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Why was Pavel Negrebetskii Executed?

Ulla Birgegård


The paper seeks to contribute to the discussion among historians about the value, as historical sources, of foreign diplomats stationed in Russia. Two young men, Hildebrand von Horn, an envoy extraordinaire of the Danish king, and the Swede Johan Gabriel Sparwenfeld, a student of the Russian language and Russian affairs on a scholarship granted by the Swedish king, met in the Russian capital during the summer of 1684. They had met before—in1682 inCopenhagen—but this time their roles were quite different, as they were in Moscow as representatives of countries with opposite political aims vis-à-vis Russia. Von Horn was inRussiafor the third time, knew many influential people at court and mastered the Russian language. He kept Sparwenfeld informed about what was going on behind the scenes at court. This information was written down by Sparwenfeld in his diary of the Russian journey, published by the author of this paper in 2002.

In July 1684 von Horn told Sparwenfeld about the execution of “a noble and learned Pole, Negrebetskii”. This person, Pavel Negrebetskii, had had an important position at court during the reign of Fyodor Alekseevich but lost his influence after the death of the Tsar. In August the two friends once more discussed Negrebetskii, his torture, and the role of I. M. Miloslavskii in his fate. Negrebetskii was accused of having taken part in a conspiracy against Sof’ia and her supporters in the aftermath of the streltsy uprising in May 1682. The torture was stopped by Vasilii Vasil’evich Golitsyn, and Negrebetskii was hastily and secretly taken to theRed Squareand executed. Why was Negrebetskii executed in this way two years after his stated crime? After discussing various aspects of the question, this paper gives a possible answer. It seems that the real reason was that Negrebetskii did not stop trying to make the Polish king intervene on Naryshkina’s side in the struggle for power between the Miloslavskii and Naryshkin clans. In connection with the arrival of an Austrian embassy in Moscow in May–June1684, anew possibility for Negrebetskii to get in contact with Poland offered itself in the person of the Habsburg resident in Warsaw, I. Zierowsky. Negrebetskii, it seems, took advantage of the opportunity and tried to send a letter with Zierowsky to the Polish king, begging the king for help and support of Naryshkina and her son. The letter was intercepted, and Sof’ia and Miloslavskii decided to get rid of the irritating Pole once and for all. His execution also gave a clear signal to Peter’s supporters that their previous plans were known and that their activities were under surveillance. It was not possible to touch the main actors in the unrealized conspiracy for political reasons; the most active among them was Vasilii Vasil’evich’s cousin, Boris Alekseevich Golitsyn.

So, the entries in Sparwenfeld´s diary about nightly conversations between two foreigners in the Russian capital help to shed light on how and when Pavel Negrebetskii died, and, hopefully, also why.


DOI: 10.31168/2305-6754.2020.9.1.8




Foreign diplomats; Negrebetskii; von Horn; Sparwenfeld; Russian-Polish relations; Russian-Danish relations; the Miloslavskiis; the Naryshkins; Zierowsky


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