Alexander I of Russia (Russian: Александр I Павлович / Aleksandr I Pavlovich) (23 December, 1777 – November 19, 1825) served as Emperor of Russia from 23 March 1801 to 1 December 1825 and Ruler of Poland from 1815 to 1825, as well as the first Grand Duke of Finland.
He was born in Saint Petersburg to Grand Duke Paul Petrovich, later Emperor Paul I, and Maria Feodorovna, daughter of the Duke of Württemberg. Alexander succeeded to the throne after his father was murdered, and ruled Russia during the chaotic period of the Napoleonic Wars. In the first half of his ruling Alexander tried to introduce liberal reforms, while in the second half he turned to a much more arbitrary manner of conduct, which led to the abolishing of many early reforms. In foreign policy Alexander gained certain success, having won several campaigns. In particular under his rule Russia acquired Finland and part of Poland. The strange contradictions of his character make Alexander one of the most interesting Czars. Adding to this, his death was shrouded in mystery, and location of his body remains unknown.
On 9 October, 1793 when Alexander was still 15 years old, he married 14 year old Louise of Baden. Meanwhile, the death of Catherine in November 1796 before she could appoint Alexander as her successor, brought his father, Paul I, to the throne. Paul's attempts at reform were met with hostility and many of his closest advisers as well as Alexander were against his proposed changes. Paul I was murdered in March, 1801.
At first, indeed, this exercised little influence on the Emperor’s life. The young tsar was determined to reform the outdated, centralised systems of government that Russia relied upon. While retaining for a time the old ministers who had served and overthrown the Emperor Paul, one of the first acts of his reign was to appoint the Private Committee, also called ironically the "Comité de salut public", comprising young and enthusiastic friends of his own — Victor Kochubey, Nikolay Novosiltsev, Pavel Stroganov and Adam Jerzy Czartoryski — to draw up a scheme of internal reform, which was supposed to result in an establishing of constitutional monarchy in accordance with teachings of the Age of Enlightenment. Also Alexander wanted to resolve another crucial issue in Russia — the future of the serfs, although this was not achieved until 1861.
In the very beginning of Alexander's rule several notable steps were made, including establishing freedom for publishing houses, the winding down of activities in the intelligence services and prohibition of torture. Several years later the liberal Mikhail Speransky became one of the Tsar’s closest advisors, and drew up many plans for elaborate reforms. Their aims far outstripped the possibilities of the time, and even after they had been raised to regular ministerial positions little of their program could come to pass. Russia was not ready for a more liberal society; and Alexander, the disciple of the progressive teacher Laharpe, was — as he himself said — but "a happy accident" on the throne of the tsars. He spoke, indeed, bitterly of "the state of barbarism in which the country had been left by the traffic in men."
Alexander, in fact, who, without being consciously tyrannical, possessed in full measure the tyrant's characteristic distrust of men of ability and independent judgement, lacked also the first requisite for a reforming sovereign: confidence in his people; and it was this want that vitiated such reforms as were actually realised. He experimented in the outlying provinces of his Empire; and the Russians noted with open murmurs that, not content with governing through foreign instruments, he was conferring on Poland, Finland and the Baltic provinces benefits denied to themselves.
The elaborate system of education, culminating in the reconstituted, or newly founded, universities of Dorpat (Tartu), Vilna (Vilnius), Kazan and Kharkiv, was strangled in the supposed interests of "order" and of the Russian Orthodox Church; while the military settlements which Alexander proclaimed as a blessing to both soldiers and state were forced on the unwilling peasantry and army with pitiless cruelty. Though they were supposed to improve living conditions of soldiers, the economic effect in fact was poor and harsh military discipline caused frequent unrest.
Even the Bible Society, through which the emperor in his later mood of evangelical zeal proposed to bless his people, was conducted on the same ruthless lines. The Roman archbishop and the Orthodox metropolitans were forced to serve on its committee side by side with Protestant pastors; and village popes, trained to regard any tampering with the letter of the traditional documents of the church as mortal sin, became the unwilling instruments for the propagation of what they regarded as works of the devil.
The development of this alliance was interrupted by the short-lived peace of October 1801; and for a while it seemed as though France and Russia might come to an understanding. Carried away by the enthusiasm of Laharpe, who had returned to Russia from Paris, Alexander began openly to proclaim his admiration for French institutions and for the person of Napoléon Bonaparte. Soon, however, came a change. Laharpe, after a new visit to Paris, presented to the Tsar his Reflections on the True Nature of the Consul for Life, which, as Alexander said, tore the veil from his eyes, and revealed Bonaparte "as not a true patriot", but only as "the most famous tyrant the world has produced." Alexander's disillusionment was completed by the murder of the duc d'Enghien. The Russian court went into mourning for the last member of the House of Condé, and diplomatic relations with France were broken off.
A general treaty was to become the basis of the relations of the states forming "the European Confederation"; and this, though "it was no question of realising the dream of universal peace, would attain some of its results if, at the conclusion of the general war, it were possible to establish on clear principles the prescriptions of the rights of nations." "Why could not one submit to it", the Tsar continued, "the positive rights of nations, assure the privilege of neutrality, insert the obligation of never beginning war until all the resources which the mediation of a third party could offer have been exhausted, having by this means brought to light the respective grievances, and tried to remove them? It is on such principles as these that one could proceed to a general pacification, and give birth to a league of which the stipulations would form, so to speak, a new code of the law of nations, which, sanctioned by the greater part of the nations of Europe, would without difficulty become the immutable rule of the cabinets, while those who should try to infringe it would risk bringing upon themselves the forces of the new union."
Meanwhile Napoleon, a little deterred by the Russian autocrat's youthful ideology, never gave up hope of detaching him from the coalition. He had no sooner entered Vienna in triumph than he opened negotiations with him; he resumed them after the Battle of Austerlitz (2 December, 1805). Imperial Russia and France, he urged, were "geographical allies"; there was, and could be, between them no true conflict of interests; together they might rule the world. But Alexander was still determined "to persist in the system of disinterestedness in respect of all the states of Europe which he had thus far followed", and he again allied himself with the Kingdom of Prussia. The campaign of Jena and the battle of Eylau followed; and Napoleon, though still intent on the Russian alliance, stirred up Poles, Turks and Persians to break the obstinacy of the Tsar. A party too in Russia itself, headed by the Tsar's brother Constantine Pavlovich, was clamorous for peace; but Alexander, after a vain attempt to form a new coalition, summoned the Russian nation to a holy war against Napoleon as the enemy of the Orthodox faith. The outcome was the rout of Friedland (June 13/14, 1807). Napoleon saw his chance and seized it. Instead of making heavy terms, he offered to the chastened autocrat his alliance, and a partnership in his glory.
The two Emperors met at Tilsit on 25 June 1807. Alexander, dazzled by Napoleon's genius and overwhelmed by his apparent generosity, was completely won over. Napoleon knew well how to appeal to the exuberant imagination of his new-found friend. He would divide with Alexander the Empire of the world; as a first step he would leave him in possession of the Danubian principalities and give him a free hand to deal with Finland; and, afterwards, the Emperors of the East and West, when the time should be ripe, would drive the Turks from Europe and march across Asia to the conquest of India. A programme so stupendous awoke in Alexander's impressionable mind an ambition to which he had hitherto been a stranger. The interests of Europe were forgotten. "What is Europe?" he exclaimed to the French ambassador. "Where is it, if it is not you and we?"
The Treaty of Vienna, which added largely to the Duchy of Warsaw, he complained had "ill requited him for his loyalty", and he was only mollified for the time by Napoleon's The annexation of Oldenburg, of which the Duke of Oldenburg (3 January, 1754–2 July, 1823) was the Tsar's uncle, to France in December, 1810, added another to the personal grievances of Alexander against Napoleon; while the ruinous reaction of "the continental system" on Russian trade made it impossible for the Tsar to maintain a policy which was Napoleon's chief motive for the alliance. An acid correspondence followed, and ill-concealed armaments, which culminated in the summer of 1812 with Napoleon's invasion of Russia. Yet, even after the French had passed the frontier, Alexander still protested that his personal sentiments towards the Emperor were unaltered; "but", he added, "God Himself cannot undo the past". It was the occupation of Moscow and the desecration of the Kremlin, the sacred centre of Holy Russia, that changed his sentiment for Napoleon into passionate hatred. In vain the French Emperor, within eight days of his entry into Moscow, wrote to the Tsar a letter, which was one long cry of distress, revealing the desperate straits of the Grand Army, and appealed to "any remnant of his former sentiments". Alexander returned no answer to these "fanfaronnades". "No more peace with Napoleon!" he cried, "He or I, I or He: we cannot longer reign together!"
Once a supporter of limited liberalism, as seen in his approval of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Poland in 1815, from the end of the year 1818 Alexander's views began to change. A revolutionary conspiracy among the officers of the guard, and a foolish plot to kidnap him on his way to the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle, are said to have shaken the foundations of his Liberalism. At Aix he came for the first time into intimate contact with Metternich. From this time dates the ascendancy of Metternich over the mind of the Russian Emperor and in the councils of Europe. It was, however, no case of sudden conversion. Though alarmed by the revolutionary agitation in Germany, which culminated in the murder of his agent, the dramatist August von Kotzebue (23 March, 1819), Alexander approved of Castlereagh's protest against Metternich's policy of "the governments contracting an alliance against the peoples", as formulated in the Carlsbad Decrees of July 1819, and deprecated any intervention of Europe to support "a league of which the sole object is the absurd pretensions of absolute power."
He still declared his belief in "free institutions, though not in such as age forced from feebleness, nor contracts ordered by popular leaders from their sovereigns, nor constitutions granted in difficult circumstances to tide over a crisis. "Liberty", he maintained, "should be confined within just limits. And the limits of liberty are the principles of order."
It was the apparent triumph of the principles of disorder in the revolutions of Naples and Piedmont, combined with increasingly disquieting symptoms of discontent in France, Germany, and among his own people, that completed Alexander's conversion. In the seclusion of the little town of Troppau, where in October 1820 the powers met in conference, Metternich found an opportunity for cementing his influence over Alexander, which had been wanting amid the turmoil and feminine intrigues of Vienna and Aix. Here, in confidence begotten of friendly chats over afternoon tea, the disillusioned autocrat confessed his mistake. "You have nothing to regret," he said sadly to the exultant chancellor, "but I have!"
The issue was momentous. In January Alexander had still upheld the ideal of a free confederation of the European states, symbolised by the Holy Alliance, against the policy of a dictatorship of the great powers, symbolised by the Quadruple Treaty; he had still protested against the claims of collective Europe to interfere in the internal concerns of the sovereign states. On 19 November he signed the Troppau Protocol, which consecrated the principle of intervention and wrecked the harmony of the concert.
He struck the name of Alexander Ypsilanti from the Russian army list, and directed his foreign minister, Giovanni, Count Capo d'Istria, himself a Greek, to disavow all sympathy of Russia with his enterprise; and, next year, a deputation of the Morea the Congress of Verona was turned back by his orders on the road.
He made some effort to reconcile the principles at conflict in his mind. He offered to surrender the claim, successfully asserted when the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II had been excluded from the Holy Alliance and the affairs of the Ottoman empire from the deliberations of Vienna, that the affairs of the East were the "domestic concerns of Russia," and to march into the Ottoman Empire, as Austria had marched into Naples, "as the mandatory of Europe."
Metternich's... opposition to this, illogical, but natural from the Austrian point of view, first opened his eyes to the true character of Austria's attitude towards his ideals. Once more in Russia, far from the fascination of Metternich's personality, the immemorial spirit of his people drew him back into itself; and when, in the autumn of 1825, he took his dying Empress Louise of Baden (24 January, 1779–26 May, 1826) for change of air to the south of Russia, in order—as all Europe supposed—to place himself at the head of the great army concentrated near the Ottoman frontiers, his language was no longer that of "the peace-maker of Europe," but of the Orthodox Tsar determined to take the interests of his people and of his religion "into his own hands." Before the momentous issue could be decided, however, Alexander died, "crushed," to use his own words, "beneath the terrible burden of a crown" which he had more than once declared his intention of resigning.
Their common sorrow drew husband and wife closer together. Towards the close of his life their reconciliation was completed by the wise charity of the Empress in sympathising deeply with him over the death of his beloved daughter Sophia, by Princess Maria Naryshkina.
Alexander also had 9 illegitimate children.
With Sophia Vsevolojsky (1775-1848)
With Maria Naryshkina (1779-1854)
With Marguerite-Josephine Weimer (1787-1867)
With Princess Barbara Tourkestanova (1775 - 20 March 1819)
With Maria Ivanovna Katatcharova (1796-1824)
Tsar Alexander I became increasingly involved in and increasingly more suspicious of those around him. On the way to the conference in Aachen, Germany an attempt had been made to kidnap him which made him even more suspicious of the people around him.
In the autumn of 1825 the Emperor undertook a voyage to the south of Russia due to the increasing illness of Alexander's wife. During his trip he himself caught a cold which developed into typhus from which he died in the southern city of Taganrog on 19 November (O.S.)/1 December, 1825. His wife died a few months later as the emperor's body was transported to Saint Petersburg for the funeral. He was interred at the Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral of the Peter and Paul Fortress in Saint Petersburg on 13 March, 1826.
The unexpected death of the Emperor of Russia far from the capital caused persistent rumors that his death and funeral were staged while the emperor allegedly renounced the crown and retired to spend the rest of his life in solitude. It is rumored that a "soldier" was buried as Alexander or that the grave was empty or that a British ambassador at the Russian court said he had seen Alexander boarding a ship. Some say the former emperor became a monk in either Pochaev Lavra or Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra or elsewhere. Many people, including some historians, supposed that a mysterious hermit Feodor Kuzmich (or Kozmich) who emerged in Siberia in 1836 and died in the vicinity of Tomsk in 1864 was in fact Alexander I under an assumed identity. While there are testimonies that "Feodor Kozmich" in his earlier life might have belonged to a higher society, his identity as Alexander I was never established beyond the reasonable doubt. In 1925 the Soviets opened Alexander's tomb and did not find a body.
The immediate aftermath of Alexander's death was also marked by confusion regarding the order of succession and by the attempt of military coup-d'etat by liberal-minded officers. The heir presumptive, Tsesarevich and Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich had in 1822 renounced his rights of succession, but this act was not publicly announced, nor known to anybody outside of few people within the tsar's family. For this reason, on 27 November (O.S.), 1825 the population, including Constantine's younger brother Nicholas, swore allegiance to Constantine. After the true order of succession was disclosed to the imperial family and general public, Nicholas I ordered that the allegiance to him to be sworn on 14 December (O.S.), 1825. Seizing the opportunity, the Decembrists revolted, allegedly to defend Constantine's rights to the throne, but in fact - in order to initiate the change of regime in Russia. Nicholas I brutally suppressed the rebellion and sent the ringleaders to the gallows and Siberia.
Some confidantes of Alexander I reported that in the last years the Emperor was aware that the secret societies of future Decembrists were plotting the revolt, but chose not to act against them, remarking that these officers were sharing "the delusions of his own youth." Historians believe that these secret societies appeared after the Russian officers returned from their Napoleonic campaigns in Europe in 1815.
It was directly due to this Tsar that the first name "Alexander", previously almost unknown in the Russian language, became one of the most common Russian first names and remains so up to the present. It has become very much part of Russian culture, gaining a considerable number of Russian variations and abbreviations such as Александр (Alexandr), Саша (Sasha), Шура (Shura), Саня (Sanya) and Шурик (Shurik) - all of which would likely not have happened but for the Tsar having this name.