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Born circa 1552; died Apr. 13, 1605. Russian tsar (from Feb. 17, 1598). Son of the boyar Fedor Godunov. The founder of the family was Chet, a murza (Tatar nobleman) who transferred his service from the Golden Horde to Moscow about 1330.
Godunov is mentioned for the first time in 1567, when he was an oprichnik. His rise was connected with his marriage to Maria, Maliuta Skuratov’s daughter (circa 1570), and Tsarevich Fedor’s marriage to Irene, Godunov’s sister (circa 1574). He became a royal carver in 1577 and a boyar in the autumn of 1580. With Fedor’s accession to the throne, Godunov became one of the most important members of the government, and in 1587, after a bitter palace struggle, he became the sole ruler of the state, receiving the right to independently conduct diplomatic relations. According to the assertions of later Russian sources, Godunov was the instigator of the murder of Tsarevich Dmitrii of Uglich. After the death of the childless Fedor, he was elected tsar by the national assembly on Feb. 17, 1598.
According to the testimonies of his contemporaries, Godunov possessed outstanding gifts as a statesman. In his domestic politics of the 1580’s and 1590’s, Godunov, in trying to consolidate the ruling class, especially took into consideration the interests of the state-serving dvorianstvo (nobility or gentry) and some of the demands of the upper layers of the posad (merchants’ and artisans’ quarter). He tried to overcome economic devastation by strengthening serfdom; a general census in the 1580’s and 1590’s was taken, the ukase of 1592–93 prohibiting the escape of peasants on St. George’s Day was promulgated, and the ukase of 1597 establishing a five-year period for the search for fugitive peasants was issued. He also tried to overcome economic devastation by providing economic support for the middle and lower levels of feudal nobility—exemption from taxes on the landholders’ pashnia (land cultivated for the sovereign) and abolition of church patents in 1584. Godunov also regulated the conditions of slaves, primarily those in debt slavery (Code of 1597). Posad construction was conducted in the cities; this satisfied some of the interests of the city dwellers but extended serfdom to the cities and increased taxes. Godunov pursued a vigorous governmental policy of colonizing Siberia and the southern regions of the country. In foreign politics he succeeded in partially eliminating the consequences of the Livonian War. (Through the Tiavzin Peace of 1595, Russia regained some regions seized by Sweden.) In the 1580’s and 1590’s the Russian positions were considerably strengthened in the Northern Caucasus, Transcaucasia, and the Trans-Volga region. Foreign trade increased sharply (through Arkhangelsk and on the Volga). The election of Godunov as tsar was accompanied by the granting of several privileges (above all to the district dvorianstvo). Class and intraclass contradictions, which became exacerbated by the mass famine of 1601–03, led to a peasant war. A reorientation of Godunov’s domestic policy—support for important secular and church feudal lords, the dvorianstvo of the capital, and the upper stratum of the district dvorianstvo, along with some concessions to the laboring population—was not successful. The weakness of Godunov’s government revealed itself also in an inability to cope with the rising movement of the popular masses, on the one hand, and of the dvorianstvo of the country’s southern regions on the other. At the height of the struggle with the first false Dmitrii, Godunov died suddenly. His son Fedor, a minor, was proclaimed tsar. On June 1, 1605, an uprising of Muscovites led to the fall of the government of the Godunovs, and Fedor was killed.
REFERENCEIstoriia SSSR s drevneishikh vremen do nashikh dnei, series 1, vol. 2. Moscow, 1966.
V. D. NAZAROV