Russia: Tsarist and Communist

By Anatole G. Mazour | Go to book overview

15
The Reign of Alexander I (1801-1825)

THE EARLY YEARS OF ALEXANDER

ALEXANDER I was born on December 23, 1777, and at the time of his accession was twenty-four years of age. His childhood had not been a happy one; since Catherine II had a very low opinion of Paul, she considered him totally incapable of bringing up her cherished grandson Alexander. Accordingly Catherine arbitrarily assumed responsibility for educating the boy in the best traditions of the Age of Enlightenment. She invited to the court a Swiss Frenchman, Fréderic César de La Harpe, as his tutor, a man who had considerable influence on the royal pupil. By conviction La Harpe was a republican and he tried to imbue young Alexander with similar ideas. That Catherine should hire a republican to tutor the future 'enlightened' monarch of Russia was nothing unusual-- such was the spirit of the age. The grandson of Catherine II came to absorb many ideas from La Harpe concerning fredom and republican institutions. He became attached to his tutor and for a time sought his counsel on political issues and constitutional reforms.

At the tender age of sixteen Alexander was married, though he remained under the tutelage of his grandmother and occasionally corresponded with his much-admired tutor La Harpe. There was some suspicion that Catherine harbored a secret scheme whereby she would be succeeded by Alexander rather than by his father Paul. Such an act required the consent of Alexander, which he was reluctant to give. Catherine II blamed La Harpe for this and unceremoniously requested his departure from Russia. Paul became aware of his mother's intention, could never forgive her, and for the rest of his life suspected his son of favoring the scheme. This created a complicated family relationship which warped both father and son. Strangely enough, La Harpe did not favor the plan either, a fact which somewhat mellowed Paul's attitude toward the otherwise intensely disliked Swiss Republican.

Upon the accession of his father, Alexander was assigned to military service and subjected to the notorious discipline, which his father vigorously enforced. From all the evidence it is clear that Alexander was bored with army routine while his father's fondness for parades, rigorous enforcement of harsh discipline, and capricious regulations added little humor to the situation. He was torn between loyalty to his father and

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