As soon as the Empress-Consort Catherine had recognised that the malady of the Emperor must end fatally, she had secretly instructed Menshikov and Tolstoi to sound the other senators as to the succession to the throne, and to take measures on her behalf generally. It was not so much personal ambition as the, instinct of self-preservation which made her look to these men for help at this crisis. She knew that they dare not refuse to assist her. Neither Menshikov nor Tolstoi could escape destruction if a reaction set in ; and a reaction was bound to set in if the Grand-Duke Peter were now placed upon the throne. Their interests and perils were therefore identical with those of the Empress. Both ministers, with characteristic energy, at once proceeded to smooth the way to the throne for the only candidate who was likely to maintain the existing Petrine system. Menshikov’s first step was to win over the officers of the Guard who had a profound veneration for the dying Emperor and regarded his consort as their comrade. The soldiers were not behind their officers in enthusiasm, especially after their arrears had been paid in full.
We have lost our father,” they cried, ” but we have still our mother left.”
Menshikov meanwhile, with uncommon prudence, had reconciled himself with his numerous enemies, and, assisted by Tolstoi, succeeded in bringing all the higher clergy over to Catherine’s side. Here, indeed, he met with little difficulty. The arch-prelates of the Russian church and the chief members of the recently instituted Holy Synod were in very much the same position as himself. No novelties are so detestable to the people at large as ecclesiastical novelties, and for these the archbishops were mainly responsible. They felt they must, in the circumstances, stand or fall with Tolstoi and Menshikov.
All these measures were taken so quietly and quickly that the faction of the Grand-Duke Peter, which included the larger portion of the aristocracy and the clergy, at least half of the Senate, and many distinguished officers in the army, had no time to make any counter-move. Unable to obstruct, they were forced to follow the flow of events. A deputation of the Senate and Nobility accordingly waited upon the Empress, whom they found kneeling, bathed in’ tears, at the bed-side of Peter, who had just breathed his last. Respecting her grief, the Deputation withdrew; but presently Catherine rejoined them in the Council-Chamber, weeping bitterly, and recommended herself to their protection “as a widow and orphan.” She was immediately proclaimed ” Autocrat of all Russia,” in accordance with a previous resolution of the Senate. A few hours later, all the Guards took the oath of allegiance, and the Senate followed their example.
The true origin of the enigmatical woman who now sat upon the Russian throne was, until quite recently, one of the most obscure problems of Russian history. Briefly, she was one of the four children of a small Catholic yeoman in Lithuania, Samuel Skovronsky, and was born, most probably, in 1683. In an early stage of the Great Northern War, she fell into the hands of the Russians, and was brought into Sheremetev’s camp, wrapped in a corporal’s cloak to hide her nakedness. Menshikov purchased her from Sheremetev as a servant for his wife ; and it was at Menshikov’s house that Peter saw and appropriated her. She superseded Anna Mons as the Tsar’s favourite mistress; and, after the birth of their first daughter Catherine, Peter made no secret of their relations and resolved to marry her. Catherine Skovronskaya, though coarse and ignorant, was an uncommonly shrewd and sensible woman, with a magnificent physique, an imperturbable good-temper, and an absolute indifference to the hardships of a roving life, just the sort of wife, in fact, for a rough and ready peripatetic Russian soldier like “Peter the Bombardier.” Her moral influence over him was extraordinary. She was the only .person who had the skill and courage to soothe him in the fits of maniacal fury to which he was always subject. The first step towards regulating the relations of this strange couple was Martha’s reception into the Orthodox Church, when she was rechristened Catherine Aleksyeevna. In 1710 she received the title of Gosudaruinya, only given to sovereign Princesses, and in 1711 she was publicly married to Peter. She bore him eleven children in all, of whom Anne, born in 1706, and Elizabeth, born in 1709, alone survived her.
Catherine’s safest policy was, obviously, a policy of conciliation ; and her earlier measures produced a very favourable impression, and greatly improved her position. A general amnesty was proclaimed immediately after her accession. The heavy poll-tax, which weighed severely on the peasantry, was reduced by one third ; and a decree of the Senate forbade, in future, the employment of soldiers in the construction of the Ladoga canal. But her greatest difficulty was to keep the peace among her jealous and turbulent servants, who were continually flying at each others’ throats. There can be no doubt, however, that she favoured Menshikov. Nothing was done without his consent, and he had an offensive habit of silencing all opposition in the Senate by suddenly rising and declaring that the opinions he favoured were those of the Empress also. Nevertheless, he was not altogether so omnipotent as has sometimes been supposed. In many things, she preferred to follow the advice of other counsellors. Thus Tolstoi enjoyed her full confidence likewise ; and the management of foreign affairs was confided, almost entirely, to Andrei Osterman, a Westphalian, who had entered Peter’s service in 1717, succeeded Shafirov as Vice-Chancellor, and was ennobled for his brilliant diplomatic services at the Congress of Nystad. Another confidant of Catherine’s was Charles Frederick, Duke of Holstein, the nephew of Charles XII, who had sought an asylum in Russia after the conclusion of the Great Northern War, and, on May 211 1725, married the Tsesarevna Anne.
The great administrative innovation of the reign of Catherine I was the ” Supreme Privy Council,” an idea of Osterman’s. It was not, as the French Minister Campredon supposed, a move in the direction of limited monarchy, by associating the leading magnates in the government, after the model of an English Cabinet Council; but rather an attempt to strengthen the executive by concentrating affairs in the hands of a few persons, instead of leaving them, as heretofore, to the care of a turbulent and distracted Senate. It was to consist (ukaz of February 26) of not less than six and not more than nine members, under the presidency of the Empress. Its powers were immense. No ukazes were, in future, to be issued till they had received the approbation of the Council. The control of the War Office, the Foreign Office and the Admiralty was transferred to it from the Senate. Subsequently, the Council received authority to revise the work of all the other Departments of State ; even the election of Senators was subject to its approval. The resolutions of the Supreme Privy Council were to be unanimous ; but, in case of any difference of opinion, the matter was referred to the decision of the Sovereign, instead of being settled by the majority. The first five members of this august and omnipotent body were Menshikov, Tolstoi, the Grand-Chancellor Golovkin (a mere figure-head), Osterman, and the leader of the reactionaries, Prince Demetrius Golitsuin, towards whom Menshikov, for personal reasons, was drawing nearer.
The foreign policy of Catherine I, if purely pacific and extremely cautious, was, nevertheless, dignified, consistent and independent.
During the first fifteen years after the close of the Great Northern War, continental diplomacy was dominated by George I of England and the Whigs. George I had rounded off his Hanoverian Electorate by despoiling Sweden in her direst extremity ; but his territorial acquisitions had been so recent and so extensive that he was seriously apprehensive of losing them again. It was, therefore, his main object to form a league strong enough to maintain the existing order of things in Europe, against all possible disturbers of the peace. His most obvious confederates were those States which had also snatched something in the general scramble for Sweden’s continental possessions, such as Prussia and Denmark. France, exhausted by the ruinous war of the Spanish Succession, was pacifically disposed. The Empire and Sweden were doubtful Powers. Spain was hostile to England, as she could not yet accustom herself to the loss of Gibraltar. The new great northern Power, Russia, was an object of distrust and jealousy to England, whose Baltic trade had suffered severely from the arbitrary restrictions placed upon it by the late Tsar. Russia, too, had given an asylum to the exiled duke of Holstein, and posed as his champion and defender, especially after he had drawn a step nearer to the Russian throne by his marriage with the Tsesarevna Anne. If the Duke chose to assert his ancestral rights, Denmark might be forced to surrender Sleswick-Holstein, when George’s enlarged electorate might be in danger. Thus Russia, by the mere force of circumstances, found herself, at the beginning of the reign of Catherine I, at enmity with England ; and a contest between the Powers began at all the courts of Europe. On April 30, 1725, Spain concluded an alliance with the Emperor at Vienna, which was looked upon as equally menacing to England and France. The response to the step was the Hanoverian Alliance, concluded at Herrenhausen, September 3, 1725, between England and France, to which Prussia immediately acceded. Russia was the first to feel the bellicosity of the Hanoverian Alliance. In the spring of 1726, Great Britain, startled by unfounded rumours that the Empress’s government was massing troops in Finland, and equipping her fleet to promote the interests of the Duke of Holstein, sent an English squadron under Admiral Wager into the Baltic. Wager was the bearer of a letter to Catherine in which his Britannic Majesty declared that the armaments of Russia, in times of profound peace, could not but arouse the suspicions of Great Britain and her allies. ” Our fleet,” continued this despatch, “has been sent to preserve the peace of the North and prevent your fleet from putting to sea.” Catherine declared, with spirit, that her fleet should put to sea not only that year, but next year also, if only to destroy the poor opinion people seemed to have abroad of the reign of a woman. Her dignified protest had some effect, and Wager withdrew his fleet ; but on August 6, 1726, by the advice of Osterman, Catherine acceded to the Austro-Spanish League. Denmark, thereupon, joined the Hanoverian Alliance (Treaty of Copenhagen, April 16, 1727); and, shortly afterwards, Sweden followed her example.
Internally, meanwhile, Russia was being agitated by a question so serious as to dwarf all others the question of the succession to the throne. The universal popularity of the young Grand-Duke Peter was, indeed, becoming a pressing danger. Anonymous letters reached Catherine and Menshikov daily, pronouncing woe against all who should set aside the lawful heir ; and many of the clergy, while mentioning Peter’s name in the prayer for the Imperial Family, applied to him the epithet ” blagochestivyeeshy,” given only to reigning monarchs, instead of the proscribed ” blagovyerny.” Both Osterman and Menshikov began to recognise the fact that it would be impossible to ignore, much longer, Peter’s inalienable claim to the throne as the last surviving male of Peter the Great’s line. So long as the Empress remained well and strong, there was but little danger; but, towards the end of 1726, Catherine’s health began to fail, and, though it was apparently re-established in January 1727, her partisans had received a severe shock and thought it high time to begin to look after themselves. The position of Menshikov in particular was highly critical. During the last four months he had ruled almost as an absolute sovereign. His enemies were as numerous as the hairs of his head “; and his tyranny and violence had revolted them to the last degree. He knew that if he made a single false step he was lost. At this juncture, he was approached by the Austrian minister, Rabutin, with a project for securing the succession of the Grand-Duke Peter, in whom his uncle, the Emperor Charles VI, took a personal as well as a political interest. Menshikov eagerly caught at the project, stipulating for himself the first vacant electorate in the Empire, and, for his daughter Maria, the hand of the young Grand-Duke when he should have ascended the throne. To these conditions Rabutin at once agreed ; and Osterman approved of them. But even now Menshikov was not out of danger. His change of front had raised up against him a most redoubtable adversary in Peter Tolstoi, who had even more reason than Menshikov himself to fear the accession of the Grand-Duke, and now, in consequence of the desertion of his lifelong colleague, suddenly found himself dangerously isolated. After vainly endeavouring to induce Catherine to repudiate Menshikov’s scheme for the sake of her own daughter, he attempted to form a party of his own with the object of raising the Tsesarevna Elizabeth to the throne, with a Council of Regency to guide her. But Menshikov was too quick for him. At the end of January 1727, Catherine had a dangerous relapse ; and, though she rallied in April it was soon understood that there was but little hope of her recovery. Menshikov at once surrounded the dying Empress with his creatures ; constrained her to make a will, the authenticity of which was, afterwards, strongly doubted though never actually disputed, appointing Peter her successor; and, when she was already in extremis, arrested Tolstoi and his adherents on a charge of lèse-majesté, and banished them to various parts of Russia. The ukaz pronouncing their condemnation was issued early on May 16, 1727; on the evening of the same day Catherine I expired.
At 7 o’clock the next morning, the members of the Imperial Family, the Supreme Privy Council, the Senate, the Synod, and the chief officers of the Guards, assembled at the Palace to hear ‘the reading of the will of the late Empress declaring the Grand-Duke Peter her successor. As soon as the will had been read, all present kissed the cross in token of their allegiance to the new Emperor, whereupon Peter II, at the head of his ministers, and Privy Councillors, descended into the street and received the homage of the Guards.
Peter II was still only eleven years old, but he was unusually tall and well-proportioned for his age. His grand-father, who hated him because he was his father’s son, had systematically ignored him. To do Menshikov justice, it was his first care that the young Tsar should now be adequately trained for his high functions ; and Osterman was accordingly appointed his Governor. Even judged by a Western standard, the Russian Vice-Chancellor would have been pronounced a ripe scholar. He devoted himself to his new duties with a zeal and conscientiousness which did him infinite honour, and, easily and completely, won the heart of his pupil. Peter, moreover, had a still more intimate and affectionate mentor in his sister Natalia, who, although only twelve months older than her brother, might well have been twelve years his senior as regards wisdom and prudence. Young as she was, she had already learnt to recognise the value of western civilisation, and to Osterman she was an invaluable coadjutor in his pedagogic labours.
For the first four months of the new reign, the government was entirely in the hands of Menshikov, who, while ridding himself freely of troublesome rivals by banishment to distant places under the guise of honourable employments, endeavoured to attach to himself all able officials who were not over-ambitious, and win over such members of the old nobility as were not too exacting. Foreign affairs were left in the hands of Osterman. At the end of August, Menshikov felt strong enough to expel the Duke and Duchess of Holstein from Russia, partly to gratify old grudges, and partly to disarm the suspicions of Russia’s enemies and neighbours in the North. Tyrannous though it might be, the administration of Menshikov was capable, vigorous, and economical, and, best of all, conducted on the lines laid down by Peter the Great. Still it was undoubtedly an usurpation, ignoring as it did the Supreme Privy Council, to which the will of the late Empress had transferred all her authority. He made himself as secure as he could by appointing himself Commander-in-Chief and literally kidnapping the young Emperor, whom he carried off to his Palace on Vasily Island. But, at last, the Emperor himself grew tired of the dictator’s domination ; and, shortly after Peter’s espousals with Maria Menshikovna had been publicly announced, an ukaz dated September 20, 1727, deprived Menshikov of all his charges and emoluments for conspiracy against the Crown, fined him 500,000 rubles, and banished him to Kazan. He was subsequently transferred to Berezov, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, where he died at the beginning of 1730.
The triumph of Menshikov’s enemies proved to be the triumph of the reactionary Russian nobility as represented by the ancient princely families of the Golitsuins and the Dolgorukis. Their domination might have been very mischievous to Russia but for the counteracting influence of Osterman, almost the sole representative in the Government of the Petrine system. The Dolgorukis would have overthrown the Vice-Chancellor if they could, but Peter protected his Governor against all their efforts. Nevertheless, they went very far towards carrying out their reactionary principles. They removed the young Tsar from St Petersburg to Moscow (January, 1728). They recalled to court the long-neglected and half-forgotten ex-Tsaritsa Eudoxia. They appropriated the lion’s share of the coronation honours (February, 1728). They usurped an authority unattainable by Menshikov in the plenitude of his power. They had cunningly calculated that the equable climate and pleasant environs of Moscow would make it a much more enjoyable residence than the foggy and humid St Petersburg with its melancholy wastes of bog and fen ; and the young Tsar speedily began to look back upon the new capital as a dungeon, and forbade those about him even to mention the name of St Petersburg. Henceforth there was not even the pretence of study on his part, and he gave himself up entirely to hawking, hunting, and shooting, accompanied everywhere by a dozen or more Dolgorukis. In these circumstances affairs were left to take care of themselves ; and Osterman began to fear lest the removal of the Court to semi-Asiatic Moscow might mean a relapse into barbarism. The Supreme Privy Council did not meet for weeks at a time ; and, on the rare occasions when “their Sublimities” came together, they did little more than drink a dram, nod in their gilded arm-chairs, and refer all business details to the already over-burdened Vice-Chancellor whom alone they had to thank for prosperity at home and tranquillity abroad.
For the reforms inaugurated under Catherine I by Menshikov and Osterman had begun, at last, to bear good fruit. Trade and commerce were reviving ; money was beginning to flow steadily, if slowly, into the Treasury ; the people, relieved of their more oppressive burdens, were happier ; and the land was more prosperous than it had been for years. Abroad, too, such political changes as had taken place were favourable to Russia. On the death of George I, the British Government had, indirectly, hinted at the desirability of resuming friendly relations ; and an unofficial political agent, Claudius Rondeau, was sent to Russia to see how the land lay. The chief political event of the period was the attraction of Spain to the Hanoverian Alliance by the Treaty of Seville, in 1729, which resulted in the drawing together still more closely of Austria and Russia by way of counterpoise to ” the Allies of Seville,” as the members of the Hanoverian Alliance were now called. The two Powers agreed to maintain the integrity of Polish territory against the intrigues of Prussia, frustrated the dynastic schemes of Augustus II by exploding the Diet of Grodno, and succeeded in keeping Maurice of Saxony out of Courland.
The principal domestic event of the period was the death of the Grand-Duchess Natalia on December 7, 1728. This was a severe blow to Osterman, as it removed the last obstacle to the reactionary tendencies of the Dolgorukis. At the end of November he had said to the Spanish Ambassador, the Duke of Liria, ” If we lose the Grand-Duchess, who still possesses a little influence with her brother, and we do not return to St Petersburg, I shall demand my dismissal.” A deplorable state of things prevailed at the new capital. The Swedish minister, Cedercreutz, reported to his government that the galley-fleet was steadily diminishing, the grand or ocean fleet was rotting in the dockyards, and there was such disorder at the Russian Admiralty that it would be impossible to place the navy in its former condition in less than three years. There can be no doubt that the navy was purposely neglected. The Dolgorukis seemed to have gained an absolute dominion over the mind of the young Emperor. After the death of the Grand-Duchess, they boldly transferred all the Colleges, or Departments of State, from St Petersburg to Moscow as the first step towards a permanent transfer of the seat of government from the new capital to the old. The Emperor was, at the same time, betrothed to Catherine Dolgorukaya, and the wedding was fixed for January 30, 1730. All their schemes were frustated, however, by the death of Peter II, of smallpox, very early in the morning of the day that had been fixed for his wedding.
From midnight till 5 o’clock the next morning, the members of the Supreme Privy Council had been in anxious consultation behind closed doors. Death, or misadventure, had reduced the number of their Sublimities to five persons ; and the most sagacious of the five, Osterman, after closing the eyes of his pupil, locked himself up in his own apartments where he was immediately laid up with a feigned attack of gout in the hand. In his absence the lead was taken by the one man of character among the remaining Supreme Privy Councillors, namely, Prince Demetrius Golitsuin, who, after patiently awaiting his opportunity for more than thirty years, was now to rule Russia for something less than thirty days. Golitsuin was essentially a Grand Seigneur, a type comparatively rare in Russia, though common enough in Poland. Proud of his ancient lineage, he had always considered himself entitled to fill the highest offices in the State ; yet, hitherto, his qualifications had been disregarded. Frowned upon by Peter the Great, passed over by Catherine I, set aside by Peter II, he had had ample leisure to reflect upon the meaning of this singular and exasperating neglect, and had come to the conclusion that such a scandal as the non-employment of one of the noblest magnates in the land was due entirely to favouritism. Autocracy had established favouritism–then autocracy must be abolished. Let the monarchy be made a limited monarchy, and favouritism must disappear. Then, and only then, could the national aristocracy take its proper place beside the throne. Now, apparently, he had the opportunity of carrying out his long-cherished design. The only question was : who should be chosen to fill the vacant throne ? That Peter the Great’s family must be excluded was to Golitsuin a matter of course. He had never been able to regard Catherine I as Peter’s lawful consort ; and, consequently, in his eyes, the children of Peter were illegitimate.
It was necessary, therefore, to go back to the elder line of the Romanovs, and seek a successor to the throne from among the descendants of Peter the Great’s elder brother Ivan V. Golitsuin fixed upon Ivan’s third daughter Anne, the widowed Duchess of Courland. Having quitted Russia twenty years before, as a girl of sixteen, she stood apart from all political factions, and she had, besides, a reputation for sobriety and common-sense. Golitsuin had little difficulty in bringing his four colleagues over to his opinion ; and a grand assembly of the Synod, the Senate, the officers of the Guard, and the representatives of the nobility, subsequently convened, proceeded, on the motion of Golitsuin, to elect Anne as successor to the Russian throne. A deputation was sent forthwith to Mittau, to inform the Duchess of her election and conduct her to the Russian capital.
The deputation was provided with secret instructions. They were to inform the Duchess that she could only be elected conditionally upon her subscribing, in their presence, certain Articles which the Council had already drawn up for her signature, whereby she was solemnly to engage, (1) to govern solely through the Supreme Privy Council ; (2) not to marry, or appoint her successor, without its consent; (3) to relinquish the prerogatives of declaring war, concluding peace, and conferring appointments ; (4) to surrender the command of the army to the Council; (5) not to disgrace any member of the nobility without due cause; and, generally, to do everything which the Council might consider necessary for the good of her subjects.
On February 10, the Council was relieved of much anxiety by the arrival of a courier from Mittau with the Articles signed by the new Empress, and a reassuring promise to observe everything contained therein unreservedly. Then only did Golitsuin make public his audacious political innovation at another assembly of the Senate, Synod, Nubility and Guards which sat in the Kreml’. The proposal was received but coldly; and Yaguzhinsky, who, though he had been kept in the background during the last two reigns, had not forgotten that he had once been ” Peter’s eye,” openly protested against the Golitsuin Constitution, and despatched a courier to Mittau advising the Duchess not to submit to the dictation of a handful of usurping aristocrats. His courier was captured, whereupon he was deprived of all his offices and emoluments and sent to the dungeons of the Kreml’. The same day, thirty other people were arrested by the Council, on various pretexts ; and all the approaches to the Palace, where their Sublimities held their reunions, were guarded by troops. These prompt measures prevented for a time the outbreak of a revolution. The malcontents, though numerous, lacked a leader, and had perforce to keep quiet till the arrival of the Empress-Elect, while ” the republican gentlemen,” as Rondeau calls them, amused themselves, every day, in endeavouring fruitlessly to frame a new Constitution.
Anne speedily shewed her hand. She had evidently been well primed beforehand by her friends and Golitsuin’s enemies; and there can be little doubt, that, during the anxious fortnight after her arrival, Osterman, whose keen political instinct told him that a limited monarchy was impossible in eighteenth century Russia, was her secret adviser. On March 8, 1730, her partisans, by a skilful coup-d’état, obtained her recognition as Autocrat by the Guards and the Nobility; and she tore ” the Articles of Mittau ” to pieces with her own hands, amidst loud applause. The Supreme Privy Council was then abolished; and, five weeks later, the Dolgorukis, as being the most forward and insolent of the constitutionalists were disgraced, and banished to various parts of the Empire.
Anne Ivanovna, when she ascended the Russian throne, was in her thirty-seventh year. Her natural parts, if not brilliant, were at least sound ; her carriage was dignified and majestic ; but her features were coarse and masculine, and her temper was sullen and extremely vindictive. Having lived the best part of her life among Germans, and with her favourite, the brutal German ex-equerry, Ernst Johann Biren, or Bühren, constantly at her side, she could have but little knowledge of or liking for her own countrymen ; and her first experience of the Russian nobility had certainly not predisposed her in their favour. Naturally suspicious and resentful, she felt that she could never trust the Russians with power after what they had done or attempted to do to her. She must henceforth surround her throne with persons entirely devoted to her interests ; and these persons, from the nature of the case, could only be foreigners. Most of these foreigners she brought with her ; but the best of them she found ready to her hand when she arrived. Two Germans, both of them the pupils of Peter the Great, lent particular lustre to her reign Osterman, already Vice-Chancellor, and Burkhardt Christoph Munnich, who had settled in Russia, since 1719, by the invitation of Peter the Great, and in 1732 was made a field-marshal and commander-in-chief by Peter’s niece.
Under Catherine I and Peter II Russia had stood still, but under Anne her advancement, in every direction, was unmistakable. Vigorous measures were taken to arrest the decay and repair the damage dune to the State during the haphazard sway of the Dolgorukis. Particular attention was paid to the national armaments. A College of Cadets was instituted, as a sort of nursery for the Army, at a cost of 30,000 rubles per annum. Special commissioners were appointed to enquire into the condition of the army and the fleet. The state of the Navy was found to be alarming, scarce twelve liners being in a condition to put to sea. It was resolved to reconstruct the whole fleet, but gradually, so as to lighten the expense as much as possible.
The first foreign event of importance with which Anne’s government had to deal was the question of the Polish Succession.
On the death, on February 1, 1733, of Augustus II, the last act of whose discreditable reign had been an attempted partition of Poland between Prussia and himself, the Primate of Poland, Theodore Potocki, endeavoured, with the aid of France, to replace Stanislaus Leszczynski on the Polish throne. France was not slow to champion a cause which was preeminently her own. As a preliminary measure, 4,000,000 livres of secret service money were despatched from Versailles to Warsaw for bribing purposes (the Emperor had already sent a million of ducats in support of the contrary, that is to say the Saxon, interest) ; and the French Ambassador, Monti, succeeded in gaining over to the cause of Stanislaus, the influential palatine of Lublin, Adam Tarlo, by promising him the Grand-Hetmanship of Poland. The great Lithuanian family of Czartorysky, and Stanislaus Poniatowski, Palatine of Masovia, the one really capable statesman that Poland then possessed, supported the same side. In a circular letter to all its representatives abroad, the French Government declared that it could not regard with indifference the political extinction of a power to whom France was bound by all the ties of honour and friendship, and whose liberties she was prepared to defend against every enemy. Encouraged by this vigorous demonstration, the Polish Primate proceeded to use, freely and fully, his by no means inconsiderable prerogatives ; it was principally due to his efforts that Stanislaus was elected King of Poland for the second time, on September 9, 1733.
When the news of the death of Augustus reached St Peters-burg, a Council of Notables was summoned, which unanimously agreed that the interests of Russia could not permit her to recognise Stanislaus Leszczynski, or any person directly dependant on France, as a candidate for the Polish throne. Austria and Russia thereupon made a joint protest at Warsaw against the candidature of Stanislaus ; but as they, at first, had no alter-native candidate of their own to offer, the interrex disregarded their menaces and proceeded with the election. Meanwhile the Russian Minister at Dresden had concluded (August 14, 1733) a compact with the Saxon Elector, Augustus, the son of the late King of Poland, whereby, in consideration of his acceding to the Austrian Pragmatic Sanction, Russia and Austria undertook to establish him on the Polish throne. Eighteen regiments of Russian infantry and ten of cavalry were then directed towards the Polish frontier, while 10, 000 Cossacks were, at the same time, ordered up from the Ukraine. Stanislaus, having no forces at his disposal (the Polish regular army existing only on paper), thereupon quitted the defenceless capital and shut himself up in Dantzic, with his chief adherents and the French and Swedish Ministers, to await reinforcements from France.
In October 1733, 20,000 Russians, under the command of the gallant Irish adventurer Peter Lacy, reached the right bank of the Vistula and were joined by a band of Polish malcontents who had already placed themselves under the Empress’s august protection,” and thus given her a pretext for direct intervention. On the 6th a phantom Diet, consisting of but x 5 Senators and 500 of the szlachta, assembled at Warsaw, and proclaimed the Elector of Saxony King of Poland.
The Empress had hoped to terminate the Polish difficulty in a single campaign ; but this hope had soon to be abandoned. Almost the whole of Poland was in favour of Stanislaus ; the country swarmed with his armed partisans ; and he himself lay secure in the strong city of Dantzic. It was of paramount importance to Russia that Stanislaus should be driven out of Dantzic before the French arrived; but the fortress was a strong one, and, from the end of 1733 to the middle of March 1734, defied all Lacy’s efforts to take it. On March 17,
Lacy was superseded by Münnich, but he also could make little impression on the place. On May 9, a vigorous assault was repulsed with the loss of 2000 men and 120 officers. On May 20, the long-expected French fleet arrived, and disembarked three regiments under the command of La Motte Perouse. But this little army could do but little and in the middle of June was surrounded, forced to surrender, and sent to St Petersburg as prisoners of war, on the Russian fleet. Two days later the fortress of Weichselmünde fell ; and on June 30, Dantzic also surrendered unconditionally after sustaining a siege of 135 days which cost the Russians 8000 men. King Stanislaus, disguised as a peasant, had contrived to escape. The war continued to smoulder for another twelve months. Finally by the Peace of Vienna, Oct. 3, 1735, Augustus III was recognised as king of Poland.
The War of the Polish Succession was scarce over when Russia found herself involved in a fresh war with the Porte.
From the beginning of 1 733 onwards, the Court of Versailles exhausted all the resources of its diplomacy to bring about a simultaneous rupture between Russia and her northern and southern neighbours, Sweden and Turkey, so as to prevent her from rendering assistance to the Emperor. A rupture with Sweden was prevented by the sobriety of the Swedish Premier, Count Arvid Horn, and the interposition of Great Britain who, through her minister at Stockholm, succeeded in renewing for twelve years from 1735 the expiring treaty of alliance between Russia and Sweden. The diplomatic struggle at Stambul was more acute, but all the efforts of the French Ambassador, the Marquis de Villeneuve, were frustrated by the Russian Ambassador Ivan Nepluyev. Towards the end of 1735, however, Nepluyev himself advised the Empress to attack the Turks, who had emerged from the long Persian war with Kuli Khan much damaged and discredited. He represented the whole Ottoman Empire as weak to the last degree and even tottering to its fall. His arguments convinced the Empress and her Council. The way was prepared by a definitive treaty between Russia and Persia, whereby the former retroceded Daghestan to the latter and evacuated the fortresses of Derbend, Baku, and Svyestui Krest. Russia was now untrammelled in the East ; conjunctures were favourable; the treasury was full to overflowing ; and everything promised success. A formal declaration of war was sent by Osterman to the Grand Vizier at the end of 1735 ; and Münnich was ordered to proceed from the Vistula to the Don to open the campaign.
The Turkish war of 1736–1739 marks the beginning of that systematic struggle on the part of Russia to recover her natural boundaries towards the south, which was to last through-out the eighteenth century. A glance at an historical map of Europe will shew that Turkey, at this time, controlled the mouths of the five great rivers, the Dniester, the Bug, the Dnieper, the Don, and the Kuban, that drain southern Russia, and therefore could control and even suspend, at will, no inconsiderable portion of her rival’s commerce. The Khan of the Crimea, moreover, from his capital at Bagchaserai ruled over all the Tatar hordes from the Dnieper to the Don, and let them loose upon Russia at every opportunity. The approaches to the peninsula itself were very strongly guarded. As the Turks had the absolute command of the sea, no danger was apprehended from that quarter ; on the land side, the lines of Perekop protected the narrow isthmus which united the Crimea to the mainland, while the fortress of Azov, at the head of the sea of the same name, commanded the Delta of the Don and was thought sufficient to prevent any attack from the north-east.
In the early autumn of 1735, Münnich arrived at the lines of the Ukraine, the name given to the chain of fortifications, a hundred leagues in length, connecting the Dnieper and the Donetz, devised by Peter the Great to keep the Tatars out of central Russia and completed between 1731 and 1738. Here Münnich perfected his arrangements for the ensuing campaign. He and his colleague, Marshal Lacy, were to attack the enemy simultaneously, the German invading the Crimea, and the Irishman besieging Azov. On April 20, Münnich began his march across the steppes to Perekop, a distance of 330 miles, with 47,000 men, including the Cossacks. On the only occasion when the Tatars ventured to attack him (at Chernaya Dolina), they were easily repulsed ; and on May 15, Münnich sat down before the lines of Perekop, a deep trench, 25 fathoms, broad, and defended by an earthen wall eight fathoms high and nearly five English miles long. On May 19, the lines were stormed in less than an hour ; and Perekop itself, which was gorged with merchandise of every description, was abandoned to pillage. Münnich then marched to Koslov, the chief port on the west coast of the Crimea (where, in 988, the Grand-Duke Vladimir had exchanged bridal rings with the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor) which was occupied without resistance. On June 17, the Khan’s capital was also taken, after a stiff skirmish ; and then want of supplies and a dangerous mutiny in his army compelled Münnich to return to the lines of the Ukraine. Lacy, meanwhile, had succeeded in storming Azov, though he met with a resistance far more stubborn than anything his brother Marshal had encountered. The campaign was thus completely successful ; but it was extraordinarily expensive, no fewer than 30,000 men, or one half the effective strength of both armies, having perished, though scarce 2000 had been slain by the enemy.
At the end of April 1737, Münnich took the field with 70,000 men, and opened the second campaign, which was to be the bloodiest of the whole war. His objective was Ochakov, the ancient Axiake, very strongly situated, at the confluence of the Dnieper and Bug, and defended by 20,000 of the best troops of Turkey under the Seraskier Yiagya. The fortress fell in the course of July, chiefly owing to the valour and skill of James Francis Keith, whom the Empress rewarded with a lieutenant-generalship and 10,000 rubles ; but it was a very costly affair, and when, at the end of August, Münnich returned to the lines of the Ukraine he found his army had diminished by 24,000 men. In the late autumn General Stoffel, who had been left in command at Ochakov, repulsed a large Turkish army which invested the fortress from October 26 to November 9, and left 20,000 dead beneath its walls.
Glorious as the campaign had been, the Empress was now very desirous of peace, as her Austrian ally had failed to support her adequately, and the expenses of the war were ruinous. A peace-congress met, accordingly, at the little border town of Nemirov ; but the Russians asked so much that the Turks preferred fighting to surrender.
The campaign of 1738 was almost entirely barren. This time, Münnich was ordered to hasten to the assistance of the Austrians, the imbecility of whose strategy on the Danube had greatly irritated the Russian Court. But an outbreak of the plague prevented him from getting further than the Dniester; and he lost 10,000 of his men from sickness before the campaign was half over. The Austrians were even less successful than their allies, inasmuch as they had not only been unable to capture Widdin, but lost several of their own fortresses. Both Courts were now ready enough to re-open peace-negotiations, but the Turks, encouraged by their victories in Hungary, would not even listen to the most moderate terms ; and the Russian statesmen recognised that another campaign was indispensable. At an extraordinary Cabinet Council, held on March 1, 1739, at which Münnich was in attendance as military adviser, it was unanimously resolved to co-operate energetically with the Austrians by invading Moldavia and proceeding to invest the fortress of Chocim on the Dniester. On quitting the Council, Münnich set out for the Ukraine; and, at the end of May, his army, 60,000 strong, quitted the rendezvous at Kiev, and marching straight through Polish territory, without permission, crossed the Dniester at Sinkowcza, about seven leagues distant from Chocim. On August 27, he came in sight of the Turkish camp at Stavuchanak, in a very strong position, which he stormed and captured on the following day, the Russians losing only 70 men in an action which lasted twelve hours, whereupon the fortress of Chocim surrendered unconditionally, at the first summons. On September 9 and 10 Münnich crossed the Pruth. On the 19th he reported the submission of Moldavia. His career of victory was only cut short by the humiliating Peace of Belgrade, Sept. 18, 1730. Russia, unable to carry on the struggle alone, was now obliged to come to terms with the Turks, and, by the Treaty of Constantinople, 1739, she sacrificed all her conquests except Azov and district1. The Porte would not even concede the imperial title to the Russian Empress.
Whilst the energy of Marshal Münnich was defending and extending the limits of the Russian Empire, the Russian people, at home, was trembling beneath the yoke of the Empress’s favourite, the Grand Chamberlain Biren. During the latter years of the reign of Anne, Biren increased so enormously in power and riches that he must have been a marvel to himself as well as to others. The climax of his wondrous elevation was reached when, in the course of June 1737, the Estates of Courland were compelled to elect the son of the ostler of Mittau as their reigning Duke. But Biren was fearful in the midst of his triumphs, for he knew that the Russians hated him and suspected them of a desire to overthrow him. It would really seem as if he had had the set purpose of gradually exterminating the leaders of the Moscovite aristocracy, so relentless, so persistent, was his persecution of them. In the course of 1738, the old charges of treason were revived against the Dolgorukis ; and, by means of the Secret Chancellery, Biren all but annihilated the whole family in 1739. Demetrius Golitsuin had already (1736) been condemned to death, on the most frivolous of charges ; but ” the clemency of the Empress ” commuted the punishment to imprisonment in the fortress of Schlusselburg. Anything like independence of attitude was in Biren’s eyes an unpardonable offence. Hence, the terrible fate of Artamon Voluinsky, Peter the Great’s former plenipotentiary in Persia, who, after a long eclipse, was made a Cabinet Minister in 1735. In 1740 he incurred the enmity of Biren and was decapitated, on a trumped-up charge of treason, despite all the efforts of the Empress to save him. But Anne could now refuse Biren nothing. On her death-bed, at his urgent request, though greatly against her own better judgment, she even appointed him Regent, during the minority of her great-nephew Ivan VI, an infant four months old, to whom she left the throne.
Anne died on October 28, 1740. Three weeks later the ex-Regent was on his way to Siberia in consequence of a smart little coup-d’état organised by Marshal Münnich, who there-upon proclaimed the mother of the baby Emperor Regent while he himself appropriated the Army, the War office, the Foreign Office and the lieutenant-generalship of the Guards with the title of ” Premier-Minister.” The new Regent, a shy, stupid and awkward girl of sixteen, was the daughter of Catherine lvanovna, the niece of Peter the Great, and Leopold Charles, Duke of Mecklenburg. She had been adopted by Anne, settled in Russia, and, in 1733, was received into the Russian Church, changing her German name of Elizabeth Catherine Christina to that of Anne Leopoldovna. In 1739 the Empress married her to Prince Anthony Ulric of Brunswick-Bevern, an utterly insignificant person, despised even by his silly wife and pushed aside by both Biren and Münnich without the slightest ceremony. Anne Leopoldovna found however a friend in the Vice-Chancellor Osterman, whom she reinstated in the direction of foreign affairs by the ukase of February 8, 1741. Münnich, in great dudgeon, believing himself to be indispensable, sent in his resignation (March 14) which, to his surprise, was accepted the same afternoon. The Vice-Chancellor quietly superseded him. “Count Osterman,” wrote the French Ambassador La Chetardie, shortly afterwards to his Court, ” has never been so great or so powerful as he is now. It is not too much to say that he is Tsar of All Russia.” If ever Russia needed the guidance of a great states-man, it was during that troubled and confusing period when France, healed of the wounds inflicted by the War of the Spanish Succession, was endeavouring to regain her former position in Europe.
The first great diplomatic victory of France, after her long eclipse, was the Treaty of Vienna, in 1738, which settled all the questions arising out of the War of the Polish Succession very greatly to her advantage1 and to the disparagement of the Emperor. The second triumph was the Peace of Belgrade, concluded in 1739, under her mediation, which humiliated the Hapsburgs still further, and established, beyond all contradiction, the momentous fact that the French Monarchy had become, once more, the paramount continental power. To sever the Austro-Russian alliance and, if possible, drive Russia back into the semi-barbarism from which she had scarce emerged, was the next’ object that the French statesmen set before them. ” Russia in respect to the equilibrium of the North,” wrote Cardinal Fleury, has mounted to too high a degree of power, and its union with the House of Austria is extremely dangerous.” The most obvious way of rendering the Russian alliance unserviceable to the Emperor was by implicating Russia in a war with Sweden, the second of the northern Powers, and the permanent ally of France. A first attempt to bring about such a collision, in 1736, had been foiled by the pacific Swedish Chancellor, Count Arvid Horn. On the outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession (1740), the necessity of fettering Russia, Maria Theresa’s one ally, became still more urgent. Again the French influence was exerted to the uttermost in Sweden, and this time successfully. At the beginning of August 1741, Sweden declared war against Russia and invaded Finland.
To embarrass the Russian government still further, a domestic revolution in Russia itself was simultaneously planned by La Chetardie, with the object of placing the Tsesarevna Elizabeth on the throne. The immediate object of this manoeuvre was to get rid of Osterman. Osterman’s policy was based upon the Austrian Alliance. He had therefore guaranteed the Pragmatic Sanction with the deliberate intention of defending it. The sudden irruption of the King of Prussia into Silesia, the defection of France, and the treachery of Saxony, had surprised him. Old as he was in statecraft, he had not calculated upon such a cynical disregard of solemn treaties. He stigmatised the invasion of Silesia as “an ugly business”; and, when he was informed, officially, of the partition treaty whereby the Elector of Saxony was to receive Upper Silesia, Lower Austria, and Moravia, with the title of King of Moravia, he sarcastically enquired whether this was the way in which Saxony meant to manifest the devotion she had always expressed for the House of Austria ? He shrewdly guessed that the Moravian scheme must, inevitably, bring along with it a surrender by the Elector of Saxony of the Polish Crown to Stanislaus Leszczynski, the French King’s father-in-law, in which case the interests of Russia would be directly threatened. He sent a strong note of remonstrance to the King of Prussia, and assured the Courts of The Hague and St James’s of his readiness to concur in any just measures for pre-serving the integrity of the Austrian dominions. But, for the moment, he was prevented from sending any assistance to the hardly-pressed Queen of Hungary in consequence of the Swedish War with which the French government had saddled him. Nevertheless the Swedish declaration had found him prepared for every eventuality. More than 100,000 of the best Russian troops were already under arms in Finland ; and the victory of Marshal Lacy, at the end of August, at Vilmanstrand, where he utterly routed the Swedish general Wrangel, relieved Osterman of all fears from without. But Osterman’s own political career was now nearly run. On the conclusion of a new and more definite treaty of alliance with Great Britain (Nov. 18, 1741, his last official act, he told the English Minister, Finch, that he was about to visit Spa and might then proceed to England and pass the remainder of his days there in philosophical contentment. Ten days later he was arrested in his bed, and before the year was out, he was on his way to the desolate tundras of Siberia.