PETER THE GREAT (1672 – 1725)
There were fewer than one billion humans populating planet Earth when Mrs Naryshkin’s waters finally broke and baby Peter plopped out headfirst onto it in 1672.
Peter, as a kid, was a bigger pain in the arse than McCauley Culkin hooked up to a raspberry cordial intravenous drip.
He refused to go to school, treated tutors of his Slavic dialect with disdain, and spent most of his time playing in the sandpit with toy soldiers and plastic battleships, dreaming up ways of killing and conquering, and inflicting his obnoxiousness on as many people as possible.
When Peter was just ten years of age, older brother Fedor (Theodore), who was the reigning Szar of Russia suddenly went a strange puce colour, shuddered momentarily, sneezed twice, then dropped stone cold motherless dead before toppling sideways off the throne.
Imperturbed, little Pete immediately leapt up onto the cushion while it was still warm, as was his legislative right.
This really pissed off his older sister Sophia who was in the bathroom at the time moaning to the vanity mirror about how successive massive attacks of zits were the main reason why her teenage virginity had not yet been expunged or even playfully challenged.
She whined to everyone she met about little Peter occupying the throne, emphasising her point of view by crying and snorting and behaving generally like Paris Hilton on an alcohol-free day doing court-ordered community work, until someone in authority said;
‘What the hell, you can rule Russia for a while Sophie, as Regent, just until little Pete grows up and improves his worldly knowledge beyond that required to aerodynamically and texturally shape boogers to achieve the longest possible flicking distance’.
Then one day soon after, sniffing his way along the trail of romantic opportunity, came charming Prince Golitsin, with his Gladiators cap on backwards, a tattoo of Popeye the Sailor on his left bicep, and a pocket full of prophylactics.
He was able to see (later that evening) something beyond the Clearasil smudges and exploding pustules which still populated Sophie’s face, and together they enthusiastically worked on her other big problem in the four-poster until it was satisfactorily resolved to both their satisfactions at around 5 minutes to midnight.
As a reward for services rendered she appointed him Chief Minister the next morning.
Then one day over a breakfast of porridge with goat’s milk and honey, just as a conversation starter, Sophie suggested to her mother and Prince Golli “Why don’t we kill Peter because he’s growing up to be a violent, loud mouthed and ruthless adolescent bratski, and besides that, he’s threatening the longevity of my Regency?
The now 17 year-old Pete was livid with anger when Nigella the Chief Cook told him about the death threats which she had overheard whilst serving the toast and Vegemite. (It should be noted here that Nigella was originally employed by the Royal Court as Peter’s Wet Nurse, a duty she performed with loving devotion and quite extraordinary productivity.)
Peter also had a dim view of Sophie’s management style whereby most Decisions of State were made conjointly with Golli whilst lying flat on her back in the boudoir just making absolutely certain that her tenacious virginity had no chance of reappearing.
Peter enlisted backup support from an army of vodka-sloshed thugs, then confronted Sophie and eloquently announced;
‘F**k off Sophie.’
(** There is considerable academic debate about the precise translation from Slavic.)
‘I AM THE SZAR, and furthermore, you and everyone else, from this day forth shall refer to me as Peter The Great.
Stick that in your pipe and smoke it Soph’.
Peter the Great then went on to knock off lots of Turks in order to gain access to the Black Sea, following which he started a 20 year war against Sweden to capture the Baltic States and get port access to the Northern sea routes.
Finally, to put creative icing on his rulership, he turned Russia into a police state, imposed a tax on beards, then permanently locked his first wife up in a convent, maybe for not vacuuming under the rug, and killed his own son for ‘being an annoying little bastard once too often’.
Peter the Great is also remembered for opening up Russia to the outside world, being the father of industry and creating the first newspaper and museum, modernising the Cyrillic alphabet, and for building a new administrative city, a gateway to the West, and then modestly calling it St. Petersburg.
A leader remembered by history, but not fondly by his people.
No-one is totally bad.
Some, however, come closer than others.