Catherine I. (Russia)

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Catherine I.

Catherine I Alekseevna ( Russian Екатерина Алексеевна I , born Марта Самуиловна Скавронская Marta Samuilovna Skavronskaya * April 5 . Jul / 15. April  1684 greg. In Jacob City , Kurland , † May 6 jul. / 17th May  1727 greg. in Saint Petersburg ) was the second wife of Peter the Great (1672–1725). Coming from a very humble background, she first acquired the tsar's affection and respect as a long-term partner , officially became his wife in 1712 and gave birth to the future Russian ruler Elisabeth Petrovna . Her participation in several of her husband's military campaigns was an important reason for her coronation in 1724. After Peter's death in 1725, she was the ruling Empress of Russia for two years until her own death , but left the exercise of rule to Prince Alexander Menshikov .

Lineage and Early Life

There is only uncertain and contradicting information about the early life of Catherine I. She was the daughter of a Lithuanian farmer, Samuil Skawronski, and his Kurland- born wife, Elisabeth Moritz. Born in 1684 in Kreuzburg (today Krustpils , district of Jēkabpils , then Jakobstadt) as Martha Elena Skawronskaja , she was baptized Roman Catholic and had several siblings. When she was only a year old, her father died of the plague , and she lost her mother two years later. So after Martha had become an orphan in early childhood , she lived with an aunt for a few years and then in the village of Ringen with a Lutheran pastor who also died of a plague epidemic. She then came to live in the house of the Lutheran theologian and Bible translator Ernst Glück in Marienburg ( Livonia ), whose foster daughter she became and whom she also served as a maid. She grew up with the provost's children and, through luck, received oral lessons in catechism , among other things , but remained illiterate and did not speak Russian adequately. At the age of 18 she was married to a Swedish dragoon named Johan Cruse .

Shortly afterwards, the Swedes had to withdraw from Marienburg during the Great Northern War . Russian troops under Field Marshal Boris Petrovich Sheremetev conquered the city in August 1702. Martha's husband probably died defending Marienburg. Ernst Glück, his family and Martha Skawronska, like other civilians, were allowed to escape to safety before the fortress was blown up by the Swedish commanders and were taken prisoner by the Russians. While Glück went to Moscow to work as an interpreter , Martha stayed in the Russian camp and worked in the Sheremetev household, who is said to have had a relationship with her. Later it was given to Prince Alexander Menshikov , the best friend of Peter the Great; whether she became his lover is disputed. When Peter was visiting his friend Menshikov in the autumn of 1703, he met Martha, who was described as very physically attractive, when she was serving the meal. Soon the tsar, who after the second Strelitzen uprising in 1698 had separated from his first wife Evdokija Lopuchina and banished her, made Martha his lover, whereby Menshikov promoted the initiation of this liaison. Peter now sent Martha to a secluded house in Moscow, where she was instructed in court etiquette by a noble lady.

First years with Peter the Great up to the official marriage

Peter the Great often visited Martha in the secluded house in Moscow. In addition to her caresses, he also valued her knowledge of housekeeping. She converted to the Greek Orthodox faith and changed her name to Katharina Alexejewna ( Jekaterina Alekseevna ); Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich , Peter's son from his first marriage , acted as her godfather . She improved her command of Russian, but remained uneducated and never learned to read or write.

Katharina Alexejewna behaved cuddly and submissively towards Peter and became a caring partner for him. In many cases it had a moderating and calming effect on the actions of the slightly quick-tempered monarch, appeased him at the right moment when he was angry, and gave him calm and self-confidence for difficult decisions. Accordingly, she was sometimes called "little mother" by him. She gained a lasting influence on Peter. In the winter of 1704 she gave birth to their first child, a son who was followed by eleven other children. Of these large offspring, however, only two daughters reached adulthood:

  • Paul Petrovich (* 1704; † 1707)
  • Peter Petrovich (* 1705; † 1707)
  • Katharina Petrovna (* 1707; † 1708)
  • Grand Duchess Anna Petrovna (* 1708; † 1728), Tsarevna heir to the throne
  • Grand Duchess Elisabeth Petrovna (* 1709; † 1762), later Empress
  • Grand Duchess Natalie Petrovna (* 1713; † 1715)
  • Grand Duchess Margarete Petrovna (* 1714; † 1715)
  • Grand Duke Peter Petrovich (* 1715; † 1719), Tsarevich heir to the throne
  • Grand Duke Paul Petrovich (* 1717; † 1717)
  • Grand Duchess Natalie Petrovna (* 1718; † 1725)
  • Grand Duke Peter Petrovich (* 1723; † 1723)
  • Paul Petrovich (* 1724; † 1724)

In 1706 Katharina lived with Peter the Great in a small log cabin in Saint Petersburg, which at the time was being established as a new important city. But soon the Tsar was again separated from Katharina for longer periods of time due to state duties and war. In 1707 he is said to have secretly married her. In the same year, her two oldest sons died in infancy.

Before Peter to the definitive fight against the Swedish King Karl XII. When he left, he ordered that 3,000 rubles be paid out to Katharina and her daughter in the event of his death. He maintained a correspondence with Katharina, who finally drove to him in Poltava at his letter request, was at his service there and also cared for injured soldiers. Before the Battle of Poltava (June 27 jul. / July 8, 1709 greg. ) They went to Kiev and was waiting the outcome of the military conflict from. This ended with a decisive Russian victory over the Swedes. The Tsar was moved to Kiev to pregnant Catherine, who mitreiste to Moscow, then to Kolomenskoye went and there on (December 18 jul. / Dec. 29, 1709 greg. ) Their third daughter Elizabeth Petrovna gave birth. In 1710 she stayed for a while at the Tsar's side in Saint Petersburg.

On March 6th, July / March 17, 1711 greg. Peter Katharina formally declared his rightful wife and Tsariza. Should he die, she would be entitled to the income of a regular Tsar's widow. When he went to war against the Ottoman Empire in June , Katharina managed to get her to take part in this campaign as well. In July 1711, however, the Russian troops suffered a defeat against the enemy forces on the Prut River . Surrounded by a Turkish overwhelming power, Katharina is said to have saved the situation for Peter by bribing Grand Vizier Baltaji Mehmed Pasha together with other women by handing them over her jewelry and making it available for armistice negotiations. Despite tough conditions, Russia was in any case able to avert a military-political catastrophe by concluding the peace on the Prut . Peter later praised Katharina's services on the Prut. In her car she also saved the Moldovan hospodarist Dimitrie Cantemir , who had moved to the Russian side, from Turkish pursuits across the Russian border.

In the future, Katharina accompanied the Russian monarch on numerous campaigns and trips, kept his clothes in order, shared the hardships and took care of the soldiers' well-being in a friendly and always cheerful manner. On February 8th, Jul. / February 19, 1712 greg. the official wedding of Peter and Catherine took place in the St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg, which means that for the first time not a Russian noblewoman, but a woman from the lower social class became the wife of a tsar.

Queen consort

Peter the Great founded the Order of Saint Catherine on November 24, 1714 . This date was the name day of his wife Katharina, whom he also appointed as the first Grand Master of the new order, referring to her self-controlled demeanor during the campaign on the Prut. When Peter didn't take his wife on a trip, he exchanged warm letters with her and added the address Katharinuschka to her. When he made an extensive trip to Western Europe from 1716–1717, Katharina accompanied him. The Tsar couple visited Berlin , among other places , but left behind rather unhappy memories in Prussia because of their rough behavior. The Margravine von Bayreuth judged the appearance and appearance of Katharinas, whose youthful beauty was about to lose weight, extremely negative. The accommodation that the Russian ruling couple had moved into was also found in a very deplorable condition after their departure.

The tsar had a castle built by him from 1718 near Reval named after his wife Katharinenthal . Both spouses had a penchant for magnificent buildings and gardens such as Peterhof Palace . Katharina took little interest in her husband's politics and rarely expressed a dissenting opinion, but she campaigned for Alexander Menshikov several times when Peter incurred the wrath of the tsar for corruption and embezzlement. For this she received expensive gifts from Menshikov. She also asked, albeit in vain, that Peter should not execute his son from his first marriage, Alexei Petrovich, for alleged high treason and instead only give him an existence in the monastery; Alexei died on June 26th jul. / July 7th 1718 greg. . The son Peter Petrovich, who was especially beloved by Katharina and Peter and who had been appointed Tsarevich in place of Alexeis in February 1718, passed away on April 25th, to the great sorrow of his parents . / May 6th 1719 greg. at the age of only three. Katharina's siblings, however, were compensated with small pensions.

After the victorious for Russia ending the Great Northern War by the Treaty of Nystad (August 30 jul. / September 10, 1721 greg. ) Peter was awarded the Great the title of emperor, at which ceremony Catherine in an embroidered with silver red velvet gown at the Side of the Russian ruler participated. Not much later, she received the title of empress. In addition to his corpulent wife, Peter had numerous mistresses and since there was no heir to the throne with the death of little Peter Petrovich, he decided to father a son with a new lover, Marija Cantemir, daughter of the former Hospodar of Moldova. Because Katharina was only able to maintain her enormous social advancement by maintaining Peter's favor, she dared not speak against her husband's liaison. In May 1722, both women accompanied the emperor on his departure to the war against Persia. While Marija Cantemir, who became pregnant by Peter, stayed in Astrakhan , Katharina traveled on with her husband and earned his respect when she raised his morale and that of the soldiers in a difficult situation. When Marija suffered a miscarriage, her relationship with the monarch ended.

By decree of February 5th jul. / February 16, 1722 greg. Peter had abolished the previous succession to the throne in the male line and instead stipulated that every ruling ruler could choose his successor himself. However, nothing was determined about Catherine in the Act of Succession to the Throne. In a ukase from November 15th July / November 26th 1723 greg. Peter announced his plan to have Katharina solemnly crowned Russian Empress; for she had voluntarily accompanied him on several campaigns without showing female weakness and had given him valuable support, especially on the Prut, because she had acted with great fearlessness when his army was surrounded by Turkish forces. The empress's coronation ceremony was on May 7th . / May 18, 1724 greg. in the Uspensky Cathedral in Moscow. At the ceremony Peter put her one and a half million rubles crown on his wife's head himself. This crown was set with 2564 jewels, a diamond from Peter's own crown and a dove-egg-sized ruby . Although Katharina was now the first woman in Russia to be officially crowned monarch, this act did not mean that Peter automatically designated her as his successor.

In the summer of 1724 there was a deep rift between Catherine and the Tsar. Peter is said to have found out that Katharina was corrupt and that her influence over him had been paid dearly, but in particular that she had adulterous relations with her chamberlain and asset manager Willem Mons . The latter was a younger brother of Peter's former mistress Anna Mons . Willem Mons was officially declared on November 16 for bribery and embezzlement . / November 27, 1724 greg. beheaded; The emperor is said to have had his severed head placed in a glass on Katharina's work table. However, there is no clear evidence of Katharina's alleged affair with Mons. In any case, the imperial couple finally reconciled at least externally.

Peter fell seriously ill with bladder and kidney disease in November 1724 after wading through ice-cold water to rescue shipwrecked sailors. Katharina did not leave the dying man's side and wept on his deathbed. He had not yet made an official decision to succeed him. The afternoon before his death he only managed to write down the two words "Hand everything over ..." . When the daughter Anna , whom he had called , appeared, he was already in agony. On January 28th, Jul. / February 8, 1725 greg. Peter died at the age of 52 without being able to explain his attempt to write in more detail.

Succession to the throne

When Peter the Great died, the line of succession to the throne was doubtful. In addition to his widow Katharina, other people had prospects of reigning: Peter's older half-brother Ivan V had left two daughters, Katharina and Anna , while Peter's son from his first marriage, Alexei, was a son, Peter (II .) Alexejewitsch , and from Peter's second marriage to Katharina the daughters Anna and Elisabeth (as well as Natalie, who was only six years old and who died very soon after Peter). Peter's daughter Anna was engaged to the Duke Karl Friedrich of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf.

When the imminent death of Peter the Great was foreseeable, two court parties had formed, one of which supported the succession of the emperor's young grandson, Peter Alexejewitsch, while the other supported the accession to the throne of the emperor's widow, Katharina. The former group included members of old Russian aristocratic families such as the Galitzin , Dolgoruki and Narischkin, who were bitter opponents of Prince Alexander Menshikov. They wanted to make Peter Alexejewitsch the new ruler, overthrow the homines novi who had risen under Peter the Great and restore the former influence of the boyars . Menshikov led the supporters of a line of succession to the throne , especially from the ranks of the homines novi , along with the General Procurator of the Senate, Police Minister and Lieutenant General Pavel Jagusinski , the Lieutenant Colonel of the Preobrazhensk Body Guard Regiment , Ivan Buturlin , the Holstein ambassador von Bassewitz and the Privy Councilor von Bassewitz Russian nobleman Pyotr Andrejewitsch Tolstoy and Admiral Fyodor Matwejewitsch Apraxin . Since Menshikov was in command of the First Guards Regiment and Field Marshal General, this group, which acted resolutely and quickly, could rely on both Guards regiments.

Katharina promised to appoint her step-son Peter Alexejewitsch as her successor if she was recognized as the new ruler. It attracted many followers through the generous distribution of raises and funds. Above all, it was valuable to them that they met the Archbishop of Novgorod, Theodosius III. Janovsky, who was at the head of the clergy, was able to take her side by bribery. After Theodosius' vow to keep Katharina on the throne, the rest of the assembly followed his example. Katharina secured the imperial treasure and the citadel and won the Holy Synod , the imperial bodyguard and numerous greats for herself. The two regiments of guards marched in front of the palace, and the Minister of War General Field Marshal Prince Repnin did not succeed in preventing Menshikov from carrying out his plans.

Katharina explained to those gathered that she was ready to take over the government and raise Peter Alexejewitsch to be a worthy emperor. In the meeting, which was dependent on Menshikov and discussed Katharina's declaration, Cabinet Secretary Makarov said that the deceased Emperor had unquestionably chosen his wife to be the heir to the throne, even though there was no will from him, and the Archbishop of Novgorod maintained that Peter had in support of this view Katharina was chosen as her successor because of her coronation. Thereupon Menshikov proclaimed Katharina on January 28, 1725 (the anniversary of Peter I's death) as empress.

Reign as empress and death

As Catherine I, the new empress was the first official ruler of Russia and at the beginning of the century stood on the Russian throne by women, who also included Anna , Elizabeth and Catherine II . Most of the power was not exercised by Catherine I, who remained insignificant as a personality, but by the despotic ruling Menshikov.

Katharina tried to win over the nobility and the armed forces, waived the eighth part of the taxes for a year, granted some exiles the return and promotions, had 50,000 rubles from their treasure distributed immediately among the guards regiments and arranged the payment of the arrears wages for them entire army. The members of the old aristocratic families were still far from her and disapproved of Menshikov's regiment. After Katharina's daughter Natalie on March 4th jul. / March 15, 1725 greg. the measles died, she was buried in her mother's arrangement with her not buried father, Peter the Great in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg.

Although Archbishop Theodosius of Novgorod had promoted Katharina's accession to the throne, he was soon accused of high treason and in May 1725 was banished to a remote monastery for life; his successor as archbishop was a former important advisor to Peter the Great, Theophan Prokopovich . The empress also restricted the influence of the clergy on several occasions. In the spring of 1725, Katharina's daughter Anna Petrovna and her fiancé, Duke Karl Friedrich von Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf, married; her son should 1762 as Peter III. ascend the Russian throne.

Essentially, Catherine's reign, under Menshikov's leadership, was a continuation of the policy of Peter the Great. In 1725 the empress opened the Petersburg Academy of Sciences founded by her late husband .

Domestic and foreign trade and mining continued to grow; and during Catherine's reign the first silver mine was built in Russia. However, large cases of corruption became known and the population suffered from high taxes. The monarch and her followers wasted huge sums of money, celebrated lavish parties and often held long drinking bouts. Katharina paid a lot of money for luxurious clothes imported from abroad. She had numerous palaces generously embellished.

In order to avoid the outbreak of a rebellion, Katharina satisfied the disgruntled Dnieper Cossacks by having General Count Weisbach promise them that their old constitutional rights would be restored; furthermore, they should only be ruled by members of their own people. Two men pretending to be the deceased Tsarevich Alexei in Potschep and Astrakhan at the same time , namely the soldier Alexander Ssemikov serving in the Preobrazhensk regiment and a supply servant of the Astrachan Grenadier Regiment, were beheaded on November 22, 1725 on Katharina's orders.

On February 8th, the Russian monarch founded Jul. / February 19, 1726 greg. the Supreme Privy Council ( Verchovnyj Tajnyj Sovet ). This body was under Katharina's chairmanship, but mostly Menshikov represented her. Katharina herself only attended the meetings of the council, which met twice a week, and signed the documents presented to her by them. In addition to Menshikov, the Empress appointed Count Pyotr Andrejewitsch Tolstoy, Fyodor Matwejewitsch Apraxin, Heinrich Johann Friedrich Ostermann , Dmitri Michailowitsch Golitsyn and Gabriel Iwanowitsch Golowkin as members of the new council ; A few months later, the husband of Katharina's daughter Anna Petrovna, Duke Karl Friedrich of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf, joined as the seventh member. Golitsyn belonged to that aristocratic faction that advocated limiting autocracy. Evidently Katharina and the party around Menshikov, which advocated maintaining the absolutist form of government, had to make a concession to opposition nobles when Golitsyn was admitted to the Supreme Secret Council, to which the Senate and the Synod were also subordinate.

The conquests of Peter the Great on the Caspian Sea were extended with great losses of soldiers and expenditure of money, whereby the Tartars were less feared than the murderous climate; the most significant success was the storming of Tarku is in September 1725. The Russian government ordered its ambassador in Poland, Prince Dolgoruky, to, the by the Tumult of Thorn stricken dissidents to accept the kingdom. Katharina stationed troops in Courland for a long time under the pretext of wanting to intervene with neighboring states in favor of the dissidents . In order to force Denmark to return Schleswig to the Duke of Holstein, a Russian fleet constantly crossed the Baltic Sea .

Otherwise, warlike behavior was mostly avoided during Katharina's rule and the high military expenditure was reduced. During his last reign, Peter the Great had already turned away from his previous course of military offensives and switched to a line more aimed at the conclusion of alliances. Under Katharina, Vice Chancellor Ostermann continued this foreign policy. Russia, which had risen to become a new great power, was integrated into the European state system by contract. Peter already had July with Sweden on February 11th . / February 22, 1724 greg. an alliance agreed upon which, to the delight of Ostermann, who was trying to achieve Russian-Austrian rapprochement, the German Emperor Karl VI. on April 5th jul. / April 16, 1726 greg. connected. The latter agreed to support the measures to restore the Duke of Holstein in Schleswig, but a British fleet under Admiral Charles Wager moved into July 29th . / June 9, 1726 greg. Positioned off the island of Nargen , so that the Russian squadron could do nothing. By the covenant of July 26th jul. / August 6, 1726 greg. with the emperor Catherine entered the between Charles VI. and the Spanish King Philip V concluded contract with; she promised to send 30,000 troops to help him if he were attacked or damaged, for which he gave the same assurance. Katharina went with Prussia on August 10th July. / August 21, 1726 greg. an alliance against Poland because King Augustus the Strong wanted Courland to turn to his illegitimate son, Count Moritz von Sachsen , but the Menshikov claimed it for himself.

In 1726 the discussion about Katharina's succession intensified, because Peter Alexejewitsch could not be withheld from the throne for too long. At the urging of Prince Menshikov, who was anxious to maintain his influence, the monarch accepted his daughter Maria's engagement to Peter Alexejewitsch.

Katharina died on the evening of May 6th after only two years of government . / May 17, 1727 greg. at the age of 43 in Saint Petersburg; The cause of her death, accelerated by her drunkenness, is said to have been consumption . She was born on May 16 . / May 27th 1727 greg. buried in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg. As stated in her accession to the throne and also in her will, Katharina was succeeded by her 11-year-old step-son as Peter II, during whose equally short reign the court was relocated to Moscow .


Web links

Commons : Catherine I of Russia  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. In contemporary linguistic usage as well as abroad it remained customary until 1917 to continue speaking of the tsar and this has been preserved in the consciousness of posterity. What this affected was not the current claim to dignity of the empire, but the continuation of the specifically Russian reality in the form of the Moscow tsarist empire, which served as the basis of the new empire. In the 19th century, this led to a conceptual language in literature that was not appropriate to the source and to an outmoded conceptual apparatus in German literature. Hans-Joachim Torke: The Russian Tsars , 1547–1917, p. 8; Hans-Joachim Torke: The state-related society in the Moscow Empire , Leiden, 1974, p. 2; Reinhard Wittram: The Russian Empire and its Shape Change, in: Historische Zeitschrift Vol. 187, Issue 3 (June 1959), pp. 568–593, here p. 569.
  2. Detlef Jena, Die Zarinnen Russlands , pp. 106ff .; Phillip E. Koerper, Women in World History , Vol. 3, pp. 522ff.
  3. Detlef Jena, Die Zarinnen Russlands , p. 108; Phillip E. Koerper, Women in World History , Vol. 3, p. 524.
  4. Detlef Jena, Die Zarinnen Russlands , p. 108.
  5. Reinhold Neumann-Hoditz, Peter the Great , p. 109; According to other sources, Katharina gave birth to a total of eight (Erich Donnert, Die Russisch Zaren , pp. 155 and 182) or eleven (Detlef Jena, Die Zarinnen Russlands , p. 111).
  6. Phillip E. Koerper, Women in World History , Vol. 3, p. 524.
  7. Detlef Jena, Die Zarinnen Russlands , p. 108ff .; Reinhold Neumann-Hoditz, Peter the Great , p. 108ff.
  8. Detlef Jena, Die Zarinnen Russlands , pp. 111–114.
  9. Detlef Jena, Die Zarinnen Russlands , pp. 114f .; Reinhold Neumann-Hoditz, Peter the Great , p. 111f.
  10. Phillip E. Koerper, Women in World History , Vol. 3, p. 525; Reinhold Neumann-Hoditz, Peter the Great , p. 127 and p. 137, note 103; Detlef Jena, Die Zarinnen Russlands , p. 115ff. (who, in contrast to the authors mentioned above, shows the alleged relationship between Katharinas and Mons as certain).
  11. ^ Arthur Kleinschmidt, General Encyclopedia of Sciences and Arts , Section 2, Part 34 (1883), p. 318.
  12. ^ Erich Donnert, The Russian Tsars , p. 182ff .; Arthur Kleinschmidt, General Encyclopedia of Sciences and Arts , Section 2, Part 34 (1883), p. 318ff.
predecessor Office successor
Peter I. Empress of Russia
Peter II