The Son of Peter III and Catherine the Great, Paul was born on September 20, 1754, and brought up at the court of his grandmother, Empress Elizaveta Petrovna, who intended to appoint him her heir instead of Peter Feodorovich (Peter III). After the overthrow of Peter III, he lived with his family in Gatchina Palace, given to him by his mother, where he had his own court and a small army. The violent events of his childhood and his estrangement from his mother made him irritable and suspicious of those around him.

On the day of Catherine the Great's death, the 42-year-old Paul declared himself Emperor.

Historians are equivocal about his short reign. He was unpopular at court and extremely hostile toward his mother. His coronation signaled a break with the stability of Catherine's reign. Paul I freed those imprisoned by the Privy Council, liberated the Poles, abolished conscription and limited the power of landowners over the serfs. On April 5, 1797, he issued a decree on rights of succession that established procedures for the transfer of power from one monarch to the next. In foreign policy, he performed an abrupt reversal, changing from war with France to union with her. This was probably one of the main reasons for his murder.

Paul I was married twice; secondly in 1776 to Princess Sophia Dorothea of Württemberg (Maria Feodorovna). He had 10 children from the second marriage.

On the night of March 12, 1801, he was suffocated by conspirators. He was buried in the Cathedral of the St. Peter and St. Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg.

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