Shaving The Rough Edges Off Russia
Peter the Great's reign over Russia started in the most undistinguished way. He acceded to the throne on a technicality, when there were rumblings over who had more right, he or his mentally retarded brother, Ivan. Consequently they were both elevated to Czar, under the regency of their older sister, Sophia. She then sent the boys off to play, and pretty much had the country to herself. Not that it was much. For Russia of the 1680s, was an outcast in Europe, poor, undeveloped, and unliked by all but the inhabitants.
When Peter was about to gain his majority, Sophia led a coup to place herself on the throne. Their mother's supporters backed Peter, who then banished Sophia to a convent, and took himself off for a two-year self-imposed exile from Russia, during which he traveled Europe and turned his hand to even the most menial of tasks in his thirst for knowledge of all things scientific, agricultural, political, and military.
The result was a Czar who had a firm grip on his own vision for Russia, and he went about achieving it in the most ruthless ways, giving no quarter. The people were taxed on every conceivable item or service, with a committee struck for the sole purpose of thinking up new taxes.
One of the taxes, was on men with beards. In his zeal to move Russia into the "modern" age of even dress and deportment, he forced his nobles to shave, and taxed all other men who wore beards, with the exception of peasants and priests.