An Economic History of Russia - Vol. 1

By James Mavor | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
REACTION AFTER PETER'S REFORMS 1725-1762

The throne was seized on the death of Peter by his widow, Katherine.1 The legitimate heir, afterwards Peter II, was at that time only ten years of age. Never before had there been a woman on the Russ throne. Her accession was looked upon by the common people with great misgivings. The accession of a woman was not only an innovation, but Katherine was not a Russian, and she came from no one knew whither. Some of the old men in Moscow refused to take the oath of allegiance, saying, with unconscious logic, "If a woman has become Tsar, then let the women kiss the cross for her."2

Although Peter's indifference to birth as a criterion of capacity had diminished the political influence of the boyars, and although the chief offices of State were commonly filled by men of inferior birth, there remained, nevertheless, a few boyar families whose influence began to revive after the death of Peter. The force of circumstances made these representatives of the antique aristocracy opposed to the exercise of autocratic power by a woman, or rather by the functionaries whose services she had inherited from her husband.

Professor Kluchevsky attaches great importance to the influence upon the Russian mind at this period of the writings of Hobbes and Locke, and to the knowledge of the social and political conditions of

____________________
1
Katherine was a Livonian peasant, "Das schönes Mädchen von Marienburg," as her neighbours called her. She was in the household of Gluck, a Lutheran minister, who was taken to Moscow as a prisoner of war after the capture of Marienburg by Russia in 1702. Gluck had married her to a dragoon. Afterwards she is understood to have been the mistress of Menshikov and others of Peter's immediate circle. Peter endowed a "Gymnasium" for Gluck, where he taught "mathematics, the philosophical sciences, and different languages," with a staff of foreign assistants. Cf. Kluchevsky, op. cit., iv. p. 323.
2
Ibid., p 354.

-164-

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