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God, Tsar, and PeopleThe Political Culture of Early Modern Russia$

Daniel B. Rowland

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781501752094

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501752094.001.0001

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Did Muscovite Literary Ideology Place Limits on the Power of the Tsar (1540s–1660s)?

Did Muscovite Literary Ideology Place Limits on the Power of the Tsar (1540s–1660s)?

(p.82) Chapter 4 Did Muscovite Literary Ideology Place Limits on the Power of the Tsar (1540s–1660s)?
God, Tsar, and People

Daniel B. Rowland

Cornell University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter talks about Richard Pipes' publication of a sweeping and influential reinterpretation of pre-Soviet Russian political culture. It analyses Pipes' central idea that Muscovite Rus´ was a patrimonial state and the tsar or great prince exercised power that is comparable to that of the possessor of dominium in Roman law. It also details how Pipes traced the growth of the actual power of the monarch and the gradual narrowing of the boundaries of possible action for all classes. The chapter explains why no class or social group was able to limit the excessive growth of royal power. It discusses the ideology of royal absolutism in Russia that was worked out by clergymen who felt that the interests of religion and church were best served by a monarchy with no limits to its power.

Keywords:   Richard Pipes, pre-Soviet Russian politics, Russian political culture, Roman law, royal power, royal absolutism, Russia

In 1974, Richard Pipes of Harvard published a sweeping and influential reinterpretation of pre-Soviet Russian political culture. His central idea was that Muscovite Rus´ was a patrimonial state; the tsar, or great prince, exercised power over his subjects “comparable to that of the possessor of dominium in Roman law, a power defined as ‘absolute ownership excluding all other appropriation and involving the right to use, to abuse, and to destroy at will.’”1 In addition to tracing the growth of the actual power of the monarch and the gradual narrowing of the boundaries of possible action for all classes, Pipes undertook to show why no class or social group was able to limit this excessive growth of royal power. The clergy, far from limiting this power, actually did the opposite: “The entire ideology of royal absolutism in Russia was worked out by clergymen who felt that the interests of religion and church were best served by a monarchy with no limits to its power.” The Russian church, in particular Joseph of Volokolamsk and his followers, threw “its weight … ​fully behind royal absolutism” partly to save its own landed property against the threat posed by the nonpossessors.2

(p.83) I shall leave aside Pipes’s emphasis on Muscovy as a patrimonial regime. I have no quarrel with the term, but it may be misleading, because in Muscovy the paterfamilias was limited in what he could do with a family patrimony, or votchina.3 Pipes’s view of the church as the creator of an “ideology” supporting unlimited or “absolutist” royal power represents an intelligent reading of the available secondary literature by a well-informed nonspecialist in Muscovite affairs.4 Nevertheless, several recent students have suggested that Muscovy’s image of its political authority was more collegial than autocratic.5 Before the Russian Revolution of 1917, several Russian scholars worked out what might be called a liberal interpretation of Muscovite ideology, investing it with constitutional overtones, but no general study since the Revolution has addressed the question of what limits, if any, Muscovite authors put upon the power of the tsar.6

I argue that Muscovite literary ideology (the political ideas found in literary, or high-style, texts) placed ill-defined but important limits on the power of the tsar and that these limits were understood and accepted by most literate people. In approaching this problem, however, a troublesome methodological problem arises: the proliferation in the texts of seemingly contradictory views. The traditional way to explain these contradictions has been to assign the seemingly opposed ideas found in the sources to different groups, or “parties,” thus projecting on the society of Muscovy the contradictions perceived in the ideology. Certainly some figures, such as Maksim the Greek or Vassian Patrikeev, in the early sixteenth century emphasized the limits of royal power more often than its prerogatives, whereas Joseph of Volokolamsk did the opposite. Pipes, with ample evidence, calls Joseph “an extravagant apologist of royal absolutism.”7 However, the same Joseph was capable of calling on the Muscovite people to refuse obedience to an unrighteous tsar, a “tsar tormentor” who consistently violated God’s will: “Such a tsar is not a servant of God but a devil, not a tsar but a tormentor [muchitel´]. Our Lord Jesus Christ did not call such a person a tsar but a fox; you should not heed such a person who leads you into dishonor and cunning.”8

The contradictory statements in the works of the same author reveal why the “parties” approach has not proved productive. In Joseph’s case, Ia. S. Lur´e and other scholars have carefully dated his writings and have connected the varying images of the ruler in his writings to his changing real-life relationship to the grand prince and to the official church.9 This detailed biographical approach has revolutionized the old view of Joseph as expressed by Pipes, but it retains the conception that the changes in Joseph’s writings corresponded to shifts in his ideological affiliation. This view continues to obscure the fact (p.84) that Joseph drew on an existing fund of political ideas and images for both of his positions. Further, since Joseph placed the above and other similar passages alongside encomiums to the power of a God-chosen prince when he compiled the Enlightener in 1514 (well after his alleged conversion into a monarchist ideologue), it seems fair to assume that his “ideology” still included both images of a ruler. He had neither forgotten nor rejected the image of the ruler as a devil. Instead, it was his perception of a given ruler or a particular situation that determined the choice of which image was appropriate. In the case of Joseph, as for many other writers, it is simpler and safer to assume that there was one “ideology” that provided a number of alternate ruler images than to assume that each of these writers flip-flopped from one “ideological camp” to another every time they used a different image to describe a ruler of Muscovy. An examination of a group of texts by various authors on a single theme fails to reveal evidence of different ideological groupings even during the chaotic Time of Troubles, when we would most expect to see them.10

If we turn from the texts themselves to what we are learning about Muscovite society, the “ideological struggle” model also seems inappropriate. Two recent and careful discussions of Kremlin court politics have shown that ideological or even policy disputes played little role in court groupings, especially when compared with factors such as marriage ties and clan alliances.11 V. B. Kobrin has forcefully argued that the social struggle between the boiarstvo and the dvorianstvo (which Soviet historiography traditionally viewed as underlying the ideological struggle between opponents and proponents of an unlimited monarchical power) is a myth. Donald Ostrowski has cast grave doubt on the importance of that political and ideological split between the “Possessors” and the “Non-possessors” that historians have used as the linchpin for their descriptions of sixteenth-century politics. Supposedly, Joseph of Volokolamsk led the “Possessors,” who were dedicated to the defense of church landholding and to the magnification of the power of the tsar, while the “Non-possessors” allegedly argued that monasteries should not hold land and that the tsar’s power should be limited in some way. Ostrowski has shown that the dispute over church landholding in particular was much more limited in both time and political importance than historians have thought.12 I argue in parallel that there was little real dispute over ideology. In sum, both the internal evidence of the texts themselves and the external evidence of what we are learning about the society from which the texts sprang lead us to question the “ideological struggle” approach to the interpretation of these texts.

If we are not to distort the views of such a thinker as Joseph, therefore, we must devise a scheme that can encompass both types of image of the ruler— (p.85) the autocrat and the tormentor; citing one while ignoring the other will not do. A term that inclines us to choose inadvertently this latter course is the word “ideology.” Taken in the commonly used sense in which Pipes uses it—that is, as a deliberate concoction of available ideas to justify a (usually nefarious) political cause, as in “Nazi ideology”—the word disposes us to search for a political message and then to focus on the evidence that supports the message. It thus acts as a kind of verbal filter, selecting out those elements that are not consistent with the assumed political purpose. A more useful way to understand Joseph’s ideology is to think of it not so much as a deliberate creation bent toward amplifying (or limiting) the tsar’s power, but as a system of symbols through which he could conceptualize and therefore understand the relationship of ruler to subject. As with any language, this system of symbols had its own grammar, its own rhetorical rules, which governed the deployment and use of its symbols and thus defined (and restricted) political thought in important ways.13 In this modified sense, Joseph’s ideology not only reflected his interests and changing relations to his ruler but also governed his perception of those interests and his conduct of those relations.14 This definition enables us to take all elements of political discourse, even contradictory ones, into account and to look for the rhetorical rules that would enable an author like Joseph to move from an imperial autocratic image to the image of the ruler as a devil.

The term “absolute” and its derivatives hide another danger in Pipes’s formulation. This word typically has both a general and a specific meaning. Both seem suitable to the Muscovite context at first glance but turn out on closer inspection to be misleading. In its general meaning, “absolute” denotes both perfection and complete freedom from any restriction. There are plenty of encomiums to the power of the tsar in Muscovite texts. Indeed, readers get the impression that Muscovite authors wanted desperately to believe that their rulers were perfect and therefore should be free of all restrictions, particularly when these authors are discussing the tsardom in a general context. Ivan Timofeev, for example, refers in a striking metaphor to a golden age when the ruler was a pure autocrat (tsar´ samovlasten) and subjects were “as voiceless as fish.”15 Problems arose, however, as soon as the ideology was put to work to describe actual rulers who were often far from perfect. If the perfection of the ruler implied by the word “absolute” were spoiled, then so was his independence, since, as we shall see, erring monarchs needed to be corrected by wise advisers, deposed, or even killed. The term “absolute” consequently inclines us to filter out just those elements omitted through the conventional use of the term “ideology.”

Pipes was probably using the word in its specific sense, however, as it refers to the absolute monarchs of seventeenth-century Europe of whom Louis (p.86) XIV was the archetype. The difference between Muscovite political ideas and Western European absolutist philosophy is a tricky but a crucial one. Again there is a tempting similarity. After all, the power of the monarch in both is derived from God above, not from the people below. Yet there are important differences visible from the evolution of each form. Western absolutist theory—like its contemporary rival, the theory of popular sovereignty—sprang from the imprecisely articulated but powerful Byzantine idea of a divinely appointed monarch, adopted by Western thinkers in the Early Middle Ages. This idea contained many unanswered questions, among them the problem of what to do about a bad king, one who contravened God’s law or another generally accepted norm of political behavior. For almost a millennium, from the eighth to the seventeenth centuries, generations of polemicists and scholars labored in universities as well as in royal and papal chancelleries to resolve this question. They used Aristotelian logic to defend the claims of the Papacy against the various monarchs of Europe, or vice versa. None of these elements—neither the institutions nor the scholars nor the political rivalries between church and state nor even the Aristotelian logic—was present in Kievan or Muscovite Rus´ before the seventeenth century.

As a result, Western absolutist theory was articulated quite differently from its Muscovite counterpart. Formed in an atmosphere of intense attention to political philosophy, it was cast in a logically coherent form to remove the ambiguities that had led to so much confusion in the Middle Ages. It used concepts such as “sovereignty” and “reason of state” that were entirely foreign to the Muscovite political vocabulary. In ninth-century Europe as in sixteenth-century Muscovy, the role of God and the ruler’s responsibility to Him were taken with great seriousness as active political questions: Political theory permitted and indeed encouraged the overthrow of a monarch who violated his obligations, however vaguely defined. By the seventeenth century, absolutist theorists like Bossuet, in response to republican and other popular-based political theories, had reduced the role of God in a functional sense to a rhetorical device for giving the system legitimacy without any popular participation. The emphasis in the formula “the King is responsible to God alone” was on the last word.16 As Robert Crummey recently observed, the remark of James I of England that kings “even by God are … ​called gods” would have “sounded a note of unimaginable blasphemy” within the Muscovite context.17

If we are to escape from these difficulties of terminology, then, we need to redefine our problem. Instead of seeking some “ideology” in the conventional sense, we will try to develop a sense of the political images that Muscovite writers used to describe the power of the ruler under varying circumstances, to see Muscovite ideology at work passing judgment on current events. A particularly (p.87) useful source for such an undertaking is the remarkable set of historical accounts written during or shortly after the Time of Troubles.18 Although they have received relatively little attention from historians, these tales are valuable precisely because they lack any particular ideological program. Furthermore, they were written by a wide variety of people, from bureaucrat to prince. The events of the Troubles, including the virtual disappearance of the God-established tsardom, violent social strife, and massive foreign intervention, were so traumatic that they forced writers to search deeply in their stock of received ideas for some sort of explanation. The first part of this essay therefore uses these tales to answer the question of what limits, if any, were placed on the power of the tsar.

Our definition of ideology as a symbolic language expressing political relations leads us to an important observation. Whereas this symbolic language was obviously not created by Joseph or any other Muscovite “ideologue” but was inherited from Byzantium via Kiev, the political relationships described by that language were a distinctly Muscovite creation largely based on Tatar precedent.19 With political practice and political theory coming from quite different sources, the question arises of what connection the literary texts that form the basis of our discussion had with the world of political action. The second part attempts to trace a few such connections. In so doing, we widen our focus slightly to include some selectively chosen sources from the reign of Ivan IV and some of the writings of Avvakum. A final section suggests some hypotheses about the overall importance of Muscovite ideology and the limits it placed on the power of the tsar.

Limits to the Power of the Tsar in Tales About the “Time of Troubles”

What do the language and concepts in the tales about the Time of Troubles tell us about the power and obligations of the tsar? Are there criteria by which royal acts can be judged, or are all of the actions of a tsar considered by definition “proper”? As in the case of Joseph’s writings, we must be aware of some important contradictions. In particular, we find that in most of the tales, a tension exists between theoretical statements about the pious nature and autocratic power of the tsar, on one hand, and, on the other, the actual reportage of events, reportage that is often explicitly critical of the rulers concerned. In fact, the portraits of Ivan IV to be discussed shortly suggest that the worse the actions of a ruler were, the more it was necessary to praise his theoretical perfection. This makes sense if we take seriously the tsar’s role as the transmitter (p.88) of God’s will: Only a perfect tsar can perform the ritual function of connecting Muscovite politics to God’s will and thus legitimize government. To admit the rulers’ faults was to cast into doubt the very basis of governmental authority. Given these assumptions, as well as a very pessimistic view of the sinful nature of ordinary people, the tsar had to be endowed with and to use great power.

The experience of living through an extended and painful period of violent anarchy and civil war undoubtedly also contributed to the value placed on a firm and powerful ruler. Weakness or irresolution on the part of a ruler was swiftly condemned. The Khronograf of 1617 sneeringly reports that “by such insurrections, those evil rebels shook the heart of Tsar Vasilii [Shuiskii] like many rough waves shaking a boat,” while I. A. Khvorostinin condemns Shuiskii for having an insatiable desire to fulfill the people’s wishes, motivated by his aspiration to be elected tsar rather than to serve God. The remedy for the dangerous moral and political vacillation of the people is a strong ruler.20 Ivan Timofeev clearly sees the value of a firm hand: “The evil accomplished by such people [rebellious subjects] was permitted by the silence of those in power who did not restrain them with fear.”21 Semen Shakhovskoi, the writer who, together with Khvorostinin, had the closest connections with the West, obviously admires the period of Boris Godunov’s rule when Godunov’s “hand was strengthened over the whole Russian [russkii] state, and great fear and trembling [strakh i trepet velii] fell upon all people, and they began truly to serve him from the unimportant even to the very great.”22 Clearly, Muscovites—at least these Muscovites—liked a strong ruler.

But that is not all there is to the question. The role of the tsar as a mediator between God’s will and the people’s actions depended upon the righteousness and piety of the tsar himself. Without these qualities he could not receive, to say nothing of transmit, God’s will. And as Ivan IV (or whoever wrote the first letter to “Kurbskii” usually attributed to him) said (echoing Agapetus), “For even if I wear the purple, none the less I know this, that like unto all men, I am altogether clothed with frailty by nature.”23 The authors of the tales about the Time of Troubles agreed with this judgment. Indeed, their picture of Ivan is remarkably similar in general outline to that found in the famous “correspondence” traditionally ascribed to him and to Prince A. M. Kurbskii.24

These portraits of Ivan are important because, unlike most of the rulers described in the tales, Ivan was fully legitimate, clearly a “God-chosen” tsar. They not only give us some idea of the public reaction to Ivan’s reign, but they also reveal the criteria by which an unquestionably true tsar could be judged. The three authors who discuss Ivan’s reign at any length—Ivan Timofeev, Semen (p.89) Shakhovskoi, and the author of the Khronograf of 1617—all see the cause for Ivan’s evil actions in his moral decline. Timofeev tells us that Ivan’s character varied, but that “he was moved to evil as much by [his] nature as by anger.” His various assaults on his subjects are usually ascribed to his fierceness and anger as well as to the evil influence of the foreigners with whom he surrounded himself. He later informs us that Ivan had a homosexual love for Bogdan Bel´skii.25 Shakhovskoi (like “Kurbskii”) divides Ivan’s reign into two parts, a good early part when God raised him up above even his ancestors and widened his state, and an evil second part: “Thus for our sins he showed himself to be the opposite [of the righteous tsar he had been]; he was filled with anger and fierceness, and began to persecute his servants evilly and mercilessly.”26 A similar interpretation is given by the author of the Khronograf, who implies that the death of Ivan’s first wife, Anastasia, who had influenced Ivan to lead a virtuous life, was central to the change. Among the virtues of the “early Ivan” are his courage, military skill, his conquest of foreigners, his intelligence and oratorical eloquence, and his piety.27

Although the amount of detail in each source varies, all sources agree in blaming Ivan for his persecution of his own subjects, including his murder of his own family. “[He] began evilly and mercilessly to persecute his servants who were in his power and to spill their blood” and to murder “his voevody given to him by God,” Shakhovskoi tells us.28 Similarly, the Khronograf blames him for destroying “his own family and also many of the grandees of his sinklit [council].”29 Timofeev does not particularly mention grandees or voevody, but he gives a truly horrifying picture of Ivan’s atrocities, his sack of Novgorod, his murder of his own son, of his cousin Prince Vladimir of Staritskii, and of Vladimir’s entire family. He also describes the oprichnina—an institution specifically condemned by all three authors: “He divided one people into two separate halves, creating as it were two faiths [iako dvoeverny]”; he “humiliated himself like a bondsman [before Semen Bekbulatovich], kept only a small portion of his inheritance, and after a short time took everything back, thus playing with God’s people.”30 These words by Timofeev imply that Ivan violated a divine trust. The people he was “playing” with were not his, but God’s. The oprichnina was bad because it threatened the unity of Orthodox Christianity, or so Timofeev seems to imply. Both other sources also specifically condemn the oprichnina. Shakhovskoi sees it also as a violation of God’s trust: “He divided his tsarstvo, given to him by God, into two pieces … and he ordered [those in] the other part to rape and murder [those in] that part.”31 Timofeev goes the furthest, however. The language he uses in his description of the oprichniki seems clearly to link them with the forces of Antichrist.32 After reporting the rumor that Ivan was murdered by Boris Godunov, Bogdan Bel´skii, (p.90) and one other, Timofeev tells us that God would have permitted such a murder.33 All of the authors saw the tsarstvo as a trust given by God; many of Ivan’s actions—especially the oprichnina and his destruction of his own subjects and family—were seen as violations of that trust.

The description of Fedor Ivanovich, Ivan’s son who ruled from 1584 through 1598, is even more puzzling in the context of the question of “absolutist” ideology that we have been considering. Fedor, nicknamed “the Bell Ringer” because of his constant attendance at church services, was feebleminded and took virtually no part in government at all. Nevertheless, he is the most admired ruler of the whole period. Every single author who mentions him, regardless of that author’s other political opinions, praises him and his reign, and, especially, his piety. These authors realized Fedor’s severe mental limitations, but if they meant what they said, they believed that his piety made God Himself the protector of Muscovy, and thus rendered Fedor’s secular administrative abilities, or his lack of them, irrelevant.34 Although several authors made descriptions of Fedor’s piety the occasion for considerable literary elaboration, Patriarch Iov created the most ornate description in his “Tale” of Fedor’s life. He argued that God Himself or the Mother of God (who, in an echo of the Akathistos hymn is described several times as Fedor’s voevoda) protected Muscovy as the result of Fedor’s prayers.35

For this cross-bearing tsar was very pious, merciful to all, meek [krotok], gentle [nezlobiv], and compassionate [miloserd]; he loved the humble and accepted suffering, and moreover was generous to widows and orphans, had mercy on all who grieved and helped those in misfortune…. ​He conquered all the neighboring countries of unbelieving nations that rebelled against the pious Christian faith and his God-preserved royal state—not with military troops or with the sharpness of a sword, but with the all-night vigil and ceaseless prayers to God did he finally conquer them.36

Here and in other descriptions of Fedor we see a set of characteristics—meekness, mercy, acceptance of suffering—which stands in marked contrast to the traditional image of the haughty merciless ruler implied by the reigning historiography and stated in several other royal portraits in our tales.37 These portraits illustrate the point that Muscovite ideology contained within itself at least two images of an ideal ruler, one of which emphasized strength and power, while another stressed meekness and humility. We also see in these portraits that one of the tsar’s greatest public responsibilities was to maintain his own personal piety, because that piety alone could link his acts to God’s will, and could enable him to serve as a conduit for God’s protection. As the (p.91) example of Fedor shows, a pious tsar can do no wrong, regardless of his skill as an administrator.

Perhaps a more important, because a more definable, obligation of the ruler was to preserve the Orthodox faith. Most of the rulers are described in the tales as having fulfilled this obligation. According to Iov’s account, when Patriarch Jeremiah returned to Constantinople from Muscovy after setting up the Muscovite patriarchate, he told the people of Constantinople of the “miraculous embellishment of the pious Christian churches of the Greek faith, the extraordinary royal piety [of Fedor Ivanovich], and the following [ispravlenie] of all the divine Orthodox dogmas.”38 Timofeev compliments Ivan IV: “After his ancestors until his very death, he preserved like a pastor the true faith in Christ firm and unshakable, especially reverence for the Unity in Trinity.”39 This idea of the tsar as a pastor, the spiritual as well as the temporal guardian of his people, is developed further by the author of the “Tale of How Boris Godunov Unjustly Seized the Throne” in his description of Shuiskii as “the true intercessor and pastor of his Christian flock.”40 “And now he observes the true Orthodox faith … ​and corrects us, and sets each [of us] on the path of salvation that after his departure, all would be inheritors of the paradise of life; he does not lead us into evil but goodness, and, again I say, turns [us] from the path of perdition.”41

However, where a ruler violated this obligation, and threatened to change or destroy Orthodoxy, he was not only condemned, he was not regarded as a tsar at all. The First Pretender is the classic example. Most of our authors thought he had the intention of converting Russia to Catholicism. This opinion, together with the assumption that he was an imposter who was simply pretending to be Ivan’s son Dmitrii, was sufficient to deprive him of all claims to power. Timofeev tells us that after the Pretender had seated himself on the royal throne in the Dormition Cathedral, now full of his heretical followers, “he was nothing less than the Antichrist to those looking on, improperly sitting on the throne, and not a tsar.”42 The grace of God was withdrawn at that point. The author of the first redaction of the first six chapters of Palitsyn’s Skazanie tells of two “new martyrs” who were executed for daring to state that the Pretender was “the image of Antichrist” and was sent by Satan.43 The author of the “Tale of How Boris Godunov Unjustly Seized the Throne” states that he was neither a tsar, nor the son of a tsar, “but an actual new lawbreaker/apostate” (zakonnoprestupnik—the epithet traditionally used for Julian the Apostate), the “forerunner of Satan” (sotonin predotecha), and compares him with Julian the Apostate, Phocas “the Tormentor,” and Constantine V (a fierce iconoclast).44 The “Orison on the Conquest and Final Destruction … ​of the Muscovite State” calls the Pretender “the forerunner of Antichrist who battles (p.92) against God.”45 The Khronograf of 1617 compares the Pretender to Julian the Apostate, calls him an “ungodly tormentor” (nechestivyi muchitel ´) because he fiercely persecuted Orthodox Christianity, and states that those who revealed his true identity and were tortured “were crowned [with martyrdom].”46

Here is a third image of the ruler, derived, as the examples conveniently reveal, from Byzantine terms worked out many centuries earlier to describe emperors like Julian the Apostate, who attempted to destroy Orthodox Christianity. (The Slavic word for “tormentor” [muchitel´] is a translation of the Greek tyrannos.) Muscovite and Kievan history offered few historical parallels to these evil native rulers, but this image of an anti-tsar, the mirror image of a true tsar, remained an important part of the literary heritage and was ready to apply to anyone who threatened Orthodoxy.47 This image (which is also notably neglected in the conventional picture of Muscovite ideology) encouraged the removal of any ruler who fell within its bounds; it was, of course, the one drawn upon by Joseph in the passage referred to at the beginning of this essay.

Princes Semen Shakhovskoi and Ivan Khvorostinin each use the regimes of Boris Godunov and the Pretender as a pretext for generalizing about the responsibilities of the tsar to God. Shakhovskoi begins with the familiar idea that “the tsar is nothing other than the living image of God, and is chosen by God.” If the tsar rules according to God’s wish, then he flourishes, but those, like Saul, who abandon God’s will, are thrown down from their high position. “If he who has received power from God governs in a praiseworthy way and well, if he strengthens himself in piety and dwells in the fear of the Lord and in His law,” he will flourish “like a tree planted by a river” (Ps. 1:2). “And he who gets power from the devil does not stand in truth and does not preserve piety; his end is destruction and death.” When the people hear that the Pretender is an apostate (bogootstupnik) who wants to destroy Orthodoxy, they will destroy him.48 These passages are amply furnished with biblical references describing God’s punishment of unjust rulers. Khvorostinin draws a relevant (even if fictitious) picture of himself upbraiding the First Pretender, whom he had already called a “lawbreaker” and a “lawless tormentor.” “But I will not honor you more than God,” he tells the Pretender, “since a tsar is a man. No evil can tear me away from thy mercy, independent ruler [samoderzhets], except the throwing down of God’s law.”49 Clearly there were limits to the power of the tsar.

One objection, of course, is that neither Boris Godunov nor the First Pretender was a fully legitimate monarch, and that therefore statements about them do not apply to true tsars. This argument is only partly valid. For one (p.93) thing, our authors failed both as individuals and as a group to decide exactly what (aside from God’s will) constituted true legitimacy. God’s will was assumed to be plain if the claimant were the eldest son of a recently deceased tsar (thus working in a distinctly patrimonial way). After the death of Fedor Ivanovich, however, no one enjoyed that distinction; in spite of the coronations of many tsars or would-be tsars, no coherent theory of legitimacy was worked out. Thus, not only between tales but within the same tale, we find the same ruler, Vasilii Shuiskii, called in one passage a “tsar” whose local officials were “established by the tsar from God” and, in another, “a self-elected so-called tsar.”50 Michael Romanov and Boris Godunov each came to the throne by the same path, election by an Assembly of the Land, but one came to be regarded as legitimate while the other did not. The answer to the question of legitimacy would often determine the answers to all other questions about a ruler; but just as often a ruler’s legitimacy was itself determined by other issues—in Godunov’s case his alleged murder of the Tsarevich Dmitrii and the overthrow of his regime by the First Pretender. Undoubtedly, had Michael Romanov sought to abolish the Orthodox faith in Muscovy, he would have been regarded as illegitimate for that reason. The reasoning of these authors works cumulatively rather than in a legally precise way: the First Pretender is a false tsar because he wanted to destroy Orthodoxy; because he was an imposter; and because he brought a lot of foreign troops into Muscovy. No one reason is singled out as sufficient. Similarly, his debauchery and lack of piety are not separated from his hostility to Orthodoxy. All these qualities are naturally combined together to create the image not of a tsar but of an anti-tsar, a “tormentor” who should be overthrown rather than obeyed.

There is a third obligation of the tsar, as imprecisely defined as the first two and perhaps less important because more secular: the duty to preserve the general order of the tsarstvo and the hierarchical order of people and things within it.51 The evidence within the tales about the Time of Troubles indicates that Muscovites were deeply conservative about most matters that we would term political, and were offended by any radical change. The unanimous condemnation of Ivan’s oprichnina, which we have just discussed, is perhaps the clearest example. The author of the Novaia povest´ argues that Wladislaw, the king of Poland’s son, should become tsar and that, among other good deeds, “he would in no way destroy our law and regulation [zakona by nashego i ustava nichem ni razoriati].”52 Out of context, this sounds temptingly close to a constitutional view, but we must remember first that Wladislaw was a foreigner and a Catholic and may not have been seen in the same light as a “true,” native tsar. Second, neither in the Novaia povest´ nor anywhere else was there (p.94) mention of any mechanism of enforcement, so that, if there is a constitutional meaning in these words, it is a constitutionalism of a pre–Magna Carta type. Indeed, as we read the tales, the similarity of the concepts of “law” found in them and in documents from the early Middle Ages is striking. As in many traditional societies, there was a reverence both for what was perceived to be old and for what was perceived to be good (that is, according to the will of God), and a tendency to equate the two.53

Timofeev sees the violation of this traditional order as one of the principal causes of the Troubles: “When the years came to an end the more our rulers changed the old lawful regulations [blagoustavlenniia zakonnaia] passed on by [their] fathers, the more in their slaves the natural fear and obedience to a master began to diminish.”54 The terminology is revealing here. Clearly the ruler was not responsible to his “slaves” for the fulfillment of the law, but, just as clearly, Timofeev regarded the preservation of “the old lawful regulations” as a crucial obligation. It is hard to nail down the exact meaning Timofeev gave to “the law.” Although his extensive experience as a d´iak would have given him ample acquaintance with administrative and judicial affairs, he does not ever seem to have referred to the “law” in a legally precise way, that is, by citing a particular law that had been broken. He tells us, for example, that Vasilii Shuiskii governed “lawlessly, being in all ways ungodly and like a beast, in fornication and in drunkenness.”55 A more precise meaning is implied in a passage in which Timofeev describes the sudden desertion of Novgorod by the troops appointed to guard over it, leaving the city completely at the mercy of its enemies: “For such an affair [the desertion of the troops] is foreign to the nature [ustroenie] of slaves who are afraid, and such impudence goes beyond the regulations of the laws of the royal customs…. According ​to the laws of our previous despots, it is not suitable [ne dostoit] to entrust such a wide jurisdiction to them.”56 Here the meaning of the law appears to center on the preservation of the social hierarchy, and the avoidance of promoting unsuitable people to important positions. This sentiment is encountered again and again throughout the tales.57

These authors, then, had a strong feeling for the natural order of the realm, and an equally strong feeling that the tsar should not violate this order. Timofeev tells us that Afanasii Vlasov, favorite of the First Pretender, was appointed “beyond his suitability” (pache dostoianiia svoego), while the lowborn Mikhail Tatishchev, who was promoted under Godunov and Shuiskii, was brought into the Duma not “meetly” (dostoine), but because of some ungodly service to Godunov. “Our true tsars before them [those who ruled during the Troubles] knew what honor to give to what family for what reason and [did] (p.95) not [give honors] to those of low birth.”58 It is important to note here that Timofeev was not a member of an old aristocratic clan but a parvenu bureaucrat. Nowhere in his writings do we find the suggestion that the social hierarchy should be in any way changed. Indeed Avraamii Palitsyn’s Skazanie calls Godunov’s touching coronation promise that he would abolish poverty and divide his last cloak with his subjects “loathsome to God.”59

It seems clear, then, that our authors regarded the power of the tsar as a means by which the Muscovite people could be forced to obey a higher, divinely established order perceived on earth as an ill-defined mixture of divine law and social custom. The tsar did not create this order, but was a creation of it—indeed he was the chief means of its preservation. Particularly important was the tsar’s generosity and defense of the weak.60

But how was his adherence to this natural order to be enforced? If the tsar violated any of those obligations, his subjects had not so much the right as the duty to tell him so, to become “wise advisers” who could, by the moral force of their advice, restore the tsar’s piety and reestablish his obedience to God’s will. This need for advisers was one of the main preoccupations of these authors, and appears again and again in the tales.61 The failure of the people to provide wise advice was blamed far more often than any other social factor for the disasters that overtook Muscovy. However, the function of giving advice was not specifically entrusted to any institution or social class; in theory anyone could be a wise adviser. This idea of an erring monarch corrected by wise advisers constitutes yet another image of the ruler.

So far we have seen that the tsar’s rule was a means to a divine end; that he had certain vital, although often ill-defined, obligations; that he was to be corrected by wise advisers when he erred; and that the vocabulary of Muscovite political thought included terms to describe meek and merciful rulers as well as fierce and mighty ones, “tormentors” as well as true tsars.

All of the ruler images we have discussed—the powerful and mighty prince, the meek and merciful spiritual podvizhnik (spiritual hero), the erring monarch corrected by wise advisers, even the evil and ungodly tormentor—were so common as to be tropes in the literary culture Muscovites inherited from their Byzantine and Kievan forebears. The evidence of the tales about the Time of Troubles indicates that each of these images remained an active part of the Muscovite political vocabulary, ready to use as occasion demanded. During the Time of Troubles the literary culture provided intellectual support both to the critics and to the supporters of a threatened regime. Indeed, almost every author was both a critic and a supporter at one time or another.

(p.96) Limits to Royal Power Seen in a Wider Variety of Sources

The ambiguity caused by the multiple images of a ruler can be found in texts throughout the reign of Ivan IV as well as the Time of Troubles. Authors felt that there were significant, though vaguely defined, limits to a tsar’s power, and that these limits, set by a literary culture a millennium in the building, had important consequences in the relatively new rough-and-tumble world of Muscovite political practice. All that was required was an appropriate occasion to question the behavior of a tsar. Such occasions were unfortunately common.

As we have seen, Ivan’s reign, particularly the oprichnina, provided such an occasion for authors writing about the Time of Troubles. It similarly stimulated the author of the letters conventionally attributed to Prince A. M. Kurbskii in his correspondence with Ivan. Pipes pointed out that the “Kurbskii” letters “assailed the entire notion of the state as votchina,” but he dismissed them because their sixteenth-century origins had been called into question by Edward L. Keenan.62 The question of the authenticity of the correspondence does not negate its usefulness as a document of Muscovite ideology. Were it to be proven to be the work of Ivan IV and Prince Kurbskii, it reflects the ideology of major political actors. If Keenan is right (and I believe the evidence favors his view), the correspondence was produced by a talented layman, Prince Semen Shakhovskoi, during the first third of the seventeenth century. Drawing on the resources of the Patriarchal library (surely the ideal repository of the literary culture we are discussing), he concocted two entirely believable historical but fictitious personae to express fully blown defenses of opposite “ideological” positions. What could better illustrate the diversity and ambiguity of the political messages embedded in Muscovite literary culture in the early 1600s? Indeed, if we accept Keenan’s hypothesis, Shakhovskoi was the first writer self-consciously to recognize, expand, and develop in virtuoso fashion the contradiction that has caused such difficulty in the interpretation of Joseph’s Enlightener, the contradiction with which we began our discussion.

Metropolitan Filipp’s encounter with Ivan provided another occasion to question Ivan’s behavior. Pipes repeats Maksim the Greek’s question (framed in typical Old Testament analogies) of why there were in Russia “no Samuels to stand up to Saul and no Nathans to tell the truth to erring David.”63 Filipp seems to have played this role, not only in the mind of his hagiographer(s) but also in real political life. The sources do not agree on how often Filipp upbraided Ivan IV, or what he said.64 Apparently, even before he became metropolitan, he had demanded the abolition of the oprichnina. Although Ivan (p.97) refused to allow Filipp to meddle in his affairs, he nevertheless did guarantee the metropolitan the right “to give advice” (sovetoval by) to the tsar as the metropolitan had done under Ivan’s father and grandfather.65 After his elevation to the metropolitan throne on July 25, 1566, Filipp, according to his Vita, continued to criticize the tsar. The dramatic climax of the affair occurred in the Dormition Cathedral in the Kremlin on March 22, 1568, when Filipp accused the tsar of spilling the blood of innocent Christians. He plainly stated that the tsar is a mortal like any other man, who will suffer at the judgment of Christ for his deeds, which in his case were unrighteous (ne pravednaia dela tvorishi).66 If we believe the second redaction of the Vita, we find in a speech given to Ivan earlier and in private many of the themes already discussed relative to the smuta tales. The tsar is told that he, like the church, must care for the “piety and salvation of all Orthodox Christianity.” “Observe the law given to you from God,” Filipp is reported to have said. “Rule lawfully and in peace.”67 According to the Vita, he repeatedly harped on the need to listen to wise advisers, and to avoid the influence of flatterers.68 In the Dormition Cathedral speech, he told the tsar, “Master, I cannot obey your command more than [the command of] God.”69 Filipp later apparently went so far as to say that an oprichnik who came to church with Ivan looked “as if [he came] from the Satanic host” (slovno ot lika sataninskago).70

The information about the Dormition Cathedral speech from Filipp’s Vita is remarkably corroborated by the testimony of two foreign observers, Taube and Kruse, who presumably had little or no access to the literary culture that produced the Vita. Both the first redaction of the Vita and the foreigners’ account agree that Filipp’s speech had three common themes: reproaches for the spilling of blood, the reminder that the tsar is mortal and that he is responsible for his deeds before God, and, finally, the attempt to direct the actions of the tsar into the channel of justice and the laws.71 Thus, the literary ideology provided both criteria by which Filipp could judge the tsar and ample role models for his courageous and ultimately fatal opposition. Indeed, one wonders whether Filipp may have found his spiritual strength from that tradition, especially from the very biblical examples of Samuel and Nathan cited by Maksim and Pipes.

Filipp was not an isolated example. German Polev, who had been chosen as metropolitan before Filipp, also was dismissed for objecting to the oprichnina and was eventually executed for his support of Filipp. When we take into account that the metropolitan before Polev, Afanasii Protopopov, had lost his position apparently for objecting to Ivan’s policies, and that in connection with the affair of Filipp or soon after, Ivan purged the entire hierarchy except Bishop Kornnilii of Rostov, we can see that these objections had serious political consequences indeed.72

(p.98) The church was not the only source of serious objections to the oprichnina however. Not long before Filipp’s speech in the Dormition Cathedral, a group of notables who had just served in the zemskii sobor of 1566 approached Ivan to petition him to abolish the oprichnina. One source lists the number present at three hundred; clearly this was meant and perceived as a serious challenge.73 Two years earlier, a smaller but similar group, including Filipp’s predecessor Metropolitan Afanasii, had lodged a similar protest against Ivan’s executions. Albert Schlichting, a Pomeranian observer of Muscovy, describes the situation again in terms that recall what we know of Filipp’s words to Ivan:

Horrified by the savagery of this deed [the execution of Prince Dmitrii Ovchinin Telepnev-Obolenskii], certain noblemen, including the Metropolitan, decided it was their duty to restrain the tyrant from brutally destroying his subjects, who were clearly innocent of wrong-doing. They told him that no Christian ruler had the right to treat human beings like animals; instead he should fear the righteous dooms of God, who avenges the blood of innocents unto the third generation. Ivan was considerably taken aback by these representations and particularly embarrassed by the Metropolitan, nor could he justify his behavior.74

Again, the account of the protest by Schlichting, who was a foreigner like Taube and Kruse, with little access to Muscovite literary culture, stresses Ivan’s spilling of innocent blood and responsibility to God; note also that, according to Schlichting, Ivan had no suitable reply. There is thus clear evidence that when Ivan tried to treat his state in a “patrimonial” way—“to use, abuse, or destroy as he saw fit”—the existing ideology provided firm grounds for objection. Ivan was opposed by both church and secular figures. Indeed, R. G. Skrynnikov (probably the most thorough investigator of the oprichnina) believed that Ivan saw in these events such a threat that he thenceforth resorted to a policy of intensified executions to eliminate opposition to him. Thus, only brute force enabled him to act in contradiction to the prevailing ideological norms.75 Although the evidence remains incomplete, it suggests a strong similarity between the tenor of contemporary protests against Ivan and the reasons for condemning him in the tales about the Time of Troubles. These events show unequivocally that a number of Muscovites took political values from the literary culture seriously enough to risk their lives to act as wise advisers trying to restrain Ivan from his evil deeds. Ideology had meaning in the real world of politics.

A much more faithfully preserved example of “wise advice” can be found from the beginning of Ivan’s reign. The document is a long defense of church property, and the author (either directly or indirectly) is Metropolitan Makarii, (p.99) the person who probably has the best claim to being called the creator of official Muscovite ideology, the cleric under whom “the Josephite party attained the apogee of its influence,” according to Pipes.76

This document, the “Reply of Makarii,” quotes or paraphrases a number of authorities—among them the “Donation of Constantine”—to prove the point. The inclusion of this source, an ecclesiastical forgery long used by the church in the West to strengthen its political authority against secular rulers, would not imply that the author envisioned a church meekly subservient to the state. Although the explicit issue in the “Reply,” church property, does not directly concern us here, the author assumed throughout that tsars could not simply do as they wished, but were bound to obey the laws of God, as revealed in the writings of the Church Fathers, the decisions of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, and so forth. Near the beginning, we find the explicit statement: “Since the priesthood [sviashchennicheskoe nachalo] and the power and the glory of Christian piety were established by the Heavenly Tsar, it is unrighteous [nepravedno est´] for an earthly tsar to rule over [the church].”77 At the end of the “Reply,” the author warns Ivan directly: “Even if I am constrained by the tsar himself or by his grandees, if they order me to do something contrary to divine rules [krome Bozhestvennykh pravil], I will not obey them—even if they threaten me with death, I will not obey them in any way.”78 A number of sections of the “Reply,” including a shorter version of the “Donation,” were included among the decisions of the Stoglav Council, and thus became official church doctrine.79 The coronation service of Ivan IV, probably also composed by Makarii and his circle, again emphasizes the divine source of the tsar’s power and his responsibility to return to God what he had received from God.80 The metropolitan in his admonition asks the new tsar to imagine the Last Judgment, when he will render an account of the task God gave him: “Here, Lord, are Thy people of Thy great Russian kingdom, whom Thou gavest to me.”81 The very verbs used in the service to describe what the tsar does to the tsarstvobliusti, sokhraniti, sobliusti, all meaning “to care for,” “keep,” “preserve”—reinforce the idea of the tsar as a steward who will be held accountable for preserving what he holds in trust.

This theme is also found in another remarkable example of “wise advice” preserved as a letter to Ivan IV from about the same period, a copy of which is found in a manuscript miscellany that once belonged to the priest Sil´vestr.82 The author was trying to persuade Ivan to persecute fiercely those in his kingdom guilty of various sins, especially sodomy. To emphasize the tsar’s responsibility, the author mentions the parable of the talents, the image of the tsar as pastor of his flock who is ready to lay down his soul (dushu polozhiti) for his charges, and the scriptural admonition: “For unto whomsoever much (p.100) is given, of him shall much be required” (Luke 12:48).83 Ivan is told that if he roots out sin—and the suggested tortures are clearly described—he will not only be saved, seemingly by this one act alone, but that “by God’s grace … ​ all your enemies will fall beneath your feet and will be unable to arise.”84 Indeed, in this letter we find most of the ideas we have been discussing—the need to seek good advice and avoid evil advice, the primary responsibility of the tsar to preserve both his own righteousness (Ivan is told that God chose David to rule Israel because the latter was “gentle, simple, meek and wise”) and that of this subjects, and the use of words like bezumie and bezzakonie to describe violations of the unwritten moral law.85 Richly endowed with scriptural and other quotations, the letter repeatedly calls on Ivan to carry out God’s law and to follow the example of David, Saint Vladimir, and other righteous rulers. There is no idea of limiting the power of the tsar on earth. On the contrary, great power and harsh punishment are needed to root out sinful behavior, but such power is always a means and never an end in itself. The whole message of the letter is summed up in a quotation from the eighty-first (eighty-second) Psalm: “Oh, that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways. I should soon have subdued their enemies and turned my hand against their adversaries.”86

Although there are numerous other sources, a clear pattern has emerged from these texts. In every source we find the same set of assumptions: the responsibility of the tsar before God to maintain his own piety, to strengthen Orthodoxy, and to preserve the good order of his realm; the role of wise advisers in correcting a sinful and therefore erring monarch; and the strongly felt belief in autocracy, in the power (vlast´) of the tsar. The “Possessors” seem not to have held significantly different views from the “Non-possessors” on the subject. The opinions of Metropolitan Makarii, a man with alleged “Possessor” credentials, and those of Sil´vestr, a “Non-possessor,” judging by his connections, and the most likely author of the “Letter to Ivan,” share a common set of ideological principles.87 According to A. A. Zimin, Metropolitan Filipp was a “Non-possessor,” while his immediate predecessor, German Polev, had “Possessor” connections (he copied out Joseph of Volokolamsk’s Prosvetitel´ himself).88 Yet both apparently objected to Ivan’s oprichnina, and both were eventually executed. If there were indeed two church “parties” with rival ideologies concerning the nature of the tsar’s power, as is often assumed, they should have been apparent in the texts we have examined. The tales about the Time of Troubles similarly fail to provide any convincing evidence of an ideological split.

If our hypothesis is correct that most literate Muscovites held a common ideology that called for both a very strong ruler and traditional but vaguely defined (p.101) limits to his power, then these limits should have had political effects. They did. We have seen that two metropolitans and two separate groups of laymen objected to Ivan’s policies using justifications drawn from this ideology, and that their opposition may well have forced Ivan to a systematic use of terror to oppose them. (Metropolitan German Polev also objected, although we do not know the grounds.) The priest Sil´vestr, who had no office or position on which to base his power, may well have attained whatever influence he had over Ivan by his ability to step into the well-defined literary role of a prophetic wise adviser.89 The “holy fools” may have enjoyed their influence for the same reason.90

The full implications of these ideas were not revealed until the second half of the next century, however, when many Old Believers, constituting numerically the largest and most long-lived dissident movement in Russian history, withdrew from the state and refused to acknowledge the authority of the tsar, all the while relying on the same assumptions we have been discussing. Once one believed, as a high proportion of devout Muscovites did, that Nikon had introduced heresy into the church by changing the sacred rituals, and that Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich, however great his personal piety, was supporting the Nikonian heresy and destroying Orthodoxy, then it was not only possible but necessary to withdraw from him the obedience owed to a “God-chosen” tsar.

We can see the path by which this conclusion was reached if we examine Avvakum’s five petitions to the tsar. The reader is struck by how long it took him finally to abandon his belief in a godly tsar. As late as the third petition, written in 1664, he calls Tsar Aleksei “equal-to-the-apostles [ravnoapostol´ nyi],” an expression usually reserved for Great Prince Vladimir and the Emperor Constantine and one that surely equaled the most extravagant claims of contemporary royal apologists.91 He seems to have seen himself as fulfilling the traditional role of a wise adviser modeled on the Old Testament prophets, since he compared Aleksei to David and King Uzziah and himself to Nathan and Azariah (2 Sam. 11–12; 2 Chr. 26:16–21).92 Nikon he compares to Julian the Apostate, and refers to his innovations as “new lawless laws [novykh zakonov bezzakonnykh],” using language and imagery similar to that used in the tales about the Time of Troubles to describe the First Pretender.93 As in the “Letter to Ivan,” Ivan IV’s coronation service, and the Vita of Metropolitan Filipp, Avvakum in the fifth petition forcefully reminds the tsar of his responsibility at the Last Judgment. “Bear in mind, Lord, with what justice you wish to stand at the Last Judgment of Christ, before the angelic host.”94 Avvakum also envisions the tsar’s evil advisers, those “who fawn on and flatter you,” being judged by Christ and His saints as the flatterers themselves judged Avvakum.95 Shortly before he had very roughly paraphrased two chapters of (p.102) Agapetus, the classical source for Muscovite ideology, in order to remind Aleksei that, although as tsar he rules over all men, yet with all men he is God’s slave.96

Now there is no doubt that occasionally Avvakum goes far beyond these traditional ideas. In the same fifth petition, he relates to Aleksei a vision he had in which his body grew until “God cast into me heaven and earth, and all creation.” As a result, “you [Aleksei] rule on your own [na svobode] only the Russian land, while the Son of God entrusted to me … ​heaven and earth.”97 Such statements were highly idiosyncratic, however, and were unnecessary for Avvakum to make his point. Under the assumptions of Muscovite ideology, Avvakum had to oppose a tsar who was destroying Orthodoxy. Unless Avvakum were to agree to the legitimacy of the Nikonian reforms, he ultimately had to abandon his belief in the perfectly autocratic “God-chosen” tsar, and to consider Aleksei as an anti-tsar rather than a true tsar. Moreover, traditional Muscovite thought provided him with the language and images he needed to describe the change. When he associated the Muscovite tsar with the devil and the Antichrist, Avvakum was using the same language, but in a more explicit form, that both Filipp’s Vita and Ivan Timofeev (and “Kurbskii”) used to describe Ivan IV.98 His language was less explicit and less derogatory than that used by many writers to describe the First Pretender. But in all cases, the general line of argument is the same: an evil tsar, one who breaks God’s law, is a servant of the Antichrist, part of the “Satanic host,” and so on. Thus Avvakum, far from introducing “reformist” or “revolutionary” changes into traditional Muscovite political thought, as Michael Chemiavsky has argued, was able to justify his position fully within the bounds of that thought. Indeed, the basic tenets of that thought forced him to oppose the tsar.99

Some Conclusions

Our survey of some significant sources concerning Muscovite ideology over a 120-year period permits several conclusions. Most important, Muscovite writers relied not on one but on several images of the tsar, each deeply embedded in a long literary history stretching back to Byzantium. Like those old picture postcards where the picture changes when you move your head slightly, what you see depends on your point of view. Each of these ruler images takes its place in the ideology as a whole, and served a function in Muscovite court society.

Recent studies of Muscovite court politics have emphasized the stability of court life and the absence of ideological or even political factions in the (p.103) nineteenth-century sense.100 Nancy Shields Kollmann argues persuasively that “the pursuit of static harmony” was the chief goal of politics, protecting the fragile state order from the chaos that would result from unrestrained boyar competition, the ever-present dangers of foreign enemies abroad, and a fragile economy at home. Political chaos, as during a disputed succession or under an incapacitated monarch, was more to be feared than any other domestic evil. As Kollmann has argued, several of the images of the ruler were useful in maintaining this fragile stability and were thus accepted by the boyars as well as by the churchmen who were the natural keepers of the literary tradition.101

The most valuable image was that of the all-powerful ruler whose autocratic commands were seen as mirroring God’s will. This commonplace image of Christian rulership, as important in the West as in the East, was carefully burnished in programmatic statements about the power of the tsar. It was used as the chief public description of royal power; it was reflected in elaborate court ceremonies stressing the magnificence of the ruler. It lay behind the conception of disgrace, where absence from the ruler’s presence was equated with political nonexistence. It elicited horror from foreign observers such as Olearius in the seventeenth century, who described the debasement of the great men of the realm who “call themselves slaves and are treated as such.”102 Sigismund Freiherr von Herberstein, in the sixteenth century, testifies to the acceptance of this image when he reports that “the people openly confess that the will of the prince is the will of God and that whatever the prince does, he does by the will of God.”103 This image is the linchpin of the ideology, for at a stroke it legitimizes and sanctifies the political order. Muscovite court society found it useful in promoting stability because it concealed all factional struggles behind a myth of autocracy. Its transcendental focus left unmentioned most issues of importance at court—clan rivalries, marriages, domestic governance—and therefore kept those issues safe from public ideological discussion. It provided no role for the people, who were regarded as sinful and thus rightly excluded from government. At the same time, it allowed conceptual space for the growth of the bureaucracy, characterized as agents of the tsar’s will. It also made the rhetorical cost of questioning a ruler very high, since the legitimacy of the whole system collapsed once the ruler’s policies were cut off from God’s will.

Yet, in spite of these compelling advantages, the autocratic image had a liability from the court’s point of view. The tsar’s power derived from his position as the agent of God’s will, and therefore his responsibilities to obey that will grew together with his power. This linking of power to responsibility may explain why the state was so reluctant to accept church-generated formulations like the famous Third Rome theory (see chapter 7). This theory certainly (p.104) magnified the power of the ruler, but only in order to stress his obligations, as the head of the last universal empire, to root out heresy and protect the church. A grand prince and his boyars who thought of the state as their patrimony might very sensibly have seen such a theory as a step backward.

The seemingly contrary list of characteristics stressing humility and mercy, which observers used in describing Fedor Ivanovich, provides a useful supplement to the image of the mighty fierce autocrat. Within the rhetoric of the ideology, the obvious piety of such a ruler suits him ideally to the ritual function of linking the commands of the state to the will of God. In practice, these characteristics assured legitimacy to rulers who were not great warriors, decisive rulers, or even competent human beings. Thus, stability was assured even if the tsar, who in theory was responsible for doing everything, was a minor or a mere figurehead who did almost nothing at all.

A third image was that of an erring or even a “good” monarch who might be either corrected by wise advisers or led astray by flatterers.104 Since this image blurs the clarity of the autocratic image, it did not appear in programmatic statements about the power of the tsar. It was essential, however, in narrative sources describing and judging various rulers, where it was used to justify the role of actual critics of the regime. From the point of view of the court, this layer was also useful, although it placed more emphasis on the obligations of the tsar than the autocratic image did. Since it depicted the relationship between the tsar and his advisers as personal and moral rather than institutional or constitutional, it well described in inherited symbolic language the informal, personal consensus politics of the Kremlin. By giving the boyars a literarily defined role to fill as junior colleagues of the ruler, it complemented court ceremonies emphasizing the corporate responsibility of tsar and boyars together.105 This informal, much less public, image of the tsar and his advisers was as well adapted to describe relationships within the court as the autocratic image was to describe the relationships between the court and the people as a whole.

The idea of a tsar corrected by his advisers was potentially more dangerous to the goal of court stability than the autocratic image. It suggests political factions at court trying to persuade the tsar to adopt a “righteous” policy and reject an “evil” one. Several characteristics of the development of this idea in Muscovite sources, however, prevented it from encouraging faction. First, advice was seen in moral, not political, terms. Second, the obligations of the ruler were described in terms so vague that it was hard to prove exactly when a ruler had failed to meet them. Third, the identity of potential advisers was similarly left vague; no constitutional body, if such a term fits either the Boyar (p.105) Duma or the Assembly of the Land, was specifically endowed in our sources with an advisory function. This exclusive emphasis on the moral quality of advice and advisers, together with the necessarily informal status of advice giving, was surely an important factor in preventing the constitutional experiments of the last years of the Troubles from becoming permanent.

Of the tsar’s obligations to preserve his own piety, the purity of Orthodoxy, and the traditional order of the realm, the first was purely personal, while the last benefitted a court society whose aim was the maintenance of stability. Most courtiers had their own good reasons to object to the innovations of the oprichnina, for example. Moreover, these obligations did not touch on most issues of domestic or foreign policy. This separation of ideology from most important governmental issues resulted in the isolation of the latter from public ideological debate. Further, it must have had a powerful dampening effect on political divisions at court. Finally, two basic features of all literary political discourse—the insistent emphasis on political life as a means to a divine end and an idea of history in which divine will prevailed over secular causation—would have similarly inhibited people from identifying their own interests in a given policy debate and from then acting in concert with those with a similar interest.106

If these features of Muscovite political thought prevented the images of the ruler from leading to political divisions and factions at court, one image remained a dangerous liability—that of a false tsar, a tsar tormentor, a tyrant. For a society seeking political stability, this image was disastrous, since it destroyed all political authority without providing any alternative. A political embodiment of this image occurred in the Time of Troubles when political authority in fact disintegrated and when several rulers were described as tormentors. The political costs of this disappearance of legitimate government were obvious. The rhetorical costs were also high, since a tsar tormentor on the throne destroyed not only the authority of the monarch but also the holy mission of the state, the meaning of history, and, according to the Third Rome doctrine, even history itself. Nobody wanted this situation. Yet the ideal of a divinely appointed autocracy brought with it the inescapable corollary: rulers who disobeyed God’s will could be removed from power.

The vagueness of the obligations of the tsar did not mean that those obligations did not exist. The failure of a tsar to fulfill these obligations drove Muscovite authors from the autocratic to the erring monarch image. If the failure was obvious and long-lasting enough, the tsar came to be seen as a tormentor, and opposition to him became the obligation of all righteous people. If, from the court’s point of view, the function of ideology was to compel the (p.106) allegiance of all subjects and maintain stability, the Old Believer schism demonstrated that Muscovite ideology had failed. In the next generation it had to be substantially altered, grafted onto the Western European ideas of absolutism and “the well-ordered police state”—self-contained systems of thought that did away with the troublesome alternate images of wise advisers and erring monarchs, to say nothing of the image of an anti-tsar.107 Under the new dispensation, the ruler was the sole judge alike of God’s will and the public good; to advocate putting God’s law above the law of the state became an act of treason.

The question of whether Muscovite ideology placed any limits on the power of the tsar thus requires a complicated answer. It depends on which of these various ruler images was in view at a given time. If we take all of the images together as a dynamic system, we see that the power of the ruler changed as the ruler was seen to violate (or not to violate) certain vague but strongly felt norms of governance. Since his power decreased as the norms were violated, from a functional point of view the ideology did place important limits on the power of the tsar throughout the period. It thus created a considerable conflict with (instead of reinforcing) the “patrimonial” attitude Pipes ascribed to the secular culture of the tsar and his court. In spite of the great usefulness of several of these images to the court as we now imagine it, the idea of a tsar tormentor could and did cause great trouble. The evidence now suggests that real political actors, both clerical and lay, took these literary ideas seriously enough to act on them, producing significant political consequences.


This essay originally appeared in The Russian Review 49 (April 1990): 125–155. The author gratefully acknowledges the publisher for permission to reprint this essay. I would like to thank the Russian Research Center, Harvard University, where much of this text was written and revised, and Donald Ostrowski, James Cracraft, and Samuel Baron, each of whom offered both constructive criticism and encouragement at critical moments.

(1.) Richard Pipes, Russia under the Old Regime (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1974), 64.

(3.) Recent research has shown that “votchina by its nature was never owned individually and [that] prospective heirs had to be consulted in its disposal outside the family.” Sandra Levy, “Women and the Control of Property in Sixteenth-Century Muscovy,” Russian History/Histoire Russe 10, no. 2 (1983): 201–212, quotation on 203. Eve Levin similarly found that in medieval Novgorod, the paterfamilias was obliged to consult all heirs and claimants before disposing of a votchina. “Women and Property in Medieval Novgorod: Dependence and Independence,” Russian History/Histoire Russe 10, no. 2 (1983): 154–179.

(4.) In particular, Michael Chemiavsky, Tsar and People, 2nd ed. (New York: Random House, 1969), 45–71, argues that during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Muscovite image of both the human nature and the divine power of the tsar became so exalted that he was largely above criticism. For a detailed discussion of Chemiavsky’s views on Ivan Timofeev and earlier sources, see my “Towards an Understanding of the Political Ideas in Ivan Timofeyev’s Vremennik,” Slavonic and East European Review 62, no. 3 (July 1984): 391–395 (chapter 2 of this volume). Even Ihor Sevcenko called Timofeev “a staunch defender of absolute power” in “A Neglected Byzantine Source of Muscovite Political Ideology,” Harvard Slavic Studies 2 (1954) reprinted in The Structure of Russian History, ed. Michael Cherniavsky (New York: Random House, 1970), 106. For general views of Muscovite ideology along the lines outlined by Pipes, see Bjarne Nørretranders, The Shaping of Czardom under Ivan Groznyj (Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1964), 42–56, 135; Joel Raba, “The Authority of the Muscovite Ruler at the Dawn of the Modern Age,” Jahrbucher fur Geschichte Osteuropas 24, no. 2 (1976): 321–344, esp. 323–326. Francis Dvornik seems to subscribe to this general view, but he warns that Muscovy’s secular rulers did not understand these “literary” notions all that well. See Dvornik, The Slavs in European History and Civilization (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1962), 378. Ideology in the period we are discussing has not figured prominently in recent historical scholarship either in the Soviet Union or in the West.

(5.) See Robert O. Crummey, “Court Spectacles in Seventeenth-Century Russia: Illusion and Reality,” Essays in Honor of A. A. Zimin (Columbus, OH: Slavica, 1985), 130–158; Nancy Shields Kollmann, Kinship and Politics: The Making of the Muscovite Political System, 1345–1547 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1987), 148–150; Paul Bushkovitch, “The Formation of a National Consciousness in Early Modern Russia,” Harvard Ukrainian Studies 10, nos. 3–4 (December 1986): 355–376; Daniel Rowland, “The Problem of Advice in Muscovite Tales about the Time of Troubles,” Russian History 6, no. 2 (1979): 259–283 (chapter 3 in this volume). See also Hans-Joachim Torke, Die Staatsbedingte Gesellschaft im Moskauer Reich (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1974) for further references.

(6.) For sound prerevolutionary surveys of this subject, see V. Val´denberg, Drevnerusskie ucheniia o predelakh tsarskoi vlasti (Petrograd: n.p., 1916); M. D´iakonov, Vlast´ Moskovskikh gosudarei (Saint Petersburg: Tip. I. N. Skorokhodova, 1889). Val´denberg’s book provides additional information on many of the points discussed below. See also his “Poniatie o tirane v drevnerusskoi literature v sravnenii s zapadnoi,” Akademiia Nauk SSSR. lzvestiia po russkomy iazyku i slovestnosti 2 (1929): 214–236.

(7.) Pipes, Old Regime, 232. See also Marc Raeff, “An Early Theorist of Absolutism: Joseph of Volokolamsk,” American Slavic and East European Review 8 (1949): 77–89.

(8.) Iosif Volotskii, Prosvetitel ´, ed. A. Volkov (Kazan´: Tipo-Litografiia Imp. Universiteta, 1896), 287.

(9.) See especially Ia. S. Lur´e, Ideologicheskaia bor´ba v russkoi publitsistike kontsa XV–nachala XVI veka (Moscow-Leningrad: Akademiia nauk, 1960), 204–284, 426–481. Marc Szeftel has judiciously surveyed this literature and attempted to come to grips with the apparent contradictions in Joseph’s views: “Joseph Volotsky’s Political Ideas,” Jahrbiicher fur Geschichte Osteuropas, Neue Folge 13 (Munich, 1965): 19–29, reprinted in his Russian Institutions and Culture up to Peter the Great (London: Variorum1975). I hope the present article will serve as a continuation and expansion of Szeftel’s work.

(11.) Robert O. Crummey, Aristocrats and Servitors: The Boyar Elite in Russia, 1613–1689 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983), 81–106, 167; Kollmann, Kinship and Politics, chap. 5.

(12.) V. B. Kobrin, Vlast´ i sobstvennost´ v srednevekovoi Rossii (XV-XVI vv.) (Moscow: Mysl´, 1985); Donald Ostrowski, “Church Polemics and Monastic Land Acquisition in Sixteenth-Century Muscovy,” Slavonic and East European Review 64 (1986): 355–379. (p.107)

(p.108) (13.) This definition of ideology is an admittedly simplified condensation of the version offered by Clifford Geertz in “Ideology as a Culture System,” in his The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 193–229.

(14.) For an innovative and convincing discussion of the importance of an ideology and its rhetorical rules on the political events of the French Revolution, see Lynn Hunt, Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984).

(15.) Vremennik Ivana Timofeeva, ed. O. A. Derzhavina (Moscow-Leningrad, 1951), 109. The context suggests this modern meaning of the word samovlasten. See below, note 49.

(16.) I have been unable to discover a better discussion of the differences between early medieval and early modern political theory than Fritz Kern’s in his Kingship and Law in the Middle Ages, trans. S. B. Chrimes (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1939), 12ff.

(18.) The classic description of these texts is S. F. Platonov’s Drevnerusskie skazaniia i povesti o smutnom vremeni XVII veka kak istoricheskii istochnik (Saint Petersburg: Tip. V. S. Balasheva, 1888). For a revision of some of Platonov’s conclusions in the light of later scholarship and a reexamination of many manuscripts, see my dissertation, Daniel Rowland, “Muscovite Political Attitudes as Reflected in Early Seventeenth Century Tales about the Time of Troubles” (PhD diss., Yale University, 1976), 13–118, 230–270.

(19.) Donald Ostrowski argues that almost all of the Muscovite governmental apparatus derived from Kipchak administration. “The Mongol Origins of Muscovite Political Institutions,” Slavic Review 49, no. 4 (1990): 525–542.

(20.) Russkaia istoricheskaia biblioteka (henceforth RIB), vol. 13, 2nd ed. (Saint Petersburg, 1909), cols. 1303, 541–542, 547.

(22.) RIB, vol. 13, col. 567. Patriarch Iov expressed the same opinion in his “Tale about the Honorable Life of … ​Fedor Ivanovich,” in Polnoe sobraine russkikh letopisei (hereafter PSRL), vol. 14, part 1 (Saint Petersburg, 1910; photo reprint: Moscow, 1965), 2.

(23.) J. L. I. Fennell, ed. and trans., The Correspondence between Prince A. M. Kurbsky and Tsar Ivan IV of Russia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963), 122–123; see also 110–111. For the comparison to Agapetus, see Sevcenko, “A Neglected Byzantine Source,” 92.

(24.) The political ideas found in the smuta tales and in the Correspondence seem to me to be remarkably similar. I do not believe alleged differences in ideological content are convincing grounds for establishing (or denying) the authenticity of the Correspondence, as Inge Auerbach has suggested in “Further Findings on Kurbskii’s Life and Work,” in Russian and Slavic History, ed. D. K. Rowney and G. E. Orchard (Columbus, OH: Slavica Publishers, 1977), 242–245. In particular, her statement that “[seventeenth-century] writers were no longer concerned with the reasons for [Ivan’s] terror” (243) is wrong. As we shall see below, several smuta tale authors, especially Timofeev, devoted considerable attention to this problem and came up with conclusions very similar to those of “Kurbskii.” Shakhovskoi’s statements are particularly similar.

(32.) For a closer analysis of the language Timofeev used in describing Ivan and his oprichnina, see Rowland, “Towards an Understanding,” 392–395 (chapter 2 of this volume).

(34.) Timofeev admits that Muscovites thought Fedor ill-suited to govern (Vremennik Ivana Timofeeva, 19, 22), while Shakhovskoi called him “divinely foolish” (blagoiurodiv) (RIB, vol. 13, col. 564).

(37.) For descriptions of Fedor, see, for example, PSRL, vol. 14, part 1, 3; the Khronograf of 1617 (RIB, vol. 13, cols. 1277–1278); Shakhovskoi’s historical tales (RIB, vol. 13, cols. 620, 852–853); and the first redaction of Palitsyn’s Skazanie (Skazanie Avraamiia Palitsyna, ed. O. A. Derzhavina and E. V. Kolosova (Moscow-Leningrad: Akademiia nauk, 1955), 250. The most striking positive portrait of a mighty prince is Timofeev’s description of the tsarevich Ivan Ivanovich, son of Ivan the Terrible, in Vremennik lvana Timofeeva, 19–23.

(40.) Literally, “sheep of the Word”: see John 10:9–14. None of our authors appears to have felt that this royal obligation posed a threat to the power of the patriarch (or metropolitan). It was assumed that both secular and ecclesiastical authorities would cooperate in protecting both the church and its dogma. In practice, of course, the threat came from the secular side.

(43.) Skazanie Avraamiia Palitsyna, 260. A little further on (264), the author refers to demons as “the Pretender’s friends.”

(47.) The compilers of Kievan chronicle compendia jettisoned almost all secular Byzantine history from their Byzantine sources except material on church councils and heresies (which would have contained the most information on tsar-tormentors): Simon Franklin, “The Empire of the Romaioi as Viewed from Kievan Russia,” Byzantion 53, no. 2 (1983): 117. See O. V. Tvorogov, Drevnerusskie khronografy (Leningrad: Izd. Nauka, 1975), 55, 221–223, for the inclusion of passages relating to the iconoclast emperors and Julian the Apostate, respectively.

(49.) RIB, vol. 13, cols. 534–538. The Khronograf of 1617 says of Godunov: “And he did not remember the saying that the Lord raises up and throws down, and gives the kingdom to whom he wishes” (RIB, vol. 13, col. 1294). Timofeev quotes a similar passage to explain the end of the ruling dynasty: “‘I gave you a king [tsar´] in my anger,’ saith the Lord, ‘and I take him away in my fierceness’” (Vremennik Ivana Timofeeva, 33; Hosea 13:11). As in the Old Testament, the compact between God and the ruler remains (p.110) an open question. On this meaning of samoderzhets, as opposed to the modern concept of autocrat as a ruler without limits to his power, see Marc Szeftel, “The Title of the Muscovite Monarch,” Canadian-American Slavic Studies 13, nos. 1–2 (1979): 65–69.

(50.) Vremennik Ivana Timofeeva, 113, 127, 100. For further discussion on the role of legitimacy in Timofeev’s thought, see Rowland, “Towards an Understanding,” 391–393 (chapter 2 of this volume).

(51.) Georges Florovsky has written eloquently about the Muscovite preoccupation with “established order” and its stifling effect on culture in “The Problem of Old Russian Culture,” Slavic Review 21, no. l (March 1962): 11–15.

(52.) Novaia povest´ o preslavnom Rossiiskom tsarstve i sovremennaia ei agitatsionnaia patrioticheskaia pis ´mennost´, ed. N. F. Droblenkova (Moscow-Leningrad: Izd-vo Akademii nauk, 1960) (hereafter Novaia povest´), 192.

(53.) Kern (Kingship and Law, 149–180) describes the early medieval Western European view of the law in terms that are close to the concept of the law that emerges from the tales about the Time of Troubles.

(54.) Vremennik Ivana Timofeeva, 110. The apocalyptic theme, which became so important in Old Believer political statements, is already hinted at here in the phrase “when the years came to an end.” Elsewhere Timofeev equates the oprichniki with evil, and possibly with the devil (see Rowland, “Toward an Understanding,” 394 [chapter 2 in this volume]).

(55.) Vremennik Ivana Timofeeva, 101. See also his description of the First Pretender, at 89.

(57.) See, for example, the strong statement against a rupture of the social order by the author of the first redaction of Palitsyn’s Skazanie (Skazanie Avraamia Palitsyna, 269): “Everyone began to want to climb higher than his own rank to which he was called; servants wanted to be masters, the unfree leapt for freedom, and military servitors began to behave like boayrs [voinstvennyi zhe chin boliarstvovati nachinakhu].” For other references, see Rowland, “The Problem of Advice,” 267–268 (chapter 3 in this volume).

(59.) Skazanie Avraamiia Palitsyna, 252. This opinion did not prevent the author from condemning Muscovites for failing to help the poor (276–277) or from bitterly denouncing the way noble masters treated their servants (255–256).

(60.) It follows that the descriptions of the actual administration of Boris Godunov, the ruler most admired for his administrative skills, should emphasize in traditional fashion the role of the tsar as a preserver and corrector of an already-established state order. Timofeev provides the best example:

In the beginning of his life he was virtuous in every way. First, he did good deeds above all for God and not for people; he was an ardent zealot for piety and a diligent guardian of the ancient ecclesiastical order [po drevnikh o tserkvakh s chinmi]; he was a generous donor to those in need, and meekly inclined [his ear] to the people’s petitions about everything, was sweet in his answers to all who showed grace to their offenders, and a speedy avenger of the helpless and widows. He took great trouble over the government of the land and was an unbribable lover of justice and a frank eliminator of any kind of injustice … ​[he beautified the cities with buildings]. In his time the domestic life of all proceeded quietly, without offense, even until the beginning of anarchy [samobeznachal´stvo] (p.111) in the land after him. He turned with anger on those who ravished the powerless, unless he did not hear about it, and was a strong defender of those offended by the hand of the strong; in general, he showed abundant concern for the strengthening of the whole land when he was not preoccupied with ambition. He everywhere rooted out with punishments the extreme habit of drunkenness, which was loathsome to God, and mercilessly punished any bribe-taking by the great with death, for it was hateful to him … ​, but in all of this he deceived all of Russia.

(Vremennik Ivana Timofeeva, 65)

Parallel passages in our other sources praise essentially the same qualities in Godunov: his hatred of corruption, his generosity to the poor, his construction of churches and other buildings, and, especially, his protection of the weak against the depredations of the mighty. The Khronograf calls him “a sea of gifts, a lake of nourishment [to the poor].” See the “Orison on the Capture and final Destruction … ​of the Muscovite State” (RIB, vol. 13, col. 224); Khvorostinin (RIB, vol. 13, col. 532); the Khronograf of 1617 (RIB, vol. 13, cols. 1282–1283); Skazanie Avraamiia Palitsyna, 252; Iov, PSRL, vol. 14, pt. 1, 6–7. This image of the tsar as a protector of the poor is also at variance with the usual view of Muscovite ideology.

(61.) See Rowland, “The Problem of Advice” (chapter 3 in this volume).

(62.) Pipes, Old Regime, 66; Edward L. Keenan, The Kurbskii-Groznyi Apocrypha: The Seventeenth-Century Genesis of the “Correspondence” Attributed to Prince A. M. Kurbskii and Tsar Ivan IV (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971).

(64.) R. G. Skrynnikov, Nachalo oprichniny (Leningrad: Izd. Leningradskogo universiteta, 1966), 384. The exact content of Filipp’s speech (or speeches) cannot be determined without manuscript work, since the chief source, his Vita, which exists in two redactions, has not yet been published. The work of most scholars is based on the second, later, redaction, which contains lengthy additions to Filipp’s speeches drawn from Agapetus. G. G. Latysheva’s article, “Publitsisticheskii istochnik po istorii oprichniny (K voprosu o datirovanii),” Voprosy istoriografii i istochnikovedeniia otechestvennoi istorii (1974), 30–62, provides excerpts from the first redaction. G. P. Fedotov’s Sviatoi Filipp, metropolit moskovskii (Paris, 1928) provides a lengthy, easily available paraphrase of the second redaction of the Vita. An English translation of Fedotov’s monograph is Saint Filipp, Metropolitan of Moscow—Encounter with Ivan the Terrible, vol. 1 of Collected Works, trans. Richard Haugh and Nicholas Lupinin (Belmont, MA: Nordland, 1978).

(65.) Sobranie gosudarstvennykh gramot i dogovorov, khraniashchikhsia v Gosudarstvennoi kolegii innostrannykh del, 5 vols. (Moscow, 1813–1894), 1:557–58.

(72.) The best discussion of this entire episode is chapter 5 of A. A. Zimin’s Oprichnina Ivana Groznogo (Moscow: Mysl´, 1964), a discussion that includes a careful analysis of the family and service connections of the individuals involved. Zimin sees the (p.112) affair as a crucial part of the necessary liquidation of the church as “a state within a state,” a process finally completed by Peter the Great.

(73.) On this episode, see Zimin, Oprichnina, 202–210, and Skrynnikov, Nachalo oprichniny, 308–352. Albert Schlichting says that “300 noble members of the tyrant’s court” were present. Albert Schlichting, “‘A Brief Account of the Character and Brutal Rule of Vasil ‘evich, Tyrant of Muscovy’ (Albert Schlichting on Ivan Groznyi),” ed. and trans. Hugh F. Graham, Canadian-American Slavic Studies 9, no. 2 (Summer 1975): 248–249. The Piskarevskii letopisets describes the meeting thus: “And there was hatred for the tsar from all the people [in the zemskii sobor] and they petitioned him orally and handed him a signed petition saying it was improper [ne dostoin] for such a thing as the oprichnina to exist” (my italics). O. A. Iakovleva, ed., Materialy po istorii SSSR 2 (1955): 76.

(75.) The account of these events in the Piskarevskii letopisets gives the same impression. For citations to both Skrynnikov and the Piskarevskii letopisets, see above, note 73.

(77.) I use the text provided by Donald G. Ostrowski in “A ‘Fontological’ Investigation of the Muscovite Church Council of 1503” (PhD diss., Pennsylvania State University, 1977), 416–491, based on Gosudarstvennaia publichnaia biblioteka, Ms. Q. I. 214, fols. 464–468. This passage occurs at p. 426 of the thesis. Two of the manuscript copies add “or to judge such things.” For the stemma indicating the relationship of the various manuscripts of the “Reply,” see 143. Ostrowski convincingly refutes the contention by G. N. Moiseeva that the “Reply” represents a later version of an earlier “Message” (pisanie) (133–139).

(79.) For a comparison of the contents of the “Reply,” the “Message,” and the Stoglav chapters, as well as further textological remarks, see Jack E. Kollmann Jr., “The Moscow Stoglav (Hundred Chapters) Church Council of 1551” (PhD diss., University of Michigan, 1978), 95–99. Val´denberg (Drevnerusskie ucheniia, 282–287) discusses at some length those sections of the Stoglav decisions that limit the tsar’s power.

(80.) For two apparently contemporary versions of the service, see E. V. Barsov, Drevnerusskie pamiatniki sviashchennago venchaniia tsarei na tsarstvo (Moscow: Moskovskii universitet, 1883; repr., Paris: Mouton, 1969), 42–90. I rely chiefly on the admonition (pouchenie) given by the metropolitan to the tsar (56–60, 80–84). The speech of the tsar (48, 73–74) is much terser, and stresses the hereditary rather than the divine source of his authority. The source thus well illustrates the tension between the patrimonial and the Christian concepts of rulership. The alternate readings given by Barsov for the metropolitan’s admonition expand on the ideas in the basic text, but do not alter its sense.

(81.) Barsov, Drevnerusskie pamiatniki, 184. David Miller has pointed out that Makarii in his other works emphasized the responsibilities of the tsar to obey God’s will as well as his great power in “The Velikie Minei Chetii and the Stepennaia Kniga of Metropolitan Makarii and the Origins of Russian National Consciousness,” Forschungen zur osteuropiiische Geschichte 20 (1973): 277 and so on.

(82.) The letter is printed in D. P. Golokhvastov and [Archimandrite] Leonid, “Blagoveshchenskii ierei Sil´vestr i ego pisaniia,” Chtenie v Imperatorskom Obshchestve istorii i drevnostei rossiskikh pri Moskovskom universitete (1874), bk. 1, sec. 1, 231–257. The authorship of the letter remains to be established beyond a doubt (p.113) (see Kollmann, “The Moscow Stoglav,” 106–107), although Sil´vestr seems the most likely candidate. For information on Sil´vestr, see A. A. Zimin, Peresvetov i ego sovremenniki (Moscow: Izd. Akademii nauk, 1958), 41–53; and I. I. Smirnov, Ocherki politicheskoi istorii russkogo gosudarstva 30–50kh godov XVI veka (Moscow-Leningrad: Izd. Akademii nauk, 1958), 202–263.

(87.) For Makarii’s and Sil´vestr’s “party affiliations,” see Zimin, Peresvetov, 42–44, 72–73. Zimin provides rather little evidence for Sil´vestr’s pre-1550 Non-possessor connections, but repeatedly refers to “Sil´vestr and his non-acquisitor circle” (47, 48). His arguments that Sil´vestr is the most likely author for the “Letter to Ivan” (50–53) are persuasive, if not conclusive. For an effective critique of those who exaggerate the mutual differences and internal cohesion of these two church “parties,” see Kollmann, “The Moscow Stoglav,” 87–92, and Ostrowski, “Church Polemics.”

(89.) Indeed, the entire image of Sil´vestr usually held by historians may be the result of later literary fictions. For a brief summary of the literature on this problem, see Kollmann, Kinship and Politics, 179–180, 264nn161–164.

(90.) On the political activities of holy fools, see Giles Fletcher, Rude and Barbarous Kingdom, ed. Lloyd E. Berry and Robert O. Crummey (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1968), 218–220; and G. P. Fedotov, The Russian Religious Mind, vol. 2 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966), 338–342. Fedotov calls holy foolishness “a form of prophetic service, in the ancient Jewish sense.” Fletcher reports that the holy fools “note their great men’s faults that no-one else dare speak of.” The best-documented example of a holy fool who influenced Ivan is Nikola, a holy fool from Pskov, who apparently persuaded Ivan either partially or wholly to abandon his destruction of that city. For the sources mentioning this event, see Zimin, Oprichnina, 302nnl, 2.

(91.) RIB, vol. 39 (Leningrad, 1927), col. 753. See also the same expression in the second petition (col. 752).

(92.) These comparisons occur not in the petitions, but in Avvakum’s “Book of Interpretation and Moral Teachings” (RIB, vol. 39, cols. 473–475, 479).

(98.) “Kurbskii” calls Ivan a “newly appeared beast” and the oprichnina “a strong and great satanic host” in J. L. I. Fennell, Kurbsky’s History of Ivan IV (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), 176–177, 156–157. I. I. Polosin, the scholar who has probably expended more thought and energy on Timofeev’s Vremennik than anyone else, was of the opinion that Timofeev at different times may have considered both Ivan IV and Godunov as Antichrists. See I. I. Polosin, “Ivan Timofeev-russkii myslitel´, istorik, i d´iak XVII v.,” an article printed in a posthumous collection of his essays, Sotsial ´ no-politicheskaia istoriia Rossii (Moscow: Izd. Akademii nauk, 1963), 313.

(99.) This point is crucial for our argument since, if Michael Chemiavsky is right that “toward both Church and state, the Old Believer, Avvakumian positions appear far more consistently revolutionary and ‘reformist’ than has generally been thought,” the Old Believers were acting outside of, rather than within, the bounds of traditional Muscovite thought, and the schism cannot be explained in terms of that thought. Michael Chemiavsky, “The Old Believers and the New Religion,” Slavic Review 25, no. l (March 1966): 1–19. I do not deny that the Old Believers and Avvakum were creative thinkers, or even that the “apocalyptic mood of the mid-seventeenth century” (16) had an influence on apocalypticism among Old Believers. Nevertheless, apocalypticism was a part of the tsar-tormentor image at least from the Time of Troubles, as we have seen by the language used to describe Ivan IV and the First Pretender. Traditional Muscovite political thought provided the basic vocabulary of political ideas within which the Old Believers operated, whether or not these were reinforced by other influences.

(103.) Sigismund Freiherr von Herberstein, Notes upon Russia, trans. R. H. Major, 2 vols. (London: Hakluyt Society, 1851–1852), 1:32.

(104.) Paul Bushkovitch (“The Formation of a National Consciousness,” esp. 363–374) has recently shown that the image of a “good” tsar included the important element of harmony between the tsar and his boyars, and argues that this harmony was “the essence of the Russian polity” (368). The sources we have considered do not contain much evidence on this point (since they describe potentially or actually sinful monarchs), but Bushkovitch’s evidence is persuasive. A pious tsar is united in will and purpose to pious wise advisers since both are following the will of God. Of course, as Bushkovitch points out, consultation or even harmony between tsar and elite do not guarantee anything, since evil rulers can exist in evil harmony with evil flatterers, as was seen to have happened during the Time of Troubles. Still, the point that a righteous tsar was supposed to live in harmony with his boyars is an important one, and shows that the collegial image of tsar and boyars applied to righteous as well as to sinful rulers.

(105.) Robert Crummey has studied this phenomenon in seventeenth-century court rituals, see “Court Spectacles,” 136–138.

(106.) See Rowland, “Towards an Understanding,” 398–399 (chapter 2 in this volume).

(107.) The best recent account of the change in ideology under Peter from religious to absolutist is James Cracraft, “Empire vs. Nation: Russian Political Theory under Peter I,” Harvard Ukrainian Studies 10, nos. 3–4 (December 1986): 524–533. On the “well-ordered police state” in its peculiar Russian manifestation, see Marc Raeff, The Well-Ordered Police State: Social and Institutional Change through Law in the Germanies and Russia (1600–1800) (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983), 181–250. (p.114)