Peter III (February 21, 1728 – July, 16, 1762) was Emperor of Russia for six months in 1762. He was born in Kiel as Charles Peter Ulrich of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp the only child of Charles Friedrich, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp (the son of Hedvig Sophia of Sweden, sister of Carl XII), and Anna Petrovna (the elder surviving daughter of Emperor Peter I the Great and Empress Catherine I of Russia). His mother died shortly after his birth. In 1739, Peter’s father died, and he became Duke of Holstein-Gottorp as Charles Peter Ulrich The German Peter could hardly speak Russian and pursued a strongly pro-Prussian policy, which made him an unpopular leader.
When Elizabeth, his mother’s younger sister, became Empress of Russia, she brought Peter from Germany to Russia and proclaimed him her heir presumptive in the autumn of 1742. Previously in 1742, the 14-year-old Peter was proclaimed King of Finland during the Russo-Swedish War (1741–1743), when Russian troops held Finland. This proclamation was based on his succession rights to territories held by his childless great-uncle, the late Carl XII of Sweden, who also had been Grand Duke of Finland.
Portrait of the Grand Duchess Ekaterina Alekseyevna around the time of her wedding, by George Christoph Grooth, 1745.
Empress Elizabeth arranged for Peter to marry his 2nd cousin, Sophia Augusta Frederica (later Catherine the Great), daughter of Christian August, Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst and Princess Joanna Elisabeth of Holstein-Gottorp. The young princess formally converted to Russian Orthodoxy and took the name Ekaterina Alexeievna (i.e., Catherine). They married on August 21, 1745. The marriage was not a happy one but produced one son, the future Emperor Paul, and one daughter, Anna Petrovna (December 20, 1757 – March 19, 1759). Catherine later claimed that Paul was not fathered by Peter: that, in fact, they had never consummated the marriage.
Peter succeeded to the Russian throne (January 5, 1762) he withdrew Russian forces from the Seven Years’ War and concluded a peace treaty (May 5, 1762) with Prussia (dubbed the “Second Miracle of the House of Brandenburg”). He gave up Russian conquests in Prussia and offered 12,000 troops to make an alliance with Friedrich II of Prussia (June 19, 1762). Russia thus switched from an enemy of Prussia to an ally — Russian troops withdrew from Berlin and marched against the Austrians.
Despite his generally poor reputation, Peter made some progressive reforms during his short reign. The reign of Peter III is cast as progressive for its focus on transforming economically developed feudal Russia to a more advanced European state. During his 186-day period of government, Peter III passed 220 new laws that he had developed and elaborated during his life as a crown prince. He proclaimed religious freedom (a very enlightened move for the time) and encouraged education. He sought to modernize the Russian army. He abolished the secret police, which had been infamous for its extreme violence, and made it illegal for landowners to kill their serfs without going to court. Catherine adopted some of his reforms and reverted others.
It has been theorized that he wasn’t deposed for political reasons and was in fact murdered for personal reasons. He was deposed and possibly assassinated as a result of a conspiracy led by his German wife, Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst, who succeeded him to the throne as Catherine II. With the aid of the two Guards troops that Peter had planned to discipline more harshly, the emperor was arrested and forced to abdicate on July 9, 1762. Shortly thereafter, he was transported to Ropsha, where he was supposedly assassinated, although it is unknown how Peter died. However, one theory is that he died as a result of a drunken brawl with his bodyguard while he was being held captive after Catherine’s coup.