Equestrian Portrait by Franz Krüger
|Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias|
|Reign||23 March 1801 – 1 December 1825|
|Coronation||15 September 1801|
|Consort||Princess Louise of Baden|
|Issue||Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna
Grand Duchess Elizabeth Alexandrovna
|House||House of Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov|
|Mother||Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg|
23 December 1777|
|Died||1 December 1825
|Burial||Peter and Paul Cathedral|
Alexander I (Russian: Александр Павлович, Aleksandr Pavlovich; 23 December [O.S. 12 December] 1777 – 1 December [O.S. 19 November] 1825), reigned as Emperor of Russia from 23 March 1801 to 1 December 1825. He was the first Russian King of Poland, reigning from 1815 to 1825, as well as the first Russian Grand Duke of Finland.
He was born in Saint Petersburg to Grand Duke Paul Petrovich, later Emperor Paul I and succeeded to the throne after his father was murdered. He ruled Russia during the chaotic period of the Napoleonic Wars. As prince and emperor, Alexander often used liberal rhetoric, but continued Russia's absolutist policies in practice. In the first years of his reign, he initiated some minor social reforms and, in 1803-04, major, liberal educational reforms. He promised constitutional reforms and a desperately needed reform of serfdom but made no concrete proposals and nothing happened. In the second half of his reign he was increasingly arbitrary, reactionary and fearful of plots against him; he ended many earlier reforms. He purged schools of foreign teachers, as education became more religiously oriented as well as politically conservative.
In foreign policy, he switched Russia back and forth four times in 1804-1812 from neutral peacemaker to anti-Napoleon to an ally of Napoleon, winding up in 1812 as Napoleon’s enemy. In 1805, he joined Britain in the War of the Third Coalition against Napoleon, but after the massive defeat at the Battle of Austerlitz he switched and formed an alliance with Napoleon by the Treaty of Tilsit (1807) and joined Napoleon's Continental System. He fought a small-scale naval war against Britain, 1807-12. He and Napoleon could never agree, especially about Poland, and the alliance collapsed by 1810. The tsar's greatest triumph came in 1812 as Napoleon's invasion of Russia proved a total disaster for the French. As part of the winning coalition against Napoleon he gained some spoils in Finland and Poland. He formed the Holy Alliance to suppress revolutionary movements in Europe that he saw as immoral threats to legitimate Christian monarchs. He helped Austria's Klemens von Metternich in suppressing all national and liberal movements.
Alexander and his younger brother Constantine were raised by their grandmother, Catherine the Great. Some sources allege that she planned to remove her son (Alexander's father) Paul I from the succession altogether. Both she and his father tried to use Alexander for their own purposes, and he was torn emotionally between them. This taught Alexander very early on how to manipulate those who loved him, and he became like a chameleon, changing his views and personality depending on whom he was with at the time. From the free-thinking atmosphere of the court of Catherine and his Swiss tutor, Frédéric-César de La Harpe, he imbibed the principles of Rousseau's gospel of humanity. But from his military governor, Nikolay Saltykov, he imbibed the traditions of Russian autocracy. Andrey Afanasyevich Samborsky, whom his grandmother chose for his religious instruction, was an atypical, unbearded Orthodox priest. Samborsky had long lived in England and taught Alexander (and Constantine) excellent English, very uncommon for potential Russian autocrats at the time.
The death of Catherine in November 1796, before she could appoint Alexander as her successor, brought his father, Paul I, to the throne. Paul's unpopular policies led to a successful conspiracy to assassinate him. His son, then 23-year-old Alexander, was actually in the palace at the moment of the assassination, to whom General Nicholas Zubov, one of the assassins, announced his accession, accompanied by the admonition, "Time to grow up! Go and rule!". Historians still debate Alexander's role in his father's murder. The most common opinion is that he was let into the conspirators' secret and was willing to take the throne but insisted that his father should not be killed. Alexander's having become Tsar through a crime that cost his father's life would give him a strong sense of remorse and shame.
Alexander I succeeded to the throne on 24 March 1801, and was crowned in the Kremlin on 15 September of that year.
At first, the Orthodox Church exercised little influence on Alexander's life. The young tsar was determined to reform the inefficient highly centralised systems of government that Russia relied upon. While retaining for a time the old ministers, one of the first acts of his reign was to appoint the Private Committee, comprising young and enthusiastic friends of his own—Victor Kochubey, Nikolay Novosiltsev, Pavel Stroganov and Adam Jerzy Czartoryski—to draw up a plan of domestic reform, which was supposed to result in the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in accordance with the teachings of the Age of Enlightenment.
In a few years the liberal Mikhail Speransky became one of the Tsar's closest advisors, and drew up many plans for elaborate reforms. By the Government reform of Alexander I the old Collegia were abolished and new Ministries created in their place, having at their head ministers responsible to the Crown. A Council of Ministers under the chairmanship of the Sovereign dealt with all interdepartmental matters. The State Council was created in order to improve technique of legislation. It was intended to become the Second Chamber of representative legislature. The Governing Senate was reorganized as the Supreme Court of the Empire. The codification of the laws initiated in 1801 was never carried out during his reign.
Alexander wanted to resolve another crucial issue in Russia—the status of the serfs, although this was not achieved until 1861 (during the reign of his nephew Alexander II). His advisors quietly discussed the options at length. Cautiously, he extended the right to own land to most classes of subjects, including state-owned peasants, in 1801 and created a new social category of "free agriculturalist," for peasants voluntarily emancipated by their masters, in 1803. The great majority of serfs were not affected.
When Alexander's reign began, there were three universities in Russia, at Moscow, Vilna (Vilnius), and Dorpat (Tartu). These were strengthened, and three others were founded at St. Petersburg, Kharkov, and Kazan. Literary and scientific bodies were established or encouraged, and the reign became noted for the aid lent to the sciences and arts by the Emperor and the wealthy nobility. Alexander later expelled foreign scholars.
After 1815 the military settlements (farms worked by soldiers and their families under military control) were introduced, with the idea of making the army, or part of it, self-supporting economically and for providing it with recruits.
Autocrat and "Jacobin", man of the world and mystic, Alexander appeared to his contemporaries as a riddle which each read according to his own temperament. Napoleon Bonaparte thought him a "shifty Byzantine", and called him the Talma of the North, as ready to play any conspicuous part. To Metternich he was a madman to be humoured. Castlereagh, writing of him to Lord Liverpool, gives him credit for "grand qualities", but adds that he is "suspicious and undecided"; and to Jefferson he was a man of estimable character, disposed to do good, and expected to diffuse through the mass of the Russian people "a sense of their natural rights."
Upon his accession, Alexander reversed the policy of his father, Paul, denounced the League of Armed Neutrality, and made peace with Britain (April 1801). At the same time he opened negotiations with Francis II of the Holy Roman Empire. Soon afterwards at Memel he entered into a close alliance with Prussia, not as he boasted from motives of policy, but in the spirit of true chivalry, out of friendship for the young King Frederick William III and his beautiful wife Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.
The development of this alliance was interrupted by the short-lived peace of October 1801; and for a while it seemed as though France and Russia might come to an understanding. Carried away by the enthusiasm of La Harpe, who had returned to Russia from Paris, Alexander began openly to proclaim his admiration for French institutions and for the person of Napoleon Bonaparte. Soon, however, came a change. La Harpe, after a new visit to Paris, presented to the Tsar his Reflections on the True Nature of the Consul for Life, which, as Alexander said, tore the veil from his eyes, and revealed Bonaparte "as not a true patriot", but only as "the most famous tyrant the world has produced". Alexander's disillusionment was completed by the execution of the duc d'Enghien on trumped up charges. The Russian court went into mourning for the last member of the House of Condé, and diplomatic relations with France were broken off. The Tsar was especially alarmed, and decided he had to somehow curb Napoleon's power.
In opposing Napoleon I, "the oppressor of Europe and the disturber of the world's peace," Alexander in fact already believed himself to be fulfilling a divine mission. In his instructions to Novosiltsov, his special envoy in London, the Tsar elaborated the motives of his policy in language which appealed as little to the common sense of the prime minister, Pitt, as did later the treaty of the Holy Alliance to that of the foreign minister, Castlereagh. Yet the document is of great interest, as in it we find formulated for the first time in an official dispatch the ideals of international policy which were to play so conspicuous a part in the affairs of the world at the close of the revolutionary epoch, and issued at the end of the 19th century in the Rescript of Nicholas II and the conference of the Hague. Alexander argued that the outcome of the war was not to be only the liberation of France, but the universal triumph of "the sacred rights of humanity". To attain this it would be necessary "after having attached the nations to their government by making these incapable of acting save in the greatest interests of their subjects, to fix the relations of the states amongst each other on more precise rules, and such as it is to their interest to respect".
A general treaty was to become the basis of the relations of the states forming "the European Confederation"; and this, though "it was no question of realising the dream of universal peace, would attain some of its results if, at the conclusion of the general war, it were possible to establish on clear principles the prescriptions of the rights of nations". "Why could not one submit to it", the Tsar continued, "the positive rights of nations, assure the privilege of neutrality, insert the obligation of never beginning war until all the resources which the mediation of a third party could offer have been exhausted, having by this means brought to light the respective grievances, and tried to remove them? It is on such principles as these that one could proceed to a general pacification, and give birth to a league of which the stipulations would form, so to speak, a new code of the law of nations, which, sanctioned by the greater part of the nations of Europe, would without difficulty become the immutable rule of the cabinets, while those who should try to infringe it would risk bringing upon themselves the forces of the new union".
Meanwhile Napoleon, a little deterred by the Russian autocrat's youthful ideology, never gave up hope of detaching him from the coalition. He had no sooner entered Vienna in triumph than he opened negotiations with Alexander; he resumed them after the Battle of Austerlitz (2 December). Russia and France, he urged, were "geographical allies"; there was, and could be, between them no true conflict of interests; together they might rule the world. But Alexander was still determined "to persist in the system of disinterestedness in respect of all the states of Europe which he had thus far followed", and he again allied himself with the Kingdom of Prussia. The campaign of Jena and the battle of Eylau followed; and Napoleon, though still intent on the Russian alliance, stirred up Poles, Turks and Persians to break the obstinacy of the Tsar. A party too in Russia itself, headed by the Tsar's brother Constantine Pavlovich, was clamorous for peace; but Alexander, after a vain attempt to form a new coalition, summoned the Russian nation to a holy war against Napoleon as the enemy of the Orthodox faith. The outcome was the rout of Friedland (13/14 June 1807). Napoleon saw his chance and seized it. Instead of making heavy terms, he offered to the chastened autocrat his alliance, and a partnership in his glory.
The two Emperors met at Tilsit on 25 June 1807. Alexander, dazzled by Napoleon's genius and overwhelmed by his apparent generosity, was completely won over. Napoleon knew well how to appeal to the exuberant imagination of his new-found friend. He would divide with Alexander the Empire of the world; as a first step he would leave him in possession of the Danubian principalities and give him a free hand to deal with Finland; and, afterwards, the Emperors of the East and West, when the time should be ripe, would drive the Turks from Europe and march across Asia to the conquest of India, a realization of which was finally achieved by the British a few years later, and would change the course of modern history. Nevertheless, a thought awoke in Alexander's impressionable mind an ambition to which he had hitherto been a stranger. The interests of Europe as a whole were utterly forgotten. "What is Europe?" he exclaimed to the French ambassador. "Where is it, if it is not you and we?"
The brilliance of these new visions did not, however, blind Alexander to the obligations of friendship; and he refused to retain the Danubian principalities as the price for suffering a further dismemberment of Prussia. "We have made loyal war", he said, "we must make a loyal peace". It was not long before the first enthusiasm of Tilsit began to wane. The French remained in Prussia, the Russians on the Danube; and each accused the other of breach of faith. Meanwhile, however, the personal relations of Alexander and Napoleon were of the most cordial character; and it was hoped that a fresh meeting might adjust all differences between them. The meeting took place at Erfurt in October 1808 and resulted in a treaty which defined the common policy of the two Emperors. But Alexander's relations with Napoleon nonetheless suffered a change. He realised that in Napoleon sentiment never got the better of reason, that as a matter of fact he had never intended his proposed "grand enterprise" seriously, and had only used it to preoccupy the mind of the Tsar while he consolidated his own power in Central Europe. From this moment the French alliance was for Alexander also not a fraternal agreement to rule the world, but an affair of pure policy. He used it, in the first instance, to remove "the geographical enemy" from the gates of Saint Petersburg by wresting Finland from Sweden (1809); and he hoped by means of it to make the Danube the southern frontier of Russia.
Events were in fact rapidly heading towards the rupture of the Franco-Russian alliance. While Alexander did indeed assist Napoleon in the war of 1809, he declared plainly that he would not allow the Austrian Empire to be crushed out of existence. Napoleon subsequently complained bitterly of the inactivity of the Russian troops during the campaign. The Tsar in his turn protested against Napoleon's encouragement of the Poles. In the matter of the French alliance he knew himself to be practically isolated in Russia, and he declared that he could not sacrifice the interest of his people and empire to his affection for Napoleon. "I don't want anything for myself", he said to the French ambassador, "therefore the world is not large enough to come to an understanding on the affairs of Poland, if it is a question of its restoration".
Alexander complained that the Treaty of Vienna, which added largely to the Duchy of Warsaw, had "ill requited him for his loyalty", and he was only mollified for the time being by Napoleon's public declaration that he had no intention of restoring Poland, and by a convention, signed on 4 January 1810, but not ratified, abolishing the Polish name and orders of chivalry.
But if Alexander suspected Napoleon's intentions, Napoleon was no less suspicious of Alexander. Partly to test his sincerity, Napoleon sent an almost peremptory request for the hand of the grand-duchess Anna Pavlovna, the tsar's youngest sister. After some little delay Alexander returned a polite refusal, pleading the princess's tender age and the objection of the dowager empress to the marriage. Napoleon's answer was to refuse to ratify the 4 January convention, and to announce his engagement to the archduchess Marie Louise in such a way as to lead Alexander to suppose that the two marriage treaties had been negotiated simultaneously. From this time on, the relationship between the two emperors gradually became more and more strained.
The annexation of Oldenburg, of which The Duke of Oldenburg (3 January 1754 – 2 July 1823) was the Tsar's uncle, by France in December 1810, added to the personal grievances of Alexander against Napoleon, while the ruinous impact of "the continental system" on Russian trade made it impossible for the Tsar to maintain a policy which was Napoleon's chief motive for the alliance.
Alexander kept Russia neutral as possible in the ongoing French war with Britain. He allowed Russians to secretly continue to trade with Britain and did not enforce the blockade required by the Continental System. In 1810 he withdrew Russia from the Continental System and trade between Britain and Russia grew.
Franco-Russian relations became progressively worse after 1810. By 1811, it became clear that Napoleon was not keeping to his side of the terms of the Treaty of Tilsit. He had promised assistance to Russia in its war against Turkey, but as the campaign went on, France offered no support at all.
With war imminent between France and Russia, Alexander started to prepare the ground diplomatically. In April 1812 Russia and Sweden signed an agreement for mutual defence. A month later Alexander secured his southern flank through the Treaty of Bucharest (1812) which formally ended the war against Turkey. His diplomats managed to extract promises from Prussia and Austria that should Napoleon invade Russia, the former would help Napoleon as little as possible and that the latter would give no aid at all.
Militarily Mikhail Speransky had managed to improve the standard of the Russian land forces above that before the start of the 1807 campaign. Primarily on the advice of his sister and Count Aleksey Arakcheyev, Alexander did not take operational control as he had done during the 1807 campaign, but delegated control to his generals, Prince Michael Barclay de Tolly, Prince Pyotr Bagration and Mikhail Kutuzov.
In the summer of 1812 Napoleon invaded Russia. It was the occupation of Moscow and the desecration of the Kremlin, the sacred centre of Holy Russia, that changed his sentiment for Napoleon into passionate hatred. In vain Napoleon wrote to the Tsar a letter, which was one long cry of distress, revealing the desperate straits of the Grand Army, and appealed to "any remnant of his former sentiments". Alexander returned no answer to these "fanfaronnades". "No more peace with Napoleon!" he cried, "He or I, I or He: we cannot longer reign together!".
The campaign of 1812 was the turning-point of Alexander's life; and its horrors, for which his sensitive nature felt much of the responsibility, overset still more a mind never too well balanced. At the burning of Moscow, he declared afterwards, his own soul had found illumination, and he had realized once for all the divine revelation to him of his mission as the peacemaker of Europe.
Alexander tried to calm the unrest of his conscience by correspondence with the leaders of the evangelical revival on the continent, and sought for omens and supernatural guidance in texts and passages of scripture. It was not, however, according to his own account, till he met the Baroness de Krüdener—a religious adventuress who made the conversion of princes her special mission—at Basel, in the autumn of 1813, that his soul found peace. From this time a mystic pietism became the avowed force of his political, as of his private actions. Madame de Krüdener, and her colleague, the evangelist Henri-Louis Empaytaz, became the confidants of the emperor's most secret thoughts; and during the campaign that ended in the occupation of Paris the imperial prayer-meetings were the oracle on whose revelations hung the fate of the world.
Such was Alexander's mood when the downfall of Napoleon left him the most powerful sovereign in Europe. With the memory of the treaty of Tilsit still fresh in men's minds, it was not unnatural that to cynical men of the world like Klemens Wenzel von Metternich he merely seemed to be disguising "under the language of evangelical abnegation" vast and perilous schemes of ambition. The puzzled powers were, in fact, the more inclined to be suspicious in view of other, and seemingly inconsistent, tendencies of the emperor, which yet seemed all to point to a like disquieting conclusion. For Madame de Krüdener was not the only influence behind the throne; and, though Alexander had declared war against the Revolution, La Harpe (his erstwhile tutor) was once more at his elbow, and the catchwords of the gospel of humanity were still on his lips. The very proclamations which denounced Napoleon as "the genius of evil", denounced him in the name of "liberty," and of "enlightenment". A monstrous intrigue was suspected for the alliance of the eastern autocrat with the Jacobinism of all Europe, which would have issued in the submission of an all-powerful Russia for an all-powerful France. At the Congress of Vienna Alexander's attitude accentuated this distrust. Castlereagh, whose single-minded aim was the restoration of "a just equilibrium" in Europe, reproached the Tsar to his face for a "conscience" which suffered him to imperil the concert of the powers by keeping his hold on Poland in violation of his treaty obligation.
Once a supporter of limited liberalism, as seen in his approval of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Poland in 1815, from the end of the year 1818 Alexander's views began to change. A revolutionary conspiracy among the officers of the guard, and a foolish plot to kidnap him on his way to the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle, are said to have shaken the foundations of his Liberalism. At Aix he came for the first time into intimate contact with Metternich. From this time dates the ascendancy of Metternich over the mind of the Russian Emperor and in the councils of Europe. It was, however, no case of sudden conversion. Though alarmed by the revolutionary agitation in Germany, which culminated in the murder of his agent, the dramatist August von Kotzebue (23 March 1819), Alexander approved of Castlereagh's protest against Metternich's policy of "the governments contracting an alliance against the peoples", as formulated in the Carlsbad Decrees of July 1819, and deprecated any intervention of Europe to support "a league of which the sole object is the absurd pretensions of "absolute power".
He still declared his belief in "free institutions, though not in such as age forced from feebleness, nor contracts ordered by popular leaders from their sovereigns, nor constitutions granted in difficult circumstances to tide over a crisis." "Liberty", he maintained, "should be confined within just limits. And the limits of liberty are the principles of order".
It was the apparent triumph of the principles of disorder in the revolutions of Naples and Piedmont, combined with increasingly disquieting symptoms of discontent in France, Germany, and among his own people, that completed Alexander's conversion. In the seclusion of the little town of Troppau, where in October 1820 the powers met in conference, Metternich found an opportunity for cementing his influence over Alexander, which had been wanting amid the turmoil and feminine intrigues of Vienna and Aix. Here, in confidence begotten of friendly chats over afternoon tea, the disillusioned autocrat confessed his mistake. "You have nothing to regret," he said sadly to the exultant chancellor, "but I have!".
The issue was momentous. In January Alexander had still upheld the ideal of a free confederation of the European states, symbolised by the Holy Alliance, against the policy of a dictatorship of the great powers, symbolised by the Quadruple Treaty; he had still protested against the claims of collective Europe to interfere in the internal concerns of the sovereign states. On 19 November he signed the Troppau Protocol, which consecrated the principle of intervention and wrecked the harmony of the concert.
At the Congress of Laibach, to which the congress had been adjourned in the spring of 1821, Alexander first heard of the Revolt of the Greeks. From this time until his death, his mind was torn between his anxiety to realise his dream of a confederation of Europe and his traditional mission as leader of the Orthodox crusade against the Ottoman Empire. At first, under the careful nursing of Metternich, the former motive prevailed.
He struck the name of Alexander Ypsilanti (a colonel in the Imperial Cavalry and a leader of the Greek revolt) from the Russian army list, and directed his foreign minister, Ioannis Kapodistrias or Giovanni, Count Capo d'Istria, himself a Greek, to disavow all sympathy of Russia with his enterprise; and, in 1822, issued orders to turn back a deputation of the Morea to the Congress of Verona on the road.
He made some effort to reconcile the principles at conflict in his mind. He offered to surrender the claim, successfully asserted when the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II had been excluded from the Holy Alliance and the affairs of the Ottoman Empire from the deliberations of Vienna, that the affairs of the East were the "domestic concerns of Russia," and to march into the Ottoman Empire, as Austria had marched into Naples, "as the mandatory of Europe".
Metternich's opposition to this, illogical, but natural from the Austrian point of view, first opened Alexander's eyes to the true character of Austria's attitude towards his ideals. Once more in Russia, far from the fascination of Metternich's personality, the timeless spirit of his people drew him back into itself.
On 9 October 1793, Alexander married Louise of Baden, known as Elisabeth Alexeyevna after her conversion to the Orthodox Church. He later told his friend Frederick William III that the marriage, a political match devised by his grandmother, Catherine the Great, regrettably proved to be a misfortune for him and his wife. Their two children died young. Their common sorrow drew husband and wife closer together. Towards the close of his life their reconciliation was completed by the wise charity of the Empress in sympathising deeply with him over the death of his beloved daughter Sophia Naryshkina, the daughter of his mistress Princess Maria Naryshkina.
Tsar Alexander I became increasingly suspicious of those around him, especially after an attempt was made to kidnap him when he was on his way to the conference in Aachen, Germany. In the autumn of 1825 the Emperor undertook a voyage to the south of Russia due to the increasing illness of his wife. During his trip he himself caught a cold which developed into typhus from which he died in the southern city of Taganrog on 19 November (O.S.)/ 1 December 1825. His two brothers disputed who would become tsar—each wanted the other to become tsar. Rumors circulated for years that he had not died but had become a monk somewhere. His wife died a few months later as the emperor's body was transported to Saint Petersburg for the funeral. He was interred at the Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral of the Peter and Paul Fortress in Saint Petersburg on 13 March 1826.
Alexander I Palace in Taganrog, where the Russian Emperor died in 1825.
|Ancestors of Alexander I of Russia|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Александр I Павлович.|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Alexander I of Russia.|
Alexander I of Russia
Cadet branch of the House of OldenburgBorn: 23 December 1777 Died: 1 December 1825
|Emperor of Russia
Gustav IV Adolf
|Grand Duke of Finland
|King of Poland
Grand Duke of Lithuania