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Godunov () Boris Feodorovich

Godunov () Boris Feodorovich (15511605)

Boris Feodorovich Godunov was de facto regent of Russia from 1584 to 1598 and then the first non-Rurikid tsar from 1598 to 1605. The end of his reign saw Russia descending into the Time of Troubles.

Boris Godunov was the most famous member of an ancient, now extinct, Russian family of Tatar origin, which migrated from the Horde to Kostroma in the early 14th century. Godunov's career of service began at the court of Ivan the Terrible. He is mentioned in 1570 as taking part in the Serpeisk campaign as one of the archers of the guard. The following year, he became a member of the feared Oprichnina.

In 1571 Godunov strengthened his position at court by his marriage to Maria, the daughter of Ivan's abominable favorite Malyuta Skuratov. In 1580 the Tsar chose Irene, the sister of Godunov, to be the wife of his son and heir, the fourteen year old Tsarevich Feodor Ivanovich (15571598); on this occasion Godunov was promoted to the rank of boyar. On his deathbed Ivan appointed a council consisting of Godunov, Feodor Nikitich Romanov, and Vasili Shuiski along with others, to guide his son and successor; for Feodor was feeble both in mind and in health; he took refuge from the dangers of the palace in devotion to religion; and though his people called him a saint, they recognized that he lacked the iron to govern men.

Upon his death Ivan also left behind the three year old Dmitri Ivanovich (15811591), born from his seventh and last marriage. As the Orthodox Church recognized only the initial three marriages, and any offspring thereof, as legitimate, Dmitri (and his mother's family) technically had no real claim to the throne.

Still, taking no chances, the Council, shortly after Ivan's death, had both Dmitri and his mother Maria Nagaya moved to Uglich some 120 miles north of Moscow. It was there that Dmitri died a few years later at the age of ten (1591). An official commission, headed by Vasili Shuiski, was sent to determine the cause of death; the official verdict was that the boy had cut his throat during an epileptic seizure. Ivan's widow claimed that her son had been murdered by Godunov's agents. Godunov's guilt was never established and shortly thereafter Dmitri's mother was forced to take the veil. As for Dmitri Ivanovich he was laid to rest and promptly, though temporarily, forgotten.

On the occasion of the Tsar's coronation (May 31, 1584), Boris was given honors and riches as part of a five man regency council, yet he held the second place during the lifetime of the Tsar's uncle Nikita Romanovich, on whose death, in August, he was left without any serious rival.

A conspiracy against him of all the other great boyars and the metropolitan Dionysius, which sought to break Boris's power by divorcing the Tsar from Godunov's childless sister, only ended in the banishment 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 1595 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 konyushy, an obsolete dignity even higher than that of boyar. Towards Turkey he maintained an independent attitude, supporting 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 Russia by building numerous towns and fortresses to keep the Tatar and Finnic tribes in order. These towns included Samara, Saratov, Voronezh, Tsaritsyn and a whole series of lesser towns. He also re-colonized Siberia, which had been slipping from the grasp of Russia, and formed scores of new settlements, including Tobolsk and other large centres.

It was during his government that the Russian Orthodox Church received its patriarchate, which placed it on an equal footing with the ancient Eastern churches and emancipated it from the influence of the Patriarch of Constantinople. This reform was meant to please the ruling monarch, as Feodor took extraordinary interest in church affairs.

Boris's most important domestic reform was the 1587 decree forbidding the peasantry to transfer themselves from one landowner to another, thus binding them to the soil. The object of this ordinance was to secure revenue, but it led to the institution of serfdom in its most grinding form.

On the death of the childless tsar Feodor (January 7, 1598), self-preservation quite as much as ambition forced Boris to seize the throne. Had he not done so, lifelong seclusion in a monastery would have been his lightest fate. His election was proposed by the Patriarch Job of Moscow, who acted on the conviction that Boris was the one man capable of coping with the extraordinary difficulties of an unexampled situation. Boris, however, would only accept the throne from a Zemsky Sobor, or national assembly, which met on 17 February, and unanimously elected him on 21 February. On 1 September he was solemnly crowned tsar.

During the first years of his reign he was both popular and prosperous, and ruled excellently. He fully recognized the need for Russia to catch up to the intellectual progress of the West, and did his utmost to bring about educational and social reforms. He 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. Having won the RussoSwedish War (15901595), he felt the necessity of a Baltic seaboard, and attempted to obtain Livonia by diplomatic means. He cultivated friendly relations with the Scandinavians, in order to intermarry if possible with foreign royal houses, so as to increase the dignity of his own dynasty.

Undoubtedly Boris was one of the greatest of the Russian tsars. But his great qualities were overshadowed by an incurable suspiciousness, which made it impossible for him to act cordially with those about him. His fear of possible pretenders induced him to go so far as to forbid the greatest of the boyars to marry. He also encouraged informers and persecuted suspects on their unsupported statements. The Romanov family especially suffered severely from this behaviour. He also declined the personal union proposed to him in 1600 by the diplomatic mission led by Lew Sapieha from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Boris died after a lengthy illness and a stroke on April 13, 1605, leaving one son, Feodor II, who succeeded him for a few months and then was murdered by the enemies of the Godunovs.

Boris's life was fictionalized by Alexander Pushkin in the famous play inspired by Shakespeare's Macbeth. Modest Mussorgsky based his great opera Boris Godunov upon Pushkin's play. Sergei Prokofiev later wrote incidental music to the play.

Bulgaria, 1970, Chaliapin as Boris Godunov

Bulgaria, 1980, Nicolai Gyaurov as Godunov

Bulgaria, 2006, Boris Christov as Boris Godunov

Gambia, 2000, Boris Godunov

Guinea Bissau, 2002, Operas and Composers

Nicaragua, 1975, Fyodor Chaliapin as Boris Godunov

Rumania, 1964, George Folescu as Boris Godunov

Russia, 1996, Boris Godunov

San-Marino, 1999, Boris Godunov

Sao Tome e Principe, 2008, Boris Godunov, Rimsky-Korsakov

USSR, 1989, Scene from opera Boris Godunov

Russia, 1998, Centenary of ferst performance of Boris Godunov

Russia, 2000, Scene from opera Boris Godunov

Russia, 2001, 225th Anniv of Bolshoy theatre

Russia, 1998, Shaliapin as Boris Godunov


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