WDF THINKS: The Tragic Heir

Welcome to the first full episode of WDF THINKS, where this blog post and the actual podcast episode intertwine to tell a complete story. Make sure to click here to listen to the episode, and click here if you think you'd like to see the podcast feed, with a back catalogue stretching back over five years.

 

We here at WDF are indebted to our incredible listeners, all of whom go above and beyond to make sure that WDF reaches as many budding history friends as possible. Every day more people are tuning in, and it is truly amazing to see this baby of mine grow. Recently we passed another significant milestone, this one even more fantastic than the last. As you know, we are on Patreon, and have been since February 2017. Every month that goes by I am further humbled and encouraged by your guys’ continued confidence and investment in me, and recently we reached 150 patrons, which means that 150 people support this podcast every month. One hundred and fifty! I don’t even know that many people, yet clearly you guys know me well enough to trust me with your hard earned cash. You fools! Off I go to Bermuda!

Ha, of course, where would we be in WDF if I didn’t celebrate every single milestone we come across? I mean come on, I even celebrated six months podcasting all the way back in November 2012! What about the other milestones? 1 million downloads and 3 years podcasting, check. 5 years podcasting, check. 3 million downloads – nearly check.

The point is, I love to celebrate. This is all possible because of you guys: we wouldn’t be as successful and widespread as we are now if not for your guys’ ceaseless adherence to BEFIT at all times! In line with this, I wanted to do something to celebrate the new milestone, but at the same time I know we’ve been on a hiatus for a while and we’ll be returning to our normal programming on 4th September. So what could I do? Well quite simply, I chose to give you guys something earlier than originally planned, much earlier. This present from me to you is the first episode of WDF THINKS I’ll be releasing outside of the Five Weeks to Run Wild project, and I’m very excited to see what you all think.

 At the time of Peter's birth in 1672, the Swedish Empire was absolutely supreme in the Baltic and in Northern Europe. By the time of his death in 1725, well...

At the time of Peter's birth in 1672, the Swedish Empire was absolutely supreme in the Baltic and in Northern Europe. By the time of his death in 1725, well...

The plan had been to build up a batch of these episodes, and to release between 1 and 2 episodes a month, depending on my stress and production levels. Now though, I felt it only right to congratulate us all by releasing one of my favourite episodes earlier than planned. It will give us an introduction to the concept of WDF THINKS, as well as the fun intro music, thanks again to the folks at the Free Information Society for those voice clips – I never talked to them or anything, but I definitely owe them one!

 That famous painting by Nikolai Ge, with the Tsar seated looking at his son with an eyebrow raised, and the gaunt Alexis staring at the floor. A picture is worth a thousand words they say, this picture is worth a thousand pictures!

That famous painting by Nikolai Ge, with the Tsar seated looking at his son with an eyebrow raised, and the gaunt Alexis staring at the floor. A picture is worth a thousand words they say, this picture is worth a thousand pictures!

So what do we have here today? Well this is a somewhat tragic but inherently fascinating way to begin our WDF THINKS experience. Our microscope is focused on the reign on Tsar Peter the Great of Russia and his son Alexis. Alexis and Peter didn’t exactly get on all that well, for a number of reasons which I get into in the episode, but if you’re wondering whether or not to listen into the episode, have a read of this extract of this script I’ll be using for the episode, as a way to kind of whet your appetite:

Before we begin here, I need to ask you guys a question. How is your relationship with your family? More accurately, if you’re blessed enough to have a dad, how is or how was your relationship with your dad? Did you fear him, did you love him, did you both love and fear him at the same time? Was there no real relationship there at all? Did you feel pressured to live up to his expectations of you? For those men out there; did you feel pressure as a son to match or better your dad’s expectations? Was the relationship somewhat awkward because of this? Was your dad a domineering character; did he have a reputation for achieving great things; did he always seem to get his way; was he a leader of men? The reason why I ask all these questions is, in this episode of WDF THINKS, we’re introduced to one of the most infamous father son relationships in history – that of Peter the Great and his son Alexis. Peter was arguably one of the most important Tsars that Russia had ever seen, ruling at the turn of the 18th century, and dying in 1725. Peter’s reign as Tsar saw Russian power brought to previously unforeseen levels, as the man’s uncompromising stance on reform, on infrastructural improvement and on developing his Empire to model that of Europe saw Russia transcend the expectations of the day, and pass from darkness into light.

Peter the Great’s achievements are indeed phenomenal – he literally brought Russia from the knife edge of a civilised, organised imperial power and shaped it into a modern, European power plugged into the trade of the Baltic and established in the minds of European contemporaries. By the end of his reign Russia had definitively arrived, Sweden was in the decline and a convenient buffer in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth secured its western border. This very episode was inspired by the vast range of stories I’ve come across as I sought to tackle the Poles in their 18th century miniseries, to be released in April 2018. As much as I wanted to give due attention to all the incredible stories in the 18th century that the Poles led me to – including this one – I simply didn’t have time, so WDF THINKS gives me a handy way out.

Yet this episode here is anything but a mere snipped of a wider Polish Miniseries. The tale of Peter and his son is as tragic as it disturbing. It is very hard to think of Peter as reasonable in this case: how on earth could any father be brought to torture his own son, essentially to death? We do our best to explain that question, but it is worth remembering the world that Tsar Peter lived in, or more precisely the Russia he ruled over. An Empire very much founded on medieval concepts which it cling to resiliently for much of its existence (think – serfdom), Peter’s Russia was like a child undergoing some excruciating growing pains. Peter’s distancing of his regime from the Orthodox Church, his hiking up of taxes and the incessant demands he placed on the nobles, the average citizen and the serf for the resources he needed to fire up his Empire all add to the picture of Tsar who was intensely unpopular in certain parts of his own Empire.

 ...by the time of Tsar Peter's death, Russia was a force to be reckoned with, and an accepted member of the European family for that matter, where it had been regarded as a barely civilised state.

...by the time of Tsar Peter's death, Russia was a force to be reckoned with, and an accepted member of the European family for that matter, where it had been regarded as a barely civilised state.

Ruling over it with an iron hand, Peter could not afford to let such inevitable discontent fester into a rebellion, and so he elected to crush all opposition as soon as it appeared. Incidentally, this determination to preserve his own legacy made Peter deeply sensitive to any threats against his regime. It wasn’t necessarily the case that Peter believed his own son was conspiring directly against him; it’s more accurate to see Peter’s deplorable treatment of his own flesh and blood as the paranoid policy of a parent who believed that by squeezing his son, however brutal that process appeared, he could get to the bottom of the conspiracy which was in motion. Alexis had to have escaped the country with some help, after all – he had to have friends who were willing to aid him, and surely these people would know something. Of course, Peter tragically confused the efforts of sympathetic individuals to help a suffering Alexis with a full blown conspiracy – as you do. There was no conspiracy, there was just a father ending his son’s life out of a pathological fear for his own. In our episode of WDF THINKS we do our best to capture this, so I hope you’ll stop by and give it a listen.

*****

Thanks for reading history friends, and remember you can find the episode here, and the feed here. See you next Monday as WDF resumes :D