Book Review of Peter the Great and Marlborough: Politics and Diplomacy in Converging Wars

Andrew Rothstein. Peter the Great and Marlborough: Politics and Diplomacy in Converging Wars. ISBN 978-0-333-39878-4. Maps. Notes. Index. London: Macmillan, 1986. Pp. xi, 247.

The late Andrew Rothstein, a Russian-British journalist, examines Anglo-Russian relations during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713/14) and Great Northern War (1700-1721).  His thesis is that John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, was determined to keep Russia and Sweden out of the Grand Alliance’s struggle with Louis XIV of France (ruled 1643-1715) in the War of the Spanish Succession.  Rothstein argues that the policies of the Maritime Powers of England and the Dutch Republic centered on keeping both Russia and Sweden neutral in the struggle against France as well as maintaining the diplomatic and economic status quo in the Baltic Region.

Marlborough’s policy of keeping Russia and Sweden out of the War of the Spanish Succession was threatened by Louis XIV’s diplomacy aimed at acquiring an alliance with either country.  The Sun King saw Sweden as a likely ally because of its military strength and status as a Great Power.  But, Louis XIV also considered an alliance with Peter I of Russia (ruled 1682-1725) after Russian victories against Sweden in 1701 to 1704.  Neither Sweden nor Russia would ally with France.

The Tsar’s victories against Charles XII of Sweden (ruled 1697-1718) in the Baltic States enhanced the international prestige of Russia.  At this point, in 1704, the English government of Queen Anne (ruled 1702-1714) sent Sir Charles Whitworth to Moscow in an attempt to influence Peter I’s foreign policy.  But, Charles XII defeated the Saxons at the battle of Fraustadt (1706) and forced Augustus II “the Strong” of Poland-Saxony out of Poland in 1706.  Charles XII then marched his army into Saxony and forced Augustus II to surrender at Altranstädt (1706).  Sweden’s success against Saxony worried the leaders of the Grand Alliance that Charles XII would continue to march into the heart of the Holy Roman Empire to assist the war effort of Louis XIV.  Consequently, in April 1707, Marlborough traveled to Altranstädt to convince the Swedish monarch to turn his forces eastward against Russia.  The Tsar, on the other hand, feared the Swedish threat so much that he sent Andrei Matveev on a diplomatic mission to London to seek Russian admittance into the Grand Alliance in 1707-1708.  Peter I believed that entrance into the Grand Alliance would deter a Swedish attack against Russia and result in a Russo-Swedish peace.  However, Matveev failed to acquire the alliance because the Dutch Republic feared that an alliance would result in the convergence of the two wars.  Soon afterwards, Charles XII invaded Russia.  The Tsar, nevertheless, surprised the Maritime Powers by defeating the Swedes at the battle of Poltava (1709).  Rothstein notes that the victory not only destroyed the Swedish army, but it also changed the European balance of power, making Russia a Great Power.

After Poltava, the Maritime Powers became fearful of the increasing power of Russia in the Baltic Region.  British diplomacy failed to prevent the formation of a Russo-Danish-Saxon alliance against Sweden in 1709-1711.  Rothstein believes that there was a very real danger of both wars converging with the Maritime Powers supporting Sweden.  But, the rise of the Oxford ministry (1710) in Britain resulted in the gradual end to the War of the Spanish Succession and the threat that the two wars would converge.

Peter the Great and Marlborough: Politics and Diplomacy in Converging Wars is a fascinating study regarding the Great Northern War and the War of the Spanish Succession.  Both wars are usually treated separately by historians.  Rothstein examines the two major wars together, and explores the possibility of the conflicts merging into one.  The study is based on British archival material along with published British and Russian primary sources.  It makes use of the papers of the British diplomat Sir Charles Whitworth.  The study is well worth reading, and will be of value to individuals interested in the two conflicts and international relations.

Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota

About William Young

Dr William Young is a retired historian with more than 30 years of experience in teaching and research. He has 18 years of teaching experience at the University of North Dakota and Valley City State University. Moreover, he was a historian in the United States Air Force History Program for 15 years. He possesses a doctoral degree in international and military history and master’s degrees in history and international relations. Young is the author of German Diplomatic Relations, 1871-1945 (2006), International Politics and Warfare in the Age of Louis XIV and Peter the Great (2004), and European War and Diplomacy, 1337-1815 (2003). He has also written 42 official Air Force unit histories, two monographs, and other studies. Young is the recipient of many history awards, including three U.S. Air Force Historian of the Year Awards and a U.S. Air Force History Program of the Year Award. He has studied and worked for 13 years overseas in the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Germany, and Saudi Arabia. He has traveled extensively in Europe and the Middle East. His hobbies include collecting and reading history books and attending college ice hockey games.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, British Foreign Policy, British Military History, Dutch Foreign Policy, Europe in the 18th Century (1713-1789), French Foreign Policy, Great Northern War (1700-1721), Polish Military History, Russian Foreign Policy, Russian Military History, Swedish Foreign Policy, Swedish Military History, War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713/14), Wars of Louis XIV (1661-1715) and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Book Review of Peter the Great and Marlborough: Politics and Diplomacy in Converging Wars

  1. William Young says:

    Reblogged this on Military History.

  2. MSW says:

    Reblogged this on War and Game and commented:
    Very interesting comparison…

  3. Tanya says:

    I’m currently reading The diplomacy of Peter the Great by Nikolay Molchanov. Very fascinating. Greetings from Russia.

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