Sofiia Alekseevna (1657–1704; Ruled 1682–1689)

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SOFIIA ALEKSEEVNA (16571704; ruled 16821689)

SOFIIA ALEKSEEVNA (16571704; ruled 16821689), regent of Russia. The daughter of Tsar Alexis I and his first wife Mariia Miloslavskaia, Sofiia spent her life until 1682 in the privacy of the women's quarters of the Kremlin palace with her sisters and aunts. She seems to have been well educated by the standards of the time for women. She emerged into view during the confusion after the death of her brother Tsar Fedor III in 1682. The boyars and the patriarch had proclaimed Peter Alekseevich (Peter the Great) tsar over his sickly elder brother Ivan. The musketeers objected and rioted, killing Peter's uncle and several other boyars. Sofiia emerged as the central figure among Peter's opponents, as the representative and leader of the Miloslavskii clan, the family of her mother and of Tsar Ivan V (d. 1696). The struggle ended when both boys were proclaimed co-tsars, with Sofiia as regent. In the course of the summer of 1682, she managed to neutralize and suppress a bid for power by the favorite of the musketeers, Prince Ivan Khovanskii, whom she arrested and executed in the fall. For the next seven years she ruled the country as de facto regent with her favorite, Prince Vasilii Vasilevich Golitsyn. Peter's mother Nataliia Naryshkina and her clan remained unreconciled to the new regime, providing a source of instability at court.

Sofiia was the first woman to rule Russia, if only as regent. In decrees and official rescripts her name came after those of Ivan and Peter, but from 1686 she, too, was usually accorded the title "autocrat." Beginning with the audience for the Swedish ambassador in May 1684 she took a more public role in political matters. The exact nature of her personal relationship with Golitsyn has been the subject of romantic fancy, but evidence is sparse. What is certain is that she, not the favorite, made the final decisions.

Sofiia maintained peace with Sweden, and her emissaries negotiated the treaty of Nerchinsk with China, setting the border in Siberia for the next century and a half. After complex negotiations, Russia joined the Holy League of Poland, Austria, Venice, and the papacy against the Ottoman Empire, completing the transition of Russian policy away from concentration on the rivalry with Poland. Two Russian military expeditions against the Crimean Khanate in 1687 and 1689 were unsuccessful and ultimately led to Sofiia's downfall. In the meantime, her government continued most of the policies of her predecessors.

One exception was in religious affairs. The penalties for religious dissidents (the Old Believers) were drastically strengthened, and the Protestant mystic Quirinus Kuhlmann was arrested and condemned to death. In contrast, foreign Catholics received permission for the first time ever to open churches and bring priests to Russia. Two Jesuits were allowed to come to Moscow to serve the various needs of the foreign Catholic community (Protestant foreigners had long had these rights). The price of these concessions was the alienation of Patriarch Ioakim, the powerful and vigorous head of the church. Ioakim pursued his own agenda of elevating the educational level of the clergy and ultimately secured Sofiia's support for the Slavonic-Greek-Latin Academy, founded in 1687. Nevertheless, the patriarch remained a supporter of Sofiia's opponents, the Naryshkin clan and its allies.

Sofiia's brief regency was also a period of incipient cultural transition, as baroque architecture, knowledge of Polish and Latin, and an acquaintance with the religious culture of Ukraine began to spread among the elite. Sofiia and Golitsyn both encouraged these trends.

The failure of the Crimean campaigns undermined the credibility of Golitsyn and Sofiia, and after the return of the army in 1689, the Naryshkins saw their moment. By that time not only Ioakim supported them, but also the court of Tsar Ivan. Fearing a possible plot against him in August, Peter and his court went to the Trinity Monastery, where their allies joined them. Peter's camp blamed the secretary Fedor Shaklovityi for this alleged plot and demanded his arrest. In the course of the next weeks Sofiia realized that her support among the boyars and the army had evaporated, and by early September she surrendered. Shakolovityi was executed, and Sofiia was sent to the Novodevichii convent. There she remained until 1698, when Peter interrogated her about the musketeer revolt of the previous summer. Peter believed that she had been involved in the rebellion, and from then on until her death, Sofiia lived in virtual isolation from her sisters and associates. Her irregular status as regent and Golitsyn's military failures ensured her fall.

See also Alexis I (Russia) ; Old Believers ; Peter I (Russia) ; Russia .


Hughes, Lindsey. Sophia, Regent of Russia, 16571704. New Haven, 1990.

O'Brien, Carl Bickford. Russia under Two Tsars, 16821689: The Regency of Sophia Alekseevna, 16821689. Berkeley, 1952.

Solov'ev, Sergei M. History of Russia. Vol 25, Rebellion and Reform: Fedor and Sophia 16821689. Gulf Breeze, Fla., 1989.

Paul Bushkovitch