15. ​The riot of the Streltsy, 1682, and the death of Ivan Naryshkin

On 25 May, the Streltsi, armed from head to foot with swords, halberds and muskets, began to collect at a very early hour in their churches in the most opposite quarters of the city, as if waiting for some watchword. Soon a watchword came. About nine o'clock in the morning a man rode hurriedly through the streets crying out: 'The Naryshkins have murdered the Tsarevitch Ivan! To the Kremlin! The Naryshkins wish to kill all the royal family! To arms! Punish the traitors! Save the Tsar!' A general alarm was at once sounded. Drums were beaten, bells rung, and the regimental cannon were brought out.

The Streltsi, with their broad banners embroidered with pictures of the Virgin, advanced from all sides toward the Kremlin, as if to attack an enemy, compelling their colonels to lead them on. The peaceable citizens who met them were astonished at this onset; but to their inquiries as to its cause the answer returned was: We are going to destroy the traitors and murderers of the family of the Tsar.' No doubt the majority of them sincerely believed that the Tsar was really in danger, that the Naryshkins were desirous of mounting the throne, and that they were patriots going to save their country, and to rescue their ruler from the traitors and the hated boyars. As they advanced they cut off the long handles of their spears, so as to manage them more easily. Meanwhile the boyars were quietly sitting in the public offices and in the palace, without the slightest idea of what was passing in the city, or, after finishing the morning's official duties, they were strolling about previous to their midday dinner. Matveief, on coming out upon the staircase leading to the bed­chamber porch, saw Prince Theodore Urusof hastily running toward him, with scarcely breath enough to cry out that the Streltsi had risen, and that all the regiments, fully armed and with beating drums, were advancing towards the Kremlin. Matveief, astonished, immediately returned to the palace with Urusof, to inform the Tsaritsa Natalia. The words were scarcely out of his mouth before three messengers came in, one after another, each with worse news than the preceding. The Streltsi were already in the old town and near the Kremlin walls. Orders were immediately given to close the Kremlin gates and to prepare whatever means of defence there might be, and the Patriarch was hastily sent for.

The officer of the guard, however, came with the intelligence that it was impossible to shut the gates, as the Streltsi had already passed them and were now in the Kremlin. All the carriages of the boyars had been driven back to the Ivan place, and the drivers were some wounded and some killed, while the horses were either cut to pieces or removed from the vehicles. No one could get into the Kremlin or out of it, and the frightened boyars took refuge, one after another, in the banqueting-hall of the palace.

The Streltsi surrounded the palace, and stopped before the red staircase. Amid the din, the cries and the uproar it was barely possible to distinguish the words: Where's the Tsarevitch Ivan? Give us the Naryshkins and Matveief! Death to the traitors!' A brief council having been held in the banqueting-hall, it was decided to send some boyars out to the Streltsi, to demand of them what they wanted. Prince Tcherkassky, Prince Havansky, Prince Golitsyn and Sheremetief then went out and asked the Streltsi why they had come to the palace in this riotous way. We wish to punish the traitors,' was their reply; 'they have killed the Tsarevitch. They will destroy all the royal family. Give up to us the Naryshkins and the other traitors.' When the boyars brought back this answer, the Tsaritsa was advised by her father, Matveief, and others to go out on the red staircase and show to the Streltsi both the Tsar Peter and the Tsarevitch Ivan. Trembling with terror, she took by the hands her son and her step­son, and — accompanied by the Patriarch, the boyars, and the other officials — went out upon the red staircase. 'Here is the Tsar, Peter Alexeievitch; here is the Tsarevitch, Ivan Alexeievitch; the boyars cried out in loud voices, as they came out with the Tsaritsa and pointed the children out to the Streltsi. 'By God's mercy they are safe and well. There are no traitors in the royal palace. Be quiet; you have been deceived.' The Streltsi placed ladders against the rails, and some of them climbed up to the platform where the Tsar's family stood, in order the more closely to examine them. Peter stood still and looked at them, face to face, without blanching or showing the least sign of fear. On coming to the Tsarevitch Ivan, the Streltsi asked him if he really were Ivan Alexeievitch. Tes,' answered the youth, in an almost inaudible voice. Again the question was repeated. 'Are you really he?' Tes, I am he,' was the reply. The Patriarch then wished to descend the staircase and talk with the rioters; but the cry came up from below, We have no need of your advice; we know that to do,' and many men forced their way up past him. The Tsaritsa, seeing their rudeness and fearing the consequences, took the children back into the palace.

Matveief, who had formerly been a favourite commander of the Streltsi, went down outside of the wicket and spoke to them in a confident yet propitiatory tone, reminding them of their former faithful services, especially during the time of the Kolomenskoe riots,* and of their good reputation which they were now destroying by their proceedings, and explaining to them that they were anxious without reason by believing false reports. He told them that there was no cause for their alarm about the royal family, which, as they had just seen with their own eyes, was in perfect safety. He advised them to beg pardon for the disturbance which they had made, which had been caused by their excessive loyalty, and he would persuade the Tsar to overlook it and restore them to favour. These sensible, good-natured words wrought a deep impression. The men in the front grew quiet; and it was evident that they had begun to reflect. Further off were still heard voices in discussion and conversation, as though a better feeling were taking possession of the multitude. It gradually became calmer.

Matveief hastened back into the palace to allay the fears of the Tsaritsa, when, unfortunately, Prince Michael Dolgoruky, the second in command of the Department of the Streltsi, came out and, relying on the words of Matveief, and thinking that all irritation was over, wished to put himself forward and to show his powers of command. In his rudest and roughest tones he ordered the Streltsi to go home immediately, and to attend to their own business. All the good impression which Matveief's words had produced was immediately dispelled. The opponents of the Naryshkins, who had been rendered silent by the changed disposition of the multitude, again began to raise their voices; and some of the Streltsi, who were more drunken or riotous than the rest, seized Dolgoruky by his long gown, threw him down from the platform into the square, asking the crowd at the same time whether such was their will, while the men below caught him on their spears, exclaiming 'Yes, yes,' and cut him to pieces.

This first act of bloodshed was the signal for more. Lowering their spears, the Streltsi rushed into the rooms of the palace, which some had already succeeded in entering from another side, in order to seize upon Matveief, who was in the ante-room of the banqueting-hall, with the Tsaritsa and her son. The Streltsi moved toward him; the Tsaritsa wished to protect him with her own person, but in vain. Prince Tcherkassky tried to get him away, and had his coat torn off in the struggle. At last, in spite of the Tsaritsa, the Streltsi pulled Matveief away, dragged him to the red staircase, and with exultant cries, threw him down into the square, where he was instantly cut to pieces by those below.

The Streltsi then burst again into the palace, and went through all the rooms, seeking for those they called traitors. The boyars hid themselves where they could. The Patriarch was scarcely able to escape into the Cathedral of the Assumption, while the Tsaritsa Natalia and her son took refuge in the banqueting-hall ...

The Streltsi ran through all the inner rooms of the palace, looked into the store-rooms, under the beds, into the chapels, thrust their spears under the altars, and left no place without a visit. From a distance they saw Theodore Soltykof going into one of the chapels. Someone cried out: 'There goes Ivan Naryshldn,' and the unlucky man was so frightened that he could not pronounce a single word, or even tell his name. He was at once killed, and his body thrown below. When it was ascertained who it was, and that he was not a Naryshkin, the Streltsi sent the body to old Soltykof, and excused themselves by saying that his son had been killed by mistake. 'God's will be done,' said the old man, who had even the presence of mind to give the messengers something to eat and drink. After they had left the house, in trying to console his weeping daughter-in-law, he quoted a Russian proverb to the effect that 'their turn will come next.' A servant who had overheard this, and who had a grudge against his master, immediately rushed out, and told the Streltsi that his master had threatened them. They returned and murdered him on the spot.

In the Church of the Resurrection the Streltsi met one of the court dwarfs, named Homyak. 'Tell me where the Naryshkins, the Tsaritsa's brothers, are hid?' they asked. He pointed to the altar, and they pulled out Athanasius Naryshkin, dragged him by the hair to the chancel steps, and there cut him to pieces. His younger brothers, his father, and his other relatives, as well as Matveiefs son, whose description of these events we chiefly follow, took refuge in the apartments of the little Princess Natalia, Peter's sister, winch apparently were not searched ...

Early the next day, the 26th, the Streltsi came again, fully armed, and, with beating drums advancing to the gilded lattice near the apartment of the Tsar, demanded with loud cries the surrender of Ivan Naryshkin, the Councillor Kirilof, and the two doctors, Daniel the Jew and Jan Gutmensch. The princesses endeavoured to save the lives of these people, but they were obliged to surrender Kirilof and Doctor Gutmensch, although they succeeded in concealing the wife of Doctor Daniel Von Gaden in the room of the young Tsaritsa Martha, the widow of Theodore. The others were killed.

The Streltsi then went to the residence of the Patriarch and threatened with spears and halberds not only the servants but the Patriarch himself, demanding the surrender of the traitors concealed there; looked through the cellars and outhouses; turned topsy-turvy boxes and beds, and not finding anyone, again came to the Patriarch and repeated their demands. The Patriarch, who had put on his robes, replied that there were no traitors in his house, but that he himself was ready to die ...

On the third day, 27 May, the Streltsi again came to the Kremlin, and to the beating of drums stationed themselves about the palace, while some of them climbed straight up to the balcony and insisted on the surrender of Ivan Naryshkin. They threatened all the servitors of the palace with death if they did not find him, and declared they would not leave the Kremlin until they had possession of him. They even threatened the life of the Tsaritsa Natalia and of the other members of the Tsar's family. At last it became evident that nothing could be done, and the Princess Sophia went to Natalia and said: 'There is no way of getting out of it; to save the lives of all of us you must give up your brother.' Natalia, after useless protests, then brought out Ivan Naryshkin and conducted him into the Church of the Saviour beyond the Wicket. Here he received the Holy Communion and prepared himself for death. Sophia handed him an image of the Virgin and said, 'Perhaps when the Streltsi see this holy picture they will let him go.' All in the palace were so terrified that it seemed to them that Ivan Naryshkin was lingering too long. Even the old Prince Jacob Odoiefsky, a kindly but timorous old man, went up to the Tsaritsa and said: 'How long, 0 lady, you are keeping your brother. For you must give him up. Go on quickly, Ivan Kirilovitch, and don't let us all be killed for your sake.' The Tsaritsa led him as far as the Golden Wicket, where the Streltsi stood. They immediately seized on him and begun to indulge in all sorts of abuse and insult before her eyes. He was dragged by the feet down the staircase through the square to the Constantine torture-room. Though most fearfully tortured, Naryshkin set his teeth and uttered not a word. Here was also brought Dr Daniel Von Gaden, who was caught in the dress of a beggar, wearing bark sandals, and with a wallet over his shoulders. He had escaped from the town and had passed two days in the woods, but had become so famished that he had returned to the German quarter to get some food from an acquaintance, when he was recognized and arrested. Von Gaden, in the midst of his tortures, begged for three days more, in which he promised to name those who deserved death more than he. His words were written down, while others cried out: 'What is the use of listening to him? Tear up the paper,' and dragged him, together with Naryshkin, from the torture-room to the Red Place. They were both lifted up on the points of spears; afterward their heads and feet were cut off, and their bodies chopped into small pieces and trampled into the mud. With these two deaths the murders came to an end. The Streltsi went from the Red Place to the palace of the Kremlin and cried: We are now content. Let your Tsarish Majesty do with the other traitors as may seem good. We are ready to lay down our heads for the Tsar, for the Tsaritsa, for the Tsarevitch and the Tsarevnas.

That very day permission was granted for the burial of the bodies, many of which had been lying in the Red Place since the first day of the riot; and the faithful black servant of old Matveief went out with a sheet and collected the mutilated remains of his master, and carried them on pillows to the parish church of St Nicholas, where they were buried.