The secret Anglo-Russian agreement of 1844 and its role in the diplomacy preceding the Crimean War
Purpose: Tsar Nicholas I of Russia traveled in June, 1844, to England. He held frank conversations with the British statesmen and returned to Russia convinced that England was bound by a secret accord to consult Russia in affairs concerning the Near East. The purpose of this study is to show the circumstances which led to the secret agreement of 1844, to follow it to the point at which both nations recognized its ineffectiveness, and to assess its part in the diplomacy immediately preceding the outbreak of war. Methods: The method used to obtain the date needed in this study was to examine the primary and secondary source materials available in the Sam Houston State University Library and neighboring university libraries. Extensive use was made of materials available through inter-library loan from other collections. Although the writer does not read, write, or speak the Russian language, use was made of Russian sources primarily through secondary works. Source materials in both French and German were utilized. Findings: 1. During the period from 1828 to 1853 the goal of Russian foreign policy was to prevent the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Tsar Nicholas was, however, convinced of the inevitability of the Turkish collapse, and he attempted to establish a system of accords which would in that event provide for the peaceful transition of power in the Near East. 2. Tsar Nicholas traveled to England in June, 1844. During his visit the Russian sovereign made a secret verbal agreement with the English ministers in which both parties pledged to (1) cooperate in maintaining the status quo in the Near East, (2) reach a preliminary understanding concerning partition, of the Turkish Empire should collapse. The accord reached was not a formal alliance, but merely a â€œgentlemanâ€™s agreementâ€� between the Russian Tsar and the English ministers then in office. 3. In the summer of 1844 the Nesselrode Memorandum summarized the secret verbal agreement, and the existence of an accord was confirmed by an exchange of ministerial letters in December, 1844, and January, 1845. The Nesselrode Memorandum remained a well-guarded state secret in both countries. 4. The Anglo-Russian understanding was not nullified by word or deed by the successors to the original English negotiators. During the years between 1846 and 1853 at least five English statesmen at the highest level of government were aware of the existence of the Nesselrode Memorandum; however, they did not privately or publicly repudiate the secret agreement. 5. Towards the end of 1852, Tsar Nicholas thought that the collapse of the Ottoman Empire was near at hand, and he sought to arrive at the eventual engagement he felt had been promised him by the English ministers. Through the British ambassador at St. Petersburg, Nicholas made an overture to the English government for the eventual partition of Turkey. 6. Tsar Nicholas was confident of English cooperation in the Near East for the following reasons: (1) the chief English negotiator of the secret understanding, Lord Aberdeen, had become Prime Minister; (2) Russia had been informed that Great Britain was taking steps to defend her coast from French attack; (3) the British government had urged France to pursue a more moderate line of conduct in the diplomatic quarrel with Russia; (4) the English press was in the early months of 1853 openly hostile towards the French monarch; (5) the Russian ambassador at London informed his government that the British seemed less convinced of the necessity of preserving the Ottoman Empire and that the English Prime minister, Lord Aberdeen, held the Turkish government in contempt. 7. The first English response to Tsar Nicholasâ€™ overture did not make clear Great Britainâ€™s position. It emphasized the desire to maintain the status quo in the Near East, but seemed to affirm the tenets of the secret agreement and to acknowledge the Russian sovereignâ€™s rights and obligations with regard to the Orthodox Christians within the Ottoman Empire. 8. Believing himself to be operating from a position of strength based on continued English cooperation, Nicholas sent a diplomatic mission to Constantinople to demand concessions from the Sultan. The Tsarâ€™s reliance on the secret agreement with England led him to pursue a bold line of conduct in his dealings with Turkey which he otherwise would not have employed. The Russian autocrat was motivated by a sincere desire to preserve Turkey, but by his unrestrained actions his image was that of the aggressor in the Near East. Moreover, Tsar Nicholas suddenly appeared to the English ministers as a person who could simply not be trusted. 9. Only after the Russian sovereign had already initiated a bold line of conduct in the Near East was the true attitude of the British statesmen towards the secret agreement made clear. The British government soundly rejected the Tsarâ€™s contention that the Ottoman Empire was on the verge of collapse, and thus the practical utility of the secret agreement was lost in March, 1853.