Who was the father?
Who was the Father of Peter the Great?
According to Henri Troyat, Peter was unsure who his real father was. To begin with he was 6'5” at least. The Tzar Alexis who was supposed to be his father was 5'6”. “Alexei is of average height, with a full body and face, white and ruddy, and light hair between black and red-haired, blue eyes.... "
Peter did not look like his father. He was described by the French as “...a very tall man, well made though rather thin, his face somewhat round, with a broad forehead, beautiful eyebrows, a short nose, thick at the end; his lips were rather thick, his skin was brown and ruddy. He had splendid eyes, large, black, piercing, and well-opened...”.
He was also not like him in temperament. His father was known as 'The Quiet”. He was an intelligent man and well educated. By nature he preferred peace to war and he liked the people around him to be happy. He was described as having a soft and good natured character although he had flashes of anger. He was very religious and extremely observant. Unlike Peter he loved to hunt and wrote a book on falconry. Also unlike Peter he would leave strict orders that no one was to ask him for anything while he went on his excursions.
Peter hated hunting, liked drinking, and took requests from ordinary people as he drove around town in his very simple carriage. He said this saved them the trouble and expense of having to bribe others. He loved everything about the military and it is well known that he created the navy. He was not extreme in his religiosity. He exempted the military from fasting and attended Protestant services from time to time. He was known to be passionate, interested in all practical affairs from agriculture to dentistry and to have filled every place he spent any time at with things that he built. He was somewhat indifferent to the feelings of those around him. His energy was legendary. He was also very enthusiastic about women.
Tzar Alexis did some things well. He expanded the territory of Russia, and codified the laws. But Peter succeeded in doing many things that his father failed at, from creating a navy to reforming the currency.
The other sons of Alexis by his first wife were were sick. Only two lived to adulthood and one, Fyodor was twisted by disease in body and out of necessity stayed in bed most of the time. But he was a good ruler who took his work seriously. He is remembered for burning the Book of Precedent, so that promotions would be based on competence. He died at twenty one. Ivan had weak vision, hearing, stammered, could not stand without help and his mind was slow. He was paralyzed at 27, and he died at 30.
Peter was very large and healthy. His own daughters were like him, tall, 5'10” and he had a son who was six feet tall. They were all taller than their grandfather.
Tzar Alexis died when Peter was almost four, of a heart attack. He was forty seven. He never doubted that Peter was his son. Had he lived longer perhaps he might have had questions.
Henri Troyat, a French historian, said Tzar Alexis had mistresses, and Ivan Musin-Pushkin was his son. This has the status of a legend. Troyat claimed that Peter was jealous because he said “at least he knows who his father is”. Other historians such as Paul Bushkovitch claim this as proof that the sentiments of Peter not knowing who is father was, never happened. But there is some evidence that they did.
Tikhon Streshnev is one of those suggested to have been his father. He was very good to him as he grew up and served as a substitute father when the Tzar died. In all his letters Peter addressed him as father. Peter allowed him to keep his beard when other aristocrats were required to shave. He made a senator and he was later appointed by Peter as Mayor of Moscow.
But then the Tzar Alexis had appointed him to be the Royal Uncle, though he was not related to Peter. It could have been he was obeying orders after the death of his King.
Troyat said once when he was drunk, Peter asked Tikhon Streshnev if he was his real father. According to Troyat he stuttered and said that he really did not know. “I was not the only one.”
It is a good story.
Many people thought his father was really the Patriarch Nikon. Troyat said that it was common that there should be rumors about the paternity of a King. Louis the XIV was also said to be the likely son of a minister of his father who left him all his possessions. But in this case a specific person was most often named as the 'real father.'
Nikon was the head of the Orthodox Church and a counselor and close friend to the Tzar Alexis. He was the same height as Peter, as close as anyone could be to his father, and he liked the mother of Peter very much. It was said he followed her like a puppy.
Nikon was as hard a man as Peter himself who was once described as having not an ounce of softness in him. He was bright and as energetic as Peter. His family members were from the Ukraine.
Nikon was originally from a peasant family of Mordovians, a group in Russia related to Fins. He was raised by monks after running away from an abusive home where his stepmother and father beat him.
The monks at the monastery taught him to read and write. He became a married priest when he was grown. Though married priests cannot rise in the hierarchy, they are part of the community. He had a family. But then their three children died.
After that he and his wife separated. He became a monk and his wife a nun. They entered into separate monasteries. Now he was an unmarried priest. Like many in the Orthodox Church hierarchy he may have not have been entirely celibate.
Nikon did extraordinarily well in the Church after that. He built churches, monasteries and convents and advanced in a meteoric fashion in the clergy. He eventually was so well regarded that he was made head of the Orthodox Church. He put a condition on his appointment though, that everyone obey him in all matters without challenge or democratic discussion.
When he had total control Nikon reorganized the Orthodox Church. He brought back sermons; changed the way people crossed themselves; and improved, by returning to Greek doctrine, the church liturgy. These changes, which seem minor to the modern eye were very serious at the time and ended with a schism in the church, The Old Believers, which has lasted to the present.
Nikon built more new monasteries and convents; he changed the way icons were painted; and then he went from house to house to make sure his changes were being implemented.
The Old Believers were persecuted. Their leaders were burned or imprisoned in awful conditions. They considered Nikon to be the anti-Christ.
Nikon took for granted the State was created to serve the Church. He was often left to rule by Tzar Alexis when he was away and he was given the state seal. For six years Alexis and he were best friends. But his belief in the supremacy of the Church over the State was his downfall.
Nikon and Alexis eventually fought. For six years Nikon was banished to the north. He was eventually forgiven and he returned the year before Peter was born. He died when Peter was seven.
Another possible father was “Nicholas Davidson” also known as Erekle I. He was at the wedding of Natalya and Tzar Alexis.
It was said that Tzar Alexis was unable to father a son the year before Peter was born. He was very ill. Nicholas was a prince from an area of Georgia. He was raised in the court with Tzar Alexis, and was his close friend. He would have been 30 when Peter was born, and he left when Peter was two.
He went back to his own country in order to deal with the Persians and Ottomans who were fighting in Georgia. He took over and ruled as Erekle I or Herzclius of Kakheti. That was when he was a Christian.
Later he found it prudent to become a Muslim and changed his name to Nazar Ali Khan. 1 For this reason it is possible that Peter could have had an Islamic father.
As unlikely as this seems, Peter apparently thought this was a possibility too. He refused to marry a Georgian Princess fearing they were cousins. Sofia his half sister also thought there was some truth to this rumor as she would call Peter “that foreigner.”2
Troyat concluded that it is possible that Peter was the son of Alexei. He said that many a mediocre father has given birth to an extraordinary man. But there is good reason to entertain doubts. His looks, height and temperament were not like those of Tzar Alexis. While his own son Alexei did not share his personality, he clearly looked like his father. His daughter Elizabeth who eventually ruled was said to be very much like him. But Peter did not look like his half brothers, nor his full sister Natalya who he loved her very much.
Unless DNA testing is done in the far future this is a mystery that will never be resolved. It is unlikely that anyone would be exhumed for this purpose. But it is something that will always be a mystery.
1 Erekle of Kakheti. Wikipedia
2 From Georgia, Caucasus webpage at http://geokavkaz.blogspot.com/2010/04/blog-post.html