Peter III of Russia



Peter was born in Kiel. His parents were Karl Friedrich, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp (nephew of Charles XII of Sweden) and Anna Petrovna, the daughter of Emperor Peter the Great of Russia and his second wife, Catherine I of Russia. His mother died at his birth. In 1739, Peter's father died, and he became Duke of Holstein-Gottorp as Karl Peter Ulrich. He could thus be considered the heir to both thrones (Russia and Sweden).

When Anna's sister Elizabeth became Empress of Russia she brought Peter from Germany to Russia and proclaimed him her heir in the autumn of 1742. Previously in 1742 the 14-year-old Peter was proclaimed King of Finland during the Russo-Swedish War (1741–1743) when Russian troops held Finland. This proclamation was based on his succession rights to territories held by his childless great-uncle, the late Charles XII of Sweden who also had been Grand Duke of Finland. About the same time, in October 1742, he was chosen by the Swedish parliament to become heir to the Swedish throne. However, the Swedish parliament was unaware of the fact that he had also been proclaimed heir to the throne of Russia, and when their envoy arrived in Saint Petersburg it was too late. It has been reported that the underage Peter's succession rights to Sweden were renounced on his behalf (such an act in name of a minor has been regarded as questionable and probably invalid).

Empress Elisabeth arranged for Peter to marry his second cousin, Catherine the Great, daughter of Christian August, Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst and Johanna Elisabeth of Holstein-Gottorp . The young princess formally converted to Russian Orthodoxy and took the name Ekaterina Alexeievna, i.e Catherine. The marriage was not a happy one, but produced one son; the future Emperor Paul, and one daughter; Anna Petrovna (20 December 1757 - 19 March 1759). Catherine later claimed that Paul was not fathered by Peter. During the sixteen years of their residence in Oranienbaum Catherine took numerous lovers, as did her husband.

After Peter gained the throne in 1762, he incurred many nobles' displeasure by withdrawing from the Seven Years' War and making peace with Prussia, in which Russia did not gain anything, in spite of Russia's occupation of Berlin and virtual victory in the war. He formed an alliance with Prussia and planned an unpopular war against Denmark in order to restore Schleswig to his Duchy of Holstein-Gottorp. It is also claimed that he wanted to force the Russian Orthodox Church to adopt Lutheran practices.

During Peter's short reign, Russia saw several minor but important economic reforms that encouraged development of Western-European style capitalism and mercantilism and to move away from Russia's traditional social practices of subjugating peasants and townspeople and reserving leading positions for nobility. He issued an edict abolishing the practice allowing industrialists to purchase serfs as workers for their enterprises. He also forbade the importation of sugar into Russia to stimulate domestic manufacturing.

Peter's major social reform was the introduction of the Liberty for Nobility, abrogating Peter’s The Great policy of forcing all male members of Russian nobility to serve in the military or civil service without regard for individual preference for a particular occupation.

Catherine, along with her lover Grigori Orlov, planned to overthrow Peter, as she believed he would divorce her. The Leib Guard, on which Peter planned to impose harsher discipline, revolted and Peter was arrested and forced to sign his own abdication; Catherine became Empress with the support of most of the nobility. Shortly thereafter, Peter was killed while in custody at Ropsha. While Catherine did not punish the responsible guards, doubts remain as to whether she ordered the murder or not. In December 1796, Peter's son the Emperor Paul, who disliked his mother, arranged for his remains to be exhumed and then reburied with full honors in the Peter and Paul Cathedral, where other tsars were buried.

There have been many attempts to revise the traditional characterization of Peter and his policies, which were obviously influenced by his wife's memoirs and other biased accounts. It was during his reign that some of Catherine's reforms were prepared and the nobles were relieved from the burdensome obligation of serving in the army.

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