«The Great Game» or «War of Shadows»
Through the Looking Glass into the Wonderland
Sometimes it seems that the history of relations between Great Britain and Russia was created by Lewis Carroll as narrated by Alice, and one of the main characters of this story at its initial stage, the English captain and traveller Richard Chancellor was not inferior in imagery to either Alice or Lewis Carroll, presenting Muscovy, the Russian Tsardom in XVI century, as a “young horse who is not aware of its strength » and himself as that» little child” who is able to subdue that young and gaining strength Russian horse.
Richard Chancellor was not only convinced that it was enough to find the right tool, smart move and the right bridle to gain control over Russia and rule it. Like all his companions, he was convinced that they had already taken the main step in taking control and subjugating Russia: they impressed greatly Tsar Ivan the Terrible and his entourage with English manners, their knowledge, British goods and exquisite clothes. They successfully convinced in that belief not only the British, but also other Europeans.
Photo: Richard Chancellor meeting Tsar Ivan IV, an old French engraving of the 18th century. The images do not correspond to reality, but reflect the idea of the British and French about the Russian tsar, the boyars and their attitude towards the British and Richard Chancellor in person
However, as I already mentioned earlier, Chancellor would have been amazed and probably would not have believed that British short clothes and nearly bare legs in winter plunged Russians not into rapture, but into quiet horror and thought that the British would have health problems in Russia very soon and they were unlikely to live long.
According to the British, it was that strong impression they made on the Russian elite that pushed Russian tsar and his boyars to seek friendship with the Kingdom of Great Britain, to grant the British trade privileges and freedoms. All that was reflected in the “The Booke of the Great and Mighty Emperor of Russia & Duke of Moscovia and of the dominions orders and commodities thereunto belonging», written by Richard Chancellor during his trip to Russia and sailing back to England.
Neither Chancellor himself and the members of his team, nor the British monarchs, aristocrats, political and financial elites, nor merchants who read his book saw another reason for such a positive reaction to the visit of the British from tsar Ivan IV. In subsequent centuries, British historians also didn’t see any other reason, and that opinion remains dominant to this day.
Muscovy as a priority target for British wealth seekers
In the spring of 1554, Richard Chancellor returned to his ship, which was wintering in Kholmogory, present-day Arkhangelsk, and set off on a return voyage to England, where his ship «Edward Bonaventure» arrived in the summer of 1554. The story of his trip to Russia, the opening of a convenient port in the north of Muscovy, the wealth of Russia, the stories of his trip to Moscow, his meeting with Tsar Ivan the Terrible and the successful negotiations in the Moscow Kremlin aroused interest and enthusiasm in London. Immense wealth loomed on the London skyline …
Founded in 1551 in London, the «Mystery and Company of Merchant Adventurers for the Discovery of Regions, Dominions, Islands, and Places unknown”, by decision of which the voyage of Richard Chancellor took place, was renamed into «Moscow Trading Company». India and China were pushed aside in the UK’s plans.
Muscovy became for a time the main direction and goal of British trade and political expansion. It was the «Moscow Trading Company» that became the prototype of the «East India Company», which was created 36 years later and became the main instrument for the conquest of India, China, the countries of Southeast Asia and the British rule.
In the summer of 1555, Richard Chancellor on the same ship «Edward Bonaventure» sailed back to the White Sea and the town of Kholmogory, and then went along the familiar snow-covered road to Moscow, where he arrived in November 1555.
In Moscow, the British were given the opportunity to open a representative office of the Moscow Trading Company and received permission not only to sell British goods and buy goods in Russia, for example, flax, hemp, but also to open production of hemp ropes and other products for the British fleet. and also to export Russian goods to other countries.
Photo: The English Court of the Muscovy Company, Moscow, 1980-s
Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible exempted the British from mandatory duties on imported goods, allowed the British to bring British goods into Muscovy without inspection and ordered the opening of the Russian official embassy in London.
It should be noted here that Ivan IV established a hidden personal duty: samples of all goods that arrived from England were to be shown to him personally, and he had the right to take any of those samples he liked for the Kremlin needs, be it jewellery or dishes made of silver or gold, a harpsichord or some other musical instrument. The tsar’s interest convinced the British even more of his enthusiasm and appreciation of British goods.
The success was so obvious that the British tried to push their interests further and get from the tsar a monopoly on trade with Russia, but while there was a delay with this decision, they began an unofficial trade blockade and piracy, robbing ships of other countries, including Norwegians, Dutch and Danish, that tried to sail into and to trade with Russians through the northern ports.
The British were sure that they would be able to convince Tsar Ivan IV of the need to grant England a monopoly on trade, but for now they introduced their monopoly on Russia’s trade relations through the northern ports unilaterally.
The British were doing what the Portuguese were already been doing in India, the Spaniards in America. Thus, the British tried to start the conquest and colonization of Russia according to the method already worked out by the West Europeans …
Hard to be an Ally
The Moscow Kremlin did not understand what caused those actions by the British, who acted not only assertively, but sometimes even arrogantly. The idea that the British had come to subjugate and colonize Russia did not occur to anyone, although English manners and actions sometimes produced a negative impression, and some of their actions aroused obvious discontent in the Kremlin.
The Russians endured, explaining the actions of the British by ignorance of local traditions and by a certain fussiness that characterised, from the point of view of the Russians, all Western Europeans. In Russia, that kind of fussiness was considered a lack of character, behaviour and upbringing.
Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible did not want to give up the monopoly to the British, but was ready to create for them the most favourable and preferential conditions for commerce, including the right to duty-free trade.
Ivan the Terrible had his own goal in that political game. He planned to make strategic alliance between the Muscovy and the Kingdom of Great Britain .
Photo: Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible. Painting by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1897
Ivan the Terrible was the first to draw attention to the unique features of Britain and Russia.
Where Russia was strong, Britain was not particularly strong. Where Russia was weak, Britain was strong.
Although in the 16th century Britain was not yet considered and not yet called an empire, and few could have imagined that in the next century Great Britain would begin its transformation into the largest empire in the world, tsar could see that Great Britain was created to be Russian ally.
It should be borne in mind that during the time of Ivan the Terrible, the process of turning Muscovy into the Russian Empire not only began, but developed in full force. However, Western Europeans did not realize this, although they already noticed that something amazing was happening to Russia that was growing rapidly. Richard Chancellor saw the power of Muscovy, but he could not see this power in all its volume and dynamics.
In the middle of the 16th century, the Muscovy had one of the strongest ground armies in Europe and North Asia. At the same time, Moscow had to use the army in several directions at once, wage wars or be ready to repel invasions of foreign armies from several directions at once: from the West and North-West, from the South, from the East … This explains the fact that the military forces of Russia at that time, like in subsequent periods of the Russian history, were constantly scattered, dispersed. Nevertheless, Muscovy not only coped with the defence of its borders, but also actively absorbed aggressive neighbours, subjugating them in the course of ongoing military conflicts.
Since the 15th century, the fragments of the Great Horde have fought incessant wars for its inheritance trying to decide who would become the new organizational and power centre to unite the territory that for several centuries was under the rule of Genghis Khan and his descendants.
Photo: The Mongol Empire in 1248
The German knights claimed that inheritance of the empire of Genghis Khan, primarily the Teutonic Order and the Order of the Swordsmen, by that time united in the Livonian Order, which seized the lands of the Slavs in the north-west of the Moscow principality. The Vatican stood behind the Livonian Order.
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Russia and Zhemait, which was created by the Lithuanian principality and the Russian principalities in the Western and South-Western part of Ancient Rus, was also one of the main contenders for the inheritance of the Golden Horde.
The inheritance was claimed by the Kazan, Nogai and Astrakhan khanates, which controlled the Volga River, as well as the Ottoman Empire (Turkey).
The Crimean Khanate not only considered itself the heir to the Golden Horde, but in the XV-XVI centuries still demanded that Moscow pay tribute, as it was during the Mongol yoke, and regularly invaded it reaching Moscow and burning the city.
Photo: The Crimean Kanate in 1550
However, it was Moscow in the XVI century that became the main contender for the unification of a huge territory under its rule. Since the XIV century, the fragmented Russian principalities of the Northern, Central and Eastern parts of Ancient Russia, which were under the control of the Golden Horde for more than two centuries, began to group and unite around Moscow, as the organising centre for unification.
In 1300, the territory of the Moscow principality was only 35,000 square kilometres, and the Moscow principality was four times smaller compared to England.
Photo: Principality of Moscow in 1300. The regions that joined the Moscow principality in different periods of the XIV century are shown in different colours.
Two hundred years later, when Ivan IV ascended the throne, the territory of the Moscow principality was already 2,8 million square kilometres, and during the reign of Ivan IV the Terrible, the territory under the rule of Moscow doubled, to 5,4 million, and included Siberia and exceeded the territory of Great Britain by 23 times.
Photo: The increase in the territory of the Muscovy during the reign of Ivan IV the Terrible
The main weakness of Russia was the lack of access to the warm ice-free seas. All accesses to the ice-free seas were controlled by rivals and enemies. Muscovy had access to the sea and ocean only in the Far North, where the ship of Richard Chancellor arrived. The absence or weakness of the navy, primarily the military, backwardness in the science of navigation, and limited relations with the outside world, especially overseas, as well as limited access to European financial and banking centres were the main strategic weaknesses of the emerging and growing Russian Empire.
Moscow needed a strategic ally that had modern merchant and military fleets, that had established trade and diplomatic ties, developed crafts and knowledge about the world outside the territory of the former Great Horde. The Moscow Kremlin needed a partner and ally in Europe who would represent Muscovy and help to promote its interests in Europe and other regions of the world, overcoming the information and political blockade of hostile neighbours that surrounded Muscovy and represented Russia, its tsars, people, traditions and state order in distorted and most unsightly form.
Particularly dangerous situation developed on the European border of the Muscovy. Tsar Ivan IV understood that he would have to fight the German knights of the Livonian Order, who could be supported by other Catholic states, including Sweden, Denmark, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth that united Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Russia and Zemait. It was the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania that took over the Russian principalities in the Western and South-Western regions of Ancient Rus and openly began to claim the role of the unifier of the Russian lands.
Tsar Ivan the Terrible gave the British privileges in trade not because he needed their goods. Russian and foreign merchants could bring gold and silver items, tin and all sorts of musical and other artful handicrafts that Moscow needed without the British. Irritated by the behaviour of the English, Ivan the Terrible wrote in one of his letters that Russia lived in contentment and prosperity even without English goods… However, it was Great Britain that was of interest to Ivan the Terrible as his strategic ally.
According to the Russian mentality evolved over the centuries during the formation and development of Russian civilization (this subject I will study in detail later in this series), Ivan the Terrible began with concessions to the British. Sacrificing his own interests, he tried to establish a trusting and friendly relationship with Britain and to achieve a strategic advantage over the surrounding rivals and enemies that the alliance between Moscow and London could provide for him. By making concessions to the British and demonstrating not so much his strength as his compliance and willingness to compromise and come to agreements, the tsar hoped to bring London to realize the benefits and the need for an alliance between Russia and Great Britain.
Lost opportunities and no return
On July 25, 1556, Richard Chancellor sailed on the “Edward Bonaventure” back to England. He did not go alone. Together with him on the ship was the Russian envoy Osip Nepeya, who was carrying a message and valuable gifts from Ivan IV the Terrible to the English Queen Mary I Tudor. With Chancellor and Nepea on board, the “Edward Bonaventure” sailed being followed by three more ships loaded with Russian goods for sale in England. Ten Russian merchants sailed on these ships, accompanying their goods.
Before leaving, Richard Chancellor had a premonition that this voyage would end in tragedy. Indeed, of the four ships, only one made it to London. During the storm, the ships were scattered. Two ships sank off the coast of Norway. On November 10, «Eduard Bonaventure» crashed off the coast of Scotland. The gifts of the tsar to the queen of England were drowned and partly stolen by local residents. Richard Chancellor himself died while helping to save the Russian ambassador, who was brought with honours to London, where he was received by Queen Mary Tudor.
Photo: Osip Nepeya at the head of the Russian embassy in London
In London, Osip Nepea made a good impression. The British noted his thoughtfulness, prudence (by the way, name Nepeya in Russian language means “not drinking, sober”).
Queen Maria richly endowed Osip Nepey and sent her ambassador to Moscow with him, as well as her letter and gifts to Ivan the Terrible.
It seemed to everyone that it was a great success, that a mutually beneficial relationship had been established between Muscovy and Britain. However, it was not so simple and straightforward. Neither side got what they wanted.
The goals that they set for themselves were not achieved. It appeared that these goals could not be achieved. Both sides failed even to understand the goals and objectives that the other side set for itself, as well as the reasons that forced them to set these tasks. More, they understood these goals in a completely distorted form. The main reason for all that was civilizational differences, a difference in mentality and worldview.
The initial period of British-Russian relations clearly demonstrates the operation of the law of inconsistency of concepts and the divergence of understanding by representatives of different civilizations of actions and intentions.
What had to happen happened. Ivan IV failed to convince the British that strategic alliance with growing Russian Empire benefited Great Britain and suited its interests. The British did not understand the tsar and considered his concessions as weakness, which «must be used.» They preferred and continue to seek and demand monopoly on maritime trade and to engage in piracy blocking development of trade relations between Russia and other countries.
The British did not understand Russia and the tsar and contributed to spreading of false information about Russia, acting in favour of the Russian neighbour-enemies.
One more point. British misunderstanding of Russians was manifested, among other things, in the translation into English of the nickname that Russian people gave to Ivan IV — the “Terrible”. In Russian language “грозный — grozny” does not mean “terrible”, but “redoubtable, formidable”.
All that formed conditions for the beginning of the Great Game in the XVIII century…
From Family ties to the Great Game
It should be noted that prior to the invasion of Rus by the Great Horde, England was very close and well-known country for Russian princes, the ancestors of Ivan the Terrible. Suffice it to recall that Vladimir Monomakh, one of the greatest princes of Ancient Rus of the pre-Mongol period, was married to the English princess Geeta of Wessex, daughter of the last reigning Anglo-Saxon king Harold II and Edith Swanneck.
Photo: Vladimir Monomakh and Gita of Wessex
Gita gave birth to nine or, according to various sources, eleven children, who themselves and their descendants played an important role not only in the history of Russia, but also of Europe.
Photo: Monomakh’s Cap, the main royal cap of the Russian tsars. Vladimir Monomakh himself, apparently, never wore this hat, it was made after his death, but it was with the husband of Gita that the legend connected the main symbol of Russian tsarism
Mothers in those days had a tremendous influence on formation of character, on education and appearance of children, especially in early childhood. In the family of the Grand Duke, the ruler of Ancient Rus, children spoke English, knew history of England and were actively interested in events in Britain and other countries of Western Europe.
Being an important part of the route «from the Varangians to the Greeks», actively functioning trade route that connected northern and southern Europe, the Ancient Rus was connected with European countries by economic ties.
The clan that ruled in Ancient Russia, the founder of which was Rurik, and the European ruling dynasties were connected by numerous family ties. Children born in families of the descendants of Rurik for several centuries did not marry each other, avoiding incest. They were looking for brides and grooms for their children in other countries.
In the history of Russia, two Gita’s sons played the most important roles. One of them was Mstislav the Great, the eldest son of Vladimir Monomakh. According to the tradition of those times, he had several names. So, he was also baptized as Fyodor, and named (most likely at the request of Gita) Harald in honour of his grandfather Harold II. Harald was his family name.
Mstislav (Harald) not only became the Grand Duke and ruled in Kiev from 1125, but was also canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church as Russian saint.
Among the descendants of Mstislav, one can name the Danish king Valdemar I the Great and his descendants, including Philip II, King of France, the English queen Philippa of Hainault and the English king Edward III, and therefore all their descendants.
Photo: Mstislav I (Harald) the Great, 17th century miniature
There was another son of Vladimir Monomakh, Yuri, the youngest son, who played important role in Russian history. He went down in Russian history as Grand Duke Yuri Dolgoruky (the Long-handed), the founder of Moscow. Until now, historians have no consensus about who was Yuri’s mother. Some historians believe that Gita had already died by the time Yuri was born, and Vladimir Monomakh married second time, and the new wife became the mother of the founder of Moscow. However, some historians believe that Gita was the mother of Yuri the Long-handed, because Vladimir Monomakh himself wrote about her in his «Teaching», noting that «Yuri’s mother died.»
Photo: Monument to Yuri the Long-handed, the founder of Moscow, erected in front of the Moscow City Hall
In any case, we can note that in Ancient Rus, the ties between Russia and Europe were well developed. The members of the ruling Rurik family spoke all main European languages, and there was no insurmountable or fundamental differences in mentality and worldview between the elites.
What happened during the three hundred years, when Rus was part of the Great Horde? Why, in the 16th century, when direct interstate relations were established between the Kingdom of Great Britain and Muscovy, the peoples and rulers of the two emerging great empires could not understand each other and achieve what they wanted?
Nascence of the White man and the British democracy
It may look that it was in Russia during the reign of the Horde that fundamental changes in mentality and worldview took place, which created an abyss between Russia and Europe, including Great Britain. That notion is correct. However, more fundamental changes took place in Europe, and Great Britain played a huge role in the formation of the new Western mentality, so different from the Russian mentality.
(To be continued)