Alexander I


Alexander I
1. Saint, pope A.D. 106?-115.
2. (Aleksandr Pavlovich) 1777-1825, czar of Russia 1801-25.
3. (Alexander Obrenovich or Aleksandar Obrenovic) 1876-1903, king of Serbia 1889-1903.
4. 1888-1934, king of Yugoslavia 1921-34 (son of Peter I of Serbia).

* * *

I
born Dec. 4, 1888, Cetinje, Montenegro
died Oct. 9, 1934, Marseille, France

King of Yugoslavia (1921–34).

After commanding Serbian forces in World War I, Alexander succeeded his father, Peter I, as king of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes in 1921. In 1929 he abolished the constitution and established a royal dictatorship. As part of his efforts to unify his subjects, he changed the name of the country to Yugoslavia; outlawed political parties based on ethnic, religious, or regional distinctions; reorganized the state; and standardized legal systems, school curricula, and national holidays. In 1934 he was assassinated by an agent of Croatian separatists.
II
Russian Aleksandr Pavlovich

born Dec. 23, 1777, St. Petersburg, Russia
died Dec. 1, 1825, Taganrog

Tsar of Russia (1801–25).

He became tsar in 1801 after the assassination of his father, Paul I. He and his advisers corrected many of the injustices of the preceding reign but failed to carry out the abolition of serfdom. During the Napoleonic Wars he alternately fought and befriended Napoleon and helped form the coalition that finally defeated him. Alexander also participated in the Congress of Vienna (1814–15) and formed the Holy Alliance (1815). After his sudden death in 1825, a legend sprang up that he had simply "departed" to a Siberian retreat.

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▪ emperor of Russia
Introduction
Russian  in full Aleksandr Pavlovich  
born Dec. 23 [Dec. 12, old style], 1777, St. Petersburg, Russia
died Dec. 1 [Nov. 19, O.S.], 1825, Taganrog
 emperor of Russia (1801–25), who alternately fought and befriended Napoleon I during the Napoleonic Wars but who ultimately (1813–15) helped form the coalition that defeated the emperor of the French. He took part in the Congress of Vienna (1814–15), drove for the establishment of the Holy Alliance (1815), and took part in the conferences that followed.

Early life.
      Aleksandr Pavlovich was the first child of Grand Duke Pavel Petrovich (later Paul I) and Grand Duchess Maria Fyodorovna, a princess of Württemberg-Montbéliard. His grandmother, the reigning empress Catherine II (the Great), took him from his parents and raised him herself to prepare him to succeed her. She was determined to disinherit her own son, Pavel, who repelled her by his instability.

      A friend and disciple of the philosophers of the French Enlightenment, Catherine invited Denis Diderot, the encyclopaedist, to become Alexander's private tutor. When he declined, she chose Frédéric-César La Harpe (La Harpe, Frédéric-César de), a Swiss citizen, a republican by conviction, and an excellent educator. He inspired deep affection in his pupil and permanently shaped his flexible and open mind.

      As an adolescent, Alexander was allowed to visit his father at Gatchina, on the outskirts of St. Petersburg, away from the court. There, Pavel had created a ridiculous little kingdom where he devoted himself to military exercises and parades. Alexander received his military training there under the direction of a tough and rigid officer, Aleksey Arakcheyev (Arakcheyev, Aleksey Andreyevich, Graf), who was faithfully attached to him and whom Alexander loved throughout his life.

      Alexander's education was not continued after he was 16, when his grandmother married him to Princess Louise of Baden-Durlach, who was 14, in 1793. The precocious marriage had been arranged to guarantee descendants to the Romanov dynasty, and it was unhappy from the beginning. The sweet and charming girl who became Yelisaveta Alekseyevna was loved by everyone except her husband.

      Catherine had already written the manifesto that deprived her son of his rights and designated her grandson as the heir to the throne, when she died suddenly on Nov. 17 (Nov. 6, O.S.), 1796. Alexander, who knew of it, did not dare to disclose the manifesto, and Pavel became emperor.

Ascent to the throne.
      Paul I's reign was a dark period for Russia. The monarch's tyrannical and bizarre behaviour led to a plot against him by certain nobles and military men, and he was assassinated during the night of March 23 (March 11, O.S.), 1801. Alexander became tsar the next day. The plotters had let him in on the secret, assuring him they would not kill his father but would only demand his abdication. Alexander believed them or, at least, wished to believe that all would go well.

      After the darkness into which Paul had plunged Russia, Alexander appeared to his subjects as a radiant dawn. He was handsome, strong, pleasant, humane, and full of enthusiasm. He wanted his reign to be a happy one and dreamed of great and necessary reforms. With four friends, who were of noble families but motivated by liberal ideas—Prince Adam Czartoryski, Count Pavel Stroganov, Count Viktor Kochubey, and Nikolay Novosiltsev—he formed the Private Committee (Neglasny Komitet). Its avowed purpose was to frame “good laws, which are the source of the well-being of the Nation.”

      Alexander and his close advisers corrected many of the injustices of the preceding reign and made many administrative improvements. Their principal achievement was the initiation of a vast plan for public education, which involved the formation of many schools of different types, institutions for training teachers, and the founding of three new universities. Nevertheless, despite the humanitarian ideas inculcated in him by La Harpe and despite his own wish to make his people happy, Alexander lacked the energy necessary to carry out the most urgent reform, the abolition of serfdom. The institution of serfdom was, in the Tsar's own words, “a degradation” that kept Russia in a disastrously backward state. But to liberate the serfs, who composed three-quarters of the population, would arouse the hostility of their noble masters, who did not want to lose the slaves on whom their wealth and comfort depended. Serfdom was a continuing burden on the Russians. It prevented modernization of the country, which was at least a century behind the rest of Europe.

      Out of a sincere desire to innovate, Alexander considered a constitution and “the limitation of the autocracy,” but he recoiled before the danger of imposing sudden change on a nobility that rejected it. Moreover, he was a visionary who could not transform his dreams into reality. Because of his unstable personality, he would become intoxicated by the notion of grand projects, while balking at carrying them out. Finally, the “Western” theoretical education of Alexander and his young friends had not prepared them for gaining a clear vision of the realities of Russian life.

Early foreign policy.
      Displaying an astonishing inconstancy, Alexander abandoned his internal reforms to devote himself to foreign policy, to which he would commit the major portion of his reign. Sensitive to fluctuations in continental politics, he was a “European” who hoped for peace and unity. He felt that he was called to be a mediator, like his grandmother, who had been called the “Arbiter of Europe.”

      As soon as he came to power, Alexander resealed an alliance with England that had been broken by Paul I. He nonetheless maintained good relations with France in the hope of “moderating” Bonaparte by restraining his spirit of conquest. A feeling of chivalry attached Alexander to the king of Prussia, Frederick William III, and to Queen Louisa, and a treaty of friendship was signed with Prussia. Later, he got on good terms with Austria. His idealism persuaded him that these alliances would lead to a European federation.

      Napoleon had other ideas. His territorial encroachments, desire for world hegemony, and his coronation in 1804 as emperor forced Alexander to declare war against him. Assuming the role of commander in chief, he relied on the Austrian generals and scorned the counsel of the Russian general Prince Kutuzov, a shrewd strategist. The Russians and Austrians were defeated at Austerlitz, in Moravia, on Dec. 2, 1805, and the emperor Francis II was forced to sign the peace treaty, since his territory was occupied by the enemy. Russia remained intact behind its frontiers. Moreover, Napoleon wanted to spare the Tsar; he hoped to gain his friendship and to divide the world with him. Such a notion did not occur to Alexander, who wanted revenge.

      In 1806 Napoleon defeated Prussia at Jena and Auerstädt. Despite the warnings of both his mother and his advisers, the Tsar rushed to the aid of his friend. The battles were fought in east Prussia. After a partial success at Eylau, the Russian Army, under General Bennigsen, was decimated at Friedland, on June 14, 1807. Then occurred the meeting (June 25) of the two emperors on a raft in the middle of the Niemen off Tilsit (Tilsit, Treaties of) (now Sovetsk). The sequel of these events demonstrates that, in the course of the Tilsit interview, it was the Tsar of Russia who deceived the Emperor of the French. Seeking to gain time he used his charm to play the admiring friend. He accepted all the victor's conditions, promising to break with England, to adhere to the Continental System set up by Napoleon to isolate and weaken Great Britain, and to recognize the creation of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw (Warsaw, Duchy of), formed from the part of Poland given to Prussia during the Partition of 1795. In “recompense” Napoleon gave Alexander liberty to expand at the expense of Sweden and Turkey.

From Tilsit to the 1812 invasion.
      Most Russians were angered and humiliated by the Tilsit Alliance; they thought that breaking off trade with England would inevitably create a disastrous economic situation, but Alexander kept his plans secret and bided his time. He reorganized and strengthened his armies with the competent aid of Arakcheyev, the instructor from Gatchina who had become his indispensable colleague. Meanwhile, the monarch's popularity dropped; all levels of the population accused him of having uselessly sacrificed Russian blood and of ruining the country.

      Alexander once again turned his attention to internal reforms. He placed responsibility for them on a remarkable legal writer, Mikhail Mikhaylovich Speransky (Speransky, Mikhail Mikhaylovich, Graf). Of modest origins, Speransky's talent caused him to rise rapidly. He conceived a vast plan for total reorganization of Russian legal structures and authored a complete collection and a systematically coordinated digest of Russian laws. Only a very small part of his great plan was applied, for once again Alexander withdrew from any practical fulfillment, partly because foreign events distracted him from rebuilding his empire on new foundations.

      Despite the strong Russian reaction against France, the Tsar again met Napoleon, at Erfurt in Saxony, in 1808, where he showed himself to have become distant from his Tilsit ally. When a new war broke out between France and Austria in 1809, Alexander, despite his commitments, did not intervene in Napoleon's behalf, contenting himself with feigning a military advance. Napoleon reproached the Tsar for trading with England under cover of neutral vessels and for refusing him the hand of his sister, the grand duchess Anna Pavlovna. For his part Alexander tried in vain to obtain from Napoleon a commitment not to create an independent Kingdom of Poland. When Napoleon annexed the German territories on the Baltic, including the Grand Duchy of Oldenburg, a fief of the Tsar's brother-inlaw, Alexander protested against what he considered a personal offense.

      All of this was a pretext for military preparations on both sides. A violent shift of opinion against Napoleon appeared in Russia. The hostility toward France among the court compelled Alexander to exile his legal adviser, Speransky, an admirer of Napoleon and his Code. Changing his opinions yet again, the Tsar adopted the reactionary ideas of a patriotic group dominated by his favourite sister, the grand duchess Yekaterina Pavlovna. He judged that, under the conditions then prevailing, Russia had best keep its traditional institutions.

The defeat of Napoleon.
      Napoleon and his Grand Army of 600,000 men invaded Russia on June 24, 1812. The conflict that ensued was justly called the Patriotic War by the Russians; in it, the strong resistance and outstanding endurance of an entire people were displayed. The war transformed Alexander, suffusing him with energy and determination. The French advanced as rapidly as the Russians retreated, drawing them away from their bases. Napoleon thought that, once Moscow was taken, the Tsar would capitulate. But after the bloody Battle of Borodino, Napoleon entered a largely deserted Moscow, which was soon nearly destroyed by fire. The conqueror had to camp in a ruined city where he could not remain, and Alexander did not sue for peace. The Tsar, meanwhile, under pressure of public opinion, had named Kutuzov (Kutuzov, Mikhail Illarionovich, Prince), whom he detested, supreme commander. The old warrior, through brilliant strategy and with the aid of heroic partisans, pursued the enemy and drove him from the country. The retreat from Russia, combined with Napoleon's reverses in Spain, precipitated his downfall.

      Alexander had declared, “Napoleon or I: from now on we cannot reign together!” He said that the burning of Moscow had “illuminated his soul.” He called Europe to arms, to rescue the people who had been enslaved by Napoleon's conquests. His enthusiasm, perseverance, and steadfast determination to triumph aroused the King of Prussia and the Emperor of Austria, and the enheartened allies were victorious at Leipzig (Leipzig, Battle of) in October 1813. This “Battle of Nations” could have been decisive, but Alexander wanted no peace until he reached Paris. He entered Paris triumphantly in March 1814. Napoleon abdicated, and the Tsar reluctantly accepted the restoration of the Bourbons, for whom he had little esteem, and imposed a constitutional charter on the new ruler, Louis XVIII. Alexander showed his generosity toward France, alleviating its condition as a defeated country and protesting that he had made war on Napoleon and not on the French people.

      He had become the most powerful sovereign in Europe and the arbiter of its destinies, as he had wished. He inspired the convening of the greatest international congress in history in Vienna (Vienna, Congress of), in the autumn of 1814. It was a time of sumptuous feasts and also of diplomatic intrigues and bitter quarrels. The Tsar's allies, whom he had saved, now feared his power and opposed the annexation of Poland to Russia. It was his only claim in reward for what he had done, and he was determined to achieve it.

      When Napoleon returned from his exile in Elba and regained the throne, the war resumed, ending with his final defeat by the allies at Waterloo on June 18, 1815. Again the victorious sovereigns met in Paris to frame a peace treaty, and once again Alexander intervened on behalf of France.

The final decade.
      This period marked a turning point for the Tsar. Since the invasion of his country, he had become religious; he read the Bible daily and prayed often. It was his frequent visits with the pietistic visionary Barbara Juliane Krüdener (Krüdener, Barbara Juliane, Freifrau von) in Paris that turned him into a mystic. She considered herself a prophetess sent to the Tsar by God, and, if her personal influence was of brief duration, Alexander nevertheless retained his newly found evangelical fervour and came to profess a nondogmatic “universal religion” strongly influenced by Quaker and Moravian beliefs.

      Alexander obtained Poland, set it up as a kingdom with himself as king, and gave it a constitution, declaring his attachment to “free institutions” and his desire to “extend them throughout all the countries dependent on him.” These words awakened great hopes in Russia, but, when the Tsar returned home after a long absence, he was no longer thinking of reform. He devoted his entire attention to the Russian Bible Society and to an unfortunate innovation, the military colonies, by which he attempted to settle soldiers and their families on the land so that they might enjoy more stable lives. These ill-conceived colonies brought great suffering to Russian soldiers and peasants alike.

      After the Second Treaty of Paris, Alexander I, inspired by piety, formed the Holy Alliance, which was supposed to bring about a peace based on Christian love to the monarchs and peoples of Europe. It is possible to see in the alliance the beginnings of a European federation, but it would have been a federation with ecumenical, rather than political, foundations.

      The idealistic Tsar's vision came to a sad end, for the alliance became a league of monarchs against their peoples. Its members—following up the congress with additional meetings at Aix-la-Chapelle, Troppau, Laibach (Ljubljana), and Verona—revealed themselves as the champions of despotism and the defenders of an order maintained by arms. When a series of uprisings against despotic regimes in Italy and Spain broke out, the “holy allies” responded with bloody repression. Alexander himself was badly shaken by the mutiny of his Semyonovsky regiment and thought he detected the presence of revolutionary radicalism.

      This marked the end of his liberal dreams, for, from then on, all revolt appeared to him as a rebellion against God. He shocked Russia by refusing to support the Greeks, his coreligionists, when they rose against Turkish tyranny, maintaining they were rebels like any others. The Austrian chancellor, Prince Metternich, to whom the Tsar abandoned the conduct of European affairs, shamelessly exploited Alexander's state of mind.

      After his return to Russia, he left everything in Arakcheyev's hands. For Alexander, it was a period of lassitude, discouragement, and dark thoughts. For Russia, it was a period of reaction, obscurantism, and struggle against real and imagined subversion. Alexander thought he saw “the reign of Satan” everywhere. In opposition, secret societies spread, composed of young men, mostly from the military, who sought to regenerate and liberalize the country. Plots were made. Alexander was warned of them, but he refused to act decisively. His crown weighed heavily on him, and he did not hide from his family and close friends his desire to abdicate.

      The Empress was ill, and Alexander decided to take her to Taganrog, on the Azov Sea. This dismal, windy townlet was a strange watering place. The royal pair, however, who had been so long estranged, enjoyed a calm happiness there. Soon after, during a tour of inspection in the Crimea, Alexander contracted pneumonia or malaria and died on his return to Taganrog.

      The Tsar's sudden death, his mysticism, and the bewilderment and the blunders of his entourage all went into the creation of the legend of his “departure” to a Siberian retreat. The refusal to open the Tsar's coffin after his death has only served to deepen the mystery.

Daria Olivier

Additional Reading
N. Schilder, Imperator Aleksandr Pervy, 4 vol. (1890–1904), in Russian; Grand-Duke Nicolas Mikhailovitch, Le Tsar Alexandre Ier, 2 vol. (1900); and A. Vandal, Napoléon et Alexandre, 3 vol. (1891–96), though old, are still the three most important biographies written since the authors—and especially the two first mentioned—had access to many state and family papers. Two good studies in English are Martha E. Almedingen, The Emperor Alexander I (1964); and Michael Jenkins, Arakcheev: Grand Vizier of the Russian Empire (1969).

▪ king of Macedonia
byname  Alexander Philhellene, or Alexander The Wealthy  
died c. 450 BC

      10th king of ancient Macedonia, who succeeded his father, Amyntas I, about 500 BC. More than a decade earlier, Macedonia had become a vassal state of Persia; and in 480 Alexander was obliged to accompany Xerxes I in a campaign through Greece, though he secretly aided the Greek allies. With Xerxes' apparent acquiescence, Alexander seized the Greek colony of Pydna and advanced his frontiers eastward to the Strymon, taking in Crestonia and Bisaltia, with the rich silver deposits of Mt. Dysorus.

      It was probably Alexander who organized the mass of his people as a hoplite army called pezhetairoi (“foot companions”), with rudimentary political rights, to act as a counterweight to the nobility, the cavalry hetairoi (“companions”). His byname, the Philhellene, indicates his efforts to win Greek sympathies; and he obtained admission to the Olympic games. From Persian spoil he erected a golden statue at Delphi, and he entertained the poet Pindar at his court.

▪ king of Scotland

born c. 1080
died April 1124, probably Stirling, Stirlingshire, Scot.
 king of Scotland from 1107 to 1124.

      The son of King Malcolm III Canmore (reigned 1058–93), Alexander succeeded to the throne upon the death of his brother King Edgar (ruled 1097–1107). In accordance with Edgar's instructions, Alexander allowed his younger brother and heir, David, to rule southern Scotland.

      Alexander probably acknowledged King Henry I of England as his overlord. He married Henry's illegitimate daughter, Sibylla, and in 1114 he led a Scottish contingent in Henry's Welsh campaigns. Nevertheless, Alexander strove to preserve the independence of the Scottish Church from the English Church and to assert his will over the Scottish bishops. The outcome of these struggles was inconclusive at his death. He was succeeded by David (David I, 1124–53), who ruled over the whole of Scotland.

▪ king of Yugoslavia
born December 4 [December 16, New Style], 1888, Cetinje, Montenegro
died October 9, 1934, Marseille, France

      king of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (1921–29) and of Yugoslavia (1929–34), who struggled to create a united state out of his politically and ethnically divided collection of nations.

      The second son of Peter Karadjordjević (Karageorgević, or Karaðorðevići)—king of Serbia 1903–18 and king of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes 1918–21—and Zorka of Montenegro, Alexander spent his early youth in Geneva with his father, then in exile from Serbia, and in 1899 went to St. Petersburg, where he entered the Russian imperial corps of pages in 1904. In 1909, however, when his elder brother renounced his right of succession, Alexander, having become heir apparent, joined his family in Serbia.

      A distinguished commander in the Balkan Wars of 1912–13, Alexander was appointed regent of Serbia by the ailing King Peter (June 24, 1914) and during World War I served as commander in chief of Serbia's armed forces, entering Belgrade in triumph on October 31, 1918. As prince regent, he proclaimed the creation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes on December 1, 1918.

      The instability of the new state was demonstrated by an attempt on his life on the day (June 28, 1921) that Alexander swore an oath to uphold the constitution. Nevertheless, on August 16 he succeeded his father as king and on June 8, 1922, he married Marie, a daughter of Ferdinand I of Romania. Later Alexander attempted to consolidate the rival nationality groups and political parties into a unified state.

      During the 1920s mounting political tensions forced numerous changes in government ministers and culminated in the murder of several Croat deputies by a Montenegrin deputy during a Skupština (parliament) session (June 20, 1928). The Croat members then withdrew from the Skupština; and, because Alexander could neither negotiate a satisfactory compromise for restructuring the body nor form an effective government, he dissolved it, abolished the constitution of 1921, and established a royal dictatorship (January 6, 1929).

      Continuing his efforts to unify his subjects, Alexander changed the name of the country to Yugoslavia (October 3, 1929), outlawed all political parties based on ethnic, religious, or regional distinctions, reorganized the state administratively, and standardized legal systems, school curricula, and national holidays. He also tried to relieve the peasantry's financial difficulties, eased relations with Bulgaria (1933), and engaged Yugoslavia in the Little Entente (with Czechoslovakia and Romania) and the Balkan Entente, an alliance with Greece, Turkey, and Romania (1934).

      In the process Alexander created a police state that required military support for survival. When a new constitution was promulgated (September 3, 1931), the dictatorship was, in effect, given a legal foundation. Although Alexander's acts were at first well received, demands for a return to democratic forms intensified by 1932, when a major economic crisis resulting from the worldwide depression added to political dissatisfaction. As a result, Alexander seriously considered restoring a parliamentary form of government; but before he was able to do so, he was assassinated by an agent of Croatian separatists while making a state visit to France.

▪ prince of Bulgaria

born April 5, 1857, Verona, Venice [Italy]
died Nov. 17, 1893, Graz, Austria

      the first prince of modern autonomous Bulgaria.

      The son of Prince Alexander of Hesse (previously created prince of Battenberg upon his morganatic marriage) and a favourite nephew of Alexander II of Russia, Alexander served during 1877 with the Russian forces in the Russo-Turkish War (1877–78), which resulted in the autonomy of Bulgaria. In accordance with the provisions of the Congress of Berlin (1878), Alexander was elected constitutional prince of the newly autonomous Bulgarian state on April 29, 1879, but he had to deal with a strong Russian interference in domestic affairs. Saddled with what he regarded as an absurd liberal constitution, however, he set himself to undermining the state's constitutional bases, first dissolving the national assembly (1880) and then suspending the constitution and assuming for himself plenary powers (1881). With the deterioration of his relations with Russia after the accession of Alexander III, however, he restored the constitution (1883) and accepted a new liberal–conservative coalition government to combat Russian influence.

      When the annexation of Eastern Rumelia by Bulgaria (September 1885) further exacerbated Russo-Bulgarian relations, the Tsar was determined to drive Prince Alexander from his throne. In Serbia passions were also aroused, and war resulted (November 1885). Alexander successfully led Bulgarian troops against the Serbs and by late November 1885 had pushed into Serbian territory. Under Austrian pressure, however, he was forced to accept an armistice and a peace confirming the status quo (Treaty of Bucharest, March 1886), though he later won the recognition of the Great Powers for Eastern Rumelia's union with Bulgaria (April 1886). Finally, a pro-Russian officers' coup on Aug. 21, 1886, forced him to abdicate, and under heavy guard he was conducted out of the country. He returned shortly to reclaim his crown but, after failing to win the support of Russia, formally abdicated on Sept. 7, 1886. He later assumed the title Graf von Hartenau and served as a general in the Austrian Army.

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Universalium. 2010.

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