Peter I interrogates Tsarevich Alexei in Peterhof. Artist N.N. Gay
“Peter, in his grief of his father and the tragedy of a statesman, arouses sympathy and understanding ... In the whole unsurpassed gallery of Shakespearean images and situations, it is difficult to find anything similar in his tragedy,” writes N. Molchanov, for example. And indeed, what else did the unfortunate emperor do if his son intended to return the capital of Russia to Moscow (by the way, where is it now?), “Abandon the fleet” and remove its faithful comrades-in-arms from the country? The fact that the "chicks of Petrov’s nest" did well without Alexei and independently destroyed each other (even the incredibly cautious Osterman had to go into exile after the accession of the beloved daughter of a prudent emperor) does not bother anyone. For some reason, the Russian fleet, despite the death of Alexei, fell into decay - the admirals were full, and the ships existed mainly on paper. In 1765, Catherine II complained in a letter to Count Panin: “We have neither fleetnor the sailors. ” But who cares? The main thing is, according to the official historians of the Romanovs and Soviet historians in solidarity with them, that the death of Alexei allowed our country to avoid a return to the past.
And only a rare reader of near-historical novels comes up with a strange and seditious thought: what if it was such a ruler who did not inherit the temperament and militant temper of his father and needed a deadly tired and devastated Russia? The so-called charismatic leaders are good in small doses, two great reformers in a row are too much: the country can break. Here in Sweden, for example, after the death of Charles XII, there is an obvious shortage of people who are ready to sacrifice the lives of several tens of thousands of their fellow citizens for the sake of great goals and the public good. The Swedish empire did not take place, Finland, Norway and the Baltic states were lost, but no one in this country has complained about it.
Of course, the comparison of Russians and Swedes is not entirely correct, because Scandinavians got rid of excessive passionarity back in the Viking era. They scared Europe with terrible berserk warriors (the last of which can be considered Charles XII, who got lost in time) and, having provided the Icelandic skalds with the richest material for creating wonderful sagas, they could afford to take their place not on the stage, but on the stalls. The Russians, as representatives of a younger ethnic group, had yet to pour out their energy and declare themselves as a great people. But for the successful continuation of the work begun by Peter, at a minimum it was necessary that a new generation of soldiers grow up in a deserted country, future poets, scientists, generals and diplomats were born and educated. Until they come, nothing will change in Russia, but they will come, they will come very soon. V.K.Trediakovsky (1703), M.V. Lomonosov (1711) and A.P. Sumarokov (1717) were already born. In January 1725, two weeks before the death of Peter I, the future field marshal P.A. Rumyantsev was born, on February 8, 1728 - the founder of the Russian theater F.G. Volkov, on November 13, 1729 - A.V. Suvorov. Peter's successor should provide Russia with 10, and better - 20 years of peace. And Alexey’s plans are quite consistent historical situations: “I will keep the army only for defense, but I don’t want to have a war with anyone, I will be content with the old,” he says in confidential conversations to his supporters. Now think, is the poor prince really so bad that even the reign of the always drunk Catherine I, the creepy Anna Ioannovna and the amused Elizabeth should be recognized as a gift of fate? And is there really such a blessing to the dynastic crisis that shook the Russian empire in the first half of the XNUMXth century and the ensuing era of palace coups that brought to power extremely dubious applicants, whose rule Germaine de Stael described as "autocracy limited by a noose"?
Before answering these questions, it should be told to readers that Peter I, who, according to V.O. Klyuchevskogo, “he ravaged the country worse than any enemy,” was not at all popular among his subjects and was by no means perceived by them as a hero and savior of the fatherland. The era of Peter the Great for Russia has become a time of bloody and far from always successful wars, mass self-immolations of the Old Believers and the extreme impoverishment of all sections of the population of our country. Few people know that it was under Peter I that the classic “wild” version of Russian serfdom, known for many works of Russian literature, arose. And on the construction of St. Petersburg V. Klyuchevsky said: "There is no battle in the history that would have claimed so many lives." Not surprisingly, in the popular memory, Peter I remained the oppressor, and even more so - the Antichrist, who appeared in punishment for the sins of the Russian people. The cult of Peter the Great began to be introduced into the popular consciousness only during the reign of Elizabeth Petrovna. Elizabeth was the illegitimate daughter of Peter (she was born in 1710, the secret wedding of Peter I and Martha Skavronska took place in 1711, and their public wedding was only in 1712) and therefore was never seriously considered as a candidate for the throne by anyone . Having ascended the Russian throne thanks to a palace coup carried out by a handful of soldiers of the Preobrazhensky Guards Regiment, Elizabeth had been afraid all her life of becoming a victim of a new conspiracy, and by exalting the actions of her father, she sought to emphasize the legality of her dynastic rights.
In the future, the cult of Peter I was extremely beneficial to another person with adventurous character traits - Catherine II, who, having overthrown the grandson of the first Russian emperor, declared herself the heir and successor of Peter the Great. To emphasize the innovative and progressive nature of the reign of Peter I, the official historians of the Romanovs had to go on forgery and attribute some innovations to him that became widespread under his father Alexey Mikhailovich and brother Fyodor Alekseevich. The Russian Empire in the second half of the 18th century was on the rise, the great heroes and the enlightened monarchs of the educated part of society needed much more than tyrants and despots. Therefore, it is not surprising that by the beginning of the 19th century, worship of the genius of Peter was considered a good form among the Russian nobility.
However, the attitude of ordinary people to this emperor remained generally negative, and it took the genius of A.S. Pushkin, to radically change it. The great Russian poet was a good historian and understood the contradictory nature of his beloved hero’s activities: “I have now taken a lot of materials about Peter and will never write his story, because there are many facts that I can’t agree with my personal respect for him” - he wrote in 1836. However, you cannot command a heart, and the poet easily defeated the historian. It was with the light hand of Pushkin that Peter I became the true idol of the broad masses of the people of Russia. With the strengthening of the authority of Peter I, the reputation of Tsarevich Alexei perished completely and irrevocably: if the great emperor tirelessly cares about the welfare of the state and his subjects, he suddenly begins to personally torture, and then signs the order to execute his own son and heir, then it was for that. The situation is like in the German saying: if a dog was killed, it means that it was scabby. But what really happened in the imperial family?
In January, 1689. 16-year-old Peter I, at the insistence of his mother, married Evdokia Fyodorovna Lopukhina, who was three years older than him. Such a wife, who grew up in a private chamber and very far from the vital interests of the young Peter, of course, did not suit the future emperor. Very soon, the miserable Evdokia became for him the personification of the hated orders of old Muscovite Russia, the boyars' laziness, arrogance and inertness. Despite the birth of children (Alexey was born on 8 on February 1690, then Alexander and Pavel were born, who died in infancy), the relations between the spouses were very strained. Peter’s hate and contempt for his wife could not help but reflect on his attitude towards his son. The end came 23 September 1698 g.: On the orders of Peter I, Queen Evdokia was taken to the Pokrovsky Suzdal girl monastery, where she was forcefully tonsured as a nun.
In the history of Russia, Evdokia became the only tsarina, who was not assigned any maintenance or service to the monastery when she was imprisoned. In the same year, the archery regiments were scaled, a year before these events a decree on shaving beards was published, and the following year a new calendar was introduced and a decree on clothing was signed: the king changed everything — his wife, the army, the appearance of his subjects, and even time. And only the son, in the absence of another heir, while remained the same. Alexey was 9 years old when sister of Peter I, Natalya, tore the boy out of her hands forcibly taken to her mother’s monastery. Since then, he began to live under the supervision of Natalia Alekseevna, who treated him with unconcealed hatred. The prince saw his father rarely and, apparently, did not suffer much from separation from him, since he was far from being in awe of the arrogant favorites of Peter and from the noisy feasts taken in his surroundings. Nevertheless, it was proved that Alexey never showed open discontent with his father. He also did not shy away from his studies: it is known that the prince knew the history and the sacred books quite well, mastered French and German perfectly, studied 4 the actions of arithmetic, which was quite a lot for Russia at the beginning of the 18th century, had an understanding of fortification. Peter I himself, at the age of 16, could only boast with the ability to read, write, and knowledge of two arithmetic operations. Yes, and a senior contemporary of Alexei, the famous French king Louis XIV on the background of our hero may seem to be ignorant.
In 11 for years, Alexey goes with Peter I to Arkhangelsk, and a year later, in the rank of a soldier of a bombarding company, he already participates in taking Nyenskans fortress (1 in May of 1703). Pay attention: “meek” Alexey takes part in the war for the first time in 12 years, his warlike father is only in 23 year! In 1704, 14-year-old Alexei is constantly in the army during the siege of Narva. The first serious quarrel between the emperor and his son occurred in 1706. The reason was a secret meeting with his mother: Alexey was called to Zholkva (now Nesterov near Lvov), where he received a severe reprimand. However, in the future, relations between Peter and Alexei returned to normal, and the emperor sent his son to Smolensk to procure food and collect recruits. Recruits that sent Alex, Peter I was unhappy, as announced in a letter to the prince. However, the matter here, apparently, was not a lack of diligence, but in a difficult demographic situation that developed in Russia not without the help of Peter himself: “I couldn’t find a better place at that time, but you deigned to send it soon,” Alexey, and his father is forced to admit that he is right. 25 April 1707. Peter I sends Alexey to manage the repair and construction of new fortifications in China Town and the Kremlin. The comparison is again not in favor of the famous emperor: 17-year-old Peter amuses himself by building small boats on Plescheyeva Lake, and his son at the same age is preparing Moscow for a possible siege by Charles XII. In addition, Aleksey is charged with leading the suppression of the Bulavinsky uprising. In 1711, Aleksey is located in Poland, where he manages the supply of supplies for the Russian army abroad. The country was ravaged by war, and therefore the activity of the prince was not crowned with special success.
A number of highly reputable historians emphasize in their writings that Alexei, in many cases, was a "nominal leader." Agreeing with this statement, it should be said that the same nominal generals and rulers were the majority of his famous peers. We calmly read reports that the twelve-year-old son of the famous Prince Igor Vladimir in 1185 commanded the retinue of the city of Putivl, and his peer from Norway (future King Olav Svyat) in 1007 ruined the coast of Jutland, Frisia and England. But only in the case of Alexei we gloatfully notice: but he couldn’t seriously manage because of his youth and inexperience.
So, until 1711, the emperor was quite tolerant of his son, and then his attitude toward Alexey suddenly changed for the worse. What happened in that ill-fated year? 6 March Peter I secretly got married with Martha Skavronskaya, and 14 October - Alexey married the crown princess Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel Charlotte Christine-Sofia. At this time, Peter I first thought: who now to be the heir to the throne? To the son from the unloved wife Alexey or the children of the beloved woman, “the friend of the kindly Katerushka”, who soon, on February 19 1712, will become the Russian empress Ekaterina Alekseevna? The relationship of an unloved father with an ungracious son to his heart was previously difficult to call cloudless, but now they are completely spoiled. Alexey, who had previously been afraid of Peter, now feels panicky when communicating with him and, in order to avoid the humiliating exam when returning from abroad in 1712, he even shoots his palm. Usually this case is presented as an illustration of a thesis about the pathological laziness of the heir and his inability to learn. However, let's imagine the composition of the "examination committee". Here, with a pipe in his mouth, lounging in a chair, sits not quite sober sovereign Peter Alekseevich. Alexander Danilych Menshikov, an illiterate member of the Royal Academy of Sciences of Great Britain, stands beside him, grinning brazenly. Nearby, there are other “nestlings of Petrov’s nest,” who are closely watching any reaction of their master: smile - rush to kiss, frown - will trample without pity. Would you like to be in Alexey's place?
As other proofs of the “worthlessness” of the heir to the throne, the handwritten letters of the prince to the father are often given in which he describes himself as a lazy, uneducated, physically and mentally weak person. It should be said here that right up to the time of Catherine II only one person had the right to be smart and strong in Russia - the ruling monarch. All the others in the official documents addressed to the tsar or the emperor, called themselves “scanty mind”, “poor”, “slow slaves”, “unworthy slaves” and so forth, and so on. Therefore, self-deprecating, Alexey, firstly, follows the generally accepted rules of good form, and secondly, demonstrates his loyalty to the father-emperor. And we will not even talk about testimony obtained under torture in this article.
After 1711, Peter I begins to suspect her son and daughter-in-law in treachery and sends Mrs. Bruce and Abbess Rzhevskaya in 1714 to follow the crown princesses to give birth: God forbid, they will replace the stillborn child and finally close the path to the children from Catherine. A girl is born and the situation temporarily loses its urgency. But on October 12 1715 was born in the family of Alexey a boy - the future Emperor Peter II, and on October 29 of the same year the son of Empress Catherine Alexeevna, also named Peter, is born. The wife of Alexei dies after giving birth, and at the commemoration of her, the emperor presents a letter to his son demanding "an unfeasible correction." Not brilliantly, but a well-served 25-year-old son, Peter reproaches his dislike of military affairs and warns: "Do not imagine that you are my only son." Alexey understands everything correctly: on October 31 he refuses to claim the throne and asks his father to let him go to the monastery. And Peter the Great was frightened: in the monastery Alexey, becoming inaccessible to the secular authorities, will still be dangerous for Catherine’s long-awaited and beloved son. Peter knows how his subjects treat him and understands that a pious son who was innocently affected by the arbitrariness of his “anti-christ” father will certainly be called to power after his death: the hood is not pinned to the head with nails. At the same time, the emperor cannot and clearly oppose Alexey’s pious desire. Peter orders his son to “think it over” and takes a “time-out” - he goes abroad. In Copenhagen, Peter I makes another move: he offers his son a choice: go to a monastery, or go (not alone, but with his beloved woman Euphrosyne!) To him abroad. This is very similar to a provocation: a prince, driven to despair, is given the opportunity to flee so that he can be later executed for treason against his motherland.
In the 30 of the twentieth century, Stalin tried to repeat this trick with Bukharin. In February, 1936, in the hope that the “party favorite”, severely criticized in Pravda, would flee and destroy his good name forever, sent him along with his beloved wife to Paris. Bukharin, to the great disappointment of the leader of the peoples, has returned.
And naive Alexey fell for bait. Peter calculated correctly: Aleksey did not intend to change his homeland and therefore did not seek asylum in Sweden (“Hertz, this evil genius of Charles XII ... terribly regretted that he could not use Alexei’s treachery against Russia,” writes N. Molchanov) or Turkey There was no doubt that from these countries, after the death of Peter the Great, Aleksei would return to Russia sooner or later as emperor, but the prince preferred neutral Austria. The Austrian emperor had no reason to quarrel with Russia, and therefore it was not difficult for Peter's emissaries to return the fugitive to his homeland: “Peter sent to Austria to return Alexey P. Tolstoy managed with surprising ease to accomplish his task ... The Emperor hurried to get rid of his guest ”(N. Molchanov).
In a letter from 17 in November 1717, Peter I solemnly promises forgiveness to his son, and on January 31, 1718, the prince returns to Moscow. And already February 3 begin arrests among friends of the heir. They are tortured and forced to give the necessary evidence. On March 20, an infamous Secret Office was created to investigate the prince’s case. 19 June 1718 was the day Alexey’s torture began. From these tortures, he died on June 26 (according to other sources, he was strangled so as not to carry out the death sentence). And the very next day, June 27, Peter I gave a luxurious ball on the occasion of the anniversary of the Poltava victory.
So there was no trace of the internal struggle and no hesitation of the emperor. It all ended very sadly: 25 on April 1719 was the son of Peter I and Catherine Alekseevna. The autopsy showed that the boy was incurably sick from the moment of birth, and Peter I ruined his first son in vain, clearing the second path to the throne.