Zar Peter I. inkognito in Riga (1697)

In: Forschungen zur baltischen Geschichte
Author: Marten Seppel

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Tsar Peter I incognito in Riga in 1697

Tsar Peters I’s first journey to Europe incognito has been one of the best-known events of his biography. Swedish Livonia was planned to be the first foreign country that the Grand Embassy with the Tsar would visit. They left Moscow on March 9, 1697, and travelled through Livonia for more than two weeks from March 25 to April 13, 1697. In general, extensive research on the subject so far assumes that the diplomatic strategy of traveling incognito offered the tsar several advantages that helped him achieve the goals of his trip abroad even if in reality everyone involved knew he was traveling with the Grand Embassy. However, Riga in Swedish Livonia was the only capital in which the presence of Peter was entirely ignored in April 1697 which later had devastating consequences for Sweden. The official Russian narrative, which was expressed in Peter Shafirov’s pamphlet on the legal basis for the war against Sweden, claimed that Erik Dahlbergh, the Governor-General of Livonia, knew from the beginning of Peter’s participation in the Muscovite Embassy but still did not show any respect towards the Tsar. The present article shows that in fact initially neither Governor-General Dahlbergh nor the Riga Council knew for sure that Peter was with the Embassy. A similar conclusion was drawn by Alexander Bergengrün already in 1892. However, new archival sources, as well as already known source material, allow us to shed a clearer light on the daily progression of the journey of the Grand Embassy through Livonia.

Although Peter had planned to carry out the entire trip incognito, he only succeeded in the first country outside the Russian borders, in Livonia. All known sources from the period from January to April 1697 leave no doubt that attempts were made to keep the Tsar’s identity top secret. Although Russian diplomacy announced later in 1699 and 1700 that “almost the whole world” knew that the Tsar had been in Riga in 1697 it was nowhere known and certain at the relevant time. There was only hearsay about the Tsar’s intentions to travel along with the Embassy. Prior to April 8 – Peter’s day of departure from Riga – there is no letter from Dahlbergh in which he expressed the belief that Peter had crossed the border of Livonia at all. The sources show that the Tsar was recognized in Riga only shortly before his departure. Therefore, only after this did the news and reports from Riga about Peter’s presence begin to spread widely in Europe and this made it possible that the other rulers on the route of the Embassy could better prepare for the reception of the Tsar.


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