15 April 1684 was born in Livonia, Martha Skavronskaya, the future second wife of Peter I and the Russian empress. Her ascent is amazing for that time. The origin of Martha is not exactly known. According to one of the versions, she was born in the family of a Livland peasant Skavronsky (Skovarotsky). According to another version, Martha was the daughter of quartermaster of one of the regiments of the Swedish army, Johann Rabe. Parents died from the plague and the girl was given to Lutheran pastor Ernst Gluck. According to another version, Martha’s mother, widowed, gave her daughter to serve the pastor’s family.
At the age of 17, Marta was married to a Swedish dragoon named Johann Kruse. During the Northern War, the Russian army under the command of Field Marshal Sheremetev took the Swedish fortress Marienburg. Sheremetev took the vending young girl into his maid. A few months later, Prince Alexander Menshikov, who took her from Sheremetev, became her master. In one of his regular visits to Menshikov in St. Petersburg, Tsar Peter I noticed Martha and made her his mistress. Gradually, he became attached to her and began to single out among the women who always surrounded the loving king.
When Katerina-Martha was baptized into Orthodoxy (in 1707 or 1708), she changed her name to Ekaterina Alekseevna Mikhailova. Even before the legal marriage with Peter, Martha gave birth to two boys, but both died. Daughters Anna and Elizabeth survived. Catherine will give birth to Peter 11 children, but almost all will die in childhood. A cheerful, affectionate and patient woman tied Peter to herself, she could humble his fits of anger, and in 1711, the king commanded Catherine to be considered his wife. Moreover, Peter was attracted by such a trait of Catherine’s character as the absence of ambition, a feature characteristic of many people from the lower ranks. Catherine until the accession to the throne remained a housewife, far from politics.
February 19 The official wedding ceremony of Peter the Great with Ekaterina Alekseevna took place on February 1712. In 1713, the king, in honor of the worthy behavior of his wife during the unsuccessful Prut campaign for Russia, established the Order of St. Catherine. Peter Alekseevich personally laid the marks of the order on his wife. 7 (18) May 1724 Peter crowned Catherine the Empress in the Moscow Assumption Cathedral (this was the second time in stories Russia, the first to be crowned the spouse of False Dmitry, Marina Mnishek).
By law from 5 in February 1722, Emperor Peter Alekseevich canceled the previous order of succession to the throne as a direct descendant through the male line (the first official heir was Alexey Petrovich, the second was Peter Petrovich, died in infancy), replacing it with the sovereign’s personal appointment. Become the successor of Peter Alekseevich by decree 1722 of the year could anyone who, in the opinion of the emperor, was worthy to lead the state. Peter died early in the morning of January 28 (February 8) of the year 1725, without having had time to appoint a successor and not leave his sons.
When it became obvious that Peter Alekseevich was dying, the question arose of who would take the throne. A fierce power struggle unfolded. Members of the Senate, the Synod, high dignitaries and generals before the death of the sovereign gathered on the night of 27 on 28 of January 1725 of the year to resolve the issue of power. The first “palace coup” took place in the country. The power struggle was transient, did not break out of the palace, did not escalate into armed confrontation. However, it is not by chance that the beginning of the “epoch of palace coups” is marked by the 1725 year.
The emperor did not leave a written testament, he did not have time to give an oral order about the throne. All this created a crisis situation. Indeed, besides the widow, a woman who did not have a great mind that would allow her to play an independent role, there were still several possible successors - children and grandchildren from the two marriages of the king. The children of the murdered heir, Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich - Natalya and Peter were alive and well. From the second marriage of Peter with Martha-Catherine alive, by January 1725, three daughters remained - Anna, Elizabeth and Natalia. Thus, six people could claim the throne.
In pre-Petrine Russia there was no law of succession, but there was a tradition that was stronger than any law - the throne passed in a straight downward male line: from father to son and from son to grandson. Peter in the 1722 year issued a "Charter on the legacy of the throne." The document legalized the unlimited right of the autocrat to appoint an heir from his subjects and, if necessary, change his choice. The “statute” was not the king’s whim, but a vital necessity. Peter lost two heirs - Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich and Peter Petrovich. The only man in the house of the Romanovs was Grand Duke Peter Alekseevich, the grandson of the emperor. However, the emperor Peter could not allow this. He feared that opponents of his policy would unite around his grandson. And the arrival of a grandson to power will lead to the collapse of the cause to which Peter I devoted his whole life.
The coronation of Catherine Alexeevna was perceived by many as a sign that Peter wanted to transfer the throne to his wife. The manifesto on the coronation of Catherine emphasized her special role "as a great helper" in the serious affairs of the emperor and her courage in difficult moments of government. However, in 1724, Peter lost interest in his wife. The case of the valet Catherine Willim Mons, who was suspected of having an affair with the empress, arose. By the will of fate, V. Mons was the brother of Anna Mons, the daughter of a German artisan in the German Quarter near Moscow, who had been Peter I's favorite for a long time, and for a while he thought about marrying her. Mons was executed by accusing him of bribery. Peter lost interest in his wife and did not take further steps to strengthen her rights to the throne. Having convicted his wife of treason, Peter lost confidence in her, rightly believing that after his death and the accession of Catherine, any intriguer who could sneak into the Empress’s bed would have the highest authority. The king became suspicious and stern to Catherine, the former warm and trusting relations are a thing of the past.
It should also be noted that in the last years of the emperor's life there were sustained rumors that he would transfer the throne to his daughter, Anna. This was reported by foreign envoys. Emperor Peter had great love for Anna, paid great attention to her upbringing. Anna was a smart and beautiful girl, many contemporaries noted this. However, Anna was not particularly eager to become a ruler of Russia, because she sympathized with Grand Duke Peter and did not want to cross the path of her mother, who saw her as a rival. As a result, the question of succession remained unresolved.
Moreover, the sovereign did not consider himself mortally ill, believing that he still had time to resolve this issue. On the secret point in the marriage contract of Anna with the Holstein duke, their possible sons opened the way to the Russian throne. Apparently, 52-year-old Peter planned to live a few more years and wait for the birth of his grandson by Anna, which gave him the opportunity to transfer the throne to him, and not to the unfaithful wife and dangerous Peter II, behind whom stood the "boyar party." However, the unexpected death of the emperor, in which some researchers see the murder, judged in its own way. An interesting fact is that the first palace coup was accomplished in the interests of the first persons of the empire, who at the end of Peter the Great's life fell into disgrace - Catherine, Menshikov and the Tsar's secretary Makarov. On Makarov, the emperor received an anonymous denunciation of his enormous abuses. They all feared for their future if Peter I continued to rule.
In the future, the scenario of Peter the Great will be realized. The grandson of Peter, the son of Anna Petrovna and Karl Friedrich, born in 1728, will be summoned from Holstein in 1742, by his childless aunt Elizabeth. Karl Peter Ulrich will be the heir to the throne Peter Fedorovich, and then Emperor Peter III. True, another palace coup put an end to his short rule.
During the king's agony, the court split into two "parties" - supporters of the grandson of the emperor, Peter Alekseevich and supporters of Catherine. The old clans of the Golitsyn and Dolgoruky rallied around the son of the executed prince. They were led shortly before this by V. V. Dolgoruky, pardoned by Peter, and Senator D. M. Golitsyn. President of the Military Collegium Prince A.I. Repnin, Count P.M. Apraksin, Count I.A. Musin-Pushkin also spoke on the side of Petr Alekseevich Jr. This party had many supporters dissatisfied with the course of the emperor Peter and not wanting the coming absolute power of Menshikov, who under Catherine would become the true ruler of Russia.
In general, the party of the Grand Duke succeeded in their work. Only at the very last moment Menshikov was able to turn the situation in his favor. The Prosecutor General Pavel Yaguzhinsky (he began his career as a boot cleaner) somehow learned about the preparation of the party of the Grand Duke and let Menshikov know about it. The Most High Prince Alexander Menshikov and was the head of the party of Catherine. Alexander Danilovich, who rose from the bottom to the top of the Russian Olympus, understood better than others that the accession of Peter II would put an end to his well-being, power, and possibly freedom and life. Menshikov and Catherine, like some other dignitaries who came out of the “mud to riches,” who made a dizzying rise to the heights of power and wealth, were not protected from numerous, but so far hidden, enemies. They had neither high birth, nor numerous high-ranking relatives. They did not use sympathy and the majority of nobles. Only mutual support, energetic pressure and subtle calculation could save them.
And Menshikov was able to make the first palace coup. He developed a frenzied activity, did everything possible and impossible to change the situation in his favor. On the eve of the death of the emperor, he took some preventive measures: he sent the state treasury to the Peter and Paul Fortress, under the protection of the commandant, who was his supporter; the guard was put on alert, and at the first signal could leave the barracks and surround the palace; Transfiguration and Semenov regiments received a salary for two thirds of the past year (salary was delayed during normal times). Menshikov personally met with many dignitaries, and, not sparing promises, promises and threats, he urged them to support Catherine. Very active, and subordinates Menshikov.
The natural allies of Menshikov and Catherine were those who, thanks to the emperor and fate, found themselves in a position similar to them. Among them stood Alexey Vasilievich Makarov, the son of the clerk of the Vologda Voivodeship Office (mandative hut). Due to his proximity to the sovereign, Makarov rose to the secret cabinet secretary Peter, who had secret papers in his charge. Makarov became a real "gray cardinal" who accompanied the king everywhere and knew all the secret business. Without the approval of the secret office secretary, not a single important piece of paper lay on the emperor's table. And this power, and even the head, Makarov could save only if the throne remains for Catherine. In addition, he thoroughly knew the control system and was an indispensable assistant to the future empress, who did not understand public affairs.
Another active and powerful supporter of Catherine was Count Peter Andreevich Tolstoy. An experienced diplomat, associate of Menshikov and the head of the Secret Chancellery, Tolstoy led the work of Tsarevich Alexei, becoming one of the main culprits of his death. It was Tolstoy who, through threats and false promises, inclined the prince to return to Russia. The work of Tsarevich Alexei made Tolstoy a close friend of Catherine. In the case of the coming to power of the grandson of Emperor Peter, the most sad fate awaited him.
There was something to lose to the two highest hierarchs of the church - Archbishops Theodosius and Theophanes. They turned the church into an obedient tool of imperial power. Many enemies and detractors were waiting for the hour when they could be paid for the destruction of the institution of the patriarchate, the creation of the Synod and the Spiritual Regulations, which made the church part of the bureaucracy, emasculated most of the spiritual principle.
In addition, Karl Friedrich, the Duke of Golshtinsky, and his minister, Bassevich, without the advice of which the groom of Peter’s eldest daughter, Anna Petrovna, did not take a single step played an active role in enticing Ekaterina to the throne. Holstein interest was simple. The coming to power of Peter II would have dispelled the Duke’s hopes of becoming the Russian Empress’s son-in-law and using it to carry out certain foreign policy plans.
Many prominent figures of the "nest of Petrov" waited, taking a neutral position. They wanted to wait for the outcome of the struggle for power and join the winners. So, the Senate Prosecutor General Yaguzhinsky was generally in favor of Catherine, but for many years he quarreled with Menshikov. Only at the very last moment, he warned the Most High Prince about the conspiracy of the party of Peter II. But he did not openly sided with Catherine. A similar position was taken by Chancellor GI Golovkin. Count Ya. V. Bruce, Baron A. I. Osterman and others were also cautious.
The king's agony had not yet ended, as Menshikov had gathered a secret meeting in the queen's apartment. It was attended by the office secretary Makarov, Bassevich, the head of the Synod Theodosius, senior officers of the guard regiments. Catherine came to them and declared her rights to the throne, promised the rights of the Grand Duke, who would return to him after her death. In addition, the words about promotions and rewards were not forgotten. Right there, bills of exchange, precious things and money were offered to those present. The first to use was Archbishop Theodosius of Novgorod, he was the first to take the oath of allegiance to Catherine. His example was followed by the rest. Immediately discussed the program of action. The most radical plan, with the preventive arrest of opponents of Catherine, was rejected, since it could aggravate the situation in St. Petersburg.
Until the emperor's death, no party decided to act. The magic of the power of the mighty sovereign was unusually strong until the very last moment of his life. Immediately, members of the Senate, the Synod, senior officials and generals gathered in one of the halls of the palace. Many grandees were constantly in the palace, they also spent the night there, others were informed by the secretaries and adjutants who were on duty here.
However, the "bayonets" decided everything. Guards regiments surrounded the building of the palace. The President of the Military Collegium Anikit Repnin tried to find out who, without his order, brought the guard from the barracks. The commander of the Semenov regiment, Buturlin, sharply replied that the guard acted on the orders of the empress, to whom he, as her citizen, obeyed. It is clear that the spectacular appearance of the guard made a huge impression on the opponents of Catherine and the wavering. To this can be added the presence in the hall along with senators and generals of the Guards officers who support Catherine; patrolling the streets by guardsmen; doubling of the guard; prohibition of departure from the capital and delayed mail. As a result, the military coup was like a note.
Catherine came to the first persons of the empire and promised to take care of the welfare of Russia and prepare a worthy heir in the person of the Grand Duke. Then Menshikov offered to discuss the case. Makarov, Feofan and Tolstoy expressed their arguments in favor of Catherine. Attempts by the party of the Grand Duke to hold the idea of the election or the regency of Catherine under Peter II failed. All objections and proposals of the opposition simply drowned in shouts of Guards officers, who promised to "split the heads of the boyars" if they did not choose the "mother" on the throne. Major Guard A. And Ushakov bluntly stated that the guard sees on the throne only Catherine, and who does not agree, may suffer. The final speech was made by Menshikov, who declared Catherine the empress. The entire meeting was forced to repeat his words. Control of the Guard determined the future of the empire.
In general, St. Petersburg officially continued the course of Peter the Great. There was even a decree ordering “to keep everything as it was”. Many generals and officers for loyalty have been raised. Officials and commanders under Peter sighed with relief. The king's iron grip is gone. Life has become much calmer and more relaxed. The iron and restless emperor himself did not rest, and did not let others enjoy life. Catherine showed “mercy” and conducted amnesties, many thieves, debtors and crooks were released. The empress was freed and political exiles, prisoners. Thus, the statute-lady of Catherine, M. Balk, who was held in the Mons case, was released, and the former vice-chancellor Shafirov was returned from the Novgorod exile. Freedom and Little Russian foreman.
The affairs begun by Peter continued. Thus, the First Kamchatka Expedition was sent under the command of Vitus Bering; was established order. St. Alexander Nevsky; The Academy of Sciences was opened. There were no fundamental changes in foreign policy. In Transcaspian still built Ekaterinopol. There were no major wars, only in the Caucasus there was a separate detachment under the command of Prince Vasily Dolgorukov. True, in Europe, St. Petersburg began to actively defend the interests of the Holstein duke Karl Friedrich, who fought against Denmark. This caused some cooling in relations with Denmark and England. The Holstein course clearly did not meet the interests of a great empire. In addition, Petersburg entered into a strategic alliance with Vienna (Vienna Union Agreement 1726 of the Year). Austria and Russia created an anti-Turkish bloc. Austria guaranteed the Nystadt Peace.
In fact, Prince and Field Marshal Menshikov became the ruler of the empire during this period. The Grand Duke, who in the last years of Peter's rule largely lost the confidence of the emperor and was constantly under investigation, perked up. Repnina sent the governor to Riga and returned to his control the Military Collegium. The Menshikov case was closed, he was released from all imposed fines, commissions. Menshikov got to his old enemy - General-Fiscal Myakinin, who allowed himself to bring the powerful nobleman to the clear water. Denunciations came to Myakinin, he was given a move and the general was sentenced to death, which was replaced by a link to Siberia. Menshikov reached the highest point in his abuses and theft; now no one has limited him.
The Supreme Privy Council, a new state body, also received tremendous power. It includes: Menshikov, Apraksin, Golovkin, Golitsyn, Osterman, Tolstoy and the Duke Karl-Friedrich. The activity of the Ekaterina government, in which the struggle for power was constantly going on (for example, Menshikov tried to push the “Holstein party” away from the empress), limited herself to preserving what had already been achieved. There were no large-scale reforms and transformations.
The empress herself was completely satisfied with the role of the first mistress of the capital. She and her yard burned through life - balls, revels, walks through the night capital, an uninterrupted celebration, dances and fireworks. Entertainment lasted most of the night (Catherine went to bed in the morning on 4-5) and much of the day. It is clear that with such a lifestyle, the empress, who was already not distinguished by her health, could not stretch for a long time. Foreign observers, reporting on the festivities, mixed them with news of Catherine's constant illnesses. The building of the empire, which was created by the hands of Peter the Great, gradually began to decline.