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Peter the Great and the Tsarevich Alexei

The great Emperor was a powerful sovereign, but, writes Ian Grey, disappointed in his weak and nervous son, Peter proved a stern and cruel parent.

In his relations with his son, Peter the Great was to be faced with a personal and a dynastic crisis, and also with the threat that after his death St Petersburg and the navy would be left to crumble, and his reforms nullified.

He sought anxiously for a solution; but there was none; for from the beginning their relationship seemed to move inexorably towards the one tragic outcome.

The marriage of Peter to Evdokia Lopukhina, which took place quietly on January 27th, 1689, brought together two utterly incompatible young people. Peter was then a tall, exuberant boy of sixteen, insatiably curious and eager to learn from foreigners about boat-building, sailing, and many skills then almost unknown in Russia.

His young wife came from a staunchly Orthodox Muscovite family to whom all foreigners were heretics and Western innovations anathema. Evdokia was, in fact, a typical product of the conservative Muscovite way of life that Peter was to struggle against throughout his reign.

The marriage had been arranged by Peter’s mother, Natalya Naryshkina. On the death of Tsar Alexei, she and her family had been displaced by the Miloslavsky, the numerous family of the Tsar’s first wife.

Tsarevna Sofia, Peter’s able and ambitious half-sister, acted as regent, while Peter and his feeble half-brother, Ivan, jointly occupied the throne. Sofia was intent, however, on usurping the throne and herself ruling as autocrat.

At this time, Peter’s activities were bringing him into daily contact with foreigners; and this, like his fondness for working with his hands, was generally considered unbecoming in a Tsar of Muscovy. Natalya decided that marriage would quieten her unruly son.

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