Opposition to the regime of Paul I arose from the very first weeks of his reign. In 1797-1799, secret meetings were held in many aristocratic houses of St. Petersburg where the state of affairs in Russia and Europe was discussed. Often, impartial statements were made about the person of the emperor. Paul I managed to turn against himself almost the entire Russian elite, including the officers of the guard, who were the driving force behind all the palace coups of the 18th century.
In the summer of 1799, a group of conspirators began to form, hatching plans to remove the emperor from power and enthrone Paul's eldest son, Alexander. At the head of the conspiracy were Vice-Chancellor Nikita Panin, Governor-General of St. Petersburg Peter Palen, the last favorite of Catherine the Great Platon Zubov, along with brothers Nikolai and Valerian. The total number of persons involved in the conspiracy by the beginning of March 1801 ranged from 180 to 300 people.
On March 9, the emperor summoned Palen to his office and asked what he knew about the conspiracy. The Governor-General of St. Petersburg replied that he himself was in it, preparing to arrest the conspirators red-handed. Palen managed to calm the emperor, having received some time to implement his plans.
Pavel, suspecting those closest to him, ordered his own wife, as well as his eldest sons, Alexander and Konstantin, to be kept under house arrest in the Mikhailovsky Castle.
In the winter of 1800, the recruitment of officers for the coup began in the guards barracks. In total, about 300 people were involved in the enterprise. Of all the conspiracies of that era, the preparation for the overthrow of Emperor Paul stands out for its complexity, thoughtfulness and the significant number of people involved. By the time of the coup, Paul was isolated from the officers loyal to him; The guards in the Mikhailovsky Castle were occupied by troops subordinate to the conspirators; plans were carefully worked out for the collection and movement of officer columns, designed to penetrate the royal residence.
On the night of March 11-12, 1802, troops loyal to the conspirators blocked the approaches to the Mikhailovsky Castle. About 10-15 senior officers and dignitaries entered the impregnable palace, they were let through by the guard officers involved in the conspiracy. By half past midnight, a small detachment led by Bennigsen and Nikolai Zubov reached the emperor's chambers.
The conspirators burst into the emperor's bedroom, found Paul the First hiding in the folds of the curtain, and demanded to abdicate in favor of his son Alexander. But Paul indignantly rejected the demand. Then the equestrian Nikolai Zubov, Suvorov's son-in-law, a man of enormous stature and unusually strong gold snuffbox clutched in his fist, struck a blow at the hated face of the emperor. Pavel fell, all the conspirators attacked him, and began to inflict frenzied blows at the freak lying at his feet. They beat me in Russian from the heart.
The soldiers standing below on guard, hearing the noise coming from the royal rooms, became agitated. Then their commander SN Marin (a participant in the conspiracy) gave the command: “Attention! From the foot! ”And then“ kept his grenadiers motionless, and none of them dared to move. Such was the effect ... of discipline on the then soldiers: in frunt they became machines. " Emperor Paul would probably have been pleased with the results of his drill.
I would like to note the behavior of the officer on duty, who stood at the emperor's chambers. In this situation, he was the only one who remained faithful to his duty, refused to let the conspirators pass and was killed at the post.
The urgently called physician Villiers was ordered to put in order the corpse of Paul I so that he would not show signs of a violent death. Despite his best efforts, Villiers was unable to completely hide the bruises on the victim's face. In the coffin, the emperor's face was eventually covered with a massive hat. It was announced to the people that Paul had died of a stroke. But nobody believed that. Soon the "black" joke began to circulate that "Pavel died of an apoplectic stroke with a snuffbox in the temple."
Having come to power, Alexander I actually showed that he did not want his father's death. He tried to remove all the people who were involved in one way or another in the death of Paul. On the contrary, those whose loyalty to the former emperor could not be doubted rose even higher.