Alexander was born in 1777, the son of Grand Duke Paul and Maria Fedorovna (Sophia Dorothea of Wurttemburg).
He was quickly taken from his parents by his grandmother, Empress
Catherine II, and educated under her control. Among
his tutors was La Harpe, a Swiss adherent of the "Enlightenment". But
Catherine, herself, also took a personal hand and fed him with political
theories that she did not introduce into the reality of Russian practice. As a
young man, Alexander thoroughly accepted the tenents of democratic and
representative government and was so strongly repelled by the Russian scene
that he contemplated escape abroad. At the same time Alexander was also forced
to observe the quite opposite style and atmosphere in the semi-military
encampment his father, Paul, created as a personal court. The intense internal
and psychological struggle resulted in Alexander's adopting the tactic of
dissembling to conceal his own opinions and feelings. The Romanov family is
shown on this chart.
He was married young to the former Louise of Baden, who took the throne name of
Elizabeth Andreevna. They had then to manage life at the court of Emperor Paul
upon Catherine's death in 1796. He was soon brought into the plot to overthrow
his father, believing that this could be accomplished without bloodshed. When
it turned out that Paul was beaten to death in his bed, Alexander suffered
greatly and at first rejected the throne. His first royal acts were to
implement certain liberal policies and talk about others to come.
But it did not take long before his legacy of paternalism overcame his
theoretical liberalism. Such rights as the people might receive were his to
give by autocratic power, not theirs to expect on their own basis. He died
childless and was succeeded by his brother, Nikolai I.