Page images

[1711 A.D.]

currence. The dissentient officer reminded the czar of the misfortunes of the king of Sweden in the Ukraine, and suggested to him the possibility that Cantemir might disappoint him; but Peter was resolved, and, after a fatiguing march for three nights over a desert heath, the troops arrived on the 18th of June at the river Pruth. Here they were joined by Prince Cantemir, with a few followers, and they continued their march until the 27th, when they discovered the enemy, to the number of 200,000 men, already crossing the river. There was no alternative left but to form the lines of battle; and Peter, perceiving that the enemy was endeavouring to surround him with cavalry, extended his lines a considerable way along the right bank.

The situation of the army at this juncture was extremely unfortunate. The great body of the Turkish soldiers were before the Russians on one side of the river, and on the other the hostile Tatars of the Crimea. The czar was thus completely surrounded, his means of escape by the river were cut off, and the great numbers of the Turks rendered a flight in the opposite direction impossible. He was placed in more critical circumstances than Charles at Pultowa, and he had been misled, like that unfortunate prince, by an ally · who did not possess the power of fulfilling his promise. But his presence of mind and indomitable courage never forsook him. He formed his army, which consisted in detail of 31,554 infantry, and only 6,692 cavalry, into a hollow square, placing the women in the centre, and prepared to receive the disorderly but furious onslaught of the Turks. It is evident that, if the forces of the sultan had been commanded by skilful officers, the contest must have been speedily terminated. But the superior discipline of the Russians was shown in the steadiness with which they met the charge, and maintained themselves against such great odds. The Turks injudiciously confined their attack to one side of the square, by which, although the loss sustained by the Russians was immense, the czar was enabled constantly to relieve the troops, and supply the front with fresh men. The fight continued for three days. Their ammunition was at last exhausted, and there remained no choice between surrendering and making a desperate attempt to cut their way through the enemy. This latter proposition is said to have been entertained by Peter, who proposed to force a passage in the night, accompanied by his officers and a few select men; but it is extremely unlikely that he should have contemplated a step that must inevitably have sacrificed the czarina and the remnant of his brave army.

Catherine's Heroism; the Peace of Pruth

It is not improbable, however, that Peter may have conceived some heroic design for forcing a passage; but the certainty of failure must have overruled such an intention almost as soon as it was formed. After the agitation of that eventful day, he surrendered himself to the anxiety by which he was oppressed, and, retiring to his tent on the third night, gave strict orders that he should be left undisturbed. It was on this occasion that the genius and influence of the czarina preserved the empire, her consort, and the army. She who had accompanied him through so many dangers, who had shared in the toils of the field without murmuring, and partaken in the fatigues consequent upon his reforms and improvements, had a right to be heard at a moment of such critical importance. In despite, therefore, of his prohibition she entered his tent, and representing to him the perils by which they were on all sides environed, urged upon him the necessity of seeking to negotiate a peace. She not only suggested this measure, which was probably the very

[1711 A.D.] last that might have occurred to Peter, but she undertook to carry it into effect herself. It is the immemorial custom in the East to approach all sovereigns, or their representatives, with presents, and Catherine, aware of that usage, collected all her own jewels and trinkets, and those of the women who had accompanied the expedition, giving a receipt for their value to be discharged on their return to Moscow, and dispatched the vice chancellor, accompanied by an officer, with a letter from Marshal Sheremetrev to the grand vizir, proposing negotiations for a treaty of peace.1

Some hours elapsed, and no answer was returned. It was supposed that the bearers of the letter were put to death, or placed under arrest, when a second officer was despatched with a duplicate of the letter, and it was determined in a council of war, that, should the vizir refuse to accept the proffered terms, an attempt should be made to break through the enemy's ranks. With this view an intrenchment was rapidly formed, and the Russians advanced within a hundred paces of the Turkish lines. A suspension of arms, however, was immediately proclaimed by the enemy, and negotiations were opened for a treaty.

It would appear strange that the vizir should have consented to a cessation of hostilities under such circumstances, when the Russians were completely at his mercy; but he was aware that the Russian troops in Moldavia had advanced to the Danube after reducing the town of Brabilow, and that another division of the general army was on its march from the frontiers of Poland. He, therefore, considered it advisable to avail himself of that opportunity to dictate to Peter the terms upon which he wished to terminate the campaign, knowing that if he postponed the treaty he would be compelled to renew the war against the whole force of the empire. The conditions he proposed were sufficiently humiliating. He demanded the restitution of Azov, the demolition of the harbour of Taganrog, the renouncement of all further interference in the affairs of Poland and the Cossacks, a free passage for Charles back to his own country, and the withdrawal from the sea of Azov and the Black Sea. Peter subscribed to all these conditions, but refused to deliver up Prince Cantemir to the sultan, declaring that he would rather cede to the Turks the whole country as far as Kursk than violate his word.

This treaty, however, did not satisfy the expectations of Charles; and, indeed, obtained for him scarcely any advantage. The only passage it contained which directly related to him was that which bound Peter to give him a safe return home, and to conclude a peace with him, if the terms could be agreed upon. He never ceased to importune the sultan to dismiss the vizir and make war upon Russia, until the Porte, wearied by his ungrateful and frantic complaints, at last recalled the pension allowed him, and sent him an order to leave the Turkish dominions. The sequel of that monarch's career presents a series of acts that abundantly justify the suspicion that his mind was shattered by the reverses of fortune he had undergone; for, after remaining five years in Turkey, and venturing with a band of grooms and valets, secretaries and cooks to make a stand against an army of janissaries, spahis, and Tatars he fled in the disguise of a courier to his own kingdom, where he Bruce, who was in the battle of the Pruth, asserts his belief that this negotiation was conducted without Peter's knowledge; and the Journal de Pierre le Grand alludes to the transmission of the letter, but is silent as to the share Catherine took in the affair. There is no doubt, however, that the details of her interference are correct, and Peter afterwards appears to have confirmed them by his declaration at the coronation of the empress in 1723, that she "had been of great assistance to the empire in all times of danger, but particularly at the battle of the Pruth."


[1714 A.D.]

had not been seen during that long interval and where his death had for some time been currently believed in.

The battle of the Pruth, so fatal in its results to Peter, was a very destructive engagement. If the statements of the czar be correct, his army, on the first day of the engagement, consisted of 31,554 infantry, and 6,692 cavalry, and was reduced on the last day to 22,000 men, which would make his loss amount to 16,246. The loss sustained by the Turks was still greater in consequence of their irregular and scattered method of attack. But numerical details cannot always be relied upon, since they are frequently modified to suit the views of one party or the other. There can be no doubt, however, that the czar fought at an extraordinary disadvantage, and that the losses on both sides were dreadful.

When the treaty was concluded, Peter returned into Russia, causing the fortresses of Samara and Kamenka to be demolished; but, as some unavoidable delay occurred in the surrender of Azov and Taganrog, the sultan became dissatisfied, and Peter entered into a fresh treaty, by which he pledged himself to evacuate Poland within three months; stipulating, however, that Charles, who was still intriguing with the Divan, should be required immediately to withdraw from Turkey. The fatigues of the campaign required repose; and Peter, who had suffered considerably by ill health, rested for some time at Carlsbad for the benefit of the waters.

When Peter returned to St. Petersburg, he again solemnised his wedding with the czarina, and held a festival in that city which was remarkable for its pomp and the expression it drew forth of the popular confidence. But this was only the prelude to fresh labours. He renewed his plans for the improvement of the country, laid down a number of new roads, cut several canals, enlarged his navy, and encouraged the erection of more substantial dwellings in the new city. His ultimate design of establishing St. Petersburg as the capital of the empire now gradually developed itself; and the first open measure he adopted towards the accomplishment of that object was the removal of the senate from Moscow. The commercial advantages the people had already gained through their communication with the Baltic had reconciled them to the change, and the opposition with which the return had been originally received was now considerably relaxed. But much remained yet to be done before the prosperity of the new capital could be secured. Resistance from without was more to be apprehended than remonstrances at home; and Peter was not slow to act upon the necessity of circumstances.


The possession of Pomerania, the most northerly of the German provinces, was necessary to the projects of the czar, who desired as much to humiliate the king of Sweden as to secure the safety of his establishment on the embouchure of the Neva. Pomerania, which lies north and south between the Baltic and Mecklenburg, had passed through the hands of several masters, and had at last been ceded to Gustavus Adolphus in the Thirty Years' War. In order to render his design more certain, Peter entered into a league with the electors of Brandenburg and Hanover, and the king of Denmark, drawing up the articles himself, and the details of the necessary operations. Stralsund was first blockaded, and the allied forces proceeded along the Wismar road, followed at a distance by the Swedish troops under the command of Count Stenbock, who, coming up with the Danish and Saxon divisions before the

[1714 A.D.]

Russians had time to join them, completely routed them in a few hours. This slight check to their progress was soon repaired by a victory obtained by Peter over Stenbock (whose march was signalised by disgraceful excesses), in the little town of Altona, close to Hamburg, which he reduced to ashes.

The Russian army went into quarters for the winter, and the campaign was again renewed with vigour in the following year, when Stenbock was compelled to abandon the town of Tenningen, into which he had obtained entrance by the intrigues of Baron Görtz, one of the most crafty and unprincipled diplomatists of his age. Stenbock and eleven thousand Swedes surrendered themselves prisoners of war, and although the ransom demanded for the liberation of that general was only 8,000 imperial crowns, he was suffered to linger in the dungeons of Copenhagen until the day of his death. Nearly the whole of Pomerania was overrun and partitioned amongst the allies, scarcely a place remaining in the possession of Sweden except Stralsund, the siege of which Peter confided to Menshikov, while he returned to St. Petersburg to make preparations for a descent upon Helsingfors in the gulf of Finland. His operations along the whole line of that coast were equally successful. He soon mastered Bergo and Abo, the capital; and, transferring to St. Petersburg from the latter town a magnificent library, he raised a building for its reception, which still remains a witness to his enterprise and the spirit of improvement which seemed to preside over all his actions.

[ocr errors]

A Naval Victory; Peter's Triumph

But the Swedes, viewing the encroachments of the czar in Finland with terror, and resolving to spare no means to arrest his progress, fitted out a considerable squadron to cruise in the gulf. The czar, however, was ready to meet them; and, setting sail from Kronstadt, fell in with them close to the island of Åland, where, after a severe engagement, he destroyed several of their ships, and took the admiral prisoner. The consternation which the news of this victory spread over Sweden was so great that even Stockholm trembled for its safety.

His return to St. Petersburg on this occasion was an ovation of more than ordinary magnificence. The czarina had just given birth to a daughter; and, upon his triumphal entry, Peter instituted the order of St. Catherine to commemorate his sense of her devotion and magnanimity. The galleys of the conquerors and the conquered sailed up the Neva in procession, and the czar, in his capacity of rear-admiral, presented to the senate a report of the battle, and was immediately created vice-admiral, amidst the rejoicings of the people. It was not the least remarkable feature in the character of this great man that he set the example, in his own person, of ascending through the different grades of the service by the force of his individual claims. At Pultowa he served as major-general, and in the action in the gulf of Finland he acted as rear-admiral, under the cominand of Admiral Apraxin. This precedent could not fail to have due weight with a people who had been so long accustomed to oppression and the right of the strong hand. It had more effect in generating a spirit of emulation, and in eradicating the prejudices and vices of feudal slavery, than a code of the wisest laws could have accomplished.

St. Petersburg presented a scene of festivity such as had never been known in Russia before. The intercourse of the people with other nations had in a few years changed the whole character of society. Balls and entertainments, upon a large scale, diffused amongst the inhabitants a taste for pleasures that had been hitherto unknown to them. Public dinners were

[ocr errors]

[1714 A.D.]

given in the palace of the czar, to which all classes of persons were invited, and at which the different ranks were appropriately divided at separate tables, the czar passing from table to table, freely conversing with his subjects on matters connected with their particular trade or occupations. Civilisation was thus promoted in detail, and insinuated in the most agreeable shape into the domestic usages of the citizens.


But while amusements occupied a part of the czar's time, he was not forgetful of the more important affairs that demanded consideration. The necessity of establishing a naval force had always been apparent, and his recent victories over the Swedes sufficiently testified the facility with which it might be rendered available for the ulterior projects which the extension and security of the empire required. He accordingly devoted much care to the subject, and in an incredibly short period was master of so large a fleet that he contemplated a descent upon Sweden, and even calculated upon the possibility of entering Stockholm. Besides a variety of galleys and other vessels, he built fifty ships of war, which were all ready for sea within a twelvemonth.

The discovery of some large peculations amongst the ministers and several favourites of the court just at this juncture directed the czar's proceedings, for a short time, into an unexpected channel. It appeared that Menshikov, Apraxin, and others who held high offices of trust and responsibility had, either by themselves or through their servants, embezzled a part of the finances of the empire; that the revenues were consequently in a state of confusion, that trade was greatly deranged, and that the payments to the army had been made very irregularly. The ministers, availing themselves of the new outlet for commerce, had monopolised its chief advantages; and the Dutch merchants complained bitterly of a system by which they were deprived of the greater part of their profits. Peter at once established an inquisition into the facts, and proceeded to act with the utmost rigour. He felt that the prosperity of his new capital depended mainly upon the justice with which its affairs were administered, and that its geographical position, which afforded it so complete a command of maritime resources, must cease to attract a foreign trade unless its fiscal officers possessed the confidence of the merchants. Menshikov and the rest pleaded that they had been engaged abroad in the service of the country, and could not be aware of the malpractices of their servants. The czar admitted that their plea was in some measure founded in justice; but, resolved to make an example, he confiscated the greater part of the property of those whose agents were proved to be guilty. The estates of the remainder were wholly forfeited; some individuals were sentenced to the knout, and others were banished to Siberia. This measure was loudly called for by the necessities of the case, and the inflexible honesty of the sovereign was never exercised with a more beneficial result.

The unhappy wife of Alexis, who had been treated by her husband with the most cruel neglect, expired in a few days after having given birth to a son, whose fortunes she committed to the guardianship of the czar. The court was plunged into deep affliction by this melancholy circumstance, and the czar in particular exhibited profound grief. But the birth of a prince to the czarina converted their mourning into congratulations, and the most extravagant festivities were held in honour of the event.

St. Petersburg had now gradually become the capital of Russia. Foreign

« PreviousContinue »