Peasant Uprising Under the Leadership of I.I. Bolotnikov 1606-07

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Peasant Uprising Under the Leadership of I.I. Bolotnikov (1606-07)


the highest stage of the Peasant War of the early 17th century against feudal oppression in Russia. The Peasant Uprising under Bolotnikov was caused by the intensified exploitation of the peasantry in the late 16th century, which was associated with the growth of feudal land-ownership and the legal implementation of serfdom throughout the country. Among the legal measures by which the state sanctioned serfdom were the institution of the zapovednye leta (years when peasants were forbidden to leave their estates), the Ukase of Nov. 24, 1597, which opened a five-year term for hunting down fugitive peasants, the revocation of the right of kabal’nye kholopy (a category of serfs) to repay their debts and regain their freedom, and the establishment of the principle that kabal’nye kholopy must serve until the death of their masters.

The late 16th century was marked by an upsurge in the class struggle. On many monastery estates there were uprisings of peasants. The famine of 1601-03 caused a further intensification of social conflicts and a mass flight of peasants and kabal’nye kholopy to the southern regions of the country. In September 1603 a major uprising of peasants and kabal’nye kholopy broke out under the leadership of Khlopka. The First False Dmitrii attempted to take advantage of the insurgents.

By mid-1606 a number of peasant insurrections merged into an uprising led by I. I. Bolotnikov. Kabal’nye kholopy and peas-ants made up the main force of the uprising. In addition, posadskie liudi (merchants and artisans),strel’tsy (semiprofessional musketeers), cossacks, detachments of the dvorianstvo (nobility or gentry) led by G. Sumbulov and P. Liapunov, and I. Pashkov’s detachments, which were of mixed social composition, took part in the peasant uprising. On the way to Moscow, Bolotnikov distributed leaflets calling for revenge on the feudal lords and voicing the insurgents’ social and political demands: abolition of feudal ownership, the abolition of serfdom, and the re-placement of Tsar Vasilii IV Shuiskii with “the good tsar Dmitrii.”

The uprising broke out in the summer of 1606 in southwestern Russia. After routing the forces of the tsarist voevoda (military commander) lu. N. Trubetskoi near Kromy and the forces of the voevoda I. M. Vorotynskii outside Elets, the rebels moved to-ward Moscow. Bolotnikov’s detachments moved from Kromy to Kaluga, and Pashkov’s went from Elets through NovosiF to Tula. The movement northward, Bolotnikov’s victory on the Ugra and Lopasnia rivers in late September, and his capture of the towns of Aleksin and Serpukhovo spread the uprising to the “river towns” along the Oka and to Tula and Riazan’. Pomeshchiki (landlords) in Tula and Riazan’ who opposed Shuiskii joined the uprising. Shuiskii’s troops defeated Bolotnikov on the Protva River, but this victory was cancelled out by the resounding defeat of the tsarist voevodas by Pashkov’s forces outside the village of Troitskoe (near Kolomna). Pashkov reached Moscow around October 7. Three weeks later he was joined by the main forces headed by Bolotnikov, who had set up camp in the village of Kolomenskoe.

Bolotnikov’s two-month siege of Moscow (Oct. 7-Dec. 2, 1606) was the culmination of the uprising, which had spread to more than 70 cities and towns in the southern and southwestern parts of the country. An intense class struggle was taking place in Viatka, Perm’, Pskov, and Astrakhan, and the lower strata of the Moscow population were restless. The class of feudal serf owners was faced with a direct threat to its authority. Shuiskii’s government hastily summoned gentry troops (the smol’niane) to Moscow, set the people against the rebels with the aid of the clergy, and used bribes and promises to lure the unstable gentry insurgents away from the uprising. The desertion to Shuiskii of the Riazan’ detachments of P. Liapunov and G. Sumbulov on November 15, followed by the desertion of I. Pashkov’s detachments during the battle of November 26-27, reflected the process of class demarcation among the insurgents and showed the effectiveness of Shuiskii’s policies in weakening Bolotnikov’s forces. On Dec. 2, 1606, the rebels were routed in a decisive battle outside Moscow near the village of Kotly. With a small detachment, Bolotnikov retreated to Kaluga, which he successfully defended throughout the winter of 1606-07. The “Tsarevich Peter” movement led by Ileika Muromets, who moved from the Volga and the Don to PutivP and attempted several times to join forces with Bolotnikov, played an important role in the uprising. After Ileika Muromets’ victory on the Pchel’na River in May 1607 and the lifting of the siege of Kaluga, Muromets and Bolotnikov succeeded in joining forces at Tula. In the summer and autumn of 1607, Tula became the center of fierce battles between government and insurgent troops. Shuiskii took measures to consolidate the forces of the ruling class. He issued the Ulozhenie (Code) of Mar. 9, 1607, which reinforced serfdom, and he distributed lands to the sluzhilye liudi (military service class). The tsar himself led the campaign against Tula, which opened on May 21. After he was defeated on the Vosma and Voron’ia rivers (June 1607), Bolotnikov retreated to Tula.

During the four-month siege of Tula by tsarist troops, the rebels defended themselves with great courage. Their spirit was not broken even when their opponents flooded the city by building a dam on the Upa River. Only after Shuiskii’s promise to spare the lives of all the rebels were the city gates opened on October 10. The tsar did not keep his promise: Bolotnikov and Ileika Muromets were executed. The fall of Tula signified the end of the Peasant Uprising under Bolotnikov.

Many of the uprising’s features were characteristic of the peasant wars of the Middle Ages: spontaneity, localization, naive monarchism, and lack of a mature political program. Although the peasants were defeated, their rebellion was the first major act in the struggle of the Russian people against serfdom—a struggle that later took the form of peasant wars (the Peasant War under the leadership of S. T. Razin, 1670-71, and the Peasant War under the leadership of E. I. Pugachev, 1773-75).


Vosstanie I. Bolotnikova: Dokumenty i materialy. Moscow, 1959.
Smirnov, I.I. Vosstanie Bolotnikova 1606-1607, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1951.
Krest’ianskie voiny v Rossii XVH-XVIII vv. Moscow-Leningrad, 1966.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.