8. Eyewitness account of the private life and customs of the 'false' Tsar Dmitry

(Isaac Massa de Haarlem (1587—?) was probably of Italian origin: his family had settled at Haarlem. Still a teenager, he was sent by his parents to Russia to learn Russian and become a leading merchant. He lived there eight years, and both wrote and spoke Russian sufficiently well to be employed as a professional translator and interpreter by the States-General. He lived through the bloody Time of Troubles' and left a most vivid and accurate eye-witness account — in particular, of the investiture of Moscow by the First Pretender, Dmitry, and of his atrocious death.)

Every day, here and there, many people were executed. At the same time, God sent visible warnings to Demetrius [Dmitr•], but he was blind to them. He paid no attention to the Moscovites, and did not believe the reports he received about how matters stood.

I must now say a few words about his private life.

He sent large sums of money to Poland to settle his debts and to repay everyone what he had borrowed from them. The Poles also arrived in great numbers in Moscow, to sell rich jewels and other precious objects sought after by the Tsar. His desire was stimulated by all that was rare or unusual. Those who ordered such things quickly received their asking price, and could go away satisfied. He built a magnificent palace on the ramparts of the Kremlin from which he could see the whole city. These ramparts are on a high mountain at whose foot flows the Moskova river. The Palace consisted of two adjacent buildings forming an angle: one of them was intended for the future Tsarina [Marina].

Inside the apartments, he hung splendid golden canopies; the walls were dressed with precious cloth-of-gold and embroidered velvet. The nails, the hinges and the other iron-work of the doors were thickly plated with gold. The stoves were masterpieces of art. The windows were draped with crimson cloth and velvet. He also built splendid baths and beautiful towers. Although vast stables already existed within the precincts of the palace, he built a private stable next to his new house. In these new buildings, he put a mass of concealed doors and secret passages, which proves he was following the example of tyrants and that, like them, he lived in perpetual fear.

Throughout his empire, he called for the strongest and fiercest dogs. On Sundays, they would bring cages of wild bears to the rear-court of the palace, and he would take pleasure in setting them against his dogs. Often he even ordered the highest nobles in the land, who in fact are able hunters, into the arena armed with a simple boar-spear to pit themselves against the bears. With my own eyes I saw this chilling scene: several times I saw a man attack an enormous bear which was thrashing about violently, and pierce its throat or its chest with unbelievable skill. Most of these brave men emerge from the fight with wounded hands. But they are often victorious. If their thrust should miss, their life is in the gravest danger, but then hunters, armed with pitch forks, rush at the bear and pierce it with blows. However, at all events, these games are horrible to watch....

Demetrius' two most intimate friends after Massalsky were Pierre Basmanoff, whom he made commander in chief of his armies, and a certain Michel Moltchanoff, who had already attached himself to the Tsar's party in Poland and had always been extremely useful. Moltchanoff was a sycophant and a hypocrite. He was godless and lawless — in short, an unmitigated scoundrel.

These three committed countless misdeeds, and were shameless debauchees. Moltchanoff had the role of procurer. His agents sought out the most beautiful girls. Sometimes using money and sometimes force, he would lead them through secret passages to the Tsar's baths. When Demetrius was satiated, he would pass them on to Basmanoff and Moltchanoff.

If the glance of Demetrius fell on a beautiful nun (and there were a great many in Muscovy), she had no escape from his lust. After his death, about thirty were found to be pregnant by him.

That was his private life. To the world, he appeared a soldier and a hero in all things. Not one of his chancellors or officers failed to experience his anger. More than once he had broken a stick over their loins to teach them courtlier manners and to teach them a lesson. This doubtless did not particularly appeal to them, but they could only wait patiently for better times.

Even among the Streletz [musketeers] there were those who dared say the Tsar was not the true Demetrius. Basmanoff, the leader of this company of 8,000 men, got wind of these rumours which he passed on to the Tsar, warning him to be on his guard and that his life was in great danger. A ruthless and secretive enquiry was held. Seven were picked from the crowd and were taken unawares. No one knew about it. The next day at dawn, all the Streletz were summoned to the rear court-yard where the bear fights usually took place on Sundays. They all assembled here, unarmed, and anxious to know why they had been gathered together. A moment later the Tsar came out of the palace, escorted by his archers and halberdiers, and accompanied by Basmanoff, Mstislafsky, the Nagoys and several Polish noblemen. He stood on the grand staircase of the courtyard and ordered all the doors to be closed. When they saw the Tsar, the Streletz prostrated themselves to the ground, according to their custom, and stared at him bare-headed. Seeing these naked heads touching each other, Demetrius burst out laughing, and shouted, 'God grant that they should all be filled with wisdom!' Then he addressed them with a fine speech. He spoke first of Divine Providence, then of the Holy Scriptures. Then he complained of their obstinacy and their incredulity. 'How long will you seek out discord and its unfortunate consequences?' he said to them. Is it not enough for you that the country is rotten to the core? Must it be destroyed to its roots?' Then he reminded them of the Godounoffs' crimes, of their tyranny towards the leading families of the nation, the way they had usurped the Imperial throne. He continued, That is the reason why the country has suffered so badly and now that God has delivered me from all the deadly pitfalls which surrounded me, and that he has preserved only me, you are still not satisfied. You are looking for any excuse to commit new treason, and you would already like to be rid of me! What do you have against me? Who among you can prove that I am not the True Demetrius? Let him step forward, and I will allow myself to be struck here before you!

'My mother and all the lords here present are my witnesses. And how would it have been possible for someone to conquer this powerful empire, almost without an army, if he had not been upheld by his just rights? Would God have allowed it? I risked my life, not to raise myself to the supreme rank, but out of pity for you, to deliver you from the deep misery and the terrible slavery in which you would have been plunged by the traitors who oppressed the country. It is with the support of His all-powerful arm that I obtained possession of a throne which was rightfully mine. So why then are you conspiring? Here I am! Tell me without fear and frankly the reasons for your disbelief.'

These words astounded them. Nearly all of them pressed their faces to the ground and swore they were innocent. They begged in tears for the Tsar's mercy, and asked him to tell who had falsely accused them. Then the Tsar ordered Basmanoff to bring out the seven who had been arrested, which was done immediately. 'Here they are,' cried Demetrius, 'those who affirm that you are conspirators and that you are hatching plots against your rightful Tsar and master!'

They immediately threw themselves on the unfortunate seven, and tore them to pieces in such a horrible way that no one would believe the description. Imagine this mass of soldiers with neither arms nor sticks, hurling themselves on the seven victims, and tearing them apart with their bare hands into a thousand pieces, so that their clothes were sodden with blood as though they had been killing cattle. Some of the mob, like hounds pursuing a stag, had torn away lumps of flesh with their teeth. One of them, who had bitten off an ear, carried his ferocity so far as to keep it clenched in his jaws until it was reduced to shreds. Ravenous lions would not have behaved so atrociously with baby lambs as these men did with their own kind. When the execution was over, they shouted, 'Thus perish all the Tsar's enemies and traitors!'

Despite his bloodthirsty instincts, Demetrius could not bear to watch this ghastly business. He withdrew to a room which he paced while it was going on. When it was over, he returned. He delivered another speech to the troops about himself, and repeated that he was their legitimate sovereign. Then he dismissed them. They all prostrated themselves yet again, with their faces to the ground, begging for mercy, and finally they all went home. The remains of the corpses were gathered into a cart and fed to the dogs. The sight of this tumbril openly carrying these human remains through the town made people's hair stand on end. The incident spread terror through Moscow, rumours ceased, and all talk became very guarded. Nevertheless, a few stubborn souls were not worried either by death or by torture. As to the seven unfortunate victims, I do not believe they were guilty as Demetrius convinced his soldiers. His sole aim in sacrificing them was to terrify the masses.