Shuisky, Vasily Ivanovich

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(15521612), tsar of Russia (16061610).

Vasily Ivanovich Shuisky was a descendant of one of the oldest and most illustrious princely families of Russia. His uncle, Ivan Petrovich Shuisky, was one of the regents of the mentally retarded Tsar Fyodor I, and Vasily became a boyar at Fyodor's court. During the late 1580s, Boris Godunov (Tsar Fyodor's brother-in-law) managed to become sole regent, and Shuisky clan members were banished from Moscow; some of them died mysteriously while in exile. By 1591, however, Vasily and his three younger brothers (sons of Ivan Andreyevich Shuisky) were back in the capital, where Vasily became the leader of the family and resumed his place in the boyar council. When Dmitry of Uglich (Tsar Ivan IV's youngest son) died mysteriously in 1591, Vasily Shuisky was chosen to lead the investigation; he concluded that the boy accidentally killed himself.

Upon the death of Tsar Fyodor in 1598, Shuisky made no attempt to prevent Boris Godunov from becoming tsar; nevertheless, Tsar Boris feared and persecuted the Shuisky clan. During False Dmitry's invasion of Russia, however, Tsar Boris turned to Vasily Shuisky for help. In January 1605 Shuisky took command of the tsar's army fighting against False Dmitry and defeated Dmitry's forces at the battle of Dobrynichi. Shuisky then waged a terror campaign against the population of southwestern Russia that had sided with False Dmitry. In the meantime, the rebellion in the name of the true tsar spread like wildfire. After Tsar Boris's death in April 1605, Shuisky was recalled to Moscow by Tsar Fyodor II, and he did not participate in the rebellions that overthrew the Godunov dynasty.

At the outset of Tsar Dmitry's reign, Shuisky was convicted of treason but was only briefly exiled. Back in Moscow, he secretly plotted to over-throw Tsar Dmitry, claiming that Dmitry was an impostor named Grigory Otrepev. During the celebration of Tsar Dmitry's wedding to the Polish Princess Marina Mniszech in May 1606, Shuisky created a diversion while his henchmen killed the tsar. Shuisky managed to seize power, but many Russians were unwilling to accept the usurper Tsar Vasily IV. His enemies circulated rumors that Tsar Dmitry had survived the assassination attempt and would soon return to punish the traitors. Within a few weeks, Tsar Vasily was confronted by a powerful civil war that spread from southwestern Russia to over half the country. In the fall of 1606, rebel forces under Ivan Bolotnikov besieged Moscow and nearly toppled Shuisky. Tsar Vasily's armies drove the rebels back and eventually defeated Bolotnikov in late 1607, but by then another rebel army supporting the second false Dmitry challenged Shuisky's weak grip on the country. For many months Russia had two tsars and two capitals, and chaos reigned throughout the land. In desperation, Tsar Vasily eventually turned to Sweden for support. In 1609 King Karl IX sent military forces into Russia to aid Shuisky and seize territory. That prompted Polish military intervention, and in June 1610 Tsar Vasily's army was crushed by Polish forces at the battle of Klushino. In Moscow a rebellion of aristocrats (including the Romanovs) toppled Tsar Vasily, forcing him to become a monk. Soon Moscow opened its gates to the Polish army, and Shuisky was shipped off to Poland, where he was imprisoned and died in September 1612.

See also: bolotnikov, ivan isayevich; dmitry, false; filaret romanov, patriarch; mniszech, marina; time of troubles


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Dunning, Chester. (2001). Russia's First Civil War: The Time of Troubles and the Founding of the Romanov Dynasty. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Massa, Issac. (1982). A Short History of the Beginnings and Origins of These Present Wars in Moscow, tr. G. Edward Orchard. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Skrynnikov, Ruslan. (1988). The Time of Troubles: Russia in Crisis, 16041618, tr. Hugh Graham. Gulf Breeze, FL: Academic International Press.

Chester S. L. Dunning