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they had proceeded half way from Peterhov to St. Petersburg, they fell down from exhaustion. The situation of the empress was critical: she might at any moment be overtaken; and she was certain that with the dawn of day Peter would acquire some more definite intelligence of the plot. In a state bordering on distraction, she took refuge in the first house that she approached: it was a tavern, and here she burned the letters which had passed between her and the conspirators. Again she recommenced her journey on foot: by good fortune she met a countryman with a cart; Orlov seized the vehicle, the peasant ran away; Catherine ascended it, and, in this undignified manner, she, her woman, and Orlov entered St. Petersburg about seven o'clock on the morning of July the 9th.
Catherine Usurps the Crown
No sooner was Catherine in the capital than she was joined by the hetman; and, accompanied by him, she hastened to the barracks of the troops which he commanded. Four companies immediately declared for her; their example constrained the rest of the regiment; three other regiments, hearing the acclamation, and seeing the people hurry to the spot, joined in the cry; all St. Petersburg was in motion; a report was spread that she and her son had just escaped assassination by order of the czar; her adherents rapidly multiplied; and, accompanied by about two thousand soldiers, with five times that number of citizens, who loudly proclaimed her sovereign of Russia, she went to the church of Our Lady of Kazan. Here everything was prepared for her reception: the archbishop of Novgorod, with a host of ecclesiastics, awaited her at the altar; she swore to observe the laws and religion of the empire; the crown was solemnly placed on her head; she was proclaimed sole monarch of Russia, and the grand duke Paul her successor; and Te Deum concluded the eventful ceremony.
From the church she proceeded to the palace occupied by the late empress; the mob crowded to see her, and to take the oath of allegiance; while the more respectable portion of the citizens were awed into submission, or at least into silence, by a report that Peter had just been killed by falling from his horse. To gratify the populace, the taverns were abandoned to them: the same fate visited the houses of all who were obnoxious to the conspirators; intoxication was general; robbery was exercised with impunity; the palace, to which Catherine had hastened, was strengthened; a numerous guard was stationed in its defence; a manifesto was proclaimed; a notification was delivered into the hands of each foreign minister, and the revolution was complete.
Ône object of the conspirators had been to close every avenue of egress from the capital, that Peter might not be acquainted with the revolution until it was too powerful to be repressed. All the troops in the vicinity were called within the walls; but there was one regiment about sixteen hundred strong, which lay between the city and Peterhov, the conduct of which was doubtful. Without the slightest knowledge of what had taken place, the colonel arrived in the city, and was soon persuaded not only to declare for the new sovereign but to prevail on the regiment to follow his example. He was successful; and, with the whole body, he returned in triumph to the capital. On this very day Peter had promised to dine with Catherine: on reaching Peterhov he was surprised to hear of her flight. Vorontzov, the father of his mistress, the father also of the princess Dashkov, who had witnessed without repugnance the dishonour alike of his wife and daughter, proposed to the emperor to visit
St. Petersburg to ascertain the cause of her departure; and, if any insurrection were meditated, to suppress it. He arrived in the presence of the empress, was induced to swear allegiance to her, and was ordered to retire into his own house.
But Peter had already been informed of the revolution; and he traversed with hasty steps the gardens of Peterhov, indecisive and terrified. Yet he was not wholly deserted. The brave Munich, whose locks were ripened by age, and whose wisdom equalled his valour, advised him instantly to place himself at the head of his Holstein troops, march on the capital, and thereby enable all who were yet loyal to join him. Whether the result would have been such as the veteran anticipated, viz. a counter-revolution, may well be doubted; but there can be no doubt that a considerable number of soldiers would have joined him, and that he would have been able to enter into negotiations with the hostile party. He was too timid to adopt the suggestion: nothing, in fact, could urge him to decisive action. When informed that Catherine was making towards Peterhov, at the head of ten thousand men, all that he could resolve to do was to send messengers to her with proposals. His first was that the supreme power should be divided between them; the second, when no reply was deigned to his letter, that he should be allowed to leave Russia, with his mistress and a favourite, and pass the rest of his days in Holstein. She detained his messenger, and still advanced.
Munich now advised him to embark for Kronstadt, and join his fleet, which was still faithful; but unfortunately he delayed so long that one of Catherine's emissaries had time to corrupt the garrison of the fort: on arriving, he was prohibited from disembarking, and told that if he did not immediately retire his vessel would be sunk by the cannon of the place. Still he had a fleet at Revel; and if it were disloyal he might escape into Prussia, Sweden, or Holstein. With the fatality, however, which characterised all his measures on this eventful day, he returned to Oranienbaum, where he disembarked at four o'clock in the morning of July the 10th. Here he was soon visited by the emissaries of Catherine; was persuaded to sign an act of abdication; was conducted to Peterhov; was divested of all his imperial orders; was clad in a mean dress, and consigned, first to one of the country houses of the hetman, and soon afterwards to the fortress of Ropscha, about twenty miles distant from Peterhov. He was not allowed to see the empress; and his mistress and attendants were separated from him.b
Death of Peter III (1762 A.D.)
What was to be done with Peter? At the deliberations on this question Catherine calmly listened to arguments as to the necessity of measures being taken in order that the former emperor should not injure her rule by disturbing weak minds; she clearly realised all the dangers that might be created for her, if not by Peter himself at any rate by his partisans. They were not numerous, yet they did exist and they might multiply in the future. It was necessary that Peter should be definitively made harmless, but how was it to be done? During the deliberations on the means to be taken, no restraint was imposed by Catherine's presence. The empress was not an Elizabeth Petrovna: she at once understood the uselessness of imprisonment at Schlüsselburg or any other place; she was not likely to fall into a fainting fit at any proposition made. The examples of Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great did not disturb her. Nevertheless, not one of those present, not even the persons nearest to her, reading in her eyes the secret desire decisively to finish once for all
with this unbearable question, would have dared even to hint at an unnatural death- they knew Catherine, they might read her thought, but not aloud.
When the persons who surrounded Catherine were definitively convinced that Peter's removal was recognised by her as indispensable, they decided to devise a means for it without her knowledge and to accomplish it without her consent. In this were interested all the personal partisans of Catherine, those "chosen sons of the people," who had stirred up the empress to put herself at the head of the movement. They were far more interested in the matter than Catherine herself: the change had been brought about by all classes of society, by the whole nation, not by her; no one could even think of the detested Peter ascending the throne a second time it was not on Catherine that the malcontents would revenge themselves, that is if there were or would be any, but on the "chosen of the people." Peter did not prevent a change being brought about; still, he might hinder not Catherine but many of the "chosen ones" from reaping the fruits of their labours. The Orlov brothers were above all interested in the matter; all of them, and especially Gregory, occupied important posts, which gave them the right to dream of great things; the realisation of these dreams could, it seemed to them, be prevented only by Peter's perpetual imprisonment. As long as Peter lived, Catherine was not free: it was now observed by everyone that in the manifesto of the 28th of June Peter was not once called the consort, the husband of Catherine; but such bonds imposed by the church are not broken either by manifestoes or imprisonment: Peter living, by the one fact of his being alive, prevented the Orlovs from attaining the final results of their efforts, their sacrifices. No matter by what means, somehow the Orlovs must guard not merely what was as yet only possible and cherished in their dreams, but the good fortune that had already been attained to; and, for this, haste must be made. The favour shown to them, especially to Gregory, was visible to every eye. At the court there were already snares laid for them, intrigues began to be carried on against them, endeavours were made to overthrow Gregory; if Gregory fell his brothers would fall with him. Haste must be made.
On Wednesday, the 3rd of July, on the fourth day after the appearance of the attacks of Peter's illness, in the evening the doctor, Leyders, came to Ropscha from St. Petersburg. On Thursday, the 4th of July, the former emperor probably grew worse: at any rate a second doctor came that day from St. Petersburg the regimental surgeon Paulsen. The doctors did not observe any change for the worse, and according to the expressions of the language of contemporaries, the condition of the patient left nothing to be desired. Friday passed quietly. On Saturday, the 6th of July, in the morning while the prisoner was still asleep, the valet who attended on Peter went out into the garden, "to breathe the fresh air." An officer who was in the garden ordered him to be seized and the valet was put into a carriage which stood in readiness and removed from Ropscha. In the evening, at six o'clock, a messenger who had ridden from Ropscha gave to Catherine a packet from Alexis Orlov. On a sheet of soiled gray paper, in the ignorant handwriting of Alexis Orlov and by his own drunken hand was traced the following:
Merciful sovereign mother!'
How can I explain, how describe what has happened; you will not believe your faithful servant; but before God I speak the truth. Matushka! I am ready to go to my death; but I myself do not know, how this calamity happened. We are lost, if you do not have mercy. Matushka, he is no more on earth. But no one had thought of this, and how could we have
['The exact expression in Russian is Matushka (little mother), a title of endearment given by the people to the sovereign.}
H. W.- VOL. XVII. 2B
thought to raise our hands against the sovereign! But, your majesty, the calamity is accomplished. At table he began to dispute with Prince Theodore; we were unable to separate them and he was already no more; we do not ourselves remember what we did; but we are all equally guilty and deserving of punishment. Have mercy upon me, if it is only for my brother's sake. I have brought you my confession and seek for nothing. Forgive or command that it may be quickly finished. The world is not kind; we have angered you and destroyed our souls forever.
The news of death is a great matter. It is impossible either to prepare for it or grow accustomed to it. In the present case the death of Peter, doing away with many perplexities, and giving a free hand to many persons, appeared as the only possible and most desirable issue to the political drama which was agitating the people of Russia. Nevertheless the news of this death struck some, disturbed others, and puzzled all as an unexpected sudden phenomenon. On Catherine it produced the strongest impression, and (justice must be rendered to her) she was the first to control herself, to examine into the mass of new conditions, created by the death of Peter, and to master the various feelings which made their invasion together with the news of the catastrophe of Ropscha.
"Que je suis affectée: même terrassée par cette mort" (How affected and even overwhelmed I am by this death), said Catherine to Princess Dashkov. She was touched by it as a woman; she was struck by it as empress. Catherine clearly recognised her position: the death of Peter, a death that was so sudden, would at such a time awaken rumours, throw a shadow on her intentions, lay a spot on the memory of those until then clear, bright ten days; yet she did not hide from herself that it was only by death that the great undertaking "begun by us" could be entirely consummated. The tragedy of Catherine's position was still further increased by the circumstance of Alexis Orlov's having taken an active part in the catastrophe of Ropscha: she was under great obligations to the Orlovs as empress, while as a woman she was bound by the ties of affection to Gregory Orlov; she loathed the crime, but she could not give up the criminal. One must be firm in one's resolutions," said Catherine, "only weak-minded people are undecided." Even she herself, she must conceal the crime and protect the criminal, taking upon herself all the moral responsibility and political burden of the catastrophe. Catherine then for the first time showed a healthy political understanding of the widest diapason and played the rôle she had taken upon herself with the talent of a virtuoso.
The letter of Alexis Orlov, which entirely exculpated her from all suspicion was hidden in a cupboard, where it lay for thirty-four years, until the very death of the empress. With the exception of two or three persons in the immediate entourage of Catherine, who were near her at the moment when the letter was received besides Nikita Panin and the hetman Razumovski, no one ever read it, no one knew of it while the empress lived. Having decided upon the fate of the letter, she herself marked out the programme of her actions clearly and shortly: "Il faut marcher droit; je ne dois pas être suspecte." (I must walk uprightly; I must not be suspected.)
The programme was exactly fulfilled. The letter of Alexis Orlov did not communicate the trifling details of the catastrophe, but the general signification of the narrative did not leave any doubts as to its chief features, and therefore Catherine considered it first of all necessary to certify whether poison had been employed; the postmortem examination, made by order of the empress, did not show the least trace of poison. Neither the medical
'Prince Theodore Sergeivitch Bariatinski.
certificate as to the cause of death nor the act of death has been preserved; we can only guess that these certificates directed the composition of the following "mourning" manifesto:
On the seventh day after our acceptation of the throne of all the Russias, we received the news that the former emperor Peter III, by an attack of hemorrhage which was common and previously frequent to him, had fallen into a most dangerous condition. In order therefore not to neglect our Christian duty and the sacred command, by which we are obliged to preserve the life of our neighbour, we immediately ordered that everything necessary should be sent to him in order to avert consequences that might be dangerous to his health through this mischance, and tend to assist to his speedy recovery. But to our extreme grief and trouble of heart, we yesterday evening received news that, by the will of God, he had departed this life. We have therefore commanded that his body should be taken to the Nevski monastery to be there interred; meanwhile we incite and exhort all our true and faithful subjects by our imperial and maternal word that, without evil remembrance of all that is past, they should raise to God their heartfelt prayers that forgiveness and salvation of his soul may be granted to the deceased; this unexpected decree by God of his death we accept as a manifestation of the divine providence through which God in his inscrutable judgment lays the path, known to his holy will alone, to our throne and to the entire fatherland. Given at St. Petersburg on the 7th day of July, 1762. CATHERINE.
The Russian made the sign of the cross as he read this manifesto. Yes, the judgments of God are indeed inscrutable! The former emperor had experienced in his last days so many sorrows, so many reverses- no wonder his feeble, sickly nature, which had already suffered from attacks of hemorrhage, would not withstand these shocks; in the matter of death nobody is free: he had fallen ill and died. To the common people his death appeared natural; even the upper classes, although they might hear even if they did not know something, did not admit any thoughts of Catherine's having had any share in his death. The empress "must not be suspected" and she remained unsuspected. On the night between Sunday, the 7th of July, and Monday, the 8th, the body was brought straight to St. Petersburg, directly to the present monastery of St. Alexander Nevski to the same place where the body of the princess Anna of Brunswick was exposed for reverence, and later on the body of the princess Anna Petrovna, Catherine's daughter.e