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Peter the Great

(1672—1725)


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(1672–1725),

or Peter Alekseyevich Romanov, was the first son of the second wife of Tsar Alexsis. His father died in 1676 and his half-brother Feodor ruled until his death in 1682. Peter then shared power with another half-brother, Ivan, and with his half-sister who acted as regent. During this time Peter obtained a broad education and developed his love of science, and his interest in shipbuilding. In 1688 he found an old English-built 6-metre (20-ft) sailing boat at his estate in Ismailovo. This gave him his first experience of sailing, which led ultimately to an abiding love of the sea, and it remained one of his favourite boats. It is now on display in the Naval Museum of St Petersburg, and is known as ‘The Grandfather of the Russian Navy’.

Peter instituted shipbuilding in Russia around 1695 with the construction of two 36-gun ships and a large number of galleys, all of them completed within one year. This new fleet won their first battle, at Azov in 1696, a date now regarded as the founding of the Russian navy. Shipyard complexes opened in Voronezh and continued there till the timber supplies from the surrounding country were exhausted in 1711. By then over 215 ships had been built for the Black Sea/Azov fleet, many with a direct input from Peter. One of them, armed with 58 guns, was designed by him with guidance from England.

On the death of Ivan in 1696, Peter became the sole ruler of Russia and commenced a quarter of a century of territorial expansion and reform to bring his country into the European arena. With this in mind he made a prolonged journey through Europe which became known as the Great Embassy. He stopped in what is now the Netherlands for nearly five months, first in Zaandam where there were 50 shipbuilding yards, and later in Amsterdam where he worked as a shipwright. Early in 1698, he sailed for Britain where he was welcomed by the new king, William of Orange, who presented him with a yacht, the Royal Transport. Peter was delighted and during his five-month visit stayed in Deptford and was a regular visitor to the Royal Dockyard there.

At that time Russia had no seagoing traditions. So, on his return, Peter took back with him about 60 specialists in shipbuilding, and he also started to recruit foreign naval and military officers, shipyard superintendents, academics, and others. By 1713, the Baltic Fleet (which he had begun building in 1703) had eleven senior commanders of whom only two were Russian. He opened a Naval Academy and a School of Mathematics and Navigational Science, and in 1720 edited the first edition of the Book of Maritime Regulations. By the end of his reign his Baltic Fleet, which had helped defeat Sweden in the Northern War (1700–21), totalled 49 warships, 800 smaller vessels, and 28,000 men.

As Russia had no outlet to the west, Peter ensured that the eastern end of the Gulf of Finland was in Russian hands, and on the unpromising marshlands where the River Neva meets the sea he built St Petersburg and moved the capital there in 1712. Strategically sited for both trade and defence it was protected by the fortress and naval base of Kronstadt. Shipbuilding commenced east of St Petersburg and ultimately the great Admiralty yards opened in the centre of the city around 1704, making Russia a significant shipbuilding nation in its own right. The Admiralty yards continued building the ships for the Baltic Fleet right up until 1844.

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Subjects: Maritime History — Literature.


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