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Paul ( ; Pavel Petrovich) ( – ) was the Emperor of Russia between 1796 and 1801.


Paul was born in the Palace of Empress Elisabeth in St Petersburgmarker. He was the son of Elizabeth's heir, her nephew, the Grand Duke Peter, later Emperor Peter III, and his wife, the Grand Duchess Catherine, later Empress Catherine II. In her memoirs, Catherine strongly implies that Paul's father was not Peter, but her lover Sergei Saltykov. Supporters of Catherine's claim assume that Peter III was sterile, and was unable to even engage in normal sexual relations with her until he had a surgical operation performed, and so could not have sired the boy himself. Although the story was much aired by Paul's enemies, it is fairly likely that this was simply an attempt to cast doubt on Paul's right to the throne, in order to prop up Catherine's own somewhat shaky claim. He physically resembled the Grand Duke so one might doubt the claims of illegitimacy.

During his infancy, Paul was taken from the care of his mother by the Empress Elizabeth, whose ill-judged fondness allegedly injured his health. As a boy, he was reported to be intelligent and good-looking. His pugnosed facial features in later life are attributed to an attack of typhus, from which he suffered in 1771. It has been asserted that his mother hated him, and was only restrained from putting him to death while he was still a boy by the fear of what the consequences of another palace crime might be to herself. Lord Buckinghamshire, the British Ambassador at her court, expressed this opinion as early as 1764. However, others suggest that the Empress, who was usually very fond of children, treated Paul with kindness. He was put in the charge of a trustworthy governor, Nikita Ivanovich Panin, and of competent tutors.
Her dissolute court provided a bad home for a boy destined to become the sovereign, but Catherine took great trouble to arrange his first marriage with Wilhelmina Louisa (who acquired the Russian name "Natalia Alexeievna"), one of the daughters of Ludwig IX, Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadtmarker, in 1773, and allowed him to attend the Council in order that he might be trained for his work as Emperor. His tutor, Poroshin, complained of him that he was "always in a hurry," acting and speaking without reflection.

Early life

After his first wife died in childbirth, his mother arranged another marriage on 7 October 1776, with the beautiful Sophia Dorothea of Württemberg, given the new name Maria Feodorovna. At this time he began to be involved in intrigues. He believed he was the target of assassination. He also suspected his mother of intending to kill him, and once openly accused her of causing broken glass to be mingled with his food.

Yet, though his mother removed him from the council and began to keep him at a distance, her actions can not be termed unkind. The use made of his name by the rebel Pugachev, who had impersonated his father Peter, tended no doubt to render Paul's position more difficult. On the birth of his first child in 1777 the Empress gave him an estate, Pavlovskmarker. Paul and his wife gained leave to travel through western Europe in 1781–1782. In 1783 the Empress granted him another estate at Gatchinamarker, where he was allowed to maintain a brigade of soldiers whom he drilled on the Prussian model, still an unpopular stance at the time.

Ascension to the throne

Paul became emperor after Catherine suffered a stroke on 5 November 1796, and died in bed without having regained consciousness. His first action was to inquire about and, if possible, to destroy her testament, as it was rumoured that she had expressed wishes to exclude Paul from succession and to leave the throne to Alexander, her eldest grandson. These fears probably contributed to Paul's promulgation of the infamous Pauline Laws, which established the strict principle of primogeniture in the House of Romanov and were not to be modified by his successors.

During the first year of his reign, Paul emphatically reversed many of the policies of his mother. Although he accused many of Jacobinism and exiled people merely for wearing Parisian dress or reading French books, he allowed Catherine's best known critic, Radishchev, to return from Siberianmarker exile. The army, then poised to attack Persia in accordance with Catherine's last design, was recalled to the capital within one month of Paul's ascension. His father Peter was reburied with great pomp at the royal sepulchre in the Peter and Paul Cathedralmarker. To the rumour of his illegitimacy Paul responded by parading his descent from Peter the Great. The inscription on the monument to the first Emperor of Russiamarker erected in Paul's time near the St. Michael's Castlemarker reads in Russian "To the Great-Grandfather from the Great-Grandson", a subtle but obvious allusion to the Latin "PETRO PRIMO CATHERINA SECUNDA", the dedication by Catherine on the 'Bronze Horsemanmarker', the most famous statue of Peter in St Petersburg.

Purported eccentricities

Emperor Paul was idealistic and capable of great generosity, but he was also mercurial and possessed of seemingly unwarranted vindictiveness. Both qualities, it must be added, which the Russian people greatly favoured as typical of benevolent autocrats of the time. Apart from Radishchev, he liberated Novikov from the fortress of Shlisselburgmarker, and also Tadeusz Kościuszko, yet both liberated persons were kept in their own estates under police supervision. He viewed the Russian nobility as decadent and corrupt, and was determined to transform them into a disciplined, principled, loyal caste resembling a medieval chivalric order. To those few who conformed to his view of a modern-day knight (e.g., his favourites Kutaysov, Arakcheyev, Rostopchin) he granted more serfs during five years of his reign than his mother had presented to her lovers during thirty-four years of her own. Those who did not share his chivalric views were dismissed or lost their places at court: seven field marshals and 333 generals fell into this category.

In accordance with his chivalric ideals, Paul was elected as the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller, to whom he gave shelter following their ejection from Maltamarker by Napoleon. His leadership resulted in the establishment of the Russian tradition of the Knights Hospitaller (Order of St John/Maltese Order) within the Imperial Orders of Russia. At a great expense, he built three castles in or around the Russian capital. Much was made of his courtly love affair with Anna Lopukhina, but the relationship seems to have been platonic and was barely more than another detail in his ideal of chivalric manhood.

Morbidly suspicious of democracy and anything Western-European, Paul banned the import of books and censored correspondence with foreigners. He closed down private printing presses and deleted from the Russian dictionary the words meaning: "citizen", "club", "society" and "revolution". In 1797 he dictated a law banning modern dress including round hats, top boots, long pants, and shoes with laces, then sent a couple hundred armed troops onto the streets of St. Petersburg with orders to attack anyone who did not adhere to the new dress code .

Emperor Paul also ordered the bones of Grigory Potyomkin, his mother's lover, dug out of their grave and scattered.

Foreign affairs

Paul's independent conduct of the foreign affairs plunged the country into the War of the Second Coalition against Francemarker in 1798, when he sent Suvorov to batter Napoleon in Switzerlandmarker and Ushakov to assist Nelson's operations in the Mediterraneanmarker. After great hardships endured and great victories won in either campaign, the emperor suddenly changed his mind and turned toward armed neutrality against the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Irelandmarker in 1801.

In both cases it seems as if he acted on personal pique, quarrelling with France because he took a "sentimental" interest in the Hospitallers, and then with Britain after it had captured Maltamarker, their traditional home. Besides the previously abandoned plans of a joint Russo-French naval assault on the United Kingdom, another of his famous follies was the dispatching of the Cossack expeditionary force to fight the British in Indiamarker (see Indian March of Paul).


Paul's premonitions of assassination were well-founded. His attempts to force the nobility to adopt a code of chivalry alienated many of his trusted advisors. The Emperor also discovered outrageous machinations and corruption in the Russian treasury. Although he repealed Catherine's law which allowed the corporal punishment of the free classes and directed reforms which resulted in greater rights for the peasantry, and better treatment for serfs on agricultural estates, most of his policies were viewed as a great annoyance to the noble class and induced his enemies to work out a plan of action.

A conspiracy was organized—some months before it was executed—by Counts Petr Alekseevich Pahlen, Nikita Petrovich Panin, and the half-Spanish, half-Neapolitan adventurer Admiral Ribas. The death of Ribas delayed the execution. On the night of the , Paul was murdered in his bedroom in the newly built St Michael's Castlemarker by a band of dismissed officers headed by General Bennigsen, a Hanoverianmarker in the Russian service, and General Yashvil, a Georgianmarker. They charged into his bedroom, flushed with drink after supping together, and found Paul hiding behind some drapes in the corner. The conspirators pulled him out, forced him to the table, and tried to compel him to sign his abdication. Paul offered some resistance, and one of the assassins struck him with a sword, after which he was strangled and trampled to death. He was succeeded by his son, the 23-year-old Alexander I—who was actually in the palace—and to whom General Nicholas Zubov, one of the assassins, announced his accession, accompanied by the admonition, "Time to grow up! Go and rule!".


As Dr Michael Foster points out: The popular view of Paul I has long been that he was mad, had a mistress, and accepted the office of Grand Master of the Order of St John, which furthered his delusions. These eccentricities and his unpredictability in other areas naturally led, this view goes, to his assassination. This portrait of Paul was promoted by his assassins and their supporters, and has become accepted wisdom mainly by repetition.

Comparatively recent research has reconsidered and rehabilitated the character of Paul I. In the 1970s, two academic panels provided the assessments of new research into Paul I: one at Montreal in 1973 and the other at St. Louis in 1976. Some of the findings were presented in 1979: Paul I: A reassessment of His Life and Reign, University Center for International Studies, University of Pittsburgh, 1979. The reappraisal of Paul I has demonstrated his character as someone of high morals, who followed his conscience. His infidelity is dismissed as unlikely, and the involvement with the Order of St. John is understood against a background of his idealising their history as a lesson in high chivalric ideals which he wished the Russian nobility would adopt. Paul saw in the Russian nobles an element of degeneracy, and introducing the high ideals of the Knights of Malta was his method of reform. Paul suffered a lonely and strict upbringing, and whilst he was eccentric and neurotic, he was not mentally unbalanced. Though an analysis of his biography reveals an obsessive-compulsive personality, he had "characteristics fairly common in the population at large". Where Paul differed was that, by 1796, he had to manage the whole of the Russian Empire. In some Orthodox Christian churches Paul I is even venerated as a saint , although he has not been officially canonized.

A recent film on the rule of Paul I was produced by Lenfilm in 2003. Poor, Poor Paul ("Бедный бедный Павел") is directed by Vitaliy Mel'nikov and stars Viktor Sukhorukov as Paul and Oleg Yankovsky as Count Pahlen, who headed a conspiracy against him. The film portrays Paul I more compassionately than the long-existing stories about him. The movie won the Michael Tariverdiev Prize for best music to a film at the Open Russian Film Festival "Kinotavr" in 2003.


Image:Rokotov paul 1 as child.JPG|Pavel Petrovich as a Child (1761), by Fedor RokotovImage:Hotchino.jpg|The rooms of Gatchinamarker palace where Grand Duke Paul spent his youthImage:EaglePaul.jpg|State Arms under Emperor Paul, incorporating the cross of the Order of Malta, circa 1800


See also


  1. Farquhar, Michael (2001). A Treasure of Royal Scandals, p.192. Penguin Books, New York. ISBN 0739420259.
  2. Alexander II, The last great tsar, by Edvard Radzinsky. Page 16–17. Freepress, 2005.
  3. Emperor Paul I of Russia, and his Russian Grand Priory of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem.

Further reading

  • A reasonable and balanced picture of Paul I, can be gained from: Hugh (Ed) Paul I: A reassessment of His Life and Reign, University Center for International Studies, University of Pittsburgh, 1979
  • For Paul's early life: K. Waliszewski, Autour d'un trone (Paris, 1894), or the English translation, The Story of a Throne (London, 1895), and P. Morane, Paul I. de Russie avant l'avenement (Paris, 1907)
  • For Paul's reign: T. Schiemann, Geschichte Russlands unter Nikolaus I (Berlin, 1904), vol. i. and Die Ermordung Pauls, by the same author (Berlin, 1902)
  • Other readings: (in Russian) V.V.Uzdenikov. Monety Rossiyi XVIII-nachala XX veka (Russian coinage from XVIII to the beginning of XX century). Moscow - 1994. ISBN 5-87613-001-X

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