Paul I, 1796-1801
The only son of Catherine II and Peter III, Paul I of Russia ascended the throne at the age of forty-two. On the day of his coronation in the Moscow Kremlin, the Emperor decreed that the Russian crown should be passed to a male heir only. The age of female rulers in Russia thus came to an end. During Catherine’s life, Paul was excluded from the affairs of state. Removed from the Imperial capital of St. Petersburg, the heir apparent lived in a remote Gatchina castle, a devious gift from his mother. The castle was previously owned by Catherine’s former paramour, Grigory Orlov, who helped her depose Paul’s father. Paul resented the gift, but soon he became fond of the great castle. Biding his time in Gatchina, Paul was absorbed in his own world. He enjoyed military drills, tirelessly watching soldiers in Prussian-style uniforms parade in front of the castle’s great façade. His wife Maria Fedorovna, born princess of Wurttemberg, preferred the elegant Pavlovsk Palace.
Before his ascension to the throne, Paul wrote, “I would rather be hated for the good I’ve done than praised for my evil doings,” and hated he was. Thwarting the privileges granted by Catherine II to the Russian nobility, Emperor Paul I antagonized many. He reintroduced corporal punishment for the gentry, and prohibited travel abroad. At the same time, Paul was merciful to the least fortunate, limiting the time serfs worked for their masters to three days a week.