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Peter the Great

Peter as Frat-boy: drunken orgies, boat building, and dinner parties.

Peter Alexevitch is certainly one of the best known Tsars of Russia. His attempts to modernize his country by force are famous. Where did he get all his energy? Standing at 6' 8", and rising each day before four in the morning, he must have been awe inspiring. Well, probably some of his dinner guests weren't quite so keen on his bountiful supplies of enthusiasm. I quote from The Courts of Europe: Politics, Patronage and Royalty -- 1400-1800:

His liking for the crudest sort of practical jokes, and the grossness of many aspects of life at the Russian court, were certainly not without parallels elsewhere in Europe. Nevertheless, they were carried to lengths which foreign observers witnessed with a mixture of horror, amusement, and astonishment. One of them noted in October 1698 that at another banquet 'Boyar Golovin has, from his cradle, a natural horror of salad and vinegar; so the Czar directing Colonel Chambers to hold him tight, forced salad and vinegar into his mouth and nostrils, until the blood flowing from his nose succeeded his violent coughing.'

Well, alrighty then. You know, I think when folks call you Tsar, they're pretty much acknowledging your absolute supremacy. Is it really necessary to make them put vinegar in their noses? Apparently so. In point of fact, it seems not to have been enough:

The Hanoverian envoy [from above] has given an account of the entertainment offered by Peter nearly two decades later at his new Peterhof palace which illustrates vividly the rigours of imperial hospitality. Each guest, already hardly able to stand after a long drinking-bout, was forced to empty a bowl containing a full pint of wine, 'whereupon we quite lost our Senses, and were in that pickle carried off to sleep, some in the Garden, others in the Wood, and the rest here and there on the Ground'. They were then awakened and forced to follow the Tsar in cutting down trees to make a new walk to the seashore. At supper they drank 'such another Dose of Liquor, as sent us senseless to Bed'; but an hour and a half later they were roused to visit the Prince of Circassia (himself in bed with his wife), 'where we were again by their Bedside pestered with Wine and Brandy till four in the Morning, that next day none of us remembered how he got home'.

What, you think we're finished? He's not called Peter the Great because he did stuff half-way!

At eight o'clock they were invited to breakfast, but given brandy instead of tea or coffee. This was followed by a fourth drinking-bout at dinner, after the guests had been forced to ride very poor horses, without saddles or stirrups, for the amusement of the Tsar and Tsarina. When the party sailed back to the island of Cronslot (part of St. Petersburg) Peter showed great skill and courage in face of a dangerous storm; but when they had landed his guests could find neither dry clothes nor beds and had to make a fire, strip naked, and wrap themselves in sled-covers while their wet clothes dried.

So that's why he worked so hard -- he lost so much time partying.

Further Reading

Peter did so much wacky stuff we eventually gave in and wrote up another article.


  1. A.G. Dickens (Ed.). The Courts of Europe : Politics, Patronage and Royalty 1400-1800. McGraw-Hill, 1977.

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