The Decembrist – Pavel Pestel
5th July marks the birthday one of the most famous of the Decembrists, Pavel Ivanovich Pestel. The Decembrists were young revolutionary army officers, who led a revolt against Tsar Nicholas I in 1825. The Decembrists wanted Russia to adopt democracy, a western style constitution and abolition of serfdom. However the Decembrist Revolt failed. The new Tsar sent many of the revolutionaries to Siberia, but ordered Pestel and the other most significant leaders to be hanged in 1826.
Early Life, Family and Education
Pestel was born in Moscow in 1793. His paternal relatives had all been directors of Moscow’s postal service, including Pestel’s father, Ivan. Subsequently, Ivan went on to become Governor-General of Siberia in 1821. Despite the Pestel family’s Muscovite roots, they were Saxon by descent. As a result, Pestel studied in Dresden in his youth. He returned to Russia, however, to study at the Corps of Pages in St Petersburg, where he graduated in 1811.
Pestel was a military hero, like many of the Decembrists. After his graduation from the Corps of Pages, he joined the Lithuanian Guards regiment. He fought in the Great Patriotic War of 1812 and the battle of Borodino. Pestel was commended for his bravery, and was awarded the Gold Sword for Bravery – a high military honour in the Russian Empire. After the Napoleonic Wars, Pestel became a commander of an infantry regiment in Tulchin.
Alongside his military career, Pestel became involved in secret societies which led the Decembrist Revolt. He became leader of the Southern Society of Decembrists in 1821 and was responsible for drafting the new political structure for Russia after the revolt. Pestel imagined an egalitarian state through land redistribution and democratisation. He was the most radical of the Decembrist leaders as he agreed with the killing of the Russian Tsar and his family in order to bring about political change.
Tsarist troops arrested Pestel before the actual Decembrist Revolt, suspecting him of plotting to kill the Tsar. The Russian Empire sentenced him to death by hanging following the revolt. He died in the Peter and Paul Fortress in 1826.