Overview of Alexei Orlov
Alexei Orlov rose to power in Russia during the 18th century and held much power during the reign of Catherine II. During his life, he served as both a soldier and statesman for Russia. He would play a key role in overthrowing Tsar Peter III of Russia and placing Catherine II on the throne instead.
Birth and Early Life
Alexei Orlov was born in Lyubini, Russia to the noble Orlov family. He had an older brother, Grigory Orlov. He and his brother were close, which would become clear later in life. From the young age of 12, Alexei Orlov served in the Russian Imperial Army, where he would eventually become an officer in the Russian guards and adviser to his older brother, who was also an officer.
Staging the 1762 Coup
Alexei Orlov’s brother, Grigory, got involved in an affair with Catherine II around 1760, despite Catherine II being married to the unpopular Tsar Peter III. They had an illegitimate child together. Alexei and Grigory, with the support of the Russian guards, plotted to overthrow Tsar Peter III and instate Catherine II instead. On a July night in 1762, Alexei Orlov woke Catherine II up at the Peterhof Palace and proclaimed, “the time has come for you to reign, madame.” He took her to the residence of the guards. Upon her arrival, they all pledged their loyalty to her. After taking Catherine to the guards’ barracks, Alexei made his way to Peter’s palace in Lomonosov to confront him. Peter abdicated the throne, and Alexei arrested him and imprisoned him in the village of Ropsha.
On the 17th of July, 1762 Peter died under mysterious circumstances. Publicly, Peter was said to have died due to haemorrhoidal colic. However, it is widely believed that Alexei Orlov murdered him. The methods by which Alexei Orlov supposedly killed Peter are disputed, with some saying that Alexei gave Peter poisoned wine. This account says, “… flames [to the course] through [Peter’s] veins. This aroused suspicion in the overthrown emperor and he refused the next glass. But they used force, and he defended himself. In that horrible struggle, in order to stifle his cries, they threw him on the ground and grabbed his throat. But he defended himself with the strength that comes from final desperation, and they tried to avoid wounding him. They placed a rifle strap on the emperor’s neck. Alexei Orlov kneeled with both legs on his chest and blocked his breathing. He passed away in their hands.” Others say that Alexei wrote a letter to Catherine after Peter’s death, saying that Peter and one of his jailers had gotten into a drunken brawl, resulting in Peter’s death. The legitimacy of this letter has been questioned.
Alexei Orlov’s Career Under Catherine II
To thank the Orlov brothers for their involvement in the coup, Catherine promoted Alexei to major-general. Grigory Orlov essentially ruled alongside Catherine for years, and both brothers received generous sums of money and serfs.
As a major-general, Alexei’s military ventures included involvement in military operations during the Russo-Turkish War, which lasted from 1768-1774. Notably, he oversaw and commanded a Russian fleet that won the Battle of Chesma against the Turkish fleet. He returned to St. Petersburg as a hero and received the honorific title of Count Chesmenski as a form of compensation.
Alexei also dealt with Yelizaveta Alekseyevna, a poser to the Russian throne who claimed to be a descendant of Empress Elizabeth. Alexei seduced her and brought her to a Russian ship, where she was arrested, brought to Russia, and imprisoned.
Life After Catherine II
After Catherine’s death in 1796, Alexei left Russia for a period of time during the reign of Paul I. After Paul died and Tsar Alexander I came to the throne, Alexei returned and continued military endeavors.
Death and Legacy of Alexei Orlov
Alexei Orlov died on January 5th in Moscow, leaving behind his estate. He had a daughter, Anna Orlov-Tshesmenskaja, and a son, Ivan, who died shortly after birth. Alexei’s wife, Eudokia Nikolayevna Lopukhina, died during the birth of Ivan. He is also thought to have had an illegitimate son named Alexander