The New Student's Reference Work/Peter the Great

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80105The New Student's Reference Work — Peter the Great

Peter the Great (Peter Alexeievitch, emperor of Russia), was born at Moscow, June 11, 1672.
His father died in 1676, leaving the kingdom to his oldest son, Feodor, Peter’s half-brother. Feodor died in 1682, without issue, after naming Peter as his successor to the exclusion of Ivan, his own full brother, who was weak-minded. This however, provoked an insurrection of the strelzi or militia, under the leadership of Ivan’s sister, who thereby succeeded in obtaining the coronation of Ivan and Peter as joint rulers, with herself as regent. Immediately after his coronation Peter was placed under the instruction of François Lefort, a native of Geneva, who taught him the arts and sciences of civilization and showed how far Russia was behind other European nations. In 1689 Peter called upon his sister to resign as regent. She refused, but after a severe contest was compelled to yield and was shut into a convent. Ivan abdicated in 1696. Peter’s first care in assuming the government was to reorganize his army, in which he was greatly assisted by Gordon and Lefort, both military men. He also labored to create a navy, and to this end invited skilled engineers and architects from other countries to assist in the construction of his ships; and he himself went to sea on board English and Dutch vessels that he might acquire the art of navigation. Many of the young nobility were ordered to travel in Holland and Italy, to take special notice of all matters in connection with shipbuilding and naval equipment; others were sent to Germany to study the military art. In 1697 Peter set out on his famous visit to foreign countries, and for some time worked as a ship-carpenter at Zaandam in the Netherlands; and to his knowledge of shipbuilding and other trades he added the study of astronomy, natural philosophy, geography and even anatomy and surgery. On the invitation of William III he visited England and for three months, partly in London and partly in Deptford, labored to acquire all kinds of useful information. He returned to Russia in 1698, taking 500 English engineers, artisans etc., and immediately proceeded to the execution of various reforms in his government. Among others was the introduction of arithmetic, which was unknown in Russia up to this time, accounts having been previously kept by means of the abacus (q. v.). Trade with foreign countries was not only permitted but insisted upon. Many changes in manners and dress were prescribed and enforced and the czar's reforming zeal even extended to the national chtirch.

On May 27, 1703, Peter laid the foundation of St. Petersburg, the new capital of Russia, although at the time engaged in a bitter war with Charles XII of Sweden. In this long contest the Russians were nearly always defeated, but at the battle of Pultowa, July 8, 1709, Charles’ forces were completely routed, and Peter next year took possession of the Baltic provinces and a portion of Finland. In 1712 his marriage with Catherine, his mistress, was celebrated at St. Petersburg, and all the offices of the central government were transferred to the new capital. In company with the czarina he made another tour of Europe in 1716–7, this time visiting Paris and carrying home quantities of books, paintings and statues. Soon after this his son, Alexei, who had opposed some of his father’s reforms, was condemned to death and died, in prison. Many nobles implicated in his treasonable plans were punished. After concluding peace with Sweden in 1721, Peter made war upon Persia in order to open the Caspian Sea to Russian commerce, by which he secured three Caspian provinces and Derbend and Baku. His last years were chiefly employed in improving his capital and carrying out plans for the diffusion of education among his subjects. He died at St. Petersburg, Feb. 8, 1725, and was succeeded by his empress, under the title of Catherine I. Consult Browning’s, Motley’s and Schuyler’s lives of Peter.