Russia: Tsarist and Communist

By Anatole G. Mazour | Go to book overview

12
The Reign of Elizabeth (1741-1762)

THE ASCENDANCE of Elizabeth was regarded as a revival of the Western orientation in the tradition of her eminent father, Peter I. Here at least Elizabeth can be seen as a harbinger of the reign of Catherine II during the second half of the century, which marked Russia's era of enlightenment. The initial steps were taken to meet difficulties inherited from the preceding reign. The first problem to be faced was the fate of Anna Leopoldovna, her husband Anton Ulrich, and the little boy Ivan VI. Some suggested that they be pensioned and banished to western Europe. Elizabeth found the advice politically imprudent and ordered their detention in Riga. In 1744 they were banished to the Solovetsky Monastery on the White Sea. On their way they were detained in Kholmogory, awaiting better weather. Anna Leopoldovna never reached her destination; she died in 1746, most likely due to severe conditions. Anton Ulrich took it more stoically and survived the tribulations of his exile for twenty-eight years. Their daughter was eventually allowed to go abroad to join her aunt, the Queen of Denmark. Little Ivan, who was regarded as politically dangerous, being used by Elizabeth's opponents, was confined in the Schlusselburg Fortress. Here lie was kept prisoner until 1764; at that time during the action of a plot to free him lie was strangled to death by guards. Thus ended the brief and rather grim reign of Ivan VI.

The early period of Elizabeth's reign is marked by constant caution; she was on guard against any possible conspiracy, and for good reason: the administration was alarmed by diplomatic plottings unearthed in the early months of her reign. Austria in particular was concerned with the nature of the palace revolution in the Russian capital. This is best attested by the diplomatic intrigues of the Austrian ambassador. The attitude of France and Prussia was reserved, though their opposition was less pronounced. The reign thus had a precarious start, and fear of another coup was in evidence for some time. This fear was accentuated by diplomatic tension in western Europe, which had an inescapable impact upon Russian foreign policy. Two antagonistic alliances were forming: on the one hand France and Prussia, and on the other England and Russia. These alliances served as a prelude to most serious diplomatic developments. The anticipated storm soon broke out. Frederick II of Prussia did his utmost to sever the tie between London and St. Petersburg. He shrewdly labored to exert his influence through royal matrimony and in

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