Wednesday, January 23, 2013

March 23, 1801 - Conspiracy to Murder the Tsar Stopped

Paul, the son of Catherine the Great, was born in 1754, when Catherine was still Grand Duchess during Elizabeth's reign.  Elizabeth immediately took Paul as her own, attempting to indoctrinate him with her own tutors.  Her care was minimal at best; stories were told of the infant Paul falling out of his crib and sleeping on the floor through the night until morning when his lackluster caregivers noticed.  As he grew, Paul proved to be quite intelligent and made up for his uncaring home-life by immersing himself in stories of chivalry and fantasy.

Upon the death of Peter III after only a few months of rule, Catherine became autocrat of Russia.  Paul disagreed with many of her mother's stances, particularly her wars of expansion into the Middle East and Central Asia.  He followed his Peter in appreciation of the new Prussian style, focusing on reform and defensive war.  Although he attended Catherine's council meetings early on, he later spent most of his time on his estates drilling soldiers along the model of Frederick the Great.  Paul wrote a work of military reform, Reflections, which proved to be a criticism of his mother's policies.  Catherine ended much of her attention to Paul.

The distance between mother and son was finalized when Paul's son Alexander was born.  Catherine took Alexander from Paul as he had been taken from her and trained him with her own tutors.  It became clear that Catherine wished to pass over Paul, even contacting his mother Maria for confirmation, but all parties seemed to agree that traditional succession meant Paul would have his time to rule.  When Catherine suffered a stroke in 1796, Paul became Tsar of All Russias.

Even before his rule, Paul was known as an eccentric.  He was fascinated by chivalry and immediately began laws reforming the ruling class.  Paul repealed his mother's legalization of corporal punishment for nobles (a popular move) but also enacted new policies attempting to forge a new age of noble knights, dispensing generous gifts on those who agreed and banishing those who opposed him.  He reformed the army, dismissing many generals and recreating the uniforms to emulate the stylish, if ineffectual, Prussians.  Paul also welcomed the Knights Hospitaller, who had fled their home in Malta from General Napoleon, and they elected him Grand Master, a title in which he reveled.

While his domestic policy caused turmoil, Paul struggled with foreign affairs.  He first recalled his mother's final expedition of 13,000 troops who were prepared to march on Iran, ending expansionism.  Paul also had inherited an alliance with Austria and Britain against Republican France, whom he despised as an illegitimate uprising against nobility.  While first enthusiastic about battling to return order to Europe, Paul was soon betrayed.  It became clear that Austria was attempting territorial gain in Italy.  The Austro-Russian campaign in Switzerland proved fruitless, and the Austrians retreated, leaving the Russians to fight as rearguard with heavy losses.  Meanwhile, an Anglo-Russian invasion of the Netherlands also turned to a retreat, and Paul was disappointed with the efforts of allied troops.  When Britain seized a Danish frigate in violation of Scandinavian neutrality and refused to return Malta to the Knights Hospitaller, Paul ended his alliance with Britain as he had Austria.

Meanwhile, foreign relations with France improved dramatically.  Napoleon had overthrown the republic's Directory and installed himself as First Consul, which matched Paul's worldview of noble rule much more closely.  After Napoleon generously returned 7,000 Russian prisoners despite Britain's failure to pay promised ransom, Paul began secret communications for an anti-British alliance.  The two concocted a scheme to march overland through Persia to harass India, Britain's valued market.  In January of 1801, Paul ordered Ataman Orlov and 20,000 Cossack cavalry to begin the preliminary march to India to map an invasion route.

Two months later, a contingent of drunken dismissed officers burst into Paul's rooms in the newly constructed St. Michael's Castle.  Paul hid behind the curtains but was found, and the officers attempted to force him to sign an abdication.  Paul refused and, during the scuffle, managed to escape his room.  He called for guards, finally finding those loyal enough to defend him.  His attackers were executed and an investigation found, tracing some funding from British agents reacting to Paul's seizure of British ships and factories in Russia.

Anti-British fervor swept the country, coinciding with the arrival of British Admiral Horatio Nelson's fleet in Reval that May.  He was fresh from Copenhagen, where the ships had bombarded the city and forced the Danes to comply in Britain's destruction of the Armed Neutrality Coaltion between the Scandinavian countries.  Russia attempted to fight off the fleet, but the British ships overcame them at the Battle of Reval and sailed for St. Petersburg.  Paul remained in the city despite suggestions to flee and organized the use of small fire ships piloted toward Nelson's fleet, emulating the battle against the Spanish Armada.  Nelson refused to be defeated by Russians, going down with his flagship as the sabotaged ships eventually retreated.

Paul and Napoleon dispatched their invasion in August of 1801 in Astrabad on the Caspian Sea.  Napoleon contributed scientists and artists, much as he had done with his Egyptian expedition, while Paul dispatched brightly colored cloth for sale and fireworks for displays.  They passed into Persia, where Fath Ali Shah had signed an Anglo-Persian treaty earlier that year, stating, "Should it ever happen that an army of the French nation attempts to settle on any of the islands or shores of Persia, a conjunct force shall be appointed by the two high contracted parties, to act in cooperation, to destroy it."  A British force marched out from India, but the Persians, upon recognizing that neither France nor Russia intended conquest thanks to Paul's rejection of expansionistic warfare, capitulated and signed a new alliance with France and Russia.  The British were defeated at the Battle of Kandahar, and the Russo-French force marched into India.

Britain began to panic and struggled to create a new coalition.  Scandinavia refused and again ousted British authority with a coalition of neutrality.  Austro-Hungary joined with Britain as Napoleon expanded again into Italy; Prussia joined later as the war spread to Germany.  At the indecisive Battle of Trafalgar, Britain attempted to destroy the combined French-Spanish navy but merely wounded it before returning to protect the Channel.  Meanwhile, at Paul's encouragement, Napoleon dispatched the fleets to harass Britain's colonies where they would be most vulnerable.  As colony after colony fell or became disrupted, Britain's economy crashed.  Finally in 1812, the world came to peace with a final armistice requested by Britain.

Through the nineteenth century, Europe recuperated and began a new wave of colonization began in Africa and Asia.  Paul, however, worked to continue his reforms inside Russia, welcoming French technological improvements while solidifying his chivalric order.  After the death of his son Alexander due to typhus in 1825, Paul began to groom his grandson Alexander II for rule, but the tsar died the next year.  Eight-year-old Alexander II was made tsar, advised by a council whose powers were expanded during the wave of revolutions following the death of Napoleon II in 1848.  Russia came late into the race to colonize, taking only a few areas in Central Asia while France dominated the Middle East and Britain took hold of much of China, paring it with Prussia and Batavia as they had in Africa.  Paul's legacy of reform improved much in the lives of the average Russians, but finally his aged chivalric order was overthrown in 1919 by revolts calling for a greater share of wealth  for the populace.


In reality, Paul was assassinated.  He refused to sign the abdication and was stabbed with a sword.  His son Alexander was told by one of the assassins, General Zubov, "Time to grow up! Go and rule!"  Alexander became determined to defeat Napoleon and overturned his father's pro-French plans.  After Napoleon's defeat at sea by Nelson in 1805 and on land in Russia by Alexander in 1812, the French Empire finally crumbled.

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