:: Rus - Where Our Story Begins ::
Our story dawns over the mystical ancient state of Rus. Farms and fields stretched out as far as the eye could see. Working the land was a natural way of life in this medieval kingdom. The subjects were divided by caste: the aristocracy were called boyars, the slaves known as serfs. Neither could live without the other. For centuries these people had known one way of life, all under the rule of a very powerful family of Sovereigns called the Ruriks.
Yet as history tells, by the late 16th century the Imperial Family was about to see its sunset. On the throne sat the formidable Tsar Ivan, the legendary Ivan the Terrible. The name though, proceeds his time... for he was brought up in an era of brutality where torturous devices were commonplace all over Europe and Asia. In western Europe his royal counterparts were: Elizabeth I of England, Philip II of Spain, and Cesare Borgia in Italy. Like these Sovereigns, Ivan sought to curb choas and disorder with violence and fear. Today we look back at the deeds of these Sovereigns and think them inhumane, but for the time - no one doubted their power.
It was said that on the day of Ivan's birth the entire country rumbled with "the noise of thunder, and with awful flashes of lightning." Quick to strike like the lightning that serenated his birth, the five decades of his reign saw changes as defeaning as the thunder. His father, Vasilli III, had died when Ivan was just three years old, and only five years later his mother followed Tsar Vasilli to the grave. Years later a huge fire in Moscow presided over his coronation, along with rioting in the streets. By the time he fully took the reins of the government that year, 1547, he had learned who to trust and began to uncover who his enemies were after a confusing childhood. His idea of ruling was set like stone in the purpose of autocracy.
Ivan's reign beared plenty of fruit for the growing state. He extended the Kingdom's boundries to the southeast with the defeat of the Khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan. In the northwest he seized the territory of the Baltic Sea, capturing more than twenty fortresses of the region in one year alone. He gained Rus's first commercial treaty with England, establishing ties with Britian that would last until after the end of the Russian Kingdom.As for the Terrible persona, some speak of the Tsar loosing his mind after his beloved wife, Tsaritsa Anastasia Romanova, died in his thirtieth year. This was a man who commissioned St. Basil's Cathedral, and loved the work so much he ordered the architect's eyes poked out so that he may never again make another creation to rival St. Basil's beauty. He was the one who ended up striking the mortal blow to his son and heir in 1581. Now a days we attach Ivan's mere name with evil and terror, though nothing he did was ever out of the ordinary for this ancient time. His name envoked awe for his followers, and fear in his enemies. Yet the steps of his reign was rationally calculated and planned out, wih a definitive purpose in mind.
The boyar was a constant source of trouble for the Tsar, and they refused to pledge allegience to his heir, making the security of his family's throne unstable. Repsonding to the growing threats of his power, Ivan struck out against the aristocracy. Anyone suspected of disloyalty suffered a terrible wrath.
When Ivan died in 1584 he left Rus in the care of his second son, Feodor Ivanovich. Tsar Feodor produced no heirs of his own in the four years of his reign, and with his death Rus tumbled into a panicked state of distress called the Times of Trouble.
Three Tsars rose and fell in a matter of the next twelve years as Rus urgently sought out a new dynasty strong enough to hold up the reins. The late Tsar's Chief Advisor, Boris Gudunov was first put upon the throne, a decision made by the Assembly of the Land, the zemskii sobor. Although the reign started out promising, by the Tsar's third year a famine had ravaged Rus. Tens of thousands faced near starvation and ate anything that could be found, including bark and grass. A plague swept the land and the people were so desperate that they even sought the corpses of the victimized for food. Order collapsed throughout the Kingdom, and Boris lost his hold as the state was shook to its very core.
Rumours had been surfacing that Tsar Ivan's third and youngest son, Dimitri, had survived a "fabled" death in 1591. Such stories of miracles and fabled surivals have long been a part of Imperial Russian history. As Tsar Boris was falling from grace a young figure claimed to be this long lost son. In reality his name was Grigory Otrepiev, commonly known as "The False Dimitri." In October 1604 he invaded and sought to take over Russia by force. His band was small, made up of Polish supporters and some Cossacks, yet he was surprisingly favored. The Russian people saw the "Tsarevich" as a savior coming to rescue them from the horrid conditions they lived in. When Tsar Boris died in 1605 "Dimitri" made his timely entry in Moscow and was proclaimed the rightful Tsar.
Though it was the hope that the new Tsar would return order, the opposite was true. Russia fell into a deeper chaos which resulted in the Tsar's deposition and murder.
His successor was by the name of Vasilli Shuiskii, a man whose lineage was on his side but his reign lacked any divine favour. Numerous pretenders were appearing to the throne, the Polish were invading from the west and the Swedish marching from the north. In a further state of disorder, Vasilly was deposed in 1610 by the Assembly of the Land and lived the rest of his life as a monk.
A committee of seven men, all a part of the boyar, had taken up the reins of the government. Yet, being pulled in so many differing directions had seen Novgorod captured by the Swedes and the Moscovite Invasion by the Poles in 1611.
In the deepest state of panic the state had ever seen, new fervor was put into the cause of finding Russia's savior. Prince Dimitri Pozharskii, along with the Patriarch of Moscow, and Kuzma Minin (a citizen of Nizhnii-Novgorod) stood at the head of the anti-Pole movement struggling against religious oppression. They dreamed of finding a Tsar who would right all wrongs, and piece the Empire back together. It was their dream that lead Russia out of these days of pure peril, their army that defeated the Polish in November of 1612, and their patriotic fever that restored Moscow back to its rightful owners.
They established a nationally accepted government, raising the end to the Times of Trouble. The Assembly of the Land was called back to Moscow, and in early 1613 more than five hundred delegates met to decide the Imperial Fate of the Kingdom. Their eyes fell upon the young Mikhail Romanov of Domino. He was the son of the Metropolitan of Rostov, Filaret, and also a relative of a Rurik Tsaritsa: Anastasia, Tsar Ivan's wife. The teenager, known as Misha, was still living with his mother, Sister Martha.
Misha was made a target by those who thought they had claim to the throne, and after threats Sister Martha and her son were moved to the Ipatiev Monastery for safety. The decision was made final on 7 February, Mikhail was the next choosen Tsar. A deputation arrived at Ipatiev to notify them of the election and to submit a humble petition to Mikhail Feodorovich and his mother Sister Martha. At first the petition was met with much opposition, but Misha and his mother were soon persuaded that all was safe. Two weeks later, on 21 February, Mikhail Feodorovich Romanov was crowned the Tsar of all the Russias in the Great Kremlin Palace. At the time Moscow was still being cleaned up from the mess left behind by its Polish invaders.
And so this is how, in the midst of a Russian winter, the Romanovs stepped to the Head of the Kingdom and picked up the reins to the Empire, beginning one of the most glorious times in all of Russia's history. This Dynasty crested three centuries, seeing with it a powerful line of Sovereigns adding to the Kingdom's glory and borders. Among Mikhail Feodorovich's successors were Peter the Great, the Empresses Anna and Elizabeth, Catherine the Great, her son Pavel Petrovich... and over the last full century of the Romanov's reign: the three Emperors Alexander, and the two Nikolai's.
~ Anna Thompson