Almost nothing is known about Alexander's childhood and youth. According to the official version, he was a native of impoverished Lithuanian (Belarusian) nobles, but researchers doubt it. It is believed that before getting into the entourage of the favorite of Peter Franz Lefort, Menshikov was a pies dealer. Other historians believe that this is an invention of his enemies, invented in order to humiliate His Serene Highness. Soon he became Peter's orderly, his closest confidant in all undertakings and hobbies. Thanks to his energy and intelligence, Menshikov accompanied the tsar and helped him in almost all famous affairs of that time, participated in the Azov campaigns in 1695-1696, in the "Great Embassy" in 1697-1698. to Western Europe. During the Northern War, Alexander Menshikov showed a talent for a military leader, led large formations of infantry and cavalry (he showed himself especially well as a cavalry commander), distinguished himself in many battles, sieges and assaults of cities. Menshikov was one of the first to receive the highest award of Russia - the Order of the Holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called (received together with Peter for the brave boarding of two Swedish ships at the mouth of the Neva in 1703). Alexander Danilovich became the first governor-general of St. Petersburg - he was from 1703 until his disgrace in 1727, played a big role in the construction of the new capital of Russia, as well as Kronstadt, shipbuilding enterprises on the Neva and Svir rivers, armory factories. In the famous battle of Poltava on June 27, July 8, 1709, Menshikov led the Russian vanguard, and then the left flank of the Russian army. He forced the defeated Swedish army to surrender at Perevolochna. For this battle, Alexander Danilovich was awarded the rank of field marshal.
For active participation in maritime affairs, he received the rank of rear admiral (1716 year), after the conclusion of the Peace of Nishtad in 1721 year - the rank of vice admiral. Menshikov under Peter became the second soul maker in the empire after the king. Despite the large number of useful cases, Menshikov had several serious flaws. His main sin is the exorbitant self-interest, the Most Serene Prince repeatedly accused of stealing state funds. However, Peter forgave him, believing that Menshikov's merits for the Fatherland are higher than his abuses.
Ruler of the empire
After the death of Peter, His Serene Highness, relying on the Guards regiments and the most prominent state dignitaries, in January 1725, he enthroned the emperor's wife, Catherine I, and became the de facto ruler of Russia. The reign of Catherine was the "finest hour" of the Most High Prince. His energy and resourcefulness can only be amazed. With intrigues, persuasion, intimidation, he elevated Catherine to the throne and held onto his position, fortifying him. He received all new rewards, estates and thousands of serfs.
Menshikov planned to intermarry with the imperial house: to pass off one of his daughters as Grand Duke Peter Alekseevich. The prince knew that the empress would not live long - she had poor health, which she vigorously undermined by the loose lifestyle. Therefore, Menshikov was looking for ways to maintain his position in the empire. In the spring of 1727, the engagement of Maria Menshikov’s daughter with Peter Sapieha was canceled. The Empress consented to the marriage of Maria Menshikova with the Tsarevich Peter Alekseevich. The daughters of the Empress Elizabeth and Anna, as well as the son-in-law - the Duke of Holstein, begged Catherine to cancel this decision. But Catherine was deaf to their requests. No matter how sick the empress was, this did not prevent her from continuing the amorous things - she made Sapega her favorite.
Before Catherine’s death, the Most High Prince eliminated several of his comrades in the “Petrov's Nest” (they were against the marriage of Menshikov’s daughter with the Tsarevich and wanted to erect Peter’s daughter Elizabeth). The following persons were accused of the conspiracy: the owner of the capital, the general-police master Count A. M. Devier (under torture he pointed to other participants of the “plot”), a member of the Supreme Privy Council, Count P. A. Tolstoy, General I. I. Buturlin, Prosecutor of the Synod G. Propulsion Skornyakov-Pisarev and some others. On the day of the death of Catherine 6 (17) in May 1727, a royal decree was signed on their death penalty, which was replaced with a lifelong exile.
Menshikov spent the whole of April and March in secret negotiations with D. Golitsyn, secretary-cabinet Makarov and Osterman. The “team of authors” composed the testament of the empress. According to the document, the throne was succeeded by the grandson of Peter I, Tsarevich Peter Alekseevich. The Supreme Council was to carry out the custody of the minor emperor, and the 11-I article commanded the nobles to help the young emperor be betrothed to one of the daughters of Prince Menshikov, and then, upon reaching the age of majority, to marry them. The second paragraph of the will provided for the transfer of the throne, in the case of the emperor's childlessness, to Anna Petrovna and her heirs. Secondly, Elizaveta Petrovna was granted the right to the throne, and the third was Grand Duchess Natalia Alekseevna. The document was supposed to coordinate the interests of the aristocracy and the “new nobility,” Grand Duke Peter, the princesses, Menshikov and the Supreme Council.
Menshikov ignored the clause on collective management and, in fact, for a very short period of time, he again became the ruler of the empire. Menshikov 13 May 1727 of the year achieved the rank of generalissimo naval and ground forces. The Order of St. Catherine was awarded the youngest daughter of the prince and sister-in-law - Varvara Arsenyev. The thirteen-year-old son Alexander Alexandrovich received the Order of St. Andrew and the court rank of Ober Chamberlain. 25 May, Archbishop Theophanes betrothed Emperor Peter with Princess Maria. Mary was determined court state.
Opala and reference
Menshikov made a mistake when he instructed the education of the emperor Andrei Ivanovich Osterman. Prince Osterman believed reliable and obedient man. However, Osterman began to bend his line in the education of Peter. The “underground” work of Osterman and Ivan Dolgoruky (and the clan Dolgoruky standing behind him), who became close to the young emperor, could last for a long time, but the situation changed — in July, Menshikov became seriously ill. The illness lasted more than a month and was so hard that Menshikov wrote a spiritual charter and political testament, asked influential people not to leave his family in trouble.
This time was enough for the young sovereign to “take a breath of the air of freedom” (he preferred training and hunting for lessons), became friends with people who encouraged his hobbies, fulfilled any desires and turned against the powerful guardian. The main favorite of Peter II was his gough-junker Ivan Dolgoruky.
A large role in the fall of Menshikov was also played by the personality factor of the new emperor. No wonder the English envoy noted in the character of the emperor noticeable signs of "the temperament of the gall and cruel." Back in 1725, the Prussian envoy Axel Mardefeld wrote about the “cruel heart” and the mediocre mind of Peter Alekseevich. The Saxon resident Lefort noted that the king is like his grandfather and father - people, as we know, have a very difficult temper, "he stands his ground, does not tolerate objections and does what he wants." The Austrian envoy Count Vratislav sent similar information to Vienna: “The Sovereign knows well that he has complete power and freedom, and does not miss the chance to use this at his own discretion.” A man like Peter II Alekseevich could not tolerate alongside him a real “ruler” who prevented him from the mere fact of his existence.
By August, Menshikov recovered, but the situation has changed dramatically. The sovereign avoided him. Alexander Danilovich, apparently at the height of success, having lost his usual clarity of mind, continue to live as before: in public affairs, the hassle of building his country palace in Oranienbaum. The emperor moved to Petersburg. 30 August on the name Menshikov in Oranienbaum did not come, not only Peter II, but also the most prominent nobles. The case took a serious turn, but Menshikov did nothing. The king missed the ceremony of consecration of the church in Oranienbaum. On September 5, the prince returned to the capital, two days later the emperor arrived and defiantly settled not with him, but in his Summer Palace. It was a formal break. However, Alexander Menshikov still hesitated, not taking any decisive action for his own salvation. It was amazing. Literally four months ago, Menshikov radically changed the dynastic situation in his favor, despite the resistance of many dignitaries, left the fight a winner. He showed initiative, tremendous energy, unceremonious arrogance. In September, Menshikov seemed to have been replaced - it was a passive, sluggish person. This is not to say that he did nothing at all. Menshikov wrote letters to comrades in the Supreme Council, Grand Duchess Natalia, asking for support. But the old energy and resourcefulness was not. Although he could resist and spoil the enemy a lot of blood. He was the actual supreme commander, he was subject to the garrison of the fortress, fleet, guard and army. He was loved in the guard, on him lay a glint of Peter's glory, the soldiers remembered his military merits. It is obvious that Menshikov could, in the name of the sovereign, suppress the conspiracy of the “traitors” by wresting from them the “monarch beloved by the people”.
Apparently, the true cause of slowness, inaction of the Most High Prince, we will not know. On the morning of September 8 (19), 1727, the 53-year-old president of the Military Collegium, received an order of house arrest. No guard was put on either this or the next day. Menshikov spent the day quietly: had lunch, dined, went to bed. It was logical to put on the uniform of the Generalissimo and go to the barracks to regain control of the situation, directing the anger of the army against the "schemers". Perhaps he was just tired of being on top, or thought he would not dare touch him. There is an opinion that the fear of the royal power worked in it. So, Menshikov tried to “put pressure on pity,” he sent the king a wife and children to beg for pardon. He himself began to write a petition, asking for mercy.
In an instant, Menshikov "from the princes fell into the mud." A void has formed around him: neither friends nor allies. Much of the former comrades, he himself sent into exile or prison. The decisive role in the crash of the "omnipotent" grandee was played by Vice Chancellor Osterman. Osterman's letters about the upbringing and training of the young emperor calmed and lulled the prince’s vigilance. On September 9, the Supreme Council discussed Osterman’s memorandum on the fate of the disgraced prince. They decided to send him to Nizhniy Novgorod estates, without the right to leave, to deprive of all the ranks and orders. Menshikov asked to be exiled not to the Nizhny Novgorod province, but to Voronezh, in his own city, Rannenburg. His request was granted. 11 (22) September Menshikov under escort moved from the capital. He was accompanied by more than one hundred men, many were armed. Soon, by order of the Council, Menshikov’s personal guards were disarmed. The prince fell ill again, but the request to stop until recovery was not granted. The patient was put in a special rocking chair and taken through Novgorod, Valdai, Vyshny Volochek, Tver. Along the way, news of the breakup of the engagement of Maria Menshikova with Peter II came.
Osterman at this time collected compromising materials on the prince. The benefit of them has accumulated a lot, for a long time Menshikov did not distinguish the state treasury from his own kalita. Especially Osterman, who at that time actually headed the state, the Russian ambassador to Stockholm Nikolai Golovin, particularly helped. He 3 November sent a message that in the 1726, Menshikov allegedly led negotiations with the Swedish government on the transfer of Sweden to Riga, Revel and Vyborg. Now Menshikov could have been accused of a grave crime - high treason.
Soon Menshikov was deprived of all his property and sent to the Siberian town of Berezov in Tobolsk Governorate. On the way, his wife, Princess Darya Mikhailovna, died. In Beryozovo, with several faithful servants who did not leave him, he built a house and a church. Alexander Danilovich died 12 on November 1729, at the age of 56, from smallpox, his daughter Maria died a little later.
V.I. Surikov. Menshikov in Berezov (1883)