Peter the Great (16721725)

Peter the Great, emperor of Russia, son of the Czar Alexei, born at Moscow; succeeded his half-brother Feodor in 1682, but was forced for a time to share the throne with his half-sister Sophia, acting as regent for her brother Ivan; conscious of his imperfect education, he chose a Genoese named Lefort as his preceptor, and after some years' careful training he deposed Sophia, and entered Moscow as sole ruler in 1689; with the help of Lefort and Patrick Gordon, a Scotsman, he proceeded to raise and discipline an army on the European model, and determined also to construct a navy; to reach the sea he made war on the Turks, and possessed himself of the port of Azov, at the mouth of the Don; hither he invited skilled artificers from Austria, Venice, Prussia, and Holland, and a navy was built; from 1697 to 1698 he visited the countries on the Baltic and England, acquiring vast stores of information, working as a shipwright in the Dutch yards, and finally taking back with him an army of mechanics; on his return he vigorously reformed the Russian press, schools, and church, introduced European manners and literature, and encouraged foreign trade; desirous now of an opening on the Baltic, he began in 1700 a long contest with Sweden, marked first by many defeats, notably that of Narva, then the seizure of Ingria, and founding of the new capital St. Petersburg 1703, the victory of Pultowa 1712, seizure of the Baltic provinces and part of Finland 1713, and finally by the Peace of 1721, which ceded the conquered territories to Russia; in 1711 the Turks had recovered Azov; in 1722 war with Persia secured him three Caspian provinces; Peter pursued a vigorous and enlightened policy for the good of Russia, but his disposition was often cruel; his son Alexei was put to death for opposing his reforms, and on his own death he was succeeded by the Empress Catherine I., the daughter of a peasant, who had been his mistress, and whom he had married in 1712 (16721725).

Definition taken from The Nuttall Encyclopædia, edited by the Reverend James Wood (1907)

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