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Peter The Great and His Reformation of Russia

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Peter the Great made a nearly two-year excursion through Western Europe to gain first-hand information on how other countries attained a successful economic environment as well as the role the military played in managing these countries. This leader felt confident a new version of Russia would not work without changing the relationship between the government and the people. The modernization of Russia helped make changes to the organization of the military, built the great city of St. Petersburg, and even provided Russian agriculture with a new crop, potatoes. Peter the Great’s reform of Russia was heavily influenced by these visits and change was set in motion through his journey of Western Europe.

Peter the Great and his Embassy of other young Russian men started on their expedition in 1697. Previously, others were sent to observe parts of Europe, but Peter decided to go himself as well. The first-hand experience of how other countries were being governed seemed to be a better course of action. Europe did not need to be aware of the prominent political figure’s arrival. “The plan which he formed was not to travel openly in his own name, for he knew that in this case a great portion of his time and attention, in the different courts and capitals, would be wasted in the grand parades, processions, and ceremonies with which the different sovereigns would doubtless endeavor to honor his visit”. The goal was simply to observe the various governments’ procedures and defenses in an unfiltered light without pomp and circumstance.

As the journey from Moscow began, the first stop was the Gulf of Riga located on the Baltic Sea. The goal for this segment of the trip was to obtain territory with access to the sea. At this time, a navy did not exist in Russia and the military needed to be updated. Peter wanted to see the fortifications (new defense wall) of Riga as well but was told no by the governor. Konigsberg, located in Prussia, was the choice for the next Embassy stop. Here the principal objective was to learn about the vessels of the Prussians and how the ships would successfully voyage the seas. Peter succeeded here by learning to sail from location to location.

As Peter the Great approached his next stop in Holland, this location interested him the most. “The expedition traveled on in this way along the coasts of the Baltic Sea, on the way toward Holland, which was the country that Peter was most eager to see. At every city where they stopped, Peter went about examining the shipping”. Peter did not want to be honored when arriving in a country, but the people of Holland had found out that he traveled with the Embassy, and whenever the Embassy would enter parts of Holland it would be celebrated. Peter never participated in the festivities since he was there to learn and not be worshipped, hence, he would actually disguise himself. When the Embassy passed through Amsterdam, crowds of people still gathered to show their respect. “The government and the people of Holland took a very great interest in this embassy, not only on account of the splendor of it, and the magnitude of the imperial power which it represented but also on account of the business and pecuniary considerations which were involved”.

During the Embassy’s next stop in Amsterdam, a palace had been prepared for the members of this group, but in keeping with his goal of blending into the culture, a small house or cabin was procured for Peter’s stay. It was here where Peter the Great finally saw what he came to Holland for, the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch East India Company was a huge deal to view because of the large shipyards and the location for building the boats. “Amsterdam, in Peter’s time was the greatest port in Europe and the wealthiest city in the world” ( Massie 183). Peter met a man named Peter Michaelhoff, a ship-carpenter. “He lived here several months and devoted himself diligently to his work” (Abbott 132). Peter the Great worked with the laborers and wore the same clothes; he wanted to learn how to build boats. “Peter bought a sailboat for 450 florins and installed a new mas and bowsprit with his own hands” (Massie 182). During his spare time when he was tired, he would steer boats to become more comfortable with different types of vessels. The leader acquired a great deal of knowledge about a ship’s carpentry but was disappointed in the lack of information obtained about the “Basic secrets of ship design”. “He heard that in England naval carpentry had been reduced to a regular science and that the forms and models of the vessels built there were determined by fixed mathematical principles, which every skillful and intelligent workman was expected to understand and to practice upon” (Abbott 140). Peter was ready to learn more. The time had arrived for Peter to move on to London, the second richest city at this time behind Amsterdam.

While visiting London and wandering around the city, the architecture of the buildings became a bonus which would help in the building of St. Petersburg. His main purpose, though, was still gaining knowledge of ship construction. Peter was able to see the people of London work on ships and how they had made it into a science. “When he was in the ship-yard he studied this subject very attentively; and although it was, of course, impossible that in so short a time he should make himself fully master of it, he was still able to obtain such a general insight into the nature of the method as would very much assist him in making arrangements for introducing it into his own country”. He now considered his long stay in Holland as a waste of time. In England, there were advances and precise methods. During his stay in England, the work methods remained the same as he once again stood side by side with the working class. Laboring with these men in England was essential to learning how they applied mathematics to building ships. He stayed in London until he thought that he had visited for too long. “Peter went to Portsmouth to visit the royal navy at anchor there”. “…At the town of Portsmouth, there is a deep and spacious harbor entirely surrounded and protected by land”. The opposite of where Portsmouth is located in a place called Spithead. Spithead is where many of England’s navy ships are held. The King told the admiral, who was in charge of England’s Navy, to escort Peter to Spithead. This was the only way Peter could make it there. When Peter finally left England, he was gifted with a yacht from the King, titled, The Royal Transport. Two of the next intended stops were scheduled for Vienna and Rome. Unfortunately, due to the rebellion in the city of Moscow, a return to Russia was necessary to handle the arising issues.

Although they did not act upon their grievances until toward the end of his journey, the Russians had started to conspire against Peter after he was away for only a couple of months. Several issues needed his attention immediately. His sister Sophia now wanted to rule for herself. As Peter became aware of this, upon his return, Sophia was basically forced to become a nun. The next problem was with the Streltsy; The Streltsy were part of the Russian firearm infantry. ‘But Peter annihilated the Streltsy, and the popular risings came to nothing. The power was in the end in his hands” (Conybeare 90).

After dealing with the rebellion issues, Peter was now ready to use the information he had learned from other countries to begin changing Russia. The military was the first thing Peter the Great began to work on. He changed their uniforms completely and hired new officers. These officers were usually sons of nobles that were on his side. The military now moved to be nearly isolated from the Russian citizens. Members of the Army were discouraged to marry or form any attachments to non-military members. The Russian Army was changing.

The people of Russia did not like these reforms and changes Peter was initiating. Construction was forced on the civilians and angered them. “A hundred thousand of the people perished on public works, i.e. in the building of Petersburg, of fortresses, canals; for the Sovereign in his reforms had at heart the strengthening of his own prerogatives and not the happiness of the people”. The Russian citizens had become accustomed to the old ways and fallen so far behind the rest of the world that these new concepts Peter was implementing were hard to deal with. These new ways were against the traditions that had been set in stone for years. The conservatives of Russia were very displeased with what Peter did to the church as well. The church had a lot of money and land. He regarded this as a rivalry to his power. When the head of the church died he had some of the church’s land handed over to a department of the government. “He became an absolute shepherd of a headless church, the adversary of Christ, in a word Antichrist. As Shchapov remarks, the Old Believers ominously complained that Peter the Great ‘called himself Emperor and Monarch, that is to say, sole ruler and sole authority, thereby assuming the title of God of Russia’. The Old Believers hated Peter because he appointed himself head of church and state.

Peter the Great was one of the main reasons Russia modernized and was able to catch up with the rest of the world. Harsh decisions were set forth by Peter the Great, but without them, Russia would not have become such an empire. Peter is also the founder of the Russian Empire. The city of Saint Petersburg that Peter still exists today and is the second-largest city in Europe behind Moscow. Before Peter the Great, Russia did not have access to the sea which meant no Navy; they no longer have that problem as they obtained land along the Baltic Sea from Sweden in the Great Northern War. Peter the Great during his rule changed Russia both economically and geographically.

Works Cited

  1. Abbot, Jacob. History of Peter the Great: Emperor of Russia. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1859. Print.
  2. Conybeare, Frederick. Russian Dissenters. London: Oxford University, 1921. Print.
  3. Massie, Robert. Peter the Great: His Life and World. New York: Wing Books, 1991. Print. 

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Peter The Great And His Reformation Of Russia. (2022, February 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/peter-the-great-and-his-reformation-of-russia/
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