The Baltic was passing into new hands. “The window” opening upon the West was to become a door, and the key of the door was to be kept upon the side toward Russia! Sweden, which under Gustavus Adolphus, Charles XI., and Charles XII. had played such a glorious part, was never to do it again; and the place she had left vacant was to be filled by a new and greater Power. Russia had dispelled the awakened dream of a great Scandinavian Empire and—so long excluded and humiliated—was going to make a triumphal entry into the family of European nations.
The Tsar, with his innovations and reforms, was vindicated. For breadth of design and statesmanship there was not one sovereign in the coalition who could compare with this man who, Bishop Burnet thought, was better fitted for a mechanic than a Prince—and “incapable of a great enterprise.”
Of Charles XII. it has been said that “he was a hero of the Scandinavian Edda set down in the wrong century,” and again that he was the last of the Vikings, and of the Varangian Princes. But Mazeppa said of him, when dying in exile: “How could I have been seduced in my old age by a military vagabond!”
Ivan, Peter’s infirm brother and associate upon the throne, had died in 1696. Another oppressive tie had also been severed. He had married at seventeen Eudoxia, belonging to a proud conservative Russian family. He had never loved her, and when she scornfully opposed his policy of reform, she became an object of intense aversion. After his triumph at Azof, he sent orders that the Tsaritsa must not be at the palace upon his return, and soon thereafter she was separated from her child Alexis, placed in a monastery, and finally divorced. At the surrender of Marienburg in Livonia (1702) there was among the captives the family of a Lutheran pastor named Glueck. Catherine, a young girl of sixteen, a servant in the family, had just married a Swedish soldier, who was killed the following day in battle. We would have to look far for a more romantic story than that of this Protestant waiting-maid. Menschikof, Peter’s great general, was attracted by her beauty and took the young girl under his protection. But when the Tsar was also fascinated by her artless simplicity, she was transferred to his more distinguished protection. Little did Catherine think when weeping for her Swedish lover in Pastor Glueck’s kitchen that she was on her way to the throne of Russia. But such was her destiny. She did not know how to write her name, but she knew something which served her better. She knew how to establish an influence possessed by no one else over the strange husband to whom in 1707 she was secretly married.
RUSSIA KNOUTED INTO CIVILIZATION—PETER DEAD
While Peter was absorbing more territory on the Baltic, and while he was with frenzied haste building his new city, Charles XII. was still hiding in Poland. The Turks were burning with desire to recapture Azof, and the Khan of Tartary had his own revenges and reprisals at heart urging him on; so, at the instigation of Charles and the Khan, the Sultan declared war against Russia in 1710.