81. The Emperor is dead
“The art of government comes down to the ability to gild the pill”
“…how to turn a loss-making enterprise into a profitable one without changing anything in it”
According to the official version, the reason for Peter’s death was a pneumonia. The alternative versions included Cystitis, Pyelonephritis, Prostate cancer, Chronic gonorrhea and even poison.
“Many foreign doctors consider false stone disease to be the cause of his death, which followed January 28, 1725. The section done after his death resolved all doubts, because they could not find stones. Other authors equally unfairly attributed the disease to its consequence of the syphilitic phase. Most foreigners believe that the main cause of chyrs near the bladder. The most ridiculous thing, however, is the opinion of those who believe that the cause of Peter the Great's last disease is poison given to him during his youth.”
Chronicle of Peter’s death
On January 16, Peter began to feel dying torment. He screamed from the pain.
On the 22nd, he confessed and communed. All the … doctors gathered at the sovereign's. They were silent; but everyone saw Peter's desperate state. He no longer had the strength to scream and only moaned, smearing urine.
On the 26th evening, he got worse. He was anointed.
On the 27th, those present began to say goodbye to him. He greeted everyone with a quiet look. Then he said with effort: "after..." Everyone went out, obeying his will for the last time. He didn't say anything anymore. He suffered for 15 hours, moaned, constantly pulling his right hand, his left hand was already paralyzed. Peter stopped moaning, his breath stopped - at 6 a.m. on January 28, Peter died.
On February 2, the sovereign's corpse was opened and embalmed. They took off his plaster mask.
Immediately, a year-long mourning had been declared during which ladies were supposed to wear mourning dresses, and gentlemen were supposed to wear mourning bandages on their sleeves. Before the burial, everyone was ordered to dress in black clothes, and the highest dignitaries (up to lieutenant general) were ordered to cover two rooms in their homes in black.
According to the old Moscow tradition, the burial was scheduled for the 40th day (early March 1725). Meanwhile, a "Sad Commission" headed by Jacob Bruce was created to organize the funeral. Bruce and his assistants did everything to turn the king's funeral from a purely church rite into a state event. In this regard, much was borrowed in the West, and the immediate model for them was the funeral ceremony of Franz Lefort, developed by the Tsar himself in 1699. On January 30, his body (pre-opened and embalmed) was exhibited for farewell in the "Marer Palace Hall". On February 13, it was moved to the "Sad Hall" prepared during these days, where it was located until the burial.
The design of the "Sad Hall" corresponded to the emperor's favorite military-imperial style. The best artists and architects worked on it. In addition to the usual decorations (figures, coats of arms, symbols), pyramids with inscriptions were placed in the hall. The walls of the hall were originally upholstered with trellis depicting "Wonders of Christ", but Alexey, looking at them, ordered Bruce and Bock to upholster them with just black cloth.
In the center of the hall, an elevation was made, covered with carmazine velvet and gold carpets ("amvon"). It was placed with a golden brocadebed under a rich canopy. The modern engraving shows that Peter is lying in his guards uniform. There are crowns in the headboard on the pillows. There is a guard of honor along the walls. Simultaneously with the farewell, preparations for the funeral were taking place. Copies of the printed "Body transfer ceremony" were sent to all guests. A day or two before the funeral, heralds in the main city squares announced the day and hour of the beginning of the mourning procession.
On March 10, 1725, the transfer of the body of Peter to the Cathedral of Archangel  began. The signal for the beginning of the ceremony was a shot from a cannon. The procession was divided into 14 departments, each headed by a master of the ceremony and a marshal. The procession was opened and closed by the detachments of the Mounted Guard. More than 10,000 people participated in the procession, including 200 clergymen. In front of the chariot with a coffin were carried the coats of arms of the largest cities and the Emperor’s awards, there were singers, senior clergy and officials followed by the ambassadors from Baltic Alliance (as family representatives).
The mourning chariot was drawn by 8 horses in black blankets. There were 60 guards scorers with lit candles on the sides of it. Above the coffin, 10 staff officers carried a rich canopy on cast silver poles with coats of arms. His cover was held by two colonels.
The royal regalia were carried after the chariot. They were followed by a new Emperor, the Empress, the Widowed Empress and other senior officials (all in black). Peter was buried with a gold crown on his head in a sealed coffin. Following the tradition, the coffin was placed under a slab of stone.
New reign starts
The day after the death of the Emperor, members of the royal family, the generals, the Senate and the Synod and the Guards swore allegiance to the new monarch. Coronation, by tradition, happened only after the mourning period was over, on February 24 1726.
The coronation of Alexey II was the first imperial coronation in the history of Russia according to the "established rank". Former Russian rulers had been crowned by an old “Byzantine-style” rite and Peter did not use any additional rite when he was declared an emperor. For the new rite of coronation of Alexey II was based on the old rite, but taking into account the experience of European countries - France, Sweden, the Holy Roman Empire, Denmark. For the first time, the state banner, sword, seal and diamond chain of the Order of St. Andrew the First-Called were added to the traditional imperial regalia - an erine mantle of gold brocade with embroidered eagles, the globe, scepter and diamond crown . The rite was complicated by the introduction of Psalm 100 into it, which was performed at the emperor's entrance to the cathedral. The Coronation was carried out by Novgorod Archbishop Feofan Prokopovich.
The manifesto issued on the occasion of the celebration announced the relief of the tax burden and the easing of punishments for convicts, 37 people were promoted, the people received treats, and "fireworks were burned in the Tsaritsyn meadow."
But this was later and a business of governing could not wait for the whole year. Fortunately, Alexey was already pretty much in charge of the routine affairs for the last few years so the transition was expected to be smooth and it was.
Of course, situation involved visits of the foreign ambassadors with the mandatory expression of the condolences both on the official and, in the cases of Sweden, Denmark and Mecklenburg, family level as well: after all, Peter was “everybody’s uncle” and as such something of a patriarch of the Baltic Mafia family. All of them had been assured that nothing changes and that the new Emperor is going to follow policies of a dead one and that the family relations remain very important to him.
With the “outsiders” (Britain, HRE, France) “nothing new” attitude had been maintained: Russia is intended to be friendly with everybody while not committing itself to any new alliances.
Russian resident in the Ottoman Empire, Ivan Nepluev, was promoted to the rank of Ambassador Plenipotentiary to underscore importance of the good relations and simplify the future diplomatic talks, which were more than once handicapped by the limited powers of his low diplomatic rank. The Ottomans had to be assured that the existing agreements regarding their “interests” in Persia are going to be respected.
The only “link” that had to be strengthened was Prussia and an issue of a potential royal marriage (after the mourning period will be over) had been brought to the Prussian ambassador: after all Alexey’s children, Peter and Natalia, were of the same ages (give or take an year) as Friederike Sophie Wilhelmine of Prussia and her younger brother Frederick and by 1726 all of them would be of a marriageable age. Marriage to the Russian imperial family surely would be a bonus for Prussia on more than one account.
On the less noticeable scale there were two more actions, both seemingly
- Alexey’s mother, Eudoxia, was immediately recalled to Moscow. She returned to the former capital with a great pomp and was allowed to keep her own court at the Novodevichy Convent  until her death in 1731. This did not undermine position of the Widowed Empress Maria, with whom Alexey and his wife maintained the good relations, and while noticeably improving the living conditions of Eudoxia and providing her with a certain degree of prestige, kept her far away from being of any influence. The convent’s location on the outskirts of Moscow allowed for easy visits and maintenance of at least appearances of a happy family.
As far as Alexey was concerned, the Senate was steadily going to evolve from its initial governing position into a place for a “honorable retirement”. As a governing body it proved to be absolutely inadequate due to its slowness and somewhat ambiguous position between a monarch and the Collegiums, especially taking into an account that the foreign and military affairs already had been exempt from its jurisdiction. In Alexey’s opinion, the Senate, as some kind of a collective government, made certain sense with an absentee Emperor who spent a big part of his reign being out of the capita. Other than that, it was clearly incapable of providing a normally functioning administration being just a very inefficient buffer between a monarch and the Collegiums AND also spending enormous amount of time on dealing with the individual’s complaints and applications. So, it would be reasonable to have some kind of a cabinet of the ministers composed of the heads of the Collegiums (with some additions, if necessary) and to make Senate something of a supreme judicial body responsible for checking compliance of the imperial degrees with the existing laws, reviewing individual complaints (after they passed through the courts), etc. The transfer to a new form of the government had to be done quietly to avoid an impression of a drastic change of the government’s course.
- Menshikov was allowed to return to the capital and even made a member if the Senate. As a political figure he was not a danger anymore but he, undeniably, had a vast experience, which can be useful.
Another change was abolishment of a collective responsibility. When created by Peter, the Collegiums had to make their decisions by the unanimous vote of their members (the top level, of course). In theory, this should led to the well-considered decisions but in practice it proved to be a good way to avoid the individual responsibility (it was unlikely that the whole top level is going to be punished) and led to a very slow decision-making process. Following the letter of the decree, President of a Collegium was just a figurehead putting his signature on the top of others but hardly individually responsible for anything. De facto, the practice already changed in the Foreign Affairs and Military Collegiums but the rest, with the Senate’s support, happily held to the consensus system. After all, by definition, “collegium” is a group in which each member has approximately equal power and authority.
Changing the attitudes within the existing system looked as a massive waste of time (Alexey already tried this during his father’s reign with a very little success) so the simplest and cheapest solution was to change the name from “Collegium” to “Ministry” and position of a President to one of a Minister. Change of a name cost very little but a traditional excuse for doing nothing had been gone. A direct subordination of the ministers to the Emperor made a traditional modus operandi even less sustainable.
Mission to the Dzungars was informed about the change of a ruler and ordered to proceed with its task, stressing invitation to Galdan Tseren.
Kjakhta Commission was informed with the order to pass information to the Qing court with the usual assurances of friendship and willingness to continue the border-charting process. Governor of the Eastern Siberia was ordered to keep his troops ready to any eventuality.
 Court physician and professor of the School of Medicine of Moscow University Wilhelm Richter, "History of Medicine in Russia"1, 1814
 Based upon Pushkin’s “History of Peter the Great”
 A traditional burial place of the Russian monarchs.
 Actually, the diamond imperial crown
was an innovation: traditionally, the Russian monarchs had been crowned by “Monomakh’s Cap” or its modifications.
 The most prestigious place for the high-ranking widows with the very relaxed regulations.