Peter the Great: Emperor of All Russia

By Ian Grey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
The Early Years 1672-1682

Peter was born in the Kremlin Palace in Moscow early on the morning of 30 May 1672. He was Tsar Alexei's fourteenth child and sixth son, but his birth was an event of exceptional importance: he was the first child of the Tsar's second wife, and he was an heir to the throne.

All five sons of Alexei's marriage with Tsaritsa Maria Miloslavskaya had proved weaklings. Three had died and of the remaining two, Feodor was sickly and Ivan was half-blind, defective in speech, and cretinous. Neither was expected to survive Alexei, who was just over forty years old. Muscovites of all classes feared that the Tsar might leave no heir, and on the death of Tsaritsa Maria Miloslavskaya it was the general hope that he would marry again; the announcement in February 1670 of his intention to take a wife was received with relief and enthusiasm.

It was through his chief minister, Artemon Matveev, that Alexei met his second wife. Matveev had married a Hamilton, one of the Scots family which had taken refuge in Muscovy at the turn of the century, and, as far as possible in Moscow, he lived as a Western European. This way of life attracted Alexei who, although it was almost unprecedented for the Tsar to visit one of his subjects, sometimes went informally to his house. On one visit he met Natalya Naryshkina, daughter of an impoverished landowner of Tatar origin, entrusted to Matveev's care and, falling in love with her on sight, he decided to marry her.

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