14. The Tsars before the reign of Peter I
(Mikhail Milchailovitch, Prince Shcherbatov (1733-179o) was a historian, writer and public figure. In 1759-60 he wrote a series of articles calling for strong government and using powerful social arguments. At the end of the 176os he took part in Catherine the Great's law-reforming commission, and published his Corruption of Morals in the 1780s.)
Not only the subjects, but even our very monarchs led a very simple life. Their palaces were not large, as is attested by the old buildings that remain. Seven, eight, or at most, ten rooms, were sufficient for the monarch's accommodation. These comprised: a chapel, which was also an audiencechamber, for it was here that the boyars and other dignitaries came and awaited the monarch; a dining-room, which was quite small, for from the Registers of the Nobility, we see that a very small number of boyars was deemed worthy of the honour of being at the monarch's table; while for any grand occasions there was the Granovitaya Palata. I do not know whether the monarchs had an antechamber, but from the layout of the old palaces that I remember, I think they must have done. A bedchamber, and this was not separate from the Czarina's but was always shared in common; beyond the bedchamber were apartments for the Czarina's maidservants (these usually consisted of one room), and for the young children of the Czar, who lived two or three to a room. When they grew up, however, they were given separate apartments; but even these consisted of no more than three rooms, namely, a chapel, bedchamber, and a room beyond the bedchamber.
These very palaces had no great embellishments, for the walls were bare, and the benches were covered with crimson cloth. The magnificence was exquisite when decorations were made around the doors in the form of crude woodcarvings; when the walls and vaults were covered with ikonpaintings, pictures of saints, or simply with floral arabesques; while if there were a few walnut chairs or arm-chairs upholstered in cloth or imitation-velvet for the Czar and Czarina, then this was the highest level of magnificence.
Beds with awnings were unknown, and they slept without awnings. And even in recent times it was considered a great magnificence when the chapel in the royal palace was upholstered in leather gilt. This chapel stood next to the Red Balustrade. I remember it myself, with its tarnished upholsteries.
The royal table matched this simplicity, for though I cannot say for certain that the monarchs did not eat off silver, yet, since I do not see a proper silver dinner-service in the Masterskaya Palate, I conclude that in those days the monarchs ate off pewter; and that silver dishes, tablestands made in the form of Mount Sinai, and other forms of tableware, were used only on feast days.
Their diet conformed with this pattern. Although the dishes were numerous, yet they all consisted of simple things. Beef, mutton, pork, geese, turkeys, ducks, hens, grouse and sucking-pigs, were sufficient for the grandest table, with the addition of a large number of pastries, not always made of pure wheaten flour. Veal was little consumed and milk-fed calves and capons were quite unknown. The greatest luxury was to wrap a leg of roast or ham in gold paper, to add touches of gilt to pies, and so on. Then, they knew nothing of capers, olives or other appetizers, but were content with pickled cucumbers and plums. Finally, it was already considered a luxury to serve a meat brawn with pickled lemons.
The fish fare was even plainer than the meat. There were very few ponds for the sale of fish, and they did not have the art of conveying live the expensive fish from remote parts, and in any case, the royal court did not depend on purveyors but lived entirely off its own domains. And so in Moscow, where the supply of fish was small, they contented themselves with the fish which they caught in the River Moskva and nearby rivers, and when a real lack was felt at the royal table, then both in Moscow itself and in all the villages belonging to the Crown, ponds were constructed from which fish were caught for the royal table. They also had salted fish which they brought from the towns. In many towns where there is a fishing industry, this was even imposed as a tribute. In Rostov I myself have seen the royal Charters concerning this tribute. In winter they also brought fish from remote parts, frozen and salted for use at the monarch's table.
Their dessert was of equal simplicity. It consisted of raisins, currants, figs, prunes and honey-pastils, as far as dry things were concerned. As for fresh: in summer and autumn there were apples, pears, peas, beans and cucumbers. I do not think they even knew of melons and watermelons except when some of the latter were brought from Astrakhan. Even grapes were still conveyed in syrup, and they had no idea how to convey them fresh; for I remember, it was only in the reign of the Empress Elisabeth Petrovna, through the efforts of Ivan Antonovich Cherkassov, the Cabinet Minister, that they began to be conveyed fresh.
For such a small number of rooms, not much lighting would be needed; but even here, they not only did not use, but considered it a sin to use wax candles, and the rooms were lit by tallow candles, and even these were not set out in tens or hundreds; it was a large room indeed where four candles were set out on candlesticks.
Their drinks consisted of Kvass, Kisly-shchi, beer and various meads; brandy made from ordinary wine, and the following wines: church-wine, that is, ordinary red wine, rhenish — by this name was meant not only Rhine wine but also any ordinary white wine; Romaneya, that is, sweet Greek wine, and Alicante. These foreign wines
were consumed with great economy. The cellars where they were kept were called frankish, because these wines, and particularly the Greek wines, were first received through the Franks, while other wines were known to come from France. They therefore gave them the general name of Frankish wines.