Young Folks' History of Russia - Nathan Dole

How the Dynasty of Andrew God-Loved


Theodore, the son of Ivan the Terrible, was "of a stature, somewhat lowe and grosse, of a sallowe complexion, and inclining to the Dropsie, Hawke-nosed, unsteady in his pose by reason of some weaknesse of his limmes, heavy and unactiue, yet commonly smiling almost to a laughter." A Russian historian says he was "distinguished for his excellent heart; he was of a sweet, philanthropic disposition, and of boundless pity; he fulfilled with scrupulous fervor all the obligations of a perfect Christian, but he looked upon the world as simply frivolous. He shunned the hard labors of government, and though he had every virtue expected of a private citizen, he was a feeble monarch, especially in contrast to such an autocrat as Ivan Terrible, and in the face of the troubles into which Russia was about to fall." His father said of him, "He is a sacristan, not a Tsar's son."

Theodore's brother-in-law, Boris Godunof, the son of a Tartar murza, was of an active and restless disposition, clear-sighted and skilled in affairs, with a keen knowledge of men, and of boundless ambition. "Thou shalt reign," said the soothsayers, according to the legend; then, frightened by the omens, they added timidly, "Thou shalt reign but for seven years only." "Were it only seven days, no matter," said Boris; "only let me reign."

Boris used every means to get the supreme power; he had been Ivan's minister, and was appointed one of the five boyars of the Council of Regency. At first Theodore's uncle, Nikfta Romanof, ruled in his name. He died, and the power passed to Boris.

Prince Bielski was banished; the other two rivals in the Council were charged with treason and put out of the way. The Metropolitan was deposed and replaced by Job, whom Boris soon raised to be Patriarch. Theodore gave Boris the title of Allied Chief Boyar: he had immense revenues; it is said that he could bring from his own estates an army of a hundred thousand men. Theodore, "simple and slow witted, quiet, merciful, of no maretial disposition, nor greatly apt for matters of policie," allowed his regent to reply to envoys, to receive the gifts of foreign princes, to reign in all but name. Boris recaptured from Sweden the cities taken from Ivan the Terrible; he schemed in Poland for the union of the two countries; he tried to win the friendship of the clergy by the creation of the Patriarchate, the support of the smaller nobility by binding the peasant to the soil, so that the great land-owners might not attract away the laborers from their estates.

Young priest of the Greek church


Hitherto the peasant was in law a freeman; he was allowed to change his master on St. George's Day. Henceforth he was a serf. This law became so odious to both master and peasant that Boris himself partly repealed it: while they were still forbidden to change from a small to a great proprietor, ten at a time were allowed, on St. George's Day, to pass from one small land-owner to another.

By these means Boris created for himself a strong party of which he had no small need. The Tsar Theodore had a half-brother Dimitri, son of his father's seventh wife. This Dimitri, his mother and her relations, the Nagoi, were exiled, for fear of their intrigues, to Uglitch. As Theodore had no left children, and his health was not firm, many looked upon Dimitri as his probable successor. Boris knew this danger only too well. Suddenly the news came that the young Dimitri was dead. The Englishman, Horsey, happened to be about twenty miles from Uglitch on the night of the tragedy: he tells how one rapped at his gate at midnight, and how he took his pistols and went to the door with his fifteen servants, thinking verily the end of his days had come. There stood the Empress's brother, who whispered, "The Tsar's son Dimitri is dead; his throat was cut about the sixth hour, and the Empress is poisoned and on the point of death. Help and give some good things, for the passion of Christ's sake!"

The story was that Dimitri was playing in the court-yard of his palace. His nurse, a governess, and a maid were near; his mother had just left him for a moment. Suddenly he was discovered bathed in blood with a great wound in his throat. The women screamed; Martha Nagoi came running back; the bell of the palace was rung; the inhabitants of Uglitch, thinking there was a fire, hurried to the scene. To calm the tumult, the spy of Boris Godunof shouted that the boy had fallen in a fit and killed himself. His mother, half beside herself, cried, "There is the murderer!"

Instantly a hundred hatchets chopped the wretched man and his son to bits. Then the mob fell upon the governess and killed her son before her eyes. A dozen of Theodore's men were "forked like hares."

Boris Godunof, knowing that he was charged with the murder, ordered an inquest, at the head of which he appointed Prince Basil Shuiski, who passed for his enemy. No evidence of crime was brought to light; the verdict declared that the young Prince had fallen in a fit, and that the Nagoi and the inhabitants of Uglitch had put innocent men to death. Martha Nagoi was forced to take the veil; her two brothers were killed; two hundred of the inhabitants of Uglitch were put to death; the rest were exiled to Siberia. The palace was destroyed; even the bell was sent to Siberia. Seven years later Theodore died. It was said that on his death-bed he presented Boris Godunof with a gold chain and a box of relics, and appointed him his successor. "Regent of the orthodox people," said he, "place thy hands on these holy relics; govern wisely; then shalt thou reach thy desire, but thou wilt find that all on this earth is vanity and deception."