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Time of Troubles

For the Dungeons & Dragons plotline, see Time of Troubles (Forgotten Realms).

The Time of Troubles (Russian: Смутное время, Smutnoye Vremya) was a period of Russian history comprising the end of 16th and beginning of 17th century.

The Time of Troubles started in 1598, when the last of Moscow Rurikids, Tsar Feodor Ivanovich, died without issue. On his death Feodor's brother-in-law and closest advisor, Boris Godunov, was elected his successor by a Great National Assembly. His short reign (1598-1605) was not so successful as his administration under the weak Feodor. The oligarchical party, headed by the Romanovs, considered it a disgrace to obey a simple boyar; conspiracies were frequent, the rural districts were desolated by famine and plague, great bands of armed brigands roamed about the country committing all manner of atrocities, the Cossacks on the frontier were restless, and the government showed itself incapable of maintaining order.

Under the influence of the great nobles who had unsuccessfully opposed the election of Godunov, the general discontent took the form of hostility to him as a usurper, and rumours were heard that the late tsar's younger brother Dimitri, supposed to be dead, was still alive and in hiding. In 1603 a man calling himself Dimitri, and professing to be the rightful heir to the throne, appeared in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and a few months later he crossed the frontier with a large force of Poles, Russian exiles, German mercenaries and Cossacks from the Dnieper and the Don, in what marked the begining of the Commonwealth intervention in Muscovy, or the Dimitriads wars. In reality the younger son of Ivan the Terrible had been strangled before his brother's death by orders (it was said but never proved) of Godunov and the mysterious individual who was impersonating him was an impostor; but he was regarded as the rightful heir by a large section of the population, and immediately after Boris's death in 1605 he made his triumphal entry into Moscow.

The reign of Dimitri was short and uneventful. Before a year had passed a conspiracy was formed against him by an ambitious Rurikid prince called Vasily Shuisky, and he was assassinated in the Moscow Kremlin. The chief conspirator, Shuisky, seized the power and was elected tsar by an Assembly composed of his faction, but neither the ambitious boyars, nor the pillaging Cossacks, nor the German mercenaries were satisfied with the change, and soon a new impostor, likewise calling himself Dimitri, son of Tsar Ivan, came forward as the rightful heir. Like his predecessor, False Dmitriy I, he enjoyed the protection and support of the Polish king, Sigismund III, and was strong enough to compel Shuisky to abdicate; but as soon as the throne was vacant Sigismund put forward as a candidate his own son, Wladislaus. To this latter some people in Moscow swore allegiance on condition of his maintaining Orthodoxy and granting certain rights, and on this understanding the Polish troops were allowed to occupy the city and the Kremlin. Then Sigismund unveiled his real plan, which was to obtain the throne for himself and to convert Russia into Roman Catholicism. This scheme did not please any of the contending factions and it roused the anti-Catholic fanaticism of the masses. At the same time it was displeasing to the Swedes, who had become rivals of the Poles on the Baltic coast, and they started a false Dimitri of their own in Novgorod.

Russia was thus in a very critical condition. The throne was vacant, the great nobles quarrelling among themselves, the Catholic Poles in the Kremlin of Moscow, the Protestant Swedes in Novgorod, and enormous bands of brigands everywhere. The severity of the crisis produced a remedy, in the form of a patriotic rising of the nation under the leadership of a Nizhny Novgorod butcher (literally by profession) Kuzma Minin and a Rurikid Prince Pozharsky. By 1612 the invaders were expelled from Moscow, and a Grand National Assembly elected as tsar Michael Romanov, the young son of the metropolitan Philaret, who was connected by marriage with the late dynasty.

The Dymitriads wars with the Commonwealth would last until the Peace of Dywilino in 1619.

See also


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