 
gallery, lined with narrow beds, awaited the members of the 
conclave ; between the beds casks sawn in half were ranged, 
filled with food. The sham cardinals were forbidden to 
leave their beds before the close of the Conclave. Certain 
conclavists, attached to the person of each, were charged 
with the duty of inciting them to drink, urging them to the 
wildest extravagances, to the most filthy jests, and also, 
so we are told, to talk unreservedly. The Tsar was always 
present, listening, and noting things down on his tablets. 
The Conclave lasted three days and three nights. When 
there was no question of electing a new Pope, the time 
was employed in discussions relative to such matters as the 
quality of some particular brand of wine, with which one 
of the cardinals had found fault. 

In 1714 Peter took it into his head to vary the monotony 
of this programme by celebrating the wedding of the Knes- 
papa Zotof, an old man of eighty-four, whose sons were 
distinguished officers in the army. One of these vainly 
besought the Tsar to spare this shame to his father's old 
age. The bride was a noble lady, Anna Pashkof, nearly 
sixty years of age. Immense preparations were made for 
the celebration of this extraordinary wedding. We must 
not forget that the Northern War, with all its dreary array 
of daily sacrifice and mourning, which sucked the resources 
of the country dry, was then in progress. Yet, four months 
in advance, all the lords and ladies of the Court had orders 
to be ready to play their part in the ceremony, and to send 
detailed descriptions of their chosen disguises to the Chan- 
cellor, Count Golovkin, so that there might not be more 
than three of any character. Twice over, on the 12th of 
December 1714, and the 15th of January 17 1 5, performers 
and costumes were duly inspected by Peter himself. With 
his own hand he wrote out all the instructions and arrange- 
ments for the ceremonial, specially invented for the occasion. 
On the appointed day, at a signal given by a cannon, fired 
from the fortress of St. Petersburg, the male and female 
participators in the masquerade gathered — the former in 
VOL. I, L 


the Chancellor's house, the latter in the dwelling of the 
Princess- Abbess, a lady of the name of Rjevski, ' an active 
and compliant, but exceedingly drunken body,' as one of 
her contemporaries described her. She was replaced, after 
her death, by Princess Anastasia Galitzin, the daughter of 
Prince Prozorovski, a great friend of Peter's, whom he 
treated like his own sister, until he had her publicly whipped 
in the courtyard of the offices of the Secret Police at Preo- 
brajenskoi'e, she having been accused of complicity with 
Alexis, after having been commissioned to watch and spy 
upon him. She bought back the Tsar's favour by accepting 
the post of Princess- Abbess. 1 

The procession formed up in front of the Tsar's Palace, 
and, crossing the frozen Neva, took its way to the Church 
of St. Peter and St. Paul, on the opposite bank, where 
a priest of over ninety years of age, actually brought from 
Moscow for the purpose, awaited the bride and bridegroom. 
At its head was Romodanovski, the mock Csesar, dressed as 
King David, carrying a lyre, draped in a bearskin. Four 
bears were harnessed to his sledge, and a fifth followed it 
like a footman. These creatures screamed in the most 
frightful manner under the blows which were rained upon 
them from start to finish. King David was followed by the 
bride and bridegroom, seated on a very high sledge, sur- 
rounded by Cupids, a stag with huge horns on the coach- 
man's box, and a goat seated behind them. The mock 
Patriarch wore his pontifical robes. All the greatest people 
in the capital — ministers, aristocrats, and diplomatic corps, 
— followed the procession, some of them more than a little 
constrained and uncomfortable ; but for that Peter did not 
care a jot. Prince Menshikof, Admiral Apraxin, General 
Bruce, and Count Vitzthum, the Envoy of Augustus II., 
costumed as Hamburg burgomasters, played on the hurdy- 
gurdy. The Russian Chancellor, the Princes James and 
Gregory Dolgorouki, the Princes Peter and Demetrius 
Galitzin, dressed as Chinamen, played on the flute. The 
Austrian Resident, Pleyer, the Hanoverian Minister, Weber, 
the Dutch Resident, De Bie, as German shepherds, blew the 
bagpipes. Certain gentlemen, Michael Glebof, Peter and 
Nikita Hitrof, had been dispensed from performing on a 
musical instrument on account of their age, but they had to 
1 Dolgoioukof, Memoirs, vol. i. p. 75. 



put in an appearance. The Tsarevitch, garbed as a hunts- 
man, blew his horn ; Catherine, with eight of her ladies, 
wore Finnish costume ; the old Tsarina Marfa, the widow 
of Tsar Feodor, appeared in Polish dress. The Princess of 
Ost-Friesland had an old German costume. All these ladies 
played the flute. Peter, dressed, as usual, as a sailor, rattled 
on the drum. He was surrounded by a noisy and motley 
crew of Venetians blowing shrill whistles ; Honduras savages, 
who waved their lances ; Poles, scraping violins ; Kalmuks, 
tinkling the balalaika (Russian guitar) ; Norwegian peasants, 
Lutheran pastors, monks ; Catholic bishops with stags' horns 
on their heads ; Raskolniks, whale-fishers, Armenians, 
Japanese, Lapps, and Tungouses. The noise of the instru- 
ments, the screams of the bears, the clang of the bells that 
rang out of every church tower, and the acclamations of the 
thousands of onlookers, rose in an infernal cacophony of 
sound. ' This is the Patriarch's wedding ! ' shouted the spec- 
tators ; ' Long live the Patriarch and his wife ! ' The cere- 
mony closed, as may be imagined, with a banquet, which 
soon became an orgy, during which a flock of trembling 
octogenarians acted as cupbearers. The festivities continued 
the next day, and lasted well into February. 1 

But it would be very unbecoming on my part to omit one 
detail. On the very day of the wedding, Peter, still in his 
sailor's costume, contrived, between the masquerade and the 
banquet, to give an audience to Count Vitzthum, during 
which, after having discussed most important matters, he 
charged him with a letter for his master, dated that very 
day, and dealing with Polish affairs. He also received 
Bassewitz, and talked over the Duke of Holstein's business 
with him. 2 This incident, in itself worthy of all admiration, 
will not diminish the disgust inspired by the circumstances 
which surrounded it. 

When Zotof died, in 17 17, Peter drew up fresh regulations 
for the election of his successor — quite a little volume of 
grotesque contrivances, in which he particularly insisted 
on the verification of the candidate's sex, according to 
the custom established at Rome since the days of the 

1 Golikof, vol. vi. pp. 279-290. Letter from De Bie to the Secretary of the 
States-General, St. Petersburg, Feb. 1, 1715, Dutch Stale Papers; Dolgoroukof, 
Memoirs, vol. i. p. 141. 

- GoliUof, vol. vi. pp. 279-290. 


famous Pope Joan. We must not forget that, just at that 
moment, he was expecting the return of his son Alexis, 
and was making ready to begin that terrible trial which was 
to cast such a painful shadow over the last years of his life. 
No symptom of that shadow was apparent as yet. The new 
candidate was called Peter Ivanovitch Boutourlin. He had 
hitherto borne the title of Archbishop of St. Petersburg 
' in the diocese of drunkards, gluttons, and madmen.' He 
was a member of one of the most illustrious families in the 
country. This time Peter kept the part of Subdeacon to 
the Conclave for himself. The members of this Conclave 
received their ballot balls, or rather the eggs which repre- 
sented them, from the hands of the Princess-Abbess, 
whose breasts they kissed ... I pass over details, which 
are either indescribable or uninteresting. 1 A few months 
later the unhappy Alexis was agonising in the Question 
Chamber under the torture of the whip, and yet his father 
sat gaily at table with the new Knes-papa — 'the Patriarch, 
or rather the burlesque of a Patriarch,' as Vockerodt calls 
him — and presided over scenes of the vilest and most 
disgusting debauchery. 

In 1720 Peter took it into his head to marry Boutourlin 
to Zotofs widow ; and once more we see him lavishing the 
strangest drolleries, obscenities, and unheard-of profanities, 
in all directions. A bed was set up within a pyramid, which 
had been built, in 17 14, before the Palace of the Senate, in 
commemoration of a victory over the Swedes. He must 
needs scoff at his soldiers' victories, at the blood spilt in 
defence of the country, even at his own glory ! The newly 
married couple were put to bed dead drunk, and subjected 
to the grossest indignities at the hands of the populace. 
The next morning, the new Knes-papa opened his Ponti- 
ficate, by giving his blessing after the fashion of the Russian 
priests, to a procession of maskers, who waited on him at 
his house. 2 

This Pontificate was of very short duration. On the 10th 
of September 1723, 1 read in one of Campredon's despatches : 
'The ceremony of the installation of the new Patriarch will 
take place at Moscow ; the Conclave will be held in a small 

Siemievski, Slovo i Dielo, p. 28 1, etc. ; Scherer, vol. ii. p. 163. 
2 Despatch from the French Resident, La Vie, St. Petersburg, Oct. 4, 1720, 
French Foreign Office ; Bergholz, /> 'inching- Magazin, vol. xix. p. 127, 


island near Preobrajenski, on which there is a peasants' 
cottage. The mock cardinals will there assemble on the 
appointed day ; they will have to drink wine and brandy, 
for four-and-twenty hours, without going to sleep, and after 
that fine preparation, they will choose their Patriarch.' 1 

There can be no t^o_^pjnions concerning these shameful 
scenes and aberrations from decency. The only possible 
disagreement is as to what explanation may be given of 
them. I hold to that I have already indicated. Peter was 
the representative of a society in process of formation, into 
which historical premisses, and his own pej ^onal in itiative, 
had introduced, and continued to maintain, diverse and 
opposing elements of fermentation — -a society in which 
nothing stable, nothing consecrated, and, therefore, nothing 
sa cred , existed. From the days of Ivan the Terrible, all the 
remarkable men in this society had been eccentric s — ' Samo- 
doury,' according to the expressive national term — and this 
fact is explained by the absence of a common fund of national 
culture. Peter was the same. He was a huge Mastodon, 
and his moral proportions were all colossal and monstrous , 
like those of the antediluvian flora and fauna. He was 
full of elementary forces and instincts — the true primi- 
tive man, close and thick-growing like a virgin forest, 
bursting with sap, and infinitely diverse. Man, as he was 
before a long course of natural selection developed him into 
a special type of the human species — like no one else, and 
still full of the most incongruous resemblances, mighty, 
capricious, tragicomic, a kinsman of Louis XI., and own 
cousin to Sir John Falstaff. Very plebeian too, as I have 
already said — a close neighbour of those fewer strata, out of 
which a chosen circle was slowly rising. He chose his 
friends and collaborators among the common herd, looked 
after his household like any shopkeeperTtlTrashed his wife 
like a peasant, and sought his pleasure where the lower 
populace generally finds it. When, to all this, we add the 
incessant clash, within his brain, of ideas and inspirations, 
which, though often contradictory in themselves, generally 
tended to a deliberate upheaval and a consequent universal 
leveUjng__42rocess — when we consider that he cons cious ly 
possessed the most absolute power, over the men and things 
around him, that any human being has ever known — and 

1 French Foreign Office. 


when we recollect the urgent need, that, as I have said 
already, must from time to time have stung him, to violently 
cast off the realities of existence, because, in the long-run, 
they grew unendurable, even to such a man as he was — 
this strange aspect of the great Tsar's moral character will 
surely be sufficiently explained. 



I. Abundance of ideas — Aids to memory — These ideas mostly suggested — Peter 
haunted by the West — Inadequacy of certain essential notions — Justice, 
religion, morality — Intellectual incoherence — Utilitarian spirit. 
II. General conception of the Sovereign's duty — Contradictory principles 
mingled with it — Individual abnegation, and absorption of the common 
•life — Introduction of the social principle into the organisation of the 
country, and acceptance of its extreme consequences — The first servant 
of the State — Peter relinquishes the wealth amassed by his predecessors — 
The patrimony of the Romanofs — Peter Mihailofs pay — His account 
book — 366 roubles a year — The reverse of the medal — Whimsicality and 
despotism — The servant's hand raised against his master. 

in. The causes of this contradiction — Revolutionary nature of the Reform — 
Asiatic elements — -The Regime of terror aggravated by them — Historical 
connection — Arbitrary Government and the Inquisition — A dilettante in 
Torture — Universal espionage — 'The tongues' — The Secret Police and 
the Tribunals of the Convention — Duration of this regime, and patience of 
the country under it — Suited to the National habits. 

iv. A system of perpetual threats — Summary executions — The Doubina — The 
executioner's axe — Desertion — Attempts to repress it — The brand — Out- 
lawry — None of these measures suffice — A general sauve-qtii-peiit — ' Near 
the Tsar, near death ' — Absenteeism of the great families — Parvenus — 
The system thus rendered still more oppressive — Favouritism — Ancestral 
traditions — Their share in the Reform, and their influence on its scope. 

I HAVE already, in the course of my remarks on the intellec- 
tual gifts of the great reformer, described them in acjixc 
operation, — for action was his invariable condition. It now 
remains for me to show them in more direct connection with 
the realities of life, and of practical government. 

Peter's ideas came to him in shoals. Their abundance is 
proved by the means he employed to protect the daily pro- 
duct of his active brain against the weakness of his own 
memory . He always ca iTJed_ tablets with him, which he 
constantly drew from his pocket and covered with hasty 



notes. When these were filled — and this was all too soon — 
he would lay hands on the first piece of paper that came 
handy, and would even use the smallest clear space on any 
document within his reach, — whether its contents bore any 
relation to the subject of his momentary preoccupation or 
not. Thus, on the margin of a report on the proposed 
establishment of the St. Petersburg Academy, and following 
certain notes of his, respecting this particular business, the 
following lines, also in his handwriting, appear : — ' I must 
send orders to Roumiantsof, in the Ukraine, to exchange 
all the oxen he can get in the province for sheep, and to 
send some one abroad to learn how to take care of that sort 
of animal, how they are shorn, and how the wool is prepared 
for use.' x 

These ideas, if we look into them closely, are no more 
than sugge stions, coming directly from without, and but 
slightly moclirled by any i ntern al intellectual process ; and 
they are more remarkable for their number than for their 
amplitude. Peter thxiught, just as he looked at things, in 
detail, and the chief quality of his mind was a marvellous 
refle cting power. But the mirror of his intellect would 
appear to us to be broken up into too many, and too 
strangely disposed, facets. A certain number of the sur- 
rounding objects, — and these often the nearest ones, — 
escaped his perception altogether. He spent years in the 
near vicinity of such a man as Possoshkof, and utterly 
ignored the existence of that profound and original thinker. 
Probably the poor philosopher suffered from the fact, that he 
%vas neither a German nor a Dutchman. In vain did he 
send some of his writings — his treaty on poverty and wealth, a 
huge and astonishing political encyclopaedia — to his sovereign. 
In vain did he even recommend himself to his notice in that 
domain of practical performance, which Peter so particularly 
appreciated. Possoshkoff was the first person to open s alt- 
petre works in Russia. Prince Boris Galitzin gave him 
fourteen roubles for his discovery, and that was all he ever 
made by it. When, long after Peter's death, people began 
to read his work, he was shut up in prison, and there died, 
No publisher touched it till half a century later — in 1799. 
Peter had no use for his knowledge and his talents. Yet, 
during his first visit to the Hague, he applied to the Secretary 

1 Staehlin, p. 170. 


of the States General, 1 Fagel, to find him a man who would 
undertake to organise and direct his State Ch ancery, — another 
Dutch boatswain to erect another machine, and set it going ! 
A short time later, in London, he took the advice of a Pro- 
testant ecclesiastic on the same subject. The Apolcipomena 
of Francis Lee, 2 show clear traces of this consultation, and 
some of his readers have discovered, beside a learned dis- 
sertation on the plan of Noah's Ark, the principle of those 
future administrative bodies, on which the working of Peter's 
Government was to hinge. That looking-glass of his was 
invariably turned westward. The Memoirs of Ostermann, 
unpublished as yet, are indeed said to contain this sally, 
ascribed to the Tsar : ' Europe is necessary to us for a few 
decades ; after that, we will turn our back on it' 3 I have not 
been able to verify the quotation, but even the fact of its 
correctness would not convince me of the authenticity of the 
remark. Failing clear proof of that, I should be much more 
inclined to take it as the dictum of some modern Slavophile. 
Action — with this man of perpetual motion — often pre- 
ceded thought, or, at all events, followed immediately on it ; 
and the number of his acts for this reason far exceeds the 
quantity of his ideas. Certain very essential notions he ab- 
solutely lacked, especially in matters of mere iu^Hrp . In 
171 5, some of his sailors burnt certain Dutch ships, which 
they had taken for Swedish ones. He vowed it was Sweden's 
business to pay the damage, because the incident had occurred 
near Helsingfors ; and Helsingfors stood on Swedish soil. 
And he really believed he was within his right. He forced 
the Swedish Chancellor, Piper, whom he had taken prisoner 
at Poltava, to sign a draft for 30,000 crowns on Stockholm, 
and, when the Swedish Government refused to pay, he threw 
the Chancellor, — a sick man, over 70 years of age, — into a 
dungeon, where he died the following year. 4 I have already 
spoken of the incojiiiistency and confusion of mind, betrayed 
in all his behaviour, as regards religious- matters. The 
Registers of the Confessional, about which Catherine was later \ / 
to make such a mystery to Voltaire, and the penalties for </ 
refractory persons, were all of his invention. He used to sing 

1 Schcltema, Russia and the Lmu Countries, vol. i. p. 175-183. 

2 London, 1752. 

:! Russian Archives, 1S74, p. 1579. 

4 Bcrgholz, Biischings-Magazin, vol. xix. p. 67. 


in the church choirs, and each of his victories was celebrated 
by a service which lasted at least five hours. The thanks- 
giving for the victory of Poltava lasted seven, so as to give 
good measure to the God of armies. Poor-boxes were 
placed in all the churches he usually frequenTeTT7to~receive 
the fines he inflicted on any members of the congregation 
whom he caught in unseemly attitudes, talk ing or sleeping. 
And an iron collar, which the severity of the Sovereign 
reserved for hardened offenders, is still preserved in the 
Convent of St. Alexander Nevski. Such persons heard 
their Mass, the following Sunday, firmly fastened by the 
neck to one of the pillars of the sacred edifice ! 1 

Yet, at other moments, both his. words and actions seemed 
to indicate a l eani ng t owar ds Protestanism. He would sur- 
round himself with Calvinists and Lutherans, would hold 
long doctrinal discussions, in which his oxthodoxy often 
appeared very questionable, and would listen, with ap- 
parent devotion, to sermons that reeked of heresy. An 
edict, published in 1706, and approved by him, granted all 
^Protestants free exercise of their worship. 

But again, Theiner has published a series of documents 
proving the hopes felt at JRome — both before, and after, 
this decision — as to a possible reunion between the two 
churches. The Sovereign went so far, at certain moments, 
as to be gracious even to the Jesuits. He began, it must 
be confessed, by expelling them, in 1689, and the opinion 
he expressed of them at Vienna, in 1698, was far from 
friendly. ' The Emperor,' he was heard to say, ' must know 
those people are much richer than he is, yet during the whole 
of his last war with Turkey, he never forced them to send 
him a man, or even a copper coin.' Notwithstanding which, 
only eight years later, the Jesuit Fathers had col lege s, both 
at Moscow, St. Petersburg, and at Archangel. This went on 
till 17 19, then, all of a sudden, they were driven out again. 
Why ? Because of a quar rel with the Austrian Court, the 
natural protector of the disciples of Loyola. Peter, not 
finding himself able to injure the Emperor, wreaked his bad 
temper on the Emperor's protigis. All his principles, whether 
in religion or in politics, were of a piece with this sorry per- 
formance. 2 

1 Scherer, vol. iii. p. 23b!. 

2 Golikof, vol. vii. pp. 237, 431. Weber, Last Anecdotes, p. 34S. 


As regards the Jews, he would seem to have had a settled 
determination of a sort. He could not abide them. He would 
not have them in his empire at any price. And yet, I find 
in his inner circle a Meyer, a most undoubted Jew, who, 
with his brother-in-law, Lups, served the Tsar in various 
operations connected with army finance and supply. The 
contractor was to be seen, close to his employer, sitting on 
his right, even at the deliberations of the Senate, and treated 
with every respect and consideration. 1 

The fact is, that in everything, and above all things, Peter 
was iitilitarinii, and thus it came about, that, in matters of 
morality, his opinions and his line of conduct generally led 
him into practical cynicism. He made a law whereby 
infanticide was punished with death, but the lawgiver was 
astounded to find that Charles v. had visited adultery with 
the same penalty. ' Had he too many subjects ? ' 2 One 
day, at Vichnyi'-Volotchok, in the Government of Nov- 
gorod, whither he had gone to inspect some canals in 
course of construction, he noticed, in the crowd, a young 
girl, whose pretty face, and air of embarrassment, both 
struck him. He beckoned to her. She came at once, 
but all abashed, hiding her face in her hands. He 
said something about finding her a husband. Her young 
companions burst out laughing. He inquired the reason, 
and was told the unhappy child had gone astray, and that 
her lover, a German officer, had left her with a baby in 
her arms. No crime this, in the Tsar's eyes ! Sharply he 
took the girl's companions to task, sent for the infant, and 
openly declared his pleasure at the thought that he would 
some day be a good soldier. He kissed the mother, gave 
her a handful of roubles, and promised not to lose sight of 
heiv 5 He bestowed 10,000 ducats, and an order for banish- 
ment, on Tolstoi', the President of the commercial depart- 
ment of his Government, to help him to get rid of an Italian 
courtesan ; but, that the money might not be altogether 
wasted, he contrived a secret ' negotiation at Vienna and 
at Rome, in which the fair lady was expected to act as a 
decoy. 4 

1 Staehlin, p. 333. 2 Ibid. :t Staehlin, p. 233. 

4 Camprcdnirs Despatches, 17111 Aug. 1722 (French Foreign Office). 



Peter had, as I have endeavoured to show, a general con- 
ception of his duties, of the part he had to play, and of 
the rights it conferred on him. Yet, unconsciously, he 
mingled two principles, which — though he neither knew it 
nor cared — were in radical co ntradic tion to each other. 
Starting from his own absolute individual sacrifice on the 
altar of the common interest, he arrived at the complete 
absorption of the whole community into his own all-engross- 
ing individuality. Louis xi v.'s pretensions were nothing 
to his. He not only claimed that the Sovereign was the 
.State, but that the whole life of the nation, past, present, 
ancTTuture, was identical with his own . He firmly believed 
that the intellectual and economic renewal — over which he 
did indeed preside, but which certainly proceeded, in part, 
from causes anterior to, and independent of, his action — was 
his perso nal work , his creation, his chattel, devoid of any 
reason for, or possibility of, existence, apart from him. He 
doubtless believed in a prolongation of this work, beyond 
the probable term of his own existence. All his efforts, in 
fact, were directed to this object. But, at the bottom of his 
heart, he could not conceive its existence without any parti- 
cipation of his. Hence his indifference in the matter of the 
dynastic question. It is no deluge that he foresees, after his 
own departure : he sees something not far removed from 
utter void. 

His rights and dudes, as he understood them, were quite 
a nov elty to Russia. Until his time, the whole organisation 
of the country, including its political life, had been founded 
on the faniily^ idea. His father, the Tsar Alexis, had been no 
more than the chief of a race, and of a household ; there was 
no society in his days, no suspicion of a reciprocity of rights 
and duties. This was the true Oriental conception of exist- 
ence. Peter returned from the west, bringing with him a 
sociaL42rinciple, which he put forward with all his usual 
determination and exaggeration. He proclaimed himself 
the fksLservaiit of his country, and carried this idea to an 
extreme and fantastic point. In 1709 he wrote to Field- 
Marshal Shercmctief, asking him to support his application 
to the sovereign — that is to say, to Romodanovski — to be 


promoted rear-admiral, humbly pleading his own cause, and 
reciting his services. In 17 14 he received, and uncomplain- 
ingly accepted, the refusal of the Admiralty to his re- 
quest for promotion. In 1723, when he was with the 
fleet at Revel, he asked for a doctor's certificate to enable 
him to get leave from the Lord High Admiral to sleep on 
shore. 1 He built himself a country house near Revel, which 
he christened Catharinenthal, and expressed astonishment, 
on the occasion of his first visit to it, at seeing the park quite 
empty. Did people think that he had set so many hands to 
work, and spent so much money, for no one's benefit but his 
own ? The very next morning the town crier informed the 
inhabitants of Revel that the park was theirs, for their free 
and unrestricted use. 2 Immediately after his accession to 
the throne, he divided the considerable fortune amassed by 
his father and his grandfather into two parts. By means of 
the privileges and monopolies assigned to the sovereign, the 
Tsar Alexis had accumulated 10,734 diessiatines of cultivated 
land and 50,000 houses, bringing in a revenue of 200,000 
roubles. Peter would keep none of this. He made all his 
wealth over to the State, only reserving the modest patri- 
mony of the Romanofs, ' 800 souls' in the Government of 
Novgorod, for his private use. 3 The only increase of income 
he would accept, was the usual pay of the various grades he 
successively held in the army and in the fleet. Receipts, 
signed by his hand, are still preserved, acknowledging the 
sum of 366 roubles, the amount of his annual pay as a chief 
carpenter. We also have his account book, which, though 
not very regularly kept, is full of curious details. ' In 1705 
I earned 366 roubles for my work in the Voroneje shipyards, 
and 40 roubles as my captain's pay; in 1706, 156 roubles 
altogether, received at Kief; in 1707, received at Grodno, 
my colonel's pay, 460 roubles. Expenses — In 1707, gave at 
Vilna, for a monastery, 150 roubles ; for stuffs bought in the 
same town, 39 roubles ; to Anisia Kirillovna, for wearing 
apparel, 26 roubles ; to Prince George Shahofskoi for wear- 
ing apparel, 41 roubles ; to the aide-de-camp Bartenief, for 
a very important errand, 50 roubles.' 4 Going one day round 

1 Sbornik, vol. xxv. p. 152. Golikof, vol. v. p. 257. Bergholz, Busc/iings- 
Magazin, vol. xxi. p. 2S1. - Scherer, vol. iii. p. 65. 

:; Karnovitch, Great Russian Fortunes (St. Petersburg), 18S5, p. 27. 
4 Cabinet, Series I., No. 64, Writings and Correspondence, vol. iii. p. 31. 


the forges at Istie, in the Government of Riazan, he mingled 
with the workmen, toiled, hammer in hand, for several hours, 
and then counted up his gains. He had earned 18 altines 
(copper coins of 3 kopecks each) for a corresponding number 
of poods of metal, on which he had spent his strength. He 
drew the money, and gleefully announced that as soon as he 
got back to Moscow he should go to the Riady (a sort of 
bazaar), and there spend it on a pair of shoes, those he had 
on his feet being quite worn out. 1 

Something there was, at once touching and imposing, 
about this attitude of mind, but it had another side. To 
begin with, there was a good deal of whim, about it, and of 
this the great man himself was well aware. Writing to 
Catherine from Helsingfors, in 171 3, he says, ' On the 6th 
of this month the Admiral promoted me to the rank of 
General, whereupon I beg to congratulate the General's wife. 
A strange business ! I was made a Rear-Admiral while I was 
campaigning on the Steppes, and here I am a General while 
I am at sea.' 2 Nartof's story of the Tsar's meeting with 
Romodanovski, on the Preobrajenskoie Road, throws a 
comical light on the perpetual ambiguity which it pleased 
him to keep up, between the reality of his rank, and the 
fiction of his assumed position. Peter, seated, as usual, in 
his unpretending vehicle, saluted the mock sovereign, giving 
him his title, ' Mein gnlidiger Her Kaiser} but forgetting to 
uncover. Romodanovski — in a splendid carriage, surrounded 
by a numerous suite, and preceded by a footman, who drove 
back the crowd with a heavy whip, shouting ' Stand back ! 
hats off!' — swept by like a whirlwind, casting a furious 
glance on the real sovereign. An hour later he sent for 
Peter Mihailof, and without himself rising, or offering him a 
seat, roughly addressed him, inquiring what he meant by 
not baring his head when he saluted him. ' I did not recog- 
nise your Majesty in your Tartar dress,' was Peter's reply. 3 
And his Majesty did not press the matter, remembering, 
doubtless, a certain letter received from Peter Mihailof in 
consequence of a complaint made by James Bruce, and thus 
beginning : ' Wild beast ! (Zvier) how long will you go on 
ill-treating people thus? Even here' (Peter was then in 
Holland) ' the wretches you have maimed come to me. Let 

1 Nartof, p. 55. 

a Correspondence, 1S61 edition, p. 34. :i Narlof, p. 93. 


there be an end to your too great intimacy with Ivashka 
(drunkenness) ! ' l 

Another, and a much more serious, fault appears. All 
this false humility, and all the very real self-sacrifice which 
goes with it, do not prevent the relations of this man with 
the nation he professes to serve — and for which, indeed, he 
strips himself and sacrifices his whole existence — from being 
not only of the most exacting — that might be justified — but 
of the most arbitrarily despotic nature. He evidently looks 
on all service and sacrifice as being only the due of that 
towering and merciless ideal, to which every one, like him- 
self, is bound to contribute. But, granting this, he might 
have been expected to make some allowance for natural lack 
of aptitude, for weakness, for mental inadequacy, and indi- 
vidual incapacity. He would not even admit the existence 
of such failings. The man who did not take up his appointed 
place, and there perform the task assigned him, was held 
a traitor, a relapser, and, as such, was forthwith outlawed. 
His property, if he had any, was sequestrated, — for, being 
good for nothing, he was not worthy to possess anything. 
He was allotted a small subsistence out of his own income, 
the rest passed to his relations, and their mere declaration, 
confirmed by him, and presented to the Senate, sufficed for 
the transfer. If he was old enough to marry, he was for- 
bidden to take a wife, lest his children should be like him- 
self, — for the State had no need of such persons.' 2 At Moscow, 
in December 1704, Peter himself inspected all the staff at his 
disposal, Bo'iars, Stolniks, Dvorianin, and other officials of 
every kind. Against each name he wrote with his own hand 
some special duty to be performed. 3 If any man failed in 
his functions, or tried to slip out of their performance, his 
punishment, at the very least, was civil death. 

But was the toiler free when once his task was finished ? 
No, indeed ; for the principle, in virtue of which he had been 
called upon to labour, claimed him altogether. His body 
and his soul, his thoughts, his occupations, his very pleasures 
belonged to the Tsar. And here we see the consequence of 
the confusion between the idea itself and the man who rcpre- 

1 Correspondence, Dec. 22, 1697, vol. i. p. 226. Compare Oustrialof, vol. iii. 

P- 95- 

- Ukase, dated Dec. 6, 1722. Gulikuf, vol. ix. p. 83. 

3 Golikof, vol. ii. p. 513. 


sented it. There was only one goal, and one road which led 
to it. The Tsar led the van, and all the rest must follow. 
His subjects had to do what he did, think as he thought, 
believe what he believed, and even take their amusements 
when, and as, he took his. They had to do without bridges 
across the Neva, because he liked crossing the river in a boat, 
and they had to shave their beards, because his beard grew 
sparsely. They must even get drunk when he got drunk ; 
dress themselves up as cardinals, or as monkeys, if that 
pleased him ; scoff at God and His saints, if the fancy took 
him ; and very likely spend seven hours with him in church 
on the following day. Any resistance, any weakness, a mere 
lack of comprehension, a sign of visible effort, a symptom of 
disgust, or a mere failure in understanding instructions, was 
punished with the rod, the lash, or even the headsman's axe. 
The so-called servant would raise his hand upon his master, 
to strike, and often to kill him. In March 1704, Prince 
Alexis Bariatinski was whipped in the public square for 
having failed to bring up a few recruits for inspection. In 
that very same year Gregory Kamynin underwent the same 
punishment for having refused to share in the delights of the 


These contradictions, flagrant as they are, can be ex- 
plained. Peter _was a violent reforme r. His reform was 
revolutionary in character, and his~ government consequently 
partook of those conditions of existence, and of action, which 
have always been the inseparable concomitants of a political 
and social state of revolution. Again, his government, in 
spite of its revolutionary character, was the outcome, to a 
certain extent, of the former course of the national history, 
customs, and traditions. Of this fact Peter himself was 
evidently conscious. On one of the triumphal arches, raised 
at Moscow, on the occasion of the peace with Sweden, in 
1 72 1, the effigy of the reigning Tsar was associated with 
that of Jvan theJTerrible. This idea emanated from the 
Duke of Holstein. The uncle seems to sanction the 
nephew's action, and thus to claim an historical connection, 
1 Jeliaboujski, Memoirs, pp. 214, 225. 


which is, indeed, constantly confirmed by all that nephew's 
acts and ways of thought. 1 But, though principles might 
differ, practice daily gave the lie to theory. Theory, in 
this case, was frequently fiberal in the extreme ; practice 
almost always stood for despotism, arbitrary rule, inquisi- 
tion, downright terrorism. Peters reign was a reign of 
terxor, as Cromwell's had been, as Robespierre's was to be, 
but with a special stamp of savagery of its own, derived 
from his Asiatic origin. In 1691, Basil Galitzin, Sophia's 
unfortunate political partner, was visited, even in his distant 
and cruel exile, by a fresh criminal prosecution. A 
tcherniets (monk) had heard the Ex-regent foretell the 
Tsar's approaching death. Put to the question, several 
times over, he still adhered to his denunciation. The 
proofs seemed clear enough, yet the enquiry ended by 
establishing that the monk had never seen the exile, and 
had never travelled to larensk, where he was interned. The 
whole story had been invented ' ot bezoumia] in a fit of frenzy, 
a form of mental alienation common both in Ivan's reign 
and in Peter's, resulting from the constant and haunting 
terror of the secret police, and of the torture chamber. The 
whole system was a part of the national tradition. The 
Russian proverb, ' The knout is no angel, but it teaches 
men to tell the truth,' contains at once its sanction and its 
apology. Of that fact Peter was deeply convinced. He 
was himself the most eager of inquisitors, delighting in the 
monstrous art, drawing up manuscript notes for the conduct 
of examinations, in which he frequently took a personal 
share, watching the smallest details, laying stress on every 
word, spying the slightest gesture. He caused a private 
jeweller, suspected of misappropriation, to be brought to his 
palace for examination. Twice over, for an hour each time, he . 
put him to the combined tortures of the strappado and the 
knout, and he cheerfully related all the grisly incidents of the 
business to the Duke of Holstein,that very evening. 2 With 
an army of spies and detectives already at his beck and 
call, he would personally supplement their efforts, listening 
behind doors, and moving about amongst the tables during 
banquets, when enforced libations had heated men's head^, 
and loosened their tongues. He would set men to watch 

1 Staehlin, p. 217. 

- Siemievski, The Empress Catherine II. (St. Petersburg, 1SS4), p. 154. 
VOL. I. M 


and supervise those officials, civil or military, who were 
stationed too far from him to be under his personal eye. 
He corresponded with these spies, and gave them very 
extensive powers. Field-Marshal Sheremetief, who was 
employed to put down a revolt in Astrakhan, was thus 
watched by a sergeant of the guard, Shtchepotief. Baron 
Von Schleinitz, the Tsar's minister in Paris, was spied on 
by one of his own copying clerks, named Iourine. 1 My 
readers will recognise the methods which sent Bellegarde, 
Dubois, and Delmas, to represent the convention in the camp 
of General Dumouriez. There is a close family resemblance 
between all revolutions. 

A contemporary memoir writer describes a single year 
of the great Russian reign, as being hardly more than an 
enumeration of tortures and executions. 2 The arrest of 
one culprit brought about the arrest of ten, twenty, or even 
a hundred more. The man was first of all put to the torture, 
to force him to give the names of his accomplices, which 
names he gave, not unfrequently, at random. When his 
memory failed him, a sort of coarse canvas hood was put 
over his head, and he was led through the streets, in search 
of passers-by, whom he might point out to the officers of 
justice. Then a shout would rise, more terrible even than the 
call of ' fire,' and the most populous quarters would straight- 
way become a desert. ' The tongue, the tongue,' thus the 
populace designated the involuntary, but generally docile 
instrument of this hunt for culprits, and forthwith there was 
a general sauve qui petit? Secret accusations were of common 
occurrence. A series of ukases provided for them, offering 
encouragement and bounties to informers, and threatening 
any persons knowing anything affecting the safety of the 
Tsar or of the empire, who hesitated to come forward, with 
the most terrible chastisements. 4 The usual bounty was a 
sum of six roubles, but in special circumstances, it rose much 
higher. In 1722, ten bags, each containing 100 roubles, 
were laid, with a lantern beside them, in one of the Moscow 
squares. The contents, according to an announcement, 

1 Golikof, vol. viii. p. 406. - Jeliaboujski, p. 26. 

:: Ibid., p. 274 (Editor's note). 

4 Nov. 1st, 1705; March 2nd, 1711; Aug. 25th and Oct. 25th, 1715: Jan. 
25th, Sept. 26th, and Dec. 24th, 1716 ; April 16th and 19th, 17 17 ; Jan. 19th, 
1718; April i6th, 1719; Feb. 9th and July 22nd, 1720; Feb. 19th, 1721 ; 
Jan. nth, 1722. 


placed on the same spot, were to belong to any person 
who should give information as to the author of a pamphlet 
against the Tsar, which had been found in one of the 
churches within the Kreml. The informer was further 
promised a gift of land, and a post in the public service. 
Any man who chose to pronounce the time-honoured 
formula, Slovo i dielo (literally ' word and action '), and thus 
to affirm his knowledge or suspicion of any act punishable 
by the secret police, could call for a criminal enquiry. And 
a very small thing, an imprudent word or even less, was 
held to justify suspicion. A peasant was put to the torture, 
and condemned to hard labour for life, for having, when in a 
state of intoxication, done obeisance to the Tsar ' in an un- 
usual manner.' Another shared his fate for not having been 
aware that the Tsar had assumed the title of Emperor. A 
priest who had spoken of the sovereign's illness, and had 
appeared to admit the possibility of his death, was sent as 
a convict to Siberia. A woman found letters, traced by an 
unknown hand, and in an unknown tongue, on a barrel of 
beer in her own cellar. She was examined, could give no 
explanation, and died under the knout. Another woman's 
screams and wild convulsions disturbed the service in church. 
She was blind, and probably epileptic, but there was just a 
chance that she might have deliberately attempted to cause 
scandal. She was put to the question. A tipsy student who 
had spoken some unseemly words, was given thirty lashes 
with the knout ; his nostrils were torn out, and he was sent 
to hard labour for life. I quote from official documents, 
from the minutes of the Russian Star Chamber, 1 and, save 
for the knout, I could easily have mistaken them for the 
minutes of the Courts presided over by Couthon, and St 

Peter was not, indeed, altogether devoid of any idea of 
clemency. He is superior, in this matter, to the ordinary 
type of revolutionists, and justifies the idea I have formed of 
his character. In 1708, I find him desiring Dolgorouki to 
treat those members of Boulavin's insurrection, who should 
willingly make their submission, with indulgence. When 
Dolgorouki betrays his astonishment, the Tsar insists, 
pointing out the necessity of distinguishing cases in which 
severity was indispensable from those in which it may be 
1 Siemievski, Glovo i Dielo, p. 51. 


relaxed. But Dolgorouki's wonder proves the settled 
ferocity of the general tendency of Peter's rule. 

This severity lasted till the end of his reign. How came 
it to have been so long patiently endured ? Surely because 
it corresponded with the national customs. The whole 
nation was a party to it. There was no public sentiment of 
dislike to the person or the act of an informer. A century 
and a half later, this condition of mind remained almost un- 
changed. The most popular lines, probably, of the most 
popular of all the national poets, describe a Cossack's ride 
across the Steppes, carry an accusation to the Tsar. 1 


A special characteristic of the great Reformer's methods is 
his incessant use of threats. When Nieplouief, his Resident 
at Constantinople, was taking his final leave, he addressed 
him by the name of Father. The Tsar interrupted him, ' A 
father I will be to thee if thy conduct is good — if not, I will 
be thy merciless judge!" 2 He ordered General Repnin to 
prevent wood, sent from Poland, from being admitted into 
Riga, adding, ' If a single faggot gets through, I swear by 
God, thy head shall be cut off!' 3 And this was no empty 
threat. When he wrote to his friend Vinnius, in 1696, in 
reference to a careless correspondent, ' Tell him I will lay 
what he fails to put on paper on his own back,' 4 we feel he 
used no figure of speech. He would often send for officials, 
high and low, with whom he had to find fault, into his 
cabinet, and would there indicate his displeasure by a sound 
drubbing with his doubina. This, indeed, was considered a 
mark of favour — it being the sovereign's will that, on such 
occasions, fault and punishment alike should be kept secret. 
The only persons present were such faithful servants as 
Nartof, and the culprits composed their countenances as best 
they could, before leaving the Imperial presence, so that no 
sign of the occurrence might appear. As a general rule, to 
complete the illusion, they were commanded to dinner on the 

1 Poushkin, Poltava, Canto I. (Collected Works, 1887 edition), vol. iii. p. 118. 

- Golikof, vol. viii. p. 132. 

:; 19th May 1705, Writings and Correspondence, vol. iii. p. 346. 

4 15th July 169b, Writings and Correspondence, vol. i. p. 90. 


same day. But occasionally the doubina did its work in 
public, in the offices of some administrative body, or even in 
the open street. Sometimes — and this was a great proof of 
the sovereign's esteem and friendship for the person so com- 
missioned — a third party was deputed to administer the 
extra-judicial correction. When Captain Sieniavin took 
the two first Swedish vessels which fell into Russian hands, 
he at once became the chief favourite of the moment. Peter 
sent for him, and said, ' To-morrow you will dine in the house 
of such a person ; during the meal you will pick a quarrel with 
him, and you will give him, in my presence, fifty blows with 
your stick, neither more nor less.' And the sovereign evi- 
dently considered this participation in the punishment in- 
flicted by the Imperial will, which chastised one man and 
rewarded another, as reflecting considerable honour on both. 1 
During the Persian campaign, another temporary favourite, 
Wolynski, was accosted one night, close to the Imperial tent, 
and, without a word of explanation, overwhelmed by a shower 
of blows. All at once, the Tsar held his hand. The dark- 
ness and a chance resemblance had misled him ; there had 
been a miscarriage of justice. All he vouchsafed was coolly 
to remark, ' No matter ! Thou art sure one day to deserve 
what I have given thee now ; thou wilt only have to remind 
me, then, that the debt is paid.' And the opportunity was 
not long in comincf. 2 

The Tsar's irascibility, and habitual fits of rage, certainly 
had something to do with these summary chastisements, but 
they were also the outcome of a certain deliberate system. 
Coming one day, unexpectedly, into a naval captain's cabin, 
Peter noticed an open book, which the officer vainly en- 
deavoured to conceal. Glancing at the page, he read the 
following aphorism aloud : ' Russia is like a cod-fish ; unless 
you beat it constantly, you can do nothing with it.' The 
Tsar smiled, and departed, saying, ' That is well ! The books 
you read are useful books. You shall be promoted ! ' 3 

The doubina, as I have said, was kept for those he loved, 
and would fain spare ; the rest had to do with a very different 
form of the judicial power. Uniformity of punishment is one 
of the chief characteristics of the criminal legislation of that 
period. The legislator never measured his severity by the 

1 Memoirs (published by Prince Galitzin, Paris, iS62 s , p. 133. 

2 Scherer, vol. iii. p. 32. :: Ibid., vol. i. p. 15. 

j82 peter the great 

degree of culpability inherent to the crimes to be suppressed 
— all he thought of was his personal interest in their repres- 
sion. Now as this interest, which was also the interest of 
the State, admitted of no gradation, neither did the punish- 
ments to be inflicted admit of any. The civil ukases and 
regulations were just as ferocious as those applied to military 
matters. Death to the soldier marching to the assault, who 
shall give vent to ' wild cries,' or stop to pick up a wounded 
man, ' even his own father.' Death to the office clerk, who 
should not complete a given piece of work within the time 
the law prescribed. Death, in almost every imaginable case. 1 

Towards the end of the reign, the mutual dread and dis- 
trust had grown so universal, that life in the Tsar's imme- 
diate circle was really intolerable. He watched every one, 
and every one watched him, and watched his neighbour, with 
anxious and suspicious eyes. He concealed his smallest 
plans, and every one else did the same. Every business 
matter, whether diplomatic or other, was shrouded in im- 
penetrable mystery. Conversation was carried on in whispers ; 
correspondence was crammed with ambiguous terms. At a 
gathering in the house of Prince Dolgorouki, in February 
1723, Ostermann addressed Campredon, and drew him 
gradually and cautiously into a window. He had a message 
for him, he said, for the Tsar. Campredon was all ears, 
when, suddenly, the expected disclosure died on the Chan- 
cellor's lips, and he would utter nothing but commonplaces. 
A third party had, as he fancied, drawn too near them. Then 
came the Tsar himself. He made the French Minister sit 
familiarly beside him, and lavished compliments upon him. 
But when the envoy tried to come to the point, he pretended 
not to hear him, drowned his voice with noisy exclamations, 
and then left him, whispering the words, ' I will give orders 
to have terms arranged with you.' All this fuss was over the 
marriage of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth with the Duke de 
Chartres ; and the first appointment to talk the matter over, 
made subsequently by Ostermann with Campredon, was 
fixed for six o'clock in the morning, as being more likely to 
escape observation. 2 

Two years before, in the midst of the negotiations begun 

1 Peter I.'s Writings and Correspondence, vol. iii. p. 77. Filippof, Peter the 
Great and the Penal Lazos, page 283, etc. 
- Campredon's Despatches, Feb. 12, 1723 (French Foreign Office). 


in December 172 1, to guarantee his own succession, the 
Tsar's interviews with Campredon had taken place in the 
house of Jagoujinski, and without Ostermann's knowledge. 
The first thing Peter then demanded, was to be enlightened 
on a point which was of the utmost importance to himself, 
but which had no relation whatsoever to the subject under 
discussion. He had, it would appear, during his visit to 
Paris, begun, and personally carried on, some other negoti- 
ation, the secret of which had been betrayed. How and by 
whom ? Campredon was desired to send a courier to the 
Regent, with orders to bring back a prompt reply to these 
questions. The Regent, according to his wont, carefully sent 
the despatch on to the King of England, who, quite unmoved, 
wrote on the margin, ' All this convinces me that the Tsar's 
ministers, who are endeavouring to destroy each other, have 
found means to inspire him with suspicions as to some of 
their number, and that he is dying to find a pretext to have 
them impaled as soon as possible. I believe this to be the 
sole reason for his curiosity.' And further on he writes, ' This 
confirms me in my conviction that the Tsar desires to impale 
somebody.' l 

It is a curious fact, that all the rigorous penalties by 
which the implacable ruler endeavoured to enforce that 
universal service, which he desired to impose, on his subjects, 
did not succeed in preventing numerous and constantly in- 
creasing desertions. In vain did he answer these by increased 
severity. A regulation of the War Department, dated 1712, 
decreed the use of the brand for military recruits, as well as 
for convicts. There is even a legend connected with this 
matter, according to which the Tsar, in his contempt for the 
ancient faith, marked his soldiers with the sign of Antichrist. 
The brand chosen was, in fact, a cross, tatooed on the left 
hand ; the outline was pricked into the skin, and covered 
with a pinch of powder which was set alight. It is worthy 
of remark, that one of Peter's letters, with reference to this 
barbarous custom, is also filled with directions, which prove 
the greatest solicitude for the comfort of the poor tatooed 
fellows, during their long marches to rejoin their depots. 1 
The practical -mindedness of the great Reformer is clearly 
shown in this contradictory epistle — a practical-mindedness 

1 Campredon's Despatches, Dec. 21, 1721. 
- Russian Archives, 1873, PP- 2 °67 and 2296. 


suggesting the employment of the most healthy, and there- 
fore the most paying, methods of treating those human forces 
which his merciless eagerness led him, at the same time, 
cruelly to overtax. In civil matters, desertion, as I have 
already said, was punished with infamy and outlawry. ' If,' 
so runs a ukase, published in 1722, ' any man should rob one 
of these deserters, wound him, or kill him, he is not liable to 
punishment.' The names of the outlaws were made known 
to the public by means of lists hung upon gallows. The half 
of a deserter's goods was promised to the person who should 
take him alive, even if the capturer was the serf of the 
captured man. The other half went to the Treasury. 1 And 
still the desertions went on. 

' Near the Tsar, near death,' says a Russian proverb. 
Many people preferred safety of any kind. The presence, 
in Peter's circle, of so many parvenus of low extraction, — 
Menshikof, Loukin, Troi'ekourof, Vladimirof, Sklaief, Pos- 
pielof, — is explained, independently of his personal prefer- 
ences, by this general sauve qui pent amongst the great 
Russian families. 2 And the part played by these parvenus, 
in the political system of which they formed an integral part, 
made it still more oppressive. Peter's personal government 
was often the hardest, the most overwhelming, the most dis- 
quieting of realities. But it not unfrequently became a mere 
fiction, and the change brought no improvement. In spite 
of his huge expenditure of labour and of energy, in spite of 
all his constant goings and comings, the Tsar could not see 
everything with his own eyes, and do everything with his 
own hands. During his absences with his army, when he 
was travelling abroad, or through the huge provinces of his 
own realm, power passed into the hands of Menshikof and 
his fellows. They used it, and more frequently abused it, 
after their own fashion. They were called on, periodically, 
to render up an account, which was not unfrequently settled 
by the executioner. But, living as they did, like every one 
else, from hand to mouth, subject to the common terror and 
the universal bewilderment, they took full advantage of their 
short hours of freedom, and thus increased the overwhelming 
weight and cruel pressure of the terrible Juggernaut which, 
sooner or later, was to crush them all. The system of favour- 
itism which has cost Russia so much gold, so many tears, 
1 Goliknf, vol. ix. ]>. 48. - See Strahlenberg, p. 23S, etc. 


and such streams of blood, was not indeed of Peter's own 
creation. It was a legacy from the past, which he had not 
courage to repudiate, which indeed he consecrated, and the 
tradition of which he developed, by his own adherence to it. 

He was, in some respects, even in that economic depart- 
ment, wherein, at first sight, he would appear to have worked 
such a radical change, the true heir and follower of his an- 
cestral traditions. He did away with that system of mono- 
polies and royal privileges which had made his predecessors 
the foremost merchants in their country. But, in September 
17 13, having to fetch a sum of money from Lubeck to St. 
Petersburg, he ordered the cargo of the galliot, which was to 
be sent on this errand, to be completed with merchandise 
likely to sell at a good profit in St. Petersburg. 1 This is quite 
in the manner of the old rulers of the Kreml, all of them 
greedy of every kind of profit, and by no means scorning the 
very smallest. At a masquerade, during the fetes given at 
Moscow in 1722, I notice the description of a bearded 
Neptune who played quite a special part. The Tsar's 
faithful subjects were invited to fasten golden ducats to the 
hairs of that symbolic beard, which was shortly to fall under 
the scissors of a barber, — none other than Peter himself. A 
captain of the Guard, accompanied by a clerk, followed the 
sea-god through the streets, and carefully registered the 
ducats, and the names of those who gave them.' 2 

Even his wonderful knowledge of stage effect was con- 
nected, in a way, with the spirit of bygone times. 'Whenever 
the smallest advantage is gained,' observes the Dutch Resi- 
dent, Van Der Hulst, in 1700, ' there is a noise made about 
it here, as if the whole universe had been overthrown.' Dur- 
ing the disastrous period of the Swedish war, salvoes of 
cannon, fireworks, extra promotion lists, and distributions 
of rewards, followed each other in quick succession. This 
was an endeavour, no doubt, and a laudable one, to mislead 
public opinion, so as to prevent discouragement, and also, 
perhaps, to put heart into the Tsar himself. But it was 
quite in Sophia's manner, and thoroughly Oriental in spirit. 
The English Envoy Whitworth, when at table with the Tsar, 
in 1705, was confronted with a Russian soldier, who, so he 
averred, had, with forty-four comrades, prisoners like him- 

1 Golikof, vol. v. ]). 536. 

'-' llergholz, Bitschings- Magazin , vol. xx. p. 385. 


self, been mutilated by the Swedes. Peter made this the text 
of a long sermon on the barbarity of his enemies, which, 
he declared, far exceeded that of the nation over which he 
ruled. ' Never,' he vowed, 'had any Swedish prisoner been 
so treated in Russia, and he would forthwith send these 
forty-five mutilated men into his different regiments, to warn 
their comrades of what they had to expect from such a 
treacherous enemy.' The Tsar's trick failed. Whitworth 
was convinced that he was being made game of, all the more 
as he had naturally not understood a word of the Russian 
soldier's story. 1 But the whole incident is thoroughly 
Byzantine in its nature. 

This peculiarity it was, in part, which bound the Tsar 
so closely and so firmly to the flesh and spirit of his 
people, to their past and to their present, — and which has 
made him so permanent a factor in their very existence. 
Had his despotism been more logical, less influenced by the 
very air of the country he was sent to rule, its results would 
have been more short-lived. 

1 Despatch, dated 2nd May 1705. Sbornik, vol. xxxix. p. 79. 



I. The cottage at St. Petersburg— The pilot's dinner — Katia— Palaces and 
country houses — The lime tree at Strielna— Peterhof — Tsarko'ie-Sielo — 

II. A day in the great man's life — His morning work — His table — Private 
meals and State dinners — Catherine's kitchen — What Teter ate and 
drank — Court luxury and domestic simplicity — Menshikof's coach and 
the Tsar's cabriolet— His dress — His roughness and coarse habits — 

in. His amusements — Neither a sportsman nor a gambler — The water his chief 
delight — Winter cruises — All St Petersburg at sea — Animals — Finette 
and Lisette — A dog's part in politics. 

IV. Social habits— Meeting with the Margravine of Baireuth— In the German 
suburb — Boon companions — The Tsar's coucher — His pillow — His 
intimate circle — The Dienshtchiks — A favourite's marriage — Maria 

In November, 1703, the first merchant vessel, a Dutch galliot, 
laden with salt and wine from Friesland, entered the mouth 
of the Neva. The Governor of St Petersburg invited the 
captain to a banquet, and lavished presents on him and on 
his crew. 1 But before this entertainment took place, he had 
to accept the hospitality of the pilot, who had directed the 
course of his ship into harbour. He dined with him and with 
his wife in a modest cottage on the river bank. The fare con- 
sisted of national dishes, to which a few dainties, peculiar to 
his own country, had been added. At dessert, not desiring 
to be behindhand in politeness and generosity, the worthy 
captain drew from his wallet, first of all, a delicious cheese, 
and then a piece of linen, which he presented to the mistress 
of the house, with the request that he would permit him to 
kiss her cheek. ' Let him have his way, Katia,' said the 
pilot, ' the linen is of the finest, and will make you chemises 

1 Oustrialof, vol. iv. part i. p. 252. 



better than you ever dreamt of wearing in your youth.' 
Just at that moment the Dutchman, hearing a door open 
behind him, turned round, and almost fainted. A man, 
evidently an important personage, covered with gold em- 
broidery, and starred with decorations, stood on the threshold, 
and bowed to the ground as he replied to the words of 
welcome addressed to him by Katia's husband. 

I am half afraid this story is not true ; in any case, it 
must have occurred some years later than 1703. Catherine 
does not appear, at that date, to have taken up her residence 
with her future husband. But, otherwise, there is an air 
of likelihood about it. It is very characteristic of Peter's 
general behaviour, and of his most intimate surroundings. 
He was always piloting ships, Dutch or others, receiving sea 
captains at his own table, and taking them in by the extreme 
simplicity of his manners and of his surroundings. As for 
the cottage on the river bank, it may still be seen at St 
Petersburg. It was built by Dutch workmen, on the model 
of those seen by the sovereign at Zaandam, in 1697. A 
framework of roughly - hewn tree trunks supports a low 
roof, on which the gay, red, Dutch tiles are replaced by 
wooden shingles. It contains two ground-floor rooms, of 
very modest proportions, separated by a narrow passage, 
and a kitchen, with a garret above. There are only seven 
windows. The exterior is painted in the Dutch style, red 
and green. On the apex of the roof, and at its two corners, 
a martial-looking decoration has been superadded— a mortar 
and lighted shells, all carved in wood. Within, the walls are 
hung with white canvass, and the door and window-frames 
painted with bouquets of flowers. The room on the right 
hand side was used as a working and a reception room. 
That on the left served at once for dining-room and bed- 
chamber. 1 

This latter apartment has now been turned into a chapel, 
where the faithful pray, and burn candles, before an image of 
our Lord, below which Elizabeth caused the first words of 
the Lord's Prayer to be inscribed. I have never seen it 
otherwise than closely crowded. In the other room a few 
souvenirs have been collected — wooden furniture made by 
the great man's own hands, and " done up," alas ! in 1S50 ; a 

1 Boulhakovski, Peter's House (St. Petersburg, 1891). Roubnne, Topographical 
Description of Si, Petersburg (St. Petersburg, 1799). 


cupboard, two chests of drawers, a table, a bench on which 
he often sat outside his door to breathe the fresh air, and 
watch his standard floating over the ramparts of the Petro- 
pavloska'ia Kritpost ; utensils, and tools, which he once 

This cottage, small and far from luxurious as it was, hardly 
measuring more than 18 yards by 6, was very dear to its 
master. He regretted it deeply, when he felt his duty was 
to leave it for a palace, itself a very modest one. Though 
he loved to build towns, he had little taste for dwell- 
ing in them. In 1708, he began to look about for a more 
rural residence, in the far from attractive neighbourhood of 
his chosen capital. His first choice fell on a retired spot on 
the banks of a cool and rapidly-running stream, the Strielka. 
Here, in one season, and not un frequently putting his own 
hand to the work, he built himself a rather more comfortable 
dwelling, with two living-rooms and eight bed-chambers. 
Catherine was with him by this time, and children were 
beginning to come. No trace of this house remains ; but we 
are still shown a huge lime tree, in the branches of which an 
arbour was built, reached by a staircase. Here Peter often 
sat smoking, and drinking tea out of Dutch cups, to the 
hissing of a samovar, also brought from Holland — for this 
utensil, now become so thoroughly national, and known all 
over Europe under its picturesque Russian name, came, like 
everything else, from Holland. 1 The only change made in 
its constitution by the Russians was the substitution of 
charcoal, a far cheaper mode of heating, for the original 
system of burning spirits of wine. Close by the lime tree, 
there are some majestic oaks, known as the Tsar's nurselings 
{PtttrovskiU Pitomtsy). He planted them himself. He 
also grew, from seed gathered by his own hands in the 
Hartz Mountains, the fir trees which stand at a little dis- 
tance, and shade the approaches to the castle. For a castle 
there was, at last, in this hermitage at Strielna. When 
Catherine became an empress, the demands of her new 
rank had, perforce, to be considered, and accommodation 
found for her Court. But Peter soon took a sudden dislike 
to this country residence. It had grown too closely in- 
habited, and too noisy for his taste. He rid himself of it, 
bestowing it on his daughter, the Grand Duchess Anne, 

1 The meaning of the Russian word samovar is ' that which boils of itself.' 


in 1702, and departed to Peterhof. 1 Alas! the Imperial 
Court and Courtiers pursued him, and a yet more sumptu- 
ous palace, with a park in the French style, and fountains, 
copied on those of Versailles, soon rose at Peterhof. Peter 
refused, at all events, to live in it himself. He had his 
Dutch house, which even now bears that name, close by. 
Though a very modest residence, it betrayed a certain 
amount of Flemish luxury, which removed it very far from 
the roughness of his earliest homes. The walls of the bed- 
room, a very small one, were covered with well- varnished 
white tiles, the floor with a flowered waxcloth, and the 
chimneypiece was adorned with the most magnificent speci- 
mens of Delft china. As Peter lay in bed, he could see 
Kronsloot, and count the vessels in his fleet. A few steps 
brought him to a little harbour, whence he could go by 
boat, down a canal, to the mouth of the Neva. 

The number of the Tsar's country houses constantly in- 
creased, in consequence of his nomadic habits. He had one, a 
wooden building, like all the others, at Tsarkoi'e-Sielo. This 
contained six rooms, which he occasionally shared with 
Catherine. According to a somewhat doubtful legend, the 
name of this locality, since so celebrated, is derived from 
that of a lady called Sarri, to whose house Peter would 
occasionally come, and drink a draught of milk. The Finnish 
name of the place, Saari-mojs, meaning ' high ' or ' raised ' 
village, would seem a more probable derivation. The Tsar 
possessed a little wooden house at Revel, before he built the 
ugly and heavy- looking palace which was erected towards 
the close of his reign. He always kept clear of palaces, as 
far as he found that possible. The Revel cottage, which has 
been preserved, contains a bedroom, a bathroom (banid), a 
dining-room, and a kitchen. In the sleeping-chamber there 
is a double bed of somewhat narrow proportions, with a sort 
of platform at the foot, on which the three dienslitchiks 
(orderlies), charged with watching over their master and 
mistress's slumbers, were permitted to stretch themselves. 

Peter was never a great sleeper ; he was generally up by 

1 Pylaief, The Forgotten Past of the Neighbourhood of St. Petersburg (St. Peters- 
burg, 1889), p. 210. 


five o'clock, and even an hour or two before, if he had 
pressing business — a secret council to hold, a courier to send 
off in a hurry, or a departing ambassador, who needed extra 
instructions. When the Tsar left his bed, he would walk 
about his room for half an hour, wearing a short dressing- 
gown, which exposed his bare legs, and a white cotton night- 
cap trimmed with green ribbons. This, no doubt, was his 
moment for ruminating over, and preparing, the day's work. 
When he was ready, his secretary, Makarof, appeared, and 
read him the daily reports of the different heads of depart- 
ments. Then he breakfasted quickly, but heartily, and went 
out, — on foot, if it were fine, otherwise in a very modest 
cabriolet with one horse. He went to the naval dockyards, 
inspected the ships in course of construction, and invariably 
wound up by a visit to the Admiralty. Here, he would 
swallow a glass of brandy, and lunch off a biscuit, and then 
work on till one o'clock, when he dined. The kitchen of 
the little palace, which now stands in the Summer Garden 
at St. Petersburg, is next the dining-room, with a hatch 
through which the dishes were passed. Peter never could 
endure the presence of numerous servants during a meal. 
And this peculiarity was exceedingly Dutch. When he 
dined alone with his wife, as was his usual habit, they were 
waited upon by a single page, chosen from amongst the 
youngest in his service, and the Empress's most confidential 
waiting-woman. If the party was increased by the presence 
of a few guests, the chief cook, Velten, assisted by one or 
two dienshtchiks, handed the dishes. Once dessert was on 
the table, and a bottle placed before each guest, all the 
servants were ordered to withdraw. 1 

These dinners were quite uncerefitemotis ; no others were 
ever given in the Tsar's house. All State dinners were 
given in Menshikof's Palace, and he it was who presided 
over the sumptuous repasts, consisting of as many as 200 
courses, cooked by French cooks, and served on quantities 
of gold plate and priceless china. There were two dining- 
rooms in the great Summer Palace, one on the ground floor, 
and another on the first, each with its own kitchen beside it. 
Peter found time, in 17 14, to give his most minute attention 
to the arrangement of these kitchens. He insisted on their 
being comparatively spacious, with tiled walls, so, he said, 

1 Staehlin, p. 109. Nartof, p. 53. 


that the haziaika (mistress of the house; might be able to 
look after the oven comfortably, and even occasionally pre- 
pare dishes of her own. 1 Catherine, though no cordon bleu — 
she was supposed to have given most of her attention to the 
washing, in her former master's household — was not without 
culinary talents. 

Peter himself was a very large eater. At Berlin, in October 
17 12, we find him supping with the Prince Royal, after having 
already supped with his own chancellor, Golovkin, and eat- 
ing, at both tables, with the heartiest appetite. Manteuffel, 
the King of Poland's minister, in the description of the 
second of these repasts, gives great praise to the Tsar, who, 
he declares, ' behaved himself with perfect decorum, so far 
at all events, as I could see or hear.' And before offering 
his hand to the Queen, he even put on ' a rather dirty 
glove. - 

The Tsar carried his knife and spoon and fork about with 
him. The spoon was made of wood mounted in ivory. The 
knife and fork were iron, with green bone handles. He liked 
the simple dishes of his country, such as shtchi and kasha, pre- 
ferred black bread, and never ate sweet things nor fish, which 
always disagreed with him. On special Fast days, he lived 
on fruit and farinaceous foods. During the three last years 
of his life, he would, from time to time, in obedience to his 
doctor's entreaties, give up the use, or at all events the abuse, 
of wine. Hence that reputation for sobriety ascribed to him 
by certain travellers, who visited Russia at that period, 
— amongst others by Lang, who accompanied the sovereign 
during his Persian Campaign. On these occasions, he drank 
kislyic-shtchi (sour kvass) flavoured with English small beer, 3 
but was never able to resist the temptation of indulging in a 
few glasses of brandy. But indeed these fits of abstinence 
never lasted long. He soon went back to his old habits, 
save that he avoided any mixture of alcoholic beverages, 
and restricted himself to drinking Medoc and Cahors. At 
the very end, by the advice of a Scotch doctor, Erskine, 
who treated him for diarrhoea, he drank Hermitage. 4 

The Tsar's stable arrangements were simple. The palace 

1 Golikof, vol. v. p. 570 (note). 

2 Letter to Count Flemming, Sbornik, vol. \x. p. 59. 

:< This would appear to be a probable translation of ' baume d'Angleterre.' 
1 Staehlin, p. 272, etc. 


coach-houses only contained two coaches, with four places 
in each, for the use of the Empress, and the Emperor's 
cabriolet, with which we have already made acquaintance. 
Nothing more. This cabriolet was painted red, and hung 
very low. It was replaced, in winter, by a small sledge. 
Peter never got into a coach, unless he was called upon to 
do honour to some distinguished guest, and then he always 
made use of Menshikof's carriages. These were magnificent. 
Even when the favourite went out alone, he drove in a gilded 
fan-shaped coach, drawn by six horses, in crimson velvet 
trappings, with gold and silver ornaments ; his arms crowned 
with a prince's coronet, adorned the panels ; lacqueys and 
running footmen in rich liveries ran before it ; pages and 
musicians, dressed in velvet, and covered with gold em- 
broideries, followed it. Six gentlemen attended it at each 
door, and an escort of dragoons completed the procession. 1 

Peter never indulged in luxury of this kind. When he 
was not in uniform, his dress was not unlike that of one 
of his own peasants. In summer he wore a kaftan, made of 
stout dark-coloured cloth, manufactured by Serdioukof, one 
of his proteges, a silk waistcoat, woollen stockings, — generally, 
as we have already seen, full of darns, — heavy, thick-soled 
shoes, with very high heels, and steel or copper buckles. 
His head-covering was a three-cornered felt hat, or a velvet 
cap. In winter the velvet cap was replaced by one made of 
sheep-skin, and the shoes by soft deer-skin boots, with the hair 
turned outwards. A fur lining, — sable in front, and squirrel 
for the back and sleeves, — was put into his kaftan. His 
uniform, which he never wore except on active service, was 
that of Colonel of the Preobrajenski regiment of the Guard. 
The coat was of rather coarse dark green Dutch cloth, 
lined with silk of the same colour (now faded to a blue 
shade), edged with narrow gold braid, and with large copper 
buttons ; with it a thick doe-skin waistcoat was worn. The 
hat had no lace on it, the sword had an ungilt copper guard, 
and black sheath, and the stock was of plain black leather. 
Yet Peter loved fine and well-bleached linen, such as was 
then made in Holland, and this was the only point on which 
he could be induced to compromise with the deliberate and 
determined simplicity of his life, — a simplicity which, I am 
disposed to believe, was inspired by a very conscientious 

1 Pylaief, p. 379. 
VOL. I. N 


feeling for economy. When Catherine showed him the 
splendid coronation dress to which I have referred on a 
previous page, his first expression was one of extreme 
annoyance. He laid an angry hand on the silvery em- 
broidery and shook it so violently, that several of the 
spangles fell to the ground. ' Look at that, Katinka,' he 
said, ' those will all be swept away, and they would nearly 
make up the pay of one of my grenadiers.' 1 

He never acquired the Dutch taste for cleanliness and 
domestic order. At Berlin, in 1 718, the Queen caused all 
the furniture to be removed from the house (Mon Bijou) 
intended for him, and her precaution seems to have been 
a wise one. He left it in such a condition that it 
almost had to be rebuilt. ' The desolation of Jerusalem 
reigned within it,' says the Margravine of Baireuth. In one 
detail only did an instinctive repugnance clash with the 
sordid habits which Oriental associations had perpetuated 
in Russian domestic life. He had a horror of certain 
parasites, which then, as now, alas ! too often swarmed in 
Muscovite dwellings. The sight of a cockroach almost 
made him faint. One day an officer, with whom he had 
invited himself to dinner, showed him one, which, thinking 
to give his guest pleasure, he had nailed to the wall in a 
conspicuous spot. Peter rose from the table, fell on the 
unlucky wight, gave him a sound thrashing with his doufrina, 
and made for the door. 


His pleasures were like his tastes, not over remarkable for 
elegance. Unlike his ancestors, — all of them great slayers 
of bears and wolves, and passionate devotees of the art of 
falconry, — he cared nothing for sport. That imitation of 
war gave offence to his practical mind ; not that he cared 
for real war, he only resigned himself to it for the sake of 
the profit he hoped it might bring him. Once, indeed, and 
once only, early in his reign, he was induced to go out 
coursing, but first he made his own conditions. No hunts- 
man or whipper-in was to put in an appearance. His con- 
ditions were accepted, and he thus played his friends a sorry 
trick, and gave himself the satisfaction of making them feel 

1 Pylaief, p. 379. 


the conventional nature of their sport. The hounds, bereft of 
huntsmen and whippers-in, became unmanageable, dragged 
at their leashes, and pulled the riders from their saddles, so 
that the next moment half the company was lying on the 
ground, and the hunt came to an end, amidst a scene of 
general confusion. The next day it was Peter who suggested 
another coursing party, and the sportsmen, most of them 
sorely knocked about, and some, indeed, obliged to stay in 
bed, who demurred to his proposition. 1 

He hated cards, which he called a game for cheats. His 
military and naval officers were forbidden, under the severest 
penalties, to lose more than one rouble in an evening. Some- 
times, to please the foreign sailors, whom he entertained, he 
would take part in a game of Dutch gravias. He was fond 
of chess, and played it well. He both smoked and snuffed. 
At Koppenbrugge, in 1697, he exchanged snuff-boxes with 
the Electress of Brandenburg. His chief pleasure — his 
master-passion, in fact — was boating in all its branches. At 
St Petersburg, when the Neva was three-parts frozen, even 
when the clear space of water did not measure a hundred 
feet square, he would go upon it in any boat he could lay 
his hands on. Often, in mid-winter, he would have a narrow 
passage cut in the ice, and there indulge in his favourite 
sport. 2 Arriving in his capital in 1706, he found the streets 
flooded, and two feet of water in his private rooms. He 
clapped his hands like a child. 3 He was never really happy 
except on board a ship. Nothing but serious illness could 
keep him on shore, if he was near any port ; and, indeed, he 
averred that, in case of illness, he was better if he went to 
sea. At Riga, in 1723, in the midst of a violent attack of 
tertian fever, which had already driven him on shore, he had 
his bed carried on board a frigate, fought through the illness, 
and always attributed his recovery to this expedient. To- 
wards the end of his life, even for his after-dinner siesta, 
he stretched himself out in the bottom of a boat, which was 
generally provided for the purpose. 

All the inhabitants of St Petersburg, either following his 
example, or by his care, possessed means of aquatic locomo- 
tion. All his chief officials were given a yacht, and two 
boats, one of twelve and another of four oars. Other officials 

1 Golikof, vol. i. p. 28. - Pylaief, p. 379. 

:! Russian Archives, 1875, vol. ii. p. 47 


were more modestly provided, according to their tchin. The 
regulations for the use of these boats were written out by his 
own hand. On certain fixed days, when the Tsar's standard 
had been hoisted at the four corners of the city, the whole 
flotilla was expected, on pain of a heavy penalty, to collect 
in the neighbourhood of the fortress. At the signal given 
by a salvo of artillery, Admiral Apraxin led the way on his 
yacht dressed with red and white flags. The Tsar's boat 
followed — Peter, in his white sailor's dress, and generally 
accompanied by Catherine, holding the rudder. Some of the 
boats, which were richly decorated, had musicians on board. 
Thus the procession took its way to Strielna, to Peterhof, 
or to Oranienbaum, where a banquet awaited the party. 1 

Peter, like Catherine II., in later days, was a great lover 
of animals, especially of dogs. In 1708, a poor country 
priest, of the name of Kozlovski, was put to the torture at 
the Preobrnjcnski Prikaz, for having spoken improperly of 
the Tsar's person. He had heen heard to say that he 
had seen the Sovereign at Moscow in the act of kissing 
a bitch. 2 There was no doubt about the fact. The un- 
lucky priest had happened to pass down the street just at 
the moment when the Tsar's favourite dog, Finettc, had 
bounded into her master's carriage, and was rubbing her 
muzzle against his moustaches without anv resistance on his 
part. Finette, called Lisette by some contemporaries, who 
have confused her, doubtless, with a very favourite mare, 
competed for the Tsar's favour with a great Danish dog, 
whose stuffed body now has its place amongst the souvenirs 
so piously preserved in the gallery of the Winter Palace. 
This honour is shared by the mare, a present from the Shah 
of Persia — a small animal, but with muscles of steel. Peter 
rode her at Poltava. There is a story that Finette once 
played a part in politics. An edict had been published, for- 
bidding the presentation of petitions to the Tsar, on pain of 
death. The friends of an official who had been sentenced 
to the knout for some breach of trust, fastened an ingeniously 
drawn-up appeal to the Sovereign's clemency, to the pretty 
creature's collar. Their stratagem was crowned with succe?.s T 
and their example largely followed. But Peter speed ily 
discouraged all imitators. 3 

*&> v 

1 Pylaief, p. 210. - Documents of the Preobrajenskoie Secret Chancery, 

'•'• Scherer, vol. iii. p. 294. 



The great man often sought his pleasures and relaxations 
in very inferior company. It must be admitted that his 
acquaintance with good society was but limited. The Mar- 
gravine of Baireuth was a terrible gossip, and owned the 
worst tongue, perhaps, that ever wagged in the eighteenth 
century. Yet there must be a certain amount of truth in 
her rather amusing story of her meeting with the Tsar during 
that sovereign's stay at Berlin in 17 18. Peter had already 
met her five years previously. The moment he recognised 
her, he rushed at her, seized her in his arms, and scratched 
her face with his rough kisses. She struggled, slapped him 
in the face, but still he held her tight; she complained, was 
told she would have to make up her mind to it, and so sub- 
mitted. But she took her revenge by jeering at the brutal 
monarch's wife and suite. ' She had with her 400 so-called 
ladies. Most of these were German servant girls, who per- 
formed the duties of ladies-in-waiting, serving-women, cooks 
and laundresses. Almost everyone of these creatures carried 
a richly-dressed child in her arms, and if any one enquired 
to whom the children belonged, they answered, with all sorts 
of Russian salaams, "The Tsar has done me the honour of 
making me the mother of this child.' " 

The habits and the friendships contracted by Peter in the 
German suburb, superior as they were to the social level of 
old Russia, were not calculated to fit him for the Courts and 
elegant circles of the West. And with these old associations 
he never broke. When he was in Moscow, in 1723, he spent 
his evenings between an old friend of his, the wife of an 
official named Fadenbrecht, to whose house he had his 
meals carried, Bidlau, a doctor, Gregori, an apothecary, 
Tamsen, Konau and Meyer, tradesmen, and a certain young 
lady of the name of Ammon, barely sixteen years of age, in 
whose house dancing went on till five o'clock every morning. 1 
And even this is a somewhat favourable specimen. 

On Easter Day, the 24th of March 1706, Peter causes his 
letter to Menshikof to be signed, and a postscript added to 
it, by the friends gathered round him to celebrate that 
solemn day. In that intimate circle, I notice a private 

1 IJergholz, Biischings-AIagazin, vol. xxi. p. 1S3. 


soldier, two DienshtcJiiks, and finally a peasant, who, not 
knowing how to write, replaces his signature by a cross, 
affixed to an intimation that he had been given leave ' to get 
drunk for three whole days.' x 

Peter never slept alone. His bed was generally shared 
by Catherine, very rarely by a mistress. He sought his couch 
for purposes of slumber. He was sensual, but not voluptuous, 
and his love affairs, like all his other affairs, were got 
through as quickly as possible. I have already (page 106) 
explained his dislike to sleeping alone, and in the absence 
of his wife, he would avail himself of the company of the 
first dienshtchik he could lay his hand on. This individual 
had orders to lie exceedingly quiet, under pain of being 
well thrashed. Peter generally woke in a bad temper. In 
the country, when the hour for his daily siesta came, he 
made one of these dienshtchiks lie down on the ground, and 
used his stomach for a pillow. This man did wisely, unless 
his digestion was an exceptionally quick and easy one, to be 
in a fasting condition, for, on the slightest movement, or 
sound, the Tsar would spring to his feet and fall upon him. 2 

All this notwithstanding, he was really exceedingly in- 
dulgent and easy-going, in all matters connected with his 
personal service. Nartof has given us the story of the 
cupboards invented by the Tsar, in which he would lock up, 
beds and all, certain of his orderlies who, in spite of his 
reiterated orders and threats, persisted in spending their 
nights in houses of ill-fame. He kept the keys under his 
pillow, and used to get up, after midnight, to inspect these 
dormitory cells. One night he found them all empty. His 
astonishment and rage were terrible. ' So the rascals have 
made themselves wings,' he cried, ' I'll cut them to-morrow 
with my doubina! But when morning came, and the culprits 
appeared before him, he contented himself with promising 
them a better watched and less comfortable prison, if they 
relapsed into misbehaviour. 3 His personal service was per- 
formed by six dienshtchiks, amongst whose names we notice 
those of Tatishtchef, Orlof, Poutourlin and Souvarof, two 
couriers to go distant messages, one valet -de-chambre, 

1 Golikof, vol. iii. p. 94. '-' Scherer, vol. ii. p. 81. 

:i Memoirs, p. 36. The personal portion of Nartof's recollections deserves a 
certain amount of credence, but the remainder of the work is a later compilation, 
the only value >>| which, and that a doubtful one, resides in the various anecdotic 
sources from which it has been drawn. 



Polouboiarof, one secretary, Makarof, and two under- 
secretaries, Tcherkassof and Pamiatin. Nartof also be- 
longed to the household, in his quality of assistant in the 
Tsar's ivory and wood-turning, at which he spent several 
hours a day. The whole household formed an exception to 
the general rule, according to which every one who had to 
do with the sovereign, whether closely or not, detested as much 
as they feared him. Peter the Great, like the great Catherine, 
was always adored by his personal servants. 

This was far from being the case with his collaborators, 
who, for a certain period, were generally his favourites as 
well. With the exception of Menshikof, none of them 
maintained this last position for any length of time. Where 
they were concerned, phases of condescension, and even of 
extreme partiality, invariably led up to a swift veering of 
the Tsar's humour, and a terrible change of fortune. So 
long as things went well, they were treated like spoilt 
children. Peter's care for their health and comfort was 
unflagging. He even found them wives. When the 
calamities which overtook the Tsar's unhappy son, brought 
one of the myrmidons of the law, named Alexander Roumi- 
antsof, who had been employed to capture him, into high 
favour, a Boyard offered him his daughter, who had a con- 
siderable dowry, in marriage. Roumiantsof, the son of a needy 
gentleman, in the Government of Kostroma, was himself a poor 
man. ' Hast thou seen the girl ? ' asked Peter. ' No, but 1 
hear she is a sensible girl.' ' That's something, but I want to 
see her.' He went that evening to a gathering at which he 
knew the young girl was to be present, had her pointed out 
to him as soon as he arrived, shrugged his shoulders, said 
very loud, as if speaking to himself, ' Nitcliemou nie byvat ! ' 
(no good at all) turned on his heel, and departed. The next 
day, meeting Roumiantsof, he repeated ' NitcMmou nie by- 
vat ! ' adding, ' I will find thee something better, and that 
bv this evening. Be here at five o'clock.' Roumiantsof 
naturally kept the appointment, and, at Peter's order, seated 
himself in his cabriolet. He was more than astonished 
when he saw the carriage stop before the house of Count 
Matvieief, one of the noblest and richest subjects of the 
Tsar. Entering, Peter addressed the Count familiarly, kissed 
him, and said point blank, ' You have a daughter whom you 
want to marry. Here is a husband.' Without further pre- 


liminary, Matvi&ef's daughter became Roumiantsof's wife. 
According to certain accounts, she had already, at the age of 
nineteen, been the mistress, and the fickle mistress, of her 
sovereign. Peter, who had lately surprised her in circum- 
stances which left no doubt of this unfaithfulness, is sup- 
posed to have selected this means of guarding her fragile 
virtue, having previously, with his own hands, administered 
healthy correction to the fair lady. 1 

But the following chapters will give my readers fuller 
information as to the most certain and probable facts con- 
cerning this obscure corner in the Tsar's personal history. 

1 Pylaief, Old Moscow, p. 52. 



I. The Aristocracy and the Popular Element — The Dieiatiels — The great 
Favourites — Komodanovski — The Prince Ccesar — The Secret Police — The 
Red Square at Moscow — Old Russia— A bear as house steward — Loyalty, 
energy, and ferocity — Oriental suppleness — Sheremetief — A poor leader 
and a fine soldier — Menshikof — The pastry cook's boy — The Tsar's 
minion — Peter's indifference to scandal on some subjects — Alexashka — a 
Prince — Profusion of titles and functions — Omnipotence — Abuse of power 
— A military leader — An administrator — Faults and virtues — An apology 
for theft — Peter's indulgence worn out — Semi-disgrice. 

II. Collaborators of the second rank — Golovin — An Admiral who was no 
sailor, and a Foreign Minister who was no diplomat — Russian sailors and 
foreign sailors — Apraxin and Cruys — Politicians and police agents — 
Golovkin — Tolstoi — A high-born Russian Diplomat of the new school — 
Boris Knurakin — Some great Dieiatiels — Neplouief and Tatishtchef — 
The Tsar's Confessor, Nadajinski — A match with the Abbe Dubois' 
in. The Agents of a lower order — Iagoujinski and Shafirof — Polish Tews — The 
Viesselovski — The Prybylshtchiks — Kourbatof and Solovief — Possoshkof, 
the first Rus-ian Economist — The fortunes of the Demidofs — Lomonossuf. 

iv. Foreign Collaborators — They often did the work, but remained in the 
shadow — Sheremetief and Ogilvy — Vinnius— James Bruce — Ostermann — 
Devier, a Portuguese Jew — The invariable close of brilliant careers — The 
final crash — Frenchmen — De Villebois — A scene in the Imperial bed- 
room — Englishmen — Perry and Fergusson — Poushkins's negro ancestor, 
Abraham Hannibal. 

v. General summing up — Peter and Leibnitz — The great German's posthumous 

' ALONE, or almost alone, our Tsar struggles to raise the 
country, millions of individual efforts drag it down.' 

When Possoshkof thus picturesquely described Peter's 
isolation, and the difficulties he met with, in carrying out 
his reforms, he indulged in a slight exaggeration. The 

20 1 


very accession of the great reformer was, as I have already 
shewn, the result of a party triumph. His first revolu- 
tionary attempts were inspired by those about him, and 
he certainly would never have been able to compress the 
work of several centuries into twenty years, unless he had 
been assisted by a very considerable amount of extraneous 
energy and intelligence. The country which he ruled so 
proudly, and which indeed he watered with the sweat ot 
his own brow, yielded a fruitful harvest of effort and 
capability, rough-hewn, no doubt, but not the less gallant 
for that. On the heels of the earliest workers— Lefort and 
the Naryshkin — came others, native or foreign, none of 
them indeed great leaders, nor very profound politicians, 
but men of action like Peter himself, like him hastily and 
superficially educated, yet possessing a remarkable and 
varied power of initiative, of endeavour, and of resource. 
When the old aristocracy failed him, and this soon came 
to pass (the old nobility, alarmed by the boldness of his 
measures, outraged by the roughness of his manners, and 
bewildered by the giddy rapidity of his movements, soon 
began to hang back and even steal away), he went below 
it, down even into the lowest strata of the populace, and 
thence took a Demidof and a Iagoujinksi, to replace a 
Matvieief, or a Troubetzkoi. Thus a school of statesmen 
rose around him, men of peculiar stamp, the prototypes of 
the Dieiaticls (agents) of a later date ; soldiers, diplomatists, 
or political economists, turn about, with no defined speciality 
(a trifle amateurish in that matter), who knew neither pre- 
judice nor scruple, without fear, if not without reproach, who 
marched straight forward, without a backward glance, always 
ready for strong measures, wonderfully fitted for the rapid 
performance of every kind of duty, and for the bold assump- 
tion of any and every responsibility. They answered Peter's 
purpose, and the purpose of the work which they were to do 
with him. He did not, and in that he was right, expect 
them to be paragons of virtue. In 1722, Campredon writes 
to Cardinal Dubois,—' I have the honour of pointing out to 
your Eminence, that unless, with my diplomatic powers, I 
am provided with means of giving money to the Russian 
ministers, no success can be expected, however advantageous 
an alliance with France may appear to the Tsar ; for, if his 
ministers do not perceive their own personal benefit in it, 


their intrigues and secret enmities will foil any negotiations, 
even those which might be of most service, and bring most 
credit to their master. I notice proofs of this truth every- 
day of my life.' x The ministers here referred to were Bruce 
and Ostermann, and the proofs, very solid ones, perhaps, 
of which the French Envoy boasts, had not prevented them 
in the preceding year, at Nystadt, from outstripping Peter 
himself in the defence of his interests, and obtaining condi- 
tions of peace which he had not dared to hope for. 

Three men, Romodanovski, Sheremetief, and Menshikof, 
tower above all others in the great monarch's personal circle, 
The two first were the only human beings to enjoy a privi- 
lege denied to Catherine herself, that of being received by the 
sovereign, unannounced, whenever they chose to appear in 
his presence. When he dismissed them, he always con- 
ducted them himself to the door of his cabinet. 

In the beginning of the eighteenth century, none of the 
princely families descended from Rourik equalled the Romo. 
danovski in rank and influence. Yet only a century before, 
this family held quite a secondary position, inferior to that 
of the Tcherkaski, Troubetzko'i, Galitzin, Repnin, Ourussof, 
Sheremetief, and Saltikof, equal to that of the Kourakin, 
Dolgorouki, Volkonski, and Lobanof families. 2 A younger 
branch of one of the younger branches of the great Norman 
house, that of the Princes of Starodoub, it took its name, 
somewhere in the fifteenth century, from a property called 
Romodanof in the Government of Vladimir. The prominent 
rank it subsequently held, was attained in virtue of a kind of 
hereditary function, which in itself would hardly be looked 
on as a claim to much distinction. When the Tsar Alexis 
established an office of the secret police at Preobrajenskoie, 
with subterranean dungeons and question chambers, all com- 
plete, its management was confided to Prince George (or 
louri) Ivanovitch Romodanovski. After his death, his son 
inherited the post, and finally transmitted it to his own heir. 
The son of George Ivanoviich was the Prince Coesar, with 
whom we have already made acquaintance. It was, it seems, 
in 1694, and as a reward for a victory gained by him over 
the mock King of Poland, represented by Boutourlin, that 
Peter took it into his head to dress Romodanovski up in 

1 July 24, 1722 (Paris Foreign Office). 

2 Kotochihin, Memoirs (St. Petersburg, 1884), p. 25, etc. 


this strange title. It was a mere joke, but we know how 
whimsically the great man would mingle pleasantry with 
serious matters. It is not easy to understand how such a 
man as the Prince Feodor Iourievitch could consent to act 
such a farce, his whole life long. There was nothing of the 
buffoon about him, neither the necessary docility, nor the 
indispensable love of frolic. Perhaps, in his barbarian sim- 
plicity, he never realised the insulting and degrading reality 
so apparent under the mockery. In Peter's eves, evidently, 
he represented a sort of huge compromise with a state of 
things he himself had doomed to destruction. Therefore it 
was, that the reformer endured his long moustaches and 
his Tartar or Polish garments. But, even while Peter set up 
and worshipped this strange idol, in whose person he seemed 
to commemorate and atone for the past, he scoffed at and 
spurned that hated past itself, and all the ideas and memories 
he associated with, and loathed in, it. The old Kreml of 
Moscow, and the semi-Asiastic pomp of the Tsars, the ex- 
vassals of the great Han, which had crushed his earlv years 
— the old Burg at Vienna, and the majesty of the Roman 
Caesars, which had crushed him too, in that never-to-be- 
forgotten moment during his earliest appearance on the 
European stage, all these things he desired to cover with 
ridicule, and cast into oblivion. 

The person chosen to play this dubious part, was not- 
devoid of merits of his own. Placed apparently, at all 
events, above any possibility of attack, he set himself, in all 
reality and truth, above suspicion. His loyalty was unshake- 
able ; he was faithful, honest, and unswerving. His heart 
was flint, his hand was iron. Amidst all the intrigues, the 
meannesses and the cupidity which seethed around the 
sovereign's person, he stands out. upright, haughty, clean- 
handed. When an insurrection threatened at Moscow, he 
cut it short, after his own fashion. He picked 200 rioters, at 
hazard, from the crowd, and hung them by their ribs on iron 
hooks on the Red Square (so appropriately named), in the 
old city. Even in his own house, he had dungeons and 
instruments of torture, and when Peter, during his absence 
in Holland, reproached him for some abuse of his terrible 
power, committed while in a state of drunkenness, he sharplv 
replied, — ' It is only people who have plenty of leisure and 
can spend it in foreign countries, who can afford to waste 


their time with Ivashka. Here we have other things to do 
than to gorge ourselves with wine, we wash ourselves every- 
day in blood ! ' x 

Notwithstanding this, I remark a certain Oriental strain 
of suppleness in his character. He does indeed thwart the 
sovereign secretly, and even occasionally goes so far as to 
censure him openly, so that in 17 13, the self-willed despot 
himself does not seem to know how to manage ' this devil of 
a fellow who will do nothing but what he chooses himself.' 
Romodanovski appears to have taken his sovereignty 
very seriously, and never permitted any jesting on the 
subject. When ^heremetief announced the victory at Pol- 
tava, he addressed him as Sire and Your Majesty. No one 
entered the courtyard of his palace except on foot and bare- 
headed ; even Peter himself left his cabriolet at the outer 
door. He was surrounded with all the luxuries of an Asiatic 
monarch, and his personal freaks were quite of a piece with 
them. When he went out hunting, he was attended by 500 
persons, and every visitor, of whatever rank, who entered 
his presence, was forced to empty a huge glass of coarse 
brandy, seasoned with pepper, served by a tame bear, which 
growled threateningly. [( the brandy was refused, the 
bear forthwith dropped his tray, and hugged the visitor."- 
Yet this very same man took good care not to forget that 
Menshikof was a great lover of fish, and never failed to send 
him the best in his own fishponds, and he bestowed many 
a barrel of wine and hydromel on a DiensJitehik of the name 
of Pospiclof, a great drunkard, and a prime favourite of the 
Tsar's. 3 

Shcrcmetief was also, after his own fashion, a representa- 
tive of former times. At Narva, like everybody else, he lost 
his head. At Poltava, like the rest, he did his duty bravely. 
In his will, drawn up in 1718, he confided his sinful soul to 
the Tsar. 4 That one trait describes the man. He was simple, 
candid, and very ignorant. ' What rank did you hold before 
you came here?' he enquired of a non-commissioned officer, 
just arrived from Germany. 'Master at arms.' 'Arm, does 
not that mean poor, in German ? In your own country you 

1 Peter I.'s Writings and Correspondence, vol. i. pp. 226, 671. 

2 Hymrof, Countess Goloz'kin and the levies she Lived in, p. 76, etc. 
:; I )olgoroukof, Memoirs, vol. i. p. 55. 

4 Russian Archives, 1875, V) '- '■ P- ^6. 


were poor ; here you shall have the same rank, and be rich 
into the bargain.' x 

But he was a splendid soldier: always in the forefront of 
the battle, tranquil and calm under a hail of bullets, adored 
by all his men. If he happened to see any officer, who had 
served under him, passing through the streets of Moscow, 
he never failed to leave his coach, as richly gilt as Men- 
shikofs own, and clasp his old comrade's hand. Generous, 
open-hearted, and hospitable, he fed an army of beggars, 
and kept open house for fifty persons every day. He was 
one of the last specimens of the best and most attractive 
type of the old Russian Boyard. 

Alexander Danilovitch Menshikof was another and very 
different type. He opens the long series of great parvenus, 
the creatures of the Russian Sovereign's caprice. The story 
goes, that, in his youth, he had been a pastry-cook's boy. Ac- 
cording to family documents, he should be descended from an 
ancient Lithuanian family. There may be truth in both these 
versions. The son of a needy gentleman in the neighbour- 
hood of Smolensk may very well have sold pastry in the 
Moscow streets. A knight of St Louis certainly sold cakes 
at Versailles, in Sterne's days. 2 In any case, his father never 
was more than a corporal in the Preobrajenski regiment, 
and he himself was serving in it as a sergeant, somewhere 
about 1698. He may have combined his military duties 
with the sale of pirogui. Even in Peter's newly-raised regi- 
ments a very curious commercial element, the outcome of 
traditions inherited from the Strcltsy, long survived. But 
already, at that period, the young man was supposed to stand 
high in the Tsar's good graces. The Sovereign always called 
him by a pet name (Alexashka), and, even in public, lavished 
proofs of an almost passionate tenderness upon him. 3 My 
readers will recollect the story of the part he is said by some 
persons to have played in a violent scene at the house of 
SheTn, during which Peter had to be recalled to reason. 4 
According to other stories, his favour was originally due to a 
different, though an equally salutary and important, inter- 
vention in the Sovereign's destiny. Peter, we are told, while 
on his way to dine with a certain Boyard, was accosted by 

1 Bruce's Memoirs (London, 1782), p. 113. 

2 Sentimental Journey, chapter headed 'The Fastrycook.' 

:i See Solovief, vol. xiv. p. 267. * See ante, p. 12S. 


the Pirojuik. Pleased with his countenance, he took him 
with him, and desired him to stand behind his chair during 
the meal. Just as the Tsar stretched out his hand to help 
himself to a dish, a gesture, and a few low words, from the 
pastry cook, suddenly checked him. Some hours previously 
the Pirojuik had been in the Boyard's kitchen, and had 
observed preparations for an attempt to poison the chief 
guest. The dish was forthwith given to a dog, the truth of 
the allegation proved, the Boyard and his accomplices 
arrested, and thus Alexashka s astonishing career began. 1 

Born in 1763, a year before Peter himself, tall, well-built, 
and handsome, Menshikof, unlike his master and the great 
majority of contemporary Russians, had a pronounced taste 
for cleanliness, and even for personal elegance. The repre- 
sentative part which he was later called upon to play was 
the result, to a certain extent, of this peculiarity. Yet he 
was quite uneducated ; he never learnt to read, nor to write, 
beyond signing his name. 2 According to Catherine II., who 
should have had good opportunities for learning the truth, 
he never had 'one clear idea on any subject whatsoever.' 3 
But, like Peter, though in a very inferior degree, he had a 
talent for appropriating notions on every subject, including 
the habits of the great world. He was his Sovereign's 
shadow ; he was with him under the walls of Azof, and 
shared his tent ; he accompanied him abroad, and shared his 
studies there. He took part in the destruction of the 
Streltsy, and is said to have boasted that, with his own hand, 
he had shorn off the heads of twenty of the rebels. After 
having allowed Peter himself to clip his beard, he performed 
the barber's office on all the members of the Moscow Munici- 
pality, and then led them into the presence of the Tsar, thus 
symbolising his future co-operation in the great man's work. 
As early as 1700, he seems to have performed the duties of 
major-domo in the Sovereign's house, and to have occupied 
a quite special place in his affections. In his letters Peter 
calls him ' Min HerzenskincP (child of my heart), ' Min tester 

1 Bruee's Memoirs, p. 76. 

2 The instances quoted by Oustrialof (vol. iv. p. 210) in support of his contrary 
assertion of signatures to which the favourite is said to have added such post- 
scripts as vzial (received), or prinial i spisahia (received and answered)), are not 
conclusive. Catherine's testimony is far more convincing. See also Essipofs 
Biography (Russian Archives, 1875, vo ' ■"• P- 5^9), and Kourakin (Archives, 
■vol. i. p. 76). 3 Letter to Grimm, Jan. 20th, 1776 (Sbornik). 


Frant ' (my best friend), or even ' Miu Bruderl forms which 
he never used in addressing any other person. The favour- 
ite's answers are couched in equally familiar terms, and — 
this detail is very significant — he never adds any formula of 
respect before his signature, although Sheremetief himself 
always signed. ' Naiposliddnieishyi rab tvoi ' (the lowest of 
your slaves). 1 

According to general contemporary opinion, there was 
something more than mere friendship in this connection. 
I'eter's indifference to imputations of a vicious nature was, 
and always remained, very singular. A master-at-arms, in 
the Preobrajenski regiment, convicted, in 1702, of having 
spoken in the most open manner on this odious subject, 
was merely relegated to a distant garrison. Such incidents 
happened several times over. 2 

Yet the favourite certainly had mistresses — two sisters, 
Daria and Barbara Arsenief — both of them maids of honour 
to the Tsarevna Nathalia, the Sovereign's favourite sister. 
He wrote them common letters, and they may be concluded 
to have thought it better not to betray any sign of jealous)-. 
He ended by marrying the eldest, in connection with whom 
Peter appears to have had some personal obligation of a 
doubtful character. When Menshikof led Daria to the altar, 
he did so in obedience to a sort of order from his august 
friend, inspired by some mysterious scruple. Here we have 
an unexplained case of conscience, a confused and darkly- 
shadowed corner in the Tsar's personal history, full of 
dubious secrets and strange promiscuities, which tempt and 
yet repel the enquiring student. In 1703, the two friends, 
' although unworthy,' — so runs Peter's letter to Apraxin, — 
were made Knights of St Andrew, on the very same day/' 
And then Alexashkd s wonderful fairy tale began. 

In 1706, he was a Prince of the Holy Empire ; the follow- 
ing year, after his victory over the Swedish general Marde- 
feldt, at Kalisz, he assumed the rank of a sovereign Russian 
prince ( Vladictielnyl rousskii Kniaz\ with the title of Duke 
of Ijora, and the whole of Ingria as his hereditary appanage. 
He was also Count of Dubrovna, of Gorki, and of Potchep ; 
hereditary Sovereign of Oranienbaum and of Batourin ; 
Generalissimo ; Member of the Chief Council ; Marshal of 

1 Writings and Correspondence of Peter the Great, vol. iii. pp. 7^°"7^-" 
- Russian Archives, 1875, vol. ii. p. 236. - ; Ibid. 


the Empire ; President of the Military Administration ; 
Admiral of the Red ; Governor-General of St Petersburg ; 
Lieutenant-Colonel of the Preobrajenski Regiment, and also 
of the two regiments of the Body Guard ; Captain of the 
Bombardier Company ; and Knight of the Orders of St 
Andrew, St Alexander, the Elephant, the White and the 
Black Eagle. 

Even this did not suffice him. In 171 1, he was negotiat- 
ing with the Dowager Duchess of Courland to buy up her 
title and her Duchy. The next year, being confident of 
success, he caused the officials of the country to make their 
subjection to him. 1 Though obliged, by the indignation of 
the Polish Court, to delay taking definite possession of the 
Duchy, he would not renounce his hope of ultimate success, 
and revenged himself on the Polish lords, by forcing them 
to sell him huge tracts of country at an enormous sacrifice. 
He added enormous wealth to all his other splendours. In 
the Ukraine he bargained with Mazeppa for the whole dis- 
trict of Potchep, and even took possession of property there, 
which actually belonged to Cossack officers. A stake adorned 
with his arms, set up in any village, equalled a proprietory 
title. Pie had no hesitation, in case of necessity, about 
adding a gallows. He undertook commercial speculations, 
too, which, backed as they were by his almost absolute 
power, could not fail to be lucrative. In conjunction with 
Tolstoi' and the Jew Shafirof, he set up factories, which he 
endowed with arbitrary privileges. 2 

The only limit his power knew, was the Sovereign's 
periodical repentances, which were always followed by 
measures of repression directed against the favourite's 
abuses. With these exceptions, his dictatorship was, in a 
sense, more absolute than Peter's own, for it was never 
limited, in Menchikof's case, by any higher considerations. 
If the Imperial resident, Pleyer, is to be believed, he even 
went so far as to countermand the Tsar's own orders. He 
would ill-treat the Tsarevitch in his father's presence, seizing 
him by the hair and throwing him on the ground. The 
Tsarevny all bowed down before him. 3 

What was the real value of the man, and how was it that 

1 Despatch from de Bie to the States General, 26th April, 1712 (Archives of 
the Hague). 2 Karnovitch, Great Russian Fortunes, p. 120, etc. 

:i Oustrialof. vol. iv. part ii. pp. 613, 628, 656. 
VOL. I. O 


he dared and possessed so much ? From the military point 
of view, he had neither knowledge nor even bravery. ' He 
lacked experience, knowledge, and courage,' to quote Whit- 
worth. 1 But he showed great endurance in bad fortune, was 
full of dash when the fickle goddess smiled, and in any 
case his energy never failed him. ' Active, enterprising,' 
says Campredon, adding, ' far from discreet, inclined to 
falsehood, ready to do anything for the sake of money." 2 
That strange mixture of serious-mindedness and puerility, 
which was so characteristic of Peter, was equally evident in 
the case of his alter ego. In August 1708, — when just about 
to cross the Beresina, and to fight a battle, which the Swedes 
ardently desired, and which he himself desired to avoid, — I 
find him absorbed in the new liveries for the German ser- 
vants he was sending to his wife. This matter of detail 
seems to have had enormous importance in his eyes. While 
he measured gold lace and sketched out pocket flaps, Charles 
XII. manoeuvred in such a manner that the battle became 
inevitable. Yet, in the result, it was less disastrous for the 
Russian troops than might have been expected. The steadi- 
ness with which they resisted the shock gave presage of 
their future victory. The favourite had pulled himself 
together. In later years, Patiomkin would appear to have 
been much of the same school. 

At Poltava he wasted twenty-four hours before under- 
taking a pursuit, which, if it had followed more immedi- 
ately on the defeat of the Swedes, would infallibly have 
left Charles and the remnants of his beaten army in their 
conqueror's hands. By the time he came up with Lowen- 
haupt on the banks of the Dnieper, the king had reached 
the other bank, and the favourite, who only had a strong 
body of cavalry with him, found himself in a somewhat 
awkward position. But his lucky star and his audacity 
combined to save him. He made as though the whole 
victorious army were close upon his heels. The enemy, 
already beaten and demoralised, allowed itself to be deceived, 
and Lowenhaupt capitulated. 

In the administrative department he chiefly used his 
talents to enrich himself. He was a bold and, for the most 
part, unchecked thief. In 17 14, the excess to which he 

1 Despatch, Sept. 17, 1708 (Sbornik, vol. i. p. 64). 

2 May 3rd, 1725 (French Foreign Office). 


carried his depredations did, indeed, bring about an enquiry, 
which dragged on indefinitely. But he was crafty. He 
produced old accounts, according to which the Treasury 
owed him far larger sums than those claimed from him. 
And when, after four whole years, he found himself without 
an answer to a fresh accusation, he betook himself to Peter's 
presence, and addressed him somewhat after the following 
fashion : — ' These accusers and examiners of mine, none of 
them know what they are talking about, nor what they do ; 
they are making a fuss about trifles. If they choose to call 
the personal use I may have made of certain sums, of which 
I had the handling, a robbery, they are out of their reckon- 
ing altogether. Yes, I stole the 100,000 roubles of which 
Nieganovski speaks. I have stolen a great deal more, — how 
much, I do not know myself. After Poltava I found con- 
siderable sums of money in the Swedish camp. I took 
some 20,000 roubles for my own use. Your steward, Kour- 
batof, a very honest man, has several times over given me 
other sums, drawn from your exchequer, both in coin and 
bullion. At Lubeck I received 5000 ducats, and double that 
sum at Hamburg ; in Mecklenburg and the German Swedish 
possessions, 12,000 thalers ; at Dantzig, 20,000, and more that 
I have forgotten. I have used the authority you gave me 
after my own fashion. I have done,, on a large scale, what 
other men about you do on a small one. If I have been 
wrong, I should have been warned before.' 

Peter was disarmed. He felt the blame was partly his, 
and once more he passed the sponge across the slate. But 
fresh accusations came pouring in. A credit of 21,000 
roubles, assigned in 1706, for cavalry remounts, had utterly 
disappeared. The same thief had done the work. This 
time the military authorities interfered, and the favourite 
was condemned to loss of his military rank and functions. 
Once more Peter forgave him. But the original enquiry 
went on, and others were added to it, arising out of the 
Imperial minion's breaches of trust in Poland, in Pomerania, 
in the government of St. Petersburg, — everywhere, in fact, 
where he could lay his hand, and there was hardly a pro- 
vince or an administrative department which escaped 
it. The Tsar grew weary at last. His favourite's insati- 
able greed threatened to cause diplomatic friction. The 
Dutch Resident accused Zotof, the governor of Revel, of 


squeezing the merchants belonging to his country, and 
dividing the produce of his exactions with Menshikof. 
Year by year Peter's regard grew colder. Little by little 
the old familiar intercourse died away. One day at last, in 
a fit of displeasure, he threatened to send the incorrigible 
thief back to his old life. That very evening, Menshikof 
entered his presence, dressed as a pastry-cook, with a basket 
on his head, calling out, ' I sell fresh-baked piroguis! The 
Tsar burst out laughing. The traitor had more than one 
string to his bow. He had Catherine's constant, unvarying, 
faithful support. She had been his mistress, and she never 
forgot it. He also played on the Tsar's passionate affection 
for his second wife's son, little Peter Petrovitch. He never 
neglected, during the sovereign's absences, to send him con- 
stant news of his ' priceless treasure,' telling how he played 
at soldiers, repeating his childish phrases, and going into 
ecstasies over his charms. But, above all things, he was the 
one man on whom, putting integrity apart, Peter could ab- 
solutely reckon to second him, or supply his place, with a 
vigour, a resolution, and resourcefulness which never failed. 
An army sent into Finland, under Apraxin, was in danger 
of being starved to death. Peter was away. The Senate, 
when appealed to, came to no decision ; the merchants re- 
fused to deliver food, unless it was paid for ; and the treasury 
was empty. Menshikof ordered the stores to be broken 
open, laid hands on all the provisions he could find, and sent 
them off to Abo. There was a desperate outcry ; the 
senators, who were all more or less interested in the corn 
trade, threatened to have the favourite arrested. He faced 
the storm bravely, and had no difficulty, when the Tsar re- 
turned, in justifying his action. His bold stroke had saved 
the troops in Finland. 

And lastly, the unworthiness of his accusers was in his 
favour. One of them, Kourbatof, was himself convicted of 
fraud in 172 1, and heavily fined. Thus, till the end, Men- 
shikof held his own, more and more closely threatened, but 
always contriving to float. In 1723, when for the twentieth 
time, Catherine ventured to take up the cudgels for him, 
Peter broke in roughly, ' Menshikof came into the world just 
as he has lived, his mother bore him in sin, and he will die a 
knave. If he does not amend his ways, he will end by hav- 
ing his head cut off.' The old affection had quite died out. 


Even the favourite's wit, which had so often wrung the Tsar's 
forgiveness from him, no longer served him as it once had 
done. Peter, coming into his palace, saw the walls bare, and 
the great rooms stripped of furniture. He enquired the 
reason of this desolation. ' I have had to sell my hangings 
and my furniture to pay the fines imposed upon me.' ' Well, 
buy them back, or I will double the fine.' 

The charm was broken. Menshikof was removed from 
the presidency of the military administration ; he was forced 
to disgorge the 15,000 serfs he had stolen in Mazeppa's 
former domains. 1 At the time of Peter's death, he was 
living in semi - disgrace. When Catherine succeeded, 
he attained to yet greater position and power, saw his 
daughter on the very steps of the throne, and then, on the 
eve of that supreme triumph, his fortune crumbled be- 
neath his feet, and he ended his days in exile, on a daily 
pittance of a few copecks. I have no concern, in this place, 
with that latter half of his career ; I may perhaps return to 
it on a future occasion. 

I cannot, whatever may have been imagined and asserted 
on this subject, accept this collaborator of the Tsar's as a 
man of great intelligence ; but he must be recognised and 
appreciated as a force which, — used by Peter, serving as it did 
the mightiest will known in modern history before Napoleon's 
time, and so sent whirling across the wild uncultivated steppes 
of the Russia of those days, to open up that wilderness, — had 
a special value of its own. It overthrew all obstacles, it 
broke down all resistance, and, like some fiercely- rushing, 
muddy river, it carried fruitful germs in its mire-stained and 
turbid waters. 

The man himself, haughty, brutal, covetous, and cruel, was 
neither loveable nor loved. When, in 1706, his house at 
Moscow was burnt down, the whole town openly rejoiced. 2 
Peter did not complain. He always had a secret leaning 
towards those of his servants who could not rely on any- 
thing, or any person, save himself. 

1 For Menshikof s biography see Essipof, Solovief, vol. xvi, p. 231, etc. ; 
Golikof, vol. vi. p. 407, etc. ; Nartof, p. 47, etc. ; Posselt, vol. i. p. 545, etc. 
- Russian Archives, 1875, P art "• P- 49 (Essipof). 



I now come to the second order of the Tsar's collaborators. 
Some of them, and these not the most interesting, belong to 
the old nobility. Feodor Alexieievitch Golovin, who was 
called, after Lefort's death, to the chief place at the Admiralty, 
and to the head of the Office of Foreign Envoys {Posolskoi 
Prikaz), — the Foreign Office of those days, — was neither a 
sailor nor a diplomat. His only claims to distinction con- 
sisted in the fact that his brother Alexis had married one of 
Menshikof's sisters, that one of his minions, named Iagou- 
jinski, was later to be specially favoured by the Tsar, and 
that he wore the distinctive symbol of his naval dignity, a 
compass, with a most majestic air. Apraxin, who suc- 
ceeded him as Lord High Admiral, in 1706, possessed more 
serious qualities, but a great part of his success and superi- 
ority was due to the presence of the Norwegian sailor, 
Cruys, at the Admiralty Board. He was heartily jealous of 
his subaltern, and seized an opportunity of getting rid of 
him, which presented itself in 1713, with shameful eagerness. 
A court martial, presided over by the Lord High Admiral, 
condemned the foreign sailor to death, in consequence of 
the loss of a ship caused by some misunderstanding about a 
signal. This ancestor of a noble family, the aristocratic 
pretensions of which are, it must be confessed, disputed by 
many genealogists, was anything but chivalrous ! Cruys, 
whose sentence was commuted by Peter to one of perpetual 
banishment, was soon back in St. Petersburg ; nothing went 
right at the Admiralty after he left it. 

The Presidency of the Posolskoi Prikaz, with the title 
of Chancellor, passed from Golovin to another mere 
figurehead, Gabriel Ivanovitch Golovkin. Peter, who in- 
augurated the system which Catherine II. was largely to 
develop, had a fondness for separating titles from their 
functions, and found this an easy means of gratifying his 
taste for low-born favourites. Having reduced the titular 
minister to a mere dummy, he caused the actual work of his 
foreign policy to be performed by such men as Ostermann 
and lagoujinski. Gabriel Ivanovitch, who had been one of 
the Sovereign's childish playfellows, and later one of his 
most constant boon companions, and, who, it may be added, 


was related to him through the Naryshkin, had a fine 
aptitude for taking his master's tone. He thus addresses 
him in an official letter — ' Your Majesty has condescended 
to insinuate that my gout was the result of too much 
devotion to Venus. I owe it to your Majesty to inform 
you of the real truth, which is, that in my case the trouble 
rather arises from excess in drinking.' In the matter of 
honesty he was no better than his fellows. He was gener- 
ally supposed to be in Mazeppa's pay, and in December 
1 71 4, Peter reproached him, before the assembled Senate, 
with the frauds, of which he had been convicted in conjunc- 
tion with Menshikof, with regard to military supplies. 1 

Peter found some better servants, as far, at all events, as 
intelligence went, among the ranks of the old aristocracy. 
Tolstoi', who belonged to this class, fully justified the Tsar's 
remark — ' Any one who has anything to do with him had 
better put a stone in his pocket with which to draw his 
teeth.' And this other, dropped with a kiss on the for- 
midable politician's brow, ' Oh ! head, head, if I had not 
known you to be so clever, I should have cut you off long 
ago ! ' Tolstoi's services, shameful, some of them, but all 
of them remarkable in their way, — he acted at one time as a 
diplomat at Vienna and Constantinople, at another as a 
spy on the unhappy Alexis, — earned him the blue ribbon of 
knighthood, a seat in the Senate, and an enormous landed 
property. His teeth were not drawn until after Peter's death. 
When he was eighty-two years old, he came into conflict 
with Menshikof, and ended by tasting the bitterness of exile, 
on the inhospitable shores of the White Sea.' 2 

Another aristocrat, Boris Ivanovitch Kourakin, appears 
on the threshold of the eighteenth century, — the earliest and 
already supremely attractive incarnation of the high-born 
Russian diplomatist, with whom, since those days, Europe 
has grown familiar, — full of Oriental cunning and Slavonic 
adaptability, — as much in love with literature as a frequenter 
of the Hotel Rambouillet, — and as passionately fond of 
every kind of elegance as a Versailles courtier. He entered 
the Tsar's family by his marriage with Xenia Lapouhin, 
the sister of Peter's first wife. He contrived to make the 
most of this relationship, at the favourable moment, and, 

1 De Bie to the States General, Dec. 21, 1714 (Archives of the Hague). 

2 Popof, Study 0/ '1 olsto'i {Old and Nezv Russia), 1875. 


later on, to cause it to be forgotten. He began his career 
at a very early age — first of all as the representative of 
Russia in London, at the Court of Queen Anne, then in 
Hanover, at that of the future King of England, and finally 
in Paris, during the Regency, and the early years of Louis 
XV.'s reign. He died in 1727, before he had reached the 
age of fifty. In the course of his diplomatic career he strikes 
us as having been sorely puzzled, more than once, as to his 
personal behaviour, but he always contrived to maintain his 
own dignity and that of his country, hiding his ignorance 
and awkwardness under a mantle of pride and charm, which 
never failed him. 

But I must keep this list within limits. The most interest- 
ing figure in the group is certainly that of Basil Nikititch 
Tatishtchef, descended from Rourik, through the Princes of 
Smolensk, and the progenitor of a race of men as turbulently 
active as himself. Here we have the diHatiel par excellence, 
— Peter's best pupil. He was brought up in a school at 
Moscow, kept by a Frenchman. When he left it, Peter sent 
him abroad, with Nieplouief, and a number of other young 
men, to complete his education. Some of these, Nieplouief 
amongst the number, were already married. Travelling by 
Revel, Copenhagen and Hamburg, they went to Amsterdam, 
where they found a whole colony of Russian students. 
Twenty-seven of their number were forthwith despatched 
to Venice, where they were to take service with the fleets of 
the Republic. Thus Nieplouief took part in an expedition 
against the Island of Corfu. The whole of the Mediterranean 
and the Atlantic coast from Cadiz to Genoa was dotted, in 
those days, with these Russian student apprentices. Special 
agents, — Beklemishef for Southern Europe, Prince Ivan 
Lvof for Holland, and one of the Zotofs for France, — were 
deputed to overlook and direct their travels, and their work. 
When they returned home, Peter awaited them in his 
cabinet, and at six o'clock in the morning, candle in hand, 
— for it was mid-winter and the sun had not risen — he 
verified their geographical knowledge, by the map, treating 
them very roughly, if they did not do themselves credit, and 
showing them his toil-worn hands, which he had hardened 
purposely ' as an example to all the world.' x 

1 NieplouiePs Memoirs, p. 103. Piekarski's Science an i Literature in Russia, 
pp. 141, 142. 


Thus prepared, Nieplouief served his country as a diplomat 
in Turkey, as Chief of the Administration in Little Russia, 
and as Director of Mines in the Ural. Tatishtchef far sur- 
passed him in many-sidedness, in the ease with which he 
applied his powers to every kind of duty, and in untiring 
activity. He was a model pupil, who spent his whole life 
reciting his well-learnt lesson. Like his master, he was per- 
petually on the move, and had his finger everywhere, — in 
military matters, diplomacy, finance, administration, science, 
trade and manufactures. Like him, he was an eager worker, 
deeply sensible of his own responsibility. Like him, he 
lived a life of perpetual activity, and was perpetually stirring 
others up to action. Like him, he was universal, superficial, 
and minute ; like him too, — though bound to the East with 
bonds that still held him closely, — he deliberately turned his 
face, and mind, in the very opposite direction. He was 
present at the taking of Narva in 1704. In 171 1, while 
accompanying Peter along that fatal road which was to lead 
them to the banks of the Pruth, he made all sorts of en- 
quiries and archaeological excavations, in the hope of dis- 
covering the tomb of Igor, Rourik's legendary son. Then, 
going abroad again, he spent several years in Berlin, Breslau 
and Dresden, immersed in fresh studies, and busily collect- 
ing a library. A little later, I find him peforming diplomatic 
functions at the Congress of Aland, Then, again, he engages 
in a huge undertaking — that of preparing a general atlas of 
the Russian dominions. And later yet, Peter, just starting 
for his Persian Campaign, is offered a book to peruse on the 
journey, a 'Chronicle of Mourom,' written by the Dieiatiel, who 
suddenly appears in the character of a historian. And even 
this did not suffice. He was sent into the Ural, where the 
search for copper mines had not been crowned with complete 
success. He started without delay, reported serious flaws in 
the local administration, denounced the oppression which the 
native tribes had suffered at the hands of the agents of the 
Central Power, founded the town of Ekaterinenburg — destined 
to play such an important part in the future development of 
the mining industry — established schools for the people, and 
yet found time to learn French, with the help of a grammar 
received during his stay at Aland. 

At the time of Peter's death he was still a young man. 
He continued to take an active and personal share in affairs 


of the most varied kind, and at his death, left behind him 
a considerable literary work, which has been published by 
Muller. It comprises three volumes of Russian history, to 
which — thanks to a discovery of Pogodin — two others were 
later added, and an Encyclopaedic Dictionary, carried up 
to the letter L. The value of these literary efforts, which 
was sharply attacked by the eighteenth century historians, 
led by Schlozer, has been considerably vindicated since their 

Tatishtchef was no exception to the common rule. He 
was removed from his offices by his master in 1722, in con- 
sequence of accusations brought against him by Nikita 
Demidof, and, like so many others, died in exile, though 
more stoically than most of his fellows. When he was 
seventy years old, feeling his end approaching, he mounted 
his horse, rode to the parish church, heard Mass, went on to 
the graveyard, chose his own place there, and bespoke the 
priest's attendance for the following day. He breathed his 
last at the very hour he had foretold, just as the last 
sacraments were being administered to him. 1 

Peter was honoured, and singularly fortunate, in having a 
man of so much real worth and moral character about him, 
at a period when he was surrrounded by such beings as 
Zotof and Nadajinski, that strange Confessor, whose hand 
he would kiss at the close of Mass, and whose nose he would 
pull five minutes afterwards ;' 2 a man whose drinking powers 
he backed, while in Paris, against those of Dubois' secretary, — 
also a priest, and a noted toper. When, within an hour, the 
French Abbe rolled under the table, Peter cast his arms 
about the victor's neck, and congratulated him on having 
' saved the honour of Russia.' This Nadajinski left enormous 
wealth behind him. Other men, and of a very different 
stamp, happily, helped Peter to lay the foundations of his 
country's greatness. 


Tatishtchef's character and origin have both earned him 
a special place in the list of the contemporary 'makers' of 
the great reign. 

1 Popof, Tatishtchef and his limes. Restoujet-Rioumin, Study in Old and 
New Russia, 1875. - Pollnitz's Memoirs, 1791, vol. ii. p. 66. 


Iagoujinski, the son of an organist and schoolmaster, 
employed by the Lutheran community in Moscow, began 
by performing the functions of a boot-black, to which he 
added others on the subject of which ' decency,' so Weber 
puts it, ' forbids ' him ' to enlarge.' x Thus it came about 
that Count Golovin, one of his employers, bethought him 
of placing the boot-black in Peter's service, with the object 
of counteracting Menchikof's influence. The new comer 
was superior, in one respect, to the old favourite. Like 
him he was a thief, but he made no secret of his thievery, 
and kept it, too, within more reasonable limits. When the 
Sovereign spoke, in his presence, of having every peculator 
hanged, he made that celebrated answer, ' Does your 
Majesty desire to get rid of all your subjects ? ' 

He was faithful, too, after a fashion of his own ; he never 
betrayed the cause which his protector had sent him to 
champion. He fought resolutely against Menshikof, and 
was not afraid to enter into open struggle with the 
favourite's great protectress, Catherine herself. His cour- 
age, far exceeding his talents, — which indeed appear to 
have been very moderate, — was his only claim to his 
position as Public Prosecutor ; one in which he showed a 
world of energy, and a severity for other people's weak- 
nesses, only equalled by the indulgence he claimed for his 
own. But the great favourite, who felt his own omni- 
potence encroached on, had his revenge at last, and, after 
Peter's death, Iagoujinski was seen in a state of intoxica- 
tion — for he practised every kind of excess — stretched 
upon the newly-closed coffin, tearing the funeral pall with 
his finger nails, and calling up the avenging shade of the 
mighty dead. 

Like Iagoujinski, Shafirof (Peter Pavlovitch) was of 
Polish-Lithuanian origin, but his antecedents are more 
shadowy and obscure. His grandfather, who had settled 
at Orsha, in the Province of Smolensk, was called Shafir, 
and bore the surname common amongst his Jewish kindred, 
down to the present day, of Shaia or Shai'oushka. He was 
a broker, an individual who even now would seem an 
indispensable adjunct to the surroundings of most Russian 
country gentlemen. The long greasy gaberdine he wore, 
unmistakably indicated the functions he performed, and 

1 H. Hermann, Peter der Grosse und.der Tsarroitch Alexei, 18S0, p. 17S. 


the race from whence he sprung. Peter Pavlovitch dis- 
carded the gaberdine, but he preserved all the other dis- 
tinctive qualities of the type. The Tsar took him out of a 
shop at Moscow, and bestowed him on Golovkin, to assist 
him with his correspondence; — all Jews, Polish or otherwise, 
have a talent for languages. When, after the Battle of 
Poltava, Golovkin was made Chancellor, his assistant rose 
with him, and the former cloth-merchant's clerk became 
Vice-Chancellor. He really directed all the foreign 
relations of the country. And he did his work well. In 
that perilous business on the Pruth, his talents worked a 
miracle, and saved, or something very like it, both the Tsar 
and his Empire. This put him on the pinnacle of his 
glory. Pie had grown rich, of course, — he had been made 
a baron, — equally of course, — he had married five of his 
daughters into the greatest families in the country, Dol- 
gorouki, Golovin, Gagarin, Hovanski, and Soltykof. 
Suddenly, there came a gust of wind, — and he was swept 
away. Menshikof, whose own harvest he had prematurely 
reaped, the Chancellor Golovkin, whose accession he had 
too openly coveted, and Ostermann, — himself a parvenu, 
who desired to stand in the Vice-Chancellor's shoes, took 
advantage of one of Peter's prolonged absences, to plot his 
ruin. On the 15th of February, 1723, he was actually on 
the scaffold, his head already laid on the block, and ' the 
executioner's assistants pulling at his feet, so that his great 
belly might touch the ground.' l But he escaped death. 
One of Peter's secretaries arrived, just in time, with a letter 
commuting his sentence to perpetual banishment. He 
attended the Senate for the ratification of this letter, and, 
according to the testimony of an eye-witness, ' trembling 
still, and with death in his face,' he received the congratu- 
lations and hand-clasps of his colleagues, who had un- 
animously sentenced him to execution. He took measures, 
of course, which resulted in his not being sent to Siberia, 
was imprisoned at Novgorod, and there patiently awaited 
Peter's death. The moment this event took place, he 
recovered his liberty, re-entered political life, as President 
of what we should call the Board of Trade, and, by means 
of new commercial operations, soon recovered his confiscated 

1 Biischings-Magazin, vol. xxi. p. 195. Solovief, vol. xviii. p. 141. 


His father's sister married another baptized Jew, who, 
under a borrowed name, became the progenitor of another 
family of agents, which played a prominent part in the 
diplomatic history of the reign, the Viesselovski. 

The Prybylslitchiks, — agents specially connected with the 
Exchequer, and inventors of new sources of revenue 
(Prybyle, profit) — form a class apart in the great category of 
the Dielatiels. Of this class, Kourbatof was the most 
eminent representative. His figure, a new one then to 
Russia, and even to Europe in general, is that of the true 
modern financier, greedy of gain, but always desirous of 
preserving a nice balance in fiscal matters. Peter himself 
could not always rise to the level of this advocate of wise 
economic formulas, and ended by sacrificing him to the 
spite of that fierce Inquisitor, Romodanovski, whose 
sanguinary excesses Kourbatof had ventured to disapprove. 
The man was certainly not immaculate, and his conduct 
in the unimportant position of Vice -Governor of Arch- 
angel, to which he was finally relegated, even appears to 
have justified his disgrace. None the less, he appears before 
us as the victim of that struggle between two worlds, 
two conceptions of the State, and two ideas of social 
existence, the right side of which the great Sovereign him- 
self did not always succeed in keeping. 

This struggle is even more sharply and more dramatically 
defined in the story of the unfortunate Joseph Alexieievitch 
Solovief, the son of an Archangel merchant, whom Peter 
first of all appointed a Director of Customs, and afterwards, 
his commercial agent and banker in Holland. Solovief, 
whose financial operations had attained considerable im- 
portance, was involved, in 1717, in the disgrace which befel 
one of his brothers, who filled a modest position in Men- 
shikofs household. He was prosecuted, extradited, given 
over to the Secret Police, and finally acknowledged 
innocent. But his legs and arms had been broken in the 
Torture Chamber, and all his fortune, somewhere about a 
million of roubles, had utterly disappeared. 

Solovief was but a ' common fellow.' Possoshkof, who 
shared this disability, gives an amusing, though a sad 
enough description of the relations of people of his own 
class with the mighty ones of the day. Here is his own 
story of his adventures with Prince Dimitri Mihai'lovitch 


Galitzin, from whom he requested permission, in 17 19, to 
establish a brandy distillery. At that period the Russian 
Montesquieu, who had some private property, possessed 
influential relations, and was Kourbatof's partner in several 
industrial enterprises, had already attained a certain im- 
portance. Yet no one, to judge by the answer his 
petition received, would dream it. Without a word of 
explanation, he was laid violent hands on, and cast into 
prison. At first he was astounded, then he bewailed his 
fate, and finally, after a week, ventured to recall the fact of 
his existence to the absent-minded Boyard. ' Why am I 
in prison?' he asked. 'Why the devil is this man in 
prison?' enquired Galitzin; and as no one could answer 
the question, he signed an order for Possoshkof's release. 

This love of summary methods, and haughty scorn of 
individual rights, was equally acceptable to the old Russian 
spirit, and to the revolutionary tendencies of the modern 
party. Possoshkof himself was their accomplice. He was 
a violent partizan, both of Peter's reforms and of the 
extreme measures he employed to ensure their success. He 
would gladly, even, have increased their merciless severity. 
In his eagerness to inculcate the theories of that economic 
school, of which the Prybylshtchiks, led by Kourbatof, were 
the practical exponents, he would fain have called all that 
intolerance, over-haste, and excessive zeal, so dear to all 
sectarians, to his aid. His fate resembled that of most of 
his fellows. Nothing, he believed, but the iron ploughshare 
and the devouring fire could suffice to open the soil of his 
native land, which for ages had lain fallow and briar-grown. 
The terrible machine he helped to set in motion crushed 
and destroyed himself. How did it come about that, although 
from one end to the other of his career, and by the solitary 
effort of a thought which evidently sprang from the same 
source, he walked, as it were, on Peter's flank, he never 
succeeded, even temporarily, in entering into close relations 
with him ? In this respect his case was an altogether special 
one. He had ideas to dispose of, and Peter seems to have 
had a settled determination never to accept anything of the 
kind from his own people. Apart from that, the general 
tendency of the reign was towards equality, and the great 
Tsar would have had no scruple about taking a moujik to be 
his helper, and even his closest companion. Of this the 


story of the Demidofs gives clear proof. The history of the 
besinnino-s of the Demidof fortune — the doubtful anecdote of 
the pistol marked with the name — in those days a celebrated 
one — of Kuchenreiter, and confided to a workman at Toula, 
who had undertaken to mend it, and the Tsar's colloquy 
with the young gunsmith, — is in common knowledge. 

The Tsar: 'Ah! if we could only make pistols like 

The Gunsmith : ' That's no very difficult matter.' 

The Tsar (with an oath and a box on the ear) : ' Do the 
work first, rascal, and then you may boast.' 

The Locksmith : ' Look closely first, Batioushka, and see. 
The pistol you admire is of my making. Here is its fellow.' 

The gunsmith was then known as Antoufief ; his father, 
Demid Grigorevitch, a serf of the Crown, working as a 
blacksmith in a village of Parshimo, in the district of 
Alexin, and province of Toula, had settled in the prin- 
cipal town of his province towards the year 1650. In 
1694 — the date usually assigned to this first meeting with 
the Sovereign, the reputed source of the proverbial riches of 
the Demidof family, and of the present development of the 
mineral industry in Russia, — the old blacksmith's son, 
Nikita, was nearing his fortieth year. 1 He was a married 
man, and Peter, so we are told, after having duly apologised, 
invited himself to dinner in his cottage. The meal was a 
cheerful one, and the Tsar paid the reckoning with a conces- 
sion of ground in the neighbourhood of Toula, in which an 
iron mine was to be opened and worked. This was a mere 
beginning. By degrees the activity and enterprising spirit 
of Nikita and his son Akinfy (Hyacinth) were welcomed in 
all the mines in the Ural. In 1707, Nikita was personally 
ennobled under the name of Demidof. In 1720 his honour 
was made hereditary, but he kept to his peasant dress ; and 
Peter, though he always treated him with the greatest con- 
sideration, continued to address him by his rustic and 
familiar name of Demidytch. It was not only as a com- 
mercial and business man, the founder of numerous works at 
Shouralinsk, Vynorsk, Viershnietagilsk Nijnietagilsk, and 
Douhomsk, that the Tsar valued Nikita. His gay and 
jovial character, his turn for satire, and his biting wit, made 

1 Russian Archi%-es, 1878, vol. ii. p. 120. Karnovitch, Great Russian Fortunes, 
p. 163, etc. 


him a worthy follower of Lefort. He died at Toula in 1725, 
at the age of 68, leaving behind him an immense fortune, 
and — a prodigious and almost unique fact in those surround- 
ings, and at that period — a reputation for perfect honesty. 
Russian industry has more reason to congratulate itself on 
this forefather than the Russian navy on the ancestor with 
with which it pleased Peter to endow it, in the person of 

Another peasant's name, one of the greatest in modern Rus- 
sian history — equally eminent in literature and science, but con- 
nected also with much industrial endeavour and success — here 
rises to my memory. When Poushkin asserted that Lomon- 
ossof — historian, rhetorician, mechanic, chemist, mineralogist, 
artist, and poet — was ' the first Russian University,' he hardly 
said enough. The active period of Lomonossofs life (he 
was born in 171 1) was not actually contemporary with 
Peter's. Yet he belongs to that great period ; he was its 
direct outcome and its worthy fruit — the very personification 
of its genius, with all its civilising virtues, its deficiencies, 
and its contradictions. His humble origin, though he never 
forgot it, and rather took pride in it, did not prevent his prais- 
ing even the laws of serfdom, the rigour of which the Reformer 
greatly increased, and from claiming — peasant as he was 
himself— 200 peasants for the perpetual service of a factory 
he had founded. Son of the people though he was, the 
songs and ceremonies and popular legends of his country 
were nothing to him but a remnant of a distant past, long 
since gone by, and devoid of any save an historic interest. 
One of the deepest and most expressive forms of the national 
poetry, the Bylines, traces of which may even now be dis- 
covered in some of the northern provinces, entirely escaped 
this poet's notice. He had no ear nor soul for anything but 
the classic poetry of the west, with its strict forms, so soon 
to fall out of date — the ode, the panegyric, the heroic poem, 
the tragedy, and the didactic epistle. In literature, as in 
science, he was very apt to consider his activity as a duty to 
be performed in the Tsar's service, a kind of official task. 
The universal process of requisitioning and enrolment, which 
Peter's system tended to carry even into matters of indi- 
vidual intellect, and activity, is clearly denoted in this 

Yet Lomonossof played an important part in that swift 



and general transformation, out of which modern Russia 
rose. He imparted a powerful and definite impulse to that 
mighty effort whereby the broken links of a chain which 
parted in the thirteenth century, were welded afresh, and 
his native country re-endowed with the intellectual patri- 
mony common to the whole civilised world. 1 


Most of Peter's foreign collaborators, — so far, at least, as 
appearances went, — were mere subalterns. The)' often did 
all the work, but they generally remained in obscurity. 
Peter would never have committed a fault, the crushing re- 
sponsibility of which the Empress Anne was to assume in 
later days, — that of putting his country under the direct 
power of such a man as Buhren. As long as the great Tsar 
reigned, Ogilvy, the Scotchman, might plan the battles, which 
ended by checkmating Charles XIL, but it was Sheremetief 
who won them. 

These foreigners, whether Scotchmen, Germans, or Dutch, 
assimilated themselves to their local surroundings, — became 
Russianized, in fact, — with the most extraordinary facility. 
That shifty and eminently porous soil rapidly absorbed all 
their native originality. The only thing which distinguished 
Andrew Vinnius, the Russian-born son of a Dutch emigrant, 
from his Muscovite surroundings, was his superior education. 
He professed the religion of the country, he spoke its lan- 
guage, he had even adopted its moral habits. He might be 
Menshikof's superior in such particulars as the casting of 
cannon, and the manufacture of gunpowder, — but in the 
matter of filling his own pocket, he was very little better 
indeed. And his fellows in the tumultuous stream of foreign 
adventurers, which Peter let loose upon his country, belonged, 
as a general rule, to the same order, and betrayed all the 
defects of their profession. The germs of corruption and 
degradation, which the Tartar conquest had sown in the 
national soul, sprang into life, in answer to their touch. 

James Bruce, a Scotchman, who passed at Court for a 
chemist and astronomer of genius, and was held in the city 

1 Biliarski, Materials for Lomonossofs Biography (St. Petersburg, lS65), 
Lamanski, Lomonossof, Biogaphical Studies (St. Petersburg, 1864). 

VOL. I. P 


for a sorcerer, had none of the qualities of a Newton or of 
a Lavoisier, but many of the peculiarities of an ordinary 
sharper. Endless lawsuits, — for abuse of authority, pecula- 
tion, dishonesty in the supply of his department (he was at 
the head of the artillery), — brought him to loggerheads with 
justice. The Tsar always ended by forgiving him. There 
was a certain dilettantism, and self-taught quality about the 
rascal's knowledge, which was irresistibly attractive to Peter, 
and which, in those surroundings, possessed a certain value 
of its own. A whole legend had grown up round the light 
which streamed, on long winter nights, from the windows of 
his laboratory in the Souharef Tower. His astronomical 
discoveries bordered closely on astrology, and his celebrated 
Calendar, published in 171 1, is all moonshine. But it was 
Bruce who organized and directed the Tsar's schools of 
navigation, artillery, and military engineering ; he presided 
over the Board of manufactures and of mines ; he was the 
real inspirer of the learned correspondence which Peter 
made believe to keep up with Leibnitz, and, on the occa- 
sion of the Treaty of Nystadt, he gave proof of remarkable 
diplomatic powers. 

They were all much alike, ready for anything, doing many 
useful things indifferently well, and remarkable, especial!}", 
for cunning and energy. 

At Nystadt, Bruce, whose success won him the title of 
Count, and the grade of Marshal, had a colleague, Oster- 
mann, a Westphalian, whose two years at the University of 
Vienna had given him a reputation for learning. Campredon, 
writing in 1725, thus sums up his capabilities: 'He knows 
German, Italian and French, and thus makes himself indis- 
pensable ; otherwise, his principal cleverness consists in petti- 
fogging chicanery, cunning, and dissimulation.' These 
talents sufficed, — in a country where Golovkin was chan- 
cellor, — to obtain him the dignity of vice-chancellor, in 
succession to Shafirof, in 1723. But Campredon overlooks 
one of his qualities — a most remarkable power of work. 
Ostermann, to humour his master's suspicious instincts, 
would cypher and decipher his own despatches, sitting at 
them whole days and nights, without ever going out of doors, 
or taking off the red velvet dressing-gown, which he wore 
even on the 18th of January, 1724, when he ascended the 
scaffold which his predecessor had mounted before him. 


Like that predecessor, he was pardoned, and ended his days 
in exile 

Beside the Polish Jew, Shafirof, we perceive the grotesque 
outline of the Portuguese Jew, Devier. Peter picked him up 
in Holland, where he was serving as cabin boy on board a 
merchant ship, in 1697. In 1705, he was an officer in the 
Guard; in 1709, he was Camp Commandant. In 171 1, desir- 
ing to marry well, he fixed his choice on one of Menshikofs 
sisters, who was both old and ugly. The favourite, looking 
on his request for this lady's hand as a deliberate insult, 
ordered his lacqueys to thrash the insolent suitor. Three 
days later, the little Jew led the betrothed of his choice to 
the altar. He had got out of the scrape, no one quite knew 
how, alive, though sorely damaged in person, and covered 
with blood as he was, had carried his complaint before the 
Tsar, who promptly avenged him. Yet, crafty, supple, 
humorous, and intensely servile as he was, he did not suc- 
ceed in escaping fresh reverses. He was evidently predes- 
tined to physical chastisement. In 17 18, he was the first 
holder of a post, — then a new one in St. Petersburg, — of 
general chief of police, and, in this quality, he had to accom- 
pany Peter on a tour of inspection through the streets of the 
capital. A broken-down bridge (Peter had consented to 
have bridges built over the numerous canals, which he had 
caused to be cut through the town) stopped the Tsar's 
carriage. He alighted, and sent for materials with which to 
repair the breach. He even put his hand to the work him- 
self, then, when it was finished, laying down his tools, he 
seized his donbina, and, without a word, bestowed a hearty 
thrashing on the chief of his police. This done, the sove- 
reign returned to his carriage, beckoned to Devier to take 
his place beside him, — ' Sadis brat', (sit down, brother), — and 
quietly took up the thread of a conversation which had been 
interrupted by the incident. And, yet again, that scarred 
back was to feel the lash. In 1727, after Peter's death, 
Menshikof, the Jew's unwilling brother-in-law, was to write 
his vengeance there in bloody stripes. At the foot of the 
decree which condemned the former chief of police to exile, 
he added the words, ' Bit knoutontj (let him be knouted). 1 
My readers will remark the uniform and monotonous 

1 Shouhinski, Historical Sketches, p. 77. Loupakof, Monograph, in the 
journal of the Mosccno Polytechnic Exhibition, 1872, No. 99. 


tendency of all these brilliant careers, towards the same final 
and inevitable crash, in which some great historical verdict 
and punishment would always seem to overshadow mere 
personal revenge and petty spite. Whatever their origin, 
whatever the line they took, these men, who none of them 
cared for law or gospel, or for any principle of rule, save 
that of their own interest and ambition, invariably ended by 
falling into the same abyss. 

They came from every corner of Europe. Munich, a 
Bavarian, who began his extraordinary career as the con- 
structor of the Ladoga Canal, elbowed Francois Guillemotte 
de Villebois, a gentleman from Lower Brittany, who had 
begun his career in France as a smuggler. Villebois' 
Memoirs, which are full of exaggerations, and of assertions, 
the falsehood of which have been clearly proved, are of little 
value, either as regards Peter's history or his own. 1 Accord- 
ing to his story, he saved the vessel which carried the Tsar 
from Holland to England from shipwreck. The Russian 
Sovereign, ' who loved extraordinary men,' at once engaged 
his services, and, from the subaltern position he then occu- 
pied, Villebois, at a bound, became aide-de-camp, and captain 
in the navy. I will not undertake to follow him too closely 
through the details of the adventure for which, two years 
later, he was condemned to the galleys. Having been sent 
by Peter, during very cold weather, from Strelna to Kron- 
stadt, with a message to Catherine, and having drunk a great 
deal of brandy on the road to warm himself, the sudden 
change of temperature, when he entered the Tsarina's bed- 
chamber, completely overcame him. At the sight of the dis- 
ordered couch and of the beautiful woman stretched upon it, 
he lost his head and all his self-control, and calmly recounts 
the consequences of his frenzy, which even the Sovereign's 
screams, and the presence of her ladies in an adjoining 
chamber, could not avert. Catherine is said to have suffered 
severely from this outrage. As for Peter, — in spite of his 
wife's condition, which necessitated careful surgical treatment, 
—he appears to have taken the catastrophe very philosophic- 
ally. ' The brute,' he said, 'did not know what he was doing, 
so he is innocent ; but we must make an example of him, — 
let him go to the galleys for a couple of years.' 

' Published, with certain omissions, in the Revue Retrospective, 3rd series, 
vol. xviii. j). 351, etc. The manuscript is in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. 


The only absolutely certain historical point about this 
story is the condemnation to the galleys. Yet Villebois 
does not seem to have stayed there more than six months. 
At the end of that time he was pardoned, married, by the 
Tsar's good offices, to the daughter of Gltick, the former 
pastor of Marienburg, and thus brought into close connection 
with the Sovereigns. In Elizabeth's reign he was rear- 
admiral, and commandant of the port of Kronstadt. 

Two other well-born Frenchmen, Andre and Adrien de 
Brigny, fought beside this Corsair in the ranks of the Tsar's 
army ; but, brave as they were, they were quite devoid of 
the spirit of intrigue indispensable, in those days, to success, 
and never rose to any prominent position. Englishmen, — 
perhaps on account of the fastidiousness, angular-minded- 
ness, and lack of adaptability of the race, — were in a minority 
in the motley crowd of foreigners, through whose means 
Peter endeavoured to inoculate his subjects with western 
culture. The celebrated Perry, who entered the Tsar's 
service as an engineer, and soon left it in disgust, only spent 
a few years in the vicinity of his comrade in misfortune, 
Fergusson. This last had been engaged to direct a mathe- 
matical school, and never succeeded in getting one kopeck 
paid him for his services. 1 Otherwise every nationality was 
represented. There was even a negro. 

This dusky henchman of the Tsar, who was born about 
the year 1696, was carried off from his own country at the 
age of seven years, and taken to Constantinople, where 
Count Tolstoi', the Russian ambassador, purchased, him in 
1705. Through all the course of a singularly active life he 
was haunted by a painful vision, the memory of his beloved 
sister Lagane, who had cast herself into the sea, and swum 
for a considerable distance behind the ship which was bearing 
him from her. On the shores of the Bosphorus he received 
the surname of Ibrahim. During the Tsar's visit to Vilna, 
in 1707, he was baptised, — Peter standing godfather, and the 
Queen of Poland godmother, — and was thenceforward known 
as Abraham Petrovitch Hannibal. He began his Russian 
life as page to the Sovereign, and, though he made intimate 
acquaintance with the doitbina, he gained his master's favour 
both by his pretty tricks, and his singularly bright intelli- 
gence. He was a negro prodigy. In 17 16, he was sent to 

1 Perry, Present Condition of Russia,^. 257, French edition (Amsterdam, 17 iS). 


Paris to complete his education. He had already learnt 
Dutch, and soon won himself a reputation in the French 
army, in the ranks of which he at once took service. During 
the campaign against the Spaniards, in 1720, in the course of 
which he received a wound on the head, he was promoted 
lieutenant. When he returned to Paris, he found himself a 
kind of celebrity, much sought-for in drawing-rooms, where 
he is said to have had considerable success. But his serious 
tastes soon drew him away from frivolous gaiety. He 
entered the School of Engineering, and did not leave it 
until 1726, when he returned to Russia, was made lieutenant 
in the Bombardier Company, which Peter once commanded, 
and shortly married. His wife, a very beautiful woman, the 
daughter of a Greek merchant, brought a fair-haired child 
into the world. He forced her to take the veil, had the 
child brought up with every care, found her a husband, gave 
her a fortune, but never would see her face. A very jealous, 
violent, loyal, upright, and exceedingly avaricious man. 
After Peter's death, he fell out, like everybody else, with 
Menshikof. Like almost everybody else, he was sent into 
exile, and did not return from Siberia till Elizabeth's time, 
when he became a full general, and died in 1 781, at the age of 
eighty-three years. 1 Another glory has added itself, since 
those days, to his name and history. He was Poushkin's 
paternal great-grandfather. 


As a matter of fact, the Tsar's circle, whether native or 
foreign, was almost entirely made up of ' utility men ' and 
' lay figures.' We do not find one really great name, or 
towering figure. The principal actor, and the part he 
played, probably took up so much room on the stage, that 
this was inevitable. My opinion is confirmed by what I 
notice of the sovereign's relations with the only man in the 
contemporary European world of equal stature with himself, 

1 Helhig, Russische Gunstlinge (Tubingen, 1809), p. 135. Bantich-Kamienski, 
Biographical Dictionaiy. Zazykof, Lexicographical Encyclopccaia, 1S38, vol. 
xiv. p. 289. Longuinof, Russian Archives, 1864, pp. 1S0, 1S1. Opatovitch, 
The First Wije of Abraham Hannibal. Russian Antiquities, 1S77, vol. xviii. 
p. 69. Poushkin, Genealogy op the Ponshkin and Hannibal Families, collected 
works (1S87 edition), vol. v. p. 148. 


with whom he had intercourse. I have already had occasion 
to mention Leibnitz's first attempts to attract the Tsar's 
attention, and the hopes he built on their success. Yet 
these relations, when once he succeeded in establishing them, 
brought no particular good fortune to either party, — both 
indeed would seem to have somewhat lost dignity by them. 

From the moment when Peter's first journey through 
Germany revealed him to the eyes of Europe, Leibnitz 
seemed possessed with a perfect monomania. All his talk 
was of Russia and of the Tsar. He was in a state of perpetual 
excitement, and full of endless plans, all more or less un- 
reasonable, and all tending to the same object, that of attrac- 
ting the monarch's attention, and winning his esteem. This 
feverish restlessness may be very naturally explained. The 
great savant, as is well-known, claimed Slavonic origin, of 
an ancient and noble nature, common with that of the 
Polish family of Lubieniecki. He himself inserted, in an 
autobiographical notice, the following words: — 'Leibnitiorum, 
sive Lubenecziorum, nomen slavonicum, familia in Polonia.' 
When he quarrelled with the town of Leipzig, he published 
the following protest: — 'Let Germany lower her pride! 
The genius that was born with me is not exclusively 
Teutonic, it is the genius of the Slavonic race, which 
woke in my person, in this Fatherland of the Scholastics.' 
And to this distant bond of consanguinity he appealed, 
when he first addressed Peter, at Torgau, in 171 1. ' Sire,' he 
is reported to have said, ' our point of departure is a common 
one. Slavs, both of us, belonging to a race, the destinies of 
which no man can foresee, — we are both of us the apostles of 
future centuries.' l This conversation, unfortunately, turned 
off to other subjects, and the intercourse thus begun, ended 
by falling to a much less elevated standpoint. In 1697, 
when Leibnitz was meditating a scientific plan of campaign 
for Russia, he still kept at a dignified level. But there 
was a great come-down in this very year, 171 1, when his 
chief anxiety was to get himself accepted as the Tsar's 
representative at the Court of Hanover. A taste foi 
diplomacy was one of his weaknesses, and it increased 

1 A letter from Count John Lubieniecki, lately published in the 'Kraj,'a 
Polish review, confirms, by information drawn from family documents, the truth 
of Leibnitz's Polish origin, which even the German editors of the great savant's 
works, Klopp, Guhrauer, and Fertz, have not attempted to deny. 


with age. We see him piling application on application, 
and intrigue on intrigue, — worrying Peter's minister at 
Vienna, Baron Urbich, — tormenting the Duke of Wolfen- 
biittel, whose grand -daughter had just been affianced to 
the Tsarevitch Alexis. All he was able to get was the 
promise of a trfiin and of a pension. The fulfilment of this 
promise was long in coming, and at Karlsbad, in 1712, 
he came back to the charge, offering his good offices 
to reconcile Austria with Russia, a magnetic globe of the 
world, which he had caused to be constructed for the 
Tsar, and an instrument to be used in planning fortifica- 
tions. This time he contrived to obtain the title of Privy 
Councillor, and a gift of 500 ducats, which satisfied 
him until 17 14, when a vacancy in the Russian Diplo- 
matic Service at Vienna once more threw him into a state 
of agitation. In 1716, he was at the springs of Pyrmont, to 
which the Russian sovereign had betaken himself,— with a 
bundle of half-scientific, half-political memoranda in one 
hand, and a wooden apparatus for the Tsar's paralysed arm 
in the other, — calling out about his pension, which had never 
been paid, ' although it had been talked of all over Europe,' 
piling up expressions of admiration and proofs of devotion, — 
altogether a wonderful, and pitiable, and most insufferable 
beggar. Peter strikes me as having been almost indifferent 
always to the brightness of this great intelligence, which 
never seems to have succeeded in coming into contact with 
his own. 1 Within a few months of the visit to Pyrmont, 
Leibnitz was dead. 

A considerable share in the establishment of the Collegial 
Administration of Russia has been ascribed to him. A letter 
on which this organisation was based, was long believed to 
be his composition. But this is far from being true. The 
original document, which is preserved in the Moscow- 
archives, is not in his handwriting, and other authentic 
writings of his do not mention it. Three other documents 
on the same subject, which have also been attributed to 
him, are certainly not his work. He never, whatever may 
be said to the contrary, had anything to do with the founda- 
tion of the Academy of Sciences at St. Petersburg. Peter 

1 See preface of Guerrier's Selections (St. Petersburg, 1873), P- 2 3> ar >d com- 
pnre Fouchcr de Careil on Peter the Great and Leibnitz (Reports of the 
' Academie des Sciences, Morales, el 1'olitiques,' June 1S74). 


requested another German, Christian Wolff, to organise and 
direct this institution, but met with a curt refusal. Wolff 
thought the climate of St Petersburg too cold, and the pay 
offered to the Director of the Academy altogether too small ; 
besides which, he was all for replacing the Academy by a 
university. ' Berlin,' he said, ' has an i\cademy of Sciences, 
the only thing lacking is the learned men.' 1 He refused to 
act in the matter, and restricted himself to recommending 
some of his friends, Bernoulli, Biilfinger, and Martini, to 
the Tsar. This circle of hardworking, if not transcendently 
brilliant, men, surrounded the cradle of knowledge in Russia, 
to the great ultimate advantage of the country. 

The plan finally adopted by Peter for his Academy, was 
based on a report written by an obscure personage of the 
name of Fick, a former secretary to the Duke of Luxemburg. 
Leibnitz's plans went much too far, they extended beyond 
the Tsar's line of vision, and also, probably, beyond the pos- 
sibilities of the time and place. Peter never adopted any of 
the great savant's extreme views. Absorbed as he was, till 
1 7 16, by the anxieties connected with his struggle with 
Sweden, all Leibnitz's proposals fell on an inattentive ear. 
He never went beyond some appearance of intellectual 
intimacy, and a scientific correspondence, which he kept up 
with the assistance of Bruce. Perhaps, too, the doubtful 
and undignified side of his would-be helper's attitude dis- 
pleased him, and put him on his guard. The man of 
genius may have been utterly hidden, under the courier, 
and the hungry petitioner. 

Yet Leibnitz, that great sower of ideas, did not pass in 
vain down the furrow traced by the great reformer's plough. 
The seed he so lavishly cast in all directions, may have been 
carried away by the winds, and lost in space, — but, in due 
time, it reappeared. I see fruitful traces of it, in the great 
work accomplished, at a much later date, under the auspices 
of the Russian Government, with regard to the study of the 
Slavonic languages ; and Alexander Humboldt's researches 
on terrestrial magnetism, carried right across Russia, into 
Central Asia, were certainly inspired by his illustrious pre- 
decessor. The influence of such men as Leibnitz, and Peter 
the Great, is not measured by the limits of their earthly life. 

1 P-riefe von Christian Wolff (St. Petersburg, 1S60.) Piekarski, History of 
Science and Literature in Russia, vol. i. p. 33. 



I. The King's Mistress and the Tsar's — Peter a Don Juan — His indifference to 
propriety — A daring uncle — The women of his circle — Princess Galitzin 
— brutality and cynicism — Bestiality and debauchery — Another side of his 
relations with women. 
II. His marriage — Eudoxia Lapouhin — The honeymoon — Disagreements — 
An ill-assorted couple — Separation — The cloister — The recluse's icmance 
— Major Glebof — Lovers' correspondence — The investigation — The trial 
— The lover's fate — The mistress' punishment — Catherine's jealousy — 
Prison — Eudoxia's turn at last. 

III. The earliest favourite — Anna Mons — Peter's liberality — Deception — Con- 

solations — Menshikof's gynieceum — The Favourite's sisters — The Arseniefs 
— Catherine Vassilevska. 

IV. Maids of Honour — Madame Tchernichof — Eudoxia — Mar.'e Matvieief — 

Terem and Harem — Marie Hamilton — Lover and executioner — A lesson 
in anatomy at the foot of the scaffold — Catherine's last rival, Marie 
Kantemir — The wife and sovereign triumphs — A friend — The Polish lady 
— Madame Sieniawska. 
v. The influence of women on Peter's life, and his own influence on the destiny 
of Russian women — Russian feeling in the seventeenth century — Hatred 
of women — Causes and effects — The National genius and foreign influ- 
ences — Byzantium and the East — The current of asceticism — Family 
life — Marriage — The Domostro'i — Barbarous habits — When woman is 
sacrificed, man grows vile — The current of emancipation — Peter's reforms 
— His failures — The importance of his work — A saviour. 

THE King : ' Ah, brother, so I hear you too have a 
mistress? ' 

The Tsar : ' Brother, My .... do not cost me much, 
but yours costs you millions of crowns, which might be 
better spent.' 

This scene, which occurred in 1716, at Copenhagen, whither 
Peter had gone to visit his ally the King of Denmark, is 
reported in a grave diplomatic document. 1 At first sight, 
it would appear to give a very fair idea of the part played 

1 Despatch from Loss to Manteuffel, Copenhagen, 14th Aug. 1716. Shornik, 
vol. xx. p. 62. 



by women in the great Reformer's life. He was too busy, 
and too coarse, to be a lover worthy of the name — or even a 
decent husband. He fixed the price of the favours bestowed 
on his soldiers in St. Petersburg at one kopeck for three kisses ; 
and, after his first interview with Catherine, the future 
Empress, he enriched her with a solitary ducat. 1 Not that 
he was altogether incapable of appreciating the more delicate 
charm to be found in the society of the fair sex. We must 
never forget that Russian feminine society was one of his 
creations. The presence of ladies at the Sloboda gatherings, 
was the first and most powerful attraction which drew him 
there. In 1693, when two of the fair guests, at a fete given 
by Lefort, ventured to leave the company unobserved, he 
sent his soldiers to bring them back by force.' 2 In 1701, 
when his care for his budding navy kept him at Voroneje, a 
great number of these ladies joined him there, for the Easter 
festivities, and were most graciously received. When one or 
two of them fell ill, he gallantly put off his own return to 
Moscow/' If the historical interest of this chapter depended 
on the memory of such gallantries, my respect, both for 
women and for history, would lead me to suppress it. But 
there is another question. In such a character as Peter's, 
— so hugely complex, from the moral point of view, — surprises 
burst on us at every turn. As far as external matters go, 
this side of his personality, in spite of his sociableness, 
stamps him a boor and a cynical debauchee. He has no 
care for the woman's dignity, or his own, and he is too 
ill-bred to have the smallest regard for propriety. Observe 
this anecdote, related by Baron Pollnitz, as to the Sovereign's 
visit to Magdeburg in 1 7 1 7 : ' As the King (of Prussia) had 
given orders that he was to be treated with every imaginable 
honour, the different State bodies waited upon him with 
their presidents. When Cocceji, the brother of the High 
Chancellor, who was at the head of the Regency, went, with 
his colleagues, to pay his respects to the Tsar, he found him 
leaning on two Russian ladies, and caressing them in the most 
familiar manner. This he continued to do during the whole 
time of Cocceji's address.' 4 And here is another, describing 
his meeting with the Duchess of Mecklenburg, his niece, at 
Berlin. ' 1 he Tsar rushed to meet the Princess, kissed her 

1 Duclos' Memoirs (1839 edition), p. 615. 2 Korb, p. 77. 

3 Oustiialof, vol. iv. part ii. pp. 555, 562. 4 Memoirs, 1791, vol. ii. p. 65. 


tenderly, and drawing her into an adjoining room, indulged 
in everybody's presence — even in that of the Duke of Meck- 
lenburg — in the grossest familiarities.' x Pollnitz, who declares 
that he received this information both from the King himself, 
and from two other eye-witnesses, adds many not less ex- 
pressive details, as to the great man's habitual intercourse 
with the female element at his Court. ' Princess Galitzin 
was his dour a, or female fool. Everybody vied in teasing 
her. She often dined with the Tsar, he would throw the 
remains of his food at her head, and would make her stand 
up so that he might pinch her.' According to some other 
witnesses, the shameful vices of the Princess may have 
justified, to some extent, the ignominy of the treatment to 
which she was subjected. A letter from the Prussian 
Envoy, Mardefield, contains a curious reference, in this 
connection, to the French Duchesses and the pages in whom 
they took such great delight, — congratulating them on their 
being content with these alone. Princess Galitzin had no 
page, — I will not go the length of repeating Mardefeld's 
explanation of how she supplied this wantr 

According to Nartof — generally a fairly reliable witness 
as to the Tsar's private life — Peter was of a very amorous 
disposition, but the fit never lasted more than half an hour. 
He would not, as a rule, force a woman's inclinations, but, as 
he was apt to cast his choice on servant girls, he very seldom 
met with any resistance. Nartof mentions one rebel, a 
laundress ; but Bruce relates, in much more dramatic fashion, 
the story of the daughter of a foreign merchant at Moscow, 
who, to escape the sovereign's amorous pursuit, was obliged 
to fly her parents' house, and hide herself in the forest. 3 One 
of the documents published by Prince Galitzin describes 
the Tsar's struggle with a gardener in Holland, who used his 
rake to drive away the monarch from the neighbourhood of 
a garden-girl, whose work he was interrupting. 

These details, to which I refer with much diffidence — 
believing such reference to be part of a historian's duty — 
repugnant as they are, are not the worst. The Tsar's inter- 
course with Menshikof was even more revolting. And 
Menshikofwas not the only favourite. 

1 Memoirs, 179 1, vol. ii. p. 65. 

3 Herrmann, Peter der Grosse und der Tsarez'itch Alexei, p. 209. 

:; Memoirs, p. 93. 



Peter's first beginnings were commonplace enough, — a very 
early marriage, followed by some years of tolerably happy 
married life, and then a gradual cooling of mutual affection. 
The honeymoon once over, the husband and wife saw but 
little of each other, for the Tsar was almost always away. 
But the letters which passed between them were fairly affec- 
tionate, and the pet names in which lovers delight may 
frequently be noticed on their pages. Lapoushka, (little 
hand) was the sobriquet bestowed on Peter, and willingly 
accepted by him. He was not to be the last person to bear 
it. Two children came into the world, Alexander, who died 
in infancy, and Alexis, born under an unlucky star. After 
the death of Nathalie in 1694, things began to go wrong. 
Peter, who then had been married for five years, had already 
contracted some extra-conjugal intimacies in the Sloboda, or 
elsewhere. But he had conducted these affairs with a certain 
amount of prudence. He was a dutiful son, and Nathalia a 
very vigilant parent. When her influence was replaced by that 
of Lefort, two female forms, members of the group of beauties, 
— none of them, probably, over strict in conduct, — which 
surrounded the young sovereign at the Sloboda gatherings, 
rose like stars on the horizon of his reign. Both these ladies 
sprang from the middle class : one was the daughter of 
Botticher, a goldsmith ; the other, the child of a wine-mer- 
chant, named Mons. Political disagreements helped to 
disturb the harmony between Peter and his wife. Eudoxia 
belonged to a violently Conservative family ; her relations, 
who were all inclined to oppose the new order of things, 
then just coming into existence, soon fell into disgrace, lost 
their positions at Court, and underwent all kinds of ill-treat- 
ment. One of them, the Tsarina's own brother, who ven- 
tured to insult the favourite, was publicly beaten by the 
Tsar ; another was put to the torture, and horrible things 
were reported concerning the sufferings he endured. Peter, 
it was said, soaked his garments with spirits of wine, and 
then set him on fire. One point, at all events, is certain, — 
he died in prison. 1 When the Tsar started on his first 
Kuropean tour, Eudoxia's father, and her two brothers, were 
sent into practical exile, as the governors of remote provinces. 

1 Jeliaboujski's Memoirs, p. 40. Solovief, \ol. xiv. p. 6 (annexed matter). 


In the course of his journey, Peter ceased corresponding 
with his wife, and suddenly, while he was in London, two 
of his confidants, L. K. Naryshkin and T. N. Streshnief, 
were charged with a mission which clearly explained his 
silence. They were to induce Eudoxia to take the veil. 
This was the usual expedient, at that period, in the case 
of ill-assorted marriages, and Peter would appear to have 
set his heart upon it. His intercourse with the West had 
settled the poor forsaken lady's fate. She belonged to a 
very different world, and was doomed to disappear. 

Yet she was not without a certain amount of charm. She 
may not have been pretty, — and even on that subject it is 
not easy to come to any decision. Catherine herself, her 
future rival — judging by the pictures, flattered, no doubt, 
which still exist, and which made a very different impression 
upon Peter — would appear to us a perfect monster of ugli- 
ness. Eudoxia was certainly not a fool. When she re- 
appeared at Court, after her merciless husband's death, she 
struck those who met her as a kind-hearted old lady, fairly 
well informed on interesting subjects, and not altogether 
ignorant of State affairs. 1 Her correspondence with Glebof, 
of which some extracts are given on a later page, prove her 
to have been a tender, passionate, and loving woman. Intel- 
lectually speaking, she resembled the generality of Muscovite 
women of that period, who had grown up within the Terem; 
she was ignorant, simple - minded and superstitious. And 
this was the rock on which her fate was to be wrecked. 
Evidently she was no fit companion for Peter, incapable 
as she was of understanding him, following his ideas, and 
sharing his existence. 

When Peter reached Moscow, on his return from his great 
journey, at six o'clock on the evening of the 26th of August 
1698, he went to see some of his friends — Gordon, amongst 
others — and then paid a visit to the Mons household. But 
he did not see his wife for some days, and then only in the 
house of a third person, that of Vinnius, the postmaster- 
general. The sole object of this meeting was to give his 
verbal confirmation of the decision already announced 
through Naryshkin and Streshnief. Eudoxia's answer was 
what her husband might have expected — an uncompromising 
refusal. 'What had she done?' she demanded, ' to deserve 

1 Lady Rondeau's letters (Letters from an English Lady), 1 776. 


such a fate? What fault had he to find with her?' As a 
matter of fact, she does not even appear to have been sus- 
pected of any participation in the political intrigues in which 
the Tsarevna Sophia and the Tsar's other sisters were impli- 
cated. The revolt of the Streltsy, which Peter was then 
preparing to drown in a sea of blood, broke out without the 
smallest complicity, moral or otherwise, on her part. But 
the Tsar's mind was finally made up. If he could find no 
pretext, he was resolved to do without one. He angrily re- 
pulsed the Patriarch's intervention in favour of his lawful 
wife, and, after three weeks of parleying, he cut the Gordian 
knot. A closed carriage, drawn by two horses, (contem- 
porary chroniclers lay special stress on this detail, which, in 
a country where the smallest country gentleman never left 
his house without the escort of a whole troop of horsemen, 
cruelly aggravated the injustice and hardship of the whole 
proceeding) — a hackney coach, in fact, carried the unhappy 
Tsarina to Souzdal, where the doors of the nunnery of the 
Intercession of the Blessed Virgin {Pokrovskii Dievitshyi 
Monastyr) closed upon her. 

Innocent though she was, she was more severely treated 
than others who had been guilty. When Peter imprisoned 
her sisters, whose connivance with the rebels had been 
generally recognised, if not absolutely established, he left 
each of them an income and a certain household. He gave 
his wife nothing at all ; she was his wife no longer. She had 
ceased to be the Tsarina ; she had lost her very name. She 
was nothing but Helen, the nun, with only one maid to wait 
on her, and she was forced to appeal to the charity of her 
own relations, to save her from starvation. She writes to her 
brother Abraham, ' I do not need a great deal, still I must 
eat ; I drink neither wine nor brandy, yet I fain would be 
able to offer . . . .' This last touch is a curious one, elo- 
quently expressive of one of the most attractive qualities of 
the old patriarchal mode of life in Russia. Personal suffer- 
ing was a misfortune of a kind, but inability to show the 
accustomed hospitality was a supreme distress. The letter 
continues : ' There is nothing here, everything is rotting 
away. I know I am a trouble to you, but what can I do ? 
As long as I live, for pity's sake, give me meat and drink ! 
■•Give garments to the beggar ! ' 1 

1 Oustrialof, vol. iii. p. 1S7, etc. Compare Korb, p. 74. 


She was only six-and-twenty, and for twenty years yet she 
was to beat her anguish and despair against the walls of the 
convent cell, where her life and passion had been entombed. 
When she left it, with her youth blighted and her heart 
broken, it was only to endure a still more cruel fate. 

Twenty years later, in \J 18, the trial of the Tsarevitch 
Alexis quickened Peter's inquisitorial zeal. It occurred to 
him that Eudoxia's influence might have been one of those 
which had incited his son to rebellion. Forthwith, he ordered 
a descent upon the nunnery, and an enquiry. The secret 
police drew the cover blank, as far as Alexis was concerned, 
but this disappointment was atoned for by another discovery. 
Innocent as she was, politically, Eudoxia was first suspected, 
and then found guilty, of a criminal love affair with Major 
Glebof. She had broken down at last. In her downfall and 
her misery, she had sought for consolation. Major Glebof, 
who had been sent to Souzdal on recruiting duty, had been 
touched by her sad fate. She suffered from the cold of her 
cell : he sent her some furs, and her deeply-grateful letter of 
thanks paved the way for a dangerous intimacy. Pie went 
to see her, to receive her personal thanks, returned again and 
again, and so they fell in love — she, with an enthusiastic, 
ardent, and all-absorbing passion ; he, far more cautiously, 
with an affection full of ambiguous reservations. The young 
man was probably very ambitious ; he reckoned on some 
distant change of fortune, thought of changing his own 
career, and entering the world of politics. He was in money 
difficulties too, — he was married, and found his wife a great 
encumbrance. Eudoxia, poor lady, would have had him 
leave the service, so that he might remain near her, and be- 
long to her alone. She was always endeavouring to satisfy 
his needs, and relieve the straits she more than suspected. 
She was ever ready to bestow the paltry sums which she 
contrived to wring from the parsimony or the poverty of her 
own relations upon him. Who could refuse to help him ? 
She sent him money. Did he need more, and yet more ? 
' Where thy heart is, my batko,' (a still more caressing form 
of Batioushka — Little Father) ' there too is mine ; where thy 
tongue is, there is my head ; thy will is always mine.' 

But, bound by his duties, military or conjugal, and perhaps 
a little tired of her already, Batko's visits grew rarer. Then 
came despairing and distracted appeals. Had he forgotten 


her already? Had she not been able to please him? Had 
she not done enough ? Had not her tears watered his face, 
his hands, every limb of his body, and every joint of his feet 
and of his fingers ? She has a language of her own, of the 
most exuberantly pathetic description, which, in the most 
strange and flowery style, expresses feelings often enough 
fantastic, and almost incoherent, but always throbbing with 
evident sincerity, — the brilliant colours of the East, mingled 
with the rustic tints of her Russian home. ' My light, my 
batioitshka, my soul, my joy, has the cruel hour of separation 
indeed struck already ? Rather would I see my soul parted 
from my body ! (J my light ! how can I live on earth 
apart from thee? How can I endure existence? My 
unhappy heart had long foreseen this moment : long have I 
wept over it, and now it has come, and I suffer, and God 
alone knows how dear thou art to me ! Why do I love thee 
so much, my adored one, that without thee life has no value 
for me? Why, O my soul! art thou angry with me? 
Yes, so angry that thou dost not write to me. At least, O 
my heart ! wear the ring I gave thee, and love me a little — 
just a little! I have had another ring like it made for 
myself. But what ! it is by thy will that we are parted ? 
Ah ! it is long since I began to see a change in thy love. 
But why, O my Batko ! why comest thou not to see me? 
Has anything happened to thee? Has any one spoken evil 
ot me to thee ? O my friend ! O my light ! my lioubonka ' 
(from Lioubit, to cherish), ' have pity on me ! Have pity on 
me, O my lord ! and come to see me to-morrow ! O my 
whole world, my adored one, my lapoushka ' (it will be 
recollected that she had originally applied this name to 
another person), 'answer me, let me not die of grief! I 
have sent thee a cravat ; wear it, O my soul! — thou wilt not 
wear anything that I send thee ; is that a sign that I cannot 
please thee? But forget thy love, — I cannot do it ! I 
cannot live without thee ! ' 

But Batko continues hard-hearted, and her complaints 
grow more and more distracted. They are like the 
continuous monotonous cry of a wounded creature. 

' Who has done me this wrong, poor wretch that I am ! 
who has stolen my treasure? who has shut out the light 
from my eyes ? for whom hast thou forsaken me ? to whom 
hast thou abandoned me ? how is it that thou hast no pity 

vol. 1. Q 


for me ? Can it be that thou wilt never return to me ? 
Who has parted thee from me, unhappy that I am ? What 
have I done to thy wife? how have I harmed her? how 
have I offended you ? Wherefore, O dear soul ! didst thou 
not tell me how I had displeased thy wife ? and why didst 
thou listen to her? Why hast thou forsaken me? 
Assuredly I would never have separated thee from thy wife. 
O my light ! how can I live without thee ? how can I 
remain in this world ? Why hast thou caused me this 
anguish? Have I been guilty without knowing it? Why 
didst thou not tell me of my fault ? Why not have struck 
me, to punish me, — chastised me in any way, for this fault 1 
have committed in my ignorance ? In Gods name, do not 
forsake me ! Come to me ! without thee I shall die ! ' 

And some days later : — 

' Why am 1 not dead ? Would that thou hadst buried 
me with thy own hands ! Forgive, forgive me, O my soul ! 
do not let me die! I will kill myself! Send me, O my 
heart ! send me the waistcoat thou hast often worn. W hy 
hast thou forsaken me ? Send me a morsel of bread into 
which thou hast bitten with thy teeth ! How utterly hast 
thou forsaken me ! what have I done to displease thee, that 
thou shouldst leave me thus, orphaned, broken-hearted . . . ' 

Nine of these letters were produced at the enquiry. They 
were not written by Eudoxia herself. She had dictated 
them to a nun named Kaptelina, her confidant, who added 
postcripts, in which she endeavoured to induce the faithless 
swain to take pity on the sufferings of the Matoushka. 

But the imprudent lover had endorsed every one of them, 
' Letter from the Tsarina Eudoxia.' The two rings were also 
found in the possession of the guilty couple. The 
depositions of the nuns and the servants in the Convent, 
many of whom were examined, were quite conclusive. 
Glebof had constantly visited the Tsarina, both in the day- 
time and at night ; they had frequently kissed each other in 
the presence of witnesses, and were often alone together for 
many hours. Finally Eudoxia confessed everything. 

And Glebof? The popular legend describes him as 
having behaved like a hero, deliberately, in the midst of 
the most frightful tortures, taking every other sort of crime 
upon his shoulders, and even confessing imaginary faults, 
while steadily refusing to admit anything that could sully 


Eudoxia's honour. 1 But the minutes of the enquiry, which 
are still preserved in the Moscow archives, prove the exact 
contrary. 2 Glebof was dumb as to all the other matters 
whereof he was accused. The only absolute confession he 
seems to have made concerned this love affair, which dated 
eight years back. Eudoxia was then 38 years old. 

I hasten to say that none of these depositions nor 
confessions really prove anything. Skorniakof-Pissaref, the 
Examining Judge sent by Peter to Souzdal, caused fifty 
nuns, some of whom died under the lash, to be flogged. 
They said anything and everything he desired. Eudoxia 
and Glebof were both of them examined in the question 
chamber. Such frightful tortures were inflicted on the 
unfortunate officer that it was decided to put him to death 
on the i6-27th of March, 17 18, — the doctors declaring 
they could not prolong his life for more than twenty-four 
hours. 3 A story was current, that the poor wretch had been 
imprisoned in a dungeon, the floor of which was covered 
with sharp spikes, made of very hard wood, on which he was 
forced to walk barefoot. The final form of execution selected 
by Peter was impalement. As there were twenty degrees of 
frost, the unhappy man was wrapped in a fur pelisse, and 
given fur boots, and a warm cap, so as to make his torture 
last as long as possible. It began at three o'clock in the 
afternoon, and continued till half-past seven o'clock on the 
evening of the following day. 4 A story, which does not 
appear altogether credible, relates that when the victim had 
suffered several hours, Peter approached, and endeavoured 
to draw fresh confessions from him. The only answer Glebof 
vouchsafed, was to spit in the monarch's face. 5 

Eudoxia escaped with her life, but she was placed in a 

1 Allainval's Anecdotes, 1745, p. 31. The reports of the foreign diplomats 
resident at Moscow, which echo current opinion, are all in the same sense. 
Herrmann, Peler der Grosse und der Tsarevitch Alexei, pp. 135 and 207. Des- 
patch from De Bie to Fagel, March 28. 17 18 (Archives at the Hague). 
Mimoirts et Documents (French Foreign Office), vol. i. p. 129, etc. Manuscript 
Reports in the Got ha Library, etc., etc. 

2 Partially published in Oustrialof, vol vi. p. 469, etc. 

3 Despatch quoted by De Bie. 

4 Auifuhrliche Beschreibung der in der Haupstadt Afoscoiv . . . vollzogenen 
grotsen Execution (Riga, 1 7 18). See also the romantic siory of Eudoxia and 
Glebof, as told by Siemievski, Eudoxia Laponhin, in the ' Messager Russe,' 
18159, vol. xxi. pp. 219-265. Also, i860, vol. xxx. pp. 559-599; 1859, vol. 
xxiii. pp. 299-300, Study by Sniigiref. 

5 Dolgoroukof, vol. i. p. 32. Lady Rondeau, p. 32. 


still more lonely nunnery, on the shores of Lake Ladoga, 
where she was yet more closely watched. According to 
one authority, she was condemned, before being sent to 
her new prison, to be whipped, by a Court of Bishops, 
Archimandrites, and other ecclesiastics, and this sentence 
was carried out by two monks, in presence of the whole 
Chapter. 1 

\\ hat can have inspired Peter to bring his consort and her 
lover to trial, and more especially, to treat them with such 
ferocity ? We cannot suppose him to have been jealous of 
the wife he had repudiated and forgotten, and left to grow 
old in the loneliness of her convent. And his habitual 
indulgence for weaknesses of that particular nature,— 
especially in cases which bore no reference to political 
matters, — is well known. Now political matters do not 
appear to have had the slightest connection with this 
business. Eudoxia's correspondence with her lover, which 
never refers to anything but her love, is a clear proof of 
their perfect innocence in this respect. The Ex-Tsarina 
had indeed allowed herself to be tempted to resume her 
worldly garb, and had even permitted those about her to 
encourage her in the hope of a return, more or less distant, 
to her former splendours. But there was never more than a 
hope of this, in any quarter. 2 May not Eudoxia have been 
the victim of the jealousy and hatred of a third person ? 
Let us pass over the next seven years. Peter died at last, 
and this event, instead of being a happy one for the 
prisoner, was the signal for a fresh aggravation of her cruel 
fate. She was dragged from her convent, taken to the 
fortress of Schlusselburg, and there cast into a subterranean 
dungeon, which swarmed with rats. She fell ill, and the 
only person she had to wait on her, was an old dwarf 
woman, herself in need of service and assistance. Thus two 
years passed. Who did this thing ? Catherine I., the 
reigning Sovereign. And here, perhaps, we may find the 
answer to my question regarding Peter. At the end of the 
two years, a change came. Suddenly, as though in a 
dream, the door of the dungeon was thrown open, gentlemen 

1 French Foreign Office, Manoires et Documents, vol. i. p. 129. 

- I)e Bie does indeed mention a plot and a cyphered correspondence, the key 
to which Glebof refused to give up ; but this is a mere repetition of stories current 
at the time. 


in court dress appeared upon the threshold, and bowing to 
the ground, requested the captive to follow them. Thus led, 
she entered a luxurious apartment, prepared, so they 
informed her, for her special use, in the house of the 
Commandant of the Fortress. A bed, with sheets of the 
finest Dutch linen, replaced the damp straw pallet she had 
lately occupied ; the walls were hung with splendid stuffs, 
the table was covered with gold plate, 10,000 roubles awaited 
her in a casket, courtiers stood in her antechamber, 
carriages and horses were at her orders. What did it mean? 
It meant that Catherine I. was dead, and that the new Tsar, 
Peter II., was the son of Alexis, and the grandson of 
Eudoxia. The poor grandmother, whose hair had whitened 
in her prison, went to Moscow to be present at the 
Coronation of the new monarch. There she took precedence 
of all the other princesses ; she was surrounded with pomp, 
and treated with the deepest consideration and respect. But 
it was all too late ; her life was broken, and of her own free 
will, she went back to her nunnery. She ended her days, in 
1731, in the NovodievitsJiyi Monastyr, that refuge for great 
misfortunes, where Sophia spent her life after the day which 
saw all her ambitions crumble into dust. According to 
another tradition, Eudoxia spent her last years in the family 
residence of the Lapouhin, at SerebrianoTe, but even there, 
she had access, by a gallery, to the neighbouring cloister of 
St. George. 1 Her tomb is in the Moscow Monastery, and 
her memory lives even in the present day, in the popular 
legends and songs of the country. 2 In spite of all her down- 
fall and disgrace, she has kept the sorrowful sympathy of 
those humble ones of the earth who are all too well 
acquainted with bitter suffering. 


The moment Eudoxia was safely interned in her convent, 
Peter installed his first ' maitresse en titre.' This positon 
was occupied by Anna Mons, or Monst, or Munst, — Domicclla 
Alonsiana, as Korb calls her. Her father, before he came 

1 Russian Archives, 1873, p. 652. 

- Memoircs of the ' A cade '•» <iie dcs Sciences' at St. Petersbm-g, 1864, vol. v. book 
ii. p. 206 (Podsossof). 


to Moscow, had been a wine merchant, or, as others say, a 
jeweller, at Minden. The family, therefore, was really of 
Westphalian origin, although, in later years, it tried to boast 
of Flemish ancestors, and affixed the particle ' de ' before 
the name it added to its original appellation, — ' Mons,' or 
' Moens, de la Croix.' 1 The young lady, who began her career 
as Lefort's mistress, soon forsook the favourite for his master. 
She accompanied the Sovereign even on occasions of public 
ceremonial. Neither he nor she shrank from attracting 
attention. When he stood godfather to the Danish envoy's 
son, he desired that she should be godmother. 2 He had a 
line house built for her in the Sloboda, and the dreary 
archives of the Prcobrajeuski Prikaz bear witness to the 
too loudly expressed astonishment of a German tailor 
named Flank, concerning the glories of a bedroom which 
was the chief ornament of the dwelling, and in which the 
Tsar, as it was well known, frequently appeared/ 5 In 1703, 
somewhat unwillingly and remorsefully it must be said, he 
endowed the lady with a property of considerable extent, 
called Doubino, in the district of Kozielsk. She was a most 
barefaced beggar, perpetually soliciting the somewhat un- 
ready generosity of the Sovereign, in a succession of notes, 
written by a secretary, to which she added postscripts 
in bad German. She backs one of these requests by calling 
on the name of a person whose good offices she could hardly 
have expected. ' For the love of your son, Alexis Petro- 
vitch, give me that estate!' 4 Now, Alexis, as my readers will 
recollect, was Eudoxia's child. Her letters were occasionally 
accompanied by very modest gifts. Thus she sent her lover, 
then detained at the siege of Azof, four lemons and as many 
oranges. He had serious thoughts of marrying her, even 
although he was carrying on doubtful relations with one of 
her friends, Helen Pademrecht, from whom he received 
letters, too, addressed, ' To my Universe, — to my little darling 
Sun, — my beloved, with black eyes and eyebrows of the 
same colour.' The Mons affair — a very commonplace one, 
— lasted till 1703, and closed in an equally commonplace 
fashion. The Saxon Envoy Konigseck, who had only lately 

1 Mordovtsef, Russian Women (St. Petersburg), p. 3, portfolio No. lxxxvi. 
in Peter's 'Cabinet.' The documents of the Minden Municipality here pre- 
served give various spellings of the name. 

2 Korb, p. 84. :: Nos. 1243, 125S. 
4 See extracts from this correspondence in Mordovtsef s work. 


arrived at the Tsar's Court, was accidentally drowned, at the 
beginning of a campaign. In his pockets certain notes were 
found, the writing and the style of which, Peter easily recog- 
nised. He was simple-minded enough to lose his temper, 
the Domicella Monsiana went to prison, and only came out 
by dint of urgent prayers, and cunning wiles. On recovering 
her liberty she was forced to content herself with becoming 
the mistress of Keyserling, the Prussian Envoy, who ended 
by marrying her. She had a taste for diplomacy, and not 
sufficient prudence to keep herself out of difficulties. She 
found herself back in prison, and only contrived to save a 
few poor remnants of the monarch's former liberality. 
Amongst these was his portrait, with which she sharply refused 
to part, on account — some people hinted — of the diamonds 
in which it was framed. Peter kept his grudge against 
her for years. The enquiry in connection with this sorry 
business was still going on in 1707, and Romodanovski 
had thirty prisoners implicated in it — how, neither they nor 
he could fairly explain, — under lock and key. A year'later, 
Keyserling, who had already married the lady, took advan- 
tage of a moment of good humour to intercede with the 
Tsar in favour of one of her brothers, who was petitioning 
for employment. His remarks were very ill-received. Peter 
cut him short roughly, and spoke his mind with his 
usual frankness. 'I brought up Mons for myself; I meant 
to marry her ; you have seduced her, and you can keep her. 
But never dare to speak to me of her or of her relations 
again.' When the Prussian would have persisted, Men- 

shikof intervened : ' Your Mons is a ; she has been my 

mistress, and yours, and every one's. Don't let us hear any 
more about her.' This scene took place, it is only fair to say, 
after supper, at an entertainment given by a Polish nobleman 
in the neighbourhood of Lublin. It ended unpleasantly for 
Keyserling. Peter and Menshikof fell on him with their 
fists, turned him out of the room, and threw him down stairs. 
He made a formal complaint, but the business was decided 
against him, and ended with excuses, — which he was obliged 
to make. 1 

1 Sbornik, vol. xxxix. p. 410 (Whit worth's Despatches). Siemievski, The 
Empress Catherine (St. Petersburg, 1884), p. 33, etc. (Keyserling's Despatches). 
Essipof, Life of Menshikof (Russian Archives, 1875). Kostomarof, Russian 
History told in Biographies (St. Petersburg, 1S81), vol. ii. p. 61S. Oustrialof, 
vol. iv. p. 145, etc. Solovief, vol. xvi. p. 67. Lady Rondeau, p. 11. Kosto- 


Madame Keyserling, who became a widow in 171 1, in- 
spired a fresh passion — the admirer, this time, was a Swedish 
officer named Miller,— but she died only a few years after 
her husband, 1 

Peter may have been a rancorous, but he was by no means 
an inconsolable lover. Menshikof, who took Lefort's place in 
his intimate circle, was as skilful as his predecessor in supply- 
ing his master with consolations. Like Lefort, he had his 
own female following — his two sisters, Marie and Anne, 
whom he had placed in the household of Peter's favourite sister 
Xathalia, and two young ladies, Daria and Barbara Arsenief, 
who also belonged to the Tsarevna's Court, which Court 
bore a strong resemblance to a harem. A daughter of the 
Tolstoi' family completed this group, and, about 1703, 
a sixth recruit appeared, who was to take a place apart in 
the Sovereign's life, and give quite an unexpected turn to 
the hitherto trivial history of his love affairs. The real name 
of this young girl is as uncertain as her origin. In the first 
authentic documents which mention her, she is sometimes 
called Catherine Troubatshof, sometimes Catherine Vassi- 
levska, and sometimes Catherine Mihailof. Menshikof took 
her for his mistress, while, at the same time, he made love 
to Daria Arsenief, whose sister had attracted Peter's atten- 
tion. His plan was to make Barbara Tsarina, and himself 
thus become the Tsar's brother-in-law. With this object, 
he gave himself much trouble about the education of the 
new favourite. ' For heaven's sake,' he wrote to Daria, 
1 induce your sister to study both Russian and German 
closely, she has no time to lose.' Villebois describes 
Barbara as a plain woman, full of wit, and as spiteful as 
she was clever. He thus relates the beginning of her inter- 
course with the Tsar. Peter, who was dining with her and 
her companions, thus addressed her : ' Thou art so ugly, my 
poor Barbara, that I do not believe any one has ever thought 
of making love to thee. But strange exploits are those 
which please me best, and I will not have thee die without 
— ' and forthwith he suited the action to the word. The 
loose morals of the Tsar's circle give us reason to believe in the 
truth of the story. I have already indicated the ambiguous 

marof comes nearest the truth, though he is mistaken as to the date of Konig- 
seck's death. (Sec Peter's letter to Apraxin, April 17th, 1703, in Writings and 
Correspondence, vol. ii. p. 152.) : Siemievski, ibid. p. 60. 


nature of the intercourse between these lovers and their 
mistresses — the strange confusion and community of senti- 
ments and intimate relations. Peter and Menshikof per- 
petually appear as taking each other's place, or cumulating 
rights which might have been held the exclusive property of 
one or of the other. During their absences, this condition of 
things is perpetuated in collective messages, which carry 
tender recollections and endearing words, pell-mell, from one 
group to the other, frequently accompanied by presents, — 
cravats, shirts, and dressing-gowns, made by the fair ladies' 
own hands. Daria Arsenief adds to her signature the words 
' the Fool.' Anna Menshikof adds, ' the very thin one.' As 
for Catherine, she signs, in 1705, ' with two others,' a sentence 
explained by a passage in the common letter, ' Peter and 
Paul salute you, and ask your blessing.' Peter and Paul 
were the two children she had already borne the Tsar. In 
1706, the Tsar gathered the whole gay company at Narva, 
where the Easter festival was spent, and then brought the 
ladies back with him to St Petersburg, where, as he wrote to 
Menshikof, ' he was in paradise, in such fair company.' But 
Menshikof, who was kept in the south with the army, and 
found it very dull, would gladly have shared that paradise. 
He wrote to Peter, that as, when he left St Petersburg, he 
could not well travel about with such a company of ladies, 
he miq-ht as well send them to his friend. But Peter decided 
otherwise. He brought the whole party in his train from St 
Petersburg to Smolensk, and from Smolensk to Kief, and it 
was not until the month of August that he suffered his 
favourite to meet him in the latter town, where he had a 
surprise in store for him. Menshikof had promised marriage 
to Daria Arsenief, and he was now to keep that engagement, 
—Peter having decided, on his part, to carry out, at a future 
date, his own promise to the mother of the ' two others.' The 
favourite was expected to set him an example, and was not 
to leave Kief until the deed was done. When the ceremony 
was over, the common treasure was divided. Peter took his 
way back to St Petersburg with Catherine Vassilevska and 
A nisia Tolstoi'. Menshikof was left at Kief with his wife, his 
sister Anne, and his sister-in-law Barbara. 1 

1 Essipof, p. 244, etc., Peter th? Great's Writings and Correspondence, vol. iii. 
pp. 283, 322, 540, 770, 816, 1058. Solovief, vol. xvi. p. 68. 



A separate chapter of this work is devoted to Catherine 
Vassilevska. She must not be confounded with the legion of 
chance mistresses, who flit across the personal history of 
Peter the Great. Even after her marriage, and her elevation 
to the throne, she had a daily struggle with rivals, who 
sometimes threatened her very existence, as wife and 
sovereign. This occurred in 1706, during Peter's visit to 
Hamburg, when, a Lutheran pastor having refused to 
sacrifice his daughter to the Tsar's passion, the monarch pro- 
mised to repudiate Catherine, and marry the girl. Shafirof, 
it is said, actually received orders to prepare the wedding 
contract. But, unluckily for herself, the too confiding maiden 
consented to grant her admirer an instalment on account of 
the promised wedding joys, before the hymeneal torch was 
actually lighted, — and was shortly dismissed, with a gift of a 
thousand ducats. 1 The heroine of another and less passing 
fancy is also currently believed to have approached very near 
to definite triumph, and corresponding rank. Eudoxia 
Rjevski was the daughter of one of Peters earliest partizans, 
who, in spite of that fact, came of a family which claimed the 
same ancient and illustrious origin as the Tatishtchef, and 
was devotedly attached to Sophia and her interests. The girl 
had been the Tsar's mistress before she was fifteen. At six- 
teen, Peter married her to Tchernishof, an officer seeking 
advancement, but this did not interrupt his own relations with 
her. She had four daughters and three sons by him. Pie 
passed, at all events, as their father, but the mother's loose con- 
duct rendered the paternity of her children more than doubt- 
ful, and compromised her own chances with the Tsar. Her 
crowning feat, so the scandal-mongers averred, was to call 
forth the celebrated order given to her husband by her lover, — 
who had fallen ill, and was inclined to ascribe his sufferings to 
her, — ' to go and flog Eudoxia.' The Tsar's usual name for 
her was 'Avdotia boi baba' (Eudoxia 'the fighter'.) Her 
mother was the famous ' Princess- Abbess. "- 

Her case, if it were an isolated one, would be hardly worth 
relating. Unluckily, — and here comes in the interest, sad as 

1 Report by Count Rabutin, Envoy of the German Emperor, BuschingS' 
Magazin, vol. xi. p. 490. - Dolgoroukof's Memoirs, vol. i. p. 1 75- 


it is, of this particular page of history, — she is a typical figure, 
representing a period, and a state of society. Her story was 
much the same as that of Maria Matvieief, the daughter of 
one of the greatest noblemen of that time, who, as I have 
already said, ultimately became the wife of Roumiantsof. 
More beautiful than Eudoxia Rjevski, and more loveable, 
full of wit and charm of every kind, Maria Matvieief, like 
her, became one of the Empress's maids-of-honour. The 
position, such an honoured one in our days, almost amounted, 
at that time, to a vocation of shame. Catherine's female 
associates had replaced Nathalia's feminine circle. The 
terein no longer existed in the Imperial palaces ; the harem 
remained, a legacy from the Oriental past. Complaisant 
husbands had taken the place of complaisant fathers. Shortly 
after Peter's death, Maria Roumiantsof bore a son, who 
was to be the hero of the next great reign, the victorious 
General of Catherine II., — recognised by every one as the 
son of the great Tsar. 

Peter's illegitimate posterity was almost as numerous as 
that of Louis XIV. It may, indeed, have been somewhat 
exaggerated ; there is no historical certainty, for instance, 
of the illegitimacy of Madame Strogonof's three sons. The 
mother, a daughter of the house of Novossiltsof, would 
appear to have been no more to the Tsar than an 
entertaining, and hard-drinking, boon companion. 

I he usual story begins again with another maid of honour, 
Mary Hamilton. There is no truth whatever, 1 need hardly 
say, in the sentimental stories in which certain writers have 
indulged respecting this lady. She seems to have been a 
somewhat commonplace being, and Peter's particular style 
c;f love-making would not appear to have been unsuited to 
her. My readers are aware that a branch of the great 
Scotch family of Hamilton, the rival of the house of 
Douglas, had settled in Russia at a period considerably 
preceding the emigration of the seventeenth century, and 
dating from the reign of Ivan the Terrible. This branch, 
which had married into several of the great families of the 
country, was almost completely Russianised, before the 
young Tsar's accession. Mary Hamilton, the grand- 
daughter of Artamon Matvieief, Nathalia Naryshkin's 
adopted father, went to Court, like other girls of her class, 
and, being a pretty girl, she shared the usual fate. Put 


Peter's passion for her was of the most ephemeral descrip- 
tion. He forsook her after the shortest acquaintance. She 
consoled herself with his Dienshtchiks, and, several times 
over, she secretly got rid of the children who were the 
results of these intimacies. In her desire to keep her hold 
on one of her faithless lovers, young Orlof, — a very sorry 
fellow, who ill-treated and fleeced her, — she stole the 
Tsarina's money and jewels. A mere chance brought about 
the discovery of these crimes, both small and great. A 
somewhat important document disappeared from the Tsar's 
cabinet ; suspicion fell on Orlof, who had been aware of its 
existence, and who had spent the night abroad. When he 
was brought into the Sovereign's presence, and questioned, 
he lost his head, fancied that his intercourse with Hamilton 
was the real object of the enquiry, fell on his knees, crying 
' Vinovat* (pardon), and confessed everything, — both the 
thefts by which he had profited, and the infanticide at which 
he had connived. There was a fresh enquiry and a trial. 
The unhappy girl was convicted, besides her other crimes, 
(and this last was a mortal one), of having made spiteful 
remarks about her Sovereign lady, and jokingly referred to 
the pimples on the imperial countenance. Catherine, whatever 
her faults may have been, showed considerable kindness on 
this occasion. She interceded for the culprit, and induced 
the Tsarina Prascovia, who enjoyed considerable credit, and 
whose intervention was all the more weighty, because, as a 
rule, she was little inclined to indulgence, to follow her 
example. According to ancient Russian ideas, infanticide 
was a crime which circumstances might easily be held to 
palliate, and the Tsarina Prascovia was in many respects an 
old-fashioned Russian. But Peter was inexorable. ' He 
would not,' he said, ' be either Saul or Ahab, nor violate the 
Divine Law by an excess of kindness.' Had he then such a 
mighty respect for Divine Law? My own belief is that 
he scoffed at it, but — and this, in his eyes, was an unpardon- 
able fault — he fancied himself cheated of several soldiers. 
After having been put to the question time after time, in the 
Tsar's own presence, and having steadily refused to give up the 
name of her accomplice, whose only thought had been to clear 
himself by casting the guilt on her— he was but a poor creature, 
that ancestor of the great Catherine's future favourite — Mary 
Hamilton mounted the scaffold, on the 14th March 1719, 


dressed, so Staehlin tells us, 'in a white silk gown, trimmed 
with black ribbons.' Peter, with his love of theatrical effect, 
certainly had something to do with this last piece of ghastly 
coquetry. He was present at the execution, and even, — passive 
he never could be, anywhere, — had courage to play an active 
part in it. He embraced the condemned woman at the foot 
of the scaffold, exhorted her to pray, and supported her in his 
arms when she bent forward, fainting. Then he stepped 
aside. When she raised her head, the headsman had taken 
the Tsar's place. Scherer adds some terrible details to the 
story. The Tsar, according to him, reappeared when the 
axe had done its work, and picking up the blood}- head, 
which had rolled into the mud, he calmly began an anatomi- 
cal discourse, drawing the attention of those present to the 
number and nature of the organs severed by the steel, 
especially pointing out the section of the spine. When this 
was over, he touched the pale lips he had so often kissed 
before, with his own, let the head drop, crossed himself, and 
departed. 1 

I am not at all inclined to believe that there is any truth 
in the assertion that Menshikof thought it wise to push on 
the prosecution and sentence of this unhappy woman, in the 
interests of his own protectress, the Empress Catherine. 
This rival never was a dangerous one. A short time after- 
wards, the Tsarina had much more serious cause for alarm. 
In one of Campredon's despatches, dated 8th June J 722, the 
following lines appear : — ' The Tsarina fears that if the 
Princess bears a son, the Tsar may be induced by the 
Prince of Wallachia to repudiate his wife and marry his 
mistress.' The mistress in question was Maria Kantemir." 2 

Prince Dimitri Kantemir, who had been one of Peter's 
allies during the unfortunate campaign against the Turks in 
171 1, had lost his sovereignty by the treaty of the Pruth. 
He had been given hospitality at St. Petersburg, and there 
waited wearily for the compensation he had been given 
reason to expect. For a considerable time his daughter 
appeared more than likely to obtain this for him. When 

1 Siemievski, Slovo i Dielo, p. 1S5. Korobanof, Study in Russian Antiqui- 
ties, 1 87 1, vol. iii. p. 465. Golikof, vol. vi. p. 68. Tatishtchef, Notes on the 
Soudiebnik (Code) of Ivan Vassilevitch. Herrmann, Peter der Grosse und der 
7 sai-evitch Alexei, p. 207. Mordovtsof, Russian Women, p. 57. Scherer, vol. 
ii. p. 272 ; the account given by Lubomirski {Tsar, Archducliesses, etc.) is a mere 
work of imagination. - French Foreign Office. 


Peter started for his Persian Campaign in 1722, this 
love affair had already lasted several years, and seemed to 
threaten a denouement which might be fatal to Catherine's 
interests. Both the ladies started with the Tsar, but 
Maria, who was near her confinement, was obliged to stop 
at Astrakhan. Her condition increased the confidence 
felt by her partisans. Since the death of little Peter 
Petrovitch, in 17 19, Catherine had no son whom Peter could 
make his heir, and it was generally believed that if his 
mistress bore him one, during this expedition, he would not 
hesitate to get rid of his second wife, as he had got rid 
of his first. Catherine's friends, if Scherer is to be believed, 
took means to avert this danger. 1 When Peter returned, 
he found his mistress in bed, after a miscarriage, which had 
seriously threatened her life. Thus Catherine triumphed, 
and the love affair which had so nearly overthrown her for- 
tune, ended in the same commonplace manner as so many 
of its predecessors. A short time before the Sovereign's 
death, a complaisant individual, belonging to the same class 
as Tchernishof, and Roumiantsof, was found, ready to be- 
come the nominal husband of the Princess, who, though still 
much courted, had forfeited all her ambitious hopes. 2 

Catherine came victoriously out of all her difficulties, and 
a solemn coronation finally set her above all attack. The 
mistress, wife, and sovereign, rehabilitated by marriage, the 
vigilant guardian of the conjugal hearth, who shared all the 
honours of the supreme rank, won the day at last, and took 
her place above the mob of female figures in which we see 
servant-girls elbowing the daughters of Scotch lairds, and 
Moldo-Wallachian princesses. 

And a yet more unexpected figure now appears in that 
strange throng — a chaste and respected friend. Yes, even 
that delicate flower bloomed in the miry slough ! The 
woman who played this part, was that most seductive of all 
human creatures — a well-born Pole — Slav by her birth, 
Latin by her education. I have already described Peter as 
spending long hours in the Gardens of Jaworow in the 
company of Elizabeth Sieniawska. They built a boat 
together, rowed on the water, and talked endlessly. It 

1 Vol. iii. p. 259. 

- Mimoires cl Documents, vol. i. p. 119, etc. (Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 


-0 3 

was a perfect idyll. This lady, a Lubomirska, who had 
married agreat Court dignitary and eager partisan of Augustus 
against Leszczynski, flits across the turbulent life of the 
brutal conqueror, without being assailed by any breath of 
scandal. It was not so much her beauty, — that was far from 
remarkable, — which attracted Peter, it was her unusual in- 
telligence. He delighted in her society, he listened to her 
advice, not always very convenient, for she supported Lesz- 
czynski against the Tsar's own protege, and against her 
husband's master. He talked of his plan for dismissing all 
the foreign officers in his service ; she forthwith taught him 
a. lesson by dismissing the German leader of an orchestra of 
Polish musicians, which at once gave forth such discordant 
sounds that even the Tsar's far from sensitive ear suffered. 
He spoke of turning the provinces, Russian or Polish, 
through which Charles XII. would have to pass, to 
reach Moscow, into deserts ; and she interrupted him with a 
story of the gentleman who, to disoblige his wife, had him- 
self made into a eunuch. 1 She was a charming woman, and 
he was swayed, fascinated and tamed by her charm ; he 
grew nobler in her company, transfigured, as it were, by 
contact with her pure and delicate, tender, and yet resolute, 


Women played a large and very varied part in Peter's life. 
But far more important, from the historical point of view, 
was the part he himself played in the destinies of Russian 
women in general. In justice to the great man, this part 
must be summarily described. 

The Tsar Alexis once gave solemn audience, in his castle 
at Kolomenskoi'e, near Moscow, to the ambassador of a 
foreign power. A murmur of soft voices, and a rustling of 
silken stuffs, coming from a half-open door, attracted tin- 
diplomat's attention. The ceremony was being watched by 
invisible spectators, — the inhabitants of the mysterious terem, 
driven by curiosity into a sort of semi-violation of their 
retirement. Suddenly, with a violent push, the door flew 
open, and a handsome, dark-eyed woman, blushing and con- 
fused, with a little boy clinging to her skirts, appeared, and 

1 Staehlin, p. 119, etc. 


straightway vanished, to the courtiers' general astonishment 
and alarm. The dark -haired beauty was the Tsarina 
Nathalia, and the little three-year old boy, so rough and 
impetuous already, that heavy doors flew open at his touch, was 
one day to overthrow the walls of the terem itself. In later 
years, this picturesque scene was taken to be an omen. 1 

In the seventeenth century, national feeling in Russia was 
full of suspicion, almost of hatred, of the weaker sex. This 
is proved by many popular proverbs of the period : ' A 
woman's hair is long, but her understanding is short. — A 
woman's mind is like a house without a roof. — A man should 
flee a woman's beauty, just as Noah fled the deluge. — A horse 
must be managed by the bit, and a woman by threats. — The 
woman who is visible is made of copper, the woman who is 
invisible is made of gold.' 

Modern Russian historians are inclined to hold this 
peculiarity as one of foreign origin, quite contrary to the 
natural tendency of the national spirit, which is rather in- 
clined to proclaim the equality of the sexes. Asa matter of 
fact, Russian legislation and the present habits of the country, 
are altogether opposed to that subjection of women, which 
still characterises Western laws and customs. A Russian wife, 
in the absence of any special stipulation in the marriage 
contract, has the sole control of her fortune. The ideas in 
vogue before Peter's accession, and the corresponding 
institutions and habits, including the terem itself, were prob- 
ably of Byzantine origin, the outcome of that great current 
of monkish and religious asceticism, which left such an 
indelible mark on the intellectual and moral development of 
the country. The terem was no harem. The confinement 
of women within its walls was the result of a very different 
sentiment, dictated, not by jealousy, but by the fear of sin 
and scandal, by a religious conception of human life, 
according to which the cloistered existence was the ideal 
one, that which was most pleasing in God's sight. The 
idea, if not the actual form, of the terem was absolutely 
Byzantine. 2 This is my theory. 

But, however that may have been, the prison was a 
prison, and a severe one. Women, young girls especially, 

1 Oustrialof, vol. i. pp. 10 and 261. 

- Zabielin, Private Life of the Russian Tsarinas, p. S3, etc. Kostomarof, 
History of Russia, vol. ii. p. 475. 


were mere captives ; they vegetated, deprived of light and 
air, in rooms which were half dungeon and half cell, behind 
windows covered with thick curtains, and heavily padlocked 
doors. There was no means of separate exit. The only 
way of getting out was through the father's or the husband's 
room, and the father or husband kept the keys in his pocket, 
or under his pillow. On festival occasions, when the guests 
were at table and the round ' pirogui' had made their 
appearance, the wife of the host stood, for a moment, on the 
threshold of the women's apartment. Then the men rose 
and kissed her, but she retired immediately. As for the 
unmarried daughters, no male eye, not even that of an 
affianced husband, saw them till they were married. A 
bride married without ever beholding her husband or 
being seen by him. A betrothal strongly resembled the 
game of hot cockles. There was indeed an individual, called 
the Smotriltchitsa, generally a relation of the suitor, who 
inspected the girl, and reported accordingly, — but she 
only acted for the suitor. No young girl permitted 
herself to wonder what her future husband might be like. 
Her father, when he informed her that her marriage was 
arranged, showed her a whip, fit emblem of the authority he 
was about to transmit to her husband, and the only glimpse 
of him she was permitted, before being led to the altar. She 
went to church in deep silence, covered with a heavy veil ; 
not a gesture, not a word, except to answer the priest, and then 
only, for the first time, the husband heard her voice. At the 
repast which followed the ceremony, the couple were separated 
by a curtain. The bride's conjugal existence did not begin 
until the first part of the feast was concluded. Then her 
bridesmaids led her to the nuptial chamber, undressed her, 
and assisted her to bed. There she waited, till the husband 
was sufficiently drunk. The groomsmen, when they thought 
this point attained, led him to the bride's apartment, carrying 
torches, which they planted round the bed, in barrels filled 
with wheat, barley, and oats. The bed itself was laid on 
sheaves of rye. Then came the crucial moment. The 
bride's face was seen at last. To welcome her new master, 
she rose from her bed, wrapped herself in a furred robe, went 
several paces towards him, bending respectfully, and dropped 
her veil. 

A man who may have believed himself to be marrying a 
VOL. I. R 


beautiful girl, would sometimes see that she was humpbacked, 
sickly, or frightfully ugh'. Even if the go-between had done 
her duty conscientiously, there was always the chance of her 
having been deceived, by the substitution of another girl for 
the real one ; such cases not unfrequently occurred. The 
husband's only resource, in such an event, was to invite his 
new-made bride, upon the spot, to rid him of her person by 
straightway taking the veil. But being, in all probability, 
far from sober, he did not look too closely, and this fact 
probably accounts for the habit of making the bridegroom 
intoxicated on such occasions. He did not realise his mis- 
fortune until after the marriage was consummated, and 
become an accomplished fact. 

The result of such marriages may easily be conceived. 
The chronicles of the scandal-mongers, and the judicial 
records of the period, teem with information on the subject. 
Husbands would leave their homes, and take refuge in the 
peace of the cloister ; wives, driven distracted by ill-treat- 
ment, would use steel and poison to free themselves from an 
unendurable yoke. The punishment allotted to such crimes, 
terrible as it was, did not, as we may judge by the engravings 
of that period, prevent their frequent occurrence. The 
guilty woman was buried in the earth up to her waist, 
and there left till death came to release her. The culprit 
would sometimes have to wait ten days, before her agony was 
ended, — tortured all the time by hunger and thirst, and half 
devoured by worms. 1 

All these customs were either connected with, or the 
direct outcome of, a social condition defined by the 
Domostroi, a code of laws drawn up, if not actually written 
out, by the Russian pope Sylvester, Ivan the Terrible's 
chief confidant, during the closing years of his life. 
Whether the details owed their origin to Tartar, Byzantine,' 2 
or native sources, the same indelible mark, the brand of 
barbarism, was on them all. Woman was sacrificed, and 
man thereby debased. To amuse themselves in their 
cloistered loneliness, ladies of the higher ranks dressed 
themselves up like idols, painted themselves to their very 

1 See illustrations to Korb's book. Also the description given by Weber, in 
Herrmann's Peter der Grosse, p. 98 (Aug. 13th, 17 1 7). 

-According to M. Nekrassof (Origin of the Domostroi, Moscow, 1872), only 
portions of the work can be ascribed to Sylvester. The manuscript was not 
published by Golovastof till 1849. 


eyes, and drank to excess. When an Embassy was sent 
to Copenhagen, in 1630, to negotiate the marriage of 
Princess Irene, the daughter of the Tsar Michael Feo- 
dorovitch, with the Prince of Denmark, the Envoys laid 
particular stress on the fact that the Tsarevna ' did not 
drink brandy.' The poorer women, who could not afford 
to dress up, consoled themselves with drink alone, — and 
all these wives were the mothers of many children. With 
this condition of things Peter was resolved to do away. 
And to have succeeded in that matter, alone, would have 
covered him with glory. 

Before his time, it is true, a steadily widening breach 
had been made in the old tradition. Alexis' second marriage, 
with its touch of romance, proves the existence of a new 
current of ideas and feeling. Nathalia appears beside the 
husband whom she had won by her own beauty and 
grace, in a very different position from that of former 
Tsarinas, — frozen, all of them, into a traditional attitude, 
shut up in the dreariness of their lofty isolation. She took 
a certain share in her husband's external occupations. She 
sometimes went out hunting with him, and she was present 
at the performances given by foreign actors, drawn thither by 
Matvieief, under the very walls of the ancient Kreml. 
She even drove with the Tsar in an open carriage, and 
thereby almost caused a revolution. Under the rule of 
Alexis' feeble and sickly successor, the current of freedom 
ran yet stronger. Feodor's sisters did not fail to take 
advantage of his weakness, and of the general confusion 
resulting from it. And then Sophia came into power, 
and inaugurated an era of feminine government in this 
stronghold of female slavery. 

Peter did more, and better still, — or tried to, at all events. 
His Ukases with reference to marriage were directed against 
an abuse of power, and against defects of domestic organiza- 
tion, amongst the lower classes, which had grown intoler- 
able. Until his time, only a few days, — sometimes only 
a few hours, — had been allowed to elapse between the 
betrothal and the actual marriage. He decreed an interval 
of at least six weeks, so as to give the betrothed couple 
time to make acquaintance. This remedy was, of course, 
neither absolutely, nor immediately, efficacious. Only a few 
decades before our own time, according to Mielnikof's novel 


1 In the Forests,' the ancient traditions still survived, and 
were clung to, in certain circles, with the most unconquerable 
tenacity. .Nevertheless, an immense amount of good was 
done. According to the laws in existence before Peter's 
time, the head of the household, father or husband, had 
absolute power — short of capital punishment, at all events, — 
over the women of his household, whether wife or daughters. 
A high-born lady, Princess Saltykof, the sister-in-law of 
the 1 sarina Prascovia, was driven, after a long martyrdom, 
during which she had been beaten over and over again, 
and tortured by hunger and by cold, to take refuge in 
the house of her father, a Dolgorouki. Enquiry proved that 
she had reached it half dead, and covered with wounds, — 
yet her husband and tyrant claimed her, and all she could 
obtain, after a long and weary trial, was leave to bury 
herself, for the rest of her life, in a cloister. 1 My readers may 
argue, from this case, as to the condition of things in the 
lower classes. The strongest resistance of the old Russian 
party was made on this point. The autocratic and despotic 
feeling was so profoundly enrooted in the national soul, that 
Peter himself dared not make any direct attack upon it. 
Some of the laws, made between March and October 1716, 
would seem to betoken his approval of the old-fashioned 
customs ; but the new spirit which he bore with him, and 
spread around him, was so utterly opposed to it, that, by 
degrees, this iniquitous law fell into disuse, was treated as 
null and void, and finally disappeared from the written 
code of the country. The Svod Zakonov does not refer to 
it, and quite latterly, it was utterly abolished, by the Court 
of Appeal. 2 

In the upper classes of society, Peter, so to speak, took 
women by the hand, led them into the circle of common life, 
whether in private or in general society, and there gave 
them their own special and well-defined position. He 
was resolved the feminine element should be present in 
all future gatherings. He would have women show their 
beauty, talk, dance, and make music. In December 1704, 
astounded Moscow witnessed an extraordinary sight. On 
an occasion of public rejoicing, young girls, scattering flowers, 
and singing odes, took part in a procession through the 
public streets. 3 

1 Mordovstef, p. 133. - 1869, Sokolowski trial. :; Golikof, vol. ii. p. 512. 


The Reformer even endeavoured to do as much for his 
Boyard's daughters, as he was doing for their sons. He 
would have sent them abroad to complete their education, 
but he was forced to relinquish this point in face of the 
parents' fierce opposition. He did his best, at all events, 
to secure them some teaching, and set the example in his 
own family. He gave his daughters, Anne and Elizabeth, 
a French governess. He was occasionally present at their 
lessons, and took care they should assume a European 
appearance, and that their dresses and head-coverings should 
be copied from Parisian fashions. When his sister-in-law 
Prascovia ventured to criticise these innovations, he told 
her that ' her house was an asylum for fools and weak- 
minded persons,' and finally carried her along with him. 
Tsar Ivan's widow thus ended by personifying a sort of 
transition type in the history of Russian women, the direct 
outcome of Peter's reform. She gave her daughters French 
masters, and she had a German tutor for herself. But she 
kept her Russian custome, and with it, her savage instincts. 
She used to beat her maids-of-honour, and one day, — to 
force one of her servants to plead guilty to some trifling 
fault, — she poured the bottle of brandy she always kept in 
her carriage over his head, set it on fire, and then struck the 
poor wretch with her cane, on the horrible wounds the 
burning brandy had made. 1 

The road before Peter was too long for him to reach the 
goal he had, doubtless, set before him. And indeed his 
native coarseness and depravity did not, it must be ac- 
knowledged, make him the best of guides. He often forgot 
himself, lost sight of the real object of his journey, — and such 
digressions were fatal to his end. He was too apt to behave 
like a trooper, and a rough one, in the drawing rooms he had 
called into existence, and before the eyes of the recluses he 
had released from the bondage of the terem. The moral 
character of Russian women will long bear traces of the 
strange fashion in which Peter the Great introduced the scm 
into social life. 2 

The same reproach must be applied to the whole of the 
great man's work, and certainly detracts both from its merit 

1 Siemievski, The Tsarina Prascovia, p. 1 5 t. - 

-'See M. N 's study of Russian Women in the Days of Teter the Great. 

Novosti, 1872,. No. 152. 


and his glory. Yet the female world, now- a- days, in its 
more or less legitimate revolt, not in Russia only, against 
the injustice and cruelty, real or imaginary, of its fate, must 
recognise Peter the Great as one of its most effectual saviours, 
— just as civilization in general must acknowledge him one 
of its most powerful makers. 

Brutal and cynical though he was, woman was more to 
him than mere beautiful flesh. His conception of her part 
in the family, and in society, was so high as to approach 
within measurable distance of our modern ideal. And, even 
if the woman of whom I am now about to speak had never 
appeared in his feminine circle, this fact, alone, would atone 
for many faults. 



I. Her arrival in Russia — The siege of Marienburg — Her origin — Pastor 
Gliick's family — Sheremetiefs camp — Menshikofs house — Catherine- 
Troubatshof — Pietroushka's mother — The marriage — The servant girl 
becomes the sovereign. 
II. Contemporary opinion— Baron Von Pollnitz— The Margravine of Baireuth 
— Campredon — The portraits in the Romanof Gallery — Neither pretty 
nor distinguished looking — An active temperament and a well-balanced 
mind — An officer's wife — Her influence over Peter — She fascinated and 
tamed him — Their correspondence — Their conjugal intimacy — The 
Tsarina's share in politics — Her good actions and her faults— Clouds on the 
domestic horizon, 
m. These clouds are dispersed— The steady tise of Catherine's fortune— The 
death of Alexis— The mother of the heir — She brings in her family — The 
Riga postilion — The Revel courtesan — The shoemaker — All of them are 
given titles — The pinnacle of glory — Catherine's coronation— The succes- 
sion to the crown — On the edge of the abyss— A criminal intimacy — The 
Chamberlain Mons — The punishment — Inquiries and threats— A dubious 
reconciliation— Peter's death— and Catherine's triumph— She does not turn 
it to the best account — Reign of sixteen months — A Comedy Queen. 

At the beginning of the Swedish war, in July 1702, General 
Sheremetief, whose orders were to occupy Livonia, and take 
up a strong position in that country, laid siege to Marien- 
burg. The town was reduced, after a few weeks of gallant re- 
sistance, to the last extremity, and the commandant resolved 
to blow himself up with the fortress. He called some of 
the inhabitants together, and privately warned them of his 
decision, advising them to decamp forthwith, unless they 
desired to share his fate, and that of his troops. Amongst 
the persons thus warned, was the Lutheran pastor of the 
place. He fled at once, with his wife, his children, and his 
servant maid, carrying nothing with him but a Slavonic 
Bible, which he hoped might serve as safe conduct through 



the enemy's lines. When he was stopped by the Russian 
outposts, he brandished his book, proved his linguistic talent 
by quoting several passages, and offered to serve as an inter- 
preter. The authorities agreed, and undertook to send him 
to Moscow with his family. But how about the servant 
girl ? Sheremetief had cast an approving eye on her fair 
and opulent beauty. With a knowing smile, he gave orders 
that she should stay in camp, where her society would be 
more than welcome. Peter had not yet thought, as he did 
later, of forbidding the presence of the fair sex with his 
armies. The attack was to be made on the morrow, but in 
the mean time the troops were taking what pleasure the)' 
could find. The new comer was soon seated at table, in gay 
company : she was cheerful, anything but shy. and was 
received with open arms. A dance was just about to begin, 
and the hautboys were tuning up. Suddenly, a fearful ex- 
plosion overthrew the dancers, cut the music short, and left 
the servant maid, fainting with terror, in the arms of a 
dragoon. The commandant of Marienburg had kept his word. 
Thus it was, — to a noise like thunder, and close clasped in a 
soldier's embrace — that Catherine I. made her first appear- 
ance in Russian history. 1 

She was not, at that time, called 'Catherine' at all, and 
no one knows what name she really bore, nor whence she 
came, nor how she had reached Marienburg. Roth as 
regards her family, and the country of her birth, history and 
legend are at variance. The onlv point on which docu- 
ments, more or less authentic, and traditions, more or less 
worthy of credit, unite in agreeing, is in a general affir- 
mation that her life and destiny were the most extraordinary 
to which any woman was ever called — no romance of an 
empress, some story, rather, out of the Arabian Nights. I 
will try to relate — not the certainties, for there are hardly 
any certainties — but the most probable facts, in this unique 

She was born in a Livonian village, whether in Swedish 
or Polish Livonia, no one knows, some say in that of Vvshki- 
Oziero, in the neighbourhood of Riga, others, at Ringen, 

1 Weber, Memoirs of the Reign of the Empress Catherine, 1 7 28, pp. 605-613 ; 
Oustrialof, vol. iv. p. 128, etc. ; Grot, Examination of the Origin of the Empress 
Catherine, in the Memoirs of the ' Acadimie des Sciences' of St. Petersburg, 1S77, 
Vol. xviii. 


in the district of Derpt (now known as Iourief). 1 In 17 18, on 
the 1 ith of October, the anniversary of the capture of Note- 
burg, a Swedish town, Peter wrote, — ' Katerinoushka, greet- 
ing ! greeting on the occasion of this happy day, on 
which Russia first set foot on your native soil ! ' Yet, 
Catherine would rather seem to have come of some Polish 
family. Her brothers and sisters, who appeared on the 
scene in later years, were called Skovoroshtchenko or 
Skovorotski, which for the sake of euphony, doubtless, has 
been turned into Skovronski.' 2 We may suppose these 
emigrants, as they may have been — mere peasants, in any 
case — to have fled the yoke of serfdom, grown intolerable 
in their native land, to seek some less oppressive servi- 
tude elsewhere. In 1702, Catherine was seventeen years 
old, and an orphan. Her mother is believed to have 
been the serf, and the mistress, of a high-born Livonian 
named Alvendhal. Of this connection — possibly a very tem- 
porary one — Catherine was the fruit. Her legitimate father 
and mother died, her real father disowned her, and when 
still a mere child, she was received and sheltered by Pastor 
Gliick. He taught her the catechism, but she did not learn 
her alphabet. She never could do more, in later years, than 
just sign her name. She grew up in her protector's house, 
making herself useful, as she grew older, sharing the household 
duties, and taking care of the children. Gliick received 
foreign pupils, and she helped to wait on them ; two of 
these pupils declared, in later years, that she always stinted 
them in their bread and butter. This instinct of economy 
never deserted her. In certain other matters, according to 
some historians, and from a very early age, she was more 
than liberal. A Lithuanian gentleman of the name of 
Tiesenhausen, and other lodgers in the pastor's house, are 
reported to have enjoyed her favours. She is even said to 
have brought a girl into the world, who died when only a 
few months old. Not long before the siege, her master 
thought it best to put a stop to these irregularities, by 
finding her a husband. The husband or the betrothed — 

1 A paper was published in Westermann's Illustrirte Monatschrift, in 1857, 
with the object of proving that Catherine was born at Riga, and belonged to the 
Badendik family, from which the writer of the paper, Herr Tversen, was 

1 Arsenief. Catherine's Reign, vol. i. pp. 74, 75. Anrlreief, The Representa- 
tives of Authority in Russia, after Peter I. (St. Petersburg, 1870), p. 5. 


there is some uncertainty on this point — a Swedish Life- 
guardsman named Kruse, disappeared after the capture of 
the town, having been taken prisoner by the Russians, and 
sent far away, or, according to a better established version, 
he escaped the catastrophe, having been sent towards Riga, 
with his regiment, either just before, or just after, the con- 
summation of the marriage. Catherine, after she became 
Tsarina, sought him out, and gave him a pension. 1 

Meanwhile, she was the joy of that portion of the Russian 
army which was engaged in the Livonian campaign. She 
began as the mistress of a non-commissioned officer, who beat 
her, and finally, passed into the possession of the general 
himself, who soon grew weary of her. The question of how 
she came into Menshikof's household is one on which 
opinions vary. Some authorities declare she was first 
engaged to wash the favourite's shirts. She would seem, in 
one of her letters to Peter, after she had become his wife, to 
allude to this fact in her past career : ' Though you doubtless 
have other laundresses about you, the old one never forgets 
you.' And Peter answers gallantly, 'You are mistaken, 
you must be thinking of Shafirof, who mixes up his love 
affairs with his clean linen. That is not my way, and 
besides, I am growing old.' One thing is certain, her 
original position in her new protector's house was a some- 
what humble one. When Menshikof wrote, in March 1706, 
to his own sister Anne, and to the Arsenief sisters, to come 
and meet him at Witebsk for the Easter festivities, foresee- 
ing that their fear of the bad roads might prevent them 
from obeying his call, he begged them, at all events, to 
send him Catherine Troubatshof and two other girls.' 2 This 
name of Troubatshof may be an allusion to Catherine's 
husband or betrothed, for the Russian word Troubct means 

But an important event had already occurred in the exis- 
tence of the person thus so unceremoniously disposed of. 

1 Arsenief, Russian Archives, 1S75, v °l- "• P- 2 4°- 

2 Oustrialof refuses to admit that this letter can refer to the future Tsarina, and 
appeals to the testimony of Gordon, according to whom the girl bore the name 
of Catherine Vasilevna until it was converted, on her conversion to the Greek 
Church, into that of Catherine Alexieievna, but Peter himself, and other con- 
temporary authorities, give her different and very varied names, in perfectly 
reliable documents (Oustrialof, vol. iv. part. ii. p. 329. Compare Peter's 
' Writings and Correspondence? vol. iii. p. 283. 


Peter had seen her, and had proved himself far from indifferent 
to her charms. There are many different stories as to this 
first meeting. The Tsar, we are told, paid a visit to Men- 
shikof, after the capture of Narva, and was astonished by 
the air of cleanliness visible in the favourite's person and 
surroundings. He enquired how he contrived to have his 
house so well kept, and to wear such fresh and dainty linen. 
Menshikof s only answer was to open a door, through which 
the sovereign perceived a handsome girl, aproned, and sponge 
in hand, bustling from chair to chair, and going from window 
to window, scrubbing the window panes. 1 The picture is 
a pleasing one, but I notice one drawback. Narva fell in 
August 1704, and at that date, Peter had already made 
Catherine the mother of at least one child. During; the 
month of March, in the following year, she bore him a son, 
the little Pietronshka, of whom Peter speaks in one of his 
letters. Eight months later, she had two boys. 2 

These children were certainly dear to the great man, for, 
he thought of them even among the terrible anxieties which 
then devoured him. But he does not appear, as yet, to have 
cared much for their mother. There has been a world of 
hair-splitting over the circumstances of Catherine's removal 
from the favourite's household, to that of the Tsar. All sorts 
of dramatic incidents have been invented. According; to one 
story, the lady, after an agreement between the two friends, 
and a formal cession of Menshikof's rights to his master, 
took up her residence in her new home, where her eye 
shortly fell on certain magnificent jewels. Forthwith, burst- 
ing into tears, she addressed her new protector : ' Who put 
those ornaments here? If they come from the other one, I 
will keep nothing but this little ring ; but if they come from 
you, how could you think I needed them to make me love 
you ?' 

In all human probability, matters were arranged after a 
far simpler fashion. I cannot conceive any such disinterested- 
ness on her part, nor such prodigality on his. This scene, 
too, is supposed to have occurred at a period when the fair 
Livonian and her august lover were already bound together 
by the existence of two children. During the succeeding 

* Memoires et Documents, vol. i. p. 163 (Paris Foreign Office). 
'-See letter signed ' Catherine and two others,' Oct. 1705; also see Writings 
and Correspondence, vol. iii. p. 2S3. 


years, I can perceive no evident change in the humble and 
dubious situation occupied by her in that common harem, 
where Peter and Menshikof were wont, either turnabout, or 
together, to take their pleasure. Sometimes she was with 
the Tsar, and sometimes with the favourite. At St. Peters- 
burg, she lived, with all the other ladies, in Menshikof's 
house. She was still no more than an obscure and com- 
plaisant mistress. Peter had many others, and she never 
ventured to object. She went so far as to pander willingly 
to the faults, and even to the infidelities of her female rivals, 
and made up, by her own unfailing cheerfulness, for their 
caprices of temper. Thus, slowly, and almost insensibly, 
she endeared herself to the Sovereign, and above all, she 
grew into a habit with him. She took root in his heart, 
entrenched herself there, and ended by making herself 
indispensable. Tn 1706, he would seem to have feared, 
for a moment, that she might slip through his fingers, after 
the fashion of Anna Mons. He began to consider the draw- 
backs likely to result from the promiscuity in which, up to 
that time, he and Menshikof had mingled their pleasures 
and their rights. I notice a sort of dim uneasiness about 
him, and pricks of conscience which may have been nothing 
but hints of unconscious jealousy. He had joked for years 
over Menshikof's promise to marry Daria Arsenief, and held 
it null and void. In 1706, he declared it valid and sacred, 
and wrote to his alter ego, 'For God's sake, for my soul's sake, 
remember your oath and keep it !' l 

Menshikof set him the example, and Peter followed it, 
though not till much later. Catherine is, indeed, said to have 
been united to him, at this time, by a secret marriage. After 
the year 1709, she never left him, and in Poland and 
Germany, whither she accompanied the Tsar, she was treated 
almost like a Sovereign. Two other children, daughters 
both, had bound her still more closely to her lover. But, 
officially speaking, she was nothing but a mistress. In 
January 1708, when Peter departed from Moscow to rejoin 
his army, and take part in what promised to be a decisive 
campaign, he left this note behind him : ' If, by God's will, 
anything should happen to me, let the 3,000 roubles which 
will be found in Menshikof's house, be given to Catherine 
Vassilevska and her daughter. Piter! They had not 

1 Russian Archives, 1875, vol. ii. p. 245. 


travelled very far beyond the ducat bestowed after their first 
meeting ! l 

How then, and when, did Peter finally decide on the 
apparently wild and impossible folly of making this woman his 
legitimate wife and Empress ? The resolution is said to 
have been taken in 171 1, after the campaign of the Pruth. 
Catherine's unfailing devotion, her courage, and her presence 
of mind at critical moments, had overcome his last hesita- 
tion. She conquered him, and he, at the same time, per- 
ceived the means by which the choice of such a partner and 
such a Sovereign might be excused in his subjects' eyes. 
The intervention of the former servant girl had saved the 
Russian army and its leader from irreparable disaster, and 
inextinguishable shame. Peter, if he led her to the altar, 
and placed the Imperial diadem on her brow, would only be 
repaying the common debt. And this was clearly expressed 
in the manifesto he addressed to his own people, and to the 
whole of Europe. 

But here, again, alas ! we have nothing but an ingenious 
hypothesis, contradicted by all the facts and every date. 
The part played by Catherine on the banks of the Moldavian 
river, when the Russian army was surrounded by the Turks 
and the Tartars, dates — if it ever took place at all, and this is 
very doubtful — somewhere in the month of June 1711; at 
that moment she had already, for over six months, been 
publicly acknowledged as Peter's wife. The Tsar's son 
Alexis, who was then staying in Germany, had heard the 
news early in May, and had written his stepmother a con- 
gratulatory letter. 2 

The great reformer was not likely to seek more or less 
valid excuses for any decision or act of his. Later, it is true, 
— ten years later, — on the occasion of Catherine's coronation, 
he thought fit to recall the already distant memory of the 
peril she had helped to avert in 171 1. But, it may be fairly 
believed, that his object in so doing was to indicate the sense 
and bearing of this unusual ceremony, whereby, failing a 
direct successor to the Crown, he desired to invest her, in a 
manner, with his inheritance, and to ensure the execution, 
after his own death, of a will which, in his lifetime, owed no 

1 Russian Archives, 1S75, v °l- >*• P- $• 

- Oustrialof, vol. vi. p. 312. Juel, En Rejse til Knsland (Copenhagen, 1893^, 
p. 422. 


account to any one. It was at this moment that the manifesto 
to which I have already referred was published, and by it 
Peter condescended to reckon with those who might survive 

It is my duty to add, that the very fact of this marriage 
has been denied ; x but we possess very reliable testimony on 
the subject, in the shape of a despatch written from Moscow 
on the 20th February (2nd March) 1712, by Whitworth, 
the British envoy. 'Yesterday, the Tsar publicly celebrated 
his marriage with his wife, Catherine Alexieievna. Last 
winter, about two hours before his Czarisch Majesty left 
Moscow, he summoned the Empress Dowager, his sister the 
Tsarevna Nathalia, and two other half-sisters, to whom he 
declared this lady to be his empress, and that they should 
pay her the respect due to that quality, and in case any mis- 
fortune might happen to him in the campaign, should allow 
her the same rank, privileges, and revenue as was usual to 
the other dowagers, for that she was his real wife, though 
he had not the time to perform the ceremonies according to 
the custom of his country, which should be done at the 
first opportunity. The preparations have been making for 
four or five days, and on the 18th Mons. Kykin, a Lord of 
the Admiralty, and Adjutant-General Iagusinski, two per- 
sons in a good degree of favour, were sent about to invite 
the company to his Majesty's old zvedding (Tor these were 
the terms they were ordered to use). 'The Tsar was 
married in his quality of rear-admiral, and for that reason, 
not his Ministers and nobility, but his sea officers, had the 
chief employments, the Vice- Admiral Cruys and the rear- 
admiral of the galleys being the bridegroom's fathers, and 
the Empress Dowager, with the vice-admiral's lady, were 
the bride's mothers. The bridesmaids were two of the 
Empress Catherine's own daughters, one above five, and 
the other three years old. The wedding was performed 
privately, at seven o'clock in the morning, in a little chapel 
belonging to Prince Menshikof, where no one assisted but 
those who were obliged to do it through their offices. 2 

In spite of this, Whitworth tells us that in the course of 
the day, there was a great reception at the Palace, a State 
dinner, a ball, and a display of fireworks. And the Dutch 
Resident, De Bie, mentions an entertainment given in honour 

1 Dolgoroukof's Memoirs, vol. i. p. 38. - London Records Office 


of the occasion by Prince Menshikof. 1 Thus the event was 
marked by a certain amount of publicity. Peter's motives, 
and the progressive course of ideas and sentiments which led 
up to the extraordinary denouement of this liaison, would 
seem to me clearly proved by a comparison of the English 
Minister's despatch with those I have already quoted. His 
evident desire was to ensure the future of his partner and his 
children, and his duty in this respect appeared to him clearer 
and more pressing, in proportion, doubtless, to the increase 
of his affection for his children, and his tenderness and regard 
for her. Before the campaigns of 1708 and 171 1, he simply 
endeavoured to set things in order, and clear his own con- 
science, without any regard to the effect his action might 
produce. In the first instance, a gift of 3000 roubles appeared 
to him sufficient ; in the second, he thought it right to ensure 
Catherine the benefits of a reputed marriage. Finally, feel- 
ing himself bound, in honour, — but not until another year had 
passed away, and until, probably, he had undergone some 
pressure both from Catherine herself and from some of the 
persons cognisant of the circumstances of this domestic 
drama, among whom, doubtless, the ci-devant Livonian 
peasant had made herself a certain number of friends, — he kept 
his word, without, however, surrounding the event with any 
remarkable lustre or display. 

It may be objected that as no ecclesiastical authority had 
broken Peter's first marriage with Eudoxia, and as the ex- 
Tsarina was still alive, this second alliance was radically 
void. I fully admit it ; but Catherine was accepted, none 
the less, as a legally married woman. Let us pass on to 
what her contemporaries thought and said of the new 


Baron Von Pollnitz, who saw her in 17 17, thus describes 
her : — ' The Tsarina was in the prime of life, and showed no 
signs of having possessed beauty. She was tall and strong, 
exceedingly dark, and would have seemed darker but for the 
rouge and whitening with which she covered her face. There 
was nothing unpleasant about her manners, and any one who 
remembered the princess's origin would have been disposed 

1 Despatch, dated March 5th, 1712 (Archives at the Hague). 


to think them good. There is no doubt that if she had had 
any sensible person about her she would have improved 
herself, for she had a great desire to do well. But hardly 
anything more ridiculous than the ladies of her Court can 
well be imagined. It was said that the Tsar, a most extra- 
ordinary prince, had taken pleasure in choosing out these 
persons, so as to mortify other ladies of his Court more 
worthy to fill such offices. ... It might fairly be said that 
if this princess had not all the charms of her sex she had all 
its gentleness. . . . During her visit to Berlin, she showed 
the queen the greatest deference, and let it be understood 
that her own extraordinary fortune did not make her forget 
the difference between that princess and herself 

The Margravine of Baireuth, whose recollections date 
from a year later, shows, as might be expected, less good 
nature : 

4 The Tsarina was short and huddled up, very much tanned, 
and quite devoid of dignity or grace. The very sight of her 
proved her low birth. She was muffled up in her clothes 
like a German comedy actress. Her gown had been bought 
in some old clothes' shop, it was very old-fashioned, covered 
with heavy silver embroidery, and with dirt. The front of 
her skirt was adorned with jewels, the design was very 
peculiar. It was a double eagle, the feathers of which were 
covered with tiny diamonds. She had a dozen orders, and as 
many portraits of saints and relics, fastened all along the 
facings of her dress, so that when she walked she jingled 
like a mule.' 

But the Margravine was a perfect viper. 

Campredon, who is by no means over-disposed to in- 
dulgence, acknowledges the Tsarina's political instinct and 
insight. Whether or not she saved the army, in the campaign 
of the Truth, she certainly served it well during the Persian 
expedition. The story, as told by the French Minister, is 
not very flattering to Peter. During the great summer 
heats, the Tsar gave his troops orders to march, and would 
then go to sleep himself. When he woke, he found that not 
a man had moved, and when he asked what general had 
dared to countermand his orders : ' I did it,' said the 
princess, coming forward, ' because your men would have 
died of heat and of thirst.' l 

1 January 6th, 1723. 


I have already said that the portraits of Catherine, pre- 
served in the Romanof Gallery in the Winter Palace, give no 
indication of the physical charms which made her fortune. 
They betray no sign either of beauty or distinction. The 
face is large, and round, and common ; the nose hideously 
turned up. She has goggle eyes, an opulent bust, and all the 
general appearance of a servant girl in a German inn. The 
sight of her shoes, which are piously preserved at Peterhof, 
was to inspire the Comtesse de Choiseul-Goufher with the 
reflection that the Tsarina's earthly life had been spent ' on a 
good footing.' x The secret of her success must be sought 
elsewhere. This coarse- looking, and, to us, unattractive 
woman, possessed a physical organisation, as robust and 
indifferent to fatigue as Peter's own, and a moral tempera- 
ment far better balanced than the Tsar's. Between 1704 
and 1723 she bore the lover, who ultimately became her 
husband, eleven children, most of whom died in infancy. 
Yet her physical condition scarcely affected her exterior life, 
and never prevented her from following the Sovereign whither- 
soever he went. She was a typical officer's wife — Pahodnaia 
Ofitscrskaiajcna, is the Russian expression — well able to go 
on active service, lie on the hard ground, live in a tent, and 
make double or treble stages on horseback. On the Persian 
campaign she shaved her head, and wore a grenadier's cap. 
She would review the troops ; she would pass down the 
ranks, before a battle, dropping cheering words, and be- 
stowing bumpers of brandy. A "bullet struck one of the men 
in close attendance on her, but she never blenched.' 2 When, 
after Peter's death, the town of Revel was threatened by the 
allied squadrons of England and of Denmark, she would herself 
have embarked on one of her warships to drive them back. 

She was not devoid of vanity ; she dyed her fair hair 
black, to increase the brilliancy of her high-coloured com- 
plexion. She forbade the ladies of her court to copy her 
dresses ; she was a beautiful dancer, a first-class performer of 
the most complicated pirouettes, especially when the Tsar 
himself was her partner. With others she generally con- 
tented herself with walking through her steps. She was a 
mixture of subtle womanliness, and of almost masculine 

1 Reminiscences, 1S62, p. 340. 

'-' Pylaief, '1 he Forgotten Past, p. 441. Mimoires et Documents (Paris Foreign 
Office), vol. ii. p. 119. 

VOL. I. S 


activity. She could make herself most amiable to those who 
approached her, and she knew how to control Peter's savage 
outbreaks. Her low extraction caused her no embarrass- 
ment. She never forgot it, and frequently spoke of it to 
those who had known her before her elevation, — to a German 
tutor, who had been employed by Gluck when she had been 
a servant in the pastor's house, 1 and to Whitworth, — who may 
indeed have been carried away by vanity when he insinuates 
that he had been in her closest intimacy, but whom she cer- 
tainly invited one day to dance with her, enquiring whether 
he had not ' forgotten the Katierinoushka of former days.' 2 

The very considerable influence which she exercised over 
her husband was partly due, — according to contemporary 
opinion, — to her power of calming his fits of nervous 
irritation, which were always attended by excruciating head- 
aches. At such moments the Tsar would pass alternately 
from a state of prostration to one of fury, not far removed 
from downright madness, and every one fled his presence. 
Catherine would approach him fearlessly, address him in a 
language of her own, half tender and half commanding, and 
her very voice seemed to calm him. Then she would take 
his head, and caress it tenderly, passing her fingers through 
his hair. Soon he grew drowsy, and slept, leaning against 
her breast. For two or three hours she would sit motion- 
less, waiting for the cure slumber always brought him. He 
always woke cheerful and refreshed. 

She endeavoured to curtail the excesses of all sorts, the 
night orgies and drinking bouts, to which he was addicted. 
In September, 1724, the launch of a new ship was, as usual, 
made the pretext for an endless banquet. She went to the 
door of the cabin in which Peter had shut himself up to 
drink undisturbed with his boon companions, and called out, 
' Pora domo'i, batioushka ! ' (it is time to come home, little 
father), he obeyed, and departed with her. 3 

She would appear to have been full of real affection and 
devotion, although the somewhat theatrical manifestation of 
her «rief after the great man's death, cast a certain doubt on 
her sincerity. Villebois mentions two Englishmen, who went 
every day for six weeks to watch the Tsarina in the chapel 

1 Coxe, Travels, 1785, vol. i. p. 511. 

2 Whitworth, An Account of Russia (London, 1 77 1 ), preface, p. xx. 
:; Biischings-Magnzin, vol. xxii. p. 492. 


where the corpse of the Tsar was laid in state ; and he 
declared the sight touched his own feelings like a per- 
formance of the Andromache. This sorrow did not pre- 
vent the Tsarina from claiming her right to inherit from 
the Tsar, with the utmost vigour, and the most absolute 
presence of mind. Peter's affection is less dubious. It may 
have been coarse in fibre, but there is no doubt about its 
strength. His letters to Catherine, on the rare occasions 
when they were separated, express the deep attachment of 
the ' old fellow,' as he was pleased to call himself, for his 
KatierinousJika — for the friend of his heart (dronh serdesli- 
nioukii) (sic), for the mother of his dear Shishenka (the little 
Peter) with most evident sincerity. Their usual tone is cheery 
and even joking. There are no fine sentences, nothing but 
heartfelt words ; no passion, much tenderness ; no blazing 
heat, a gentle, equal warmth, never a discordant note, and 
always a longing to return, on the first opportunity, to the 
beloved wife, and, yet more, to the friend and companion, in 
whose society he feels so happy. He is longing to get back 
to her, he writes in 1708, 'because he is dull without her, 
and there is nobody to take care of his shirts.' Her answer 
expresses her conviction that his hair must be very ill- 
combed in her absence. He answers that she has guessed 
aright, but that if she will only come he will find some old 
comb or other with which to put things in order, and mean- 
while he sends her a lock of his hair. Frequently, as in 
former years, his letters were accompanied by gifts. In 
171 1, there is a watch bought at Dresden; in 17 17, lace 
from Mechlin ; on another occasion, a fox and two pairs of 
doves sent from the Gulf of Finland ; writing from Kron- 
stadt in 1723, he apologises, on the score that he has no 
money, for sending her nothing. While passing through 
Antwerp, he sends a packet covered with seals, and addressed 
to Her Majesty, the Tsarina Catherine Alexie'ievna. When 
the box was opened, all Shishenha's mother found in it was a 
slip of paper with these words written in capital letters : 
'April 1st, 1717!' Catherine too would occasionally send 
trifling gifts, such as fruit, or a warm waistcoat. In 17 19, 
one of Peter's letters closes with the expression of a hope 
that this summer will be the last they will have to spend 
apart. Some time after, he sends her a bunch of dried 
flowers, and a newspaper cutting, containing an account of 


an aged couple, a husband who had reached the age of 126 
years, and a wife only a year younger. In 1724, the Tsar, 
arriving in St. Petersburg in the summer season, and finding 
that Catherine had gone to one of his many country houses, 
forthwith sent a yacht to bring her back, and wrote, ' When 
I went into my rooms, and found them deserted, I felt as if 
I must rush away at once. It is all so empty without thee ! ' 

His absence would seem to have affected her to the same 
extent. Princess Galitzin, who was in attendance on 
her at Revel, in July 17 14, addresses the following ex- 
pressive note to the Sovereign : — 'Sire, my dear Baii- 
oushka, we long for your return at the earliest possible 
moment, and truly, if your Majesty delays much longer, 
my life will grow very hard. The Tsarina will never 
deign to fall asleep before three o'clock in the morning, 
and I never leave her Majesty, and Kirillovna stands beside 
her bed and dozes. From time to time the Tsarina conde- 
scends to say, "Art thou asleep, TictousJika? " (little aunt), she 
answers, " No, I'm not asleep, I'm looking at my slippers," 
and Maia comes and goes in the room, and makes her bed 
in the middle of the room, and Matrena walks about the 
rooms, and squabbles with everybody, and Krestianovna 
stands behind the chair and looks at the Tsarina. Thy 
return will release me from the sleeping chamber ! ' 1 

The only letters belonging to the first period of the liaison, 
which have been preserved, are those addressed by the 
Sovereign, in common, to Catherine and to Anisia Kiril- 
lovna Tolstoi', on whom he bestowed the nickname of ' Aunt/ 
Catherine he called ' Mother.' He wrote the Dutch word 
Muder,\\\ Russian characters. Catherine kept that nickname 
till 171 1, after which Peter speaks of her in more and more 
familiar, affectionate, and personal terms ; Katierinoushka, 
Hcrzensfreundchcii, etc. She did not venture, until much 
later, to imitate him in this respect. She called him ' Your 
Majesty' until 1718, and then he too becomes her Herzens- 
freundcJien, her Batioushka, or simply mein Freund (my 
friend). On one occasion she even goes so far as to imitate 
his waggish ways, and address her letter, in German, to 
' His Excellency, the very illustrious and very eminent 
Prince- General, Inspector- General, and Knight of the 
crowned Compass and Axe.' 

1 Peter's Cabinet papers, portfolio ii. No. 20. 


This correspondence never has been, and never can be, 
published in its integrity. Certain portions of it are far too 
coarse. Peter unscrupulously indulged in obscenities of 
thought and language, which are quite impossible in print ; 
and Catherine followed his example with an air of the most 
perfect unconcern. ' If you were with me here,' she writes dur- 
ing one of his absences, ' there would very soon be another 
Shishenka ! ' This is the general tone of the correspondence, 
but its actual expression is frequently far less modest. 1 

In 1724, when Peter was celebrating the anniversary of his 
marriage at Moscow, he himself composed the set piece of 
fireworks, to be lighted under the Empress's windows. This 
displayed his cypher and hers entwined, within a heart, sur- 
mounted by a crown, and surrounded by emblems of love. 
A winged figure, intended to represent Cupid, bearing a 
torch and all his other symbols, except the bandage across 
the eyes, shot across the darkness, and ignited the rockets. 
The special Cupid which would seem to have habitually 
presided over the intercourse of these two lovers, was a 
wingless one. But commonplace, and even debased, as their 
affection would occasionally appear, it still has certain 
sympathetic and touching qualities. It is replete with 
artless, full-flavoured good nature. After the Peace of 
Nystadt, Peter joked his wife about her Livonian origin, 
saying, ' According to the terms of this treaty, I am to return 
all prisoners to the King of Sweden ; I don't know what is 
to become of thee?' She kissed his hand and answered: 
' I am your servant, do with me as you will, yet I do not 
think you are inclined to send me back.' ' I will try,' he 
replied, ' to settle it with the King ! ' 2 This anecdote may 
not be absolutely true, but it certainly typifies the real 
nature of their relations. Yet there seems to have been 
some slyness, and a certain amount of feminine cunning, about 
Catherine. We are assured that when she was staying at 
Riga with the Tsar, she contrived to show him an old parch- 
ment, drawn from the archives of the town, containing a 
prophecy that the Russians would never have possession of 
that country until a most improbable event — a marriage 
between a Tsar and a Livonian — had taken place. Often too, as 

1 See Siemievski, The Empress Catherine, p. So. Bruckner, Peter's d. Grossen 
Briefiueehsel mit Catharina (Raumers Taschenbuch, 5th Series). 
- Oustrialof, vol. iv. p. 132. 


I notice, she would draw his attention to the fact that success 
never came to him until he knew her, whereas, since that event, 
he had gone from victory to victory. This was firm, histori- 
cal ground, and the fact was much more likely to impress 
the Tsar's sturdy mind, than the prophecy above referred to. 

He had no desire, indeed, to send back the prisoner he had 
taken at Marienburg. In a thousand ways, she made her- 
self agreeable, useful, indispensable. As in past years, she 
watched her lord's amorous caprices with a vigilant, though 
far from jealous, eye, solely desirous of staving off too serious 
consequences, always interposing at the right moment. Nar- 
tof tells the story of a fellow country-woman of Catherine's, 
a laundress belonging to Narva, whose attraction for the 
Sovereign took on alarming proportions. Peter, to his astonish- 
ment, beheld the girl, one day, in the Tsarina's room. He 
pretended not to recognise her, and enquired whence she came. 
Catherine calmly replied, ' 1 heard so much of her beauty and 
of her wit, that 1 made up my mind to take her into my ser- 
vice, without consulting you.' The Tsar was dumb, and 
turned his attention to quite a different quarter. 

Catherine never aspired to interfering in State affairs, she 
had no taste for intrigue. ' As for the Tsarina,' writes Campre- 
don, in 172 1, 'although the Tsar is most attentive to her, and 
is full of tenderness for the Princesses, her daughters, she has 
no power as regards public business, in which she never inter- 
feres. She applies herself solely to keeping the Tsar's 
good graces, to restraining him, to the best of her ability, 
from those drinking and other excesses which have greatly- 
weakened his health, and to calming his anger when it seems 
ready to break forth against any particular person.' 

Her intervention in the catastrophe on the Pruth, if it ever 
did occur, was quite an isolated case. Her correspondence 
with her husband proves, that though she was aware of his 
anxieties, her information was of a very general nature. He 
writes to her about trifling commissions, such as buying wine 
or cheese, which he desires to give away, or the engagement 
of foreign artists or artisans. His tone is frequently very con- 
fidential, but he keeps to generalities, and very seldom enters 
into detail. In 1712, he writes: 'We are well, thank God, 
but it is a hard life ; I cannot do much with my left hand, 
and my right has to hold sword and pen at once. Now 
thou knowest on how many persons I can reckon for help.' 


She took a line, and assumed an office, her choice of which 
proves that this peasant-born woman had a most wonderful 
and instinctive comprehension of her true position. There 
is a hint of this, in the French diplomatic document which I 
have just quoted. She realised that, — beside the great Re- 
former playing out his part as a merciless judge, to the bitter 
end, — there was another accessory and necessary role, instinct 
with pity and mercy, to which she, the humble serf, who had 
sounded every depth of human misery, was clearly called. She 
saw that if she did this work, if she strove to win pardon for 
others, her own sudden elevation would be more willingly 
forgiven her ; and that if, amidst the spite and hatred raised 
against the Tsar by the violent nature of his reforms, she could 
gather a circle of grateful sympathy round her own person, 
she might one day, if some change of fortune overtook her, 
find in it a protection and a welcome shelter. She came to 
need it, and did thus find a shelter, and more than a shelter, 
after Peter's death. 

Like Lefort, in the old days, but with infinitely more 
consistency and tact, she constantly interposed in the sanguin- 
ary conflict which the Tsar's chosen work had roused between 
himself and his subjects ; — a conflict marked by the daily use 
of the axe, the gallows, and the knout. Peter was occasion- 
ally reduced to concealing the punishments he decreed from 
his wife's knowledge. Unfortunately, as it would seem, she 
did not continue satisfied with the distant and ultimate re- 
ward this line of conduct promised. She began, after a time, 
to seek for more immediate profit. She grew to imagine, or 
she was made to believe, that she must settle her fortunes on 
a firm financial basis. She was convinced, or allowed herself 
to be persuaded, that the day would come when she would 
need money — and a great deal of money — to pay for 
necessary co-operation, or anticipate probable failure. And 
then she began to fleece all those who sought her protection. 
An)- one who desired to escape exile or death, through her 
intervention, was forced to open his purse. Thus she amassed 
large sums, which, after Menshikof's example, and probably by 
his advice, she invested, under assumed names, at Amsterdam 
and Hamburg. This intrigue soon attracted Peter's atten- 
tion, and his discovery of it was probably not unconnected 
with the clouds that darkened the close of their conjugal 
existence. In 17 18, Catherine undertook to save Prince 


Gagarin, the Governor - General of Siberia, who had 
been found guilty of enormous peculations, from the 
gallows. He paid her considerable sums, part of which 
were employed in corrupting Prince Volkonski, to whom the 
enquiry had been entrusted, — a scarred old soldier, who, in 
spite of his glorious career, was not proof against such vile 
temptations. When Volkonski was arrested, he defended 
himself by alleging that he had not dared to repulse the 
Tsarina's advances, for fear of making a quarrel between her 
and the Tsar. To this, Peter is said to have made the 
following characteristic reply : ' Idiot ! you would have made 
no quarrel between us ! 1 should only have given my wife a 
sound conjugal punishment. She will get it now, and you 
will be hung ! ' 1 


The tragic close of the quarrel between the Tsar and his 
eldest son was, to the stepmother of the unhappy Prince, a 
crowning victory, a sudden impulse towards the giddiest 
heights of destiny. She has been accused, and not unnatur- 
ally, of having had a more or less direct share in bringing 
about this denouement. To this point I shall have to refer 
in a later chapter. It was her own son who thus became 
heir presumptive to the throne, and another bond was forged 
between herself and the father of the boy. She even suc- 
ceeded, to a certain extent, in forcing her family, obscure 
Lithuanian serfs, upon the Tsar. Chance is reported to have 
helped her in this matter. A postillion, working on the road, 
between St. Petersburg and Riga, having been ill-treated bv 
a traveller, loudly complained, and affirmed his close connec- 
tion with persons in the highest quarters. He was arrested, 
and the facts laid before the Tsar, who ordered enquiry to 
be made, and found himself unexpectedly enriched with a 
whole tribe of brothers and sisters-in-law, nephews and 
nieces, whom Catherine had somewhat too easily forgotten. 
The postillion, Feodor Skovronski, was her eldest brother. 
He had married a peasant woman, by whom he had three 
sons and three daughters. Another brother, still a bachelor, 
worked in the fields. The eldest sister was called Catherine, 
— the second, who had been raised to the throne under that 

1 Dolgoroukof's Memoirs, vol. i. p. 31. 


name, had formerly been known as Martha. The real 
Catherine, it was said, lived at Revel, and there carried on a 
shameful trade. A third sister, Anne, was the wife of an 
honest serf, Michael-Joachim, a fourth had married a freed 
peasant, Simon- Henry, who had settled at Revel, and worked 
as a shoemaker. 

Peter caused the postillion to be brought to St. Petersburg, 
confronted him with his sister, in the house of a diensJitcliik, 
named Shepielof, and when his identity had been established, 
gave him a pension, and sent him back to the country. He 
took measures to ensure a modest competence to each 
member of the familv, and made a bargain that he was to 
hear no more of them. The Revel sister-in-law, who was 
too compromising to be endured, was put under lock and 
key. Catherine had to wait for the Tsar's death, before she 
could do anything more for her own people. When that 
occurred, the ex-postillion, the ex-shoemaker, and all the 
other peasants, male and female, appeared at St. Petersburg, 
disguised under new names and titles, and dressed in court 
apparel. Simon-Henry became Count Simon Leontievitch 
Hendrikof, Michael-Joachim was called Count Michael 
Efimovitch Efimovski, and so with the rest. All were given 
large fortunes. 1 A Count Skovronski made a great figure in 
the reign of Elizabeth, and married his daughter to a Prince 
Sapieha, a member of an illustrious Polish family, well 
known in France. 

But meanwhile, Catherine's fortunes rose steadily higher. 
A collective vote of the Senate and the Synod, given on the 
23rd of December 1728, endowed her with the title of 
Empress. Two years later, Peter himself decided on the 
formal coronation of the ci-devant servant girl. This cere- 
mony was quite a novel one in Russia, and surrounding 
circumstances imparted considerable importance to it. The 
history of the country only furnishes one precedent for such 
a step — the coronation of Marina Mniszech just before her 
marriage with Dimitri. But the object, in that case, was to 
give a kind of presumptive consecration to the rights of the 
haughty daughter of the Polish magnate, imposed on the 
Russian nation by the victorious policy of the Waza. 
Dimitri, who was supported by the armies of the Republic, 
merely as, and because he was, Marina's husband, took quite 
1 Kafnovitch, Great Russian Fortunes^ p. 179. 


a secondary place. Since those days, no Tsarina had been 
more than the Tsar's wife, none had ever received any poli- 
tical investiture or prerogative. .But the death, in 17 19, of 
the sole heir to the crown, had raised the question of the 
succession. During the following years it was constantly to 
the front. When, in 1721, the Peace of Nystadt conferred 
some leisure on the Sovereign, this question became, for 
a time, his chief anxiety. Shafirof and Ostermann, in 
obedience to his commands, held several private conferences 
with Campredon, in the course of which they proposed 
an alliance with France, based on a guarantee as to the 
succession to the Russian throne to be <jiven bv the French 
king. For whose benefit ? Campredon imagined Peter had 
chosen his eldest daughter, whom he was supposed to intend 
to marry to one of his subjects and near relations,— probably 
to a Naryshkin. This opinion was confirmed by Shafirof. 1 
The most varied suppositions on the subject were current 
amongst the general public, up to the period of the corona- 
tion. The novel nature of that event seemed, in the eyes of 
the majority, to settle the question in Catherine's favour. 
This idea was finally shared by Campredon himself. - 

The crown, which was specially ordered for the occasion, 
was far more magnificent than any used by former Tsars. It 
was adorned with diamonds and pearls ; there was an enor- 
mous ruby on the top ; it weighed four pounds, and was 
valued at one and a half millions of roubles. It was made 
at St. Petersburg, by a Russian jeweller, but the new capital 
was quite unequal to supplying the Tsarina's dress. This 
was sent from Paris, and cost 4000 roubles. Peter himself 
set the crown on his wife's head. Catherine knelt before the 
altar, weeping, and would have embraced the Tsar's knees. 
He raised her smilingly, and invested her with the orb, the 
symbol of sovereignty (dierjava). But he kept the sceptre, 
the token of power, in his own hand. When the Tsarina left 
the church, she entered a coach, sent, like her dress, from Paris, 
richly gilt and painted, and surmounted byan Imperial crown. 3 

This ceremony was performed on the /th — 19th — 
May. Just six months later, an event took place in the 
Winter Palace, which set the Tsarina, crowned and anointed 

1 Campredon's Despatches, Oct. 29, Nov. 17 and 21, 1721 (French Foreign 
Office). - Despatch, dated May 26th, 1724. 

:; Bi'tschings-Magazin, vol. xxii. pp. 447, 463. Golikot, vol. x. p. 64. 


as she was, on the very brink of a precipice. Peter, on his 
return from an excursion to Revel, received warning of a 
suspicious intimacy which had existed for some time be- 
tween Catherine and one of her chamberlains. It is curious 
that this warning should not have reached him sooner, for the 
Tsarina's liasou with voungj William Mons had, according 
to reliable witnesses, long been in public knowledge. 1 Peter 
might easily have gathered this fact from a secret examina- 
tion of the chamberlain's correspondence. He would have 
found letters signed by the greatest persons in the country, 
Ministers, ambassadors, and even bishops, who all addressed 
the young man in terms which clearly indicated the place 
they believed him to hold in the imperial household. 2 But the 
inquisitorial policy of the great Tsar had begun to bear its 
final fruit, — the consequence and penalty of the excess to 
which it had been carried. Universal espionage had engen- 
dered universal watchfulness against possible spies. Men 
did as they were done by, and Peter paid for his too great 
eagerness to know the secrets of other houses, by being left 
in ignorance of what was occurring in his own. 

Mons was the brother of Peter's former mistress. He was 
one of that race of bold and successful adventurers of whom, 
so far as Russia was concerned, Lefort was the historical an- 
cestor. His education was of the most scanty description, 
but he was intelligent, shrewd, a gay companion, and, occa- 
sionally, something of a poet. He was very superstitious, 
and wore four rings : one of pure gold, one of lead, one of 
iron, and the last of copper. These were his talismans, and 
the gold ring stood for love. One of his sisters, Matrena, 
had married Feodor Nikolaievitch Balk, who belonged to a 
branch of the ancient Livonian house of the Balken, which 
had been settled in Russia since 1650. This Balk held the 
rank of Major-General, and was Governor of Riga, and his 
wife, who had gained great favour with Catherine, had been 
one of her ladies of honour and her closest confidant, ever 
since the coronation. Matrena looked after her brother's 
interests, and arranged the meetings between the lovers. 
Nor was this all. She had contrived, with the assistance 
of Anna Feodorovna Ioushkof, another great favourite of 
the Tsarina's, of Princess Anne of Courland, and of some 

1 Campredon's Despatch, Dec. 9th, 1724 (Paris Foreign Office). 
- Siemievski, The Empress Catherine, p. 109. 


other ladies, to set up a kind of camarilla, and little by little 
the Tsar had been hemmed in with moving quicksands of 
jobbery and intrigue, of hidden influences, and obscure 
machinations. Weakened as he was by illness, and harried 
by haunting suspicion, his actions were literally paralysed. 
William Mons was the soul of this circle, and himself took 
a woman's name to veil his correspondence with a certain 
lady named Soltykof, who was one of its members. 1 

Female government was already beginning to take up its 
place in Russia. 

Peter's powers, both as judge and as inquisitor, failed him 
here, completely and simultaneously. He long remained in 
ignorance of what he ought to have known, and even when 
he was warned, he could not strike, and mete out just punish- 
ment for the most unpardonable offence which could have 
been offered him. The first intimation reached him from an 
anonymous source. A long-prepared trap was laid, so some 
people assert. Catherine is supposed to have dallied, one 
lovely moonlight night, within an arbour in her garden, be- 
fore which Matrena Balk mounted guard, and there Peter 
discovered her.'- I regret to have to point out that this 
summer scene is at variance with the season of the year 
imposed by historical accuracy, — the month of November, 
and, in all probability, at least twenty degrees of frost. 
According to official documents, Peter learnt the fact 
on the 5th of November. The informer, a subordinate 
of Mons, who was quickly discovered, was at once 
arrested. The Tsar held a hasty enquiry in the torture- 
chamber of the fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul, but, con- 
trary to the general expectation, he failed to act with his 
usual lightning rapidity. Though both his honour and his 
life were affected, — for the informer had spoken of a plot, 
and intended attempt on his life, — he seemed to hesitate. 
He concealed his rage. It almost looked as though this 
man, — impatient and impulsive beyond all others, as a rule, 
—were seeking to gain time. On the 20th of November, he 
returned to the palace without a sign of perturbation on his 
countenance, supped as usual with the Empress, and held a 
long and familiar conversation with Mons, who, like everv- 
one else, felt quite reassured. At a somewhat early hour he 
complained of weariness and enquired the hour. Catherine 
J Mordovtsef, p. 130. 2 Scherer, vol. iv. p. 78. 


consulted her repeating watch — the one he had sent her 
from Dresden — and replied, ' Nine o'clock.' With a sudden 
flash of anger — his first — he took the watch, opened the case, 
gave the hands three turns, and, in the well-known tone 
which no one ever dared to answer, he replied, ' You are 
quite mistaken ! It is midnight, and every one will go to 

The lion was awake again, with his mighty roar and cruel 
claws, — the tyrant who claimed to rule every one and every- 
thing, and even time itself! 

The company separated, and, a few moments later, Mons 
was arrested in his own room, Peter himself, so we are told, 
acting as his jailor and his examining judge. But through- 
out all the examination, Catherine's name was never men- 
tioned. He deliberately put her outside the question. The 
enquiry resulted in the culprit's conviction of other guilty 
practices, — of abuse of influence and criminal traffic, in which 
Matrena Balk was also involved. For two successive days, 
on the 13th and 14th of November, a crier passed through 
the streets of St. Petersburg, calling upon all those persons 
who had paid bribes to declare them, under pain of the most 
heavy punishment. But Mons himself gave full information. 
In later years, he was described, like Glebof, as having stoic- 
ally poured forth every other sort of avowal, in his desire to 
protect his mistress's honour. Such heroism, had it really 
existed, can scarcely have been of the finest temper. Even 
in Peter's reign, there was less risk for the man who acknow- 
ledged embezzlement, than for him who posed as the Tsar's 
rival in love. This fact had been proved by Glebofs terrible 
end, and William, handsome as he was, seems to have had 
nothing of the hero about him. According to the minutes 
of the official enquiry, he fainted away as soon as he was 
arrested and brought into the Tsar's presence, and he ended 
by confessing whatever he was desired to confess. There 
cannot possibly have been any difficulty about drawing in- 
formation from him, for, as we are significantly informed, he 
was never put to the question. As for Matrena Balk, she 
made some resistance at first, but the first blow from the 
knout quite broke it down. 

Mons was beheaded on the 28th of November, 1724. The 
Saxon Resident in St. Petersburg declares that, before the 
execution, Peter went to see him, and expressed his great 


regret at being obliged to part with him. The young man 
went bravely to the scaffold. The great Tsar's reign, like 
another and later reign of terror, at all events taught men 
how to die. The story that the guilty man begged his exe- 
cutioner to take a miniature framed in diamonds from his 
pocket, to destroy the picture (Catherine's portrait) and to 
keep the setting, is an evident and clumsy invention. 1 We 
may take it for certain that prisoners, in those days, were 
searched within their prisons. Matrena Balk was given 
eleven blows with the knout, did not die under them (which 
proves that she was tough), was sent for life to Siberia, and 
returned after Peter's death. Nothing was perpetual at that 
period. Once a culprit escaped with life, he or she had a 
fair chance of rising again, even out of the darkest depths. 
Around the place of execution, placards, bearing the names 
of all the persons with whom Mons and his sister had done 
business, were fixed on posts. The whole hierarchy of 
Russian official life, headed by the High Chancellor Golov- 
kin, was there represented, coupled with the names of 
Prince Menshikof, the Duke of Holstein, and the Tsarina 
Prascovia Feodorovna.' 2 

Catherine behaved, all through this ordeal, with a courage 
which is almost terrifying. On the day of the execution, she 
affected the greatest cheerfulness. In the evening, she sent 
for the princesses, summoned their dancing - master, and 
practised the minuet with them. But in one of Campredon's 
despatches I find these words : ' Although the Princess hides 
her grief, as far as that is possible, it is clearly written on her 
countenance ... so much so that all the world wonders 
what is going to happen to her.' 3 

On that very day, she had a somewhat disagreeable surprise. 
A ukase written by the Tsar's own hand, and addressed to 
all the Administrative Bodies, forbade them, in consequence 
of the abuses which had arisen zvithout the Tsarina 's know- 
ledge, to obey any order or recommendation of hers in future. 
At the same time the offices through which her private 
affairs were directed, were laid under an interdict ; her 
fortune was taken from her, under pretext of its being 
managed for her, and she found herself so pinched for 
money, that when she wanted to give a thousand ducats to a 

1 Crusenstolpe, Der Russische //('/"(Hamburg, 1857), p. 68. 

2 Mordovtsef, pp. 48, 49. J St. Petersburg, Dec. 9th, 1724 (Foreign Office). 


dienshtchik, named Vassili Petrovitch, who was in possession, 
for the moment, of the Tsar's ear, she was obliged to borrow 
it from her ladies. 1 

And the next day brought her fresh misery. The Tsar, 
we are told, took his wife out with him in a sledge, and the 
Imperial couple were seen to pass close to the scaffold on 
which Mons' corpse still lay exposed. The Tsarina's dress 
brushed the dead body. Catherine never turned her head 
nor ceased to smile. Then Peter went further. The dead 
man's head, enclosed in a vessel of spirits of wine, was placed 
in a prominent position in the empress' apartment. Cathe- 
rine endured its horrible proximity, and preserved her ap- 
parent calm. In vain the Tsar raged. He broke a magnifi- 
cent Venetian glass with his fist, saying, — ' Thus will I treat 
thee and thine!' She answered, quite unmoved, 'You have 
destroyed one of the chief ornaments of your dwelling. Do 
you think you have increased its charm ? ' She contrived 
thus to subdue and control him, but their relations 
continued strained. On the 19th of December, 1724, Lefort 
wrote in a despatch, ' They hardly speak to each other ; they 
no longer eat nor sleep together.' And at the same time, 
public attention was generally attracted to Maria Kantemir. 
Peter was with her every day. Then it was, so the world 
believed, that he learned the truth of what had happened at 
Astrakhan, where, as my readers will recollect, the hopes of 
the Princess, and, it may be, of her lover as well, had been 
overthrown by a mysterious miscarriage. The doctor who 
had attended the young girl, a Greek named Palikala, had 
been bribed; 'By whose hand?' he enquired — and the 
answer rose of itself to the outraged husband's lips. 

Catherine, according to general opinion, was utterly lost. 
Villebois declares that Peter planned a trial, modelled on 
that of Henry VIII., and only temporised so as to ensure 
the future of his children by his unfaithful wife. He hurried 
on the marriage of his elder daughter, Anne, with the Duke 
of Holstein, and caused overtures to be made for the union 
of the second, Elizabeth, with a French prince, or even with 
the King of France himself But this plan, which seemed to 
be taking shape, and was irresistibly attractive to the Tsar, 
furnished an all-powerful argument for sparing Catherine. 

1 Biischings-Magazin, vol. xi. p. 494. Description sent by the Emperor's 
Envoy, Rabutin. 


Tolstoi and Ostermann, who were in negotiation with 
Campredon, laid the strongest stress upon it. The King of 
France, they said, would never be induced to marry the 
daughter of a second Anne Boleyn ! x 

But Catherine's lucky star was to carry her through. On 
the 1 6th of January, 1725, signs of a reconciliation, only 
skin-deep, perhaps, and somewhat ungracious, on Peter's 
side, but yet significant enough, were generally observed. 
Lefort writes, ' The Tsarina has made a long and ample 
Fussfall (genuflection) before the Tsar, to obtain remission 
of her faults. The conversation lasted three hours, and 
they even supped together, after which they parted.' Less 
than a month afterwards, Peter was dead, and carried with 
him to his tomb, the secret of his anger, and of the venge- 
ance which he may have been nursing, and preparing in 
secret. I must not, in this place, dilate upon the political 
use Catherine made of this event. Her subsequent private 
life justified, only too clearly, the jealous anxiety which 
poisoned the last days of the great Tsar. We must suppose 
that after twenty years of continuous effort, and never- 
ceasing watchfulness, during which all her faculties were 
incessantly concentrated on, and strained towards, the one 
end and aim, which she at last attained, there was a sort 
of sudden weakening of the moral spring, and a simultaneous 
leaping up of her long repressed taste for coarse sensuality , 
love of vulgar debauch, and vile instincts, physical and 
moral. She, who had done so much to restrain her husband 
from nocturnal orgies, ended by drinking all night long, and 
till 9 o'clock in the morning, with her casual lovers, — Loewen- 
walde, Devier, and Sapieha. Her reign, which, happily for 
Russia, only lasted sixteen months, was a mere casting 
of the sovereign power to Menshikof, and to short-lived 
favourites, who scrambled with him for every morsel of 
profit. The whilom devoted, helpful, and even heroic 
partner of the great Tsar, became a mere Comedy Queen, 
a base-born peasant, carried by some improbable chance up 
to the throne, and there taking her pleasure after her own 
low fashion. 

1 See for all this episode, Solovief, vol. xviii. p. 245 ; Scherer, vol. iv. p. 18, 
etc. ; Sbornik, vol. iii. p 90 (Leport) ; Biischings-Magazin, vol. xi. p. 490, etc. 
(Rabutin) ; Villebois' Memoirs (manuscript, in the Bibliotheque Nalionale, 

*iftij(ras cetfif. jun 14 1962 





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