On the mitres and uniforms of Emperor Peter III

Petrovskaya grenadier from the exposition of the Penza Museum of Local Lore

Likewise, you wives, obey your husbands, so that those of them who do not obey the word may be acquired by the life of their wives without a word …
The First Cathedral Epistle of St. Ap. Peter 3: 1

The history of military clothing. This topic arose, one might say, quite by accident. There was just a discussion in the comments of one of the materials dedicated to the cuirassier cavalry and its opponents – the mounted grenadiers. And where there are grenadiers, there are their characteristic headdresses – mitres, and where there are mitres, Peter III is remembered with his Holstein uniforms. And then I remembered something else: that a couple of mitres of his time are on display at the Penza Museum of Local Lore, that is, at arm’s length from me. There is no need to go either to Moscow or to St. Petersburg, but you can just go to the local museum, take a good look at them, take pictures and tell about them. And where there is a story about headdresses, a story about uniforms automatically suggests itself. Moreover, the uniforms of Emperor Peter III, like himself, once caused an extremely negative reaction in Soviet historical science. But time has passed, the passions have subsided somewhat, and now you can tell about his uniform exactly as it deserves it, and not on the basis of the CPSU policy chosen for a given historical period of time. However, the point here is not so much the bias of opinions of historians of the Soviet era, but, perhaps, in a negative attitude towards Peter III on the part of the close associates of his wife Catherine II, who had to compromise her husband by any means in order to justify the seizure of power in the country. That is, the people who left us their testimonies about those events, morals and customs were in many ways both biased and, in addition, obsequious. And then no one would simply sympathize with the deposed monarch orally or in writing, so as not to part with a career, or even with a head. In general, it is worth once again to look at the uniforms introduced by Peter, let’s say, a little more carefully, in order to draw conclusions not only about his very uniform, but also about the spiritual life of Russian society of that distant time, somewhat similar to ours.

A figurine of Peter I. A figurine of metal in a characteristic spacious uniform of the Peter the Great era with huge cuffs on the sleeves in the fashion of Louis XIV, buttoned with three buttons


It so happened that after Peter I and before Peter III, the Russian throne, except perhaps for the young Peter II, was occupied by only women. And women, well, let’s just say, even if they wear a crown, creatures are still more peaceful than men. They got a big country. There is a lot of land, which means why go into European politics? The same is true for the fleet … There is one, and thank God. And so the court intrigues are quite enough, if you want to tickle your nerves, and therefore there is it, the army, and the navy, besides, in case the adversary attacks, then all right, have mercy, however, God, from such a disaster.

On the mitres and uniforms of Emperor Peter III

Army grenadier chief officer, 1762 (Viskovatov A. V. Part 3. Clothes and weapons of the Russian troops with the addition of information about banners and standards, during the reign of Emperor Peter III, and about the Holstein troops, 1762. SPb., Military printing house, 1842)


But this is only one side of the coin, so to speak, gender, associated with the reign of Anna Ioannovna and Elizabeth Petrovna. But there was another. Although 25-30 years have passed since the death of Peter, there were still people in the country who did not accept Peter’s uniformitarian “innovations”, did not want to accept. How is A. Tolstoy doing in Peter the Great? “That is why Russia was strong, that, covering the shame of the face with a brace, like a dove, in holy ignorance, offered up prayers!” Peter managed to break the resistance of all who tried to resist him. But the resistance to his reforms remained, it is just that now it has acquired the form of a struggle for its own identity and national interests, against the dominance of foreigners. Even outwardly, and not only among the common people, but also among the nobility, there were many who did not shave their beards and did not wear European dresses, did not attend the “assembly”, but about tobacco publicly said that this herd-grass came from a nasty place in Babylon harlots, his filthiest juices! And if such were not extinct even at the top, then what can we say about the common people, where, as before, they believed in a conspiracy, a gap-grass and … that bugs start from the “spirit of man”, and from “the quiet of its emission”, and here from the “crackling” – does not live! That is why the “evil spirit” in Russia for a long time was emitted as loudly as possible, but the quiet was condemned, because there were already enough bedbugs! In the same way, as in China during the era of Empress Qi Xi, many thought that all the troubles in the country were from foreigners, and if they were kicked out and the “German” clothes were removed, everything would immediately return to normal. On the other hand, even all those who, being at the top, did not approve of the reforms of Peter I, still did not want to completely abandon them. But I wanted to limit myself to what he had already done, including the reform of the army.

Hence the confrontation with everything foreign, with the fact that it was with the Germans that penetrated into Russia. Under these conditions, the military uniform of the Peter the Great’s era became a kind of form of fronting the state power. And it was not without reason that Elizaveta Petrovna went to fight the father’s throne in the uniform of the Preobrazhensky regiment, and then the clever Catherine did the same. And in the portraits of the county nobility of the Elizabethan era that have come down to us, we often see people dressed in uniforms very similar to those of Peter the Great. Meanwhile, the military fashion in Europe changed, and only in Russia, as it happened many times and later, everything remained unchanged. “We have lived a day with God’s help, and thank God!” True, Anna Ioannovna, who came in 1730, somewhat reduced the number of troops and at the same time improved their supply and tightened discipline. Rather, not she, but Field Marshal Munnich, who during her reign led the reforms of the army, but he was more concerned with the specialization of combat arms and the unification of weapons calibers than with the uniforms of soldiers and officers. After all, it was with him in the Russian army that cuirassier and hussar regiments, pioneer units, a gentry cadet corps appeared in the Russian army, of which he was the chief for many years, but he simply did not get to the rest, and Russia always has money for the army there were big problems. Elizaveta Petrovna did not carry out any special uniform reforms either. True, the army was instructed to sew uniforms “not in debt” and “not wide,” but to restrain the sleeves and cuffs. It seemed that it was not difficult to force the monarch’s will to be fulfilled: they began to simply release much less cloth to the army trampers! But … the army, accustomed to the spacious uniforms of the Petrine era, was in no hurry to sew new uniforms of the “overseas maniru”. And it was unusual, especially for the peasants, since the national costume in Russia, among other features, was also distinguished by its spaciousness.

Officers of the cuirassier Leuven regiment, 1762 (Viskovatov A. V. Part 3. Clothes and weapons of the Russian troops with the addition of information about banners and standards, in the reign of Emperor Peter III, and about the Holstein troops, 1762. St. Petersburg, Military printing house, 1842)


On the other hand, what Peter did over time also became “bronzed” and acquired the character of an indisputable authority, but how could it be otherwise: after all, it was we who beat Charles XII, and he did not beat us! So now any innovations in the field of a military suit began to be perceived as some kind of attempt on the legacy of Peter the Great, although every year it differed more and more from the Western European military fashion! Meanwhile, in Europe, military uniforms had already changed a lot, so that the attire of the Russian army in comparison with them looked more and more old-fashioned, which, by the way, also undermined the image of Russia in the European political arena as a powerful state. “They say that we are Europe, not Asia, and they cannot sew a good dress for our soldiers!”

Privates of the cuirassier Leuven regiment of 1762 (Viskovatov A. V. Part 3. Clothes and weapons of the Russian troops with the addition of information about banners and standards, in the reign of Emperor Peter III, and about the Holstein troops, 1762. St. Petersburg., Military printing house , 1842)


It was in such a difficult situation in all respects that the Duke of Holstein and at the same time the heir to the Russian throne, Pyotr Fedorovich, arrived in Russia from Holstein. It is clear that his court troops wore the Holstein uniform, which in all respects was very similar to the Prussian one. In Russia, immigrants from Germany were first recruited into his troops, but when he ascended the throne, under the name of Peter III, he ascended the throne, the Balts, Poles and Ukrainians were already taken there. The main thing is that the person does not belong to the Russian tax-paying class. There were, in general, few of them. So, in 1762, the total number of Holstein units stationed in Oranienbaum “army”, according to the memoirs of Catherine, was 1590 people. At the same time, this number was distributed among seven infantry regiments and six cavalry, that is, in terms of their numbers, all these “regiments” were extremely small!

Brigadier of the Holstein troops, 1756-1762 (Viskovatov A. V. Part 3. Clothes and weapons of the Russian troops with the addition of information about the banners and standards, in the reign of Emperor Peter III, and about the Holstein troops, 1762. St. Petersburg, Military Printing House, 1842)


A lot has already been written about the personality of Peter III, and about his short reign, contradictory testimonies and assessments of his deeds. On “VO”, in particular, about him there was a whole series of articles by V.A. Ryzhova. Therefore, in this case, we will only talk about the uniform of his regiments, and no more, read about everything else from the named author. However, one important detail of the character of Peter III should be noted: like his formidable grandfather, he loved military affairs and had the appearance of a military man (this was written, in particular, by the secretary of the French embassy J.L. Favier in 1761). Moreover, he wore a uniform, sewn according to the Prussian fashion, but sewn so narrow and short that, speaking in modern language, he looked even too much in it. It is interesting that foreigners were surprised not by his very form (they just considered adherence to the European uniform to be quite normal), but only those extremes that were allowed by him in his uniform.

General of the Holstein troops, 1756-1762 (Viskovatov A. V. Part 3. Clothes and weapons of the Russian troops with the addition of information about the banners and standards, in the reign of Emperor Peter III, and about the Holstein troops, 1762. St. Petersburg, Military Printing House, 1842)


After becoming emperor, Pyotr Fedorovich decided to give an equally fashionable look to the entire Russian army. Did he manage to change into new uniforms at least the guard? The question has not been clarified. Of course, many courtiers, trying to get into the confidence of him, immediately began to sew their uniforms on the model of his guard. But although the new guards uniforms of Peter III himself, and headdresses, and portraits of figures from his entourage have come down to us, the main thing has not been published, namely the regulations for the new army uniforms. That is, he conceived a reform of uniforms, his samples were tested by his guardsmen, but the whole army, as well. most likely, even the guard, they simply did not have time to change into them.

Emperor Peter III. Metal figurine. The uniform as a whole is similar to Peter’s, even in color, but the cuffs on the sleeves have completely disappeared, or rather, they are now distinguished only by color.


How should the new uniforms differ from the old ones? First of all, with his cut, since he did not change the traditional colors of the uniforms of the Russian army, but he greatly reduced the consumption of fabrics and changed many elements of decoration.

So, the old uniforms of the Elizabethan period, according to the Peter’s tradition, were sewn quite spacious, long and had a large size, and therefore clearly visible cuffs. The uniform was single-breasted, had no lapels and could easily be fastened with all the buttons. Both the uniforms and the frock coats had deep folds on the hem, which increased, and significantly, the consumption of expensive cloth.

The uniform of an officer of the Life Dragoon Holstein Regiment with epaulets, which belonged to Peter III (State Historical Museum, Moscow)


The floors of Peter III’s uniforms reached only half of the thigh, but the camisole practically turned into a vest, since it had lost its sleeves and collar. The sleeves of the uniform, like the uniform itself, were now cut very narrow, and the cuffs made one whole with them, differing only in color. The pants have become just as narrow, and the uniform itself is now so narrow that it has now become almost impossible to button it up with all the buttons. But … here they got twenty centimeters, here twenty, there ten. But in the end, on tens of thousands of uniforms, the army now saved kilometers of cloth, from which the treasury received considerable profit.

To be continued…

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