EVERY word was carefully chosen and the tone gave little away of the author’s true feelings towards the Jacobite cause. 

But the letter, just a few short lines in a spidery scrawl written by Peter the Great a year before his death, would be treasured by the Stuart supporters to re-emerge years later, optimistically presented to the Russian emperor’s daughter in the hope that she may be slightly more forthcoming. 

The enigmatic ochre-shaded paper with its eight brief lines signed “Peter” and dated January 5, 1724, is set to be one of the stars of Royals, Russians & the Romanovs, a new exhibition at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh which spans 300 years of links between the British royal family and their Russian counterparts. 

Although brief, the single page directive to an ‘agent’ of Prince James Edward Stuart – the Old Pretender - casts a fascinating light on Jacobite determination to gather Russian royal support in the hope it might help bring down the House of Hanover. 

However, despite their efforts to use Peter’s letter to sway the new Empress, Jacobite pleas fell on deaf ears. 

The letter is among more than 170 works of art and objects selected from the vast Royal Collection, many exchanged as diplomatic gifts or intimate personal mementoes, set to go on show at The Queen’s Gallery later this month.

Among them is a watercolour depicting the last Emperor of Russia, Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra departing Balmoral Castle in 1896 after visiting Queen Victoria, and a collection of photographs of the visit, including one in which the doomed Tsar is dressed in his uniform of colonel-in-chief of the Royal Scots Greys. 

The exhibition covers three centuries and explores the relationship between Britain and Russia and their royal families during the turbulent years of the Napoleonic wars, through the Enlightenment and beyond the Russian Revolution. 

It reveals the close connections – and in some cases family likenesses – through portraits, photographs and dazzling trinkets including, naturally, highly prized and beautiful Faberge eggs.

Among the highlights is a portrait of Peter the Great by Sir Godfrey Keller, presented to William III following the first Russian Emperor’s visit to London in 1698. The young Tsar is depicted wearing the mantle of a ruler and the armour of a warrior, looking to the west seemingly in the hope of establishing a new, ‘open’ Russia.

Another is the coronation portrait of Catherine the Great. Painted by Vigilius Eriksen it shows the new Empress in a bold statement of magnificence and power at a time when Russia was established as one of the great powers in Europe and was seeking the best of British ideas and skills to deliver aspects of the Enlightenment to Russia. 

The cultural exchange led to Scottish architect Charles Cameron creating two of the finest 18th-century palaces in Russia, at Tsarskoe Selo and Pavlovsk, and saw a raft of Jacobite sympathisers who had left Scotland after the failed 1719 uprising take prominent positions within the Russian navy and army. 

Stephen Patterson, one of the two curators of the exhibition, says the letter signed by Peter the Great and sent to the Old Pretender is particularly intriguing.

“For a start, it is quite unusual to have a letter with his signature,” he says. “He is very diplomatic and says very little except that he had discussed these matters, but he makes no commitments in any direction. It is a very well-honed letter written at a time when everyone is hedging their bets.”

The letter is believed to have been written in response to a call from the Prince to support the Stuart cause following the failed rebellions in 1714 and 1719, and carefully stored until it could be used in their favour.

“In 1741 Peter’s daughter was on the throne as the result of a palace coup,” adds Mr Patterson. “The Stuarts dug out the letter and made sure it was sent back to Elizabeth to remind her that her father had been in conversation with the Jacobites, and therefore supporting the legitimate monarchy and dynasty was a good thing. 

“They were praising her for restoring the succession and the Petrine line. They were hoping that as a result of them showing Elizabeth that there had been this conversation with her father, she would be on their side supporting them against the Hanoverians.”

The exhibition also includes a gift to Alexander I of a biography of Colonel James Gardiner, who was slain fighting on the Hanoverian side against the Jacobites at the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745.  

While among the most enthralling of exhibits is a series of photographs taken in 1856 in St Petersburg and Moscow at the time of Alexander II’s coronation. Captured by Irish photographer James Mack, they are among the earliest known photographs of Russia and show the cities at a unique period before revolution would alter the nation’s political landscape forever.

The photographs include a rather bizarre image of a man in full Highland dress standing on floating logs on the river Moskva accompanied by two Muscovites, while images taken by Scottish photographer William Carrick, who opened a studio in St Petersburg in 1859, show Russia’s lower classes and folkloric rural scenes. 

The exhibition explores the connection between the royal families during the Napoleonic wars, with victory celebrated in a series of portraits of leading Russian military leaders which recognise Russia’s contribution to the victory and were commissioned for the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle. 

Alongside grand are intimate gifts and personal objects shared between the royals as links between the families strengthened following a string of marriages which connected the British, Russian and Danish royal houses. 

The most recent is an oil painting by Russian post-Impressionist Igor Grabar which was presented to the Queen by Nikita Khrushchev and Premier Nikolai Bulganin during a visit to London in 1956.

The exhibition, which runs at the Palace of Holyroodhouse from June 21 until November, was among the most successful of its kind to be shown at Buckingham Palace. 

Mr Patterson added: “The exhibition brings together a group of material hitherto never seen together. There are strong Scottish connections, but it also gives a broad history of the different types of connecting factors between Britain and Russia.”