Peter the Great
Pyotr Alekseyevich was born in Moscow in 1672, the son of Czar Alexis. The rivalry between the Miloslavsky and Naryshkin clans, led by the czar’s first and second wives respec¬ tively, shaped Peter’s childhood and youth.
After the death of his father, Peter was made co-czar with his half-brother Ivan, but the real power went to his half-sister Sophia, who ruled as regent. Peter lived in fear of the Streltsy, the royal body¬ guards who served his half-sis¬ ter.
In 1689, Peter took advantage of a revolt by the Streltsy to remove his sister from power, and he banished her to a convent.After the death of Ivan in 1696,Peter took the throne as sole czar and proceed¬ ed to change Russia.
Peter wanted to modernize his coun¬ try. Russia had no navy, no ports, and no trade or exchange with other European countries. Seeking to change this, Peter initiated a war with the Ottoman Turks for control of the region north of the Black Sea. His campaign won control of the Don River, giving him a route to the Mediterranean.
Wanting to know more about western Europe, Peter went incognito to visit most of the major European nations during 1696 and 1697. The towering czar — he was six feet seven inches tall — looked out of place as he went to Austria, France, the Netherlands and England.
Peter worked as a ship’s carpenter in Holland and saw the great advantages held by the European nations in arms and armaments.
Peter returned to Russia in 1698 and began a war against Sweden, which held Karelia, Ingria, Estonia and Livonia, all the lands Peter wanted Russia to possess on the edge of the Baltic Sea.
The Great Northern War (1700—1721) began badly for Russia. The Swedish leader, King Charles XII (see no. 57), was a military genius who defeated the Russians at Narva (1700).
Peter had to change the very model of the Russian army, employing archi¬ tects and engineers to bring in artillery and train his men. Peter then captured Narva in a siege (1704) and won the Battle of Lesnaya (1708).
His most impor¬ tant victories came at Poltava (1709) and the naval Battle of Gangut, where the Swedish monopoly of the Baltic Sea was broken.
The Treaty of Nystad (1721) gave the eastern shores of the Baltic to Russia, which finally had what Peter referred to as the “window to the West.” The city of Saint Petersburg was built to complete his success on Russia’s northwestern front.
Peter changed his title from czar to imperator (emperor) of all the Russias in 1721. He died in 1725, leaving a far stronger Russia than he had found when he came to the throne.