1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Paul I.

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PAUL I. (1754–1801), emperor of Russia, was born in the Summer Palace in St Petersburg on the 1st of October (N.S.)—the 20th of September by the Russian calendar—1754. He was the son of the grand duchess, afterwards empress, Catherine. According to a scandalous report his father was not her husband the grand duke Peter, afterwards emperor, but one Colonel Soltykov. There is probably no foundation for this story except gossip, and the cynical malice of Catherine. During his infancy he was taken from the care of his mother by the empress Elizabeth, whose ill-judged fondness is believed to have injured his health. As a boy he was reported to be intelligent and good-looking. His extreme ugliness in later life is attributed to an attack of typhus, from which he suffered in 1771. It has been asserted that his mother hated him, and was only restrained from putting him to death while he was still a boy by the fear of what the consequences of another palace crime might be to herself. Lord Buckinghamshire, the English ambassador at her court, expressed this opinion as early as 1764. In fact, however, the evidence goes to show that the empress, who was at all times very fond of children, treated Paul with kindness. He was put in charge of a trustworthy governor, Nikita Panin, and of competent tutors. Her dissolute court was a bad home for a boy who was to be the sovereign, but Catherine took great trouble to arrange his first marriage with Wilhelmina of Darmstadt, who was renamed in Russia Nathalie Alexéevna, in 1773. She allowed him to attend the council in order that he might be trained for his work as emperor. His tutor Poroshin complained of him that he was “always in a hurry,” acting and speaking without thinking. After his first marriage he began to engage in intrigues. He suspected his mother of intending to kill him, and once openly accused her of causing broken glass to be mingled with his food. Yet, though his mother removed him from the council and began to keep him at a distance, her actions were not unkind. The use made of his name by the rebel Pugachev in 1775 tended no doubt to render his position more difficult. When his wife died in childbirth in that year his mother arranged another marriage with the beautiful Sophia Dorothea of Württemberg, renamed in Russia Maria Feodorovna. On the birth of his first child in 1777 she gave him an estate, Pavlovsk. Paul and his wife were allowed to travel through western Europe in 1781–1782. In 1783 the empress gave him another estate at Gatchina, where he was allowed to maintain a brigade of soldiers whom he drilled on the Prussian model. As Paul grew his character became steadily degraded. He was not incapable of affection nor without generous impulses, but he was flighty, passionate in a childish way, and when angry capable of cruelty. The affection he had for his wife turned to suspicion. He fell under the influence of two of his wife’s maids of honour in succession, Nelidov and Lapuknin, and of his barber, a Turkish slave named Koroïssov. For some years before Catherine died it was obvious that he was hovering on the border of insanity. Catherine contemplated setting him aside in favour of his son Alexander, to whom she was attached. Paul was aware of his mother’s half-intention—for it does not appear to have been more—and became increasingly suspicious of his wife and children, whom he rendered perfectly miserable. No definite step was taken to set him aside, probably because nothing would be effective short of putting him to death, and Catherine shrank from the extreme course. When she was seized with apoplexy he was free to destroy the will by which she left the crown to Alexander, if any such will was ever made. The four and a half years of Paul’s rule in Russia were unquestionably the reign of a madman. The excitement of the change from his retired life in Gatchina to omnipotence drove him below the line of insanity. His conduct of the foreign affairs of Russia plunged the country first into the second coalition against France in 1778, and then into the armed neutrality against Great Britain in 1801. In both cases he acted on personal pique, quarrelling with France because he took a sentimental interest in the Order of Malta, and then with England because he was flattered by Napoleon. But his political follies might have been condoned. What was unpardonable was that he treated the people about him like a shah, or one of the craziest of the Roman emperors. He began by repealing Catherine’s law which exempted the free classes of the population of Russia from corporal punishment and mutilation. Nobody could feel himself safe from exile or brutal ill-treatment at any moment. If Russia had possessed any political institution except the tsardom he would have been put under restraint. But the country was not sufficiently civilized to deal with Paul as the Portuguese had dealt with Alphonso VI., a very similar person, in 1667. In Russia as in medieval Europe there was no safe prison for a deposed ruler. A conspiracy was organized, some months before it was executed, by Counts Pahlen and Panin, and a half-Spanish, half-Neapolitan adventurer, Admiral Ribas. The death of Ribas delayed the execution. On the night of the 11th of March 1801 Paul was murdered in his bedroom in the St Michael Palace by a band of dismissed officers headed by General Bennigsen, a Hanoverian in the Russian service. They burst into his bedroom after supping together and when flushed with drink. The conspirators forced him to the table, and tried to compel him to sign his abdication. Paul offered some resistance, and one of the assassins struck him with a sword, and he was then strangled and trampled to death. He was succeeded by his son, the emperor Alexander I., who was actually in the palace, and to whom Nicholas Zubov, one of the assassins, announced his accession.

See, for Paul’s early life, K. Waliszewski, Autour d'un trône (Paris, 1894), or the English translation, The Story of a Throne (London, 1805), and P. Morane, Paul I. de Russie avant l’avènement (Paris, 1907). For his reign, T. Schiemann, Geschichte Russlands unter Nikolaus I. (Berlin, 1904), vol. i. and Die Ermordung Pauls, by the same author (Berlin, 1902).