The Conquest of Kazan, the Destruction of Astrakhan,
and Early English Discourses of Empire
Bernadette Andrea, University of Texas at San Antonio
The violent subjugation of the Muslim khanates situated in the border zone between the predominately Christian regions west of the Volga and the predominately Muslim regions eastwards – Kazan in 1552 and Astrakhan in 1556 – marks the beginnings of Tsar Ivan IV’s expansion into Central Asia. Richard Chancellor, captain of the first English ship to cross the White Sea, landed at the mouth of the Dvina River northeast of Moscow on August 24, 1553, and traveled to Ivan’s court in the wake of these bloody campaigns. Anthony Jenkinson, who acted as an emissary between Queen Elizabeth I and the Russian, Central Asian, and Persian leaders he met on his several voyages, witnessed the aftermath of this expansionist violence during his overland voyage of 1558. Originally written as company reports, their accounts were published in Richard Hakluyt’s The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation almost four decades later. As is well known, Hakluyt’s influential collection offered precedents to spur his “sluggish” countrymen to match the efforts of established imperialists such as the Spanish and Portuguese. Yet, by commencing with “the worthy Discoveries, &c. of the English toward the North and Northeast by Sea,” it also measured their achievements against emerging imperialists such as the Russians. Rather than underscoring the imperialist aims of Hakluyt’s collection, this paper seeks to show how the accounts of the merchants who experienced the aftermath of Ivan IV’s conquests of the cities of Kazan and Astrakhan introduced a dissonance into emerging English discourses of empire by documenting the negative effects of expansionism on economic prosperity and social stability.