1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Peter III.
PETER III. (1728-1762), emperor of Russia, only son of Charles Frederick, duke of Holstein-Gottorp, and of Anne, eldest surviving daughter of Peter the Great, was born at Kiel on the 21st of February 1728. In December 1741 he was adopted by his aunt, Elizabeth Petrovna, as soon as she was safely established on the Russian throne, and on the 18th of November 1742 was received into the Orthodox Church, exchanging his original name of Karl Peter Ulrich for that of Peter Fedorovich. On the 21st of August 1745, by the command of his aunt, he married the princess Sophia Augusta Frederica of Anhalt-Zerbst, who exchanged her name for that of Catherine Aleksyeevna. The union between a prince who physically was something less than a man and mentally little more than a child, and a princess of prodigious intellect and an insatiable love of enjoyment, was bound to end in a catastrophe. But there is no foundation for the stories of Peter's neglect and brutality. It took the spouses five years to discover that their tastes were divergent and their tempers incompatible. Even when Peter III succeeded his aunt on the 5th of January 1762, he paid off all the debts that Catherine had contracted without inquiring what they were for. On her birthday, in April, he made her a present of domains worth £10,000 per annum, though he had already readjusted her establishment on a truly imperial scale. A great deal has been made of Peter's infidelity towards his consort; but the only one who really suffered from his liaison with the ugly, stupid and vixenish countess Elizabeth Vorontsòva was the unfortunate emperor. So far from being scandalized by the juxtaposition of “Das Fräulein” in the Winter Palace, Catherine accepted it as a matter of course, provided that her own relations with the handsome young guardsman, Gregory Orlov, were undisturbed. Nor was Peter's behaviour to his consort in public of the outrageous character we have been led to suppose. Peter, in fact, was too good-natured and inconsequent to pursue, or even premeditate, any deliberate course of ill treatment. No personal wrongs, but the deliberate determination of a strong-minded, capable woman to snatch the reins of government from the hands of a semi-imbecile, was the cause of Peter's overthrow, and his stupendous blunders supplied Catherine with her opportunity. Peter's foreign policy was the absolute reversal of the policy of his predecessor. He had not been on the throne for two months when he made pacific overtures to the wellnigh vanquished king of Prussia, whom he habitually alluded to as “the king my master.” Peter's enthusiastic worship of Frederick resulted in a peace (May 5) and then (June 19) in an offensive and defensive alliance between Russia and Prussia, whereby Peter restored to Prussia all the territory won from her by Russia during the last five years at such an enormous expense of men and money, and engaged to defend Frederick against all his enemies. This was followed up by a whole series of menacing rescripts addressed by Peter to the court of Vienna, in which war was threatened unless Austria instantly complied with all the demands of the king of Prussia. Finally he picked a quarrel with Denmark for not accepting as an ultimatum the terms to be submitted by Russia to a peace conference to meet at Berlin for the purpose of adjusting the differences between the two powers. On the 6th of July the Russian army received orders to invade Denmark by way of Mecklenburg. This advance was only arrested, when the opposing forces were almost within touch of each other, by the tidings that a revolution had taken place at St Petersburg, and that Peter III. was already a prisoner in the hands of his consort. The coup d'état of the 9th of July 1762 properly belongs to the history of Catherine II. (q.v.). Here only a few words must be said as to the mysterious death of Peter at the castle of Ropsha, to which he was removed immediately after his surrender. Here he remained from the evening of the 9th to the afternoon of the 18th of July. At first Catherine and her counsellors could not make up their minds what to do with “the former emperor.” Imprisonment in Schlusselburg for life, or repatriation to Holstein, were proposed only to be rejected as dangerous. The Orlovs had even stronger motives than Catherine for suppressing the ex-emperor, for Gregory Orlov aspired to win the hand as well as the heart of his imperial mistress, and so long as Catherine's lawful husband lived, even in a prison, such a union would be impossible. The available evidence points to the irresistible conclusion that on the afternoon of the 18th of July 1762, Peter III., with his consort's connivance, was brutally murdered at Ropsha by Alexius Orlov, Theodore Baryatinski, and several other persons still unknown.
See R. N. Bain, Peter III, Emperor of Russia (London, 1902); V. A. Bilbasov, History of Catherine II. (Rus.), vol i. (Berlin, 1900). (R. N. B.)