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having pertinaciously, and without assigning any reason, maintained that the travels of the Russian youth would be useless, made no other reply to an impatient and passionate contradiction from the despot than to fold the ukase in silence, run his nail forcibly along it, and then desire the autocrat to try whether, with all his power, he could ever obliterate the crease that was made in the paper.
At last, by his ukase of January 24th, 1722, Peter annihilated the privileges of the old Russian aristocracy, and under the specious pretext of making merit the only source of social distinction, he created a new order of nobility, divided into eight military and as many civil grades, all immediately and absolutely dependent on the czar. The only favour allowed to the old landed aristocracy was that they were not deprived of the right of appearing at court; but none of them could obtain the rank and appointments of an officer, nor, in any company, the respect and distinctions exclusively belonging to that rank, until they had risen to it by actual service. Such was the fundamental principle of that notorious system called the tchin;1 and plausible as it may appear upon a superficial view, it has been fruitful of nothing but hideous tyranny, corruption, chicanery, and malversation. The modern nobility of Russia is in fact but a vile bureaucracy. The only thing truly commendable in the ukase of 1722 is that it degrades to the level of the rabble every nobleman convicted of crime and sentenced to a punishment that ought to entail infamy. Previously, as the reader has already seen, a nobleman might appear unabashed in public, and claim all the privileges of his birth, with his back still smarting from the executioner's lash.
Commerce with the East
Peter had always encountered great difficulty in attracting to St. Petersburg the commerce of central Russia, which the merchants obstinately persisted in throwing away upon Archangel. Yet at St. Petersburg they enjoyed several privileges, and a milder climate allowed of two freights a year, while at Archangel the ice would admit of only one. To this must be added the advantage of a calmer sea, a better port, lower duties, a much shorter distance, and a much larger concourse of purchasers; but no persuasion could make the Russians abandon the old routine, until at last Peter treated them like ignorant and stubborn children, to whom he would do good in spite of themselves. In 1722 he expressly prohibited the carrying of any goods to Archangel but such as belonged to the district of that government. This ordinance at first raised a great outcry among the traders, both native and foreign, and caused several bankruptcies; but the merchants, accustoming themselves by degrees to come to St. Petersburg, at last found themselves gainers by the change.
The trade with the Mongols and Chinese had been jeopardised by the extortions of Prince Gagarin, the governor of Siberia, and by acts of violence committed by the Russians in Peking and in the capital of Contaish, the prince pontiff of a sect of dissenters from Lamaism. To check the growth of this evil, Peter sent Ismailov, a captain in the guards, to Peking, with presents to the emperor, among which were several pieces of turnery, the work of his own hands. The negotiation was successful; but the Russians soon lost the fruits of it by fresh acts of indiscretion, and were expelled from China by order of Kam-hi. The Russian court alone retained the right of sending a caravan every three years to Peking; but that right again was subsequently lost in
'The men who have no tchin, the tchornii narod, that is, the black people, or blackguards.
consequence of new quarrels. The court finally renounced its exclusive privilege, and granted the subjects leave to trade freely on the Kiakhta.
WAR WITH PERSIA (1722-1724 A.D.)
Peter's attention had long been directed to the Caspian Sea with a view to making it more extensively subservient to the trade of Russia with Persia and central Asia, which as yet had been carried on at Astrakhan alone, through the medium of Armenian factors. Soon after the Peace of Nystad had left the czar free to carry his arms towards the East, a pretext and an opportunity were afforded him for making conquests on the Caspian shores. The Persian Empire was falling to pieces under the hand of the enervated and imbecile Husain Shah. The Lesghiians, one of the tributary nations that had rebelled against him, made an inroad into the province of Shirvan, sacked the city of Shemakha, put the inhabitants to the sword, including three hundred Russian traders, and plundered Russian property to the amount of 4,000,000 roubles. Peter demanded satisfaction; the shah was willing to grant it, but pleaded his helpless condition, and entreated the czar to aid him in subduing his rebellious subjects.
This invitation was promptly accepted. Peter set out for Persia on the 15th of May, 1722, his consort also accompanying him on this remote expedition. He fell down the Volga as far as the city of Astrakhan, and occupied himself in examining the works for the canals that were to join the Caspian, Baltic, and White seas, whilst he awaited the arrival of his forces and material of war. His army consisted of twenty-two thousand foot, nine thousand dragoons, and fifteen thousand Cossacks, besides three thousand sailors on board the several vessels, who, in making a descent, could do the duty of soldiers. The cavalry marched by land through deserts, which are frequently without water; and beyond those deserts, they were to pass the mountains of Caucasus, where three hundred men might keep a whole army at bay; but Persia was in such anarchy that anything might be attempted.
The czar sailed above a hundred leagues southward from Astrakhan, as far as the small fortified town of Andreeva, which was easily taken. Thence the Russian army advanced by land into the province of Daghestan; and manifestoes in the Persian and Russian language were everywhere dispersed. It was necessary to avoid giving any offence to the Ottoman Porte, which besides its subjects, the Circassians and Georgians, bordering on this country, had in these parts some considerable vassals, who had lately put themselves under its protection. Among them, one of the principal was Mahmud D'Utmich, who styled himself sultan, and had the presumption to attack the troops of the emperor of Russia. He was totally defeated, and the public account says "his country was made a bonfire."
In the middle of September, Peter reached Derbent, by the Persians and Turks called Demir-kapu, i.e. Iron Gate, because it had formerly such a gate towards the south; it is a long narrow town, backed against a steep spur of the Caucasus; and its walls, at the other end, are washed by the sea, which, in stormy weather, is often known to break over them. These walls may be justly accounted one of the wonders of antiquity; they were forty feet high and six broad; flanked with square towers at intervals of fifty feet. The whole work seemed one single piece, being built of a kind of brown free-stone, and a mortar of pounded shells, the whole forming a mass harder than marble itself; it was accessible by sea, but, on the land side, seemed impregnable. Near it were the ruins of an old wall, like that of China, unquestionably built
in times of the earliest antiquity; it was carried from the Caspian to the Black Sea, and probably was a rampart thrown up by the ancient kings of Persia against the numerous barbarian hordes dwelling between those two seas. There were formerly three or four other Caspian gates at different passages, and all apparently built for the same end; the nations west, east, and north of this sea having ever been formidable barbarians; and from these parts principally issued those swarms of conquerors which subdued Asia and Europe.
On the approach of the Russian army, the governor of Derbent, instead of standing a siege, laid the keys of the city at the emperor's feet whether it was that he thought the place not tenable against such a force, or that he preferred the protection of the emperor Peter to that of the Afghan rebel Mahmud. Thus the army quietly took possession of Derbent, and encamped along the sea-shore. The usurper Mahmud, who had already made himself master of a great part of Persia, had neglected nothing to be beforehand with the czar and hinder him from getting into Derbent; he raised the neighbouring Tatars, and hastened thither himself; but Derbent was already in the czar's hands.
Peter was unable to extend his conquests further, for the vessels with provisions, stores, horses, and recruits had been wrecked near Astrakhan; and as the unfavourable season had now set in he returned to Moscow and entered it in triumph (January 5th, 1723), though he had no great reason to boast of the success of his ill-planned expedition.
Persia was still divided between Husain and the usurper Mahmud; the former sought the support of the emperor of Russia; the latter feared him as an avenger who would wrest from him all the fruits of his rebellion. Mahmud used every endeavour to stir up the Ottoman Porte against Peter. With this view, he sent an embassy to Constantinople; and the Daghestan princes, under the sultan's protection, having been dispossessed of their dominions by the arms of Russia, solicited revenge. The Divan were also under apprehensions for Georgia, which the Turks considered part of their dominions. The sultan was on the point of declaring war, when the courts of Vienna and Paris diverted him from that measure. The emperor of Germany made a declaration that if the Turks attacked Russia he should be obliged to join in its defence; and the marquis de Bonac, ambassador from France at Constantinople, seconded the German menaces; he convinced the Porte that their own interest required them not to suffer the usurper of Persia to set an example of dethroning sovereigns, and that the Russian Empire had done no more than the sultan should have done.
During these critical negotiations, the rebel Mahmud had advanced to the gates of Derbent, and laid waste all the neighbouring countries, in order to distress the Russians. That part of ancient Hyrcania, now known by the name of Ghilan, was not spared, which so irritated the people that they voluntarily put themselves under the protection of the Russians. Herein they followed the example of the shah himself, who had sent to implore the assistance of Peter the Great; but the ambassador was scarcely on the road ere the rebel Mahmud seized on Ispahan, and the person of his sovereign. Thamaseb, son of the captive shah, escaped, and getting together some troops fought a battle with the usurper. He was not less eager than his father in urging Peter the Great to protect him, and sent to the ambassador a renewal of the instructions which the shah Husain had given.
Though this Persian ambassador, named Ismail Beg, was not yet arrived, his negotiation had succeeded. On his landing at Astrakhan, he heard that
[1723-1724 A.D.] General Matufkin was on his march with fresh troops to reinforce the Daghestan army. The town of Baku, from which the Persians called the Caspian Sea, the sea of Baku, was not yet taken. He gave the Russian general a letter to the inhabitants, exhorting them, in his master's name, to submit to the emperor of Russia; the ambassador continued his journey to St. Petersburg, and General Matufkin went and sat down before the city of Baku. The Persian ambassador reached the czar's court at the same time as the news of the surrender of that city (August, 1723).
Baku is situated near Shemakha, where the Russian factors were massacred; and although in wealth and number of people inferior to it, is very famous for its naphtha, with which it supplies all Persia. Never was treaty sooner concluded than that of Ismail Beg. The emperor Peter, desirous of revenging the death of his subjects, engaged to march an army into Persia, in order to assist Thamaseb against the usurper; and the new shah ceded to him, besides the cities of Baku and Derbent, the provinces of Ghilan, Mazandaran, and Astarabath.
Ghilan, as we have already noticed, is the southern Hyrcania; Mazandaran, which is contiguous to it, is the country of the Mardi; Astarabath borders on Mazandaran; and these were the three principal provinces of the ancient kings of the Medes. Thus Peter by his arms and treaties came to be master of Cyrus' first monarchy; but this proved to be but a barren conquest, and the empress Anna was glad to surrender it thirteen years afterwards in exchange for some commercial advantages.
So calamitous was the state of Persia that the unhappy sophy Thamaseb wandering about his kingdom, pursued by the rebel Mahmud, the murderer of his father and brothers, was reduced to supplicate both Russia and Turkey at the same time, that they would take one part of his dominions to preserve the other for him. At last it was agreed between the emperor Peter, the sultan Achmet III, and the sophy Thamaseb, that Russia should hold the three provinces above mentioned, and that the Porte should have Kasbin, Tauris, and Erivan, besides what it should take from the usurper.
LAST YEARS AND DEATH OF PETER
Peter, at his return from his Persian expedition, was more than ever the arbiter of the north. He openly took into his protection the family of Charles XII, after having been eighteen years his declared enemy. He invited to his court the duke of Holstein, that monarch's nephew, to whom he betrothed his eldest daughter, and from that time prepared to assert his rights on the duchy of Schleswig-Holstein, and even bound himself to it in a treaty which he concluded with Sweden (February, 1724). He also obtained from that power the title of royal highness for his son-in-law, which was a recognition of his right to the throne, should King Frederick die without issue. Meanwhile he held Copenhagen in awe of his fleet, and ruled there through fear, as he did in Stockholm and Warsaw.
The state of Peter's health now warned him that his end was near; yet still he delayed to exercise the right of naming a successor, which he had arrogated to himself in 1722. The only step he took which might be interpreted as an indication of his wishes in that respect was the act of publicly crowning his consort Catherine. The ceremony was performed at Moscow (May 18th, 1724) in the presence of the czar's niece, Anna, duchess of Courland, and of the duke of Holstein, his intended son-in-law. The manifesto published by Peter on this occasion deserves notice; after stating that it was customary
with Christian monarchs to crown their consorts, and instancing among the orthodox Greek emperors Basilides, Justinian, Heraclius, and Leo the Philosopher, he goes on to say:
"It is also known how far we have exposed our own person, and faced the greatest dangers in our country's cause, during the whole course of the last war, twenty-one years successively, and which, by God's assistance, we have terminated with such honour and advantage, that Russia never saw a like peace, nor gained that glory which has accrued to it by this war. The empress Catherine, our dearly beloved consort, was of great help to us in all these dangers, not only in the said war but likewise in other expeditions, in which, notwithstanding the natural weakness of her sex, she voluntarily accompanied us, and greatly assisted us with her advice, particularly at the battle of the river Pruth against the Turks, where our army was reduced to 22,000 men, and that of the Turks consisted of 270,000. It was in this desperate exigency that she especially signalised a zeal and fortitude above her sex; and to this all the army and the whole empire can bear witness. For these causes, and in virtue of the power which God hath given us, we have resolved, in acknowledgment of all her fatigues and good offices, to honour our consort with the imperial crown, which, by God's permission, shall be accomplished this winter at Moscow; and of this resolution we hereby give notice to all our faithful subjects, our imperial affection towards whom is unalterable."
In this manifesto nothing was said of the empress' succeeding to the throne; but the nation were in some degree prepared for that event by the ceremony itself, which was not customary in Russia, and which was performed with sumptuous splendour. A circumstance which might further cause Catherine to be looked upon as the presumptive successor was that the czar himself, on the coronation day, walked before her on foot, as first knight of the order of St. Catherine, which he had instituted in 1714 in honour of his consort. the cathedral he placed the crown on her head with his own hand. Catherine would then have fallen on her knees, but he raised her up, and when she came out of the cathedral the globe and sceptre were carried before her.
It was not long before Peter was with difficulty restrained from sending to the block the head on which he had but lately placed the crown. We have already mentioned that the enmity of his first wife is said to have sprung from her jealousy of Anne de Moens, who was for awhile the czar's mistress, and whom, as Villebois tells us, he had serious thoughts of raising to the throne. But she submitted to his passion only through fear, and Peter, disgusted with her coldness towards him, left her to follow her inclinations in marrying a less illustrious lover. Five-and-twenty years afterwards Eudoxia avenged through the brother of her rival. Anne de Moens, then the widow of General Balk, was about the person of Catherine, and the handsome and graceful young Moens de la Croix was her chamberlain. A closer intimacy soon arose between them, and so unguarded were they that Villebois, who saw them together only in public during a very crowded reception at court, says that their conduct was such as left no doubt on his mind that the empress was guilty. The czar's suspicions were roused, and he set spies upon Cath
The court was then at Peterhof; Prince Repnin, president of the war department, slept not far from the czar; it was two o'clock in the morning; all at once the marshal's door was violently thrown open, and he was startled by abrupt and hasty footsteps: he looked round in astonishment; it was Peter the Great; the monarch was standing by the bedside; his eyes sparkled with rage, and all his features were distorted with convulsive fury. Repnin