Emperor Paul of Russia
was officially the son of Peter III
and Catherine the Great
, though there are many rumors that he was actually the son of Serge Saltykov, a lover of Catherine's. He was born in 1754
before either of his parents had come to the throne, and was taken away from his parents and raised for the first seven years of his life by the Empress Elizabeth
and her ladies-in-waiting. His education was unsystematic; he was taught a lot in some areas and very little in others.
During a six-month period from December 1761 to June 1762, Elizabeth died, Peter became Emperor, and Catherine deposed him and became Empress. The shock of his father's forced abdication and death shortly thereafter left an impression on Paul. Catherine was generally cold to her son, since she had not had a chance to raise him and because her opposition felt that Paul should become Tsar when he came of age rather than when she died. She did, however, name him her heir and arrange a marriage to Prince Wilhelmina of Hessen-Darmstadt.
During Catherine's reign, she gave him some duties of government but kept watch on him because his politics were different than her own. Paul, like Peter III, was generally more pro-Prussia than Catherine (though when his first wife died, Catherine arranged for him to marry a princess who was a relative of the Prussian king; this one was baptized into Orthodoxy as Maria Fedorovna). After a while, Paul and his wife and children withdrew to a country estate where Paul commanded three battalions of soldiers and used them in mock battles. His family was under a similar strict discipline to that of his soldiers and dared not violate his slightest order.
Catherine had actually considered naming Paul's son Alexander as her heir, but never got around to doing so(or if she did as some historians claim, Paul destroyed the paper with the official change); when Catherine died in 1796, Paul became Emperor. He did as much as he could to be contrary to Catherine's policies, although some of his acts (such as reforming army service and freeing political prisoners) were probably beneficial to Russia. However, he was unpopular because he changed everything and expected more work out of his nobles and soldiers than the elderly Empress had, and also because he was modeling things on the Prussian system. Paul averaged 42 decrees of new laws per month, where Catherine had averaged 12. And like most Russian monarchs, Paul came down heavily on those who disagreed with him.
Paul had never been popular in adulthood, and conspiracies sprang up to replace him with his son Alexander. Paul was aware of some of these, and made his own position clear to Alexander by leaving a history of Peter the Great on Alexander's desk, open to the story of the death of Peter's son Alexei. Shortly after this, on the night of 12 March 1801, conspirators managed to make their way into Paul's bedroom and kill him, by suffocation in some versions or with a sword in others. Alexander probably knew of the conspiracy but thought that his father would be merely imprisoned; his grief over his father's death was probably real. Nonetheless, Alexander I became the next Emperor.
Sources: Donald Raleign and A.A. Iskenderov's The Emperors and Empresses of Russia: Rediscovering the Romanovs and those listed under Monarchs of Russia.