10. The election of Boyar Mikhail Romanov as Tsar (1613)
The cathedral bells of the Kremlin pealed out from morning to evening while the members of the Sobor went on with their debating. The discussion was winding up and the Council of Elders was about to vote, when the Sotnik Struysky, the leader of the Cossack detachment, suddenly came into the hall of the Kremlin Palace, followed by ten Cossacks armed to the teeth.
'What do you want?' asked Prince Pozharsky.
The sotnik read out the motion voted by the Cossacks: 'We desire as our Czar the son of the Tushino sovereign!'
The members of the Sobor were obliged to vote on the candidature of the 'thief's' offspring, a child of four.
This outrageous trick played on the Sobor was due to Prince Trubetskoy, furious that his candidature had been unsuccessful. It appears that this coarse, undaunted man had said to his friend, the dyak Korotkov, 'Those sons of bitches won't have me, a Russian Prince and Cossack hetman. I'll slip in their way the son of a thief and a Polish whore. Then let them get out of that mess!'
Prince Pozharsky, who shared the leadership of the Povolge army with the municipal representative Minin, found a way out of the difficulty by proposing that henceforth no foreigner or son of a non-Russian mother should be elected Czar. After a lengthy prayer in the Uspenie Cathedral, the members adopted the motion. King Sigismund, his son Ladislas and the child of the thief and Marina Mniczek were thus excluded once and for all from the list of candidates for the Russian throne. The Sobor had hardly resumed work, when a scuffle broke out between the Cossacks posted at the gates of Moscow and the Sobor guard inside the Kremlin. The sotnik Struysky, supported by Prince Trubetskoy, insisted that the Cossacks should be admitted to the Kremlin. Once inside the enclosure, the Cossacks lost no time; the same night they kidnapped Prince Galitzin, the most eminent of the candidates, and handed him over to the Poles in Smolensk, who took him to Warsaw. There he found Prince Shuysky, also of the Galitzin line, and the Patriarch Philaret. The following night the Cossacks carried off Prince Mstislaysky but, this time, did not hand him over to the Poles, for it was well known that the prince was persona grata at the court of Warsaw. The Cossacks simply made him swear to withdraw his candidature for the throne. The kidnappings continued whenever a prince offered himself as a candidate; the elections were at a standstill.
The Cossacks went to find the Abbot Abraham Palitzin, who had been their friend since the day when, on his advice, they had raised the siege of the Monastery of Triad and Sergius, invested by the Poles.
Abraham Palitzin celebrated a thanksgiving Mass in the Kremlin and appeared before the Sobor. 'My brethren', he said, 'you are here to elect a Russian Czar and not to enjoy yourselves. But we cannot accept just anybody for the throne. An elected Czar is not an alderman. A Czar is the father of the nation, and he rules from Moscow. Moscow is the mother of the nation. You can neither select nor elect your father or your mother; they are sent to you by God!'
The Sobor responded to this wily speech with thunderous applause: 'Amen, Abraham! Amen! You are right! Tell us now who is he that is sent from God to ascend the throne of Russia's Czar?'
'Who other than Michael Romanov?' exclaimed the cunning Abraham. 'Is he not the nephew of Czar Feodor and the son of Czarina Anastasya? God keep her holy soul in Paradise!* Is he not the grand-nephew of Czar Ivan Vassilevich who sought the presence of God to ask pardon for his sins? God has sent us none other than Michael Romanov. Let us blot out the stain of your foolhardiness in choosing Boris Godunov and Shuysky. Let us elect young Michael Romanov, let us give him our blessing and long may he reign!'
Abraham had hardly finished speaking, when the provincial delegations came through all the Kremlin gates and into the hall where the Sobor was in session; and, keeping to the plan previously arranged by Abraham himself, they put forward motions in favour of Michael Romanov. Armed Cossacks followed the delegations. 'Listen to them, my brethren,' went on Abraham; 'heed them, and cast your votes for Czar Michael Romanov'.
At that exact moment, Prince Trubetskoy, the hetman, drew his sabre and, leaping on to the dais where Prince Pozharsky was presiding, he shoutedt : 'The Cossacks are for Michael Romanov, but they insist that he swear on the Gospel to convene the Sobor and govern with the approval of the Russian nation!'
The bells of the Kremlin cathedrals rang out — they had been ringing for days — and on this Friday in Lent, 19 February, 1613, the Sobor acclaimed the name of Michael Romanov. Each member had mounted the rostrum to deposit his envelope, (156 members were illiterate and requested Abraham to fill in their voting papers for them). Michael Romanov was unanimously elected Czar of all the Russias.