PETER Aleksyeevich was born on May 30, 1672. In all respects he was a singularly backward child. He was two and a half before he was weaned, and in his 11th year we find him still playing with wooden horses, and struggling with the difficulties of Russian etymology. After 168o the lad had no regular tutor. From his third to his tenth year, he shared the miseries and the perils of the rest of his family. The stories of innocent children remorselessly persecuted by wicked relatives which other children learn from their nurses with comfortable tremours, were, in Peter’s case, terrible experiences. At his second election, scenes of bloodshed were enacted daily before his eyes. He saw one of his uncles dragged from the palace, and butchered by a savage mob. He saw his mother’s beloved mentor, and his own best friend, Artamon Matvyeev, torn bleeding from his detaining grasp, and hacked to pieces. The convulsions from which he suffered so much in later years must be partly attributed to the nervous shock and the haunting memories of these horrible days.
Dunce though he might be from the pedagogues’ point of view, the child was, nevertheless, of an amazingly alert and inquisitive intelligence. It is plain that he soon felt cramped and stifled in the dim and close, semi-religious, atmosphere of old Moscovite family life. He escaped from the boredom and melancholy of Natalia’s terem by rushing out into the streets ; and the streets of Moscow in the seventeenth century were very dirty streets. Already we notice what was to become a leading trait of his character, that rollicking joyousness an exaggeration, no doubt, of his gentle father’s sociability which clutched at life with both hands, and squeezed out of it recklessly all the pleasure it could be made to yield. He surrounded himself with bands of lads of his own age, preferably of the lower; rougher classes, and scoured the country, indulging in all sorts of riotous and scandalous pranks. There was no one near him of sufficient character and authority to keep the passionate, fiery nature within due bounds. From his tenth to his seventeenth year Peter amused himself in his own way at Preobrazhensk. But it was not all amusement. Mother Nature was already teaching him his business. From the first the lad took an extraordinary interest in the technical and mechanical arts, especially in their application to military science. In his twelfth year he built a wooden ” toy fortress ” on an earth foundation, with walls, bastions and ditches, which he afterwards took by assault at the head of half his band of boys while the other half defended it. By this time his tastes were pretty well known ; and Prince James Dolgoruki, to please him, brought back from Paris the first astrolabe ever seen in Russia. Peter was taught how to use it by a Dutchman, Franz Timmerman, who also instructed him in the rudiments of astronomy and fortification. The same year he began to take that absorbing interest in boats and boating, the final result of which was to be the creation of the Russian navy. The river Yanza, which ran through Preobrazhensk, and was the nearest way to the German Settlement at Moscow, and the large lake at Pereyaslavl, eighty miles away, were the scenes of the indefatigable young navigator’s exploits.
The Revolution of 1689 at first made no difference in Peter’s pursuits. He had, by this time, found a new friend in the Swiss adventurer, François Lefort, whom he first met in the German Settlement, probably at the beginning of 1690. Lefort was a reckless soldier of fortune, full of the joy of life and infinitely gay and amusing. Peter, who was nothing if not jovial, took to him at once ; and their imtimacy was severed only by Lefort’s sudden death in 1699. Lefort was certainly not the sort of Mentor that a young man’s parents would select for him. It is clear that he initiated Peter into all the mysteries of profligacy in their favourite resort at the German Settlement. Not infrequently the whole company drank hard for three days together behind locked doors. Occasionally some of the guests died during the debauch. It was here, too, that Peter met his first mistress, Anna Mons, a German vintner’s daughter. But Lefort was a shrewd as well as a pleasant rascal. He was the first to divine that Peter was a genius who needed guiding to his goal. It was the drunken, disreputable, Lefort who persuaded Peter first to undertake the expedition against Azov, and then to go abroad to complete his education.
It was in 1693 that Peter first saw the sea at Archangel. Here he fraternised with the foreign seamen, added the naval title of ” skipper ” to his military title of ” bombardier” (which latter he had won in 1694 at a “sham fight” of such severity that 24 men were left dead on the field), built and launched his first ship, and bought his first frigate, which was expressly made for him in Holland.
But the White Sea, frozen as it was nine months out of the twelve, also soon became too narrow for Peter ; and he began to look about him for more hospitable waters. All sorts of projects were forming in his head. At first he thought of seeking a passage to China by way of the Arctic Ocean. Next he turned his eyes in the direction of the Baltic, but the Baltic was a closed door to Moscovy; and the key to it was held by Sweden, still the second strongest military monarchy in Europe. The Caspian remained, and the best way of tapping the riches of the Orient was to secure possession of this vast inland lake. But so long as Turk, Tatar and Cossack nomads made the Volgan steppes uninhabitable, the Caspian was a possession of but doubtful value, as Stenka Razin’s exploits had demonstrated. The first step making for security was to build a fleet strong enough to provide against the anarchical condition of those parts, for which the presence of the hordes of the Khan of the Crimea was mainly responsible. But the Khan was himself the tributary of the Turks, so that a war with the Khan was necessarily a war with the Sultan. Nevertheless Peter did not falter ; and, the experience of Vasily Golitsuin having demonstrated the unpromising character of a Crimean campaign, the Turkish fortress of Azov, which could be approached by water from Moscow, became the Russian objective.
The campaign began early in 1695 and ended in unmitigated failure, the Turks surprising Peter’s camp during a mid-day siesta and ruining all the Russian siege artillery at the beginning of August, while two subsequent attempts to storm the fortress were repulsed. On September 27 the siege was abandoned. On November 22, the Tsar re-entered Moscow.
Yet from this disaster is to be dated the reign of Peter the Great. The young Tsar, fully accepting his defeat, determined to repair it by a second campaign. Immediately after his return, he sent to Austria and Prussia for as many engineers, sappers and miners, and carpenters, as money could get. He meant to build a fleet strong enough to prevent the Turkish fleet from relieving Azov. A model galley was ordered from Holland, and twenty-two copies were speedily made from it. The soldiers of the guards’ regiments, and all the workmen procurable, were driven together to the forests of the Don to fell timber and build ships. Difficulties multiplied at every step. Forest fires destroyed the shipping sheds. At the end of March severe frosts, and at the beginning of April heavy snowstorms, were fresh impediments. Yet, a fleet of two warships, twenty-three galleys, four fire-ships, and numerous smaller craft, were safely launched by the middle of April. Peter dwelt in a small two-roomed wooden house at Voronezh, where he lived among his workmen, himself the most strenuous of them all.
On May 3 the ” sea-caravan ” sailed from Voronezh, ” Captain Peter Aleksyeevich ” commanding eight galleys of the flotilla from the galley Principium, built by his own hand. Nor was all this labour in vain. The new Russian fleet prevented the Turks from relieving Azov by water ; a general attack on the Russian camp was repulsed ; and on July 18 the fortress surrendered on condition that the garrison was allowed to march out with all the honours of war.
The capture of Azov, like the capture of Kazan more than a century earlier, was one of those triumphs which strongly appeal to the popular imagination. It was the first victory won by the Moscovites over the terrible Turks, just as Ivan IV’s success had been the first abiding victory won by the Moscovites over the Tatars, and it was of equal significance. On September 30, the Moscovite army made its triumphal entry into the capital. The procession was headed by Admiral-General Lefort and Generalissimo Shein, and behind their gilded sledges walked Captain Peter Aleksyeevich with a pike across his shoulder.
But the real significance of the victory of Azov lay in the fact that it was a triumph of the new system which had brought in the foreign shipbuilders. Peter now felt able to advance along the path of progress with a quicker and a firmer step. At two Councils, held on October 20 and November 4, 1696, it was resolved to conpolidate the victory by converting Azov into a first-class fortress, by establishing a new naval station at the head of the Sea of Azov, to which the name of Taganrog was given, and by building a national fleet at the national expense. But it was necessary to guarantee the future as well as to provide for the present. A prolonged war with the Ottoman Porte was a serious prospect for a poor and undeveloped country like Moscovy. It was therefore resolved to send a grand embassy to the principal Western Powers to solicit their co-operation against the Turk. At the same council it was resolved that fifty young Moscovites of the best families should be sent to England, Holland and Venice, to learn the arts and sciences of the West, especially shipbuilding, fortification and foreign languages, so as to make Russia independent of foreigners in the future. The experiment had already been tried on a smaller scale by Boris Godunov. It failed because the young Moscovites refused to return from civilisation to barbarism. Peter resolved to obviate this by being the pioneer as well as the ruler of his people. He would first be a learner himself that he might be able to teach his people afterwards.
On March r0, 1697, the grand embassy under the leadership of Lefort set out on its travels. Peter attached himself to it as a volunteer sailor-man, Peter Mikhailov, so as to have greater facility for learning shipbuilding and other technical sciences. At Libau Peter first beheld the Baltic. Thence he proceeded by sea to Konigsberg, where he learnt the practice of gunnery from the great engineer Von Sternfeld. Peter was detained longer than he liked by the election to the Polish throne consequent on the death of Sobieski. The two principal candidates were Frederick Augustus, Elector of Saxony, and the Prince of Conti, who was supported by Louis XIV. Moscovy’s policy on this occasion was simplicity itself. It was a matter of indifference to her who sat on the Polish throne so long as he did not abandon the Holy League against the Turks. But France favoured the Turks ; and Conti, as the French candidate, held out to the Polish electors the bait of a separate peace with the Porte. Peter was bound to oppose “the nominee of the Turks and Tatars,” as he, not inaptly, styled Conti ; and he intimated to the Poles that the election of the French candidate would be regarded by Moscovy as a breach of the peace between her and the Republic. Both candidates were elected ; and a brief civil war ensued, in which Frederick Augustus, proclaimed as Augustus II, ultimately prevailed. He ascribed his success in a great measure to a second minatory letter from Peter to the Sejm.
Peter’s five months’ stay at Saardam and Amsterdam and his subsequent visit to Deptford have been so often described that there is no need to retell the story here. Suffice it to say that he completed his education as a shipbuilder and returned to Holland in January, 1698, only to find that the Grand Embassy had failed in its main object of obtaining the help of the Western Powers against the Turks. All Europe, divided into two hostile camps, was anxiously awaiting the death of the childless, and long ailing, Carlos II of Spain ; and neither France, nor the Grand Alliance pitted against her by William III, was willing to plunge into the distant eastern war, with a war concerning the Spanish Succession at their very doors. At Vienna, whither he next proceeded, Peter was equally unsuccessful. He was about to go on. to Venice, to persuade the Signoria to cleave to the fast dissolving Holy League, when he was suddenly recalled to Russia by the revolt of the Stryeltsui.
The Stryeltsui had long been dissatisfied with Peter’s administration. Analysed to its ultimate elements, their dissatisfaction was the protest of indolent, incapable and excessively privileged troops against a new system which demanded from them more work and greater efficiency. Peter, they argued, gave them no rest at all. When actual fighting was over, he set them to building fortresses on the Sea of Azov; and the last straw was added to their burden when he marched off four of their regiments from Azov to the distant Lithuanian frontier in view of a possible war with Poland, and sent other regiments from Moscow to Azov to supply their places. This the Stryeltsui regarded as little short of banishment ; and 150 of them deserted en route and returned to Moscow, on the plea that their pay was in arrear. Driven out of Moscow, they rejoined their regiments at Toropets ; and these regiments refused to obey an ukaz, subsequently issued by the Boyars, demanding the surrender of the fugitives. Feeling that they had now gone too far to turn back safely, the ringleaders stimulated the other regiments encamped on the Dwina to revolt. On June 6, 1698, a letter supposed to have been written by the Tsarevna Sophia, urging the Stryeltsui to join her in force at the Dyevichesky Monastery, was read to them ; and the whole force, 2200 strong, resolved to march against Moscow forthwith and destroy the German Settlement as the source of the new heretical ideas, and the Boyars as the oppressors of the people. The Gosudar was to be killed because ” he goes with the Germans”; and, if Sophia refused to accept the vacant throne, it was to be offered to Prince Vasily Golitsuin, ” because he has always been merciful towards us.”
There was great consternation at Moscow on the tidings of the approach of the Stryeltsui. By the advice of Boris Golitsuin, the foreign soldiery, 4000 strong, with 25 guns, were sent against the rebels and came upon them at the ford of the river Iskra. Three volleys sufficed to scatter the Stryeltsui. In an hour’s time, all the rebels were in the hands of the Tsar’s troops. It was only after the victory that the real carnage began. A strict investigation ensued. Many of the Stryeltsui were done to death by torture in their own camp. The rest were imprisoned to await Peter’s good pleasure. On August 26, Peter arrived at the German Settlement determined to drown all further contradictions in torrents of blood. The new era of enlightenment was to be inaugurated by a reign of terror.
Peter was well aware that behind the Stryeltsui stood the sympathising masses of the Moscovite people, whom it was his mission to reform against their will. His foreign tour had convinced him of the inherent superiority of the foreigner ; and, this superiority once admitted, imitation of the foreigner was, to his mind, inevitable. Any such imitation had necessarily to begin with externals ; and Peter, with characteristic insight and thoroughness, at once fell foul of the long beards and oriental costumes which symbolised the arch-conservatism of old Moscovy. In old Moscovy beardless officials had had small chance of promotion. More than one Patriarch had excommunicated those members of their flocks who dared to shave. Against this curious superstition Peter struck with all his might the day after his return to Moscow. On August 16, 1698, the chief men of the Tsardom were assembled round his wooden hut at Preobrazhensk ; and Peter, emerging with a large pair of shears in his hands, deliberately clipped off the beards and mustachios of his Boyars. After thus vindicating the claims of common-sense, Peter prudently consented to a compromise. He decreed that, after September r, 1698, the old Russian New Year’s Day, beards might be worn, but a graduated tax was imposed upon their wearers. Thus the beard ceased to be an object of worship, and a new source of revenue flowed into the Treasury.
And now, without giving the reactionaries time to recover from this rude shock, the Tsar proceeded to horrify them by a strange and awful Bacchanalia, the like of which had never been known in Moscovy. From the middle of September to the end of October, 1698, banquets and drinking-bouts alternated with torturings and executions, in which the Tsar and his favourites played the part of inquisitors and headsmen. During these six weeks, no fewer than a thousand of the captive Stryeltsui were done to death with every refinement of cruelty. The ringleaders naturally fared worst of all. Their legs and arms were first broken on wheels at Preobrazhensk. They were then conveyed in carts to the Red Square at Moscow, where their backs were broken in the same way ; and they were left to die a lingering death, unless shot as an act of mercy by Peter’s express command. The corpses were left in the place of execution for five months afterwards.
Peter also seized this opportunity of breaking definitively with the past. The death of his half-brother, Ivan V, in 1696, had left him sole Tsar ; but Sophia, even in her monastery, had been a possible source of danger. He determined she should be a danger no longer. An intention, on Peter’s part, to implicate her in the conspiracy is transparent from the first; but the most prolonged and exquisite tortures could extract nothing definite from the wretched Stryeltsui. The letter supposed to have been sent by her to them turned out to have been written by her elder sister Martha. Both the Tsarevnas were made nuns and shut up for life in nunneries under military supervision.
A leading part in the terrible events of SeptemberOctober, 1698, was played by Peter’s new favourite, Alexander Danilovich Menshikov. This extraordinary man, whom Peter literally plucked from the gutter to set among Princes, was of very base origin. He first emerges into the light of history, at twenty years of age, as a vendor of meat pies in the streets of Moscow. He was introduced to Peter by Lefort and took that favourite’s place on his death in 1699. Ignorant, brutal, grasping and corrupt as Menshikov was, it is not too much to say that, after Peter, there was not a more alert, lucid and versatile intellect than his in all Moscovy, while his energy was boundless and inexhaustible. He could turn his hand to any-thing at a moment’s notice. He could drill a regiment, build a frigate, administer a kingdom, and decapitate a rebel with equal facility. During the Tsar’s first foreign tour, Menshikov worked by his side in the dockyards of Amsterdam, and, at the same time, acquired a thorough knowledge of colloquial Dutch and German. Henceforth, he became indispensable.
Another useful man who comes forward prominently at this time is Alexis Kurbatov, an intelligent financier of many expedients, who suggested to Peter a new source of revenue by introducing stamped-paper into Moscovy. He was also the first of a new order of officials called Pribuilshchiki or “People on the spot,” whose duty it was to extirpate corrupt practices by flogging and banishment.
The last year of the seventeenth century saw a notable reform, which drew a sharp line of demarcation between old and new. By the ukaz of December 20, 1699, it was ordered that, henceforth, the New Year should not be reckoned from September 1, supposed, as heretofore, to be the date of the Creation, but from January 1, Anno Domini.
Peter had brought home with him in 1698 the conviction that he must conclude peace with the Porte. It was his good fortune at this period to possess a foreign minister of the highest ability in Theodore Golovin, who, like so many others of his countrymen in later times, had learnt the business of a ruler in the Far East. During the regency of Sophia, he had been sent to the Amur to defend the new Moscovite fortress of Albazin against the Chinese. In 1689 he concluded with the Celestial Empire the Treaty of Nerchinsk, by which the line of the Amur, as far as its tributary the Gorbitsa, was retroceded to China because of the impossibility of seriously defending it. On Lefort’s death in March, 1 699) Golovin succeeded him as Admiral-General. The same year, he was created the first Russian Count ; and the conduct of foreign affairs was committed to him.
Golovin’s first diplomatic achievement was the conclusion of peace with the Porte. In April, 1699, the Moscovite plenipotentiaries were sent to Stambul, not as usual, by land, but by sea. A man of war, commanded by a Dutch captain, awaited them at the new arsenal of Taganrog ; and they were escorted into the Sea of Azov by a fleet of nine warships, among which was the Apostle Peter flying the flag of skipper Peter Aleksyeevich. On August 28 a Russian line-of-battle ship sailed for the first time into the Golden Horn, fired a salute, and cast anchor at the very gates of the Seraglio. The negotiations were opened in November, 1 699) but, owing to the intrigues of Great Britain and Holland, who feared the commercial competition of Russia in the Euxine and the Levant, and of France, who dreaded her political influence, it was not till July, 1700,that a truce for thirty years was concluded between Russia and the Porte. By the terms of this truce, the Azov district and all the land extending from thence eastwards to the Kuban district for a ten hours’ journey were ceded to Moscovy. The tribute to the Khan was waived.
Peter had made peace with the Porte, and relinquished his original project of dominating the Black Sea, in the hope of compensating himself on the shores of the Baltic. The Baltic was nearer both to Russia and the West than the Euxine, and consequently a much more desirable possession. Moreover the Swedish government was now in the hands of an untried lad of sixteen. If the Baltic provinces were to be filched at all, now was the time to filch them. These were the considerations which induced Peter to accede to the league of partition, proposed by Patkul and negotiated by Augustus II of Poland, which resulted in the outbreak of the Great Northern War in 170o. Into the details of this war there is no need to enter. They have been described elsewhere in another volume’ of this series. Here the Great Northern War can only be considered in so far as it affected or modified Peter’s general plans, especially his plans of reform.
Hitherto, historians have regarded the Great Northern War too exclusively from the soldier’s point of view ; yet it was not so much an arena for the strife of heroes as, in the first place, a training school for a backward young nation, and, in the second place, a means of multiplying the material resources of a nation as poor as she was backward. Peter the Great under-took the war with Sweden in order that Russia might gain her proper, place in the Northern Mediterranean. The possession of an ice-free sea-board was essential to her natural development; the creation of a fleet followed inevitably upon the acquisition of such a sea-board ; and she could not hope to obtain her due share of the trade and commerce of the world till she possessed both. Not till after a bitter struggle of twenty-one years was this double object obtained. This struggle Peter rightly regarded as a long apprenticeship. When on September 3, 17215 he broke open the sealed packet containing the Peace of Nystad, sent after him by a special courier, he remarked, half jocularly, half seriously, “most apprentices serve for seven years, but, in our school, the term of apprenticeship has been thrice as long.”
In I700 this long apprenticeship was only just beginning. Russia had still to be educated as far as possible up to the western standard, in order that she might be able to appreciate and utilise the fruits of western civilisation ; and thus it was that, during the whole course of the Great Northern War, the process of internal domestic reform was slowly but ceaselessly proceeding. The whole fabric of the State was being changed. New, brand-new institutions, on the western model, were gradually growing up among the cumbrous, antiquated and worn-out machinery of old Moscovy ; and new men, capable and audacious, were being trained beneath the eye of the Regenerator to help him in his Herculean task and carry on the work when he had vanished from the scene. At first, indeed, the external form of the administration remained much the same as before. The old dignities disappeared of themselves on the deaths of their holders ; for the new men, those nearest to Peter, did not require them. The great drag on the wheels of the Government was its penury, a drag which grew more and more sensible as the war proceeded. The expenses of the fixed embassies at foreign Courts (one of the earliest Petrine innovations) was a particularly severe drain on the depleted treasury. Every expedient to increase the revenue was eagerly snatched at. Taxation was made universal for the first time. The sale of spirits became a government monopoly, the administration of which was first entrusted to the newly instituted Rathhäuser, by means of which Peter hoped to accustom his people to local self-government. A great impediment to commerce was the deplorable state of the currency. The ruble and the altuin1 were the units of account, but neither of them existed, the only coins in circulation being the well-worn silver kopecks and half-kopecks, most of which were further deteriorated by bisection and trisection. The currency was reformed by the coinage ukaz of March, 1700, which established mints for the stamping and testing of gold, silver, and copper coins by qualified masters. Previously to 1700, only from 200,000 to 500,000 coins had been annually struck in Russia. In 1700 the number rose to 1,992,000, in 1701 to 2,559,000, in 1702 to 4,534,000.
Peter’s two great objects at this period of his reign were external security and internal prosperity. The former he had obtained by the creation of the new army on a European model, the latter he hoped to promote by a whole series of administrative measures. In April, 1702, he issued his celebrated ukaz for facilitating the immigration of foreign specialists into Russia on a scale never before contemplated. The invitation was made as tempting as possible, all such visitors being allowed full liberty of worship and permission to be judged by their own tribunals. To the better sort of Russian dissenters Peter was also very tolerant. His attitude towards the chief centre of the Bezpopovshchina or ” Priestless Community,” founded, at the end of the seventeenth century, on the banks of the Vuiga, is characteristic of his general policy. The enterprise and organising genius of this wealthy community enabled it practically to monopolise the rich fisheries and hunting grounds of the White Sea, while the abundant harvests which filled its granaries to overflowing gave this colony the command of the corn market of St Petersburg. All danger from without was avoided by a composition with Peter, the Vuigovtsui agreeing to pay double taxes and to work, at set times, for nothing, in the state mines and foundries at Povyenets. In return for these services the Tsar permitted these lucrativenonconformists full liberty of worship (ukaz of 1703) with the use of the old service books.
From the first, Peter did much to promote education, especially education of a practical sort. Schools of mathematics and navigation were established, about 1702, in Moscow; and in 1703 another school was founded, at which geography, ethics, politics, Latin rhetoric and the Cartesian philosophy were taught. Great efforts were made to provide cheap books for the schools, the Pole Ilia Kopiewski, a great admirer of Peter, who set up a Russian press at Amsterdam, about 1697, being the chief worker in this field. In 1703 the first Russian newspaper appeared. It was entitled ” Tidings of military and other events worthy of knowledge and remembrance,” and consisted, for the most part, of extracts from the foreign gazettes.
A whole series of ukazes were directed against social disorders and manifest abuses. In 1702 a regiment was sent to Kostroma to seize freebooters who were also landed proprietors, for committing all manner of outrages, and burning villages wholesale. In the same year, in order to minimise conflagrations, a ukaz directed that all houses should, henceforth, be built of brick instead of wood ; and fire-hose were introduced. In 1704 ukazes were issued forbidding midwives to kill misshapen children, and undertakers to bury corpses till three days after death. Other ukazes of the same period endeavoured to raise the tone of public morality and inculcate self-respect. Thus the ukaz of 1704 sternly prohibited compulsory marriages, which had been one of the chief scandals and miseries of old Moscovite family life, released women from the captivity of the terem, and compelled their husbands and fathers to admit them to all social entertainments.
The death of the Patriarch Adrian in 1700 enabled Peter, by the advice of Kurbatov, to take the first step towards abolishing the Patriarchate, though there is no reason to suppose that Peter meditated doing this at first. Still, the Patriarchate was undoubtedly a danger to Peter at this period.
The enemies of reform could always count upon the acquiescence of the arch-pastor of the Russian Church. The Patriarch Joachim had protested against the employment of foreigners. The Patriarch Adrian had written forcibly against the shearing of beards. Adrian, however, was a timid, slothful man of whom Peter had no fear. An energetic but unfriendly Patriarch, on the other hand, would be the natural leader of a whole army of malcontents ; he would be a most dangerous rival, a second Nikon. In January, 1701, therefore, the administration of the temporalities of the Patriarchate was entrusted to a layman, Count Ivan Musin-Pushkin. His appointment was the first step towards a rigid inquisition into the administration of the Russian monasteries, which resulted in the ukaz of December, 1701, depriving the religious houses of the control of their estates and making the monks the salaried officials of the government. The care of the spiritualities was entrusted to the learned Kievlyan Prelate, Stephen Yavorsky, with the title of Exarch of the most Holy Patriarchal See. He was at the same time made Metropolitan of Ryazan. Yavorsky, at first, offered no opposition to the work of reform and did much for education. It was he who, as Rector of the Moscow Academy, introduced the teaching of Latin into that institution.
All this time the popular disaffection was steadily growing. As the war proceeded, as the burden of taxation became more and more grievous, and the number of the recruits ever larger, the murmuring of every class of the population grew louder and louder. “What manner of Tsar is this,” people said, “who makes our wives and children widows and orphans? If he lives much longer he will ruin the land ! ” A printer named Grisha Talitsky, encouraged by Ignaty, Bishop of Tambov, actually printed and circulated a pamphlet proving that Peter was Antichrist. Yavorsky at the Tsar’s command had to write a formal refutation entitled “The Signs of the Coming of Antichrist.” On January 4, 1700, the Tsar irritated the reactionaries still further by issuing the ukaz directing the general use of short Saxon, or Hungarian jackets, and French or German hose. This was followed, in 1701, by the ukaz forbidding, from henceforth, under heavy penalties, the wearing of the cumbrous old Moscovite garments. This change of costume was intended to mark a complete and final rupture with the barbarous past. But, as Catherine II once remarked to Gustavus III, a century later, there is nothing more difficult than to change the traditional habits of a people ; and Peter’s innovation was bitterly resented as being both indecent and irreligious. In Moscow itself resistance was out of the question ; but at Astrakhan, in July, 1705, a very dangerous rebellion, headed by Old-believers, ex-Stryeltsui, and Cossacks,broke out. We of Astrakhan,” as the curious document reciting the grievances of the rebels runs, “have risen for the Christian faith, and because of the beard-shearing, and the German clothes, and the tobacco…and because our governors worship Kummerian idols1 and would make us do likewise, and because of the taxes on our cellars and baths…and because we will not give up our old religion,” etc. It required a whole army to put down this rebellion, which was not crushed entirely till Sheremetev took Astrakhan by assault on March 13, 1706.
The Astrakhan rising was speedily followed by the Bashkir revolt, Bulavin’s rebellion, and the treason of Mazepa, at the very crisis of the struggle with Charles XII. Yet never for a moment was the necessary but dangerous work of reform suspended. In x 706 the first modern hospital was built on the Yantsa, close to the German Settlement. In 1707 a commission of Boyars was appointed to devise the best means of dealing with the wholesale vagabondage and universal highway robbery which had ever been among the chief curses of old Moscovy. And, if eighteenth century Moscovites had little scruple about living on their own countrymen, they naturally had still less about how they treated their country’s enemies. Thus, in 1706, Dositheus, Patriarch of Jerusalem, reported to the Tsar that hundreds of Swedish prisoners were regularly sold to the Turks in the slave markets, to the great scandal of the Christian population.
In 1708 Russia was divided into the eight “governments” of Moscow, St Petersburg, Kiev, Smolensk, Archangel, Kazan, Azov, and Siberia, in order that the country might be administered “in a more orderly and peaceable manner.” The chief duty of each governor was to see that the taxes were duly collected and transmitted to Moscow. On January 27, 1710, the first Russian Budget was framed, showing an annual revenue of 3,016,000 rubles, or, taking a three years’ average, 3,133,000 rubles, while the total expenditure came to 3,834,000 rubles.
Absorbed as he was by the Swedish and Turkish Wars, which required his prolonged absence from Russia, Peter could not attend to the details of the domestic administration; but, as it could no longer be neglected, he instituted (ukazes of February 22, and March 2, 1711) a supreme governing board, to which he gave the name of “the Administrative Senate.” It was to take the place of the Tsar during his absence, receive the implicit obedience due to himself; and be responsible for the whole burden of the administration.
By the ukaz of April 18, 1718, an entirely new public service was introduced, the so-called Collegia, or Departments of State. The idea of this administrative reform was first suggested to Peter by Leibnitz. The Colleges were to be, in all points, on the model of the Swedish “Services,” so that Peter may be said to have learnt the science of government as well as the science of war from his Scandinavian rivals. As finally constituted, these new public officers were nine in number, and corresponded roughly with the “ministries” of Western Europe. The presidents of the colleges were ipso fado members of the Senate, though not every senator wasa minister. Most of the presidents were Russians, most of the vice-presidents foreigners, Peter invariably acting on the patriotic principle, not always followed by his immediate successors, that natives should always fill the highest posts, and that no alien should occupy any place that a Russian was equally capable of filling.
Efforts were also made to simplify local government as much as possible by subdivision. Thus the various governments were split up into districts (uyezdia), each district having its own president assisted by a council of assessors elected by the gentry. In 17201 nadvornuie sudbui, or courts of justice, were established in every town ; and Zemskie Kontorui, or land-offices, where public account-books had to be regularly kept, were established in every district. The land-offices were to supervise the tax-payers, and report, regularly, to the Kammer Collegium, or chief fiscal board of the Empire. In 1718 the old ulozhenie, or code of laws, which was found, in many respects, to be incompatible with the new reforms, was remodelled according to the existing Swedish Code. A new law of succession was also introduced, the old practice of partitioning real estate being abandoned, and the custom of primogeniture introduced, principally to prevent the pauperisation of the great families. By the ukaz of January 16, 1721, all army officers, whatever their origin, were ennobled. But education had previously been declared to be the indispensable qualification for advancement in every branch of the service. Nay more, no gentleman was, henceforth, to marry unless he had first been duly educated. The famous ukaz of January 20, 1714, saw to this by ordering professors from the mathematical schools to go the round of the provinces and teach the children of the gentry arithmetic and mathematics.
The Regenerator also laboured hard to develop and utilise Russia’s latent resources. All landed proprietors were urged to search for and work the minerals on their estates, or the Government would do it for them, In 1719 we find the silver mines of Nerchinsk, the iron mines of Tobolsk, and the copper mines of Kungara in full working order. At Tula and Kashirsk, about the same time, Aleksyei Naruishkin founded iron works. Still more lucrative were the Lipski iron works, which were bound by contract to turn out 15,000 small arms of all sorts, including 1000 pistols, per annum. The Olonets iron foundries were important because of their proximity to Petersburg. No improvement was too small for the attention of the Tsar. Thus, in May, 1725, he ordered that corn should, henceforth, be reaped with scythes instead of with sickles. In 1716 Nosov was sent abroad to hire shepherds and cloth-workers. The leather-trade had always been of the utmost importance. In 1716 alone, 133,467 poods were sent to Archangel for export. Peter did much for the leather industry. Master-tanners were sent from Reval to Moscow to teach the people there how to tan the leather properly; and, after two years of such instruction, those of the Moscovite tanners who persisted in the old way, were to be punished by imprisonment and confiscation.
The Government did what it could to protect the serfs from “their worst enemies, those drunken and disorderly masters who deteriorate their estates, laying all sorts of unbearable burdens on their peasants, and beating and tormenting them, so that they run away from their grievous burdens, for which cause waste lands multiply and the arrears of taxation increase.” All such ” masters” were to be placed under restraint as lunatics ; and their property was to be administered, by their nearest relatives, or by the State. Moreover, the ukaz of April 211 1721, forbade the sale of serfs separately ; they were only to be sold by families.
Peter knew very well that the perennial emptiness of the Treasury was very largely due to peculation, that ancient and ineradicable vice of Russian society. He was not the man to leave the improvement of public morals to the gradual operation of time, and he was therefore very speedily committed to a struggle with the robbers of the Treasury almost as bloody as his struggle with the rebellious Stryeltsui. The vileneas of some of the remedies he saw fit to adopt is eloquent as to the extent and virulence of the evil with which he had to cope. By the ukaz of August, 1713, informers were invited to report all cases of defalcation to the Tsar, and promised the rank and the property of those whom they denounced. The ukaz of December 24, 1714, further encouraged delators to come forward fearlessly, and not to be afraid to report against even their official superiors. The ukaz of January 28, 1721, instituted an order of official public-accusers, the Imperial Ober-fiscals, whose principal duties were to protect the revenue and supervise the administration of the Senate itself. On the other hand, owing to the public remonstrances of Archbishop Yavorsky, in 1712, against the abuses of this espionage system, the ukaz of March 17, 1714, imposed upon any fiscal, or other delator, convicted of a false accusation, the same penalty which would have been imposed upon the alleged delinquent if he had been found guilty.
Villainous as the system was, it certainly brought much rascality to light. Take, for example, the famous Gagarin case, which is typical.
In 1711 the Ober-fiscal, Aleksyei Nestorov, reported to the Tsar that the Governor of Siberia, Prince Gagarin, was plundering the Treasury and had succeeded in monopolising the lucrative China trade for the exclusive benefit of himself and his friends. Nestorov sent a whole chest full of incriminating documents to the Senate for investigation, which Senator Count Musin-Pushkin, whom Nestorov had already reported to the Tsar for malversation, promptly ordered to be destroyed. But the indefatigable Ober-fiscal immediately set about collecting fresh evidence, and, in 1717, he presented a second and much stronger indictment against Gagarin. Peter entrusted the further examination of the affair to Senator Prince Yakov Dolgoruki, but, becoming suspicious of him also, ultimately transferred the case to a committee of the officers of the Guard, whom he could trust implicitly. A number of merchants were now examined, and they confessed not only that Gagarin had systematically corrupted all the Siberian officials to wink at his depredations, but that many of the Senators and Ministers of State were his creatures. Peter, now thoroughly aroused, despatched Major Likharev to Siberia to examine Gagarin on the spot. The Prince was tried and convicted of every sort of dishonesty. He had bought large quantities of government stores with government funds and then sold them on his own account at an enormous profit. He had also burnt his account-books and established a system of intimidation which was perfect of its kind. Peter sent him forthwith to the gallows.
Some of the Tsar’s bitterest moments were due to the discovery of peculation on the part of those whom he loved and trusted the most. His own integrity in money matters was above suspicion. His pastimes, if rude and coarse, were simple and inexpensive. Every penny he could spare was devoted to the service of the State. He had a right to expect that those whom he had exalted and enriched should keep their fingers out of the public coffers. The worst offender was his own particular favourite, known as “little Alec.” Every time the Tsar returned to Russia he received fresh accusations. of peculation against Menshikov. As early as 1711 he was in disgrace because of his shameful looting in Poland. Poland, indeed, had by this time become a sort of happy hunting ground, where, as Catherine II once phrased it, you only had to stoop down in order to pick up anything you liked ; but Menshikov’s rapacity on this occasion seems to have staggered the Russians themselves. He had pillaged whole provinces systematically, and ‘carried off waggon-loads of loot, and this too in a country actually in alliance with the Tsar. On his return to Russia, in 1712, Peter found that even in the new province of Ingria and Petersburg, of which he was Governor-General, Menshikov had winked at wholesale corruption. ” You have represented honest men to me as rogues, and rogues as honest men,” wrote the indignant Tsar on this occasion. ” I warn you for the last time : mend your ways or you will come to grief!” But he did not mend his ways. In 17143 in conjunction with his principal colleagues and subordinates, he was implicated in astounding frauds on the Treasury. The exasperated Tsar did not spare his hand. Korsakov, the Vice-Governor of Petersburg, was knouted publicly ; two Senators had their tongues seared with red-hot irons ; and the worst of them, Prince Volkonsky, was subsequently shot. The most distinguished services in the past were not allowed to interfere with condign punishment in the present. Thus, towards the end of the reign, one of Peter’s ablest diplomatists, the Vice-Chancellor, Shafirov, was dismissed from office for bribery, condemned to death, and only pardoned on the scaffold itself ; while the Ober-fiscal Nestorov, who had brought so many malefactors to justice, was himself broken on the wheel for peculation. Menshikov, by far the most shameless scoundrel of them all, owed his head, on three several occasions, to Peter’s partiality and the earnest supplications of the Empress-Consort Catherine.
Extraordinarily difficult during this period of transition and transformation was the position of the Russian Church. As the sworn guardian of Orthodoxy, she was bound, in many respects, to observe a conservative attitude ; yet patriotism equally obliged her not to oppose the beneficent civilising efforts of a reforming Tsar. Moreover, the Church herself was very much in need of discipline. The number of unworthy priests had greatly increased in consequence of the influx into the ministry of many gentlemen who evaded military service by becoming candidates for holy orders. Efforts were also made to raise the status of the clergy, which had fallen very low, and to encourage public worship. The ukaz of 1716 commanded everyone to go to confession at least once a year under heavy penalties. The ukaz of 1718 compelled all parishioners to go to church every Sunday and holiday ; and absentees were, henceforth, to be ineligible for public offices. But the real motive of this ordinance was to make the people hear the ukazes read after divine service ; since in those days of general ignorance, comparatively few could read the ukazes posted up on the gates of the towns.
Archbishop Yavorsky, by this time, had fallen somewhat into disfavour for espousing the cause of the unfortunate Tsarevich Alexis and also for protesting, cryptically but still unmistakeably, against such patent irregularities as the putting away of the Tsaritsa Eudoxia. He was therefore to a great extent superseded by Theophan, prefect of the Kiev academy, whom Peter promoted to the archiepiscopal see of Pskov. Henceforth, Theophan, though he was 23 years the junior of Stephen, was the Tsar’s chief counsellor among the clergy and enjoyed his unbounded confidence, while his right reverend brother of Ryazan had to be content with the sympathy of the arch-conservative-party and the clergy of the old capital. When Peter, for the better regulation of church affairs, proposed the establishment of a ” Spiritual Department,” Theophan alone was entrusted with the drafting of the project, so that he may be regarded as the creator of what was subsequently known as “the Holy Synod.” The imperial manifesto of January, 1721, subsequently announced that his Majesty deemed it expedient to entrust the conduct of spiritual affairs to a synodical administration, as being more in keeping with the spirit and traditions of the orthodox church. But the real reason of this important innovation is to be found in the sentence which declared that the Synod was substituted for the Patriarchate ; ” because simple folk cannot distinguish the spiritual power from the sovereign power, and suppose that a supreme pastor is a second Gosudar, the spiritual authority being regarded as higher and better than the temporal.”