Mikhail Speransky

Michael Jenkins describes a reforming minister of genius and, according to Napoleon, ‘the only clear head in Russia’; Mikhail Speransky fell from power in the year 1812.

Count Mikhail Speransky would have been an extraordinary person to encounter in Russia in any age. Although he rose to fame from the vast, anonymous mass of Russia’s peasantry, he always impressed his own countrymen and foreigners alike with his un-Russian qualities. His lucid brain and quick grasp of the practical course of action were allied to a cool detachment, an abhorrence of extremism and a selfless devotion to the state which made him the most able minister who ever served the Tsars.

But the same honesty and impartiality kept him aloof from the political cliques and pressure groups which always surrounded the Emperor, and created a mistrust and sense of alienation among the courtiers and land-owning class that eventually cost him his career. According to Napoleon, Speransky was ‘the only clear head in Russia’. For the Russian aristocracy he became an ‘outcast, monster,ungrateful and base creature’, as one nobleman labelled him in his diary.

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