Tsarevich Alexei is a very unpopular personality not only among novelists, but also among professional historians. Usually he is portrayed as a weak-willed, sickly, almost feeble-minded young man, dreaming of the return of the order of old Muscovite Russia, in every possible way avoiding cooperation with his famous father and absolutely unfit for running a huge empire. Peter I, who sentenced him to death, on the contrary, in the works of Russian historians and novelists is portrayed as a hero from ancient times, sacrificing his son to public interests and deeply suffering from his tragic decision.
Peter I interrogates Tsarevich Alexei in Peterhof. Artist N. N. Ge
“Peter, in his grief of his father and the tragedy of a statesman, arouses sympathy and understanding … In the entire unrivaled gallery of Shakespeare's images and situations, it is difficult to find anything similar in its tragedy,” writes, for example, N. Molchanov. Indeed, what else could the unfortunate emperor do if his son intended to return the capital of Russia to Moscow (by the way, where is it now?), “Abandon the fleet” and remove his faithful companions-in-arms from governing the country? The fact that the "chicks of Petrov's nest" did well without Alexei and destroyed each other on their own (even the incredibly cautious Osterman had to go into exile after the accession of the beloved daughter of the prudent emperor) does not bother anyone. The Russian fleet, despite the death of Alexei, for some reason still fell into decay - there were a lot of admirals, and the ships existed mainly on paper. In 1765, Catherine II complained in a letter to Count Panin: "We have neither a fleet, nor sailors." But who cares? The main thing is, as the official historiographers of the Romanovs and Soviet historians agree with them, that the death of Alexei allowed our country to avoid a return to the past.
And only a rare reader of near-historical novels will come up with a strange and seditious thought: what if just such a ruler, who did not inherit the temperament and warlike disposition of his father, was needed by mortally tired and ruined Russia? The so-called charismatic leaders are good in small doses, two great reformers in a row is too much: after all, the country can break down. In Sweden, for example, after the death of Charles XII, there is an obvious shortage of people who are ready to sacrifice the lives of tens of thousands of their fellow citizens in the name of great goals and the public good. The Swedish empire did not take place, Finland, Norway and the Baltic states were lost, but no one in this country laments this.
Of course, the comparison between the Russians and the Swedes is not entirely correct, since Scandinavians got rid of excessive passionarity back in the Viking Age. Having scared Europe to death with terrible berserk warriors (the last of whom can be considered lost in time, Charles XII) and, having provided the Icelandic skalds with the richest material for creating wonderful sagas, they could afford to take a place not on the stage, but in the stalls. The Russians, as representatives of a younger ethnic group, still had to throw out their energy and declare themselves as a great nation. But for the successful continuation of the work begun by Peter, it was at least necessary for a new generation of soldiers to grow up in the depopulated country, for future poets, scientists, military leaders and diplomats to be born and educated. Until they come, nothing will change in Russia, but they will come, they will come very soon. V. K. Trediakovsky (1703), M. V. Lomonosov (1711) and A. P. Sumarokov (1717) were already born. In January 1725, two weeks before the death of Peter I, the future field marshal P. A. Rumyantsev was born, on February 8, 1728, the founder of the Russian theater F. G. Volkov, on November 13, 1729, A. V. Suvorov. Peter's successor must provide Russia with 10, or better yet, 20 years of rest. And Alexei's plans are quite consistent with the historical situation: "I will keep the army only for defense, and I do not want to have a war with anyone, I will be content with the old," he informs his supporters in confidential conversations. Now think, is the unfortunate prince really so bad that even the reign of the eternally drunk Catherine I, the creepy Anna Ioannovna and the cheerful Elizabeth should be recognized as a gift of fate? And is the dynastic crisis that shook the Russian empire in the first half of the 18th century and the era of palace coups that followed, which brought to power extremely dubious contenders, whose rule Germaine de Stael described as "autocracy limited by a stranglehold", really so good?
Before answering these questions, the readers should be told that Peter I, who, according to V. O. Klyuchevsky, "ruined the country worse than any enemy", was not at all popular among his subjects and was by no means perceived by them as a hero and savior of the fatherland. The era of Peter the Great for Russia became a time of bloody and not always successful wars, mass self-immolations of Old Believers and extreme impoverishment of all segments of the population of our country. Few people know that it was under Peter I that the classic “wild” version of Russian serfdom, known from many works of Russian literature, arose. And about the construction of St. Petersburg V. Klyuchevsky said: "There is no battle in history that would have claimed so many lives." It is not surprising that in the people's memory Peter I remained the tsar-oppressor, and even more so - the Antichrist, who appeared as a punishment for the sins of the Russian people. The cult of Peter the Great began to take root in the public consciousness only during the reign of Elizabeth Petrovna. Elizabeth was the illegitimate daughter of Peter (she was born in 1710, the secret wedding of Peter I and Martha Skavronskaya took place in 1711, and their public wedding took place only in 1712) and therefore was never seriously considered by anyone as a contender for the throne. … Having ascended the Russian throne thanks to a palace coup carried out by a handful of soldiers of the Preobrazhensky Guards Regiment, Elizabeth feared all her life to become a victim of a new conspiracy and, by exalting her father's deeds, sought to emphasize the legitimacy of her dynastic rights.
Later, the cult of Peter I turned out to be extremely beneficial to another person with adventurous character traits - Catherine II, who, having overthrown the grandson of the first Russian emperor, declared herself the heiress and successor of the work of Peter the Great. To emphasize the innovative and progressive nature of the reign of Peter I, the official historians of the Romanovs had to make a forgery and ascribe to him some innovations that became widespread under his father Alexei Mikhailovich and brother Fedor Alexeevich. The Russian Empire in the second half of the 18th century was on the rise, great heroes and enlightened monarchs of the educated part of society were needed much more than tyrants and despots. Therefore, it is not surprising that by the beginning of the 19th century, admiration for the genius of Peter began to be considered good form among the Russian nobility.
However, the attitude of the common people towards this emperor remained generally negative, and the genius of A. S. Pushkin to radically change it. The great Russian poet was a good historian and intellectually understood the contradictions in the activities of his beloved hero: "I have now analyzed a lot of materials about Peter and will never write his history, because there are many facts that I cannot agree with my personal respect for him", - he wrote in 1836. However, the heart cannot be ordered, and the poet easily defeated the historian. It was with the light hand of Pushkin that Peter I became the true idol of the broad popular masses of Russia. With the strengthening of the authority of Peter I, the reputation of Tsarevich Alexei perished completely and irrevocably: if the great emperor, who tirelessly cares about the welfare of the state and his subjects, suddenly begins personally to torture, and then signs an order to execute his own son and heir, then there was a reason. The situation is like in a German proverb: if a dog is killed, it means that it was scabby. But what really happened in the imperial family?
In January 1689, 16-year-old Peter I, at the insistence of his mother, married Evdokia Fedorovna Lopukhina, who was three years his senior. Such a wife, who grew up in a closed mansion and was very far from the vital interests of young Peter, of course, did not suit the future emperor. Very soon, the unfortunate Evdokia became for him the personification of the hated order of old Moscow Russia, boyar laziness, arrogance and inertia. Despite the birth of children (Alexei was born on February 8, 1690, then Alexander and Pavel were born, who died in infancy), the relationship between the spouses was very strained. Peter's hatred and contempt for his wife could not but be reflected in his attitude towards his son. The denouement came on September 23, 1698: by order of Peter I, Tsarina Evdokia was taken to the Intercession Suzdal convent, where she was forcibly tonsured into a nun.
In the history of Russia, Evdokia became the only queen who, when imprisoned in a monastery, was not assigned any maintenance and was not assigned a servant. In the same year, the rifle regiments were routed, a year before these events a decree on shaving beards was published, and the next year a new calendar was introduced and a decree on clothing was signed: the king changed everything - his wife, army, the appearance of his subjects, and even time. And only the son, in the absence of another heir, remained the same for the time being. Alexei was 9 years old when Peter I's sister Natalya snatched the boy from the hands of his mother forcibly taken to the monastery. Since then, he began to live under the supervision of Natalya Alekseevna, who treated him with undisguised hatred. The prince rarely saw his father and, apparently, did not suffer much from separation from him, since he was far from delighted with the unceremonious favorites of Peter and the noisy feasts accepted in his entourage. Nevertheless, it has been proven that Alexei never showed open dissatisfaction with his father. He also did not shy away from studies: it is known that the tsarevich knew history and sacred books quite well, perfectly mastered French and German, studied 4 actions of arithmetic, which is a lot for Russia at the beginning of the 18th century, had a notion of fortification. Peter I himself, at the age of 16, could only boast of the ability to read, write, and knowledge of two arithmetic operations. Yes, and the older contemporary of Alexei, the famous French king Louis XIV, against the background of our hero, may seem like an ignoramus.
At the age of 11, Alexei went with Peter I to Arkhangelsk, and a year later, with the rank of a soldier in a bombardier company, he was already participating in the capture of the fortress of Nyenskans (May 1, 1703). Pay attention: "meek" Alexei takes part in the war for the first time at the age of 12, his warlike father - only at 23! In 1704, 14-year-old Aleksey was inseparably in the army during the siege of Narva. The first serious quarrel between the emperor and his son took place in 1706. The reason for this was a secret meeting with his mother: Alexei was called to Zhovkva (now Nesterov near Lvov), where he received a severe reprimand. However, in the future, relations between Peter and Alexei returned to normal, and the emperor sent his son to Smolensk to procure provisions and collect recruits. With the recruits that Alexei sent, Peter I remained dissatisfied, which he announced in a letter to the Tsarevich. However, the point here, apparently, was not a lack of zeal, but in the difficult demographic situation that developed in Russia not without the help of Peter himself: “I couldn’t find it better around that time, but you deigned to send it soon,” he justifies Alexei, and his father is forced to admit that he was right. April 25, 1707Peter I sent Alexei to supervise the repair and construction of new fortifications in Kitay-Gorod and the Kremlin. The comparison is again not in favor of the famous emperor: 17-year-old Peter amuses himself with the construction of small boats on Lake Pleshcheyevo, and his son, at the same age, is preparing Moscow for a possible siege by the troops of Charles XII. In addition, Alexei is instructed to lead the suppression of the Bulavinsky uprising. In 1711, Alexei was in Poland, where he supervised the procurement of provisions for the Russian army abroad. The country was devastated by the war and therefore the activities of the tsarevich were not crowned with special successes.
A number of highly authoritative historians emphasize in their writings that Alexei in many cases was a “nominal leader”. Agreeing with this statement, it should be said that most of his illustrious peers were the same nominal commanders and rulers. We calmly read reports that the twelve-year-old son of the famous prince Igor Vladimir commanded the squad of the city of Putivl in 1185, and his peer from Norway (the future king Olav the Holy) in 1007 ravaged the coasts of Jutland, Frisia and England. But only in the case of Alexei, we gleefully notice: and after all, he could not seriously lead because of his youth and inexperience.
So, until 1711 the emperor was quite tolerant of his son, and then his attitude towards Alexei suddenly changes sharply for the worse. What happened in that ill-fated year? On March 6, Peter I secretly married Martha Skavronskaya, and on October 14, Alexei married Crown Princess of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel Charlotte Christine-Sophia. At this time, Peter I first thought: who is now to be the heir to the throne? To the son of his unloved wife, Alexei, or to the children of a dearly beloved woman, "friend of the heartfelt Katerinushka," who soon, on February 19, 1712, will become the Russian Empress Ekaterina Alekseevna? The relationship of the unloved father with his son, who is not kind to his heart, could hardly be called cloudless before, but now they are completely deteriorating. Alexei, who was previously afraid of Peter, now experiences panic when communicating with him and, in order to avoid a humiliating exam when returning from abroad in 1712, even shoots in the palm of his hand. Usually this case is presented as an illustration of the thesis about the pathological laziness of the heir and his inability to learn. However, let's imagine the composition of the “examination board”. Here, with a pipe in his mouth, lounging on a chair, sits not quite sober Tsar Peter Alekseevich. Beside him, grinning insolently, is an illiterate member of the Royal Academy of Sciences of Great Britain, Alexander Danilych Menshikov. Nearby are crowded other "chicks of Petrov's nest", who closely follow any reaction of their master: smile - rush to kiss, frown - trample without any pity. Would you like to be in Alexey's place?
As other proofs of the "worthlessness" of the heir to the throne, the tsarevich's own handwritten letters to his father are often cited, in which he characterizes himself as a lazy, uneducated, weak physically and mentally person. It should be said here that up to the time of Catherine II, only one person had the right to be smart and strong in Russia - the ruling monarch. All the rest in official documents addressed to the king or emperor called themselves "poor mind", "poor", "slow slaves", "unworthy slaves" and so on, so on, so forth. Therefore, in self-deprecating, Alexei, firstly, follows the generally accepted rules of good manners, and secondly, demonstrates his loyalty to his father-emperor. And we will not even talk about the testimony obtained under torture in this article.
After 1711, Peter I began to suspect his son and daughter-in-law of treachery, and in 1714 sent Madame Bruce and Abbess Rzhevskaya to follow the birth of the crown princess: God forbid, they would replace the stillborn child and finally close the way up to the children from Catherine. A girl is born and the situation temporarily loses its acuteness. But on October 12, 1715, a boy was born in the family of Alexei - the future Emperor Peter II, and on October 29 of the same year, the son of Empress Ekaterina Alekseevna, also named Peter, was born. Alexei's wife dies after childbirth, and at her commemoration, the emperor hands over a letter to his son demanding "to reform unfeignedly." Peter reproaches his 25-year-old son, not brilliantly, but rather regularly serving his 25-year-old son for his dislike of military affairs and warns: "Do not imagine that you are my only son." Alexei understands everything correctly: on October 31, he renounces his claims to the throne and asks his father to let him go to the monastery. And Peter I was frightened: in the monastery, Alexei, having become inaccessible to the secular authorities, would continue to be dangerous for the long-awaited and beloved son of Catherine. Peter knows very well how his subjects treat him and understands that a pious son who has innocently suffered from the tyranny of his father, the "antichrist," will certainly be called to power after his death: the cowl is not nailed to his head with nails. At the same time, the emperor cannot and clearly oppose the pious desire of Alexei. Peter orders his son to "think" and takes a "time-out" - he goes abroad. In Copenhagen, Peter I makes another move: he offers his son a choice: go to a monastery, or go (not alone, but with his beloved woman - Euphrosyne!) To him abroad. This is very similar to a provocation: a desperate prince is given the opportunity to flee, so that later he can be executed for treason.
In the 1930s, Stalin tried to repeat this trick with Bukharin. In February 1936, in the hope that the "party favorite", who was severely criticized in Pravda, would flee and ruin his good name forever, he sent him together with his beloved wife to Paris. Bukharin, to the great disappointment of the leader of the peoples, returned.
And the naive Alexey fell for the bait. Peter calculated correctly: Alexey was not going to betray his homeland and therefore did not ask for asylum in Sweden ("Hertz, this evil genius of Charles XII … terribly regretted that he had not been able to use Alexey's betrayal against Russia," writes N. Molchanov) or in Turkey. There was no doubt that from these countries Alexei, after the death of Peter I, would sooner or later return to Russia as emperor, but the prince preferred neutral Austria. The Austrian emperor had no reason to quarrel with Russia, and therefore it was not difficult for the emissaries of Peter to return the fugitive to their homeland: “To Peter sent to Austria to return Alexei, P. A. Tolstoy managed to fulfill his task with surprising ease … The emperor hastened to get rid of his guest”(N. Molchanov).
In a letter dated November 17, 1717, Peter I solemnly promises forgiveness to his son, and on January 31, 1718, the tsarevich returned to Moscow. And on February 3, arrests begin among the friends of the heir. They are tortured and forced to give the necessary testimony. On March 20, the infamous Secret Chancellery was created to investigate the Tsarevich's case. June 19, 1718 was the day of the beginning of the torture of Alexei. He died of these tortures on June 26 (according to other sources, he was strangled so as not to carry out the death sentence). And the very next day, June 27, Peter I arranged a magnificent ball on the occasion of the anniversary of the Poltava victory.
So there was no internal struggle and no hesitation of the emperor at all. It all ended very sadly: on April 25, 1719, the son of Peter I and Ekaterina Alekseevna died. An autopsy showed that the boy was terminally ill from the moment of birth, and Peter I in vain killed his first son, clearing the second way to the throne.