Boris Godunov (Russia) (c. 1551–1605; Ruled 1598–1605)
BORIS GODUNOV (RUSSIA) (c. 1551–1605; ruled 1598–1605)
BORIS GODUNOV (RUSSIA) (c. 1551–1605; ruled 1598–1605), tsar of Russia. Boris Fedorovich Godunov rose to prominence at the Russian court in the time of Ivan IV the Terrible's oprichnina. He married the daughter of a leading oprichnik, and his sister Irina became the wife of Tsar Ivan's son Fedor (ruled 1584–1598). When the latter ascended the throne on Ivan's death, Boris was one of the five-man regency for the weak tsar. By 1587 Boris had exiled many of his rivals and become the de facto ruler of Russia. Tsar Fedor's younger brother Dmitrii was given an appanage in Uglich on the upper Volga, and his mysterious death in 1591 gave rise to rumors of Boris's complicity.
Boris, in Fedor's name, led Russia to victory over Sweden in 1590–1595 and recovered the Russian lands lost in the Livonian War. He laid the foundations for Russian expansion into Siberia and heavily strengthened the southern frontier. He convinced the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople to raise the metropolitan of Moscow to the rank of patriarch in 1589. Nevertheless, the reign of Fedor was a time of hardship. The wars of his father, Ivan IV, had undermined Russian agriculture and general prosperity, and Boris's government issued the first decrees limiting peasant movement—the beginnings of serfdom. Though trade with the Dutch flourished, Russian towns only slowly rebuilt their trade and crafts.
In 1598 the death of Tsar Fedor brought to an end to the dynasty that had ruled the Moscow principality and Russia since the end of the thirteenth century. An Assembly of the Land representing the boyars, gentry, towns, and the church elected Boris tsar over other aristocrats and lesser relatives of the former dynasty. Even as tsar, Boris did not feel secure. In 1600 he exiled Fedor Nikitich Romanov (later Patriarch Filaret) and other members of his clan, as well as their relatives and allies, such as the princes Cherkasskii. Increasingly isolated from the ruling elite, he tried to raise his prestige through the marriage of his daughter to a prince of Denmark. In 1601–1603 bad harvests led to a famine throughout much of Russia. At the end of 1604 the first "false Dmitrii," probably the monk Grigorii Bogdanovich Otrep'ev, appeared on the southern frontier. Supported by a number of Polish magnates, Otrep'ev claimed to be the tsarevich Dmitrii who had died in 1591, the legitimate heir to the throne, miraculously rescued by God. Boris's army was at first able to contain the threat, but Boris suddenly died in April 1605, leaving the throne to his sixteen-year-old son Fedor. At the news of his death, resistance to the false Dmitrii collapsed. As the pretender moved north, the boyars in Moscow, led by the princes Golitsyn, overthrew and murdered Fedor and his mother.
Boris was at once a successful ruler, especially in foreign affairs, and a spectacular failure. The rivalries at his court rendered the state weak at its center in a time of rising social tension in the countryside and on the southern frontier. The result was the period of state collapse and anarchy known as the Time of Troubles.
See also False Dmitrii, First ; Ivan IV, "the Terrible" (Russia) ; Oprichnina ; Russia ; Time of Troubles (Russia).
Platonov, S. F. Boris Godunov, Tsar of Russia. Translated by L. Rex Pyles. Gulf Breeze, Fla., 1973.
Soloviev, Sergei M. History of Russia. Vol. 14, The Time of Troubles: Boris Godunov and the False Dmitry. Translated and edited by G. Edward Orchard. Gulf Breeze, Fla., 1988.