Fur Hats and Other Things
By the sixteenth century, the Russians had been overtaken by hordes of Mongols and Tartars and the rest of Europe had forgotten they were there. Apart, that is, from the Poles and Lithuanians who kept bumping into them on the borders. And, of course, the Italians, who were busy building and rebuilding the Moscow Kremlin. And, of course, the German Habsburgs and the …
Anyway, the English re-discovered Russia during Ivan the Terrible’s reign, while looking for somewhere else, India or somewhere.
Elizabeth I and Ivan started a lengthy correspondence in Latin and Greek and established a profitable international trade in furry hats and woolly cardigans. Ivan eventually made an offer of marriage to Elizabeth which she refused, having no desire to leave merrie olde England for the rather less than merrie old Kremlin. But Ivan persevered in his desire to marry an Englishwoman by making an offer for one of Elizabeth’s relatives, Mary. But this was not the kind of offer a lady-in-waiting was waiting in for and Elizabeth, a kindly soul at heart (when she wasn’t beheading her other relative, the other Mary) had to find diplomatic reasons why he couldn’t. After all, Ivan had already had more weddings than Henry VIII.
So, instead, Ivan asked Elizabeth if she would give him political asylum should he happen to need it at any time. She was willing to offer him a safe haven, if by any chance he should happen to need it at any time, but she made it clear that it would be at Ivan’s own expense as the British welfare state wasn’t going to be invented until the next Elizabeth in four hundred years’ time. Ivan thought better of it and stayed at home.
Correction – although this is all definitely strictly historical fact, I may have made up the bit about the cardigans. On reflection, I think Lord Woolly Cardigan didn’t start designing knitwear until he was fighting the Russians in the Crimea, much much later!
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