Boris Fyodorovich Godunov (1550 / 1551–April 13, 1605) 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 descending into the Time of Troubles.
Boris Godunov was the most famous member of an ancient Russian family of Tatar origin, which migrated from the Horde to Kostroma in the early 14th century, through the Tatar Prince Chet. The Prince emigrated from the Golden Horde to Russia and founded the Ipatiev Monastery in Kostroma, son of Fyodor Ivanovich Godunov "Krivoy" (d. c. 1568-1570) and wife Stepanida . Boris’s elder brother Vasily died young and without issue of his wife Pelageya Godunov's career of service began at the court of Ivan the Terrible. In 1571 Godunov became a member of the feared Oprichnina.
In 1571 Godunov strengthened his position at court by his marriage to Maria Skuratova-Belskaya, the daughter of Ivan's abominable favorite Malyuta Skuratov-Belskiy. In 1580 the Tsar Ivan IV chose Irina (Alexandra) Feodorovna Godunova 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. Upon his death Ivan also left behind the three year old Dmitri Ivanovich (1581–1591), born from his seventh and last marriage. As the Orthodox Church recognized only the initial three marriages, and any offspring thereof, as legitimate, Dmitri (and his mother's family) technically had no real 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 Uglich some 120 miles north of Moscow. It was there that Dmitri died a few years later 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 was murdered by Godunov's agents. Godunov's guilt was never established and shortly thereafter Dmitri's mother was forced to take the veil.
On the occasion of the Tsar's coronation (May 31, 1584), Boris was given honors and riches as part of a five man regency council, yet he held the second place during the lifetime of the Tsar's uncle Nikita Romanovich, on whose death, in August, he was left without any serious rival.
A conspiracy against him of all the other great boyars and the metropolitan Dionysius, which sought to break Boris's power by divorcing the Tsar from Godunov's childless sister, only ended in the banishment or tonsuring of the malcontents. Henceforth Godunov was omnipotent. The direction of affairs passed entirely into his hands, and he corresponded with foreign princes as their equal.
His policy was generally moderate, but always most prudent. In 1595 he recovered from Sweden the towns lost during the former reign. Five years previously he had defeated a Tatar raid upon Moscow, for which service he received the title of Konyushy (or in 1584), an obsolete dignity even higher than that of Boyar. Towards Turkey he maintained an independent attitude, supporting an anti-Turkish faction in the Crimea, and furnishing the emperor with subsidies in his war against the sultan.
Boris Godonov's Son
Godunov encouraged English merchants to trade with Russia by exempting them from tolls. He civilized the borders of Russia by building numerous towns and fortresses to keep the Tatar and Finnic tribes away of the Russian capital. Boris also re-colonized Siberia, which had been slipping from the grasp of Russia, and formed scores of new settlements, including Tobolsk and other large cities.
It was during his government that the Russian Orthodox Church received its patriarchate, which placed it on an equal footing with the ancient Eastern churches and emancipated it from the influence of the Patriarch of Constantinople. This reform meant to please the ruling monarch, as Feodor took extraordinary interest in church affairs.
Boris's most important domestic reform was the 1587 decree forbidding the peasantry to transfer themselves 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 grinding form.
Upon the death of the childless tsar Feodor (January 7, 1598), Boris seized the throne. Had he not done so, lifelong seclusion in a monastery would have been his lightest fate. His election was proposed by the Patriarch Job of Moscow, who acted on the conviction that Boris was the one man capable of coping with the extraordinary difficulties of an unexampled situation. Boris, however, would only accept the throne from a Zemsky Sobor, or national assembly, which met on February 17, and unanimously elected him on February 21. On September 1 he was solemnly crowned tsar.
During the first years of his reign Boris was both popular and prosperous, and ruled excellently. He fully recognized the need for Russia to catch up to the intellectual progress of the West, and did his utmost to bring about educational and social reforms. He was the first tsar to bring the foreign teachers on a great scale, the first to send young Russians abroad to be educated, the first to allow Lutheran churches to be built in Russia. Having won the Russo–Swedish War (1590–1595), he felt the necessity of a Baltic seaboard, and attempted to obtain Livonia by diplomatic means. He cultivated friendly relations with the Scandinavians, in order to intermarry if possible with foreign royal houses to increase the dignity of his own dynasty.
Despite of all things that Boris did for Russia, his great qualities were overshadowed by an incurable suspiciousness. His fear of possible pretenders to the throne induced him to go as far as forbidding the greatest of the boyars to marry. He also encouraged informers and persecuted suspects on their unsupported statements. The Romanov family especially suffered from this behavior. Boris died after a lengthy illness and a stroke on April 13/23, 1605, leaving one son, Feodor II, who succeeded him for a few months and then was murdered by the enemies of the Godunov as was his widow, both murdered in Moscow on June 10/July 20, 1605. Their first son Ivan was born in 1587 and died in 1588, and their daughter Xenia, born in 1582/1591, was engaged to Johann of Schleswig-Holstein, born on July 9, 1583 but he died shortly before announced marriage on October 28, 1602) and she died unmarried and without issue on May 30, 1622 and was buried at St. Trinity Monastery.