Topic: Peter III
Portrait of Peter III and Catherine II in 1745
Artist: George Christoph Grooth (1688-1764)
Note: this article has been edited from its original by Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia
On 9 July (O.S. 28 June), 1762 Catherine II supported by Guard regiments seized political power in Russia and became autocratic Empress of Russia.
Catherine II, born Sophie Auguste Friederike von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg, Russian Empress (1762-1796) came from a minor North-German princely house. In 1774 she came to Russia accompanied by her mother on the invitation of Empress Elisabeth Petrovna. Having adopted orthodoxy and received the name of Catherine Alexeevna, she married Great Duke Peter Feodorovich, the future Emperor Peter III in 1745.
In December of 1761, after the death of Elizabeth Petrovna, Peter III ascended the throne. Within six months of his rule Peter had made a series of laws which provoked the negative reaction of the officers‘ corps. He concluded a treaty with Prussia which many believed unfavourable for Russia and returned to Prussia the lands won by the Russians during the Seven Years War (1754-1763); intended to oppose Dania (Russian ally) in union with Prussia; declared a sequestration of the Russian church property, abolishment of monastery land ownership, etc. Being a worshiper of the Prussian drill, he tried to find support among the Holstein guard.
The often confusing and badly thought-out actions of Peter III in the domestic political arena deprived him of the support among Russian society; his foreign policy was regarded by many as betrayal of Russia’s national interests.
Catherine Alexeevna, on the contrary, was very popular among the people; she was a clever and ambitious woman, studied Russian, read a lot, including works on Western Europen political history, plus the works of Voltaire, Diderot, d’Alembert. The guards wished her to ascend the throne; dignitaries wanted to replace Peter by his son under Catherine’s regency. Catherine found supporters in the person of chancellor A. P. Bestuzhev-Ryumin, Field Marshal S. F. Apraksin, Polish diplomat S. Ponyatovsky and others. When the Guards‘ discontent of the Emperor worsened even more, Catherine decided to take part in a palace coup.
Her allies, led by the Orlov brothers, Potyomkin and Khitrovo, began to recruit the guards’ formations and finally won them over. The beginning of the palace coup was urged by rumours about the arrest of one of its participants – Lieutenant Passek.
On the night of 9 July (O.S. 28 June), Catherine II accompanied by Aleksey and Grigory Orlov, arrived in St. Petersburg from Peterhof, and went to the Ismailovsky regiment’s quarters where she was immediately named autocratic empress. From the Ismailovsky regiment she went to the quarters of Semenovsky regiment where the same scene was repeated and where soon arrived the servicemen of Preobrazhensky regiment and cavalry guards. Messengers were sent to three regiments which had already taken field against Denmark, to Kronstadt as well as Livonia and Pomerania where were situated large military formations to the help of which Peter III could resort. In Kazan Cathedral the clergy proclaimed Catherine autocratic empress, then in Winter Palace civil and military officials began to swear their allegiance to their new empress. Realizing the inanity of resistance, the next day Peter III abdicated the throne, was arrested and soon died under obscure conditions.
On 17 July (O.S. 6 July), 1762 the Manifesto signed by Catherine II on her ascension to the throne was proclaimed in the Senate. On 3 October (O.S. 22 September), 1762, Empress Catherine II was ceremonially crowned in Moscow.
Note: Emperor Peter III is the topic of a new article The Myths and Truth of Peter III by Romanov expert Irene W. Galaktionova. The author draws her research from Russian archival sources, which provide a very different assessment of this little known and often misunderstood emperor. Her article will appear in Royal Russia No. 10, Summer 2016 issue - available August 2016.
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 07 July, 2016