Pyotr Durnovo was born in the Moscow Governorate to the noble Durnovo family in 1845. He was a graduate of the Imperial Naval School and the Military/Naval Law Academy. He served in the Ministry of Justice reaching the position of Assistant Procurator of the Kiev Court of Appeals, until transferring to the Ministry of the Interior in 1881. Durnovo was appointed Director of Police in 1884 and remained in that position until 1893 when he was forced to resign due to a disagreement between himself and the Spanish Ambassador to Russia involving the misuse of police powers. He was appointed to the Imperial Russian Governing Senate in 1893 where he distinguished himself. In 1900, he was appointed Assistant Minister of the Interior in charge of Posts and Telegraph services at the request of Sipiagin. He remained in this position until 1905 when he was appointed Minister of the Interior, on Witte's recommendation. He retired from the position of Minister shortly after Witte's resignation from the Chairmanship of the Council of Ministers despite earlier differences between the two.
Durnovo was noted for his outspoken opposition to closer ties with the United Kingdom at the expense of relations with Germany. He believed that German and Russian interests were complimentary while a war between the two empires could only result in the destruction of the existing political orders of both. Durnovo set out his views, most of which were to be realized in the aftermath of World War I in a letter  sent to Nicholas II in February 1914. Durnovo foresaw imminent war between Russia, France and Britain against Germany, Austro-Hungary, and Turkey. His memorandum accurately forecast that Russian defeat would be followed by the demoralization of the Imperial Army and the sweeping away of existing legislative institutions and intellectual opposition parties, in favor of "social revolution in its most extreme form". The document was found amongst the papers of Tsar Nicholas following the February Revolution.
Pyotr Durnovo died in September 1915 at his villa in Petrograd. He was the last Russian Imperial Minister of Interior to die from natural causes. His six successors (Pyotr Stolypin, Alexander Makarov, Nikolay Maklakov, [Nikolay Shcherbatov (died in Starnberg, Bavaria, Germany)], Alexey Khvostov, Boris Stürmer, [Alexander Khvostov (died in (died in Yelets, RSFSR [Russia])], Alexander Protopopov) were all assassinated, or murdered during the Red Terror.
- Out of My Past: The Memoirs of Count Kokovtsov Edited by H.H. Fisher and translated by Laura Matveev; Stanford University Press, 1935.
- The Memoirs of Count Witte Edited and translated by Sydney Harcave; Sharpe Press, 1990.
| Minister of Interior
October 1905 – April 1906