1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Alexius Petrovich

ALEXIUS PETROVICH (1690-1718), Russian tsarevich, the sole surviving son of Peter I. and Eudoxia Lopukhina, was born on the 19th of February 1690. The young tsar married the boyarinya Lopukhina at his mother's command. We know nothing of the bride except that she was beautiful, modest and “brought up in the fear of the Lord.” She would, doubtless, have made a model tsaritsa of the pre-Petrine period, but, unfortunately, she was no fit wife for such a vagabond of genius as Peter the Great. From the first her society bored Peter unspeakably, and, after the birth of their second short-lived son Alexander, on the 3rd of October 1691, he practically deserted her. The young Alexius was ignored by his father till he was nine years old. Peter was a rare and unwelcome guest in his own family, and a son who loved his mother could have little affection for a father who had ever been that mother’s worst persecutor. From his sixth to his ninth year Alexius was educated by the diffuse and pedantic Vyazemsky, but after the removal of his mother to the Suzdal Prokovsky Monastery he was confided to the care of learned foreigners, who taught him history, geography, mathematics and French. In 1703 Alexius was ordered to follow the army to the field as a private in a bombardier regiment. In 1704 he was present at the capture of Narva. At this period the preceptors of the tsarevich had the highest opinion of his ability; but, unfortunately, it was not the sort of ability that his father could make use of. He was essentially a student, with strong leanings towards archaeology and ecclesiology. A monastic library was the proper place for this gentle emotional dreamer, who clung so fondly to the ancient traditions. To a prince of his temperament the vehement activity of his abnormally energetic father was very offensive. He liked neither the labour itself nor its object. Yet Peter, not unnaturally, wished his heir to dedicate himself to the service of new Russia, and demanded from him unceasing labour in order to maintain the brand-new state at the high level of greatness to which it had been raised. Painful relations between father and son, quite apart from the personal antipathies already existing, were therefore inevitable. It was an additional misfortune for Alexius that his father should have been too busy to attend to him just as he was growing up from boyhood to manhood. He was left in the hands of reactionary boyars and priests, who encouraged him to hate his father and wish for the death of the tsar-antichrist. His confessor, Yakov Ignatiev, whom he promised to obey as “an angel and apostle of God,” was his chief counsellor in these days.

In 1708 Peter sent Alexius to Smolensk to collect provender and recruits, and thence to Moscow to fortify it against Charles XII. At the end of 1709 he went to Dresden for twelve months for finishing lessons in French and German, mathematics and fortification, and, his education completed, he was married, greatly against his will, to the princess Charlotte of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, whose sister espoused, almost simultaneously, the heir to the Austrian throne, the archduke Charles. The wedding was celebrated at Torgau on the 14th of October 1711, in the house of the queen of Poland, and three weeks later the bridegroom was hurried away by his father to Thorn to superintend the provisioning of the Russian troops in Poland. For the next twelve months Alexius was kept constantly on the move. His wife joined him at Thorn in December, but in April 1712 a peremptory ukaz ordered him off to the army in Pomerania, and in the autumn of the same year he was forced to accompany his father on a tour of inspection through Finland. Evidently Peter was determined to tear his son away from a life of indolent ease. Immediately on his return from Finland Alexius was despatched by his father to Staraya Rusya and Ladoga to see to the building of new ships. This was the last commission entrusted to him. On his return to the capital Peter, in order to see what progress his son had made in mechanics and mathematics, asked him to draw something of a technical nature for his inspection. Alexius, in order to escape such an ordeal, resorted to the abject expedient of disabling his right hand by a pistol-shot. In no other way could the tsarevich have offended his father so deeply. He had behaved like a cowardly recruit who mutilates himself to escape military service. After this, Peter seemed for a time to take no further interest in Alexius. He left him entirely to himself. He employed him no more. He no longer pressed him to attend public functions. Alexius rejoiced at this welcome change, but he had cause rather to fear it. It marked the deepening of a hatred which might have been overcome. Alexius was evidently consoling himself with the reflexion that the future belonged to him. He was well aware that the mass of the Russian nation was on his side. Nearly all the prelates were devoted to him. Equally friendly were the great boyar families. All Alexius had to do was to sit still, keep out of his father’s way as much as possible and await the natural course of events. But with Peter the present was everything. He could not afford to leave anything to chance. All his life long he had been working incessantly with a single object—the regeneration of Russia. What if his successor refused to tread in his father’s footsteps or, still worse, tried to destroy his father’s work? By some such process of reasoning as this must the idea of changing the succession to the throne, by setting aside Alexius have first occurred to the mind of Peter the Great. Nevertheless he made one last effort to reclaim his son. On the 22nd of October 1715 Alexius’ consort, the princess Charlotte, died, after giving birth to a son, the grand-duke Peter, afterwards Peter II. On the day of the funeral Peter addressed to Alexius a stern letter of warning and remonstrance, urging him no longer to resemble the slothful servant in the parable, and threatening to cut him off, as though he were a gangrenous swelling, if he did not acquiesce in his father’s plans. But it was now that Alexius showed what a poor creature he really was. He wrote a pitiful reply to his father, offering to renounce the succession in favour of his baby half-brother Peter, who had been born the day after the princess Charlotte’s funeral. As if this were not enough, in January 1716 he wrote to his father for permission to become a monk. Still Peter did not despair. On the 26th of August 1716 he wrote to Alexius from abroad urging him, if he desired to remain tsarevich, to join him and the army without delay. Rather than face this ordeal Alexius fled to Vienna and placed himself under the protection of his brother-in-law, the emperor Charles VI., who sent him for safety first to the Tirolean fortress of Ahrenberg, and finally to the castle of San Elmo at Naples. He was accompanied throughout his journey by his mistress, the Finnish girl Afrosina. That the emperor sincerely sympathized with Alexius, and suspected Peter of harbouring murderous designs against his son, is plain from his confidential letter to George I. of England, whom he consulted on this delicate affair. Peter’s agitation was extreme. The flight of the tsarevich to a foreign potentate was a reproach and a scandal. He must be recovered and brought back to Russia at all hazards. This difficult task was accomplished by Count Peter Tolstoi, the most subtle and unscrupulous of Peter’s servants; but terrorized though he was, Alexius would only consent to return on his father solemnly swearing, “before God and His judgment seat,” that if he came back he should not be punished in the least, but cherished as a son and allowed to live quietly on his estates and marry Afrosina. On the 31st of January 1718 the tsarevich reached Moscow. Peter had already determined to institute a most searching inquisition in order to get at the bottom of the mystery of the flight. On the 18th of February a “confession” was extorted from Alexius which implicated most of his friends, and he then publicly renounced the succession to the throne in favour of the baby grand-duke Peter Petrovich. A horrible reign of terror ensued, in the course of which the ex-tsaritsa Eudoxia was dragged from her monastery and publicly tried for alleged adultery, while all who had in any way befriended Alexius were impaled, broken on the wheel and otherwise lingeringly done to death. All this was done to terrorize the reactionaries and isolate the tsarevich. In April 1718 fresh confessions were extorted from Alexius, now utterly broken and half idiotic with fright. Yet even now there were no actual facts to go upon. Alexius’ “evil designs” were still in foro conscientiae, and had not been, perhaps never would be, translated into practice. The worst that could be brought against him was that he had wished his father’s death. In the eyes of Peter, his son was now a self-convicted and most dangerous traitor, whose life was forfeit. But there was no getting over the fact that his father had sworn “before the Almighty and His judgment seat” to pardon him and let him live in peace if he returned to Russia. From Peter’s point of view the question was, did the enormity of the tsarevich’s crime absolve the tsar from the oath which he had taken to spare the life of this prodigal son? This question was solemnly submitted to a grand council of prelates, senators, ministers and other dignitaries on the 13th of June 1718. The clergy left the matter to the tsar’s own decision. The temporal dignitaries declared the evidence to be insufficient and suggested that Alexius should be examined by torture. Accordingly, on the 19th of June, the weak and ailing tsarevich received twenty-five strokes with the knout (as then administered nobody ever survived thirty), and on the 24th fifteen more. It was hardly possible that he could survive such treatment; the natural inference is that he was not intended to survive it. Anyway, he expired two days later in the guardhouse of the citadel of St Petersburg, two days after the senate had condemned him to death for imagining rebellion against his father, and for hoping for the co-operation of the common people and the armed intervention of his brother-in-law, the emperor. This shameful sentence was the outcome of mingled terror and obsequiousness. Abominable, unnatural as Peter’s conduct to his unhappy and innocent son undoubtedly was, there is no reason to suppose that he ever regretted it. He argued that a single worthless life stood in Russia’s way, and he therefore removed it. See R. N. Bain, The First Ramonovs (London, 1905).  (R. N. B.)