Russian Monarch. When Catherine II the Great of Russia died on November 17, 1796, her only son at the age of 42 years, Emperor Paul I, became Russia's monarch. The early years of Paul Petrovich Romanov's life were dedicated to preparing him for this position. He was said to have been a sickly child with poor eating habits, yet handsome, very intelligent and well educated. Even as a young boy, some historians described his personality as odd. He received little affection in his childhood, as he was taken from his mother the day he was born to reside with his father's aunt, the reigning Russian Monarch, Czarina Elizabeth I. Supervised by governesses, he was denied a nourishing family relationship, which would later impact his personality. Elizabeth's heir to the throne would be Paul's father Peter. After Elizabeth's death, Czar Peter III of Russia reigned for a mere six months before nobles of his court had him overthrown, and replaced him with his wife Catherine. Then within a very short time Peter was murdered in the presence of Imperial Guards with no one arrested for the crime. Catherine, a skilled politician, brought Russia, who was isolated by geography and culture from Europe, out of the "middle ages". Many modern historians have questioned just who was Paul's biological father, as Catherine's long-time lover was the Count Sergei Saltykov. Several of Catherine's biographers suggest the Romanov line truly ended with Peter's death. All the members of the royal court knew that Peter had never fathered any children with his many mistresses, yet he was given credit for fathering the heir to the throne with a woman who publicly hated him. The couple was married over eight years before Catherine conceived Paul. In 1771, Paul suffered with typhus, an infectious disease transmitted by body lice and fleas, which left his face disfigured with a ruddy-colored pugged nose, and he grew increasingly depressed and paranoid. At one point he accused his mother of trying to kill him by lacing his food with ground glass. Catherine arranged two marriages for Paul, both from German royalty. The first was in 1773 to Princess Wilhelmina Louisa; she died in childbirth without an heir. On October 7, 1776, he married the beautiful Princess Sophia Dorothea, who took the Russian Orthodox name of Maria Feodorovana. The following year the heir to the Russian throne was born, and over the next twenty-two years, nine more children were added to this royal union. Paul was given the estate of Pavlovsk to be his family's home, and later another larger estate, at Gatchina. His attempt to command a military unit had little success. Having poor management skills, he was a failure when it came to politics. Over the next couple decades, Paul was assigned to various positions with some being away from Catherine's palace and its inner-workings. Catherine did use her authority to ensure Paul's first three sons were prepared to become the next monarchs of Russia. Even before Catherine's death, many nobles and royals of Russia knew that Paul was insane. Catherine and Paul despised and mistrusted each other. His mother did attempt to make Paul's son, Alexander, the heir to the throne. Short of killing Paul that plot was not going to succeed, thus at her sudden death, he became "His Imperial Majesty The Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias". The four-and-a-half years of Paul's rule in Russia were, according to some historians, "unquestionably the reign of a madman". Out of pure pettiness and spite, he repealed many of the laws and policies that his mother had established, thus Russia became the isolated country of years before causing the general population to suffer. A workday became from sun-up to sunset. He strongly supported the Old Russian Orthodox Church, thus banning any western literature supporting reformed churches. He made outrageous financial and military mistakes, such as having five million paper rubles burnt to increase its worth and changing sides in an ongoing war to go against the English, who had been Catherine's strong ally. Poor selection of counselors impacted one political mistake after another. Paul was making powerful enemies in and out of Russia. It was no surprise that a conspiracy was soon started against him. On the eve of March 23, 1801, a group who had supported Catherine's plot to have her grandson Alexander installed as heir, burst into Paul's bedroom and attempted to force him into signing his own abdication. He refused and became agitated with them. One of the men, who was said to be intoxicated, hit Paul with a sword; he fell to the floor and died shortly afterwards. His son Alexander, who was waiting elsewhere in the palace during this incident, became heir to the Russia's throne. Many believe that he did not order his father's murder, but Alexander's actions did fulfil Catherine's original plot.
Bio by: Linda Davis
Maria Feodorovna von Württemberg
Alexei Grigorievitch Bobrinskoy