Paul I (Russia) (1754–1801; Ruled 1796–1801)

views updated May 29 2018

PAUL I (RUSSIA) (17541801; ruled 17961801)

PAUL I (RUSSIA) (17541801; ruled 17961801), emperor of Russia. Like his father, Peter III (17281762), Paul I was assassinated by members of elite guards' regiments, on 23 March 1801 (11 March, O.S.). Historians are divided as to what motivated his policies during his brief rule, and equally as to what brought about his demise. The most consistently repeated theme is Paul's abiding dislike of his mother, Catherine the Great, and a wish to avenge his father, whose remains he had transferred to St. Petersburg's Peter and Paul Fortress to lie next to Catherine's. It is true that Paul exiled or dismissed many of his mother's favorites, and he released from exile several prominent intellectuals and nobles who had incurred her wrath during the later 1780s and 1790s, including Nikolai Novikov and Aleksandr Radishchev. Within weeks of ascending the throne, Paul effectively decreed an end to the legacy of female rule by replacing Peter the Great's law of succession (which had given the reigning monarch absolute authority to name an heir) with a system that gave preference to male heirs. Henceforth the eldest son would inherit the throne automatically, and the only opportunity for a woman to inherit power would be if the entire male lineage (other sons and brothers) generated no candidates.

Paul's mercurial personality undoubtedly contributed to his unpopularity among the leading families at court. The question of royal madness lingered throughout his reign, and several historians have concluded that he was indeed insane. He surrounded himself with a small coterie of advisers and established a series of ad hoc institutional barriers between himself and the leading servitors. Thus, the heads of Russia's civil administrations, or colleges, were placed under the close jurisdiction of the court. He also endeavored to impose restrictions on the exploitation of serf labor by pronouncing that landlords should demand only three days of corvée per week on their land. Three days were to be reserved for the peasants' own plots, and Sunday was to be observed as the Sabbath. This decree appears not to have significantly modified serf exploitation in the short run, and the secular shift from quitrent to corvée, begun in the mid-eighteenth century, continued apace until the abolition of serfdom in 1861, at least in the central heartland. But the decree constituted at least a symbolic challenge to noble serf owners, the very people who, through the early nineteenth century, dominated the upper rungs of the imperial service system known as the Table of Ranks. As several of Paul's forebears had learned, the emperor may have reigned supreme, but without the acquiescence of the guards' regiments and powerful clans at court he could not effectively rule.

Napoléon Bonaparte's emergence as ruler of France guaranteed that foreign policy would play an increasingly central role during Paul's reign, in particular the vaunted "Eastern Question" and Paul's Northern System. The latter plan briefly united Sweden, Russiasince the partitions of Poland firmly ensconced on the Baltic seaand France in a revival of the League of Armed Neutrality, a naval alliance directed in large measure against Great Britain. The Eastern Question was more complex, but Paul believed that he could work with Bonaparte to advance into the Caucasus (annexing Georgia in 1801), the Black Sea, and at one point even India. Paul's southern ambitions led to his establishing a personal protectorate over the Knights of Malta, becoming their grand master. Like his mother he had designs on Istanbul, but these came to naught.

The coup that led to his murder repeated a well-worn pattern. A coterie of elite guards and Freemasons, led by Count Peter von Pahlen, the governor-general of St. Petersburg, and Platon Zubov, the last favorite of Catherine the Great, plotted the coup. As before, the conspiracy endeavored merely to replace a despised monarch with a more acceptable ruler, in this case Paul's son, the future Alexander I. And, as in the past, the beneficiaries of the coup had been informed in advance of what was intended. Although murder had not been the intentit never wasthe coup did turn bloody, and Paul was killed.

See also Catherine II (Russia) ; Russia .


Primary Sources

Masson, Charles Francois Philbert. Secret Memoirs of the Court of Petersburg: Particularly towards the End of the Reign of Catherine II and the Commencement of That of Paul I. London, 18011802.

Sablukov, N. A. Reminiscences of the Court and Times of the Emperor, Paul I of Russia, up to the Period of His Death: From the Papers of a Deceased Officer. London, 1865.

Secondary Sources

McGrew, Roderick E. Paul I of Russia, 17541801. Oxford and New York, 1992.

Ragsdale, Hugh. Tsar Paul and the Question of Madness: An Essay in History and Psychology. New York, 1988.

Gary Marker

Paul I

views updated May 29 2018


(17541801), tsar of Russia 17961801.

Tsar Paul I (Paul Petrovitch) was born on September 20, 1754. He was officially the son of Tsarevitch Peter and his wife Catherine, but more probably the son of Sergei Saltykovchamberlain at the court and lover of Catherine since 1752. At his birth, the child was taken away from his parents by his great-aunt, ruling Empress Elizabeth, who brought him to her court, supervised his education, and surrounded him with several tutors such as the old count Nikita Panin. He was eight in July 1762 when, six months after Elizabeth's death and his father's coronation as Peter III, his mother acceded to the throne as Catherine II by a coup that first led to the deposition of the tsar and then to his assassination, intended or not, by Alexei Orlov, one of the main leaders of the conspiracy. From that time on Catherine II, who feared his popularity, kept the child far away from power; Paul Petrovitch grew up in relative loneliness that contributed to make him distrustful. In September 1773, he married Princess Wilhelmine of Hesse-Darmstadt who died in April 1776 while delivering her first baby. In September of that same year, pushed by his mother who wanted an heir, he married Princess Sophia Dorothea of Württemberg (Maria Fiodorovna), who would give birth to ten children. Empress Catherine took away the first two boys, Alexander (born in December 1777) and Constantin (born in April 1779); she personally took care of their education and later intended to appoint Alexander as her heir, instead of Paul.

From September 1781 to August 1782, Paul and his wife made an eleven-month tour that brought them to all the European courts and allowed the future tsar to discover European political models and ways of life.

After returning to Russia, still deprived of their older sons and of any power, Paul and Maria Fiodorovna a lived at Gatchina, a large estate given to them by Catherine. At Gatchina, the tsarevitch had his own court and a personal small army, composed of 2,400 soldiers and 140 officers. Isolated, fascinated by the Prussian model, Paul began to show an abnormal obsession for military parades and processions and started to tyrannize his soldiers. But at the same time, he established a hospital where peasants could receive free medical care, founded a school for the children of his serfs, and was tolerant of the Lutheran faith of his Finnish serfs.

On November 5, 1796, the death of Catherine made him tsar at the age of forty-two. He made many decisionsmore than two thousand ukases in five yearsthat revealed the rejection of his mother's heritage, but they were not always consistent. In domestic policy, he first issued on April 1797 a decree establishing the principle of male primogeniture for succession to the throne, so as to eliminate any political turmoil. He proclaimed a general amnesty, freed all of Catherine's political prisoners, including the thinker Nikolai Novikov, and liberated the twelve thousand Poles kept in Russian jails since the last Polish war of independence led by Tadeusz Kociuszko. His hate for Catherine's immoral behavior and way of governing brought him to exile his mother's lovers and to cut down court expenses. His piety led him to forbid landowners from forcing serfs to work on Sundays and on religious feasts, while his mistrust of the nobility led him to impose a new tax on nobles' estates. All these measures, as well as the reorganization of the Russian military service according to the Prussian model and the reintroduction of corporal punishment for nobles, made him very unpopular quickly among the aristocracy.

At the same time, deeply hostile to the French Revolution and anxious about its potential impact on the Russian Empire, he heavily censored intellectual and political productions, rejecting the symbols of a French liberal influence in all spheres, even in the more superficial ones such as fashion. Relying on a growing bureaucracy, he reinforced the autocratic regime, condemning random innocents to Siberia or jail to show his unlimited power. He also systematically repressed peasant riots and extended serfdom to the Southern colonies. His domestic policy was therefore a mixture of generous and tyrannical measures.

In foreign policy, his choices were much more consistent. He pursued his mother's policy of expansionism

in the Far East and Caucasus: in 1799, he chartered a Russian-American Company to favor Russian economic and commercial expansion in the North Pacific; and in December 1800 he annexed the kingdom of Georgia. As to war in Europe, he first chose to abstain but finally decided in 17981799 to join the Second Coalition against Napoleon I, together with Great Britain, Naples, Portugal, Austria, and the Ottoman Empire. Russian troops obtained brilliant successes: in winter 17981799, Admiral Fyodor Ushakov took the Ionian Islands from the French armies and established a republic occupied by the Russians. Meanwhile, General Alexander Suvarov won impressive battles in Italy (Cassano and Novi) and Switzerland in 17981800. And in November 1798, opposing Napoleon's claim to the Island of Malta, Paul agreed to become the protector and Great-Master of the Order of Malta. But in 1800, irritated by the suspicious behavior of his Austrian and British allies and convinced that an alliance with Napoleon could favor the Russian national interests, Paul abruptly changed his mind. He led Russia into a rapprochement with France and a war against Britain; to this end, in January 1801 he launched a military expedition toward India. These last decisions were perceived as dangerous and even foolish by a faction of the court. Encouraged by Charles Whitworth, the British ambassador in St. Petersburg, and with the passive complicity of Tsarevitch Alexander, several figures close to the tsar, such as Nikita Panin the young, Count Peter von Pahlen, general governor of St. Petersburg, and Leontii Bennigsen, led a conspiracy that culminated with Paul's brutal assassination in March 1801.

See also: catherine ii; novikov, nikolai ivanovich


McGrew, Roderick Erle. (1992). Paul I of Russia, 17541801. Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press.

Ragsdale, Hugh. (1998). Tsar Paul and the Question of Madness: An Essay in History and Psychology. New York: Greenwood Press.

Marie-Pierre Rey

Paul I

views updated May 23 2018


PAUL I (in Russian, Pavel Petrovich; 1754–1801; ruled 1796–1801), emperor of Russia.

Officially, Paul was the son of Peter III (r. 1762) and Catherine II (the Great, r. 1762–1796), but it is likely that his real father was the Russian nobleman Sergei Saltykov. Paul never doubted his royal paternity and revered his father's memory, but he grew to hate his mother. The antipathy was mutual. Peter III had been groomed to succeed his aunt, Empress Elizabeth (r. 1741–1762), under the terms of a 1722 law requiring reigning monarchs to nominate their successors. Peter duly became emperor in January 1762 (December 1761, old style), but his policies and personality alienated powerful nobles and his reign and his life were cut short in July 1762 by a coup in favor of his wife. The astute Catherine, who had strong support in court and diplomatic circles, claimed to rule by popular acclaim. She resisted suggestions that she serve as regent to Paul, who became painfully aware that his mother could legally disinherit him. For her part, Catherine feared the formation of factions around her son. Paul received a good education, but his mother kept him away from government. Official visits abroad, drilling his own guards on his barracks-like estate at Gatchina near St. Petersburg, and family life kept him occupied. In 1773 Paul was married off to Wilhelmina of Hesse-Darmstadt (known after conversion to Orthodoxy as Natalya Alex-eyevna), who died giving birth in April 1776. Five months later he married Sophia Dorothea of Württemberg (Maria Fyodorovna), who bore him four sons and six daughters.

In March 1801 conspirators broke into the bedchamber of Emperor Paul I of Russia and placed him under arrest. "What have I done to you?" Paul asked. The answer came: "You have tortured us for four years!" Moments later Paul was dead. (Reminiscences of Count Levin Bennigsen)

When Catherine II died from a stroke in November 1796, Paul had Peter III's remains exhumed and buried alongside her. Much of his activity thereafter aimed at reversing Catherine's policies and expunging her memory. In 1797 he introduced a new succession law based on male primogeniture. Never again would a woman rule Russia. A military atmosphere pervaded St. Petersburg, replacing the French refinement of Catherine's court. Paul outlawed French fashions, from hats to carriages, and banned the import of books. One of Paul's role models was his great-grandfather Peter I (the Great, r. 1682–1725). Paul deplored the erosion under Peter's successors of the principle that all nobles must serve the state for life. He ignored his mother's 1785 Charter to the Nobility. Nobles lost their exemption from corporal punishment, their provincial assemblies were abolished, and many were exiled or demoted on the emperor's whim. An edict of 1797 limiting the time spent by serfs working on their owners' land was probably inspired by Paul's dislike of "indolent" nobles rather than humanitarian concern for peasants.

Paul's reign coincided with the rise to power in France of Napoleon Bonaparte. Despite his antipathy toward the French, Paul initially abandoned the anti-French coalition that his mother had entered, but in 1798 joined the Second Coalition (with Austria, Britain, Naples, Portugal, and Turkey). The most memorable incident in Russia's campaigns was the heroic defeat of France in Italy led by Field Marshal Alexander Suvorov, who later was forced to evacuate his army across the Alps. In 1800 Paul broke off with Austria and Britain. The elite's dislike of Paul was exacerbated by the danger that his erratic policies and behavior apparently posed to Russia. His election in 1798 as grand master of the Catholic Order of Knights of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem (also known as knights of Malta) and an ill-conceived scheme to send Russian troops to India fueled further fears. Eventually, Paul's eldest son, Alexander (born 1777; ruled as Alexander I, 1801–1825), approved a plot masterminded by the governor-general of St. Petersburg, Count Peter von Pahlen, to force Paul to abdicate. When a group of army officers broke into Paul's bedchamber on the night of 23 March (11 March, old style) 1801, the emperor resisted and was murdered during a scuffle.

Historians long maintained that the obsessive and inconsistent Paul was mentally unstable, a "tsar madman." Revisionist historians have detected method in his apparent madness, arguing, for example, that Paul was motivated by deeply held moral principles and a strong sense of duty and order. He had good reason, for example, to cut back on his mother's expensive foreign policy and lavish court. By alienating the nobility, however, he fell victim to the fact that under an autocratic regime lacking representative higher institutions of government, assassination was sometimes the elite's only means of making its voice heard.

See alsoAlexander I; Catherine II; Russia.


McGrew, Roderick E. Paul I of Russia, 1754–1801. Oxford, U.K., 1992.

Ragsdale, Hugh. Tsar Paul and the Question of Madness: An Essay in History and Psychology. New York, 1988.

Ragsdale, Hugh, ed. Paul I: A Reassessment of His Life and Reign. Pittsburgh, Pa., 1979.

Lindsey Hughes

Paul I

views updated Jun 08 2018

Paul I

The Russian czar Paul I (1754-1801), the son and successor of Catherine the Great, reigned from 1796 until his assassination in 1801. Noted for his tyranny, he reversed many of his mother's policies.

Born on Sept. 20, 1754, Paul I was the son of Emperor Peter III and Catherine the Great. Empress Elizabeth brought Paul up under her personal supervision, and his schooling was under the direction of Nikita Ivanovich Panin, who later became Catherine's chief diplomatic adviser. Under the guidance of a carefully selected group of teachers, Paul studied geography, history, and mathematics. He learned to speak Russian, French, and German fluently. At the age of 19 Paul married Wilhemina, daughter of the landgrave of Hesse, but this marriage was brief and unhappy. His wife died in childbirth in April 1776. In September of that year Paul married Sophie Dorothy, Princess of Württemberg, who took the name of Fedorovna. Between 1777 and 1798 Fedorovna bore four sons and six daughters.

Catherine disliked Paul intensely and on several occasions attempted to change the law of succession to his disadvantage. In 1783 she gave him an estate near St. Petersburg. Paul spent the next 13 years in semiretirement at Gatchina, living the life of a country squire and garrison commander. He made rare appearances at the royal court and opposed both his mother's domestic and foreign policies.

Despite Catherine the Great's attempts to make Paul's son Alexander her successor, Paul ascended the Russian throne following his mother's death in 1796. One of his first legislative measures was the abolition of the arbitrary power of the czar to nominate his successor, a power that had contributed to political instability in 18th-century Russia. A law promulgated on the day of Paul's coronation made the crown hereditary in the house of Romanov and defined the order of succession based on primogeniture.

Paul as emperor repealed many of the nobles' privileges, restricted the duties and powers of the imperial guards, and tried to place restrictions on the exploitation of the serfs by the upper classes. Paul encouraged trade and industry, and he also attempted to modernize the armed forces. His conduct, however, was on occasion erratic and tyrannical, such as in his prohibition of foreign travel, Western music and books, and various types of dress.

In foreign policy, Paul joined in 1798 the second coalition against France, but Russia withdrew a year later. In order to discourage English interference with neutral shipping, Paul formed an armed neutrality league with Denmark, Sweden, and Prussia.

Paul's unpredictable—possibly mentally ill—behavior led to a conspiracy to force his abdication. His son Alexander assented to the coup d'etat of March 11, 1801. However, when Paul refused to abdicate, the conspirators strangled him.

Further Reading

The most authoritative study of the reign of Paul I is in Russian. Martha Edith Almedingen, So Dark a Stream: A Study of the Emperor Paul I of Russia, 1754-1801 (1959), is a popularly written biography. There is a good section on Paul in Alexander A. Kornilov, Modern Russian History (3 vols., 1912-1914; trans., 2 vols., 1916-1917), and in Ronald Hingley, The Tsars: Russian Autocrats, 1533-1917 (1968). Hans Rogger, National Consciousness in 18th Century Russia (1960), traces the emergence of a sense of national identity among the cosmopolitan elite.

Additional Sources

McGrew, Roderick E. (Roderick Erle), Paul I of Russia, 1754-1801, Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Paul I, a reassessment of his life and reign, Pittsburgh: University Center for International Studies, University of Pittsburgh, 1979. □