Count, then Most Serene Prince Alexander Andreyevich Bezborodko (1747–1799) – born in Glukhov, Sumy region – Russian statesman of Ukrainian Cossack foreman origin. Since the late 1780s, he was Catherine the Great’s daily reporter on all major issues and actually led the state’s foreign policy.
He concluded the Treaty of Jassy with the Ottoman Empire. One of the initiators of the division of the Commonwealth. Two years before his death, he was awarded by Paul I the highest rank of Chancellor of the Russian Empire at that time. He achieved from the emperor the restoration in Ukraine of the General Court and other Cossack institutions, canceled by the predecessor.
WHAT A PUSHKIN
Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin is a great poet, a wonderful prose writer and, in general, a genius. All arguments are out here. But talent and moral qualities are distributed in different windows, so it is not worth denying that his character was complex. It does not discredit his literary gift in any way.
Do you remember his poem My Genealogy? He writes there: “My grandfather didn’t sell pancakes, he didn’t wax royal boots, he didn’t sing with court deacons, he didn’t jump from Ukrainians to princes …” Is he hinting at someone specifically, in his opinion, unfairly exalted?
To his contemporaries, the hint was obvious. Traded not exactly pancakes, but pies – Alexander Menshikov, a very famous figure. He cleaned Paul I’s boots – his valet Kutaisov, a captured Turk, whom Paul made a count. He sang in the church choir – Alexei Razumovsky, most likely the secret husband of Empress Elizabeth, who is also worth talking about here.
And who is the fourth who jumped into the princes, and why is it impossible for a Ukrainian? Pushkin could be asked why a Ukrainian cannot become a prince, and an Ethiopian can become a general-in-chief, like his ancestor Abram Hannibal … It is unreasonable for a person who lives in a glass house to throw stones.
It would not be worth paying attention to – the aristocracy of Ukrainian origin at the court was enough. But it was about a man about whom the wise Mikhail Speransky said that in Russia in the 18th century there were only four geniuses – Menshikov, Potemkin, Suvorov and he, Alexander Bezborodko.
BEGINNING OF LIFE
This unusual surname was given to his great-grandfather, the Polish gentry Demyan Ksenzhinsky, who nevertheless fought for Hetman Khmelnitsky. In one of the battles, a saber blow from the enemy took off half of his chin, and the Cossacks began to call him Bezborodko – they could have called him differently…
His grandson Andrei Yakovlevich, the father of our hero, held the considerable position of general clerk in the hetman’s administration for 22 years. True, ten of them he was under investigation, being accused of bribes, but he managed to justify himself – moreover, the scammer was also punished. What really happened there was dark water in the clouds, but he retired with honors.
His son Alexander was born in Glukhov in 1747. He received an education, as was then customary in such circles, at home, but of quite high quality – he continued his studies, presumably at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, and this required good preparation. Upon admission, Alexander showed that he could continue a quotation from the Bible from any place from memory …
Already in his studies, he showed both extraordinary abilities and an absolutely amazing memory. It is said that fellow practitioners sometimes woke him up in the middle of the night and demanded that he recite some book or name a historical date, and he did it with ease. But it could have been in the face …
THE START OF SERVICE
Just as he finished his studies, Catherine abolished the hetmanship and handed over the administration of Ukraine to Governor-General Rumyantsev, an old friend of his father’s. He accepted him into the service immediately in the position of a bunchuk comrade – and this is a rank corresponding to the captain.
The young man served excellently. Once, in his presence, they started talking about the appointment of one officer as the commandant of the fortress – and he immediately remembered everything about this officer and his predecessors in this position. They did not believe his memory, they began to check – and everything was confirmed to the word.
But Bezborodko was not limited to clerical service. During the Russo-Turkish war, he participated in the battles of Larga and Kagul, voluntarily fighting in the vanguard. In addition, he proved to be very useful in carrying out complex diplomatic missions.
In 1774 he was awarded the rank of colonel. And a year later, Catherine asked Rumyantsev to recommend her several worthy people for secretarial positions. Rumyantsev sent her two friends – Alexander Bezborodko and Pyotr Zavadovsky.
In a sense, Zavadovsky made a more successful career – Catherine also liked him as a man and took the semi-official position of her favorite, and even after parting with her he remained a successful official and even became Minister of Education under Alexander I.
But in purely official terms, Bezborodko, of course, succeeded more than his friend and colleague. Recommending him to the empress, Rumyantsev said, “I present to Your Majesty a diamond in the bark (rough), your mind will give him a price.” It soon became clear that the price was considerable.
At first, Bezborodko did not impress Catherine – he was fat, clumsy, did not know French, sloppily dressed … By the way, he learned French very quickly, but it was not only that – Catherine appreciated his speed of thought, perfect style, excellent language and fantastic memory.
They say that once he did not draw up a draft of an important decree on time – he went on a spree. And Catherine, take it and demand it – show the project! He read the text of the complex document without hesitation, and Catherine said that everything was fine, she would only correct a couple of little things. But Bezborodko had a blank sheet of paper in his hands – he simply improvised his text, and with all the subtleties.
In 1778, he wrote to his father, “Her Imperial Majesty multiplies her power of attorney to me from day to day … The whole public and the court see me as her first secretary, because through my hands go the affairs of the Senate, the Synod, the Foreign Collegium, not excluding the most secret … “Catherine herself called him “my factotum” – that is, an indispensable assistant, right hand.
In 1780, Catherine ranked Bezborodko in the Collegium of Foreign Affairs. Soon, when Panin, the head of the collegium, died, Osterman, who was appointed in his place, turned out to be a lazy and narrow-minded person, and the second most important member of the collegium, Bezborodko, began to decide all the most important matters.
His memory served him faithfully in this post as well. Once Count Komarovsky, going to Vienna, asked him which of the nobles live there to know what to present. For memory, as if reading a book, he listed all the most important figures and dictated a list of what is best to give to whom.
Ambassador Razumovsky in Vienna, looking at this list, exclaimed in surprise, “Count Bezborodko is a perfect genius, he knows everything better, having never left Russia, than I, who have been living here for more than fifteen years.” And the vast knowledge of Bezborodko concerned not only Vienna …
He was also a master of diplomatic negotiations, knowing perfectly well when to say what, skillfully alternating compliments and threats. It was he who played the decisive role in ending the Russian-Turkish war with the Yassy Treaty, which was beneficial for Russia, which secured the annexation of Crimea.
He played a significant role in the divisions of Poland – now you can’t praise him for this, history has sharply condemned it. Yes, and his role in equalizing the position of serfs in the empire, which worsened the position of the Ukrainian peasantry, is very unattractive, especially for a Ukrainian. This is who he was – he served his empress as best he could, both in good and in bad. Feudal morality.
But his declaration of armed neutrality, proclaiming the right of non-belligerent countries to trade everything except weapons with the belligerents, played a role in gaining US independence. And it is difficult to object to his words, said to young colleagues at the end of his career, “I don’t know how it will be with you, but with us, not a single gun in Europe dared to fire without our permission.”
So who was he, a hard-working bureaucrat who gave his life to work? Obviously not all his life – this Dr. Jekyll had his own Mr. Hyde, a gambler and a libertine. Sometimes he spent nights at the card table, losing a lot of money – however, he could afford his own.
With women it was worse and often went beyond the bounds of decency – especially sympathy for actresses. Opera singer Elizaveta Uranova even complained about his harassment personally to the Empress during the performance. I don’t think he grieved much – he had enough more accommodating actresses.
From the ballet dancer Olga Dmitrievna Karatygina, he had an illegitimate daughter, Natalya. To his credit, he took care of the girl, gave her an excellent upbringing and provided her with a solid dowry (already after the death of Bezborodko, she married the ruler of his office, Efremov).
However, he did not have enough actresses – every Sunday evening he took more money with him and went on a nightly spree through the haunts of St. Petersburg. He returned in a badly rumpled state by five in the morning, dozed for three hours, took a cold shower and went to work.
Despite his shabby appearance, he radiated a certain charm, and those around him loved him. He appreciated a sharp mind, gentle humor, kindness, generosity and gentleness. He was especially loved by fellow countrymen – he willingly helped them with advice, patronage, and sometimes just financially.
In his mansion on Pochtamtskaya Street, he kept an open table – any nobleman could appear even without his invitation. They say that one ruined landowner only escaped from starvation there. Bezborodko noticed him, but did not kick him out, but on the contrary, helped him with money.
His condescension towards fellow countrymen was fabulous. One of them, waiting for his decision, stood behind the chair in which Bezborodko sat and wrote a hasty letter, began to catch flies out of boredom – and brushed an expensive vase on the floor! Bezborodko turned around at the rumble and asked, “Well, did you catch it?”
He refused in the rarest cases – for example, a fellow countryman who asked to be hired as a theater conductor, “to wave a wand and take six thousand each.” Also, by the way, he didn’t kick him out, but explained for a long time that, it turns out, for this you also need to understand music …
And his generosity to his illegitimate daughter secured his place in literature. Remember the illegitimate son of a Russian nobleman who asked the emperor to recognize the child as legitimate and leave him an inheritance? You can guess by the last name – this is Pierre Bezukhov, almost Bezborodko!
At the end of Catherine’s reign, she replaced Bezborodko as the first speaker of petitions, appointing her favorite Platon Zubov. Bezborodko did not become embittered – he just began to help the stupid Zubov with advice and continued to be an indispensable person.
After the death of Catherine, Paul I removed her favorites from power – he had his own. But this did not affect Bezborodko. Pavel continued to appreciate him, made him a chancellor, that is, the highest official of the empire, a special class I, and granted him the princely dignity.
They say that such honors were a reward for the fact that Bezborodko handed over to Pavel an envelope with Catherine’s will, in which she left the throne not to him, but to her grandson Alexander. Pavel allegedly threw her will into the fireplace, and Bezborodko has been very fond of it ever since. There is no documentary evidence of this. So it was or was not – decide for yourself.
There is an opinion that Bezborodko was very useful to Pavel, influencing his decisions and keeping him from the extremes inherent in his nervous nature. It seems that Pavel understood this, and when at the end of 1798 Bezborodko asked for resignation for health reasons, he refused him.
Instead of resigning, he granted him leave for treatment abroad, but this measure was too late, since Alexander Andreyevich’s health was greatly undermined by his labors and excesses. Bezborodko was paralyzed, and in April 1799 he left this world.
He left a huge inheritance, which went to his niece, the daughter of his brother Ilya, who married Admiral Kushelev. Their descendants, so that the famous surname does not disappear, received the right to the double surname Kushelev-Bezborodko, also noticeable in history.
The inheritance amounted to more than 10,000,000 gold rubles – a monstrous amount. But besides this, Bezborodko also left his brother Ilya a lot of money – 210,000 gold rubles – for charitable purposes. Ilya Bezborodko disposed of these sums very worthily.
In memory of his brother, he founded an educational institution of a new type at that time – the Nizhyn Lyceum. The quality of teaching there was very high, and the institution attracted talented people. Nikolai Gogol studied there, as well as the “father of the Ukrainian fable” Leonid Glebov, and the author of Dark Eyes Evgeny Grebenka.
It exists even now – this is the Nizhyn State University named after Nikolai Gogol. Until now, its motto is the Latin phrase Labore et zelo (Work and diligence) – this is the motto of the count Alexander Bezborodko, by whose posthumous will this university arose.
And after him, 24,223 documents remained, of which 14,572 were signed by Catherine II, and 9,651 by himself, but they were personally created by him to the last. This workaholic left such a mark in history – now let the biographers figure out what is good and what is not. They have enough work!
All illustrations from open sources