Jacques Margeret (ca. 1565–1619) was a French mercenary captain who, in 1607, wrote the first printed French travel account of Muscovy, entitled, "Estate de l’Empire de Russie et de Grand Duché de Moscovie".
Birth and early life in France
A member of one of the oldest families of Auxonne, located on the border between Burgundy and Franche-Comté, Margeret was probably born ca 1565. He grew up in the turbulent period known as the French Wars of Religion, in a Protestant family. Becoming a soldier, he fought for the Protestant King Henri IV of France against the Catholic League, serving the king until Henri’s conversion to Catholicism in 1593.
After leaving Henri’s service Margeret joined the crusade against the Turks in south east Europe. He first served with the Prince of Transylvania and then with the Holy Roman Emperor in Hungary. Next, he commanded a company of foot soldiers in Poland. He returned then to Austria where a Muscovite ambassador invited him to Moscow in 1600.
Mercenary service in Russia
Margeret received command of a company of foreign mercenaries (cavalry) from Boris Godunov. For his service he received an annual pay 80 rubles and nearly 1,000 acres (4 km2) of land. After several years service, Margeret rose to the rank of overall commander of the Tsar’s foreign troops. He was a part of the army that was sent to repel the Pretender Dmitrii Ivanovich’s invasion of Muscovy in 1604-05. In fact, his actions at the battle of Dobrynichi were decisive in the defeat of Dmitrii’s forces. When, after Boris’ death in 1605, the Tsar’s army submitted to the rule of the Pretender Dmitrii, Margeret and his foreign mercenaries had little choice but to also serve Dmitrii. In Jan 1606, Margeret was appointed commander of Palace Guards. In May of that year Dmitirii was assassinated. Although his successor Vasilii Shuskii dismissed most of the foreign mercenaries, Margeret was asked to remain. He did so until the summer of 1606 at which time he asked permission to leave, departing from Archangel for France in September 1606.
Return to France - Printing of his book
When Margeret returned to France he presented himself as an offering to King Henri, telling the king his adventures. Henri refused to have such a noble man killed hence he ordered Margeret to write about his experiences. Margeret spent the winter of 1606–1607 writing, thankful that he was alive. The book "Estat de l’empire de Russie et Grande Duche de Moscouie" was fully sponsored by the King and printed in Paris in 1607.
Further Mercenary Service
In 1609 he joined the forces of the man claiming to be the Tsar Dmitrii, revived miraculously from his assassination in 1606. In 1610 he joined the Polish army and distinguished himself at the battle of Klushino (1611) and the march on Moscow that followed. Margeret left Moscow when he was recalled to Poland by King Sigismund. The king made him a member of the royal council but Margeret did not stay in Poland. By January of 1612 he wrote to John Merrick of the English Muscovy Company from Hamburg and is thought to have settled in the Palatinate in Germany. There is no trace of Margeret after 1619.
- Margeret, Jacques (1669). Estat de l'empire de Rvssie, et grande dvche de Moscovie. Paris.
- Dunning, Chester; edited by Joseph L. Wieczynski (1976). "Jacques Margeret", The Modern Encyclopedia of Russian and Soviet history. Volume 21. Gulf Breeze, Fl: Academic International Press. pp. 96–97.
- Margeret, Jacques; translated and edited by Chester S.L. Dunning (1983). The Russian Empire and Grand Duchy of Muscovy : a 17th century French account. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press.