Empire, Spectacle and the Patriot King: British Responses to Eighteenth-Century Russian Empire

Binney Matthew


The author uses examples of British travellers’ responses to Russian tsars’ spectacles to argue that the British view of the Russian Empire in the eighteenth century fosters a contradiction. Traditionally Russia was depicted as an imperial Other in which British liberty and its attachment to reason is contrasted with Russian servility within the autocratic state and Russian citizens’ irrational attachment to tradition. Yet British writers complicate this depiction with Peter the Great, and later tsars, who are depicted frequently as enlightened reformers. Indeed, British travellers’ depictions of tsars’ spectacles at once foreground the tsar’s enlightened reforms and the tsar’s person, but also are characterized as limiting the spectators’ capacity to reason and to pursue liberty. The author maintains that this contradiction is accommodated in the British thought by Bolingbroke’s notion of a reform-minded patriot king and Russia’s often-portrayed middle position between East and West.


Peter the Great; Britons in Russia; Bolingbroke; travel literature.


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15826/qr.2017.2.%25x


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