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RUSSIA. (1462—1682.)


It is the purpose of this chapter to trace in brief outline the history of the Muscovite State during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, to sketch the political and social circumstances of the Russia which Peter the Great reshaped, and to indicate the preparatory conditions without which his radical changes would not have been feasible. It is an error to suppose that the history of contemporary Russia can be understood by a survey which begins with Peter the Great. His reign marks the opening of a new era. But the abiding features which have differentiated Russia from the other States of Europe, some of the deeper tendencies of her domestic government as well as of her external policy, the spirit of her institutions as well as the direction of her expansion, were imposed upon her at a much earlier time.

The history of Russia may be divided into five periods. The first begins with the foundation, in the ninth century, of Slavonic States at Kieff and Novgorod organized by “Russian” adventurers from eastern Scandinavia; the second, with the reception of Christianity by Vladimir of Kieff towards the end of the tenth century; the third, with the Tartar conquest in the thirteenth; the fourth, with the reign of Ivan the Great in the latter half of the fifteenth; the fifth, with Peter. This division exhibits some of the determinant influences which guided the course of Russian history. The Scandinavians supplied the first political organization and unity to the eastern Slavs; the conversion to Christianity, and close ecclesiastical connection with the Eastern Empire, introduced the Byzantine features which marked Russian civilization; the significance of the reign of Ivan the Great it will be our task to explain. But this scheme of periods fails to show the event which is the key to the whole later development, the settlement of Moscow in the middle of the twelfth century. When George Dolgoruki in 1147 founded a military colony by the Moscova in the middle of a Finnic population, he unconsciously turned the course of East Slavonic history into a new channel. The significance of the third period lies less in the fact of Tartar domination than in the growth of the Muscovite power in relation to the other Russian principalities.  Asiatic rule exercised a certain influence on Russian civilization—an influence which has sometimes been exaggerated— but its main importance lies in the fact that it contributed indirectly and unintentionally to the aggrandizement of the princes of Moscow. The aim of these princes was to gather all the Russian territories under their rule and make Moscow the capital, her prince the monarch, of Russia. In their struggles for this end, steadily pursued and finally achieved, their success at decisive moments was constantly due to their skill or fortune in gaining the support of their Tartar suzerains.

This shifting of the centre of political gravity from Kieff far north­eastward to Moscow, was to impose a new rôle upon Russia and give the decisive direction to her history. It brought into play geographical influences to which her fortune and her misfortunes may be imputed. If the centre had remained at Kieff, there would not have been the same stringent necessity for the efforts of indefinite expansion; there need have been no divorce or protracted alienation from the rest of Europe; and there might have been no defeat of the growth of constitutional freedom. But for a State centred at Moscow endless expansion, ultimately into northern Asia, was an unavoidable consequence of its geographical situation in a land where there were no natural frontiers.  Its great distance from the borders of the nearest western States was, as much as the circumstance of Tartar supremacy, a cause of the long isolation of Russia in regard to western Europe. And its origin as a military colony, insulated amidst an alien population, determined from the first the military character and spirit of its government. In other Slavonic States there was no tendency to absolutism; the spirit was rather republican. But at Moscow circumstances imposed a military organization which fostered the power of the princes.. And, as Moscow extended its rule over other Russian principalities and towns, this principle was ruthlessly applied. When Pakoff and Novgorod, and other cities, in which there had been a constitutional civic development, were brought under Muscovite sway, the civic element had to make way for a military organization. The geographical position of Moscow determined the current of Russian history.

Ivan III (1462-1505), Great Prince of Moscow, deserves his title of Great, if the appellation be interpreted in the sense that his reign marks a new epoch. He brought to virtual completion, leaving to his suc­cessors only the task of rounding off his work, the two chief enterprises which had engaged the energies of his predecessors—the emancipation of Russia from the slackening yoke of the Tartars, and the gathering of Russian territory under the wing of Moscow. He helped to extend r Russian power over enormous tracts, inhabited by barbarous tribes, in the north and north-east, and he laid the systematic foundations of imperial autocracy. A typical Muscovite ruler, embodying all the unattractive qualities which helped the upward progress of the sovereigns of Muscovy, a profound dissembler, unscrupulous in breaking his word, trusting in tortuous and patient diplomacy, of which he was an accomplished master, rather than in arms, wanting in personal courage, unfalteringly cruel, exempt from the influences of affection and passion, he presents many points of resemblance with his contemporary Louis XI.

A military monarch would have seen in the condition of the Tartars an opportunity for a decisive struggle. If the great Mongol conqueror Timur postponed the fall of the Eastern Empire by the blow which he dealt to the Ottoman Turks, it may be said that he hastened the rise of Russia by his destruction of the empire of the Tartar khans. On the ruins of that empire several smaller States arose, Kazan, Astrakhan, the Crimea, all of them weak through mutual dissensions. The general policy of Ivan was to foment the divisions, to refuse tribute, but occasionally to send presents, and to remain on the defensive. Cultivating the friendship of the Khans of Crimea he bided his time for attacking the Tsar of Kazan, whose dominion corresponded to the old realm of Black Bulgaria. In 1487 he captured Kazan and its ruler, but he refrained from annexing it; taking himself the title “Prince of Bulgaria,” he gave the throne to a nephew of the Khan of Crimea. The reign of Ivan marks the final emancipation of Russia from Asiatic lordship; the Tartars were still troublesome and dangerous neighbors, they were no longer in any form masters. The annexation of Kazan was effected by his grandson Ivan IV (1552); that of Astrakhan followed (1554); Crimea was to pass under Ottoman sovereignty before it was finally won for Russia in the reign of Catharine II.

The predecessors of Ivan had made it their aim, as we have said, to lay hands upon the neighbouring Russian principalities; but they had largely strewn with the left hand what the right hand had gathered, by adopting the policy of assigning appanages to their sons. Ivan discarded this principle, and so consolidated the unity of the State, which he almost doubled in territory by his new annexations. He reduced under his direct sway Tver and Novgorod the Great in the north-west, Viatka in the north-east, Chemigoff in the far south-west, as well as Yaroslavl and Rostoff in the north. His son Vasili completed the extension by winning Pskoff, Smolensk, Novgorod-Sieverski, and Riazan. Of these events, each an important step in the advance of Moscow, a particular interest is attached to the acquisitions of Novgorod the Great and Pskoff. The suppression of these two republics (as well as of the remote and less important republic of Viatka) removed the examples of popular freedom which still survived in the Russian world. The citizens of these States managed their affairs in the veche, or popular assembly, to which they were summoned by the bell in the market-place. They were the only places in Russia which bore any resemblance, in spirit and in well-being, to the prosperous towns of western Europe. Novgorod was a factory of the Hanseatic league and a resort of German merchants. Ivan suppressed its veche and removed the bell (1478). He transported large masses of the citizens to distant places, and planted Muscovites in the city which he appropriated; his son pursued the same policy at Pskoff. It might be thought that the new ruler would have carefully fostered the foreign trade which had made the fortune of Novgorod; but with curious improvidence he put an end to, it. He arrested the merchants (1495), and enriched his treasury for the moment with the plunder of their stores.

The occupations of Novgorod and Pskoff, beyond their importance as steps in unification, have a high significance as marking the elimination of a social element which might have modified the development of autocracy. The absence of free cities, which played so beneficent a part in the evolution of western countries, is a fact of fatal import in Russian history. 

The acquisitions of Chemigoff and Smolensk have a different significance, involving the relations of Moscow to its western rival, the double State of Lithuania and Poland. The national unity of the Lithuanian tribes had been brought about in the thirteenth century, and in the fourteenth heathen Lithuania became a great political power under the able leadership of Gedimin, who not only maintained a successful struggle, in the north against the German Knights of Livonia, but created an extensive State by conquering Russian territory. It extended far southward, including even Kieff; and Vilna, Gedimin’s capital, was the political peer of Moscow. Western Russia was grouped round Vilna, eastern round Moscow, and the question was whether the separation would be permanent or either would annex the other. The situation was complicated by the hostility of Poland, which was endangered by the southward expansion of Lithuania; and a new turn was given to the course of events, when on the death of a king of Poland without male children (1386) the Poles terminated the strife by marrying his daughter to the Lithuanian prince Jagello. This was the origin of the Lithuanian dynasty of Poland, the line of Jagello, which was extinguished towards the close of the sixteenth century. Jagello adopted Christianity in the Roman form, and converted his heathen fellow-countrymen by compulsion; but he offended them by transferring his residence from Vilna to the Polish capital Cracow. The union was purely personal; it was very soon interrupted; and during the following century the two States were sometimes under the same rule, at others under different princes. From 1501 they were united, but the union remained personal; the Grand Principality of Lithuania was distinct from the kingdom of Poland. At last in 1569 they were more closely and permanently joined together by the Union of Lublin, of which more will be said.

To recover the Russian principalities which Lithuania had conquered was an important item in the Muscovite programme of gathering together Russian territory. Nor was any part of that programme so popular in Muscovy; for it appealed to religious sentiment; it meant the winning back into the sphere of the Orthodox Church regions which had fallen under the pernicious influence of a heretical State. Nowhere more conspicuously than in this field of his work did Ivan display his consummate, unscrupulous dexterity. He defeated Lithuania all along the line, and yet avoided all but a very brief war till the later years of his reign. Here his friends, the Tartars of Crimea, did him good service. They invaded Lithuania and held it in check, while Ivan was dealing with the hostile Tartars in the east; and, when the Lithuanian war came, the friendly khan kept the hostile khans in check. On the other hand, Ivan pursued his end with eminent success by his intrigues with the vassal or “serving” princes, who under the lordship of Lithuania governed the lands which it was his object to acquire. The condition on which these princes held their possessions was that they submitted to the Great Prince in all matters of foreign policy, while in return he protected and maintained them in their principalities. If the Lithuanian Prince failed to observe his part of the obligation, the vassals considered themselves free to attach themselves to another protector. Here was the place where the diplomatist of Moscow could insert a lever. The princes were always at feud among themselves; and, by intervening at opportune moments and promising support to one or to another, Ivan succeeded in inducing prince after prince to accept his protection and in detaching district after district from the sway of Lithuania. Two stages in his westward advance may be marked. After a short war the river Desna was fixed as the boundary (1484), and peace sealed by the marriage of the Great Prince Alexander with Ivan’s daughter. But the use of this alliance was in Ivan’s design to supply new handles against his rival, in the shape of complaints that, contrary to express stipulation, attempts were being made to tamper with his daughter’s faith. A new war broke out; the most important of the vassals, including the Prince of Chernigoff, deserted to Ivan; and Lithuania was only rescued from hopeless defeat by the aid of the Knights of Livonia. A precarious peace was procured in 1503 which fixed the boundary at the river Sozh. The struggle continued under Ivan’s successor Vasili, whose principal achievement was the capture of Smolensk where the artillery which Ivan had introduced in Russia played a decisive part. At Vasili’s death the Muscovite empire reached from Chemigoff to the White Sea, from the borders of Livonia to the river Kama.

The transference of the centre of the Russian world to Moscow had, along with the political dependence on Asia, brought about a separation and alienation from the rest of Europe. From the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, it may be said, she had her back turned to Europe, her face to Asia, and was a terra incognita to western Europeans. Hence the foreign travellers and merchants who visited Muscovy in the sixteenth century describe it as a newly discovered land, and it is not untrue to say that one of the features of the history of Russia in, that period was its rediscovery by the West. Here too Ivan’s reign marks an epoch. He entered into relation with some European Courts; embassies were exchanged with Venice, the Roman Curia, Denmark, the Empire, and Hungary. He was ready in certain ways to . learn something from the West and move in the direction of its progress, as for instance in the introduction of artillery. He invited Italians to his Court. The brilliant engineer and architect, Fioravanti degli Alberti, (Aristotle of Bologna), busied himself at Moscow in the Great Prince’s service; Pietro Antonio Solari of Milan built the palace of the Kremlin. These and a few other swallows of the Renaissance did not make a spring; their fine intelligences produced no lasting, nor perhaps any fleeting, impression on the Russian spirit; but, they belong to the signs which mark the beginning of a new period of slow, hardly perceptible advance, which is to prepare the way for Peter the Great. Foreign physicians were also attracted to Moscow; but their calling was hazardous at an ignorant and barbarous Court; a Jewish doctor was beheaded for having failed to cure Ivan’s son.

The most memorable result of this monarch’s relations with the outside world was his marriage with a lady of the Imperial family of the Palaiologoi. Zoe (called Sophia after her marriage) was a niece of Constantine Palaiologos, the last Roman Emperor. Her father Thomas, driven from Greece, had betaken himself to Rome where he died, and the Popes acted as guardians of his children. The idea of uniting Sophia to the Great Prince of Moscow seems to have been first suggested by Cardinal Bessarion, one of the most zealous promoters of the transitory union of the Greek and Latin Churches at the Council of Florence. It was gladly accepted by the Pope. Two objects of the papal policy, then and for a long time to come, were the reunion of the Churches and the expulsion of the Turks from Europe. The suggested marriage seemed to offer the chance not only of compassing the desired reunion of the Greek Church with Rome, through a princess who at Rome had come under Latin influence, but also of stimulating the ruler of Moscow to join in a crusade against the Muslims. Ivan accepted the proposal, though without the smallest intention of gratifying the desire of Rome. For the present, an attack on Turkey lay entirely outside the range of policy of a cautious Muscovite sovereign. But a marriage with a princess of the Imperial House of Constantinople seemed calculated to augment the Great Prince’s prestige. This, and this alone, was Ivan’s motive; this, and this alone, was the result of the alliance.

For the greater part of what is commonly alleged as to important consequences, practical and theoretical, arising out of the marriage with Sophia (1472) is based on misconceptions. It has been asserted that her influence incited Ivan to renounce the yoke of the Tartars and imbued him with a new ideal of Russian unity and Russian Imperial dignity. There is no evidence for this belief; emancipation from the Tartars and unification of Russia were aims which had been bequeathed from Ivan’s predecessors; and it is inconsistent with all that we know of the ruler to suppose that his wife played the role of a political initiator. It has also been supposed that by virtue of this alliance Ivan claimed to be the heir of the Caesars, and therefore assumed the title of Tsar. It has been even held that his claim had a more formal basis, Sophia’s brother Andrew Palaiologos having actually transferred to him the rights to the Imperial succession—the same rights which that prince made over to Charles VIII and bequeathed to Ferdinand of Spain. The fact that the sovereigns of Moscow never appealed to such a transference proves that no such act was ever executed. The coronation ceremony of the Great Princes does not show that they set up to be Augusti; it shows the reverse. It is distinct from the coronation ceremony, of the East Roman Augustus; it resembles the coronation ceremony of the East Roman Caesar. In using the title of Tsar (Tsesar=Caesar) Ivan meant simply to declare his independence; it was not in his thoughts to usurp the title of Caesar Augustus; and, if he had contemplated such a claim, Tsar would have failed to express the idea. For Caesar was a title which the Emperors regularly conferred on barbarian princes whom they desired to honor or conciliate; and the Russians did not restrict Tsar to the designation of the Emperor, they applied it more widely, as for instance to some of the Tartar khans. And it is significant that Ivan adopted this style only in his intercourse with some foreign Courts; Tsar did not become the formal and proper title of the Great Prince till the coronation of his grandson Ivan IV.

Yet the union with Sophia may be said to have a symbolical significance, in connection with a theory which became current during the reign of Ivan’s son and successor. According to this theory, formulated by Philothei, a monk of Pskoff, Russia as the protectress of Orthodoxy was the heiress of the Eastern Empire, Moscow the successor of Constantinople. For through her iniquitous compromise with the Latins at the Council of Florence, Byzantium had forfeited her claim to the headship of the Greek Church; Moscow must step into her place as the third, and the last, Rome. The Church which had looked to the, Emperors to protect her against Gentiles and heretics must now look to the Great Princes. This idea was illustrated and reinforced by a legend which was officially adopted. When Vladimir the Saint was converted to Christianity and married their sister Anna (989), the Emperors Basil II and Constantine VIII sent him royal insignia, in accordance with the Byzantine custom of bestowing insignia on client princes. This fact is the, historical motif of the legend that Constantine IX Monomakhos sent the emblems of sovereignty to Vladimir Monomakhos and caused him to be crowned at Kieff. The story, mentioned in the official coronation acts of Ivan IV and the subsequent Tsars, including Peter the Great, involves a double confusion of two Vladimirs and two Constantines, evidently due to the idea of bringing into connection the Russian and the Byzantine Monomakhos, in spite of the fact that the later Vladimir was born only three years before the later Constantine died (1054). Among the insignia of the Great Duke was a crown, still preserved, known as the “hat” of Constantine Monomakhos; but it cannot claim to be the original crown received by Vladimir the Saint, for it is not Byzantine work or of such an early period. Another legend, that a white tiara, given by Constantine the Great to Pope Silvester, had been carried for safety’s sake! from Rome to New Rome, and thence for the same reason to Novgorod, symbolized the idea, which events justified, that the place which had been filled by the Church-state of Byzantium, in the Orthodox world, was now to be filled by Moscow. The foundation of the Moscow Patriarchate towards the end of the sixteenth century was an expression of this idea.

The growth of autocracy was favored by the Tartar sway, which contributed to the decline of the veche or parliament. The election of the prince was one of the chief functions of the veche, and when the Tartar overlords took the appointments into their own hands its decline began. It is significant that the States in which the veche survived. Novgorod and Pskoff, were geographically furthest removed from Tartar control. But it was more important that the princes of the new States in central Russia, like Moscow, were soon able to dispense with a parliament, because they did not need the people for military service. Territorial conquest enabled them to allot land in return for military service, and thus they had a regular army at their disposal, without calling upon the host of freemen to follow them. The Russian army consisted of cavalry, but by the middle of the sixteenth century Moscow had also a body of infantry, the strieltsy (arquebusiers).

The authority of Ivan’s predecessors was thus not limited by a popular assembly, but it was checked by another institution, the Duma of boiars or nobles. The name Duma connotes thinking; it was a deliberative body, like the Greek Bulê and the German Rath, which have a similar meaning. This Council consisted of men who held high posts in the administration and the army. The boiars formed the highest order in that class of society which was designated as the “men of service,” a name characteristic of the growth of despotism. In the law Code drawn up by Ivan (1497) the only class distinction recognized is between the serving and the not-serving folk. But there were conditions attached which gave the servant a real independence in regard to his employer. When he accepted a post under a prince, it was understood that he was free to leave his service whenever he chose, and enter that of some other ruler; and a written contract was usually drawn up, in which the conditions of service, binding on both parties, were stated. This system limited effectually the prince’s power, and checked the growth of despotic authority. But the territorial growth of Moscow, and the absorption of the surrounding principalities, almost completed in the reign of Ivan, had the effect of counteracting this check, since the men of service had no longer a multitude of other States, into which they could easily migrate when the Prince of Moscow displeased them. In the sixteenth century the only resort of the discontented was to leave Russia altogether and find refuge in Poland or Lithuania. Thus the unification, of Russia, by doing away with the migratory system, removed a palladium of freedom, and permitted the establishment of a strong monarchical government. Ivan the Great could act more independently of his Duma and impress his will upon it with more masterful authority But it remained a body which could assert itself in certain conditions, as in the case of a weak ruler or a minority. But when the Tsar was strong he had everything in his hands; and we may say that as an institution the Council had little restraining power. It met only when he chose, and no one had any right to be summoned; the master could call as many or as few of his servants as he chose. He had to consult and take into account the men who had to carry out his will; but that is simply a practical limitation to which every monarch, however constitutionally unchecked, is subject. The most unfettered autocrat is limited both by the consideration of public opinion and by the instruments which he has to employ. Like the Senate of Eastern Rome, the Duma can hardly be viewed as a constitutional check; it was a check because it consisted of the Tsar’s instruments.

On the other hand, the boiars—among whom the old princely families which had been submitted to the power of Moscow occupied the highest position—held that they had an indefeasible right to share jin the administration and fill the highest posts; and this claim was recognized in a form which amounted to a constitutional limitation of the Great Prince’s power. In the records of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries we constantly meet the question of Precedence (miestnichestvo). We hear continually of disputes among the nobles, and complaints concerning what may seem trifling points of etiquette; and the stress laid on such matters would strike the uninitiated reader as characteristic of their narrow minds and their petty life. But more was involved in the system of Precedence than might appear on the surface. It was the palladium of the noble class, and constituted a check on the autocrat. It asserted the right of each member of the nobility, and of the men of service in general, to a place in the public service, assigned according to two principles: that no man could be appointed to a post inferior to that which his ancestors had held, and that no man could be asked to accept a post of lower rank than that of a man who had a shorter ancestral line than himself. These principles were in themselves ridiculous and injurious to society; yet they were a privilege which guaranteed to the higher classes their political position. The system was worked and disputes decided by means of the Books of Rank (razriadnyia knigi), preserved in a special bureau which dealt with Precedence. It has been suggested that, in clinging tenaciously to this privilege, for which they were ready to defy the severest punishment, the motive of the nobles was perhaps less a conviction of its political importance than a sentiment of piety to the memory of their ancestors, a survival of days when the family was everything. It still counted for much, and this quasi-religious sentiment was a potent sanction of the system, and enabled it to survive. In time of war, Precedence was especially pernicious; disputes among the commanders led to defeat. Thus we find the Tsars, on the eve of campaigns, decreeing that while the army was in the field there must be a truce to such quarrels. It was not till the last quarter of the seventeenth century, in the reign of Theodore son of Alexis, that the system was finally abolished, and the Books of Rank were burned. It is to be observed that Precedence, in one way a check on the sovereign’s power, in another way aided the growth of his autocracy; for it maintained divisions among the boiars and hindered the growth of a feeling of class unity solid enough to act effectively against his despotism.

The services of Ivan the Great to his country are summed up in the statement that he created a strong monarchy. He established lines of development and political order which saved Russia from ever becoming what her neighbor Poland became, where the liberty of the nobles was to give Europe an illustration of legalized anarchy. The misfortune of Russia was that no safeguards were imposed to prevent the change of the strong monarchy into an absolute autocracy. It would be absurd to impute the blame to the Tsars, who naturally sought to augment their own power, which, as a matter of fact, was the only organ of social order. The development of autocracy depended on the circumstance that the other elements in the State, the nobles and the people, had no organization capable of legally resisting the monarch and effecting a constitutional balance. In other countries, kings, in establishing their own supremacy and reducing the independence of feudal nobles, had favored and promoted popular institutions that were afterwards to become a check upon the royal power. But in Russia the old popular institutions had been swept away. In other countries, the nobles had a position independent of the monarch, and were capable of combining together, if the monarch sought to encroach too far upon their privileges. But in Russia they had no sufficiently strong sense of common interest to ensure successful' cooperation; the only bond of unity was the common service of the monarch himself. The very rights of Precedence, which they prized so highly, only emphasized their dependence on the master who allotted the posts which they disputed. Thus they were not in a position to extort a charter of liberties. The latter half of the sixteenth century is marked indeed, as we shall see, by a struggle between the Tsar and the boiars; but it was not a struggle for constitutionalism. It may even be said that the only measures which might have issued in a constitutional government were initiated by the monarch.

The one institution which might have seemed likely to exercise some control on the monarchy was the Church. Its possessions arid privileges had been left intact by the policy of the Tartar khans, and in the days when Russia was a complex of numerous Separate States it was the representative and mouthpiece of Russian unity, though it never sought to incite resistance to the Tartar rule. Its independence was largely secured by the fact that the Metropolitan owed ecclesiastical allegiance to a power outside Russia, the Patriarch of Constantinople. It was an important step in the upward rise of Moscow when, in the first half of the fourteenth century, the Metropolitan established his residence there. The Metropolitan always supported the unification of the land and the abolition of the independent principalities. The breach of the Russian with the Greek Church in the fifteenth century, in consequence of the efforts at reunion with Rome, reacted upon the position of the Metropolitans, who had no longer a support in the Patriarch, and led to the dependence of the Church on the secular power. The line between Church and State affairs tended to become obliterated; ecclesiastical matters were discussed at the Councils of the monarch; ecclesiastics were summoned to attend, and thus became enrolled in the common “service” of the State; the Church became part of the machine, just as religion had been a State department in the Eastern Empire.


1462-1547] The Church.—Vasili III.


The reign of Vasili III (1505-33) is an appendix to that of his father, continuing his work, increasing Muscovite territory and maintaining some relations with European Courts. Herberstein, as ambassador of the Emperor Maximilian, visited Moscow in 1517 and 1523, and wrote his famous description of Russia, which created a considerable sensation in the West. Vasili married Helen Glinskaia, a Lithuanian refugee, who after his death maintained her position, as regent for her infant son Ivan, amidst great difficulties, for five years. She died in 1538; and Russia, without a head, was exposed during the following years to the anarchical and tyrannous rule of the boiars. Two princely families and their factions, the Shuiskis and the Bielskis, disputed the power. Ivan IV was neglected, or encouraged in cruel sports and debauchery. He asserted himself in 1543 by the murder of Andrew Shuiski, and he always looked back with intense bitterness on his treatment as a child. He was crowned in 1547, with the title of Tsar, having already shown that he was determined to be master. The details of his reign form a curious and repulsive chronicle; and his eccentric character has been a fascinating psychological study for Russian historians. His vices and atrocities are written large in the annals of his government; but his ability and originality are no less undeniable, and no judgment would be wider of the mark, than, to regard his reign as devoid of significance except as illustrating how great enormities might be perpetrated by a tyrant in Moscovia. In the West he will always be known as Ivan the Terrible; but the epithet is misleading; for the Russian word which it translates means “to be feared” in the sense in which we are bidden to fear God, as a stem master, not as an ogre. In cruelty he outdid his predecessors; but it is hardly for western Europe, which had seen for instance the treatment of Liege by Charles the Bold, and witnessed in Ivan’s days the exploits of Spanish rule in the Netherlands and the tortures of the Inquisition, to exclaim at the spectacular massacre which he conducted at Novgorod and at his other outrageous cruelties, as if they had set Russia beyond the pale of civilized humanity. 

The significance of this wonderful reign lies much deeper. Two fundamental discords in the structure of the State produced a complex crisis in the middle of the sixteenth century, which caused not only the eccentric policy of Ivan but the troubles in which the realm was involved for a generation after his death. On the one hand, there was the political contradiction between the autocratic power which in its absolute claim required a complete democratic levelling of all its subjects, and the necessity under which it lay of administering the State by an aristocratic class which asserted hereditary rights to participation in the government, while it admitted the autocratic principle. On the other hand, there was the social anomaly that, for the sake of the military needs of the Empire, since the wealth of Russia consisted entirely in land, the interests of the productive agricultural classes had been sacrificed to the interests of the class of service. Peasant owners were dispossessed, lands were seized, to supply fiefs for this class. But the constant wars laid weighty burdens on the men of service and the proprietors of land, whether allods or fiefs, and they were forced to press heavily upon their tenants; the consequence was that these tenants gave up their farms and sought new lands elsewhere, especially on the monastic estates, as the monasteries were the capitalists of the age and were reputed to be easier masters. The lands of boiars and of the whole class of service were thus left without a sufficiency of labour, while the public burdens weighed no less heavily than before. The gravity of the situation was reflected in curious pamphlets which appeared, urging on one side the confiscation of ecclesiastical property—-an idea which had already floated before the minds of the sovrans—and on the other the abolition of the whole system of military fiefs. The second proposal was impossible in view of the necessities of the State. The first was discussed at a Council which, in 1551, deliberated on ecclesiastical questions and drew up its acts in a Hundred Chapters (the Sto-glav). The influence of the Church, which was largely represented, hindered any radical measure; but it was ordained that all allodial lands which the boiars had made over to the Church without the sovereign’s consent should be restored, that all gifts to it made during Ivan’s minority should be cancelled, and that in future the monasteries should not acquire certain kinds of estate without Imperial consent. Thus a limit was set to the growth of ecclesiastical property.

The economic trouble was far more deeply seated and serious than the political; but it was the political problem which absorbed Ivan’s attention, though his solution of it involved important consequences for the other also.

At a Council held in 1550 the young Tsar gave open expression to his hostile feelings towards the boiars, whose regime during his minority had been injurious to himself and calamitous for the State. In the same year he took the first step in a course of policy which was directed towards breaking down the influence of the great nobles. A thousand “boiar children” (this was the technical name for a class among the men of service who did not belong to the boiars, but were of noble descent) were brought from different parts of Russia to the central regions around Moscow, where fiefs were provided for them, and, along with the ancient aristocratic families of the province, they were constituted in three grades as a nobility of service. The aim was to level down the old nobility by merging it in a new; but Ivan did not venture to abolish the principle of Precedence.

For some years Ivan allowed himself to be guided by the counsels of two favorites, the monk Silvester and Alexis Adasheff, whom he deemed independent of the influence of the boiars. But these advisers lost his intimate confidence in 1553; he suspected that their sympathies were with the boiars and adverse to his own political designs; and the evidence of Prince Kurbski, who was a violent exponent of the aristocratic opposition to the Tsar, shows that he was right. , Some years later they were disgraced. Their influence may have postponed the struggle which began after their fall; but historians have ascribed to them an exaggerated significance, and somewhat naively glorified them as good geniuses of Ivan, whose natural wickedness burst out when their salutary restraint was removed.

Apart from his own autocratic instincts, Ivan was convinced that the rule of the boiars, coordinate with or limiting his authority, meant political confusion, social anarchy, and civil war; and that autocracy was the sole foundation of order. He began a struggle, which was to issue in the destruction of the princely nobility, by comparatively mild measures, disgracing those whom he suspected, and exacting an oath from the rest to have no communications with the “traitors.” When he discovered that such communications were carried on he proceeded to more drastic acts of persecution, which caused many boiars to seek refuge in Poland; these flights evoked more tyrannical measures; and a reign of terror ensued. Notable among the princes who fled to Poland was Kurbski, because he gave verbal expression to the grievances of his order. His correspondence with the Emperor—for Ivan who was fond of argument condescended to enter into controversy—does not fathom the depth of the political situation, but portrays vividly the intensity of the hostility between the Tsar and the class on whom the administration of the State had depended.


The Oprichnina.


Ivan at last invented a curious solution of the political problem, and proceeded to carry his design into execution in 1564. His solution was the notorious Oprichnina. Few people of the time understood his idea; he carefully abstained from explaining it; he invested it with such mystery that it seemed incomprehensible; and he carried it out with such a grotesque mise en scène that history has till recently regarded it as the wild caprice of an irresponsible madman on the throne. But, whatever judgment may be passed on its wisdom, the Oprichnina must be taken seriously, as a deliberate and Carefully thought-out means of adapting the administration to the pretensions of autocracy.

The plan consisted in a division of the administration of the empire into two parts, and the establishment of a new Court, distinct from the old Court of Moscow. The new institution was called the Oprichnina or “Separate Establishment,” over which the Tsar presided, and those who served in it were the Oprichniki. At the beginning large tracts of territory were set apart to maintain it, to the south-west, north-east, and north of Moscow, and during the following six or seven years new regions were continually being included in its sphere, until it embraced the greater part of the central provinces. The rest of the empire remained under the old system, governed by the Council of Boiars, and was distinguished as the Zenishchina. Geographically the lands reserved for the Oprichnina ran, like a wedge, from north to south into the lands of the Zemshchina, which included all the frontier provinces on the west, south, and east. In the central provinces, the lands of the two spheres interlaced each other, and Moscow itself was divided. Such a partition of territory between the sovereign and the Council of Boiars reminds us of the partition of the Roman Empire into Senatorial and Imperial provinces. But the purpose and principle were wholly different. While Augustus assigned to the Senate the more central and pacific lands, and appropriated to his own care all those which were exposed to danger Ivan did exactly the reverse. It is also to be noted that all the chief roads of traffic from Moscow to the frontiers, with the towns that lay on them, were included in the territory of the Oprichnina, which thus commanded the tolls; except the southern roads, where the toll revenue was not great. But the appropriation of the central regions was determined by the political aim which Ivan had in view. Here were the estates of the old princely families and the most powerful boiars. Ivan seized the allodial lands and converted them into feudal; and he assigned to the owners estates, subject to strict conditions of service and taxation, in other parts of the Empire. Whenever the Oprichnina seized lands, either allodial or feudal, the proprietors were uprooted, unless they were themselves enrolled in the Oprichnina. By this means the descendants of the appanaged princes, who were the most formidable members of the opposition, were detached from the places where they had power and influence, and removed to distant regions as simple men of service; while those who had hitherto “served” these princes as their liege-men became the immediate servants of the Tsar. The ancient local aristocracy thus received a crushing blow; and only a few who could convince the Tsar that they were harmless, such as Prince Mstislavski, or who joined the Oprichnina like the Princes Shuiski and Trubetskoi, maintained their positions. Such exceptions did not modify the general result, that men of simple boiar descent now succeeded to the influence of those who based their political claims on their princely origin. Thus Ivan accomplished in a more sweeping way the object which he had foreshadowed in the measure of 1550—the creation of a class of service completely dependent on himself and lacking the traditional rights and position which had formed the strength of the aristocratic resistance. 

The execution of this policy, involving ubiquitous, rapid, and violent changes of ownership, caused a general upturning of society, enormously increasing the confusion and complication of the already complicated and confused relations between proprietors and peasants. Estates with their inhabitants flew from hand to hand, as has been said, “almost with the velocity of bills in a modem exchange.” The peasants replied by flight to the hardships which were entailed upon them. The massive confiscations, violent and sudden, were alone sufficient to create consternation and alarm.; but the administration of the Oprichnina was marked by such terrorism and savage cruelty, and rendered so infamous by the Tsar’s debauches in his den of horrors at Alexandroff, that these accidental accompaniments disguised its deeper significance from contemporaries and made it appear as a measure of police rather than as an instrument of political reform.

The dualism between the Zemshchina, with the Duma, and the Oprichnina, with the Tsar, was not absolute, and it was no part of the Tsar’s intention that they should be antagonistic to each other. The Oprichnina did not stand outside the State. The two administrations were directed to act in concert, and the cleft which ensued was not part of Ivan’s plan, but was due to the way in which it was realized. There was no duplication of bureaux, but each bureau had officials belonging to both administrations. No official acts of the Oprichnma as such are preserved. The Duma always referred foreign questions to the Tsar, and we find the boiars of both spheres consulting together and deciding unanimously on a Lithuanian question. In 1572 the Oprichnina ceased to bear this distinct name, and became simply the Court. Nor can any significance be ascribed to the temporary elevation of Simeon Bekbulatovich, a member of the princely House of the Tartar of Kazan, who was proclaimed Great Prince of Moscow and Tsar of all the Russias in 1575. Ivan’s motive in exhibiting this comedy, which lasted for a few months, is mysterious, if it was more than a caprice: Simeon was a mere puppet; he had no real authority.

The temporary dual system may appear a roundabout and clumsy way for accomplishing the Tsar’s aims; but it is intelligible as a compromise. It was his intention to preserve to the Duma its administrative functions, while he required a perfectly free hand to make and mar without its advice or interference. His plan secured both these ends. By severing himself from the Moscow Council and dividing the administration territorially he was able without constant friction and fear of treachery to carry put his revolutionary policy. When the political power of the old noble families was annihilated and their estates in the central provinces were converted into fiefs held on conditions of service, the use of the double system was over.


The Sobory of Ivan IV. [1550-75


It has been often pretended that, Ivan’s reign witnessed the introduction of parliamentary institutions in a rudimentary form. This view can hardly be upheld. The Sobor, or Assembly, which was convoked at Moscow in 1550 to deliberate on remedies for the terrible condition to which the oppression of the recent boiar régime had reduced the realm, was not of the nature of a Parliament, but rather a body of administrative character. Its importance consisted in the fact that it was composed not merely of the higher officials and boiars who belonged to the Duma, but also of representatives of the administrative class of all grades throughout the Empire. We do not know on what principle they were chosen. The Sobor was in fact no more than an extension extraordinary of the normal Duma. It had however political, though little constitutional, significance; it showed that Ivan did not intend to rely exclusively on the advice of the aristocracy of Moscow; it was a presage of the political tendency of his reign. This Assembly was preliminary to the promulgation of Ivan’s Code, which revived the law-book of his grandfather, and introduced an important change in the civil administration. Justice and police were in the hands of governors, called kormlenchiki because they lived upon the land; and nothing could have been worse than their government. In some places the communes had the nominal right of assisting in the administration of justice through their heads or elders. The rural classes and the people of the provincial towns were organized in communes, presided over by elders or mayors whom they elected at their communal assemblies, and were collectively responsible for the fiscal obligations of their members, the corn-tax and the hearth-tax. These communes may have been originally based on the old' Slavonic mir; but although we find here and there cases of joint ownership of land which is characteristic of the mir, individual and not common ownership is the rule in the communes of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The design of the new legislation was to do away with the Kormlenchiki and substitute judicial authorities elected in the districts; but the condition that the proffered charters of local autonomy could be obtained only by purchase hindered many communes from availing themselves of the reform. This step seemed, in the first instance, to contradict the general policy of centralization which had guided Ivan III; but it was not long before the locally elected magistrates became officers nominated by the central Government, and the growth of serfdom effectually put an end to that of local autonomy which the Code of Ivan IV appeared to have inaugurated

Another Sobor was summoned in 1566 for the special purpose of considering the relations of Russia with Poland. Besides boiars, functionaries of various grades, and ecclesiastics, there attended a number of merchants of Moscow and Smolensk, evidently invited on account of their special knowledge relating to the commerce between the two countries. There was no popular representation, and this Sobor has not more claim than the first to constitutional significance.


Russia and Poland. Siberia. [1558-82


While Ivan was engaged in carrying out domestic Reforms and terrorizing his subjects, foreign affairs did not cease to importune him. The conquests of Kazan and Astrakhan have already been mentioned. These successes, especially the former, made a profound impression on the nation, redounding to the Tsar’s prestige. It remained for him, his counsellors thought, to complete the work by destroying the Tartar power of Crimea, and so to reach the Euxine; and these advisers might have deemed their opinion justified when in 1571 the Crimean Khan invaded Russia and burned Moscow, except the Kremlin, to the ground. A second invasion in the following year was repulsed. Yet the subjugation of Crimea was a project which was perhaps premature; Ivan preferred to turn the strength of his arms north-westward, and by conquering Livonia to reach the Baltic. At this time Livonia had sunk into the last stage of decay, misery, and corruption, vividly described by Sebastian Munster; there was no national feeling or unity; the population was trodden down by the corrupt German colonists, the knightly Order which governed it; and it was a question whether it was to Poland, or Russia, or Sweden, or perchance to Denmark, that it would pass. For Russia it had a special importance, not only as the street to the Baltic, but also because, after the foolish policy of the Tsars in destroying Novgorod as a commercial centre, trade had retired to Riga and the Livonian towns. Ivan conquered the greater part of the country (1557-60); and the last High Master of the Teutonic Order, Gottfried Kettler, having in vain sought active help from Poland and the Empire, transferred to Poland the lights of his Order in Livonia and resigned himself to the possession of the duchy of Caurland for him and his heirs (1561). But the Russian occupation of Livonia was premature. For the next twenty years there was almost unbroken war with Poland, and, as Sweden and Denmark were interested, the course of events was complicated by a succession of political combinations among the four Powers. It was varied by the candidature of the Tsar for the Polish throne, first on the death of Sigismund Augustus (1572), when Henry of Valois was elected, and again, after his abdication, in 1575, when Stephen Báthory, the Voivod of Transylvania, supported with arms by the Sultan, won the crown. It is said that Ivan was favored by the lesser nobility, but he threw away whatever chances he had by his want of deference towards the Diet. In the Hungarian, Stephen Báthory, Poland had gained an ambitious master, Russia a formidable foe.: He created a powerful army and undid all that Ivan had done. But Livonia was only a minor ques­tion in the greater issue involving .the very existence of Poland which if it was not to be crushed ultimately between German advance on the west and the power of Moscow on the east, must extend over Russia its sway, along with its civilization and religion. The absence of geographical boundaries rendered the dilemma inexorable: either Russia or Poland must disappear as an independent State. Internal and external circumstances combined to postpone the final solution; but Stephen Báthory had grasped the truth and logically prepared to conquer Muscovy. He besieged and failed to take Pskoff but he would not have ceased from his enterprise if Rome had not intervened. The Tsar had sought the mediation of Gregory XIII, and the treaty which was concluded in 1582 through the negotiations of the Jesuit Possevino surrendered Livonia to Poland. The Russians had not yet the strength to grasp either the Baltic or the Black Sea.

Besides the expansion of the Muscovite power to the Caspian by the capture of Astrakhan, which secured the command of the Volga from source to mouth and established authority more or less effective over the Cossacks of the Don, the reign of Ivan was also distinguished by a conquest which founded the Asiatic power of Russia. The Tsar had granted (1558) lands on the Kama to Gregory Stroganoff, member of an enterprising family which had done great service as pioneers of civilization in the deserts north of Viatka. During the next twenty years Stroganoff and his colonists extended the sphere of their operations beyond the Ural and came into conflict with a Tartar kingdom recently founded, of which the capital was named Sibir (near Tobolsk). This State imperilled the enterprises of the Stroganoffs, and they had recourse to the somewhat hazardous expedient of hiring a band of Cossack brigands. With the Tsar’s consent they engaged six hundred and forty Cossacks, who had hitherto been accustomed to waylay Russian traders. Of their two chieftains one had been condemned to death; the other was Ermak Timotheevich, who showed that he had the qualities of a conquistador. He defeated the Khan, captured Sibir, and carried his arms beyond the Tobol between the rivers Irtysh and Ob. If Ermak had failed, no responsibility would have fallen upon Russia; but Ivan was not slow to reap the fruits of his success. He sent officers to take formal possession of the new acquisitions and recognized the adventurer’s services by gifts. Ermak perished almost immediately after this (1584), in a night surprise, it was said, and when trying to swim the Irtysh in a coat of mail which was one of the Tsar’s gifts. This Russian Cortes was raised by the people and the Church to the rank of a hero and almost of a saint. But though he helped effectively the eastern advance of Russia at a critical moment, the real task of subjugating Siberia was accomplished by the long and quiet toil of the peaceful colonists who carried on the work of the Stroganoffs.


1582-4] Ermak Timotheevich.—Theodore I.


The death of Ivan the Terrible (1584) delivered Russia from a nightmare of tyranny, but opened a period of unrest and civil strife which lasted for thirty years. The social and political discords threatened the realm with a struggle which could only be averted by a strong tyrant or by an able statesman armed with all the authority of legitimacy. But Ivan left no successor like to or better than himself. He had two sons by his first wife, Anastasia Romanova (from whose brother the present dynasty is descended). The eldest son Ivan was slain by his father’s hand in a fit of fury (1582), a tragedy which produced a deep effect on the popular imagination, echoed in the popular lays. The second son Theodore was a weakling. By the latest of his other wives (he had no fewer than seven, though some were not recognized by the Church), Maria Nagaia, he had a son Dimitri who was an infant at the time of his death. The throne passed at once to Theodore, whose feeble intellect was unable to cope with, or even realize, the difficult problems of government and organization which demanded the ruler’s care, while his delicate constitution suggested disturbing uncertainties as to the continuation of the dynasty. He proved in fact the last of his line; but it may almost be said that the dynastic crisis began at his accession. The peculiar way in which the course of this important period of Russian history shaped itself was due to the circumstance that the catastrophe of the old dynasty coincided with a crisis of general social disorganization. The unrest (smuta) which ushered out the old dynasty and ushered in the rule of the Romanoffs is marked by three stages, which have been designated as dynastic, social, and national. The first is a struggle for the throne among various claimants representing different interests; the second, a civil war between social classes complicated by the intervention of foreign Powers; the third, a national struggle with foreigners, issuing in the organization of a new national Government.

Throughout the reign of Theodore, his brother-in-law, Boris Godunoff, one of the new boiars of the Oprichnina, was the real ruler. At first he seems to have acted more or less in harmony with certain others who were naturally marked out to form the inner council of advisers and conduct the government of the fainéant sovran—Prince Mstislavski, Prince Shuiski and Nikita Romanovich Jureff, the Tsar’s uncle. All these were alike responsible for sending the Empress-Mother and the infant Tsarevich Dimitri to Uglich—a measure which was not due to any actual conspiracy in the infant’s favor, but intended as a precaution against possible intrigues on the ground that Theodore was incapable. Till his death (1585) Nikita seems to have united this inner circle by the ascendancy of his influence; but after his death a struggle between Boris and Mstislavski ended in the speedy disgrace of the latter, and two years later an attempt of the Shuiskis to overthrow Godunoff’s power was followed by their exile. Special titles which were bestowed on Godunoff gave him a place apart in the Court; he had precedence over all dignitaries, and was officially empowered to conduct negotiations with foreign potentates. Foreign Courts recognized him as the actual ruler; the English called him Lord Protector of Russia.

The talents of Boris were confessed by his foes. Personally amiable, he was thoroughly honest and earnest in his purpose to govern well. Foreigners testify to a marked improvement during his regime; the country breathed again after the wars and atrocities of the Terrible. But he was faced by social problems, too complicated and radical to be solved by the alleviations to which he resorted, and which only postponed the civil struggle to which the profound antagonisms within the social organism pointed as inevitable. He could not conciliate the conflicting interests of the richer landed proprietors, the ecclesiastical owners, the middle and small classes of fief holders, the free peasant proprietors, the vagrants who lived like Cossacks in the southern provinces. The general note of his policy was to favor the middle class. He inherited and continued Ivan’s policy of depressing the old nobility and raising new men like himself to power and influence. He consulted the interests of the general mass of the men of service, and sacrificed to them the interests of the peasants. What the men of service wanted was to have not only a secure hold on their land, but also a guarantee that they should have men to till it. Accordingly his regency was marked by the formal introduction of serfdom (1597). To support and strengthen the middle class—this was his policy as Regent and afterwards as Tsar.

When Theodore’s only child Theodosia died (1594), and it was recognized that he had no hope of leaving issue, it was clear that on his death the reigning dynasty would terminate. For his step-brother, Dimitri, had been found with his throat cut at Uglich in 1591. Mystery encompassed the child’s death; a commission of inquest returned a verdict that it was a case of epileptic suicide; but there is little doubt that he was murdered, and the opponents of Boris held him responsible for the crime. In anticipation of the vacancy of the throne they were not inactive; the idea of electing an Austrian Archduke was even ventilated. The Romanoffs were at this juncture the most formidable rivals of Boris, and it was said that the Tsar before his death (1598) expressed the wish that his cousin Theodore Romanoff should be his successor. There were other candidates, Bielski and Mstislavski; but probably the real conflict lay between Romanoff and Godunoff. The charge of having procured the murder of Dimitri was used as a weapon by the adversaries of Boris; but he succeeded in carrying through his own unanimous election at the Sabor which assembled to choose a tsar in 1598. The disgust of the great boiars at this election may be measured by the fact that they got up an agitation in favour of Simeon Bekbulatovich, the Tartar whom Ivan IV had decked with the brief semblance of sovereignty. Boris took the precaution of forcing Theodore Romanoff to become a monk, though no charge of conspiring seems to have been brought against him. We shall meet him again under the name of Philaret. His brother and the whole family were then disgraced and banished on a charge of sorcery; but other reasons must have lurked behind.


1591-1604] Dimitri Ivanovich murdered – The false Dimitri.


The struggle in which Boris was the leading actor had hitherto been purely dynastic; it did not touch the nobles as a class, only particular families were involved; and it did not directly affect the rest of society. With the rise of the famous Pretender, who impersonated the murdered Tsarevich Dimitri, the question at issue was still dynastic, but the interest in it spread to society at large, and soon created a movement in which the succession to the throne became secondary. The deeper rifts in the community widened into chasms, which threatened to engulf the State.

The identity of the Pretender, who appeared in Poland in 1603 and gave himself out as Dimitri, son of the Tsar Ivan, is held to be one of the unsolved mysteries of history. But a strong case has been made out for believing that the Tsar Boris was right in identifying him with Grishka Otrepieff, an unfrocked monk, who had formerly been in the service of the Romanoffs. He had carefully informed himself of the circumstances connected with Dimitri’s death, and he told an ingenious story, which will not however sustain a critical examination, that a devoted tutor, foreseeing the evil design of Boris, had rescued him by substituting another child. The impostor gained the credence of influential persons in Little Russia, and became betrothed to Marina Mniszech, daughter of a Polish noble who took an active part in propagating Roman Catholicism. The influence of this atmosphere induced him to change his faith, and at Cracow, where he presented himself in March, 1604, he secretly joined the Roman Church. He had become the protégé of the Jesuits and wrote an ardent letter to the Pope.

King Sigismund was disposed to espouse his cause. It is not probable that the King was really convinced at any moment that the Pretender was the Tsarevich, but if Russia could be brought to accept him as such, the interests of Poland might be as well promoted as if he were genuine. The forcible policy of Stephen Báthory had been abandoned under Sigismund, who sought to bring his eastern neighbors under Polish influence by compassing a close union in commerce and religion. He found Boris resolutely determined (as Ivan IV had been, when similarly approached by Possevino) not to open any door to Latin propaganda in Russia. The result of his efforts was the conclusion of a truce for twenty years (1602). In the face of this treaty it seemed difficult to support in arms the rival of Boris. The two Great Chancellors of Poland and Lithuania were opposed to the idea; the nation was disinclined for a new war; and the Diet rejected the proposal to assist the Pretender. But the King succumbed to the temptation. He hoped to recover some of the territories which had been wrested from Lithuania, and to obtain Russian help for executing his cherished plan, the conquest of Sweden, his father’s kingdom. He entered into a secret engagement with the Pretender, who readily promised what was asked; and on his part, although he could give no open or official help, he connived at the recruiting of Polish volunteers. Both the King and the Roman Church saw in Dimitri’s enterprise a great chance for bringing about an ecclesiastical union. The Jesuits and the papal Nuncio Rangoni threw themselves enthusiastically into his cause, and played an important part in these events.

The Pretender took the field with an insignificant miscellaneous army of some 4000 men. The success which crowned his enterprise was due not to Polish help (his Poles deserted him in the middle of the campaign), but to the inhabitants of the southern and south-western provinces, which were ready to welcome any pretender, and to the enlistment in his cause of the Cossacks of the Don. The population of the south, consisting largely of emigrants from the north, peasants who had been raised to the rank of Imperial service, were thoroughly discontented with the new conditions, finding their last state as evil as their first. While Dimitri advanced from the south-west, the Cossacks moved simultaneously on the south. Without following the course of the campaign (1604-5), we may note the mistake which the generals of Boris made in fixing the base of their operations too far west, with the idea that their enemy had all Poland behind him, and thus leaving the way open for the rapid successes of his Cossack allies. The issue might have been different but for the sudden death of Boris in April, 1605, which led to a new development. The evidence does not justify the suspicion that the Pretender had originally been suborned or supported by boiar princes of Moscow; it is significant that the Galitsins, the Shuiskis, and Mstislavski were employed by Boris against him. But on the Tsar’s death these nobles saw that the prospect was favorable to reaction. Instead of supporting the Tsarevich, Theodore Godunoff, they declared for the Pretender, and through them the whole army took the oath to Dimitri. But the boiars did not believe that he was the son of Ivan. They accepted him merely for the temporary purpose of nipping the Godunoff dynasty in the bud. The Shuiskis showed their hand at once by a premature conspiracy against him, which led to their banishment.

The Pretender’s reign at Moscow endured for a year and displayed his incapacity to control a most difficult situation. Surrounded by a circle of foreigners, Poles and Jesuits, who claimed that he owed everything to them, he soon alienated the sympathies of Moscow. He sought to base his power on the support of those families of the nobility which had been kept under by Boris. For instance he recalled the Romanoffs. Feeling that by this policy he was rousing the dissatisfaction of the old princely families, he recalled the Shuiskis, who as soon as they returned began to contrive his overthrow, in conjunction with the Galitsins. The Tsar was also suspected of heresy by the ecclesiastics, though he concealed his conversion; and when he celebrated his marriage with Marina, and Moscow was filled with Polish visitors who permitted themselves every licence, the bigotry of the Moscow populace was thoroughly aroused. The blow was struck a few days later; the Pretender was done to death (May, 1606); and Vasili Shuiski, who had been prominent in organizing the plot, was elected Tsar. This reaction represents the last short-lived triumph of that princely class against which the Oprichnina was directed; the “aristocratic” principle was for a few years in the ascendant; and the new Tsar issued a manifesto which meant, not a limitation of his own Imperial prerogative in favor of the boiars, but his intention to return to the old administrative system of the days before the Oprichnina.

Such a policy was impossible. Vasili had against him an important circle in the nobility, to which the Romanoffs and Mstislavski belonged. The Moscow populace had been accustomed by recent events to making their voice heard in politics, and he found it impossible to quiet the mob, which had helped him to the throne, and which was now ready to believe that the late Tsar was really Dimitri. To meet this danger Vasili had the bones of the murdered child brought to Moscow; the son of Ivan was canonised as a martyr; an official declaration was promulgated in the name of the Tsar, the boiars, and Dimitri’s mother; and a pamphlet, known as the “Izviet of Varlaam,” was issued under Shuiski’s inspiration, showing that the Pretender was Grishka Otrepieff. In those days, however, publicistic literature was not effective in Russia. The community was not ready to accept Shuiski’s régime. Rebellion, beginning in the south-west, spread to the east and north-east, and to the west, assuming different characters in different regions. The same people who had before been against Boris were now against Vasili. The centre of the movement was at Putivl (which had been the headquarters of the Pretender), and a leader arose in Ivan Bolotnikoff who impressed it with the stamp of a social revolution, issuing flyleaves inciting to attacks on property and the commercial classes. It was, in fact, avowedly a programme of rapine, and this marks a new stage in the smuta. The rebellion attracted ambitious members of the new families to whose career the reaction of Shuiski closed the door. A heterogeneous army recruited from the southern provinces, including Riazan, laid siege to Moscow (October, 1606); but it was a political coalition of social adver­saries, and a month’s association in camp convinced the more conservative elements, especially represented by the men of Riazan, that they could not work in harmony with the radical followers of Bolotnikoff. The siege was broken up, and there ensued a general rallying of the orderly classes to the government of Vasili, who then collected an army; a year later this revolutionary attempt was finally suppressed by the capture of Tula, its last stronghold. The Tsar discerned that the Pretender’s success had been largely due to the support of the vagrant peasants; and it was this political motive which led him (1607) to renew in a stricter form the laws of serfdom which had been passed in the regency of Boris.


Social revolution.—“The Robber”, [1606-10


The reaction and the old order seemed thus to win the victory in the first bout. But before Tula had fallen a new Pretender arose in the Sieverski province. His name is unknown; he was generally called “the Robber”. His position was entirely different from that of his predecessor. The first “Dimitri” had guided a movement which was primarily in his own personal interests; the second “Dimitri” was a puppet serving the interests of political and social revolution and foreign designs. Supported by Polish adventurers, he gained such a strong following that in the summer of 1608 he won a battle close to Moscow, fortified himself at Tushino, and blockaded the capital. The revolt spread to the whole of the Moscow province, and north-westward to Pskoff. The north of Russia—the Pomore—had been almost untouched by the troubles and ferment which had begun with the Oprichnina. It was now faithful to the Tsar; Prince Skopin Shuiski created at Vologda a military and administrative centre, and, by the end of 1609, having succeeded in uniting forces with the general Sheremetieff from the south-eastern province, he cleared of the Robber’s troops the regions north of Moscow. But before this was achieved, the Muscovite Government was confronted by a new enemy. King Sigismund had invaded Russian territory. The success of Skopin and the invasion of Sigismund brought about the fall of the two rival governments at Moscow and at Tushino in the course of 1610. The Robber fled from Tushino, and Sigismund entered into negotiation with the Tushinites, in whose counsels Philaret (Theodore Romanoff), their Patriarch, had a leading voice. A covenant of union was concluded (February, 1610) by which the Tushinites accepted Prince Wladislaw of Poland as Tsar, with the condition that, while there was to be a close military union between the two countries, Russia was to be autonomous and its orthodoxy inviolable. This agreement reflects the policy and interests of those groups of the upper class which were opposed to the reaction of the boiar princes. The Tushinite leader entered into relations with the inhabitants of Moscow, proposing peace and the over­throw of Vasili. The army of the north, which had. lost its leader by the death of Skopin, took no part in these events, and Shuiski and his party were overthrown (July, 1610) by the Moscow populace.

With the fall of the reactionary government the last stage of the domestic strife begins. It seemed as if the direction of affairs was now to be under the control of a foreign Power. The next three years (1610-2) are marked by attempts, both open and secret, finally successful, to restore order and create a permanent government. The first experiment, after a temporary administration by seven boiars, was the acceptance of Prince Wladislaw, who was elected to the throne by a Sobor under boiar influence—“the last political act in the history of Moscow boiardom”; but when it became clear that his sovereignty was a mask for a military dictatorship, exercised by his father, Moscow attempted to substitute a national government. In the struggle with Sigismund which ensued, the Patriarch Hermogenes played an important part. To him the national and religious feelings of the Muscovite turned as to a sort of guardian. He stubbornly refused to recognize the foreign Tsar; he circulated letters denouncing Sigismund; and, when some of them fell into the hands of the Poles, he was kept under surveillance. But his letters bore fruit, especially at Riazan and Nizhni-Novgorod. An anti­Polish movement was organized by Prokopi Liapunoff; a national host was formed; and a new alliance was cemented between the middle classes and those who had been the adherents of the Robber. This unnatural union with the “Robbers” and the Cossacks, intent on rapine, was a policy doomed to failure. In the mixed army which besieged Moscow in 1611 there was neither unity nor discipline; the Cossacks plundered the land at will; and the attempt to organise an effective government was futile. The death of Liapunoff was followed by open discord; the rest of the army left the Cossacks and “Robbers” alone in the camp and went their ways. This ended the second attempt to create order; and the prospect seemed gloomier than ever. The control had passed to the Poles, on the one hand, threatening political servitude, and to the Cossacks and rural proletariate, on the other, threatening a social subversion. Sweden, too, alarmed by the election of Wladislaw, had appeared on the scene and occupied Novgorod the Great, putting forward on her side the candidature of a Swedish prince.

From this desperate situation Russia was rescued by the middle classes, who rallied together against the foreign and the domestic dangers. The brethren of the Troitsa monastery, who were active during this crisis, urged the country to make common cause with the Cossack army against the Poles. But the Patriarch Hermogenes was firmly opposed to any union with the brigands, and his view prevailed in the towns of the northern provinces from which the deliverance came. The initiative was taken by Nizhni-Novgorod, where the leaders of the movement were Kuzma Minin, elder of the commune, who represented the bourgeois, and Savva Ephimieff, who represented the higher groups of society. To organize and lead the national forces which were to clear Moscow and her territory from the two foes, Prince Dimitri Pozharski was chosen, a member of an old princely family which had come down in the world. An adherent of the old traditions, he had, in the reign of Vasili Shuiski, shown decided military talent. Kazan joined the movement, and Pozharski anticipated the Cossacks in seizing Yaroslavl, which then, as the richest town in the regions north of Moscow, became the political centre of the national movement. A temporary Government was formed, consisting of a Sobor of the normal composition, while a council of war acted as a Duma; and, on April 7,1612, a manifesto was issued calling on the land to unite against the foreign invaders and “the Russian robbers.’’ Months were spent at Yaroslavl in organizing, and negotiations, meant only to gain time, were carried on with Novgorod, which had acknowledged a Swedish prince. The Cossacks were driven from the towns which they had occupied; and, when the national army at last moved on Moscow, the Cossack leader Zarutski marched off with nearly half the host, and the rest submitted. Then Moscow was taken and the Poles driven out (October).

A national Sobor met at Moscow in January, 1613, to elect a new Tsar. The Shuiskis, Galitsins, and the princely Houses, even the deliverer Pozharski, had no influence at this election, and the choice fell on Michael Romanoff, son of Philaret, the first Tsar of the dynasty which reigns today.

The smuta was over. A durable settlement was achieved by the active combination of those conservative classes which had held aloof both from the revolutionary designs of the serfs and Cossacks, and from the reactionary policy of the prince boiars. It was the triumph of the men of service, who had neither been seduced into the den of “Robbers” nor drawn into the nets of foreign conspiracies, and of the peasants and bourgeois of the communes of the northern provinces, which had been least affected by the Oprichnina. The issue of the civil war solved both the political and the social problems, which had upset the fabric of the State, in the interest of the middle classes. Politically, the smuta completed the work of the Oprichnina, the power of the boiars was undermined, and the ground was cleared for the development of a bureaucracy recruited without regard for birth. Socially, the rebellion of the lower classes against the lot of serfdom was crushed; they were sacrificed to the middle class, and the policy of Boris was reinforced.


1613-53] Michael Romanoff.


The political influence of the middle classes was felt throughout the reign of the first Romanoff, and for a time under his successor. It was expressed by frequent meetings of the consultative assemblies, which had been introduced by Ivan IV and since his reign had fulfilled the important duty of electing Tsars. The significance of these Sobors, as we have already observed, is political rather than constitutional. They hardly give the reign of Michael the claim of being a “parliamentaiy epoch”; but they served as a check on the acquisition of excessive influence by the nobles. We find the Sobor giving assent to taxation, nominating a Patriarch, deliberating on the question of going to war with Poland. In 1642 it was summoned to consider whether Azoff, which had been captured by the Cossacks, should be retained by Russia. This Sobor consisted of the Council of nobles, the higher clergy and 195 representatives of other classes. Through it public opinion influenced the Tsar’s decision. The statements of the lesser nobility, the merchants, and the delegates from the rural districts, as to the widespread misery and exhaustion from which the country was suffering through taxation, military service, and the exactions of governors, convinced the Tsar that a war with Turkey was impossible; and the Cossacks were bidden to abandon Azoff. In the reign of Alexis a Sobor was summoned (1648) for the preparation of a new law Code. This Code (Ulozhenie) and the work of this Sobor represented another success for those classes which had raised the Romanoffs to power. They were dissatisfied with their economical conditions; wars, taxes, the competition of foreign commerce pressed heavily upon them ; and so far as the Ulozhenie was not mere codification, it attempted to satisfy their needs, by sharpening the laws on serfdom, by restricting the acquisition of lands by the Church, and by enactments against foreign trade. Again in 1653 a Sobor was consulted on the question of war with Poland. This was the last, and it was seemingly due to the influence of the Patriarch Nikon, of whom more will presently be said, that the institution disappeared.

The weak character of Michael (1613-45), a man of no talent, threatened Russia with evils similar to those which it had suffered in the minority of Ivan IV. This calamity was averted by the return, in 1619, of his able father, Philaret, from Poland, where he had been kept as a hostage. Philaret was created Patriarch and assisted the Tsar in the cares of government. Until his death (1633) he was virtually the colleague of his son; his name appeared along with the Tsar’s in public Acts. The secure establishment of the new dynasty on the throne was largely the result of his prudent guidance and firm control. The Government had in the first place to deal with those foreign Powers which had fished in the troubled waters. The cession of Ingria and Carelia bought off the claims of Sweden and procured the restoration of Novgorod (Peace of Stolbova, 1617). Poland had made a formidable effort to realize the design of Báthory. For her it was a question of life and death, and her failure may be said to have meant the loss of her last chance. Wladislaw, indeed, did not, abandon his pretensions; he marched on Moscow (1618), and his repulse only led to a truce by which Poland retained Smolensk, Chernigoff, and Sieverski. On the death of Sigismund III in 1632 the war was renewed, this time by Russia; and Wladislaw, now King of Poland, renounced his claims to the throne for a sum of money, by the Treaty of Polianovka, 1634.


Reign of Alexis. [16I8-51


The reign of Alexis (1645-76) witnessed not only the recovery of the recent acquisitions of Poland, but also the annexation of some of the borderlands, which in race, language, sentiment, and religion were Russian, but in consequence of the Lithuanian conquest had become part of the composite Polish-Lithuanian State. This Russian Lithuania, including White Russia in the north and Little Russia in the south, had formed a State distinct from Poland itself until 1569, when the Act of Lublin, to which reference has already been made, established a common Diet and Senate with a common political capital, and made Little Russia, as distinct from White Russia, part of Poland, though Poland and Lithuania (with White Russia) retained their separate laws, armies, chancellors, and other chief functionaries. The Orthodox religion was safeguarded; but the increase of Polish influence in the Russian lands led to Roman propagandist actively carried on by Jesuits, and to a long persecution of the Orthodox by those who aimed at union. In the north this policy might ultimately have succeeded, but it was disastrous in the southern steppes of the Ukraine, where there was a military population, of free habits, impatient of authority, and devoted to the Orthodox faith. These “Cossacks” of the towns, distinguished from the Zaporogian Cossacks who lived in absolute freedom beyond the Falls of the Dnieper, were organized in regiments under the general supremacy of the Hetman of Little Russia, who was appointed by the King. Smarting under the oppressive rule of the Poles, who treated them as an inferior race, the Little Russians were fully prepared for revolt, when a leader appeared in the person of the Hetman Bogdan Chmielnicki, a man of ability, bravery, and some education. The war which he commenced (1648) against the Poles was marked by savage atrocities on the part of his followers, who displayed particular fury against the Jesuits and the Jews; and not less cruel reprisals were practised by the Polish nobles. After the first slight successes of his insurrection, Chmielnicki sent to Warsaw a formal list of complaints of the ill-treatment and injustice suffered by the Cossacks and people of Little Russia. At this juncture King Wladislaw died, and his successor, John Casimir, was prepared to treat. But the struggle continued, broken by negotiations and truces, until in 1651 Chmielnicki experienced a crushing defeat. He had counted on the support of the Khan of Crimea, but the Khan had proved a treacherous ally. Hopeless of carrying on the contest alone, he now turned to the Power which seemed the natural protector of the Orthodox and sent an embassy to the Tsar (1652). Alexis called a Sobor to discover whether the realm was prepared to resume the strife with Poland; the assembly declared for war; and a commission was sent to receive oaths of allegiance from the Hetman and the Little Russians (1653). This war, in which Moscow won the stake, was waged by the Tsar with a measure of humanity and moderation which it was unusual for a Muscovite army to practise, and was attended with a success which would almost certainly have led to the annexation of White Russia, if another Power had not intervened. Charles X of Sweden came down from the north, seized Posen, Warsaw, and Cracow, and entered into relations with Chmielnicki, whose real desire was not subjection to Russia, but independent sovereignty. In the situation thus created Alexis saw that his only course was to come to terms with Poland, and make common cause against the Swede. In this enterprise he was successful; he conquered a great part of Livonia, though only for a brief term. The Peace of Kardis (1661) restored to Sweden the Livonian fortresses which the Russians had occupied; but the danger of a Swedish Poland was averted for the time. The Poles, however, having driven out the Swedes, refused to execute their treaty with Alexis, and war was renewed. It lingered on till 1667, when the Treaty of Andrusovo restored to the Tsar Smolensk and the other places which had been ceded in 1634, and also gave him Little Russia up to the Dnieper, along with the sacred city of Kieff.

This was a gain which at first caused to Moscow as much trouble as it had caused to Warsaw. The Cossacks were not inclined to enter into the strict conditions of the life of an organized State; and during the next years Ukraine was the scene of trouble and disturbance. At the same time the Cossacks of the Don, hitherto at rest, rose under Stenka Razin, who formed a huge army of brigands recruited by fugitive adventurers from the Dnieper regions. His authority and his rapine ranged to the shores of the Caspian, and he won an enormous reputation, as a hero whom enchantments had rendered invulnerable, through south­eastern Russia. The Government thought to paralyze the movement by offering him a pardon; he accepted it, but soon resumed his career of rebellion, and his rule reached from Astrakhan to Nizhni-Novgorod. At last he was captured and put to death, in 1671. The steppes of southern Russia, inhabited by an unruly and shifting population, were an impediment to the progress of civilization; and the same conditions still prevailing produced a hundred years later the formidable insurrection of Pugacheff in the reign of Catharine II. It must be added that the Little Russian lands on the right bank of the Dnieper were contested with Poland by Turkey (1672-6); then the Hetman threw himself into the arms of Russia, and a short Turkish war was followed by the Treaty of Bakchi-serai (1680) with the Sultan and the Crimean Khan, whereby the Ukraine and Zaporogia were left to Russia.

The reign of Alexis was agitated by ecclesiastical dissensions, a struggle between the Tsar and the head of the Church, and a struggle within the Church itself. The Patriarchate of Moscow had been founded in 1589 with the consent of the Patriarchs of the East, and it had not failed to add to the prestige of Russia, especially in those countries which belonged to the Greek confession. We saw the part which Hermogenes played at a critical juncture, but the dignity of the office was considerably enhanced when Philaret filled it and helped his son to govern the realm. But the Patriarchs were generally the creatures of the Tsars. The history of the Patriarchate embraces little more than a century, for it was abolished by Peter the Great; and of the ten who discharged its duties in that period only two were men of great prominence and ability, Philaret and Nikon. The power and influence which were associated with the office in the hands of Philaret endangered the principle laid down by Ivan the Terrible, that it is the business of monks to hold their tongues, inasmuch as Church and State are separate spheres. The conflict of Alexis with Nikon showed that the dyarchy of Michael and Philaret could not be repeated.

Nikon owed his appointment as Patriarch (1652) to the sincere friendship of the Tsar, who genuinely admired his stronger will and superior intellect; and it seemed that he might be to the son what Philaret had been to the father. When Alexis left Moscow to take part in the war for Little Russia, he made Nikon his vicegerent in secular affairs. The nature of the Patriarch was hard and despotic, and he made himself generally hated by his arrogance. He assumed the title “Great Ruler,” which had been borne by Philaret, not however as Patriarch but on account of his relationship to the Tsar. Alexis returned in 1656, but he was no longer the same man. Life in the camp and experience of military operations seem to have developed his character and made him more manly, independent, and self-confident. The results of this development were not compatible with the con­tinuation of Nikon’s power. The temper of Alexis was mild, but Nikon had no tact—he was spoiled by his extraordinary success, and, as a Russian historian has said, “was not one of those who know where to stop.” The old friendly relations gradually cooled. A conflict was inevitable, when Nikon began to brandish the same theory which had been so often used by the Bishops of Rome, the immeasurable superiority of ecclesiastical to secular authority. Nikon’s numerous enemies, including the Tsaritsa (Maria Miloslavskaia), fanned the mutual distrust; and in 1658 Alexis took a decisive step by requiring him to explain how he came to designate himself “Great Ruler.” This was equivalent to a rupture; Nikon withdrew to a monastery, probably expecting to be recalled; but the Tsar, although, profoundly devoted as he was to the Church, his victory must have cost him dear, remained firm; and Nikon by intrigues with the oriental Patriarchs laid himself open to the charge of compromising the government in the eyes of foreigners. It was considered that his aim was to establish a popedom in Russia. He was tried at a Church Council (1667) and condemned to deprivation and confinement in a monastery. To the suppression of this exceptionally able ecclesiastical potentate it was due that the Church was kept in her own sphere, and subordinate to the State, and Peter averted the rise of another Nikon by abolishing the Patriarchate.


1503-1667] Nil Sorski.


But, if Nikon failed in the attempt to usurp secular power, he was successful in an enterprise of Church reform, which had momentous consequences. The Russian Church, through its dead formalism, through the ignorance of its clergy, through a bigotry seldom equalled and never surpassed, was and still is one of the most effective obstacles to progress. Its formalism may be imputed to its Byzantine parentage; but, had it profited more by the influence and example of Byzantium, it would at least have appropriated some theological learning. The rule of the Tartars does not explain the gross ignorance of the ecclesiastics; for, through the astute policy of the tolerant khans the Church had been the one favoured institution, and consequently had never attempted to organize a national resistance to their yoke. If Greek had originally been made the ecclesiastical language, theology would have been in a different position; for the writings of the Fathers would have been known in a country where the clergy were forced to learn Greek; but as the liturgy was in Old Slavonic (the language of the Macedonian Slavs, which, though not identical with Russian, was easily learned), practically no training was necessary for the peasants who became priests (popes) or monks. Yet heresies, which are always a sign that the life of a Church is not extinct, did not fail to arise. A man occasionally appeared who, having come in contact with a wider world, lit a dim candle in the darkness. In the reign of Ivan the Great, Nil, a brother of the monastery of the White Lake (Bielo ozero), had wandered as a pilgrim in the East, learned Greek, and sojourned on Mount Athos. When he returned, he could not endure the spiritual deadness of his old cloister, and he built himself a cell, some twelve miles away, on the banks of the Sora; whence he was known as Nil Sorski. Some comrades joined him, and the anchoret’s dwelling grew into a little community of a primitive monastic type. Nil laid no weight on external forms or outer works of piety, which may lead, he said, to the worst of sins, pride; the only thing that mattered in his eyes was the state of the thoughts and the spirit. Better, he said, to drink wine with reason than water unreasonably. At a Synod held in 1503, he proposed to disendow all Russian monasteries on the ground that those who renounced the world had no business with worldly property. Such views raised up hosts of enemies, who sought to destroy him by charges of heresy. They alleged that he criticized the texts of the Slavonic Lives of Saints and stigmatized some passages as interpolations. Russian churchmen regarded the Slavonic versions of Scripture and ecclesiastical literature as sacrosanct, and an enlightened man—rarissima avis—who suggested that being translated from Greek they might contain mistranslations, was considered a dangerous blasphemer for questioning the authorized version. Vassian, a pupil of Nil, applied similar criticism to the Slavonic version of the Byzantine Nomokanon (collection of canon laws); and a long struggle ended in his banishment (1531). In his critical labour Vassian was aided by a man more famous than himself, Maxim the Greek. The “heretics” had at all events convinced the Orthodox that it would not be amiss to have on their side men of some learning, and also that it might be desirable to augment the ecclesiastical literature by new translations from the Greek. For this purpose the great Duke Vasili imported from Mount Athos an Epirote Greek named Maximos. He had visited Italy in his youth, had associated with Aldus the printer at Venice, and at Florence he had heard sermons of Savonarola, whose spirit and ideals made an abiding impression on him. But he was not at home in the atmosphere of the Renaissance—pagan, he thought, and demoralizing— and had sought the solitude of the Holy Mount. He set out for Moscow, resolved to imitate the high example of the Florentine monk, and expose sin and error, regardless of consequences. Engaged at first in translating Greek commentaries, with the help of two Russians who knew Latin, he proceeded, when he had learned Russian, to examine the service-books. He discovered false renderings, and thereby set his feet on a perilous path. He was told that by such a suggestion he offended the Russian saints who had used these books and now, on account of their holiness, were enabled to perform miracles. The schismatic sects use the same argument to this day. Maximos went on to criticize severely the clergy and the monks. His career ended in incarceration in a monastery (1531); he had learned too much about the secrets of Muscovy to be allowed to return to Mount Athos.

The correction of the liturgy, which Maximos suggested to the great scandal of the Orthodox, was again proposed by an archimandrite of the Troitsa monastery in the reign of Michael; but it was reserved for Nikon, with the approval of the Tsar Alexis, to carry it out. The attention of Nikon was directed to various differences and innovations which had crept into the Russian Church by Paisios, Patriarch of Jerusalem, who visited Moscow in 1649. For instance, it was the custom in Russia to make the sign of the Cross with two fingers, in Greece and the East with three (symbolic of the Trinity). A commissioner was sent to the East, whose report confirmed the criticisms of Paisios. In Little Russia, where there was some theological learning, it was known that the service-books were faulty. On his appointment as Patriarch, Nikon at first hesitated, for he well realized the difficulties; but further study convinced him of the necessity of undertaking a reform, and he asked the Tsar to summon a Synod, which met in the palace in 1654, and resolved, though all its members were not sincere and some refused to sign the Act, that the books must be conformed to the Greek and ancient Slavonic manuscripts. A second Synod (1655) revised the liturgy and ordained that other ecclesiastical books should be similarly corrected; a third (1656) enacted that the sign of the Cross should be made with three fingers. But there was a large discontented faction, who objected to these changes, drew up a petition to the Tsar against “the great disturber Nikon,” and asserted that the Greek books had been corrupted by the Latins. Discussion was futile, and Nikon obtained the degradation and banishment of the leaders of the opposition. The fall of Nikon did not lead, as his enemies hoped, to the undoing of his reforms. But it caused a renewal of the agitation, and Alexis, weary of the petitions of monks and clergy, called a Synod in 1666 “against the schismatics and troublers of the Church who have recently sprung up.” Among these the most prominent leader was Avvakum, protopope or rector of a Moscow church, of whom we possess a remarkable autobiography. This assembly generally approved the changes, and another (1667) formally and finally anathematised those who did not accept the reforms which it enumerated. The violence of the opposition in monastic circles is illustrated by the obstinate refusal of the great Solovetski monastery in the White Sea to accept the revised books; the monks stood a siege for several years; and, when the place was taken, many were put to death for their defiance of the Tsar.


1649-67] The Raskol.


The changes introduced by Nikon were trivial; but they led to a consequence of far-reaching importance, the Raskol, or great schism. The Raskolnild or schismatics are those who severed themselves from the Church and would have nothing to do with the inessential alterations made obligatory by the Synods of 1666 and 1667. The spirit of the schism was a product of the ignorance of the people, caused by the stagnation of secular culture, which produced a childish devotion to trivial externalities. In this respect the official Church and the schismatics were on one level, equally unable to distinguish the essential from the inessential. Both parties believed that the soul’s salvation depended on the number of fingers with which the Cross was signed; and if the student of the history of religion were not prepared for any and every absurdity, he would find it hard to believe that such a question as the precise spelling of the name “Jesus” in Russian should cause as hot a conflict as if the order of the universe depended on the presence or absence of a single letter. The Raskol was not due to degeneration in the Church; there was no decline, for there had been no better time; the reform merely called into active resistance a mass of ignorance which would otherwise have continued its slumbers. It was in Great Russia, especially in the north and the Volga regions, that the Raskol chiefly spread. The schismatics lived in the past, considering the days before Nikon and before Peter as the ideal age of their country. They have been compared by a Russian novelist to Lot’s wife, who, going back, became an immovable pillar. “Yet,” writes a German historian, “in this protest against the established Church and State, in the energy of the mystic apocalyptic symbolism with which the Raskolniki defend their doctrines, and in the material means which are at their disposal, lies a force which presents the greatest difficulties to the State and the official clergy. Here, at all events, in this stubborn opposition, the people show that it is not the indifferent herd of sheep for which it is generally taken.” The people of the old faith represent the spirit of antagonism to progress and European culture. It is a passive spirit, though stiffnecked, but it is the more effective, in proportion as they are more industrious, thrifty, and sober than the Orthodox. The movement was too widely spread, and had its roots too deep in the national character and traditions, for the Church and State to check it. The schismatics were simply maintaining the prejudices which the Church had always displayed towards change, erudition, and the influence of foreign ideas—“abominable German customs.” In one of the schismatic pamphlets which have been preserved it is stated that God forbade the imitation of foreign dress, since all illicit stitched garments are disgusting in His eyes. Tracts were published against “tobacco, that devilish herb, cursed and abhorred of God.” It was believed that the Redeemer and His mother appeared to some Russian women, and warned them that, as soon as Christians began to “drink” tobacco, lightning and thunder, frost and ice would be their punishment. Nikon’s reforms were declared an attempt to replace Greek orthodoxy by Latin heresy. One of his leading opponents asked despairingly, what would happen if east and west should mix. The fanatics deemed it a heinous crime that the children of the Tsar Alexis should be allowed to gain some knowledge of astronomy, philosophy, and medicine. One of them wrote an insulting open letter to the Tsai. “How dare you keep at your Court men who have the hardihood to measure with a yard-rule the tails of the stars? You feed the foreigners too well, instead of bidding your folk cling to the old customs.” The schismatics offered bitter resistance to the policy of Peter the Great; they looked on him as Antichrist, on Moscow as Babylon.

The extent of undeveloped territory in Russia, the immeasurable waste reaches on its periphery, north, east, and south-east, facilitated the expansion of the Raskol. The schismatics could flee from persecution into the impenetrable forests and boundless steppes, and find places beyond the supervision of the Government. In this way they helped in the work of colonization, founding villages and monasteries, and reclaiming land. With a nomadic instinct they united the habits of industry, and the camps of rebels were transformed into settlements, where agriculture and trade throve. Here—and it was the case with Russian monasteries in general, notably that of Solovetski—fanaticism was joined with attention to material interests. In Nikon’s time the Raskolniki were counted by hundreds of thousands, at the present time they perhaps exceed fifteen millions. But this does not mean merely the people of the old faith. The name Raskol was extended to all varieties of dissidents and sects who alike repudiated the State Church, so that the men of the old faith are only one of numerous groups, which, as dissent is always hydra-headed, soon sprang up within, as well as beside, the communities of the original dissidents.

The Raskol expressed a protest against change in general, and thus had a much deeper significance than might seem to be involved in the religious questions which led to the schism. It uttered the suspicions aroused in the people by the far from enthusiastic willingness of the Tsar himself, and the more pronounced zeal of a few others, to learn something from peoples beyond the borders of their land. In tracing the influence of Western Europe upon Russia in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries there is danger of exaggeration. The process does not resemble a development; Russia under Alexis was, as regards civilization, the same at heart as under Ivan the Great. In manners and modes of thought there had been no general alteration among the higher classes. The description of Adam Olearius in the seventeenth century presents the same picture as the reports of the travellers of the sixteenth. Yet a Peter the Great and his reforms would have been inconceivable a hundred years earlier. The West had come to Russia; it began to come in the sixteenth century, it was there in the seventeenth. But the process was not an internal development, but rather like the laying of a mine, which did not outwardly affect the land till Peter had the courage to explode it. The decisive step had been the admission of foreigners to reside at Moscow; and thus Western ideas, although they made no way except with a few isolated individuals, were there, on the spot, in the foreign or “German” suburb of Moscow, waiting to be assimilated. The increasing intercourse, both commercial and political, of Russia with Western countries, and the grudging and restricted hospitality extended to resident strangers, which marked the period with which we are dealing, were an indispensable condition of Peter’s work, of its conception as well as its execution.


Isolation of Russia.—Voyages of discovery. [1204-1553


The mental stagnation of Russia was due mainly to her isolation from Europe in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries. We have already observed that this isolation was due partly to the displacement of the centre of power from Kieff to the forest of Suzdalia and the tributaries of the Volga, and partly to the Tartar conquest. Another cooperative event may be found in the dismemberment and decline of the Eastern Empire (after 1204), through constant intercourse with which the Russian State had been kept in touch with a higher civilization. But how was it that in the sixteenth century Russia should have been so completely beyond the horizon of Western Europe that the books of Paolo Giovio and Herberstein created a sensation as if a new land had been discovered, seeing the position which it occupied in relation to Poland, Lithuania, and Livonia? How was it that information about the Muscovite realm did not filter through more freely? The answer is that it was the deliberate policy of the intermediate States, which were continually at war with Moscow and jeopardized by her ambition, to keep the Russians at as low a level of civilization as possible, to hinder them from improving their army in accordance with West European ideas, to prevent them from competing in industries; and they did what they could to shut Russia away and check intercourse with the West. This policy began to break down in the sixteenth century, but it was still a maxim. In 1547 the young Tsar Ivan made arrangements for the importation of engineers, mechanics, artists, and physicians from Germany; but the scheme was frustrated through the machinations of Livonia. Some years later, when commercial relations were established between England and Moscow, the King of Poland, deeply alarmed, wrote to Elizabeth urging that such intercourse was dangerous, and protesting, “in the interests of Christianity,” against giving Russia, “the enemy of all free nations,” the chance of obtaining munitions of war and of becoming initiated in European politics.

The interest of the West in Russia, which began in the sixteenth century, was not at first for its own sake, but in order to find an overland route to the East and destroy the monopoly of the Indian trade which the Portuguese enjoyed through their discovery of the ocean route. This was the object of the visits of the Genoese Paolo Centurione, in the reign of Vasili. They led to no result except indirectly to the publication of Giovio’s book on Muscovy. In this book (1525) the notion was entertained that China might be reached by way of the ice sea. But it was not through the direct influence of Giovio or of Herberstein’s later work (1549) that in 1553 three ships sailed from London, under the command of Sir Hugh Willoughby, to discover the northern passage. After passing the North Cape the vessels were separated by a storm. Willoughby’s and another reached the coast of Lapland, where the crews, inexperienced in the hardships of an arctic winter, succumbed to cold and hunger. The Edward Banaventure, of which Richard Chancellor was captain, had better luck. Carried to the White Sea, he sailed to the mouth of the Dvina and met a friendly reception from the astonished inhabitants. The Englishmen who set out to find China had alighted by chance on Russia. It was a quite unexpected discovery to them that here was the Muscovite realm, and that Ivan, son of Vasili, was its ruler. Provided with horses; they travelled to Moscow and were received by the Tsar. Ivan proved readier than might have been expected to favor commercial relations with England, and sent Chancellor back with a letter to Edward VI professing willingness to open negotiations. “If you send one of your Majesty’s counsel to treat with us, whereby your country’s merchants may with all kinds of wares make their market in our dominions, they shall have a free mart.” Thus an accident led to the establishment of the English “Muscovy Company,” of which Sebastian Cabot was the first Governor. English enterprise did something almost immediately towards beginning the development of the natural resources of Russia, by establishing manufactories for boiling tar, burning potash, making ropes; and the privileges conceded by Ivan gave the Company an advantage over other countries for some years, though in the following century Dutch rivalry, which had already begun by 1583, was here as in other fields successful.

The series of Western accounts of Russia was continued in the seventeenth century. We have the book of a French officer, Margeret, who took service in the Russian army; the work of the Dutch merchant, Isaac Massa, who lived at Moscow in the disturbed years 1601-10; the great description of Adam Olearius, who was attached to an embassy sent to Russia and Persia by Duke Frederick of Holstein-Gottorp, at whose Court he was astronomer and librarian, in the reign of Michael; we have the account of Dr Samuel Collins, physician to Alexis; we have the more penetrating work of the Saxon, Laurence Rinhuber, who saw in Russia not merely a field for trade or for scientific investigation, but for a civilizing mission. The Travels of Olearius (1646) present us with a full picture of the surface of Russian society, illustrated to the eye by views of towns and costumes, and even the inspection of these affords a vivid impression of the great gulf dividing the country from Western Europe. The invincible ignorance and incredibly rude manners of the higher classes and their cringing servility to the Tsar, the gross superstition and the shameless drunkenness (largely due to the conditions of the climate) which prevailed among all classes, the universal mendacity, the detestation of new ideas, were features which impressed all travellers, and their testimony is borne out by one of the exceptional Russians who had come to see their own society as others saw it. Kotoshikhin, who in the reign of Alexis fled to Sweden to escape from the hostility of powerful officials, embraced Protestantism and wrote a remarkable work contrasting Russia with Europe. The Russians, he says, are arrogant and incapable, because they get no education except in pride, shamelessness, and lying. They will not send their children abroad to learn, fearing that if they came to know the mode of life and the religion of other folks and the blessing of freedom, they would forget to return home. It was indeed one of the arcana imperii of the Tsars to hinder their subjects from travelling, lest they should behold the spectacle of liberty elsewhere; but the law against leaving the country was one which few desired to violate, since converse with heretics was held to be unedifying, and there was the risk of dying in an ungodly land, which seemed to an orthodox Muscovite a horrible fate. The Tsars themselves were saturated with arrogant self-satisfaction and contempt for the rest of the world. When they sent an embassy to a foreign Court, they deemed that they were conferring a favor on the sovereign to whom it was sent. They had no idea what disgust and amusement the appearance of the clownish boiars—destitute of rudimentary conceptions of decency but devoted to pedantic ceremonial, knowing no language but their own, sometimes unable to pay their way—excited in the European capitals. On the Emperor Alexis it seems to have dawned that his nobles were not heaven-sent diplomatists, and he often employed foreigners as ambassadors—a transition from the rude Muscovite envoys to the well-qualified native diplomatists of the eighteenth century.

A word must be said of the tyrannical means, and disastrous for national economy, to which rulers resorted for raising revenue. They are described by Elizabeth’s ambassador, Giles Fletcher. Messengers, he says, are sent into the provinces where the special commodities of the land grow. “There they forestall and engross sometimes one whole commodity, sometimes two or more," taking them at low prices fixed by themselves and selling at an excessive rate to their own or foreign merchants. “ If they refuse to buy them, then they force them unto it. The like is done when any commodity, thus engrossed by the Emperor and received into his treasury, happeneth to decay or mar by long lying, or some other casualty. Which is forced upon the merchants to be bought by them at the Emperor’s price, whether they will or no. This last year 1589 was engrossed all the wax of the country, so that none might deal with that commodity but the Emperor only.” The Tsars augmented their revenue by acting as publicans and encouraging their subjects in indulgence in strong liquor. “In every great town of his realm”, says Fletcher, “the Emperor hath a cabák or drinking-house, where is sold aquavitae, mead, beer, &c. Out of these he receiveth rent that amounteth to a great sum of money. Some yield 800, some 1000, some 2000 or 8000 roubles a year.” It may be noted that the total yearly revenue of the Tsar in the reign of Theodore Ivanovich, arising from indirect sources, custom duties and fines, as well as from the direct imposts, the com-tax and the hearth-tax, including the products of the Imperial domains, amounted to 1,430,000 roubles.

The fiscal expedient of monopolies was not peculiar to Russia, but their excessive nature is remarkable. Similar excess marked the monetary policy of Alexis when he depreciated the coinage as a last resort in the financial difficulties in which the Polish war had involved him. No civilized ruler stepped further on this disastrous path. All silver money was confiscated; the Government paid, but refused to accept, copper for silver; sixty soldiers could now be maintained for what it had cost before to maintain one. As a result, illicit mints were established all over the country. Prices inevitably rose; the Government forbade their augmentation; but here the autocrat was powerless. Hunger and misery ensued, and in 1662 the people of Moscow rose in despair and threatened the Tsar’s life. Torturing and burning were the answer of Alexis, and thousands perished.

The strict Oriental seclusion of women of the upper classes has often been considered a consequence of Tartar rule, but it was rather due to Byzantine influence. Byzantine too was the custom of the bride-show. The most beautiful maidens of the land were assembled at Moscow and reviewed by the Tsar for the purpose of selecting his consort. In law and justice we can also see the action of ideas derived from the Eastern Empire. The early Code of Iaroslaf reflects the primitive judicial institutions of the Slavonic tribes. The Code of Ivan the Great reflects a complete transformation. Homicide is punished by death, theft by scourging; torture is applied; corporal chastisements are prominent. This change was due not to Mongolia, but to Byzantium. After the conversion of Russia the influence of Constantinople was immense, exercised especially through the Church. Greek clergy went to Russia, bringing literature and ideas. They introduced the Roman principles of inheritance, by which a man’s property went to his offspring, and we can trace the conflict between this principle and the Slavonic custom which devolved property not upon the son, but upon the eldest of the family. In criminal law, the clergy threw all their energy into abolishing the system of pecuniary composition and introducing penalties of death, mutilation, and scourging. The primitive system gradually gave way, but we find in Ivan’s Code some survivals of old customs. It may be noted that the punishment which the Code (Ulozhenie) of Alexis ordained for taking snuff, amputation of the nose as the offending member, is characteristically Byzantine in spirit. It is to be remembered that the little literature which the Russians possessed came from Greek sources, and Byzantine influence has even been traced in the curious Domostroi, a book on household management partly written by Silvester, the councillor of Ivan IV.

It cannot be proved that the machinery of central administration, the system of Prikazy, was due to influence from the same quarter. These bureaux, of which there were more than forty in all, and which were abolished by Peter, appear in the sixteenth century, but the date of their introduction is unknown. Like some of the palatine offices of the later Roman Empire they have the character of domestic rather than of state departments. The Prikaz for embassies dealt with foreign relations, but was of minor importance before the reign of Michael, and it was not till the reign of Alexis that, by the appointment of the able statesman Ordin-Nashchokin, with a special title, to the headship of this, bureau, Russia had a regular Minister for foreign affairs.

Some of the Tsars (Ivan IV and Boris) had shown themselves personally: less prejudiced against, things foreign than the mass of their subjects. The horizon of Philaret had been enlarged by his enforced residence in Poland, and Michael, is said to have been fond of English­men. Alexis broke some of the old traditions, and in his reign presages of future change may be discerned. These slight signs were mainly the consequence of the opening of Russia to foreign merchants, and of the German quarter in the capital; but this influence was augmented by the acquisition of Kieff, which through its long connection with Poland was intellectually at a far higher level than Moscow. Two Kieff scholars (Slavinetski and Satanovski) were called to Moscow in 1650 to translate, the Greek Bible into Russian. It was a west-Russian monk whom Alexis employed as tutor of his children, Simeon Sitianovich, known as Polotski, who knew Latin and Polish, and has been described as a walking encyclopaedia. He exposed the prevailing ignorance and preached the necessity of education. But more remarkable than he was the learned Servian, Iuri Krizhanich, an enthusiastic exponent of the idea of the solidarity of the Slavonic peoples, who set himself the task of furthering their progress by the improvement of their languages so as to render them as adequate as other European tongues to express general ideas, and sought to vindicate the Slavs against foreign calumny and scorn. But the importance of this pioneer of Panslavism lay not in his Slavophil programme, but in what he did by exhibiting the backwardness of Russia, making war upon its spirit of contempt for foreigners, arid, inculcating the need of enlightenment, in the book of Political Ideas which he dedicated to Alexis.

The new ideas, preached by strangers, did not pass by two leading men of the day who held the post of Foreign Minister. Ordin-Nashchokin was alive to the importance of a fuller knowledge of Europe, of acquiring books from abroad, and of developing commerce. Artemon Matvieeff, who succeeded him as chief of the foreign Prilcaz, had married a Scotchwoman, and assimilated European ideas. His wife was not submitted to the seclusion of Russian ladies; occidental fashions were affected in his house and the conduct of his household. His adopted daughter Natalia Naryshkina became the Tsar’s second wife (1672), and the mother of Peter the Great. She displayed the fruits of her bringing up by appearing publicly in her litter with the curtains raised. Her marriage led to the disgrace and exile of Matvieeff on the accession of Theodore (1676), whose mother’s relatives, the Milaslovskis, were his enemies. It is characteristic that the charge alleged against him was sorcery.

The Tsar Alexis was not a great statesman. Like Philip II of Spain, and Joseph II of Austria, he was diligent in attending to the details of public business. But he was susceptible of the influence of minds more powerful than his own, and he knew how to value and to choose Ministers of exceptional ability. During the first half of his reign, his chief guide was his capable kinsman Boris Morozoff, while in subsequent years he entrusted the helm, as we have seen, to the pro­gressive statesmen Ordin-Nashchokin and Matvieeff, both of them new men who had risen from obscurity His old-fashioned piety did not hinder him from supporting the reasonable reforms of Nikon, and his old-fashioned learning enabled him to sympathize with the efforts of those who desired to improve education. Kindly and sociable in disposition, he was open in his later years to the superficial influence of Western ideas; and their progress at his Court was particularly displayed in the performance of dramas with dancing and music, in the presence of himself and the Tsaritsa Natalia—spectacles which at the beginning of his reign he would unreservedly have condemned.

Thus, during the reigns of the first three Romanoffs (Michael, Alexis, and Theodore), access to Western ideas was within the reach of Russians, and this explains the fact that a Peter the Great could arise. The foreign merchants at Moscow, the foreign officers, Scotch and others, in the army, the political negotiations with foreign Courts (especially the French) interested in the Turkish and Polish questions, were insensibly preparing the way for Russia to turn her face in a new direction, though the country at large seemed still impregnably barricaded behind a Chinese wall of prejudice and conservatism. The abolition of the miestnichestvo, already noticed, in Theodore’s reign was a not unimportant breach in the old order; and it was significant that Orthodoxy, feeling itself endangered by the presence of heretics—Romanists, Calvinists, Lutherans—in the foreign quarter of Moscow, came to see that its best defence might be learning and education. It was the Tsar Theodore, pupil of Polotski, who, desiring as he said to imitate Solomon and the Greek Emperors in their love of learning, founded a Moscow Academy, at which Greek and Latin were to be taught as well as Slavonic, in the interests of the Church.

Theodore died in 1682, and his step-brother Peter, destined to regenerate Russia on lines which the later years of his father’s reign had to some extent, though only faintly, indicated, was proclaimed Tsar.