The gift-giving culture of Anglo-Muscovite diplomacy, 1566-1623

Zhukova, Tatyana, Alexandra (2018) The gift-giving culture of Anglo-Muscovite diplomacy, 1566-1623. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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In 1589, the government of Tsar Feodor I of Muscovy returned the gift of golden medals received from Queen Elizabeth I, describing the offending objects as neither commendable nor agreeable. The rejection was accompanied with opprobrious public speeches about the gift’s unsuitability and a threat to transfer Muscovite favour unto other European nations if Elizabeth offered no immediate redress. In her defence, Elizabeth argued that diplomatic gifts were to be accepted not in respect of the object itself, but of the royal majesty from whom it was presented. While the episode appears to show a petty squabble over material trinkets, its diplomatic repercussions were significant as the following five years would be dedicated to the repair of Anglo-Muscovite relations. Clearly, gifts were integral to the mechanics of early modern diplomacy.

This thesis explores an intriguing, but as yet scarcely studied, facet of diplomatic history: the operation of Muscovite diplomacy prior to the reign of Peter the Great. It focuses on Muscovy’s long-term relations with England (Muscovy’s first continual diplomatic relationship with a Western European power in the sixteenth century) and examines the exchange of sovereign gifts between the two royal courts. The principal novelty of this research lies in its departure from the anthropological definition of the gift as a ‘material’ object, instead it argues that non-tangible components, such as royal favours, were also ‘gifts’, provided they were given willingly, were reciprocated− if not necessarily symmetrically, and created emotional, political and social bonds between the participants. As an example of such intangible gift, this thesis uses the Muscovite zhalovannaia gramota (a charter of mercantile privileges). In this way, the research explores the full range and complexity of diplomatic gift-exchange between the two monarchies in a crucial period of dynastic change in both countries.

Frequently, gift-giving is interpreted as either a means of intercultural communication par excellence or, in the case of a rejected gift, as evidence of an inevitable clash of cultures. This thesis, however, demonstrates that diplomatic gift-exchange was a multi-faceted process. Royal intentions were complex and, therefore, required different levels of engagement; their transmission was reliant upon intermediaries (ambassadors), and the reception of gifts was intrinsically linked to diplomatic aims. Secondly, in contrast to the widespread assumption that the diplomatic cultures of England and Muscovy were discordant, day-to-day diplomatic exchanges (including gift-giving) drew the Tsars into a shared ceremonial arena, where other rulers competed for the symbolic resources of sovereignty. The exchange of gifts between the two states facilitated the process of gradual integration of the apparently alien Muscovite Tsar into the English (and essentially European) standardised codes of diplomatic behaviour and ceremonial communication. It was not until the reign of Peter I, however, that the Tsars fully became prominent members of the European society of princes.

Diplomatic practice was neither universal nor culturally specific; such assumptions are obstructive to a better understanding of the mechanics of cross-cultural interactions. Ultimately, diplomatic ceremony and gift-giving were driven by notions of sovereign honour and the symbolic language of the court society, and not by political, national or cultural incommensurability. Thus, the foundations of Muscovy’s gradual integration into European codes of diplomatic behaviour can be traced to the reign of Ivan IV, and specifically, to the continuous Muscovite diplomatic relationship with the English Crown.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Sharipova, Liudmyla
Merritt, Julia
Keywords: Anglo-Muscovite Relations; Gift-Giving; Muscovy; Elizabeth I; James I; Ivan IV; Feodor I; Boris Godunov; Michael Romanov; Muscovy Company
Subjects: D History - General and Old World > DA Great Britain
D History - General and Old World > DK Russia. Soviet Union. Former Soviet Republics
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of History
Item ID: 55471
Depositing User: Zhukova, Tatyana
Date Deposited: 19 Dec 2018 13:09
Last Modified: 08 Feb 2019 08:31

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