Aleksey Arakcheyev

I heard of the following story from this week's episode of QI XL (series K, episode "Kaleidoscope").

In the Napoleonic era there was a Russian general called Aleksey Arakcheyev who insisted that all the women on his estate had a son every year. If they had a daughter, no child or miscarried, they were forced to pay a fine.

I wonder if there was a start-point and end-point for this. You start breeding at 15 (or maybe at the time of your marriage?) and stop at . . . 40? 45? Not sure what would have been considered "old age" for a Russian serf; I had to do some research on the history of menopause once (don't ask) and the average age of menopause is fairly consistently around 40, and has been for many centuries. That said, Russian serfs might have been completely worn out long before they hit 40. Although maybe he forced post-menopausal women to continue to pay fines. I just don't know. He doesn't sound like the "cushy retirement" kind of employer.

In addition, I should probably point out that his rule is not quite as evil as it sounds in terms of Russian ideology of the time. Serfs were more or less slaves, and much like slave owners, the more babies your slaves have, the more slaves you end up with. Keep in mind that while as horrible as it seems to us today, he would not have considered serfs to be people. They were a commodity that he wanted to multiply. And while I'm not saying that it wasn't cruel and an awful system and while I'm very, very happy that it was abolished in 1861, the mode of thought of the day made it difficult for someone (especially a complete bastard like this guy) to view serfs as as anything but property.

I went to look up more information about his obsession with male babies and kept pleading, "Pleaaaase let him look like Henry VIII, pleaaaaaaase let him look like Henry VIII", but he doesn't. He does, however, look like this,


which I am happy to accept, because when you add up the uniform, the dead eyes and the snarky smile, he looks like your bog-standard, aristocratic cartoon villain. When Disney gets its hands on The Wicker Man, this portrait is going to be the model for Lord Summerisle.

From what I understand, he was pretty much a bastard in all walks of life. He was so horrible in terms of army misdeeds that he kept being demoted or having power stripped from him, but such a ruthless commander that his military power was always given back. He even once said, "I am the friend of the tsar and complaints about me can be made only to God."

In addition to demanding insane fertility measures, he apparently also "ordered the hanging of all cats, on account of his fondness for nightingales".  It's little wonder that his named was transformed into a derogatory Russian word, "Arakcheevschina", which came to mean an oppressive military dictatorship.

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One Response to Aleksey Arakcheyev

  1. “I am the friend of the tsar and complaints about me can be made only to God.”

    Next time I get a rude customer in the bookshop, this shall be my riposte. >.<


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