Elizabeth, Petrovna

, daughter of Peter the great, by the revolution of 1741, renewed in her person the line of that monarch on the throne of Russia. Elizabeth was born in 1709, and when arrived at years of maturity, was extremely admired for her great personal attractions. Her beauty, as well as her exalted rank, and large dowry, occasioned her several offers, none of which, however, took effect; and she died in celibacy. During the life of her father Peter I. a negotiation had commenced for her marriage with Lewis XV. but although not seriously adopted by the court of France, it was never relinquished until the daughter of Stanislaus, titular king of Poland, was publicly affianced to the young monarch. By the will of Catharine, Elizabeth was betrothed to Charles Augustus, bishop of Lubec, duke of Sleswick and Holstein, and brother to the king of Sweden; but he died before the completion of the ceremony. In the reign of Peter II. she was demanded by Charles margrave of Anspach in 1741, by the Persian tyrant Kouli Kan; and at the time of the revolution, the regent Ann endeavoured to force her to espouse prince Louis of Brunswick, for whom she entertained a settled aversion. From the period of her accession she renounced all' thoughts of the connubial state, and adopted her nephew Peter. Her dislike to marriage, however, certainly did not proceed from any rooted aversion to the other sex; for she would freely and frequently own to her confidants, that she was never happy but when she was in love; if we may dignify by that name a capricious passion ever changing its object. The same characteristic warmth of temper hurried her no less to the extremes of devotion: she was scrupulously exact in her annual confessions at Easter of the wanderings of her heart; in expressing the utmost contrition for her frequent transgressions; and in punctually adhering both in public and private to the minutest ceremonies and ordinances of the church. With respect to her disposition and turn of mind, she is generally styled the humane Elizabeth, as she made a vow upon her accession to inflict no capital punishments during her reign; and is reported to have shed tears upon the news of every | victory gained by her troops, from the reflection that it could not have been obtained without great bloodshed. But although no criminal was formally executed in public, yet the state prisons were filled with wretched sufferers, many of whom, unheard of and unknown, perished in clamp and unwholesome dungeons: the state inquisition, or secret committee appointed to judge persons suspected of high treason, had constant occupation during her reign many upon the slightest surmises were tortured in secret many underwent the knoot, and expired under the infliction. But the transaction which reflects the deepest disgrace upon her reign, was the public punishment of two ladies of fashion; the countesses Bestuchef and Lapookin: each received fifty strokes of the knoot in the open square of Petersburg: their tongues were cut out; and they were banished into Siberia. One of these ladies, Madame Lapookin, esteemed the handsomest woman in Russia, was accused of carrying on a secret correspondence with the French ambassador; but her real crime was, her having commented too freely on the amours of the empress. Even the bare recital of such an affecting scene, as that of a woman of great beauty and high rank publicly exposed and scourged by the common executioner, must excite the strongest emotions of horror; and forbid us to venerate the memory of a princess, who, with such little regard to her own sex, could issue those barbarous commands. But let us at the same time lament the inconsistency of human nature; and, in considering the character of Elizabeth, let us not deny that her heart, perhaps naturally benevolent, was eventually corrupted by power, and steeled with suspicion; and that although mercy might predominate whenever it did not interfere with her passions and prejudices; yet she by no means deserves the appellation of humane, the most noble attribute of a sovereign when it interposes to temper and mitigate the severity of justice. Elizabeth died in 1761, in the twenty-first year of her reign, and in the fifty-third year of her age; she expired in December (the 25th), the same month in which she was born, and in which she acceded to the throne. It is asserted on unquestionable authority, that it was impossible to obtain this tzarina’s consent for the execution of a felon who had even committed the most horrid species of premeditated murder, and that the master of the police used secretly to order the executioner to knoot to death those delinquents who were | found guilty of the most atrocious crimes. It is a pity that she did not reserve her humanity, which in this instance was cruelty to her people, for more respectable objects. By way of conclusion to the present article, it will not be unapt to add the following anecdote, especially as it must at the same time give pleasure to the reader. Although the sovereign of this empire is absolute in the most unlimited sense of the word; yet the prejudice of the Russians in regard to the necessity of torture (and a wise legislator will always respect popular prejudices, be they ever so absurd and unreasonable) was so deeply rooted by immemorial usage, that it required great circumspection in the present tzarina not to raise discontents by an immediate abolition of that inhuman practice. Accordingly, the cautious manner in which it was gradually suppressed, discovered no less judgment than benevolence. In 17C2, Catherine II. soon after her accession, took away the power of inflicting torture from the vayvodes, or inferior justices, by whom it had been shamefully abused. In 1767, a secret order was issued to the judges in the several provinces, that whenever they should think torture requisite to force a criminal to confession, they should draw up the general articles of the charge, and lay the case before the governor of the province for his consideration: and all the governors had received previous directions to determine the case according to the principles laid down in the third question of the tenth chapter of her majesty’s instructions for a code of laws; wherein torture is proved to be no less useless than cruel. This, therefore, was a tacit abolition of torture, which has been since formally and publicly annulled. The prohibition of this horrid species of judicature, throughout the vast dominions of the Russian empire, forms a memorable aera in the annals of humanity. 1


Coxe’s Travels in Russia. Univ. History.