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9-08-2015, 17:31

Russia

By the eighteenth century, the map of Europe, as well as people’s mental understanding of “Europe,” included a large space for Russia. Ivan IV (“the Terrible”), who ruled for fi fty years in the middle of the sixteenth century, used special black-clad troops to arrest and kill hundreds of high nobles (called “boyars”) and their families and servants. He confi scated their estates and gave about half the land to lower-level “service nobility” who had shown their loyalty to him; the rest he reserved as his personal domain, called the oprichnina . These new nobles, and Ivan himself, increased the demands on the serfs bound to their estates, which drove many to fl ee to the thinly populated areas on the borders of Ivan’s ever-expanding state, where they joined Cossack groups. Ivan’s autocracy extended to trade and industry, as he and subsequent rulers turned mines, commercial activities, and production into royal monopolies, which kept cities small and prevented the type of commercial expansion that was enriching urban residents in London and Istanbul. Ivan’s death was followed by a period of social unrest the Russians called the “Time of Troubles,” which saw various factions fi ghting and murdering to gain the throne, a series of pretenders claiming to be one or other of the murdered princes, the Polish occupation of Moscow, and revolts by Cossacks and peasants. Boyars and service nobility met together in a national assembly ( Zemski sobor) and elected a grandnephew of Ivan, Michael Romanov (ruled 1613–45), as tsar, establishing a dynasty that would rule until the Russian Revolution in the early twentieth century. The Zemski sobor did not use this opportunity to limit royal power, however, the way the Polish Sejm did when electing kings, or as the English Parliament would do later in the century when it brought in William and Mary. Michael was not especially capable, but his advisors were very skillful at winning the allegiance of the nobles by granting them still further privileges at the expense of the peasants and townspeople. In 1649, the nobles agreed to a new code of law that completely bound the serfs to the land. Through diplomacy and annual payments, Michael’s advisors were even able to make an alliance with the Ukrainian Cossacks, who became loyal troops in the tsar’s army and played an important role in expanding the authority of the tsar, especially in Siberia. In 1670–1, nobles and Cossacks aided the tsar in defeating a major peasant rebellion, though this was led by poorer Cossacks who had not benefi ted from the tsar’s arrangements. After this, the tsars felt strong enough not to bother calling the Zemski sobor again. Disputes between heirs to the throne might have plunged Russia into a second time of troubles in the 1680s, but an unusual arrangement of two young half-brothers sharing the throne, guided by their older sister, averted this. The youngest of those brothers was Peter I, who in 1689, at age seventeen, dismissed his sister and half-brother and took over personal rule. Peter determined to make Russia even larger and stronger than it was, and decided the best way to do this was through war; Russia was at war on one or more of its borders every year of Peter’s reign except one. As a boy, Peter studied western technology and warfare, and as a young man – after he had already fought major battles against Ottoman holdings on the Black Sea – he traveled to European cities to gain a better understanding of production processes and to make allies. The story told later was that he traveled incognito, but it is diffi cult to imagine how a six foot seven Russian accompanied by 250 offi cials could have blended into the streets of London or Amsterdam. He did travel without the normal ceremonies that would have interfered with his actually learning anything, however, and he returned home full of plans. Seeking to gain a port on the Baltic, in 1700 Peter ordered an attack on Sweden, also ruled by a teenaged king, Charles XII. The well-disciplined Swedish army quickly defeated Russian troops, and Peter immediately began a drastic program to reorganize and modernize the army. He promoted anything that would enhance military effectiveness. Following the Swedish model, he introduced conscription, but on a huge scale. All nobles, whether boyar or service nobility, would be required to serve for life in the army or the government bureaucracy. Hundreds of thousands of peasants were also drafted for life, to serve as the footsoldiers who would be the core of this huge army. Thousands of other peasants were drafted to work in mines and factories, producing cannon, uniforms, muskets, wagons, and anything else the army needed. On the land, peasants were required to plant new crops that could feed soldiers and themselves, especially potatoes. War requires money, so Peter tripled taxation, spending, as Louis XIV had, at least three-quarters of all revenues on war. Effective war requires technically competent troops and well-trained leaders, so Peter opened schools and universities. He brought in Dutch, German, English, and French experts to provide advice on technology and tactics, and hired western architects to design a new capital where the Neva River empties into the Baltic. This city, which he named – unsurprisingly – St. Petersburg, was also built with conscripted labor; historians estimate that it took hundreds of thousands of laborers to build its streets, canals, houses, bridges, palaces, churches, and fortresses in the swamps and marshes of the Neva. Western ideas trickled into Russia with these more frequent contacts, but only to a small group of educated nobles. For the vast majority of Russians, Peter’s moves only enhanced their misery. Seen in the light of his own aims, Peter’s autocratic reforms were effective. Russian troops defeated the Swedes in later battles, gaining large areas along the Baltic, and later in the eighteenth century they took the north coast of the Black Sea and much of Poland, building a large navy to defend their holdings. Peter’s placement of talented foreigners in positions of authority eventually reached levels that even he had not anticipated, however. His daughter Elizabeth (ruled 1741–62) married her weak and stupid son Peter to a German princess from a tiny principality, whose mother was loosely related to the Romanovs. On converting to Russian Orthodoxy, the princess took the name Catherine, studied Russian and French, and won powerful allies at court, including her noble lover, Gregory Orlov, and his offi cer brothers. Her husband became tsar as Peter III (ruled 1762), and his admiration for Frederick the Great led him to call off a planned Russian attack on Prussia. This was all the pretext Catherine and the Orlovs needed, and they had Peter arrested; the Orlovs killed him, and Catherine became ruler. A serious revolt by the Cossacks under the leadership of Emelian Pugachev in 1773–5 led Catherine to conclude that reforms were needed to strengthen the role of royal offi cials in the provinces, improve agriculture, and enhance civil order, and she issued a series of new laws, which later commentators dubbed “legislomania.” Catherine – later, like Peter, called “the Great” – could have read the works of Bishop Bossuet in their original French, and believed as fi rmly as he had a hundred years earlier in the divine, absolute, and paternal nature of royal authority. (She understood “paternal” to include female rulers who looked after their subjects as good parents cared for their children.) Her understanding of reason – Bossuet’s fourth ground for supporting the rule of kings – was quite different than his, however, for the intervening century had seen writers, thinkers, and intellectuals debating the role of reason in all areas of life, not just politics. Catherine corresponded directly with many of these thinkers, invited them to her court, and sent them money. They in turn praised her as “enlightened,” a word they used for themselves, and an increasingly important standard among educated Europeans for viewing and judging the world in the eighteenth century, as we will see in the next chapter.

 

 

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