Peter The Great (1672-1725)

 

Peter the Great was the sole leader of Russia from 1696 until his death in 1725.  Russia was isolated from much of Europe for centuries and Peter worked hard to modernize his country.  He embarked on the “Great Embassy” beginning in 1697 where he traveled incognito to learn more about culture and technology of different European nations so he could bring new ideas back to his home in Russia.  Among other things, he wanted Russians to adopt more “modern” clothing fashions.

 


A Description By A German Hostess

The Tsar is very tall [he was nearly 7 feet in height], his features are fine, and his figure very noble.  He has great vivacity of mind, and a ready and just repartee.  But, with all the advantages with which nature has endowed him, it could be wished that his manners were a little less rustic…He is a prince at once very good and very bad; his character is exactly that of his country.  If he had received a better education, he would be an exceptional man, for he has great qualities and unlimited natural intelligence.

A French Diplomat’s Views Of Peter

This was a monarch who compelled admiration for his extreme curiosity about everything that had any bearing on his views of government, commerce, education, police methods, etc. his interests embraced each detail capable of practical application and disdained nothing.  His intelligence was most marked; in his appreciation of merit, he showed great perception and a most lively understanding, everywhere displaying extensive knowledge and a lively flow of ideas.  In character, he was an extraordinary combination:  he assumed majesty at its most regal, most proud, most unbending; yet, once his supremacy had been granted, his demeanor was infinitely gracious and full of discriminating courtesy.  Everywhere and at all times he was the master, but with degrees of familiarity according to a person’s rank.  He had a friendly approach which one associated with freedom, but he was not exempt from a strong imprint of his country’s past.  Thus his manners were abrupt, even violent, his wishes unpredictable, brooking no delay and no opposition.  His table manners were crude, and those of his staff still less elegant.  He was determined to be free and independent in all that he wished to do or see….  One might go on forever describing this truly great man with his remarkable character and rare variety of extraordinary talents….

Additional Observations

Even in youth he suffered from a nervous tic, which may have been aggravated later by heavy drinking and venereal disease.  “He is subject to convulsions all over his body…It is well known,” said an eighteenth-century Russian, “that this monarch…was subject to short but frequent brain attacks, of a somewhat violent kind.  A short convulsion siezed him, which for a certain time, and sometimes even for hours, threw him into such a distressing condition that he could not bear the sight of anyone, not even his nearest friends.  This paroxysm was always preceded by a strong contortion of the neck towards the left side, and by a violent contraction of the muscles of the face.”  Yet he was robust and powerful.

Peter thought intoxication was a reasonable vacation from reality.  He had taken upon himself all the burdens of the state, and the far greater task of transforming an Oriental people into Western Civilization; festive drinking with his friends seemed a merited relief from these undertakings.  The ability to hold liquor was one of his measures of a man. 


 

Sources:  Robert K. Massie, Peter The Great, pages 177 and 653, 654; Will & Ariel Durant, The Age of Louis XIV, pages 391, 92.

1.     What were some of Peter’s unique qualities?  How did others perceive him?

2.     Which qualities do you believe benefited his ability to lead his country?  Which might have made it difficult?

3.     Any other thoughts?

 

 

Peter The Great (1672-1725)

 

Peter the Great was the sole leader of Russia from 1696 until his death in 1725.  Russia was isolated from much of Europe for centuries and Peter worked hard to modernize his country.  He embarked on the Great Embassy beginning in 1697 where he traveled incognito to learn more about culture and technology of different European nations so he could bring new ideas back to his home in Russia.  Among other things, he wanted Russians to adopt more “modern” clothing fashions.


 

Peter the Great Issues Decrees on Dress and Shaving

 

Decree of 1701

 

          Western Dress shall be worn by all the boyars [nobles]…members of our councils and of our court… government officials, strel’tsy, members of the guilds purveying our household, citizens of Moscow of all ranks, and residents of the provincial cities…excepting the clergy…and peasant tillers of the soil.  The upper dress shall be of French of Saxon cut, and the lower dress and underwear—[including] waistcoat, trousers, boots, shoes, and hats—shall be of the German type.  They shall also ride German saddles.  [Likewise] the womenfolk of all ranks, including the priests’, deacons’, and church attendants’ wives, the soldiers, and the strel’tsy, and their children shall wear Western…dresses, hats, jackets, and underwear—undervests and petticoats and shoes.  From now on no one [of the above-mentioned] is to wear Russian dress or Circassian coats, sheepskin coats, or Russian peasant coats, trousers, boots, and shoes.  It is also forbidden to ride Russian saddles, and the craftsmen shall not manufacture them or sell them at the marketplaces.

 

Decree of 1705

 

          A decree to be published in Moscow and in all the provincial cities:  henceforth, in accordance with this, His Majesty’s decree, all court attendants…provincial service men, government officials of all ranks, military men,…members of the wholesale merchants’ guild, and members of guilds purveying for our household must shave their beards

 

and moustaches.  But, if it happens that some of them do not wish to shave their beards and moustaches, let a year tax be collected from such persons…

Jean Rousset de Missy, Life of Peter the Great, c. 1730

The tsar labored at the reform of fashions, or, more properly speaking, of dress. Until that time the Russians had always worn long beards, which they cherished and preserved with much care, allowing them to hang down on their bosoms, without even cutting the moustache. With these long beards they wore the hair very short, except the ecclesiastics, who, to distinguish themselves, wore it very long. The tsar, in order to reform that custom, ordered that gentlemen, merchants, and other subjects, except priests and peasants, should each pay a tax of one hundred rubles a year if they wished to keep their beards; the commoners had to pay one kopek each. Officials were stationed at the gates of the towns to collect that tax, which the Russians regarded as an enormous sin on the part of the tsar and as a thing which tended to the abolition of their religion.

These insinuations, which came from the priests, occasioned the publication of many pamphlets in Moscow, where for that reason alone the tsar was regarded as a tyrant and a pagan; and there were many old Russians who, after having their beards shaved off, saved them preciously, in order to have them placed in their coffins, fearing that they would not be allowed to enter heaven without their beards. As for the young men, they followed the new custom with the more readiness as it made them appear more agreeable to the fair sex.


 

 

Sources:  George Vernadsky (Ed.), A Source Book from Russian History from Early Times to 1919, 1972.  Modern History Sourcebook; http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/petergreat.html

 

1.     What specific reforms did Peter support in terms of clothing & facial hair?

2.     How did the Russian people react to the edicts?

3.     Any other thoughts?