Paul I of Russia
Paul I ( – ) was the Emperor of Russia between 1796 and 1801. He also was the 72nd Prince
Prince of the Church
The term Prince of the Church is nowadays used nearly exclusively for Catholic Cardinals. However the term is historically more important as a generic term for clergymen whose offices hold the secular rank and privilege of a prince or are considered its equivalent...

 and Grand Master of the Order of Malta (de facto).
Paul was born in the Palace of Empress Elisabeth in St Petersburg. He was the son of Elizabeth's heir, her nephew, the Grand Duke Peter
Peter III of Russia
Peter III was Emperor of Russia for six months in 1762. He was very pro-Prussian, which made him an unpopular leader. He was supposedly assassinated as a result of a conspiracy led by his wife, who succeeded him to the throne as Catherine II.-Early life and character:Peter was born in Kiel, in...

, later Emperor Peter III, and his wife, the Grand Duchess Catherine, later Empress Catherine II
Catherine II of Russia
Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great , Empress of Russia, was born in Stettin, Pomerania, Prussia on as Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg...

Paul I ( – ) was the Emperor of Russia between 1796 and 1801. He also was the 72nd Prince
Prince of the Church
The term Prince of the Church is nowadays used nearly exclusively for Catholic Cardinals. However the term is historically more important as a generic term for clergymen whose offices hold the secular rank and privilege of a prince or are considered its equivalent...

 and Grand Master of the Order of Malta (de facto).


Paul was born in the Palace of Empress Elisabeth in St Petersburg. He was the son of Elizabeth's heir, her nephew, the Grand Duke Peter
Peter III of Russia
Peter III was Emperor of Russia for six months in 1762. He was very pro-Prussian, which made him an unpopular leader. He was supposedly assassinated as a result of a conspiracy led by his wife, who succeeded him to the throne as Catherine II.-Early life and character:Peter was born in Kiel, in...

, later Emperor Peter III, and his wife, the Grand Duchess Catherine, later Empress Catherine II
Catherine II of Russia
Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great , Empress of Russia, was born in Stettin, Pomerania, Prussia on as Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg...

. In her memoirs, Catherine strongly implies that Paul's father was not Peter, but one of her lovers, 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 possible 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, although Catherine and Peter III were cousins so the familial resemblance could be from Catherine herself.

During his infancy, Paul was taken from the care of his mother by the Empress Elisabeth, whose ill-judged fondness allegedly injured his health. As a boy, he was reported to be intelligent and good-looking. His pug-nosed facial features in later life are attributed to an attack of typhus
Epidemic typhus is a form of typhus so named because the disease often causes epidemics following wars and natural disasters...

, 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
John Hobart, 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire
John Hobart, 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire was an English nobleman and politician.The son of John Hobart, 1st Earl of Buckinghamshire by his first marriage, he was educated at Westminster School and Christ's College, Cambridge. He was Member of Parliament for Norwich from 1747–56, having also been...

, the British Ambassador
An ambassador is the highest ranking diplomat who represents a nation and is usually accredited to a foreign sovereign or government, or to an international organization....

 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
Nikita Ivanovich Panin
Count Nikita Ivanovich Panin was an influential Russian statesman and political mentor to Catherine the Great for the first eighteen years of her reign. In that role he advocated the Northern Alliance, closer ties with Frederick the Great of Prussia and the establishment of an advisory privy...

, 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 Louise (who acquired the Russian name "Natalia Alexeievna
Natalia Alexeievna of Russia
The Grand Duchess Natalia Alexeievna of Russia was the first wife of the future Tsar Paul I of Russia, the only son of the Empress Catherine II...

"), one of the daughters of Ludwig IX, Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt
Landgraviate of Hesse-Darmstadt
The Landgraviate of Hesse-Darmstadt was a member state of the Holy Roman Empire. It was formed in 1567 following the division of the Landgraviate of Hesse between the four sons of Philip I, the last Landgrave of Hesse....

, 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
Kingdom of Württemberg
The Kingdom of Württemberg was a state that existed from 1806 to 1918, located in present-day Baden-Württemberg, Germany. It was a continuation of the Duchy of Württemberg, which came into existence in 1495...

, 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.

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, Pavlovsk
Pavlovsk Palace
Pavlovsk Palace is an 18th-century Russian Imperial residence built by Paul I of Russia near Saint Petersburg. After his death, it became the home of his widow, Maria Feodorovna...

. Paul and his wife gained leave to travel through western Europe in 1781–1782. In 1783 the Empress granted him another estate at Gatchina
Gatchina is a town and the administrative center of Gatchinsky District of Leningrad Oblast, Russia, located south of St. Petersburg by the road leading to Pskov...

, where he was allowed to maintain a brigade of soldiers whom he drilled on the Prussian model, still an unpopular stance at the time.

Relationship with Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great and her son and heir, Paul I, maintained a harsh and distant relationship throughout the former’s reign. Paul did not see his mother for the first six weeks of his infancy, visiting her only once for prayers. She saw him one year later on Easter. The empress did not mention her son again in her memoirs. It was Catherine’s aunt-in-law, the empress Elizabeth, who took up the child as a passing fancy. After Elizabeth proved an incapable caretaker he was supervised by substantially more inept nannies. Russian historian Roderick McGrew briefly relates the degree of neglect to which the infant heir was subject: “On one occasion he fell out of his crib and slept the night away unnoticed on the floor.” Even after this neglect and in spite of Paul’s rapacious passion for schooling, relations with Catherine hardly improved throughout her reign. In one instance the empress gave to one of her court favourites fifty-thousand rubles on her birthday; Paul received a cheap watch. Paul’s isolation from his mother caused an irrevocable rift between them which would be later reinforced by his reduced status in the imperial court, her favouritism of certain courtier
A courtier is a person who is often in attendance at the court of a king or other royal personage. Historically the court was the centre of government as well as the residence of the monarch, and social and political life were often completely mixed together...

s, and her eventual decision to remove him from succession. His childhood exclusion reappeared later in his relations to the Imperial Court and caused him to oppose her pet policies, but Catherine II’s choke hold on his status restricted not only his mobility as a diplomat and servant of the state but his ability to govern as emperor.

Paul I’s tutor, Count N.I. Panin, was brutally honest in relating to his pupil his station in the Russian court, calling him “a bastard who owed his position to his mother’s sufferance.” This insult set the general tone of Paul’s relationship with Catherine II, a woman who allowed nothing to undermine her control of the empire. This is evident in Paul’s status in the court, which was never of great consequence until he ascended the throne. Grigorii Orlov
Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov
Count Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov was the lover of Empress Catherine the Great of Russia who fathered two of her children.He was the son of Gregory Orlov, governor of Great Novgorod. He was educated in the corps of cadets at St Petersburg, began his military career in the Seven Years' War, and was...

, one of Catherine’s favoured lovers, went into quarantine shortly following an outbreak of the Moscow plague. For the period that he was gone (late 1772 to 1773) Catherine initiated a “rapprochement” with her son, granting him at last the motherly affection denied him throughout his entire life. McGrew describes the new relationship as follows: “They spent hours together, laughing, talking, and strolling arm in arm. So enraptured was Paul…that he refused even at dinner to be separated from her.” On one occasion he was found altering the place-cards so that he could sit beside her for the evening. In spite of this rise in motherly fondness, Catherine proved to be cold and calculating in earning her son’s affections. Her motives were exclusively political; being that Paul was soon reaching majority and a marriageable age, the empress thought it best if she knew her son better. The rekindling of motherly love was little more than a tactic to establish better connections should disaster occur. When Paul turned eighteen, he was appointed Fleet Admiral of the Russian navy and colonel of the Cuirassier regiment, the latter of which was already granted him in 1762. It is clear that Catherine II had no intention of sharing her power. Paul’s mother was not alone in treating him with unkindness and disrespect; the nobility proved equally adept in making a fool out of their future emperor.

Though Russian rulers’ status as autocrat hinged on the nobility’s contentment, it was equally important for courtiers to remain in the emperor’s favour. This was no different in Catherine II’s reign. Catherine’s absolute power and the delicate balance of courtier-status greatly influenced the courtly relationship with Paul, who openly disregarded his mother’s opinions. Paul adamantly protested his mother’s policies, writing a veiled criticism in his Reflections, a dissertation on military reform. In it, he directly disparaged expansionist warfare in favour of a more defensive military policy. Unenthusiastically received by his mother, Reflections appeared a threat to her authority and added weight to her suspicion of an internal conspiracy. For a courtier to have openly supported or shown intimacy towards Paul, especially following this publication would have been suicide. McGrew enumerates on the courtiers’ attitudes towards the crown prince of Russia: “It was more common, however, for Catherine’s favourites to denigrate Paul, or even to insult him. On one occasion when Catherine was discussing a point with Platon Zubov
Platon Zubov
Prince Platon Alexandrovich Zubov was the last of Catherine the Great's favourites and the most powerful man in Russian Empire during the last years of her reign....

…she asked what Paul’s opinion was. He replied that he thought as Zubov did, whereupon Zubov mimed surprise and cried, ‘Did I say something stupid then?’”

Paul spent his later years away from the Imperial Court, contented to remain at his private estates at Gatchina and perform drill exercises. As Catherine II grew older she became less concerned that her son attend court functions, her attentions focused primarily on ensuring that Alexander I succeed the throne instead of his father.

It was not until 1787 that Catherine II officially determined to exclude her son from succession. After Paul’s sons Alexander
Alexander I of Russia
Alexander I of Russia , served as Emperor of Russia from 23 March 1801 to 1 December 1825 and the first Russian King of Poland from 1815 to 1825. He was also the first Russian Grand Duke of Finland and Lithuania....

 and Constantine
Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich of Russia
Constantine Pavlovich was a grand duke of Russia and the second son of Emperor Paul I. He was the Tsesarevich of Russia throughout the reign of his elder brother Alexander I, but had secretly renounced his claim to the throne in 1823...

 were born, she immediately had them placed under her charge, a much more proactive approach than she had made with her own son. That Catherine grew to favour Alexander as sovereign of Russia rather than Paul is unsurprising: the empress made no effort to understand her son until he turned eighteen, and gave him no responsibilities through which to prove him a capable leader and diplomat. During his marriage to Maria Feodorovna, Catherine’s hostility towards Paul was fuelled by a scandalous affair between him and Maria Feodorovna’s maid of honour, Catherine Nelidova. There could be little in the empress’ mind to support the thought of Paul’s reign. Secretly, she met with Alexander’s tutor de La Harpe
Frédéric-César de La Harpe
Frédéric-César de La Harpe was a Swiss political leader and Vaudois patriot, who played a leading role in the creation of the Helvetic Republic.-Biography:...

 to discuss his pupil’s ascension, and attempted to convince Maria to sign a proposal authorizing her son’s legitimacy as immediate heir. Both efforts proved fruitless, and though Alexander agreed to his grandmother’s wishes he remained respectful of his father’s position as successor.

Accession to the throne

Paul became emperor after Catherine suffered a stroke
A stroke, previously known medically as a cerebrovascular accident , is the rapidly developing loss of brain function due to disturbance in the blood supply to the brain. This can be due to ischemia caused by blockage , or a hemorrhage...

 on 5 November 1796, and died 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 Pauline Laws
Pauline Laws
The Pauline Laws are the house laws of the House of Romanov of the Russian Empire. The name comes from the fact that they were initially established by Emperor Paul I of Russia in 1797....

, which established the strict principle of primogeniture
Primogeniture is the right, by law or custom, of the firstborn to inherit the entire estate, to the exclusion of younger siblings . Historically, the term implied male primogeniture, to the exclusion of females...

 in the House of Romanov and were not to be modified by his successors.

The army, then poised to attack Persia
Persian Expedition of 1796
The Persian Expedition of Catherine the Great, alongside the Persian Expedition of Peter the Great, was one of the Russo-Persian Wars of the 18th century which did not entail any lasting consequences for either belligerent....

 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 Cathedral
Peter and Paul Cathedral
The Peter and Paul Cathedral is a Russian Orthodox cathedral located inside the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg, Russia. It is the first and oldest landmark in St. Petersburg, built between 1712 and 1733 on Zayachy Island along the Neva River. Both the cathedral and the fortress were...

. Paul responded to the rumour of his illegitimacy by parading his descent from Peter the Great
Peter I of Russia
Peter the Great, Peter I or Pyotr Alexeyevich Romanov Dates indicated by the letters "O.S." are Old Style. All other dates in this article are New Style. ruled the Tsardom of Russia and later the Russian Empire from until his death, jointly ruling before 1696 with his half-brother, Ivan V...

. The inscription on the monument to the first Emperor of Russia
Monument to Peter I (St. Michael's Castle)
The Monument to Peter I is a bronze equestrian monument of Peter the Great in front of the St. Michael's Castle in Saint Petersburg, Russia....

 erected in Paul's time near the St. Michael's Castle reads in Russian
Russian language
Russian is a Slavic language used primarily in Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Turkmenistan and Estonia and, to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics...

 "To the Great-Grandfather from the Great-Grandson", an allusion to the Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 "PETRO PRIMO CATHERINA SECUNDA", the dedication by Catherine on the 'Bronze Horseman', 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 capable of vindictiveness. Both qualities, it must be added, which the Russian people greatly favoured as typical of benevolent autocrats of the time. During the first year of his reign, Paul emphatically reversed many of the harsh policies of his mother. Although he accused many of Jacobinism, he allowed Catherine's best known critic, Radishchev, to return from Siberia
Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

n exile. Along with Radishchev, he liberated Novikov
Nikolay Novikov
Nikolay Ivanovich Novikov was a Russian writer and philanthropist most representative of his country's Enlightenment. Frequently considered to be the first Russian journalist, he aimed at advancing the cultural and educational level of the Russian public....

 from Schlüsselburg fortress
Shlisselburg is a town in Leningrad Oblast, Russia, situated at the head of the Neva River on Lake Ladoga, east of St. Petersburg. From 1944 to 1992, it was known as Petrokrepost...

, and also Tadeusz Kościuszko
Tadeusz Kosciuszko
Andrzej Tadeusz Bonawentura Kościuszko was a Polish–Lithuanian and American general and military leader during the Kościuszko Uprising. He is a national hero of Poland, Lithuania, the United States and Belarus...

, yet after liberation both were confined to their own estates under police supervision. He viewed the Russian nobility
Russian nobility
The Russian nobility arose in the 14th century and essentially governed Russia until the October Revolution of 1917.The Russian word for nobility, Dvoryanstvo , derives from the Russian word dvor , meaning the Court of a prince or duke and later, of the tsar. A nobleman is called dvoryanin...

 as decadent and corrupt, and was determined to transform them into a disciplined, principled, loyal caste resembling a medieval chivalric order
Chivalric order
Chivalric orders are societies and fellowships of knights that have been created by European monarchs in imitation of the military orders of the Crusades...

. To those few who conformed to his view of a modern-day knight (e.g., his favourites Kutusov
Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov
Mikhail Illarionovich Golenishchev-Kutuzov was a Field Marshal of the Russian Empire. He served as one of the finest military officers and diplomats of Russia under the reign of three Romanov Tsars: Catherine II, Paul I and Alexander I...

, Arakcheyev
Aleksey Arakcheyev
Count Alexey Andreyevich Arakcheyev or Arakcheev was a Russian general and statesman under the reign of Alexander I.He served under Paul I and Alexander I as army leader and artillery inspector respectively. He had a violent temper, but was otherwise a competent artillerist, and is known for his...

, Rostopchin
Fyodor Rostopchin
Count Fyodor Vasilyevich Rostopchin was a Russian statesman, who served as governor of Moscow during French invasion of Russia.Rostopchin was born in Orel, son of Vasily Fyodorovich Rostopchin, Lord of Livna and ... Krakova...

) he granted more serfs during the five years of his reign than his mother had presented to her lovers during her thirty-four years. 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 Malta
Malta , officially known as the Republic of Malta , is a Southern European country consisting of an archipelago situated in the centre of the Mediterranean, south of Sicily, east of Tunisia and north of Libya, with Gibraltar to the west and Alexandria to the east.Malta covers just over in...

 by Napoleon
Napoleon I of France
Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military and political leader during the latter stages of the French Revolution.As Napoleon I, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1815...

. His leadership resulted in the establishment of the Russian tradition of the Knights Hospitaller
Russian tradition of the Knights Hospitaller
The Russian Tradition of the The Hospitaller Knights emerged when the Mediterranean stronghold of Malta was captured by Napoleon in 1798 when he made his expedition to Egypt...

 (Order of St John/Maltese Order) within the Imperial Orders
Chivalric order
Chivalric orders are societies and fellowships of knights that have been created by European monarchs in imitation of the military orders of the Crusades...

 of Russia. At a great expense, he built three castle
A castle is a type of fortified structure built in Europe and the Middle East during the Middle Ages by European nobility. Scholars debate the scope of the word castle, but usually consider it to be the private fortified residence of a lord or noble...

s in or around the Russian capital. Much was made of his courtly love
Courtly love
Courtly love was a medieval European conception of nobly and chivalrously expressing love and admiration. Generally, courtly love was secret and between members of the nobility. It was also generally not practiced between husband and wife....

 affair with Anna Lopukhina
Anna Lopukhina
Countess Anna Petrovna Lopukhina was a mistress of Emperor Paul of Russia.She was the daughter of Pyotr Vasilyevich Lopukhin, from one of the oldest families of Russian nobility, which owed its distinction to Eudoxia Lopukhina's marriage to Peter the Great and of which the unfortunate Natalia...

, but the relationship seems to have been platonic
Platonic love
Platonic love is a chaste and strong type of love that is non-sexual.-Amor Platonicus:The term amor platonicus was coined as early as the 15th century by the Florentine scholar Marsilio Ficino. Platonic love in this original sense of the term is examined in Plato's dialogue the Symposium, which has...

 and was barely more than another detail in his ideal of chivalric manhood.

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

Foreign affairs

Paul came to power following the death of his mother, Catherine the Great, in late 1796, and his early policies can largely be seen as reactions against hers. In foreign policy, this meant that he opposed to the many expansionary wars that she fought and instead preferred to pursue a more peaceful, diplomatic path. Immediately upon taking the throne, he recalled all troops outside Russian borders, including the struggling expedition Catherine II had sent to conquer Iran through the Caucasus and the 60,000 men she had promised to England and Austria to help them defeat the French. Paul hated the French before their revolution, and afterwards, with their republican and anti-religious views, he detested them even more. In addition to this, he knew French expansion hurt Russian interests, but he recalled his mother’s troops primarily because he firmly opposed wars of expansion. He also believed that Russia needed substantial governmental and military reforms to avoid an economic collapse and a revolution, before Russia could wage war on foreign soil.

Paul offered to mediate between Austria and France through Prussia and pushed Austria to make peace, but the two countries made peace without his assistance, signing the Treaty of Campoformio in October 1797. This treaty, with its affirmation of French control over islands in the Mediterranean and the partitioning of the Venetian republic, upset Paul, who saw it as creating more instability in the region and displaying France’s ambitions in the Mediterranean. In response, he offered asylum to the Prince de Condé and his army, as well as Louis XVIII, both of whom had been forced out of Austria by the treaty. By this point, Bonaparte
Napoleon I
Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military and political leader during the latter stages of the French Revolution.As Napoleon I, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1815...

 had seized Italy, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, establishing republics with constitutions in each, and Paul felt that Russia now needed to play an active role in Europe in order to overthrow what the republic had created and restore traditional authorities. In this goal he found a willing ally in the Austrian chancellor Baron Thugut, who hated the French and loudly criticized revolutionary principles. The English and the Ottoman Empire joined the Austrians and the Russians in order to stop French expansion, free territories under their control and re-establish the old monarchies. The only major power in Europe who did not join Paul in his anti-French campaign was Prussia, whose historic neutrality with Bonaparte, distrust of Austria, and the security they got from their current relationship with France prevented them from joining the coalition. Despite the Prussians’ reluctance, Paul decided to move ahead with the war, promising 60,000 men to support Austria in Italy and 45,000 men to help England in North Germany and the Netherlands.

Another important factor in Paul’s decision to go to war with France was the situation with the Island of Malta, the fortress that served as the home for the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, a Catholic order of knights dedicated to fighting the influence of Muslims in the Mediterranean that had existed since the first crusade. In addition to Malta, the Order also owned several pieces of land, called priories, scattered across Europe that paid taxes to the Order. In 1796, the Order approached Paul about the state of the Polish priory, now on Russian land, which had been in a state of disrepair and had paid no taxes for 100 years. In response, Paul, who as a child had read all of their histories and was impressed by their honor and connection to the old order it represented, moved the Polish priories to St. Petersburg in January 1797. The knights responded by making him a protector of the Order in August of that same year, an honor he had not expected but that he happily accepted. Bonaparte's taking of the Island of Malta in June 1798 without firing a shot outraged Paul, now a protector of the Order. The priory of St. Petersburg responded to this action by, in September, declaring that the current grand master of the Order, Ferdinand Hompesch
Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim
Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim was the 71st Prince and Grand Master of the Order of Malta, the first German to be elected to the office....

, betrayed the Order by selling the island to Napoleon and they followed this act a month later by electing Paul grand master of the Order. It was some time before either the Vatican or any of the other priories of Europe approved this election of the sovereign of an Orthodox nation as the head of a Catholic order, and this delay created a political issue between Paul, who insisted on defending his legitimacy, and the priories’ respective nations. Though recognition of Paul’s election would become a more divisive issue later in his reign, the election immediately gave Paul, as Grandmaster of the Order, another reason to war against the French Republic: he warred to reclaim the Order’s ancestral home.

The Russian army in Italy technically played the role of an auxiliary force sent to support the Austrians, though the Austrians offered the position of chief commander over all the allied armies to Alexander Suvorov
Alexander Suvorov
Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov , Count Suvorov of Rymnik, Prince in Italy, Count of the Holy Roman Empire , was the fourth and last generalissimo of the Russian Empire.One of the few great generals in history who never lost a battle along with the likes of Alexander...

, a distinguished Russian general who was almost seventy years old and was known for his quick and decisive attacks. Under Suvorov, the allies managed to push the French out of Italy, though they suffered heavy losses. However, by this point in time, cracks had started to appear in the Russo-Austrian alliance, due to their different goals in Italy. While Paul and Suvorov wanted the liberation and restoration of the Italian monarchies, the Austrians sought territorial acquisitions in Italy, and were willing to sacrifice later Russian support to acquire them. The Austrians, therefore, happily saw Suvorov and his army out of Italy in 1799 to go meet up with the army of Alexander Rimsky-Korsakov
Alexander Korsakov
Alexander Mikhailovich Rimsky-Korsakov was a Russian General remembered as an unlucky assistant to Alexander Suvorov during his Swiss expedition of 1799–1800....

, at the time assisting the Austrian Archduke Charles
Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen
Archduke Charles of Austria, Duke of Teschen was an Austrian field-marshal, the third son of emperor Leopold II and his wife Infanta Maria Luisa of Spain...

 expel the French armies currently occupying Switzerland. However, the campaign in Switzerland had become a stalemate, without much activity on either side until the Austrians withdrew. Unfortunately, they withdrew before Korsakov and Suvorov could meet up, allowing the French to attack their armies one at a time, destroying Korsakov and forcing Suvorov to fight his way out of Switzerland, suffering heavy losses. Suvorov, shamed, blamed the Austrians for the terrible defeat in Switzerland, as did his furious sovereign. This defeat, combined with refusal to reinstate the old monarchies in Italy and their disrespect of the Russian flag during the taking of Ancona, led to the formal cessation of the alliance in October 1799.

Although by the fall of 1799 the Russo-Austrian alliance had more or less fallen apart, Paul still cooperated willingly with the British. Together, they planned to invade the Netherlands, and through that country attack France proper. Unlike Austria, neither country had any secret territorial ambitions, they both simply sought the removal of Bonaparte. The campaign started well, with an English victory in the north, but when the Russian army arrived in September, the allies found themselves faced with bad weather, poor coordination, and unexpectedly fierce resistance from the Dutch and the French, and their success evaporated. As the month wore on, the weather worsened and the allies suffered more and more losses, eventually signing an armistice in October 1799. The Russians suffered three-quarters of allied losses and the English left their troops on an island in the Channel after the retreat, as England did not want them on the main land. This defeat and subsequent maltreating of Russian troops strained Russo-English relations, but it a definite break did not occur until later. The reasons for this break are less clear and simple than those of the split with Austria, but there several key events occurred over the winter of 1799–1800 that helped: Bonaparte released 7,000 captive Russian troops that the English had refused to pay the ransom for; Paul grew closer to the Scandinavian countries of Denmark and Sweden, whose claim to neutral shipping rights offended the British; Paul had the English ambassador in St. Petersburg recalled and England did not replace him, with no clear reason given as to why; and the English, needing to choose between their two allies, chose the Austrians, who had certainly committed to fighting Napoleon to the end. Finally, two events occurred in rapid succession that destroyed the alliance completely: first, in July 1800, the British seized a Danish frigate, prompting Paul to close the English trading factories in St. Petersburg as well as impound British ships and cargo; second, even though the allies resolved this crisis, Paul could not forgive the English for Admiral Nelson’s refusal to return Malta to the Order of St. John, and therefore to Paul, when the English captured it from the French in September 1800. Paul’s drastic response was to seize all English vessels in Russian ports, send their crews to detention camps and take English traders hostage until he received satisfaction. Over the next winter, he went further, using his new Armed Neutrality
Second League of Armed Neutrality
The Second League of Armed Neutrality or the League of the North was an alliance of the north European naval powers Denmark–Norway, Prussia, Sweden and Russia. It occurred between 1800 and 1801 during the War of the Second Coalition and was initiated by Paul I of Russia...

 coalition with Sweden, Denmark and Prussia to prepare the Baltic against possible British attack, prevent the British from searching neutral merchant vessels, and freeze all British trade in Northern Europe. As Bonaparte had already closed all of Western and Southern Europe to British trade, England, which relied heavily upon imports (especially for timber, naval products, and grain) was seriously threatened by Paul’s move and reacted fast. In March 1801, the English sent a fleet to Denmark, bombarding Copenhagen and forcing them to surrender in the beginning of April. This fleet then prepared to head to St. Petersburg, but by this time the conspiracy had already assassinated Paul and Alexander made peace shortly after taking the throne.

The oddest part of Paul I’s foreign policy seems to be his rapprochement with Bonaparte after the coalition fell apart. Recently, however, several scholars have argued that this change in position, radical though it seemed, made sense, as Bonaparte became First Consul, moved away from Jacobinism, and made France a more conservative state, consistent with Paul’s view of the world. Even Paul’s decision to send a Cossack army to take British India
Indian March of Paul
The Indian March of Paul was a secret project of a planned allied Russo-French expedition against the British dominions in India. It was scuttled following the assassination of Emperor Paul I of Russia in March 1801....

, bizarre as it may seem, makes a certain amount of sense: England itself was almost impervious to direct attack, being an island nation with a formidable navy, but the English had left India largely unguarded and would have great difficulty staving off a force that came over land to attack it. The British themselves considered this enough of a problem that they signed three treaties with Persia, in 1801, 1809 and 1812, to guard against an army attacking India through Central Asia. Paul sought to attack the British where they were weakest: through their commerce and their colonies. Throughout his reign, his policies focused reestablishing peace and the balance of power in Europe, while supporting autocracy and old monarchies, without seeking to expand Russia’s borders.


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 Peter Ludwig von der Pahlen, Nikita Petrovich Panin
Nikita Petrovich Panin
Count Nikita Petrovich Panin , a Russian diplomat, vice-chancellor, State Chancellor 6 Oct 1799 - 18 Nov 1800 and Foreign Minister of Russia. He was a nephew of Count Nikita Ivanovich Panin, son of Petr Ivanovich Panin, son-in-law of Count Vladimir Orlov. Nikita P...

, and the half-Spanish, half-Neapolitan adventurer Admiral Ribas
José de Ribas
José Pascual Domingo de Ribas y Boyons known in Russia as Osip Mikhailovich Deribas was a Russian admiral of Spanish-Irish origin who founded the city of Odessa...

. 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 Castle by a band of dismissed officers headed by General Bennigsen
Levin August, Count von Bennigsen
Levin August Gottlieb Theophil , Count von Bennigsen was a German general in the service of the Russian Empire....

, a Hanover
Hanover or Hannover, on the river Leine, is the capital of the federal state of Lower Saxony , Germany and was once by personal union the family seat of the Hanoverian Kings of Great Britain, under their title as the dukes of Brunswick-Lüneburg...

ian in the Russian service, and General Yashvil
Vladimir Mikhailovich Yashvil
Prince Vladimir Mikhailovich Yashvil was a Russian general of Georgian noble origin personally involved in the assassination of Paul I of Russia...

, a Georgian
Georgia (country)
Georgia is a sovereign state in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the southwest by Turkey, to the south by Armenia, and to the southeast by Azerbaijan. The capital of...

. 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
Alexander I of Russia
Alexander I of Russia , served as Emperor of Russia from 23 March 1801 to 1 December 1825 and the first Russian King of Poland from 1815 to 1825. He was also the first Russian Grand Duke of Finland and Lithuania....

, 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
Russian tradition of the Knights Hospitaller
The Russian Tradition of the The Hospitaller Knights emerged when the Mediterranean stronghold of Malta was captured by Napoleon in 1798 when he made his expedition to Egypt...

 of the Order of St John
Knights Hospitaller
The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta , also known as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta , Order of Malta or Knights of Malta, is a Roman Catholic lay religious order, traditionally of military, chivalrous, noble nature. It is the world's...

, 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.

There is some evidence that Paul I was venerated as a saint among the Russian Orthodox populace, even though he was never officially canonized by any of the Orthodox Churches.

Portrayals in literature, theatre and film

In 1906 Dmitry Merezhkovsky published his tragedy "Paul I". Its most prominent performance was made on the Soviet Army Theatre's stage (1989), with Oleg Borisov
Oleg Borisov
Oleg Ivanovich Borisov was a Russian film and theatre actor whose honors included the title of People's Artist of the USSR , two USSR State Prizes as well as the Volpi Cup .-Childhood and Youth:...

 as Paul.

The 1987 Soviet experimental film Assa
Assa (film)
Assa is a Soviet film directed by Sergei Solovyov and released in 1987. It became a cult film, mostly thanks to the fact that it was one of the films that brought Russian rock music from the underground into the mainstream.-Plot:...

 has a subplot revolving around Paul's murder; Paul is portrayed by Dmitry Dolinin.

A film on the rule of Paul I was produced by Lenfilm
Kinostudiya "Lenfilm" is a production unit of the Russian film industry, with its own film studio, located in Saint Petersburg, Russia, formerly Leningrad, R.S.F.S.R. Today OAO "Kinostudiya Lenfilm" is a corporation with its stakes shared between private owners, and several private film studios,...

 in 2003. Poor, Poor Paul ("Бедный бедный Павел") is directed by Vitaliy Mel'nikov and stars Viktor Sukhorukov
Viktor Sukhorukov
Viktor Ivanovich Sukhorukov is a Russian actor. He has appeared in over 50 films and television shows since 1974. He starred in Happy Days, which was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival.-Selected filmography:...

 as Paul and Oleg Yankovsky
Oleg Yankovsky
Oleg Ivanovich Yankovsky was a Soviet/Russian actor who has excelled in psychologically sophisticated roles of modern intellectuals...

 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
Kinotavr , also known as Sochi Open Russian Film Festival is an open film festival carried out in the resort city of Sochi, Russia annually in June since 1991...

" in 2003.


Paul and Sophie had ten total children; only nine survived to adulthood; eight had successful longevity:
Name|DeathAlexander I, Emperor of Russia
Alexander I of Russia
Alexander I of Russia , served as Emperor of Russia from 23 March 1801 to 1 December 1825 and the first Russian King of Poland from 1815 to 1825. He was also the first Russian Grand Duke of Finland and Lithuania....

12 December 1777 19 November 1825 m. Luise Auguste, Princess of Baden (Elizabeth Alexeiyevna) (1779–1826), and had two daughters (both died in childhood).
Grand Duke Constantin Pavlovich
Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich of Russia
Constantine Pavlovich was a grand duke of Russia and the second son of Emperor Paul I. He was the Tsesarevich of Russia throughout the reign of his elder brother Alexander I, but had secretly renounced his claim to the throne in 1823...

27 April 1779 15 June 1831 married first Juliane, Princess of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (Anna Feodorovna)
Juliane of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld
Princess Juliane Henriette Ulrike of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld , also known as Grand Duchess Anna Feodorovna of Russia, was a German princess of the ducal house of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld who became the wife of Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich of Russia of...

 , married second Countess Joanna Grudzińska morganatically. He had with Joanna one child, Charles (b. 1821) and 3 illegitimate children: Paul Alexandrov from first relationship; Constantine and Constance Constantinovichs from second relationship.
Grand Duchess Alexandra Pavlovna  9 August 1783 16 March 1801 m. Joseph, Archduke of Austria, Count Palatine of Hungary
Archduke Joseph of Austria, Palatine of Hungary
Joseph Anton Johann, archduke of Austria , was the palatine of Hungary from 1796 to 1847. He was the seventh son of Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor and Maria Louisa of Spain.-Family:...

 (1776–1847), and had one daughter (died at birth).
Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna
Elena Pavlovna of Russia
Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna of Russia was a daughter of Grand Duke, later Tsar Paul I of Russia and his second wife Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg...

13 December 1784 24 September 1803 m. Friedrich Ludwig, Hereditary Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
Frederick Louis, Hereditary Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
Frederick Louis of Mecklenburg-Schwerin was a hereditary prince of the Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, one of the constituent states of the German Confederation...

 (1778–1819), and had two children.
Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna
Maria Pavlovna of Russia
Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia was the third daughter of Paul I of Russia and Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg. She was the Grand Duchess of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach by her marriage to Charles Frederick, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach.-Life:...

4 February 1786 23 June 1859 m. Karl Friedrich, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach
Charles Frederick, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach
Charles Friedrich, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach was a Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach.-Biography:Born in Weimar, he was the eldest son of Charles Augustus, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach and Luise Auguste of Hesse-Darmstadt.Charles Frederick succeeded his famous father as Grand Duke...

 (1783–1853), and had four children.
Grand Duchess Catherine Pavlovna
Catherine Pavlovna of Russia
Grand Duchess Catherine Pavlovna of Russia was the fourth daughter of Tsar Paul I of Russia and Princess Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg. She became the Queen of Württemberg upon her marriage to her first cousin Crown Prince William who eventually became King William I of Württemberg in...

21 May 1788 9 January 1819 married Georg, Duke of Oldenburg
Duke George of Oldenburg
Duke George of Oldenburg was a younger son of Peter I, Grand Duke of Oldenburg and his wife Duchess Frederica of Württemberg. He was a son-in-law of Paul I of Russia through marriage to his daughter Grand Duchess Catherine Pavlovna of Russia...

 (1784–1812), had two sons; married Wilhelm I, King of Württemberg
William I of Württemberg
William I was the second King of Württemberg from October 30, 1816 until his death.He was born in Lüben, the son of King Frederick I of Württemberg and his wife Duchess Augusta of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel .-First marriage:...

 (1781–1864), and had two daughters.
Grand Duchess Olga Pavlovna 22 July 1792 26 January 1795
Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna
Anna Pavlovna of Russia
Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna of Russia was a queen consort of the Netherlands.-Background:She was born as the eighth child and sixth daughter of Paul I of Russia and Empress Maria Feodorovna , and thus was Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna of Russia...

7 January 1795 1 March 1865 m. Willem II, King of the Netherlands
William II of the Netherlands
William II was King of the Netherlands, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, and Duke of Limburg from 7 October 1840 until his death in 1849.- Early life and education :...

 (1792–1849), and had five children.
Nicholas I, Emperor of Russia
Nicholas I of Russia
Nicholas I , was the Emperor of Russia from 1825 until 1855, known as one of the most reactionary of the Russian monarchs. On the eve of his death, the Russian Empire reached its historical zenith spanning over 20 million square kilometers...

25 June 1796 18 February 1855 m. Charlotte, Princess of Prussia (Alexandra Feodorovna) (1798–1860), and had ten children.
Grand Duke Michael Pavlovich
Grand Duke Michael Pavlovich of Russia
Grand Duke Michael Pavlovich of Russia was the tenth child and fourth son of Paul I of Russia and Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg.-Marriage and issue:In St...

8 February 1798 9 September 1849 m. Charlotte, Princess of Württemberg (Elena Pavlovna
Elena Pavlovna of Württemberg
Princess Charlotte of Württemberg was, as Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna of Russia, the wife of Grand Duke Michael Pavlovich of Russia...

) (1807–1873), and had five children.


Further reading

  • 1979 Reassessment of Paul: 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 18th to the beginning of 20th century). Moscow – 1994. ISBN 5-87613-001-X
  • Palmer, Elena."Peter III. Der Prinz von Holstein". Sutton, Germany, 2005 (ISBN 3-89702-788-7).

External links

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