Fyodor Ivanovich

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(15571598), Tsar of Russia reigned 15841598.

Fyodor Ivanovich was the second son of Ivan IV ("The Terrible" or Ivan Grozny ). Ascending the throne in 1584, three years after his father killed his older brother Ivan in a fit of rage, Fyodor Ivanovich was nevertheless too mentally deficient to govern. His brother-in-law, Boris Godunov (the brother of his wife Irene), ruled instead as regent. Fyodor did not have children and thus was the last descendant of Rurik to occupy the Russian throne.

Fyodor's father Ivan IV had the longest reign in Russian history, from 1533 to 1584, and the first half of his reign was marked by constructive achievements in both foreign and domestic policy. His defeat of the Tartars of Kazan (1552) and Astrakhan (1556) opened the way southward and eastward to Russian expansion. He also welcomed the British explorer Richard Chancellor in 15531554 and established commercial relations with England. By 1560 Ivan IV had established the power and legitimacy of the tsar. He authorized reforms in the army and even established a consultative body known as the zemsky sobor to debate issues and provide advice (although only when he solicited it).

After the death in 1560 of his first wife Anastasiawhom he suspected had been poisonedIvan IV became moody and violent. Withdrawing from the boyars and the church, he insisted on personal control, exercised through the establishment of the oprichnina the private police force he could order to kill his personal enemies. In 1591, just seven years after he killed his oldest son, Ivan's youngest son Dmitry died under mysterious circumstances, possibly by the hand of Boris Godunov, a member of the lesser nobility who had become Ivan's protegé. In 1584 when Ivan's second son Fyodor Ivanovich became tsar, Godunov shrewdly exploited Fyodor's feeble-mindedness to assume de facto power as regent. When Fyodor died in 1598, the zemsky sobor elected Godunov as tsar.

Godunov was an effective regent and tsar. Although he did nothing to ease the burden on the peasants (issuing a decree in 1601 limiting their rights to move from one estate to another), Godunov made strides in economic development and colonization of Siberia. He also established the patriarchate in 1589. Before then the Russian church recognized the patriarch of Constantinople (now Istanbul). Under Godunov's tutelage, Russia waged successful wars against the Tatars (1591) and Sweden (1595).

Plots, intrigues, and natural disasters soon undermined Godunov's power, however. A stranger appeared, claiming to be Ivan's youngest son, Dmitry (the first of three "False Dmitrys"). A famine from 1601 to 1603 stimulated rural unrest and opposition to Godunov's rule. Godunov was killed in 1605 while suppressing a revolt during the advance on Moscow of one of the False Dmitrys. His death ushered in a "Time of Troubles" (Smut-noye vremya ), which lasted until the establishment of the Romanov dynasty in 1613.

See also: dmitry, false; godunov, boris fyodorovich; ivan iv; time of troubles


Bobrick, Benson. (1987). Fearful Majesty: The Life and Reign of Ivan the Terrible. New York: Putnam.

Grey, Ian. (1973). Boris Godunov: The Tragic Tsar. New York: Scribner.

Lamb, Harold. (1948). The March of Muscovy: Ivan the Terrible and the Growth of the Russian Empire, 14001648. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Yanov, Alexander. (1981). The Origins of Autocracy: Ivan the Terrible in Russian History. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Johanna Granville