- Platon Zubov
Prince( Reichsfürst) Platon Alexandrovich Zubov (Russian: Платон Александрович Зубов; November 15, 1767– April 7, 1822) was the last of Catherine the Great's favourites and the most powerful man in Russiaduring the last years of her reign.
Platon was a member of the
Zubovfamily and had several siblings, including Nicholas, Valerian, and Olga Zherebtsova. It was through his distant relative, Nicholas Saltykov, that he met the ageing Empress. Saltykov presented the young and handsome officer to the court on the understanding that he would help Saltykov in his feud with Catherine's long-standing favourite, Prince Potemkin.
In August of 1789, Catherine wrote to Potemkin that she returned to life after a long winter slumber "as a fly does". "Now I am well and gay again," she added, telling about her new friend, "a dark, little one". "Our baby," as she called him, "weeps when denied the entry into my room," Catherine informed Potemkin in the next letter. As young minions succeeded each other monthly in Catherine's heart, Potemkin didn't attach much importance to her new liaison. Catherine was over 60, Zubov was just 22. The old courtier couldn't believe that their connection would last for an extended period of time.
Zubov, however, contrived to establish a strong hold of Catherine's affections and character. In 7 years, he was made a Count and then a
Reichsfurst, or Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, becoming the fourth (and last) Russian to receive the title. Upon Potemkin's death, he succeeded him as the Governor-General of New Russia. As Fyodor Rostopchinreported to Semyon Vorontsovon August 20, 1795, "Count Zubov is everything here. There is no other will but his. His power is greater than that of Potemkin. He is as reckless and incapable as before, although the Empress keeps repeating that he is the greatest genius the history of Russia has known".
During his years in power, Zubov amassed an enormous fortune. The Empress conferred on him tens of thousands of serfs, while simultaneously the courtiers rivalled each other in lavishing the most extravagant presents on him. In the last year of Catherine's reign even most trivial matters came to be decided on Zubov's advice. Crowds of petitioners thronged in his bedroom every morning, trying desperately to attract the attention of his pet monkey if not himself. The old generals prepared coffee for him. Zubov's secretaries enriched themselves on bribes from petitioners. They were all singularly incompetent in affairs of state, but at least one of them, the Spaniard
Jose de Ribas, is still remembered - as the founder of Odessa.
Zubov's character was capricious and unstable. He patronized
Suvorovand Fonvizin, and yet he is thought to have instigated the persecution of Radischev and Novikov. To the heir apparent, Tsesarevich Paul, he paid no respect whatsoever. Unsurprisingly, Catherine's death all but brought him to the verge of madness. For ten days, he concealed himself in the house of his sister Olga. On the 11th day, he was visited by Emperor Paulwho drank to his health and wished him "as many years of prosperity as there are drops in this beaker". Nevertheless, he was stripped of his estates, relieved of all his posts and was strongly advised to go abroad.
During Paul's reign, Zubov travelled in Europe, where he was shown as a curiosity. In
Teplitzhe fell in love with the Countess de la Roche-Aimont, then proposed to the Princess of Courlandbut was refused. Following one obscure duel, in which he ignominiously refused to take part and which resulted in his aide's killing Louis XVI's cousin, Chevalier de Saxe, Zubov withdrew to his Rastrelliesque Rundale Palacein Courland, formerly the seat of the Bironducal dynasty. He ended his days living in total seclusion and exploiting his serfs mercilessly. His young widow, Thekla Walentinowicz, a local landowner's daughter, remarried Count Shuvalov, thus bringing the vast Zubov estates into the Shuvalovfamily.
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