Semyon Zorich

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Semyon Zorich
Zorich Semyon Gavrilovich.jpg
Native name Simeon Zorić
Born 1743
Čurug, Military Frontier, Austrian Empire (now Serbia)
Died 1799 (aged 56)
Allegiance Russian Empire Russian Empire
Years of service 1754–99
Rank lieutenant-general

Semyon Zorich (1743–1799) was an Imperial Russian lieutenant-general and count of the Holy Roman Empire, born in Serbia, who served Imperial Russia against the Prussians and Turks. A member of the Russian court, he was presented to Empress Catherine the Great by Grigory Potemkin and, after having been tested by Praskovja Bruce and doctor Rogerson, became the Empress' lover. He was most influential in the commercial development of Shklov and Mogilev.

Early life[edit]

Simeon (Sima) Gavrilović Zorić (Russian: Семён Гаврилович Зорич/Semyon Gavrilovich Zorich), a Serb, was born in Čurug, a village at the time part of the Military Frontier of the Austrian Empire (now Žabalj municipality, South Bačka, Serbia). His exact date of birth is unknown, though on May 11, 1754 he signed up for the Hussar regiment in Slavo-Serbia, citing his birth year as 1743 (which would make him 11 at the time). His Serbian name Simeon (Semyon in Russian), customarily indicates that he was born on September 1, the date Serbs venerate Saint Simeon Stylites.

Semyon's father was Gavrilo Nerandžić and his mother was Stefanija, the daughter of Jovan Zorić, a military officer from the Potisje region (Tisa river basin), in the province of Vojvodina located in Serbia. The river Tisa flows between Banat and Bačka regions and was a strategic military frontier where the famed Šajkaši in their armed vessels patrolled the major rivers (Danube, Tisa, Drava, Sava) keeping the Ottomans at bay.

Semyon had a brother, David Nerandžić, who later on served in the Imperial Russian army with him. Both the Nerandžić and Zorić families were close and lived in the Potisje military frontier of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before settling in Russia. Jovan Zorić's wealthy nephew Maksim Zorić had no male heir (only a daughter named Juliana) and in this customary way Semyon was adopted by his older cousin.

The Russian government appealed in early 1750 to Serb settlers, creating two settlements in New Russia, called New Serbia and Slavo-Serbia. The region became a staging area and chief supply depot for troops intended for operations against the Turks. Slavo-Serbia was strategically located, bound by a line running from Dniepr along the middle course of the Samara to the Luganchik river. It became the new home of the Zorić and Nerandžić families, first settled by Maksim Zorić in 1752 and two years later by his brother Vasilije and Simeon, Maksim's adopted son from the Nerandžić family. Simeon who joined a cadet school in Slavo-Serbia as soon as he arrived in 1754, began showing great promise. He graduated from a cadet academy at St. Petersburg (1757), but his bent was decidedly towards his soldiering, and in 1757 he obtained a commission in the Hussar regiment.

Military career[edit]

Simeon first joined the Hussar regiment when he was only fourteen years old in 1756, at the start of the Seven Years' War, and four years later (1760) he had distinguished himself on the front as a daring soldier still in his teens who won a reputation of valour in the wars against Prussia. And, for the next decade Zorich continued to build, during these troubled times, a reputation as a brave and distinguished cavalry officer.

Zorich served in the light cavalry in the Russo-Turkish Wars, and distinguished himself by his daring and resourcefulness, even during capture. But in spite of a long record of excellent service under Rumyantsev, Suvorov and Krechetnikov, and of his aristocratic connections, his promotion was slow, until he was introduced by his stepfather to Catherine the Great and Potemkin, her lover of long standing. In the interval between the Polish-Lithuanian and Turkish wars, Zorich, who combined military gifts and courage, was also employed in an unofficial mission to Stockholm, and from then on became a paramour of Catherine II for almost a year until he came to loggerheads with Prince Potemkin.

From 1760 to 1774, Zorich served against the Polish rebels under Pyotr Krechetnikov, sent by Peter the Great to intervene against the Bar Confederation, an association of Polish nobles formed at the fortress of Bar in Podolia, Prussians in the Seven Years's War (1756-1763) under Count Pyotr Saltykov, and participated in the Russo-Turkish War (1768-1774) under Pyotr Rumyantsev, distinguishing himself in nearly every important action, and quickly gained the reputation of being the bravest man there, winning engagement after engagement by sheer dash and daring. He was only seventeen when he earned the rank of lieutenant for bravery. He was attached to Field Marshal Rumyantsev's army where he won his colonelcy (Polkovnik) by his ability and valour leading up to the Battle of Larga and the Battle of Kagul in 1770. He was present at the Battle of Riabaia Mogila (Battle of Speckled Tomb) when Rumyantsev, commanding the First Army, decided to carry out his mission with aggressive actions. Zorich's fame reached its culmination when he cut his way through a greatly superior Turkish-Tatar detachment of Kaplan Giray II, the khan of Crimea, at Riabaia Mogila on June 17 (Old Style) or June 28 (New Style). He was captured, however, because he would not surrender any ground when his regiment was besieged by Turks and Tatars. Prisoners were often decapitated in the exuberance of the moment, but noblemen were preserved for ransom—so it was with Zorich. The Turks, who were eventually forced to abandon the territory and retreat, marched Zorich to the Crimea, made him a galley slave for a while, and in Constantinople the infamous dungeons of Yedikule Fortress became his "home" for the next five years. In captivity he remained until the war ended in 1774, when he was released after the final exchange of prisoners in Constantinople. He went back to Russia where he was immediately made Brigadier for his past war services, and Prince Potemkin recommended him to his sovereign as the best hussar commander under fire. In the following year (1775) Catherine sent General Alexander Suvorov to suppress the rebellion of Pugachev. Again Zorich's most brilliant work as a Hussar commander was done there. He was then immediately sent on a diplomatic mission to Stockholm. Upon his return he was invited to the Russian court to meet Catherine II who conferred upon him the coveted Order of St. George on the recommendation of Field Marshal Rumyantsev for his valour and bravery. For his war activities he was made adjutant to Potemkin and aide-de-camp, and then aide-de-camp of Catherine II herself. Every step of his promotion was gained in the field of battle, and after he came back from quelling the Pogachev rebellion Prince Potemkin himself asked for Zorich's promotion to the rank of Major-General and aide-de-camp. In the meantime, he held various district commands in New Russia (Novorosiiskaia guberniia) where Catherine was determined to reorganize the borderlands between Russia and Poland and to prevent future revolts among the Cossacks. In late 1776, he was recalled to the court at St. Petersburg.

On the anniversary of the Coronation day Zorich was officially awarded the rank of Major General, and he was made Cornet of the Horse Guard Crops, then he received a diamond star, aglets, a sword, plumes, studs and buckles, an enormous house near the Winter Palace, three hundred thousand roubles, the magnificent Shklov estate with its sixteen thousand inhabitants that had once belonged to Prince Adam Kazimierz Czartoryski, and an estate in Poland, in the Vitebsk province of the Polotsk Government. Foreign monarchs also did not leave the services of Semyon Zorich without recognition: the King of Poland bestowed on him the Order of the White Eagle (Poland), and the Swedish monarch gave him the Order of the Sword.

Russian Court[edit]

In 1777 the handsome, brave 34-year-old officer Zorich, who had been a prisoner of war of the Turks for five years, four-times wounded, was introduced into the Russian court by Grigory Potemkin as a counterpoise against Pyotr Zavadovsky, who deposed Potemkin as Catherine's favourite the previous year. This was done only when Zorich had received his due recognition for his services to the state and the title of Count.

Semyon speedily became the recognized lover of Catherine the Great. Soon, Semyon Zorich thought himself influential enough to attempt to supersede Potemkin himself, and openly opposed Potemkin by challenging him to a duel. Common sense, however, prevailed and the duel was cancelled and hatchets buried and forgotten. His blunt manners, his unconcealed scorn of other favourites (that disgraced the court), and perhaps also his sense of unrequited merit, produced an estrangement of sorts between him and the empress. It appears that his stepfather, Maksim Zorich, must have acted as an intermediary between Semyon and Potemkin when they were not on speaking terms. In 1778 Zorich was superseded in the empress's graces by Ivan Rimsky-Korsakov; but the relationship between Catherine and Potemkin continued to be most friendly, and Semyon's influence with Empress Catherine and Prince Potemkin never weavered and was never seriously disrupted. He eventually retired to his estate in Shklov.

During the succeeding years of peace he disappeared from the public view. He resumed his functions as general, but his ardent ideas for reforming the army came to nothing in the face of the general war-weariness with the Second Russo-Turkish War on the horizon. His zeal added to the number of his enemies, and in 1784 after he had been soldiering for three decades, it was proposed to place him on the retired list. The empress, unwilling to go so far as this, promoted him to a peer, gave him an estate, and shelved him by making him a governor of Shklov in the Mogilev district, next to the estate of Potemkin. There Zorich would entertain many of his Serbian countrymen who were visiting Russia for the first time such as Gerasim Zelić, Marko Zanović, Simeon Piščević and Dositej Obradović.

After Catherine's death, Emperor Paul I of Russia called him for service, raised a Lieutenant General and given command of the regiment Izums'kyi. But he was dismissed once again in 1797 when irregularities were found in the financial affairs of his regiment. He returned to his estate where he did good service in the reorganization of the Mogilev district, and founded the cadet corp school for the children of former veterans, now impoverished and in need of assistance.

See also[edit]