May 01, 2016

An Unlikely Tsar

Vasily Ivanovich Shuysky is generally treated as a minor figure in the history of the Time of Troubles. Historians have typically used words like “sly,” “crafty,” and “weak,” to describe the man who ruled Russia from 1606 to 1610, and he is often perceived and depicted as an aging intriguer who wound up ascending the throne more through luck than merit, before being swept away by the winds of history, leaving barely a footprint in its sands.

His story, however, is not so simple, and the twists and turns of Vasily Shuysky’s life are emblematic of the uneasy times in which he lived.

The future Tsar Vasily IV was born in 1552, during a relatively peaceful and prosperous period of Ivan the Terrible’s reign that was, however, far from tranquil for the Shuysky family: Vasily’s grandfather, Andrei Mikhailovich Shuysky, was the first known victim of the brutality that ultimately earned Ivan his epithet. When the young tsar (or rather Grand Prince at the time of Andrei Shuysky’s fall from grace) was all of 13, he decided that the Shuyskys were too politically meddlesome and ordered his huntsmen to kill Prince Andrei. For two hours nobody had the courage to move his corpse from the ground where it lay.

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