Estimate: 80 000 GBP
Russia, Death of Alexander I, 1825, large gold medal, by A. Klepikov, laureate head of Alexander right within the "Eternity" serpent, rev., radiant all-seeing eye and the date 1812, 68mm, 168.50g (Diakov 429.2 – R4), in fitted red leather case, virtually mint state and extremely rare. Provenance: Originally presented to Field Marshal His Grace The Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), formerly in the Apsley House Collection; sold at Sotheby's 30th September 1980, lot 311. On the death of Tsar Alexander I on 1 December 1825 (19 November in the Julian calendar), Russia faced something of a constitutional crisis due to the lack of a clearly designated heir. After some weeks of upheaval and controversy Tsar Nicholas I, the younger brother of Alexander I, ascended the throne, but only after his second eldest brother Constantine Pavlovich had renounced his competing claim, and the Decembrist Revolt had been suppressed. The British government recognised the need for a diplomatic mission to be sent to Russia to formally recognise the new Emperor, and to offer condolences for the passing of the late Alexander I. For this purpose the Duke of Wellington was specifically chosen in late December 1825, despite a period of recent poor health, as his great fame and keen understanding of matters both military and diplomatic were considered ideal for the task. He also held the particular honour of having previously been given a Russian Field Marshal's baton in person by Alexander I in 1818 (one of just five awarded, the other four to Russian generals). Less officially, it was also hoped that he might be able to reach an accord with Nicholas I concerning the 'Eastern Question'. Given the resurgence of Greek Independence between 1821-4, Great Britain desired to maintain the balance of power in Europe, and to avoid war between Russia (in support of Greece) and the Ottoman Empire through an offer of mediation. After a long journey with his small retinue of personal staff, Wellington arrived in St. Petersburg on 2 March 1826, in the midst of a freezing winter, and he was allocated accommodation on the Great Quay, in the home of the late Count Gouriev. Wellington was granted an audience with Tsar Nicholas I the very next day, and in the lavish setting of the Winter Palace the two men discussed the various diplomatic matters in great depth over several hours, during which time Wellington found his host to be 'eminently reasonable'. The initial talks (which later culminated in the 'St.Petersburg Protocol' of 4 April 1826) were considered a success, and Wellington continued thereafter to be treated with great respect and incredible largesse by the Russian court. Attending countless dinners and balls in the city, his private Secretary Lord Fitzroy Somerset thought that Wellington was treated 'much like a King' during his stay. Wellington's visit also coincided, whether by accident or design, with the State Funeral of Alexander I on 15 March 1826. Tsar Nicholas I invited the Duke to join the official procession, marching behind the xxEmperor and Empress to Kazan Cathedral. Wellington was greatly moved by the ceremony, and during his remaining time in St Petersburg he was showered with a variety of gifts including a fur pelisse, malachite jewels, a huge mirror, exquisite furniture, and the Colonelcy of the Smolensk Regiment which was renamed the Duke of Wellington's Regiment in his honour. He was also given the large gold commemorative medal offered here, which can only have been presented by the Tsar himself or at his personal request, in recognition of Wellington's presence at the State Funeral. It is fitting that such a medal should have been given to Wellington; he and Tsar Alexander I had played such central roles in the defeat of their mutual enemy, Napoleon, marked so clearly on this medal through the prominent use of the date '1812' in honour of Russia's Patriotic War of the same year.