Paul I (Russian: Па́вел I Петро́вич; Pavel Petrovich) (1 October [O.S. 20 September] 1754 – 23 March [O.S. 11 March] 1801) was the Emperor of Russia between 1796 and 1801. He was the only son of Peter III and Catherine the Great, and remained overshadowed by his mother for much of his life. Paul's reign lasted for only five years, until he was assassinated by conspirators. His most important achievement was the adoption of the laws of succession to the Russian throne that lasted until the end of Romanov dynasty and Russian Empire.
Paul was born in the Palace of Empress Elizabeth in St Petersburg. He was the son of the Grand Duchess Catherine, later Empress Catherine the Great, who was the wife of Elizabeth's heir and nephew, the Grand Duke Peter, later Emperor Peter III. His natal father was probably Sergei Saltykov, Catherine's lover. After seven years of virginal marriage to an anatomically deficient or uninterested husband, Catherine was encouraged to conceive with Saltykov by her senior governess Madame Choglokova, who, in Catherine's words told her, "...that there were sometimes situations in which a higher interest demanded an exception to these rules; where one's patriotic duty to one's country took precedence over duty to one's husband."
During his infancy, Paul was taken immediately from his mother by the Empress Elizabeth, whose overwhelming attention may have done him more harm than good. As a boy, he was reported to be intelligent and good-looking. His pug-nosed facial features in later life are attributed to an attack of typhus, from which he suffered in 1771. Some claim that his mother Catherine hated him, and was restrained from putting him to death. Massie is more compassionate towards Catherine; in his 2011 biography of her he claims that Paul was taken from his mother at birth and withheld from her presence except during very limited moments, that having done her duty in providing an heir to the throne, Elizabeth had no more use for Catherine, who was then forbidden from seeing the child. Paul was put in the charge of a trustworthy governor, Nikita Ivanovich Panin, and of competent tutors. It is interesting to note that Panin's nephew went on to become one of Paul's assassins.
The Russian Imperial court, first of Elizabeth and then of Catherine, was not an ideal home for a lonely, needy and often sickly boy. However, Catherine took great trouble to arrange his first marriage with Wilhelmina Louise (who acquired the Russian name "Natalia Alexeievna"), one of the daughters of Ludwig IX, Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt, in 1773, and allowed him to attend the Council in order that he might be trained for his work as Emperor. His tutor, Poroshin, complained that he was "always in a hurry," acting and speaking without reflection.
After his first wife died in childbirth, his mother arranged another marriage on 7 October 1776, with the beautiful Sophia Dorothea of Württemberg, given the new name Maria Feodorovna.