OLD MUSCOVY Russians had the highest regard for their tsar. "Only God and the tsar know." Peter was born on May 30, 1682. He was named after the apostle. When he was 5 years old, he was taught the Bible. Forty years later, he could recite long passages of...
Russians had the highest regard for their tsar. "Only God and the tsar know."
Peter was born on May 30, 1682. He was named after the apostle. When he was 5 years old, he was taught the Bible. Forty years later, he could recite long passages of Scripture by heart. He learned to sing the magnificent Russian choral litany. Peter often attended services in country churches, striding straight up to the choir and singing along in a loud voice.
CHAPTER 6 : WAR GAMES
Peter''s favorite game was war. At his father''s favorite hunting lodge, Peter ordered banners, uniforms and cannon so he and his friends could live in barracks, train like soldiers, use soldiers'' talk, and receive soldiers'' pay. From this collection of young noblemen and stable boys he eventually created the proud Proebrazhensky Regiment.
Peter believed in learning the business of soldiering from the bottom up. Rather than taking the rank of colonel, he was happy to enlist at the lowest grade, a drummer boy. He refused to accept senior rank unless it was earned.
Peter developed a love for sailing when he found an old boat and had the rotting timbers replaced. Today it is the most prized exhibit in the Navy Museum of the U.S.S.R. Along with his love for the sea, his other compulsion was learning from the West.
On January 27, 1689, Peter (16 1/2) married Eudoxia Lopukhina (20). At his age, Peter was too immature to appreciate marriage and often neglected his wife. He took a mistress of "little substance" for twelve years. She traded her beauty and easy-going laughter for gems, a country palace, and an estate.
THE JOLLY COMPANY
Peter was surrounded by a motley group of distinguished graybeards, youthful roisterers and foreign adventurers. They called themselves the Jolly Company. Their banquets began at noon and ended at dawn. They smoked, played bowls and ninepins, had archery matches, and shot at targets with muskets. They played music, danced, and watched fireworks. Mostly they drank and passed out. Drunkenness was almost universal in Russia and an essential feature of hospitality. Unless the guests were sent home dead drunk, the evening was considered a failure. Each person turned his cup upside down to prove it was empty. In time, drinking took its toll, as Peter was to die at the age of fifty-two.
The Jolly Company and their Drunken Synod masquerades were a form or relaxation for men who were not refined. They were men of action, engaged in building and governing a state. Their hands were stained with blood, mortar, and dust. They needed to relax and did so by drinking, laughing, shouting, dressing in costumes dancing, playing practical jokes, and making fun of one another.
CHAPTER 11: AZOV
Peter stood six feet seven inches. He was perpetually curious, perpetually restless, and perpetually in movement. He also suffered from unusual seizures that were most likely caused by a fever which almost killed him in 1693.
Russia was still at war with the Ottoman Empire. Every summer the horsemen of the Tatar Khan rode north to raid the Urkraine. In 1692, an army of 12,000 Tatar cavalry burned Neimerov to the ground and carried away 2,000 prisoners to be sold in the Ottoman slave marts. Peter mounted a plan to attack the Turkish forts at the mouths of the Dnieper and Don rivers. These forts blocked Russia''s access to the Black Sea.
Peter returned the following year to attack Azov. The Russian army built a vast earth platform to climb over the walls of the fort. It surrendered on July 28th. Azov was now Russian. All mosques were changed to Christian churches. For the first time in 30 years, the Russian army was victorious. After hearing the news, the Patriarch of Moscow burst into tears. He ordered the great bell rung and gave thanks to Almighty God. All talked with astonishment of the humility of Peter, who, after such a great victory, did not lift up his own heart, but ascribed all to the Creator of heaven and praised only his assistants.
Peter now began construction of a great warships and galleys. He sent young men to western Europe to learn seamanship, navigation, and shipbuilding.
CHAPTER 12: THE GREAT EMBASSY TO WESTERN EUROPE
For the first time ever a tsar traveled abroad when Peter and 250 of his ambassadors visited the capitals of Russia'' allies: Warsaw (Poland), Vienna (Austria), and Venice (Italy). He needed their help against the Ottoman Empire. Also included were Amsterdam and London, homes of the world''s two greatest naval powers. He wanted to meet the greatest shipbuilders in the world located in England, Holland, and Venice. France, friend of the Turks, he avoided (which meant he never King Louis XIV, the most influential man in Europe). Peter decided to travel incognito so he could avoid time-consuming formalities and ceremonies, and so he could come and go as he wished.
Peter spent 4 months in Amsterdam learning shipbuilding. He worked in the shipyards of the East India Company because it was enclosed by walls and barred to the public. He built a frigate 100 feet long and named it "The Apostles Peter and Paul." Peter knew that the Russian people barely produced enough food to feed themselves. He observed the prosperity of the Dutch and attributed it to their vast merchant fleet, and to their religious toleration which increased their international trade.
THE PRINCE OF ORANGE
The Russians wanted to build 70 warships and over 100 galleys. However, the Dutch were not interested in becoming Russia''s ally against the Turks. Their sole focus was to defend themselves against the aggression of Louis XIV who had invaded Holland. He was stopped when 21-year-old William of Orange ordered the dikes to be breached to flood the land surrounding Amsterdam. Louis could advance no further and withdrew. William''s talent lay not in winning battles but in surviving defeat!
In 1698, London was dirty from trash thrown into the streets and dangerous from rampant crime. But it also possessed grace and beauty. Christopher Wren, the great English architect, erected fifty-two new parish churches in London on sites wiped clean by the Great Fire of 1666. Their thin, glittering steeples gave London a breathtaking distinctive skyline, dominated by Wren''s masterpiece, the gigantic-domed St. Paul''s Cathedral. Life centered on intelligent conversations which took place in hundreds of coffee houses. Peter said that, "The English island is the best and most beautiful in the world." He visited Greenwich Naval Hospital. He saw the tombs of England''s monarchs inside Westminster Abbey. He toured the museum of medieval armor and the Royal Mint inside the Tower of London. He was impressed with how the Mint milled the edges of their coins to prevent the constant degrading of coinage by people snipping little bits of silver off the edges.
CHAPTER 17: LEOPOLD AND AUGUSTUS
Vienna believed it was their holy mission to defend Christianity against the advance of the Ottoman Empire whom they had repelled in 1683. King Leopold''s historians traced his genealogy back to the Old Testament Noah. Leopold preferred the quiet study of theology and genealogy over politics and military campaigns. He believed his throne had been given to him by God, and if He was satisfied with them, He would make them prosper.
Augustus, King of Poland, proposed to Peter an alliance to later go to war against Sweden, who blocked Polish and Russian access to the Baltic Sea.
Peter''s eighteen-month journey outside Russia helped him understand that the roots of Western technological advancement had been the freeing of men''s minds, especially through the Renaissance and the Reformation.
CHAPTER 18: "THESE THINGS ARE IN YOUR WAY"
On September 5, 1698, the day after returning to Moscow, Peter took a long, sharp barber razor and shaved off the beards of his closest associates. Most Orthodox Russians viewed their beards as an ornament given by God, worn by the prophets, the apostles and by Jesus Himself. But Peter regarded beards as unnecessary, uncivilized and ridiculous.
Peter also insisted they change from traditional Russian clothing: an embroidered shirt, wide breeches tucked into floppy boots brilliantly colored in red or green with turned-up toes and gold trim, then a caftan reaching to the ground. Peter believed this outfit to be impractical. The bulky robes got in the way whether working at a shipyard, sailing, or marching. Peter abandoned the long robed for shorter Hungarian and German-style caftans.
Another change occurred in Peter''s marriage. He wanted to be free from his "uninteresting and possessive wife." He had Eudoria forcibly removed to a monastery to become a nun.
Peter also changed the Russian calendar to align with the Western Julian calendar. Since the earliest times, Russia had calculated the year not from the birth of Christ but from the moment when they believed the world had been created. Peter had returned from the West not in 1698 but in 7206. The Russian New Year began on September 1st from their belief that the world was created in autumn when grain and fruit were ready for harvesting.
In order to promote trade, Peter had new coins minted. The existing kopeks were small oval bits of silver that people would slice up to make change. New stamped paper would now be used for all formal Russian government business.
Peter created the Order of St. Andrew, an exclusive order of Russian knighthood, named after the patron saint of Russia. They wore a broad light-blue ribbon diagonally across their chests with the cross of St. Andrew in black on white enamel.
CHAPTER 20: AMONG FRIENDS
The truncating of beards and sleeves, the changes in the calendar and the money, the incarceration of the Ttasritsa, the mockery of church rituals, the shipbuilding at Voronezh -- all were part of a single purpose: to move Russia away from the old and toward a more modern, Western way of life.
Peter''s moods were strange and unpredictable, given to violent swings between elation and sudden anger. One minute he was jovial, happy to be in the company of his friends, yet a few minutes later he could sink into deep, irritable gloom or explode with sudden rage.
CRIME IN MOSCOW
Robbers operated every where in packs. Usually at night but sometimes in broad daylight, they mugged and frequently murdered their victims. A foreign sea captain dining with his wife at the house of a boyar was invited to go out for a night sleigh ride across the snow. When he and his host returned, they found that his wife''s head had been cut off, and there were no clues as to the identity of the assassin. When robbers were caught, they were sent to the rack and the gallows. But disobedience was so deeply ingrained that deterrence was ineffective.
There were hordes of beggars who pursued citizens from the moment they left their homes. Peter used his own money to build a hospital attached to every church to provide for the poor. This soon cleared the streets of these poor vagrants, many of who chose to work than to be locked up in the stark hospitals.
CHAPTER 21: VORONEZH AND THE SOUTHERN FLEET
On May 7, 1699, the Russian fleet was ready to go to war with Turkey over access to the Black Sea. But in the Treaty of Constantinople of 1700, Peter negotiated a 30-year truce with the Turks. Russia would keep Azov, while Russian forts on the lower Dnieper were to be destroyed and the land returned to Turkey. The Turks promised to assist Orthodox Christians access to Jerusalem. Thus, the Russian fleet never went to war.
CHAPTER 22: MISTRESS OF THE NORTH
Sweden occupied the coastal lands of Karelia and Ingria that belonged to Russia. Peter allied with Denmark and Poland to go to war with Sweden. Peter mustered and trained an entire army in several months.
CHAPTER 24: CHARLES XII
The king of Sweden was 10 years younger than Peter. As a boy and young man, Charles spent an hour every morning discussing the chapters of the Bible one by one with a bishop. By the age of 17, he vowed to his grandmother that he would never drink alcohol again. This occurred in 1699 when during a great drinking bout a captive bear was forced to drink so much Spanish wine that he lumbered to a window, lurched out into the courtyard below and was killed by the fall. Charles was deeply ashamed at what he had done and, with only two exceptions when he was wounded and extremely thirsty, he never touched another drop of strong liquor. At a young age he became a fierce and unrelenting warrior. He only fought one enemy at a time so he could concentrate all his forces. His allies against Russia were England and Holland.
CHAPTER 25: NARVA
Peter determined that the key to regaining the coastal lands was taking the city of Narva. It was situated on a bend of the River Narova so that three sides were surrounded by water. The Russians constructed siege works four miles long, nine feet high, with a trench six-feet-deep in front. Charles landed 150 miles away. Against his advisers and deplorable conditions, he marched 10,537 men toward Narva. The roads were mired by autumn rains and the men marched and slept in thick, syrupy mud. There was no fodder for the horses and no food as the Russians had burned all the farmhouses along the way. A steady cold November rain drenched the men. At night the rain turned to snow flurries and the ground began to freeze. King Charles slept with his men under the open sky, receiving the snow and rain in his face.
Peter used the same strategy the Duke of Marlborough would use ten years later. He first encircled the town with his army, and then fortified the outer rim of the camp to hold off rescuing armies. But the Russian line was too long, and what turned out to be the night before the battle, Peter left for Novgorod to speed up reinforcements and to confer with his Polish ally, King Augustus. None of the Russians expected the exhausted Swedish army to attack. That is exactly what they did. They had no food to sustain themselves in a long siege, and retreat was not an option. They attacked near the center of the Russian line. A blizzard blew up right behind the Swedes, clouding the vision of the Russians who aimed their shots too high. The Swedes threw themselves into the ditch and over the wall, in fierce hand-to-hand combat. Then they divided their forces, one going north and the other south. The Russians fought stubbornly, then panicked and retreated into the river, where many men were lost. So many men and horses crowded onto the single bridge that it collapsed.
The Swedes had 31 officers and 646 men killed, with 1,205 wounded. Eight thousand Russians had been either killed or wounded.
CHAPTER 26: "WE MUST NOT LOSE OUR HEADS"
When confronted with disaster, Peter did not despair. Failure only spurned him forward. Slowly, a new army was forged. Peter bought around 40,000 modern flintlock rifles from England with ring bayonets. One-fourth of all church bells were melted down and recast as cannon. Peter built swarms of small naval craft, propelled by oar and a single sail, to harass Swedish ships on the lakes and rivers. by 1704 they drove the Swedish navy out of Russia. At Dorpat, the Russians threw a boom across the mouth of the river and placed artillery on shore. When thirteen Swedish ships came down the river, the current carried them helplessly against the boom, where the Russian artillery blew them to pieces.
The new army''s first battle was at the powerful island fortress of Noteborg in the fall of 1702. Surrounded with no hope of a relieving army, the fort surrendered after ten days of bombardment. On May 12, 1703, Peter captured the Swedish town of Nyenskans. He now occupied the length of the Neva River and regained access to the Baltic Sea. The Province of Ingria was restored to Russia.
It was Peter''s dream to build a city on the sea, a port from which Russian ships and Russian commerce would sail out into the world''s oceans. And this he did. The Swedes returned again and again but were beaten off. Through the centuries, none of the conquerors who subsequently entered Russia with great armies -- Charles XII, Napoleon, Hitler -- was able to capture Peter''s Baltic port, St. Petersburg, although the Nazi armies besieged the city for 900 days in World War II. From the day that Peter the Great first set foot on the mouth of the Neva River, the land and the city that arose there have always remained Russian.
CHAPTER 27: THE FOUNDING OF ST. PETERSBURG
Built in May 1703, Peter lived in a simple log cabin while the city of his patron saint was being built. It was 55 feet long and 20 feet wide and had three rooms: a bedroom, a dining room, and a study. It had no stoves or chimneys, as Peter only stayed there during the summer. It still stands today as the oldest building in St. Petersburg.
Peter''s wanted his city to be a fortress guarding Russian access to the Baltic Sea, a better port for commercial vessels than colder Archangel in the Arctic Sea, a port for the Russian navy, and a place where Russians would want to live. He hired the Italian architect, Domenico Trezzini, who built brick and stone buildings in the Dutch, Protestant, northern-baroque style. In 1713, he began construction of the baroque Peter and Paul Cathedral which still stands today, with its Germanic golden spire soaring 400 feet into the air.
The land was not ideal. It was a marsh. Thousands of carpenters, stonecutters, masons, and unskilled peasants had to drive piles into the marches, hew and haul timbers, drag the stones, clear the forests, level the hills, lay out the streets, build docks and wharves, erect the fortress, houses and shipyard, and dig the canals. Stones had to be imported. Every Russian vessel coming into port was required to bring a quota of stones or be denied entry. Working conditions were frightful. Workers lived on damp ground in rough, crowded, filthy huts. Scurvy, dysentery, and malaria were everywhere. An estimated 30,000 workers died.
People initially hated living there. The surrounding region of water, swamp, and forests did not produce enough crops. Food had to be imported. Built at sea level, the city flooded whenever the Neva River rose more than a few feet. The water reached 21 inches high in Peter''s cabin. He minimized it by saying that "the waters did not remain long, less than three hours." The people sat on their roofs and in trees until the water receded. There were also many fires. Since stone was scarce, homes were initially built of wood. Peter organized a system of constant surveillance. At night, watchmen sat in church towers. At the first sign of fire, they rang a bell. Drummers woke up and beat their drums. The streets filled with men, hatchets in hand, running to the fire. They received an extra monthly allowance for doing so. Peter himself ran with them. A foreigner said, "It is a common thing to see the Tsar among the workmen with a hatchet in hand, climbing to the top of the houses that are all in flames, with such danger to himself that the spectators tremble at the sight of it."
In time, St. Petersburg became a dazzling city. Majestic palaces and public buildings of yellow, light blue, pale green and red lined the three-mile granite quay along the Neva. One-hundred-and-fifty arching bridges linked nineteen islands. Everywhere there were golden spires and domes, granite columns and marble obelisks. It became a fountainhead of Russian literature, music and art, the home of Pushkin, Gogol and Dostoevsky, of Borodin, Mussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov, of Pepita, Diaghilev, Pavlova and Nijinsky. For two centuries, Russian sovereigns ruled there. Even after its name was changed to Leningrad, many of its citizens affectionately simply refer to it as "Peter."
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