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Hetman Mazepa in contemporary western european sources 1687—1709
At the mention of the name Mazepa, most English-speaking people think
of Byron’s mythical hero bound on a horse galloping through the
wilderness, rather than about an historical person. The historical
Mazepa is quite different from the one depicted in literature.
Mazepa was Hetman or Chief Executive of the autonomous Ukrainian
Military Republic, known also as the Hetmanstate (1649—1764), first
under a Polish protectorate, and from 1654 under a Russian one. At that
time protectorate Status was a very conmon condition even for such
countnes as Holland under Spain, Prussia under Poland, Livonia and
Estonia under Sweden, and the Balkan countries under Turkey. Although
the Ukrainian Military Republic or the Hetmanstate was a protectorate,
nevertheless, as the German historian Hans Schumann observed, the
Hetmanstate had its own territory, people, specific democratic System of
government, and military forces, namely the Cossacks. The Hetmanstate
lasted until 1764, when Catherine II forced the last Hetman, Cyril
Rosumovsky (1750—1764), to abdicate. There was a clear distinction
between the Ukraine and Russia at that time as can be seen on the
contemporary maps by G. de Beauplan, P. Gordon, J.B. Homann, and others.
It is true that Mazepa’s prerogatives were limited by the so-called
«Kolomak Terms,» but he still exercised the full power of his civil and
military authority and was regarded as the Chief-Executive by the
contemporary foreign diplomats in Moscow. For example, Jean de Baluze
(1648—1718), the French envoy in Moscow, visited Mazepa in 1704 at his
residence in Baturyn, and made the following remark about him: «… from
Muscovy I went to the Ukraine, the country of the Cossacks, where for a
few days I was the guest of Prince Mazepa, who is the supreme authority
in this country.» Another French diplomat, Foy de la Neuville, who met
Mazepa, remarked that «… this Prince is not comely in his person, but
a very knowing Man, and speaks Latin in perfection. He is Cossack born.»
And the English envoy in Moscow, Charles Lord Whitworth (1675—1725),
remarked in his report of November 21, 1708 that Mazepa in the Ukraine
«governed so long with little less authority than a soveraign Prince.»
Mazepa’s contemporary, the brilliant English Journalist, Daniel Defoe
(1661—1731), wrote in his book about Tsar Peter I that «… Mazepa was
not a King in Title, he was Equal to a King in Power, and every way
Equal if not Superior to King Augustus in the divided Circumstances in
which his Power stood, even at the best of it.» Indeed, Mazepa was aware
of his position and «considered himself a little less than the Polish
King.» In fact, the Russian government communicated with the Hetmanstate
through the Russian Foreign Office («Posolskij Prikas»).
The main goal of Mazepa’s policy was to consolidate all of the Ukraine
and to strengthen the office of the hetman. The hetman having had rich
experience, realized that any attempt to rid the Ukraine of Russia would
fail and cause disaster to his country.
Mazepa was neither a Russophile nor a Russophobe. He considered the
terms of the Pereyaslav Treaty (1654) as a basis for coexistence with
Moscow, since this was a situation inherited from his predecessors.
Mazepa also believed that with Russia’s assistance, he could realize the
goals of the Ukrainian national policy in regard to Poland and Turkey,
namely, to liberate and to unify the Ukraine under one hetman.
Therefore, he decided to be loyal, to Moscow and through his personal
charm and eloquence won the favor of the Tsar, Peter I. The Austrian
envoy in Moscow, Oto Pleyer, in his report of February 8, 1702, remarked
that «Mazepa is very much respected and honored by the Tsar.»
Mazepa’s great intelligence helped him to perceive the situations and
men who could serve his purposes. But his most distinguished
characteristic was his ability to communicate with all types of people.
The Hetman was so very well informed about international politics that
the French diplomat, Jean Baluze, remarked in his report of 1704 that
«… in contrast to the Muscovites he follows and knows what is
happening in foreign countries.» Baluze also confessed that Mazepa was
very cautious in divulging information.
As the Great Northern War began in 1700, «the relations between Mazepa
and Peter I were as good as they had ever been between a Hetman and a
Tsar.» Mazepa was involved in this war from the very beginning. The tsar
demanded not only combat troops, but also insisted that the Ukrainian
Cossacks build fortresses at their own expense.
In return for their services, the Cossacks received little gratitude.
They received no pay, and were beaten, mistreated, and insulted in many
ways. The English historian, L.R. Lewitter, observed in his essay
«Mazepa» that «the treatment meted out to the civilian population of the
Ukraine by the Russian army, with its daily routine of plunder, arson,
murder, and rape, was more reminiscent of a punitive expedition than of
allied troops movements.» The American historian, Robert K. Massie, also
remarked that «there were constant protests that Russians were pillaging
Cossack homes, stealing provisions, raping wives and daughters.»
The Ukrainians were treated by the Russian army so badly that this
treatment was more reminiscent of a punitive expedition than of a
friendly action. In fact, the Russian behavior was so outrageous that
the Tsar himself in his letter of June 24, 1708, to Mazepa, wrote that
he had issued to the Russian troops an order «to pass by modestly
without doing any harm or destruction to the inhabitants of the Ukraine
(in the original «Little Russia»), under penalty of our extreme anger
and punishment by death.»
Such conduct on the part of the Russians must have caused gloom in
Mazepa’s heart. In addition, rumors were spread in military circles that
the Tsar intended to abolish the autonomy of the Ukraine and annex it as
part of the Russian Empire. Moreover, the rumor was that the Tsar did
not hide his intention of entrusting the office of Hetman to his
favorite, A. Menshikov. These rumors were confirmed by a letter to
Mazepa from a friend, the Countess Anna Dolska. The Countess in her
letter described a conversation with two Russian generals, Sheremetjev
and Renne. She told Mazepa that when she made a friendly remark about
him, Renne said: «O Lord, have pity on that good and clever man. The
poor man does not know that the Count Alexander Danilovich (Menshikov)
digs a grave for him, and after he is rid of him (Mazepa), then he
himself will become the Hetman of the Ukraine.» Sheremetjev confirmed
Renne’s words. Concerning Dolska’s remark that none of Mazepa’s friends
wanted to warn him, Sheremetjev said, «We must not say anything. We
suffer ourselves, but we are forced to keep quiet.»
After his chancellor, Philip Orlyk, finished reading the letter Mazepa
said, «I know well what they want to do with me and all of you. They
want to satisfy me with the title of a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire.
They want the officer corps annihilated, our cities turned over to their
administration, and their own governors appointed. If our people should
oppose them, they would send them beyond the Volga, and the Ukraine will
be settled by their own people.»
There is evidence that the Tsar authorized his envoy to the Vienna
Court, a German diplomat in the Russian service named Baron Heinrich von
Huyssen, to request the Emperor Joseph I to grant Mazepa the title of
Prince of the Holy Roman Empire. Huyssen left his memoirs and notes to
Peter van Haven (1715—1757), a Dutch scholar whom he met on the boat
returning from St. Petersburg to Germany before his sudden death in
1742. In them, Huyssen reported that he obtained from Joseph I the title
of Prince for Menshikov, the title of Graf for G.I. Golovkin, Peter’s
Chancellor, and the title of Prince for Mazepa. The Emperor indeed
granted Mazepa a title of «Prince of the Holy Roman Empire».
At the beginning of 1704, the Tsar, having regained the Baltic
provinces, increased his aid to his ally, the Polish king, Augustus II,
by sending him Russian troops and calling on Mazepa for the Cossack
regiments. Consequently, Mazepa appeared in the pages of the English
press and was often mentioned in such London magazines as A General View
of the World, or the Marrow History, The Master Mercury: being an
Abstract of the Publick News, The Monthly Register or Memoirs of the
Affairs of Europe, and newspapers such as.
The Daily Courant, The Flying-Post, The London Gazette, The Post-Boy,
The Post-Man and others.
Reports about Mazepa even reached America. One of the oldest
contemporary American newspapers, New England’s The Boston News-Letter,
reporting on the Great Northern War, mentioned Mazepa several times. In
the edition of January 29, 1705, The Boston News-Letter copying the
London semi-weekly, The Post-Man of August 15,1704, reported verbatim:
«…the Cossacks commanded by famous Mazepa, consisting of 19,000 Choice
men with a Train of Artillery of 36 Pieces of Cannon have join’d King
Augustus near Jaworow.» (In fact, Mazepa did not join him, he only sent
Mazepa’s support of the Polish King in 1704 aroused public interest in
the Hetman also in the German press. Many German newspapers reported
about Mazepa’s military operations in 1704, to mention only a few: the
Hamburg weekly, Historische Remarques, of July 20, 1704, No. 31, and the
Leipzig Die Europaeishche Fama of 1704 published Mazepa’s biography,
(Vol. XXV, pp. 57—60), and in the second edition published his picture
on the first page. The Viennese newspapers, such as the Wienerisches
Diarium and the Posttaeglicher Mercurius, often included news of the
Hetman’s activities. The Wienerisches Diarium of February 2, 1704, for
example, reported about a conference between Peter I and Mazepa, when
the latter presented the Tsar with an expensive sabre. The same paper of
March 16, 1706, referred to Mazepa as a «Feldmarschall».
The Post-taeglicher Mercurius quite often deemed the Hetman news-worthy.
In the edition of April 4, 1704, the Post-taeglicher Mercurius stated:
«Moscow, February 11, …Yesterday His Excellency Sir Hermann (Ivan)
Mazeppa, General or Commander-in-Chief of the Cossacks, who are under
His Tsarist Majesty, after having many conferences with His Excellency,
Sir Governor Count Mainschifoff (Menshikov) and other Ministers, left
for Barudin (Baturyn) the Ukraine, in order to make preparations for an
early campaign in Poland.»
Mazepa as well as the officer-corps (starshyna) intended to maintain and
defend their rights. Mazepa considered himself a faithful vassal of the
Tsar, who in turn was obliged to guarantee and honor the basic
provisions of the agreement reached in Pereyaslav.
Despite the Tsar’s favors, there were serious indications that Peter I
wanted to abolish the autonomy of the Ukraine and oust Mazepa from
office. In addition, the Tsar refused the Hetman’s request for military
aid against a possible Swedish attack. In fact, the Tsar expressed his
refusal: «…I can give you neither ten thousand nor even ten men.
Defend yourself as best as you can.» However, many of Mazepa’s regiments
were engaged in the Tsar’s service elsewhere and the remaining troops
were insufficient for the defense of the Ukraine. The Tsar’s refusal to
defend his faithful vassal meant that Peter violated the Agreement of
Pereyaslav — the basis of loyalty to him. Consequently, this agreement
was no longer binding, because this contractual arrangement had been an
act of mutual obligation. If the vassal, who was loyal, faithful and
obedient to his lord, «had good reason to believe that his lord was
breaking his obligations,» argues Subtelny, «he had the right — the
famous jus resistendi — to rise against him to protect his interests.
Thus, in theory, the lord as well as the vassal could be guilty of
disloyalty. Throughout Europe, the contractual principle rested on the
prevailing cornerstone of legal and moral authority — custom. The German
Schwahenspiegel, one of the primary sources for customary law in East
Central Europe, provided a concise summary of the principle: ‘We should
serve our sovereigns because they protect us, but if they will no longer
defend us, then we owe them no more service.’» Mazepa was not the only
one who tried to protect the rights and privileges of his country. For
example, Johann Reinhold Patkul from Livonia rebelled against the
Swedish King (1697); the Transylvanian Prince Ferenc Rakoczi II led an
uprising against the Habsburgs (1703—1711); Stanislaw Leszczynski,
representing the republican traditions of Poland, aided by the Swedes,
fought against the autocratically minded Polish King Augustus II;
Demetrius Kantemir, Hospodar of Moldavia, a vassal of the Porte, aided
by the Tsar, rebelled against the Sultan (1711). Yet none of them was
branded as «traitor», but Mazepa was.
Since the Tsar refused military aid against the Swedish invasion, Mazepa
had no alternative but to negotiate for Swedish protection in order to
avoid his land being invaded and plundered by the Swedes. In fact,
Mazepa himself, justifying this alliance, said: «God himself and the
whole world will know necessity has forced us to this since we, a free
and unconquered nation, seek the means to preserve ourselves.» The
secret alliance with the Swedish King was concluded some time between
February 11 and June 17, 1708. Although the original document was not
preserved, the terms of the Mazepa — Charles XII — Stanislaw Leszczynski
alliance were mentioned by an anonymous Swedish major in his memoirs,
which were added to Gustave Adlerfelt’s Histoire Militaire de Charles
XII, roi de Suede.
The Alliance of 1708 raised the controversial question as to whether or
not Mazepa invited the Swedish King into the Ukraine and failed to give
the help expected by him. For that Mazepa is blamed by some historians
In fact, as the English envoy at the Swedish Field Headquarters, Captain
James Jefferyes, remarked in his report of September 18, 1708, Charles
XII «turned his march to the right, with intention, as is supposed, to
make an incursion into Ukraine… The invasion of this country will not
only fournish His Maj:ty provision for his army, but give him occasion
of bringing Gen:ll Mazeppa, who commands the ennemyes Cossacks, and who
has his estate in this country, to some reason.» Furthermore, Jefferyes
mentioned in his reliable report of October 7, 1708, that the Swedish
king sent a messenger to Mazepa at his residence in Baturyn to indicate
his desire for winter quarters in Ukraine.
Thus the Swedes had hope, wrote Jeffereyes, ,,of coming into a country
flowing with milk and honey; that Count Lewenhaupt will soon reinforce
our army with the addition of 11 or 12:m men and that General Mazeppa
will declare for us.» Moreover, Mazepa’a positive reply to Charles XII’s
request was taken for granted.
Mazepa did not expect the Swedes to enter the Ukraine, and when he
learned that the Swedish King entered it, he angrily remarked to his
chancellor, Philip Orlyk: «… It is the devil, who sends him here. He
is going to ruin all my plans and bring in his wake the Russian troops.
Now our Ukraine will be devastated and lost.»
Mazepa’s alliance with the Swedish King in 1708, when the fate of the
Tsar and Russia itself seemed to hang in question, not only provided
rich material for the press, but was a sensation in diplomatic circles.
For example, in his dispatch of November 10, 1708, the Prussian envoy in
Moscow, Georg Johann von Kayserling devoted a great deal of attention to
Mazepa’s alliance with Charles XII. The Austrian envoy Otto Pleyer in
his report of November 16, 1708, also wrote at length about this event.
English diplomats also commented on this matter. Captain James
Jeffereyes, was one of the first diplomats, who in his report of October
28, 1708, affirmed that «this now certain that Gen:ll Mazeppa has
declar’d for the Swedish party, yesterday he payd his first visit to His
Maj:ty who gave him a gracious reception.» Another English envoy,
Charles Lord Whitworth, first in his report of November 21, 1708 briefly
indicated that «the revolt of General Mazeppa to the King of Sweden»
might change the outcome of the war. On November 28, 1708, Whitworth
wrote at length and in considerable detail to the British Secretary of
State, explaining why Mazepa had taken the Swedish monarch’s side. On
December 26, 1708, the English envoy in Vienna, Sir Philip Meadows (or
Medows, 1626—1717) also sent a relatively long report to Secretary of
State, Charles Spencer III.
Although England did not participate in the Great Northern War, the
English Government carefully observed its development through its
diplomatic corps. Several diplomats had urged their government to
prevent Russian occupation of Estonia and Livonia since this would «lay
our nation and Navy at his (the Tsar’s) discretion.»
Concerned for preserving a balance of power in the Baltic Sea, England
was not interested in the Russian victory over the Swedish King. At an
audience (on May 30, 1707) given to the Russian envoy in London, A.A.
Matveyev, Queen Anne asserted that England wished to maintain friendship
with Russia, but that she «does not desire to make an enemy of our old,
immaculate Swedish friend and powerful monarch.»
In conclusion, it is to be said that in all these diplomatic reports,
Mazepa was conceived to be a figure of considerable consequence in East
European affairs during the Great Northern War. The fact that at the
solemn burial of Mazepa in Bender, a representative of England with the
Swedish King was present, indicates that the English government was
interested in Mazepa’s activities and concerned about the future of the
Today it is no longer necessary to defend Mazepa’s policy, and his
alliance with the Swedish King. Already, contemporary, credible, foreign
eyewitnesses regarded Mazepa as a Ukrainian patriot and hero.
Whitworth writing his report of November 21, 1708, expressed his opinion
that Mazepa, as a man of nearly seventy years of age, very rich,
childless, enjoying the confidence and affection of the Tsar, and
exercising his authority like a monarch, would not have joined the
Swedish King for selfish or other personal reasons.
Not only Whitworth, but also other contemporary eyewitnesses expressed
their positive opinion about the alliance of Mazepa with Charles XII.
The Prussian envoy in Moscow, Baron Georg Johann von Kayserling, wrote
in his report of November 17—28, 1708, the following comments on Mazepa:
«There could not be a doubt that this man is loved as well as respected
by his people, and that he will have great support from his nation…
Especially the Cossacks like him very much, because the present
government treats them very badly and they are robbed of their
liberties. Therefore, it is rather to be believed that either all the
people, or at least the bigger part of them will follow the example of
Johann Wendel Bardili, a German eyewitness and historian, who met Mazepa
in person at the Swedish headquarters, a man doubtless acquainted with
Mazepa’s objectives, considered him an Ukrainian patriot and hero, whom
even his former foe, the Turkish Sultan, refused to extradite to the
Tsar, in spite of the latter’s insistent requests and even threats. The
Sultan justified his stand because of an old law of asylum, and
according to Bardili, he did not see any «reason of importance for
extradition of such a person, who because of freedom, liberty, and
rights of his own people endeavoured so much and suffered so many
persecutions and tortures to promote the liberation of his people from
the Moscovitian yoke. For this reason at first he (Mazepa) had to ask
for the Swedish and now the Turkish protection…»
The Swedish eyewitness and historiographer, Gustav Adlerfelt, also
pointed out that Mazepa had good reason to join the Swedish King. He,
too, maintained that the Russian administration treated Ukraine badly.
Philip Johann von Strahlenberg, a German officer in the Swedish army,
who spent thirteen years in Russia as a prisoner of war after the battle
of Poltava, remarked in his work about Russia that after Mazepa had
found out about the Tsar’s intention to destroy the autonomy of Ukraine,
he told this to his officers and tried to persuade them to join the
Swedes in order to preserve it.
This was recognized already by the Tsar’s closest associate, A.
Menshikov, who immediately understood all the political importance of
Mazepa’s step, when he reported to Peter on October 17, 1708, «… If he
(Mazepa) did this, it was notfor the sake of his person, but for the
whole of Ukraine.»
In the past and present, many historians evaluated Mazepa’s alliance
with the Swedish King positively. The Ukrainian historian, Fedir Umanets
in his work Getman Mazepa, (St. Petersburg, 1897) came to the conclusion
that Mazepa should not be condemned as a traitor. The Russian historian
of German descent, Alexander Brueckner, not only justified Mazepa’s
poiicy, but even regarded it as a masterpiece («ein Meisterstueck») and
his attempt to liberate the Ukraine as an heroic act («ein heroischer
Akt»). The German historian, Otto Haintz, remarked in his work about
Charles XII that «it would be a contradiction in itself to see the
almost seventy-years old, childless Hetman as a characterless adventurer
and traitor.» The English historian, R.M. Hatton, mentioned in her work
on Charlex XII that «in the ambition of Mazepa (was) to free the Ukraine
from the Russian overlordship.» The American historian R. Massie
remarked in his work that Mazepa’s «secret desire was that of his
people: Ukrainian independence.»
In general, all the Russian historians before the Revolution (1917), as
well as the Soviet historians such as E.V. Tarle, V.E. Shutoj,» B.G.
Beskrovnyj, A.I. Kozachenko, V.A. Romanovskyj and others condemn Mazepa
and regard him as a «traitor.» Yet some Russian historians abroad, such
as G. Vernadsky, S. Pushkarev, A. Belopolskij and others do not call
Mazepa a «traitor» in their recent works.
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