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Paul I (1754–1801), the only legitimate son of Catherine II, should have become emperor right after his father Peter III’s death, but he ascended the throne only after the death of his mother. While she ruled, he resided in Gatchina at an estate which Catherine had granted to her favourite Grigory Orlov first, and then, after Orlov’s death in 1781, to Paul. There, far from the always intriguing court, he tried to build his own “regular kingdom” based on strict discipline – a prototype of his future empire. When he became emperor, Paul attempted to extend his estate’s order to the whole country. His reforms were meant to “heal” Russia: he fought embezzlement of state funds, tried to restrain serfdom, and established the strict principle of primogeniture in the House of Romanov. Paul I’s reign lasted only for 4 years, 4 months and 6 days. Most of his policies were viewed as a great annoyance to the losing their privileges nobility and army brass, and induced a conspiracy against him. On the night of 23 March 1801, a band of conspirators headed by St.Petersburg Military Governor Count Peter Pahlen charged into Paul’s bedroom in the newly built St Michael's Castle and strangled him. According to another version of the story, Paul’s death resulted from a stroke at his temple with a golden snuffbox.

Paul I spent 42 of his 47 years of life in the Tsarskoe Selo palace, first with his great-aunt, Empress Elizabeth, and then with his mother, Catherine II. In the summer the boy was moved to Tsarskoe Selo in a special carriage. His clothing, toys, tableware and schoolbooks were delivered separately. When Paul was 19, his first bride Wilhelmina Louisa came to Tsarskoe Selo on 15 June 1773. The German princess took the name Natalia Alexeievna before their marriage. After the wedding, the young couple stayed at Tsarskoe until late in the autumn. Three years later Paul’s wife died at childbirth. On 31 August 1776 another bride, the beautiful Sophia Dorothea of Württemberg, the future Empress Maria Fiodorovna, appeared at Tsarskoe Selo. The light and exquisite apartments for the newlyweds – the Green Dining-Room, the Bedchamber, the State Blue Drawing-Room and personal rooms – were decorated by the architect Charles Cameron. Soon after his second marriage, Paul began to be involved in intrigues. He believed he was the target of assassination and suspected his mother of intending to kill him like she, as he was sure, had done to his father, Emperor Peter III. After Catherine’s death, Paul I visited Tsarskoe Selo only once in July 1880. He wrought genuine havoc with the furnishings of his mother’s palaces and parks.  On his orders, the furniture, porcelain services, sculptures and architectural details were transferred from Tsarskoe Selo to St Michael’s Castle, Paul I’s main residence in St Petersburg.