14 May, 2021

Dawns Over Petersburg

A run through the enlightened despots who ruled the Russian empire

Dawns Over Petersburg

Russia has always been a damnably difficult country to govern: the first Romanov tsar, Montefiore tells us, had to be dragged, unwillingly, to his own coronation by his nobles in 1613. And it never got any easier, especially as the country expan­ded enormou­sly over the next three centuries, from the small original principality of Muscovy to ultimately reach the Pacific Ocean, and cover one-sixth of the earth’s land-mass. That first, reluctant tsar, Michael, did a surprisingly good job of stabilising his strife-torn country, cannily using the Orthodox Church to create an aura of demi-godhead around his position. His son Alexei went on to draw up a body of laws which established the protection of the state —and the tsar—as its primary purpose. And his successors proceeded to build upon those policies, ruling the country with a mixture of despotism, brutality and fear, infused with a notion of paternalism. As Tsarina Alexandra advised her husband, the last Tsar, during the tumultuous days of 1916, “Be firm. Russia loves to feel the whip, it’s...

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