Alexander I of RussiaAleksandr Pavlovich Romanov or Tsar Alexander I (The Blessed) (1777 - 1825), Emperor of Russia (reigned 1801 - 1825), son of the Grand Duke Paul Petrovich, afterwards Paul I of Russia, and Maria Fedorovna, daughter of Frederick Eugene of Württemberg was born on December 28, 1777.
The strange contradictions of his character make Alexander one of the most interesting as he is one of the most important figures in the history of the 19th century. Autocrat and "Jacobin", man of the world and mystic, he appeared to his contemporaries as a riddle which each read according to his own temperament. Napoleon I 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".
His complex nature resulted, in truth, from the outcome of the complex character of his early environment and education. Reared in the free-thinking atmosphere of the court of Catherine the Great, he had imbibed from his Swiss tutor, Frederic Cesar de Laharpe, the principles of Rousseau's gospel of humanity; from his military governor, General Soltikov, the traditions of Russian autocracy; while his father had inspired him with his own passion of military parade, and taught him to combine a theoretical love of mankind with a practical contempt for men. These contradictory tendencies remained with him through life, revealed in the fluctuations of his policy and influencing through him the fate of the world.
Another element in his character emerged when in 1801 he mounted the throne over the body of his murdered father: a mystic melancholy liable at any moment to issue in extravagant action. At first, indeed, this exercised but little influence on the emperor's life. Young, emotional, impressionable, well-meaning and egotistic, Alexander displayed from the first an intention of playing a great part on the world's stage, and plunged with all the ardour of youth into the task of realizing his political ideals. While retaining for a time the old ministers who had served and overthrown the Emperor Paul, one of the first acts of his reign was to appoint a secret committee, called ironically the " Comite du salut public", consisting of young and enthusiastic friends of his own--Victor Gavovich Kochubey, Nikolai Nikolaevich Novosiltsov, Paul Alexandrovich Strogonov and Adam Czartoryski--to draw up a scheme of internal reform. Most importantly the liberal Mikhail Speransky became one of the Tsar's closest advisors, and drew up many plans for elaborate reforms. Their aims, inspired by their admiration for English institutions, far outstripped the possibilities of the time, and even after they had been raised to regular ministerial positions but little of their programme could come to pass. For Russia was not ripe for liberty; and Alexander, the disciple of the revolutionist Laharpe, was -- as he himself said -- but "a happy accident" on the throne of the tsars. He spoke, indeed, bitterly of "the state of barbarism in which the country had been left by the traffic in men."
"Under Paul," he said, "three thousand peasants had been given away like a bag of diamonds. If civilization were more advanced, I would abolish this slavery, if it cost me my head." But the universal corruption, he complained, had left him no men; and the filling up of the government offices with Germans and other foreigners merely accentuated the sullen resistance of the "old Russians" to his reforms. That Alexander's reign, which began with so large a promise of amelioration, ended by riveting still tighter the chains of the Russian people was, however, due less to the corruption and backwardness of Russian life than to the defects of the tsar himself. His love of liberty, though sincere, was in fact unreal. It flattered his vanity to pose before the world as the dispenser of benefits; but his theoretical liberalism linked with with an autocratic will which brooked no contradiction. "You always want to instruct me!" he exlaimed to Derzhavin, the minister of justice, "but I am the autocratic emperor, and I will this, and nothing else!" "He would gladly have agreed," wrote Adam Czartoryski, "that every one should be free, if every one had freely done only what he wished." Moreover, this masterful temper joined an infirmity of purpose which ever let "I dare not wait upon I would," and which seized upon any excuse for postponing measures the principles of which he had publicly approved.
The codification of the laws initiated in 1801 was never carried out during his reign; nothing was done to improve the intolerable status of the Russian peasantry; the constitution drawn up by Speranski, and passed by the emperor, remained unsigned. Alexander, in fact, who, without being consciously tyrannical, possessed in full measure the tyrant's characteristic distrust of men of ability and independent judgment, lacked also the first requisite for a reforming sovereign: confidence in his people; and it was this want that vitiated such reforms as were actually realized. He experimented in the outlying provinces of his empire; and the Russians noted with open murmurs that, not content with governing through foreign instruments, he was conferring on Poland, Finland and the Baltic provinces benefits denied to themselves.
In Russia, too, certain reforms were carried out; but they could not survive the suspicious interference of the autocrat and his officials. The newly created council of ministers, and the senate, endowed for the first time with certain theoretical powers, became in the end but the slavish instruments of the tsar and his favourites of the moment. The elaborate system of education, culminating in the reconstituted, or new-founded, universities of Dorpat, Vilna, Kazan and Kharkov, was strangled in the supposed interests of "order" and of orthodox piety; while the military colonies which Alexander proclaimed as a blessing to both soldiers and state were forced on the unwilling peasantry and army with pitiless cruelty. Even the Bible Society, through which the emperor in his later mood of evangelical zeal proposed to bless his people, was conducted on the same ruthless lines. The Roman archbishop and the Orthodox metropolitans were forced to serve on its committee side by side with Protestant pastors; and village popes, trained to regard any tampering with the letter of the traditional documents of the church as mortal sin, became the unwilling instruments for the propagation of what they regarded as works of the devil.
Alexander's grandiose imagination was, however, more strongly attracted by the great questions of European politics than by attempts at domestic reform which, on the whole, wounded his pride by proving to him the narrow limits of absolute power. On the morrow of his accession he had reversed the policy of Paul, denounced the League of Neutrals, and made peace with England (April 1801), at the same time opening negotiations with Austria. 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 and his beautiful wife. 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 Laharpe, who had returned to Russia from Paris, Alexander began openly to proclaim his admiration for French institutions and for the person of Bonaparte. Soon, however, came a change. Laharpe, after a new visit to Paris, presented to the tsar his Reflexions on the True Nature of the Consulship 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." His disillusionment was completed by the murder of the duc d'Enghien. The Russian court went into mourning for the last of the Condes, and diplomatic relations with Paris were broken off.
The events of the war that followed belong to the general history of Europe; but the tsar's attitude throughout is personal to himself, though pregnant with issues momentous for the world. In opposing Napoleon, "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 Pitt as did later the treaty of the Holy Alliance to that of Castlereagh. Yet the document is of great interest, as in it we find formulated for the first time in an official despatch those exalted 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.2 and the conference of the Hague. The outcome of the war, Alexander argued, 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 realizing 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."3
Meanwhile Napoleon, 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 him; he resumed them after Austerlitz. 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 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 the grand-duke Constantine, 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 (June 13 and 14, 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 the 25th of June. Alexander, dazzled by Napoleon's genius and overwhelmed by his apparent generosity, was completely won. 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 programme so stupendous awoke in Alexander's impressionable mind an ambition to which he had hitherto been a stranger. The interests of Europe were forgotten. "What is Europe?" he exclaimed to the French ambassador. "Where is it, if it is not you and we?"4
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. Napoleon was prodigal of promises, but niggard of their fulfilment. 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 none the less suffered a change. He realized 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 St Petersburg by wresting Finland from the Swedes (1809); and he hoped by means of it to make the Danube the southern frontier of Russia.
Events were in fact rapidly tending to the rupture of the Franco-Russian alliance. Alexander, indeed, assisted Napoleon in the war of 1809, but he declared plainly that he would not allow Austria to be crushed out of existence; and Napoleon 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."5 The treaty of Vienna, which added largely to the grand-duchy of Warsaw, he complained had "ill requited him for his loyalty," and he was only mollified for the time by Napoleon's public declaration that he had no intention of restoring Poland, and by a convention, signed on the 4th of January 1810 but not ratified, abolishing the Polish name and orders of chivalry.
But if Alexander suspected Napoleon, Napoleon was no less suspicious of Alexander; and, partly to test his sincerity, he sent an almost peremptory request for the hand of the grand-duchess Anne, the tsar's youngest sister. After some little delay Alexander returned a polite refusal, on the plea of the princess's tender age and the objection of the dowager empress to the marriage. Napoleon's answer was to refuse to ratify the convention of the 4th of January, 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 the relation between the two emperors gradually became more and more strained. The annexation of Oldenburg, of which the duke was the tsar's uncle, to France in December 1810, added another to the personal grievances of Alexander against Napoleon; while the ruinous reaction 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. An acid correspondence followed, and ill-concealed armaments, which culminated in the summer of 1812 in Napoleon's invasion of Russia. Yet, even after the French had passed the frontier, Alexander still protested that his personal sentiments towards the emperor were unaltered; "but," he added, "God Himself cannot undo the past." 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 the French emperor, within eight days of his entry into Moscow, 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!"6
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. He 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 Krudener--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 Krudener, and her colleague, the evangelist 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 Tilsit still fresh in men's minds, it was not unnatural that to cynical men of the world like 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 Krudener was not the only influence behind the throne; and, though Alexander had declared war against the Revolution, Laharpe 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 substitution 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.7
Yet Alexander was sincere. Even the Holy Alliance, the pet offspring of his pietism, does not deserve the sinister reputation it has since obtained. To the other powers it seemed, at best "verbiage" and "exalted nonsense," at worst an effort of the tsar to establish the hegemony of Russia on the goodwill of the smaller signatory powers. To the Liberals, then and afterwards it was clearly a hypocritical conspiracy against freedom. Yet to Alexander himself it seemed the only means of placing the "confederation of Europe" on a firm basis of principle8 and, so far from its being directed against liberty he declared roundly to all the signatory powers that "free constitutions were the logical outcome of its doctrines." Europe, in fact, owed much at this time to Alexander's exalted temper. During the period when his influence was supreme, the fateful years, that is, between the Moscow campaign and the close of the congress of Aix-la-Chapelle, it had been used largely in the interests of moderation and liberty. To him mainly it was due that France was saved from dismemberment, and received a constitution which, to use his own words, "united crown and representatives of the people in a sense of common interests."9 By his wise intervention Switzerland was saved from violent reaction, and suffered to preserve the essential gains of the Revolution. To his protection it was due that the weak beginnings of constitutional freedom in Germany were able for a while to defy the hatred of Austria. Lastly, whatever its ultimate outcome, the constitution of Poland was, in its inception, a genuine effort to respond to the appeal of the Poles for a national existence.
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 (q.v.), are said to have shaken the foundations of his Liberalism. At Aix he came for the first time into intimate contact with Metternich, and the astute Austrian was swift to take advantage of the psychological moment. 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 Kotzebue (q.v.), 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, 1819, and deprecated any intervention of Europe to support "a league of which the sole object is the absurd pretensions of absolute power."10 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."11
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 of 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!"12 The issue was momentous. In January Alexander had still upheld the ideal of a free confederation of the European states, symbolized by the Holy Alliance, against the policy of a dictatorship of the great powers, symbolized 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 the 19th of November he signed the Troppau Protocol, which consecrated the principle of intervention and wrecked the harmony of the concert. (See Congress of Troppau)
At Laibach, whither in the spring of 1821 the congress had been adjourned, Alexander first heard of the revolt of the Greeks. From this time until his death his mind was torn between his anxiety to realize his dream of a confederation of Europe and his traditional mission as leader of the Orthodox crusade against the Turks. At first, under the careful nursing of Metternich, the former motive prevailed. He struck the name of Alexander Ypsilanti from the Russian army list, and directed his foreign minister, Count Capo d'Istria, himself a Greek, to disavow all sympathy of Russia with his enterprise; and, next year, a deputation of the Greeks of the Morea on its way to the congress of Verona was turned back by his orders on the road. He made, indeed, some effort to reconcile the principles at conflict in his mind. He offered to surrender the claim, successfully asserted when the sultan 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 Turkey, as Austria had marched into Naples, "as the mandatory of Europe."13 Metternich's opposition to this, illogical, but natural from the Austrian point of view, first opened his 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 immemorial spirit of his people drew him back into itself; and when, in the autumn of 1825, he took his dying empress for change of air to the south of Russia, in order--as all Europe supposed--to place himself at the head of the great army concentrated near the Ottoman frontiers, his language was no longer that of "the peace-maker of Europe," but of the Orthodox tsar determined to take the interests of his people and of his religion "into his own hands." Before the momentous issue could be decided, however, Alexander died at Taganrog on the 1st of December (November 18, O.S.) 1825, "crushed", to use his own words, "beneath the terrible burden of a crown" which he had more than once declared his intention of resigning. A report, current at the time and often revived, affirmed that he did not in fact die. By some it is supposed that a mysterious hermit named Fomich, who lived at Tomsk until 1870 and was treated with peculiar deference by successive tsars, was none other than Alexander.
Modern history knows no more tragic figure than that of Alexander. The brilliant promise of his early years; the haunting memory of the crime by which he had obtained the power to realize his ideals; and, in the end, the terrible legacy he left to Russia: a principle of government which, under lofty pretensions, veiled a tyranny supported by spies and secret police; an uncertain succession; an army permeated by organized disaffection; an armed Poland, whose hunger for liberty the tsar had whetted but not satisfied; the quarrel with Turkey, with its alternative of war or humiliation for Russia; an educational system rotten with official hypocrisy; a Church in which conduct counted for nothing, orthodoxy and ceremonial observance for everything; economical and financial conditions scarce recovering from the verge of ruin; and lastly, that curse of Russia,--serfdom.
In private life Alexander displayed many lovable qualities. All authorities combine in praising his handsome presence and the affability and charm of his address, together with a certain simplicity of personal tastes, which led him in his intercourse with his friends or with the representatives of friendly powers to dispense with ceremonial and etiquette. His personal friendship, too, once bestowed, was never lightly withdrawn. By nature he was sociable and pleasure-loving, he proved himself a notable patron of the arts and he took a conspicuous part in all the gaieties of the congress of Vienna. In his later years, however, he fell into a mood of settled melancholy; and, though still accessible to all who chose to approach him with complaints or petitions, he withdrew from all but the most essential social functions, and lived a life of strenuous work and of Spartan simplicity. His gloom had been increased by domestic misfortune. He had been married, in 1793, without his wishes being consulted, to the beautiful and amiable Princess Maria Louisa of Baden (Elizabeth Feodorovna), a political match which, as he regretfully confessed to his friend Frederick William of Prussia, had proved the misfortune of both; and he consoled himself in the traditional manner. The two children of the marriage, a little grand-duchess Elizaveta, died on the 12th of May 1808 and the other little grand-duchess Maria, that died six years earlier on 26 of Jun. (or 8 of Jul.) 1800; and 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 sympathizing deeply with him over the death of his beloved daughter by Princess Maria Naryshkina.
He had other illegitimate children, 9 all together. His other mistresses were Sophia Vsevolojsky, Maria Ivanovna Katatcharova, Veronica Dzierzanowska, Marguerite-Josephine Weimer, and Princess Barbara Tourkestanova.
Paul of Russia
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Nicholas I of Russia
Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden
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Nicholas I of Russia
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