Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas:  jgo.e-reviews 2 (2012), 1 Rezensionen online / Im Auftrag des Instituts für Ost- und Südosteuropastudien in Regensburg herausgegeben von Martin Schulze Wessel und Dietmar Neutatz

Verfasst von: Pierre Gonneau


Michail M. Krom: „Vdovstvujuščee carstvo“. Političeskij krizis v Rossii 30–40-x godov XVI veka [Das „verwitwete Zartum“. Die politische Krise im Russland der dreißiger und vierziger Jahre des 16. Jahrhunderts]. Moskva: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2010. 887 S. ISBN: 978-5-86793-782-9.

Mikhail Krom gives us a very thorough study of the Mourning Realm, of Muscovy between the death of Vasilii III (1533) and the imperial coronation of his son Ivan IV (1547). Some developments even draw us as far as 15481550. The aforesaid period is known as the “Government of the Boyars“ and has received a very negative review in Russian and foreign historiography. The mainline narrative harks back to the Chronicle of the beginning of the reign in its late version (second half of the 1550s, pp. 11ff). M. Krom’s book demonstrates that much of its well-known script is biased. A few decades ago, historians have conjured away the historical myth of the Chosen Council (Izbrannaia Rada) supposedly ruling Russia during the years 1547–1563. Now, following M. Krom, we have to put to rest the script of the “Government of the Boyars“ and most of its subplots.

The first part of the book focuses on the fight for power in Muscovy during the 1530s and 1540s. It starts with the tricky question of Vasilii III’s last will. M. Krom concludes that the late grand-prince left his son under the moral protection of metropolitan Daniil, but entrusted him and the affairs of the State to three persons: prince Mikhail L’vovich Glinskii, boyar Mikhail Iur’evich Zakhar’in and the Tver dvoretskii, Ivan Iur’evich Shigona Podzhogin (p. 71). This triumvirate was quickly sidestepped and, by autumn 1534, Elena Glinskaia, Vasilii III’s widow, was recognized as co-ruler with her young son (p. 109). This situation was unheard of in Muscovite Russia, which explains why documentary and narrative sources tried in retrospect to establish that all was ordered so by Vasilii III (p. 127). At least, on one occasion Elena was given the title of gosudarynia velikaia kniagina, which put her on a par with her son, the sovereign (p. 125). However, all foreign affairs were conducted in the name of young Ivan IV only and Elena had almost no say in their conduct (p. 135). Precisely in this field, we meet another interesting quote around 1535, in a letter sent to the hetman of Lithuania (p. 131). An effort is made to distinguish between the person of the ruler who is under-age (gosudar’ nash nyne vo mladykh letekh) and the ruled territories and ruling institutions which are fully mature (a gosudarstvy svoimi v sovershennykh letekh). There lies grounded in a primitive form the concept of the continuity of the State. After the death of Elena Glinskaia, M. Krom reassesses the traditional picture according to which there was a series of coups arranged by the “Shuiskii party”, the “Belskii party,“ or, finally, the “Glinskii party.” In fact, neither the Shuiskiis (p. 255), nor the Belskiis (p. 275) were almighty during their government. Granted, they could enrich themselves and took the lion’s share when land was redistributed (p. 551).

The other half of the book is devoted to the mechanism of making decisions and governing the country during this period. Many pages in part I have been filled already about the structure of the Muscovite Court, the interaction between the major boyar clans, and promotions to the Boyar Council. On the administrative level, the main point is that there was not a single chancellery issuing official acts, but a few institutions working in parallel. It is very difficult – and it was already at the time – to grasp a comprehensive picture (p. 364–400). The respective weight and even the number of the Palaces (dvortsy) in charge of different parts of the country has been discussed for a long time (p. 440–473). M. Krom clarifies as much as possible the situation and shares his insights. His view is that the Muscovite administration(s) had already acquired a kind of “autonomy” (p. 617) and could pursue its (their) own agenda in spite of the struggle for official positions that was raging at the top level. Thus, the first reforms of the early 1540s (for example the creation of the guby, or criminal courts) were not initiated by a “progressive faction” at the expense of a “reactionary” or “feudal” one, but were the consequence of a kind of natural drive (p. 456, p. 489, p. 554, p. 580, p. 599, p. 617). Following this line, one could suggest that when Ivan IV complains that his mother’s treasure was taken by the boyars after her death and given to the Great Treasury (first letter to Andrei Kurbskii) he misses the point. This is not another proof of the boyars’ cupidity, but a financial trick to balance the budget, the result of the “expansion” of the Treasury into the administrative sphere (p.504). On the other hand, the administration was not set against the interests of the aristocrats. The guby were created to improve local criminal justice, because the namestniki sent from Moscow had a poor record in this domain. But it did not mean that the namestniki would disappear and that the Muscovite aristocracy would lose these lucrative functions (p. 578).

M. Krom’s knowledge of narrative and diplomatic sources and their critic is very deep. We can rely on him to investigate all the available materials. He provides us with a Catalogue of the privileges and commands (zhalovannye i ukaznye gramoty) issued in the name or “according to the word” of the young Ivan IV (pp. 626–749). A little book in itself, this annex analyses 571 documents of the Muscovite central administration. Annex 2 lists immunity privileges (immunitetnye gramoty) dating from Vasilii III’s reign which were granted confirmation between 1534 and 1547, thus enabling us to measure the extent and the pace of the process (pp. 750–791). Annex 3 (pp. 792–813) uses 189 charters of judicial immunity (nesudimye gramoty) to document the territories allotted to each dvorets of the Muscovite court. Finally, M. Krom draws his own list of secretaries and under-secretaries (d’iaki i pod’iachie) working for the Central administration (pp. 814–854).

Stimulated by this remarkable book, the reader can come up with some remarks or suggestions. It may be correct that “before Ivan the Terrible’s epoch, we do not meet the image of the ‘widowed Realm’ in Russian written culture” (p. 8), but there was the obvious model of the “widowed Church” which could be borrowed and transferred to the Realm. At the end of 1448, in one of his first epistles, metropolitan Iona, recently elected metropolitan of the Russian Church, reminds his readers that his see was vacant for a long time (1442–1448): “so many years the Church of God was widowed, without its high Priest, the Metropolitan” (коликое лѣтъ церковь Божiя вдовст­вовала безъ болшаго Святителя, безъ Митрополита) (Akty istoričeskie, sobrannye i izdannye Arkheografičeskoju Komissieju, t. 1, St-Pétersbourg 1841, no. 43, p. 86). One can appreciate the idea of comparing the Russian situation to foreign cases, French one among them, of a regency period. But curiously, most examples are taken from an earlier period, the 13th14th cc. (p.164167, 366, 374, 405, 567). One understands that M. Krom’s shares the idea that Russia is to be compared to Western States at a less advanced stage. Nevertheless, Louise of Savoy, twice regent of France (1515, 1525–1526) was much closer to the time studied by M. Krom. Besides, the unexpected title namestnik Moskvy attributed to prince Ivan Shuiskii in 1540 (p. 246) is strangely similar to lieutenant général du royaume borne by the duke of Guise in 1558 and 1560. And France, just like Russia, had an itinerant monarchy at the time of Francis I, who issued the famous decree making French the official language of the realm in the little town of Villers-Cotterêts (1539). M. Krom states that contrary to Western Europe, where regency during the minority of a king frequently was entrusted to an ecclesiastical figure … in Muscovite Russia this habit did not take roots (p. 67). It may be discussed whether metropolitan Fotii was or was not a proper regent at the beginning of Vasilii II’s minority (1425–1431) but he played a decisive role in securing the throne to the young heir – at least for a while. Even more to the point, metropolitan Aleksei was a de facto regent when Dmitrii Ivanovich was under-age (1359–1364 or even later). And we must not forget that regency does not occur only when the sovereign is under-age (p. 610–611). Patriarch Nikon had powers of regent while tsar Aleksei Romanov campaigned in Ukraine (1654).

The picture of recurring crisis in Russia poses us a big question. Can we reconstruct a pattern? Is there a logic other than the “logic of the moment” (p. 263). M. Krom writes that “political crisis was not the inevitable consequence of the ascent on the throne of an incapable monarch” (p. 607). But the facts tell us a different story, starting from Vasilii I’s death (1425). All change of reigns on the Muscovite throne are plagued with arrests (sometimes executions) within the dynasty and the aristocracy, be that in 14561462, 1491 and 1498–1502, 1533–1537, 1584–1586. Meanwhile, the head of the Russian Church looses also its stability. After the first local election of Iona, most of the Russian metropolitans were forcibly removed at some point until Makarii was enthroned. The interaction between secular and spiritual powers had always existed since the installation of metropolitans in Moscow (1328). It was not a matter of metropolitans “actively interfering with the government of the country” (p. 262) or not. The head of the Church had, traditionally, a role of intercessor for the courtiers in disgrace. His mediation was a tool of conciliation but could also trigger a new imbalance of power, leading to his downfall. It occurred twice in a row during the “Government of the boyars”, in 1539 and 1542 (p. 262–263). But under Ivan IV’s strong personal rule the situation was pretty much the same: metropolitan Filipp was deprived of his rank and lost his life. A pessimistic reading would be that Muscovite monarchy experimented an endemic dynastic crisis from 1425 on, while the Russian Church never fully recovered from its accession to autocephaly in 1448.

Pierre Gonneau, Paris

Zitierweise: Pierre Gonneau über: Michail M. Krom: „Vdovstvujuščee carstvo“. Političeskij krizis v Rossii 30–40-x godov XVI veka [Das „verwitwete Zartum“. Die politische Krise im Russland der dreißiger und vierziger Jahre des 16. Jahrhunderts]. Moskva: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2010. 887 S. ISBN: 978-5-86793-782-9, http://www.dokumente.ios-regensburg.de/JGO/erev/Gonneau_Krom_Vdovstvujuscee_carstvo.html (Datum des Seitenbesuchs)

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