PETER I, ALEXIEVITCH, Czar of Russia, generally denominated Peter the Great, was the son of the Czar Alexei Mikailovitch, by his second wife, Natalia Naryskine, and was born at Moscow, on the 9th of June, 1672. Up to Peter's coronation, his education had been greatly neglected, but after this he became acquainted with Lieutenant Franz Timmerman, a native of Strasburg, who gave him lessons in the military art and in mathematics; after which he had the good fortune to fall under the guidance of Lefort, a Genoese, who initiated him into the sciences and arts of civilzation, and, by showing him how much Muscovy was, in these respects, behind the rest of Europe, influenced the whole of his future career.
His first care, on assuming the government, was to form an army disciplined according to European tactics. He also labored to create a navy, both armed and mercantile; but at this period, Russia presented few facilities for such an attempt, for she was shut out from the Baltic by Sweden and Poland, (the former of whom possessd Finland, St. Peterburg and the Baltic provinces), and from the Black Sea by Turkey, which, extending along the whole of the north coast, had reduced that sea to the rank of an inland lake. Peter, thinking the possession of a portion of the Black Sea would best supply the required facilities of accessible sea-board and port, declared war against Turkey, and took the city of Azov, at the mouth of the Don. Skilled engineers, architects, and artillerymen were now invited from Austria, Venice, Prussia and Holland, and many of the young nobility were ordered to travel in foreign countries, chiefly in Holland and Italy, for the purpose of acquiring such information as might be useful in the modernization and civilization of their country. Not quite satisfied with this arrangement, Peter was eager to see for himself the countries for which civilization had done so much, and which had so highly developed the military art, science, trade and industrial pursuits. In the guise of an inferior official of the embassy, he visited the three Baltic provinces, Prussia and Hanover, reaching Amsterdam, where, and subsequently at Saardam, he worked for some time as a common shipwright. His curiosity was excessive; he demanded explanations of everything which he did not understand; and to his practice of shipbuilding and kindred trades, he added the study of astronomy, natural philosophy, geography, and even anatomy and surgery. On receipt of an invitation from William III, King of England, he visited that country, and for three months, spent partly in London and partly at Deptford, labored to amass all sorts of useful information. He left England in April 1698, carrying with him English engineers, artificers, surgeons, artisans artillerymen, etc., to the number of five hundred, and next visited Vienna, for the purpose of inspecting the Emperor of Austria's army, then the best in Europe. He was about to visit Venice also, when the news of a formidable rebellion of the Strelitz recalled him to Russia. General Gordon had already crushed the revolt, but these turbulent soldiers had so enraged Peter against them by their frequent outbreaks, that he ordered the whole of them to be executed, even occasionally assisting in person on the scaffold. A few, however, were pardoned, and sent to settle at Astrakan. The Czarina Eudoxia, who was suspected of complicity in the conspiracy, which had been the work of the old Russian or anti-reform party, was divorced and shut up in a convent; the Czar's own sister, Martha, was likewise compelled to take the veil. To show his gratitude to his faithful adherents, Peter conferred upon the chief of them the Order of St. Andrew, now first instituted.
In 1700, Peter, desirous of gaining possession of Carelia and Ingria, provinces of Sweden, which had formerly belonged to Russia. entered into an alliance with the kings of Poland and Denmark to make a combined attack on Sweden, taking advantage of the tender age of its monarch, Charles XII, but he was shamefully defeated at Narva. In the long contest with Sweden, the Russians were almost always defeated, but Peter rather rejoiced at this, as he saw that these reverses were administering to his troops a more lasting and effective discipline than he could have hoped to give them in any other way. He had his revenge at last, in totally routing the Swedish king at Poltavia, July 8th, 1707, and in seizing the whole of the Baltic provinces the following year. After reorganizing his army, he prepared for strife with the Turks, who had declared war against him. In this contest Peter was reduced to such straits that he despaired of escape. But the finesse and ability of his mistress, Catharine, afterwards his wife and successor, extricated him from his difficulties, and a treaty was concluded, by which Peter lost only his previous conquest - the port of Azov and the territory belonging to it. On the 2nd of March, 1712, his marriage with his mistress Catharine, was celebrated at St. Petersburg, and two months afterwards, the offices of the central government were transferred to the new capital. In 1722, Peter commenced a war with Persia, in order to open up the Caspian Sea to Russian commerce. The internal troubles of Persia compelled the Shah to yield to the demand of his formidable opponent, and to hand over the three Caspian provinces, along with the towns of Derbend and Baku. For the last years of his life Peter was chiefly engaged in beautifying and improving his new capital, and carrying out plans for the more general diffusion of knowledge and education among his subjects. In the autumn of 1724, he was seized with a serious illness. the result of his imprudence and now habitual excesses; and after enduring much agony, he expired Febraary 8th, 1725, in the arms of the Empress.