351-10:Russia and Poland


At the beginning of the seventeenth century Poland-Lithuania and Russia covered vast tracts of land, but were sparsely inhabited. Poland covered about 375,000 square miles (modern Poland has an area of about 120,000 square miles). Muscovite Russia expanded rapidly - tripling its size during the sixteenth century to about 2 million square miles. Russia seized lands in the south and east from the Tartars - the Khanates of Astrakhan, Kazan and Sibir.

In comparison with Western Europe, Poland and Russia were thinly populated, and both saw reductions early in the century. Poland's population fell by about a million (c. 3.2 to c. 2.25 million) between 1578 and 1662.
Russia suffered a serious famine 1602-3. The late 1590s and early 1600s were a particularly bad phase of the "little ice age" that afflicted all Europe - the winters of exceptional severity that it produced, impacted Russia even worse than areas with milder climates. Furthermore, the poor crops coincided with an increase in the taxes and exactions of government and landlords, so many peasants fled their lands.
Large areas with few people gave government problems. One solution was to delegate power to local nobles, another was rigid centralization; Poland opted for the former, Russia for the latter. The Russian tsars came to wield a power as despotic as the Turkish sultans, and far less limited by law or custom than that of any Western European monarch.

Russia:   Fedor I and Boris Godunov

Fedor I (1557-98) (Theodore - or Fyodor/ Fedor - Ivanovich) was the son of Ivan the Terrible. Ivan IV was a powerful personality who had exercised autocratic authority and introduced many reforms into government. He had also terrorized his subjects, especially the senior nobles or boyars, and murdered his talented son Ivan (1581).
Fedor was feebleminded, and the real power in government was held by Boris Godunov (1551?-1605) whose sister, Irene (Irina), married Fedor. Boris, who was descended from a Russified Mongolian family, was illiterate but very wealthy and very talented at court intrigue.
One success of Godunov's rule was the establishment of the Russian patriarchate. Russia had been converted by Greek Orthodox missionaries and was technically subject to the Patriarch of Constantinople. From 1448 onward the Russian Church governed itself in ecclesiastical matters (i.e. it was autocephalous - it had its own head) but only in 1589 did Godunov persuade the patriarch of Constantinople to recognize his close friend, Job (Iov), the Metropolitan of Moscow, as patriarch.
The recognition of the Russian patriarch increased Godunov's prestige and the Church's status, especially as it instituted a number of new new bishoprics.

Russian boyars
Russian boyars

Like Ivan the Terrible, Godunov wanted to limit the power of the great noble families, the boyars. To do this he tried to create a service nobility - dvorianstvo - dependent on central government because they held their estates only if they served the Tsar as soldiers or administrators. The estate granted in exchange for service was known as a pomestie; the holder of a pomestie was a pomeshchik (pl. pomeshchiki.)

The government needed to ensure that the service nobility's land would be tilled; it also wanted peasants to pay taxes to support the costs of military expansion. To achieve this a series of edicts forbad the peasants to leave the land. The enserfment of the Russian peasantry took place over a long period but by the mid-seventeenth century it extended to almost all areas but Siberia and the North of Russia. The condition of serfs varied across Russia but they had few rights against their masters and were only better off than slaves in that they could not be sold (except with the land on which they worked.)
Unsurprisingly, peasants tried to flee these conditions. Many joined the Cossacks (from the Turkic kazak - free man.) Cossacks were originally Tatars who had been granted rights by Russia in exchange for defending Russia's southern border. They lived in military, quasi-democratic communities and their numbers were swollen by peasants escaping from serfdom in Poland-Lithuania as well as from Russia.
Godunov was able to control the boyars and insist that they fulfilled service obligations, but the 200 or so families remained very powerful. The Tsar's powers over boyars were customarily limited by the mestnichestvo system. This ranked boyar families according to genealogical precedence - when the Tsar wanted to appoint someone to an administrative post or military command, he had to chose the candidate from the oldest family, not the best qualified. The system not only meant that incompetents were placed in important jobs, it also caused endless quarrels amongst boyar families, all of whom wanted to interpret the complicated rules to their own advantage. The Tsars also tried to manipulate the rules to give themselves greater freedom; however, it was only in 1682 that the mestnichestvo system was finally abolished.
In 1598, Fedor died childless. With his death ended the Rurik dynasty which had ruled Muscovy since the ninth century. Fedor's younger half-brother Dmitrii (Dimitri) had died under suspicious circumstances in 1591. When Boris Godunov convened a special zemskii sobor (representative assembly) and had it elect him Tsar, suspicion began to grow that he might have had a hand in Dmitrii's death.

 1598-1613: The Time of Troubles (Smutnoe Vremia)

1. The first False Dmitrii (Dimitri)

Boris Godunov's reign began with a desperate famine. The harvest failed in 1601, 1602, and largely in 1603. Over 100,000 people died of malnutrition in Moscow alone.

False Dmitrii

Rumors began to fly that God was punishing Russia for Godunov's usurpation of the throne, and at this moment (so the traditional account goes) a plausible young ex-monk (Gregory Otrepiev; Grigorii or Grishka Otrep'ev) popped up in Lithuania, claiming that he was Dmitrii and had miraculously escaped death at Godunov's hands (more recently the identification of the False Dmitrii as Otrepiev has been questioned.)


A number of Polish and Lithuanian aristocrats (interested in weakening Russia) backed Dmitrii. The boyars - bloodily purged by Godunov in 1601 - may also have secretly given Dmitrii some support.
In October 1604, the False Dmitrii, supported by various Polish and Cossack mercenaries and adventurers, invaded Russia. The discontented populace welcomed him, and Boris Godunov died suddenly (April 1605) just when military victory over the False Dmitrii seemed imminent. In May 1605, senior soldiers of Fedor II (Godunov's son) rebelled and went over to Dmitrii. The Muscovites then also rose, and arrested Fedor II and his mother (they were later strangled). (The true) Dmitrii's godfather took charge of the city.
Dmitrii entered Moscow in triumph in June 1605 and was crowned Tsar, 21 July 1605.


Dmitrii's relatively informal ways shocked some traditional Russians. He did not always surround himself with a crowd of courtiers and boyars when going out; he did not spend hours every day at Orthodox church services; and he freely associated with Catholics and Poles. His bitter enemy the boyar Vasilii (Basil) Shuiskii responded by spreading rumors that Dmitrii was a foreign puppet, but Dmitrii had significant support among other boyars, including the Romanovs and his "mother's" family (i.e. the family of the true Dmitrii's mother,) the Nagoi clan.
17 May 1606, a contingent of Vasilii Shuiskii's armed supporters attacked the Kremlin and assassinated Dmitrii. At the same time Shuiskii had heralds tell the city that the Poles (hundreds of whom were in the city to celebrate Dmitrii's marriage to a Polish aristocrat) were responsible for the assassination. The Muscovites killed about 400 Poles.

Vasilii Shuiskii

Vasilii Ivanovich Shuiskii promptly had himself proclaimed Tsar, and was crowned 1 June 1606.

2. Tsar Vasilii Shuiskii

Shuiskii had displayed Dmitrii's naked, mutilated body in Red Square for three days. Nonetheless, rumors soon began to fly that the True Dmitrii had once again miraculously escaped death and would return.
An acquaintance of the first false Dmitrii, named Mikhail Molchanov, decided that the time was ripe for Dmitrii's resurrection. He slipped away to Poland-Lithuania and an ally of his, Grigorii Shakhovskoi, governor of Putivl in Ukraine, announced Dmitrii's return. Much of southern Russia proclaimed its loyalty to Dmitrii, and Vasilii was unable to establish control there.
Dmitrii (really Molchanov) dared not yet return to Russia or show himself too publicly in Poland, as he bore no physical resemblance to the first false Dmitri. Instead he used Dmitri's official seal to commission Ivan Bolotnikov, a member of an impoverished pomeshchik family, to command his armed forces. At the same time, Istoma Paskov, another minor pomeshchik, raised an army in southern Russia.
Cossacks and soldiers from the southern frontier formed the center of Dmitrii's army, but as they advanced towards Moscow, towns rebelled and joined the cause as did many gentry and peasants.
In October 1606, the two rebel armies laid siege to Moscow, but Shuiskii took advantage of the shaky morale caused by Dmitrii's failure to join his troops, and bribed Paskov and other officers to change sides. In December 1606, Shuiskii's army was able to drive Bolotnikov from the gates of Moscow.


In 1607 a band of Terek Cossacks, who wanted a pretext for raiding the lower Volga area, decided to create their own pretender to the throne. A young Cossack apprentice, Ilia Korovin (the son of a cobbler) had visited Moscow so they decided he could play the role of Tsarevich Petr (Peter) - son of Fedor I. Fedor had no son, but oral history had invented one, and Petr's mentors were soon able to concoct a story about how he had escaped the clutches of the evil Boris Godunov. Petr raised an army and was accepted by Dmitrii's supporters as his heir. The cruelty of Petr and his Cossacks undermined support for the rebel cause.


During 1607 Vasilii Shuiskii's forces made progress, inflicting a defeat on the rebels at the Battle of Vosma and laying siege to their main camp at Tula.

In late 1607 yet another pretender emerged - the "second false Dmitrii" or the "brigand of Tushino". Mikhail Molchanov looked nothing like Dmitrii, but Bolotnikov's agents found a passable look-alike in Belorussia and trained him to play the role. He entered Russia in May 1607, and support for the rebel cause immediately picked up. By late 1608 more than half Russia acknowledged him as Tsar. Molchanov became Molchanov again, returned to Russia, and joined Dmitrii's court.

In October 1607 Tula surrendered. Tsarevich Petr and Ivan Bolotnikov were imprisoned. Petr was repeatedly tortured until he confessed to his humble origins, and then hanged. Bolotnikov was banished and then secretly blinded and drowned.

3. The Final Phase

From 1609, foreign intervention by Swedes and Poles fundamentally changed the nature of Russia's civil war. In February 1609 Vasilii made a deal with Charles IX of Sweden granting him territory on the Baltic in exchange for military assistance. Sigismund III of Poland (bitter enemy of Charles IX) responded by invading Russia and attempting to seize the vital fortress of Smolensk.
A few of Dmitrii's boyar supporters agreed (February 1610) to acknowledge Sigismund's son Ladislaus as Tsar in exchange for Polish help.
On 17 July 1610 demonstrators in Red Square (egged on by boyars tired of Vasilii) demanded the Tsar's deposition. He was arrested, beaten up and forced to become a monk.
A council of seven boyars was chosen to rule; its first action (August) was to accept Ladislaus as Tsar. This was unpopular enough, but then Sigismund suddenly annouced that he would be Tsar himself, and arrested Vasilii Golitsyn and Filaret Romanov, two important boyars who refused to accept this change. Polish troops occupied Moscow.
In December 1610 the second false Dmitrii was murdered by the captain of his bodyguard. Russia now had no Tsar - real or false - but fortuitously this created an opportunity for Russians to ally against foreign intervention, whichever Tsar they had previously supported.
In March 1611 Moscow rose up against the Poles, who burnt much of the city to the ground in the course of suppressing the unrest. Smolensk finally fell to the Poles (June 1611) but the Russians still continually harried Polish supply routes.
Vasilii had promised the fortress of Korela to Charles IX of Sweden, but its garrison refused to hand it over. A Swedish army invaded northern Russia and seized Korela in March 1611.


A third false Dmitrii appeared in 1611-12. The Swedes tried to make a deal with the new impostor, but he refused. He briefly attracted some Cossack support, but he was captured (May 1612) taken in chains to Moscow and hanged.


Russian patriotism found its expression in an unlikely duo - Kuzma Minin, a butcher of Nizhnii Novgorod, and Prince Pozharskii, a modest, unassuming, incorruptible nobleman. Pozharskii's poorly armed but highly motivated army took Moscow from the Poles, October 1612.
Pozharskii and Minin immediately convened a zemskii sobor (a representative body) to elect a new tsar. On 21 February 1613, it chose Mikhail Romanov. He was crowned 21 July 1613.
Mikhail (Michael) Fyodorovich Romanov, a descendant of Ivan IV's first wife, was only sixteen years old when elected. A dim reactionary, he hurried to return power to the boyars - especially to the Romanovs and their in-laws.
The Time of Troubles severely damaged the towns, trade, industry, and economy of Russia.


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