More Grist for the Malady Mill

History is weird, you guys, but Russian history is the weirdest, and that’s what makes it cool.

I am thinking of going to visit Kazan in a week or so with some friends, and preparatory to this (partly due to my own indecision with regard to going), I did what we all do, and checked the relevant Wikipedia article. A few clicks later, and I discovered some absolutely fascinating history which I absolutely must share (and which you can all read for yourselves from the previously mentioned source, which is the only one I have.)

Russian history is particularly interesting, I find, due to the extraordinarily large number of murders, assassinations, and executions which seem to take place at just about every turn. No one ever seems happy with the Tsar, everyone’s always trying to do each other in, and (what is really impressive) most people seem to succeed. But before delving into all the murder business, allow me to briefly bring this all back to Kazan.

In a sentence: Kazan briefly claimed independence from Russia at the beginning of the 17th century during Russia’s “Time of Troubles.” I followed the link to “Time of Troubles”, and that’s what the rest of this is all about. Connection: made.

The “Time of Troubles” was about fifteen years of political upheaval (1598-1613) and famine (1601-3) which took place following the death of Tsar Feodor I, son of Ivan the Terrible. Feodor didn’t do much except annoy Elizabeth I of England by abolishing the trade agreement she’d made with his father. Also, he was potentially mentally disabled. Regardless, he wasn’t much interested in politics, and Russia was mostly ruled during that time by his brother-in-law, Boris Godunov, who tried to claim the throne following Feodor’s death. And now we’ve gotten through all that, here’s where the intrigue starts: Feodor had a younger brother, Dmitri, who would have been next in line for the throne, only he died suspiciously at age 8 from a stab wound to the throat. His mother claimed he was assassinated, and the subsequent mob lynched fifteen people. The official investigation at the time, however, insisted that he had accidentally stabbed himself in the throes of an epileptic seizure.

Back in the day, when an important person died under mysterious circumstances, impostors were certain to follow. In the case of Tsarevich Dmitry Ivanovich, there were three of them, and they caused a lot of trouble, which is a shame, as many of their contemporary supporters didn’t believe them in the first place.

The first impostor  imaginatively remembered by history as False Dmitri I, lasted almost a year, gained a lot of support from Poland and the Pope (it seems he promised to convert Russia to Catholicism), and was eventually murdered in an uprising two weeks after his marriage to one Marina Mniszech (she was Polish). He broke his leg trying to jump through a window, was shot on the spot, displayed, and cremated, following which his remains were supposedly shot out of a canon toward Poland.

He was succeeded by False Dmitri II, who seems to have been a bit more intelligent, and lasted a while longer. He ended up marrying the very same Marina Mniszech who had been the first False Dmitri’s wife, and who had apparently been brought to the scene by her father to lend False Dmitri II some credibility. Marina Mniszech actually claimed to recognize her husband in this new Dmitri—Impressive, considering the two Dmitris looked nothing alike, and one of them had already been shot out of a canon. However, this allowed the new Dmitri to gain a lot of the old Dmitri’s supporters, and he did pretty well for himself for a little while. Then things went south, he got drunk, and one of his disgruntled followers shot him dead and rode off with his severed head.

False Dmitri III didn’t do much. He seems to have gained just enough of a following to be privately executed.

Honestly, it’s hard to feel bad for a lot of these folks considering the innocent people who suffered in consequence of their ambition. Godunov, who supposedly caused the original Dmitri to be assassinated, died of an illness following his brief usurpation of the throne, and before any of the False Dmitri’s sprang up. But his son and wife were murdered by False Dmitri I, who then proceeded to rape his daughter and keep her as a concubine until he married Marina Mniszech, whose later marriage to the second False Dmitri resulted in getting her little boy executed, and herself strangled to death in prison.

It’s all right though. The Time of Troubles ended with the beginning of the Romanov dynasty, whom we all well know were swell folks who never did anything to warrant assassination.

2 thoughts on “More Grist for the Malady Mill

  1. The one cheerful thing I found in your grisly account was the fact that you have “friends” to go to Kazan with. That made me sigh and smile.


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