Sunday, January 3, 2016

How did Tsar Michael Romanov Re-establish Russia's Foreign Relations?

Tsar Michael Romanov
Tsar Michael Romanov
Discover how Tsar Michael Romanov restarted Russia’s foreign relations after the Time of Troubles.

After fifteen years of violence and chaos brought by the Time of Troubles, Russia finally had a ruler - a Tsar. Mikhail Feodorovich Romanov ascended to the throne with the task of rebuilding Russia. But he must rebuild Russia beyond its borders. He must re-establish Russia as a sovereign and stable country in the international stage. He had to handle how Russia could achieve peace from foreign interventions and invasions that started a decade ago. The task seemed to be overwhelming, but Mikhail Romanov or Tsar Michael to step up to the challenge; otherwise, Russia might cease to exist as a free, independent and sovereign state.

Michael Feodorovich Romanov

Mikhail Feodorovich Romanov, founder of the Romanov Dynasty, became Tsar at a very young age – just 16 years old - otherwise, a teenager. He ruled the Tsardom of Muscovy from 1613 to 1645, leading the country to recovery after the terrible and dark period in Russian history known as the Time of Troubles. Born in 1596. Mikhail or Michael was the son of the Boyar Feodor Nikitivich Romanov and Xenia Shestova. Their family became powerful, after one of the Romanovs, Anastasiya, married Tsar Ivan IV “the Terrible” and his son, Feodor assumed the throne in 1584. In 1600, Michael became separated from his parents when Tsar Boris Godunov cracked down on rival powerful boyar families, including the Romanovs. The Tsar forced Michael’s parents to divorce and take their vows in their respective monasteries. Feodor took the name Filaret and Xenia took the name Martha. Mikhail grew up alone for few years until his mother took him back after the death of Tsar Boris in 1605. They lived in fear for their lives, not to mention amidst the crisis after crisis that Russia suffered. In 1613, even though young, the National Assembly or the Zemsky Sobor, composed of men from various sectors of society, elected Mikhail Feodorovich Romanov as the new Tsar and Autocrat of all the Russia.

Time of Troubles

Michael took over the country that was tired from the Time of Troubles. The Time of Troubles began with Tsar Feodor’s demise in 1698. He had no children and no brothers, especially when the last of which, Dmitry, passed away in 1691 due to the stabbing of his own neck caused by an epileptic attack. A Zemsky Sobor elected a new Tsar, Boris Godunov. Godunov crashed the Romanovs by sending its prominent member, Feodor, to take his vows as a monk under the name of Filaret. Tsar Boris’ reign became rattled with famine, banditry, rebellion and rival claims. Claims coming from other boyars and imposters who declared themselves as the dead Prince Dmitry. Three appeared.

Foreign countries took advantage of Russia’s weakness. Sweden invaded Russian provinces in the Gulf of Finland. Poland supported the claims of the False Dimitrys and invaded western provinces of the Muscovite Tsardom.

Peasant and Cossack rebellions made things worse. In 1610, Russia had no Tsar. Boyars complicated diplomatic matters when they offered the throne to the princes of the two invading countries – Prince Wladyslaw of Poland and Prince Karl Philip of Sweden. Filaret Romanov took part in a diplomatic embassy to offer the throne to the Polish Prince. But then the Polish King Sigismund rejected the proposal and arrested the mission along with Filaret and sent them back to Poland. The Poles eventually took Moscow in 1611 but then got kicked out in 1612. After the Russians united to defeat the Poles, they elected Michael Romanov as Tsar, which marked the end of the Time of Troubles, or at least end of the worst of it. Nevertheless, Russia faced problems from their foreign invaders – the Swedes and the Poles.

Relations with Sweden and Poland

Sweden and Poland, two great European powers, had become major players in Russian affairs. During the Time of Troubles, Sweden had advanced in northwestern Russia, taking Livonia, the economically strategic city of Novgorod and Ingria, a region that connected Russia to the Baltic Sea and ultimately Europe. In addition to territorial gains, Sweden also had a contender to the Russian throne, Prince Karl Philip, who became a candidate for the throne, after Boyars and rebels offered the Swedish prince the Tsardom.
Prince Wladyslaw, later King of Poland
Next, Poland posted another threat to the recovery and stability of Russia and the newly founded Romanov Dynasty. The Poles had advanced in western Russia, capturing the major city of Smolensk, one of the biggest forts in Europe and stood on the roads towards Moscow. In addition to that, like Sweden, Poland also had its own contender to the Russian throne – Prince Wladyslaw. Wladyslaw’s name emerged as a contender during the time when Russia had no Tsar. The Council of Boyars offered it to the Polish Prince. Besides a contender, Poland also possessed someone who was personally vital to the new Tsar – Michael’s father. Filaret had been the captive of the Poles in 1610 after he took part in the diplomatic mission to offer the throne to Wladyslaw and presented the conditions to the Poland’s ruler King Sigismund III. When Sigismund refused, he had Filaret and company incarcerated in Poland.

Hence, successfully setting up diplomatic relations with Poland and Sweden defined the security of Russia as well as the position of Michael and the faith of the newly established Romanov Dynasty.

Peace with Sweden

Russia needed peace or Michael faced trouble. Russia had been weakened by the internal strife and foreign invasion. The people felt tired and wanted to recoever and to rejuvenate. But the country cannot recover if foreigners threatened her existence. Thus, Michael placed peace talks as his main priority in dealing with Sweden and Poland. Nevertheless, he needed an advantage or at least an equal playing field so that Russia could achieve an acceptable peace terms. But Michael prepared himself that peace had its price – either land or money.

Handling Sweden proved to be an easier task. Sweden substantially gained vital lands from Russia, including Novgorod. The problem of Charles Philip as a rival to the throne dissipated immediately when Michael proved to be able to maintain his throne. But the issue of Swedish incursions to Russian territory seemed to be harder to solve. In 1615, Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus or Gustav II Adolf besieged Pskov. Luckily for Michael, Pskov successfully resisted the Swedes. Russian reinforcements rushed in to relieve the city.

On the aftermath, the battle for Pskov proved to be costly for both sides and both wanted a peaceful settlement. The Dutch and the English mediated the negotiation between Russia and Sweden. John Merrick served as the representative of the Dutch and English and mediated the talks of the two sides. The arduous negotiations ultimately led to the Treaty of Stolbovo. It ended the war between Russia and Sweden over the Gulf of Finland and the lands called Ingria. For Russia, it got back the cities of Novgorod, Staraia Rusa, Porkhov, and Sumersk. But Sweden, however, remained in control of Karelia, Ingria, Oresheck, Iam, and Ivangorod. In addition, Russia needed to pay an indemnity of 20,000 Rubles to Sweden. In the end, Russia lose its window to the Baltic, lose money, but won her most desired peace. Over the years, Russia established relatively peaceful relations with Sweden.

Truce with Poland

Relations with Poland, however, proved to shakier than with Sweden. In 1613, Russian forces attempted to retake the city of Smolensk. It failed. In 1618, the Polish prince Wladyslaw decided to take the previous Russian offer of Tsardom and led a mercenary army to conquer Moscow. He also received support from the rebellious Ukranian Cossacks for his campaign. In September of 1618, Prince Wladyslaw besieged Moscow. For months, Moscow and Tsar Michael resisted the invaders. Eventually, the Russian winter set in and the battle ended up with a stalemate.

Both sides agreed to negotiate for a ceasefire between Poland and Russia, resulting to the agreement known as the Truce of Deulino in December 1618. It established a truce that would last for 14 years. Under the conditions of the truce, major cities of Smolensk and Chernigov and 30 other towns remained in Polish hands. Polish lands in Russia ended in the town of Kaluga. Furthermore, Prince Wladyslaw refused to renounce his claim to the Russian throne.

For Tsar Michael, the Truce of Deulino brought personal gains. Poland agreed to return Russian prisoners captured during the Time of Troubles. In other words, Poland returned Michael’s father Filaret. The return of Filaret dictated the relation of Poland and Russia from that point on.

Filaret became an influential figure in Russian politics. After his return, his son, Tsar Michael appointed him the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. With this position, he governed the country alongside his son. But his strong figure resulted much of the state affairs being handled by him. Personally, Filaret had desired a vendetta towards the Poles. His captivity in their hands drove this desire for revenge. He reformed Russia’s economy, finance, and military in order to build up for a future war that they knew would come after the Truce of Deulino ended in 1632.

Under Filaret’s Influence

Patriarch Filaret Romanov
Filaret became a leading figure in Russian politics. Michael appointed him as the Patriarch of Moscow, henceforth, head of the Russian Orthodox Church. With his relation to Michael and his position in the influential church, he wielded enormous influence to the Tsar and government as well. One of his goals – avenge his long incarceration in Poland.

In preparation for their revenge against Poland, Filaret and Michael forged an alliance with enemies of the Poles – Sweden and the Ottoman Empire. Religious difference as well as political advantages drove them into forming those alliances. Sweden needed the Poles to be distracted in their Russian frontier so that they would not interfere in their future engagement in Germany as part of its commitment in the Thirty Years’ War on the side of the Protestants. The Ottomans desired to weaken the Catholic Poles who had interfered in the Muslim Empire’s conquest in Western Europe.

In 1630, Russia consented to an agreement with Sweden through its ambassador Anton Monier. In the agreement, Russia would sell Sweden its rye in exchange for the latter’s modern weapons. To the Turks, Russia asked the Ottoman Sultan Murad IV to constrain their Crimean Khanate allies in the south to cease their raids in order for the Russians to concentrate their forces towards Poland. With all of this arrangements Russia mobilized for war as the time of the truce enforced in Deulino loomed.

Smolensk War

The Smolensk War in 1632 concluded the Truce of Deulino. At the end of the fourteen year ceasefire, Tsar Michael, under the urging of his towering father Filaret, declared war against Poland. Coincidently, Polish King Sigismund III passed away. Filaret estimated that Poland would be leaderless for a while and Russia could take advantage of the situation. With her newly rebuild army, the Russian army marched 30,000 strong men under the command of Mikhail Shein to retake the strategic city of Smolensk. In October 1632, the siege of Smolensk began. Although reformed and rebuild the army lacked the equipment and proper leadership to truly execute an effective siege.

For almost a year, the Russians besieged the fort city to no avail. Filaret’s hope of a long time kingless Poland did not materialize. Prince Wladyslaw took the Polish throne as King Wladyslaw IV. The new king quickly mobilized a 20,000 strong army to relieve Smolensk. The Russian attempted to hold back the Polish army. The Russian besiegers became surrounded by the Poles. For months, the battle for Smolensk continued. In March 1634, Russian commander Mikhail Shein, felt the dire situation that his army fell into and decided to surrender. King Wladyslaw allowed the Russians to be free to go home but they must leave their equipment and supplies. The siege drained Russia’s resources and the Boyars and Tsar Michael needed a scape goat for the catastrophic defeat in Smolensk. As Mikhail Shein returned, the Tsar ordered his arrest and trial for negligence and incompetence, resulting ultimately to a guilty verdict and execution.
Mikhail Shein surrendering to the Poles in Smolensk
On the other hand, Russia had no capacity to continue war against Poland. Its allies Sweden and the Ottomans underwent changes. Russia’s ally, Gustavus Adolphus fell in the Battle of Lutzen, The Russo-Swedish alliance against Poland died with him. The Ottomans went to war against their Safavid Persian enemies and so could not make a diversionary attack in Hungary and Southern Poland. Another factor came in form of the demise of the instigator of the war, the Patriarch Filaret passed away in 1633. With no allies, no more money, and no motivator, Tsar Michael agreed to an armistice with Poland, resulting to the signing of the Treaty of Polianovka in June 4, 1634.

The Treaty of Polianovka emerged as the armistice of the war that began during the Time of Troubles between Russia and Poland. Poland kept its gains from 1618. Smolensk, Chernigov, and Sversk remained in Polish hands. Russia also had to pay 20,000 Ruble indemnity. Nevertheless, Michael secured his position and that of the Romanov Dynasty when King Wladyslaw IV dropped his claim to the Russian throne. The Treaty marked a shift in Russia’s focus in its foreign policy from Europe towards the south.

Russia’s European Affairs

Russia, nevertheless, continued to engage in smaller matters in European affairs. In the 1640’s a coalition started to form between Denmark, Poland, and Russia to challenge Sweden’s domination of the Baltic Sea.

In 1643, Tsar Michael and King Christian IV consented to a marriage between the Romanov Princess Irina to marry the Oldenburg Prince Waldemar to seal an alliance between the two countries. Prince Waldemar began his long journey to Russia. While on his way, in October 1643, Sweden launched a pre-emptive strike against Denmark. Denmark stood in a dangerous position. In January 1644, Prince Waldemar received a message from King Christian IV ordering him to pressure the Russian Tsar Michael in attacking the Swedes in the Gulf of Finland to provide much needed diversion for Denmark. Waldemar arrived in Russia and gave the demands to the Tsar. But Tsar Michael feared that the country wasn’t ready to go to war yet, especially against much superior force. Michael then had second thoughts about the marriage. He replied to Waldemar’s demands with another ultimatum: Waldemar to convert to Russian Orthodoxy and even so, Russian intervention could not still be counted. Tsar knew Waldemar would not agree. Indeed, Waldemar rejected it. In order to throw away any Swedish suspicions of possible Russian engagement, Tsar Michael ordered the arrest of Waldemar in the name of national security and peace. Tsar Michael could not afford to imbalance Russian stability yet.

Shift to the South

Russia engaged with its southern neighbors after the peace of Polianovka in 1633. It had a complicated but also good relation with some factions in that region. Crimean and other Tatar Khanates, Ottoman Empire, and the Persians engaged the Russians. But there existed smaller autonomous groups whom Russia had connections with as well, such as the Cossacks.

The Crimean Khanate posed the greatest threat to Russian security. Even as far back as the arrival of the Mongols in the Russian steppes, the Tatars had raided time and again Russian towns. Under the Muscovy Tsardom, Tatars became a thorn in Russian southern borders. The Crimean Khanate, the most stand out among the Tatar Khanates caused the failure of the Smolensk campaign and Russian diversion to southern Russian affairs.

In 1632, the Crimean Khan Janibek Girey lose control over his nobles or Mirzas and chieftains or Beys. Crimean Tatars ravaged the southern frontiers of Russia. In 1633, a 30,000 strong army attacked the Abatis Line – the line of defensive fortifications with the objective of halting any northward advance of the Tatars. Kolomna and Riazan fell to the invading Tatars. Russia sought the Ottomans help by asking them, the Tatar’s overlords, to cease any further raids in southern Muscovy. But many Tatar rulers had decided not to listen to their Ottoman overlords and even viewed themselves as independent. With Ottoman calls for a stop of Tatar incursions, Russia shifted its focus from Poland and Europe to the Tatars.

After the Smolensk War ended, Russian regular forces marched down south. They repaired and reinforced the Abatis Line. New fortified towns, interconnected with each other, were founded such as Chernavsk, Kozlov, Verkhny, Lomov, Nizhny, Tambov, and Efremov. The Russians even started to build a new fortification lines like the Belgrade Line. The problem of the Tatars was never fully settled at the time of Michael. The issue fell in the hands of Michael’s successors.

Russia developed good relations with other Khanates, for example, the Bukhara Khanate, despite the terrible conditions with the Crimean Khanate. Tsar Michael and Bukhara Khan Imam-Quli Khan (ruled from 1611 to 1641) developed good relations. Tsar Michael received a mission in 1619 from Imam-Quli. He also received a gift of good faith from the Khan in form of the return of Russian slaves bought by Bukhara from Noghai and Crimean raiders. Michael then sent Ivan Danilovich Khoklov to return with the Bukhara mission of 1619 and serve as Moscow’s ambassador to Khan Imam-Quli.

Russia also had a shaky relation with the Ottoman Empire. As stated above, they developed an alliance against the Poles during the prologue to the Smolensk War. Tsar Michael also asked the Ottomans to help in quelling or at least reducing Tatar incursions to Russian towns. Nevertheless, the two countries almost went to war against each other. 

In 1637, Don Cossacks, although Russian but doesn’t submit completely to Moscow, attacked and captured the port of Azov. In addition, during the siege, the Cossacks murdered an Ottoman diplomat, Foma Cantacuzene. Michael played carefully. He knew the great strategic value of Azov to Russian access to the sea Azov, but also the trouble of war with the Ottoman Empire. And so he played a two prong approach. He supplied the Don Cossacks in Azov but still pushing for peace with Ottoman Sultan Murad IV. Michael hoped that the Ottomans would let go of the port. But it proved to be wrong. In 1641, the new Sultan Ibrahim sent an expeditionary force to recapture Azov. It failed. The new Sultan proved to be aggressive and won’t hesitate to go to war. Michael on the other hand wanted to maintain peace. In March 1642, Sultan Ibrahim demanded Michael to order the Don Cossacks to leave Azov or face war. Michael had no choice but to comply. Don Cossacks withdrew and in September, Ottoman forces retook Azov. It would take more than 50 years before the Russians would take the port again.
Shah Abbas I's Court
Michael also had a good relation with another Muslim ruler – Shah Abbas of the Safavid Persia. Back then, Persia and Russia had commercial relations connected to the famous Silk Road. Abbas looked for Russia as a partner against the Ottoman Turks. But later it proved to be a dead end when Russia needed an alliance with the Ottomans against the Poles and to control the Crimean Tatars. Michael engaged Shah Abbas by sending an embassy led by Ivan Ivanovich Chicherin to Persia and gave falcons as gifts. In 1625, Michael received a religiously significant gift from Shah Abbas after his conquest of Georgia. The Russians received a cloth said to be used on Jesus during the crucifixion that a Roman soldiers took to Georgia. The relic had been placed in various churches in Russia afterwards. In the late 1620’s Georgia rebelled against the Safavid invaders. Tsar Michael received a plea of assistance from his fellow Orthodox Georgian rebel king Teimuraz against the Muslim Safavids. The Tsar pleaded Shah Abbas to recognize King Teimuraz, which the Shah did ultimately.

Michael’s foreign policies resulted to Russia’s return to the international stage and solving the problem of foreign intervention. Although some problems remained, such as the issue of Smolensk and the problem of Tatar raids, Russia achieved peace. He ended the war with Sweden retaking major cities. He ended the Polish threat to his Tsardom and got back his father Filaret, even though he failed to retake Smolensk. He brought Russia as a player in the world stage. His foreign policy contributed to Russia’s revival from the Time of Troubles.
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Green, Nile (ed.). Writing Travel in Central Asian History. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2014.

Kotilaine, Jarmo & Poe, Marshall (eds.). Modernizing Muscovy: Reform and Social Change in Seventheenth-century Russia. New York, New York: Routledge Curzon, 2005.

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Perrie, Maureen. The Cambridge History of Russia Volume I: From Early Rus' to 1689. New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

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