History's Worst Ruling Family Relationships

‘Peter I Interrogates Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich at Peterhof’, by Nikolai Ge, 1871. Wikimedia

19. Peter the Great Tortured His Son to Death

Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich’s mother had been pious and conservative, so Peter the Great forced her into a convent when Alexei was eight. Understandably, that scarred Alexei. The father-son relationship cracked for good in 1715, when Peter, hoping to correct Alexei’s perceived weakness and other shortcomings, threatened to deprive him of the succession. To his astonishment, the Tsarevich agreed to relinquish his claim to the throne, and volunteered to enter a monastery. At the last moment, however, Alexei had a change of heart, and fled to Vienna, where he secured asylum.

The embarrassment enraged Peter, who sent agents to track down his son. In 1717, they handed him a letter in which the Tsar berated Alexei, but promised not to punish him if he returned to Russia. Ignoring warnings that it was a trick, the Tsarevich returned to Russia in 1718, where he begged forgiveness during a public spectacle in which he was disinherited. The Tsar forced him to name those who had aided his flight, which resulted in the torture and execution of dozens of Alexei associates. That done, Peter ordered his son jailed. On June 19th, 1718, Peter had Alexei flogged for days, until he confessed to conspiring to murder his father. The flogging was so severe that Peter’s son died of his wounds within a week.