This essay undertakes a cross-cultural interpretation of Giles Fletcher the Elder’s diplomatic mission to Muscovy (1588–89). It brings Fletcher’s official report on his embassy to the court of Emperor Fyodor in conversation with its Russian counterpart, in addition to placing these documents in the multifaceted context of early modern Anglo-Russian diplomatic ritual. Although Fletcher’s mission has always attracted the attention of scholars in different disciplines, it has not really been considered in light of diplomatic history. Meanwhile, both the English and Russian records of Fletcher’s embassy are preoccupied with diplomatic ritual, dedicating ample space to the choreography of official meetings, status symbols, gifts, acts of consumption, and corporeal semiotics. This essay examines two instances of breakdown in diplomatic protocol associated with Fletcher’s embassy: the alleged misuse of the emperor’s title by the English diplomat and the rejection of Elizabeth’s gifts by the Russian ruler. Focusing on the discrepancies between the English and Russian accounts of these frictions, the essay argues that the English embassy of 1588–89 was marked by a greater complexity and ambiguity regarding its strategies, tactics, objectives, successes, and failures than is often realized.

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