Page images

[1717 A.D.] seen together, surrounded by less luxury than a German bishop or a Roman cardinal.

But, while Peter, Catherine, and Frederick entertained an utter contempt for ostentatious display, the fashion of the court, which was probably directed by the queen, rendered it necessary that the illustrious visitors should be treated with a show of grandeur and parade which they despised. They were entertained in a costly style at the palace; and their manners did not fail to excite the sarcasms and gossip of the courtiers, who were incapable of comprehending the real dignity of their character, and who were disappointed to find in the czar and czarina of Russia a couple of plain, rough, and, agreeably to their notions, vulgar persons. The particulars of this visit to the court of Prussia are minutely commemorated in the loose and satirical memoirs of the day; while the visits to Paris, Amsterdam, and London are recorded, without a single exception, in a spirit of grave admiration, that exhibits a curious contrast to the flippant tracasseries of Berlin.

Amongst the most pert and lively writers who chronicled the visit and caricatured the czar and his simple train of followers, is the markgräfin von Bayreuth. She gives a very amusing account in her memoirs of the reception at court; and says that when Peter approached to embrace the queen, her majesty looked as if she would rather be excused. Their majesties were attended, she informs us, by a whole train of what were called ladies, as part of their suite, consisting chiefly of young German women, who performed the part of ladies' maids, chamber-maids, cook-maids, and washerwomen; almost every one of whom had a richly clothed child in her arms. The queen, it is added, refused to salute these creatures. At table the czar was seized with one of his convulsive fits, at a moment when he happened to have a knife in his hand, and the queen was so frightened that she attempted to leave the table; but Peter told her not to be uneasy, assuring her that he would do her no harm. On another occasion, he caught her by the hand with such force that she was obliged to desire him to be more respectful; on which he burst out into a loud fit of laughter, and said that she was much more delicate than his Catherine. But the most entertaining part of the whole is a sketch of the personal appearance of the uncultivated sovereigns. "The czarina," says the markgräfin, "is short and lusty, remarkably coarse, and without grace or animation. One needs only see her to be satisfied of her low birth. At the first blush one would take her for a German actress. Her clothes looked as if bought at a doll-shop, everything was so old-fashioned and so bedecked with silver and tinsel. She was decorated with a dozen orders, portraits of saints, and relics, which occasioned such a clatter that when she walked one would suppose an ass with bells was approaching. The czar, on the contrary, is tall and well made. His countenance is handsome; but there is something in it so rude that it inspires one with dread. He was dressed like a seaman, in a frock, without lace or ornament." The spirit of the tiring-woman shines through the whole of this saucy and superficial description. The markgräfin took the measure of the illustrious visitors as she would of her lady's robe-colour, spangles, and shape. It never occurred to her that, in the little coarse woman who looked so like a German actress, she saw the heroine of the Pruth; and that the rude seaman who frightened the queen was the man who, amidst ignorant wonder and superstitious resistance, laid the foundations of the most gigantic empire that the world has ever seen! But the circumstances under which the markgräfin obtained her impressions were unfavourable to the formation of a just opinion, or, indeed, of any opinion at all. She was only eight years of age when

[1717 A.D.] she saw Peter and Catherine, although she had arrived at a mature age when she wrote her memoirs. She retained no more than the silly whispers and jests of the ante-chamber. She noted down what she heard rather than what she thought; but it serves to show very clearly the sort of atmosphere in which the eccentric Frederick moved, and the courtly weaknesses against which, in his own person, he must have been compelled to sustain a continual warfare.

On Peter's return through Holland, he purchased a variety of pictures of the Dutch and Flemish schools, several zoological, entomological, and anatomical cabinets, and a large collection of books. With the treasures thus accumulated he laid the foundation of the imperial Academy of Sciences, the plan of which he drew up himself. He would probably have lingered longer in those countries, but for the intelligence which he received concerning the conduct of his son Alexis, which induced him to hasten to St. Petersburg under the agitation of bitter feelings, in which the natural dispositions of the father were drawn into direct collision with the duty of the sovereign.c


The czar arrived at St. Petersburg from his foreign tour on the 21st of October, 1717. Twenty years before he had signalised his return from a first visit to civilised countries by the inhuman butchery of the strelitz, and now he was about to give still more appalling evidence of the deep depravity of his heart.

Peter's early aversion to Eudoxia had a most deplorable influence on Alexis, the son she bore him in 1690. The dissensions between the father and the mother speedily diminished the father's affection for Alexis. Moreover, as Peter's vast labours prevented him from paying much attention to the education of his son, Alexis at first grew up under female tuition, and then fell into the hands of some of the clergy, under whose guidance he daily conceived a greater abhorrence for his father. This being observed by Peter, he put an end to the spiritual education, and appointed Menshikov superintendent of the prince's preceptors.

Menshikov was no friend to Alexis, and the latter had been early inspired by his mother with contempt and aversion for the favourite of his father. The tutors who were now placed about the prince were not able to eradicate the prejudices impressed on his mind from his infancy, and now grown inveterate; besides, he had an unconquerable dislike to them as foreigners. The future sovereign of so vast an empire that was now reformed in all its parts, and by prosperous wars still further enlarged; the heir of a throne whose possessor ruled over many millions of people, had been brought up from his birth as if designed for a Russian bishop; theology continued to be his favourite study. With a capacity for those sciences which are useful in government, he discovered no inclination to them. Moreover, he addicted himself early in life to drunkenness and other excesses. There were not wanting such as flattered his perverse dispositions, by representing to him that the Russian nation was dissatisfied with his father, that it was impossible for him to be suffered long in his career of innovation, that even his life was not likely to hold out against so many fatigues, with many other things of a like nature.

The conduct of Alexis, particularly his indolence and sloth, were highly displeasing to Peter. Menshikov, from political motives, to preserve himself and Catherine, was constantly employed in fanning the czar's resent

[1717 A.D.]

ment, while the adherents of Alexis, on the other hand, seized every opportunity to increase the aversion of the prince, who, from his very cradle, had never known what it was to love, and had only dreaded his father. Alexis at times even gave plain intimations that he would hereafter undo all that his father was so sedulously bringing about. Nay, when the latter, in 1711, appointed the prince regent during his absence, in the campaign of the Pruth, Alexis made it his first business to alter many things in behalf of the clergy, so as clearly to evince in what school he had been brought up.

The czar was in hopes of reforming his son by uniting him with a worthy consort; but even this attempt proved fruitless. The princess of BrunswickWolfenbüttel, who was selected for his bride, and to whom Alexis was married at Torgau, in 1711, notwithstanding all her eminent qualities of mind and heart and her great beauty, could make no impression on him, and sank under the load of grief brought on by this unhappy connection, soon after giving birth to a prince, who was called by the name of his grandfather, Peter (1715). By a continuance in his dissolute mode of life, by his bad behaviour towards his spouse, and his intercourse with persons who were notorious for their hatred of Peter and his reforms, Alexis seemed bent upon augmenting his father's displeasure.

After the death of the princess, Peter wrote his son a letter, the conclusion of which ran thus: "I will still wait awhile, to see if you will amend; if not, know that I will deprive you of the succession, as a useless limb is cut off. Do not imagine I am only frightening you; nor would I have you rely on the title of being my eldest son; for since I do not spare my own life for the good of my country and the prosperity of my people, why should I spare yours? I shall rather commit them to a stranger deserving such a trust than to my own undeserving offspring."

At this very juncture the empress Catherine was delivered of a prince, who died in 1719. Whether the above letter disheartened Alexis, or whether it was imprudence or bad advice, he wrote to his father that he renounced the crown, and all hopes of reigning. "God is my witness," said he, “and I swear upon my soul, that I will never claim the succession; I commit my children into your hands, and for myself desire only a subsistence during life."

His father wrote to him a second time. "I observe," says he, "that all you speak of in the letter is the succession, as if I stood in need of your consent. I have represented to you what grief your behaviour has given me for so many years, and not a word do you say of it; the exhortations of a father make no impression on you. I have brought myself to write to you once more; but for the last time. If you despise my counsels now I am living, what regard will be paid to them after my death? Though you may now mean not to violate your promises, yet those bushy beards will be able to wind you as they please, and force you to break your word. It is you those people rely on. You have no gratitude to him who gave you life. Since you have been of proper age, did you ever assist him in his labours? Do you not find fault with, do you not detest everything I do for the good of my people? I have all the reason in the world to believe that, if you survive me, you will overthrow all that I have been doing. Amend, make yourself worthy of the succession, or turn monk. Let me have your answer either in writing, or personally, or I will deal with you as a malefactor."

Though this letter was harsh, the prince might easily have answered that he would alter his behaviour; but he only acquainted his father, in a few

[1717 A.D.] lines, that he would turn monk. This assurance did not appear natural; and it is something strange that the czar, going to travel, should leave behind him a son so obstinate, but this very journey proves that the czar was in no manner of apprehension of a conspiracy from his son. He went to see him before he set out for Germany and France; the prince being ill, or feigning to be So, received him in bed, and confirmed to him, by the most solemn oaths, that he would retire into a convent. The czar gave him six months for deliberation, and set out with his consort.

He had scarcely reached Copenhagen when he received advice (which was no more than he might well expect) that Alexis admitted into his presence only evil-minded persons, who humoured his discontent; on this the czar wrote to him that he must choose the convent or the throne, and, if he valued the succession, to come to him at Copenhagen.

The prince's confidants instilled into him a suspicion that it would be dangerous for him to put himself into the hands of a provoked father and a mother-in-law, without so much as one friend to advise with. He therefore feigned that he was going to wait on his father at Copenhagen, but took the road to Vienna, and threw himself on the protection of the emperor Charles VI, his brother-in-law, intending to continue at his court till the czar's death.

This was an adventure something like that of Louis XI, who, whilst he was dauphin, withdrew from the court of Charles VII, his father, to the duke of Burgundy. Louis was, indeed, much more culpable than the czarevitch, by marrying in direct opposition to his father, raising troops, and seeking refuge with a prince, his father's natural enemy, and never returning to court, not even at the king's repeated entreaties.

Alexis, on the contrary, had married purely in obedience to the czar's order, and had not revolted nor raised troops; neither, indeed, had he withdrawn to a prince in anywise his father's enemy; and, on the first letter he received from his father, he went and threw himself at his feet. For Peter, on receiving advice that his son had been at Vienna, and had removed thence to Naples, then belonging to the emperor Charles VI, sent Romanzov, a captain of the guards, and Tolstoi, a privy-councellor, with a letter in his own hand, dated from Spa, the 21st of July, N.S. 1717. They found the prince at Naples, in the castle of St. Elmo, and delivered him the letter, which was as follows:

"I now write to you, and for the last time, to let you know that you had best comply with my will, which Tolstoi and Romanzov will make known to you. On your obedience, I assure you, and promise before God, that I will not punish you; so far from it, that if you return I will love you better than ever. But if you do not, by virtue of the power I have received from God as your father, I pronounce against you my eternal curse; and as your sovereign, I assure you I shall find ways to punish you; in which I hope, as my cause is just, God will take it in hand, and assist me in revenging it. Remember further that I never used compulsion with you. Was I under any obligation to leave you to your own option? Had I been for forcing you, was not the power in my hand? At a word, I should have been obeyed."

Relying on the faith thus solemnly given by a father and a sovereign, Alexis returned to Russia. On the 11th of February, 1717, N.S., he reached Moscow, where the czar then was, and had a long conference in private with his father. A report immediately was spread through the city that a reconciliation had taken place between the father and son, and that everything was forgotten; but the very next day the regiments of guards were ordered

(1717 ▲.D.]

under arms, and the great bell of Moscow tolled. The boyars and privycouncillors were summoned to the castle: the bishops, the archimandrites, and two monks of the order of St. Basil, professors of divinity, met in the cathedral. Alexis was carried into the castle before his father without a sword, and as a prisoner; he immediately prostrated himself, and with a flood of tears delivered to his father a writing, in which he acknowledged his crimes, declared himself unworthy of the succession, and asked only his life. The czar, raising him up, led him to a closet, where he put several questions to him, declaring, that if he concealed anything relating to his escape, his head should answer for it. Afterwards the prince was brought back into the council-chamber, where the czar's declaration, which had been drawn up beforehand, was publicly read.

[ocr errors]

The father in this piece reproached his son with his manifold vices, his remissness in improving himself, his intimacy with the sticklers for ancient customs, his misbehaviour towards his consort: "He has," says he, "violated conjugal faith, taking up with a low-born wench whilst his wife was living.' Alexis might fairly have pleaded that in this kind of debauchery he came immeasurably short of his father's example. He afterwards reproaches him with going to Vienna, and putting himself under the emperor's protection. He says that Alexis had slandered his father, intimating to the emperor Charles VI that he was persecuted; and that a longer stay in Muscovy was dangerous, unless he renounced the succession; nay, that he went so far as to desire the emperor openly to defend him by force of arms.e

Death of the Czarevitch Alexis

The proceedings against the czarevitch and his friends lasted for about half a year: they were begun in Moscow and continued in St. Petersburg; the cells of the fortress of the latter place were filled with prisoners, amongst whom were two members of the royal family- the czarevitch and Marie Alexievna; fresh persons were continually added to their number, denounced under the pressure of unbearable tortures. One of the differences between the legal proceedings of that period and the present consists in the fact that, when we now have the evidence of a crime before us, we endeavour to discover the persons guilty of it, whereas then they sought to find out whether someone had not done something criminal.

In May a "declaration" or manifesto was issued setting forth the czarevitch's crimes. His whole life was related in the manifesto; mention was made of his idleness in studying, his disobedience to his father's will, his ill treatment of his wife, and finally his flight and his apparent solicitation of the help of the German emperor and "the protection of an armed hand," which was not at all clearly proved by the evidence. There was, however, no mention in the manifesto of the fact that he had been promised an unconditional pardon and the permission to live at a distance with his beloved Euphrosyne. For all these offences, for his disobedience to his father, his treachery and dissimulation, the czarevitch and his "accomplices" were delivered up for judgment to the tribunal; but this tribunal was not an ordinary one: it was a special one, composed of persons named by Peter himself. Why was such a departure made from the usual order of things? In matters of peculiar importance, when it happened that persons in proximity to the throne were to be judged, it was not unfrequent in western Europe that special, so-called supreme tribunals were named. But this custom always gave reason to suppose that the members of those supreme tribunals were only

« PreviousContinue »