The Romanov

The Time of Trouble History

It is 1608 in the Year of our Lord.

Tsar Ivan IV (aka Ivan Grozny -- Ivan the Terrible) died in 1584, four years after killing his eldest son with his bare hands in a dispute as to whether Ivan had the right to bed his son's wife. Tsar Ivan enjoyed public torture, and one of his favorite activities was boiling peasants to death.

During his life, Tsar Ivan IV fought against the power of the Princes Princes in Russia, known as the Boyars (generally drawn from the upper levels of Russian sociery). Like most European monarchs in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Ivan worked to centralize the government under his personal authority. The Bourbons in France primarily seduced the nobles to Paris with courtly games, the Hapsburgs in Spain used personal wealth to control the lesser nobles in their countries, the Tudors in England used the convoluted English legal system, and the German forces used their armies. But Tsar Ivan used a programme of assassination, threats, and bullying against the Boyars -- with considerable success.

Upon Ivan's death his eldest living son, Fydor, became tsar. As Fydor was severely mentally handicapped, many thought him unfit to rule. Tsar Fydor's government was entirely in the hands of his advisors.

Fydor's brother-in-law, Boris Godunov, became the primary mover in the Russian government, despite being illiterate, and despite his background as a Tartar (an ethnic minority, somewhat persecuted, from the outskirts of Russia).

Godunov brought peace between Russia and other nations. He continued to centralize the government, and to limit the role of the Boyars, but he did so without assassination or bloodshed.

One day, the young Dmitri -- Fydor's only brother and next in line for the Russian throne after his mentally incompetent brother, was discovered with his throat slit. Many accused Godunov of having ordered Dmitri assassinated, especially the Romanov family (the Boyar family of Dmitri's mother, Anastasia).

An official investigation sponsored by Godunov claimed that Dmitri had suffered an epileptic fit while playing with a knife, and thereby had killed himself. Prince Vasily Shuisky led the investigation.

When Tsar Fydor died in 1598 Tsarina Irina, Fydor's wife, became a nun -- and there was no legitimate heir to his throne. Boris Godunov was elected tsar, by an obviously packed Zemskii Sobor (the "assembly of the land"). The Zemskii Sobor is an ancient Russian traditional assembly, made up of people from every level of Russian society (including, especially, peasants) who are called to make the "will of the land" known to the Tsar. Traditionally, all power is supposed to derive from the "will of the land" which the Zemskii Sobor is called to make known to the Tzar (who, as the center of the State, is obliged to run the State in accordance with the will of the land).

Godunov maintained peace with foreign nations. He made open trade agreements with England, France and Spain, helping the Russian economy.

However, the nation was beset by troubles. The country has been swept by famine for the past seven years, starting in 1601, already killing almost one-hundred thousand people in Moscow alone by the time that Boris Godunov was crowned Tsar. Bandits and theives steal what food there is, and without peace less food is grown -- many of the farmers who are lucky enough to have good fields refuse to grow more food than their own family needs, for fear that their food or lands will be stolen and their hard work will be for nothing.

More and more people blamed Godunov. They believed that Godunov had commited the sin of regicide, and ordered the innocent Dmitri killed. Many felt that Russia was being punished for elevating a Tartar assassin to the throne.

In 1601, a surprising development occured. Dmitri, the slain son of Ivan, rose. Some say that the boy had never been killed, but had been in hiding. Others claim that he had been killed, but that he was miraculously raised to save Russia. Supporters of Godunov claim that the Boyars, trying to seize control, found a former monk to play the role of Dmitri on their behalf -- to make wild accusations against Boris Godunov.

Dmitri waged a poorly funded military campaign for several years, mostly from neighboring Poland (a Roman Catholic state, which had always been hostile to Russia and the Eastern Orthodox Church). In 1605, Boris Godunov died, and his son was named Tsar Fydor II. However, most members of the Russian government -- including the commander of the armies -- backed Dmitri, and Fydor II was killed.

The self-proclaimed Dmitri came into Moscow shortly after, in 1605, where Anastasia Romanov declared that he was indeed her son, and several ministers of State who had doubted that he was Ivan IV's son reversed their positions. However, Dmitri's Polish mannerisms (from his accent, to his manner of dress) infuriated Muscovites for whom hating and fearing the Poles was a way of life. When Dmitri married a Polish aristocrat, the people decided he had gone too far.

With the backing of the Muscovites, the Boyar Prince Vasily Shuisky attacked the Kremlin, overwhelming the palace guard, declaring Dmitri to be an imposter. Anastasia Romanov caught servants trying to help him escape, but told them not to -- that the man claiming to be Dmitri was not her son after all. Dmitri was killed, and Vasily Shuisky was named Tsar in 1606.

Rebellion and civil war flourished everywhere. Many rebels gathered armies of peasants and nobles, laying seige to Moscow. The rebels fought against Shuisky, against each other, and against the old social order (some wanted to do away with private property).

Many of these rebels put forward contenders for the throne. One man named Peter claims to be the legitimate son of Fydor I. Another Dmitri has appeared, claiming to have risen from the dead a second time, and setting up a rival government outside of Moscow (sending its own tax collectors, and settling criminal matters in its own courts).

Through all this, Russia remains committed to the Orthodox Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church broke with Rome in 1054, after the Roman Pontiff declared the Roman Papacy infallible and Head of the Church. Until then the separate Patriarchs of the East had thought of the Roman Pontiff as first among equals, but now had no intent of letting themselves be governed by what they saw as a power-mad Pontiff who had split from the True Church. There have been no internal demands for reform anywhere in the East. Those members of the Eastern Orthodox Church who pay attention to foreign affairs in the West (there are few, given internal conflicts and conflicts with Islam) have mixed feelings about the Protestant Reformers (agreeing with some of the new Calvinist and Lutheran theology, but also thinking of the Roman Pope as the "devil one knows" and the myriad new faiths as the "devils one doesn't know").

In addition to the civil wars, the revolts, the several claimants to be tsar, and the rival governments, Russia is caught between foreign invasions. The Polish want to bring the Eastern Orthodox church under the control of the Roman Catholic Pope. The Swedes, who were brought in by Tsar Vasily Shuisky to help him fight the rebellion, want to control trade routes along the Baltic coast.

Meanwhile, the food shortages, banditry and dual taxation remain unabated. The tides of war leave fertile fields stripped, burned, and even salted.

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This game is a Subterranean Homesick Games production.