Piotr Pavlovich Shafirov
The outstanding Russian diplomat of the first half of the 18th century, Piotr Shafirov, came from a family of Polish Jews. His grandfather Shafir was baptized in 1645 and took the name Pavel.
The father of Piotr Shafirov, Pavel Pavlovich, was an interpreter in the Ambassadors' prikaz (ministry). Shafirov himself began his career as a vendor in a shop in Moscow.
As a young man Shafirov had mastered many foreign languages. He possessed quick wit and resourcefulness - qualities which are necessary to diplomatic activity.
Piotr Shafirov was a prominent diplomat of his time: he took part in negotiations with representatives of foreign states, the preparation and conclusion of many peace treaties, including Nystadt peace (1721) which marked the end of the long Northern war between Russia and Sweden (1700-1721).
In the course of festivities on the occasion of the Poltava victory Shafirov was appointed Vice-Chancellor; before that he had received the title of Baron.
Piotr Shafirov was the holder of the highest Russian award - Order of Saint Andrew.
The Russian Army did not always win battles. During the Prut campaign in 1711 Peter I was utterly defeated by the Turkish Army. Only thanks to the negotiations of Shafirov with the Turkish vizir were the Russian troops allowed to depart from the battlefield with banners and weapons. However, Shafirov himself stayed as a hostage in Turkey for three years until Russia paid its penalty.
The career of the Actual State Councilor Shafirov was not easy and cloudless.
In 1723 on Menshikov's initiative he was arrested, deprived of all his titles and properties and sentenced to death. Among the charges levelled at him by the Senate (mostly concerning embezzlement of state property) was also his Jewish origin. However, Peter I in person struck this accusation off the list.
Sentenced to death, Shafirov was brought to the place of execution. Instead of cutting off his head, the hangman struck the block close to Shafirov's head, after which the decree of Peter I was read: the death penalty was replaced by the exile for life.
Piotr Shafirov spent three years in exile and then fortune smiled on him again.
In 1726 Catherine I called Shafirov back from exile. All his titles and properties were given back to him. At first he was entrusted to head the Commerce-Collegium, and soon received back the position of Vice-Chancellor of the Russian Empire.
Until his death Shafirov remained one of the most outstanding Russian diplomats.
Piotr Pavlovich passed away in 1739. The first baronial line in Russian history died out because of the absence of a male heir. However, there were many important people among his descendants. These are Piotr Viazemski, Sergey Witte, prince Felix Yusupov, and others.
In 1716, under Peter's orders, Shafirov wrote a book called "Discussions on the reasons for the war between Russia and Sweden", where he explained the motives which had induced Russia to begin the Northern War. For the first time in world history an attempt was made to understand an event in the sphere of international relations and to evaluate its consequences. Peter the Great himself wrote the introduction to Shafirov's book.
The book was very popular and it still elicits interest in our time. It was reprinted several times during the life of Shafirov and was the first Russian book translated into English. In 1973 its facsimile edition was published.
The buildings which had belonged to Shafirov in St. Petersburg have not been preserved. It is known that one of his palaces was constructed by Bartolomeo Rastrelli. That palace was situated at the site of the modern Kirpichnaya Lane.
Portraits of Shafirov hang on the walls of the audience hall in the Summer Palace and of Peter's gallery in the Winter Palace.