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Alexander Danilovich Menshikov (1673-1729) - an outstanding Russian statesman and military leader, favorite and associate of Peter I the Great.
Alexander Danilovich Menshikov was born on November 6, 1673 into a family without a distinguished position. Alexander's father was, as contemporaries testify, either a court groom or an ordinary peasant. It was he who gave his son to study with a pastry in Moscow.
In 1686 Menshikov became a servant of F. Lefort, and soon Peter I drew attention to him. Alexander Danilovich was a member of the Great Embassy; distinguished himself for bravery in the battles of the Northern War. Since 1719 A.D. Menshikov was appointed head of the Military Collegium. The duties of Alexander Danilovich also included guardianship over the children of Peter I when he was outside the country.
Menshikov was an influential person and under Catherine I - he headed the Privy Council, had the right to report personally to the empress. After her death, he wanted to regent under the minor Peter II, but illness prevented Alexander Danilovich from realizing his plans - Menshikov lost influence on Peter Alekseevich. In 1727 Menshikov was sent into exile. Alexander Danilovich died on November 12, 1729.
Menshikov was an illiterate person. Be that as it may, and contemporaries of Alexander Danilovich declared that Menshikov throughout his life could not read and write. This version is supported by many documents, and to be more precise, the absence of documents written by A. D. Menshikov himself.
One can only wonder how such a poorly educated person could speak several foreign languages at once. Yes, and in "Yurnal" (diary) of Alexander Danilovich there are quite a few entries and notes related to the fact that Menshikov got acquainted with the content of any papers. In addition, the prince had a huge library at that time. Her inventory has survived to our time.
Of interest is also the fact that in 1714 Alexander Danilovich Menshikov was the first Russian to become a member of a foreign academy: the Royal Society of London. The reason for admitting A.D. Menshikov was the distribution of "good books and sciences" by him. Isaac Newton himself called the prince a man of "the greatest enlightenment", which also refutes the generally accepted opinion about Menshikov's illiteracy.
Menshikov made his way to the nobleman purely by accident. In many ways, the beginning of Alexander Danilovich's career was helped by the event of 1686, when Menshikov was taken into the service of Franz Lefort - at the specified time, already influential under Peter I. Menshikov was in his service and was noticed by Peter I.
Menshikov - orderly of Peter I. Immediately after Peter I marked the young Menshikov, he appoints him as his orderly. Presumably (there are no exact data on this), Alexander Danilovich participated in the struggle of Peter I with Sophia (1689), as well as in the Azov campaigns. The name of A.D. Menshikov first appears in official papers (in the correspondence of Peter I) only in 1694.
Menshikov became a member of the Great Embassy. In 1697, he went outside the Russian Empire as a member of the Great Embassy. He was considered a volunteer wishing to study shipbuilding. Together with Peter I, Alexander Danilovich, having worked in Dutch shipyards, fully mastered the specialty of a ship carpenter, and then, already in England, he learned artillery and fortification.
Menshikov strove to always be close to the tsar. Alexander Danilovich personally participated in suppressing the uprising of the archers. Menshikov even boasted about his active participation in this matter - after all, he personally cut off the heads of 20 archers. After returning from the Great Embassy, Menshikov tried to help the tsar to implement any of his undertakings.
From the very beginning of the Northern War, Menshikov showed himself excellently. The year of the beginning of the Northern War is 1700, and already in 1702 Menshikov was appointed commandant of the newly conquered Noteburg fortress. Alexander Danilovich supported Peter I with all his might in his efforts to create his own Russian fleet. In this regard, Menshikov developed an active work on the construction of the Olonets shipyard. Alexander Danilovich was awarded the Order of St. Andrew the First-Called for displaying courage and initiative in battles. At the beginning of the 18th century, this order was the highest award in the Russian Empire.
Peter I trusted A.D. Menshikov has the most responsible assignments. Among them was the management of the acquired territories, as well as the construction of St. Petersburg, which from 1703 became the capital of the Russian Empire. Over the years, the tsar got so used to Menshikov that he could no longer do without Alexander Danilovich, who had become his irreplaceable friend. In addition, it was at Menshikov's that Peter I first saw the servant Martha of Savronskaya taken by the Russians, who later became Empress Catherine I. She also contributed to the advancement of Alexander Danilovich up the career ladder.
Menshikov had a passion for acquiring new wealth. Peter I, in every possible way, encouraged the activities of his favorite. Alexander Danilovich received more and more ranks, gifts, awards that came to him, however, not only from the Russian tsar, but also from the top officials of other countries. For example, the Polish king August presented D.A. Menshikov Order of the White Eagle.
Menshikov also received military laurels. Alexander Danilovich really deserved them. For example, on October 18, 1706, thanks to the vigor of Menshikov's actions, Russian and Polish troops defeated the Swedish in the Battle of Kalisz. Alexander Danilovich at the peak of the battle took the most direct part in it and was even slightly wounded. Peter I presented his friend and favorite with a cane covered with diamonds and a personal coat of arms.
Another feat of Menshikov refers to 1708, when on August 30 he again personally rushed into battle; the forces of the entrusted army ensured victory for Russia at the village of Dobroe, and on September 28 of the same year Menshikov distinguished himself in the battle at the village of Lesnoy.
In the absence of Peter I during Mazepa's betrayal, Menshikov, taking the initiative into his own hands, actually became the head of the entire Russian army and captured the city of Baturin, left a traitor.
During the Battle of Poltava near Menshikov, three horses were killed. On June 27, 1709, Alexander Danilovich's cavalry defeated the Swedish cavalry, on that day, indeed, three horses were killed near Menshikov. Menshikov pursued the fleeing Swedes at the head of the Russian troops. For his courage in the Battle of Poltava, Alexander Danilovich Menshikov was awarded the rank of field marshal, his position under the tsar became so strong that no intrigues against Menshikov shook Peter I's faith in him. During these years Menshikov was the second most important person in the state - he Peter I entrusted all matters when he left the borders of the Russian Empire.
Menshikov is the commander-in-chief of the Russian troops in Pomerania. It was Alexander Danilovich who was chosen by Peter I to fulfill this position. Menshikov justified the Tsar's choice with full responsibility. In 1713, the Swedish garrisons of the fortresses of Stettin and Tonningen were forced to surrender under the pressure of the troops allied to the Russian Empire.
Menshikov is a good diplomat. But Alexander Danilovich did not succeed in diplomatic skill. The good relations with the allies so necessary for Russia were not preserved by Menshikov. After the incident with the Stettin fortress, when A.D. Menshikov was supposed to hand it over to Denmark, but for a high price he gave it to Prussia (which, naturally, caused the dissatisfaction of the Danish king), Peter I no longer trusted his favorite of important diplomatic negotiations.
The siege of Stettin was the last military action of A.D. Menshikov. The reason for this was not Menshikov's loss of his military skill, but serious health problems. Alexander Danilovich's attacks of lung disease became more frequent, which did not give Menshikov the opportunity to stay for a long time in a field life. From 1713 he permanently lived in his palace on Vasilievsky Island in St. Petersburg. Its main task was the management of the Petersburg province - Menshikov was appointed its head. His duties included management of construction, economy, solution of military and civil issues. Alexander Danilovich took part in the meetings of the Senate, always remembered about the affairs of the fleet - Menshikov was personally present when each new ship was launched. And in 1719, the prince also became the head of the Military Collegium.
Menshikov is the guardian of the royal children. During the absence of Peter I, he was responsible for the royal children; Menshikov visited the palace every day for several hours, after which he reported in great detail in letters to the tsar information about his children. Alexander Danilovich took a very active part in deciding the future fate of the eldest son of Peter I - Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich. The latter openly expressed dissatisfaction with the reforms carried out by his father. Alexei even planned to seize power, for this purpose he made a conspiracy. Menshikov was a member of the investigative commission on the "case" of the tsarevich, conducted interrogations and even personally attended the torture. It is surprising that Menshikov was listed first on the list among those who signed the death warrant for Alexei.
Menshikov had many enemies. They did their best to harm the name of Alexander Danilovich. A wide variety of denunciations with accusations of embezzlement, fraud, etc. filled the capital. In many cases they were, in principle, true, but Peter I closed his eyes to them, because he believed that even if his favorite was to blame for something like this, then Menshikov had already atoned for his guilt by his merits. Supported by Menshikov and Catherine, and others close to the court. However, the passion of Alexander Danilovich for new awards, the harassment of new awards did their job: cold attitude and irritability on the part of the tsar were frequent.
Under Catherine I, Menshikov's position was strengthened. After all, it was Alexander Danilovich who was at the head of the guard, which made it possible for Catherine to rule the country. Menshikov became the head of the Privy Council, which, however, was created by him. He could freely enter to Catherine I for a report. And the empress, in turn, did not forget to thank Menshikov. She granted him the city of Baturin - the same one that Alexander Danilovich literally begged for from Peter I, but unsuccessfully ... Catherine I forgot about all Menshikov's debts.
Menshikov's daughter Maria was betrothed to Peter II. In order to achieve this goal, Alexander Nikolaevich needed Peter Alekseevich (the son of Tsarevich Alexei) to ascend the throne. True, this could well have been prevented by those dignitaries who at one time signed the death sentence to the son of Peter I, but besides this, they were afraid of the omnipotence of Menshikov himself. Through the efforts of Alexander Danilovich, all these people were exiled in 1727 with the loss of all their ranks - Menshikov agreed on this with Catherine I. The empress herself died on May 6, 1797. On May 23 of the same year, A. Menshikov's daughter (she turned 16) was engaged to Peter Alekseevich (he was only 12 years old at that time).
Menshikov is a generalissimo. From the moment of the death of Catherine I, Alexander Danilovich dreamed of regency over the underage Peter. However, this did not materialize. Menshikov only managed to get the rank of generalissimo and compile an extensive biography for further achievements, but the illness seriously interfered with Menshikov's plans. Alexander Danilovich lost influence over Pyotr Alekseevich, which was gained by Menshikov's longtime enemy, Dolgoruky. He managed to get a decree from Peter to exile Menshikov.
Menshikov was exiled to Berezov. But not at once. First, a decree was issued on the exile of Alexander Danilovich to Rannenburg (1727), which was accompanied by the deprivation of Menshikov of all ranks and acquired property. Here Menshikov was interrogated, accused of high treason. But no recognition was received. In April 1728, the former favorite was sent to the distant Siberian city of Berezov. Fate presented Menshikov with two serious blows: his faithful wife died on the way to exile, and his eldest daughter died in Berezovo (from smallpox).
The Siberian exile did not break Menshikov's spirit. Contemporaries spoke of Alexander Danilovich's courageous acceptance of the conditions that fate gave him. He calmly changed his expensive outfits for simple clothes. Menshikov told one officer (who, incidentally, did not recognize his former boss) that he was destined to return to the state in which he spent his childhood. On November 12, 1729, Alexander Danilovich Menshikov died, leaving a huge contribution to the history of Russia.