Alexander I and the Resignation of M. M. Speransky

Keywords: M. M. Speransky, historiography, 19th-century Russian history, Alexander I, reforms, source criticism


This article analyses the historiographical traditions of studying the resignation of M. M. Speransky from the position of Secretary of State in March 1812. Also, the author considers the contradictions in various interpretations regarding the role Emperor Alexander I played in the events and demonstrates the connection of these contradictions with the way in which scholars relied on historical sources to substantiate their concepts. As a result, the article shows that many of the contradictions and ‘mysteries’ of the story followed an uncritical use of later sources that carry significant distortions. Additionally, the author demonstrates that some of the distortions were made deliberately, e. g. in the middle of the nineteenth century, J. de Saint-Glin, an active participant in the events, really wanted to influence the formation of versions behind Speransky’s resignation in historiography and in many ways succeeded in it. Firstly, a new analysis of the sources shows how accusations against Speransky accumulated in the hands of Alexander I, including the most serious of them – treason; and, secondly, what role the Ministry of Police and personally Saint-Glin could play in this. The article emphasises that Alexander I’s decision cannot be considered without regarding his emotional state on the eve of a new clash with Napoleon, which was decisive for the country and his personal fate. Letters from the emperor’s inner circle, namely, Professor G. F. Parrot, his friend, prove that. In this state, he could take accusations of treason seriously, and then he maintained a close interest in the investigation to such an extent that he was even ready to “shoot traitors”. After the wars of 1812–1815, Alexander I’s attitude towards the Speransky case changed so much that he recognised his own wrong and demonstrated readiness to return him to St Petersburg gradually. This approach makes some interpretations of historiography redundant, which previously emphasised the ‘duplicity’ of the emperor, his “acting”, and his desire to abandon the course of liberal reforms.

Author Biography

Andrey Andreev

Dr. Hab. (History), Professor, Lomonosov Moscow State University.

1, Leninskie Gory, 119991, Moscow, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0001-7075-6637


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How to Cite
Andreev, A. (2022). Alexander I and the Resignation of M. M. Speransky. Quaestio Rossica, 10(3), 831–847.
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