Peter I

Early Life

Peter was the youngest child of Czar Alexis, by Alexis's second wife, Natalya Naryshkin. From Alexis's first marriage (with Maria Miloslavsky) were born Feodor III, Sophia Alekseyevna, and the semi-imbecile Ivan. On Feodor III's death (1682), a struggle broke out for the succession between the Naryshkin and Miloslavsky factions. The Naryshkins at first succeeded in setting Ivan aside in favor of 10-year-old Peter. Shortly afterward, however, the Miloslavsky party incited the streltsi (semimilitary formations in Moscow) to rebellion. In the bloody disorder that followed, Peter witnessed the murders of many of his supporters. As a result of the rebellion Ivan, as Ivan V, was made (1682) joint czar with Peter, under the regency of Sophia Alekseyevna.

A virtual exile, Peter spent most of his childhood in a suburb of Moscow, surrounded by playmates drawn both from the nobility and from the roughest social elements. His talent for leadership soon became apparent when he organized military games that became regular maneuvers in siegecraft. In addition, Peter began to experiment with shipbuilding on Lake Pereyaslavl (now Lake Pleshcheyevo). Peter learned the rudiments of Western military science from the European soldiers and adventurers who lived in a foreign settlement near Moscow. His most influential foreign friends, Patrick Gordon of Scotland, François Lefort of Geneva, and Franz Timmermann of Holland, came from this colony. In 1689, Sophia Alekseyevna attempted a coup against Peter; this time, however, aided by the loyal part of the streltsi, he overthrew the regent. For several years, until Peter assumed personal rule, the Naryshkins ran the government. Ivan V, whose death in 1696 left Peter sole czar, took no part in the government.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Russian, Soviet, and CIS History: Biographies