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Soviet Union

Era of Palace Revolutions

Having killed his own son, Alexis, who had opposed his father's reforms and served as a rallying point for antireform groupings, Peter changed the rules of succession. A new law provided that the tsar would choose his own heir, but Peter failed to do so before his own death in 1725. The absence of clear rules of succession left the monarchy open to intrigues, plots, coups, and countercoups. Henceforth, the crucial factor for obtaining the throne was the support of the elite palace guard stationed in St. Petersburg.

At first, Peter's wife, Catherine I, seized the throne. But she died in 1727, and Peter's grandson, Peter II, was crowned tsar. In 1730 Peter II succumbed to smallpox, and Anna, a daughter of the former co-tsar, Ivan V, ascended the throne. The clique of nobles that put Anna on the throne attempted to impose various conditions on her. Although initially accepting these "points," Anna repudiated them after becoming tsarina. Anna was supported by other nobles, who apparently feared oligarchic rule more than autocracy. Despite continuing chaotic struggles for the throne, the nobles did not question the principle of autocratic absolutism.

Anna died in 1740, and her infant grandnephew, Ivan VI, was proclaimed tsar. After a series of coups, however, he was replaced by Peter the Great's daughter Elizabeth (1741-62). During Elizabeth's reign, a Westernized yet Russian culture began to emerge, as witnessed by the founding of Moscow University (1755) and the Academy of Fine Arts (1757). In the same period, Russia also produced its first eminent scientist and scholar, Mikhail V. Lomonosov.

During the rule of Peter's successors, Russia increased its role in the European state system. From 1726 to 1761, Russia was allied with Austria against the Ottoman Empire, which, in turn, was usually supported by France. In the War of Polish Succession (1733- 35), Russia and Austria blocked the French candidate to the Polish throne. In a costly war with the Ottoman Empire (1734-39), Russia reacquired the port of Azov. Russia's greatest reach into Europe was during the Seven Years' War (1756-63). Russia had continued its alliance with Austria, but in the "diplomatic revolution" of the period Austria allied itself with France against Prussia. In 1760 Russian forces were at the gates of Berlin. Fortunately for Prussia, Elizabeth died in 1762, and her successor, Peter III, was devoted to the Prussian emperor, Frederick the Great. Peter III allied Russia with Prussia.

Peter III had a very short and unpopular reign. Although a grandson of Peter the Great, his father was the duke of Holstein, and he was raised in a German Lutheran environment. He was therefore considered a foreigner. Making no secret of his contempt for all things Russian, Peter created deep resentment by foisting Prussian military drills on the Russian military, attacking the church, and creating a sudden alliance with Prussia, which deprived Russia of a military victory. Making use of the discontent and fearing for her own position, Peter III's wife, Catherine, deposed her husband in a coup. Peter III was subsequently murdered by Catherine's lover, Aleksei Orlov. Thus, in June 1762 a German princess, who had no legitimate claim to the Russian throne, became Tsarina Catherine II, empress of Russia.

Data as of May 1989