Arthur Cassini

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Arthur Paul Nicholas Cassini
Portrait of Count Cassini.jpg
Portrait of Count Arthur Cassini, by Frances Benjamin Johnston
Russian Ambassador to China
In office
Monarch the Guangxu Emperor
Russian Ambassador to the United States
In office
President William McKinley
Theodore Roosevelt
Preceded by Ernest Kotzebue
Succeeded by Roman Romanovich Rosen
Russian Ambassador to Spain
In office
Monarch Alphonso XIII
Personal details
Born 1836
Died 1919
Nationality Russian
Children Marguerite Cassini
Occupation Diplomat

Arturo Paul Nicholas Cassini, Marquis de Capuzzuchi de Bologna, Count de Cassini (1836–1919),[1] was a Russian aristocrat and lifelong diplomat who served in the Diplomatic Service of the Imperial Russian Government for 55 years during the 19th and early 20th centuries. During his tenure, he served most prominently as Ambassador to China during the Triple Intervention and negotiation for the lease of Port Arthur; as Ambassador to the United States for seven tumultuous years which saw the Spanish–American and Russo-Japanese wars; and as Ambassador to Spain during the Algeciras Conference.

Early life[edit]

Arthur Paul Nicholas (or Arturo Pavlovich Nicolas) Cassini was born in 1836 into a noble Russian family of Italian lineage which first entered the service of the Czar during the Napoleonic Wars. His father, Paul Viktorovich Cassini, had served as Russian Consul at Trieste and as a State Counsellor to Venice. Although his titles suggest Italian origin they were, in fact Russian, and by imperial decree of October 14, 1892 Arthur, his brother Michael, and their off-spring were entitled to use the title Count.

Having graduated from the prestigious Imperial Alexander Lyceum in 1854, Cassini entered into Government service on December 18, 1854, by joining the Foreign Office in St. Petersburg at age 18.[1] In 1862 he was granted the title "gentleman of the bedchamber", in 1880—that of "Chamberlain", and on April 1, 1881 he was promoted to "State Councillor".

Cassini was married to Zoe Dmitrievna Bibikova (1840 – December 5, 1906), daughter of Russian Minister of Internal Affairs between 1852 and 1855, Dmitry Bibikov.

Diplomatic career[edit]

In 1854 Count Cassini entered Imperial Service in the Ministry of foreign affairs. In 1864 he was attached to the Dresden mission and soon afterward he was promoted to the office of the first secretary of the legation. The held the same position subsequently at the Russian missions in Baden, Copenhagen and Hamburg.

Port Arthur, which Cassini was instrumental in obtaining key rights over for Russia

By September 25, 1884 he was the chargé d'affaires, and on May 10, 1888 Minister Resident at Hamburg. After 10 years at Dresden, on November 17, 1891, Czar Alexander III appointed him to the key post of envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to the Chinese Imperial Court at Beijing.

Cassini's time in China was marked by fierce great-power competition as each tried to advance and protect their commercial interests in the Middle Kingdom, and Russia—then constructing the Trans-Siberian Railroad and seeking a warm-water port in the far-East—more so than most. Then a seasoned diplomat, upon his arrival at Beijing, Cassini took the apparently unprecedented step of refusing to present his credentials to anyone other than the Emperor himself. Although the Chinese Foreign Office tried to assuage him from that position, he was granted an audience.[2]

Having set out the tone of his mission, when the Sino-Japanese war ended, he led the way for the combination of European powers which compelled Japan to withdraw her demands for territory amongst her war gains. Immediately after, and against the efforts of the British Government he was instrumental in arranging for the acquisition for Russia of long term concession of Port Arthur and Talien Bay on the Liaotung peninsula, as well as rights to link these by railroad to Russian lines. Recognizing the strategic importance of his role, Cassini is said to have told his niece and adoptive daughter Marguerite that "To possess the East, Russia must possess the Liaotung peninsula."[3]

Upon the announcement of his dispatch to Washington, the St. Petersburg Novoye Vremya, offered the following appraisal of the Count's tenure in China:

A shocked mandarin in Manchu robe in the back, with Queen Victoria (UK), William II (Germany), Nicholas II (Russia), Marianne (France), and a samurai (Japan) stabbing into a king cake with Chine ("China" in French) written on it.

Service in the United States[edit]

Cassini remained ambassador to China until October 3, 1896, and having gained the reputation of an astute, resourceful, and brilliant diplomat,[5] he was appointed Ambassador to the United States in early 1898, shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish–American War. Cassini's tenure in Washington saw a great deal of activity on behalf of his Government as a result of the number of incidents which occurred during his posting—including the Kishinev incident, Russian occupation of Manchuria, and the Russo-Japanese War.

At the outset of his time in Washington, Cassini allegedly saw some coolness to his Government in official circles in the United States as a result of his Government’s perceived position with respect to Spain. Cassini advised the Czar that an impartial course between the combatants would be the best one for his Government, and that advice was followed.[2] While that was the case, Cassini's task was not an easy one in light of the fact that Russian actions and interests often conflicted, directly or indirectly, with those of the United States, especially during the Roosevelt Administration, with the result that the Count was not popular with, or trusted by, the President and went to great lengths to defend his Government's actions with both the administration and press.[6] Indeed, Cassini's mendacity on occasion resulted in direct friction with the White House.[7] He was seen as being too much of an old school diplomat, and although his adroitness worked well in Beijing, the American Press reported that this was too much the diplomacy of previous generations and as a result, Cassini "as such was unable to secure the confidence of either the people or the government of the United States".[8]

While that was the case, Cassini's service at Washington was not short lived and he rose to be Dean of the Diplomatic Corps there as a result of his length of service. As a result, he headed the line of ambassadors accredited to the United States, and headed the Diplomatic Corps at occasions such as the second inauguration of President Roosevelt.[9] Cassini's niece and adopted daughter, Marguerite, indeed, was close friends with President Roosevelt's eldest Child, Alice, during much of the Ambassador's time in Washington. Upon his reaching 50 years of Imperial Service, in 1905, (then aged 68), Cassini received an autographed letter from the Czar and was awarded the Order of St. Alexander Nevsky.[2]

Arthur Cassini in 1904.

Edmund Morris describes Cassini's position in Washington as follows:

Hay cautioned that Cassini could not be trusted. For all his Italian nomenclature, he was as Russian as borscht, and lied with fabled virtuosity. The Ambassador, who mysteriously depended on his teenage daughter, Marguerite, for social purposes, introduced her around town as "Princess Cassini," when she was neither a princess nor, according to rumor, a Cassini. His numberless jeweled decorations may not all have been earned in the Tsar's service, but they were the glittering envy of Embassy Row. When he stood under a chandelier at receptions, he looked like a section of the Milky Way.[10]

Amongst the most eventful issues to emerge during Cassini's tenure at Washington was an alleged plot to kill the emissary, which resulted in the Russian Legation in Washington being placed under armed guard for a period in 1904. No known effort was allegedly made on his life, however, it was rumoured that Russian nihilists and pro-Japanese sympathizers were behind the plot and Federal Authorities took it seriously enough for him to be accompanied by armed guards during a trip to the Opera in New York in October 1904. Although Cassini was said to have refused to believe the plot existed and the offer of protection, President Roosevelt himself was reported as having insisted on protection being extended.[11]

Reports differ as to the reason for his withdrawal as Ambassador, with the New York Times reporting differences over the strategy to pursue peace with Japan following the Battle of Tsu Shima,[12] but Morris charging that "Cassini, having lied to Roosevelt once too often, had been tactfully recalled by the Tsar".[13] Whatever the reason, Cassini was recalled prior to the beginning of the peace talks which would lead to the Peace of Portsmouth and following then end of his service at Washington, Cassini was appointed as Ambassador to Spain and posted to Madrid. As part of his duties there, he acted as signatory for the Russian Government to the agreement prepared following the Algeciras Conference on April 7, 1906.[14]

Later life[edit]

Cassini retired in 1909, after having spent 55 years in the service of the Czar. He died in 1919 at age 83.[15]

Honors and awards[edit]

For his service, Cassini was awarded decorations, including:

  • Order of St. Stanislaus 1st degree (1884)
  • Order of St. Anne 1st degree (1889)
  • Order of St. Vladimir 2nd class (1895)
  • Order of the White Eagle (1898)
  • Order of St. Alexander Nevsky (April 6, 1904, insignia in diamonds granted on December 18 of that year)

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b New York Times, "Count Cassini Dead", May 9th 1919. Note that other sources quote Cassini as having been born in 1836
  2. ^ a b c Boston Evening Transcript, “Rosen to succeed Cassini”, May 10th, 1905, p.5
  3. ^ Morris, E. Theodore Rex, Random House Publishing, New York (2001) p.246.
  4. ^ Novoye Vremya, as quoted in Literary Digest, June 25, 1898, p.774
  5. ^ Literary Digest, ibid.
  6. ^ See Morris, E., Theodore Rex, p.387 and 389.
    For examples of Cassini's efforts to defend his Government's actions, see "Cassini's Views" in New York Times, October 30th 1900 with respect to Manchuria;
  7. ^ Morris, E. Theodore Rex, op. cit., p.396.
  8. ^ The Nashua Telegraph "Count Cassini Dead" May 10th 1913, p.6.
  9. ^ Morris, E. Theodore Rex, op. cit., p. 377.
  10. ^ Morris, E. Theodore Roosevelt, op. cit., p.245.
  11. ^ Clinton Monitor "Russian Envoy is threatened", October 15th, 1904.
  12. ^ See "Cassini Dead", op. cit.
  13. ^ Morris, E. Theodore Rex, op. cit., p.402.
  14. ^ See General Act of the Algeciras Conference relating to the Affairs of Morocco (Great Britain, Austria-Hungary, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Morocco, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, United States). Signed at Algeciras, April 7, 1906, copy available at
  15. ^ "Never a Dull Moment: The Memoirs of Countess Marguerite Cassini : *New York 1956 p.283."

See also[edit]