Peter I, better known as Peter the Great, has gone down in history as one of Russia's most successful, yet ruthless, rulers. In power from 1682 until his death in 1725, Peter the Great is known for modernizing Russia and expanding the country into a powerful European empire. He fought a series of successful wars, founded the city of Saint Petersburg, developed the Imperial Russian Navy, and embraced Enlightenment ideas on art, science, and philosophy. He was also an autocratic tyrant who crushed all opposition.
Looking beyond his complicated legacy as a ruler, Peter the Great was remarkable for another reason. He had an incredible capacity to imbibe large quantities of alcohol, yet showed few ill-effects after a night of heavy drinking. Without fail, he would get up early the next morning, ready to take on the challenges of ruling his nation. According to some reports, he was able to drink dozens of glasses of wine in the evening and started each day with a pint of vodka at breakfast.
Historians say that it was his friendship with Swiss military officer Franz Lefort that resulted in Peter's excessive alcohol use. Peter's devotion to drinking and carousing led to the formation of a club known as the Jolly Company, later renamed the All-Joking, All-Drunken Synod of Fools and Jesters. With over a hundred members and the Greek god Bacchus as their patron, this group of Peter's closest friends earned a reputation for their incredible drunkenness, parodies of religious rituals, and the havoc they caused whenever they showed up somewhere and expected to be given copious amounts of food and liquor.
Peter the Great, emperor and hellraiser:
- Although he was fond of many different libations, Peter's favorite drink was brandy spiced with peppers.
- Peter was a tall, imposing man, but even his 6-foot-8-inch frame doesn't explain his ability to drink so much alcohol and still manage to be a successful leader.
- One of Peter's most memorable reforms was a tax on robes and beards – an attempt to force Russian men to emulate western European fashions. He forced his courtiers and military officials to shave their beards.