Five Empresses: Court Life in Eighteenth-Century Russia

By Evgenii V. Anisimov; Kathleen Carroll | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
The Russian Aphrodite
(Elizabeth)

In the dead of night on November 25, 1741, Iakov Shakhovskoi, the senate procurator-general, was awakened by a loud knock at the door. “You can imagine, my benevolent reader, what a confused state I was in!” wrote Shakhovskoi in his memoirs. “Having no information about such undertakings, nor even expecting them to ever take place, my first thought was that the official must have gone mad to disturb me so and then to leave abruptly; but soon I saw many people, crowded in unusual bunches, running past my windows and heading in the direction of the palace, and I made immediately for that place myself… I did not have to think long about which palace to go to.”1 Everybody was hurrying in the direction of the Tsaritsyn Lug—the Field of Mars, where the palace of Tsarevna Elizabeth Petrovna was located. On that dark and frosty night the palace shone with lights. The merry shouts of the Guards, grouped around bonfires made right in the street, and a huge crowd of idlers who had blocked all approaches to the residence of Peter the Great’s daughter—all this gave testimony that while the procurator-general had been asleep a coup d’état had taken place in the capital, and power had passed into Elizabeth’s hands. That is how the glorious era of Empress Elizabeth began…

I believe that the experienced courtier Shakhovskoi was being somewhat disingenuous when he spoke of the confusion that had overwhelmed him that night: like many others, he had probably known well in advance about the impending coup. It had long been an open secret. Grand Duchess Anna Leopol’dovna, regent of the infant-emperor Ivan Antonovich, and her

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