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Boris Fyodorovich Godunov ( ) (c. 1551 – ) was de facto regent of Russia from 1584 to 1598 and then the first non-Rurikid tsar from 1598 to 1605. The end of his reign saw Russia descend into the Time of Troubles.

Early years

Boris Godunov was the most famous member of an ancient, now extinct, Russian family of Tatar origin, which came from the Horde to Kostromamarker in the early 14th century, through the Tatarian Prince Chet, who went from the Golden Horde to Russiamarker and founded the Ipatiev Monasterymarker in Kostroma. Boris was the son of Fyodor Ivanovich Godunov "Krivoy" ("One-eyed") (d. c. 1568-1570) and his wife Stepanida. His older brother Vasily died young and without issue. Godunov's career began at the court of Ivan the Terrible. He is mentioned in 1570 as taking part in the Serpeiskmarker campaign as an archer of the guard. The following year, he became a member of the feared Oprichnina.

In 1570/1571, Godunov strengthened his position at court by his marriage to Maria Grigorievna Skuratova-Belskaya, the daughter of Ivan's abominable favorite Malyuta Skuratov-Belskiy. In 1580, the Tsar chose Irina (Alexandra) Feodorovna Godunova (1557 – 26 October/23 November 1603), the sister of Godunov, to be the wife of his son and heir, the fourteen year old Tsarevich Feodor Ivanovich (1557–1598); on this occasion Godunov was promoted to the rank of Boyar. On 15 November 1581, Godunov was present at the scene of Ivan's murder of his own son, also called Ivan. Though he tried to intervene, he received blows from the Tsar's sceptre. Ivan immediately repented, and Godunov rushed to get help for the Tsarevich, who died four days later.

On his deathbed, Ivan appointed a council consisting of Godunov, Feodor Nikitich Romanov, Vasili Shuiski and others, to guide his son and successor; for Feodor was feeble both in mind and body; “he took refuge from the dangers of the palace in devotion to religion; and though his people called him a saint, they recognized that he lacked the iron to govern men.”

Upon his death, Ivan also left the three year old Dmitri Ivanovich (1581–1591), from his seventh and last marriage. As the Orthodox Church recognized only his first three marriages, and any offspring thereof, as legitimate, Dmitri (and his mother's family) technically had no claim to the throne.

Still, taking no chances, the Council, shortly after Ivan's death, had both Dmitri and his mother Maria Nagaya moved to Uglichmarker some 120 miles north of Moscow. It was there that Dmitri died at the age of ten (1591). An official commission, headed by Vasili Shuiski, was sent to determine the cause of death; the official verdict was that the boy had cut his throat during an epileptic seizure. Ivan's widow claimed that her son had been murdered by Godunov's agents. Godunov's guilt was never established and shortly thereafter Dmitri's mother was forced to take the veil. Dmitri Ivanovich was laid to rest and promptly, though temporarily, forgotten.

Years of regency

At the Tsar's coronation on 31 May 1584, Boris was given honors and riches as a member of the regency council, in which he held the second place during the life of the Tsar's uncle Nikita Romanovich. When Nikita died that August, he was left without any serious rival.

A conspiracy against him by other boyars and Dionysius II, Metropolitan of Moscow, sought to break Boris's power by divorcing the Tsar from Godunov's childless sister. It was unsuccessful, and the conspirators were banished or sent to monasteries. After that, Godunov was supreme in Russia, and he corresponded with foreign princes as their equal.

His policy was generally pacific, and always prudent. In 1595, he recovered from Swedenmarker some towns lost during the former reign. Five years previously he defeated a Tatar raid upon Moscow, for which he received the title of Konyushy, an obsolete dignity even higher than that of Boyar. He supported an anti-Turkishmarker faction in the Crimeamarker, and gave the emperor with subsidies in his war against the sultan.

Godunov encouraged English merchants to trade with Russia by exempting them from duties. He built towns and fortresses in the north-eastern and south-eastern borders of Russia to keep the Tatar and Finnic tribes in order. These included Samaramarker, Saratovmarker, Voronezhmarker, Tsaritsynmarker as well as lesser towns. He colonized Siberiamarker with scores of new settlements, including Tobolskmarker.

During his rule, the Russian Orthodox Church received its patriarchate, placing it on an equal footing with the ancient Eastern churches and freeing it from the influence of the Patriarch of Constantinoplemarker. This pleased the Tsar, as Feodor took a great interest in church affairs.

Boris's most important domestic reform was the 1597 decree forbidding the peasantry to go from one landowner to another, thus binding them to the soil. The object of this ordinance was to secure revenue, but it led to the institution of serfdom in its most oppressive form.

Years of tsardom

On the death of the childless Feodor on 7 January 1598, self-preservation as much as ambition led Boris to seize the throne. Had he not done so, the mildest he could have hoped for was lifelong seclusion in a monastery. His election was proposed by the Patriarch Job of Moscow, who believed that Boris was the one man capable of coping with the difficulties of the situation. Boris, however, would only accept the throne from a Zemsky Sobor, or national assembly, which met on 17 February, and unanimously elected him on 21 February. On 1 September he was solemnly crowned tsar.

During the first years of his reign, he was both popular and prosperous, and ruled well. He recognized the need for Russia to catch up to the intellectual progress of the West, and did his best to bring about educational and social reforms. He was the first tsar to import foreign teachers on a large scale, the first to send young Russians abroad to be educated, the first to allow Lutheran churches to be built in Russia. After the Russo–Swedish War , he felt the necessity of access to the Baltic seamarker, and attempted to obtain Livonia by diplomatic means. He cultivated friendly relations with the Scandinavians, hoping to marry with a foreign royal house, increasing the dignity of his own dynasty.

Boris was one of the greatest of the Russian tsars. But his great qualities were overshadowed by paranoia. His fear of possible pretenders induced him to forbid the leading boyars to marry. He encouraged informers and persecuted suspects on their unsupported statements. The Romanov family especially suffered severely from this behaviour. He also declined the personal union proposed to him in 1600 by the diplomatic mission led by Lew Sapieha from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Boris died after a lengthy illness and a stroke on 13 April/23, 1605, leaving one son, Feodor II, who succeeded him for a few months until he and Boris' widow were murdered by the enemies of the Godunovs in Moscowmarker on 10 June/20 July 1605. Their first son Ivan was born in 1587 and died in 1588. Their daughter, Xenia, was born in 1582/1591; she was engaged to Johann of Schleswig-Holstein, who died shortly before their marriage in October 1602. Xenia died unmarried and childless in May 1622 and was buried at St. Trinity Monastery.

Boris Godunov in the arts and popular media

Boris' life was dramatised by the founder of Russian literature, Alexander Pushkin, in his play Boris Godunov (1831), which was inspired by Shakespeare's Macbeth. Modest Mussorgsky based his opera Boris Godunov on Pushkin's play. Sergei Prokofiev later wrote incidental music for Pushkin's drama.

A play on the name Gudunov was Boris Badenov, an antagonist of Rocky and Bullwinkle.


Image:Baidana rings.JPG|Godunov's armor (detail), Kremlin ArmourymarkerImage:Godunov map.jpg|Painting titled Boris Godunov overseeing the studies of his son by N. Nekrasov (19th century)Image:Church ostrov.jpg|Godunov's estate near Moscow

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