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Boyars - Masters

Boyar [or Boyard or Bolar] was an old Russian title, next in rank to the ruling princes, and privileged with high authority. A member of a class of higher Russian nobility that until the time of Peter I headed the civil and military administration of the country and participated in an early duma. From boiaren, from Russian boyarin, from Old Russian boljarin, from Turkic baylar, pl. of bay, rich, Turkish bay, rich, gentleman. Peter the Great, who abolished the order, ennobled the boyars, but deprived them of their high authority.

The term was used for a grandee of Russia and Transylvania. Becman said that the boyars were the upper nobility ; and added that the Czar of Muscovy, in his diplomas, named the boyars before the waywodes. All royal edicts bore the stamp of the boyar's approval immediately after the "command of the czar." As the Boyars sat in Council with the Tsar, royal decrees stated that "The Tsar has commanded, and the Boyars have assented,' a formula which has become a popular saying. The old title of Boyarin, or Boyar, later abbreviated into Barin, or Master, was preserved in the memories of the people. Thus, 'At a wedding all are Boyars,' for all the guests invited to a rustic marriage feast bear that name, the bride and bridegroom being styled the Princess and the Prince. It was their privilege to attach themselves and their followers to any prince whom they might choose, but whose service it was their right to leave at their own option.

Originally the boyars were the intimate friends and confidential advisers of the Russian prince, the superior members of his druzhina or bodyguard, his comrades and champions. They were divided into classes according to rank, most generally determined by personal merit and service. Thus we hear of the "oldest," "elder" and the "younger" boyars. At first the dignity seems to have been occasionally, but by no means invariably, hereditary. At a later day the boyars were the chief members of the prince's duma, or council, like the senatores of Poland and Lithuania. Their further designation of luchshie lyudi or "the best people" proved that they were generally richer than their fellow subjects.

So long as the princes, in their interminable struggles with the barbarians of the Steppe, needed the assistance of the towns, "the best people" of the cities and of the druzhina proper mingled freely together both in war and commerce; but after Yaroslav's crushing victory over the Petchenegs in 1036 beneath the walls of Kiev, the two classes began to draw apart, and a political and economical difference between the members of the princely druzhina and the aristocracy of the towns becomes discernible. The townsmen devoted themselves henceforth more exclusively to commerce, while the druzhina asserts the privileges of an exclusively military caste with a primary claim upon the land. Still later, when the courts of the northern grand dukes were established, the boyars appear as the first grade of a fullblown court aristocracy with the exclusive privilege of possessing land and serfs. Hence their title of dvoryane (courtiers), first used in the 12th century.

On the other hand there was no distinction, as in Germany, between the Dienst Adel (nobility of service) and the simple Adel. The Russian boyardom had no corporate or class privileges, (1) because their importance was purely local (the dignity of the principality determining the degree of dignity of the boyars), (2) because of their inalienable right of transmigration from one prince to another at will, which prevented the formation of a settled aristocracy, and (3) because birth did not determine but only facilitated the attainment of high rank, e.g. the son of a boyar was not a boyar born, but could more easily attain to boyardom, if of superior personal merit. It was reserved for Peter the Great to transform the boyarstvo or boyardom into something more nearly resembling the aristocracy of the West.

Even in the most ancient reactions of " the Russian Truth " (thirteenth century) are found traces of the centralization of large domains in the hands of the boyars. The Russian boyar was before all a great landowner, comparable to the great feudal lord of Western Europe. But the birth and development of Russian landed property was different from the same process in the West, for although in the West the development was slow, and was due merely to an economic differentiation of the free rural commune, in Russia its rise was immediate upon the ruins of the " great family " or piitchishtchi, of which we have already spoken. Whatever the local circumstances, however, the results of the process were the same : the feudalization of landed property, that is, its concentration between the hands of that aristocracy which had succeeded in subjecting, politically and economically, all its weaker neighbours. The relations between masters and their subjects constituted the boyartchina, corresponding to the French seigneurie, the English manor, and the German Grundherrschaft.

The Russian boyartchina is like the seigneurie in the essential features of its economic structure. The large estates of the Middle Ages comprised, as in the West of Europe, two unequal portions. One, the larger, was cultivated by the peasants, who paid a due to the seigneur. The other was under the direct supervision of the latter, and was only a small part of the whole estate. The administrative center of the whole, or fotchina, was the manorial house, or dvor, like the German Hof, the Curtis of Western Europe. Votchina, Hof, and Curtis all granted land or Curtis-Villicana to the peasants. The Russian term dvor boyarsky is the exact translation of the Latin curtis dominicalis and the German Fronhof. The land belonging to the seigneurial house and administered directly by the seigneur was called the Salic land (terra salica, salland) in the West, and in Russia zemlia boyarskaya - the land of the boyar.

Each prince or boyar, sovereign on his own domain, was the vassal, that is, the military servitor, of a larger landowner. Beside military service (servitum) each French vassal had to assist his suzerain in council (consilium) and contribute to the formation of a court. The same arrangement existed in Russia in the form of the Boyarskaya Duma (boyars'' council). Even the symbols of these relations were the same in France and in Russia. Thus the French hommage corresponded exactly to the Russian tchelobitii (from tchelom, bit, meaning to strike the ground with the forehead). As homage was followed by the oath, so the Tchelobitie was followed by the tzelovanie kresta, the kissing of the Cross.

"The origin of the Russian aristocracy," says Turgeniev, quoting from Earamzin, "is lost in the most remote antiquity. The dignity of boyar is perhaps even more ancient than that of prince; it distinguished the knights and the most notable citizens, who, in the Slav republics, commanded the armies and administrated the country. This dignity appears never to have been hereditary, but only personal. Although in the course of time it was sometimes conferred by the princes, each of the ancient towns had nevertheless its own boyars, who filled the principal elective offices; even the boyars created by the princes enjoyed a ce'rtain independence. Thus, in the treaties of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, we often see the contracting parties confirming to the boyars the right of quitting the service of one prince to enter the service of another. Dissatisfied at Tchernigov, the boyar went with his numerous following to Kiev, Galitch, or Vladimir, where he found new fiefs and tokens of general respect. But when southern Russia had become transformed into Lithuania, when Moscow began to grow larger at the expense of the neighbouring principalities, when the number of princes possessing appanages began to diminish, at the same time that the sovereign's power over the people was becoming more unlimited, then the dignity of boyar also lost its ancient importance. Popular power was favourable to that of the boyars, which acting through the prince on the people, could also act through these latter on the prince. This support at last failed them. Nothing remained to the boyars but to obey their prince, or to become traitors or rebels; there was no golden mean to take, and in the face of the sovereign, no legal means of opposition existed. In a word absolute power was developing itself."

In Moscovy the family was everything, the individual nothing ; nay, more, the individual was unthinkable apart from his family. The elders of every family, the magnates, as we should call them, were responsible for the behaviour of all the younger members of the same family, and bound to punish their misconduct, with stripes and imprisonment if necessary, even when they had reached man's estate. Further, if one member of a family were condemned to pay a heavy fine, all the other members had to contribute to pay it off, and the elevation or degradation of one member of a family was the elevation or degradation of all the other members.

This principle of family solidarity was carried out to its last consequences. Ivan Ivanovich, for instance, would refuse to serve under Semen Semenovich if any single member of Ivan's family had ever held a higher position than any single member of Semen's family, otherwise Ivan was held to have dishonoured his whole family, and the honour of the family had to be upheld at whatever cost of suffering to the individuals composing it. Thus it came about that the Moscovite boyar, slavishly obsequious as he might be to the Great Gosudar in all other things, would rather quit the Tsar's table than sit below any other boyar of inferior family ; rather endure imprisonment, balogi* or even the terrible knout itself than put himself bez myesfye, " out of place," as the phrase went, on any public or ceremonial occasion. There was no help for it. He was obliged to stand on his dignity, otherwise all right-minded people of his own order would have regarded him as a renegade, and existence under such a slur would soon have become intolerable.

There were sixteen very great families in Moscovy, all of them boyars by prescription ; there were sixteen great families who had passed through the intermediate rank of okolnichy before they became boyars ; but though families of princely rank, descendants of ancient sovereign dynasties, were to be found in both groups alike, any member of any of the families in the first group would have died in torments rather than have yielded precedence to any member of any of the families in the second group, though their actual official rank might be much higher. To such a point was this principle of " priority " at length carried that the members of one family would resort to the most desperate expedients rather than yield precedence to another family, even when it was obviously entitled thereto.^

From the 15th to the 17th century, the boyars of Muscovy formed a closed aristocratic class that surrounded the throne of the grand prince (later the tsar) and ruled the country together with him. They were drawn from about 200 families, descended from former princes, old Moscow boyar families, and foreign aristocrats. The rank of boyar did not belong to all members of these families but only to those senior members to whom the tsar granted this title. Below the boyars stood the group of okolnichy. Together these two strata formed the boyar council, which helped the tsar direct the internal and foreign affairs of the state. The decisions of the boyar council, as confirmed by the tsar, were recognized as the normal form of legislation. The boyars and okolnichy generally served as heads of government offices, provincial governors, and military commanders.

By the confidence with which Ivan I inspired the horde, and the terrible war which he waged against his kinsmen, he restored to Russia a tranquillity to which she had long been a stranger. A dawning of order and justice reappeared under a sceptre acquired and preserved by such horrible acts of injustice; the depredations to which Russia had been a prey were repressed; commerce again flourished; and the treasury of the prince was swelled still further by the profit arising from the customs. This great political impulse was so vigorously given, that it was perpetuated in his son Simeon the Proud, to whom Ivan left wherewithal to purchase the grand princedom from the horde, and in whom he revived the direct succession. Simeon having died without children, in 1353, after a reign of twelve years, Ivan II, his brother, purchased the sovereignty with the wealth of Kalita. The people had given to Ivan the surname of The Purse; as much, perhaps, with allusion to his treasures, as to the purse, filled with alms for the poor, which is said to have been always carried before him. At a later period, the constantly progressive riches of the grand princes of Moscow enabled them to enfeoff directly from the crown lands three hundred thousand boyar followers; and next, to keep up a body of regular troops, sufficiently strong to reduce their enemies and their subjects.

Like the Capets, kings of France, did Ivan I, and particularly Dmitri Donskoi, begin the monarchy by restoring the direct succession, in causing, while they lived, their eldest sons to be recognised as their successors. Even before Dmitri had established the principle, the boyars saw the advantages which this order of succession held out to them. Here, as elsewhere, the fact preceded the law. In like manner, about 1430, they maintained this order of succession in Vasili the Blind. Contemporary annalists declare that these ancient boyars of the grand principality detested the descent from brother to brother; for, in that system, each prince of the lateral branch arrived from his appanage with other boyars, whom he always preferred, and whom he could not satisfy and establish but at the expense of the old. On the other hand, the most important and transmissible places, the most valuable favours, an hereditary and more certain protection, and greater hopes, attracted a military nobility around the grand princes. In a very short time, their elevation to the level of the humbled petty princes flattered their vanity, and completed their junction with the principal authority. This circumstance explains the last words of Dmitri Donskoi to his boyars, when he recommended his son to their protection. "Under my reign," said he, "you were not boyars, but really Russian princes." In fact (to cite only some examples), his armies were as often commanded by boyars as by princes, and that, from this epoch, it was no longer a prince of the blood, but a boyar of the grand prince, who was his lieutenant at Novgorod.

When Ivan III married a Greek princess, born in Italy, and the Grand Dukes of Moscovy expanded into Tsars, or Kings, the distance between the subject aristocracy and their sovereigns became remoter still. The boyars rebelled against the insulting change, but the crafty Greek lady prevailed, and her son, educated according to her principles, duly ascended the throne. Again the boyars rebelled ; but the struggle, if bloodier, was even briefer than before, and the depressed patricians emerged from it the submissive slaves of the Veliki Gosudar - Great Sovereign.

By completing the work of his predecessors in destroying the independence of the townships and the appanaged princes, Ivan III, or, as he is called by some historians, Ivan the Great, created the empire of Moscow. The form of government of this empire and all the outward surroundings of power were greatly influenced by the marriage of Ivan to Sophia, daughter of Thomas Paleologus, and niece of the last emperor of Byzantium, who brought to Moscow the customs and traditions of the Byzantine Empire. The first visible and outward sign of the fact that Russia came to regard herself as a successor to Greece, was the adoption of the two-headed eagle, the arms of the eastern Roman Empire, which thenceforth became the arms of Russia. From that time much in Russia was changed and assumed a Byzantine likeness; the change was not effected suddenly, but proceeded during the entire reign of Ivan Vasilieyitch and continued after his death. In the court household the high-sounding title of czar was introduced, and the custom of kissing the monarch's hand. Court ranks were established also: master of the stables, master of the horse, and chamberlains (the latter, however, appeared only at the end of Ivan's reign).

The importance of the boyars as the highest class of society fell before an autocratic sovereign; all became equal, all alike were his slaves. The honorable appellation of boyar was bestowed by the grand prince as a reward for services; besides the boyars there was also created a somewhat lower rank - that of the Iokolnitchil [From Iokolo, about, around - persons about the czar.] - the commencement of the Russian hierarchy of ranks. To the time of Ivan Vasilievitch may also be attributed the establishment of bureaus (prikazi) with their secretaries and clerks. But most important and essential of all was the change in the dignity attaching to the grand prince, strongly to be felt and clearly visible in the actions of the deliberate Ivan Vasilievitch; the grand prince had become an autocratic sovereign. Even in his predecessors do we notice an approximation to this, but the first autocrat in the full sense of the word was Ivan Vasilievitch, and he became so especially after his marriage to Sophia. From that time all his activity was consistently and unswervingly consecrated to the strengthening of monarchy and autocracy.

At the time when Ivan IV succeeded his father in 1533 the struggle of the central power against the forces of the past had changed character. The old Russian states, which had held so long in check the new power of Moscow; the principalities of Tver, Riazan, Suzdal, Novgorod-Seversk; the republics of Novgorod, Pskov, Viatka had lost their independence. Their possessions had served to aggrandise those of Moscow. All northern and eastern Russia was thus unitea under the sceptre of the grand prince. To the ceaseless struggles constantly breaking out against Tver, Riazan, Novgorod, was to succeed the great foreign strife - the holy war against Lithuania, the Tatars, the Swedes.

Precisely because the work of the unification of Great Russia was accomplished, the resistance in the interior against the prince's authority was to become more active. The descendants of reigning families dispossessed by force of bribery or arms, the servitors of those old royal houses, had entered the service of the masters of Moscow. His court was composed of crownless princes - the Chouiski, the Kurbski, the Vorotinski; descendants of ancient appanaged princes, proud of the blood of Rurik which coursed through their veins. Others were descended from the Lithuanian Gedimine, or from the baptised Tatar Monzas.

All these princes, as well as the powerful boyars of Tver, Riazan, Novgorod, were become the boyars of the grand prince. There was for all only one court at which they could serve - that of Moscow. When Russia had been divided into sovereign states, the discontented boyars had been at liberty to change masters - to pass from the service of Tchefnigov into that of Kiev, from that of Suzdal into that of Novgorod. Now, whither could they go? Outside of Moscow, there were only foreign rulers, enemies of Russia. To make use of the ancient right to change masters was to go over to the enemy - it was treason. "To change" and "to betray" were become synonymous: the Russian word izmiyanit (third person singular of "to change") was become the word izmiyanik ("traitor").

The Russian boyar could take refuge neither with the Germans, the Swedes, nor the Tatars; he could go only to the sovereign of Lithuania - but this was the worst possible species of change, the most pernicious form of treason. The prince of Moscow knew well that the war with Lithuania - that state which Polish in the west, by its Russian provinces, in the east exercised a dangerous attraction over subjects of Moscow - was a struggle for existence. Lithuania was not only a foreign enemy - it was a domestic enemy, with intercourse and sympathies in the very heart of the Russian state, even in the palace of the czar; her formidable hand was felt in all intrigues, in all conspiracies. The foreign war against Lithuania, the domestic war against the Russian oligarchy are but two different phases of the same war - the heaviest and most perilous of all those undertaken by the grand prince of Moscow. The dispossessed princes, the boyars of the old independent states had given up the struggle against him on the field of battle; they continued to struggle against him in his own court.

On the death of his father, Ivan IV was only three years of age. Helena, his mother, a woman unfit for the toils of government, impure in Her conduct, and without judgment, assumed the office of regent, which she shared with a paramour, whose elevation to such a height caused universal disgust, particularly among the princes of the blood and the nobility. The measures which had of late years been adopted towards the boyars were not forgotten by that haughty class; and now that the infirm state of the throne gave them a fair pretext for complaint, they conspired against the regent, partly with a view to remove so unpopular and degraded a person from the imperial seat, but principally that they might take advantage of the minority of the czar, and seize upon the empire for their own ends. The reign of lascivious folly and wanton rigor was not, however, destined to survive the wrath of the nobles. For five years, intestine jealousies and thickening plots plunged the country into anarchy; and, at last, the regent died suddenly, having, it is believed, fallen by poison administered through the agency of the revengeful boyars.

During the late 1550s, Ivan developed a hostility toward his advisers, the government, and the boyars. Historians have not determined whether policy differences, personal animosities, or mental imbalance cause his wrath. In 1565 he divided Muscovy into two parts: his private domain and the public realm. For his private domain, Ivan chose some of the most prosperous and important districts of Muscovy. In these areas, Ivan's agents attacked boyars, merchants, and even common people, summarily executing some and confiscating land and possessions. Thus began a decade of terror in Muscovy. As a result of this policy, called the oprichnina, Ivan broke the economic and political power of the leading boyar families, thereby destroying precisely those persons who had built up Muscovy and were the most capable of administering it.

The tsar did not have complete freedom in the choice of his chief aides and subordinates. He was bound by the peculiar custom of mestnichestvo, a complicated hierarchy of precedence among aristocratic Muscovite families. They were ranked in a definite genealogical order according to their relative seniority, and, in the course of filling the highest posts in his army and administration, the tsar had to consider not so much the candidate's personal merits as his genealogical seniority as defined by earlier precedents. Mestnichestvo, which hampered the selection of appropriate candidates for high offices, caused endless quarrels among the boyar families and was finally abolished in 1682. Peter I the Great abolished the rank and title of boyar and made state service the exclusive means of attaining a high position in the bureaucratic hierarchy.

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