Peter II Alexeyevich (23 October [O.S. 12 October] 1715 – 30 January [O.S. 19 January] 1730) reigned as Emperor of Russia from 1727 until his death. He was the only son of Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich (son of Peter I of Russia by his first consort Eudoxia Lopukhina) and of Princess Charlotte of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel.
Peter was born in Saint Petersburg on 23 October [O.S. 12 October] 1715. His mother died when he was only ten days old. His father, Prince Alexis, was accused of treason by Peter the Great, and in 1718 Alexis died in prison. Peter the Great gave his grandson over to his sister, Grand Duchess Natalia – he did not care about the upbringing and education of young Peter II, because he reminded him of Alexis. From his childhood the orphan grand duke was kept in the strictest seclusion. His earliest governesses were the wives of a tailor and a vintner from the Dutch settlement; a sailor called Norman taught him the rudiments of navigation; and, when he grew older, he was placed under the care of a Hungarian noble, Janos (Ivan) Zeikin (Zékány), who seems to have been a conscientious teacher.
After the death of Peter the Great in 1725, Aleksandr Danilovich Menshikov replaced the boy’s teachers with Vice-Chancellor, Count Ostermann. The program of education which Ostermann compiled included history, geography, mathematics and foreign languages. The education of the future Emperor was rather shallow, and left much to be desired. Peter himself did not display much interest in science. His favorite occupations were hunting and feasting.
During the reign of Peter the Great’s successor, his second wife Catherine I, Peter was quite ignored; but just before her death in 1727 it became clear to those in power that the grandson of Peter the Great could not be kept out of his inheritance much longer. The majority of the nation and three-quarters of the nobility were on his side, while his uncle, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, through the imperial ambassador at Saint Petersburg, persistently urged his claims. Through the efforts of Prince Menshikov, Peter II was named successor to Catherine I. The Empress also gave her consent to the betrothal of Peter II and Menshikov’s daughter Maria.
After Catherine’s death and the proclamation of Peter II as emperor, Menshikov took the young autocrat into his own house on Vasilievsky Island and had full control over all of his actions. For a few months in the summer of 1727, “Not even Peter the Great was so feared or so obeyed” according to the Saxon ambassador. Menshikov became arrogant and domineering. He issued orders to the Emperor himself and then removed a silver plate that Peter had just given as a gift to his sister Natalya. To which the Emperor replied, “We shall see who is emperor, you or I.” Soon, however, Menshikov became sick, and his opponents took advantage of his illness. Under the influence of Ostermann and the Dolgorukovs, Peter – long sick of Menshikov’s wardship – stripped him of his rank and exiled him to Siberia. He also announced the dissolution of his engagement with Menshikov’s daughter.
Peter tightened serfdom by banning serfs from volunteering for military service and thus escaping serfdom.
The senate, the privy council and the guards took the oath of allegiance forthwith. At this time, German mathematician Christian Goldbach was appointed tutor to the young Peter II to take over for the one appointed by Menshikov.
Peter II was quick-witted, but an apparently stubborn and a wayward boy, much like his grandfather. Despite these similarities, the emperor had no desire to learn to rule, unlike Peter the Great. His young age meant that he could not adequately manage public affairs, and he almost never appeared at the Supreme Privy Council. This led to frustration among his subjects and the royal administration – officials did not dare to assume responsibility for important decisions. The Russian fleet was abandoned, but Peter II showed no interest in the matter.
With the fall of Menshikov and related court intrigues, the Emperor’s main favorites became Prince Aleksey Dolgorukov and his son Ivan, who maintained great influence over his decisions. According to contemporaries, Ivan Dolgorukov lived a reckless and profligate lifestyle, leading Peter II to spend much time feasting, playing cards and enjoying the company of women. He soon became addicted to alcohol.
An important event in the life of Peter II was his coronation. The event took place in Moscow on January 9, 1728, with the Emperor and a huge entourage. Still, he was disengaged from the affairs of state. Foreign witnesses proclaimed that “All of Russia is in terrible disorder … money is not paid to anyone. God knows what will happen with finances. Everyone steals, as much as he can.” Moving the court and several other institutions from St. Petersburg back to Moscow was painful for the new capital, as well as the nobility forced to move with it, as Peter the Great had put much effort into developing St. Petersburg into a large and lively city at the time.
Peter II returned to St. Petersburg from time to time, but continued an aimless life full of entertainment and distraction. He gradually fell under the ultimate influence of the Dolgorukovs – Peter II became smitten with the 18-year-old beauty Ekaterina Alekseyevna Dolgorukova. The family schemed to tie themselves to the imperial bloodline, and persuaded Peter to marry their relative, Ekaterina Dolgorukova. However, it soon became clear that the young monarch had no interest in his bride, perhaps influenced by his aunt Elizabeth Petrovna, who did not like Ekaterina. The wedding went forward regardless, set to take place on January 19, 1730.
“Peter II has not reached the age when a person’s personality has already shaped,” Russian historian Nikolay Kostomarov wrote. “While contemporaries praised his natural intelligence and good heart, they only hoped for that good to happen in the future. However, his behavior did not give chances to hope that he would be a good ruler. He hated learning and thinking about national affairs. He was totally engrossed in amusements, and was kept under someone else’s influence.”
In late December of 1729, Peter II had fallen dangerously ill. His condition deteriorated sharply after the frosty Epiphany Day in January 1730, when he participated in a feast. He was then rushed into the palace, standing at the back of his sleigh. The next day, doctors diagnosed him with smallpox. The Dolgorukovs attempted to get the emperor to sign testament naming Ekaterina as his heir, but they were not allowed into the dying emperor’s quarters: Peter II was already unconscious. In his delirium, he ordered horses so that he could go see his recently deceased sister Natalie. A few minutes later, he died.
Emperor Peter II died as dawn broke on January 30, 1730 – the day he planned to marry Ekaterina Dolgorukova.
He is buried in the Kremlin and was the only post-Petrine Russian monarch given that honor. In fact, with Ivan VI (who was murdered and buried in the fortress of Shlisselburg), he is the only post-Petrine monarch not buried in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg.
With Peter’s death, the direct male line of the Romanov Dynasty ended. He was succeeded by Anna Ivanovna, daughter of Peter the Great’s half-brother and co-ruler, Ivan V.