Alexis I (Russia) (1629–1676; Ruled 1645–1676)

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ALEXIS I (RUSSIA) (16291676; ruled 16451676)

ALEXIS I (RUSSIA) (16291676; ruled 16451676), tsar of Russia. Alexis Mikhailovich came to the throne at the age of sixteen in 1645. His long and eventful reign saw the beginnings of the rise of Russia's power and the earliest phases of the Europeanization of its culture. At first he ruled under the influence of his former tutor, the boyar Boris Morozov. Morozov tried to pay for the defenses of the southern frontier and other outlays by changing the tax system, introducing a new tax on salt and other burdens in place of the older general sales tax and tavern monopoly. He consolidated his power at court in January 1648, when Alexis married Mariia Miloslavskaia and Morozov her sister Anna. The tax measures led to increasing discontent and ultimately to a revolt in Moscow in June 1648, which led to the temporary eclipse of Morozov. Gentry discontent added to urban unrest, and the outcome was the Assembly of the Land of 1649, which compiled the first systematic Russian law code, printed by order of the tsar. Morozov was able to come back to power, seconded by the boyar Ilia Miloslavskii, Alexis's father-in-law, and other boyar allies. Discontent in towns and border fortresses led to a further series of revolts (Novgorod and Pskov, 1650).

Alexis also brought to power in the church a group of reformist priests led by his chaplain Stefan Vonifat'ev, who argued for a stricter moral code (for instance, that taverns should be closed on Sundays), changes in the liturgy to make the words more accessible, and preaching. The appointment of Nikon in 1652 to the patriarchal throne made possible the adoption of the program and brought a new and powerful figure to court.

Domestic concerns soon gave way to war with Poland. In 1648 the Ukrainian Cossacks in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, led by Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky, rose against the state and nobility, in defense of Orthodoxy against forced union with Rome and for the rights of Cossacks and peasants. They immediately sent an embassy asking for help from Alexis, but Russia was reluctant to exchange its budding friendship with Poland for an alliance with Cossack and peasant rebels. The urban revolts also complicated the situation. By early 1653, however, Khmelnytsky offered to come under the tsar's "high hand," and Alexis agreed to fight Poland, calling an Assembly of the Land to ratify the decision. In 1654 Alexis concluded the Pereyaslav treaty with the Cossacks, making them a sort of vassal state to Russia.

The war at first went well for Russia. In 16541655 Alexis conquered Smolensk and almost all of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. At the same time Sweden entered the war, overrunning much of western Poland. In 1656 Alexis made a truce with Poland, apparently afraid that a complete Polish collapse was undesirable, and declared war on Sweden, continuing without success until 1661. Revived Polish fortunes after the 1660 peace with Sweden led to a standoff, draining Russian resources and resulting in the copper revolt of 1662 in Moscow, a response to adulterated currency. Peace negotiations under Afanasii Lavrentevich Ordin-Nashchokin ended in 1667 with the treaty of Andrusovo.

In the treaty Russia returned Lithuania but received Smolensk and its territory, the Cossack Ukraine east of the Dnieper and the city of Kiev, for two years, which Russia retained after the time was up. The treaty signified a fundamental shift of power away from Poland toward Russia and also gave Russia a southern border much closer to the Crimea and the Ottomans. Those powers and the Ukrainian hetmans were the main concerns for Alexis from then on. He relied on Ordin-Nashchokin to conduct foreign affairs, but the latter's failures in Ukraine led to the rise of Artamon Matveev, from 1671 the tsar's principal favorite. The death of Morozov in 1661 and of Ilia Miloslavskii, Tsaritsa Mariia, and Alexis's eldest son (1669) opened the political field but also endangered the succession. Alexis married Nataliia Naryshkina, the daughter of a musketeer colonel, in 1671. The birth of Peter (later Peter the Great) in 1672 ensured the succession and reinforced the importance of Matveev, Nataliia's ally, to the end of Alexis's reign.

Patriarch Nikon pursued reform in the church, correcting the liturgical texts to agree with the Greek versions. These changes brought forth protests from his former allies, chiefly the archpriest Avvakum Petrovich, who claimed they were incorrect and harmful to the faith. Avvakum and his followers were sent into exile in Siberia and the far north. Meanwhile Nikon's relations with the tsar deteriorated, as Nikon also built up patriarchal power in the church. In 1658 a clash over precedence caused Nikon to leave his duties and retire to the nearby Voskresenskii monastery. As he did not abdicate his office, the church had no head for the next eight years. Attempts to solve the dispute failed, and simultaneously opposition to Nikon's liturgical reforms spread. At a church council in 16661667 Nikon was formally deposed and the opposition to the liturgical reforms declared schismatic. The church hierarchy returned to normal, but dissent continued to spread and deepen. The selection of Ioakim (1674) brought to the patriarchate a powerful advocate of the new liturgy, the education of the clergy, and patriarchal power, leading to clashes with Alexis in his last years.

The reforms in the church inspired the invitation of Ukrainian clerics to Moscow. The Ukrainians had studied at the Kievan Academy (founded 1633), which taught a European curriculum in Latin on Jesuit models but with Orthodox faith. Epifanii Slavinetskii (died 1675) made new translations of the church fathers and the liturgy and preached sermons in and around the court. In 1664 Simeon Polotskii (16291680) was tutor to Alexis's sons and the first Russian court poet as well as preacher. Among the boyar elite knowledge of Polish and some Latin began to spread, as did interest in the religious culture of Kiev, centered on the baroque sermon. The foreign community of Moscow ("the German suburb"), largely composed of German, Dutch, English, and Scottish merchants and mercenary officers, contributed other Western elements. Alexis established the first theater in Russia at his court in 1672, using a Lutheran pastor for his playwright and the boys from the German school as actors. Alexis acquired Western paintings, a telescope, and other new things.

Alexis also began the reform of the Russian army, substituting infantry armed with muskets and drilling in the Western manner for the gentry cavalry and undrilled musketeers of earlier times. This army allowed him to win against Poland, but it was very expensive, and after 1667 formations of the new type were much less numerous. Russia maintained extensive trade with England and Holland through Arkhangel'sk, though Alexis tried to favor Russian merchants. He revoked the English Muscovy Company's privileges in 1649, using the execution of Charles I as a pretext, and decreed mildly protectionist toll rates. At the same time he gave privileges to the Dutch to set up iron and munitions works. During these years Russia's agrarian base expanded enormously, in spite of serfdom, through colonization of the southern steppe and Volga basin. The reign of Alexis saw the further consolidation of the Russian state and society, important cultural and religious changes, and the rise of Russian power. It laid the foundation for the far-reaching changes wrought by his son Peter.

See also Andrusovo, Truce of (1667) ; Avvakum Petrovich ; Cossacks ; Khmelnytsky, Bohdan ; Khmelnytsky Uprising ; Law: Russian ; Michael Romanov (Russia) ; Nikon, patriarch ; Old Believers ; Peter I (Russia) ; Russia ; Russia, Architecture in ; Russia, Art in ; Russian Literature and Language ; Russo-Polish Wars ; Serfdom in Russia ; Sofiia Alekseevna ; Ukraine.


Bushkovitch, Paul. Religion and Society in Russia: The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. New York and Oxford, 1992.

Fuhrmann, Joseph T. Tsar Alexis, His Reign, and His Russia. Gulf Breeze, Fla., 1981.

Longworth, Philip. Alexis Tsar of All the Russias. New York, 1984.

Paul Bushkovitch