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Boris Godunov

boris godunov, boris godunov opera
Boris Fyodorovich Godunov /ˈɡɒdənˌɔːf, ˈɡʊd-/;1 Russian: Бори́с Фёдорович Годуно́в, IPA: bɐˈrʲis ɡədʊˈnof; c 1551 – 23 April OS 13 April 1605 ruled the Tsardom of Russia as de facto regent from c 1585 to 1598 and then as the first non-Rurikid tsar from 1598 to 1605 The end of his reign saw Russia descend into the Time of Troubles


  • 1 Early years
  • 2 Regency
  • 3 Reign
  • 4 Arts and popular media
  • 5 Gallery
  • 6 See also
  • 7 References
  • 8 External links

Early yearsedit

Boris Godunov was the most noted member of an ancient, now extinct, Russian family of Tatar origin Chet, which came from the Horde to Kostroma in the early 14th century2 This legend is written in the annals dating from early 17th century He was descended from the Tatar Prince Chet, who went from the Golden Horde to Russia and founded the Ipatiev Monastery in Kostroma Boris was the son of Feodor Ivanovich Godunov "Krivoy" "the one-eyed" died, c 1568–1570 and his wife Stepanida Ivanovna 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 for taking part in the Serpeisk campaign being an archer of the guard The following year, he became an oprichnik – a member of Ivan's personal guard and secret police In 1570/1571, Godunov strengthened his position at court by his marriage to Maria Grigorievna Skuratova-Belskaya, the daughter of oprichniks' head Malyuta Skuratov-Belskiy

In 1580, the Tsar chose Irina Godunova, or Irina later Alexandra Feodorovna Godunova 1557 – 26 October/23 November 1603, the sister of Godunov, to be the wife of his second son and eventual heir, the fourteen-year-old Feodor Ivanovich 1557–1598 On this occasion, Godunov was promoted to the rank of Boyar2 On 15 November 1581, he was present at the scene of the Tsar's murder of his own eldest son, the crown prince Ivan Godunov tried to intervene, but received blows from the Tsar's sceptre The elder Ivan immediately repented and Godunov rushed to get help for the Tsarevich, who died four days later3

Three years later, on his deathbed, Ivan IV appointed a council consisting of Godunov, Feodor Nikitich Romanov, Vasili Shuiski and others, to guide his son and successor of Russia Feodor I, who 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"4

Upon his death, Ivan also left the three-year-old Dmitry Ivanovich 1581–1591, from his seventh and last marriage Since the Orthodox Church recognized legitimate only his first three marriages, and any offspring thereof, Dmitri and his mother's family technically had no claim to the throne Still, taking no chances, shortly after Ivan's death the Council had both Dmitri and his mother Maria Nagaya moved to Uglich, some 120 miles north of Moscow It was there in 1591 that Dmitri died at the age of ten

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 veil4 Dmitry Ivanovich was laid to rest and promptly, though temporarily, forgotten


At the coronation of Feodor Ivanovich as Tsar Feodor I on 31 May 1584, Boris received 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 in 1586, Boris had no serious rival for the regency

A conspiracy of other boyars and of Dionysius II, Metropolitan of Moscow, sought to break Boris's power by divorcing the Tsar from Godunov's childless sister The attempt proved unsuccessful, and the conspirators were banished or sent to monasteries After that, Godunov remained 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 Sweden some towns lost during the former reign Five years previously he had 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-Turkish faction in the Crimea and gave the emperor 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 along the north-eastern and south-eastern borders of Russia to keep the Tatar and Finnic tribes in order These included Samara, Saratov, Voronezh, and Tsaritsyn, as well as other lesser towns He colonized Siberia with scores of new settlements, including Tobolsk

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 Constantinople This pleased the Tsar, as Feodor took a great interest in church affairs

In Godunov's most important domestic reform, a 1597 decree forbade peasants to transfer from one landowner to another which they had been free to do each year around Saint George's Day in November, thus binding them to the soil This ordinance aimed to secure revenue, but it led to the institution of serfdom in its most oppressive form2 See also Serfdom in Russia


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 treatment he could have hoped for would have been lifelong seclusion in a monastery His election was proposed by Patriarch Job of Moscow, who believed that Boris was the one man capable of coping with the difficulties of the situation Boris, however, would accept the throne only from the 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 with 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, and the first to allow Lutheran churches to be built in Russia After the Russo–Swedish War 1590–1595, he felt the necessity of access to the Baltic Sea and attempted to obtain Livonia by diplomatic means He cultivated friendly relations with the Scandinavians and hoped to take a bride from a foreign royal house, thereby increasing the dignity of his own dynasty2 However he 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 13/23 April 1605 He left one son, Feodor II, who succeeded him and ruled for only a few months, until he and Boris' widow were murdered by the enemies of the Godunovs in Moscow on 10/20 June 16055 Boris's first son, Ivan, was born in 1587 and died in 1588 His daughter, Xenia, was born in 1582 She was engaged to Johann of Schleswig-Holstein, but he died shortly before their planned wedding in October 1602 Xenia was given the name "Olga" upon being forced to take monastic vows at the Voskesesnskij Monastery in Beloozero and her name is inscribed as "the Nun Olga Borisovna" at the crypt of the Godunovs at the Trinity Lavra of St Sergius where she lived from 1606, when she sojourned there to attend the reburial of her father, until her death in 16226 Boris, his wife, and their children are buried together in a mausoleum near the entrance of the Assumption Cathedral at Trinity-St Sergius Lavra

Arts and popular mediaedit

Boris' life was dramatised by the founder of Russian literature, Alexander Pushkin, in his play Boris Godunov 1831, which was inspired by Shakespeare's Henry IV Modest Mussorgsky based his opera Boris Godunov on Pushkin's play Sergei Prokofiev later wrote incidental music for Pushkin's drama In 1997, the score of a 1710 baroque opera based on the reign of Boris by German composer Johann Mattheson was rediscovered in Armenia and returned to Hamburg, Germany This opera, never performed during the composer's lifetime, had its world premiere in 2005 at the Boston Early Music Festival & Exhibition

Boris was portrayed on BBC Radio 4 by Shaun Dooley in the radio plays Ivan the Terrible: Absolute Power7 and Boris Godunov: Ghosts8 written by Mike Walker and which were the first two plays in the first series of Tsar The plays were broadcast on 11 and 18 September 2016

The character Boris Badenov in the cartoon The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show takes his name from a play on Godunov's name


See alsoedit

  • Tsars of Russia family tree


  1. ^ "Godunov" Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary
  2. ^ a b c d  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Bain, Robert 1911 "Boris Fedorovich Godunov" In Chisholm, Hugh Encyclopædia Britannica 4 11th ed Cambridge University Press p 254  This cites:
    • Platon Vasilievich Pavlov, On the Historical Significance of the Reign of Boris Godunov Rus Moscow, 1850
    • Sergyei Mikhailivich Solovev, History of Russia Rus 2nd ed, vols vii-viii, St Petersburg, 1897
  3. ^ Troyat, Henri 1993 Ivan le terrible Flammarion p 284 ISBN 2-08-064473-4 
  4. ^ a b Durant, Will 1961 "The Story of Civilization" VII—"The Age of Reason Begins" Simon & Schuster: 513 
  5. ^ Chisholm 1911
  6. ^ Pushkareva, Natalia 1997 Women in Russian History: From the Tenth to the Twentieth Century New Russian History M E Sharpe, Inc p 319 ISBN 1-56324-798-4 
  7. ^ http://wwwbbccouk/programmes/b07tqwm9
  8. ^ http://wwwbbccouk/programmes/b07vkf75

External linksedit

  • Boris Godunov: a drama in verse at Project Gutenberg
  • Godunov to Nicholas II by Saul Zaklad
  • The throne of Tsar Boris Godunov
  • Ancestors of Boris Feodorovich Godunov, tsar of Russia in Russian
  • Boris Godunov in English
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Feodor I
Tsar of Russia
Succeeded by
Feodor II

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