Time of Troubles and Michael Romanov by Andrew Hart
November 1, 2010, 5:57 pm
Filed under: history

Michael I (or Mikhail I) was the first Russian tsar from the house of Romanov.  His ascent to the throne ended a tumultuous period of Russian history known as the Time of Troubles.

The Troubles indirectly began because Ivan the Terrible had a penchant for killing his legitimate heirs.  In addition to bludgeoning to death his long-groomed tsarich Ivan in a fit of rage, he allegedly had his younger son Dmitri stabbed to death. This would soon become problematic, as Ivan left his tsardom to his challenged son Feodor I, whose most remarkable trait was his love of traveling Russia for the pleasure of ringing church bells across the land.  When Feodor died childless in 1598, Ivan’s Rurikid line died with him.

Feodor wasn’t much of an administrator, and most of the duties of the tsar were already under the purview of Boris Godunov (whose life would later become the subject of a Modest Mussorgsky opera).  A Great National Assembly (the Zemsky Sobor) named Godunov as Feodor’s successor, and he kept up the empire until 1605.  But he was merely a boyar and many of the nobles (including the influential Romanov family) didn’t feel it necessary to obey him.  There were also several terrible harvests and Cossack raids.

Remember Dmitri, that son of Ivan who got stabbed?  Well, around 1600, various alive people started pretending to be him.  These pretenders became known as the False Dmitris.  The First False Dmitri was the most successful.  He riled up some papists and some Poles and invaded Russia under the auspices of Polish King Sigismund III Vasa.  He married a Russian noblewoman and was the nominal tsar for nearly a year.

But that didn’t last long.  The Rurikids still had a card up their sleeve: Vasiliy Shuisky.  He took advantage of the revelry after False Dmitri I’s marriage and formed a conspiracy to massacre Dmitri and thousands of his Polish supporters in Moscow.  Shuisky was understandably a bit wary of Poles, having murdered thousands of them and killed their beloved False Dmitri.  So he signed an alliance with Sweden.

Bringing Sweden into the affair really annoyed Sigismund, who invaded Russia in full.  Oh, by the way, Poland had a new favorite Dmitri now: False Dmitri II.  The Poles’ first task was to lay a crushing siege on Smolensk.  Shuisky abdicated and fled after he and his Swedish allies were routed at the Battle of Klushino.  At this point (around 1611), Poland occupied most of Russia.  Some wanted False Dmitri II on the throne, but Sigismund decided to take the crown for himself and to convert the Russians to Roman Catholicism.  This was, as one might assume, unpopular among the Russians.

Remember the Swedes?  When last we encountered them, they were getting their asses handed to them at Klushino.  Well, they set up their own little Russian enclave in the northwestern city of Ivanogorod (very close to Sweden) and installed their very own False Dmitri III as their puppet ruler.  They were also incensed at Sigismund’s audacity and started fighting the Ingrian Wars against Poland-controlled Russia.  Sweden and Poland kept fighting over Russia for thirteen years until the Peace of Stolbovo (1617) ended the Ingrian Wars.

Soon thereafter, Russians under merchant-hero Kuzma Minin and Prince Dmitri Pozharsky decided that it was time to expel the Poles once and for all.  The Russians fought the Poles into the Kremlin, from which they surrendered on November 4, 1612.  The Dmitryiad Wars didn’t officially end until the Peace of Deulino (1619).

Now that Russia was a country again, it elected a new tsar: Michael Romanov.  Michael was the son of a powerful Muscovite noble named Feodor Romanov.  Back when Godunov was elected, Feodor was a popular candidate.  Boris saw Feodor as a rival and forced him to take monastic vows under the name Filaret (Feodor’s wife Xenia Shestova took similar vows as “Martha”; she was later known as The Great Nun Martha).

Filaret was named Patriarch of Moscow (the highest office in the Russian Orthodox Church) by False Dmitri I, and continued to serve in that office sporadically until his son was appointed tsar.  Michael was only a teenager when he was elected, and Filaret held much of the power in Russia during Michael’s reign.

Michael was also legendarily saved from Polish invaders by Ivan Susanin, who sacrificed his life so that the future tsar could live.  This legend is the basis for Mikhail Glinka’s opera A Life for the Tsar.


2 Comments so far
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I will admit that I am not sure whether I lie this post or not. I am doing some research on Tsar Michael and I guess I feel like this post is short and fairly biased, leaving many facts aside to paint the picture you have developed. I will say that the picture on its own is quite beautiful… I am just not sure it is ‘true’. Thank you for the opportunity to read it. 🙂

Comment by Badgerdown

sorry- ‘like’… not ‘lie’

Comment by Badgerdown

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