How the Pushkins became "former Pushkins"

An interesting story happened to the relatives of Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin during the reign of Catherine II. It was told to the poet by his second cousin Alexander Mikhailovich Pushkin, whose father and uncle became participants in this "thieves' intent."

Brothers Mikhail and Sergei Pushkin were far from poor people. The elder, Mikhail, even before the beginning of Elizabeth's reign, served as an officer in the Preobrazhensky regiment, and the younger was a courier in the same regiment and often traveled abroad. In St. Petersburg society, the brothers were reputed to be educated people and pleasant to talk to.

But they only had one weakness: they loved to play cards, and, moreover, not always successfully. This is where all their troubles began. Mikhail Pushkin lost a decent amount in 1760 and borrowed money from the French ambassador, the Marquis L'Hôpital, to pay off the debt. And when the deadline for return approached, the dashing guardsman beat the envoy and let him down the stairs. Prince Dashkov saved him: he paid the hooligan's debt, and even added from above to appease the Frenchman.

The younger brother also did not waste time in vain: during a trip to Paris he pawned 2, 000 government rubles in a pawnshop and went on a spree. The Russian government had to redeem the poor fellow. True, he was lucky enough to avoid punishment. Empress Catherine II ascended the Russian throne, and generously rewarded the guards officers who helped her take the throne. Sergei Pushkin was not only not punished, but also promoted: he got a good place in the Manufacturing Collegium.

But the brothers' riotous life demanded more and more funds. And at the end of 1768, Catherine issued a decree on the issuance of paper notes. The brothers had an ingenious plan: to buy paper from Holland, which was used in the production of banknotes and to print counterfeit banknotes in their own underground printing house. Soon, the brothers found themselves a worthy companion: the former French Catholic priest Louis Brotar, who was hiding in St. Petersburg from the Parisian police, who were looking for him for forgery.

The scammers' appetites grew by leaps and bounds. Mikhail decided to involve even his immediate superior, vice-president of the Manufacturing Collegium Fyodor Sukin, who wrote a denunciation against the criminal company. At the beginning of 1772, lovers of easy money were arrested and put on trial.

The Pushkin brothers were sentenced to death, but Catherine showed, as stated in the Decree, "mercy to humanity." Considering that the criminal case was in its early stages, and did not have time to inflict "real harm", the sentence was commuted. Mikhail and Sergei were deprived of the nobility and sent to Siberia "as worthless and forever harmful." Moreover, the Empress forbade them to continue to be called Pushkins, ordering them to call them "former Pushkins."

The Pushkins were still treated rather mildly, the last member of the gang was the most unlucky. The nimble Frenchman, who fled from justice to Holland, the Russian bailiffs got even abroad and secretly transported to Russia, where he got what he deserved. As a warning to others, Louis Brothard was first beaten with whips, then his nostrils were pulled out and, having branded, he was exiled to eternal hard labor.