The 1717 Journey in the Long Run of French History
This article analyses Peter I’s visit to Paris in a long-term historical perspective (la longue durée; from the late fourteenth to the early twentieth century) and in juxtaposition with those of other sovereign monarchs of Europe, including Russian emperors who visited the French capital after Peter I. Due to all the difficulties in determining the place of the Russian tsar in the hierarchy of Christian princes and despite many problems in bilateral relations, the French court was obliged to render Peter I honours equivalent to sovereigns of the “first rank” (such as a military escort, royal carriages, and royal residences, the palaces of the Louvre, Versailles, Trianon, and Marley). When communicating with the regent, Duke Philip of Orleans, the latter showed priority honours to his crowned counterpart, which was not usually done for secondary monarchs. At the same time, in order to prevent etiquette embarrassments and not to lower the honour of the French royal house, the visit of Peter the Great was styled as a semi-official one, with some elements of an incognito visit. The usage of royal titles, which was a sensitive issue for traditionalist Moscow diplomacy, was also curious. Avoiding problems with the translation of the title “Grand Duke” (grand-duc), equivalent in the Western tradition to the title of a minor sovereign, the French began to use the title “Majesty” (Majesté), comparable with the Latin title “Caesarea Majestas”, applicable to German emperors. It is particularly noteworthy that Peter I became the founder of a certain etiquette tradition, which later, in the 19th century, was reproduced by other monarchs. He laid down a kind of protocol route through the landmarks of the French capital with a mandatory visit to the Mint, where they coined a commemorative medal in memory of the visit. Finally, the organisation of the Russian tsar’s stay in Paris became a model for official high-level visits. Peter the Great’s journey of 1717 should be placed in the long sequence of royal and princely visits to France from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. Comparisons with the ceremonial of previous royal sojourns help us understand the tsar’s aims and the intentions of the French court toward its guest. The 1717 visit was neither completely “incognito” nor totally official but secured the advantages of both solutions for Peter.
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