The Tsar’s Capital without the Tsar According to Reports from St Petersburg to the Imperial Court of Vienna, 1716–1717

Franziska Schedewie


This article examines Peter I’s second journey to Western Europe from the perspective of the Imperial resident Otto von Pleyer, who stayed behind in the tsar’s new capital of St Petersburg and reported from there to the Imperial court of Vienna. What difference did it make, according to his reports, that the tsar was away on the road? Analysing two topics in the nineteen reports he made between February 1716 and October 1717 (the army, fleet, and the condition of the soldiers, as observed from St Petersburg, and artists, artisans, and architecture, especially the reception of the celebrated French architect Le Blond), the article concludes that themes of disharmony and dissipation on the one hand and accusations of irresponsibility and thoughtlessness on the other are so ubiquitous in Pleyer’s reports that they create the impression of an acute potential threat and homemade crisis. The vacuum caused by the absence of the tsar itself, by rumors, and by constant wondering what the next step was increase the impression of a permanent latent crisis, even without the ultimate climax in the form of the flight of Tsarevich Aleksei. Furthermore, a close analysis of the two selected topics shows that the political problems were not isolated, but interdependent on the social and cultural spheres. With its additional research focus, the article contributes to previous research, especially that by Paul Bushkovitch. Pleyer’s diplomatic reports convey a surprising degree of social criticism combined with a distinctive moral overtone. They provide a valuable source for the approaches of the New Diplomatic History.


New Diplomatic History; Peter I; Otto von Pleyer; Jean-Baptiste Alexandre Le Blond; Alexander Menshikov; St Petersburg


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