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The Time of Troubles (Smutnoye vremya, 1598-1613)

Ivan IV was succeeded by his son Fedor, who was mentally deficient. Actual power was exercised by Fedor's brother-in-law, Boris Godunov, a boyar. Perhaps the most important event of Fedor's reign was the proclamation of the patriarchate of Moscow in 1589. The patriarchate culminated the evolution of a separate and totally independent Russian Orthodox Church.

In 1598 Fedor died without an heir, ending the Rurikid Dynasty. Boris Godunov called a zemskii sobor, which proclaimed him tsar, although various boyar factions refused to accept him. Widespread crop failures caused a famine between 1601 and 1603, and in the ensuing discontent, a leader emerged who claimed to be Dmitrii, a son of Ivan IV (the actual Dmitrii had died in 1591). This First False Dmitrii obtained military support in Poland and began a march toward Moscow. On his way, he was joined by dissatisfied elements ranging from peasants to boyars. Historians speculate that Godunov would have weathered the crisis, but he died in 1605, and, as a result, the pretender entered Moscow and was crowned tsar following the murder of Fedor II, Boris Godunov's son.

Subsequently, Muscovy entered a period of continuous chaos. The Time of Troubles included a civil war in which a struggle over the throne was complicated by the machinations of rival boyar factions, the intervention of Poland and Sweden, and intense popular discontent. The First False Dmitrii and his Polish garrison were overthrown, and a boyar, Vasilii Shuiskii, was proclaimed tsar in 1606. In his attempt to retain the throne, Shuiskii allied himself with the Swedes. A Second False Dmitrii, allied with the Poles, appeared. In 1610 the Polish heir apparent was proclaimed tsar, and the Poles occupied Moscow. The Polish presence led to a patriotic revival among the Russians, and a new army -- financed by northern merchants and blessed by the Orthodox Church - drove the Poles out of Moscow. In 1613 a zemskii sobor chose the boyar Mikhail Romanov as tsar, thus beginning 300 years of Romanov rule.

For over a decade, Muscovy was in chaos, but the institution of autocracy remained intact. Despite the tsar's persecution of the boyars, the dissatisfaction of the townspeople, and the gradual enserfment of the peasantry, efforts at restricting the tsar were only halfhearted. Finding no institutional alternative to autocracy, the discontented rallied behind various pretenders. During this period, politics consisted of gaining influence over an autocrat or placing one's candidate on the throne. The boyars fought among themselves, the lower classes revolted blindly, and foreign armies occupied the Kremlin in Moscow, prompting many to accept tsarist absolutism and autocracy as necessary to restore unity and order in Muscovy.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:15:43 ZULU