July 13, 2021

Ellen Alpsten: The Tsarinas and Peter the Great (1709)

According to one critic, the world the novelist Ellen Alpsten conjures in her book The Tsarina's Daughter makes Game of Thrones 'look like a nursery rhyme.'

This world - the Russia of Peter the Great - is our destination in this week's episode. Peter the Great is known as the man who struggled in the early eighteenth-century to transform his country into a modern, West-facing nation by defeating the Swedes, founding St Petersburg, and creating a navy.

Yet his much-celebrated achievements should be considered alongside the conditions of the Russian people at this time. Russia was a land whose greatest natural resource were its beleaguered inhabitants. Here were millions of serfs whose disposable lives made anything possible for its omnipotent ruler, the Tsar.

Everything that belonged to a Russian belonged first and foremost to him. And with a nation of slaves at his beck and call, pretty much anything could be achieved through ruthlessness and ambition.   

For the women around him, however, the world was quite different. Kept as private possessions, hidden away in the great palaces and stately homes of the aristocracy, they were seen only by their fathers, brothers, and husbands. Uneducated, isolated, and entirely dependent on the will of the men around them.

Even so, many did manage to lead astonishing lives. It is these women whose stories Ellen Alpsten tells us all about, as we venture back to the year 1709.

As ever, much, much more about this episode is to be found at our website tttpodcast.com.

Show notes

Scene One: The battlefield outside the Ukrainian city of Poltava

Scene Two: The Red Square outside the Kremlin fortress

Scene Three: A bedchamber in the magical timber palace of Kolomenskoye

Memento: Elisabeth’s St Nicholas amulet, studded with diamonds, which she wore around her neck for protection.


Presenter: Violet Moller

Guest: Ellen Alpsten

Production: Maria Nolan

Podcast partner: Colorgraph

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