Details about
Tsar Alexander

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Agostino Aglio

The reign of Alexander I. Czar of Russia, coincided almost exactly with that of Napoleon I. The two men fought several times. It was Alexander who led the Allies to victory in 1814.. Inside Russia he conducted himself rather like an unenlightened despot. Catherine II, Catherine the Great, entrusted the education of her grandson to a free-thinker with republican ideas, Cesar Frederic La Harpe. The young man who was destined to become all- powerful was imbued with liberalism. He mixed with young Russian intellectuals who opposed his father, Czar Paul I. Together they developed a plot which led, against Alexander's desire, to the assassination of Paul in March of 1801. When Alexander became Czar he undertook a series of liberal reforms. He presided over a committee formed from his anglophile friends which was charged with studying reforming existing institutions. The senate was given the right to remonstrate and ministries were created. Serfs, however, were not freed. Various plans for a liberal constitution which Alexander played with from time to time never saw the light of day. In foreign policy Alexander seemed to vacillate between his friends' love of England and a certain admiration for Bonaparte. He signed a treaty of peace with England in July, 1801 and, some months later, a secret accord with Bonaparte, but the execution of the Duke of Enghien in 1804 and then the establishment of the empire threw him into the camp of Napoleon's enemies. He joined the third coalition against France in April of 1805, along with England, Austria, Prussia, and Sweden. Alexander was a man of commanding appearance, cultivated, elegant. He was full of grace and was the equal of the most amiable in the salons of Paris, Napoleon was to say later, adding "But his weakness lies in believing himself learned in the art of war." The csar refused to follow the prudent advice of his General Kutusov. He was defeated at Austerlitz on December 2, 1805, then at Friedland on June 14, 1807. On July 7, 1807, after the interview with Napoleon at Tilsit, on a raft in the middle of the Niemen, he signed a treaty of peace in which he recognized the French conquests and adhered to the continental blockade. Without opposing with a formal refusal he did not respond when the Napoleon requested the hand of his sister. Napoleon needed Alexander's support to restrain Austria. In October of 1808 he met the czar at Erfurt, but the interview was hardly conclusive. From 1809 on Alexander was opposed to the reestablishment of Poland. The continental blockage paralyzed the Russian economy. And the alliance with France was very ill advised. Could the two emperors have come to an agreement? Napoleon later said, "If Alexander's liking for me was sincere, intrigue alienated him from me. Intermediaries never ceased seizing opportune times to tell him that I covered him with ridicule, assuring him that at Tilsit and Erfurt he no sooner turned his back than I made fun of him. Alexander was very suggestible, that would have easily embittered him. Nothing could have been more untrue; he pleased me and I liked him." Indeed, the interests of the two empires, of the two emperors, were too different, so the campaign in Russia came about in 1812. In February of 1813 it was Alexander I who launched the appeal which led the Allies to Paris and Napoleon to the abdication. Conqueror, Alexander showed himself lenient and opposed dismembering France. At the Congress of Vienna, having become the most powerful monarch he tried to make prevail his ideas, which were becoming more and more mystical; he wanted to base diplomacy on Christian principles. In September of 1815 orthodox Alexander created the Holy Alliance with protestant Prussia and catholic Austria, an agreement intended to make peace and harmony reign among Christian peoples but in fact an association of rulers to repress the revolutions growing in Italy and in Spain. The czar seemed tired of the power which he had never succeeded in utilizing to bring about great things. His marriage at sixteen to a princess of fourteen years had never been happy. He died suddenly while traveling, at Taganrog, on 19 November 1825. Legend has it that he assumed the identity of a hermit and that his tomb is empty.

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