Emperor Alexander I of Russia, Emperor Nicholas I of Russia, Emperor Paul of Russia, Empress Catherine II the Great of Russia, Grand Duke Alexander Pavlovich of Russia, Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich of Russia, Louise of Baden, Napoleonic Wars
Alexander I (December 23, 1777 – December 1, 1825) was the Emperor of Russia between 1801 and 1825. Alexander was the first King of Congress Poland, reigning from 1815 to 1825, as well as the first Russian Grand Duke of Finland, reigning from 1809 to 1825.
Grand Duke Alexander Pavlovich of Russia was born in Saint Petersburg to Grand Duke Paul Petrovich, later Emperor Paul I, and Maria Feodorovna, (Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg) a daughter of Friedrich II Eugene, Duke of Württemberg and his wife, Princess Friederike of Brandenburg-Schwedt.
Alexander and his younger brother Constantine were raised by their grandmother, Empress Catherine II. Some sources allege that she planned to remove her son (Alexander’s father) Paul I from the succession altogether. Andrey Afanasyevich Samborsky, whom his grandmother chose for his religious instruction, was an atypical, unbearded Orthodox priest.
Samborsky had long lived in England and taught Alexander (and Constantine) excellent English, very uncommon for potential Russian autocrats at the time.
On October 9, 1793, Alexander married Princess Louise of Baden, a daughter of Charles Ludwig, Hereditary Prince of Baden, and his wife, Landgravine Amalie of Hesse-Darmstadt. Louise grew up in a close, warm family environment in Karlsruhe during the long reign of her grandfather Charles Friedrich, Margrave of Baden. Princess Louise came to Russia in November 1792, when she was chosen by Empress Catherine II of Russia as a bride for her eldest grandson, Grand Duke Alexander Pavlovich of Russia, the future Emperor Alexander I.
Louise converted to the Orthodox Church, took the title of Grand Duchess of Russia and traded the name Louise Maria for Elizabeth Alexeievna. She married Alexander when he was fifteen and she was fourteen. Initially the marriage was happy. Elizabeth was beautiful, but shy and withdrawn. She had two daughters, but both died in early childhood. During the reign of her father-in-law, Emperor Paul I, Elizabeth supported her husband’s policies and she was with him on the night of Paul’s assassination.
Emperor Paul of Russia was assassinated on March 23, 1801. Paul’s successor on the Russian throne, his 23-year-old son Alexander, was actually in the palace at the time of the killing; he had “given his consent to the overthrow of Paul, but had not supposed that this would be carried out by means of assassination”. General Nikolay Zubov announced his accession to the heir, accompanied by the admonition, “Time to grow up! Go and rule!” Alexander I did not punish the assassins, and the court physician, James Wylie, declared apoplexy the official cause of death.
Emperor Alexander I ruled Russia during the chaotic period of the Napoleonic Wars. As prince and during the early years of his reign, Alexander often used liberal rhetoric, but continued Russia’s absolutist policies in practice. In the first years of his reign, he initiated some minor social reforms and (in 1803–04) major, liberal educational reforms, such as building more universities.
Alexander appointed Mikhail Speransky, the son of a village priest, as one of his closest advisors. The Collegia was abolished and replaced by the State Council, which was created to improve legislation. Plans were also made to set up a parliament and sign a constitution.
In foreign policy, Alexander changed Russia’s position relative to France four times between 1804 and 1812 among neutrality, opposition, and alliance. In 1805 he joined Britain in the War of the Third Coalition against Napoleon, but after suffering massive defeats at the battles of Austerlitz and Friedland, he switched sides and formed an alliance with Napoleon by the Treaty of Tilsit (1807) and joined Napoleon’s Continental System.
Alexander fought a small-scale naval war against Britain between 1807 and 1812 as well as a short war against Sweden (1808–09) after Sweden’s refusal to join the Continental System. Alexander and Napoleon hardly agreed, especially regarding Poland, and the alliance collapsed by 1810.
Alexander’s greatest triumph came in 1812 when Napoleon’s invasion of Russia proved to be a catastrophic disaster for the French. As part of the winning coalition against Napoleon, he gained territory in Finland and Poland. He formed the Holy Alliance to suppress revolutionary movements in Europe that he saw as immoral threats to legitimate Christian monarchs. He also helped Austria’s Klemens von Metternich in suppressing all national and liberal movements.
During the second half of his reign, Alexander became increasingly arbitrary, reactionary, and fearful of plots against him; as a result he ended many of the reforms he made earlier. He purged schools of foreign teachers, as education became more religiously driven as well as politically conservative. Speransky was replaced as advisor with the strict artillery inspector Aleksey Arakcheyev, who oversaw the creation of military settlements.
Alexander died of typhus December 1, 1825 while on a trip to southern Russia. He left no legitimate children, as his two daughters died in childhood. Neither of his brothers wanted to become Emperor. A period of great confusion followed. Next in line to the imperial throne was his brother Grand Duke Constantine. However, despite Grand Duke Nicholas having proclaimed Constantine as Emperor in Saint Petersburg, Constantine had no desire for the throne and abdicated his rights to the throne.
However, since news traveled slowly in those days, the confusion lasted until Constantine, who was in Warsaw at that time, finally confirmed his refusal of the imperial crown. Additionally, on December 25, Nicholas issued the manifesto proclaiming his accession to the throne, dating his accession starting with the death of Alexander I on December 1st.
With the confusion over who was to be the next emperor, the Northern Society scrambled in secret meetings to convince regimental leaders not to swear allegiance to Nicholas. These efforts would culminate in the Decembrist revolt, when liberal minded Russian army officers led about 3,000 soldiers in a protest against Emperor Nicholas I’s assumption of the throne. The uprising, which was suppressed by Nicholas I, took place in Peter’s Square in Saint Petersburg.
Because Emperor Alexander I’s sudden death in Taganrog, under allegedly suspicious circumstances, it caused the spread of the rumors and conspiracy theories that Alexander did not die in 1825, but chose to “disappear” and to live the rest of his life in anonymity.