Assassination of a Tsar: March 23, 1801
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It was night. All was quiet in the Michailov Palace in St. Petersburg. The members of the imperial family were in their beds, asleep—all except the grand prince, Aleksandr Pavlovitch Romanov. He would not sleep that night. Agitated and fretful, he paced his room, fully clothed, waiting. At last, he threw himself on his bed. The night seemed endless.
The reigning tsar and emperor of Russia, Pavel (Paul) I, had made the Mikhailov Palace into a sort of fortress. The short, balding, and ugly Pavel had had a difficult life. His mother, Katerina the Great, had deposed his father, Tsar Pyotr III, who then was killed under strange circumstances. Katerina reigned for the next 34 years— years during which her son, Pavel, thought he rightly should have been ruler.
Upon becoming tsar after Katerina’s death in 1796, Pavel proved that he was not an entirely bad ruler; indeed, many of his policies had been wise. Yet Pavel was insane, and his insanity led him into acts of cruelty and into a strange admiration for Napoleon Bonaparte. Pavel had made many enemies, powerful enemies – Russian nobles and leaders of the Russian army. To protect himself, he had raised towers and battlements around the Mikhailov Palace.
It is said that Tsar Pavel feared his own sons, the Grand Prince Aleksandr and his brothers, and was contemplating imprisoning them. At least, this is what Pavel’s enemies may have told Aleksandr. Such a tale, along with Pavel’s increasing insanity, were perhaps what convinced the grand prince to agree to a plot that the tsar’s foes had suggested to him—the deposition of his father. (more…)