(From Russkaya Starina, Vol. 112, 1902 Part 4, pages 549-553.)


 Prince Nikolai Alekseevich Orlov’s Notes

On Abolishing Corporal Punishment in the Russian Empire and the Kingdom of Poland.


(There is no date on the Notes, but from its content it was probably written in 1861.) 



In most European countries corporal punishment is completely abolished or only used in rare exceptions. In contrast, in Russia and Poland these punishments serve as the basis for the entire penal and corrective system. The late sovereigns Alexander Pavlovich and Nicholas Pavlovich decreed an end to many of the most savage punishments: slitting the nostrils was abolished, and the knout—that foul testament to the Tatar yoke—was consigned to oblivion. Finally, a regulation on punishments significantly decreased the number of blows that could be given. All these measures alleviated but did not eradicate this evil.



Corporal punishments are an evil in opposition to Christian, moral, and social values. The law of mercy and meekness unconditionally condemns all kinds of violence and torture. The saints of every religion always defended the human body as created in the image and likeness of God. There is no Christian equality, no Christian brotherhood, where two men may stand side by side in the same church but for the very same transgression are punished—one with a light arrest and the other by a beating with switches. [Translator’s note: In Russia corporal punishment was generally reserved for the lower classes.] In a Christian country there can be no partiality, and government justice must be similar to God’s justice, i.e. equal for all.



Philosophers, jurists, and government officials from all eras unanimously recognized corporal punishments as barbaric and useless tortures. And upon examining ourselves, we are easily convinced of the truth of this. With us everyone is beaten at the least opportunity. (Coachmen, wagon drivers, and the like are living evidence of our words.) This maintains a crudeness of morals and greatly interferes with the correct development of human character. It is from this, above all, that obfuscation and duplicity arise. Speak with some peasant muzhik who doesn’t know you, with a townsman, or a soldier, and you will see how hard it is to find out their true feelings and thoughts. A lower-class person watches you fixedly and at the least sign of disagreement looks around in agitation, fearing a beating. A writer who brilliantly understood the soul of the Russian people (Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev) more than once told me that the most mundane conversation between two peasants suddenly takes on another character upon the appearance of a man in western European clothing [nemetskoe plat’e]. This observation does not apply to just peasants. This is a general characteristic, expressive of the how throughout the social classes those persons subject to beatings look upon all others with distrust.



For Russian society the existence of corporal punishments is not only an evil but a great danger. Enlightenment, more than people think, has penetrated all levels of society, and we are not far from the time when corporal punishment will lead to open opposition or to self-destruction. This is the terrible but unavoidable ultimate end.


Nowadays many landowners never use corporal punishment. Currently, as laid down by the Regulatory Decree for Peasants (Article 25), freed peasants are subject to corporal punishment “at the authorized direction of the governmental and social powers established over them.” This directive legalizes the arbitrariness of local zemstvo police. Freedom and personal rights can only be exercised when those possessing them are fully protected in their honor and personal esteem.



If corporal punishment must be recognized in Russia as an evil, what can be said about it in the Kingdom of Poland? Governed for a long time by laws that were in full accord with the demands of humanity and legal rights, Poland has fallen little by little under the influence of temporary administrative regulations in which corporal punishments play a significant role. Often these punishments are inflicted in conflict with all rules, because in Poland, due to inadequate administrative control, much is decided according to whim. Alien customs crept in. For instance, in peaceful Polish homes it was ordered that on Fridays those who had committed transgressions during the week were to be whipped. As a result, every Friday the neighborhoods around corrective institutions are filled with the yelps of those being punished. This gives rise to strong and justifiable ill will toward the authorities who employ such means of correction.



Defenders of the old system say that it is better to inflict corporal punishment on the guilty than to execute them. They are right, but it appears to me that in Russia we may do without either the lash or capital punishment. Criminal punishments have only two purposes:

1)      Make it impossible for a criminal to commit new crimes, and—

2)      Through fear of punishment save those persons from acting who might have been inclined to commit crimes.

(Some maintain that criminal punishment is society’s revenge for the harm inflicted on its members. Such thinking cannot be permitted in a Christian country.)

Exile to hard labor fully satisfies both conditions. The criminal is forever separated from society, and of course the Nerchinsk mines are more frightening than any guillotine. Meanwhile, the guilty person can still repent and wash away his crime by model behavior. For him life is not entirely over. But someone cut and scarred by whips and disfigured by branding has nothing more left in this world. He is forever an outcast of society!

This is why I maintain that abolishing whipping and branding would be a just and beneficial measure. Recalling how fierce the opposition was to doing away with the knout, it is possible to hope, it appears to me, that humane feelings will overcome prejudices, and soon Alexander I’s proposal to abolish all barbaric punishments that tarnish the name of Russia will be realized.



The abolishment of punishment with birch switches encounters more difficulties than doing away with the lash and branding. Many say that the Russian people cannot get along with the switch to which they have become accustomed over the centuries. Such lovers of the switch may be answered with the fact that corporal punishments were introduced to old Rus’ by the Tatars and institutionalized by the bureaucracy. Wherever Russians have developed without direct Mongol influences or government officials, there have not been corporal punishments of any kind. On the Don, in Zaporzh’e, and in Siberia in former times there were no knouts, lashes, or switches.

Of course, it is difficult to change the entire correctional penal system with just a stroke of the pen. I think it is possible to replace the switch with monetary fines, but this thought requires analysis and more considered judgment. Nowadays, for humanitarian reasons they try to decrease the number of blows of the switch ordered during sentencing. This is not achieving good results. The switch does not inspire its former fear, but as before still diminishes a person’s worth and crushes his sense of self esteem. It must be mentioned that we do have a table or index of crimes and transgressions with their vaules in terms of blows of the switch. For the theft of 3 roubles so many blows, and so on. This is the epitome of the Russian bureaucracy’s inventiveness.



Driving a man sentenced by a military court through a formation to be beaten with rods [shpitsruteny] is the same kind of qualified death sentence as quartering or breaking on the wheel. At the autopsy of the body of a man punished with rods, there are always longitudinal hemorrhages in the lungs corresponding to most, if not all, of the received blows. The heart shudders at the thought that according to the letter of the law, if a man no longer has the strength to walk through the formation, he must be carried along, and if he gives up his immortal soul, then his body must still receive the number of blows as laid down at his sentencing. Would it not be more humane and sensible to exile military criminals to forced labor than to make them walk the gauntlet?

In former times there were many men serving in the ranks of the Russian army who had been sent as recruits as a punishment. At that time the use of the switch was understandable as a means of correction. Now, when the title of soldier has been ennobled, when a soldier wears the uniform not as a punishment but as an honor—it is possible to abolish all corporal punishments in the armed forces, and all the more so since even without switches the military authorities have at their disposal a sufficiently varied array of penalties.

In changing the penal system in the armed forces, it is appropriate to keep in mind that putting a man under arrest, as used today, does not meet its purpose.



From all that has been stated above, the following conclusions can be drawn:

1)      Corporal punishment is an evil.

2)      Punishment with the lash, walking the gauntlet, and branding can be immediately abolished.

3)      It follows that the corrective corporal punishments now in existence should be replaced with other kinds of penalties.

Russia is approaching a thousand years of existence. Serfdom has already been abolished. It remains to complete this salutary reformation by the entire abolition of corporal punishment in the Russian Empire and the Kingdom of Poland.




(From Russkii Biograficheskii Slovar’, c. 1910.)


Orlov, Prince Nikolai Alekseevich—general-adjutant, general-of-cavalry, ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary minister in Brussels, Paris, and Berlin. Writer. Born 27 April 1827, died in Fontainebleau 17 March 1885. N. A. Orlov was the son of Graf (later Prince) Aleksei Thedorovich Orlov and his wife Aleksandra Aleksandrovna nee Zherebtsova. After education at home, Prince Orlov received the emperor’s permission to hear a course on law read by Baron Korf to Grand Duke Constantine Nikolaevich, and on 1 February 1843 he was made a page of the Imperial Court. After passing an officer candidate examination in the Corps of Pages, Prince Orlov was promoted to cornet and assigned to the Life-Guards Horse Regiment. In June of 1846 he was made an aide-de-camp [fligel’-ad”yutant] to His Imperial Majesty. In that same year, having been promoted to lieutenant, the prince was assigned to attend Grand Duke Constantine Nikolaevich, and accompanied His Highness on travels abroad. In 1848, during a visit to St. Petersburg by Archduke William of Württemberg, Prince Orlov, in the rank of staff-captain, attended him. He then again accompanied Grand Duke Constantine Nikolaevich on visits to Olmütz and Prague. In 1849 he was sent with despatches to the Active Army’s main headquarters in Forro (Hungary) and then took part in military operations during the Hungarian campaign. For distinction shown during the battle at Debrecen on 21 July 1849, Prince Orlov was promoted to captain and soon after sent by the commander-in-chief to Warsaw with reports for the sovereign. Awarded the order of St. Vladimir 4th class, the prince was again assigned to the sovereign’s suite and from 1850 to 1852 accompanied the emperor on his travels in Russia and abroad. In December of 1851 he was detached to the general staff department and after three months to the minister of war’s chancellery. On 30 August 1852 Prince Orlov was promoted to colonel and in this rank detached in 1854 to be at the disposal of General-Field Marshal the Prince of Warsaw, Graf Paskevich of Erivan, on the Danube for operations against the Turks. On the night of 16/17 May 1854, at the siege of Silistria, during the storming of Fort Arab-Tabia, whose seizure he planned and lead, Prince Orlov received nine serious wounds and lost an eye. For this affair Prince Orlov was awarded the order of St. George 4th class and received a gold sword with the inscription “for bravery.” His serious wounds forced him to take leave and he spent about half a year in Italy. Upon his return he was promoted to major general on 26 August 1856 and assigned to His Imperial Majesty’s Suite. In July of 1859 Prince Orlov was named ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary minister to the Belgian court, and in 1861 he was made a general-adjutant to His Majesty while remaining in his current position. On 30 August 1865 Prince Orlov was named ambassador extraordinary to Austria. In May of 1870 he was transferred with this same title to Great Britain, and on 14 December 1871 to France. On 16 April 1878 Prince Orlov was promoted to general-of-cavalry, and six year later it was in this rank that he was transferred to Berlin as a plenipotentiary ambassador. Failing health forced Prince Orlov to spend the last part of his life in Fontainebleau, where he died in March of 1885.

Prince Orlov is also famous as the author of an historical account of the Franco-Prussian War of 1806 and of two memoranda relating to internal administration in Russia. The first work, entitled Ocherk 3-nedel’nago pokhoda Napoleona I protiv Prussii v 1806, was written while he was in Italy recovering from wounds received at Silistria.

In 1858 Prince Orlov wrote “Thoughts on the schism” along with his notes “On Jews in Russia.” Both essays promoted the idea of greater religious tolerance. Prince Orlov also won honor for his 1861 memorandum submitted to the sovereign “On Abolishing Corporal Punishment in the Russian Empire and the Kingdom of Poland,” in which he took up arms against physical punishments as an evil in opposition to “Christian, moral, and social values.” “Russia is approaching a thousand years of existence,” concluded Prince Orlov’s notes. “Serfdom has already been abolished. It remains to complete this salutary reformation by the entire abolition of corporal punishment.” By Highest orders, Orlov’s memorandum was examined by the committee established in His Majesty’s Own Chancellery’s Second Section for drafting new regulations on military justice. The committee agreed with Orlov’s central thesis of abolishing corporal punishments as not in accordance with the spirit of the times, inimical to a person’s sense of self worth, and serving only to barbarize morals. After being reviewed by the various ministries, the draft law was submitted to the Government Council and on 17 April 1863 an ukase was delivered to the Senate making several changes in the system of corrective and penal punishments.

Besides the works mentioned, Prince N. A. Orlov was responsible for a collection of papers of  the 18th-century general and courtier Prince Grigorii Grigor’evich Orlov, published in Volume II of Sbornik Imperatorskago Russkago Istoricheskago Obshchestva.


Sources: Full service record. Prince P. Dolgorukov, Rossiiskaya rodoslovnaya kniga, Part II., St. Petersburg, 1855. Graf A. A. Bobrinskii, Russkie dvoryanskie rody, Vol. II, St. Petersburg, 1890. D. Yazykov, Obzor zhizni pokoinykh russkikh pisatelei. Gr Dzhantiev, Epokha velikikh reform. Svod mnenii i zamechanii po voprosu ob otemene telesnykh nakazanii. P. Ivanyukov, Padenie krepostnago prava v Rossii. Sbornik Imperatorskago Russkago Istoricheskago obshchestva, Vol. II. Sharl’ Sen’obos, Politicheskaya istoriya sovremennoi Yevropy, St. Petersburg, 1899. Leer, Entsiklopediya voennykh i morskikh nauk, Vol. V. Entsiklopedicheskie slovari Berezin, Granat, et al. Vseobshchii Kalendar’ na 1886 g.. Gazeta Gattsuka, 1885, No. 12. Zhivopisnoe Obozrenie, 1885, No. 15. Moskovskiya Vedomosti, 1885, No. 81. Niva, 1885, No. 12. Nov’, 1885, Book 11. Vsemirnaya Illyustratsiya, 1885, No. 14. Istoricheskii Vestnik, 1885, Bk. V. Sovremennyya Izvestiya, 1885, No. 80. Russkii Invalid, 1885, No. 68. Russkaya Starina, Vol. III, Bk. IX. Illyustrirovannyi Semeinyi Listok, 1863, No. 57. Dr. Hoeter, Nouvelle biographie générale, Vol. 38. La grande Encyclopédie, Vol. XXV. Larousse, Dictionaire universal, and other foreign encyclopedic publications.

                                                                                                                                                                        A. P. 



Translated by Mark Conrad, 2005.