Young Folks' History of Russia - Nathan Dole

How the Tsar Regained


A great national assembly met at Moscow, and with one consent gave the crown to Michael Romanof. He was only fifteen, but his family could be charged with no crimes, no cruelties, no inglorious memories. The clergy stood by him, the people came nobly to his support; he was enabled to free Astrakan from Marina and the Don Kazaks, to ransom Novgorod from the Swedes, and to drive the Poles from Moscow. His father, Philaret, returned and was made Patriarch, and took control of the government. His firm hand brought order: the ruined cities were rebuilt, trade was revived, iron foundries were established, foreign craftsmen and scholars were invited to settle. As in the years after the Crimean War, "Russia was getting well."

At Michael's death the people took the usual oath to his son, Alexis, then in his sixteenth year. Alexis, like his father, was gentle and easily influenced. His wife's relatives, the Miloslavskis, and his brother-in-law, Morazof, used their position to gain their own ends. They were grasping and unjust. The people at last lost patience. Terrible riots broke out. In Moscow they were easily calmed. At Novgorod and Pskof it was whispered that the traitor, Morazof, was sending money and grain to the Germans. The citizens rose against the foreigners; the Tsar's envoys narrowly escaped; even the archbishops were put in chains and beaten. The Tsar was obliged to send a strong army against the rebel cities. Pskof held out for several months and surrendered only on the promise of a general pardon. Russia was now able to wreak its revenge on Poland.

[Illustration] from History of Russia by Nathan Dole


In White Russia the situation of the common people had been growing worse and worse during the seventy-five years since Poland and Lithuania were united by the Diet of Lublin; they were ground down by the great lords; they were persecuted by the Jesuits; they were given over, body and soul, to the Jews, the stewards of the lands, who made them pay dearly for the right to hunt or fish, ride or walk, marry or baptize their children. Hosts of them, driven to desperation, deserted to the border and peopled the southern steppes. Many, to avoid the fate of the Russian serfs, joined the Kazak republic, below the rapids of the Dnieper. There they lived a life of glory and adventure. Their palisaded island was a school of courage and chivalry. They made unceasing war on the Turk and the Tartar; throwing themselves into their light boats they shouted their farewells to their "father, the Dnieper," and ravaged along the Black Sea, the scourges of the infidel. All brave men were welcome among them; the runaway serf, the refugee of noble birth, all were free and equal, and ate at a common table.

These Kazaks were passionate lovers of liberty; at the same time they were devoted to the Eastern Church, and in all the insurrections of Little Russia they took a lively part.

The Polish government tried to limit the warlike population of the border to six thousand, but the Kazaks, having once tasted liberty, refused to submit to the register, and when the persecutions of the Catholics grew more violent they turned their eyes to the sun of orthodoxy, the Tsar of Russia. Bogdan, the Kazak, unable to get redress for a series of outrages, fled to the Krim Kan, put himself at the head of a strong army of Tartars, and, joined by all the malcontents of Little Russia, came back to the border, where the insurrection spread like fire. Bogdan was everywhere victorious; the peasants demolished the castles of their lords and put the hated stewards to death.

At this moment the King of Poland died, and the revolt broke out more violently than ever. Ian, the new king, went out in person against Bogdan, and saved himself from defeat only by buying off the Kan of the Crimea. Bogdan was driven to ask for terms; he was made hetman of Little Russia, and the number of registered Kazaks was raised to forty thousand. A second revolt resulted in a worse defeat; a second and a third time the Krim Kan deserted his ally. Bogdan then begged the Tsar to take Little Russia under his protection. Alexis granted all the liberties asked by the Kazaks and marched in person against the King of Poland. "On this occasion," it was said, "Moscow made war in a quite new way, and conquered the people by the Tsar's kindness and gentleness." All the towns of White Russia fell before him; Smolensk held out only a few weeks.

The next year Vilno and the chief cities of Lithuania gave their submission to Russia. About the same time the King of Sweden fell upon Poland and captured the three capitals and claimed Lithuania. Alexis hastened to make peace with Poland and turned against Sweden with small success. He was obliged to renounce Livonia. The war with Poland soon began anew and lasted ten years. Russia was exhausted by the long struggle; a bronze currency took the place of silver; provisions were high; the people began to starve; in Moscow the soldiers had to fire upon the mob, who again attacked the Tsar's kinsmen. Alexis was glad to make peace; he gave up Lithuania, but kept Smolensk and Kief, the mother of Russian cities, and the turbulent Kazaks of the Dnieper.

[Illustration] from History of Russia by Nathan Dole


Many of the Dnieper Kazaks took refuge during these troublous times in the plains of the Don. A famine arose, and these wretched adventurers were ready for any desperate relief. The Kazak, Stephen Razin, put himself at their head, provided them with sabres, guns, and boats, and led them to the East, where they ravaged the coasts of the Caspian and the plains of Persia. He was bold and daring. His fame as a magician, proof against bullets and arrows, was widespread. His generosity was princely. One of the many poems which his exploits inspired says,—

"The number of my comrades was four,—the dark night, a knife of steel, a good steed, a tough bow; and my messengers were keen arrows."

And it is, said that as he was one day sailing down the Volga, heated with wine, he looked upon the water and said, "O Mother Volga, thou great river, much hast thou given me of gold and of silver and of all good things; thou hast nursed me and nourished me and covered me with glory and honor. But I have in no way shown thee my gratitude. Here is somewhat for thee. Take it." With these words he seized a beautiful Persian princess, one of his captives, and flung her into the waves.

A host of brigands joined his standard. He came back from the far East with an immense army, swept the Don, crossed over to the Volga, and took all the cities from Astrakan to Lower Novgorod. Through the river valley the serfs revolted from their masters, the subject tribes took up arms against the government. Stephen was at last captured and put to death; his followers were scattered and Eastern Russia was quieted.