Alexander’s reign started in 1801 and lasted until 1825 when he mysteriously vanished and was presumed deceased. “His reign was a turning point no less decisive than that of Peter the Great. It marked a moment when the “regular” state was beginning to acquire substance, when senior officials expected its framework to be filled out by the practice of “equity” or the “rule of law.” At this point in Russian history the common citizens had started to gain patronage and had started to move closer to associating themselves with a common rule of law. Prior to his reign senatorial government had proved taxing and ineffective in many respects but it had already generated an expectation of legality and correct procedure.
“The circumstances of Alexander’s reign offered him a supreme challenge the French invasion of 1812, but also a supreme opportunity, a mood of patriotic unity such as Russia had non experiences for two centuries”. Meeting daily with the hierarchy and nobles of Russia, Alexander often discussed what he called “the regeneration of the country” (Pares 299). “His first desire was for a constitution but that was found to be impossible without a previous study of the existing administration”. He was not a very firm man, and a self-spoken liberal. One of the first of Alexander’s decrees was on December 24th, 1801, in which he stated, “Landed property, till now a monopoly of the gentry, can be acquired by persons of any other class, such as merchants or even crown peasants”.
Across Russia the gaining of power by Alexander I was greeted with joy. The previous reign of Paul had been like a nightmare for Russian society. Immediately negotiating with England’s George III to remove blockades and return seized warships which Alexander said were to protect goods from being stolen the beginning of Alexander’s reign was off to a very good start. However affairs with Napoleon would not be resolved so efficiently.
While things in Russia had stabilized and more schools and universities had been forming than ever before thanks to the Alexander and his secrete committee composed of other young liberal princes from around the country foreign affairs would soon cut short the work of reforms. Although the army desired peace, the alliance was in Russia very unpopular between France and the current government. With Napoleon becoming the emperor of France in 1804 the onset of war and death was soon to spread across Europe as Napoleon set out to conquer the world. An on-off supported of Napoleon, Tsar Alexander ended by being one of the French Emperor’s implacable foes.
“The war certainly cleared the air for Alexander. From 1807 to 1812 he had been consciously trying to play out time against Napoleon; he was well aware of the misunderstandings and unpopularity to which this policy exposed him in Russia, and was greatly relieved when it was no longer necessary. The war found him more resolute than at any time since the beginning of his reign. He took an oath that he would not make peace till the last French soldier had left his territory”. The French Invasion of 1812 was the most dangerous military threat any Russian rule had faced since the Time of Troubles.
The war ensued started with the Grande Armee invaded Russia in 1812 which proved to be something Napoleon had never experienced before. Russia was able to exploit its strategic advantage, immense territorial depth, to such a great extent that the French Generals did not admit the human cost them selves until they had reached Moscow. Upon reaching the city, it is thought that the Russians themselves burnt it down in many theories this idea is stated. After a stay in the frigid country, winter was approaching and Napoleon, devastated by troop loses, was forced to retreat. During this time Alexander convinced the serfs and peasants to join the Cossack, a mounted division of Russian soldiers, and harass the French troops as they left the country.
In 1822, Alexander abolished all secret societies, including Masonic lodges but did not hunt down those involved. Convinced in 1824 by Archimandrite Fotii of the Iuriev Monastery that warned of a group of “Illuminists” or freemasons, who were plotting to destroy all empires, churches, religions, civil laws, and order, and replace them with a universal faith Alexander became suspicious of any groups who were said to be of Masonic origins.
The sudden death of Alexander, on November 19th 1825, was laden with many bizarre mysteries. It was said that Alexander had seemed worn out, and had a chill which eventually led to Gastric Fever, after a long drawn-out illness, of which every detail is said to be recorded by two doctors, by the Empress and by Count Volkonsky, refusing almost to the last moment to follow his doctors orders, he is recorded to have died. The Empress closed his eyes; his body was embalmed and brought with every care to St. Petersburg.
However another commonly held belief that has developed states that Alexander did not die in 1825 at Taganrog, but had gone into voluntary exile in Siberia under the name Kusmuch, Fedor. Certainly Kusmich’s knowledge of court life was quite great and it is possible that he had connections with the imperial family. While there isn’t much written information about Kusmich there is enough to confirm the existence of the man and present a complex mystery about his origins and several theories as to why he is Alexander.
Alexander had said he never abandoned his desire for to retire to a private life. It is said that in 1825 when his death was supposedly staged he had really escaped on the Earl of Cathcart’s yacht and did not reappear in Russia until some time later when he was spotted riding a white horse. “I shall soon settle down here to live the rest of my life as a private citizen. I have served for twenty five years and even a simple soldier can retire after that much of a service, you too will retire from service and be my librarian,” he was told to have said to his faithful friend Prince Volkonsky.
When Alexander’s tomb was opened it was found empty provides a strong basis that Alexander actually did retire as a Serbian monk. However there are some holes even in this story. The yacht’s log that he had supposedly sailed in during his staged death contained a log. However the log had a lapse of a few weeks during December of 1825. It is said that the only entry placed the ship somewhere in the Mediterranean.
While the exact truth may never be known, it is entirely possible that Alexander did run away from the throne and live his live as a Serbian monk named Feodor Kusmich. Facts rest on both sides of the case to support ether argument. However the main focus of Alexander’s reign was to bring reforms, and throughout Russia while he was Tsar’s an astounding number of schools and universities were formed, as well as several new laws promoting free land and expansion. In the long line of Russian Tsar’s Alexander takes his place among the mysterious and sometimes maddening leaders of the great state of Russia.
Alexander I: Tsar of Russia. Richard Moore. 2006. 28 April, 2008.
Hosking, Geoffrey. Russia and the Russians: A History. Cambridge Massachusetts. 2001
Pares, Richard.A History of Russia. New York; Alfred A. Knopf. 1953
Paxton, John. Encyclopedia of Russian History: From the Christianization of Kiev to the Break- up of the U.S.S.R.. Santa Barbara, California. 1993.
Vernadsky. George. The Journal of Modern History, University of Chicago Press. Dec., 1947