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The Great Northern War
Wednesday, 5 September 2012
Riga 1697
Topic: Great Embassy

In late March 1697 the Great Embassy crossed the Swedish border near Neuhausen (today Vastseliina in Estonia) in Livonia, setting in motion a series of events which may have played a significant role in the process leading up to the outbreak of the Great Northern War. In Russian propaganda before and after the outbreak of hostilities, the treatment of the Great Embassy by the Swedish authorities and in particular by Governor General Erik Dahlbergh in Riga was emphasized. In this version Dahlbergh had acted rudely, not properly acknowledged the presence of the Czar, been unhelpful and even outright hostile. In Shafirov's A discourse concerning the just causes of the war between Sweden and Russia (Russian ed. 1717, English ed. 1722) it is even suggested that Dahlbergh planned to seize or possibly kill the Czar. The Swedish view was of course quite different. Dahlbergh was first of all displeased with the secrecy surrounding the arrival of the Embassy. He wasn't informed of its intended arrival date until very late and the Czar's decision to travel incognito made it difficult to determine exactly how the Russians should be greeted. Should his incognito be respected and his presence consequently ignored or was it better to give the Czar the same welcome he would have received under normal circumstances? Dahlbergh believed that the Czar wished his incognito to be respected and that the other Russians were strictly forbidden to divulge his identity, so he decided to treat the Russians exactly as the Swedish-Russian treaties stipulated. A problem was the great famine which had struck the Baltic provinces, making it hard to gather provisions, horses and other necessities.

What really happened when the Great Embassy reached Riga has been described and analyzed by a couple of historians. The first was Alexander Bergengrün, who based his work Die grosse moskowitische Ambassade von 1697 on documents preserved in Riga and the second was Alvin Isberg, who based his analysis on Bergengrün's work and a voluminous report sent by Dahlbergh to Charles XII in March 1700. Bergengrün placed himself emphatically on the side of Dahlbergh, suggesting that the Russian complaints were just poor excuses for an attack on Sweden which in reality had quite different causes. Isberg was a bit more ambivalent, finding some of the statements made by Dahlbergh and others on the Swedish side a bit hard to believe when they were compared to contemporary Russian sources. As some bits and pieces seems to have escaped both Bergengrün and Isberg I will in subsequent posts return to this topic. 


Posted by bengt_nilsson at 8:27 PM MEST
Updated: Wednesday, 5 September 2012 8:28 PM MEST
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