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The First English History of the Russian Time of Troubles: Samuel Purchas’s “Late Changes” (1625)

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Samuel Purchas’s Hakluytus Posthumus, first published in 1625, is a collection of travel accounts similar to that edited by Richard Hakluyt in the late sixteenth century, but it also includes the earliest secondary history of the Time of Troubles in English. Purchas’s chapter entitled “The late changes and manifold alterations in Russia since Ivan Vasilowich to this present …” combines documentary publication with narrative history. This article examines the source materials used by Purchas and discusses his own commentary on events. Purchas considers that historians should demonstrate the justice of God’s providence in punishing a people’s sins, and he assesses the reigns of Ivan IV and Boris Godunov in this light. He enlivens his narrative with elaborate metaphors, including that of Russia during the interregnum of 1610–1612 as a “many-headed monster”. This metaphor was commonly used by conservative writers in early modern England to designate the ordinary people, but Purchas uses it more creatively in relation to Russia, to signify not only the multitude but also the rival candidates for the throne, including pretenders (samozvantsy).

Affiliations: 1: University of Birmingham, Birmingham, U.K.


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