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A look at the russian imperial rule under czar alexis in the 1660s

You delivered Peter to the light! You the start and source of all our joy, Where Russia's greatness first burned clear and bright.

Peter Alekseevich Romanov was born in or near Moscow at around one in the morning on Thursday 30 May 1672. The future emperor's exceptional height was clearly prefigured, but the time and place of his birth, like much else in his life, have been the subject of controversy. As for the date, most sources accept 30 May, as did Peter himself by honouring St Isaac of Dalmatia, whose feast falls on that day.

But at least one record gives 29 May, following the old Russian practice of starting the new day not at midnight but at dawn.

  • It has been calculated that as much as 10 per cent of the population may have fallen into this category;
  • There were no Russian printed news-sheets, journals or almanacs; no plays, poetry or philosophy in print, although this lack was partly compensated by popular literature in manuscript, a flourishing oral tradition, news-sheets from abroad albeit restricted to the use of personnel in the Foreign Office , and foreign books in the libraries of a few leading nobles and clerics;
  • The Church continued to make its contribution to the business of warfare and government;
  • He could appear as harsh and uncompromising as his predecessors, especially when his rank and authority seemed under attack;
  • On 19 January 1691 Peter visited P.

Contemporary Russian chroniclers using not arabic numerals but Cyrillic letters with numerical equivalents recorded the year of Peter's birth as not 1672 but 7180, following the Byzantine practice of numbering years from the notional creation of the world in 5509 BC. The year 7181 began on 1 September 1672, which, following the usage of Constantinople, marked the start of the Muscovite new year. When he died on 28 January 1725, there were no arguments about how the date should be recorded.

We shall return to these matters later, but let us take a closer look at the Russia into which Peter was born.

The Reign of Peter the Great

Peter's parents had been married for less than eighteen months when he arrived. On 22 January 1671 nineteen-year-old Natalia Kirillovna Naryshkina married forty-two-year-old Tsar Alexis Aleksei Mikhailovich, whose first wife Maria Miloslavskaia had died in 1669 at the age of forty-three after giving birth to her thirteenth child, a girl who did not survive.

Given a more robust set of male half-siblings, Peter might never have come to the throne at all. His father's first marriage produced five sons, but in 1672 only two were still alive. The heir apparent, Fedor, born in 1661, had delicate health, while Ivan, born in 1666, was mentally and physically handicapped. There were six surviving half-sisters: They were not regarded as direct contenders for power: The practice of keeping well-born women in virtual seclusion also meant that they were unknown to the public.

When Tsar Alexis died at the age of forty-seven in January 1676, Fedor succeeded him without the formal appointment of a regent, even though he was only fourteen.

A look at the russian imperial rule under czar alexis in the 1660s

Rumours of attempts to place three-year-old Peter on the throne in his stead may be discounted. Twice in the next six years Peter narrowly escaped being pushed further down the ladder of succession. Fedor's first wife, Agafia Grushetskaia, and her newborn son Il'ia died in July 1681.

His second wife, Marfa Matveevna Apraksina, was left a widow after only two months of marriage, by Fedor's death in April 1682.

Rumours that she might be pregnant proved unfounded.

But this is to leap ahead. In 1672 there was every prospect of Tsar Alexis continuing to rule for many years, and a fair chance, given infant mortality rates, that Peter would not survive for long. Modern readers will treat with scepticism the intriguing story recorded by one of Peter's early biographers to the effect that the royal tutor and court poet Simeon Polotsky predicted Peter's rule and future greatness by the stars on the supposed day of his conception, 11 August 1671.

Many pages of print have been devoted to Peter's childhood and adolescence. His first two decades will be considered here only briefly, in order to give a context for the changes which he later forced upon Russia--the main subject of this book. I will begin by dispelling a few misconceptions, such as that Peter's early environment was closed and stultifying, dominated solely by Orthodox ritual and concepts.

For example, Peter's interest in military affairs was stimulated in the nursery, where he, like his elder brothers before him, played with toy soldiers, cannon, bows and arrows, and drums. Military affairs were the right and proper concern of a tsar almost from the cradle. His father had gone to war with his troops, as Peter was well aware and was proud to recall in later life.

On the other hand, Peter's prowess as a soldier, virtually from the cradle a contemporary compared him to the young Hercules, who strangled serpentshas been greatly exaggerated. The myth that Peter was already a cadet at the age of three has been refuted: Toy weapons were supplemented by spades, hammers, and masons' tools, which no doubt fostered Peter's love of mechanical crafts.

The fiercest of Peter's boyhood passions--his love of ships and the sea--is at first sight harder to explain. Why should a boy raised in a virtually land-locked country with no tradition of seafaring have developed such a passion? It is even said that as a boy Peter had a dread of water.

But Russia's naval inexperience should not be exaggerated. Most major Russian towns were situated on rivers, which small craft plied. Russians may not have been expert sailors on the high seas, but they knew how to a look at the russian imperial rule under czar alexis in the 1660s inland waters, and Russian peasant navigators had long sailed the northern coastline. Peter did not see the open sea until he was twenty-one, but there was no lack of stimuli to the imagination closer to hand: The fact that it should have found its way to Moscow is not so surprising when one considers that English sea-going vessels had been docking on the White Sea since the 1550s, and that Tsar Alexis had commissioned Dutch shipwrights to build a small fleet on the Caspian Sea in the 1660s.

In some respects, however, Peter's introduction to the wider world actually lagged behind that of his half-siblings. His brothers Fedor and Alexis who died in 1670and even his half-sister Sophia, were taught by the Polish-educated monk Simeon Polotsky, who gave instruction in Latin, Polish, versification, and other elements of the classical syllabus.

Polotsky died in 1680, before he had the chance, had it been offered, to tutor Peter. Peter thus received indifferent tuition from Russians seconded from government chancelleries; they included Nikita Zotov and Afanasy Nesterov, an official in the Armoury, whose names first appear in records as teachers round about 1683.

Not only did Peter's education lack scholarly content; it also seems to have been deficient in basic discipline. His prose style, spelling, and handwriting bore signs of lax methods for the rest of his life. It should be added that there was no question of Peter receiving his education from a Muscovite university graduate or even from the product of a local grammar school or its equivalent.

There were no universities in Muscovite Russia and no public schools, apart from some training establishments for chancellery staff in the Kremlin. In fact, clerks d'iaki and pod'iachie and clerics were the only two orders of Muscovite society who were normally literate, many a look at the russian imperial rule under czar alexis in the 1660s priests being only barely so. The inadequacies of Peter's primary education were later offset by practical skills learned from foreigners, whom he was able to encounter in Moscow thanks to the policies of his predecessors.

Foreigner-specialists first started arriving in Muscovy in significant numbers during the reign of Ivan IV 1533-84. Their numbers increased when Peter's grandfather, Tsar Michael 1613-45reorganized certain Russian infantry regiments along foreign lines. It was here that Peter encountered officers such as Patrick Gordon, Franz Lefort, and Franz Timmerman, his teachers and companions in the 1680s and 1690s.

Residents of the Foreign Quarter also made their mark on Russian elite culture. From the 1650s several foreign painters were employed in the royal Armoury workshops. Alexis is the first Russian ruler of whom we have a reliable likeness, his daughter Sophia the first Russian woman to be the subject of secular portraiture.

It was the Foreign Quarter which in 1672 supplied the director and actors for Russia's first theatrical performance. Unlike portraiture, however, which quickly became more widespread, theatricals were discontinued after Alexis's death.

During Sophia's regency 1682-9 Huguenots were offered sanctuary in Russia, Jesuits were admitted to serve Moscow's foreign Catholic parish, and invitations were issued to foreign industrialists and craftsmen. In the 1670s and 1680s foreigners were no longer a rarity on the streets of Moscow, and were also well represented in commercial towns on the route from the White Sea port of Archangel. Of course, Moscow was not the whole of Russia, any more than a few relatively outward-looking individuals in the Kremlin were representative of Moscow society as a whole.

During the reign of Peter's immediate predecessors, foreigners were still in Russia on sufferance, tolerated as a necessary evil.

The building of the new Foreign Quarter in 1652 was actually an attempt to concentrate foreigners and their churches in a restricted locality, away from the city centre, where they had lived previously. Patriarch Joachim urged that mercenaries, the most indispensable of foreign personnel, be expelled, and non-Orthodox churches demolished.

Russian culture was prevented from falling further under foreign influence by strict controls.

  • In 1699 two experimental half-roubles were minted;
  • The new was taking its place alongside the old;
  • They had access to church courts;
  • The semi-Westernized Moscow baroque style of the 1680s matured and spread beyond the capital, where masonry churches and civic buildings displayed decorative features such as Classical columns and carved stone and brick ornament inspired by Western Renaissance and baroque originals.

For example, publishing and printing remained firmly in the hands of the Church. It is a striking statistic that in the whole of the seventeenth century fewer than ten secular titles came off Muscovite presses, which were devoted mainly to the production of liturgical and devotional texts. There were no Russian printed news-sheets, journals or almanacs; no plays, poetry or philosophy in print, although this lack was partly compensated by popular literature in manuscript, a flourishing oral tradition, news-sheets from abroad albeit restricted to the use of personnel in the Foreign Officeand foreign books in the libraries of a few leading nobles and clerics.

Presses in Kiev, Chernigov, Vilna, and other centres of Orthodoxy supplemented the meagre output of Moscow printers. Russians were still clearly differentiated from Western Europeans by their dress, although a number were tempted by Polish influence to don Western fashions in private. All enjoyed the privilege of attending and advising the tsar. Membership of the two top groups was largely hereditary.

A look at the russian imperial rule under czar alexis in the 1660s

Unless there were contrary indicators e. Their numbers were swelled by royal in-laws marrying a daughter to the tsar or one of his sons usually boosted a family's fortunes and by a handful of men of lower status who were raised by royal favour. The council's participation in decision making is indicated by the formula for ratifying edicts: In peacetime Moscow nobles performed a variety of chancellery and ceremonial duties.

In wartime they went on campaign as cavalry officers. On duty, be it military or civil, they bore their court ranks: Such an insult gave grounds for an appeal to the tsar. Increasingly, mestnichestvo was suspended in order to allow the Crown a freer hand in appointing officers. All the categories described above, it should be repeated, were counted among the elite and enjoyed certain privileges, the first of which was exemption from tax and labour burdens tiaglo.

A look at the russian imperial rule under czar alexis in the 1660s second was the right to land and serfs. Most of the Moscow elite owned both inherited estates votchiny and service lands pomest'iathe latter, in theory, granted and held on condition of service, but increasingly passed from generation to generation.

The peasants living on both votchina and pomest'e holdings were serfs, the property of their landlords, who could freely exploit their labour in the form of agricultural work and other duties and collect dues in money and kind. It should be noted, however, that nobles were not automatically supplied with serfs. Some of the top families owned tens of thousands of peasants distributed over dozens of estates, whereas many in the provincial deti boiarskie category owned only one or two peasant households, and in some cases worked their own plots.

The Muscovite Crown also deployed non-noble servicemen sluzhilye liudi po priboru. Men in this category were subject to a service, not a tax requirement, but they could not own serfs.

Civilian personnel in the non-noble service category included secretaries and clerks d'iaki, pod'iachiethe backbone personnel of the government chancelleries.

Most of the non-noble residents of Russia's towns were bound to their communities by tax obligations, apart from a handful of chief merchants gostiwho dealt in foreign trade. In addition, substantial numbers of peasants resided temporarily in towns, which also had shifting populations of foreigners and vagrants, but lacked many of the native professional categories--bankers, scholars, scientists, doctors, schoolteachers, lawyers, and actors--to be found in most contemporary Western European towns of any size.

If townspeople were less numerous and played a less prominent role in Muscovy than they did in Western European countries, the opposite was probably true of church personnel. The prelates--the patriarch, metropolitans, bishops, and abbots of monasteries--were drawn from the celibate black clergy, who also formed the monastic rank and file.

The ecclesiastical estate enjoyed considerable privileges. Apart from the royal family and the nobles, only they could own serfs although, strictly speaking, peasants were attached to monasteries and churches, not individuals.