On November 21, 1716, Prince Aleksey, the son of Emperor Peter the Great, requested political asylum in Austria.
The idea of the Prince relocating, at least temporarily, to a foreign country was voiced among his allies as early as 1714, who suggested that Aleksey subject himself to the King of France. Such a decision was triggered by an on-going rivalry between rebellious Aleksey and his crown-bearing father.
Prince Aleksey’s mother, Peter’s first wife Evdokia, adamantly opposed Peter’s reforms and innovations, and succeeded in instilling similar feelings in her son, since up to 9 years of age Aleksey spent time solely with his mother and her circle. Added to that was Peter’s strong resentment of Evdokia, open displays of which young Aleksey was forced to witness. All of this drove Aleksey to harbor rancor against Peter.
Talented, but lazy and reactionary by nature, Aleksey was a bitter disappointment to his father and, regardless Peter’s multiple efforts to change his son and make him his copy, the Prince remained adhered to the views and ideas his mother had embedded in him. Peter threatened to deprive Aleksey of his inheritance and send him to a monastery but, having many strong supporters among Peter’s opposition, Aleksey felt protected and didn’t take his father’s threats seriously. He spent his time entertaining and living a frivolous life instead of going to the army.
However, once complications on the international arena pulled Peter’s focus away from his shrewd son, Aleksey was strongly advised to seek political asylum in a foreign country, Austria being on top of the list, as the Prince was related to the Austrian royal family and could expect a warm welcome there. The Austrian government consented to provide Aleksey with political asylum, in return getting a chance to interfere in Russia’s affairs, both interior and exterior.
In August, 1716, Aleksey, officially announcing that he was going to visit his father in Copenhagen, changed course halfway and headed to Vienna. Once there, he was assured of enjoying all the support the Austrian government could provide. Later, some witnesses revealed that the Prince was also promised troops to fight his father, and the alleged support of the King of England. However the Austrian authorities, in their attempt to preserve peace with Russia, received the Prince secretly and hid him in a fortress. On learning of his son’s whereabouts, Peter sent a delegation to Vienna to extract his Aleksey immediately. He also informed the Austrian administration that keeping Aleksey on Austrian territory any longer would be regarded as a sign of hostility toward Russia, with the Prince retrieved from Austria by means of force.
Peter only managed to lure Aleksey back to Russia by promising him his full forgiveness, if he gave away the names of his accomplices. Aleksey came back home in early 1718 and was taken to the Kremlin for questioning, where he fully confessed, revealed all of his accomplices, and signed an abdication letter. After an additional investigation, Peter learnt that, while in Austria, Aleksey had promised to overthrow Peter and get rid of all his associates. He also claimed he would move the capital from the newly-built St Petersburg back to Moscow and stop all the imperial wars, only keeping the army for defense purposes.
For that, an enraged Peter, with the support of the Guard and the Senate, demanded the death penalty for Aleksey on the charge of treason, and the Prince was executed the same month. Other sources claim that Aleksey was strangled while still in prison per a secret order from Peter.
Aleksey’s death buried the last hopes of Peter’s opposition ever succeeding, finalizing the country’s new path of radical reforms that Peter the Great pursued.