Peter III and Catherine II (1762-1796)
THE DAY AFTER Elizabeth died, a special proclamation declared the husband of Catherine, Peter III, Sovereign of Russia. The immediate impact of the choice was felt in foreign policy. The new emperor hastened to inform Frederick II of his succession, which for the Prussian king was an act of Providence, saving Prussia from military disaster. There have been various explanations of Peter's hasty withdrawal from the theater of European war. The true reason, it seems, is that internal conditions did not favor Russian participation in this protracted conflict; the lack of any agreement at the court whether Russia should continue as a belligerent was another contributing factor; the Diplomatic Revolution in western Europe planted further seeds of doubts as to the wisdom of Russian adherence to the alliance. Only a small circle at the court was of the opinion that the country must remain in the war. The vast majority of the people felt no enthusiasm about the glory of Russian arms in the west; it saw no benefit that the nation might derive from a victory. Some may have found the raid on Berlin soothing to nationalistic vanity, but most of the people felt that administrative improvements, land reforms, and the lessening of tax burdens would be preferable to military victories on the continent. Had Peter III been a true statesman, he would have turned his termination of the war into a political triumph. But being Charles Peter Ulrich, he soon alienated everyone and within six months his reign as well as his life came to a violent end.
Let us take a closer look at this brief but significant reign of Peter III, which constituted the prelude to the rise of Catherine II. Of this new sovereign little can be said. He was the son of Duke Charles Frederick of Holstein-Gottorp and Anne, daughter of Peter I and elder sister of Elizabeth. Peter lost his mother when he was only a few months old; the father soon followed his wife, and Peter was left an orphan during infancy. At the age of fourteen he was brought to Russia at the request of his Aunt Elizabeth, but during his entire lifetime his main interest was the land he came from--Holstein. At the Russian court opinions differed widely as to the wisdom of the choice of Peter for the throne of the Empire. The new emperor never made any effort to keep secret his profound admiration for Prussia and everything Prussian, including military uniforms; he