Peter III (czar of Russia)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Peter III (czar of Russia)

Peter III, 1728–62, czar of Russia (1762), son of Charles Frederick, dispossessed duke of Holstein-Gottorp, and of Anna Petrovna, daughter of Peter the Great. He succeeded to the throne on the death of his aunt, Czarina Elizabeth. One of his first acts was to take Russia out of the Seven Years War and to conclude an alliance with Frederick II of Prussia, whom he passionately admired. He thus saved Prussia from almost certain defeat and sacrificed all the advantages Russian arms had gained in the conflict. In 1744, Peter had married Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst, who was to become Czarina Catherine II. Although he was dissolute and, it is alleged, mentally unbalanced, Peter's domestic policy was in some respects liberal. He abolished the secret police and granted greater religious freedom, and he virtually ended the nobles' obligation to give service to the state. He aroused hostility, however, by his contempt for the Orthodox Church and by his concern with gaining Holstein. In the summer of 1762 a conspiracy against Peter, headed by Catherine's lover Grigori Orlov and his brother Aleksey, was set in motion. Catherine was proclaimed sole ruler, and the imperial guards, led by Catherine in person (who had donned the guards' uniform), set out for Peterhof, where they forced Peter to sign his abdication. A few days later he was assassinated by his guards, probably led by Aleksey Orlov. Catherine's role in this is uncertain. Peter's claim to ducal Holstein passed to his son Paul (later Czar Paul I), in whose name Catherine ceded it to Denmark in exchange for Oldenburg in 1773.

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