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Tsar of Russia, 1801-1825
Aleksandr Pavlovich was born in St. Petersburg on December 23, 1777, the first child of Grand Duke Pavel Petrovich (later Paul I) and Grand Duchess Maria Fyodorovna, and grandson of Catherine II (the Great). He was educated by a liberal and modern teacher from Switzerland by the name of Frédéric César de La Harpe, and received his military training from General Soltikov.
Alexander ascended to the throne of Russia upon the murder of his father, on March 12, 1801, and was crowned in the Dormition Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin on September 15. Almost immediately upon taking the throne Alexander began reversing many of his father's policies, especially in the area of foreign relations. He denounced the League of Neutrals, made peace with England, and opened negotiations with Prussia.
War with France
In 1805, Alexander joined Great Britain and Austria in a coalition against the imperialist designs of Emperor Napoleon of France. On December 2, the combined armies of Russia and Austria were defeated at Austerlitz, and in 1806 Napoleon completed his conquest of the Prussians. A bloody war followed in Poland in 1807 between the French and Russians, resulting in massive massacres on both sides. Tiring of the carnage, Napoleon and Alexander met on a raft in the Niemen River on June 25, 1807, and signed the Treaty of Tilsit. Alexander agreed to join Napoleon's Continental Blockade against Great Britain, and in a secret addition to the treaty, Europe was divided into an eastern (Russian) and a western (French) part.
War with Sweden
In order to gain security for his northern border, Alexander decided he needed to wrest Finland away from Sweden. To that end Russian troops crossed the border into Finland in early 1808. Finland became a part of Russia as a Grand Duchy, with Alexander as Grand Duke, upon signing of theTreaty of Fredrikshamn on September 17, 1809.
Second War with France
Russia had an increasingly difficult time accepting the Continental Blockade and eventually began trading with the British again. By 1812 all hope of preserving the Russian-French alliance was lost, and on June 24 Napoleon's army crossed into Russia. The greatest engagement of the war, as well as one of the bloodiest battles of the nineteenth century, was fought on September 7, at Borodino, on the road to Moscow. The battle ultimately ended in a draw, but not before some 44,000 Russians and 33,000 French and allies had lost their lives. Napoleon's troops entered Moscow on September 14, while the city was flamed by the fleeing Russians themselves.
Alexander was not, however, prepared to surrender to Napoleon. His armies fought hard, eventually regained Moscow, and forced Napoleon's army into retreat. The French army that left Moscow was still a very formidable force, but the retreat, through the freezing Russian winter and constantly harassed by the Russians, forced it to its knees. Alexander's army, joined by the armies of Austria and Prussia, chased Napoleon all the way to Paris. Alexander himself led the Russian army into Paris on March 31, 1814. After the defeat of Napoleon, Alexander protected France from Prussian vindictive demands and became a driving force behind the signing of the Holy Alliance of 1815 between the Great Powers of Europe.
Other Military Campaigns
Russia gained control of Georgia and parts of Transcaucasia as a result of the war against Persia, 1804-1813, and Bessarabia was annexed as a result of a war against Turkey, 1806-1812.
Other Aspects of His Reign
As Tsar, Alexander suppressed the secret police, lifted the ban on foreign travel and books, made attempts to improve the position of the serfs, and began to reform the backward educational system.
From about 1818 on, Alexander was preoccupied by a vague, mystical Christianity, which contributed to his increasing conservatism. The final years of Alexander's reign were despotic and Alexander drew back, not taking too great a part in the ruling of his massive empire. He died in Taganrog on December 1, 1825, and was buried in the Cathedral of the St. Peter and St. Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg. He was succeeded by his brother, Nicholas I.
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This page was last updated on June 14, 2017.