5 Englishmen who nobly served Russia

Russia Beyond (Photo: Public Domain; Library of Congress; Legion Media)
They healed the Russian tsars, taught their children, painted pictures for the imperial palaces and became some of the most successful agents in Soviet intelligence.

1. Samuel Collins

Dr. Samuel Collins, M.D., who was educated at Cambridge and Oxford, was the personal physician of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich of Russia for nine years. The ruler held the English specialist in high esteem and rewarded him generously when the doctor decided to return to his homeland in 1666.

Collins died only four years after his return, but, in that time, he managed to write a monumental work on the Russian state. In 1671, it was published in London under the title ‘The Present State of Russia, Set Forth in a Letter to a Friend’.

In his work, the doctor gave a detailed description of the tsarist court, various aspects of Russian society and the flora and fauna of the country he had become fascinated with. One copy of Collins’ work was kept in the library of the private residence of Napoleon and his first wife Josephine de Beauharnais.

2. George Dawe

English painter George Dawe began his career by painting canvases on mythical and biblical subjects, but he was destined to become a famous portrait painter.

In 1819, at the invitation of Emperor Alexander I, Dawe arrived in Russia, where he was commissioned to create a gallery of portraits of Russian generals and officers who participated in the Patriotic War of 1812 and the foreign campaigns of 1813-1814. The artist painted those who were still alive in person, while the dead and dying were painted using existing images and descriptions of their relatives and acquaintances.

A total of 332 portraits were painted by George Dawe and his assistants, Alexander Polyakov and Wilhelm Golike. Today, they are housed in the Military Gallery of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg.

3. Charles Sidney Gibbs

Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia with her English tutor Charles Gibbs.

Charles Sidney Gibbs came to the Russian Empire in 1901 to teach English. Six years later, he became vice president of the St. Petersburg Guild of English Teachers and, in 1908, he was invited to teach the language to the children of the royal family.

For Gibbs, the Romanovs became truly close people. Even when, after the abdication of Nicholas II, they were sent into exile, the Englishman stayed with them. It was only in Ekaterinburg, which became the last resting place for the once most powerful family of the nation, that Charles was separated from his friends.

On July 25, 1918, eight days after the execution of the royal family, Yekaterinburg was occupied by the White Army. Gibbs took an active part in the investigation of the crime organized by the new self-proclaimed authorities.

The following year, Charles Gibbs left Russia for good, but the Englishman retained his spiritual connection with it forever. Having accepted Orthodoxy, he did much to spread it throughout the British Isles.

4. Albert Coates

Conductor and composer Albert Coates was born in 1882 to an English family living in St. Petersburg. After receiving a musical education at leading educational institutions in Great Britain and Germany, he, nevertheless, returned home to work at the Mariinsky Theater.

Only the Civil War forced Coates to leave Russia for good in 1919. Later, he did much to popularize Russian classical music in the world, introducing the public to works by major Russian composers: Sergei Rachmaninoff, Alexander Skryabin, Mikhail Glinka and others. Working with leading orchestras, he always included their works in his repertoire.

In the late 1920s and 1930s, the conductor gave several concerts in Soviet cities, including his native St. Petersburg (then named Leningrad). Then, through Coates’ efforts, Soviet classical music lovers discovered such British composers as Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan-Williams.

5. Kim Philby

Kim Philby has been called the most successful Soviet agent in the West. He held senior positions in the British secret service for decades and fought zealously against the Communist threat, all the while working effectively for Moscow.

Read more about “the greatest traitor in British history” in our separate article.

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