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Alexander I of Russia ( , Aleksandr I Pavlovich) ( – ), also known as Alexander the Blessed ( , Aleksandr Blagoslovennyi) served as Emperor of Russia from 23 March 1801 to 1 December 1825 and Ruler of Poland from 1815 to 1825, as well as the first Russian Grand Duke of Finland and Lithuania.

He was born in Saint Petersburgmarker to Grand Duke Paul Petrovich, later Emperor Paul I, and Maria Feodorovna, daughter of the Duke of Württemberg. Alexander was the eldest of four brothers. He succeeded to the throne after his father was murdered, and ruled Russia during the chaotic period of the Napoleonic Wars. In the first half of his reign Alexander tried to introduce liberal reforms, while in the second half he turned to a much more arbitrary manner of conduct, which led to the revoking of many early reforms. In foreign policy Alexander gained certain successes, mainly by winning several military campaigns. In particular under his rule Russia acquired Finland and part of Poland. The strange contradictions of his character make Alexander one of the most interesting Tsars. Adding to this, his death was shrouded in mystery, and the location of his body remains unknown.

Early life

Alexander and his younger brother Constantine were raised by their grandmother, Catherine the Great. Some sources allege that she created the plan to remove her son (Alexander's father) Paul I from 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 upbringing, was an atypical, unbearded Orthodox priest, who had long lived in England and taught Alexander (and Constantine) excellent English, very uncommon for potential Russian autocrats at the time, but seemingly prophetic given subsequent events. Young Alexander sympathised with French and Polish revolutionaries, but his father seems to have taught him to combine a theoretical love of humankind with a practical contempt for humankind. These contradictory tendencies remained with him through life and are observed in his dualism in domestic and military policy.

On 9 October, 1793 when Alexander was still 15 years old, he married 14 year old Louise of Baden, who took the name Elizabeth Alexeievna. Meanwhile, 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 attempts at reform were met with hostility and many of his closest advisers as well as Alexander were against his proposed changes. Paul I was murdered in March, 1801.

Succession to the throne

Alexander I succeeded to the throne on 24 March 1801, and was crowned in the Kremlin on 15 September of that year. Historians still debate about 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.

At first, the Orthodox Church exercised little influence on the Emperor’s life. The young tsar was determined to reform the outdated, centralised systems of government that Russia relied upon. While retaining for a time the old ministers who had served and overthrown Emperor Paul, one of the first acts of his reign was to appoint the Private Committee, also called ironically the "Comité de salut public", 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. Also Alexander wanted to resolve another crucial issue in Russia—the future of the serfs, although this was not achieved until 1861.

At the very beginning of Alexander's reign, several notable steps were made, including establishing freedom for publishing houses, the winding down of activities in the intelligence services and prohibition of torture. In a few years the liberal Mikhail Speransky became one of the Tsar’s closest advisors, and drew up many plans for elaborate reforms. The reformers' aims far outstripped the possibilities of the time, and even after they had been raised to regular ministerial positions little of their program could come to pass. Russiamarker was not ready for a more liberal society; and Alexander, the disciple of the progressive teacher 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."

Legal reform

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 Mikhail Speransky, and approved by the emperor, remained unsigned. Finally elaborate intrigues against Speransky initiated by his political rivals led to his loss of Alexander's support and subsequent removal in March 1812.

Alexander, who, without being consciously tyrannical, possessed in full measure the tyrant's characteristic distrust of men of ability and independent judgement, in fact lacked the first requisite for a reforming sovereign: confidence in his people; and it was this want that vitiated such reforms as were actually realised. 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.

Social reforms

In Russia, too, certain reforms were carried out, but they could not survive the suspicious interference of the autocrat and his officials. The State Council and the Governing Senate, new bodies endowed for the first time with certain (theoretical) powers, became slavish instruments of the Tsar and his favourites of the moment.

The elaborate system of education, culminating in the reconstituted, or newly founded, universities of Dorpatmarker (Tartu), Vilnamarker (Vilnius), Kazanmarker and Kharkivmarker, was strangled in the supposed interests of "order" and of the Russian Orthodox Church; while the military settlements which Alexander proclaimed as a blessing to both soldiers and state were forced on the unwilling peasantry and army with pitiless cruelty. Though they were supposed to improve living conditions of soldiers, the economic effect in fact was poor and harsh military discipline caused frequent unrest.

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 Catholic archbishop and the Orthodox metropolitans were forced to serve on its committee side by side with Protestant pastors; and village priests, trained to regard any tampering with the letter of the traditional documents of the church as a mortal sin, became the unwilling instruments for the propagation of what they regarded as works of the devil.

Influence on European politics

Views held by his contemporaries

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, to Jefferson 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." Castlereagh, writing of him to Lord Liverpool, gives him credit for "grand qualities", but adds that he is "suspicious and undecided". 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. His view of any relation to the incipient "Americans," (who were almost universally considered unruly) in particular, should be subject to the conventions of his times, as such relations were characterized by heady new freedoms in the New World and the hardly unprecedented restrictions still necessarily in place in the Old World. Thomas Jefferson's opinions of his statecraft would have mattered to him, as to any European ruler of the time, as no more important than the flea that was tormenting his dog.

Alliances with other powers

Upon his accession, Alexander reversed the policy of his father, Paul, denounced the League of Neutrals, and made peace with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Irelandmarker (April 1801). At the same time he opened negotiations with Francis II of the Holy Roman Empire. Soon afterwards at Memelmarker he entered into a close alliance with Prussiamarker, 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 Napoléon 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 murder of the duc d'Enghien. The Russian court went into mourning for the last member of the House of Condé, and diplomatic relations with France were broken off.

Opposition to Napoleon

The events of the Napoleonic Wars that followed belong to the general history of Europe; but Alexander's attitude throughout is personal to himself, though pregnant with issues momentous for the world. 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 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 and the conference of the Haguemarker. 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."

1807 loss to French forces

Equestrian portrait of Alexander I (1812)
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 Viennamarker in triumph than he opened negotiations with him; he resumed them after the Battle of Austerlitzmarker (2 December, 1805). Imperial Russiamarker 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 Friedlandmarker (13 June/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 Tilsitmarker 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 Britsh a few years later, and would change the course of modern history. Nevertheless, a programme so stupendous 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 Erfurtmarker 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 the Sweden (1809); and he hoped by means of it to make the Danube the southern frontier of Russia.

Franco-Russian alliance

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 the Austrian Empiremarker 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."

The Treaty of Vienna, which added largely to the Duchy of Warsawmarker, he complained had "ill requited him for his loyalty".The annexation of Oldenburg, of which the Duke of Oldenburg (3 January, 1754–2 July, 1823) 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 with 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!"

Liberal political views

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 Naplesmarker 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 Troppaumarker, 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.

Revolt of the Greeks

At Congress of 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 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 from the Russian army list, and directed his foreign minister, Giovanni, Count Capo d'Istria, himself a Greek, to disavow all sympathy of Russia with his enterprise; and, next year, a deputation of the Morea the Congress of Veronamarker was turned back by his orders 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 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 Louise of Baden (24 January, 1779–26 May, 1826) 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, "crushed," to use his own words, "beneath the terrible burden of a crown" which he had more than once declared his intention of resigning.

Private life

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 of the marriage 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.

Alexander had nine illegitimate children.

With Sophia Vsevolojsky (1775–1848)
  • Nikolai Loukache (11 December 1796 – 20 January 1868)

With Maria Naryshkina (1779–1854)
  • Zenaida Naryshkina (1806 – 18 May 1810)
  • Sophia Naryshkina (1808 – 18 June 1824)
  • Emanuel Naryshkin (30 July 1813 – 31 December 1901)

With Marguerite-Josephine Weimer (1787–1867)
  • Maria Alexandrovna Parijskaia (19 March 1814–1874)
  • Wilhelmine Alexandrine Pauline Alexandrov (1816 – 4 June 1863)

With Veronica Dzierzanowska
  • Gustave Ehrenberg (14 February 1818 – 28 September 1895)

With Princess Barbara Tourkestanova (1775 – 20 March 1819)
  • Maria Tourkestanova (20 March 1819 – 19 December 1843)

With Maria Ivanovna Katatcharova (1796–1824)
  • Nikolai Vassilievich Isakov (10 February 1821 – 25 February 1891)


Mysterious death

Tsar Alexander I became increasingly involved in and increasingly more suspicious of those around him. On the way to the conference in Aachenmarker, Germany an attempt had been made to kidnap him which made him even more suspicious of the people around him.

In the autumn of 1825 the Emperor undertook a voyage to the south of Russia due to the increasing illness of Alexander's wife. During his trip he himself caught a cold which developed into typhus from which he died in the southern city of Taganrogmarker on 19 November (O.S.)/1 December, 1825. His wife died a few months later as the emperor's body was transported to Saint Petersburgmarker for the funeral. He was interred at the Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral of the Peter and Paul Fortressmarker in Saint Petersburg on 13 March, 1826.

The unexpected death of the Emperor of Russia far from the capital caused persistent rumors that his death and funeral were staged while the emperor allegedly renounced the crown and retired to spend the rest of his life in solitude. It is rumored that a "soldier" was buried as Alexander or that the grave was empty or that a British ambassador at the Russian court said he had seen Alexander boarding a ship. Some say the former emperor became a monk in either Pochaev Lavra or Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavramarker or elsewhere. Many people, including some historians, supposed that a mysterious hermit Feodor Kuzmich (or Kozmich) who emerged in Siberiamarker in 1836 and died in the vicinity of Tomskmarker in 1864 was in fact Alexander I under an assumed identity. While there are testimonies that "Feodor Kozmich" in his earlier life might have belonged to a higher level of society, his identity as Alexander I was never established beyond reasonable doubt. In 1925 the Soviet authorities opened Alexander's tomb and did not find a body.

The immediate aftermath of Alexander's death was also marked by confusion regarding the order of succession and by the attempt of military coup-d'etat by liberal-minded officers. The heir presumptive, Tsesarevich and Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich of Russia had in 1822 renounced his rights of succession, but this act was not publicly announced, nor known to anybody outside of few people within the tsar's family. For this reason, on 27 November (O.S.), 1825 the population, including Constantine's younger brother Nicholas, swore allegiance to Constantine. After the true order of succession was disclosed to the imperial family and general public, Nicholas I ordered that the allegiance to him to be sworn on 14 December (O.S.), 1825. Seizing the opportunity, the Decembrists revolted, allegedly to defend Constantine's rights to the throne, but in fact in order to initiate the change of regime in Russia. Nicholas I brutally suppressed the rebellion and sent the ringleaders to the gallows and Siberia.

Some confidantes of Alexander I reported that in the last years the Emperor was aware that the secret societies of future Decembrists were plotting the revolt, but chose not to act against them, remarking that these officers were sharing "the delusions of his own youth." Historians believe that these secret societies appeared after the Russian officers returned from their Napoleonic campaigns in Europe in 1815.


Alexander I was the godfather of future Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom who was christened Alexandrina Victoria in honour of the tsar.

In the TV miniseries, Napoleon, Alexander was played by British actor Toby Stephens

Alexander I was the namesake for the Alexanderplatzmarker in Berlin, Germany.

See also


  • Ghervas, Stella. Réinventer la tradition. Alexandre Stourdza et l'Europe de la Sainte-Alliance. Paris, Honoré Champion, 2008. ISBN 978-2-7453-1669-1
  • Henri Troyat, "Alexandre 1er", Flammarion, 1981.

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