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Government and Political System of Russia in XVI century.
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The Reign of Tsar Feodor Ivanovich (1584-1598).
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The Reign of Tsar Feodor Ivanovich (1584-1598).

Tsar Feodor came to the throne according both to the tradition of power succession and Ivan IV's last will. But he possessed neither talents, nor qualities of a ruler. According to the last order of Ivan the Terrible, a regency council including five boyards (the Tsar's uncle Nikita Romanovich Zakharin-Yuriyev, Prince Ivan Fedorovich Mstislavsky, Prince Ivan Petrovich Shuysky, Bogdan Yakovlevich Volsky and Boris Fedorovich Godunov, the brother-in-law of the Tsar) was formed to support the incapable Tsar Feodor.

Collisions between the members of the council consisting of two opposing groups were inevitable. In the beginning Zakharin-Yuriyev supported by the Moscow nobility and population tried to reconcile Princes Shuysky and Mstislavsky, who were servicemen, and promoted by Ivan IV Belsky and Godunov. But Belsky started dangerous political intrigues at once. Then, on April 2, 1584 disorders of Moscow population were inspired against him and he was removed to the post of the Nizhni Novgorod voevode. In the end of the same year Yuriyev fell ill. That worsened antagonism between Boris Godunov and Shuysky considerably. Godunov was strongly supported by the bureaucracy headed by Duma clerks Andrey and Vasily Shchelkalovy, adherents of a strong centralized state. That allowed Godunov to get rid of one more rival - I.F. Miloslavsky; he was cloistered in the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery in 1585.

In 1586 leaders of the Shuyskys boyard clan tried to arrange a divorce of Tsar Feodor Ivanovich (under the pretext of barreness of Tsarina Irina) thus trying to discharge B. Godunov. At that they relied on Moscow population. Boris managed to suppress the disorders that arose in the capital in May 1586. Shortly after I.P. Shuysky and his brothers were firstly banished to their ancestral lands, and then, were brought to Beloozero and Kargopol, where they were secretly killed. Thus the boyard opposition was done away and Boris Godunov could now publicly become the regent of the state. He was entitled "the Governor, Servant and the Equerry Boyard and the Court Voevode". The Boyard Duma empowered him with control over foreign relations. The British called him "the Lord-Protector of Russia".

According to his origin Boris Godunov belonged to prominent but untitled boyards. He became close to Ivan IV in the last years of his reign, mainly due to the marriage of his sister Irina to Tsarevitch Feodor. Godunov himself, married to a daughter of Malyuta Skuratov, was closely connected with Oprichnina guards. Contemporaries greatly appreciated Boris (he was handsome and smooth-tongued), but at the same time they noted his strong lust for power. An outstanding politician, Boris was skilful at being what was the best under the circumstance. He had keen wit and strong will. Boris was not highly educated, but according to a foreigner who knew him personally he was very clever. A prudent and far-seeing, generous and peaceful ruler, he won the sympathy of all Russian people. And at the same time he was guileful and perfidious, smoothtongued and artful - but only due to all these qualities Boris Godunov managed to reach the top power.

To strengthen an economic situation the government of Godunov achieved abolition of tax privileges of church and monasteries at the Church Council in 1584. At the same time the process of the land register formation was carried out and, in this connection, the resettling of peasants on St. George's Day was banned. In 1597 the decree setting the five years term of pursuit of runaway peasants was issued. It was an important step towards establishment of serfdom in Russia. It reinforced an economic position of landed gentry greatly. However, a peasant was bound not to the landowner personally, but to the land. Besides, this bondage concerned only the peasant himself, not his children or nepnep.

Aspiring to limit economic power of the church, the government of Godunov, at the same time, cared about the growth of its authority: the patriarchate was established in Russia in 1589 (the Russian Church had strived for that from the middle of XV century). Iov, a devoted adherent of Godunov, was proclaimed the first Moscow Patriarch at the Church Council. Establishment of the patriarchate made the Russian Orthodox Church legally independent from the Constantinople Patriarch.

Tsarevitch Dmitry (the son of Ivan the Terrible and his last wife Maria Nagaya) died in the fit of epilepsy on May 15, 1591 in Uglich. Rumours declared Boris Godunov the initiator of his death. The historical sources do not give a simple answer to the question about the cause of the Tsarevitch's death, but it is obvious, that this tragedy cleared a way to the throne for Godunov.

In 1598 with the death of childless Feodor Ivanovich the ruling dynasty of the Rurikoviches ceased to exist. The next Zemsky Council in February 1598 raised Boris Godunov to the throne.

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