Alexei Grigoryevich Orlov was a count in the 18th century during Catherine the Great time in power. Orlov rose to prominence when serving in the Imperial Russian Army. Together with his brother, he became one of the leading conspirators to overthrow Tsar Peter III.
In 1762, Alexei and his conspirators successfully overthrew Tsar Peter III, who was imprisoned and died mysteriously. According to popular belief, Alexei carried out the murder, personally or by ordering it. After Catherine acceded to power, the Orlovs became a powerful family at court but would later diminish after Catherine died and her son took charge of the Russian throne.
Alexei was born in 1737. His father (Grigory Ivanovich Orlov) was of the noble Orlov family and governor of Novgorod. He entered the Preobrazhensky Regiment and became a sergeant in 1762. The sergeant would later distinguish himself after getting a battlefield wound during the Seven Years’ War.
After the Battle of Zorndorf, which Alexei has survived, he was left with a scar across his cheek and became known as Scarface. Many described him as a giant, and he stood at more than two meters tall. Notable Alexei Grigoryevich Orlov’s involvements include the following:
- Overthrowing Tsar Peter III. Alexei participated in the palace coupe of 1762, which saw Tsar Peter III dethroned and replaced with Catherine the Great. Tsar took Catherine to the guard of honor, and after they pledged loyalty, she became the Russian ruler. Tsar was later arrested and died within the same month.
- Becoming Count. After Catherine’s accession, the Orlovs became powerful, and Alexei was promoted to major general with a title of count. His service under Catherine the Great had officially begun, and Alexei would soon take part in the seven-year Russo-Turkish War of the late 1760s. He destroyed the Ottoman fleet in the 1770 Battle of Chesma and received the right to add the honorific Chesmensky to his title. Alexei Orlov also received the Order of St. George First Class for his success in the wars of 1768 -1774.
- Capturing Princess Tarakanoff . Yelizaveta Alekseyevna, also known as Princes Tarakanoff, was a pretender to the Russian throne, impersonating the daughter of Empress Elizabeth of Russia. Catherine commission Alexei to make contact with the princes, which the count did successfully in 1775. He seduced and convinced Princes Tarakanoff to board a Russian ship in Livorno, where she was arrested. The pretender was imprisoned in Russia where she died.
Shortly after the arrest of Yelizaveta Alekseyevna, the Orlovs fell out of favor in court, and Alexei was dismissed from his position. He became a renowned livestock breeder in his estates, recognized for the Orlov Trotter horse breed and Orlov chicken breed. Alexei also left Moscow after Catherine the Great died in 1796, and her son Tsar Paul I took over the Russian throne.
Paul had ordered his father’s reburial in a grand ceremony, and Alexei, thought to be one of the assassinators, fled from the country. He later returned after the death of Tsar Paul I and the accession of Tsar Alexander I, under whom he served, commanding the militia of the fifth district.
At the time of his death on 5th January 1807, Alexei Orlov had a daughter (Anna Orlova-Tshesmenskaja) and a son (Ivan) born to his wife Eudokia. He’s also believed to have left five million roubles and 30,000 serfs’ in estates.
Alexei Orlov has once again risen to fame today. In the form of actor Kevin McNally, Alexei’s life will be played out on the small screen in HBO’s Catherine, the Great starring Helen Mirren. The HBO website for the miniseries tells the tale like this…