Libmonster ID: RU-14966
Author(s) of the publication: Yekaterina BOLTUNOVA

CORONATION OF CATHERINE I. Fragment of I. Zubov's engraving. Early 18th century.

"I admit I could never expect to find the court here as splendid as that..," confided Friedrich Wilhelm Bergholz, gentleman of the bedchamber at the embassy of the Duke of Holstein in Russia under Czar Peter the Great (Peter I, 1689 - 1725). Such compliments fit squarely with the opinion of all foreign visitors to our country in the 18th century, as she was out to assert her status of a great power.

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Czar Peter I assumed an emperor's title in 1721, and the following year he issued a legislative enactment that became known as the Table of Ranks and that particularized military, civilian and court ranks and offices. Such kind of hierarchy was no news to Russia; but the reformation-minded crown filled it with fresh substance by opting for Western models rather than Byzantine splendor.

The court staffs kept growing meanwhile. That was true of the "big" (czarist) and "small" courts (i.e. those of most august family members) alike. And so grew their maintenance costs. Thus, in 1785 as much as 3 million roubles was spent on the courts and retinue (compare: the sum total of the taxes collected every year from the privately owned landed estates was slightly above 5.5 million roubles). That was an exorbitant sum in those days. Was all of it spent on courtiers? Hardly. In fact, they were short of money all through the 18th century. For instance, during the reign of Empress Elizabeth (Yelizaveta Petrovna, 1741 - 1761/62) a maid of honor of the bedchamber got 1,000 roubles in salary, a maid of honor - 600 roubles, and pages of the bedchamber - a mere 110 - 140 roubles. Some categories of courtiers (like ladies-in-waiting, for instance) had to perform their duties gratis, without any emoluments. There were also numerous servants, retainers and men-all those stokers, boiler-men, grooms, sta-bleboys, tablecloth-makers, coopers, cooks, vodka distillers, confectioners, pastry-cooks, footmen, flunkeys, valets, tailors, jesters, couriers... And so on and so forth. This retinue received a much higher pay than court dignitaries and high officials (the head waiter got 1,200 roubles per annum, while the quartermaster-but 788). But even 300 courtiers and hundreds of valets could not cost the sum of 3 million roubles and drain the coffers as much.

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Most of this wherewithal was spent on court ceremonies and ceremonials. According to Richard Wartman, a modern American historian, such formalities turn the monarchial court into a form of collective representation of the czar and elite, helping the sovereign in the exercise of power and in expanding the empire. There is no doubt that a corresponding system in Russia was being built much after West European models. During his visit to France in 1717 Peter I was amazed at the superb handiwork of French masters in royal palaces, Versailles in particular. Upon his return to Russia Peter changed his ideas about landscape architecture and had the architect and sculptor Carlo Bartolomeo Rastrelli create an equestrial statue of His Majesty after the famous monument to Louis Quatorze (sculptor, Francois Girardon) unveiled in 1699. Besides, the czar reconfigured the architectural design of the Winter Palace, his new residence under construction in St. Petersburg.

The reformist czar, however, had no intention of transplanting Western traditions on our soil as they were. Rather, he thought of remodeling them in keeping with the mode of life at the St. Petersburg court (the Russian capital was moved from Moscow to St. Petersburg in 1712). The life styles and manners were not as rigorous there as at the French or Spanish royal courts where the etiquette* of good manners obliged most august dignitaries and their entourage to adhere at all points to the prescribed rules of conduct, sometimes carried too far, ad absurdum (King Philip III of Spain would rather burn alive at his fireside as his apparel caught fire but not put out the flames by himself - the court ceremonial assigned this duty to one of the courtiers who happened to be away at the moment).

Russian court mores permitted a good deal of liberty, though. Thus, Empress Catherine II (Catherine the Great, reigned in 1762 to 1796)** often complained to her court favorite Prince Grigory Potyomkin about the crowds of idlers lounging about her palace day and night ("I could not come to you as I was wont to, for our boundaries were separated by sundry 'animals' idling about"). As we see it from her correspondence, sundry court ladies, anxious to feast their eyes on Catherine's jewelry took the liberty of stealing into her "diamond room", strictly off limits. Maids of honor and guardsmen on duty would not hesitate to play hide-and-seek with grand princes despite their tender age. At the very beginning of her reign Catherine II issued a ukase (July 11, 1762): All gentlemen, except ambassadors and government ministers, were to be intro-

* The very word, "etiquette" was put to use by the French King Louis Quatorze (Louis the Great) in the 17th century. At one of the royal receptions cards, or etiquettes, were handed out to guests with a set of essential formal rules for good manners which were to be observed de rigueur. - Auth.

** See: L. Mankova, "Abode of Sciences and Arts", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2004. -Ed.

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duced to Her Majesty by the Oberchamberlain, while ladies-by the senior stewardess of the court, Ober-hofmeisterin. Solo presentations were no longer tolerated.

Official ceremonies came to be strictly regimented. Coronation was certainly the Number One of these. In 1724 Peter the Great made his wife Yekaterina (Catherine) a crowned empress by putting the crown on her head with his own hands (she succeeded him on the throne in 1725 as Catherine I). This act, however, transgressed against the Russian Orthodox canons (the only precedent occurred back in 1606 as the imposter False Demetrius I backed by the Poles was crowned together with his wife, the Polish princess Marina Mniszec). Peter the Great promulgated a manifesto to explain that move: such customs, he argued, were honored in all Christian lands and did not run counter to the Byzantine traditions. Besides, he pointed to "Catherine's competence as an imperatrix" and praised her valor in the Northern War of 1700 - 1721 (between Russia and Sweden) "when, putting aside her feminine frailty, she joined us of her own free will and did what she could in helping us... and performed in the manly, not womanly, fashion."

Catherine's coronation took place in the old Russian capital, Moscow, in the Kremlin. New coronation rituals came to be legalized then and there: the imposition of the crown in the Kremlin's Dormition (Assumption) Cathedral; as before, the newly crowned emperor was to pay homage to ancestors' graves in the Archangel Cathedral; a select company of horse-guardsmen was set aside to attend the ceremonies as a guard of honor. All that was followed by grand dinner in the Faceted Chamber (in its hall for gala festivities), and by dispensation of medals and coins.

Two decades later, in 1744 (under Empress Elizabeth, daughter to Peter I-here in Russian she came to be known as Yelizaveta Petrovna), a procedure was particularized in much detail for the presentation of ambassadors of other countries (from the moment of their arrival in the capital up to the audience at Her Majesty's). This ceremony was to be performed with much splendor so as to demonstrate the grandeur and magnificence of the Russian court. A foreign ambassador was to be accompanied by a court commissioner (en chef general); the chief master of ceremonies (Oberzeremoniemeister) was to promulgate the date of the ambassador's arrival to the courtiers, army generals and government ministers ("for them to send forth teamed carriages with liveries in order to augment the number of coaches and ambassadorial honor"). Three carriages of H.M. were allocated to meet the ambassador, together with footmen, hayducks, pages and fast runners.

Thus escorted, the ambassador rode in the first carriage together with H.M. commissioner and the Oberzeremoniemeister (with the ambassador's retinue seated in the second and third carriages); all this train of carriages and coaches drove into the capital. The day of the ambassador's public audience was announced the same night. On that day the ambassador's cortege escorted by officers and soldiers of H.M. Life-Guards set out for H.M. palace. The Zeremoniemeister (master of ceremonies) and the

Pages. 56

gentleman of the court's bedchamber, at the right and at the left hand, respectively, led the foreign guest to the audience hall of the empress. The Chancellor and the Vice-Chancellor stood to the right of her throne, with court gentlemen being to the left; the chief stewardess of the household (Oberhofmeisterin), ladies-in-waiting and maids of honor stood behind. Upon entering the hall and taking a few steps forward, the guest made three bows - the first, to hail the imperatrix, the second-in the middle of the hall, and the third-just before the throne. Having presented his credentials, the ambassador introduced his retinue to all those present, and he and his party could come closer to the czarine's hand. At the end of the audience the diplomat made a low bow and walked out, without turning his back on H.M., in accordance with the venerable tradition of pre-Petrine Russia.

There was a proper urbane setting for such gorgeous ceremonies, especially if they were staged in the old capital, Moscow. One took great pains to make the city clean and tidy, and decorate its streets. This is how Mblchanov, the assessor of the Moscow police authority (Polizeimeisters-kanzlei) who inspected the streets of Moscow before the arrival of Empress Elizabeth for coronation, described what he had seen:

"It was ordained many a time to regularly procure fir-trees for the procession of Her Imperial Majesty and get ready sand and juniper; and although firs were set up and sand laid in heaps, all this was done carelessly, for fir-trees were set all too close apart in places; the firs were stunted and small, and the sand thrown in large lumps, with no juniper brought in. It is improper that a great number of caskets (coffins) pile up before many shops in the streets.., with bast shoes, clothes ropes and the like hung up, wherewith the street has a disorderly look." But all that was in the scheme of things and did not shock the people - the European capitals of the 18th century were just as messy.

Military parades held to extol the sovereign's war valor and generalship were of signal importance. Their rituals were not established overnight, on the spur of the moment, they took time to form. But their proceedings came to be regimented anyway. In 1695, at the start of Peter I's reign, a festive ceremony was held to welcome troops returning to Moscow after the First Azov Campaign (an abortive venture, for they failed to capture the Turkish fortress of Azov). One of the eyewitnesses, I. Zhelyabuzhsky (statesman and diplomat), described the march-past this way: "On Friday, the 22nd day of November, His Majesty... deigned to walk from Kolomenskoye (landed estate south-

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east of Moscow) to Moscow together with his armymen; he crossed the Big Stone Bridge and came towards the palace with his regiments. General Pyotr Ivanovich Gordon led the way. His Majesty and all of his tsarist synod followed next. A Turk was led by two men before the synod, his hands behind; each held a long chain to draw the Turk. Then marched regiments of the streets corps. Coming up, they lined in front of the palace. His Majesty retired into his chambers, with all the generals and chiefs following suit. H.M. let all the chiefs to his hand and praised them with much grace. The same hour His Majesty set out with all his soldiers to Preobrazhenskoye (estate on the eastern outskirts of Moscow)."

This ceremony was quite in keeping with the earlier Russian tradition (we might recall the return of Czar Ivan the Terrible to Moscow upon the capture of Kazan in 1552; or the welcome ceremony for Czar Alexei Mikhailovich coming back from the Smolensk war campaign in 1654)... In the Second Azov campaign (1696), though, Peter succeeded in taking the fortress. A military parade staged on the occasion was meant to immortalize that feat of the Russian arms: the first triumphal arches were erected for the purpose, their pediments displaying images of the vanquished foe. There were changes in the march-past ceremony, too: besides the captive Turks and Tartars marched Russian soldiers "acting" as the defeated enemy. General Gordon, one of the victory makers, recalled that his "men and those carrying banners and badges... were clad in Turkish turbans, they were a queer sight. The Russians took our soldiers for Turks."

But one of the most grandiose festivities was arranged to celebrate the victory over Swedes at Poltava in 1709. Peter the Great appeared in the Victor's toga of triumphant Roman emperors. On December 21, 1709, his troops marched through Moscow under triumphal arches depicting Poltava battle scenes. The czar rode in his full-dress uniform of the Guards with a hat on shot through in battle (his steed was the same he had ridden during the Battle of Poltava) - he followed the elite Preobrazhensky Regiment that guarded Swedish prisoners of war-as many as 22 thousand! They included generals and senior officers of the army and the Guards. The centerpiece and the climax of this triumph-and the chief symbol of the crushed enemy-was the stretcher on which King Karl XII of Sweden, wounded in action, was carried out of the battlefield.

Members of the most august family often participated in many military ceremonials. Even Peter I's sisters and daughters, let alone the crown prince Alexei, watched every now and then the launching of ships, as recorded in the logbooks of the day. "On the 15th day of June (1712)... the newly built ship Poltava was launched. Aboard this ship were: Czarevnas Yekaterina Alexeyevna and Natalia Alexeyevna (Petrine daughters) as well as all members of the czar's family."

The military graced by their presence almost all major celebrations of the 18th century-festivals, funerals, visits of European royal dignitaries, and religious celebrations. The secular authories interfered in the affairs of the church and sought to draw it into lay ceremonies. And thus many Orthodox Church holidays became a cross between religious rites and a review of troops.

Firework displays were an important part of festivities, both in Russia and elsewhere in Europe. The "divine" origin of czarist power needed some "miracles" now and then. "Fiery funs" staged on the occasion of war or diplo-

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matic victories, New Year's, name-day celebrations of H.M. family members, or church consecrations-those were not merely pastimes and entertainments but also carried an enlightening mission. The effigies burned up during miracle plays were of allegorical or outright political connotation. Here's a description of fireworks in 1721:

"At about midnight a firework was set off just before the gallery on big barges prepared for the purpose. Among the other effigies burned was the figure of a man with a harrow on his head to protect him against rain, and with the inscription, 'Foolish Cover'; some deemed it was a hint at the English naval squadron dispatched for the cover of Sweden during Peter's devastating raids on the Swedish shore. Whilst that man in effigy was going up in flames, lots of rockets, water balloons and small bombs were set off."

Such shows meant for the broad public were part of 18th-century politics. Dariya Kozlova, a modern historian, has a point in saying that those presentations "were not confined to theater walls but spilled out into the street to get anyone to take part and 'relive childhood' once again." Meanwhile there were ceremonies performed for narrower audiences or participants. One was "H.M. Entrance", i.e., a solemn procession of members of the most august family from their palatial chambers to the cathedral, the smaller church of the Winter Palace or the throne-room, and then back to the palace. There were "big" and "small" entrances - the former were arranged on the occasion of great church and state holidays, and the latter took place on Sundays or on less significant events. The procession was headed by the court officials (according to the seniority of ranks and orders), then came members of the czar's family (graded according to the right of succession), with court ladies and senior state clerks closing the line.

By his ukase promulgated on November 26, 1718, Peter I instituted "assemblies", the forerunners of court balls; such socializings were to demonstrate one's status and instill good social manners. H.M. family set the example for emulation. The ukase decreed that assemblies were open to men and women alike; there were no fixed hours, one could come and go freely, but was not supposed to "remain longer than or beyond the proper time", that is outstay the host's welcome.

The host was supposed to open several chambers of his house to guests who could dance, play chess or checkers (no games of cards were played at Petrine assemblies); they could enjoy pipe-smoking, for which purpose a special room was set aside with a supply of pipes, tobacco, tapers, chips and other paraphernalia. If the host was short of adequate quarters, smoking was permitted in the dancing-hall-one of the insiders complained about "the stink and stench, banging and rapping, quite out of place with the ladies around and music". Since some ladies and gen-

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tlemen were not good enough at dancing, they could, assisted by their dancing-master, rehearse their "pas" right in the hall-all that was not considered a "faux pas" by other, more fortunate guests.

Since such soirees in cramped quarters were an onerous burden to the Russian nobility, they metamorphosed in time into balls, an essential part of social life for St. Petersburg's aristocracy. No longer tobacco smoke at dance parties, the high society would play cards, billiards, lotto or forfeits, with dancing and table talk coming first and foremost. By the mid-18th century the courtoise etiquette of good manners became a must. The host chose the nicest lady by presenting her a nosegay, and she passed the flowers to one of the gentleman who was to be the host of the next ball. He sent her a fan on the ball's eve, together with gloves and flowers, which she brought to the dance party.

Guests to court balls had to stick to etiquette rules and observe subordination according to rank. H.M. family members were the cynosure of such parties attended also by numerous chamberlains, ladies-in-waiting, maids of honor, equerries, pages as well by high military and civilian officials, officers of the Guards and diplomats. As many as a thousand guests could attend dance parties in H.M. palace.

Certain rituals, like that of coming of age, bore on family traditions of the ruling dynasty. Peter the Great attached much significance to the "annunciation" of one's majority and ordered a fete to celebrate the event in all ceremonial formalities that went with it. Such happenings as name-days, betrothals and weddings within H.M. family were celebrated with much pomp, too.

Every point was specified and regimented by fiats and edicts, including apparel (the enactment of 1744 prohibited guests from coming to the court in crape clothes or mourning coaches, while the acts of 1782 and 1796 specified the attire of ladies and gentlemen on a particular holiday). A special ukase forbade smoking during the officiation of divine services at the church (1747), while another one, issued by Catherine II, banned guardsman from staying on after a change of guard for playing with grand princes. All that enforced discipline.

The magnificence and glamour of the court of Russian czars and czarinas stressed the high status of the ruling dynasty and of this country as a great power.


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Yekaterina BOLTUNOVA, THAT FASCINATING ST. PETERSBURG // Moscow: Russian Libmonster (LIBMONSTER.RU). Updated: 27.09.2018. URL: (date of access: 26.10.2021).

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