THE MUSCOVITE by Alison Macleod


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Jerome Horsey, one of the Elizabethan representatives of the Russia Company of London, lived for many years in Russia and gained considerable power there, but was finally recalled to England on charges of treason and illicit self-enrichment. Drawing on Horsey's memoirs and other contemporary accounts, this fictionalized narrative, told as if by Horsey and his English wife, seeks to fill in some of the gaps in Horsey's defense: his last, unauthorized trip to Russia is said to have been for purposes of rescuing a Russian princess from the Trotsky convent where Boris Godunov incarcerated her to prevent her marriage to Horsey. This is historically implausible but novelistically passable. Horsey, whom many have thought an unscrupulous knave, comes off as an ambitious but admirable hero; he never really betrayed the Company and he regretted having in effect bolstered the reigns of the terrible Ivan and the increasingly tyrannical Boris; he sins most in loving Russia and his civilizing influence there; according to this book, it was his colleagues' envy which provoked his recall. Horsey's adventures were superb and they remain exciting here: despite Macleod's mechanical and sometimes rather trashy style, the book is well-constructed. The adventures involve the court of Ivan -- tortures, orgies, Ivan's quest for English armaments, his murder of his son, his deathbed attempt to rape his daughter-in-law -- and the intrigues of the Godunov regency. Horsey rescues a Danish noblewoman from defilement, rides through miles of enemy territory with a letter for Elizabeth, wins the confidence of both Tsars, and weathers the machinations of the English community, until he is finally acquitted. Macleod says she has pursued researches in Russian, German, Italian and Danish, but no notes are provided. Horsey's own version of his life is still well worth reading: by adventure-story standards, so is this.

Pub Date: Jan. 19th, 1971
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin