9. The wedding of Tsar Dmitry and killing Tsar Dmitry (1606)
On 12 May [r6o6], Marina made her entry into Moscow. A tremendous crowd had gathered to greet her. The Tsar himself had planned the ceremonial in fine detail, and watched over the preparations for the reception. He was on horseback very simply dressed and incognito, as etiquette probably prevented him from confronting his fiancee before she was presented to him in the Kremlin A splendid tent had been put up on the Moskva bridge. The Tsarina in a coach drawn by eight dappled grey horses, with their tails and manes dyed red, stopped at the entrance to the tent, and got down to receive the congratulations of the great dignitaries. When the speeches were over, she was led to another coach, lined in red velvet with pearl-embroidered cushions and drawn by twelve piebald horses. This was a new present from the Tsar. As soon as she made a move towards it, the chief boyars picked her up respectfully in their arms and placed her in the opulent carriage. Then, to the accompaniment of musical instruments and ringing bells and artillery fire, she was led to the monastery where the Tsarina Marfa lived. She was to remain here until her coronation, and the unbelieving people were told that during her stay she would be instructed in the Orthodox faith by her pious mother-in-law.
If Marina's youth and beauty could sweeten the bitterness of the Muscovites, her procession was enough to rekindle their old national hatreds. German life-guards marched alongside the bride, then came Polish hussars from her suite, or those who had come to pay homage, all armed from head to toe, lance in hand, preceded by their martial music which played national tunes as though they were going into battle. They look as though they were entering a conquered city,' muttered the Russians. 'What are those breastplates and lances for? Do you cover yourselves with steel to go to a wedding where you come from?' they asked the foreign merchants long settled in Moscow. It was far worse when the Poles spread out through the city to look for lodgings. All these nobles were expecting to campaign against the tartars, and were carrying their best weapons. Whole arsenals were unloaded from their carts .. .
Demetrius's choice of wife, his preference for Western European customs, particularly the scant attention he paid to religious practice, had already lost him irrevocably to public opinion.
Indeed, every day increased the popular irritation, and the smallest incidents tuned into the most serious accusations. Marina, a spoiled child who could not imagine that one should hesitate to satisfy her slightest whim, was very bored in the convent separated from her ladies. She found the rules and customs of a Russian convent unbearable, and she could not reconcile herself to this way of life even for a week. She informed the Tsar that she could not eat Russian cooking, and that she must have her own. Demetrius immediately sent her a Polish butler and cooks, to whom her food-bearers were obliged to give the keys to the pantry and the cellar. The humiliated Russian cooks protested loudly, and not doubting that their ability was in question, announced throughout the city that if the Tsar and his fiancee wished to employ heretic cooks, it was so that they could break the commandments of the Orthodox Church more easily, and eat forbidden meat on days of abstinence... .
The marriage and coronation ceremony took place on i8 May i6o6 in the Moscow cathedral with magnificent pomp. However, the people were horrified because it was a Friday, an unlucky day, and also the eve of the great feast-day of Saint Nicholas. It was thought scandalous to celebrate a wedding on such a day, and they felt the Tsar had deliberately chosen it to defy public opinion. Besides, the behaviour of the Poles in church was most unseemly, and the Emperor was held responsible for this too. Some leaned against the iconostasis, or sat on the tombs containing venerated relics. They talked aloud, laughed among themselves, and seemed to mock the mysteries celebrated in their presence. On the other hand, the Poles, especially the ambassadors, complained of not being treated with all the regard they were due. They had no seats in the cathedral, and when they made a formal request they were told by the Tsar that no one sat in a Greek church, and that the only reason he himself had a throne on that day was because of the exceptional circumstances of the Tsarina's coronation. Condemned to stand through a long service, Sigismond's envoys became rather malevolent observers of the Russian liturgy with its strange rites, of the traditional etiquette followed by the officiating clergy and the bridal couple, and of the glass of wine from which the spouses sipped three times and which the Tsar finally smashed with his foot. The whole ceremony was the object of criticism and sarcasm. They found the Tsar's haughtiness unbearable. They joked about the two young people who could not take one step in the church without having old men with white beards hold them under the arms like children learning to walk .
At last the moment arrived for which Chouisky had been patiently waiting during several months. He saw that revolt was imminent. The foreigners had exasperated the people to a rage, and if he delayed in giving the signal, he would lose the fruits of his long plotting. He secretly gathered in his house several boyars, some merchants and some officers of the Strelitz. Hatred for the Poles had united all classes and professions in this assembly. Chouisky said to them, 'Orthodox Christians, you can see Moscow the Holy City is in the hands of foreigners. The Poles defy and insult us.'
On 26 May, a large number of soldiers from the camp pitched near Moscow entered the city separately. Most of them came from the Novgorod contingent, which had the reputation of being disloyal to the emperor. Demetrius either was not aware of this or did not pay it much attention. He spent the evening and part of the night at a feast, and he only dismissed his guests at daybreak. Before retiring he went out for a breath of air on the palace steps, where he met Afanassi Vlassief, one of the plotters who had been sent to reconnoitre. Surprised to see him at such an hour, the Tsar asked if he had a message from Sigismond's ambassadors, with whom his duties obliged him to live. Vlassief replied evasively, and withdrew to tell his accomplices that the palace was under tight security. The leaders of the plot were gathered at Basil Chouisky's. Some continued to hesitate. Chouisky told them that there was not a minute to lose. The Tsar had discovered their secret, and had already given the order for their deaths. The only way to save their skins was to forestall the tyrant with a bold blow. Seeing them moved by the courage of despair, he gave the prearranged signal.
A troop of boyars and nobles had already assembled on the great square, mounted, wearing chainmail and carrying bows. Leading the most determined among them, Chouisky presented himself at the Saviour's Gate, which was immediately surrendered to him by the guards, who had previously been bought They entered the Kremlin. When Basil passed in front of the Church of the Ascension, he stopped, dismounted, and prostrated himself before the holy icon of Our Lady of Vladimir, as if to implore her protection at this supreme moment. Then rising with an inspired expression and brandishing a cross above his head, he cried, 'Orthodox Christians, death to the heretic!' A thousand furious voices repeated, 'Death to the heretic!' The great bell was rung, and one after another the three thousand bells of Moscow answered. At the same time, small bands of conspirators ran through the suburbs, shouting, To arms, to the Kremlin, they are killing the Tsar!' The excited people ran into the streets in crowds, asking, Who is killing the Tsar?' The
Lithuanians,' answered the plotters, and so drew in their wake a great mob armed with axes and clubs. The people were convinced that the Poles, whom they detested for their insolence, were plotting treason. They surged on their houses, which had already been marked with chalk, knocked in the doors, and began to massacre the sleeping residents. The hardiest of the Muscovites, led by the boyars, went to the Kremlin where the conspirators had a different war cry. It was declared that the Emperor and the Poles wanted to assassinate the boyars.
When the alarm bell rang, the Tsar had just returned to his apartments. At once he sent to ask Demetrius Chouisky, the duty officer in the palace, what was the cause of the noise. He replied that a great fire had just broken out. Then he rushed to join his brother Basil, who was at the head of a large and well-armed troop. Soon, the tocsin echoed by all Moscow's churches and mingling with the clamour of the crowds, warned Demetrius that something more serious than a fire had set the city in a turmoil. While he dressed in haste, he sent Basmanof to find out the cause of the uproar. The outer courtyard was already filling with an armed mob. As soon as Basmanof appeared on the steps a thousand menacing voices shouted furiously, 'Give us the impostor'. He retreated hurriedly into the palace, and ordered the halberdiers to arms. Rushing to the Tsar, he cried, 'Disaster, my lord, the people are threatening to kill you. Save yourself. As for me, I shall die.' Just then under cover of the uproar, one of the conspirators entered Demetrius' room. Coming up to the Tsar, he said, Well, wretched Emperor! Now are you waking up? Come and justify yourself to the people of Moscow.' Enraged, Basmanof seized the Tsar's sabre and split the head of the insolent fellow. Then he rushed to the balcony, which was already swarming with conspirators. Armed with the sword of one of his guards, Demetrius followed his loyal general, shouting to the rebels, 'Scoundrels! I will show you I am not another Boris!'
They say he killed several with his own hand. Basmanof threw himself among the plotters, sometimes begging, sometimes threatening. He covered the Tsar with his own body and dealt out terrible blows. While he was trying to defend the staircase and its approaches, the boyar Tatischef, for whom he had pleaded to Demetrius a few days earlier, cut him down with his knife, and Basmanof fell at his master's feet. At the same time the guards were forced back by musket fire, and soon had to surrender the staircase. Having no firearms, they pulled Demetrius into the palace and tried to barricade the doors. Then began a series of sieges. Each room from the entrance hall to the inner apartments was defended and taken. The insurgents fired arquebuses through the doors and scattered the bodyguards. A door was broken down with axes, a room was invaded, then the next room was attacked and taken in the same way. Finally, pushed behind their last barrier, the German bodyguards were backed against the Tsar's bath, and obliged to give up their useless halberds. But the Emperor was no longer among them, and no one knew where he was.
Meanwhile, Marina had been awoken by the shots, and was told that the palace had been invaded and the Tsar was either dead or in the power of the rebels. Half-dressed, she ran at random looking for a place to hide. First she tried a cellar, but the stairs were already filled with looters, and she realized that she had chosen a bad spot. Crowded and knocked about by the populace who were pressing at the doors of the storerooms, she nevertheless managed to return to her apartments without being recognized, and mingled with her ladies-in-waiting, who were screaming with terror.
The mutineers appeared. A single Polish chamberlain called Osmulski barred their way with his sabre, and delayed them for a moment. But a single shot knocked him across the threshold he was defending and mortally wounded a Polish lady near the Tsarina. Then, with terrible threats, the maniacs threw themselves into the room which was flooded with blood.* The ladies-in-waiting pressed around the grand mistress of the palace, who alone kept her presence of mind, and hid Marina under her ample robes. 'Hand over the Tsar and Tsarina,' cried the revolutionaries. We are not guarding the Tsar,' answered the grand mistress. 'As to the Tsarina, she has been with her father, the Palatin of Sendomir, for the past hour.' Her age protected the grand mistress from these madmen. They contented themselves by heaping her with abuse. The Polish ladies-in-waiting were less fortunate. If one is to believe Baer, the conquerors divided them up as lawful booty, and each boyar took the one he had chosen back to his house. (Baer adds, Where during the year she became a mother.') At last a few leaders arrived, and stopped the violence. Marina was then discovered, but protected. They satisfied themselves by seizing her jewels, and putting seals on the chests which had not been ransacked in the first moments of turmoil. She begged earnestly to be taken to her father, but she was too valuable a hostage for the rebel leaders to agree to let her go. They locked her up under a strong guard in one of the rooms of her palace.
As for Demetrius, he became convinced that all was lost when he saw the first gate of the palace forced, and he ran through the Tsarina's room to the apartment furthest removed from the spot the rebels were attacking. It is said that he had a sabre wound in the leg. Nevertheless, he opened a window overlooking the spot where Boris' palace had once stood and which he had had destroyed. The window was over thirty feet above the ground, but there was no one around and he jumped. The leap was unfortunate and he broke a leg, and the pain was so great that he fainted. He came to a moment later, and his moans attracted a nearby corps of Strelitz guards who recognised him. Moved by compassion, the soldiers picked him up, gave him some water to drink, and sat him on one of the foundation stones of Boris' palace. A little restored, the Tsar was able to speak to the Strelitz who swore to defend him. Indeed, when they heard the first cries of the rebels coming to claim their prey, they responded with their arquebuses, and killed some of the most aggressive. But soon the crowd thickened, drawn by the uproar and the shouts which proclaimed that at last the Tsar had been found. The Strelitz were surrounded and threatened: either they delivered the impostor, or their defenceless wives and children would be massacred in their suburban homes. Then the terrified Strelitz dropped their weapons and abandoned the wounded man.
The mob threw themselves upon him with horrible cries of triumph, and beating him, dragged him to a room of the palace which had already been sacked. Passing in front of his captured bodyguards in the power of his executioners, Demetrius stretched out a hand towards them in a sign of farewell, without saying a word. Enraged, one of his gentlemen, a Livonian called Furstenberg, tried to defend him even though he was unarmed. The rebels ran him through while he only sought to defend his master. If Demetrius was not killed at that moment, it was only because in their hatred his assassins wanted to prolong his suffering. His clothes were ripped off him, and a baker's kaftan put on him. 'Look at the Tsar of all the Russias!' the rebels cried. 'He has put on suitable clothes. "Son of a bitch!' said a Russian nobleman, 'tell us from where you came to us.' Demetrius gathered his remaining strength to raise his voice and say, 'Each of you knows that I am your Tsar, the legitimate son of Ivan Vassilievitch. Ask my mother. Or if you want my death, at least allow me the time to be recognized.' Then a merchant called Valouief, cutting through the throng, cried, Why talk so long with this heretic dog? Here's how I hear the confession of this Polish flautist,' and he fired his arquebus point-blank into the Tsar's chest, putting an end to his agony.
The whole palace was congested. From outside the besieging mob shouted, 'What does the Polish jester say?' Some answered through the windows, 'He admits he's an impostor.' Cut him down, kill him,' shouted thousands of muddled voices, among which one could make out those of the three Chouiski brothers who were on horseback in the palace courtyard, and urging their accomplices to finish off the usurper. Soon a disfigured, slashed corpse with the stomach slit open and the arms chopped by sabres was dragged out on to the steps. It was thrown down the flight where it landed on the body of Basmanof. `You loved each other living. We will not separate you dead!' cried the murderers in their savage triumph.