Russia: Tsarist and Communist

By Anatole G. Mazour | Go to book overview
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9
The Reign of Peter I (1682-1725)

THE RULE OF SOPHIA

SHORTLY BEFORE his death Tsar Alexis named as his successor his eldest son Theodore. Thus Alexis hoped to preclude political squabbles. The choice of Theodore was a wise move; but after a brief reign, the new tsar prematurely died in 1682 and the question of a successor came up once again, this time complicated by a peculiar family situation. The absence of a definite law of succession proved to be a source of frequent political confusion and court intrigues. This time the confusion was worse confounded by the presence of two aspirants to the vacant throne--Ivan and Peter, sons of the same father but of different mothers. Peter was in every way better qualified for the throne, but supporters of Ivan refused to yield. To forestall serious civil strife a compromise was worked out: the throne was to be occupied jointly. Since the two boys were minors, the daughter of Alexis, Sophia, was to act as regent. Though a poor political solution, it was most likely the only answer to the riddle caused by the sudden death of Theodore.

This unprecedented arrangement lasted for seven years, during which the throne was occupied simultaneously by two tsars while the power behind the throne was in the hands of a woman regent. This inconsistency was further enhanced by the fact that the royal bodyguard or streltsy were largely made up of Old Believers who sought to minimize the influence of the Church within the State. Sophia herself had limited political talent, though possessed of limitless political ambitions. She depended largely upon the counsel of a few of her courtiers. Outstanding among these was Prince V. V. Golitsyn, a man with a broad education who envisioned sweeping reforms. It was at his advice that the long obsolete system known as mestnichestvo (register of precedence), based on a special genealogical table of ranks, was abolished. Until 1682mestnichestvo represented a complicated hierarchical system at the top of which stood the descendants of the Rurik dynasty, followed by the Lithuanian princely family line, followed by the descendants of the appanage princely line, the old boyar families, and so on. This outdated system had been honored by the tsar while making appointments to office. The system provoked arguments and conflicts. It had most damaging effects, particularly in the army and caused inefficiency in state administration and disagreement between tsar and grumbling nobility.

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