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Her Imperial Majesty, Empress Alexandra FyodorovnaIt is generally said, that Peter the Great "opening a window into Europe", removed the capital of the empire to the foreign Finnish land. This opinion is wrong, the study of the history of this country, may prove the contrary, for it always was the original Russian land. Peter knew the history of his kingdom, understood its soul, and recognized the necessity to continue the war with the Swedes for the banks of the Neva, led with such, indefatigable tenacity by all his sovereign ancestors. Thus Petersburg and its nearest neighboring towns were founded by Peter not in a foreign country, but in a land, restored to Russia by his sword.
More than a thousand years ago, the entire site, where Peter the Great founded the new Russian capital, was peopled by Slavonians intermingled with Finnish races of Vod and Ijera. ancient annals and the Scandinavian sagas were acquainted with the Neva, Ladoga, Ilmen and Louga. The Sainted Tsarevna Olga of Kiev had already fixed the proportion of the tribute and organized administrative centers in the province of the Neva.
The territories on the banks of the rivers Ouzerva, Louga, Narova, Neva and its tributaries Slavyanka, Ijora, Mia, for many centuries belonged to the citizens of Novgorod, to the clergy, the prince, also to the churches and monasteries. During the three centuries of strife between Novgorod and the Swedes and the German knights, the region, as far as the Narova, knew no other power, than that of Novgorod.
The land, on which in the 18th century arose the splendid residence of the Imperial Court Tsarskoe Selo, comprised in former times, a part of the interior lands of Novgorod and formed the Douderhof parish in the district of Novgorod. In 1501 the Grand Duke of Moscow, Ivan III, effecting thorough alterations in the arrangements of Novgorod, registered, among the rest, the Douderhof parish in the district of Orehov and gave many lands and patrimonies, belonging to the Novgorodian citizens, to his functionaries in Moscow. J. C. Grot says: ,During many centuries the powers of two kingdoms, near the banks of the Neva, struggled in order to solve the question, as to which of them should belong the preeminence of the north. This struggle was accompanied on both sides by cruelties, and the country, that served as the meeting place of the inimical troops, endured all the weight of the war, independently of who remained the conqueror.
The annals do not mention any contests with the Swedes for the lands on the Neva during the early historical existence of Novgorod. On the contrary both in our narratives and in the Scandinavian sagas, one may find some indications of the existence of a lively trade and friendly intercourse between the Transmarine kinsmen of our first dukes and "Master Great Novgorod". The church of Saint Friday, built by foreigners and rebuilt in 1201 after a fire, already existed in Novgorod. In the middle of the 12th century on the island of Hochland, in the town Vizb, stood an Orthodox Russian church. The annals of those times often note risings of the citizens of Novgorod against the Finnish tribes named Tchud, inhabitants of the west and north of the Douderhof parish. One may guess, that those constant expeditions were provoked as much by the non payment of the tribute, as by the plunder, with which the sea-side Tchuds occupied themselves, thus 'hindering the regular trade of Novgorod with the "Goth" merchants. The Swedes, in their turn, made expeditions in order to punish the Finnish tribes nearest to them.
In the second quarter of the 13th century, under the influence of the Catholic propaganda, the German knights from one side, the Swedes from the other, taking advantage of the misery of the Russian country, determined to subdue to their authority the tributaries of Novgorod, and thereby consolidate their strength on the sea-shore and take possession of the Neva key of the trade of Novgorod. In 1237, the year of the conquest of Kazan, Kozelsk, and Chernigov by the Tartars, the pope Gregory IX announced a crusade against the Russian barbarians; the mighty order of the Swordbearers joined with the Teutonic order. Sweden prepared itself for a campaign against Novgorod. Then it seemed, that an end had come to the independence of Novgorod and Pskov. Nevertheless the Swedes were defeated by Prince Alexander (Nevsky) Yaroslavich on the Neva, and the army of knights perished, smitten by the Pskovites. From that time ' the strife began for the possession of the Neva and of the coasts of the Gulf of Finland. Novgorod and Pskov understood all the gravity of the position, understood, that the strengthening of the Catholic dominion on the principal Russian trade route signified the end of their independence, and the ruin of the Orthodox church. Both potent cities began the political struggle of many centuries with mighty neighbors, defending with all their might their native land, with its thick woods, poor huts, and sterile-land, peopled by Orthodox Finns and Slavonians.
All the efforts of the western enemies to fix themselves more to the east, across the rivers Narova and Sestra, were defeated by the military and political skill of Pskov and Novgorod. The knights were temporally successful in consolidating themselves in Youriev and firmly occupying Narva. The Swedes built an impregnable stronghold in Viborg, but suffered defeat in the attempt of founding on the Neva the town of Landscrona and a solid spot on the river Ouzerva, where the Novgorodians, having demolished the Swedish town, and appreciating the strategic importance of that spot, founded the town Korela (at present Keksholm) and about the same time, as a greater point of support on the Neva, built the town Orehovetz or Oreshek (at present Shlisselburg).
From the east Novgorod was menaced by other strong enemies, related by blood and faith, but strangers in spirit, at first Tver, afterwards Moscow. Novgorod struggled also with them, having recourse to the help of the mighty Lithuanian princes, but finally succumbed as well as its "youngest brother" Pskov, in that endless strife on two fronts, was deprived of its independence and spreading trade, by the Grand Duke of Moscow. The struggle with the western "infidels" about the very same shores of the Neva and of the Gulf of Finland was continued by Moscow, that subdued Novgorod. The conviction, that not only the lands as far as the Narova but the shores of the very Baltic Sea constituted the ancient Russian land, was transmitted by succession to the government of Moscow.
The end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries were signalized by great successes of the Swedes. For the first time the banks of the Neva and the towns Ivangorod, Koporie, Iama and Korela, were occupied by Pontous Delagardi and were obliged to acknowledge the authority of the Swedish king. Only Orehovetz held out against the siege. Nevertheless, by the treaty of Tiavzin, Sweden lost the banks of the Neva, seized them treacherously later on, and fixed itself securely for good. Jacob Delagardi, the son of the celebrated Pontous, built at the mouth of the river Okta the stronghold Nienshantz.
A year before the election to the throne of Michael Feodorovich Romanov, Novgorod and all its provinces were occupied by the Swedes, and the banks of the Neva formed a part of the Swedish crown lands, although the oath was taken by the inhabitants not to the king, but to Prince Philip, as to :the future Tsar of Moscow.
Notwithstanding the disastrous position of Russia, Michael Feodorovich continued the struggle with his lucky and perfidious rival Gustavus Adolphus, but was compelled to conclude peace in Stolbovo, by Which Russia regained Novgorod, Roussa, Porhov, Ladoga and Gdov. The provinces Lifland, Karelia, Neva, Ivangorod, Iama, Koporie remained in the possession of Sweden. Gipping says, "Sweden at last reached its aim, to which, using all its strength', it had aspired in 'the course !of more than three centuries. The Neva, with ,all lands adjoining it on the north and south, was now in its hands." But the struggle was not finished: the Tsar Alexis Michaelovich, profiting by the difficult circumstances of Sweden, at that time involved in a serious contest with Poland, made an attempt to regain the ancient Novgorodian land; he took Nienshantz, besieged Orehovetz and Keksholm, but did not succeed in his enterprise, and, made peace in Kardissa, acknowledging the treaty of Stolbovo. The Tsar Theodore Alekseyevich prepared himself for a war with Sweden, but conflicts in the south put an end to his intentions. At last Peter the Great led a peremptory strife with Sweden, and, having scarcely occupied with his troops the course of the Neva, founded at its mouth, the capital. The war with Sweden was far from being finished, when the Tsar, thinking himself strong enough in this country now restored to Russia, began building round his "paradise" castles, mansions and country houses, encouraging his courtiers to do the same. Oranienbaum, Tsarskoe Selo, Peterhof, Ekaterinienhof, were founded long before the end of the Great Northern war, which lasted a whole century. Even in 1790 in Petersburg and Tsarskoe Selo a terrible cannonade was to be heard from day-break, when the battles were fought between the Russian and Swedish fleets. At last, the peace in Fridrichsham concluded the struggle by a complete triumph of Russia over its adversary of many a century.