Visited by Tsar Peter the Great of Russia

Date: 
October 15, 1697

Some time in the last two weeks of October, 1697, Tsar Peter the Great of Russia (1672-1725) met Leeuwenhoek on a boat on the Schie just south of Delft. The only contemporary account of the visit is in Gerard van Loon's Beschrijving der Nederlandsche Historiepenningen, published decades later in 1731. Van Loon was only a teenager in 1698, so he got the story second-hand, perhaps from Leeuwenhoek.

Contributed by Johan Geertzenwijk

In October 1697, Tsar Peter was at the Hague with his ambassadors and envoys and others in his personal entourage. He proposed an alliance where the Dutch Staten Generaal would build a war fleet of 70 warships and more than a hundred gallies so that Peter could fight the Turks on the Black Sea, but the Staten Generaal turned it down. On the 24th of the same month, the Staten made a resolution about a gift to the Russian delegation. The presentation was planned for the 28th of October.

So after the 24th, there was time for the Tsar to explore the region. He was especially interested in arms and armaments. To visit the national Armentarium and the gunpowder magazine in Delft, Peter had to get permission. The Staten van Holland probably gave orders to an Inspector General or another high-ranking military officer, accompanied by two or more officers, to go to Delft with the Tsar (who went incognito) as their guest. The staff at the Armentarium had also to be informed. Someone had to be authorized to open the gate and doors.

The gunpowder magazine, on the other hand, belonged to the city. The Inspector General could arrange that without naming the Tsar, but it had to be done when they arrived in Delft.

It is not likely that the Tsar would go out without some guards of his own. The group could travel by boat from the Hague to Delft. At the Haagsepoort in Delft, they had to transfer to another boat, specially ordered to be there ready, a type with a deck-house, low enough to pass the bridges. Before the journey through the canal, one had to be sure there were no obstacles. Also a person of the company had to find Leeuwenhoek at his house or his workplace to order for him to be ready that afternoon. The boat probably passed his house, which lies on the Hippolytusbuurt, the most direct route from the Haasgsepoort to the Armetarium.

After visiting the Armentarium, the boat passed through the Rotterdamsepoort and moored at the nearby gunpowder magazine. A person was probably left behind to bring Leeuwenhoek to the boat. Leeuwenhoek arrived with a bag with microscopes, drawings, and an eel veiwer (aalkijker). He had also organized a fresh living eel. The circulation of the blood was one of Leeuwenhoek's more recent dicoveries. The visit lasted two hours. Afterwards, Leeuwenhoek gave the eel viewer to the Tsar as a present.

The company returned after Leeuwenhoek's visit, most probably to the Hague. On the 28th of October the gifts, golden chains, were presented. After that the Russian delegation left for Amsterdam.

The portrait of Peter (detail, above right) was painted by Godfrey Kneller in the spring of 1698, a few months after he visited Leeuwenhoek.

After the section on the Tsar's visit, Van Loon notes some of the other famous people who visited Leeuwenhoek. For these three, Van Loon is the only source.

  • Augustus, King of Poland
  • Frederik the I, King of Prussia
  • Charles and George, kings of Great Britain (Karel en Joris Koningen van Grootbrittanje)
However, we have independent sources for these visitors mentioned by Van Loon:
  • a large number of minor kings, princes, dignitaries, and ambassadors (Vorsteп, Prinsen, Grooten en Afgezanten)
  • Ulrik, Hertog van Wolfenbuttel, who presented Leeuwenhoek with a silver coin with his image
  • Antoni Cink, the professor in Leuven who was responsible for the medal that Loon gave Leeuwenhoek in 1718
Document: 

Beschrijving der Nederlandsche Historiepenningen, p. 213

Zуп vertrek uyt ’sGraavenhaage geschiedde met een binnenjagt over Delft, alwaar hy de deftige wapenhuyzen der Staaten van Holland met zeer veel oplettendheyd bezigtigde, en het jagt voor het kruydhuys der Algemeene Staaten, ’t gene een vierdedeeluurs buyten die stad aan de Schie legt, deed stil houden, en door twee Heeren zyns gevolgs den vermaarden Antoni Leeuwenhoek verzoeken, om zich in een der volgende vragtscheepen met zyne weergalooze vergrootglazen by hem te vervoegen; dewyl hy zelf in ‘t doorvaaen aan zyn huys wel zoude gekomen hebben, by aldien dat, om den toevloed der menigte te ontvlugten, met voordaeht niet was achtergelaaten. De verzogte Heer dan vervoegde zich derwaart en had de eer van onder andere zeldzaame ontdekkingen, den wonderlyken omloop des bloeds in eene aaleflaart, door ’t middel zyner zonderlinge vergrootglazen, tot zoo groot genoegen des Vorsts, te doen beschouwen, dat zoo in deeze als andere bespiegelingen by de twee uuren wierden gesleeten, en de Czaar voor zyn vertrek den gemelden Leeuwenhoek, wegens ’t laaten zien van zoo overkleyne voorwerpen, by handtasting ook van zyne zonderlinge dankbaarheyd verzekerde.

Sources