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Hetman Mazepa in contemporary western european sources 1687—1709
At the mention of the name Mazepa, most English-speaking people think of Byron’s mythical hero bound on a horse galloping through the wilderness, rather than about an historical person. The historical Mazepa is quite different from the one depicted in literature.
Mazepa was Hetman or Chief Executive of the autonomous Ukrainian Military Republic, known also as the Hetmanstate (1649—1764), first under a Polish protectorate, and from 1654 under a Russian one. At that time protectorate Status was a very conmon condition even for such countnes as Holland under Spain, Prussia under Poland, Livonia and Estonia under Sweden, and the Balkan countries under Turkey. Although the Ukrainian Military Republic or the Hetmanstate was a protectorate, nevertheless, as the German historian Hans Schumann observed, the Hetmanstate had its own territory, people, specific democratic System of government, and military forces, namely the Cossacks. The Hetmanstate lasted until 1764, when Catherine II forced the last Hetman, Cyril Rosumovsky (1750—1764), to abdicate. There was a clear distinction between the Ukraine and Russia at that time as can be seen on the contemporary maps by G. de Beauplan, P. Gordon, J.B. Homann, and others.
It is true that Mazepa’s prerogatives were limited by the so-called "Kolomak Terms," but he still exercised the full power of his civil and military authority and was regarded as the Chief-Executive by the contemporary foreign diplomats in Moscow. For example, Jean de Baluze (1648—1718), the French envoy in Moscow, visited Mazepa in 1704 at his residence in Baturyn, and made the following remark about him: "... from Muscovy I went to the Ukraine, the country of the Cossacks, where for a few days I was the guest of Prince Mazepa, who is the supreme authority in this country." Another French diplomat, Foy de la Neuville, who met Mazepa, remarked that "... this Prince is not comely in his person, but a very knowing Man, and speaks Latin in perfection. He is Cossack born." And the English envoy in Moscow, Charles Lord Whitworth (1675—1725), remarked in his report of November 21, 1708 that Mazepa in the Ukraine "governed so long with little less authority than a soveraign Prince."
Mazepa’s contemporary, the brilliant English Journalist, Daniel Defoe (1661—1731), wrote in his book about Tsar Peter I that "... Mazepa was not a King in Title, he was Equal to a King in Power, and every way Equal if not Superior to King Augustus in the divided Circumstances in which his Power stood, even at the best of it." Indeed, Mazepa was aware of his position and "considered himself a little less than the Polish King." In fact, the Russian government communicated with the Hetmanstate through the Russian Foreign Office ("Posolskij Prikas").
The main goal of Mazepa’s policy was to consolidate all of the Ukraine and to strengthen the office of the hetman. The hetman having had rich experience, realized that any attempt to rid the Ukraine of Russia would fail and cause disaster to his country.
Mazepa was neither a Russophile nor a Russophobe. He considered the terms of the Pereyaslav Treaty (1654) as a basis for coexistence with Moscow, since this was a situation inherited from his predecessors.
Mazepa also believed that with Russia’s assistance, he could realize the goals of the Ukrainian national policy in regard to Poland and Turkey, namely, to liberate and to unify the Ukraine under one hetman. Therefore, he decided to be loyal, to Moscow and through his personal charm and eloquence won the favor of the Tsar, Peter I. The Austrian envoy in Moscow, Oto Pleyer, in his report of February 8, 1702, remarked that "Mazepa is very much respected and honored by the Tsar."
Mazepa’s great intelligence helped him to perceive the situations and men who could serve his purposes. But his most distinguished characteristic was his ability to communicate with all types of people.