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Golitsyn, Vasily Vasilievich


(16431714), chief minister and army commander during the regency of Sophia Alekseyevna.

Prince Vasily Golitsyn was the eldest son of Prince Vasily Andreyevich Golitsyn and Tatiana Streshneva. Both his parents were from aristocratic clans with strong connections, which brought young Vasily the honorific posts of cup-bearer to Tsar Alexis in 1658 and coach attendant in 1666. In 1663 he married Avdotia Streshneva, who bore him six children. In 1675 he was posted to Ukraine, where he served intermittently during the Russo-Turkish war of 16761681, leading an auxiliary force, organizing fortification works and provisioning, and taking a major role in negotiations with Cossack leaders. He was appointed commander in chief of the southern army just before the truce of 1681. During visits to court, Golitsyn won the favor of Tsar Fedor (r. 16761682), who promoted him to the rank of boyar in 1676. He also held posts as director of the Artillery Chancellery and the Vladimir High Court. In 1681 he returned to Moscow to chair a commission on army reform, with special reference to regimental structure and the appointment of officers. The commission's proposals led to the abolition in January 1682 of the Code of Precedence, although its scheme for provincial vice-regencies was rejected.

Following Tsar Fedor's death in May 1682, Golitsyn rose further thanks to the patronage of Tsarevna Sophia Alekseyevna, who became regent to the joint tsars Ivan V (r. 16821696) and Peter I (r. 16821725). Their relationship is said to have begun when Sophia was caring for the ailing Fedor, to whose bedchamber Golitsyn often reported, but contemporary Russian sources do not record any such meetings. The claim that the couple became lovers rests on hearsay and some coded letters dating from the later 1680s. Golitsyn was not closely involved in the intrigues with the Moscow militia (musketeers) that brought Sophia to power following a bloody revolt, but he remained close to the tsars during the so-called Khovanshchina and was appointed director of the important Foreign Office, and later accumulated the directorships of the Foreign Mercenaries, Cavalry, Little Russian (Ukrainian), Smolensk, Novgorod, Ustyug, and Galich chancelleries, which afforded him a substantial power base. In 1683 Sophia dubbed him "Guardian of the Tsar's Great Seal and the State's Great Ambassadorial Affairs."

Golitsyn's main talent was for foreign affairs. He was unusual among Russian boyars in knowing Latin and Greek and became known as a friend of foreigners. He was instrumental in negotiating the renewal of the 1661 Treaty of Kardis with Sweden (1684), trade treaties with Prussia (1689), and the important treaty of permanent peace with Poland (1686), by which Russia broke its truce with the Ottomans and Tatars and entered the Holy League against the infidels. In fulfillment of Russia's obligations to the League, Golitsyn twice led vast Russian armies to Crimea, in 1687 and 1689, on both occasions returning empty-handed, having suffered heavy losses as a result of shortages of food and water. Golitsyn's enemies blamed him personally for the defeats, but Sophia greeted him as a victor, thereby antagonizing the party of the second tsar Peter I, who objected to "undeserved rewards and honors." Following a stand-off between the two sides in AugustSeptember 1689, Golitsyn was arrested for aiding and abetting Sophia, bypassing the tsars, and causing "losses to the sovereigns and ruin to the state" as a result of the Crimean campaigns. He and his family were exiled to the far north, first to Kargopol, then to Archangel province, where he died in 1714.

Historians have characterized Golitsyn as a "Westernizer," one of a select band of educated and open-minded Muscovite boyars. His modern views were reflected not only in his encouragement of contacts with foreigners, but also in his library of books in foreign languages and his Moscow mansion in the fashionable "Moscow Baroque" style, which was equipped with foreign furniture, clocks, mirrors, and a portrait gallery, which included Golitsyn's own portrait. The French traveler Foy de la Neuville (the only source) even credited Golitsyn with a scheme for limiting, if not abolishing, serfdom, which is not, however, reflected in the legislation of the regency. Golitsyn's downfall was brought about by a mixture of bad luck and poor judgement in court politics. Peter I never forgave him for his association with Sophia and thereby forfeited the skills of one of the most able men of his generation.

See also: fyodor alexeyevich; sophia alexeyevna (tsarevna); westernizers.


Hughes, Lindsey. (1982). "A Seventeenth-century Westerniser: Prince V.V. Golitsyn (16431714)." Irish Slavonic Studies 3:4758.

Hughes, Lindsey. (1984). Russia and the West: The Life of a Seventeenth-Century Westernizer, Prince Vasily Vasil'evich Golitsyn (16431714). Newtonville, MA: Oriental Research Partners.

Smith, Abby. (1995). "The Brilliant Career of Prince Golitsyn." Harvard Ukrainian Studies 19:639645.

Lindsey Hughes

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