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Gosudarev Dvor (Sovereign's Court)

The truest Russian word for their Emperor is not Tsar, but Gosudar, which rightly means master. The Russian for Head of a State is Gosudar, and Gosudarsrvo means Empire and any Kingdom or Great State.

The end of the fifteenth century is the point at which the "early history" of Russia may fairly be brought to a close. By 1477 the men of Novgorod had never yet called Ivan their Gosudar [Monarch], but only their Gospodin, or Master. Ivan III sent to Novgorod to ask what sort of Gosudarstvo, or monarchy, the citizens desire of him. When the General Assembly hears this a great uproar arises, and the people shout, "It is a lie! Never was there a time when we called the Prince our Gosudar." And they laid hands upon some of the Moscow partisans and put them to death. On January 15, 1478, the city submitted to Ivan's terms. They are that in future he shall govern it despotically, as he governs his own Moscow ; and that its citizens shall no longer enjoy the right of assembling in the Vetche, or possess the great bell which used to summon them to that assembly.

By the end of the first half of the fifteenth century two salient political factors emerged at Moscow: a wealthy Grand Duke, who owns all the land, the sole means of maintenance, and a poor and numerous aristocracy composed partly of the old Druzhina of boyars, no longer nomadic but attached to the Court, and partly of immigrant knyazes, or princes, descendants of Rurik, or Gedemin, but now nothing more than needy competitors with the boyars. The boyars and the knyazes were the dependants of the Grand Duke in the most literal sense of the word.

The Tsar transacted business at Court, with his chief servants who had the inestimable privilege of "beholding his bright eyes," to use the semi-oriental Court jargon of the period. Early every morning the gentry and nobility of old Moscovy were obliged to assemble at Court, the old men coming in carriages or sledges, according to the time of year, the young men on horseback. Everyone dismounted some little distance from the Tsarish Court, and approached the krasnoe kruil'tso, or "red staircase," leading from the great square na verkh, or "upstairs," to the innermost apartments of the Tsar. But only a select few had the right to go so far and so high. The less important molodine, or "young people," [Young in rank, not in age] remained at the foot of the staircase awaiting commands from "upstairs." Among these are to be noticed some of the five hundred stolniki, or chamberlains, the children of fathers in high positions but not of the first rank, whose office at Court it is to carry dishes to the Tsar's table on solemn occasions.

They also supplied most of the ordinary envoys to foreign parts, the voivodes, or rulers of towns and provinces, and the members of the prikazes, or public offices. The stolniki were also called ploshchadniki, or "people of the square," in contradistinction to the komnatniki, or "people of the apartments," the children of more illustrious parents who served the Tsar in his private apartments. Along with the stolniki on the staircase, one also find many of the two thousand eight hundred stryapchie, who were employed on less important missions, and the d'yaki and podyachi, "scribes " and "sub-scribes," men of lowly birth but skilled in affairs, and becoming more and more indispensable with the spread of civilisation. The d'yaki and podyachi numbered two thousand at least, and forty of them were constantly in attendance at Court.

Flitting continually up and down the staircase were the zhilt'sui, or gentlemen-ushers, also employed as couriers. All the "young people" [ie, Boyars of less ancient descent] respectfully made way for the boyare, the okolnichie, and the dumnuie d'yaki who do not stop on the staircase, but gravely ascend it on their way to the Tsar's ante-chamber. They represented the three highest grades of Russian officialdom. The word boyar is as old as the Russian language, the dignity existing in the days when the Russian princes were nomadic chieftains, and the boyars their close comrades and trusty counsellors. The okolnichie^ first appeared at a much later date, when a regular Court had become established. They were preeminently courtiers, and acted at first as masters of the ceremonies, introducers of ambassadors, and grand heralds. But at a later day they held no particular office, but simply ranked as the second class of the official hierarchy, the boyars being the first. The third grade was held by those who had not yet attained to the boyartsvo or boyardom, and yet were members of the Tsar's Council, the dumnuie dvoryane, or "nobles of the Council."

Attached to these three first grades were the four dumnuie d'yaki, or clerks of the Council, erroneously identified by many contemporary foreigners with the imperial chancellors elsewhere, because, practically, they conducted the whole business of the Council, and being men of great experience, and relatively learned, were the Tsar's principal advisers, and necessarily enjoyed great influence in a state where the wielders of the sword could not always handle the pen. The dumnuie d'yaki first rose to eminence in the reign of Ivan the Terrible, who, constantly suspicious of the nobles, confided more and more in these astute upstarts, and in course of time they came to be regarded as oracles of statecraft.

But in the Tsar's ante-chamber also there were degrees of privilege and precedence. Thus the blizhnie boyare, or "near boyars," stood a little closer to the door of the komnata, or "bedchamber," than the other boyars, awaiting a favourable opportunity of entry-a privilege denied to the rest, who had to remain outside. But at last the outsiders also received the reward of their patience. The doors of the bedchamber were thrown open and the Tsar entered and sat down in a large armchair in the peredny ugol, or "chief corner," where the lamps burned before the holy ikons, whereupon all present did obeisance to the ground.

The Tsar then beckoned to those with whom he would take counsel, any absentees being summoned to his presence forthwith, and severely rebuked for their want of respect. Those whom the Tsar did not honor with his conversation drew discreetly aside while he talked with their more favoured brethren. Then other boyars came forward and prostrated themselves to the ground before the Tsar. These were petitioners begging leave to attend christenings, marriages, or other family feasts at their country-houses. In all such cases the Tsar carefully inquired after the health of the boyar and every member of his family, and gifts were exchanged between them, the Gosudar being regarded not merely as the master, but also as the father of his people.

The reception over, the Tsar dined in state with his whole Court, and after the usual siesta, the rest of the afternoon was devoted to business, each of the prikazui, or public offices, having its allotted day. Business of unusual importance was transacted in a general assembly of all the boyars, called " The Session of the Great Gosudar and his Boyars," the boyars sitting at a little distance from the Tsar on rows of benches according to rank, first the boyars, then the okol'nichie and then the dumnuie dvoryane, while the dumnuie d'yaki, really the most important people there, remained standing unless the Tsar bade them be seated.

The Tsar opened the session by asking the opinions of the boyars, but many of them, as a contemporary chronicler quaintly tells us, only "stroked their beards and answered not a word, inasmuch as the Tsar graciously makes many to be boyars not because of their learning, but because of their high birth, wherefore many boyars are ignorant of letters." On very urgent occasions, such as the beginning of a war when extraordinary subsidies were required, sovyetnuie lyudi, or "national councils," consisting of representatives of all classes, including the merchants and artificers, were held under the presidency of the Tsar, that they might assess their own burdens and thus have no excuse for subsequent complaint. During the troublous and disastrous seventeenth century, the liberality of these extraordinary popular assemblies had to be appealed to pretty frequently.

What strikes one most about the prikazui is their primitive, haphazard, character. In this respect, however, they were true Moscovite institutions, for everything in old Moscovy was more or less casual and patriarchal. No new thing was ever accepted there unless its rejection threatened instant disaster, and tradition, even in the middle of the seventeenth century, was in some matters a greater autocrat than the Tsar himself.

What was this system ? This was long a problem, a subject of debate among Russian historians, the majority affirming that the Middle Ages of Russia could not even be compared with the feudal Middle Ages of Europe. Eager to prove that nothing in Russian history resembled the history of other nations, they denied the existence of feudalism in Russia. " They even sought to impose upon more than a generation of readers a celebrated conception which became classic : the contrast between rocky Europe, divided by seas, every corner of which gave refuge to some ' feudal brigand' who obstinately opposed all attempts at centralization, and Russia, with her level surface, innocent alike of castles, seas, and mountains, and destined by Nature to form only one great State."

When an attentive examination was made of the historic material available, it became obvious that the "contrast" between the Russian Middle Ages and the Middle Ages of Europe was only relative. The first part of the " Muscovite period" was the age of Russian feudalism, presenting a close analogy with the feudal system of Western Europe, for all the characteristic features of the latter may be traced in the Russian life of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries.



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