Chancellery System

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From the 1470s, new demands (Novgorod's annexation, service and land registration, diplomacy) impinged upon the Muscovite court; its few literate officials multiplied and specialized. Embryonic offices between the 1530s and 1550s evolved into departments, "chancelleries" (izby, later prikazy ), generating their own desiderata, becoming a significant (even dominating) element in Muscovite governmentshaping the court and autocracy. From the 1530s to 1700, the "chancellery system" (prikaznaia sistema ) became a full-fledged early modern state bureaucracy, in some ways more developed than its European counterparts, with differentiated offices and a professional administrative staff. It did not contend with estates, incorporated towns, ecclesiastical institutions, or parliamentary organs.

Warfare was the primary impetus to the chancellery system; its personnel and documentary language were nonecclesiastical, unlike those of medieval Europe. Chancellery parlance (prikaznoi yazyk ) was basically standard Middle Russian, with some Mongol-Tatar fiscal and diplomatic terminology and very few Latinate words.

The chancelleries' primary interests were military affairs, diplomacy, taxation, and justice; education and social welfare virtually were absent. Seventy-six percent (117) of the chancelleries handled civil administration, 12 percent (18) royal court affairs, 8 percent (12) the tsar's personal matters; and 4 percent (6) the Patriarchate. Tsars and their cliques fashioned new bureaus at the start of a reign, and became acculturated to bureaucratic norms.

The authorities furbished chancelleries as needed. One hundred thirty-six (90%) of the 153 chancelleries operated during the 1600s. While Ivan IV's military administrative, tax, provincial administrative, and justice reforms caused the chancelleries to flourish, his Oprichnina temporarily inflicted harm. Its separate chancelleries suffered a fate similar to that of the regular state (Zemshchina) bureaus; in 1570 he murdered the state secretaries and clerks of both after 1572, new military, financial, and judicial chancelleries appeared; the chancellery system broadened its control over the countryside. The Time of Troubles bludgeoned this system as rival throne claimants divided administrators. Moscow lost countryside control; the Poles shut down the chancelleries.

Mikhail Fyodorovich's first years witnessed many new court chancelleries, temporary military chancelleries, and ad hoc social grievance bodies (e.g., against dominance by unduly powerful individuals ["strong people"] and tax exemptions for magnates, well-to-do merchants, and monasteries). Dyak (clerk) corruption and bribery were conspicuous in the 1630s and 1640s; Alexei Mikhailovich's later reign and the 1649 Ulozhenie (Law Code) dampened these excesses.

Alexei's adviser Boris Morozov created several military chancelleries. Fyodor Alexeyevich's gifted courtiers Yuri Dolgoruky and Ilya Miloslavsky engendered financial and publication chancelleries and the May and November 1680 financial- and military-administrative reforms. They streamlined chancelleries by merging subordinate chancelleries into the Military (Razryad ) and Foreign Affairs (posolsky prikaz ) Chancelleries and the Chancellery of the Grand Treasury (prikaz bolshoi kazny )the culmination of bureaucratic pyramiding from the 1590s. The 1682 Musketeers' Revolt partially unraveled the 1680 measures. Before 1700, Peter I's regime created six chancelleries; three of them inaugurated the Petrine navy. Peter then dismantled the chancelleries; other institutions, culminating in the colleges, replaced them.

The Kremlin enclosed most chancelleries. They housed tribunal hearings, clerks' writing tables, and document storage. Bigger chancelleries (Military, Foreign Affairs, Service Land [pomestny prikaz ]) had separate buildings.

Historians have exaggerated in criticizing the Muscovite bureaucracy for its numerous offices and interference in one another's jurisdiction. Red-tape (volokita ) aside, all knew where to go, though they might petition tribunals many times. Chancelleries of the realm possessed five hierarchies: The Military Chancellery, during interims of no major wars (when it manipulated all chancelleries), directed all military-related chancelleries; the Foreign Affairs Chancellery oversaw territorial chancelleries governing recently annexed non-Russian lands; the Chancellery of the Grand Revenue (prikaz bolshogo prikhoda ), supervised Northern Russian tax collection chancelleries (cheti, chetverti ); the Chancellery of the Grand Court (prikaz bolshogo dvortsa ) controlled the ill-understood royal court chancelleries; and the Patriarch's Service Chancellery (patriarshy razryad ) oversaw five bureaus in the Patriarchate.

Nine chancelleries existed in the 1550s, 26 in the 1580s, 35 in the first decade of the 1600s, 57 in the 1610s; and 68 in the 1620s. Sizes of chancelleries varied enormously. The pomestnyi prikaz multiplied its staff the most: by 12 in 60 years, from 36 clerks in 1626 to 446 clerks in 1686. The Razryad reached 125, and the posolskii prikaz 40 clerks; temporary chancelleries (sysknye prikazy ) had as few as 1 or 2.

At least 24 chancelleries (15%) functioned over a century. Under Romanov rule, 102 bureaus (75%) existed either 20 years or less (at least 80 years), highlighting Muscovite leadership's short-term versatility and perennial "matters of state" preoccupations. Mean chancellery longevity was 33 years, 84 years the median.

Chancellery jurisdiction was territorial or functional: one region, (e.g., Siberia) or one panterritorial function (e.g., felony administration, collection of prisoner-of-war ransom monies). Larger chancelleries, for division of labor, had territorial or functional "desks" (stoly ). The 1600s razryad had up to 12. Desks could be subdivided into povytia (sections).

Muscovy had no serious Roman law tradition. Chancellery officials' scribal virtuosity and ability to plan macro-operations (e.g., fortified lines, fortress construction, land surveys, tax assessment) were impressive, though they lacked the education of European chambers' lawyers and jurists, Ottoman kapi-kulu administrators, and Chinese dynastic bureaucrats. Monasteries mostly handled charity (alms and sick relief). Starting in the early 1700s, the state supported education and social welfare.

All chancellery officials from boyar to clerk took rigorous oaths (e.g., personal behavioral issues, secrecy). The chancellery work force was steeply hierarchical. Tribunals (sing. sudya or judge) of 2 to 6 men (usually 4) heard court trial cases and decided other business. Counselor state secretary (dumny dyak ) was the highest, professional tribunal rank. Boyars and okolnichie, administrative nonprofessionals, infiltrated tribunals from 1600, subverting joint decision making. Solo decision making by the chief chancellery tribunal director became de jure in 1680.

Duma tribunal members by the 1690s garnered at the expense of the dyak and podyachy a greater share of cash salary entitlements (oklady ) than in the 1620s. Those of boyars and okolnichie ranged between 265 and 1,200 rubles (617-ruble mean), and 300 and 760 rubles (385-ruble mean). Wardens, bailiffs, watchmen, guards, furnace-men, and janitors were chancellery staff.

Prerevolutionary historiography described the evolution and structure of the chancelleries, their employees, and social interaction. Soviet historiography until the 1950s and 1960s neglected Muscovite administrative history in favor of topics explicitly related to class conflict.

See also: alexei mikhailovich; dyak; ivan iv; kremlin; novgorod the great; okolnichy; oprichnina; patriarchate; podyachy; time of troubles


Brown, Peter B. (1978). "Early Modern Russian Bureaucracy: The Evolution of the Chancellery System from Ivan III to Peter the Great, 14781717." Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago.

Plavsic, Borovoi. (1980). "Seventeenth-Century Chanceries and Their Staffs." In Russian Officialdom: The Bureaucratization of Russian Society from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century, eds. Walter McKenzie Pintner and Don Karl Rowney. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Peter B. Brown

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Chancellery System

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