Peter the Great and British Perceptions of Russia: A study of how the image of Peter informed British ideas of Russia
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameBachelor of Arts (Hons)
In British eyes, Russia was considered a non-entity before Peter the Great came into the scene. Aside from trade, it was largely irrelevant to British interests. Very few aspects about the nation appealed to the British. Indeed, Russia was considered the home of a group of ignorant, drunken, and brutish people governed by an absolute monarchy. However, by the end of Peter’s reign, Russia was seen in a more positive light. Through the rule of Peter, Russia was able to replace the hitherto powerful Swedish Empire in northern Europe and was firmly established in the Baltic Sea with a powerful navy at its disposal. At the same time, the reforms that characterized Peter’s reign so much also led to a shift in how the British perceived Russia in cultural terms. Breaking a trend that existed close to two centuries, the British began to view Russia as a nation that was progressing towards civilisation at a significant pace. Yet Peter’s image in British eyes was significant in encouraging such changes. Many saw Peter as the heart and soul of Russia, giving rise to a tendency to assess Russia from how they perceived Peter. Throughout his reign, the British came to know Peter for a number of things. He was seen as a competent and ambitious ruler who aimed to raise his empire to the highest degree possible. At the same time, he was also seen as an autocratic reformer who was forcing civilisation upon a backward country. With such images at the back of British minds, it was easy for them to invoke an image of a Russia that was threatening and more civilised than before. These perceptions of Peter therefore helped inform British ideas of Russia in a political and cultural context.