The First Cold War

Anglo-Russian Relations in the 19th Century

May 2024 9781805260578 560pp
Available as an eBook
EU Customers


Britain and Russia maintained a frosty civility for a few years after Napoleon’s defeat in 1815. But, by the 1820s, their relations degenerated into constant acrimonious rivalry over Persia, the Ottoman Empire, Central Asia—the Great Game—and, towards the end of the century, East Asia.

The First Cold War presents for the first time the Russian perspective on this ‘game’, drawing on the archives of the Tsars’ Imperial Ministry. Each world power became convinced of the expansionist aims of the other, and considered these to be at its own expense. When one was successful, the other upped the ante, and so it went on. London and St Petersburg were at war only once in the 1800s, during the Crimean War. But Russophobia and Anglophobia became ingrained on each side, as these two great empires hovered on the brink of hostilities for nearly 100 years. 

Not until Britain and Russia recognised that they had more to fear from Wilhelmine Germany did they largely set aside their rivalries in the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, which also had major repercussions for the balance of power in Europe. Before that came a century of competition, diplomacy and tension, lucidly charted in this comprehensive new history.


‘Emerson covers her ground with exemplary thoroughness, mining a variety of British and Russian archival materials… . She is excellent on how Russian spies broke British diplomatic codes… [and] has a sharp eye for the unusual or entertaining detail.’ — Financial Times

‘[An] original and always readable study of British and Russian relations in the 19th century.’ — Literary Review

‘Barbara Emerson is a distinguished historian. Her richly researched account exposes in great detail the never-ending tensions between the two powers. This is essential reading.’ — Hella Pick, former UN correspondent for The Guardian, and author of Invisible Walls: A Journalist in Search of Her Life

‘A masterful account of the suspicion, distrust and rivalries between Britain and Russia, from Peter the Great to the Anglo-Russian Convention. Impeccably researched and beautifully written, this is history at its best.’ — Coryne Hall, author of Queen Victoria and the Romanovs: Sixty Years of Mutual Distrust

‘Deftly navigates the depths and shallows of Anglo-Russian relations and delivers both a lucid exposition of events and a vivid impression of the remarkable men and women who participated.’ — Jenny Antill, author of Small Acts of Kindness: A Tale of the First Russian Revolution

‘This is more than just a diplomatic history. Use of Russian and English archives, memoirs, travellers’ accounts and private correspondence shows the influence of royalty, diplomats and society on policies, and makes for a fascinating read.’ — Beryl Williams, Emeritus Reader in History, University of Sussex

‘A romp through the long period from 16th-century British traders’ and diplomats’ first “discovery” of Muscovy as a state meriting their attention to the 1907 Anglo-Russian Convention.’ — Andrew Sheppard, editor of East–West Review


Barbara Emerson is Vice-Chair of the Great Britain–Russia Society, having been a faculty associate at Harvard University and a visiting fellow at St Hilda’s College, University of Oxford, where she received her MA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. The author of three historical biographies, she formerly lived in Moscow.

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