A Cossack Takes the Cross: Prince Menshikov’s Crusade
On 11 April 1854, Admiral Prince Aleksandr Sergeevich Menshikov, commander of Russian armed forces in the Crimea, made an unexpected appearance on the Paris stage. He did so not in the flesh, but as a character in a new play entitled Constantinople written by Alphonse Arnault and Louis Judicis for the Théâtre Impérial du Cirque. The honour of being thus immortalized was a dubious one, as Menshikov was portrayed as the villain of the piece and the very personification of the Russian aggression that France had taken up arms to resist. The playwrights chose to begin by dramatizing a particularly notorious incident from Menshikov’s ill- fated trip to Istanbul as a special envoy in 1853. Act 1 opens with the Ottoman divan or council of ministers awaiting the arrival of the Russian ambassador. The (fictional) grand vizier, Hassein Bey, reminds his colleagues that they were met to consider a recent ultimatum from the Russian envoy: the sultan must grant Russia a religious protectorate over his Christian subjects or risk war. The Ottoman ministers could not recognize such a protectorate, since, as the vizier observes, Russia would thereby acquire ‘a veritable priestly monarchy over all the Greeks of the Ottoman Empire and thus deprive the Sultan of thirteen million of his subjects. The Sultan, our august sovereign, cannot accept such a proposition without abdicating’.2
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