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Wolodymyr Golash

“We are all putting our hopes on you”

Ivan Mazepa and Peter I in the light of historical sources

The Day
#4, Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The question of how history is written in our politicized society is of interest for not only ex­perts but also ordinary citizens. This especially applies to the “so­re” points of the Uk­rainian past. The Mazepa era in the history of the Hetmanate and the Ukrai­ni­an hetman’s siding with Swedish King Charles XII is one of these.

History as a science is a model of the past, like a globe is a schematic copy of Earth. In this comparison, the scale of a map cor­responds to the methods of his­torical science and various da­ta on a geographical object—to historical sources. To build a fairly correct model of the Ivan Mazepa era and his October 1708 action, one should at least know the sources that reveal Peter I’s “project” of reforming the Het­ma­nate in 1706–1708, the factors that caused Mazepa to side with Charles XII, and the Ukrai­ni­an elite’s idea of a desired sociopolitical setup.

The most striking fact in the history of Mazepa’s revolt against Peter I is that researchers have no reliable sources that would present “Mazepa’s treason” from the point of view of either Russia or Ukraine. Con­versely, similar actions of Re­inhold von Patkul in Livonia against Polish King Augustus II (1699) and of Moldovan hospodar Dimitrie Cantemir against Russian Tsar Peter I (1711) are reflected in the documents whose authenticity raises no doubt.

A considerable number of the sources we have on the relati­ons between the Mazepa-era Het­manate and the central Mus­co­vi­te government were written qui­te a long time after the 1708–1709 events. They began to be published as late as the mid-19th century. Some new evidence is kept in the repositories of the Institute of Manuscripts at the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine, the St. Petersburg branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences Archives, the Depar­tment of Manuscripts and Rare Books of the Russian National Library, the Manuscripts Depar­tment of the Academy of Scien­ces Library in St. Petersburg, the Russian State Archive of An­ci­ent Acts, the archives of Sweden and other Western European co­untries. Research in the still-to-be-systematized ar­chives of Sa­int Petersburg seems to be most promising.

Documents on Peter I’s 1798 “project” for Hetmanate reformation. This evidence makes it possible to answer the question: what did Mazepa in fact come out against on Oct. 28, 1708? It should be stressed that the only goal the Russian tsar set before the Poltava victory was to resist the invincible Charles XII. Peter I was well aware that he would be able to achieve success in a war against the king if he possessed a similar well-organized military force. This is why he was so determined, which sometimes even seems strange to the present-day historian, to copy the pattern of Sweden’s army and political system. The Russian tsar saw the army and the state as an integral organism, so he simultaneously carried out domestic administrative and military reforms. These reforms resulted in establishing gubernias (1707) and organizing a regular army (from the 1690s through the 1710s). Naturally, Ukraine was to become, sooner or later, the object of these reforms aimed at abolishing the traditional Cossack system.

The Ukrainian researcher I. Borshchak claimed, on the basis of a document from the French foreign ministry’s archive, that as early as in 1703 Peter I’s inner circle devised a plan to liquidate the Cossacks as an estate. It follows from Pylyp Orlyk’s letter to Stefan Jaworski (1721) that in 1706–1707 the Russian tsar and his clique nurtured plans to reform the Hetmanate’s social system. In April 1707, at a military council in Zhovkva, Peter I told Mazepa about his project to establish “companies,” i.e., to form a regular army out of a part of the Cossacks. Following this, Mazepa did not send, for the first time, Stanislaus Leszczy ski’s envoy to Moscow. In September 1707 Mazepa was granted the title of Prince of the Roman Empire, and in May 1708 Peter I broke the promise he had given to Mazepa that Right-Bank Ukraine would continue to be part of the Hetmanate: he told the Polish nobility that these Ukrainian lands would be returned to the Polish Kingdom after Augustus II ascended the Polish throne again. Incidentally, before the Zhovkva council, Mazepa had not even dared hold secret talks with representatives of Leszczy ski and Charles XII — he would send their messengers to Peter I. Historical sources confirm that he saw no rosy prospects for an alliance of Ukraine with the Polish Kingdom and the “heretical” Swedes.

According to “A Letter of Pylyp Orlyk to Stefan Jaworski,” the chief reason why the Ukrainian hetman chose to side with Charles XII was a project of the Russian tsar: “His Tsarist Majesty’s edict to form Cossack units patterned after Sloboda Regiments, with every fifth Cossack recruited, so much an­gered all the colonels and other senior officers that they, in despair over the loss of their freedom, would openly say that this selection of every fifth Cossack was just a step towards making dragoons and soldiers out of them...” Yet the aforesaid so­urces provide indirect evidence. The Ukrainian historian V. Ho­ro­bets noted that researchers failed to find any sources on the elimination of the Cossack system in the Hetmanate at the senate ar­chives and in Peters I’s room of the Moscow-based Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts. These circumstances make it possible to conclude that the Russian leadership did not have any written pro­ject of liquidating the Cossack sy­stem, but this was an object of oral conversations among the military lite, which in turn brought forth some indirect historical sources, often distorted and discrepant.

Documents that answer the question of what Ivan Mazepa wanted to get when he was defecting to Charles XII. In his speech before siding with the Swedes (an inauthentic but valuable indirect evidence), Mazepa said, “The only salvation for us is to join the Swedish king.” Mazepa was telling the Cossacks that liquidation of the time-tested social pattern was the main reason why he sided with King Charles XII.

After the Battle of Poltava, Peter I claimed that Charles XII and Stanislaus Leszczy ski had wanted “to split Little Russian people away from Russia and establish a separate principality with Mazepa at the head.” Feofan Prokopovych was forced to characterize Mazepa in the following words: “for his intention was to tear Little Russia away from the Russian state and then place it under Polish yoke.” This evidence and this assessment of Mazepa’s revolt was used by A. Rigelman in his Chronicled Tale of Little Russia (1787), D. Ban­tysh-Kamensky in his History of Little Russia (1822), M. Mar­kevych in his History of Little Russia, and others. Colonel Hnat Halahan, who remained loyal to the tsar, noted in 1745 that Mazepa had switched sides “to separate us from Russia and place us under his power.” Da­nylo Apostol, a one-time follower of Mazepa, who quickly got his bearings in the real political situation and thus remained loyal to the tsar, said during an interrogation in December 1708: “the traitor Mazepa promised us privileges from King Stanislaus and showed us a private letter from Grand Chancellor Jab­lo­now­ski, trying to persuade us that Uk­ra­ine would enjoy the same rights both in the Polish crown and in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.”

But what sparked the most heated debate in Ukrainian-Russian relations was the evidence published in 1821 in A Military History of Russian Expeditions in the 18th Centu­ry — a pact between Ivan Mazepa and Stanislaus Leszczy ski. This text was found in the diary of an unknown Swedish officer of Charles XII’s army and was referred to by Gustaf Adlerfelt in one of his works. According to the document, the Zaporozhian Army was to be again part of the Polish Kingdom and, in reward for the implementation of this “project,” the Polish government was to award Hetman Mazepa the title of prince and a principality consisting of Vitebsk and Polotsk voivodeships.

However, historians do not have the authentic text of those times. The document that has re­ached us was later given by a Swedish officer who had been in Russian captivity for almost 20 years. So the authenticity of this document is doubtful, for it does not fit in with the concept of the relationships between Mazepa and his real or potential protector. In the opinion of M. Umanets and M. Hrushevsky, this text may have resulted from some previous accords between Maze­pa and Leszczy ski. But this document, an indirect source as it is, shows that Mazepa’s world outlook went far beyond the identity of a “Little Russian homeland,” which was amply manifested in the time of intellectual disputes during the “war of manifests” in the winter of 1708—1709.

It would be a good idea in this case to compare the actions of Mazepa and his entourage with those of Reinhold von Patkul, Dimitrie Cantemir, and others. Under the unsigned declaration of Feb. 28, 1699, “the 12 Livonian patriots” were going to defend the freedom of their fatherland. Under another document signed by the Livonian nobles Gustav von Budberg, Otto von Vietinghoff, and others “for our salvation,” Livonia would be placed under the protectorate of the Saxon Wettin dynasty, i.e., Polish King Augustus II and the Prince-Elector of Saxony. In the third document Augustus II confirmed the complete autonomy of Livonia and the freedom and rights of, above all, its lite. Similarly to the Livonian trea­ties, Moldovan autonomy is confirmed by an agreement between the Russian tsar and the Mol­do­van hospodar. Interestingly, the Swedes, who would stifle Li­vo­nian liberties, at the same time protected the Polish “golden liberties” from Saxon domination. In other words, by the logic of Central European societies, the main factor that caused Mazepa to defect to Charles XII and Stanislaus Leszczy ski was an aspiration to preserve the traditional Cossack system, i.e., the Hetmanate’s autonomy.

Important information on the “unhappy Swedish year” can be found at the Institute of Manuscripts, the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine, and in the archives of St. Petersburg and Moscow. According to the Swedish Lieutenant F. Weihe, the Swedish army was bound to win. The Department of Manu­scripts and Rare Books of the Russian National Library keeps documents testifying that in the summer of 1708 Mazepa issued decrees, at the tsar’s request, which scared people with the early invasion of strong enemies and advised them to hide bread, money, church, and private possessions underground. It was also ordered to hold religious services asking for divine intervention in ousting the enemies of Russia and Orthodoxy. On Oct.9, 1708, Mazepa sent 2,000 golden coins as a gift to Peter I. He also informed the tsar that he had bought some land in Great Russia and asked for permission to populate it with Little Russians. It follows from this that Mazepa took a stand in favor of “liberties” rather than against Peter I or Russia. This is further proved by the letters Mazepa sent to the Russian leadership in November 1708 through Danylo Apostol and Hnat Halahan. According to the Ukrainian historian Serhii Pavlenko, these letters are Gavriil Golovkin’s provocation aimed at discrediting Mazepa in the eyes of Charles XII. The Russian historian Vladimir Artamonov interprets them as Mazepa’s attempt to get back to Peter I. In spite of the diametrically opposed assessments of the same historical evidence, the fact of negotiations between Mazepa and the Russian leadership after Oct. 28, 1708, shows that the Central European “liberties” predominated in the Hetmanate’s system of values.

Information on the system that the Ukrainian elite wished to have. The Hetmanate’s senior officers established contacts with the pro-Swedish party in the Polish Kingdom back in 1703. That year the Lithuanian magnate and Castellan of Trakai Michal Kazimierz Kociel established a relationship with the Stary Dub Colonel Mykhailo Myklashevsky. In the course of the secret talks between Kociel and the Stary Dub Recorder Opanas Pokorsky, the Ukrainian representative agreed to the following conditions: “The Uk­rainian liberties will be the same as those of the Polish Crown and Lithuania, and the third Uk­rainian republic; Ukraine is to offer the Polish king as many senators as Lithuania and the [Polish] Crown will do. The nobility will enjoy the same rights. All clerics and city dwellers will enjoy their liberties. Those who govern a voivodeship, a county, or a starostvo will fully enjoy the privileges bestowed on them by grace of the king and by decision of the Sejm.”

Initially, Cossack senior officers regarded a mutiny against Peter I as the only way to keep their traditional “liberties” intact. The Ukrainian officers thus express their viewpoint in a letter from Orlyk to Jaworski: “The Colonel of Myrhorod said to him, Mazepa: ‘We are all putting our hopes on you alone, God forbid that you should die, for otherwise we will fall into such slavery that even hens will peck us to death.’ And the Colonel of Pryluky confirmed this with the following words: ‘As we always pray to God for the soul of Khmelnytsky and extol his name for having saved Ukraine from the Polish yoke, so shall we and our children, on the contrary, be eternally cursing your soul and bones after your death if you leave us in such slavery during your hetmanship’.”

Pylyp Orlyk also wrote that “[Mazepa] would not have de­fected with my head alone if others from the starshyna (senior officers – Ed.), such as General Quartermaster Lomykovsky, the colonels of Myrhorod, Pryluky, and Lubny, who were the first and topmost officers in the Zaporozhian Army, had not joined that action and drawn all the other officers and their regiments into this and thus encouraged him, Mazepa, in his nefarious intention.”

The humiliation of the Cossack starshyna in the course of the Northern War made them take an anti-Russian stand, which the migr Hetman Orlyk explains in the same letter to Metropolitan Jaworski: “What other good things should we have expected for our loyal service and could have there been a fool like me who did not take the opposite side and accept the proposals that Stanislaus Les­zczy ski had sent to me?” Reforming the irregular Cossack army was a shock for the Ukrainian hetman and the elite because in their worldview the military system was inseparably linked with the Hetman State’s administrative and judicial life and the social system in general. The reason why Ivan Mazepa rebelled against Peter I was that tsarist reforms ran counter to the political worldview of the Hetman State’s elite and undermined the very Cossack identity.

The laws of history and concurrence of circumstances prompted Mazepa to side with Charles XII. No matter how we interpret this fact now, in those times this conduct was quite acceptable in the eyes of the Central European nobility. Two brilliant personalities, who could not fit into the societies that had been reformed for decades under their influence, managed to find a common language. However, the old hetman refused to accept the conditions for a new type of relationship between a centralized Russian state and the autonomous Hetmanate.


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