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Boris Fedorovich Godunov


GODUNOV, BORIS FEDOROVICH, tsar of Muscovy (c. 1552-1605), the most famous member of an ancient, now extinct Russian family of Tatar origin, which migrated from the Horde to Muscovy in the 14th century. Boris's career of service began at the court of Ivan the Terrible. He is mentioned in 157o as taking part in the Serpeisk campaign as one of the archers of the guard. In 1571 he strengthened his position at court by his marriage with Maria, the daughter of Ivan's favourite, Malyuta Skuratov. In 158o the tsar chose Irene, the sister of Boris, to be the bride of the tsarevich Theodore, on which occasion Boris was promoted, to the rank of boyar. On his death-bed Ivan ap pointed Boris one of the guardians of his son and successor, Theodore, who was of somewhat weak intellect. The reign of Theodore began with a rebellion in favour of the infant tsarevich Demetrius, the son of Ivan's fifth wife Marie Nagaya, a rebellion resulting in the banishment of Demetrius, with his mother and her relations, to their appanage at Uglich. On the occasion of the tsar's coronation (May 31 1584), Boris was loaded with honours and riches, yet he held but the second place in the regency during the lifetime of his co-guardian Nikita Romanovich, on whose death, in 1585, he was left without any serious -rival. A conspiracy against him of all the other great boyars and the metropolitan Dionysy, which sought to break Boris's power by divorcing the tsar from Godunov's childless sister, only ended in the banish ment or tonsuring of the malcontents.

• Henceforth Godunov was omnipotent. The direction of affairs passed entirely into his hands, and he corresponded with foreign princes as their equal. His policy was generally pacific, but always most prudent. In 1S95 he recovered from Sweden the towns lost during the former reign. Five years previously he had defeated a Tatar raid upon Moscow, for which service he received the title of slugar, an obsolete dignity even higher than that of boyar. Towards Turkey he maintained an independent attitude, sup porting an anti-Turkish faction in the Crimea, and furnishing the emperor with subsidies in his war against the sultan. Godunov encouraged English merchants to trade with Russia by exempting them from tolls. He civilized the north-eastern and south-eastern borders of Muscovy by building numerous towns and fortresses to keep the Tatar and Finn tribes in order. Samara, Saratov, and Tsaritsyn and a whole series of lesser towns owe their existence to him. He also re-colonized Siberia, which had been slipping from the grasp of Muscovy, and formed scores of new settle ments, including Tobolsk and other large centres. It was during his government that the Muscovite Church received its patri archate, which placed it on an equality with other eastern churches and emancipated it from the influence of the metro politan of Kiev. It was Boris's internal policy to support the middle classes at the expense of the old nobility and the peasants, hence the ukase (1587) forbidding the peasantry to transfer themselves from one landowner to another, thus binding them to the soil, and leading to the institution of serfdom in its most grinding form. The sudden death of the tsarevich Demetrius at Uglich (May 15, 1591) has commonly been attributed to Boris.

On the death of the childless tsar Theodore (Jan. 7 1598), a Zemsky Sobor, or national assembly, unanimously elected Boris tsar on Feb. 21. The Romanov family, who had been his chief rivals, were disgraced and banished. Boris was the first tsar to import foreign teachers on a great scale, the first to send young Russians abroad to be educated, the first to allow Lutheran churches to be built in Russia. He also felt the necessity of a Baltic seaboard, and attempted to obtain Livonia by diplomatic means. That Boris was one of the greatest of the Muscovite tsars there can be no doubt. But his great qualities were overbalanced by an incurable suspiciousness. He encouraged informers and per secuted suspects on their unsupported statements. The Romanov family in especial suffered severely from these delations. In 1603 a pretender appeared in Poland, who claimed to be the murdered tsarevich Demetrius, and, with the support of King Sigismund of Poland, he was leading a small army, reinforced by the Don Cossacks, into south-west Russia, when Boris died suddenly (April 13 16o5), leaving one son, Theodore II., who succeeded him for a few months and then was foully murdered by the enemies of the Godunovs.


Platon Vasilievich Pavlov, On the Historical Significance of the Reign of Boris Godunov (Rus.), (185o) ; Sergyei Mikhailivich Soloviev, History of Russia (Rus.), (2nd ed., vols. vii.-viii., 1897).

(R. N. B.)

tsar, theodore, demetrius, tsarevich, russia, muscovy and death