False Dmitrii, First

False Dmitrii, First


Date of birth unknown; died May 17 (27), 1606, in Moscow. Impostor and adventurer who posed as the Russian tsarevich Dmitrii Ivanovich. Russian tsar from 1605 to 1606.

Little is known about the background of the First False Dmitrii. According to the official version given by Boris Godunov’s government, he was a runaway deacon from the Chudov Monastery in Moscow named Grigorii Otrep’ev and the son of a Halich nobleman, Bogdan Otrep’ev. He appeared in Poland in 1601 and won the support of the Polish magnates and Catholic clergy. Preparations for his ascension to the Russian throne were made in 1603 and 1604. Dmitrii secretly converted to Catholicism and promised that after his coronation he would cede to Poland the Severskaia and Smolensk lands, join an anti-Turkish alliance, help Sigismund III in his struggle against Sweden, and introduce Catholicism into Russia. He also agreed to marry Marina Mni-szek, the daughter of the wojewoda (governor) of Sandomierz, J. Mniszek, to give his bride Novgorod and Pskov as a dowry, and to pay her father 1 million gold zlotys.

In the autumn of 1604, Dmitrii crossed the Russian frontier with a Polish-Lithuanian detachment. He gained the support of part of the Russian feudal lords, the townspeople, the military servitors, the Don and Zaporozh’e cossacks, and the peasants of the southern regions, where an antifeudal struggle was growing. Despite his defeat near Dobrynichi, Dmitrii entrenched himself in the southern part of the country, around Putivl’. After the sudden death of B. F. Godunov, the tsar’s army went over to Dmitrii near Kromy. On June 1, 1605, a popular uprising broke out in Moscow, and the government of the Godunovs was overthrown. On June 20, Dmitrii entered Moscow.

Upon gaining the throne, Dmitrii attempted to pursue an independent domestic and foreign policy. He sought to strengthen his position among the provincial gentry by granting them larger salaries and landed estates. To accomplish this he confiscated money and valuables belonging to monasteries and reviewed their land rights. He also attempted to reorganize the army and made a number of concessions to the peasants and kholopy (slaves) (the ukases of Jan. 7 and Feb. 1, 1606). The southern regions were freed from taxation for ten years, and the system of desiatinnaia pashnia (land cultivated for the sovereign) was abolished. His policy, which on the whole was oriented toward serfdom, and his levy of higher taxes (primarily in order to send money to Poland) provoked an upsurge in the peasant and cossack movements in the spring of 1606. Unable to win over all the strata of the feudal lords, Dmitrii made concessions to the rebels. He did not use force to suppress the movement and included an article on peasant vykhod (right of departure) in the law code being compiled. His failure to keep his promise to introduce Catholicism, make territorial concessions, and render military assistance to Poland against Sweden caused relations with Poland to deteriorate.

The crisis in his domestic and foreign policy led to a conspiracy against Dmitrii by the feudal aristocracy headed by Prince Vasilii Ivanovich Shuiskii. During an uprising of the townsmen against the Poles who had arrived to attend the wedding celebrations of Dmitrii and Marina Mniszek, Dmitrii was killed by the conspirators.


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