Peter the Great: Emperor of All Russia

By Ian Grey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV
The Beginning of the New Era 1698

THE entry of the old Muscovite tsars into their capital was always a magnificent occasion. The boyars and church hierarchy came in stately procession to pay homage, and the bells of Moscow rang out in welcome. But when Peter slipped into the city on the evening of 25 August 1698, he was not expected and no one met him. He did not remain in the Kremlin or see his wife and son. He accompanied Golovin and Lefort to their homes. He visited Anna Mons, and then went off to Preobrazhenskoe where he spent the night among his own trusted soldiers.

This informality did not prevent news of his return spreading overnight. At first light next morning, crowds of people made their way to Preobrazhenskoe to greet him. The habits of homage to the Tsar were too deeply ingrained to be put aside, even by his unprecedented behaviour, and the desire of everyone was to set eyes on him. He received them all, and when they prostrated themselves on the ground before him in the old fashion, he lifted them up and kissed them, for he disliked servile prostrations.

As his subjects crowded into the room, he revealed his surprise. Without warning he took a pair of scissors and began to cut off the courtiers' long beards. Shein was first to suffer, then Romodanovsky, and the others. Only the Patriarch and two old boyars escaped. Shein and Romodanovsky had long been close associates of the Tsar, but they cherished their beards and Muscovite clothing as much as the most conservative boyars in the room. The nobles were shocked; the simple people were horrified.

-135-

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