Elizabeth Petrovna

Portrait of Elizabeth of Russia by Charles-André van Loo (1760). Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Catherine Capel

Elizabeth was born December 18th 1709, at the palace of Kolmenskoe, near Moscow, to Peter the Great and his mistress Martha Skovronskaya, who would go on to be known as Ekaterina Alexeevna after she married Peter. She received a basic education but had tutors who taught her languages and dancing.

After the death of Elizabeth’s father in January 1725, her mother ascended to throne as Catherine I but she would die two years after her husband in 1727. After this, Elizabeth’s nephew Peter II would become tsar for three short years until his death in 1730 when Elizabeth’s cousin Anna, daughter of Ivan V, then became Empress.

After Anna’s death, her infant son Ivan VI became Tsar, but a coup instigated by de le Chétardie and led by Elizabeth with the support of the military in 1741 resulted in her becoming Empress.      

During her time as Empress, Elizabeth was behind many reforms including the abolition of punishment, expect in cases of heresy. Despite her limited education, Elizabeth knew it was important. She oversaw the improvement of seminaries, the establishing of the first university in Moscow, and provided schools for the sons of noblemen and freemen.

She enjoyed theatre and music, architecture, and many different types of art.  

In the last years of her reign, Elizabeth fought against Prussia after they signed the Treaty of Westminster with England. The war ended with the death of the Empress in 1762, much to the relief of the King of Prussia.   

Elizabeth never married but she was engaged to Charles Augustus, Duke of Holstein, until his death in 1727, and she was known to have had lovers such as Alexi Shubin, a sergeant, and Alexei Razumovsky, a singer. With no children of her own, Elizabeth nominated her nephew Peter as her successor when she died in 1762.  

Recommended Reading

R. Nisbet Bain, The Daughter of Peter the Great: A History of Russian Diplomacy and of the Court Under the Empress Elizabeth Petrovna, 1741-1762 (Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co., 1899)

Tamara Talbot Rice, Elizabeth, Empress of Russia (New York: Praegar, 1970).

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