THE strong and terrible reforming Tsar had triumphed over every obstacle, triumphed so thoroughly that any interruption of his work during his lifetime was inconceivable. But the thought ” Will my work survive me ? ” haunted him persistently. Peter’s anxiety was reasonable. His health was uncertain ; his half-taught pupils were few and divided ; the reactionaries were many and of one mind ; and they believed, rightly, that in the heir to the throne, the Tsarevich Alexis, they possessed a secret sympathiser who would, one day, reverse the whole policy of the Tsar Antichrist, and restore the old order of things. It was tragic enough that Peter’s only son should be his father’s worst ill-wisher ; but it is too often forgotten that Peter himself was, to a large extent, responsible for the beginnings of this unnatural hostility. Peter, as we have seen in the case of Menshikov, could forgive everything to those whom he loved. But to those whom he disliked he was inhumanly severe, and he pursued the objects of his hatred with a murderous vindictiveness which was rarely satisfied with anything short of their extermination.
On January 27, 1689, the young Tsar had married, at his mother’s command, the boyaruinya Eudoxia Lopukhina.
Eudoxia would have made a model Tsaritsa of the pre-Petrine period, but she was no fit wife for such a vagabond of genius as Peter the Great. Accustomed from her infancy to the monastic seclusion of the terem, her mental horizon did not extend much beyond her embroidery frame or her illuminated service book. She was one of those Moscovite princesses who were not allowed to receive the foreign ministers lest they should, inadvertently, say something silly. After the birth of their second son, Alexander, on October 3, 1691, Peter practically deserted her, and on his return from abroad in 1698, shut her up in a distant nunnery because she would not consent to a divorce. In June, 1699, the Patriarch Adrian was terrorised into divorcing her; and the Tsaritsa Eudoxia disappeared from the world under the ‘hood of ” Sister Elena.”
Peter’s sole surviving son, Alexis, born on February 19,1690, was ignored by his father till he was nine years old, when his education was confided to learned foreigners who taught him French, history, geography, and mathematics. In 1703, in order that he might practically apply his lessons, Alexis was ordered to follow the army to the field, as a private in a bombardier regiment, and, in r 704, was present at the capture of Narva. At this period the Tsarevich’s preceptors had the highest opinion of their pupil. He was certainly of a precocious intelligence, and his disposition was naturally amiable. Of his ability, indeed, there can be no question ; unfortunately it was not the sort of ability that his father could make use of. The Tsarevich was essentially a student, with strong leanings towards archaeology and ecclesiology. He resembled his grand-father Alexis ; but, with his knowledge of modern languages, his intellectual vista was wider, and he would doubtless have gone much further than his grandfather. Nevertheless, the quiet seclusion of a monastic library was the proper place for this gentle emotional dreamer, who clung so fondly to the ancient traditions, and was so easily moved by the beauty of the orthodox liturgy.
To a prince of the temperament of Alexis, the restless vehement energy of his father was very offensive. He liked neither the work itself, nor its object. Yet Peter, not unnaturally, demanded that his heir should help to fashion his future inheritance. He demanded from a youth with the nature of a recluse practical activity, unceasing labour, unremitting attention to technical details, the concentration of all his energies upon the business of government, so as to maintain the new State at the high level of greatness to which it had already been raised. In consequence of these stern demands on the one hand, and an invincible repugnance to execute them on the other, painful relations between father and son, quite apart from the personal antipathies already existing, were inevitable.
Then, too, the clergy secretly encouraged Alexis in his resistance to his father. Stephen Yavorsky and the other arch-pastors of the Russian Church openly expressed their disapproval of the Tsar’s new and strange ways ; and, as a loyal son of the Church, the Tsarevich gladly listened to those who had the power to bind and loose. The person who had most influence over him was his confessor, Yakov Ignatev, a man of considerable force of character, who familiarised theTsarevich with the idea of parricide. Thus, on one occasion, Alexis confessed to Ignatev that he had wished for his father’s death. ” God forgive thee ! ” answered the priest ; yet we alldesire his death because there is so much misery in the nation.”
On October 14, 1711, Alexis was married, greatly against his will, to Sophia Charlotte of Blankenburg-Wolfenbuttel, whose sister, almost simultaneously, espoused the heir to the Austrian throne, the Archduke Charles. Three weeks later, the bridegroom was hurried off by his father to Thorn, to superintend the provisioning of the Russian troops in Poland.
For the next twelve months, Alexis was kept constantly on the move. Evidently, Peter was determined to tear his son away from a life of indolent ease, and make a new man of him.
Alexis was unequal to the strain. When, after returning from Ladoga, where he had been sent to superintend the building of ships, Peter, to see what progress his son had made in mathematics, asked him to produce for inspection his latest drawings, Alexis, to escape the ordeal of such an examination, resorted to the abject expedient of disabling his right hand by a pistol-shot. In no other way could the Tsarevich have offended his father so deeply. He had behaved like a cowardly recruit who mutilates himself to avoid military service. After this, Peter seemed to take no further interest in Alexis, whom he employed no more. Alexis consoled himself with the reflexion that the future belonged to him. He was well aware that the mass of the Russian nation was on his side. All the prelates but one were devoted to him. Equally friendly were the two great families, the Dolgorukis, and the Golitsuins. The Dolgorukis, who had first come prominently forward during the reign of Tsar Alexis, were well represented in every branch of the public service. They detested the all-powerful Menshikov and lost no opportunity of flattering and encouraging the Tsarevich. The Golitsuins were even more illustrious than the Dolgorukis. So far back as the days of Ivan III, their ambition had become a tradition. Their family was also well-placed and had supplied Peter with some of his ablest generals and diplomatists. Most of the other magnates were equally dissatisfied with Peter and equally devoted to Alexis. They argued, and Alexis agreed with them, that all he had to do was to sit still, and keep out of his father’s way as much as possible and await the natural sequence of events.
But with Peter the present was everything. He could not afford to leave anything to chance. All his life long he had been working incessantly with a single object the regeneration of Russia in view. The more difficult portion of that work ‘ was done. All that was required of his successor was sympathy and good-will.
The Tsar gave Alexis what was evidently meant to be a last chance on the day of the funeral of the Princess Charlotte, who died on October 22, 1715, four days after giving birth to a son, christened Peter. In a letter of terrible severity, Peter reproached Alexis for his negligence and inattention to military affairs ” and threatened to deprive him of the succession, and cut him off “like a gangrenous swelling” if he did not amend the errors of his ways.
It was now that Alexis showed what a poor creature he really was. Following the advice of his friends, he wrote a pitiful letter to his father, renouncing the succession in favour of his baby half-brother Peter’ (born the day after the Princess Charlotte’s funeral) on the plea of ill-health and general incompetence. On January 19, 1716, Peter offered his son the choice between amending his ways or becoming a monk ; and Alexis chose the latter alternative. Still Peter did not despair. On the eve of his departure for the Pomeranian campaign, he urged Alexis to think the whole matter over once more and do nothing hastily. Finally, on August 26, 1716, he wrote to his son from abroad commanding him, if he desired to remain Tsarevich, to join the army without delay. Alexis thereupon fled for protection to Vienna; and his brother-in-law the Emperor Charles sent him for greater security to the fortress of San Elmo at Naples. That the Emperor sympathised with Alexis and suspected Peter of harbouring murderous designs against him is plain from his confidential letter to George I of England, whom he consulted in this delicate affair.
Peter’s agitation was extreme. The flight of the Tsarevich to a foreign potentate was a reproach and a scandal. He must be recovered and brought back to Russia at all hazards. But the operation was likely to be one of exceptional difficulty. It was therefore confided to the most subtle and astute of all the Moscovite diplomatists, Count Peter Tolstoi.
Three days after his arrival at Vienna, Tolstoi had an audience of the Emperor and delivered his master’s commands so forcibly, that Charles VI, by the advice of three of his most confidential ministers, permitted Tolstoi to proceed to Naples to see the Tsarevich. They also engaged not to prevent the Tsarevich’s departure if he went willingly.
On September 24, 1717 Tolstoi arrived at Naples. His instructions were grimly precise. He was to assure the Tsarevich that, if he returned home at once, everything would be forgiven, and he would be restored to favour and have perfect liberty ; but, if he refused to return, his father, as his sovereign, would publicly denounce him as a traitor, while the Church would simultaneously excommunicate him as a disobedient son, in which case he might be sure that he would be fit material for the tormentors both in this world and the next. Peter himself wrote to Alexis in much the same strain, reproaching him bitterly for thus exposing his father to shame, but, swearing solemnly “before God and His judgment seat,” that if he came back he should not be punished in the least, but treasured as a son.
Threats and promises notwithstanding, Alexis, though almost insane with terror, still held out. Tolstoi grew impatient. He reported that only the most extreme compulsion could, as he phrased it, ” melt the hard frozen obstinacy of this beast of ours”; and we can well imagine what such words meant in the mouth of a man who had not hesitated, when acting as ambassador at Constantinople, to remove an inconvenient secretary by poison. The unfortunate Tsarevich, who felt, instinctively, that he was fighting for his life against merciless enemies, at first stood firm and refused to depart ; but, when Tolstoi threatened to take away his mistress, the Finnish peasant girl, Afrosina, the companion of his flight, whom he loved passionately and whose pregnancy was now imminent, he instantly surrendered. He promised to return with Tolstoi to Russia on condition that he should be allowed to live quietly on his estates and marry Afrosina. To these terms, Tolstoi agreed; and Peter himself solemnly confirmed them in a letter to his son, dated Nov. 18, 1717.
Alexis was now hustled out of Italy as stealthily as possible. On January 31, 1718, he arrived at Moscow.
But what was to be done with the Tsarevich? To allow him to live quietly at his country-house was to establish in the heart of Russia a centre of disaffection. And there was another and serious difficulty to be faced. It was inconceivable that Alexis, of his own accord, could have ventured upon so bold a step as flight to a foreign potentate. He must have had aiders and abettors. Who were they ? Peter, nervously apprehensive of the designs of the forces of reaction, scented a wide-spread domestic conspiracy, and determined to investigate the matter to the very bottom.
The first step was to extort a full confession from the Tsarevich. On February 18, Alexis was brought before his father and a council of magnates. Paralysed with terror, he confessed himself guilty of everything, though no crime had yet been imputed to him, and abjectly begged for mercy. Then, on receiving a second promise of full forgiveness, he revealed the names of all his “accomplices,” immediately afterwards renouncing his succession to the throne in favour of his half-brother, the infant Grand-Duke Peter Petrovich. The so-called accomplices, torn from their hiding-places and dragged to the torture-chamber, supplied the prosecution with evidence which, nowadays, would never be accepted in any court of justice. Nor did the clergy escape scot-free. Knowing that the eyes of the Orthodox were reverently fixed upon the Suzdal-Pokrovsky Monastery, where the ex-Tsaritsa Eudoxia was imprisoned, Peter resolved to strike a blow at the hierarchy through her which should terrorise all opposition. Accordingly “the nun Elena,” together with many of her kinsmen and friends, including Dosithy, Bishop of Rostov, were seized and haled away to Moscow. Prolonged and oft-repeated torture could only extract from these unhappy creatures the fact that they sympathised with Eudoxia and believed in her future restoration. The Bishop had gone so far as to prophesy the coming of the glad event. Dosithy, previously degraded to the rank of a monk, that torture might be applied to him also, confessed that all of them had desired the death of Peter and the elevation of Alexis ; but there was no evidence of any conspiracy.
There was a lull in the prosecution of the Tsarevich’s affair after the termination of ” the Moscow Process,” as it was called. On the arrival of Afrosina at Petersburg, however, in April, 1718, the case was resumed. As the mistress and confidante of Alexis, she was the natural depository of all his secrets ; and these secrets were easily wormed out of her by Tolstoi and Menshikov. They did not amount to much, but they were sufficient to destroy Alexis. He had rejoiced at the illness of his supplanter, the little Grand-Duke Peter. He had said that when he was Tsar, he would order things very differently. He would have no ships, and keep the army for purely defensive purposes. He had predicted that, on the death of his father, a civil war would break out between the partisans of the old and the partisans of the new system, in which he would prevail. Immediately after this confession was obtained, Alexis was confronted with it. He tried to save himself by saying ” yes ! ” to everything. Yes, he had wished for his father’s death; he had rejoiced when he heard of plots against his father; he had been ready to accept his father’s throne from rebels and regicides. At last the worst was known. It is true that there were no actual facts to go upon. Evil designs in faro conscientiae were all that could be alleged against Alexis. Nevertheless, in the eyes of Peter, his son was now a self convicted and most dangerous traitor. His life was forfeit. The future welfare of Russia imperatively demanded his extinction.
But now a case for casuists arose. Even if Alexis deserved a thousand deaths, there was no getting over the fact that his father had sworn, ” before the Almighty and His judgment seat,” to pardon and let him live in peace if he returned to Russia. Did the enormity of the Tsarevich’s crime absolve the Tsar from the oath which he had taken to spare the life of this prodigal son?
This question was solemnly submitted to a Grand Council of prelates, ministers and other dignitaries, on June 13, 1718. Five days later the clergy presented their memorial. It was a cautious, non-committal document, plainly inspired by fear, but unmistakeably inclining to mercy. If the Tsar would punish the fallen sinner, he would find numerous precedents for doing so in the Old Testament, though, on the other hand, the much injured Tsar David would have forgiven his persecutor, Absalom. But, if he were pleased to pardon, he had the example of Christ Himself, who said, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice.” ” But,” concluded the memorial, “the heart of the Tsar is in God’s hand ; let him choose what part he will.”
It is a significant fact, which says very little for the courage of the clergy on this unique opportunity of saving their friend the Tsarevich, that they entirely passed over the strongest, the most irrefragable, of the arguments in favour of Alexis, namely, the Tsar’s solemn promise of forgiveness to his son, in reliance upon which Alexis had returned to Russia. On this crucial point they had not a word to say, although the Tsar had explicitly exhorted them to relieve his conscience on this very point.
Peter was in a dilemma. There can, I think, be little doubt that he had, at last, determined to rid himself of his detested son ; but he certainly shrank from a public execution, the scandal of which would have been enormous and its consequences incalculable. The temporal members of the Council helped him out of his difficulty by expressing a desire to be quite convinced that Alexis had actually meditated rebellion against his father. If this were a genuine desire, it was, perhaps, a last effort of the Tsarevich’s friends to save his life ; but, in view of what ensued immediately afterwards, I am rather inclined to suppose, that it was a pretext for bringing the Tsarevich to the torture-chamber where he might very easily expire, as if by accident, under legal process. The ordinary method of administrating the question-extraordinary was by means of the knout, a whip made of parchment cooked in milk and so hard and sharp that its strokes were like those of a sword. Practised executioners could kill a man with three strokes. There were few instances” of any one surviving thirty. It was to this torture that the Tsarevich, never very robust and severely reduced by prolonged mental anxiety and suffering, was now submitted. On June 19 he received five-and-twenty strokes with the knout, and betrayed his confessor, Ignatev, who was also savagely tortured. On June 24, Alexis received fifteen more strokes, but even the knout could now extract not another word. On the same day, the Senate condemned the Tsarevich to death for imagining rebellion against his father, and for hoping for the co-operation of the common people and the armed intervention of his brother-in-law, the Emperor. The solemn promise of the Tsar, which the clergy had ignored, the Senate sophistically explained away. The Tsar, said they, had only promised his son forgiveness if he returned willingly ; he had returned unwillingly and had therefore forfeited the promise.
This shameful document, the outcome of mingled terror and obsequiousness, was signed by all the Senators and Ministers, including the Tsarevich’s secret friends and sympathisers, the Dolgorukis and the Golitsuins, and by three hundred persons of lesser degree. Two days later, June 26, 1718, the Tsarevich died in the Citadel, of St Petersburg. The precise cause of his death is still something of an enigma, most of the existing documents relating to it being apocryphal, the outcome of popular excitement and exaggeration. From a comparison and combination of the only two extant genuine documents which throw any light on the subject, namely, (1) a “Record” of what took place in the office of the garrison-fortress on the morning of the Tsarevich’s death, and (2) the official Rescript” sent by Peter to his Ministers abroad for communication to foreign Powers, I gather the following facts. At eight o’clock in the morning of June 26, 1718, the Tsar, accompanied by some of the chief dignitaries of the Empire proceeded to the fortress, and Alexis was produced and placed before them within the walls of a zastyenok1. His death-sentence was then suddenly read to him. The shock, acting upon an enfeebled frame, brought on a fit which lasted some hours ; on his recovery, he was carried into the close-adjoining Trubetskoi guard-room, where he died. Peter never regretted his abominable, unnatural treatment of his son. He argued that a single worthless life stood in the way of the regeneration of Russia and was therefore forfeit to the commonweal. Thus, all rhetoric and exaggeration apart, we may safely say, taking all the circumstances into consideration, that Peter the Great deliberately cemented the foundations of his Empire with the blood of his son.
However cemented, the Russian Empire was, now at any rate, an established and imposing fact. Its official birth-day dates from October 22, 1721, when, after a solemn thanksgiving service in the Troitsa Cathedral at St. Petersburg, for the peace of Nystad, the Tsar proceeded to the Senate and was there acclaimed ” Father of the Fatherland, Peter the Great, and Emperor of All Russia.” Some would have preferred to proclaim Peter, Emperor of the East; but Peter himself preferred the more patriotic title.
Prussia, the newest ally, and Holland, the oldest friend of the Tsar, were the first of the European states to recognise Peter’s imperial title ; but elsewhere the novelty was received with disfavour, especially at Vienna, where the emergence of a second Empire, which threatened to overshadow the Holy Roman Empire, gave great offence. With his ancient enemy, Sweden, Peter was now on friendly terms. By the Treaty of Stockholm (February 22, 1724), Russia contracted to assist Sweden, in case she were attacked by any other European Power, with 12,000 infantry, 4000 cavalry and nine ships of the line, Sweden undertaking in similar circumstances to assist Russia with 8000 infantry, 2000 cavalry, and six liners. The relations between Russia and France had also become much more cordial than heretofore. It was Peter’s ambition to marry his second surviving daughter, Elizabeth, to the young King of France, Louis XV. But Bourbon pride proved an insuperable obstacle; and equally abortive were the efforts of successive French Ministers to bring about a better understanding between Great Britain and Russia. To prevent a renewal of the Anglo-Austrian Alliance, and to isolate the Emperor, were now the chief aims of the French Ministers, especially in view of the anticipated break-up of the Austrian dominions on the death of the sonless Charles VI. France, moreover, was anxious to keep Russia free from complications elsewhere, so that her mercenaries might be available against Maria Theresa, the daughter of Charles VI, to whom, by the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713, he had irregularly transferred the succession to his dominions. A reconciliation between Great Britain and Russia was considered, at Versailles, to be the best way of steadying and restraining Peter. But such a reconciliation was extremely difficult. King George had an ancient grudge against the Emperor of all Russia; and Peter’s supposed friendship for the Jacobites was an additional obstacle. Peter himself was anxious to come to terms with Great Britain ; but, on the other hand, he did not want to break definitely with the Tories who, as the enemies of his enemy, were his friends. In April, 1722, the Pretender’s agent, Thomas Gordon, informed the Tsar that the English nation was ready to rise for its lawful king, if only they had 6000 men and arms for 20,000 more.
But as Peter could not embark upon such a vast enterprise without the cooperation of France, and as France desired to unite England and Russia instead of dividing them, the Jacobite project never had the remotest chance of success. It should also not be forgotten that the Tsar had got all that he wanted in Europe. During the last four years of his reign his policy was predominantly oriental.
Peter never lost sight of the necessity of establishing and extending his influence in the Far East. In 1692 the Dane, Eliazer Isbrandt, was accredited to the Chinese Emperor, Shing-Su, the protector of the Jesuits, but his presents were returned to him because the name of Peter preceded the name of the Grand Khan in his credentials. In 1719 Captain Lev Ismailov was sent to Pekin as the first Russian Minister-Extraordinary ; but he was not allowed to establish a regular embassy, or consulates.
Peter, always in want of money, was first attracted to Central Asia by the report of the still unhanged Governor of Siberia, Prince Gagarin, of valuable gold deposits near the town of Erketi on the Amu Daria. The first Russian expeditions into Central Asia were disastrous failures owing to the incapacity of their leaders. In 1716 Colonel Buchholtz was sent to build a fortress on Lake Yamuish, but was driven back by the Calmucks. The same year, Prince Alexander Cherkasky set out to explore the mouths of the Amu Daria and the shores of the Sea of Aral, to win over the Khans of Khiva and Bokhara to the Russian interest, and to attempt to open up a way to India. This expedition excited a general rising of Tatars, Bokharans and Khivans ; and, in attempting to suppress it, in 1717, Cherkasky was slain and his little army dispersed.
In the vast district lying between the Black Sea and the Caspian three Powers, Russia, Turkey and Persia, were equally interested. The beginning of the Russian influence in these parts dates from the appointment of the capable Artamon Voluinsky as Russian Minister at Ispahan in 1715. It is clear from his instructions, written by Peter’s own hand, that he was sent rather as a pioneer than as a diplomatist. He was to find out what rivers fell into the Caspian and whether he could get to India by such rivers. He was also to take note of Gilyan and the other Caspian provinces, and record his impressions in a regular and copious diary. Voluinsky reported that in Persia rebellion was everywhere rampant, and that the Shah could scarce defend himself against his own subjects. He quitted Ispahan in September, 1717, after concluding a very advantageous commercial treaty with the Shah, and for the next four years vehemently urged Peter to invade Persia. This, however, was impossible during the continuance of the Swedish War. In the beginning of 1722 however, when the Afghans invaded Persia, defeated the Persian troops in two pitched battles, seized Ispahan and dethroned the Shah in favour of his third son Tokmash, Peter hesitated no longer. On July 18 he sailed from Astrakhan to Derbent at the head of 29,000 regular, 70,000 irregular troops and 5 000 sailors. On August 23, the Governor of Derbent surrendered the silver keys of the city to the Russian Emperor. But scarcity of provisions, difficulties of transport, and a fierce, persistent north wind, which wrecked most of the lighters, compelled Peter to retrace his steps to Astrakhan, building on his way the new fortress of Svety Krest between the rivers Agrakhan and Sulak.
On his return to Russia, Peter notified the Persian Government that he would clear out all the Kurds and Afghans who were still ravaging the territories of the Shah, if the Caspian provinces of Persia were ceded to him by way of compensation. In December 1722 a Russian army-corps, under Colonel Shipov, began the work of deliverance by seizing the great trading centre of Resht. Simultaneously, General Matyushkin was operating against Baku, which Peter was very anxious to capture as being the key of the south-western Caspian district. The town protested that it had always been loyal to the Shah and could well defend itself against rebels, but it was stormednone the less, and by the Treaty of St Petersburg (September 12, 1723) was ceded to Russia along with Derbent and the provinces of Gilyan, Mazanderan and Astrabad.
The English, Austrian and Venetian residents at Stambul used the Russian invasion of Persia as a means of terrifying the Porte. In August 1722, the. Grand-Vizier told Nepluyev, the Russian ambassador, plainly that Russia had better declare war against the Porte at once. The whole of the Tsar’s reign, he added, had been one uninterrupted war, in which he had given no rest to any of his neighbours. Subsequently Nepluyev reported to his court that the Turks intended to conquer Persia and Georgia, and drive the Russians out of Daghestan. Fortunately, Turkey was not ready for war ; and the acquisition of the Caspian provinces by Russia was a matter of comparative indifference to the Sultan. It was the spread of Russian influence in the Caucasus that he really dreaded. Yet, even so late as the beginning of 1724, war seemed highly probable, as the English Government left no stone unturned to make the Porte declare against Russia, and, Nepluyev demanded his passports. Ultimately, however, by the Treaty of Constantinople (June 12) 1724), a compromise was arrived at, whereby the region extending between Shemak and the Caspian was divided between Russia and Persia.
The reform of the internal administration engaged the attention of Peter immediately after the termination of the Swedish War. It began with the highest tribunal of all, the Administrative Senate. In 1722) Peter instituted the office of Procurator-General, whose duty it was to see that the Senators performed their duties “in a faithful, zealous and orderly fashion according to the directions of the standing rules and ukases.” Whenever the Procurator-General observed anything irregular, or illegal, in the proceedings of the Senate, he was instantly to admonish the Senate thereof in the plainest terms, and, if they neglected his admonition, he was to report the affair to the Gosudar. “He is in fact to be our Eye,” ran the ukase. The first Procurator-General was Paul Ivanovich Yaguzhinsky, the son of the Lutheran organist at Moscow, whom the Tsar probably first encountered in the German Settlement, where he attracted Peter’s attention by his immense capacity for work and spirituous liquor, his perennial good humour, and inexhaustible vivacity. Yaguzhinsky was as capable as he was jovial. He was also the only man in Russia who could stand before the Emperor, even in his worst moods, without trembling.
To keep a watchful eye upon defaulters and malingerers among the gentry, the office of Herald-Master was instituted in 1721. This functionary had to draw up lists of all the land-owners in the Empire, shewing who were in the service of the State and who were not, and giving the fullest details as to their families and occupations. A third newly appointed functionary the Master of petitions,” had to examine all the petitions presented to the various departments of State, and see that they were properly attended to. Peter also protected the Synod against the encroachments of the Senate and gave it a more independent position. The office of President of the Synod was abolished, but it received a civil assessor in the person of the ” Ober-procurator of the Synod,” an office established on May 11, 1722. The training of the clergy, especially of the Black clergy, or monks, the repression of dissent and superstition, and the promotion of the enlightenment of the people, were, henceforth, to be the principal functions of the Synod.
Towards the end of the reign, the question of the succession to the throne caused the Emperor some anxiety. The rightful heir in the natural order of primogeniture was the little Grand-Duke Peter, a child of six ; but Peter decided to pass him over, because, as the son of the unfortunate Tsarevich Alexis, any acknowledgment of his rights would have excited the hopes of those who had sympathised with his father, and the fears of those who had had a hand in Alexis’ murder. Time-honoured custom had hitherto reckoned primogeniture in the male line as the best title to the Russian Crown ; but by the ustav, or ordinance, of 1722, Peter denounced primogeniture as a stupid, dangerous, and unscriptural practice. The will of the reigning Sovereign was henceforth to fix the succession. The ustav was but a step to a more sensational novelty. In 1723 Peter resolved to crown his consort the Tsaritsa Catherine, whom he had already designated as his successor, Empress of Russia. The whole question as to what were the proper titles of the Emperor’s family had previously been submitted to the consideration of the Senate and the Synod, who decided that Catherine should be called Imperatritsa, or its Slavonic equivalent Tsesareva. On November 15, 1723, Peter issued a second manifesto, in which, after explaining that, from the days of Justinian, it had ever been the custom of Christian Princes to crown their consorts, he proceeded, at some length and in very affectionate terms, to recite the services rendered to him by his Tsesareva in the past, especially during the Turkish War, for which great services’ he had resolved ” by the authority given to us by God to reward our Consort by crowning her with the imperial crown.”
On May 7, 1724, the coronation of Catherine took place in the Cathedral of the Assumption at Moscow with extra-ordinary pomp and splendour. The crown worn by Catherine, on this occasion, was the most costly and magnificent ever worn, hitherto, by a Russian sovereign. It was made on the model of the old Byzantine Imperial crown, and was studded with no fewer than 2564 precious stones. Each of its numerous pearls was worth £500, but the most remarkable jewel of all was a ruby, as large as a pigeon’s egg, placed immediately beneath a cross of brilliants at the apex of the crown.
In the course of the summer of 1724, the state of Peter’s health caused great anxiety. In October, ignoring the warnings. To this day the nature of these supposed services is unknownof his medical attendants, he undertook a long and fatiguing tour of inspection over the latest of his great public works, the Ladoga Canal, proceeding thence to visit the iron works at Olonetz, where he dug out a piece of iron 120 lbs. in weight with his own hands. In the beginning of November, he returned to St Petersburg by water. Perceiving, near the village of Lakhta, a boat full of soldiers on their way back to Cronstadt, stuck fast in a sand bank and in imminent danger of being drowned, he plunged into the water to render them assistance and was immersed to the girdle for a considerable time. His paroxysms immediately returned with redoubled violence, and he reached St Petersburg too ill ever to rally again, though he shewed himself in public as late as January 16, 1725. In the evening of the 28th he expired, in great agony.
Peter’s educational methods, if rough, were thorough, and they had already begun to leaven the seemingly still inert and sluggish mass of the nation. The Russian nation had really been taught not merely the arts and trades of life, but its duties and obligations also. From the first, the Regenerator, in his ukases, had been very careful to make everything quite plain. He was always explaining why he did this or that ; why the new was better than the old, and so on and we must recollect that these were the first lessons of the kind that the nation had ever received. What the educated Russian of today takes for granted, his forefathers, two centuries ago, first learnt from the ukazes and manifestoes of Peter the Great. The whole system of Peter was deliberately directed against the chief evils from which old Moscovy had always suffered, such as, dissipation of energy, dislike of co-operation, repudiation of responsibility, lack of initiative, the tyranny of the family, the insignificance of the individual. All his efforts were devoted to the task of releasing Russians from the leading-strings of an effete tradition, and making them act and think for themselves. They were to walk boldly with swords in their hands, not crawl along on crutches as heretofore.
Ability, wherever he found it, whether in the lowest ranks of his own people, or among foreigners, was, during his reign, the sole qualification for employment and promotion, so that, at last, it was almost a recommendation for a candidate for office to say that he was of no birth, or of alien parentage. Finally, the disgraceful old Moscovite proverb : ” though flight is contrary to honour, it is good for the health,” which was of universal application, during the seventeenth century, died out of the language, once for all, during the stress of the Great Northern War, when Russia served her military apprenticeship.