there's a peter the great thread around here somewhere but i can't be bothered so i'll tell you some stuff about him here:
peter the great was the son of the tsar alexei mihailovich and his second wife, natalia narishkina. his second marriage was not very well perceived by his first wife's family, the miloslavskis, and that led to some frictions later. among alexei's children by his first wife, there were a girl, sophia, and two boys feodor and ivan, who were not very healthy phisically, unlike peter who was always very strong.
feodor was the oldest son of alexei's and he ruled as feodor the 3rd for six years. he was very frail but not an invalid. when he died, his brother ivan was a bit of a retarded so many people thought that peter should succeed to the throne. after he was installed on his throne, though, there was a rebellion on behalf of ivan, led by his mother's family and by his sister sophia. in the end a compromise solution was reached: both ivan and peter ruled together. but since ivan was retarded and peter was a child, the regency went to their older sister sophia. she has not left a very positive image in history, but i tend to think she was quite a capable ruler.
when peter reached maturity, sophia's position was kind of frail because her regency made no sense anymore. she married her borther ivan with praskovia saltikova, in hope that he would have a male heir that would kind of eliminate peter from the line of succession. but ivan only had two girls. peter, on the other hand, married evdokia lopukhina and had a son, alexei. sophia and peter became very weary of each other and at some point he ran off to the trotki-sergius monastery, nearby moscow. many officers joined him. sophia didn't have enough people to back her up. she retired to a convent and peter started ruling on his own, since ivan was very easy to handle.
a very strong influence in peter's ruling was his mother. after her death in 1694, peter started to play a more and more active role in the governing of russia. his important purpose was to reach the baltic sea with his territories, but for that he had to fight sweden. he wasn't much of a strategist. most of his reforms were dictated by his external purposes. most of his purposes had been there before with previous tsars. but he was more determined to do them so there were lots of changes in his reign, more than in the previous ones. one of his famous actions was the cutting of the boyars' beards in 1698, because he wanted to get western traditions into russia. he placed a tax on beards and made a law that courtiers should wear western clothes. in 1699 he adopted the western calendar.
his personal life consists on a conflict with his first wife, evdokia, her son, alexei, and a torrid affair with catherine. while there were other mistresses, these are the most important parts. evdokia was very religious, unlike peter and she was a bit rigid for him and they didn't get along well. she mainly raised alexei, who was kind of biased against his ftather. alexei was a traditionalist. his mother, like many boyars, rejected peter's measures of westernizing the country. peter was afraid that if alexei was tsar after him, he would destroy all his work. in the meantime, peter exiled evdokia to a convent and officially divorced her.alexei, of course, resented that. he married charlotte christina of brunswick-wolfenbuttel, who bore him a son and a daughter. but around that time, catherine, peter's mistress gained more and more influence and in the end he married her. she bore him a son, piotr, in 1715. that meant that the succession to the throne no longer depended on alexei. alexei became weary of peter and ran away when the tsar threatened he will lock him into a convent. peter tracked him down, forced him to come back home and publicly give up his right to succession. alexei was then thortured and under thorture gave a few names of his friends as part of a plot to dethrone the tsar. he then had to watch his friends die and was sentenced to death. there's a rumour that peter killed him with his bare hands, but there's no proof.
in 1719 piotr, peter's son, died. peter didn't want his grandson peter to succeed. so in 1724 he crowned his wife catherine, empress (she was a former servant, may i remind you) and left the crown to her. before he died, he almost changed his mind because he realized she was not entirely faithfull to him. but he died before he had a chance to do something about it.
catherine made her daughter elizabeth her heir. there were still many supporters of piotr alexeevich around. there was even talk of peter marrying elizabeth (who was practicallyhis aunt) but then her lover menshikov convinced catherine to marry peter to his daughter, mary. catherine died in 1727. peter in the end didn't marry mary and menshikov was exiled to siberia. peter was crowned tsar but he died of smallpox at 23 years old without managing to conceive an heir, although he was married to catherine dolgoruky. he died in the wedding night.
the next heir was tsarina anna ivanovna, daughter of ivan 5th. she named her nephew ivan her heir. ivan was less than two months old when he inherited the throne. biron, his aunt's favorite was named regent but he was eliminated by his rival munnich and exiled to siberia. ivan's mother became regent but she was a mediocre woman. in the end most boyars got sick of her and elizabeth, peter the great's daughter, gained enough support to becaome tsarina. ivan died in prison under catherine the great's rule, twenty years later.