Дата публикации: 07 сентября 2018
Автор(ы): O. Ivanov
Публикатор: Шамолдин Алексей Аркадьевич
Номер публикации: №1536328468

O. Ivanov, (c)

It happened on June 28,1762. A palace coup in St. Petersburg, the then Russian capital, brought to power Catherine II who, at a later day, came to be known as Catherine the Great. Her husband and legitimate Russian Emperor Peter III (Pyotr Fyodorovich), grandson of Peter the Great, had to abdicate and was rushed to Ropsha, a country estate he chose for his banishment for a time. Soon after, news of his death was promulgated. It was a violent death, sure, but no one could tell exactly when and how that crime of regicide was committed. In a way the mystery of that whodunit was pierced only at the turn of the 20th century as historians got permission to look into secret documents, among them, two letters sent by Count Alexei Orlov to Catherine.

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by Olev IVANOV, Cand. Sc. (Philos.), Moscow State University of Mining

Count Alexei Orlov bore the stigma of regicide for many decades. It was Princess Yekaterina Dashkova, Count Alexander Orlov and Count Fyodor Rostopchin who started the ball rolling. In the 19th century the writer Alexander Herzen lent credence to this story A bright courtier under Catherine the Great, Count Alexei Grigoryevich Orlov had also a seamy side to his personality He helped Catherine to the throne. He had a finger in the pie, be it the killing of the legitimate Emperor Peter III or the abduction of the imposter princess Yelizaveta Tarakanova. Simultaneously, the count won laurels as a brilliant captain when he led the victorious Russian Navy in the Mediterranean. And thus Count Orlov found himself between the devil and the deep blue sea-a villain who had killed Emperor Pyotr Fyodorovich (Peter III) was capable of a "vile act of duping the credulous Tarakanova", the accusers argued, those who shed bitter tears before Konstantin Flavitsky's canvas depicting the ex-emperor's assassination.

Since the secret archives of the czarist government were closed to historians for quite a long time, some of them-men of letters for the most part-would inquire into the matter on their own. The October Revolution of 1917 turned a new page in history studies too, with much emphasis put only on historical laws and the class struggle. Czars and emperors were written off as a bad jobs period. Today we are witnessing a revival of interest in men and women who made Russian history Unfortunately some researchers will repeat the stale old myths without bothering to take a critical look and recovering appropriate documents from the archives.

For over 15 years I have been collecting materials on Count Alexei Grigoryevich Orlov of Chesmen, or Chesmensky a title of merit added to his name. Proceeding from what I have learned from factual evidence, old and new, I think I can venture a guess as to what happened to Pyotr Fyodorovich, in particular, how and when he met his death.


According to the official version set forth in the government manifesto of July 7,1762, Pyotr Fyodorovich expired the day before, on July 6. Yet this announcement quarrels with other testimonies: for instance, Professor Jakob Stelin, full Member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, and mentor and tutor of the late emperor, says the dire event occurred on July 5; and Andreas Schuhmacher, secretary of the Danish embassy, indicated even an earlier date, July 3. The same date is also reported in a message filed by Baron Achatz von Asseburg, the Danish ambassador and a friend of Count Panin's, one of the culprits implicated in the coup of 1762 ("Note of Peter Ill's Dethroning"). Subsequently von Asseburg was admitted into the Russian service and became Catherine's proxy It was to him that the Russian empress entrusted a most delicate mission-find a bride-to-be for her son. Grand Prince Pavel Petrovich (future Emperor Paul I); and in 1773 Catherine appointed the baron a minister plenipotentiary at the diet of Regensburg, a city in Bavaria, the seat of the German Reichstag in 1663 to 1806.

In 1995 I hit upon documents that corroborated Schuhmacher's and von Asseburg's testimonies and that shed more light concerning the real masterminds of Peter's murder. I mean the "Papers on the Guard Billited at Oranienbaum* in July of the Year 1762" now in the custody of the State Archives of the Russian Federation.

* Oranienbaum became a residence of Pyotr Fyodorovich in 1745 when he was still an heir to the Russian throne. It was there that he signed his abdication papers in June 1762.- Ed.

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It was June 29,1762. A detachment of hussars and mounted guard arrived in Oranienbaum, today the town of Lomonosov. The men were led by Lieutenant-General Vissily Suvorov and Alexander Olsufyev, his Majesty's cabinet-minister and afterwards, Catherine's secretary. General Suvorov was to arrest the Holstein* men and officers stationed there and have them dispatched to St. Petersburg. General Vassily Suvorov was much trusted by Catherine. "Suvorov is devoted to me a great deal and is absolutely incorruptible", she wrote. "He has no difficulty in understanding when it comes to some important matter in the privy chancellery; I would trust him and only him. But his severity should be kept in check within the bounds I have prescribed for myself."

On July 4, 1762, Count Kirill Razumovsky sent a written message to General Suvorov with a postscript: "Your Excellency Lieutenant-General and Major and Cavalier of the Life-Guards! Her Majesty, considering that the commission entrusted to Your Excellency is fulfilled and that the Holstein and other prisoners have been brought hither from Oranienbaum, sees no need in your further stay there any longer, and thus has ordered that you come hither; and therefore you should delegate your duties as commander to one at your discretion and hurry to St. Petersburg forthwith. You should report to me whom you left as commander in your stead. Yet should Your Excellency deem it that your jurther presence at Oranienbaum be necessary, you can notify me."

So: on one hand. General Suvorov was to come to St. Petersburg forthwith; and, on the other, the general could act according to his lights and stay on at Oranienbaum, for he was not much needed in St. Petersburg. The hint is clear enough. Yet this clever letter did not reach Suvorov-in the meantime he rushed to St. Petersburg. He must have received orders from Catherine herself, or else something very important and urgent could have come to pass. Upon his arrival in the capital on July 5, General Suvorov sent a dispatch to Oranienbaum: "Secret. Order to Herr Major Peutling, commander at Oranienbaum. Upon receipt of the present letter... inst., be kind to take out promptly.. the former sovereign's regimentals-the Holstein ones of the Cuirassiers, or of the Infantry, or of the Dragoons- whichever you could recover the soonest, then seal the rooms again with your seal and with that of Counselor Beckelmann's, and send in these regimentals with promptitude. Taking out the regimentals, see to it that nobody else could notice that... and dispatch the uniform hither in a bag, sealed, which should be carried in secret; should Herr Beckelmann not know in what chambers the regimentals could be found, you may enquire valets of the chambers."

Which means that on his arrival in St. Petersburg, General Suvorov was assigned to the funeral of the deposed emperor (who lay in state with the selfsame uniform on)-that is why he was summoned from Oranienbaum. But why was Count Razumovsky, quite in the know about the emperor's death, loath to have Vassily Suvorov around? I think the murder was committed by a group of smart plotters who conspired against Catherine too so as to make themselves immune against persecution. They wanted some check on Her Majesty besides. In that carry-over period the conspirators were in fact safe and could get away with murder. Still, they feared the grim general loyal to the empress.

Alexei Orlov's letters sent from Ropsha likewise disprove the official date of the emperor's demise. The first letter of July 2, says this in part:

"Dear Madam Your Majesty, we wish you sound health for many countless years ahead. At the present time we and all our men are faring well, though our freak is quite in poor health and taken ill with sudden cramps, and I fear lest he should expire this coming night, and even more do I fear lest he should recover. First, he is dangerous because of talking all kinds of gibberish, which makes us merry in a way, and second, he is really dangerous by desiring to regain his former position...

"The Chertkov sent to Your Majesty is not back yet, and therefore I am late in reporting to you, and this very letter I am writing on Tuesday, at nine and a half. Faithful to you until death, your slave Alexei Orlov"

Calling Pyotr Fyodorovich a "freak", Count Orlov used the sobriquet given by Empress Elisabeth (Yelizaveta Petrovna), who reigned in 1741-1761. As to the "freak's" illness, Herr Stelin says in his notes: on June 29, upon his return from

* Pyotr Fyodorovich, as heir apparent and, simultaneously, Duke of Holstein, called in a company from his native Holstein in 1754. In time, Russian officers could also be enlisted in the Holstein units.- Ed.

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Kronstadt, the emperor "felt faint now and then, and he sent for a priest of the local Russian church."

As to the dangerous "gibberish" mentioned by Alexei Orlov, he must have meant the deposed emperor's threats he had made in his letter of June 29, not available today: he had threatened to line with gibbets the road from Oranienbaum to St. Petersburg. That could really be the case, for earlier the emperor had told princess Yekaterina Dashkova about the need of reinstituting capital punishment canceled by Empress Elizaveta Petrovna. "...Should we show weakness and not punish by death those who deserve it, there might be all sorts of unrest and disobedience," Pyotr Fyodorovich reasoned.

Andreas Schuhmacher, the well-informed secretary of the Danish embassy, wrote that Pyotr Fyodorovich had ordered his cabinet-secretary Volkov to file a message to the Senate in St. Petersburg and exact strict allegiance. In that letter the ex-emperor vindicated his behavior with regard to his spouse (Catherine) and claimed the young grand prince, Pavel Petrovich, to have been born out of wedlock. Yet the officer carrying this epistle handed it to Catherine who, understandably, did not deem it advisable to promulgate it.

And second, Pyotr Fyodorovich posed a real threat because he was desirous of regaining "his former position", that is he wanted to withdraw his abdication and reinstate himself as legitimate emperor. There was such kind of possibility in that precarious situation, sure.

Yet another phrase, "I am late in reporting to you", is remarkable just as well. Apparently, Count Orlov was to report regularly to Catherine on carryings-on at Ropsha. But why are there only two reports of his? Because either the deposed emperor died a few days earlier than the date cited in the official manifesto, or the other reports sent by Alexei Orlov disappeared. Having studied factual evidence, I would rather adopt the former possibility, i.e. that the hapless Pyotr Fyodorovich expired well before the official date of July 6, 1762.

Count Oriov's second letter was written on a half sheet, its bottom edge torn off, just where Alexei Grigoryevich Orlov must have appended his signature, as it was explained during the first publication of this document in 1907 and in all subsequent publications. Yet such explanation is irrelevant and does not square with the content of the message.

Now, let's take a hard second look. "Our Mother and merciful mistress! I know not where to begin, for I fear Your Majesty's anger, lest you should deem we did wrong and were the cause of the death of the villain of yours and all of Russia's, and of the law of ours too. And now the man-servant Maslov attached to him has taken ill as well, and I don't think he [Pyotr Fyodorovich] will live till the evening, and he is already well-nigh unconscious, which all of our men know and pray to the Lord to have him off our hands the sooner. This one Maslov and an officer dispatched to you can report to Your Majesty should you deem to have doubts. This is written by your slave...".

That man, "the man-servant Maslov", is an enigma. Why did Count Orlov mention him twice in this short missive but did not give the name of the officer sent to break the news? And this point: "... the man-servant Maslov attached to him..." Attached by whom?

The only reference to this man, Maslov, elsewhere is contained in A. Schuhmacher's notes. But unlike Count Orlov, the secretary of the Danish embassy calls him "gentleman of the bedchamber". Here's what A, Schuhmacher says: "Only one from among his gentlemen of the bedchamber-a Russian, Maslov by name-and two valets were allowed to follow him [Peter III]. True, these two reported sick so as to get out of all this."

Now who chose Maslov from among the other chamberlains and had him accompany the deposed emperor to Ropsha? Count Nikita Ivanovich Panin did. It was he, Panin, says von Asseburg, who was in charge of Peter Ill's guards at Peterhof [summer residence of the Russian czars south of St. Petersburg] and talked to him last before the deposed emperor was rushed to Ropsha. It was Panin who assigned two army officers to accompany Peter III to Ropsha. Andreas Schuhmacher confirms that and even names them-Captain Shcherbachev and Lieutenant Ozerov. Then the Danish diplomat recounts what happened to Maslov: "When the emperor dozed off, this man went out into the garden for a breath of air... Shortly afterwards an officer and several soldiers came up and shoved him into a closed Russian cab. In it he was taken to St. Petersburg and set free." According to Schuhmacher, the ex-emperor was throttled right after the departure of his chamberlain, on July 3.

So, both Alexei Orlov and Andreas Schuhmacher say actually the same thing. But what about Maslov, his forced removal and subsequent release? As I gather it from Oriov's letter, the

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man was accompanied by an officer ready to report to the empress at any moment.

What was that man, chamberlain Maslov? Hard as I searched, I have found no other mention of him. Possibly the palace archives were "cleansed" more than once, and whatever could relate to the chief eyewitness of the premeditated villainy might have been withdrawn. One could make Maslov change his name and ship him to the back of beyond, to some distant parts which he was forbidden to leave. He was to hold his tongue anyway. Still found in the archives of the Secret Expedition (Chamber) are the many signatures taken from those who could have known something about the matter. On pain of death they pledged to keep mum. Now I will cite from a document signed by officers Vlasyev and Chekin who were to guard Emperor Ivan VI (Ivan Antonovich), toppled while still in his infancy in 1741 by a group of top army officers supporting Yelizaveta Petrovna. Here's what this document says in part: "fe, the undersigned, in compliance with Her Majesty's high order, sign herewith to vouch that, on pain of loss of our honor and life, we shall in no way trouble Her Majesty with our further upkeep till our very death but always live in aloofness from great and populous companies; I, Vlasyev, and I, Chekin, shall keep off from any companies and will not sign any papers, official ones in particular; shall not go to the capital cities without dire need and if we do, we shall do that apart, not together, and once there, shall not show up in companies and public assemblies; we shall not tell anybody, overtly or covertly, what happened to the late Prince Ivan in the last year of 1764 [the prince was slain on Catherine's orders.-Ed.]; and should someone else talk, we shall not joint in but pretend we know nothing. Should someone say we are the same ones who were employed in the matter, we shall deny that without any dissemblance but say we know no one of those people or anything. As to those who perchance know about us already, we pledge to tell them that the happenings were promulgated in the manifesto exactly; we, as loyal serfs of our fatherland, must not keep memories of that occurrence any longer."

It is not excluded that Maslov, scared out of his wits, could have been tucked away in some remote monastery Neither in his first nor in his second letter does Count Orlov say that a physician should be sent to Peter III; on the contrary, he wishes death to his captive. But a would-be assassin could never betray his intentions, let alone in a written message. The sly Alexei Orlov was well aware that an assassination of the top-

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pled sovereign would not only bar the way to the throne for his brother Grigory as putative heir (many writers and historians believed and still believe that)-it will brand both brothers as regicides, and Catherine II-as their accomplice.

Nearly all well-informed foreigners attest that the original plant was to poison the deposed emperor: this is said by Andreas Schuhmacher and by Claude Rulier, secretary of the French ambassador to Russia and the author of the book History and Anecdotes of the Revolution in Russia in 1762. There must have been a post-mortem examination of Peter Ill's body, but it's a big question whether the real results were ever reported to the empress. But back to Andreas Schuhmacher's account: upon his arrival in Ropsha the ex-emperor developed bad indigestion (that's what Catherine II also mentioned) and violent headaches. On the first of July a courier came to St. Petersburg, breaking the news about Peter Ill's ill health and his orders to send the Hof (court) surgeon Luders as well as his pug-dog and violin. Actually this event took place on June 30, not on the first of July On hearing the oral report about the emperor's illness. Dr. Luders prescribed drugs, but would not have them sent to his patient. The empress tried to talk Luders into going to his master and even ordered him to do so and give him the best of care, but Luders feared lest he should find himself in captivity with his emperor and was undecided for a long time. It was only at noon on July 3 that willy-nilly he got into a bad Russian cab, together with the pug and the violin, and hurried full speed to Ropsha. Such is Andreas Schuhmacher's tale.

Now, how come: the empress tried to talk the Hof-surgeon into going to Ropsha and he, being of two minds, dawdled? Probably, sensing the imminent death of the captive emperor, the surgeon was loath to go to him, the more so that his death might be ascribed to wrong medication. I have found a reliable testimony confirming the date of the surgeon's departure. Rummaging in the old register of the Medical Chancellery (dated July 3, 1762), I found a two-page file titled "On the Sending of the Court Apothecary Luders to the Councillor of State Teplow". It was only after his visit to Grigory Teplow, the acting secretary of Catherine II, that Luders set out for Ropsha promptly

As Andreas Schuhmacher tells us, another Hof-surgeon, Paulsen, was dispatched to Ropsha. A remarkable sidelight to this mission: Paulsen did not carry drugs, he took along instru-

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merits needed for a post mortem and embalming, which means that "they in St. Petersburg were quite certain as to what was bound to happen". Next comes the sentence italicized by Schuhmiacher in his account: "It is most unlikely that the empress ordered the slaying of her husband, but his strangulation, beyond any doubt, is the doing of some of those influential persons (habenden Personen) who had conspired against the emperor and desired to forestall the dangers that his overlong life might incur on them and on the entire new system. "

If the Danish diplomat is right, the killing of Peter III was premeditated in St. Petersburg. Besides, another thing is quite obvious: Alexei Orlov's second missive was written on the third of July and was his last report from Ropsha.

Now let's take a close look at the text of the letter. Next to its torn-off bottom edge we can make out traces of six letters (or figures). Between the last word "faithful" and what was written on the tom-off piece we see the deleted beginning of some word. Certainly, Count Orlov crossed it out, because he used his quill for a similar correction in the selfsame letter. This must have been due to the haste in his writing this letter. The count also expunged words in another urgent dispatch of his to Catherine II about the capture of "the brazen lady", ostensibly Princess Yelizaveta Tarakanova, who contended she was the daughter of the late Empress Yelizaveta Petrovna.

Count Alexei Orlov was obviously in a hurry-not drunk, as some will believe. Such a clever and shrewd man just could not indulge in drinking during those hectic, crucial days. The count was very careful: "Only complete certitude in success", Catherine II wrote, "could impel him to undertake any risky affair." Besides, there were quite explicit instructions for the guards attached to the captives-they, the guards, were to behave themselves, permit no unruly ways and drinking, and those who acted contrarywise, should be punished, with a record made in the logbook of the date and the punishment meted out for the misdemeanor. Such were the official instructions. The astute usurper of the Russian throne could never entrust the custody of her husband to men prone to inebriety The story about the dead-drunk Orlov is said to have come from the text of a third letter, but its authenticity is rather dubious.

And finally, one curious thing we have detected in Orlov's second letter, something that escaped one's notice before. What I mean is the barely visible trace of ink between the second and third lines, under the word "begin". This is the imprint of a word scribbled top right on the missing edge. Three of the word's six elements preserved. We could read two Cyrillic letters, upper-cased, ??ND; these were written in Alexei Orlov's hand. We cannot read the word in full without sophisticated up-to-date techniques. One thing, however, is obvious even at the present stage-that was not Orlov's first name or surname. Perhaps two or three other words are gone. The word having the letters ND must have been inscribed or superscribed just before the message was sealed, because no traces of other words have remained.

Now who could take out those words? What in particular, when and why? Just tearing this piece off and not using scissors? That would have meant adding insult to injury and putting a blot on Catherine's escutcheon. Or else the expurgated passage should have been more unpleasant and dangerous to her than the first letter preserved intact (recall the nickname "freak"). Yet the second letter, though damaged, was not destroyed after all. As I see it, the date or some other bits of evidence related to the ex- emperor's death were removed. But not the signature, no. Why on earth should one destroy the signature, if: I- there was another letter with Orlov's signature; 2-Orlov's hand was also known to people other that Catherine II; 3-the letter was top secret?

The signature must have been there, of course. But what else? Quite probably, a date other than one promulgated in the official manifesto on the illness and death of Pyotr Fyodorovich. There might have been some other important pieces of evidence too. A postscript-"he is dead", "he was killed" or something of the sort-does not take up much space, does it?

The matter of "who" and "why" is not clear either. The empress is the first suspect naturally Our contemporary historian Nathan Eidelmann, who held the authentic letter in his hands, thought it was Orlov's signature that was torn off. "That's the madam mistress who did it so as to leave no flagrant proof of felony", he said. But this is wrong, I believe. In that case of flagrant felony one had to destroy both letters, all of them, and give no food for innuendoes among the genera-

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tions to come. Catherine II was well aware there would always be people eager to pick holes.

Now we know it for certain: the report about the ex-emperor's death was held up. The empress and the other plotters made the best of every hour and every minute of those fitful days. This is what Catherine II wrote on July 2 to Pan Stanislaw Poniatowski, who became Polish king at a later date: "I am snowed under with work and cannot send a circumstantial report to you... At the present moment everything here is rife with danger and fraught with bad consequences. I have not slept a wink these three nights and had my meals but twice in the course of four days." Princess Dashkova says about the same thing in her epistle to Count Georg Keiserling, "I was up and about, on foot and on horseback, during the first three days, and lay down for two hours only"

Yet another fact confirms the real date of the regicide-the July 3, 1762, not the sixth. Upon his accession to the throne in December 1825, Emperor Nicholas (Nikolai) I commissioned one of the top clerks, Count Dmitry Bludov, to sort out secret papers of the state archives. Looking through the Ropsha documents, Count Bludov wrote down on the file containing Orlov's letters, first and second: "Two missives of Count A. G. Orlov to Empress Yekaterina, and in the latter one he breaks the news of Peter Ill's death. " (I) This testimony as good as refutes the rumors about a third letter written by Count Alexei Orlov, a letter in which he informs the empress about the act of villainy A letter on the basis of which historians have branded him as regicide.

Опубликовано на Порталусе 07 сентября 2018 года

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