Story of Russia - R. Van Bergen

Feodor, The Last of Rurik's Descendants

Feoder I


Ivan the Terrible left two sons, Feodor, the son of Anastasia Romanof, and Dmitri, a child, the son of his seventh wife. Feodor was neither a strong-minded nor a very able man. He was married to Irene Godounof, and, following the usual custom, his wife's relations held the principal offices of the government. Gradually the czar's authority passed into the hands of Prince Boris Godounof, Irene's brother, a very ambitious and unscrupulous man. Wizards had foretold that Boris would be czar, but that his reign would last only seven years, and he did all he could to aid his destiny.

He first caused Feodor's half-brother, Dmitri, to be sent with his mother and her relations to Ouglitch, where they would be out of the way. He also caused the Metropolitan to be dismissed, and had a friend appointed in his place. He aroused the higher nobles against him, and then made an effort to make friends with the smaller nobility,—at the expense of the poor peasants. According to law, these people were free; that is, when the contract with a landowner expired, they could move where they pleased, and the large owners could offer better terms than those who held small estates. But without labor, the land was worthless and Russia, at the time, was so sparsely populated, that every hand counted. The object of the government was not to open up new lands, so as to create prosperity, but to provide for its current wants by seeing that the taxes were paid, and that the army was kept up to its standard. How could the men-at-arms, that is the small nobility, defray their own expenses while serving, if their revenues failed from lack of labor? Boris Godounof, therefore, made a law forbidding peasants to go from one estate to another. They were tied to the ground, and this was the first step to make serfs of them. The peasants did object; they had been accustomed to change service on St. George's day, and that day remained for many years one of deep sorrow. There was no rebellion, but a great many fled, and joined the Cossacks. After some years the law was changed so that peasants were permitted to change from one small  estate to another.

Another change under Feodor's reign was the appointment of a Patriarch as the head of the Greek Church under the czar. He was placed above the several Metropolitans, and thus the Church secured more unity.

Feodor had no heirs, and his health was bad. It was, therefore, to young Dmitri at Ouglitch that the great nobles looked for relief from Godounof's tyranny. In 1591, this man sent hired assassins to Ouglitch and the youngest son of Ivan was murdered. Some of the hirelings were arrested by the people, and put to death. There was not even a doubt as to the facts. But Godounof ordered an investigation by his own friends; they declared that the young heir had committed suicide in a fit of insanity, and that the people of Ouglitch had put innocent men to death. The assassination of Dmitri's relatives, and the depopulation of Ouglitch made further inquiry impossible.

Stephen Batory who had worsted Ivan the Terrible, died in 1586, and the throne of Poland was once again vacant. Godounof tried hard to have Feodor elected, but the Poles feared that the czar might attach their kingdom to Moscow like a sleeve to a coat. "Besides, the Roman Catholic electors did not like the thought of having a king belonging to the Greek Church; last of all, money counted in these elections, and Godounof was a very saving man. The result was that the Prince of Sweden was elected, and that war with Sweden broke out.

The Poles, fearing lest Sweden should grow too powerful, held aloof; as a consequence, Russia gained back the towns which had been lost under Ivan the Terrible. Godounof made an effort to bring about a war between Poland and Sweden, but he only succeeded in arousing the suspicion and dislike of both countries.

Feodor died in 1598; with him the house of Rurik, the old Norse Viking, ceased to exist.

By trickery and knavery, Boris Godounof was elected czar by the douma  or council of nobles, a body presided over by his friend the Patriarch, and containing many of his partisans. The great nobles, many of whom traced their descent to Rurik, objected to a czar, whom they considered and called an upstart. But Boris displayed cruelty as well as severity. Feodor, the eldest of the noble family of the Romanofs, was forced to become a monk and his wife a nun. He took the name of Philarete, and she that of Marfa.

Godounof did reign seven years, according to the wizard's prediction, but it was a stormy time for Russia. A young adventurer named Gregory OtrÚpief, pretended that he was the murdered Dmitri, and secured a large following. The troops sent against him "had no hands to fight but only feet to fly." At Godounof's death, in 1605, he confided his son and heir to a favorite named Basmanof, who turned traitor, joined the false Dmitri, and caused Godounof's widow and son to be murdered. OtrÚpief, who lacked neither courage nor ability, was made czar, but he reigned little over a month, when he, too, was murdered by a band of nobles under the leadership of Chou´ski. This man seized the throne in 1606. The people in the country, owing to its vast extent and the poor roads, heard of OtrÚpief's coronation, his death, and the succession of Chou´ski almost at the same time, and anarchy followed. At the same time Russia was involved in a war with Poland, at the time when a second false Dmitri made his appearance. The Cossacks and a host of Polish adventurers joined him, and he laid siege to the immensely wealthy Tro´tsa monastery, where the monks defended themselves for sixteen months, and he was forced to withdraw. Affairs came to such a pass that the people of Moscow "humbly requested the czar to abdicate, because he was not successful, and also because he was to blame for the shedding of Christian blood. Chou´ski was forced to yield, and soon after entered a monastery as a monk.

Two candidates appeared for the vacant throne; the second false Dmitri and Vladislas, the second son of Sigismund, King of Poland. The douma, not fancying the idea that an impostor should rule over them, invited the hetman of a Polish army to Moscow, to discuss the other candidate. This hetman promised in name of the prince to maintain the Greek Church and the privileges of the three orders, nobles, priests, and people, and that the law-making power should be shared by the czar and the douma; that no one should be executed without a trial, or deprived of his dignity without good reason; and finally, that Russians might go abroad to be educated if they so desired. Vladislas was then elected czar on condition that he should enter the Greek Church, and two envoys, one of them Philarete Romanof who had risen to the rank of Metropolitan, left for the Polish camp at Smolensk to complete the necessary arrangements. The douma invited the hetman to occupy the kremlin with his shoulders. He did so, taking the late Czar Chou´ski and his two brothers as hostages.

At Smolensk a difficulty occurred: the King of Poland wanted the Russian throne for himself. He also asked the envoys to cede Smolensk to Poland; they refused, and in turn asked that Vladislas should leave at once for Moscow. The king refused his consent, and began to use money. He found many Russian traitors willing to accept it, but the envoys remained firm.

Soon after this, the second false Dmitri died, and the people began to show an interest in the dispute with Sigismund. Leading men at Moscow and Smolensk wrote to the provinces, begging their friends not to recognize the King of Poland as czar. Men-at-arms gathered, and when an army of them drew near Moscow, the Poles fortified the Kremlin. At this time a quarrel arose between the Polish troops and the people, and some 7,000 persons were killed. The Russians made a stand in the suburbs, when the Poles set fire to the city, and the greater part of Moscow was burned.

Sigismund ordered the arrest of the two envoys who were taken to Marienburg in Prussia under escort. Smolensk fell soon after into his hands, and the king returned to Warsaw which he entered in triumph with the last Czar Chou´ski a prisoner in his train. By this time the Russians were aroused; 100,000 men-at-arms gathered at Moscow and besieged the Poles in the Kremlin. Meanwhile Sweden had declared war, giving as reason the election of Vladislas, and had captured the ports on the Baltic. The monks of Tro´tsa, whose heroic defense against the second false Dmitri had made the convent famous, sent letters to all the Russian cities bidding them fight for their country and religion. When this letter was read in public at Nishni Novgorod, a butcher, Kouzma Minine spoke up: "If we wish to save the Muscovite Empire," he said, "we must spare neither our lands nor our goods; let us sell our houses and put our wives and children out to service; let us seek a man who will fight for the national faith, and march under his banner." He set the example by giving one-third of all he possessed, and others followed. Those who refused to contribute were compelled to do so. Minine was elected treasurer; he accepted on condition that his orders should be obeyed without delay. Believing that the leadership should be given to a noble, Minine went to Prince Pojarski who lived in the neighborhood. Pojarski accepted the command, and ordered three days of fasting and prayer. The streltsi were equipped as well as the men-at-arms; but the services of Cossacks and foreign mercenaries were refused.

An army was collected and marched toward Moscow, with bishops and monks carrying holy eikons at the head; at Iaroslaf they were reŰnforced by other troops. They laid siege to the Kremlin; an attempt to relieve the fortress by the Poles was defeated. At last the garrison was forced to surrender. Among the Russian prisoners who regained their liberty was a fifteen-year-old boy, Michael Romanof, the son of Philarete and Marfa.

Sigismund was on the way to reŰnforce the garrison, but hearing of its surrender, he fell back. An assembly was convoked to elect a czar. It was composed of delegates of the clergy, the nobles, the men-at-arms, the merchants, towns, and districts. There was much bickering, but all were agreed that no alien should be presented. When the name of Michael Romanof was called, it was received with enthusiasm, and he was declared elected. (1613.) The delegates remembered the relation between his family and Ivan the Terrible, and the services rendered by his father, the Metropolitan Philarete. There is a story that the King of Poland, when he heard of Michael's election, tried to kidnap him at Kostroma, and that a peasant guide led the party astray on a dark night. When the Poles discovered it, he was struck dead. This is the subject of a famous opera "A Life for the Czar."

Russia's efforts to resume intercourse with Europe, which during the Tartar yoke had been suspended, were continued under Godounof. He sent an ambassador to Queen Elizabeth with a letter, in which he says:—"I have learned that the Queen had furnished help to the Turks against the Emperor of Germany. We are astonished at it, as to act thus is not proper for Christian sovereigns; and you, our well-beloved sister, you ought not in the future to enter into relationships of friendship with Mussulman princes, nor to help them in any way, whether with men or money; but on the contrary should desire and insist that all the great Christian potentates should have a good understanding, union, and strong friendship, and unite against the Mussulmans, till the hand of the Christian rise and that of the Mussulman is abased." Judging from Elizabeth's character, it is likely that she shrugged her shoulders as she read this sermon. During the period of Russia's internal troubles, and owing to the vacancy of the throne, the relations with Europe were again suspended.