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Boris Godunov's Reign
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Boris Godunov's Reign

In the beginning of XVII century crisis in economy and political structure worsened considerably. It was caused, first of all, by Oprichnina and the Livonian War. Reforms that had been carried out to improve the situation had little effect.

The Russian State entered the period of Distemper. It was the time of tragic developments that put the country under the menace of destruction. This period adjoined crowning of Boris Godunov (1598-1605). Strange though it may seem, but ceremonial coronation of Godunov in September 1598 turned out to be the beginning of decay of the state centralization policy that was continued by B. Godunov after the death of Ivan the Terrible. Accession of Godunov, who belonged by his origin neither to the Ryurikoviches, nor to the Gediminoviches, in contrast to his rivals - the Mstislavsys and the Shuyskys, reinforced strifes among Russian nobility. It was widely rumored that Tsarevitch Dmitry was killed in Uglich by Godunov's order.

Tsar Boris followed the same tendencies both in internal, and in foreign policy that were outlined during the last years of Ivan the Terrible's reign. First of all, the government of Godunov cared of satisfaction of essential needs of noble servicemen who represented its main support. Abolition of tarkhans 1584 (tax-free lands) and the law about feudal lords' ploughlands allocation (the beginning of 90's) purposed the same aim.

The rise of the church's possession was strictly limited. Some invigoration of farms of servicemen began to take shape. The series of actions was carried out to stop depopulation of the country's centre. For example, registration of rural population was implemented to return people who left for privately owned landed property in cities. Lands stock-taking was carried out, the system of 'forbidden' years and the five-year term for runaway peasants pursuit were established (1597). Decrees about villeins had for an object to assign servants to nobility.

Some relaxation of internal social tension in the country was promoted by foreign activity of Godunov. Favourable conditions formed for development of the southern and south-eastern areas of the country and advance to Siberia. A stream of peasants, villeins, craftsmen who evaded famine and oppression gushed out to the Volga region, the southern and Siberian lands. In foreign policy the search of peace in the years of 1584-1598 formed a principle of maintenance of friendly relations with neighbouring countries. Russia did not wage sanguinary wars during the reign of Boris Godunov.

To realize his political program, Godunov needed a well-organized State machinery. He recruited many outstanding administrators (clerks the Schelkalovs, Druzhina Petelin, Elizary Vyluzgin, etc.) Godunov also put State Departments in order. Boris Godunov aimed to destroy the patrimonial principle of the Boyard Duma formation and replaced it by family-corporative one (when 'closeness' to the ruler played the main role).

Achievements of Boris Godunov's policy were fragile, they were based on overstrain of social and economic potential of the country. That inevitably led to a social outburst. All layers of society protested: boyards and nobility were indignant over reduction of their patrimonial rights, noble servicemen were dissatisfied with the government that could not prevent runaway of peasants, urban population opposed upgrowth of the tax burden, orthodox clergy was displeased with reduction of privileges and strict control of autocracy.

Famine of 1601-1603.

In the beginning of the century the country was struck by terrible failure of crops. This disaster ruined population. Peasants ran from famine and epidemics, they abandoned their houses and went to cities. Landowners did not wish to feed their villains and dismissed them paying no money. Crowds of hungry and wretched people roamed over the country.

Trying to weaken social pressure the government of Godunov in 1601 temporarily permitted peasants to move from one landowner to another. State construction works were organized in Moscow. They included accomplishment of Ivan the Great Bell Tower of the Kremlin. Population was provided with free-of-charge grain from the state granaries. But even this could not prevent starvation of many people. Only in Moscow, during two years died 127 thousand people.

At the same time the country had grain. Usury and unrestrained speculation prospered. Land owners - boyars, monasteries and even Patriarch Iov held huge stocks of grain in store. They waited for the price to go up. Kirillo-Belozersk Monastery, for example, stored about 250 thousand poods of grain (that was enough to support 10 thousand people during a year).

Mass runaways of peasants and villains went on, as well as refusals to pay duties. Many people left for the Don and Volga where there were cossacks settlements. Hard economic situation inside the country resulted in decrease of Godunov's government authority. In 1603 the wave of numerous disorders and revolts of starving people swelled greatly, especially in the south of the country. A large group of rebels under command of Khlopok Kosolap was active near Moscow. The governmental armies managed to stifle such "revolts" with a lot of difficulty.

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