Personality and reputation of Paul I of Russia


Paul I was Emperor of all the Russias between 1796 and 1801, when he was deposed and assassinated in a palace coup. During his lifetime contemporaries, both at home and abroad speculated as to his mental health, and modern historians have continued to do so. Paul succeeded to the throne on the death of his mother, Catherine the Great, and almost immediately launched a campaign to revoke her legacy. Paul appears to have borne a great hatred for his mother and her acts as Empress, on account of both his upbringing—a lonely one spent mostly away from court—and the fact that Paul held her responsible for the overthrow and death of his father, Peter III, from whom she had taken the throne. As a result, Paul revoked many of her decrees from the day of his accession, and at the same time, he denigrated her memory and promoted that of Peter. Where Catherine had generally worked with the Russian nobility and treated them sympathetically, Paul distrusted them as a class. He believed them to have become weak and disorganised, and to need strict treatment; as a result, he revoked many of their privileges and treated them harshly.

Paul was also inspired by the French Revolution, which had occurred seven years earlier, sending shockwaves through the royal courts of Europe. As a result, he attacked the prevalence of French culture in Russia in an effort to prevent the influence of revolutionary ideals. Foreign travel was banned, and visitors could only travel from France on a passport issued by the House of Bourbon. Censorship was increased, words were banned from use, and fashion especially was forcibly changed: anything that was deemed to be French—such as round hats and high cravats—or particularly non-Russian, such as a certain style of coach harness. A massively-increased secret police enforced Paul's edicts vigorously; contemporaries complained that if found in the streets wearing one of the banned hats, for example, it was liable to be ripped from their heads and shredded before them.

Paul also made sweeping reforms to the Russian Imperial Army. Already a martinet—he drilled his household troops continuously as Grand Duke—he instituted a brutal military regime. Units were drilled constantly; officers—whom the ranks were encouraged to anonymously denounce—were liable to summary punishment for the slightest infractions. Paul occasionally beat them himself, or they could be dismissed from rank and exiled to Siberia. The army's uniforms were redesigned in the Prussian fashion, which was deeply disliked as it involved tight uniforms, which were felt to be impractical. There was also an emphasis on minutiae, such as waxed hair.

As a result of Paul's sweeping changes, and the fact that he alienated so many areas of society he was deposed in a coup and killed. Contemporaries, including his doctors, commented at the time that he appeared to be permanently stressed and liable to incandescent rages over the slightest thing. While 19th- and early-20th-century historians generally accepted these assertions, more recently historiography has tended to emphasise the difficulties in making a medical diagnosis at the distance of 200 years, while also noting that the contemporary memoirs that earlier historians worked off are not impartial sources. It is probable that debate was restricted until at least the 20th century in any case, as questioning the cause of Paul's deposition may have given rise to questions as to the legitimacy of the later Romanovs. Others have noted that contemporary diplomatic letters are more reliable as sources. While there is still a broad consensus that Paul probably was mentally unstable or had a spectrum disorder to some extent, the degree to which this affected his reign or his ability is questionable. His ability to operate as he was expected to was not as affected, as has traditionally been asserted. Indeed, modern historians emphasise the number of positive policies Paul enacted, which, while not precluding the possibility of mental illness, left a legacy for future Russian rulers in spite of it.

Background


Catherine II by D.Levitskiy (1794, Novgorod museum)

Born in 1754,[1] Paul was the son of Emperor Peter III and Catherine the Great.[2] Six months after Peter's accession Catherine took part in a coup d'état, against Peter in which he was deposed and subsequently killed in prison.[3] During her reign, Russia was revitalised. I expanded both territorially and economically and greatly increased contacts with Western Europe, eventually being recognised as one of the great powers of Europe and Asia.[4] The Russian Empire expanded rapidly by conquest and diplomacy: the Ottoman Empire was defeated in the south, during the Russo-Turkish wars, and Novorossiya, on the Black and Azov Seas was colonised. In the west, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was partitioned, and the Russian Empire took the largest portion.[5]

Catherine reformed the administration of Russian guberniyas (governorates).[6] An admirer of Peter the Great,[7] Catherine continued to modernize Russia along Western European lines.[8] However, military conscription and the economy continued to depend on serfdom, and the increasing demands of the state and of private landowners intensified the exploitation of serf labour. This led to a number of peasant rebellions throughout her reign, including the large-scale Pugachev Rebellion.[9]

The period of Catherine the Great's rule is considered the Golden Age of Russia.[10][11] The Manifesto on Freedom of the Nobility, issued during the short reign of Peter III and confirmed by Catherine, freed Russian nobles from compulsory military or state service.[12] She enthusiastically supported the ideals of the Enlightenment and is often included in the ranks of the enlightened despots.[13][14][note 1] Towards the end of her reign, in 1789, revolution broke out in France. This resulted in the execution of Louis XVI and sent shock waves through other European powers.[15] As a result, Catherine rejected many principles of the Enlightenment she had previously viewed favourably.[16]

Upbringing and as Crown Prince


His upbringing was a tension between different ideas and aspirations for his future rule. On the one hand, he was expected to be an enlightened constitutionalist; conversely, he was also encouraged to live up to the aggressive martial reputation of his predecessor, Peter the Great.[17] Paul had begun demonstrating eccentric behaviour before his accession, which usually expressed themselves in outbursts of incandescent rage, whether to, for example, dismissing an entire platoon because it lost an order, or threatening to beat his gardener with a stick.[18] He had gained his legal majority in 1772 but had not received any official offices or positions as a result.[19]

Before Catherine's death, there was uncertainty regarding the succession. A British observer in St Petersburg told how he had heard in 1792 that Paul intended to "make alterations and regulations which would make it more difficult to commit abuses", and the following year he was told that "at the empress's death, all may not go well perhaps".[20]

Foreign diplomats reported to their masters on Paul's behaviour. Whitworth wrote about Paul's "acrimony of disposition", while the Austrian ambassador, Louis Cobenzl, observed that "one absolutely does not know what to count on with the Grand Duke, he changes his language and his sentiments almost every moment". The French emissary believed that Paul could have been deranged,[21] and the French charge d'affaires, Sabatier de Cabre, reported when Paul was 14 years old that Paul[22]

Is believed to be vindictive, headstrong and absolute in his ideas. It is only to be feared that by virtue of having his wings clipped, a potentially decided character may be rendered obstinate, that it may be replaced by duplicity, repressed hatred and perhaps pusillanimity, and that the high-mindedness which might have been developed in him may be stifled at last by the terror that his mother has always inspired in him.[22]

Paul, as Grand Duke of Russia

McGrew argues that Paul's reputation for disturbing behaviour was established in St Petersburg by 1794 following a number of incidents at court relating to Paul's pursuit of a lady, Yekaterina Nelidova. This affair was the immediate cause of Catherine's intention to change her heir apparent.[23] The Austrian ambassador, Cobenzl, had already worked with Paul on occasion, and not only was he aware of his propensity for fits of anger and was apprehensive as to the future; he had not, he wrote home, seen any sign so far that the prince possessed the necessary leadership qualities and could only hope that he would learn them soon. This though, comments McGrew, "was a very slender hope. Paul was 42 years old, his personality was firmly set and he had long since decided who his enemies were."[24] The end of the year, however, showed no indication that this had occurred.[25]

The roots of Paul's distrustful nature may be found in his upbringing which was a lonely one. Catherine had acceded the Imperial throne following the deposition and murder of her husband, Emperor Peter III, who was officially Paul's father.[26][note 2] Catherine kept him sequestered at Gatchina, a rural estate far from St Petersburg and power, and seems likely that, before her death, Catherine intended to supplant Paul as her heir with his son, Alexander, although she died before this could be legislated for. Here, increasingly isolated, he spent most of his time organising his personal regiment, parading and punishing them to the point of tyranny, comments Marie-Pierre Rey.[26][note 3]

Relationship with his mother

The origin of his hatred for Catherine may have stemmed from his belief that she had been complicit in the overthrow (and assassination) of his father, Peter III.[30] Also, the fact that the revolutionaries of 1762 had originally proposed Paul as the new emperor, with Catherine acting only as regent[31] in the background; this did not suit Catherine's plans, and explain her subsequent near-exile of him to Gatchina.[32] He and Catherine were polar opposites;[33] the scholar Jerome Blum believes Paul had a "pathological hatred" of Catherine, who had, for her part, "treated him shamefully".[34] Paul bore an "intense hatred" for his mother, says Dmytryshyn.[35]

Political ideology


Wanted to reaffirm absolute sovereignty in the face of the French Revolution, argues Richard S. Wortman, and the defender of traditional royal power.[36] His political vision—a combination of paternalism and absolutism within the law—argues Dukes, was very much in his mother's tradition,[37] and was a common feature of late-18th-century monarchs.[38] Paul's policies were founded on two overriding factors: a determination to reverse,[28] mitigate[39] or a "heroic repudiation"[40] of the policies of his mother, out of hatred for her, and rejection of the influence of the French revolution, out of fear of it.[28]

Paul's theoretical ideology, enlightened absolutism—Louis XIV, the Maximilien de Béthune, Duke of Sully, Peter the Great and Frederick II[42] were his personal influences—was, says McGrew, in the Russian context, distinctly progressive. Unfortunately, continues McGrew, "the gap between these generalised intentions and what Paul actually did is enormous".[43] His breadth of political vision was constrained by his concern for minute.[44]

They found that he was often inaccessible. They leave little doubt that he was frustrating and difficult to work with, that he was inclined to sudden and unexpected reactions, that he had a violent temper, and that, in the political sense of the term, he was wholly inexperienced. His style of speaking was sometimes allusive to the point of being incomprehensible, he was no respecter of persons, he could be vindictive. self-righteous, and often ridiculous.[45]

[note 4] Distrusted anything indicative of equality or democracy was his target.[39] Vasily Klyuchevsky considers Paul's policies to have been based on the guiding principles of order, discipline and equality.[47] while Michael W. Curran and David Mackenzie base his rule on "enlightened absolutism".[48]

Autocracy

Paul's demand for continual service from his nobility was to eventually cost him his life.[49] Paul, says Wortman, "humiliated the nobility, turning them from comrades in arms into victims".[50] For instance, Catherine gave him a captured Turkish prisoner, Ivan Pavlovich Kutaysov. Paul promptly made him a Russian count with a large estate, purely in order to spite the nobility, suggests Lieven.[51] Argues Loewenson, Paul's growing autocracy was in direct contrast with his upbringing as a constitutionalist:

Paul turned the idea inside out. He flooded his chancelleries with a stream of contradictory decrees, abolishing today what he had yesterday erected; he demanded strict conformity to a seemingly endless series of idiotic norms in dress, speech, and behaviour; and eventually, he created the very nightmare of despotic rule and personal insecurity the Panins had hoped so much to prevent.[52]

The Russian aristocracy was, by now, almost completely westernised, and French had become their first language.[53] Paul seems to have equated aristocratic luxury with wastefulness,[54] and believed that years of indulgent rule by a permissive female ruler had led to men—predominantly of the nobility—becoming soft and socially irresponsible, hence his edicts primarily focussing on perceived social ills of that class.[55] Paul wanted to instil the nobility with a new-found moral discipline.[56] J. M. K. Vivyan, writing in the New Cambridge Modern History, argues that enmity towards the nobility was inherent to Russia's Tsars, due to their vulnerability from Palace coups, but in Paul's case it was exacerbated by his treatment at his mother's hands, and who had supported the aristocracy.[57] Paul distrusted his aristocracy, particularly those who dwelt on their estates rather than attending court.

The parade ground outside Gatchina Palace as seen in 2010

[58]

Where Catherine had generally favoured the nobility, ruling with a degree of consensus, Paul, in the interests of overturning her policies, did the opposite, greatly constraining the aristocracies' liberties. He said, on one occasion, that to him, "only he is great in Russia to whom I am speaking, and only as long as I speak [to him]", regardless of birth or status,[59] in what Montefiori has called a comment "worthy of Caligula".[60] Lieven suggests that Paul's idealised Emperor-vassel relationship "did not represent late 18th-century Russian realities",[61] especially his echoing of Caligula's dictum, "let them hate so long as they fear".[60][62] Wishing to roll back the political power of the aristocratic class, Paul did so both in the big picture and in the detail.[63] Paul annulled the nobility's exemption from corporal punishment that they had extracted from Catherine.[64] This was a direct challenge to the nobility, says Montefiori, who were traditionally authorised to beat their own serfs.[65] Lieven argues that Paul's attack on the aristocracy's liberties was actually limited, although still sufficient to persuade them to conspire against him later on.[64] However, there appears to have been little or no resistance to him, reflecting that people no choice other than to accept what the Emperor chose to do. Whitworth, for example, commented that, although in other countries Paul's intemperate decrees might have been resisted, in Russia because of "the character of the people, and that spirit of subordination which yet prevails, scarcely a murmur is heard.[66] It was ironic, comments McGrew, that the only class to forcibly resit Paul in arms was the class he had tried to protect, the serfs: around 55 separate peasant uprisings were recorded between the death of Catherine in November and the New Year. This was followed by nearly 120 in the first three months of 1797.[67][note 5]

Anti-French Revolution

Everything that hinted of revolution was banned,[69] which he feared more than his mother had done.[70]Paul's hatred of revolutions was based on his view of his subjects: they were his children and were easily distracted, and needed firm guidance so they were not taken advantage of by evil men.[71]

Paul's actions against Jacobinism occasionally appeared comedic.[72] Having a deep-seated fear of Jacobins,[73] he believed himself to be surrounded by them, even on his own estate. A contemporary tells how Paul kept his estate in a permanent state of siege, writing that "every day, one hears of nothing but acts of violence. The Grand Duke thinks every moment that someone is wanting in respect or has the intention of criticising his actions. He sees everywhere manifestations of the revolution."[73]

Reversal of Catherine's policies

His campaign against his mother began immediately; he refused to wear the Imperial crown at his coronation on the grounds that she had worn it first.[74][note 6] There was also a tradition of new monarchs making bold breaks with their predecessors' policies.[75] What he saw as righting Catherine's wrongs, suggests McGrew.[76] Paul did not just attack her policies, but physical reminders of her reign: Tsarskoe Selo Palace was allowed to fall into disrepair, having been one of her favoured residences.[77] He sought to subvert her legacy.[78]

While Paul's reign had similarities with that of his predecessor, the difference, says Ryeff, was personality: unlike Catherine, Paul "was capricious and unstable; his personal rule degenerated into one of abusive treatment".[79] On reversal of Catherine's policy, asks Ragsdale, "such a program was at least painfully naive. Was it also insane?"[80]

Before Catherine died, French influence on Russia was already being curtailed; freedom of movement between the countries was restricted and diplomatic relations hardened, although culturally French culture remained predominant.[81] Catherine had also placed all French citizens then resident in St Petersburg under surveillance.[82]

Under Catherine, says Grey, the nobility gained all they had sought; it was their "golden age".[83] Paul had a dislike of what he saw as being the "immorality" of Catherine's reign,[28] The nobles to whom she had made grants had them immediately reversed and withdrawn,[84] and changes of staff, removing Catherine's appointments "proceeded at a dizzying pace".[78] Undoing his mother's policies was the one thing Paul showed consistency in: "with one stroke of the pen he abrogated a whole series of Catherine's decrees.[85] Regardless, notes Kluchevsky, of whether they were good or bad, and even on occasion neutralising his own progressive decrees in the course of overturning his predecessor's.[86][note 7]

Whereas Catherine had generally ruled by consensus and accepted commentary thereupon from broader political society, Paul is seen as authoritarian.[88] Where she decentralised, he "fostered centralisation".[78] Historian Hugh Ragsdale has said that whereas Catherine was a "masterful opportunist ... Paul was her polar opposite".[89] Catherine had also maintained a policy of Russification, particularly in the Baltic states and Poland. As a result, Paul's policy was to restore to these areas their local rights and devolve the interests of the Russian government in them.[37] Cross notes that "Paul was prepared to do many things to spite the memory of his mother-but the restoration of any degree of freedom to publish was not one of them".[90]

Although Catherine had been known, occasionally, as "the Great" during her lifetime, during the reign of Paul it achieved broad acceptance, notes Alexander, "perhaps partly in silent protest of Paul's ill-considered efforts to demean his mother".[91]

Pro-Prussia

Paul admired for all things Prussian.[92] Such a philosophy was not confined to Paul, as what Wortman calls "Prussomania" had engulfed Europe in the 18th century, although it made the greatest impact in Russia.[36] Whitworth, reporting on Paul's first day as Emperor, amid the installation of his Prussian-themed army, wrote how "the Court and the town is [sic] entirely military, and we can scare persuade ourselves that instead of Petersburg we are not in Potsdam".[93] While Admiral Shishkov commented that "the change was so great, that it looked like nothing other than an enemy invasion ... there were armed soldiers everywhere".[94] Thus, says Wortman, although Paul's accession was not by way of a military coup, it had the appearance of one as a result of his march on St Petersburg with the Gatchina units.[95] Sablukov echoed these complaints, saying that whereas St Petersburg had been one of the most modern European capitals under Catherine, under her son it had become "more like a German one, two centuries back".[96]

Accession


My God! From the very outset of Emperor Paul I's accession, what strictness, what meekness, what a martial spirit began to rule in Moscow! From being arrogant and unapproachable, the nobles became humble, for the law was the same whether one was a noble or a merchant. Ostentatious luxury came under suspicion. And among the common people, there appeared a kind of terror and obedience before a sort of martial or enlightened-authoritarian spirit, for the strictness and obedience extended to all classes of people.[97]

Nikolai Kotov, merchant, in his memoirs

Russian historian Basil Dmytryshyn has described the Russia that Paul inherited:

When he became emperor of Russia at the age of forty-two. Paul inherited an empire full of clashing contrasts and glaring contradictions. It was the largest and the most resourceful nation in the world, but its economy and its communication systems were among the most primitive. It had several good schools for the privileged few, but illiteracy was the way of life for the vast majority. It had a small class of cultured and privileged nobles who lived in sumptuous villas and who discussed the latest literary and political ideas of western Europe. But it also had millions of superstitious, illiterate, and exploited peasants, Russian as well as non-Russian, who lived in horrible filth and poverty. Finally, it had a new monarch who had long and passionately wanted to rule, but who was incompetent to govern any nation, let alone a complex, multi-national empire like Russia.[98]

One of only four men to sit on the throne in 75 years, all of whom, suggests J. T. Alexander, "reigned briefly and ingloriously if at all".[99][note 8] In the days before his coronation in Moscow, he was cheered whenever he entered the city; the gentry particularly looked forward to his reign.[101] Likewise, common people crowded around him in the streets when he let them, which was often; according to McGrew "he never showed the fear of ordinary people ... and he unhesitatingly went among them, even at great personal danger to himself, to hear their complaints". This was, comments McGrew, was a "striking characteristic" of his rule.[102] The early days of the reign characterised the remainder, with, says McGrew, "no relaxation from first to last".[66] An anonymous report to Lord Grenville from Vienna early in the reign advised the Foreign Secretary that "I do not believe you will have any assistance from the Emperor ... and above all, because in his quality of successor to the throne, he is naturally disposed to adopt measures different from those of his predecessor".[103]

The first sign that Paul intended to follow his father's legacy rather than his mother's came shortly after her burial. Having prayed at her corpse four nights after her death, he then led his family to a chapel to hear a requiem for Peter III.[104] On the day of his coronation, 5 April 1797[105] probably as a reaction to his earlier fears that he would be supplanted as Catherine's heir by his son, one of his first major acts was to regulate the Imperial succession, installing a system of primogeniture.[86][note 9] Reinterred his father into a suitably imperial sarcophagus next to Catherine, whom he knew had been complicit in his overthrow and murder.[77] The coffin was opened and the royal family kissed what remained of Peter's hand.[95] Comments Michael Farquhar, "thus, after thirty-four years, the husband and wife who loathed each other in life were reunited in death".[106] This "macabre ceremony" was followed by a posthumous coronation for Peter.[95]

The reign started auspiciously, with the pardoning of around 12,000 political prisoners.[107] The first few months of the reign, suggests McGrew, received "mixed reviews" from contemporaries. On the one hand, they accepted that, while inexperienced, he wanted to what was best and that he was right in wanting to halt abuses. On the other hand, he was criticised for his the lack of consistency in his approach, as well as his insensate rages and spontaneous punishments that often resulted.[45]

The practice of reporting one's social superiors to Paul by way of the private petition was encouraged:[63] Paul had a yellow box installed outside the Winter Palace—the sole key to which he possessed[108]—from which he personally collected deposited petitions. Eventually, though, satires and caricatures began also being left in the box, at which point Paul had it removed.[109] Peasants, while also allowed to petition, were forbidden to do so collectively, only being able to do so as individuals.[110]

Edicts


The three orders of Petersburg (Cruikshank)

Paul disapproved of almost all aspects of St Petersberg society, and what he found offensive he intended to correct.[111] The reign began "almost immediately [by] alienating the major power groups" of Russian society. He alienated liberals by censoring their literature, the military by the imposition of a Prussian military culture, merchants and the mercantile classes by disrupting trade through his foreign policy, and the nobility by publicly humiliating them when he chose.[112] This explains Paul's appointment of General Arkharov to the civil position of governor-general of the city: Arkharov willingly implemented Gatchina-style rules.[113] "If Paul was despised, there was reason for it; if he was hated, his actions were cause enough".[114] Arkharov was particularly responsible for the severe enforcement of Imperial edicts, says McGrew, commenting how his police "won fame of a sort for their unrestrained, often violent, and usually mindless handling of violators".[113] The Governor of st Petersburg, Nikolai Arkharov, became known as the "minister of terror", for the zeal he demonstrated in enforcing Paul's edicts.[96]

St Petersburg, says McGrew, became a social minefield.[111] The tension was increased by the speed with which new regulations were being issued, and many would not leave the house in case they broke a new rule that they had not yet heard of.[111] Thousands were arrested,[63] and, argue MacKenzie and Curran, "the populace from top to bottom lived in increasing fear of an arbitrary, capricious emperor ... a police straitjacket tightened upon Russian society, arbitrary arrests multiplied, and insecurity rose among the elite".[69][note 10] Not just arrests but corporal punishment was common. An army captain was sentenced to 1,00 strokes of the cane, on another occasion a priest received the knout for owning banned books and an officer had his tongue cut out.[60]

Paul's views were ideological; much was changing across Europe, especially culturally, but Paul viewed this as a sign of social disorder and weakness.[55] The decrees were known about and criticised internationally; for example in Scotland, The Scots Magazine declared that Paul, "probably with a view to prevent the progress of Liberty, the Emperor has attempted to check the expansion of intellect and to destroy the source of knowledge through the Empire".[117] The authors of The Cambridge Modern History argue that on his accession, "Russia in general speedily realised the worst that had been prophesied of Paul".[118] To this end, he issued over 2000 ukases in the course of his five-year reign. and 48,000 general orders in 1797 alone.[119] Paul's decrees affected the Empire as a whole; Whitworth wrote, "the ardour for reform, or more properly for change, extends even to the Provinces, where everything as in the Capital must now wear a military appearance".[56] The effect of Paul's reforms, says Dmytryshyn, was to sow "confusion, uncertainty and irritation".[98]

Military

Paul was obsessed with the paraphernalia of war.[120] Army officers were forbidden to eat lunch wearing their hats.[121]

When Field Marshal Alexander Suvorov objected to Paul's treatment of the army he was banished to his estates.[122][note 11] Paul's treatment of the army was crucial to later overthrow. Apart from forcing Prussian-style uniforms upon them, he exercised a rule of iron over its men. Vivyan describes how[122]

On the other hand, while observing a parade one morning with Count Repnin, Paul remarked "Marshal, you see this guard of 400 men? At one word, I could promote every one of them to marshal".[60] Paul applied the principles he had enforced at Gatchina to St Petersburg society.[113] In effect, society was to be drilled the same way the military was. The problem with this, notes McGrew, was that while the military rule book laid down parameters and boundaries of conduct, the civilian regulations did not:[55]

Orders were given and enforced hour by hour. Sometimes they were published, and sometimes not, and there was no comprehensive summary of the radical restrictions on dress, for example, until early in 1798.[note 12] It was the subjects' responsibility to keep abreast, though even the enforcers could not stay fully informed. This condition, of course, added substantially to the anxiety in people's lives.[55]

The army was reorganised on Prussian lines, with Prussian uniforms and "draconian" discipline with it.[123] The uniforms were tight enough to prevent men from sitting, and also to prevent them standing up on their own if they fell over;[105] an English observer compared them to the "stiff, wooden machines" of the Seven Years' War.[124] Hair was plaited[105] and set in a "noisesome" paste of wax,[125] lard and flour which over time started smelling bad.[105] Paul, says Simon Sebag Montefiore, "regarded the waxed Prussian plaits as the expression of the ancien régime against the tousled locks of French freedom".[96] Introduced other unsuitable items, such as buckled shoes.[126] "His penchant for finicking detail was amply matched by his determination to punish any aberrations", as a result, noted Cobenzl, over half the officers of the Imperial Guard had resigned their commissions.[113] These edicts, suggests Esdaile, were the product of Paul's belief that "relaxation in the norms expected of a gentleman would undermine respect for their betters among the populace", and that therefore they needed regulating.[127]

Transfers, demotion, the recall to service of officers in civilian and court posts, appeared not as a vast reform but as an exercise in tyranny. The garrison of the capital lived under a kind of parade-ground terror, and it became a common thing for officers to parade with their affairs wound up and with a stock of ready money lest they were sent off the square straight to Siberia.[122]

Sealed coaches were maintained during every parade for the purpose of whisking away those that incurred Paul's displeasure.[105] This was documented by the General, Alexander Sablukov, who reported that not only had he done this himself but on three occasions had had to lend money to comrades who had failed to take such a precaution:[128] "When we mounted guard, we used to put a few hundred roubles in banknotes into our coat pockets so as not to be left penniless if suddenly sent away", he wrote. Paul occasionally beat men on parade himself;[60] an entire troop could be transferred to the provinces in an instant, cashiered, or its officers reduced in rank to footsoldiers.[129] Paul took pleasure in his role of drill sergeant, in even more in finding this wrong. A martinet, brutal punishments—such as flogging with the knout—were inflicted on the culprits.[130] Conversely, a soldier on review might find himself promoted on the spot.[131] According to Sablukov, under Paul, royal military service was "very unpleasant".[60]

Civilian

1797 illustration of fashion under the French Directory; the round hat and high cravat sported by the man in the middle were condemned by Paul

Paul's domestic policy was unpopular, particularly among the Russian nobility,[132] who were especially affected.[133] Changes in dress had begun on Catherine's death.[134] Paul's edits were introduced with immediate effect: "new uniforms were fitted, sewn, and worn in a matter of hours; frock-coats disappeared or were turned into emergency cloaks by slashing scissors, while even round hats could be folded and pinned to form a tricorn".[66] Of ladies haircuts, the latest fashion in France was that à la guillotine;[104] like other Parisian-tailored clothes and fashion, it was to be expunged.[62] Paul's offensive was against "the whole of contemporary male chic", says McGrew.[55]

"Attacks with shears on people's clothing in the streets recalled Peter I's assaults on traditional caftans and beards, but now anything reminiscent of French as opposed to Russian dress, including associated vocabulary (gilet, pantalon), was suspect. Paul banned certain books, music and foreign travel, much as Catherine had done after 1793 in her understandable response to the French Terror, but the need for such sanctions now seemed unconvincing, as did the introduction of a host of niceties Of etiquette that victimized nobles who under Catherine were beginning to enjoy some degree of security. Demands such as the one that ladies curtsy to the emperor in the street and thus drag their clothes in the mud seemed demeaning. For men, the wrong belt buckle or a step out of place would result in a humiliating beating or banishment."[135] Paul brandished his horsewhip at pedestrians in the street.[77]

Prostration

One of the most unpopular instructions, promulgated in late 1800,[136] dealt with how to behave on meeting the Emperor's carriage in the street. Regardless of age, gender or class, and regardless of the mode of transport—on foot, horseback or carriage—had to dismount immediately. The police were especially concerned to implement this decree.[66] Men had to bow deeply if Paul passed them in the street, and their ladies—despite that they were wearing expensive dresses and that the pavements were slushy—had to prostrate themselves[132] and men had to remain on their knee until he had passed,[137] irrespective of the condition of the roads as they did.[39] This may have been a means of demonstrating his power.[137] People went to the trouble of finding out where Paul or his family were likely to be travelling and then avoided these streets where possible in order to avoid public prostrationl[66][note 13] all of which was enshrined in law.[139] On one occasion Paul reprimanded a nanny out pushing a baby's pushchair for not doffing the baby's sunbonnet at the Emperor: Paul removed it himself.[96][note 14] "Wallowing in the pomp and circumstance of power", argue MacKenzie and Curran, Paul demanded his nobility prostrate themselves before him.[78] Whether at the palace or merely passing in the street, noted Sablukov, "all those seated inside carriages had to step out and make their bow".[96] Those seen wearing the forbidden round hats were pursued by the police and if caught by the adjutants were liable to face being bastinadoed.[96] There were 300 police detailed to uphold the Emperor's social decrees.[140] Clothes would be shredded in front of their owners and shoes confiscated in the street.[139]

Those wishing to hold balls, parties or other social gatherings—including weddings and funerals—had to follow detailed legislation, including receiving the necessary permission to do so from the local police. Further, a member of police would attend the gathering and ensure against any demonstration of lack of "loyalty, propriety and sobriety".[140]

Tailors, hatters, shoemakers and other clothiers had to apply to quartermasters' at Gatchina for instruction on the styles they were allowed to make.[140]

French fashion banned

The scholar Lynn Hunt, discussing the fashions of France in the revolutionary period, describes the uniform of a "true Republican" as being "close-fitting pants of fine cloth, ankle boots, morning coats and round hats".[141] Paul was averse to what he saw as "French degeneracy", argues Hughes.[135] Everything he banned was suggestive, says Pares, of revolutionary France, whether in costume—round hats, frock coats, high collars—language—he prescribed public use of the word "society", "citizen"[142] and "revolution"[98]—or culture—neither European music nor literature was allowed,[142] regardless of scientific or intellectual merit.[143] Mention of or discussion about the Enlightenment was also forbidden, as Paul believed it had led directly to the revolution.[144] The press was heavily censored,[98] although though in this, Paul was continuing the work of his mother, who had also censored the press.[note 15] Paul, though, was much more energetic,[144] and his decrees "closed down any pretensions of literary liberalism".[109] Banned books included Catherine's own Instructions, a series of legal-philosophical musings based on writers such as Montesquieu, Cesare Beccaria and William Blackstone.[145] Books from France were especially targeted as they were dated by the French revolutionary calendar.[146] Booksellers were placed under police control.[77]

Waistcoats were of particular importance to Paul. The Princess Liéven later stated that "the emperor claimed that waistcoats caused the entire French Revolution somehow".[134][note 16] Also, the colour of clothing was restricted to solid colours only[121] as was the decorating of private and public buildings,[148] which had to all be repainted black and white.[149] Further instruction applied to the decoration of their doors.[121] It was orders such as these, argues Duke, that created a "the crazy atmosphere" in St Petersburg during paul's reign.[149]

The diarist and commentator Filipp Vigel was in Kiev when the Emperor's edict was announced and recognised the political overtones the seemingly garb-orientated instruction had. He described what he saw:

One thing struck me in Kiev—new costumes. In a state of madness, punishing not a stone, as Zhukovskii says about Napoleon, but dress, Paul armed himself against round hats, tailcoats, waistcoats, pantaloons, shoes and boots with cuffs. He prohibited to wear them and ordered to replace [these garments] with single-breasted caftans with a stand-up collar, tricornes, camisoles, small-clothes [short breeches] and jackboots".[150]

In 1797 paul issued a ukase prohibiting certain items of clothing—round hats, top-boots, trousers and laced shoes—and making others—such as the tricorn, powdered queues, buckled shoes and breeches—mandatory.[151] Meanwhile, the wearing of square-toed shoes and gaiters was enforced.[140] Fops, says journalist "were forced to lock waistcoats and other ominous garments in their trunks until Paul's death".[134] Not just the French style, but any that was new and fashionable was banned. This included trousers, frockcoats, round hats, top-boots, laced shoes,[96] low collars, tails waistcoats and boots.[140] Scissors were taken to the tails off "revolutionary" frockcoats. This was a particular attack on the nobility, and, says Montefiori, and "nothing was so odious" for them.[96]

Paul dictated "the only lawfully permissible wear".[140] His judicial assaults on French fashions, among other things, have been described by Vivyan as "tyrannical caprices".[152] These clothes had been allowed during Catherine's reign. Turned down coat collars were cut off and waistcoats ripped off. The hats were confiscated[153] and their wearers interrogated at the nearest guardhouse.[72] His campaign against hats and cravats was probably an expression of his desire for discipline and conformity in civilian dress, similar to that he had imposed upon the army.[120] He also regulated citizens' deportment,[111] the size of their coaches and the number of horses that drew them according to the status of their owners.[120] Also concerned about the thickness of men's moustaches,[135] hair to be combed back from the forehead[55] the depth of women's curtsies and the angle at which hats were worn.[154] Toupées were banned, large curls in the hair and sideburns, as well as bright ribbons.[56] Paul saw round hats and laced shoes as the apparel of the faubourg mobs and the sans-culottes.[143] Polish historian Kazimierz Waliszewski notes that round hats and high cravats were banned[73] along with colourful scarves.[121] No excuses were accepted,[111] and severe punishments awaited those who for did so.[73]

To enforce his decrees Paul recreated the secret the police,[63] who among other duties proactively searched the streets for men in round hats; those they found had them torn from their heads and then burnt[155] (although they appear to have been acceptable if the wearer was in traditional dress).[111] Those with wide lapels had them forcibly cut off in the street.[155][note 17] By the end of 1796, it had become apparent, through constant police surveillance and the abundance of rules, that Paul himself was effectively the individual in the country who had legal liberties.[25] He placed the police above the law,[77] and they were zealous in their enforcement of Paul's edicts.[111] His view of the police service, suggests Ragsdale, was that they guarded the citizenry against "malevolent influences", which would, therefore, enforce happiness upon the people.[157]

The nobility—the dvorianstvo—was greatly influenced by French intellectual and cultural ideas, and Catherine generally encouraged this. However, on Paul's accession, in November 1796[158] this made them an immediate target of the new Emperor. Although he began by attacking their privileges, he eventually banned most liberal ideas.[159] Waltzes were banned as licentious,[160] except before him. Anyone dancing a waltz in his presence had to ensure that when they faced him their "every pose must imply the instinct of obeisance to the Emperor".

Portrait of Charles Whitworth, Ambassador to Imperial Russia

[132]

Literature deemed to be influenced by French thinkers suppressed, but plays banned for the same reason; "even in the more superficial areas such as fashion", comments Rey.[28] Homegrown literature was banned; for instance, although the Freemasons were a legitimate body[161]—indeed, they flourished under Paul[162]—their publications were proscribed.[161][163][note 18] Thirteen words banned in all, and in some cases Gallicisms were replaced with Prussianisms. In some cases, comments Cross, however, "the logic defies understanding", some words were removed but not replaced. This particular case, suggests Cross, indicates that Paul or his censors did not keep up with what they had banned, as this very word subsequently appeared in an Imperial decree of 1798.[146] Other words banned by Paul were otechevesto (fatherland), grazhdanin and obshchestvo.[121]

Although there was a degree of continuity from the previous reign, as Catherine had also proscribed cravats which were high enough to cover the chin.[151] Generally, though Paul's motive was as much that French fashions had been popular in her reign.[98] Paul's was effectively a reaction against his mother, and the reforms he brought in were intentionally directed at the aristocracy, whom Catherine had encouraged to imitate that of France at Versailles.[142] Fashion in directoire France was a reaction against the sombre, egalitarian clothes enjoined upon the populace by the Jacobin government. With the Thermidorian Reaction came a relaxation which saw a return to fancy clothes, especially colourful waistcoats and cravats so high they might cover the chin.[134][note 19]

Traffic was to drive sedately, even the troikas.[55] Balls and dances before the Imperial couple, commented Czartoryski, were events where "one risked losing his liberty", as numerous in-house spies were constantly reporting back to the Emperor or his wife anything that could be construed as a slight against them.[165]

The cultural transition occurred almost overnight. The Polish diplomat Adam Jerzy Czartoryski relates how "never was there any change of scene at a theatre so sudden and so complete as the change of affairs at the accession of Paul. In less than a day, costumes, manners, occupations, all were altered".[96] The biographer E. M. Almedingen comments that "less than a fortnight after the death of the Empress, a thick grey curtain fell upon the once gay 'Venice of the North'".[140] The diplomat Yury Golovkin described St Petersburg under Paul as a prison controlled form the Winter Palace where "before which one may not pass, even in the absence of the sovereign, without taking off one’s hat", and that one could not approach "without showing police passes seven times over".[139] Foreigners, although officially exempt from this treatment, usually received it as well since the police did not ask questions as to whom they were stopping.[111] The British Ambassador in St Petersburg, Sir Charles Whitworth, had his nephew—a dandy—staying with him; the nephew was also manhandled in this way.[166] Whitworth himself swiftly changed his headgear to avoid similar treatment.[66]

Foreign policy

Domestic affairs had primacy for most of the reign,[167] and until 1797 was the sole focus of Paul's activity.[168][note 20] Farquhar notes that Paul's "domestic tyranny coincided with a bizarre foreign policy".[129]

Early foreign policy showed signs of maturity, recalling expeditionary forces from Persia and releasing Polish prisoners.[118]

reversed Catherines's policy towards the southern region, by neglecting the areas she had confiscated from the Ottoman Empire and legislated against runaway serfs to Novorossija being treated as colonists rather than fugitives.[170]

for example, an arbitrary edict banning the trade of timber with Britain.[171] Banned items were banned from both entering and leaving Russia.[126] Paul's behaviour encouraged foreign observers to assume that Russia would sink back into an unenlightened state.[135]

He felt he had been insulted at not being invited to participate at the Congress of Rastatt in 1797—which in William Doyle's words was "redrawing the map of Germany without consulting him"—and France's seizure of Malta confirmed his anti-French policy.[172] French visitors were only allowed into the country on production of a passport issued under the Bourbons rather than the French revolutionary government,[173] thus, says Spector, "proving he would not be a source of revolutionary propaganda".[126] Paul welcomed French émigrés, and granted Louis XVI a pension and estate.[174]

There was also concern that his foreign policy was becoming erratic, and that his planned invasion of India was "dangerous and even foolish" for Russia to attempt to undertake,.[175] and his son, on hearing of the plan, declared that Paul had "declared war on common sense".[176] James Jenny, for example, suggests that it was not only Paul's rejection of Britain as an ally against Napoleon that made his nobility question his sanity but the speed with which he did so.[177][note 21] Ragsdale argues that among Paul's contemporaries, opinion varied, and ranged from his being a fool to a hero. None of them, however, says Ragsdale, deny that by 1800 Paul was either "the dupe or the willing creature".[180][note 22] However, Muriel Atkin argues that Paul's foreign policy was more pragmatic than his other's or, for that matter, that of his son.[181] The Russian scholar Boris Nolde argued that Paul was proactive in expanding Russian territories, yet was unable to base his policies on an analytical assessment of circumstances.[182]

Last years


St Michael's Palace, Saint Petersburg, where Paul was killed three weeks after moving in, as seen in 2010

The last year of the reign saw an increase in violent outbursts, and Paul seems to have ceased taking his ministers' advice;[183] Dr Rogerson wrote, "everyone about him is at a loss what to do. Even Kutaisof is becoming very anxious".[176] Paul's mental state seems to have declined in the last few months of his life: illustrated, suggests Ragsdale, by events such as the intention of invading India and a declaration to European heads of state that, in order to finally resolve the Napoleonic Wars, they should engage in personal combat. Paul initiated this process in the early months of 1801 by challenging the other rulers to individual duals. Paul declared that they should be "accompanied as equerries, arbiters, and heralds by their most enlightened ministers and most able generals, such as Messieurs Thugut, Pitt, [and] Bernstorff, himself proposing to be accompanied by Generals Pahlen and Kutuzov".[184]

Around this time Paul complained of a "buzzing" in his ears.[185] His family and favourites were not spared. Among the latter, Paul's barber—now a Count—suffered from his master's erratic behaviour, while Paul's son Constantine and his wife were only allowed to talk to each other in bed at night.[154]

In 1800 Whitworth reported to London that Paul was "literally not in his senses".[186] He told Grenville that while he had suspected it for some time, "since he has come to the throne, his disorder has gradually increased, and now manifests itself in such a manner as to fill everyone with the most obvious alarm".[187] By now Paul was increasingly under the influence of his doctor, James Wylie, who according to his biographer Mary McGrigor, being "in constant close contact with Paul ... came to realize the extent of the tsar’s mental instability".[188]

To Kluchevsky, Paul's policies went from being political to the pathological, increasingly governed by his mood swings rather than analytical consideration.[159] Paranoid that the Winter Palace was too accessible for assassins—and indeed, that these enemies were already ensconced within the castle—in 1798 ordered the building of a new fortress outside of the city. The Mikhailovsky Castle was surrounded by drawbridges, moats and earthworks, it also contained numerous secret underground passages for escape. This was completed in 1801, and that February Paul moved his family in.[189] By this time, Paul's behaviour had become even more unbalanced,[190] and Paul's doctor, John Rogerson, expressed himself worried about the Emperor's health, writing "the cloud is darkening, the incoherence of his movements increases and becomes more manifest from day to day".[154] Paul's wife, Maria Feodorovna, commented that "there is no one who does not daily remark on the disorder of his faculties".[191] His unpredictable behaviour and policies was a direct reason for the conspiracy that was to overthrow him in favour of his son,[192][note 23] and it may have been Paul's foreign policy that eventually convinced his son Alexander to authorise the deposition.[69]

Assassination

Paul had offended too many important vested interests, argues Esdaile,[194] and so with Alexander's permission, members of Paul's nobility plotted to remove him. the deposition took place on the evening of 23 March 1801; during a struggle, Paul was killed.[195] His death was later to be announced to have been due to apoplexy, which Grey suggests was plausible on account of the "insensate rages" he was known for.[196]

The aristocracy did not often speak or act as a single homogenous bloc,[197] and this prevented them from offering a united resistance.[198] His assassination, suggests Dixon, indicates that there was an unstated boundary over which a Tsar should not step except with the consent of his nobility.[94] Lieven identifies Paul's own claim, that no-one was noble in Russia except he to whom Paul was speaking, as being directly contributory to his downfall.[61] He argues that their motivation was both Paul's foreign policy and their fear of his attacks upon their class.[61]

Accession of Alexander I


Following Paul's assassination and the accession of his son as Alexander I, Paul's mandates were repealed. There were, comments Waliszewski, "no tears" at Paul's funeral and people "genuinely exulted" at the opportunity of round hats, cravats and cutaway coats.[199] In her memoirs, Countess Golovina described the reactions she saw, and how an officer of hussars charged his horse up and down the Quay, shouting "'Now we can do anything we like!' This was his idea of liberty!"[199]

There was much spontaneous[113] rejoicing, comment MacKenzie and Curran, from the nobility and bourgeoisie.[69] Paul appears to have been well-loved by the common people though, and Ragsdale points out that "allegedly more votary candles burned on the grave of Paul than any other Tsar".[200] An Austrian diplomat in St Petersburg at the time commented that "the general joy at the change of regime, most marked in the capital cities and among the military and service nobility, was ... the normal reaction to the death of every Russian ruler".[201]

Russian media almost immediately began promoting French, English, German and other European fashions of the day, and fashions changed weekly.[134] Alexander released thousands of those imprisoned or suffering Siberian exile due to Paul; he also reopened printing presses, restored foreign travel and cultural interaction, and reduced censorship.[112][note 24]

Later events

The words "waistcoat", "tailcoat" and "pantaloons" did not re-enter the Dictionary of the Russian Academy for decades. In his 1833 verse-novel, the poet Alexander Pushkin mentions the foreignness of certain words even then: "No pantalony frak, zhilet/Vsekh etikh slov na russkom net"[134] ("But pants, tailcoat, vest/There are no such words in Russian").[203] "[note 25]

Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, the wife of Nicholas II, told the latter—who was facing discontent in the State Duma in 1916—that in dealing with his enemies he should be more like "Peter the Great, John the Terrible, Emperor Paul—crush them under you".[205]

Personality


Signs of paranoia even as a young man, and particularly towards his mother on account of his suspicions. The biographer Henri Troyat tells of one occasion when, having found some small pieces of glass in his food, the young Paul ran screaming to Catherine's apartments and accused her to her face of trying to kill him.[206] The French correspondent Bérenger reported that Paul publicly—and repeatedly—question his father's death, and that the "young Prince gives evidence of sinister and dangerous inclinations".[206]

Paul's "odd obsessions", suggests Stone, led directly to Russia's involvement in the wars against revolutionary France, which had been initiated by Catherine but which he had ended.[148][note 26] McGrew argues that, although an absolutist, Paul's personality flaws made him take absolutism "to its logical, and therefore politically irrational, end".[24]

Early life and upbringing moulded his later reign: the mental strain of being aware of his uncertain patrilineacy, poor nursing and his father's murder all combined, suggest MacKenzie and Curran, made him "quick-tempered, impulsive, inconsistent, and generally high-strung".[207][note 27] A "nervous and suspicious eccentric. He was a stubborn, quick-tempered, unpredictable, absolutist, embittered man."[35] "Fear and suspicion", says Mazour, "made him erratic, totally unreasonable and unpredictable";[108] which Ragsdale ascribes to Paul's upbringing as making him feel "exceptionally important and exceptionally insecure".[209]

Opinions and historiography


Contemporary opinion

Ragsdale notes that while Paul is generally agreed to have been—"with varying degrees of explicitness"—mentally abnormal, there is, he suggests, "an undercurrent of suspicion" that this has been artificially influenced by the views of a small number of erudite contemporaries and the memoirs they have left. As a result, Ragsdale recommend that historiographers avoid them.[210] Ragsdale suggests that there are better contemporary sources than memoirs, suggesting the writings of Paul's intimates, such as his tutors, records of his public appearances and foreign diplomatic reports.[210] McGrew suggests that the diplomatic reports and briefings are invaluable sources.[45] There are, though, he suggests, sufficient complaints in contemporary sources to conclude that people hated what the Emperor was doing. He, in the knowledge that his policies were for the best, ignored them.[113]

Alexander himself wrote that[187]

No remonstrance is ever tolerated until the damage has already been done. In short, to speak plainly, the happiness of the State counts for nothing in the governing of affairs. There is only one absolute power, which does everything without rhyme or reason. It would be impossible to enumerate to you all the mad things that have been done ... My poor country is in an indescribable state: the farmer harassed, commerce obstructed, liberty and personal welfare reduced to nothing. That is the picture of Russia.[187]

His wife, Elizabeth Alexeievna also disliked Paul, describing him to her mother as—in their native German—widerwartig (disgusting), and that "said so himself. And his wish is generally fulfilled, he is feared and hated."[211] Paul's Grand Marshal, Fyodor Rostopchin, however, blamed Paul's advisors rather than the Emperor himself, later writing that he was "surrounded by such people that the most honest would deserve to be hanged without trial".[212][213] Rospotchin continued that paul was "destroying himself and contriving the means of making himself hated".[213] Paul's mental condition may have allowed his assassins to have persuaded themselves that they were acting in the interests of Russia rather themselves, suggests Kenney, if they saw the country's interests "threatened by an insane Tsar".[178]

Historiography

A petty tyrant, regular outbursts of intense rage, with the "salient feature" of his policy being to reverse his mother's policy where he could.[192][214] Atkin sums up Paul's problem in that he "had an unhappy talent for making even his wisest moves appear ill-considered".[215] Ragsdale suggests that Paul's problem with the army was that he overly focussed on superficial details rather than broad reorganisations, which contemporaries called the "Gatchina spirit": "parades and manoeuvres, uniforms and equipment, awards and punishments, in short with the minutiae of army life, and a corresponding neglect of weightier matters likely to prove decisive in war: morale, professional training [and] technical progress".[216] Paul's changes were nether revolutionary nor swiftly imposed, argues Waliszewski,[92] but his policies have been summarised as "instability and capriciousness".[217] While Wortman suggests that hos reign was an "embarrassment" for his successors.[218]

Ragsdale also argues that it is not impossible that certain of his intimates, such as Count Pahlen, manipulated Paul and events surrounding him so as to create the impression of bizarre behaviour as a way of subtly paving the way for the eventual coup, although he notes that there is little that can be done about that.[210] McGrew argues that "even if Paul was not the monster his detractors claimed he was, it is doubtful he deserves the approving tone which marks some recent writing", as even some of those who sympathised with him at the time criticised him.[219] Historian David R. Stone argues that Paul's edicts over round hats and cravats, for example, were "small matter that symbolized a larger shortcoming".[220] It is also likely that Paul believed that his policies, while hated by those they were directed at, were, in fact, improving people's happiness.[121] If nothing else, says Ragsdale, "there is no denying that the man was bizarre and that his conduct was radically imprudent".[221]

The historian John W. Strong says that Paul I has traditionally had "the dubious distinction of being known as the worst Tsar in the history of the Romanov dynasty", as well as there being a question about his sanity, although Strong concludes that such "generalisations ... are no longer satisfactory".[222] Anatole G. Mazour called Paul "one of the most colourful personalities" of his dynasty.[223] Russian historians have traditionally been dismissive of Paul on account of his eccentricities. I. A. Fedosov called him a "crazy despot [who] threatened to discredit the very idea of absolutism".[224][225] Dixon argues that Paul was no more absolutist than Catherine had been; for her too, "consensus had to be achieved on her terms".[226] Paul's reign was an object lesson, suggest Ryeff, and regardless of his good intentions, in the need for security and calm, rather than his brand of arbitrary government.[79] MacKenzie and Curran summarise the significance of Paul's campaign against his mother's legacy as demonstrating the dangers of autocracy in irresponsible hands, and the nobility realised that "autocratic power could destroy privileges as well as grant them".[69] A "frivolous petty tyrant", suggest McGrew,[25] while Duke argues that Paul's "anecdotal" brutality have caricatured him.[149] Grey has argued that while his domestic policy may have been rational in intention, it was anything but in its execution.[105] Professor Bernard Pares has called Paul "essentially a tyrant".[132] Historian Lindsey Hughes says that Paul's reign contrasted sharply with his "laid back" predecessor.

Poster for the 1934 film Lieutenant Kijé

[135]

McGrew, like Rostochpin at the time, argues that Paul was let down by his subordinates, who were "either venal or incompetent". He also blames personal qualities, however, describing his rages as tantrums that made him appear a "small-minded martinet who might order but could never lead".[25]

For Dixon, Paul's reign exemplifies the importance of the individual in history, in how easy it was for Paul to dismantle so much of Catherine's work in such a short space of time.[227] Conversely, for Marc Raeff, Paul's reign demonstrates the danger of failing to institutionalise the bureaucracy, as there was an inherent risk in it being at the mercy of a highly personalised style of governance such as his.[228] Paul's reign, argue MacKenzie and Curran, is both "controversial and disputed";[207] Cobenzl noted that, while the Emperor had ability and good intentions, his mercurial personality combined with inexperience made his approach ineffective.[25] Historian Walther Kirchner has described Paul's reforms as "arbitrary and useless",[143] while Rey notes their internal inconsistency.[28]

Other examples of Paul's eccentricities that survive have been accepted by historians as having a kernel of truth.[149][229] For example, notes Duke, that of Lieutenant Kijé, a fictional creation on a military recruitment list—the result of a clerk's misspelling—who Paul supposedly promoted, made a general, died and was demoted all without the Emperor ever seeing him; at the same time a living man was written out of existence [149][229][note 28] On being told of the non-existent Kijé's untimely death, Paul is supposed to have replied: "that it is a great pity, as he was such a good officer". This "factual life of [a] fictitious lieutenant" was first described by the lexicographer Vladimir Dal, who said he received it from his father.[231]

Positivity of Paul's reign


The revisionist process began with M. V. Kloökov 1913 history of Paul's reign, in which he argued that the memoirs and contemporary accounts were either biased or otherwise unreliable while emphasising that when attention focuses on Paul's administrative work he should be seen as an enlightened absolutist.[232][note 29] Muriel Atkin has argued that "if no one has yet claimed that Paul was an exceptionally wise and able man, some historians, at least, have shown that he was neither as foolish nor as mad as the partisans of Catherine and Alexander would have him believe. [181]

Catherine's reign had seen government spending rise dramatically, and government debt with it, with a concomitant hyperinflation and a decline in tax revenues. Her court may have been brilliant on the surface, argues McGrew, but[233]

Paul, ignoring brilliance, focussed on what he saw as wrong and how to correct it. His prescription was to reawaken a sense of social responsibility and respect for order. To achieve this it was not only necessary to have responsible people in charge, but it was also imperative to establish institutions, and relations among institutions, which would promote discipline and control.[233]

Kluchevsky believes that Paul had reforming instincts, as shown by his edicts against serfdom for example, but his ability to follow them stemmed from character traits generally and his antipathy towards Catherine specifically.[47] McGrew has also emphasised Paul's reforming inclinations, although, notes Esdaile, his thesis has not been universally accepted.[84] However, he believes "McGrew's conclusions do not seem unreasonable", and he could be the soul of tolerance, towards, for example, the Jews who did not suffer under his reign as they had done in previous.[84] In spite of the shortness of his reign, he was responsible for important, and often progressive, innovations in administration.[234] The historian Paul Dukes notes that there has been a degree of rehabilitation of Paul's reign in the late 20th century,[224] particularly among Soviet historians.[225] However, he suggests, Paul's policy "came less of the fact that he realised the existing order to be inequitable and inadequate than of the fact that he still bore antipathy to his mother, and still cherished wrath against her assistants".[47] Even, argues Kluchevsky, desisting from progressive policies if they seemed overly similar to his mother's.[86]

He also made the crown a major employer: the administration of his decrees required a drastic increase in personnel, and Paul paid well. McGrew notes that, while both Catherine and Paul were lavish with personal gifts to those that supported them, the latter spread his munificence more broadly, and "pour[ed] literally millions of roubles in salaries, pensions and land grants" to hundreds of government employees.[66] Whitworth commented that Paul's liberalism with money tempered popular dislike of his social policies, and the fact that he was able to continue with these policies while keeping the citizenry onside augered well for his future reign.[67]

Esdaile notes that much of what Paul attacked—laxity in tax collecting, slackness in the civil service for example—needed something urgently done, and Paul did. This was as well as simplifying some areas of local government and establishing schools of medicine. If the problem was one of discipline and efficiency, says Esdaile, "here is no doubt that, brusque as Paul’s approach was", with regard to the administration he made positive achievements, although he notes that these successes were intertwined with "a measure of the absurd".[84] McGrew suggests, for example, that Paul's proscription on the speed of the city's troikas can only have been a positive thing for St Petersburg's pedestrians.[55] He was also right to attempt to re-instil discipline into the Russian Army, which had slipped in the latter years of his mother's reign.[220] His centralising of the army's War College was also a progressive policy, suggests Keep.[235]

Although Keep argues it was paul's methods which he should be criticised for, rather than the intention, as the army had grown slack in the final years of Catherine's reign, with more officers than was required, and many of them drawing salaries without attending to their duty.[235] Likewise, Charles Esdaile also emphasises that, while Paul's treatment of the army's officers verged on the brutal, he was regarded with approval by the common soldier for his willingness to treat their officers without fear of favour, thus making the army a safer place for the ordinary trooper. This suggests, says Esdaile, that Paul had "genuine care" for their lot.[194] Paul, suggests Blum, although far less well known or liked than his mother, actually went further than she did in improving serf rights.[236] Similarly, Paul was not unpopular in the countryside, as landowners respected an Emperor who cracked down on corrupt local officialdom.[237]

McGrew emphasises that "much of what Paul intended and did ... had its praiseworthy side".[124] He restored the Governing Senate, which had fallen into disuse and was plagued by absenteeism, to a functioning court of appeal, and was sufficiently successful that it adjudicated 12,000 cases in the first year of his reign.[152]

The incidents of Paul's reign have to some extent created a mythology around his rule, argues Kohn Keep, noting that, for example, the tale of Paul promoting a sergeant purely in order that the latter could guard his sledge is clearly apocryphal as Paul's keenness on observing the niceties of military rank would not have allowed him to take such a course of action. Exaggerations such as these, Keep suggests, "illustrate the wealth of myth that for too long has impeded serious historical research" into the reign.[note 30] Along with the reigns of his mother and eldest son, Paul's has been described by Simon M. Dixon as "the sole key to an understanding of modern Russian history".[239]

These "despotic caprices", says scholar George Vernadsky have overcast and distracted from the original ideas he approached his reign with at the beginning.[240] His administration made the first serious effort to limit serfdom in Russia,[240] forbidding serfs to work more than three days on the same estate;[note 31] although in some places[62]—such as Ukraine,[242] where they only had to work two—this created more confusion than it solved,[62] and could have led to their workload being increased.[242] He may have been mentally unstable by this time, suggests Vernadsky;[240] and Grey notes that, while he seems to have intended their overall lot to be improved, "with typical inconsistency he also introduced several measures which added to their burdens, for example making it easier for merchants to purchase serfs for industry.[120] He also made it mandatory for every village to install a grain bin to store supplies against a harsh winter for the serfs.[243][note 32] Indeed, notes Spector, he was the first Tsar "for many generations" to legislate in favour of serfs, regardless of his intention in doing so, and became a blueprint for his successors: following paul's reign, argues Spector, "whereas all rulers before Paul aided in intensifying the bondage of the serfs, each one thereafter made serious efforts" to help them.[245] To this end, he forbade serfs to work the nobility's estates on Sundays, while also imposing a new tax on those estates.[28] His edit against serfdom was frequently disobeyed, but, says Blum they "proved to be the turning point" in the relations between serfs and their lords.[246] Although MacKenzie and Curran argue that this was less out of a desire for social reform and more a reaction against the privileges his mother had granted their owners.[59]

Mental illness debate


Paul wearing the Crown of the Grand Master of the Order of Malta

People have publicly speculated on Paul's mental health from the moment he died, notes Esdaile, and "many opinions can be found to the effect that he was, if not actually insane, then at the very least seriously disturbed", and, while agreeing that "this distance, it is, of course, impossible to offer a diagnosis of Paul’s problems with any certainty", inclines towards a severe form of an obsessive-compulsive disorder.[84] Insanity has a specific legal and medical meaning, notes Ragsdale, particularly in the criminal court.[80] Before such conditions were understood, it was suggested that epilepsy could have been the cause of any instability.[247] Thomas Riha argues that while Paul may have been mad, "there was a method in his madness", in that he reaffirmed the autocracy of the Imperial crown which was continued and strengthened by his successors.[248]

Professor Baron Michel Alexsandrovitch, de Taube called him an enigmatic ruler capable of the bizarre (referring to his claim to the Grand mastership of the Knights of Malta in 1798).[249] A reign characterised by "some remarkable spastic impulses".[89] Kuckov disputes that Paul was insane, arguing that Paul offended so may interest groups that it was an easy accusation to make.[232] Possibly obsessive-compulsive agrees Esdaile[250] although Stone points out that "diagnosing mental disorders in historical figures is a dangerous enterprise".[220] It was also to the advantage of Russian monarchists throughout the remainder of the century to emphasise Paul's mental instability as a means of justifying Alexander's accession, and thence the dynasty as a whole.[251] But it would account for aspects of his personality that can be identified today such as his rigidity, inhibitions, over-conscientiousness combined with an inability to relax.[80][note 33] MacKenzie and Curran agree he was probably psychotic.[207] Russian scholar Ivar Spector suggests that, as a result of his upbringing, Paul was "so physically and mentally broken that many of his contemporaries, as well as later historians, believed him to have been insane".[33]

Duke argues that Paul had undoubted psychological issues, and notes that this "made him mad according to some analysts". As a result, says Duke, "there has been some interesting work on his mental make up", for example, V. H. Chizh's 1907 study, as a result of which Chizh concluded that Paul was not sick mentally.[27] McGrew argues he was politically incompetent and tyrannous rather than insane.[253] Atkin suggests that Paul's invasion of India, which has been used as an example of his poor judgement, should be seen as nothing of the sort: "the issue of his mental state, however, will have to be decided on the basis of other evidence. The assumption that his Indian ambitions were mad tells us far more about the double standard" that has been applied.[254][note 34]

Although at least one contemporary, Baron Andrei Lvovich Nicolai, considered that it was not Paul that was mad, "but his government intolerable".[255] Ragsdale has argued that Paul's behaviour is suggestive of a number of mental conditions understood to the 21st century—paranoia,[256] obsessive-compulsive disorder,[257] hysterical neurosis,[258] and paranoid schizophrenia, for example[258]—but none definitively so. He also notes that according to the lights of the time, had he been truly insane, he would have been treated in the same relatively humane manner that his distant cousins and fellow sovereigns in Europe were treated, such as George III of Great Britain, Maria I of Portugal and Christian VII of Denmark.[259] The scholar Ole Feldbaek remarks that, ultimately, "In works on Paul I the authors have—sometimes implicitly, but mostly explicitly— expressed their opinion as to whether Paul was mentally unstable or not, and whether his actions were irrational or rational. Paul I may have been mentally unstable, and he may not. And he may have been exhibiting signs of mental instability during the last period of his reign only."[260]

Notes


  1. In this context, despot is not a pejorative term but one used by contemporaries, such as Voltaire, to describe the reign of Catherine—as an enlightened despot—among others. The scholar Kenneth L. Campbell explains that the label stemmed from "the support that they offered to education, religious toleration, freedom of the press, and other goals of the Enlightenment. But, in practice, these monarchs were tolerant only up to the point where their rule began to come under criticism. Freedom always came second to obedience in an absolute monarchy".[13]
  2. Paul was rumoured to have been a by-product of the liaison between Catherine and her chamberlain, Sergei Saltykov,[26] although David Duke says that he was "beyond all reasonable doubt" Peter's son.[27]
  3. Although Rey notes that he did much good for the local people also, for example building a hospital for the peasants and a school for their children,[28] as well as encouraging local industry.[29]
  4. Although conversely, says McGrew, this was because they did not realise that Paul had a vision of where he wanted Russia to be and how she could be got there, and that, fundamentally, in his view, he was the only man who could do it.[45] Important memoirs are those of Golovina, Golovkin, Charles Masson (Alexander's private secretary), poet and statesman Gavrila Derzhavin, Yekaterina Vorontsova-Dashkova (companion to Catherine II) and Sablukov. All except the latter are extremely critical of Paul; the diplomats, says McGrew generally "give a more balanced view".[46]
  5. Although Paul blamed his personal enemies for stirring the peasants up against him rather than Jacobin influences.[68]
  6. And although, says the historian Ian Grey, "he had inveighed constantly against her extravagance while she was alive ... he did not hesitate to order Duval, the Genevan who served as court jeweller, to make him a new crown, costing several million roubles".[74]
  7. For example, offers Kluchevsky, Paul expanded the gubernia system of provincial administration into Rissian-controlled Denmark—"system of provincial administration was, of course, a policy well calculated to facilitate and accelerate the process of moral-political absorption of Russia's alien, outlying races"—but at the same time, he abolished the gubernia system in Russian Poland and Sweden and restored their indigenous administration.[87]
  8. There were seven years of male rule between the death of Peter the Great in 1725 and that of Paul in 1801, and all except Peter III, who died of smallpox, were assassinated.[100]
  9. This law remained in force until the end of the regime in 1917.[105]
  10. The numbers arrested for precise crimes is unknown, but on ascending the throne, Alexander is known to have released around 12,000 people imprisoned in the previous reign.[115] The numbers contrast sharply with the number of police cases brought under Catherine: 862 in 35 years, compared to 721 in 408r and a half under her son, and increase of seven times.[116]
  11. Where he remained until 1799 when Paul restored him to favour and ordered him to lead the Russian forces against Napoleon in Italy.[122]
  12. It was published on 13 January [O.S. 24 January 1798] 1798.[55]
  13. The writer and German consul August von Kotzebue later wrote how when travelling through the St Petersburg, he would always be on the lookout for the Emperor in order to give him time to alight from his coach.[138]
  14. The baby in question was the future poet Alexander Pushkin.[96]
  15. Mass book burnings were carried out in 1793 and 1794 of the works of Nikolay Novikov; his print shop was confiscated, he served 15 years in Shlisselburg Fortress and was released by Paul.[90]
  16. Contemporaries were aware, as Ivleve puts it, of the "power and of a striking impression that a certain garment can make on an individual". She highlights the example of Lord Byron, who frequently, in his writings, links dress with weaponry.[147]
  17. Although Keep argues that reports such as these can be dismissed as "apocryphal".[156]
  18. Literary historian Anthony Cross has suggested that "the history of Russian literature in the age of Paul might seem to be the history of its censorship".[90]
  19. The cravat, particularly, says the art historian Pearl Binder, became "not merely a clue to a man's profession, but a guide to his social and political convictions".[164]
  20. Oxford scholar T. C. W. Blanning notes that "of all the great powers, Russia was the most strident in condemning the French Revolution; of all the great powers, Russia was the last European power to go to war against it".[169]
  21. To the extent that rumours circulated that British agents had had a hand in the conspiracy. One of Paul's statesmen, Viktor Kochubey wrote to a colleague, Semyon Vorontsov, saying "You will see that the English have bought powerful men among us".[177] The aristocracy, already afraid of the spread of French revolutionary ideas to Russia, disagreed vehemently with a policy of conciliation with France.[178] English agents may have fomented dissension.[179]
  22. Ragsdale notes, however, that at the time—the Soviet Union would not cease to exist until 1991—foreign researchers did not have access to the Soviet archives.[180]
  23. The scholar Dominic Lieven emphasises that Paul had also attacked the nobility in a far more materially-damaging way when he dissolved their provincial assemblies.[193]
  24. Although not concerning his father's death. At the time, it had been formally announced that Paul had died of a stroke, and this was the official line for the next century; indeed, it was not until 1901 that the full story of the regicide was published.[202]
  25. Ivleva notes that Pushkin also associated the waistcoat with French revolutionary ideals.[204]
  26. Specifically, argues Stone, his obsession with the island of Malta and its ancient order. When Napoleon captured the island in June 1798, Paul, says Stone, "took it as a personal affront".[148]
  27. One of Paul's tutors wrote of his charge that, in his view, "Paul has an intelligent mind in which there is a kind of machine that hangs by a mere thread; if the thread breaks, the machine begins to spin, and then farewell to reason and intelligence".[207] Years later, Ambassador Whitworth said something similar, that although Paul was "endowed with a more than common share of Wit and Penetration, so wanting in Solidity, and consequently so easily drawn aside by Trifles".[208]
  28. Later the topic of a film of the same name by Boris Gusman and with a score by Prokofiev, in 1934: a satire on bureaucracy.[230]
  29. McGrew believes that the temptation to view Paul sympathetically has obvious roots in his poor upbringing and parenting through to his assassination, make him sympathetic with the distance of centuries, "while the discovery that he had ideas, that he was by no means a nonentity, and that his programs related to broadly modernizing tendencies in Russian development" reinforce the attraction.[43]
  30. The tale was repeated, says Keep, by German scholar Alfred Vagts. Keep details the story as Vagt related it:
    The Emperor Paul, leaving his palace one day, ordered a sergeant on guard duty to board his sledge, saying "Climb in, lieutenant." The man protested, "Sire, I am but a sergeant." Paul replied: "Climb in, captain." Three days later the newly-commissioned officer, by now a lieutenant-colonel, caused the emperor some offence and found himself reduced to the ranks as suddenly as he had risen from them.[238]
  31. This was eventually codified into the 1832 law code, Svod Zakanov.[241]
  32. although, notes Blum, in those areas where Paul's edit was obeyed, it was the serfs themselves who had to contribute financially to the cost of the bins construction and the grain with which they were filled.[244]
  33. The psychologist Mary Spiegel has argued that this should not be exaggerated negatively. Rather, she suggests
    Most of us have obsessional traits and lead an obsessional way of life; we are preoccupied with clock time and with problems of order and orderliness in our paper subculture ... At their best, the operation of these values gets things done, particularly the routine ones, makes the world move more smoothly—so to speak, the trains run on time."[252]
  34. She notes, for example, that Napoleon harboured a similar ambition, yet in him, it is a sign of his breadth of magnificence rather than insanity.[254]

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