rule of Peter the Great was characterized with Western orientation in all areas of Russian life, establishment of Russia as a military might and development of sciences and education imported again from the West. This paper discusses the causes behind the success of transformation of Russia during the reign of Peter, the Great.
PETER THE GREAT AND HIS EFFECTS ON RUSSIAN MODERNIZATION AND WESTERNIZATION
The groundwork for the Golden Age that Russia experienced between mid-eighteenth and mid-nineteenth century was laid down by Peter the Great who founded and established the paradigms required for Russia's supremacy. Peter the Great, the most influential czar and military leader in Russian history, literally transformed his country from an almost medieval backwater region into one of the world's great powers at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Russia had missed out on both the Renaissance and the Reformation, which left it nearly a century behind the rest of Europe in every field imaginable: social, cultural, political and educational. However, due to Peter's keen observations and the effective plans of action that thus evolved, Russia emerged, almost overnight, as a mighty empire comparable with the likes of Britain, France and Germany. This rapid change in Russia's status was thus, wholly dependant upon the revolutionary ways of Peter the Great that he employed to rule over Russia.
This paper provides a lucid account of Peter's achievements in impacting Russian society, government and education thereby giving Russia the very life that it needed to survive and flourish. In addition, the paper also provides adequate rationale or causes behind Peter's success in transforming Russia within the context of the prevalent conditions at the eve of Peter's ascension, his childhood education and environment and finally his foreign and domestic achievements.
CAUSES OF SUCCESS
Peter I, was born to Alexis Romanov and his second wife Natalia Naryshkina in 1672. Peter was the youngest of Czar's children. From Alexis' first marriage (with Maria Miloslavsky) were born Feodor III, Sophia Alekseyevna, and the semi-imbecile Ivan. Czar Alexis' early death at the age of thirty-one left a bitter struggle for power between the family of Alexis's first wife's family, the Miloslavskaias, and Peter's family. However, a brief period of reign by Peter's half brother Feodor (1676-1682) followed. On Feodor III's death (1682), a struggle broke out again for the succession between the Naryshkina and Miloslavsky factions. The Naryshkinas at first succeeded in setting Ivan aside in favor of 10-year-old Peter. Shortly afterward, however, the Miloslavsky party incited the Streltsi (semi-military formations in Moscow) to rebellion. As a result of the rebellion Ivan, as Ivan V, was made (1682) joint czar with Peter, under the regency of Sophia Alekseyevna, his half sister Sofia who assumed control of Russia as regent from 1682-1689. During this time Peter and his half brother, Ivan V, waited as co-Czars until they came of age.
In 1689, Sophia Alekseyevna attempted a coup d'etat against Peter; this time, however, aided by the loyal part of the Streltsi, he overthrew the regent. In addition, Sophia was exiled to a convent. For several years, until Peter assumed personal rule, the Naryshkinas ran the government. Ivan V, whose death in 1696 left Peter sole czar, took no part in the government (Massie, 1996). When Czar Ivan died in 1896, Peter remained monarch.
Even at the tender age of ten, Peter was no stranger to adversary. The death of his father and the consequent struggle for throne was the determining factor in the composition of his personality. In addition, a life amidst two warring factions, unexpected shift of friends to foes and deaths of loved ones left a lasting impression on young Peter's mind. All these factors combined to provoke Peter's survival instincts, his lack of blind trust in those around him and near and the skill to anticipate the needs of the future. Since these qualities are characteristics of a leader, it may be safely deduced that a substantial part of Peter's destiny as an effective Russian leader was established through his early life experiences during the years of power struggle that followed his father's death.
In the years between Feodor's death and Peter's ascension to power, ill-favored Natalia was exiled to the countryside along with Peter. Therefore instead of the usual staid upbringing within the Kremlin walls, Peter experienced most of his childhood and the formative years in a suburb of Moscow, surrounded by playmates drawn both from the nobility and from the roughest social elements. It was here that Peter fostered his love of warfare, and had his first contact with Westerners. Rather than being educated in the traditional manner, Peter was allowed to play war games. His talent for leadership soon became apparent when he organized military games that became regular maneuvers in siege craft. As a child, he loved to play soldier and drilled his companions in military maneuvers, eventually staging mock battles with weapons and uniforms supplied by the royal arsenal. Peter was also quite fascinated with the techniques of torture. From an assortment of commoners, courtiers, and foreigners Peter formed two regiments, the Preobrazhenskii and Semenovskii, which he outfitted with real weaponry and drilled into what would later become his imperial guard. Also during this time, Peter developed two other passions. The first was sailing, which he first came in contact with by discovering an old English sailboat. One fateful day, the young boy discovered a wrecked English boat that could sail against the wind. He had the boat repaired and learned how to maneuver it. Peter began to experiment with shipbuilding on Lake Pereyaslavl (now Lake Pleshcheyevo). Infatuated now with sailing, he also immersed himself in the study of mathematics and navigation. In addition, the young czar loved working with his hands and became an accomplished carpenter, blacksmith, and printer; he even mended his own clothes. The second was the love of all things Western, which came from his frequent visits to the nearby foreign quarter of Moscow. Peter learned the rudiments of Western military science from the European soldiers and adventurers who lived in this foreign settlement. His most influential foreign friends, Patrick Gordon of Scotland, Francois Lefort of Geneva, and Franz Timmermann of Holland, came from this colony (Troyat, 1987). This kind of a gregarious childhood armed Peter with benefits rather than proving disadvantageous. In addition, By 1689 Peter had grown to the towering height of six feet seven inches, and was armed with a quick mind and boundless ambition provided by the heady cosmopolitan environment that grew around him in the estate of Preobrazhenskoe.
Apart from Peter's early experiences during struggle for throne, his childhood lifestyle and the habitat provided the remaining impetus for growth into a certain personality. His interaction with the general public which was not limited to just his class resulted in the lack of reserve with the common man in his later life as a ruler. His socializing with the Western elements resulted in broadening his horizons and opening his mind to the superiority of Western ways, which gave way to his obsession with implementation of Western ways in his backward country. Thirdly the healthy practice of staging mock battles and inventing novel warfare methods determined Peter's skill as a military superpower in his life as the Russian czar. Finally his interest in sailing and shipbuilding provided the ground he needed for building navy expertise later in life. On the whole, Peter's childhood at Preobrazhenskoe provided him with a wholesome and a well-rounded perspective needed to excel in transforming Russia. However, it cannot be ignored that Peter's cruel and sometimes crude ways of leadership (absolutism and treatment of opposition) also emanated from his cruel experiences during power struggle.
In 1689, following a series of political and military movements, Peter, at age seventeen, became the sole Russian authority. While celebrated mostly for his westernization of Russia, Peter put most of his energy into achievements that related directly to the military and warfare. His reign of more than thirty-five years saw peace prevail for only a single year.
During his first decade of rule, Peter grew from a gangly teenager into a formidable, robust figure at six and a half feet tall. Possessing a keen interest in military history and theories, Peter established two personal guard regiments to experiment with drills and to develop war games, enabling him to better understand his studies. The young Peter realized that land power alone could not establish Russian military might, and so he began an upgrade of his navy. In 1696, Peter, at only twenty-four years of age, launched an offensive against the Turks at Azov. That victory provided Russia access to the Black Sea.
Despite this success, Peter knew that neither his armed forces nor his country as a whole compared favorable with the other European powers. Having assumed the throne of a country that lagged behind, Peter was determined to understand the causes behind such a phenomenon.
In 1697-98, Peter traveled throughout Europe under a pseudonym and without his courtly…