The Emergence of Modern Russia, 1801-1917

By Sergei Pushkarev; Robert H. McNeal et al. | Go to book overview

1
The Russian State in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century

Alexander I: Reformer and Reactionary

The autocratic, centralized character of the Russian imperial government at the opening of the nineteenth century inevitably made the personality of the sovereign a matter of great consequence. Alexander I was no exception. His personal background and character were as peculiarly anomalous as the policy of his generation-long reign.

Born in December 1777, the eldest son of the heir-apparent Paul, Alexander was soon taken from his parents by his grandmother, the Empress Catherine, who personally took charge of his upbringing. Hoping to make him the ideal ruler for the future, she sought the best tutors, gave them detailed instructions, and personally composed a primer and various other texts for her pupil. The most influential of the tutors was a French Swiss, La Harpe, a republican and a democrat by conviction, who guided his royal pupil from 1784 to 1794. During his tenure he inspired in Alexander a love for liberty, equality, and fraternity, and if this theoretical liberalism did not endure in Alexander's later years, the monarch's gratitude and friendship for La Harpe did.

Because Catherine and the court spoiled the attractive youth, Alexander did not acquire much specific information, nor did he become accustomed to independent thinking and systematic work. Before he had reached the age of sixteen, his formal education ended with his marriage to the fifteen-year-old Princess Louise of Baden, who adopted the name Elizabeth Alekseevna. Soon afterwards, Cath-

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