Grand Embassy of Peter the Great

A statue of Peter I working incognito at a Dutch wharf.

The Grand Embassy (Russian: Великое посольство, translit. Velikoye posolstvo) was a Russian diplomatic mission to Western Europe in 1697–98 led by Peter the Great.


The primary goal of the mission was to strengthen and broaden the Holy League, Russia's alliance with a number of European countries against the Ottoman Empire in its struggle for the northern coastline of the Black Sea. The tsar also sought to hire foreign specialists for Russian service and to order and acquire military supplies and weapons.

Officially, the Grand Embassy was headed by the "grand ambassadors" Franz Lefort, Fedor Golovin and Prokopy Voznitsyn. In fact, it was led by Peter himself, who went along incognito under the name of Peter Mikhailov. At 6 feet 8 inches (2.03 m) Peter was one of the tallest men in Europe, a fact very hard to disguise.

Peter conducted negotiations with Friedrich Casimir Kettler, the Duke of Courland, and concluded an alliance with King Frederick I of Prussia. He arrived in the Dutch Republic at the start of August 1697, where he worked incognito as a shipbuilder. He later used the knowledge acquired during this period to modernise the Russian navy.[1]

He visited England and began an affair with Letitia Cross. In 1697 and 1698 Peter the Great embarked on his Grand Embassy. He visited London and Cross became his mistress.[2] He met with William III, who governed both the Netherlands and England, in September, and the States-General in October. Peter failed to expand the anti-Ottoman alliance, however, and the Grand Embassy had to limit itself to acquiring different equipment and hiring foreign specialists especially in military and naval affairs. They formed the basis of his modernizing the Russian army and navy.[3]

On invitation of William III, Peter and part of the mission also went to England in January 1698, where he visited Gilbert Burnet and Edmond Halley in the Royal Observatory, the Royal Mint, the Royal Society, the University of Oxford, as well as several shipyards and artillery plants. The embassy stayed in Sayes Court (adjacent to the Deptford Dockyard) belonging to John Evelyn and did great damage to both house and grounds.[4]

On the way back to Russia, the Grand Embassy conducted fruitless negotiations in Vienna with Russia's former allies in the Holy League, the Austrian foreign minister and the Venetian ambassador, trying to prevent Austria's separate peace treaty with Turkey. An intended visit to Venice was cancelled due to the news about the Streltsy Uprising in Moscow and Peter's hasty return to Russia.

The Grand Embassy failed to accomplish its main goal, but it gathered valuable information about the international situation, ascertained the impossibility of strengthening the anti-Turkish coalition due to the imminent War of the Spanish Succession, and brought back the plans for gaining access to the Baltic Sea. On his way back to Russia, Peter the Great met with Augustus II of Poland and conducted negotiations with him, which would form the basis for the Russo-Polish alliance against Sweden in the Great Northern War.

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