Menshikov, Aleksandr Danilovich
Born Nov. 6 (16), 1673, in Moscow; died Nov. 12 (23), 1729, in Berezov, now Berezovo, Tiumen’ Oblast. Russian political and military figure; count (1702); prince (1707); generalissimo (1727). Son of a court stableman.
Menshikov became an orderly of Peter I in 1686. Devotion and zeal, as well as outstanding military and administrative abilities, thrust him into the position of one of Peter’s closest associates. He accompanied the tsar on trips around Russia and abroad, including the Azov campaigns of 1695-96 and the Grand Embassy of 1697-98. In 1703 he was appointed governor of Ingermanlandia (later St. Petersburg Province), and he directed the building of St. Petersburg and Kronstadt and the shipyards on the Neva and Svir’ rivers.
During the Northern War of 1700-21, he commanded large infantry and cavalry forces and distinguished himself in the siege and storming of fortresses, displaying fearlessness and composure. He scored a number of victories over the Swedes, including the battles at Kalisz (Oct. 18, 1706), Baturin (Nov. 2, 1708), and Oposhnia (May 7, 1709). In the battle of Poltava of June 27, 1709, commanding the left flank, he defeated the corps led by General Ross, thereby securing the victory for the Russian troops. On June 30, 1709, he forced the retreating Swedes to capitulate. From 1709 to 1713 he commanded Russian troops in Poland, Courland, Pomerania, and Holstein. In 1714 he began to administer lands that had been reconquered from the Swedes and become part of the Russian state (the Baltic region and Izhorskaia Zemlia) and to supervise the collection of state revenues. While Peter was away, he headed the country’s government. From 1718 to 1724 and 1726 to 1727 he served as president of the War College.
Menshikov was noted for his excessive cupidity and vanity. After Peter I’s death, relying for support on the guards, he elevated Catherine I to the throne on Jan. 28, 1725, and he himself became de facto ruler of Russia. On May 25, 1727, he betrothed his daughter Maria to Peter I’s grandson, Peter II. However, the princes of the Golitsyn and Dolgorukii families—representatives of the old aristocracy that were hostile to Menjhikov—managed to influence Peter II in such a way that, on Sept. 8, 1727, Menshikov was charged with high treason and misappropriation of state funds; together with his family he was exiled to Berezov. All his property was confiscated, including 90,000 serfs, six cities, estates in Russia, Poland, Prussia, and Austria, 5 million rubles in gold coins; and 9 million rubles in English and Dutch banks.