Tsar Paul I. – Son of Peter III, Paul was convinced that his father’s death was caused by Catherine. Therefore he saw in Catherine the usurper of a throne that should have belonged to him. Like his father, Paolo had a great passion for military uniforms, plumes and parades. He was gross and excitable, at other times darkly depressed and dreamy; reactionary by instinct, he deeply dissented from Catherine’s ideologies; personal facts exacerbated the dissent: for example, Caterina had taken the task of educating her two sons of Paolo, Alessandro and Costantino; the father had had to yield. This constant dependence on Catherine’s will had perhaps contributed to exasperating Paul’s character in his relations with other people; suspicious, irritable, vindictive,
When Catherine died on November 6, 1796 (an attempt she made to make Paul abdicate from the throne in favor of her son Alexander had failed), Paolo became Tsar. The autocratic Empress Catherine, open to new ideas, always willing to elaborate projects and reforms, never restricted in her political horizons and often courageous in her initiatives, had had to leave the throne to an emperor who introduced a mean and vindictive mentality into the autocracy, that in the “subjects” he saw as many potential rebels to keep good with the constant threat of punishment. Another time a new era had begun in the history of Russia.
In the army Paul introduced ridiculous uniforms and ridiculous parade steps; in all fields he endeavored to abolish what had been done under Catherine; an increasingly servile and absurd etiquette was introduced at court; cruel punishments followed one another for insignificant transgressions or for supposed transgressions; the introduction of books into Russia was banned; whoever seemed the favorite today was deported tomorrow. The repressions themselves lacked a logic, a continuous line.
The foreign policy of Paul I. – The brief reign of Tsar Paul was, in foreign policy, marked above all by his attitude towards France and Napoleon. As early as 1792, his mother, Catherine II, had assumed an attitude of clear hostility towards revolutionary France, hostility not denied even afterwards. Except that in the conception of the empress, who always remained obstinately tied to the two dreams of her life, the conquest of Poland and that of the Turkish empire, the struggle against France was to serve only as a means to concentrate the activities of the Austria and Prussia, and then also to absorb the forces of the English government, so as to leave Russia a free hand both in the Polish plain (the second and third partition of Poland take place – it should be remembered – precisely in this period) and in the Moldovan-Wallachian plain. As monarchical France had once excited Sweden and Turkey against Peter the Great’s Russia, so now Catherine II’s Russia sought to place the powers of central and continental Europe on France: the great empress sought to exploit a favorable general situation. to carry out their particular political agenda. Therefore, Russian effective participation in the coalition wars up to 1795 had been nil. so now Catherine II’s Russia was trying to place the powers of central and continental Europe on France: the great empress was trying to exploit a favorable general situation to carry out her own particular political program. Therefore, Russian effective participation in the coalition wars up to 1795 had been nil. so now Catherine II’s Russia was trying to place the powers of central and continental Europe on France: the great empress was trying to exploit a favorable general situation to carry out her own particular political program. Therefore, Russian effective participation in the coalition wars up to 1795 had been nil.
And even in the first three years of Tsar Paul’s reign, the situation did not change: but this time not for a well-calculated plan, whereby inaction against France instead meant decisive action against the Turks. More simply, Russia remained inert. Only when the foreign policy of the Directory clearly assumed offensive purposes, towards Russia itself (Sieyès project of 1798, to reconstitute Poland under the Hohenzollerns, and to push Prussia towards the east), and when the occupation of Malta by the French and Napoleon Bonaparte’s expedition to Egypt made clear the danger that Russian interests ran in the East itself, only then did Paul I decide to actually wage war, to participate in the coalition of 1799, with England, Austria, the kingdom of Naples and Turkey itself. But what Paul I lacked was precisely the political sense of his mother Catherine, the ability to exploit the general European situation to achieve the specific ends of Russia, the shrewdness of the diplomatic game: hence the disappointments that he had to suffer and the abrupt reversal of his policy in the same year 1799. In fact, he too aimed to take advantage of the moment to increase Russian power, always of course towards the south; on the contrary, in addition to the Turkish empire itself, he planned a more side increase of influence in the Mediterranean basin, dreaming of becoming master of Malta, of whose order he had been appointed protector in 1797 and grand master in 1798 (hence the indignation of Paul I when he learned that the French had taken possession of the island, in 1798). Hence the active part taken by the Russians in the struggle in the Mediterranean, with the occupation of Corfu and the Ionian islands (1799) and with the aid given to the king of Naples. Except that what Catherine had always avoided, Paul did not avoid: that is, he committed himself fully to the allies and his maximum effort was made, militarily, in upper Italy and Switzerland, where if at first the Russian army commanded by Suvorov he obtained brilliant successes, in union with the Austrian one (victories of the Adda, Trebbia and Novi), later suffered, between the Gotthard and Zurich, a reversal such as to be forced to abandon the enterprise. No less disastrous was the final outcome of the expedition carried out, with Anglo-Russian troops, to Holland (battle of Bergen). These facts and the discontent against the Austrian government, accused of leaving the Russians alone in Switzerland, they induced Paul I to leave the coalition. Shortly thereafter, the irritation against England, which had taken possession of Malta, and conversely the skilled diplomacy of Napoleon, who managed to capture the soul of the Tsar, and to captivate him with seductive offers, lead to the breakdown of Anglo-Russian relations, the formation of a new Nordic league against England (Russia, Prussia, Sweden and Denmark, December 1800) and to the Franco-Russian rapprochement. Then came the conspiracy against the Tsar and his death (the peace was, however, concluded only on 11 October 1802).
Killed Paul I in the night from 11 to 12 March 1801 by a group of officers who had organized a plot, his son Alexander succeeded him to the throne.