Britain's Discovery of Russia, 1553-1815

By M. S. Anderson | Go to book overview

Chapter Six
THE CRISIS OF 1791

The events of the war of American Independence and the formation of the Armed Neutrality did not of course destroy overnight the idea that Russia was the natural ally of Great Britain. On the contrary, conservatism and intellectual inertia prolonged its existence until at least the end of the Napoleonic wars. But from 1780 onwards it was fighting a rearguard action against the new picture of Russia as a power which had no specially intimate relationship with Britain and whose policies might even inflict serious harm on her.

This new picture, however, established itself only slowly in the minds of Englishmen. Of the few politicians actively interested in foreign policy, fewer still were willing in the early 1780's to revise radically the assumptions they had inherited from the past about the nature of Anglo-Russian relations. In particular Charles James Fox in his short-lived ministry of 1782-3 adhered quite as firmly as any of his predecessors to the idea of Russia as a natural ally against the House of Bourbon.1 In this respect, as in a good many others, he revealed the conservatism which in him underlay the radical façade visible to the outside world. Under the younger Pitt there began a process of change, a revision of the system of traditional assumptions and prejudices which for so long had done duty in London for a foreign policy. As far as Russia was concerned, however, this change was slow, hesitant, and almost unconscious. The events of 1791 were to show that it had not yet taken effect in the minds of many members of the Cabinet.

Nevertheless even in the early days of the Pitt régime sufficient signs of it were becoming visible to worry some Russian

____________________
1
Correspondence of George III, vi. 407; British Diplomatic Instructions, vii. (France 1745-89), p. 234.

-143-

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Britain's Discovery of Russia, 1553-1815
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Foreword vii
  • Abbreviations *
  • Chapter One The Age of Elizabeth 1
  • Chapter Two The Seventeenth Century 33
  • Chapter Three The Age of Peter the Great 49
  • Chapter Four Widening Horizons, 1725-1815 80
  • Chapter Five Russia and Europe Through British Eyes, 1725-91 108
  • Chapter Six The Crisis of 1791 143
  • Chapter Seven The Destruction of Poland 186
  • Chapter Eight The War Against The French Revolution 198
  • Chapter Nine The Campaign of 1812 215
  • Conclusion 233
  • Index 237
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