Peter III

views updated May 21 2018


(17281762), emperor of Russia, January 5, 1762, to July 9, 1762.

The future Peter III was born Karl Peter Ulrich in Kiel, Germany, in February 1728, the son of the duke of Holstein and Peter I's daughter Anna Petrovna, who died shortly after his birth. His paternal grandmother was a sister of Charles XII of Sweden; this relation gave him a claim to the Swedish throne. In 1742 his aunt, the Empress Elizabeth (reigned 17411762 [1761 O.S.]), brought him to Russia to be groomed as her heir. Raised a Lutheran with German as his first language, he received instruction in Russian and the Orthodox religion, to which he converted. In 1745 he was married to the fifteen-year-old German Princess Sophia of Anhalt Zerbst, the future Catherine II ("the Great"). On Christmas Day 1761 (O.S.), Elizabeth died, and Peter succeeded her.

Catherine II's Memoirs drew a bleak picture of her marriage, recording bizarre details of Peter court-martialing rats, bringing hunting dogs to bed, and spying on Empress Elizabeth through a hole in the wall. Moreover, she hinted strongly that the marriage was never consummated and that her first child, the future Emperor Paul (born 1754), was in fact the son of her lover. Peter was an "absurd husband," in fact, not a husband at all. Contemporary accounts corroborate the essence, if not all the details, of Catherine's portrait of her husband. Peter seems to have been immature, impulsive, and unpredictable. He had a keen interest in military affairs, particularly drill and fortification, and played the violin quite well, but he also loved dolls and puppets and enjoyed crude practical jokes and drinking. Surviving portraits indicate an unprepossessing appearance.

But a ruler has never been denied his rightful throne merely on account of being "absurd," childlike, and plain. On the contrary, powerful courtiers could easily accommodate and even welcomed such monarchs. Although Peter brought a number of Germans from Holstein into his council, influential figures from Elizabeth's regime such as D. V. Volkov, A. I. Glebov, and members of the Vorontsov clan remained powerful. There was even some support for Peter's controversial personal decision to make peace with Prussia, "out of compassion for suffering humanity and personal friendship toward the King of Prussia." The treaty of May 5 (April 24 O.S.) 1762 restored all the territories taken by Russia during the Seven Years War. Peace triggered Peter's most famous edict, the manifesto releasing the Russian nobility from compulsory state service, issued on February 29 (February 8 O.S.), 1762, which Peter himself probably played little part in drafting. With the prospect of many officers returning from active service, it suited the government to save salaries and re-deploy personnel. The manifesto declared that compulsory service was no longed needed, because "useful knowledge and assiduity in service have increased the number of skillful and brave generals in military affairs, and have put informed and suitable people in civil and political affairs." But this was not an invitation to wholesale desertion. There were restrictions on immediate release: Nobles must educate their sons and, on receipt of the monarch's personal decree, rally to service. Those who had never served were to be "despised and scorned" at court.

Other measures issued during Peter's short reign included a reduction in the salt tax, a temporary ban on the purchase of serfs for factories, and some easing of restrictions on peasants entering and trading in towns. Sanctions were lifted on Old Believers who had fled into Poland. The Secret Chancery was abolished and some of its functions transferred to the Senate. In fulfillment of a decision already made under Elizabeth, the two million peasants on church estates were transferred to the jurisdiction of the state College of Economy, a measure that did not constitute liberation but was regarded as an improvement in the peasants' status. In conjunction with the emancipation of the nobility, this measure increased speculation that Peter might have been planning to liberate the serfs.

None of these measures saved Peter III. He demoted the Senate, thereby alienating some top officials. Confiscating its peasants alienated the church. The decision to end the war with Prussia suited some influential men, but most opposed Peter's further plans to win back Schleswig, formerly the possession of his Holstein ancestors, with Prussian support. He disbanded the imperial bodyguard, and there were rumors that he intended to replace the existing guards, now required to wear Prussian uniforms, with men from Holstein. His fate was further sealed by his alleged contempt for Orthodoxy. It was rumored that he did not observe fasts and that he intended to convert Russia to Lutheranism. Such accusations were exaggerated by Peter's opponents, who now focused on replacing him with his more popular wife, who was beginning to fear for her own safety. On July 5 (June 28 O.S.), 1762, Catherine seized power with the support of guards regiments led by her lover Grigory Orlov. "All unanimously agree that Grand Duke Peter Fyodorovich is incompetent and Russia has nothing to expect but calamity," she declared. After vain efforts to rally support, Peter abdicated and was taken to a residence not far from Peterhof palace. On July 16 (July 5 O.S.) he died, officially of colic brought on by hemorrhoids, although rumors hinted at murder by poison, strangulation, suffocation, beating, or shooting. His escort later admitted that an "unfortunate scuffle" had occurred, but nothing was proven and no one charged. Even if Peter was not killed on Catherine's explicit orders, his death, while not arousing her regret, often came back to haunt her.

The somewhat mysterious circumstances of Peter III's death and the promising nature of some of his edicts later made his a popular identity for a series of pretenders to the throne, culminating in the Pugachev revolt in 1773 and 1774. Following Catherine II's death in 1796, Emperor Paul I, who never doubted that Peter was his father, had his parents buried side by side in the Peter and Paul Cathedral.

See also: catherine ii; elizabeth


Hughes, Lindsey. (1982). "Peter III." Modern Encyclopedia of Russian and Soviet History 27:238244. Gulf Breeze, FL: Academic International Press.

Jones, Robert, E. (1973). The Emancipation of the Russian Nobility, 17821785. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Leonard, Carol. (1993). Reform and Regicide: The Reign of Peter III of Russia. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press.

Madariaga, Isabel de. (1981). Russia in the Age of Catherine the Great. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Raeff, Marc. (1970). "The Domestic Policies of Peter III and His Overthrow." American Historical Review 75:12891310.

Lindsey Hughes

Peter III

views updated May 09 2018

Peter III

Peter III (ca. 1239-1285) was king of Aragon and count of Barcelona from 1276 to 1285 and king of Sicily from 1282 to 1285. He was one of medieval Spain's greatest rulers.

The son of King James I of Aragon and Violante (Yolanda) of Hungary, Peter (or Pedro) III inherited the crown of Aragon in 1276, after his father's extensive conquests had increased both Aragonese power and prestige. In 1262 Peter had married Constance, daughter of Manfred of Sicily and granddaughter of the emperor Frederick II, and had inherited in 1266 the Hohenstaufen family claim to the kingdom of Sicily. Aragon's geographical and economic orientation toward the Mediterranean, Aragonese claims on the kingdom of Sicily, and Peter's great personal abilities made him the first monarch in the Spanish peninsula to participate actively and successfully in the wider affairs of Europe and the Mediterranean.

At the beginning of his reign Peter committed his resources to the construction of a large fleet and the assemblage of a formidable military force. His first target for expansion was the kingdom of Tunis, in whose internal affairs the kings of Aragon had long had an interest. He concerned himself for 6 years with the exploitation of political rivalries among the Moslem rulers of North Africa, but his interest in Aragonese expansion into the Mediterranean did not end there. The crisis in Sicilian politics that occurred between 1266 and 1282 offered him an opportunity to intervene. In 1266 Charles of Anjou, the brother of King Louis IX of France, had defeated the last of the Hohenstaufen rulers of Sicily and, with papal support, had been named king of Sicily. Charles's rule had been harsh; his ambitions had extended to the control of the papacy and the conquest of the Byzantine Empire; and his French nobles and military garrisons had outraged the people of Sicily. In 1282 the population of the island rose up and massacred the French garrisons (the "Sicilian Vespers"), and after a brief period of independence they offered the crown of the kingdom to Peter III because he was the husband of Constance, the last member of the Hohenstaufen family.

Peter's reign in Sicily was challenged by Charles of Anjou, the papacy, and Charles's nephew King Philip III of France. The power of the Aragonese and Sicilian fleets, under the command of the brilliant admiral Roger of Loria, maintained the integrity of the island and confined Charles's forces to the mainland portion of the kingdom in southern Italy. Upon Charles's death in 1285, Philip III invaded Aragon, stirring up a revolt against Peter by Aragonese who resented their King's overseas preoccupations. Philip also played upon the resentment felt toward Peter by his brother King James I of Majorca. Philip, however, died later in 1285, and Peter drove the French from Aragon shortly before he died on Nov. 11, 1285.

In addition to his considerable achievements in North Africa and Sicily, which laid the base for later Aragonese expansion into the eastern Mediterranean, Peter faced the difficulties of a divided kingdom and the wide resentment against his overseas enterprises. In 1283 the nobles and cities of Aragon demanded that he recognize their liberties and cease his demands for unusual fiscal grants. Peter responded with the famous General Privilege, sometimes called the "Magna Carta of Aragon, " a gesture that conciliated his subjects and restored his prestige. His career thus represented both the extension of Aragonese influence in the Mediterranean world and the peaceable definition of the terms according to which king and subjects recognized the limits of their powers in Aragon.

Further Reading

There is no biography of Peter III in English. Excellent accounts of his reign are in Roger Bigelow Merriman, The Rise of the Spanish Empire in the Old World and the New, vol. 1 (1918), and Sir Stephen Runciman, The Sicilian Vespers (1960). A good example of Peter's subsequent popularity may be seen in the 14th-century work by Ramón Muntaner, The Chronicle of Muntaner (trans., 2 vols., 1920-1921). □