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Poland, or Russia. Sultan Muhammed IV, who had subdued and lately imposed a tribute on the Poles, insisted, with all the insolence of an Ottoman and of a conqueror, that the czar should evacute his several possessions in the Ukraine, but received as haughty a denial. The sultan in his letter treated the sovereign of the Russias only as a Christian gospodin (hospodar), and entitled himself Most Glorious Majesty, King of the World. The czar made answer that he was above submitting to a Mohammedan dog, but that his sabre was as good as the grand seignior's scimitar.
Alexis sent ambassadors to the pope, and to almost all the great sovereigns in Europe, except France, which was allied to the Turks, in order to establish a league against the Porte. His ambassadors had no other success at Rome than not being obliged to kiss the pope's toe; everywhere else they met with nothing but good wishes, the Christian princes being generally prevented by their quarrels and jarring interests from uniting against the common enemy of their religion. Alexis did not live to see the termination of the war with Turkey. His death happened in 1676, in his forty-eighth year, after a reign of thirty-one years.
FEODOR (1676-1682 A.D)
Alexis was succeeded by his eldest son, Feodor, a youth in his nineteenth year, and of very feeble temperament. The most pressing task that devolved. on him was the prosecution of the war with Turkey, which, as far as Russia was interested, had regard chiefly to the question whether the country of the Zaparogian Cossacks should be under the sovereignty of the czar or of the sultan. The contest was terminated, three years after Feodor's accession, by a treaty which established his right over the disputed territory. Only one other memorable event distinguished his brief reign.
Nothing could equal the care with which the noble families kept the books of their pedigrees, in which were set down not only every one of their ancestors but also the posts and offices which each had held at court, in the army, or in the civil department. Had these genealogies and registers of descent been confined to the purpose of determining the ancestry and relationship of families no objection could be alleged against them. But these books of record were carried to the most absurd abuse, attended with a host of pernicious consequences. If a nobleman were appointed to a post in the army, or at court, or to some civil station, and it appeared that the person to whom he was now subordinate numbered fewer ancestors than he, it was with the utmost difficulty that he could be brought to accept of the office to which he was called. Nay, this folly was carried to still greater lengths: a man would even refuse to take upon him an employ, if thereby he would be subordinate to one whose ancestors had formerly stood in that position towards his own.
It is easy to imagine that a prejudice of this kind must have been productive of the most disagreeable effects, and that discontents, murmurs at slights and trifling neglects, disputes, quarrels, and disorders in the service must have been its natural attendants. It was, therefore, become indispensably necessary that a particular office should be instituted at court in which exact copies of the genealogical tables and service-registers of the noble families were deposited; and this office was incessantly employed in settling the numberless disputes that arose from this inveterate prejudice. Feodor, observing the pernicious effects of this fond conceit that the father's capacity must necessarily devolve on the son, and that consequently he ought to inherit his posts - wished to put a stop to it; and with the advice of his
[1682 A.D.] sagacious minister, Prince Vasili Galitzin, fell upon the following method. He caused it to be proclaimed that all the families should deliver into court faithful copies of their service-rolls, in order that they might be cleared of a number of errors that had crept into them. This delivery being made, he convoked the great men and the superior clergy before him. In the midst of these heads of the nobles, the patriarch concluded an animated harangue by inveighing against their prerogatives. "They are," said he, "a bitter source of every kind of evil; they render abortive the most useful enterprises, in like manner as the tares stifle the good grain; they have introduced, even into the heart of families, dissensions, confusion, and hatred; but the pontiff comprehends the grand design of his czar. God alone can have inspired it!"
At these words, and by anticipation, all the grandees blindly hastened to express their approval; and, suddenly, Feodor, whom this generous unanimity seemed to enrapture, arose and proclaimed, in a simulated burst of holy enthusiasm, the abolition of all their hereditary pretensions - "To extinguish even the recollection of them," said he, "let all the papers relative to those titles be instantly consumed!" And as the fire was ready, he ordered them to be thrown into the flames before the dismayed eyes of the nobles, who strove to conceal their anguish by dastardly acclamations. By way of conclusion to this singular ceremony, the patriarch pronounced an anathema against everyone who should presume to contravene this ordinance of the czar; and the justice of the sentence was ratified by the assembly in a general shout of "Amen!" It was by no means Feodor's intention to efface nobility; and, accordingly, he ordered new books to be made, in which the noble families were inscribed; but thus was abolished that extremly pernicious custom which made it a disgrace to be under the orders of another if his ancestry did not reach so high, or even in case of equal pedigree - if a forefather of the commander had once been subordinate in the service to the progenitor of him who was now to acknowledge him for his superior. Feodor died in February, 1682, after a reign of five years and a half, leaving no issue.h
When, towards the beginning of the eighteenth century, Peter the Great laid the foundation of Petersburg or rather of his empire, no one predicted success. Had anyone at that time imagined that a sovereign of Russia could send victorious fleets to the Dardanelles, subjugate the Crimea, drive out the Turks from four great provinces, dominate the Black Sea, establish the most brilliant court of Europe, and make all the arts flourish in the midst of war-if anyone had said that he would merely have been taken for a visionary.-VOLTAIRE.
THE question of the succession was now again thrown open to discussion, and the family feuds were revived. Ivan, the next in succession, was nearly blind, and, according to some historians, nearly dumb, and inferior in mind and body; and shortly before his death Feodor expressed his wish that his half-brother, Peter, then between nine and ten years of age, should be nominated to the throne; a nomination of which Ivan had just sense enough to approve. The imbecility of Ivan was so great that, had it not been for the influence of the family to which he belonged, and the bold and ambitious spirit of his sister Sophia, he must have been set aside at once, and Peter without further difficulty raised to the sovereignty. The Miloflavskoi, however, were resolved to preserve the right of succession in their own blood; and Sophia, a princess of singular beauty and high mental endowments, in the meridian of youth and possessed of indomitable courage, set the example of contesting the throne, first in the name of her idiot brother and next in her own name: for when her plans were ripe she did not scruple to declare that she aspired to the sceptre in the default of the rightful heir. But as all her machinations were carefully conducted with a colour of justice on behalf of Ivan, she escaped from the charge of interested motives, which, in the early part of the plot, would have defeated her grand object.