On October 25, 1714, Aleksandr Menshikov became the first Russian member of the Royal Society of London.
Menshikov received a letter written by Isaac Newton, the President of the Royal Society (Academy of Science), which stated “Whereas it has long been known to the Royal Society that your Emperor has furthered great advances in the arts and sciences in his Kingdom, we were all filled with joy when the English merchants informed us that Your Excellency, out of his high courtesy, singular regard for the sciences, and lover of our nation designs to join the body of our Society…”
Thus, Aleksandr Menshikov, a highly appreciated associate of Tsar Peter the Great , became the first Russian to be admitted to the British Royal Society. Historians believe his election was simply a political act, since Menshikov was a semiliterate man who had nothing to do with science - some historians claim he couldn't even read.
Peter I’s tour of Europe (the Grand Embassy) and his reforms changed the view of Russia in Europe. Formerly looked upon as almost barbarous, Russia was seen as an important trading partner. It was the merchant community that recognized Menshikov's influence rather than his brains, and convinced Newton and the Royal Society to invite him into their ranks in order to frame diplomatic and scientific links between both nations.
Menshikov was a distinguished military commander and the favorite of Tsar Peter I (the Great). He and the Tsar were inseparable. Further, they established a close friendship. Only second to the Tsar himself, Menshikov was the richest man in Russia and was given to luxury, owning numerous lands, serfs, factories, and possessions.
Menshikov acquired a large portfolio of official titles, including Generalissimo, Serene Highness of the Russian Empire, Duke of Izhora, Governor General of St. Petersburg and many more. His influence over Russia is reflected in the Tsar’s words, “He does what he likes without asking my opinion, but I, for my part, never decode anything without asking him his.”
Not many remember Menshikov as the first Russian academic in Britain; rather, he made it into history as an embezzler of State property. Menshikov absorbed Peter's ideology, but he often abused his position to accumulate a vast personal fortune by defrauding the government of hundreds of thousands of rubles. On several occasions, only his close ties with Peter saved him from being convicted, but after the Tsar's death, Menshikov's insatiable greed and ambition ultimately resulted in his downfall.
Three draft copies of the letter written by Newton have been preserved. One of them was given as a gift by the Royal Society in 1943 to the Russian Academy of Science and today is stored in the archives of the Academy.