Vladimir I of Russia (Russian: Владимир I Петрович, Vladimir I Petrovich) was the Emperor of Russia from 1742 to 1745, and from 1746 to 1765. He was also King of Poland from 1743 to 1745, and the Grand Prince of Serbia from 1753 to 1765. He is best known for his dramatic social reforms, economic and political advancements, and imperial conquests, for which he has earned the nickname Vladimir the Magnificent.
The youngest son of Peter the Great, Vladimir ascended to the crown after two of his brothers (Peter II, Andrew I) served as emperors. After three years into his reign, he was forced to abdicate during the Spanish Invasion of Russia, but returned to the throne after the Spanish, under King Philip V, were driven out by allied forces. His reign is marked with major social reforms, such as the liberation of serfdom and the grant of religious freedom, as well as major imperial acquisitions. On the eve of his death in 1765, the Russian Empire reached its zenith, being the largest empire in the world. He is also noted for leading Russia through the War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years' War.
He established himself early in life as a war hero of the Great Northern War. In attempts to continue his father's legacy of modernisation, Vladimir, prior to assuming the throne, took a grand tour of Europe, befriending many monarchs personally. He was known for his witty behaviour and quick-thinking, as well as stern manners and respect for his people and country. In 1715, he married Grand Duchess Maria Anna of Austria, the younger sister of future Austrian empress Maria Theresa. After a series of wars with the Ottoman Empire, Vladimir also succeeded in securing more land in eastern Europe, including the territories of Serbia, Cyprus, and Bohemia.
Birth and Childhood
By the time of Vladimir's birth on July 22, 1693, his father, Peter I, ruled jointly with his brother Ivan V as Tsar of Russia. Peter was in his first marriage, to Muscovite aristocrat Eudoxia Lopukhina. The two already had three sons: Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich (born February 28, 1690), Grand Duke Peter Petrovich (June 13, 1691), and Grand Duke Andrew Petrovich (born March 5, 1692). Vladimir was born on the ninety-seventh birthday of his deceased great-grandfather, Tsar Michael I, who was the first Romanov ruler of Russia.
With the Russian imperial capital in Moscow, Vladimir spent his early years living in the Imperial Palace, part of the Moscow Kremlin. In Tsar Peter's obsession of modernising Russia, Grand Duke Vladimir shared many of his father's interests, especially in the founding of a Russian navy. During Peter's Grand Tour of Europe, six year-old Vladimir begged his father to go with him, but was forced to stay in Moscow. His family briefly moved to a summer palace in Kazan, along the banks of the Volga River.
Education and Early Military Career
From ages six to twelve, Vladimir was personally tutoured by Nikita Zotov, a close friend and ex-tutour of his father. Noted Zotov, the young grand duke excelled in astronomy, geography, history, and languages (he was fluent in French by age sixteen). Zotov also noted Vladimir's keen and strong political, religious, and social opinions, which were reflected in many of his personal writings. For example, in one 1704 journal entry, Vladimir stated that "religion is not a necessary component to life, but nonetheless a marvelous thing to have." Many of his entries also critique and praise many decisions made by his father. These early-developed beliefs, some of which remained constant his entire life, surely played key roles in his many reforms made during his reign.
In 1700, war broke out between Russia and the neighbouring Kingdom of Sweden, in the conflict later to be known as the Great Northern War. Eager to fight for his country, Vladimir in 1705 enlisted at the Russian Imperial Military Academy in Moscow. By 1708, at age fifteen, Vladimir enlisted into the Russian Army, being granted the title of lance corporal, which he held with pride. Obviously interested in military life, Vladimir would often walk around the Imperial Palace entirely in his corporal uniform. He also preferred to eat and train with the regular soldiers, and even sometimes slept in the army barracks. When one day presented with a dish of fine royal cuisine for lunch rather than his usual bread and potato stew, he turned the food down, protesting "it's not what soldiers eat." Despite never being placed on the battlefield or seeing any real action in the early parts of the war, Vladimir was present at the Battle of Poltava, the climatic battle of the Great Northern War in 1709.
Going against the word of both his father and Russia's leading generals, Vladimir, since promoted to Lieutenant Colonel due to his strategic prowess, insisted on fighting on the front lines alongside his fellow soldiers. On one occassion, at the Battle of Pälkäne in 1713 on the Finnish front, Vladimir was given strict orders by the Russian army commander present, General Fyodor Apraksin, to refrain from entering the battle, fearing for the young prince's life. Eager to fight, however, Vladimir disguised himself as a common soldier and by the time the first shots were fired, he was present on the front lines.
At the Battle of Storkyro in February of 1714, again defying his father's wishes, Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Petrovich Romanov stood with the soldiers, muskets in hand, in the cold winter air as a massive Swedish army approached (Vladimir, although a military officer, preferred to fight alongside his troops on foot, as opposed to being mounted on horseback). According to witnesses, Vladimir famously remarked prior to fighting "Men, the winter is almost over, and it shall end in the heat of fire." As the battle commenced, Vladimir reportedly accounted for the deaths of three to four Swedish soldiers, including one captain who was the brother of famed Swedish field marshal General Carl Gustav Rehnskiöld. Also according to witnesses, Vladimir noticed the Russian standard being carried away by Swedish troops. For symbollic means, he called for his men to not let the flag fall into enemy hands, before himself charging at the stolen banner, wounding the thieves, and carrying the flag back over his shoulder. During the course of the battle, Vladimir was wounded by a bayonet stab to the right shoulder, as well as shards from an exploded shrapnel bomb that cut his lower legs. Much to the chagrin of his father and other leading commanders, who feared the prince's safety in battle, Grand Duke Vladimir was presented with the Order of St. Andrew's military decouration, for his bold services in the Battle of Storkyro, on March 6, 1714.
On December 13, 1718, when word reached St. Petersburg that the Swedish king, King Charles XII, had been mortally wounded by a Norwegian sniper in the Siege of Fredriksten, Grand Duke Vladimir called for a ceasefire in order to honour the loss of the Swedish king. This call for temporary peace was turned down, however, by Tsar Peter's war council, saying that a weakened Sweden offered the perfect opportunity for a final strike. Outraged, Vladimir and a large gathering of soldiers, commoners, and his other followers who sought an end to the war, staged a protest at Palace Square in St. Petersburg. They presented their demands to Count Alexander Danilovich Menshikov, the governor-general of St. Petersburg and the war advisor of the tsar. Insulted at the sight of a protest outside his home at the Mariinsky Palace, Menshikov responded by ordering a platoon of Russian dragoons to take aim at the massive crowd, but immediately called them off when he learned their leader was the tsar's son. Embarrassed, Menshikov listened to Vladimir's pleas, and agreed to call a ceasefire, to allow the Swedish to give their deceased king a proper funeral and burial.
The Russian armies on the Finnish and Polish fronts, as well as the Russian blockade put on Stockholm, immediately withdrew to St. Petersburg. At this gesture, Russia's allies in war, including Denmark, Prussia, and Poland, also withheld all further attacks on Sweden and called for peace. After this event, and Vladimir's staged protest, the people of St. Petersburg nicknamed the young duke Lyudi Gertsoga, or "Prince of the People".