Alexander I (Russian: Александр Павлович, Aleksandr Pavlovich; 23 December [O.S. 12 December] 1777 – 1 December [O.S. 19 November] 1825[a]) reigned as Emperor of Russia between 1801 and 1825. He was the son of Paul I and Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg. Alexander was the first Russian King of partitioned Poland, reigning from 1815 to 1825, as well as the first Russian Grand Duke of Finland, reigning from 1809 to 1825.
He was born in Saint Petersburg to Grand Duke Paul Petrovich, later Emperor Paul I, and succeeded to the throne after his father was murdered. He ruled Russia during the chaotic period of the Napoleonic Wars. As prince and emperor, Alexander often used liberal rhetoric, but continued Russia's absolutist policies in practice. In the first years of his reign, he initiated some minor social reforms and (in 1803–04) major, liberal educational reforms, such as building more universities. Alexander appointed Mikhail Speransky, the son of a village priest, as one of his closest advisors. The Collegia was abolished and replaced by the State Council, which was created to improve legislation. Plans were also made to set up a parliament and sign a constitution.
In foreign policy, he changed Russia's position relative to France four times between 1804 and 1812 among neutrality, opposition, and alliance. In 1805 he joined Britain in the War of the Third Coalition against Napoleon, but after the massive defeat at the Battle of Austerlitz he switched and formed an alliance with Napoleon by the Treaty of Tilsit (1807) and joined Napoleon's Continental System. He fought a small-scale naval war against Britain between 1807 and 1812. He and Napoleon hardly agreed, especially regarding Poland, and the alliance collapsed by 1810. The tsar's greatest triumph came in 1812 as Napoleon's invasion of Russia proved a total disaster for the French. As part of the winning coalition against Napoleon he gained some spoils in Finland and Poland. He formed the Holy Alliance to suppress revolutionary movements in Europe that he saw as immoral threats to legitimate Christian monarchs. He helped Austria's Klemens von Metternich in suppressing all national and liberal movements.
In the second half of his reign he was increasingly arbitrary, reactionary and fearful of plots against him; he ended many earlier reforms. He purged schools of foreign teachers, as education became more religiously oriented as well as politically conservative. Speransky was replaced as advisor with the strict artillery inspector Aleksey Arakcheyev, who oversaw the creation of military settlements. Alexander died of typhus in December 1825 while on a trip to southern Russia. He left no children, as his two daughters died in childhood. Both of his brothers wanted the other to become emperor. After a period of great confusion (that presaged the failed Decembrist revolt of liberal army officers in the weeks after his death), he was succeeded by his younger brother, Nicholas I.
Portrait of Grand Duke Alexander Pavlovich, 1800
Alexander and his younger brother Constantine were raised by their grandmother, Catherine the Great. Some sources allege that she planned to remove her son (Alexander's father) Paul I from the succession altogether. From the free-thinking atmosphere of the court of Catherine and his Swiss tutor, Frédéric-César de La Harpe, he imbibed the principles of Rousseau's gospel of humanity. But from his military governor, Nikolay Saltykov, he imbibed the traditions of Russian autocracy. Andrey Afanasyevich Samborsky, whom his grandmother chose for his religious instruction, was an atypical, unbearded Orthodox priest. Samborsky had long lived in England and taught Alexander (and Constantine) excellent English, very uncommon for potential Russian autocrats at the time.
On 9 October 1793, when Alexander was still 15 years old, he married 14-year-old Louise of Baden, who took the name Elizabeth Alexeievna.