Young Folks' History of Russia - Nathan Dole

How a False Prince


After the death of the Tsar the people hastened to kiss the cross to his widow Irene. But she refused to govern, and took the veil at the Convent of the Virgin, lamenting that "by her the sovereign race had perished." The Patriarch Job, the clergy, and many of the citizens of Moscow, with tears in their eyes, besought her brother Boris to accept the crown. The annalist adds, "Those who could not weep moistened their eyes with spittle." At first he refused, but when he was elected by an assembly of the people in which the "Archers," the clergy, and the smaller nobility were a majority, when his sister "blessed him for the throne," he listened to the voice of "the tempters" and yielded. The son of the Tartar prince was Tsar.

Boris was a remarkably enlightened man; his children were far better educated than most Russians. He was fond of foreigners; his army is said to have contained a detachment of twenty-five hundred men of different nationalities. He showed great favor to English and Dutch merchants, and to the German artisans driven from their land by the Reformation. By their aid "he built a goodly steeple of hewn stone in the inner Castle of Moscow, with thirty-four great, sweet-sounding bells in it, which serves to all these cathedrals and goodly churches standing round about." This was the "Tower of Ivan the Great," ninety-nine meters in height, and topped by a golden dome with a Slavonic inscription in letters of gold.

[Illustration] from History of Russia by Nathan Dole


It was in the time of Boris that the Tsar of Bells, "that bronze Titan," was first cast. Boris was the first to send young Russians abroad to study European arts. He sent eighteen to Lubeck, England, France, and Austria; their parents mourned for them as though they were dead. The foreign powers were not over anxious that the Russians should learn their civilization; the Duke of Alva said it was "inexcusable to furnish Russia with cannon and other arms, and to teach the Russian the way war was carried on in Western Europe, because thus a dangerous neighbor was being educated." Sigismond, King of Poland, long before had written to Queen Elizabeth that he could not endure to see "the Muscovite, who is not only our present adversary, but the hereditary foe of all free states, greatly provided with guns, bullets, and munitions, and especially with artisans who furnish things of great use to the enemy, weapons and arms hitherto unknown and unseen in that barbarous country;" for, said he, "Your majesty cannot be ignorant how great is the cruelty of the said enemy, of what force he is, what tyranny he useth on his subjects, and in what servile sort they be under him. We seemed hitherto to vanquish him only in this, that he was rude of arts, and ignorant of policies."

In spite of the wise rule of the new Tsar, in spite of his successes in Livonia, and his victories over Kasim Girei, Kan of the Crimea, in spite of his generosity and public spirit, the country was uneasy; the peasantry, now bound to the soil, was sullen and hostile; the smaller nobility, who were forced to come at the Tsar's call, mounted, armed, and equipped," began to find his service ruinous; the boyars and great nobles, descendants of Rurik and Gedimin, were ready at any moment to rebel against the usurper. Boris, feeling himself in danger, kept an army of spies; he received the accusations of slaves against their masters; he tortured, mutilated, and exiled many of the Romanof family. He obliged Theodore, the eldest, to become a monk, under the name of Philaret, and his wife to take the veil. "From the son of this monk and this nun emperors were to spring."

[Illustration] from History of Russia by Nathan Dole


A fire broke out in Moscow: Boris rebuilt entire streets at his own expense: the ungrateful people said that he himself had set it. He saved Moscow from the Krim Kan: they said he had invited the Tartars in order to hide the death of Dimitri in a greater danger. A fearful famine desolated Russia for three years; multitudes flocked to Moscow; pestilence broke out; one hundred and twenty thousand people perished in the city; parents ate their own children. Boris caused immense quantities of food and large sums of money to be distributed. The famine was laid to the crimes of Boris Godunof. "He gave the poor the blood of the innocents in a golden cup; he fed them by unholy alms," says the annalist. The fated seven years of his rule were drawing to an end. Suddenly the rumor spread that Dimitri was alive and was coming with arms to take his rightful throne!

This was the story current among the people: A Polish prince while taking his bath fell angry with his valet, who burst into tears and said, "Ah, Prince Adam, if you knew who is serving you, you would not treat me so." "Who art thou?" "I am Dimitri, the son of the Tsar Ivan IV." Then he told the story of his miraculous escape from the assassins, produced a roll of papers, a seal bearing the arms and name of Dimitri, and his baptismal cross adorned with diamonds. Prince Adam lent a ready ear, gave him rich clothes, brocaded kaftans, furs, and gilded arms, and said, "All I have is, at thy service." A Russian fugitive recognized him and declared that he was his old master, the true Dimitri. The Pope's nuncio took him under his protection.

The palatine of Sandomir gave him his support and promised him the hand of his youngest daughter, the beautiful Marina. King Sigismond Vasa received him. The Polish nobles, always ready for any adventure, offered their services, which he accepted with an air of granting a favor. He was courteous and affable, spoke Polish and Russian equally well, was acquainted with Latin and history; he was used to all knightly sports, a mighty wrestler, a sure shot, and a skilful Horseman.

Boris Godunof was at first disposed to treat the matter lightly; he offered money to some of the Poles to deliver over the "monk, rebel, and magician." This only increased their faith in him; they disdained even to reply to the bribe. Boris caused the Patriarch and Prince Basil Shufski to proclaim to the people that Dimitri was really dead and that the pretender was a defrocked monk named Grishka, who had escaped from the White Lake Monastery. The people were hungry for wonders and changes; the real Grishka was wandering among the warlike Kazaks, urging them to take service for the son of the Tsar. The absurdest rumors were in circulation; it was said that Boris was making ready to fly to Persia; the boyars began to declare that it was hard to bear arms against their lawful sovereign; in Moscow two nobles were put to death for drinking the health of the Tsar Dimitri.

Meantime the impostor crossed the Dnieper. Western Russia at once arose; the cities, one after another, opened their gates. The impostor's hussars were dressed in skins of bears floating over their shoulders. On the backs of their cuirasses they bore great eagles or vultures which overtopped their heads; the Russians sent to oppose their progress were frightened at their appearance. "They had no hands to fight, but only feet to run away."

[Illustration] from History of Russia by Nathan Dole


Prince Basil Shuiski was despatched to rally the Russians. He had better success; the impostor was beaten and forced to flee, but through the treachery of the Russian officers he escaped. The war had only begun. Boris Godunof was now deserted by nearly all but the clergy; he was sick and in despair. Three months after he had defeated the impostor he presided over his council of boyars for the last time. Feeling that death was near he put on a black robe, received the sacrament, took a monk's name, and died. The people declared that he had poisoned himself: "He has brought justice upon himself," they said; "he foresaw the wrath of the Prince, whose throne he usurped. He lived like a lion, reigned like a fox, and died like a dog."