Origins of the Time of Troubles
In the fifteen years that preceded the founding of the Romanov dynasty in 1613, Russia endured the period known as the Time of Troubles. These years, characterized by severe crisis, nearly destroyed the entire country. The Time of Troubles was followed by the death of Tsar Fedor I in 1598 and ended with the election of Tsar Mikhail Romanov in 1613 (1). There is no chief cause for this disastrous time period in Russian history, but rather many elements that together provoked what is regarded today as Russia’s first civil war. Eventually, Tsar Ivan IV, also known as Ivan the Terrible, was going to die. The corrupt and violent leader passed away in 1584 (2). By then, Ivan IV had killed off most of the house of Rurik and numerous ancient boyar families. When he murdered his only healthy adult son and heir several years before his own death, it was then established that Ivan IV would be succeeded as tsar by the sole remaining candidate to the throne: his retarded son Fedor I (3). Sadly, Russia was in such bad shape by the time Ivan IV had died that it was already nearing a complete social breakdown.
First, the destruction of the old aristocracy caused by Ivan IV was crucial. The throne was not going to be occupied by a legitimate native Russian authority at any point in time for the foreseeable future. Additionally, Oprichnina, which took place during the reign of Ivan IV, did not help to smooth the transfer of power once Ivan IV had finally died. To this day, underlying causes and motives for the Oprichnina remain unclear. During these years, a secret police was put into place to support Ivan IV newly implemented domestic policies (4). Repressions, public executions, and confiscation of land from Russian aristocrats also occurred during the period (5). It helped to centralize power around the Tsar, creating a rich and strategic network of personal holdings through which Ivan could challenge the old nobility and create a loyal government at the expense of virtually everyone else (6). Land confiscation, exile, and execution limited the number of boyars in the country. The Oprichniki, who retained much of the land that changed hands during these years, formed new nobility in newly-formed Oprichnina. The brutal enforcement of these changes made in Russia and the constant pursuit of “traitors” did more than split the country in two (7). The population was substantially reduced, economic systems were severely damaged, and the strength of Moscow reduced greatly in the eyes of its enemies (8).
Also, the constant pillaging from the Crimean Tatars did not necessarily help Russia’s cause. It added unwanted attention to Russia and further emphasized how weak and vulnerable the nation was becoming. Another serious blow that put further pressure on Russia was Ivan’s costly and disastrous Livonian war with both Sweden and Poland for control of Livonia, which is present day Estonia and Latvia (9). It was a war for the borderlands, which would give Russia access to resources, access to the sea for trade, and also a strategic position should it be needed for any more battles (10). The war lasted for over twenty years and heavy taxes were required to pay the debt that war had incurred, which was ultimately lost (11). As a result, Russia’s outlet to the Baltic Sea was lost and Ivan IV became even more unpopular among the people of Russia (12).
Furthermore, it was no easy task to ease the pressures on the people of Russia by the time Ivan IV had died as Fedor I had stepped in to replace him in 1584. Since Fedor I was incapable of ruling the country on his own, a de facto regent named Boris Godunov was assigned to Tsar Fedor I in order to assist him in ruling the country (13). The assignment in and of itself shows how little confidence Ivan IV had in his son to be in a position of power in Russia. Fedor I was not particularly intelligent and was rather dispassionate about ruling the...
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