December 26, 1777 – Alexander I:
“Liberty should be confined within just limits. And the limits of liberty are the principles of order.”
He was emperor of Russia from 1801 to 1825, was born in St. Petersburg, where he was raised by his grandmother, Catherine the Great. His father was Grand Duke Paul Petrovich, later Tsar Paul I, Alexander succeeded to the throne after his father was murdered. He ruled Russia during the chaotic period of the Napoleonic Wars.
He was the first Russian King of Poland (1815 to 1825) and also the first Russian Grand Duke of Finland and Lithuania. 24-year-old Alexander ascended to the Russian throne after the assassination of his father, Tsar Paul I. For his indirect involvement in the plot to kill his father, Alexander suffered from guilt the rest of his life.
As prince and during the early years of his reign, Alexander held a liberal Parisian point of view, but he continued Russia’s absolutist policies. In the first years of his reign, he initiated some minor social reforms and major, liberal educational reforms, such as building more universities. Alexander appointed Mikhail Speransky, the son of a village priest, as one of his closest advisors. He abolished The Collegia, the government departments in Imperial Russia, established in 1717 by Peter the Great, and replaced it with the State Council, while plans made to set up a parliament and sign a constitution.
He changed Russia’s relationship to France four times between 1804 and 1812, from neutral to opposition to alliance. In 1805 he joined Britain in the War of the Third Coalition against Napoleon Bonaparte, but after suffering massive defeats in battles, he switched sides and formed an alliance with Napoleon and joined Napoleon’s Continental System, designed to paralyze Great Britain through the destruction of British commerce. He fought a small-scale naval war against Britain between 1807 and 1812 as well as a short war against Sweden (1808–09) after Sweden’s refusal to join the Continental System.
Alexander and Napoleon were at odds, especially over Poland, and the alliance collapsed by 1810. Alexander’s greatest triumph came in 1812 when Napoleon’s invasion of Russia proved to be a catastrophic disaster for the French. As part of the winning coalition against Napoleon, he gained territory in Finland and Poland. He formed the Holy Alliance, a coalition linking the monarchies of Austria, Prussia and Russia, to suppress revolutionary movements in Europe which he saw as immoral threats to legitimate Christian monarchs. He also helped Austria in suppressing all national and liberal movements.
During the second half of his reign, Alexander became increasingly arbitrary, reactionary, and fearful of plots against him, and he ended many of the reforms he made earlier. He purged schools of foreign teachers; education became more religiously driven as well as politically conservative.
When Alexander was 15-years-old, he married 14-year-old Princess Louise of Baden, who took the name Elizabeth Alexeievna. His grandmother Catherine T. Great arranged his marriage to the young princess. Until his grandmother’s death, he was constantly walking the line of allegiance between his grandmother and his father. His tutor Nikolai Saltykov helped him navigate the political landscape, earning the ire of his grandmother and dread in dealing with his father.
Catherine had the Alexander Palace built for the couple. Living at the palace put pressure on him to perform as a husband.
Rumors of Alexander’s homosexuality began soon after his coronation in 1801. His companion and aide was Prince Peter Volkonsky, who served as his Chief of Staff and Imperial Minister, going on to become one of the most decorated officers in the Russian army. Volkonsky was partial to his fellow officers for relaxation and enjoyment. Alexander was so smitten that he once tearfully proposed that he and Volkonsky retire together to a villa on the Black Sea. It should be mentioned that Volkonsky had also participated in the plot to remove Tsar Paul I from the throne
During the early part of his rule, Alexander had relied on four of his young male companions for political guidance and support. Whatever Alexander reaped from his relationship with those four young men, it was definitely not astute political advice.
Forced to sign the humiliating Treaty of Tilsit in 1807, which, among other things, brought the Holy Roman Empire to an end, Alexander made a comeback in 1812 by defeating the French (cue gay Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky‘s 1812 Overture while dusting off your copy of Leo Tolstoy‘s War And Peace. For a brief time Alexander became a hero across Europe.
After the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Alexander’s mental state deteriorated, and he turned to religious mysticism. He grew increasingly suspicious of those around him, more withdrawn, more religious, and more passive.
In the autumn of 1825 the Emperor undertook a voyage to the south of Russia, where he caught Typhus, an infectious disease with symptoms that include fever, headache, and a rash within a week after exposure. The disease is spread by body lice.
He died in December 1825. His two brothers disputed who would become tsar; each wanted the other to do so. Alexander’s wife died as the Emperor’s body was transported to Saint Petersburg for the funeral. You can visit him at the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg.
There have been many rumors and legends that claim that he did not die but rather became a Siberian hermit named Feodor Kuzmich, and that had hoped to establish a new Christian order in Europe, but he ended his reign as a recluse.
Napoleon said of Alexander I:
“He was the slyest and handsomest of all the Greeks!”
In that era of Napoleon’s cunning comment, “Greek” meant “homosexual male”.