Russia During the Period of Troubles

As the Swedes and Poles became more and more threatening, the struggle within the country flared up between the old nobility and the opri č niki, former praetorians of the late Tsar, who had become a veritable caste.

Theodore succeeded to the throne of his father, but showed from the beginning the inability to rule. It was the brother of his wife, Boris Godunov, who became the de facto master. Tied originally the interests of opri is niki, poorly educated, it did not fail, however, considerable ingenuity. He tried to maintain good relations with Poland, so as not to be forced to fight against too many enemies at the same time; internally he tried to re-establish a certain legality. Under him, the Metropolitan of Moscow was appointed patriarch, an appointment that contributed to giving a great spiritual value to the capital of Russia.

Little Demetrius and his mother lived in a kind of exile in Uglič. The sudden death of the child gave rise to the rumor that Boris Godunov had had him killed in order to get rid of obstacles in the way to the throne. A few years later (January 6, 1598), the last descendant of Rjurik, Tsar Theodore, died. Boris Godunov was then appointed Tsar and he had the political ability to be pleaded for a long time, so that the voices accusing him of being the murderer of little Demetrius, and therefore aspiring to the throne, would be silenced. But once Tsar, Boris took a decidedly autocratic attitude, asking everyone for servile obedience.

The wars, the internal struggles, the famines that had long ago torn Russia apart had as a consequence the formation of large bands of rebel peasants, especially in the south, who attacked the possessions of the rich boyars and of the rich merchants. The social struggle in Russia becomes more acute and takes on curious and complex aspects. The peasant masses in revolt will follow adventurers who to legalize their position and gain influence over other classes will present themselves as “Demetrius who miraculously escaped death” and therefore rightfully authentic sovereigns of Russia. The low aristocracy, often living in miserable conditions, generally makes common cause with the peasants – while differing in many shades – against the most influential boyars and wealthy merchants. Boyars and traders will try to leverage the urban plebs against the insurgent peasants, but if these plebs sometimes participate in repression and massacres, at other times they tend to join the rebel peasants. And these events are interspersed with the struggles with Poland: the Poles, eager to extend their dominion, will often appear as allies of the peasants and city plebs against Moscow; but they are a dangerous ally for the “popular” forces, because such a heterogeneous alliance could only be temporary. they will often appear as allies of peasants and city plebs against Moscow; but they are a dangerous ally for the “popular” forces, because such a heterogeneous alliance could only be temporary. they will often appear as allies of peasants and city plebs against Moscow; but they are a dangerous ally for the “popular” forces, because such a heterogeneous alliance could only be temporary.

Thus it is explained that the two Russian camps in struggle, the conservative and the revolutionary, sought agreements and compromises between themselves against the Polish invader. But even independently of Poland, a part of the aristocracy supporting the “conservative” regime seeks contacts with the more moderate wing of the insurgents, made up of the lower nobility. This, in a nutshell, is the very intricate situation of Russia in that era in which blood flows in torrents and devastation follows one another.

In 1604, in Poland, with the support of the Polish court, he talks about a man who introduces himself as Demetrius who escaped death. This “descendant of Rjurik”, relying on the Cossacks and the peasant gangs in rebellion, manages to triumphantly enter Moscow. The circumstance of the sudden death of Boris (1605) also helped him.

Despite the vast mass base he initially possessed, Demetrius reigned only from June 1605 to May 1606. He made the mistake of not respecting traditions and customs to which the Muscovites were very attached and surrounding himself with too many Poles: the boyars, whose political and economic position had weakened, as well as the remaining “conservative” forces then had a good game in taking revenge against the “ally of foreigners”. Demetrius was killed in his bed by an armed gang organized by Prince Basilio Sujskij; several Poles of his entourage were also slaughtered.

Tsar Basilio Sujskij (Basil IV), despite his personal despotic tendencies, was the tsar of boyars and wealthy merchants. Soon a rebellion began against him not only of peasants and servants, but also of small owners and low nobility who made common cause with the peasant masses. In 1608 a new false Demetrius appeared in the south of Russia, who, accentuating the socially revolutionary aspect of his program, supported for other reasons by the Poles, advanced towards Moscow, settling in the village of Tušino a few kilometers from the capital. Vast masses of people looked with hope to the false Demetrius, while boyars and merchants gave him the name of “Thief of Tušino”.

Russia During the Period of Troubles