Skip to main content

Preobrazhensky Guards

PREOBRAZHENSKY GUARDS

The Preobrazhensky Regiment and its slightly junior counterpart, the Semenovsky Life Guard Regiment, trace their histories to 1683, when Peter the Great as tsarevich created two "play regiments." Named after villages near Moscow, the regiments initially consisted of Peter's boyhood cronies and miscellaneous recruits who engaged in war games in and around the mock fortress of Pressburg. The regiments attained formal status in 1687, followed in 1700 by official appellation as Guards. More than guarantors of the tsar's physical security, these regiments served as models for the emergence of a standing regular Russian army. With adjustments, Peter structured them on the pattern of European-style units that Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich had first introduced into Russian service. As they evolved, the guards became officer training schools for an assortment of gentry youths and foreigners who remained reliably close to the throne. In setting the example, the tsar himself advanced through the ranks of the Preobrazhensky Regiment, serving notably in 1709 as a battalion commander at Poltava. Non-military missions for guards officers and non-commissioned officers often extended to service as a kind of political police for the sovereign. By 1722, Peter's guards (with cavalry) numbered about three thousand troops, and his Table of Ranks recognized their elite status by according their complement two-rank seniority over comparable grades in the regular army.

During the half-century after Peter's death, a mixture of tradition, proximity to the throne, elite status, and gentry recruitment propelled the Preobrazhensky Regiment into court politics. Every sovereign after Peter automatically became chief of the regiment; therefore, appearance of the ruler in its uniform symbolized authority, continuity, and mutual acceptance. Meanwhile, because Peter had made gentry service mandatory, noble families often registered their male children at birth on the regimental list, thus assuring early ascent through the junior grades before actual duty. In effect, the Guards became a bastion of gentry interests and sentiment, and various parties at court eventually drew the Preobrazhensky Regiment into a series of palace intrigues and coups. Officers of the regiment played conspicuous roles in the palace coups of 1740 and 1741 that overthrew successive regents for the infant Ivan VI in final favor of Empress Elizabeth Petrovna. Members of the regiment displayed an even higher profile during the coup of July 1762 that deposed Peter III in favor of his German-born wife, who became Empress Catherine II. She counted prominent supporters within the regiment, and she pointedly dressed as a Preobrazhensky colonel during the campaign on the outskirts of the capital to arrest her husband. On re-entry into St. Petersburg, Catherine personally rode at the head of the regiment. Yet, whatever the level of guards' participation in this and previous coups, there was never any genuine impulse to create an alternative military government; solicitous attention from the traditional monarchy seemed adequate recompense for guards' conspiratorial complicity.

The onset of Catherine II's reign marked the zenith of the Preobrazhensky's role as power broker, although association with the regiment continued to retain symbolic significance. To forestall repetition of events, a new generation of military administrators increasingly recruited non-noble subjects with outstanding physical characteristics as rank-and-file guards, while Tsar Paul I subsequently diluted the guards with recruits from his Gatchina corps. Moreover, other sources of officer recruitment, including the cadet corps, soon supplanted the guards. Only in 1825, during the Decembrist revolt, when a Preobrazhensky company was the first unit to side with Tsar Nicholas I, was there more than brief allusion to a political past. Subsequently, the Preobrazhensky Regiment remained the bearer of a proud combat tradition that included distinguished service in nearly all of imperial Russia's wars. The sons of illustrious families vied for appointment to its officer cadre, while the tsars continued to wear its distinctive dark green tunic on ceremonial occasions.

See also: catherine ii; military, imperial era; peter i

bibliography

Alexander, John T. (1989). Catherine the Great: Life and Legend. New York: Oxford University Press.

Keep, John. L. H. (1985). Soldiers of the Tsar: Army and Society in Russia, 14621874. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Bruce W. Menning

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Preobrazhensky Guards." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Oct. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Preobrazhensky Guards." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 16, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/preobrazhensky-guards

"Preobrazhensky Guards." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Retrieved October 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/preobrazhensky-guards

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.