Alexander I of Russia Biography

(Emperor of Russia from 1801 to 1825)

Birthday: December 23, 1777 (Capricorn)

Born In: Saint Petersburg, Russia

Alexander I ruled as Emperor of Russia for over two decades. He succeeded his father, Paul I, following the latter’s assassination. Alexander also became Grand Duke of Finland and first King of Congress Poland. Early years of his reign was marked with several significant liberal educational reforms which included founding new universities. He abolished the Collegia and replaced it with the State Council as part of his government reform. Many current ministries of the Russian Federation like the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are indirect successors of the Ministries that were created following a Manifesto issued by Alexander. He changed his stance towards Napoleonic France four times during the Napoleonic Wars. He took side of Britain during War of the Third Coalition against France, however after being defeated at the battles of Austerlitz and Friedland, he switched allegiance and made peace with Napoleon signing the Treaty of Tilsit. He also joined Continental System of Napoleon and fought wars against Britain and Sweden. Relation between Russia and France however strained with time eventually leading to French invasion of Russia which resulted in decisive Russian victory and perhaps most significantly shattered Napoleon's repute as the invincible. Alexander gained territory in Poland and Finland and created the Holy Alliance to restrain liberalism and secularism in Europe.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Alexander Pavlovich Romanov

Died At Age: 47


Spouse/Ex-: lizabeth Alexeievna (m. 1793)

father: Paul I of Russia

mother: Maria Feodorovna

siblings: Anna Pavlovna of Russia, Catherine Pavlovna of Russia, Grand Duchess Alexandra Pavlovna of Russia, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia (1786–1859), Grand Duchess Olga Pavlovna of Russia, Grand Duke Michael Pavlovich of Russia, Konstantin Pavlovich, Marfa Musina-Yuryeva, Nicholas I of Russia, Semen Velikiy

children: Grand Duchess Elizabeth Alexandrovna of Russia, Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia

Born Country: Russia

Emperors & Kings Russian Men

Died on: December 1, 1825

place of death: Taganrog, Russia

Cause of Death: Typhus

City: Saint Petersburg, Russia

Childhood & Early Life

Alexander I was born on December 23, 1777, in Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire, as eldest son of Grand Duke Paul Petrovich, later Emperor Paul I and Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg. He was baptized by mitred archpriest Ioann Ioannovich Panfilovon in Grand Church of the Winter Palace on December 31, 1777. He was brought up along with his younger brother Konstantin by his grandmother Catherine the Great, the last and longest ruling Empress of Russia.

In 1783 Alexander and Konstantin came under the tutelage of Frédéric-César de La Harpe, who educated Alexander in the ideas of the Lumières. Alexander picked up the principles of Rousseau's gospel of humanity from La Harpe and from free-thinking atmosphere of Catherine’s court; and traditions of Russian autocracy from Russian Imperial Field Marshal and courtier Nikolay Saltykov. He was given religious instruction by Orthodox priest Andrey Afanasyevich Samborsky who also taught him excellent English.

According to some sources, Catherine, who shared a distant relationship with her son and heir Paul (Alexander’s father) had planned to exclude him as her successor to the Russian throne. Following Alexander’s birth, it seemed that Catherine possibly found a more suitable heir. Although Alexander abided by his grandmother's wishes, he respected his father's position as the immediate successor to the throne.

Catherine succumbed to a stroke on November 17, 1796, following which Paul ascended the throne. He immediately inquired about and wanted to destroy Catherine’s testament as he feared that she might have named Alexander as her successor in the testament. Such fears possibly led him to abolish the law of Peter the Great, which permitted a monarch to appoint his/her successor, and replace it by the Pauline Laws, according to which the eldest son of the monarch would inherit the throne. Alexander disliked both Catherine and Paul as monarchs and although he never wanted to seize power from Paul, the latter, a rather unpopular emperor, suspected Alexander of plotting against him.

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Ascension & Early Years of Reign

Paul was secretly assassinated by a group of his dismissed officers on March 23, 1801, following which one of the assassins General Nicholas Zubov announced Alexander’s accession to the throne. The then 23-year-old Alexander, who was present in the palace at the time of the assassination, however did not punish the assassins. According to a theory, although Alexander gave his consent to overthrow Paul, he was not in favour of assassinating the emperor.

Alexander’s coronation ceremony was held on September 15, 1801. Immediately after ascending the throne, Alexander formed a Privy Committee, an unofficial consultative body, comprising of his closest associates to chalk out a plan of domestic reform for establishing a constitutional monarchy in a manner conforming with teachings of the Age of Enlightenment. Mikhail Speransky, son of a village priest, although not a formal member of the committee remained actively involved in it. With time, Speransky became a closest advisor of Alexander and proposed several reforms.

During Government reform of Alexander, the Collegia, government departments established by Peter the Great, were abolished and were replaced by new Ministries. Alexander issued a Manifesto on September 8, 1802, according to which several ministries were created based on the Administration of State Affairs. All interdepartmental matters were handled by a Council of Ministers under chairmanship of the Monarch. The State Council, formed to improve legislative technique, and a proposed parliament were supposed to inherit executive and legislative powers of the Governing Senate respectively so as to relieve the Senate of such functions and transform it as Supreme Court of the Empire. A Constitution project was also made by Speransky, however the reforms could not be made and were stopped by 1810 due to the Napoleonic wars and opposition from conservative nobility.

Early years of Alexander’s reign saw him initiating significant liberal educational reforms. These included bolstering the three existing universities in Russia, at Moscow, Dorpat (Tartu), and Vilna (Vilnius), and building three others at St. Petersburg, Kazan and Kharkiv. He also initiated some minor social reforms during this time.

Foreign Policy & Relation with Other Powers

Alexander’s accession as Tsar led to a change of policy in Russia, reversal of several unpopular policies of Paul, collapse of the Second League of Armed Neutrality and Russian alliance with the British against Napoleonic France. In 1804, Alexander joined the Third Coalition that also included Britain, the Holy Roman Empire, Sweden, Naples and Sicily and waged war against Napoleonic France and its client states during the War of the Third Coalition. However after facing catastrophic defeats at the Battle of Austerlitz on December 2, 1805, and at the Battle of Friedland on June 14, 1807, Alexander switched his allegiance towards Napoleon. He signed the Treaty of Tilsit with Napoleon on July 7, 1807, terms of which included ending Russia’s maritime trade with Britain. The Russian court viewed the treaty unfavourably, however Russia had no other option but to accept it to avoid a French invasion. Alexander also joined the Continental System of Napoleon.

Being convinced by Napoleon, Alexander also entered into the Anglo-Russian War (September 2, 1807 – July 18, 1812) against Britain and into Finnish War (February 21, 1808 to September 17, 1809).against Sweden after the latter refused to become part of the Continental System. The Finnish War ended with a Russian victory and signing of the Treaty of Fredrikshamn according to which Sweden ceded Finnish territories to Russia. The Anglo-Russian War witnessed minor naval actions.

Napoleon and Alexander however rarely agreed, particularly on the former’s demands for control over part of Poland. During the ongoing French war with Britain, Alexander on the whole, tried to maintain a neutral position. He allowed his countrymen to continue to trade with the British secretly instead of directing them to cease trade as required by Continental System. Russia eventually withdrew from the system in 1810, thus bolstering trade with Britain.

Relation between Russia and France gradually strained after 1810 resulting in collapse of the alliance and French invasion of Russia (June 24 - December 14 1812). Such invasion however proved to be a catastrophic defeat for Napoleon’s Grande Armée setting the stage for his downfall and marking greatest victory of Alexander who went on to gain territory in Finland and Poland as part of the winning coalition.

In 1813, Russia was joined by Prussia and Austria in a Sixth Coalition against France. The Coalition led by Alexander and Austrian Generalissimo Karl von Schwarzenberg defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig and dissolved the Confederation of the Rhine. It then invaded France in early 1814 and captured Paris. Napoleon had to abdicate in April that year and was exiled to the island of Elba. The Holy Alliance between Russia, Austria and Prussia was formed at the behest of Alexander to suppress liberalism and secularism in Europe. It was signed on September 26, 1815, in Paris.

Later Years

Alexander experienced a personal transformation. He immersed himself in religious mysticism, and his political and private actions seemed to be driven by a mystic pietism. In June 1815, the Baroness de Krüdener, a Baltic German religious mystic, Pietist Lutheran theologian and writer, met Alexander, whose soul, according to his own account, found peace after meeting her. Since then, for a time, the Baroness and her colleague, Henri-Louis Empaytaz, a Protestant theologian and a member of the Réveil, emerged as confidants of Alexander’s most secret thoughts and had profound influence on the emperor. The two were to some extent responsible for the religious aspects of the Holy Alliance.

Views of Alexander, who supported limited liberalism, started changing from late 1818. Later years of his reign witnessed Alexander as a more arbitrary and reactionary monarch who remained apprehensive about possible conspiracies against him. He terminated several reforms he made earlier; and expelled foreign teachers and got rid of their schools after education became increasingly driven by religious and political convictions. He also replaced Speransky with the strict artillery inspector Aleksey Arakcheyev as his advisor. Meanwhile, Alexander introduced the military settlements in 1815 with the objective of establishing an inexpensive reserve of trained military forces. Arakcheyev oversaw formation of military-agricultural colonies starting from 1816, and became head of such settlements in 1817

Personal Life

Catherine selected the 14-year-old Princess Louise of Baden for the then 15-year-old Alexander. The two got engaged in May 1793 and married on October 9, that year after Louise converted to the Orthodox Church and took the name Elizabeth Alexeievna. Catherine presided over the marriage. She also built the Alexander Palace for her favourite grandson on the occasion of his marriage. Alexander used it as a summer residence during the reigns of Catherine and Paul, however chose to reside in the Catherine Palace after becoming emperor.

Alexander’s two children with Elizabeth died young. He also had an illegitimate son, Nikolai Yevgenyevich Lukash, through his lover, Sophia Sergeievna Vsevolozhskaya; at least four illegitimate daughters and possibly a son through his mistress Maria Naryshkina; and an illegitimate child through famous French actresses Marguerite Georges.

Mental health of Alexander deteriorated with time which saw him gradually becoming more suspicious, religious, passive and withdrawn. He got infected with typhus in 1825 while he was on a trip to the south of Russia because of growing sickness of Elizabeth. He died after suffering from the disease on November 19 that year in Taganrog. Elizabeth died a few months later. Alexander was buried on March 13, 1826, at the Peter and Paul Cathedral in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg. According to a legend, Alexander faked his death to become a Siberian hermit called Feodor Kuzmich. Although historians reject such tale, it often finds place in works of popular writers.

Alexander had no living legitimate child following his death. Although neither of his two brothers, Konstantin and Nicholas I, wanted to become tsar, the latter finally ascended the throne.

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