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Count Alexander von Benckendorff, Chief of the Third Section of His Imperial Majesty’s Own Chancellery

4 July 1781

On June 23 (July 4) 1781 (or 1783) to the family of an infantry general was born Alexander von Benckendorff, Russian commander and statesman, the honorary member of St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences (1827), cavalry general (1829), member of the State Council and the Committee of Ministers of the Russian Empire (1830), Count (1832). During the reign of the Emperor Nicholas I he held a post of the Chief of the Corps of Gendarmes and the Chief of the Third Section of His Imperial Majesty’s Own Chancellery.

In 1798 Benckendorff joined the service as non-commissioned officer in Semyonovsky Life Guards Regiment, and later was promoted to warrant officer and appointed aide-de-camp of Paul I. Soon he became the member of the group which was going to travel across Russia “with an inspection”. His task was to compile short reports to the head of the group concerning the area en route. Within a year the group visited Lake Baikal, Kazan, Saratov, Simbirsk governorates. While staying in Astrakhan he got acquainted with M. S. Vorontsov, with whom he decided to go voluntary to the Caucasus in the army of Prince Tsitsianov, which was setting off for the campaign to Ganja Khanate. This campaign brought Benckendorff the first military decorations — for seizure of Ganja fortress and displayed courage in the battles with the Lezgins he was awarded the Order of St. Anna, 3rd class and the Order of St. Vladimir, 4th class.

During the war of 1806–1807 Benckendorff took part in the Preussisch Eylau battle, after which he rose to the rank of captain and the Order of St. Anna, 2nd class was conferred upon him. After the Treaty of Tilsit he was at the embassy of P.A. Tolstoy in Paris.

In spring 1809 battles against the Ottoman Empire were resumed, and Benckendorff again went to war. He participated in the battle by Ruse, where his timely actions brought victory to the Russian arms. Being at the head of the Chuguyev uhlan regiment, Benckendorff launched fast attack and managed to block the way of the enemy and defeat him. For the displayed valor he was awarded the Order of St. George, 4th class.

During the Patriotic war of 1812 and foreign campaigns of 1813-1814 Benckendorff distinguished himself as a cavalry general. As a commander of the vanguard in the unit of the Prince Wintzingerode he participated in the battle by Velizh and then succeeded in establishing a connection with Wittgenstein Corps. In 1813 he was appointed as commander of a special flying squad. For campaigns of 1813–1814 Benckendorff received the Order of St. Anna, 1st class, the Order of St. Vladimir, 2nd class, Commander Grand Cross of the Order of the Sword, the Order “Pour le merite”. The king of the Netherlands granted him the citizenship and a sword with an inscription “Amsterdam and Breda”, while the British regent presented him a gold sword with an inscription “For the exploits in 1813”.

In 1816 Benckendorff became the head of 2nd dragoon division, while in 1819 he was promoted to Adjutant-General and got the position of the chief of Guards Corps headquarters. In 1821 he became the lieutenant general and the head of 1st Cuirassier division.

In 1821 Benckendorff presented to the Emperor Alexander I a report on “Union of Welfare”. On December 4 (26) 1825 during the Decembrist revolt Alexander Benckendorff remained together with the Emperor Nicholas I in Senate Square. Later he became the head of one of the units charged with searching for rebels, while on December 17 (29) he entered the Investigating Committee on the case of the Decembrists.

In January 1826 Benckendorff prepared a draft of organization of a central body of political investigation (“Ministry of Police”), adopted by Nicholas I while establishment of the Third Section. By the Imperial decree of 1826 Benckendorff was appointed the Chief of the Corps of Gendarmes and the Chief of the Third Section of His Imperial Majesty’s Own Chancellery. His other duties included censoring of Alexander Pushkin’s works and surveillance of the poet.

Benckendorff was an authorized representative of Nicholas I, his constant companion and adviser. He accompanied the Emperor in his trips across Russia, and as he visited the theatre of war during the Russo-Turkish war (1828-1829). In 1832 the Chief of the Corps of Gendarmes was conferred a Count title, while in 1834 — he was given the Order of St. Andrew.

In 1844 Alexander Benckendorff travelled abroad to get medical treatment, however anticipating his death, he wished to return to his estate near Reval. On his way back to Russia on September 23 (October 5) 1844 he suddenly died on board the ship “Hercules”.

Lit.: Андреева Т. В. Граф А. Х. Бенкендорф, его предки и потомки // Английская набережная, 4. Ежегодник Санкт-Петербургского научного общества историков и архивистов. СПб., 1997; Бибиков Г. Н. Александр Христофорович Бенкендорф (1781–1844): исторический портрет // Вестник Московского государственного университета. Сер. 8. История. 2007. № 1. С. 36–60; Бибиков Г. Н. А. Х. Бенкендорф и политика императора Николая I : автореф. дис. … к. и. н. М., 2009; То же [Электронный ресурс]. URL:; Граф Александр Христофорович Бенкендорф. Некролог. СПб., 1844; Грюнберг П. Н. Военные мемуары графа А. Х. Бенкендорфа: Источниковедческий аспект : дис. … к. и. н. М., 2003; Дубровин Н. Ф. А. Х. Бенкендорф и В. Н. Каразин // Русская старина. 1903. № 4; Лемке М. К. Николаевские жандармы и литература 1826—55 гг. СПб., 1908; Олейников Д. И. Бенкендорф. М., 2009; Переписка великого князя Константина Павловича с графом А. Х. Бенкендорфом // Русский архив. 1884. № 6; 1885. № 1; Письма императора Николая Павловича к графу А. Х. Бенкендорфу. 1837 года // Русский архив. 1884. № 1; Проект г. А. Бенкендорфа об устройстве высшей полиции // Русская старина. 1900. № 12;  Рослякова О. Б. А. Х. Бенкендорф — первый главноуправляющий III отделения // Политический сыск в России: история и современность. СПб., 1997; Сидорова М. В. Мемуары графа Бенкендорфа. Первые страницы // Вестник архивиста. 2004. № 2; Сидорова М. В. Новооткрытые мемуары графа Бенкендорфа как исторический источник // Наше наследие. 2004. № 71; Троцкий И. М. III-е Отделение при Николае I. Л., 1990; Цвиркун В. И. Бенкендорф Александр Христофорович // Словарь русских генералов, участников боевых действий против армии Наполеона Бонапарта в 1812—1815 гг. // Российский архив. Т. VII. М., 1996. С. 315—316; То же [Электронный ресурс]. URL:; Шубинский П. П. Император Николай Павлович и граф Бенкендорф // Исторический вестник. 1890. Т. 39. № 2. С. 479—481.

Соч.: Действие отряда генерал-майора Бенкендорфа в Нидерландах // Военный журнал. СПб. 1817. Кн. VII; Записки Бенкендорфа. М., 2001; То же [Электронный ресурс]. URL:; Записка графа А. Х. Бенкендорфа о возмущении в Семёновском полку. Размышления о происшествиях, случившихся в ночь с 16-го на 17-е и в ночь с 17-го на 18-е октября 1820 года в Петербурге // Русский архив. 1884. № 6; Описание военных действий отряда, находившегося под начальством генерала Винцингероде в 1812-м году // Военный журнал. СПб., 1817. Кн. III; Отрывок из записок графа А. Х. Бенкендорфа // Русский архив. 1865. М., 1866. Стб. 1167—1178.

From the Presidential library materials:

Архив князя Воронцова / Под ред. П. И. Бартенева. Кн. 35: Бумаги фельдмаршала князя Михаила Семёновича Воронцова: письма графа А. Х. Бенкендорфа и С. Н. Марина. М., 1889;

Бенкендорф Александр Христофорович // Энциклопедический словарь / Под ред. проф. И. Е. Андреевского. Т. 3. СПб., 1891. С. 448—449;

Выписки из писем графа Александра Христофоровича Бенкендорфа к императору Николаю I-му о Пушкине. СПб., 1903.