“The Time of Troubles in the Land of the French”: The French Experience of Escape from Civil War as Seen by the Members of the Russian Embassy (Bordeaux, 1615)
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“The Time of Troubles in the Land of the French”: The French Experience of Escape from Civil War as Seen by the Members of the Russian Embassy (Bordeaux, 1615)
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The report of the first Russian embassy to France (December 10—17, 1615) was mainly referred to by historians as an example of the bad launch of the long history of the relations between Russian and French governments. However, given the exceptional circumstances — the beginning of the civil war in France, the rebels led by the prince of Condé operating in the vicinity of Bordeaux, where the royal court resided on the occasion of the marriage of Louis XIII to the Spanish Infanta Anne of Austria — the embassy can be considered as quite successful. The ambassadors managed to obtain an audience with the young king with all the necessary ceremonies notwithstanding regular diplomatic protocol, and to receive a response letter from the king mentioning all the titles of the Russian Tsar. Russian diplomats collected valuable and reasonably accurate information of the state of affairs in France, of French relations with the major European powers, and especially about the border conflicts. However, the passage with a brief historical digression on the Wars of Religion contain enough inaccuracies to exclude the possibility of accidental error. The article raises the question of the nature of these distortions. It is possible to suggest that the ambassadors received tendentious information from their sources, the translators provided by the government of the Netherlands and by the French Huguenots, supporters of the prince of Condé. They sought to discredit the ‘Spanish party’ at the court that advocated the rapprochement with the Habsburgs, and to blame its supporters for the outbreak of the Wars of Religion. It is suggested that the chief interpreter of the embassy was linked to the Protestant family of Coligny-Chatillon and therefore exaggerated their role in the final triumph of Henry IV. Nonetheless, eliminating the politically motivated distortions, the picture presented by the ambassadors is curiously reminiscent of the events of the Troubles according to the official Russian version. Lamentable disappearance of the old dynasty, intrigues and plots of Tsar’s ‘close persons’, intervention of neighbouring rulers invited by ‘the people of Duma’ are presented as the main causes of both conflicts. The accession of the new monarch belonging to a family related to the old dynasty through the female line (the ambassadors were entirely ignorant of the ‘Salic Law’ regulating the royal succession in France) inspires hope for the revival of the prestige of the country despite continuing local clashes. Religious aspects of the conflict, popular uprisings, and the role of the representative bodies are remarkably absent from this pattern. It is unlikely that such aberrations were a deliberate act. Rather, it can be assumed that due to the extreme shortage of time, the ambassadors had to deal with a considerable amount of previously unknown information, of no great value for the success of their embassy. They laid it out into ready-made forms according to familiar interpretive patterns. Nevertheless it is remarkable that their versions of the ‘pacification’ of the French (and, implicitly, Russian) Troubles differ significantly from the modern views of these events.
Time of Troubles, French Wars of Religion, international relations in Western Europe in the beginning of the 17th century, the eve of the Thirty Years War, historical memory, history of diplomacy, change of dynasties
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