Diplomatic Correspondence

Examining Count Panin's and Lord Whitworth's (British Ambassador in St. Petersburg) correspondence available for this period we find out the increasing pessimism related to the state of anti-French Coalition. On October 4th, 1799 Panin sends the first of his pessimist letters to Prince S. Vorontsov (Russian Ambassador in London) : "My present position at court is quite unlucky and does not leave me any chance to make virtue....." [4]. Whitworth in the letter dated October 10th, 1799 complains to S. Vorontsov about the deterioration of former friendly rela-tionships between London and St. Petersburg and refers to his decreasing success with Russian Emperor. F. Rostopchin, Russian Chancellor, however takes the side of France and has a significant influence on Paul I.

One month later, Lord Whitworth complains again: "It is terrible to see so unexpected collapse of great hopes" (see Lord Whitworth's letter of November 17/28, 1799)[5].

During this period French General Charles Dumoriez who betrayed the ideals of Revolution arrives to St. Petersburg but is not accepted by the Tsar until March 1800 and the audience that followed produced no result. British Ambassador soon learned that the favorite topic of Tsar's speeches at these days were Bonaparte's virtues (see Whitworth's letter dated December, 17th, 1799 to Lord Greenville, Head of British Foreign Office)[6].

Soon after a very important letter by Lord Whitworth (N73, dated March, 18, 1800) written with invisible inks was intercepted by Rostopchin.

"The Emperor is obviously mad, - writes Whitworth, - and his illness is constantly pro-gressing.... With a man like him no one can feel in security under such circumstances" This proved to be the last drop. Immediately after the interception of the above letter, the crucial disgrace follows.

Omitting very interesting diplomatic correspondence between First Consul and Paul I we focus the attention of the reader on brief chronology to the events that follow and then consider military preparations and plans.

Chronology Of The Events 1800-1801

March, 20th, 1800. General Dumoriez is not any more accepted by the Tsar.

March, 25th, 1800. Lord Whitworth's courier is not permitted to leave Russia (this case has no precedent in diplomatic practice). It seems tsar has read the letter N73.

April, 7th, 1800. Prince S. Vorontsov is retired under the pretext of poor health but the Embassy staff is left in London.

April, 11th, 1800. Lord Greenville calls Prince S. Vorontsov and officially protests against the detention of British courier in Russia.

March-April 1800. England tries to make peace. British mission headed by Captain Pophan is sent to Russia. However British representative is sent back "without audience"[7].

June - July, 1800. Bonaparte releases 6 000 Russian prisoners. All men are set free with muskets, uniform, ammunition, etc... and without any compensation. However Baron de Krudener - Russian envoy in Berlin (Count Panin's friend, later accused in conspiracy against Paul I) detains Russian Major Sergeev, who bears Bonaparte's personal letter to Paul I. The letter is intercepted and sent via diplomatic post to Count Panin and then to tsar. In the same letter Bonaparte stresses that Britain and Austria refuse to exchange Russian prisoners of war in spite of the fact that Souvorov always transferred captured French soldiers to Austrians. In this very important letter Napoleon agrees to return Malta to the Order. Respecting Paul I as Great Master of the Order of St. John, Napoleon presented him the sword that Pope Leo X awarded to one of the masters of this Order. As a result de Krudener is instructed to start direct talks with French Am-bassador in Berlin[8].

August 24-30th, 1800. Having learned that British Royal Navy had captured Danish commercial ships conveyed by one frigate, Paul I proclaims the embargo on all British ships available in ports of Russian Empire as well as on British commercial offices and funds. However this embargo has a short life. A week later all Danish ships and one frigate were released by the order of British government and the embargo was denounced. Nevertheless this situation provoked a crucial deterioration of Russian-British relationships and even motivated the desire among some young Russian nobles "to go to fight "Jacks".

August, 1800. Russia invites Sweden, Denmark and Prussia to "The Second Armed Neutrality of the North".

September, 7th, 1800. Britain occupies Malta (St. Petersburg learns about it only on October 1st, 1800).
Until September 11th, 1800. Count Panin tries to block the future accord with Napoleon. Panin's secret correspondence is intercepted by Count Golovin, Minister of Posts - Count F. Rostopchin's lieutenant. (Suspicious letters written with invisible inks - lemon juice, under the pretext of avoiding the infection, are put into vinegar and thus decoded).

October 2nd, 1800. Count F. Rostopchin presents to tsar the idea of future organization of European and Asian affaires based on the alliance with Bonapart.
The plan is immediately approved by Paul I. "Masterpiece writing" - Russian tsar remarks on the margins of this historical document[9].

October 23nd, 1800. Total embargo on all British ships available in ports of Russian Empire is imposed[10].

October 24th, 1800. Russian Ministry of Commerce declares all British goods on stocks in Russia under the arrest.

October 25th 1800. All goods and materials that are property of British commercial agents and are part of total cargo shipped on other than British ships are also considered to be under the arrest.

October 26th, 1800. Timber (particularly for masts and yards) and also pitch (for caulking) and hemp (for rigging) are also under the embargo to England as well as grain shipment from Baltic region."

October 28th, 1800. The arrested British skippers and men of total number 1043 are prescribed to be disseminated among small provincial Russian towns (by 10 persons in each) with guaranteed salary and subsistence fees equal to Russian soldiers[12].

November 5th, 1800. "Albion" - British commercial ship is arrested in Kronstadt, near St. Petersburg with all men and goods on board[13].

November 15th, 1800. Prussian Ambassador's letter to Berlin Cabinet is intercepted by Count Rostopchin's agents. It criticises Russian embargo on British goods. Obviously, Count Panin is involved in the intrigue (against the tsar).

November 17th, 1800. Count's Panin's retirement from service. He leaves St. Petersburg for Moscow.

November 18th, 1800. Jose de Ribas, Spanish Admiral on Russian service, the famous founder of Odessa, proposes the plan of defense of Kronstadt against the eventual British attack. The project is much appreciated by Paul I. Indeed, British marine threat was real as Royal Navy possessed at that time 205 HMS (ships of the line) and 284 frigates with 139 000 men on decks compared with 47 Russian military ships only[14].

November 21st, 1800. Baron Sprengporten, Special Diplomatic Representative of Paul I leaves St. Petersburg for Paris to meet with Napoleon.

December 4th, 1800. Military agreement with Sweden is signed.

December 15th, 1800. Total embargo on all kinds of export to England is decreed[15].

December 16 - 18th, 1800. The Alliance of Scandinavian countries against England is signed by representatives of Russia, Prussia, Sweden and Denmark. Thus, "The Second Neutrality of the North" is formed.

December 18th, 1800. Disrupt de juro with French immigrant Court of Louis XVIII (temporary living in Russia).

December 18th, 1800. First direct letter to Napoleon is written by Paul I: "… I am ready to listen to you and to talk with you..."- writes Russian tsar.

December 21st, 1800. (before receiving Paul's above message) First letter of Napoleon to Russian tsar reaches St. Petersburg in which the idea of the alliance of two powers is expressed. "... Under this union - writes Bonaparte - Britain, Germany and other powers will drop their weapons..." In the same letter the first ideas of mutual shaping of Asia are expressed by Napoleon[16].

December 29th, 1800. Russian Ministry of Commerce is entitled to present a feasibility report on the expansion of trade with India, Bukhara and Heeva via Astrakhan and Caspian Sea as well as from Orenburg to India via Heeva, Bukhara, Herat and Kandaghar. This report, among other issues, presumes the following:
  • To set up a save commercial port at the seashore of Caspian Sea, namely in Astrabad Golf.
  • To organize a Trade Company of negotiators of Russian origin with exclusive privileges and rights to trade with all Asian provinces.

  • To persuade the Afghan Khan to provide the safe transfer of caravans accompanied by Cossacks up to India.

  • To introduce new custom procedure and tariffs regulating free transportation of goods from Baltic to Caspian Sea, further to India and back to St. Petersburg.

  • To improve the design of commercial vessels and river crafts capable to cross The Caspian Sea. These new vessels are to be constructed in Russian city Kazan[17].
December 31st, 1800. Oukaz (prescript) of Paul I to secure Solovetsky islands in White Sea (near Arhangelsk, North Russia) against eventual British Royal Navy attack.

January 2nd, 1801. Tsar's friendly letter to First Consul - response to his December's message is written.

January 2nd, 1801. French court in exile quits Russian town Mitawa and de facto is deprived of Russian pension (200 000 Rubles per annum that was equal approx. to 270 000 Pound Sterling).

January 4th, 1801. Count Kolytchev, Russian Authorised Representative leaves St. Petersburg for Paris to sign a peace treaty with France. By this time Russian Army, 120 000 strong is concentrated on Western borders of Russian Empire to protect Baltic seashore and to organize diversionary actions against Britain.

January 7th, 1801. Paul I writes a letter to Count I. Saltykov, Moscow governor, about his eventual visit to second Russian capital reserved for the second part of April 1801[19]. It is curious to note that some people regarded this voyage of Paul I as a result of his fears of British naval attack of St. Petersburg. Count S. Vorontsov writes at this time (with the same lemon juice inks): "... it seems that our brave is going as far from Kronstadt as possible by the end of April hoping that Royal Navy will not be in sight until this time…"[20].

January ISth, 1801. Next letter to Napoleon by Russian tsar appears. Paul I writes: "... I can not indicate you what to do but would it be possible to produce something on British shores..."[21].

February 8th, 1801. Russian citizens are permitted to trade with France[22].

February 26th, 1801. "St. Petersburg Vedomosty"- official Russian Chronicles -publishes a flattering article (obviously inspired by Napoleon) representing Paul I as the only monarch who, for the past time, followed a non-covetous policy inspired by generosity".

February 27th, 1800. Napoleon writes to Paul I: "...as Your Majesty probably desires, 300 - 400 gunboats are located in ports of Flandria where I am concentrating my army[23]. Besides the above, Napoleon proposes to organize a joint military action of Russian Black Sea Fleet, French and Spanish Fleets in La Manche aimed at the attack of the British Islands. Meanwhile the Allied armies will advance to Hanover and threat Ferdinand IVth, King of Naples[24].

March, 1801. Duroc, the First Consul's chief aide, leaves Paris for St. Petersburg with a mission to open to Paul I the plan of diplomatic and political pressure on Ottoman Porta. Turks are supposed to be forced to clear Egypt from British, thus reanimating French army left by Bonaparte earlier[25].

Dr. Alex Zotov, FINS, St.Petersburg, Russia


Historical magazine Gatchina Over the Centuries