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The Enigmatic Tsar and His Empire

Russia under Alexander I. 1801–1825

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Edited By Jan Kusber, Alexander Kaplunovskiy and Benjamin Conrad

In many ways Russia under Alexander I was an epoch of exploration and revision of empire and state-building. The authors of this volume explore the Alexandrine-era Russia not from the traditional vantage point of the emperor and his inner circle but from the point of view of experts and elites. These «men on the spot» drafted «maps» of the empire and its collective subjects and constructed social, political, and economic imaginaries of the empire. All these revisions and projects did not necessarily lead to an immediate and consistent (re)organization of the political, social, and cultural structures of imperial space. The Alexandrine Russia may be interpreted much more as a «laboratory» in which different potential scenarios for modernization were designed, discussed, and tested—but also rejected and forgotten.

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Foreign Policy and Diplomacy of Alexander I, as from His Family Letters (Franziska Schedewie)

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Franziska Schedewie

Foreign Policy and Diplomacy of Alexander I, as from His Family Letters

In the search for narratives of the Alexandrine age, we may add stories written in black ink or crayon on fine, water-marked, and often gold-rimmed paper: imperial family letters play an important role as sources for a new diplomatic history of the reign of Alexander I, as they provide evidence of the politicization of cultural concepts and terms such as kinship, friendship, and loyalty in the Russian monarchy around 1800. Unlike his immediate predecessors, Alexander I had a large family of brothers and sisters. Presumably, their letters’ importance would have been even greater, had not two of his sisters, Aleksandra and Elena, died prematurely in 1801 and 1803, shortly after their marriages to Habsburg/Vienna and Mecklenburg, respectively. Also Ekaterina, who married abroad to Württemberg after the death of her first husband, died early. After Aleksandra’s death, younger sister Maria Pavlovna—protagonist of the present chapter1—continued the correspondence with Archduke Joseph, her widowed brother-in-law, and when she left for Weimar, Empress Maria Fedorovna, Joseph’s mother-in-law, took over.2 Maria herself embarked on her new correspondence with her family members back in St Petersburg, including her brother Alexander.

To be sure, the source value of these documents does not reveal itself immediately. With few exceptions, Alexander’s letters in particular hardly seem to convey straightforward explanations as to his mindset or decision-making, especially in matters of foreign policy.3 Disappointingly, as one initially...

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