« PreviousContinue »
inconstancy and even of debauchery, this boldness in attempting a desperate enterprise, this imperturbable coolness in maintaining an audacious imposture, this gracefulness in acting the part of a legitimate monarch, so many brilliant qualities united with puerile vanity and the most imprudent levity -such are the contrasts presented by the character of Dmitri, which are perhaps explicable by his extreme youth and his adventurer's education. Nothing, however, is more rare than a character all the parts of which are in perfect harmony. Contradiction is the characteristic of most men, and there are very few whose lives correspond to the projects which they have formed or to the hopes to which they have given rise. Who can say that the pleasure of exhibiting himself in all the splendour of his high fortune before the eyes of those who had witnessed his poverty had not the greatest share in the resolutions of Dmitri? Mniszek and Marina were probably the first persons whose esteem appeared precious to him. To obtain the approbation of a few Polish palatines, he risked his crown; but does not every man believe that the world's opinion is that of the little circle in which he is accustomed to move?b
The security of the pretender was, however, but seeming. Vasili Shuiski, whom Dmitri had pardoned, presently organised a plot for his destruction. The czar's extreme confidence was his ruin. One night the boyars assailed the Kremlin where no guard was kept. Demetrius was flung from a window and slaughtered in the courtyard of the palace. Basmanov, who had tried to defend him, was killed at his side. The corpse of Demetrius was taken up, a fool's mask was placed on the face, and the body exposed in the place of executions between a bagpipe and a flute. The father-in-law and the widow of Dmitri, the envoys of the Polish king and the Poles who had come to attend the imperial nuptials were spared but retained as prisoners by the boyars. The corpse of the "sorcerer was burned; a cannon, turned in the direction of Poland, was charged with the ashes and scattered them to the winds (May, 1606).f
VASILI IVANOVITCH SHUISKI (1606-1610 A.D.)
Immediately after the death of Demetrius, the boyars concerted measures for convoking deputies from all the towns and proceeding to the election of a new sovereign; but they were not allowed to accomplish their design. The throne had been but four days vacant when Shuiski directed his partisans to proclaim himself. They led him forth into the public place, named him czar by acclamation, and immediately escorted him to the cathedral. There, in order to ingratiate himself with his new subjects and make them forget the illegality of his election, he took a solemn oath not to punish anyone without the advice and consent of the boyars; not to visit the offences of the fathers on the children; and that he would never revenge himself in any way on those who had offended him in the time of Boris. Since Novgorod lost its privileges, this was the first time that a sovereign of Russia had pledged himself to any convention with his subjects; but Shuiski's oath was no guarantee for its fulfilment.
Having good reason to dread the resentment of the Polish nation, Shuiski sent Prince Volkonski on an embassy to them, to represent the late czar as an impostor, who had deluded both Poland and Russia; but the ambassador was not even listened to. Sigismund and his subjects were resolved to be revenged on the Russians, and to profit by the disturbances which they foresaw would soon break out among them. Shuiski was not liked by the Russian nobles, many of whom might have competed with him for the throne had the choice
[1606 A.D.] of the nation been free; and his conduct after his elevation augmented the number of his enemies. In spite of his oath he could not forget any of his old grudges; and he ventured to indulge them just enough to exasperate their objects without depriving them of the power of retaliation. Moscow was the only city in the empire on the allegiance of which he could rely; but even there the people had imbibed from their late excesses an alarming propensity to disorder and mutiny. To meet all the dangers thickening round him Shuiski had neither an army nor money; for Dmitri's profusions and the pillage of the Kremlin had exhausted the imperial treasury. His chief strength lay in his renown for orthodoxy, which insured him the favour of the clergy. The more to strengthen his interests in that direction, he made it his first business to depose and send to a monastery the heretic patriarch Ignatius, who had been appointed by Dmitri, and to nominate in his stead Hermogenes, bishop of Kasan, an aged prelate whose simplicity rendered him a useful tool in the hands of the crafty czar.
Rumours began to be rife in the provinces, and even in Moscow, that Dmitri was not dead. Many of those who had seen his mangled body exposed denied its identity, and believed that one of the czar's officers had been massacred instead of him. Four swift horses were missing from the imperial stables; and it was surmised that by means of them Dmitri had escaped in the midst of the tumult. Three strangers in Russian costume, but speaking Polish, crossed the Oka in a boat, and one of them gave the ferryman six ducats, saying, "You have ferried the czar; when he comes back to Moscow with a Polish army he will not forget this service." The same party held similar language in a German inn a little farther on. It was afterwards known that one of them was Prince Shakhovskoi, who, immediately upon the death of Dmitri, had, with singular promptitude, conceived the idea of finding a new impostor to personate the dead one.
To put an end to the alarming rumours, Shuiski sent to Uglitch for the body of the real czarevitch, that with the help of the patriarch he might make a saint of him. When the grave was opened the body of the young prince was found in a perfect state of preservation, with the fresh hue of life upon it, and still holding in his hands some nuts as miraculously preserved as itself. It is curious that Shuiski should have forgotten that nothing was said of these nuts in the report of the inquest at Uglitch signed by himself. That document only stated that at the moment of his death the czarevitch was amusing himself with sticking his knife in the ground. Notwithstanding this oversight, the act of canonisation was good policy; for if the czarevitch became an object of veneration for the people, if it was notorious that his body worked miracles on earth, and consequently that his soul was in heaven, then anyone assuming his name could be nothing but an impostor. The czar took pains to make known far and wide what prodigies were effected by the relics of the blessed martyr. But the credit of the new saint was of short duration: Shuiski himself damaged it by a gross blunder in permitting the pompous removal to the monastery of Troitsa of the remains of Boris Godunov, whom but a few days before he had named as the murderer of the sainted Dmitri. No doubt he hoped in this way to conciliate the partisans of a still powerful family; but his enemies immediately accused him of blasphemous wickedness, alleging that he had substituted the body of a newly murdered boy for the decomposed corpse of the real Dmitri.
The public retractations of the dowager czaritza obtained no more credit than the miracles imputed to her son. In a letter signed by her, and immediately published by Vasili, she declared that the impostor Grishka Otrepiev
had threatened her with death to herself and all her family if she did not recognise him as her son. But who could believe in her sincerity after so many contradictory avowals and disavowals? Her declaration that she had been compelled by fear to yield to the threats of a man whose aversion to cruelty was notorious, suggested to everybody the idea that she acted at that moment under the coercion of threats and fear.
Civil war began. Prince Shakhovskoi had raised the inhabitants of Putivle, and in a few days assembled a great number of Cossacks and peasants, who routed the forces sent against them. The insurrection spread rapidly; but still the prince, twice miraculously saved, did not make his expected appearance. Instead of him there came from Poland a general with a commission bearing the imperial seal of Dmitri. This was an adventurer named Ivan Bolotnikov, originally a serf to Prince Teliatevski. He had been a prisoner among the Turks, and having escaped to Venice had probably acquired some military experience in the service of the republic. His commission was recognised at Putivle; he took the command of the insurgents, defeated Shuiski's forces in two engagements, and pursued them to within seven versts of the capital. But the inexplicable absence of the prince for whom they fought damped the ardour of Bolotnikov's men; for they could not believe that if Dmitri was alive he would delay to put himself at their head. The ataman of the Cossacks, too, was mortified at being supplanted in the command by an adventurer, and suffered himself to be corrupted by Shuiski. Deserted by a part of his army, Bolotnikov was defeated by Skopin Shuiski, the czar's nephew, and forced to shelter himself in the fortress of Kaluga.
It is probable that all this while Shakhovskoi and the Poles were looking about for a fit person to play the part of Dmitri; but it required time to find him, and to put him through training. In this conjuncture the false Peter Feodorovitch, who had made a brief appearance in the former reign, repaired to Putivle, and offered himself to Shakhovskoi and the people as regent in the absence of his uncle. The rebel cause stood in need of the prestige of a royal name, and the czarevitch Peter was eagerly welcomed. Presently, the czar having marched against him in person, the impostor and Shakhovskoi shut themselves up in the strongly fortified town of Tula, where they were joined by Bolotnikov. Vasili laid siege to the town with an army of a hundred thousand men; but the besieged, who had no mercy to expect if taken, fought more earnestly for their own lives than did Shuiski's soldiers for the rights of a master to whom they were but little attached. Seeing the light progress he made, the czar began to doubt the success of an enterprise to fail in which would be ruin.
While he was in this anxious state, an obscure ecclesiastic, named Kravkov, presented himself before the czar and his council, and undertook, if his directions were followed, to drown all the people of Tula. They laughed at him at first as an idle braggart, but he reiterated his assertion with such confidence that the czar at last desired him to explain his plan. Tula is situated in a valley, and the little river Upa flows through the town. Kravkov proposed to dam the stream below the town, and engaged to answer for it with his head if in a few hours after the execution of that work the whole town was not laid under water. All the millers in the army, men accustomed to such operations, were immediately put under his orders, and the rest of the soldiers were employed in carrying sacks of earth to the spot chosen for the dam. The water soon rose in the town, inundated the streets, and destroyed a great number of houses; but the garrison still fought for several months with unabated courage, though decimated by famine, and afterwards by a terrible