Sunday, January 10, 2016

Time of Troubles: The Time Before the Romanovs (Part 2)

Bolotnikov's Battle with the Tsar's Army at Nizhniye Kotly
Time of Troubles was a turbulent period in Russian history. Explore this period where intrigue, rivalry, pretenders, rebellions and invasions plagued the lands of Russia.

Vasily Shuisky rose to power by removing the handpicked successor of Boris Godunov. His usurpation of power made his rule illegitimate. His reign continued the same old problems of majority of Russians, which gave them the reason to rose up it revolt.

The Bolotnikov Rebellion

The rise of Vasily Shuisky as Tsar did not alleviate the chaotic situation. Instead, many continued to suffer poverty, abuse and hardship. They only need a charismatic leader to enflame their discontent to a rebellion.

The Bolotnikov Rebellion was the result of the collapse of the Russian state. Peasants, abused and impoverished blamed the Tsar and the nobility in driving the country into anarchy and poverty. The rebellion began once again in Southern Russia, in Kromy specifically, led by a Cossack named Ivan Bolotnikov. From Kromy, the rebels marched north to Kaluga. From there, they prepared to advance to the capital itself. By November 1606, they reached the outskirts of Moscow, setting up base in Kolomenskoe, southeast of the capital.

Minor rebel groups then joined Bolotnikov. They included a lesser noble named Istoma Pashkov and another noble named Prokopi Liapunov. The consolidation of rebel groups, however, led to conflicts of interest. For example some noble groups wanted to protect their interest, mainly their social privileges and their own wealth. Other rebel groups, like that of Bolotnikov, desired reform and change in Russian society, which had become an oligarchy where the nobles or the Boyars ruled the country at the expense of the peasantry. With the division in goals, the rebellion disintegrated, which prevented them from besieging Moscow.

This weakness became an opportunity for Shuisky to push back the rebels. One the Tsar’s relatives, Mikhail Skopin-Shuisky led the Tsarist army against the rebels and pushed them back further south in December 1606. Bolotnikov then had to retreat back to Kaluga. But when rebellion seemed to begin to weaken, another problem further complicated the already dire situation of Russia.

A “False Peter” Appeared

A “False Peter” appeared in 1607. The False Peter claimed to be the son of the late Tsar Feodor, the last Rurik Tsar who died childless. False Peter gained support from the Cossacks and joined Bolotnikov in Kaluga. However, he stood out notoriously as he proved himself to be sadistically cruel. This added further to the weakening of the rebellion. The False Peter’s cruelty averted popular support for the rebellion.

This allowed Skopin-Shuisky to continue pursuing the rebels and inflicting them with strings of defeats. From Kaluga the rebels had to escape to Tula. Around June 1607, Skopin-Shuisky besieged Bolotnikov and the False Peter in Tula. The siege lasted for four months until October when the city finally fell. Skopin-Shuisky captured False Peter and Bolotnikov.

The two rebel leaders ultimately faced their own demise. In January 1608, Tsar Vasily Shuisky had the False Peter tortured and hanged publicly. While Bolotnikov faced a more behind the scenes death. Tsar Vasily’s men drowned the rebel leader while on his way to exile in Siberia. While the Bolotnikov rebellion and the issue of the False Peter ended, meanwhile, in Poland, Tsar Vasily had a new problem.
Second False Dmitry

The Rise of the Second False Dmitry

A second False Dmitry showed up in Poland in 1607 as the Bolotnikov Rebellion entered its period of decline. False Dmitry II invaded Russia in September 1607 with the support of Poland. From late 1607 to early 1608, False Dmitry II advanced further until reaching 12 kilometers northeast Moscow, in the town called Tushino.

In Tushino, False Dmitry II established a government and began to truly function like a state, complete with law and taxes. People then gave the False Dmitry II the nickname the Brigand of Tushino. Marina Mniszech, the wife of False Dmitry I, went to Tushino and recognized False Dmitry II as his supposedly dead husband. The two lived together and even had a son named Ivan.

Boyar rivals of the Shuiskys, meanwhile, also joined False Dmitry II’s government. The Romanovs joined False Dmitry; and, the prominent Romanov Filaret became the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church under the appointment of False Dmitry II.

Different objectives and ambitions within the government of False Dmitry II also caused fraction. Peasants, Cossacks, nobles and the clergy had different agendas and were unable to find a common ground with each other. Discipline faltered, which then resulted to increasing abuses, extortion, and violence. With violence under False Dmitry II’s government, resistance to him grew in the north centered in the north town of Vologda, which slowly and ultimately drained the support base of the rebellion.

Tsar Vasily Retalitates

Tsar Vasily made concessions and difficult decisions in order to quell the rebellions and oppositions. By the end of 1608, Vasily negotiated peace with Sweden in order to move his troops from the Russian-Swedish border back to Moscow to stop False Dmitry II. Sweden and Russia did made peace. Vasily gained the support of over 10,000 Swedish mercenaries to supplement his forces to defeat False Dmitry. 

The Swedish support, however, came with a price of land. Vasily gave up Livonia to Sweden. With the support of Swedish mercenaries and under the command of Prince Mikhail Skopin-Shuisky, Tsarist forces pushed the rebels out of Novgorod and kicked False Dmitry II out of Tushino, forcing him to escape to Kaluga, southwest of Moscow. By March 1610, Skopin-Shuisky’s forces triumphantly returned to Moscow. But it marked not the start of stability of Tsar Vasily’s rule, but rather it marked the beginning of its end.

Poland Invades Russia

Poland moved to make matters worse in an already chaotic Muscovy. Poland felt its interest in Russia threatened by the Swedish intervention in the suppression of the False Dmitry II. Poland’s King Sigismund III moved to assert his country’s interest. Sigismund III’s army besieged the major Russian city of Smolensk. Poland further became entrenched to the Time of Troubles after Sigismund received an interesting offer from Russian Boyars.

Rival boyars of Tsar Vasily, led by the priest Filaret Romanov, refused to recognize Vasily as their Tsar. They also refused to further support False Dmitry II’s government who had been relocated in Kaluga. Filaret and company decided to offer the position of Tsar to the son of the powerful Polish - Prince Wladyslaw - in exchange for the Prince’s conversion to Russian Orthodox Church and the boyars and the Church having significant power and authority over the possible new Tsar. The idea of a Polish Tsar was the root cause of war and instability for the future Tsars of Russia.

The Fall of Vasily Shusky

The fall of Tsar Vasily Shuisky loomed as April 1610 approached. The Tsar’s closest and most able commander, Prince Mikhail Skopin-Shuisky mysteriously passed away. Without the great Shuisky general, boyars opposing Vasily’s rule plotted the his demise. This plotting Boyars included Prokopi Liapunov, Vasily Galitsyn, and of course, Filaret Romanov. The nobles saw an opportunity when Tsar Vasily suffered a defeat in the hands of Poland’s Winged Hussars in Klushino. Vasily’s Swedish mercenaries had abandoned him when Prince Mikhail Shopin-Shuisky passed away. In July, the Boyars forced Tsar Vasily Shuisky to abdicated and take his vows as a monk with the name Varlaam.

But even with the fall of Vasily failed to secure internal stability. Russia continued to face civil war and an increasingly aggressive neighbor.

Explore also:

Freeze, Gregory. Russia: A History. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Langer, Lawrence. Historical Dictionary of Medieval Russia. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2002.

Moss, Walter. A History of Russia Volume I: To 1917. London: Anthem Press, 2005.

Stone, David. A Military History of Russia: From Ivan the Terrible to the War in Chechnya. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press Publishing, Company, 2006.

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