The Orthodox Church
|Bust of General Gordon|
Instead of capitalising on his coup Peter now returned to his adolescent games at Preobrazhenskoe and Lake Plaschev. Natalya and her advisers ruled in Ivan and Peter’s names. But Natalya and her friends lacked Sophia’s drive and determination. The Ukraine was not defended from Tartar attack, law and order decayed in the countryside and corruption was rampant. In addition Eudoxia’s relatives descended on Moscow to take advantage of her position. And contrary to the course the younger Czar was taking, the Patriarch encouraged hatred of foreigners.
Joachim was unable to control Peter, who spent much of his time in the German Suburb with his foreign friends. On 10th March 1690 Peter invited General Gordon to dine at court, in honour of Czarevitch Alexis’ birth. Joachim protested vehemently and Peter withdrew the invitation. His opinion of the Patriarch was made clear by his actions the following day, when he dined at his country house with Gordon and then rode back to Moscow beside him.
On 17th March the hostile Joachim died suddenly. He left a testament demanding that Peter appoint no foreigners to state or military positions[i]. Peter’s immediate response was to order a new set of German clothes and to dine with General Gordon in the German Suburb.
Peter backed the more westward leaning Marcellus, a scholarly churchman for the post of Patriarch. His mother and her advisers (and the majority of the faithful) backed the more conservative Adrian. After a contest lasting several months Natalya’s choice of candidate was given the post. Peter was disgusted by the appointment, telling foreign visitors some years later
When the Patriarch in Moscow was dead, he [Peter] designed to fill that place with a learned man, who had travelled, who spoke Latin, Italian and French….the Russians petitioned him in a tumultuous manner not to set such a man over them, alleging three reasons: first, because he spoke barbarous languages; second, because his beard was not big enough for a Patriarch; and third, because his coachman sat upon the coach seat and not on the horses as was usual.’[ii]
Peter’s Friends and Advisers
Anna Mons house in the German Suburb
In 1690 Peter made friends with François Lefort[iii] who, with General Gordon, was to become most closely associated with Peter. At Lefort’s home Peter was to meet the woman who was to become his mistress, Anna Mons[iv]. Anna was an ambitious woman and was to remain Peter’s mistress for twelve years; she had hopes of replacing Eudoxia, who Peter could not bear.Peter had numerous friends in the German Suburb, but he also continued his friendships with the boys from his Preobrazhenskoe days. He also attracted the company of elder men, eager to work for the anointed Czar. Much of his time was spent on his war games, which became ever more elaborate. It was through these war games that Peter was taught the art of war by his foreign friends; nor did he neglect his passion for boats during this period.
ArchangelArchangel was the only seaport the Russians possessed and it was Peter’s enthusiasm for the idea of sea power that drew Peter.
‘’I then decided to see the open sea, and began often to beg the permission of my mother to go to Archangel. She forbade me such a dangerous journey, but, seeing my great desire and unchangeable longing, allowed it in spite of herself.’[v]On 11th July 1693 Peter, Lefort and many of his foreign friends departed Moscow in a party of over one hundred on a trip to Archangel; by road and river a journey of one thousand miles.
Peter was fascinated by the sea and was greeted by a yacht, the St Peter, which had been constructed for him. He took the yacht out to sea in a convoy of English and Dutch ships leaving for Europe. Peter accompanied them to where the White Sea meets the Arctic and then he reluctantly turned back. Before his return to Moscow Peter laid the keel of a vessel larger than his little St Peter and ordered a Dutch built frigate from Amsterdam.
ChangeNatalya died suddenly on 4th February 1694, aged forty two, only a few weeks after Peter’s recovery from a fever that laid him low from November 1693 to January 1694[vi]. His mother’s death filled Peter with grief. He did not attend her funeral, only visiting her grave to pray alone.
Peter now transferred his love to his younger sister Natalya, but she was to be unable to temper his enthusiasms. All the brakes on his behaviour were now gone. Less than three months after his mother’s death Peter took part in the great court Easter procession. It was the last time he would ever be involved in Kremlin ceremonials.Peter returned to Archangel that summer, returning reluctantly to Moscow in early September to oversee the last of his great military peacetime manoeuvres. It was during this period of his life that Peter’s fits[vii] commenced. They made him seriously shy, concerned that strangers would see him.
A Campaign in TartaryDuring the winter of 1695 Peter became obsessed with the idea of travelling. He announced another campaign against the Tartars; the objective was the fortress of Azov. This decision was made partly in view of Jan Sobieski’s threat to make peace with the Ottomans; a peace which would ignore Russia’s needs.
Two armies were formed to make separate attacks; one was led by Gordon and Lefort, which was to move down the Don and attack Azov. The other army, under Russian command, was to travel down the Dnieper and attack Oshakov and Kazikerman. For fourteen weeks Gordon’s army pounded Azov and the siege was eventually raised on October 12th.The retreat was a disaster, costing lives and equipment. Peter attempted to mask the disaster by staging a triumphal march through Moscow. Like Galitzyne’s attempts if fooled no-one. There were harsh words uttered against the foreigners influencing the Czar; compounded by the relative success of the Russian army, who had taken their objectives. Peter determined to make another attempt on Azov; starting over winter a shipyard was built at Vorozneh on the Don, to build a massive fleet to attack Azov in the summer.
On February 8th 1696 Czar Ivan died. Peter immediately offered his protection to his brother’s wife and her daughters; thereby gaining Czarina Praskovia’s allegiance for the rest of her life. Peter was now the sole Autocrat of the Russian state.
Return to Azov
The siege of Azov
In late May the Russian army encamped around the fortress of Azov. Possibly suffering from hubris the Turks had not removed the previous year’s earthworks, and on June 8th the Russians opened fire, after the Turkish Pasha in charge of the fortress refused an offer for surrender. When Natalya begged Peter not to go near the fighting he replied;
‘It is not I who go near to cannon balls and bullets, but they come near to me. Send orders to them to stop it.’[viii]On July 27th two thousand Cossacks, fed up with digging and carrying earth, stormed part of the walls of the fortress. The following day a general assault was ordered to capitalise on the Cossacks’ gains. Before it could commence the Turks surrendered.
Peter ordered the building of a fort and harbour to shelter his new fleet, intended to dominate the Black Sea. Taganrog was to become the first Russian naval base.The Muscovites were stunned by this first Russian victory since the days of Czar Alexis. Peter did not head the parade, but walked with other galley captains behind the carriage of Admiral and General Lefort. This giant of a man, towering over the other marchers, was easily recognised as their eccentric Czar.
Forming a NavyPeter summonsed his council of boyars and informed them of his plans to colonise Azov and Taganrog and his determination to construct a navy. Three thousand peasants and their families and three thousand Streltsy and their families were to be uprooted and despatched to Azov as military colonisers. In addition twenty thousand Ukrainian labourers were sent to Taganrog to build Peter’s new harbour.
The church, landowners and merchants would join the state in paying the costs of Peter’s new navy. All the ships were to be constructed, equipped and armed within a period of eighteen months. The timber would be provided by the state. The order was harshly enforced. When merchants complained of having to provide twelve ships the number was increased to fourteen.On 22nd November 1696 Peter announced that he was sending more than fifty Russians to Western Europe to study seamanship, navigation and shipbuilding. No-one was to return without a certificate signed by a foreign master attesting to the student’s proficiency and they were to travel at their own expense.
Two weeks later the Foreign Ministry announced that Lefort, General Fedor Golovin and Councillor Prokofy Voznitzyn were to travel to Western Europe, visiting England, Rome, Venice, the Netherlands and Denmark in what was to become known as the Grand Embassy. What was not announced was that the Czar was to travel with them. Peter was hoping to expand the alliance[ix] against the Turks.Peter’s alias, Bombardier Peter Mikhailov, was to protect him against being caught up in ceremonial duties. But he was quick to take offence if he was not treated with suitable dignity. The one place Peter was not going to visit was France, whose desire for hegemony over Europe was at odds with Peter’s plans to oppose the expansion of Turkish influence in Eastern Europe.
BibliographyNatasha’s Dance – Orlando Figes, Penguin Books Ltd 2002
Russia and the Russians – Geoffrey Hosking, The Penguin Press 2001William and Mary – John van der Kiste, Sutton Publishing 2003
Peter the Great – Robert K Massie, Abacus 1992William and Mary – Henri & Barbara van der Zee, History Book Club 1973
[i] To avoid the faithful being given orders by heretics
[ii] Peter the Great - Massie
[iii] Who married a cousin of General Gordon’s
[iv] She had already slept with Lefort
[v] Peter the Great - Massie
[vi] Peter was seriously ill and it was believed that he would die.
[vii] Possibly epileptic seizures induced by his fever the previous winter
[viii] Peter the Great - Massie
[ix] Weakened by the death of Jan Sobieski