On this day in history, 5th of January 1762, death of Elizabeth, the Empress of Russia (29 December 1709 - 5 january 1762), eldest daughter of Peter the Great and his second wife, Catherine I.
Elizabeth seized the power during a daring coup on the night of 25 November 1741 with the help of the Preobrazhensky Regiment. Arriving at the regimental headquarters wearing a warrior’s metal breastplate over her dress and grasping a silver cross she challenged them: “Whom do you want to serve: me, your natural sovereign, or those who have stolen my inheritance?”. The coup, amazingly, succeeded without bloodshed.Elizabeth had vowed that if she became Empress she would not sign a single death sentence, an extraordinary promise for the time but one which she kept throughout her life.
The wife of the British minister (ambassador) described Elizabeth as “fair, with light brown hair, large sprightly blue eyes, fine teeth and a pretty mouth. She is inclinable to be fat, but is very genteel and dances better than anyone I ever saw. She speaks German, French and Italian, is extremely gay and talks to everyone…”
During her 21 years as Empress Elizabeth led the country into the two major European conflicts of her time: the War of Austrian Succession (1740–48) and the Seven Years’ War (1756–63). She encouraged Mikhail Lomonosov’s establishment of the University of Moscow and Ivan Shuvalov’s foundation of the Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg. She also spent exorbitant sums of money on the grandiose baroque projects of her favourite architect, Bartolomeo Rastrelli, particularly in Peterhof and Tsarskoye Selo. The Winter Palace and the Smolny Cathedral in Saint Petersburg are among the chief monuments of her reign.
In the late 1750s Elizabeth’s health started to decline. She began to suffer a series of dizzy spells and refused to take the prescribed medicines. She forbade the word “death” in her presence. Knowing she was dying, Elizabeth used her last remaining strength to make her confession, to recite with her confessor the prayer for the dying and to say good-bye to those few people who wished to be with her including Peter (Elizabeth’s nephew and chosen heir, later Peter III) and Catherine (future Catherine the Great) and Counts Alexei (Elizabeth’s long term favorite) and Kirill Razumovsky. Finally on 5 January 1762 the Empress died and was buried in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg.