The Genesis of Russophobia in Great Britain: A Study of the Interaction of Policy and Opinion

By John Howes Gleason | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
ENGLAND AND RUSSIA PRIOR TO 1815

SERIOUS Anglo-Russian hostility began in 1791. The notion that Russian expansion might be a serious threat to British interests surprised both parliament and the nation when in that year the government presided over by the younger Pitt requested supply for a naval mobilization. They asserted that Russia must be induced to restore the fortress of Ochakov, guarding the estuary of the Dnieper and Bug Rivers, which she had recently captured at a great cost in war with the Ottoman empire. Had Pitt been more astute, he might have anticipated profound opposition to his new and unexpected policy, for not since the Crusades had England played a major role in the affairs of Eastern Europe, and she had virtually ignored the partition of Poland in 1772.1 Behind Pitt's proposal, indeed, lay more than two centuries of almost uninterruptedly amicable political relations and consistently expanding commercial intercourse.

England and Russia first came into direct contact in 1553 when a modest voyage of exploration, inspired by Sebastian Cabot, found, not a northeast passage to the Orient, but a welcome refuge in the White Sea. To Richard Chancellor, who commanded the sole ship which survived the stormy passage, it appeared that he had found a strange land ruled over by a savage potentate. Yet even such paltry success led to the formation in 1555 of the Muscovy Company, first of the great British joint-stock trading organizations. In the reign of Elizabeth, English merchants pushing across Russia and the steppes of Central Asia as far as Bokhara developed a profitable trade, although the route failed to afford easy access to India and China. The English market easily absorbed Russian furs, tallow, hides, flax, hemp, tar, and caviar. Ivan the Terrible made

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1
Cf. Annual Register for 1772 ( London, 1773), p. 2

-9-

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