Peter the Great was the Tsar of Russia for 43 years, a time he spent leading the country to become one of the great powers in 17th century Europe. His reforms and military campaigns were all done with the bigger goal of modernizing Russia and improving its political and economical status. The Russia we know today would not be what it is without Peter the Great’s influence. Here are 8 interesting facts to better know him.
Peter the Great Facts
1. Peter the Great is related to Anastasia Romanov, the real-life Russian princess who inspired the Disney film Anastasia.
Peter the Great’s real name is Peter Alexeyevich and both his parents came from noble families. His father was Tsar Alexis I, and his grandfather was Michael I, the first Tsar of Russia, who belonged to the first generation of Romanovs. The Disney film, Anastasia, is inspired by the real-life Romanov family who ruled Imperial Russia for more than 300 years and were its last monarchs.
2. He became co-ruler of Russia at the young age of 10.
After the death of his half-brother, Feodor III, Peter was proclaimed the fittest to reign as the succeeding Tsar. However, since he belonged to his father’s second family, there was a constant power struggle between the two families over who was worthy of the throne, an interesting fact about Peter the Great. Because of this, Peter had to share the role with his half-brother Ivan V who suffered from poor mental health. Although he technically had the title of Tsar, the first family excluded Peter from important affairs and was not open to contributions. Alas, after Ivan V’s death in 1696, 24-year-old Peter finally had sole control over of the Tsardom of Russia and thus began his reign as one of Russia’s most accomplished leaders.
3. He is credited for establishing Russia’s status as a maritime power.
On his first year as Tsar, Peter the Great immediately began work to establish Russia as a major maritime power. He led campaigns against the Ottoman Empire who ruled the Black Sea at that time. He created a large fleet that captured the Azov Sea, which he used a relevant port for Russia’s sea trading.
He was so dedicated to his missions that he once spent 18 months in Europe disguised as a carpenter, with the intention of meeting European leaders and gaining their support in conquering the Black Sea’s northern coastline. Although his initial plans were unsuccessful, his time in Europe did not go to waste as he studied shipbuilding, international trade and the European economic situation – relevant knowledge that he would later use to further strengthen the Russian navy, a fun fact about Peter the Great.
4. Russia went through several wars under Peter the Great’s leadership.
Working toward his goal of expanding Russia’s naval presence, Peter led the Great Northern War that saw the Russia-Saxony-Denmark-Norway alliance go against the Swedish Empire because they stood in the way of Russia’s route to the Baltic Sea. After 21 years of bloody battles and attempted treaties, the war ended in 1721 with Russia gaining access to the eastern shores of the Baltic. Russia was then recognized for its military authority, and Peter the Great was known as a powerful leader.
5. He is most popular for his role in modernizing Russia.
More than just expanding the Russian empire, Peter was ultimately praised for challenging the traditional norms that prevented Russia from developing as a nation. Before he ruled the throne, Russia was known by Europe as a backward and barbaric nation. Peter changed the cultural and political scene by being open to modern ideas, from as simple as requiring state officials to adopt modern and proper clothing, to more aggressive reforms like developing trade and training the navy and military sectors of the country.
6. His second wife, Marta Skavronska, was once a servant.
A few years after divorcing his first wife, Peter fell in love with his friend’s servant, Marta Skavronska. They got married in 1712, and she was crowned Empress Catherine I in 1724. They had eleven children together and remained married until his death.
7. Peter had his eldest son executed for treason.
Although he is respected for leading Russia into a better economical and political status, Peter the Great was also known as a tyrant who made baseless decisions and used brutal methods on those who rebelled against him. He once implemented a Beard Tax on people who had beards, which went against his reform of an appropriate dress across Russia, a fun fact about Peter the Great.
Peter’s brutal ways were also seen in his private life, specifically with his eldest son, Alexei. Early on in their relationship, Peter and Alexei did not see eye-to-eye. Alexei’s character was meek, subdued and detached, which made Peter feel that he was not a worthy successor. They also hardly spent any time together as Peter was too busy with his war campaigns and travels, leaving little Alexei to a group of elders who sometimes thought more conservatively and less Westerly than Peter. This may have influenced Alexei’s character and did not attract him to the throne, which he was often vocal about. At the height of their disagreements, Alexei ran away with his lover and sought refuge in Austria with Habsburg Emperor Charles VI. This ultimately threatened Peter and he questioned his son’s loyalty. Upon Alexei’s return to Russia, he was imprisoned and brutally tortured until he died from his wounds.
8. Peter the Great died without a successor.
In the early hours of Feb 8, 1725, Peter the Great died at the age of 52. It was later revealed to have been caused by a gangrene infection in his bladder. Although it is not verified, legend has it that Peter left an unfinished note that said “leave it all to…” before he lapsed into unconsciousness. Whatever the truth may be, his wife Catherine I eventually succeeded his throne. Years later, Russia was ruled by Anna Ivanovna, the daughter of Ivan V, his ill half-brother who he once shared the throne with.
Looking back at Peter the Great’s life, you see a man with fierce determination and a vision for greatness. Although he had his brutal and autocratic ways, he is still respected as a modern thinker and fearless leader in Russian history.
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