He was born Paul Menzies. His surname is pronounced ”Ming us”. He is usual known by the Latinised version of his surname – Menesius. Menesius was born into a landowning family. He came from Scotland, Great Britain. Menesius was a Roman Catholic. Over 90% of the population of Scotland was Protestant at the time and anti-Catholic prejudice was widespread and severe. The law discriminated against those of the Catholic Church at the time.
During Menesius’s youth Great Britain was riven by civil war. The Parliamentarians won. They were led by Oliver Cromwell who was a fanatical anti-Catholic. The Menesisus family supported King Charles I as almost all Catholics did. King Charles I was Protestant but was thought to have Catholic sympathies not least because his wife was a Roman Catholic. When the Parliamentarians won it was time for the Menesius’s to move. Cromwell confiscated their estates Paul Menesius and his family moved to France in his childhood. There he enrolled at Douai College. This was a Catholic school for boys from England and Scotland. Douai College as since moved to England. At Douai Mensius learnt Latin and Greek. He also acquired fluency in French.
In 1658 Charles II was restored to the Throne. Charles II gave the Menesius family back their property. However, many buildings thereupon had been razed. They were much poorer than they had been before the civil war. Paul was the youngest son and there was not enough wealth in the family to maintain him in the manner of a gentleman. He was told to go abroad and seek a living.
Menesisus later moved to Poland as a soldier of fortune. He joined the Polish Army.Naturally he had to learn the Polish language. He had some fellow feeling for the Poles as a high majority of them were Catholics like him. The Poles were then at war against Russia.
Menesius killed a Polish man in a duel. The dead man’s relatives were out for Menesius’ blood so Menesius changed sides and joined the Russian Army. However he did not go totally native. He never embraced Orthodox Christianity. He wed a Russian and he came to speak Russian excellently. Menesius married the widow of a decorated general.
Menesisus cultivated a friendship with Kirill Naryshkin. Nayrshkin was the father of Tsar Alexei’s spouse. There was already a Scotsman working as a tutor for the imperial household: his name was Patrick Gordon.
Menesisus was seen as a great asset by the Tsar. In 1672 Russia was fending off yet another invasion by the Ottomans. The Ottoman Turks were doing worryingly well. Russia was in dire need of allies. Menesius was sent abroad as an ambassador. His task was to induce other countries to send soldiers to fight against the Turks. His Catholicism and his flair for foreign tongues made him very useful. Menesius persuaded the Austrians to dispatch men to attack the Turks. It had the desired effect and the Turks were unable to press home their attack on Russia.
In 1673 Menesisus was sent to Rome. He was tasked with talking the Pope into sending his Pontifical Army to fight the Ottomans. Let it be remembered that the Papal States back then were substantial. They comprised much of central Italy. The Pontifical Army was not the 50 man Swiss Guard it is today. It was a mighty force and the Pontifical Navy was also formidable. There was no love lost between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church since the schism of 1054. These separated brethren were unable to achieve reconciliation in 1673 despite the entreaties of Menesius. He sought to persuade His Holiness the Pope into recognising Alexei as Tsar. The Roman Pontiff only recognised Alexi Romanov as Duke of Muscovy. Menesius refused to abase himself before the Pope of Rome and kiss the Papal red shoes. Consequently the Vicar of Christ refused the Tsar’s requests. It was surely a misjudgment on the part of Menesius who should have done whatever it took to achieve his aims when Russia was in desperate straits.
Notwithstanding the failure of his diplomatic mission to Rome Menesius was promoted. Je became a major-general in 1674. He became tutor of Peter the Great. Peter the Great was then three years old. The prince had a regiment formed of noble boys of his own age. Peter was not always easy to teach. He was fearless, ferocious and headstrong.
Menesius was known for his cleverness and less flatteringly for his cunning. People admired his polyglot ability.
Menesius’ teaching methods were mainly rehearsals for war. These pugnacious games involved firing live ammunition. No one was supposed to get shot but occasionally men were hit by stray musket balls. This was seldom fatal. They also learnt to build forts and dig trenches.
Luckily for the tutor his pupil had boundless energy and was very inquisitive. He liked practical things and was fascinated by Mathematics. Peter the Great was a kinaesthetic learning and his tutor recognised. Menesius taught accordingly. Peter the Great was constantly asking questions about other countries and about ships. The prince later came to know some Dutch shipbuilders which made him even keener on maritime matters.
Peter the Great also had a Russian tutor Zotov. Menesius and Zotov collaborated cordially.
After a few years Menesius was assigned to other duties which was a pity.
Peter the Great became very receptive to Western nostra. Famously, Peter the Great set out on his ‘Great Embassy’. This was a two year long tour of Western Europe.
England was then the world’s foremost seafaring nation. Menesisus was Scots not English. Scotland and England shared a monarch but they had two separate parliaments. Scotland and England’s alliance was uneasy at the time. Their commonality rested on their shared language as well as the fact that they were both Protestant countries. Menesisus being a Catholic and later and Orthodox Christian will have felt little affinity for this Anglo-Scottish alliance. Nevertheless, he encouraged his pupil to go to Great Britain to master the art of shipbuilding.
Menesisus was later sent by the Regent Sophia to fight in another Crimean campaign.
When Peter I became Tsar his former tutor Menesisus requested that permission be granted for a Catholic Church to be built in Moscow. His wish was granted.
Peter the Great spent some time in England. In London he worked as an apprentice seawright. He learnt this tricky trade on at the shipyards there. In London a statue of him still stands at Deptford.
Menesisus stayed in Moscow till his death in 1694 and is buried there.