Paul I - Biography

Paul I was born in the Summer Palace in St Petersburg on September 20, 1754. He was the son of the Grand Duchess, later Empress, Catherine II, but according to one scurrilous report his father was not her husband, the Grand Duke Peter, who would become Emperor Peter III, but Colonel Serge Saltykov, a lover of Catherine II. However there is probably little foundation to this story except gossip, and the cynical malice of Catherine.

During his infancy Paul was taken away from his parents and raised for the first seven years of his life at the court of his grandmother, Empress Elizabeth (Elizaveta Petrovna), who intended to appoint him her heir instead of Peter Feodorovich (Peter III).

Elizabeth’s ill-judged fondness is believed to have injured his health. In 1760, Paul began his education under a trustworthy governor, Nikita Panin, and competent tutors. One of the best minds in Russia, Panin had studied all the latest teaching methods. However, Paul’s education proved to be unsystematic; he was taught a lot in some areas and very little in others. One of his tutors complained that Paul was “always in a hurry”, acting and speaking without thinking.

During a short period from December 1761 to June 1762, Elizaveta Petrovna died, Peter III became Emperor, and Catherine II deposed him and became Empress. The shock of his father's forced abdication and death shortly thereafter left an impression on Paul.

As a boy he was reported to be intelligent and good-looking. His extreme ugliness in later life is attributed to an attack of typhus in 1771. The violent events of his childhood and his estrangement from his mother made him irritable and suspicious of those around him. It was asserted that his mother hated him, and was only restrained from having him killed while he was still a boy by the fear of what the consequences of another palace crime might be. Catherine II was generally cold to her son, since she had not had a chance to raise him and because her opposition felt that Paul should become Tsar when he came of age rather than when she died.

She did, however, name him her heir, and took great trouble to arrange his first marriage (on September 29, 1773) with Princess Auguste Wilhelmine Luise of Hessen-Darmstadt, who had converted to Orthodoxy on 14 August 1773 as Nathalia Alekseevna. She died giving birth in April 1776 and was buried in the St. Alexander Nevsky Monastery.

After his first marriage Paul began to engage in intrigues. He suspected his mother of intending to kill him, and once openly accused her of causing broken glass to be mingled with his food. The use made of his name by the rebel leader Emelyan Pugachev in 1775 also rendered his position more difficult. Pugachev claimed to be Paul’s father, the emperor Peter III, promoting a rumour that Peter had not died, but had secretly been imprisoned by Catherine II, and promised to enthrone his alleged son in case of victory.

Paul married another German princess, a beauty and a relative of the Prussian king, on 26 September, 1776. This was Sophie Dorothea Auguste Luise of Wurttemberg, who converted to Orthodoxy on 14 September 1776 as Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna. She bore him four sons and six daughters, died in 1828 and was buried alongside her husband in the St. Peter & Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg.

On the birth of his first child in 1777 Catherine II gave him an estate near St.Petersburg, Pavlovsk. Paul and his wife were allowed to travel through western Europe in 1781-1782. In 1783 the empress gave him another suburban estate at Gatchina, where he was allowed to maintain three battalions of soldiers whom he drilled on the Prussian model and used in mock battles. Paul’s family was under a similar strict discipline to that of his soldiers and dared not violate his slightest order.

As Paul grew his character became steadily degraded. He was not incapable of affection, nor was he without generous impulses, but he was flighty, passionate in a childish way, and when angry capable of cruelty. The affection he had for his wife turned to suspicion. He fell under the influence of two of his wife's maids of honour in succession, Catherine Nelidova (1758 -1839) and Anna Lopukhina (1757 – 1805), and of his barber, a Turkish slave named Koroissov.

Catherine II contemplated setting him aside in favour of his son Alexander, to whom she was attached. Paul was aware of his mother's intention and became increasingly suspicious of his wife and children, whom he rendered perfectly miserable. No definite step was taken to set him aside, probably because nothing would be effective short of putting him to death, and Catherine II shrank from this extreme course. When she was seized with apoplexy, he was free to destroy the will in which she had left the crown to Alexander, if any such will was ever made. ...


Denis said…
enjoyed reading that. thank you

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