Monday, August 30, 2010

August 30, 1689 – Tsarina Sophia Assassinates Young Peter

The Tsardom of Russia stood as a massive Eurasian power first organized during the reign of the Khans. Ivan the Terrible had transformed the tributary of the falling Mongolian empire into a new kingdom for the Rus with his coronation in 1547. Since that time, Russia continued to expand in all directions, stretching west through Siberia to the Pacific Coast. The latest of these gains had been made by moving into the Amur Valley in Manchuria, causing conflict with the Chinese to the south.

Conflict bubbled in the Russian nobility as well. In 1676, Tsar Alexis had died, leaving the ill Feodor III as tsar until his own death in shortly thereafter in 1682. Ivan V, the next son in line for the throne, was also ill both in mind and body. Seeing problems of continual poor rule, the nobles in their Duma put forth as tsar ten-year-old Peter, a son from Alexis' second marriage. Though ratified by the people, Sophia Alekseyevna, a daughter of Alexis, led a coup by the Streltsy, the elites of the military. Through murder and intrigue, she placed herself as regent and the young Ivan and Peter as co-tsars.

Sophia ruled the country well, carrying out successful campaigns against Turkey, signing an eternal peace agreement with Poland, and working with China on peace agreements in the east. In 1689, however, Peter had come of age, and in the summer he began his plans to take power. She hoped to use the Streltsy to overthrow Peter, but many of them had deserted her camp and taken up with the young prince as he fortified himself in the Troitsky monastery. She invited Peter to join her at the Kremlin, but he refused and demanded execution and exile of her highest advisers.

It did not seem that she could win a civil war, and Peter was remaining resolute against her intrigue, so Sophia decided on one of politics' oldest tactics: assassination. Stalling for time, she and Peter debated through couriers for weeks until finally she was able to coax his guard weak enough for an assassin to strike. Peter was stabbed with poison blades and, though the assassin was quickly killed by his guards, died after a week of fever. Without their leader, the wayward Streltsy deserted again, and a few policing battles secured power for Sophia.

She proclaimed herself tsarina, co-ruler of Russia with Ivan V, who was weakening by the year and died in 1696. Ruling alone, Sophia worked to keep the Russian army politically strong against the nobles, with whom she had several squabbles as she delivered rights to peasants. Infighting kept Sophia busy maintaining her control over the vast tsardom.

As the Great Northern War (1700-1721) broke out, Sophia would see her power come to an end. Charles XII of Sweden had swept through Denmark and Poland and even liberated Ukraine. She brought the full might of her armies down on the Swede, but the technologically superior Scandinavians and their allies outmatched any number of Russian soldiers. As Charles approached Moscow, the nobles would finally overthrow Sophia, who died shortly thereafter in a convent. Charles' terms were hard but fair to the nobles, and Russia found itself formed up as part of the growing Swedish Empire.

With their massive force, the Swedes came to dominate Europe with their allies in Prussia, even overthrowing the growing power of the British in the War of Austrian Succession and, more importantly, the Seven Years' War. Seizing many of Britain's colonies, the Swedish Empire would find itself overstretched by the 1770s and unable to halt the American Revolution against the Swedish governors installed. With its absolute monarchy weakened, Sweden would find itself caught up in the surge of revolutions in Europe over the 1790s following the French. Sweden would hold to its empire with concessions made to the Riksdag parliament, but counter-revolutionary forces would tear the country apart.

In the Napoleonic Wars, the French defeated the Swedes and broke up their empire. For the first time in a century, the Russians were free and welcomed Napoleon as a great liberator. He established a puppet government among the boyar nobles and helped modernize Russia as he did with the German and Italian states. Nationalism would follow the Napoleonic era, and Russia would be instrumental in Germany's defeat in World War I (1914-1917), despite an attempted communist coup against the king and Duma. In World War II, Germany would give Russia its own defeat as the government crumbled in the face of Hitler's overwhelming army.

Fortunately, and thanks largely to the American A-bomb, Hitler would be defeated in 1947. Russia, like China and other countries demolished in the surge of the Third Reich, would undergo a series of civil wars until the US-sponsored Russian Republic came to power in the mid-1970s. Russia joined the growing politico-economic unit known as the European Union in 2010 in hopes of building up its lagging trade and industry.

In reality, Peter was not assassinated by Sophia. His political power grew, and he overthrew Sophia, sending her to a convent and putting down the Streltsy Uprising to reinstate her in 1698. Forceful and violent, Peter was greatly learned and worked to modernize Russia through shipbuilding, military, and science. His improvements of soldiers and tactics enabled Russia to defeat Sweden in the Great Northern War and transform the tsardom into an empire. Over the next centuries, Russia would hold major influence over Europe and the world in the form of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union, which spawned from uprisings against antiquated law always in need of updating.

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