The Khovanshchina originated in the struggle over the succession following the death of Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich in 1682. Strictly speaking, the term refers to the period following the musketeer revolt of May 1682, when many leading boyars and officials in the Kremlin were massacred, and the creation of the dual monarchy of Tsars Ivan and Peter under the regency of Tsarevna Sophia Alexeyevna, although some historians use the term loosely as a general heading for all the unrest of 1682. The musketeers demanded that Sophia's government absolve them of all guilt and erect a column on Red Square to commemorate their service in eliminating "wicked men." The government duly complied but failed to prevent a new wave of unrest associated with religious dissidents and with the musketeers' continuing dissatisfaction with pay and working conditions.
The troops were encouraged to air their grievances by the new director of the Musketeers Chancellery, Prince Ivan Khovansky, a veteran of campaigns against Poland in the 1650s and 1660s. He had shown sympathy for Old Believers while governor in Novgorod and was angered by the prominence of many new men at court whom he, of ancient lineage, regarded as upstarts. Acting as the musketeers' self-styled "father," Khovansky made a show of mediating on their behalf and also organized a meeting between the patriarch and dissidents to debate issues of faith. When the defrocked dissident priest Nikita assaulted an archbishop, he was arrested and executed, but his sponsor Khovansky remained too popular with the musketeers for the government to touch him. Instead, they tried to reduce the power of the Khovansky clan by reshuffling chancellery personnel. Sophia took the tsars on tours of estates and monasteries, leaving Khovansky precariously in charge in Moscow and increasingly isolated from other boyars.
Khovansky's failure to obey several orders allowed Sophia further to isolate him. His fate was sealed by the discovery of an anonymous—and probably fabricated—letter of denunciation. In late September Khovansky and his son Ivan were lured to a royal residence outside Moscow, where they were charged with plotting to use the musketeers to kill the tsars and their family to raise rebellion all over Moscow and snatch the throne. Lesser charges included association with "accursed schismatics," embezzlement, dereliction of military duty, and insulting the boyars. The charges were full of inconsistencies, but the Khovanskys were beheaded on the spot. The musketeers prepared to barricade themselves into Moscow, but eventually they were reduced to begging Sophia and the tsars to return. They were forced to swear an oath of loyalty based on a set of conditions, the final clause of which threatened death to anyone who praised their deeds or fomented rebellion. The government's victory consolidated Sophia's regime and marked a stage in the eventual demise of the musketeers.
These events provided material for Mussorgsky's opera Khovanshchina (1872–1880), which treats the historical facts fairly loosely and culminates in a mass suicide of Old Believers.
See also: fyodor ivanovich; old believers; sophia
Bushkovitch, Paul. (2001). Peter the Great. The Struggle for Power, 1671–1725. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Soloviev, Sergei. (1989). History of Russia. Volume 25: Rebellion and Reform. Fedor and Sophia, 1682–1689, ed. and trans. Lindsey Hughes. Gulf Breeze, FL: Academic International Press.