Shcherbatov, Prince Mikhail Mihailovich

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Shcherbatov, Prince Mikhail Mihailovich (1735-1790): Russian Historian.

Best known for his pamphlet, On the Decline of Morals in Russia, Prince Mikhail Mikhailovich Shcherbatov was a moralistic, conservative writer, and one of the first Russian historians. Much of his writing concerned the preservation of the “Old Nobility’ of Russia.

Shcherbatov was born in Moscow on June 22, 1733, son of Major-General Prince Mikhail Shcherbatov and Princess Irina Sontsev-Zasekin. His father died when Shcherbatov was five years old, and his mother ensured that he received a good education, including the teachings of the Russian Orthodox church and providing him with a knowledge of French, the language of the Enlightenment. In 1746, he enrolled in the “Semyonovsky,” his father’s old regiment. In 1756, he served in the War of Prussia, with the rank of ensign.

Between 1753 – 1760, he translated several important writers of the Enlightenment from French into Russian. Also around 1760 he wrote, in French, Various reflections on the Government, a political essay about various kinds of government, wherein he generally favors a monarchy ruling in accordance with a counsel of aristocrats.

In 1761 he was promoted to second lieutenant and the following year to first lieutenant. It was around this time that he married his first cousin. Also in 1762, a manifesto freed nobility from their required service in the military, and Shcherbatov retired with rank of captain.

In 1767 he was recommended to Catherine II, the Great to write a history of Russia, and in 1768 appointed “Historiographer.” His History of Russia, though one of the first histories of the country, and the most complete of the time, received less recognition than this political writings.

By 1768, the new nobility had clearly become the majority, Shcherbatov became disillusioned, and his further writings, often critical of Catherine, were bitter and not widely read. Shcherbatov died in 1790.

Further Reading:

A. Lentin, Introduction to On the Corruption of Morals in Russia, by Prince M. M. Shcherbatov, 1969. 1 – 109.

Sigrid Kelsey

Louisiana State University