Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The Apprenticeship of Peter the Great II

Sophia’s Regency

Sophia as Regent
Their success at forcing Ivan onto the throne and making Sophia Regent led the Streltsy to believe that their slightest whim would now be honoured. The Old Believers[i] thought that the Streltsy would support the return of the old liturgy and rituals. Sophia, like her brother Feodor and her father, saw the Old Believers as rebels and she wooed the Streltsy, bribing them with money and drink, in groups of circa one hundred at a time.

When the Streltsy were in her pocket the leaders of the Old Believers were arrested; one was executed and the remainder exiled. Prince Ivan Khovansky[ii], one of Sophia’s advisers but also one of the fervent Old Believers, was one of those executed. This struggle between old and new within Orthodoxy was to continue throughout the lifetime of the Russian Empire.

One of Sophia’s first acts as regent was to place her own men in key positions; but her principal adviser was her lover Prince Galitzyne. Galitzyne hoped to transform the Russian army, establish permanent relations with the West, proclaim freedom of worship and even, most heretical of all, freeing the serfs. Galitzyne prided himself on administering;
‘A reign based on justice and general consent.’[iii]
Sophia as a woman was expected to stay out of politics and hide in the terem. Instead she hid behind the public personae of Ivan and Peter and Galitzyne. In private she ruled.

Prince Galitzyne
During the Regency domestic difficulties increasingly diverted attention away from the western veneer Galitzyne had been encouraging.. From the beginning Sophia and Galitzyne had been determined on a peaceful foreign policy to enable freedom of action at home. The war against the Tartars resulted in a freezing of domestic reform.
Peter and Ivan

While Sophia was able to rule the country on her own, there were occasions when she was unable to dispense with Ivan and Peter’s attendance at ceremonial occasions; state banquets, religious festivals, and receiving foreign ambassadors. In 1683 the two Czars received the Swedish ambassador.
‘Both their Majesties sat……….on a silver throne like a bishop’s chair, somewhat raised and covered with red cloth. The Tsars wore robes of silver cloth woven with red and white flowers…………the elder drew his cap down over his eyes several times and, with looks cast down on the floor, sat almost immobile. The younger had a frank and open face………..He constantly looked about, and his great beauty and lively manner………..struck all of us so much that had he been an ordinary youth and no imperial personage we would gladly laughed and talked with him.’[iv]
Peter was now so tall that the ambassador took the eleven year old for sixteen. The half brothers were kept separate, but they did manage under these difficult circumstances to retain a loving relationship. The Dutch ambassador wrote home to say that

‘The natural love and intelligence between the two Lords [Ivan and Peter] is even better than before.’[v]
Praskovia Saltykova
Ivan and Feodor had called Natalya mother, since her marriage to their father. To ensure the continuation of their rule Sophia and advisers decided that the sickly Ivan, whose life span was likely to be short, should marry. His wife presented him with a daughter each year from 1689 to 1691; there was a gap in 1692 and then in 1693 and 1694 Praskovia Saltykova presented Ivan with two more daughters[vi].
Peter’s War Games

To escape the oppressive atmosphere in the Kremlin, Peter and Natalya moved to live at Alexis’ favourite villa and hunting lodge at Preobrazhenskoe; about three miles outside Moscow. Here, in the fields and woods, Peter could play his favourite game – WAR. For his games Peter drew on the government arsenal to supply his needs. On his eleventh birthday Peter had real cannon to fire the salute.
Peter had playmates to join in his games. As he grew older his father’s servants and their families and the scions of noble families were enrolled in Peter’s little force, which eventually numbered around three hundred. Peter declined to rule this little army; originally he took the rank of drummer boy, eventually promoting himself to artilleryman. This was to enable him to fire the cannon.

In the barracks, built especially for this mini-army, Peter accepted the same rules as his fellows, performing the same duties, slept in the same tents and stood watch or digging trenches. This refusal to start at the top was characteristic of the man too, who never accepted a promotion in the armed forces unless he felt he deserved it. Peter firmly believed in learning from the bottom up.
In 1685 the little army began to construct a fort from the ground up. Once completed Peter blew it up, just to see if he could. Peter used specialists to advise him and these specialists were usually foreigners. The foreigners normally arrived as temporary instructors; but by the time in the early 1690’s when two regiments[vii] were formed from the boy army, many of the foreigners became officers in the new regiments. Sophia occasionally loaned regiments of the Streltsy to join in the war games.

Peter and the Boat
Peter was fascinated by all and everything; he learnt stonemasonry, carpentry, bookbinding, wood and ivory turning and blacksmithing. Once at Preobrazhenskoe Peter dispensed with a formal education. He read few books, his handwriting was atrocious and he learnt no foreign languages[viii]. As an adult Peter was to regret this lack of a formal disciplined education.

In 1687 the chance mention of a strange foreign measuring instrument[ix] led to Peter being bought a sextant and Peter then found a Dutch merchant who knew how to use the instrument. Franz Timmerman was to become very important to Peter; insisting that he could not teach Peter how to use the sextant without certain basic skills. Peter now turned his attention to arithmetic, geometry and ballistics.

The botik of Peter the Great
Timmerman was often with Peter and it was in June 1688 when Timmerman and Peter were strolling through a royal estate that the pair came across the decaying remains of a boat. It was an English boat that Timmerman assured Peter could sail against the wind[x]. Peter ordered the major repairs needed to make the boat seaworthy; these were done under the supervision of another Dutchman Karsten Brandt. Peter became enamoured of sailing and set up a boat builder’s yard on Lake Pleschev, using the skills of his Dutch advisers.  
As Czar, Peter was to continue the use of foreign expertise in his attempts to drag Russia into the eighteenth century. And he was to remain fixated on sea power.

In the Crimea

Jan Sobieski, King of Poland
n 1683 the Ottoman army camped before the gates of Vienna; it was the Polish king Jan Sobieski who led the Christian forces to victory. The majority of European rulers were more concerned about the might of France, so Poland and Austria were eager to persuade Russia to support the fight against the heretical Turks.
In 1685 the Turks defeated the Poles and the spring of 1686 saw a Polish embassy arrive in Moscow, seeking an alliance against the Sublime Porte. Poland formally ceded the ancient city of Kiev to the Russians and in return Sophia agreed to attack the Khan of the Crimea[xi]; a decision that was to cost her dear. The agreement with the Poles required a reversal in the previously friendly relations between the Ottomans and the Russians.

The Crimean Tartars had long been a thorn in the Russian side; many Tartar raids took Russians off to sell in the slave markets of Istanbul. In May 1687 a Russian army of 100,000 marched out towards Orel and Poltava. Galitzyne, the army’s commander, was wary of being outflanked by the Tartars and by June 13th was camped on the bank of the Dnieper river.
The Tartars were meanwhile setting fire to the steppes, to deprive the invading Russians of forage for their horses and at times the army was engulfed in smoke, choking both men and animals. By August the army was in retreat. On his return to Moscow Galitzyne described his campaign as a success and was hailed as a hero by his lover. The reality was soon apparent.

In 1688 matters worsened for the allies. Louis XIV attacked the Hapsburgs in Germany. And in mid 1688 the Tartars ravaged the Ukraine, returning home with nearly 60,000 victims for the slave markets. The Poles and the Austrians were seriously considering coming to terms with the Turks. The only factor that would change their minds was a further attack in the Crimea by the Russians. Faced with the possibility of returning Kiev to the Poles, Sophia and Galitzyne agreed to a second campaign.
Galitzyne announced the second campaign. He was under attack from personal and political enemies in Moscow, who were able to ensure that he commanded this fiasco too. The campaign was once again a failure, but this was not how it was reported in Moscow. Sophia hailed Galitzyne as a hero again, writing to him;

‘Oh my joy, light of my eyes, how can I believe my heart that I am going to see you again, my love. That day will be great to me when you, my soul, shall come to me. If it were only possible for me, I would place you before me in a single day.’[xii]
However François Lefort, a Swiss officer in the Russian army, wrote home;

’20,000 killed and 15,000 taken prisoners. Besides that, seventy cannon were abandoned, and all the war material.’[xiii]
On July 8th, breaking with protocol, Sophia met Galitzyne at the gates of Moscow and Galitzyne was received and publicly thanked by Ivan and the Patriarch.

Peter declined to play in this charade, forced to agree to reward Galitzyne, he refused to meet with him, as protocol demanded, when Galitzyne attended Preobrazhenskoe to thank the Czar for his generosity one of the senior foreign officers, General Patrick Gordon noted;
‘Everyone saw plainly and knew that the consent of the younger Tsar had not been extorted without the greatest difficulty and that this merely made him more excited against the generalissimo and the most prominent members of the other party at court; for it was now seen that an open breach was imminent.’[xiv]

Natasha’s Dance – Orlando Figes, Penguin Books Ltd 2002
Russia and the Russians – Geoffrey Hosking, The Penguin Press 2001

Peter the Great – Robert K Massie, Abacus 1992

[i] The Orthodox religion had been split, those who wanted change and those who wanted to turn the clock back
[ii] Sophia had appointed him as the new commander of the Streltsy
[iii] Peter the Great - Massie
[iv] Ibid
[v] Ibid
[vi] Females were unable to inherit the throne
[vii] The Preobazhensky and Semyonovsky Regiments
[viii] Apart from a smattering of German and Dutch on his trip to Europe.
[ix] Russia was still very much medieval in outlook and habit
[x] Something no Russian boat was capable of doing
[xi] A vassal of the Ottoman Empire
[xii] Peter the Great - Massie
[xiii] Ibid
[xiv] Ibid

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