Bestuzhev-Ryumin, Alexei Petrovich

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(1693-1766), count, chancellor, diplomat, statesman.

Second son of a Muscovite noble family, Alexei Bestuzhev-Ryumin went abroad in 1708 with his older brother, Mikhail Petrovich (16881760), to study at the Danish noble academy and transferred to Berlin in 1710. Before diplomatic service in 1712 at the Congress of Utrecht, he concentrated on foreign languages, traveled in Europe, and presumably had a Muscovite education befitting offspring of an eminent father, Count Pyotr Mikhailovich Bestuzhev-Ryumin (16641743). With Tsar Peter's permission he joined Hanover's foreign service in 1713, visited England in connection with George I's selection as king, and returned to Russia to announce the new British sovereign. Bestuzhev-Ryumin then spent four years in England. From 1717 he served the court of dowager Duchess Anna Ivanovna of Courland without pay for two years under his father. In 1721 he became minister-resident to the Danish court, where he followed Peter I's rivalry with George I of England, Denmark's competition with Holstein, and celebration of the peace ending Russo-Swedish hostilities, and received a miniature of Peter with diamonds that he proudly wore thereafter. He also helped develop a nerve-tonic known as "Bestucheff's drops"; the formula sold several times until published by Catherine II in 1780.

In the years after Peter I's death, Bestuzhev-Ryumin occupied diplomatic posts in northern Europe. At Kiel he discovered a copy of Catherine I's testament supporting the Duke of Holstein's rights to the Russian throne; for this he received the Order of Saint Alexander Nevsky. He cultivated favor with Anna Ivanovna's new regime, the empress serving as godmother to his three sons. He had married Anna Yekaterina Böttiger (d. 1762), daughter of the Russian envoy to Hamburg. As Countess Bestuzheva-Ryumina she became court mistress in 1748, accompanied her husband into exile in 1758, and was buried at the old Lutheran church in Moscow.

Bestuzhev-Ryumin returned to Petersburg in 1740 and was promoted to actual privy councilor, named a cabinet minister, and awarded the Polish Order of the White Eagle. He apparently supported Ernst Johann Biron's brief regency and, although sentenced to be quartered after the regent's over-throw, he survived with the loss of all privileges and property before exile. Reinstated five months later, Bestuzhev-Ryumin assisted Elizabeth's coup of December 1741 by composing the manifesto that proclaimed her reign. He was made senator and vice chancellor of foreign affairs and received his predecessor Andrei Osterman's house in Moscow, back salary, and 6,000 rubles per year. At Elizabeth's coronation in the spring of 1742 he joined father and brother as counts of the Russian Empire. Bestuzhev-Ryumin reached the pinnacle of power with promotion to chancellor in 1744 and count of the Holy Roman Empire, with an annual salary of 7,000 rubles and estates with 4,225 male serfs. He likewise received pensions and loans from foreign powers, Britain in particular.

Bestuzhev-Ryumin pursued a policy against Prussia and France while cultivating the maritime powers of Britain, Holland, and Denmark. He intervened in dynastic politics, too, initially opposing Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst as consort for crown prince Peter Fyodorovich. When the Seven Years' War scrambled European international politics, Bestuzhev-Ryumin pressed a militantly anti-Prussian policy while countering French intrigues and secretly conspiring with Grand Princess Catherine to seize power in the event of Elizabeth's sudden death. These involvements resulted in his arrest for treason in February 1758. He managed to warn Catherine and escaped death although banished to his estate of Goretovo, where his wife died on January 5, 1762, the same day Elizabeth expired. Peter III did not pardon him, but Catherine did, although she did not name any chancellor.

Bestuzhev-Ryumin returned to court in July 1762 and regained honors and property, the Holstein Order of Saint Anna, and an annual pension of 20,000 rubles. He twice proposed to proclaim Catherine "the Great," but she declined the honor and soon cooled to his anti-Prussian views and quarreled with his sole surviving son, Andrei, whose death in 1768 ended the male line. Bestuzhev-Ryumin's long and tumultuous career in high politics resulted in ambivalent assessments. The German soldier Manstein praised his industry while predicting his final downfall and denouncing despotic power, arrogance, avarice, dissolute lifestyle, treacherous character, and vindictiveness. In final exile and late in life Bestuzhev-Ryumin turned to religion.

See also: catherine i; catherine ii; elizabeth


Anisimov, Evgeny V. (1995). Empress Elizabeth: Her Reign and Her Russia, 17411761, tr. John T. Alexander. Gulf Breeze, FL: Academic International.

Curtiss, Mina. (1974). A Forgotten Empress: Anna Ivanovna and Her Era, 17301740. New York: Frederick Ungar.

Manstein, C. H. (1968). Contemporary Memoirs of Russia From the Year 1727 to 1744. London: Frank Cass.

Meehan-Waters, Brenda. (1982). Autocracy and Aristocracy: The Russian Service Elite of 1730. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

John T. Alexander