September 01, 2014

False Dmitry

False Dmitry
False Dmitry swearing allegiance to Sigismund II. (Nikolai Nevrev, 1874)

In October 1604, an army under the command of a man claiming to be Dmitry, son of Ivan IV (the Terrible), crossed the Russian border from Poland. Dmitry – now generally believed to be the impostor Grigory Otrepyev – had tried to win the support of the Polish king, who decided against sending the pretender’s army to fight and entangling himself in an all-out war. The king did not, however, interfere with the Polish noblemen who joined Dmitry’s march on Moscow.

Such were the origins of the False Dmitry’s first army, a largely Polish force with just a handful of Russians. The army’s first encounter with the enemy ended in a crushing defeat, and Otrepyev, who was more at home in the library than on the battlefield, immediately fell into despair. Some accounts describe him falling to his knees and vainly begging his scattering troops not to forsake him. That might have been the end of it, but False Dmitry had intentionally moved on Moscow using an indirect route. He looped down through the southern volosts (districts), where there was widespread dissatisfaction with Tsar Boris Godunov. Rumors that the “true tsar” had emerged spread like wildfire and people thronged from neighboring towns and villages to join his force; soon a large Cossack army arrived from the Don to lend a hand. Six months later, Grishka Otrepyev made his triumphant entry into Moscow and began his short-lived (July 1605 to May 1606) reign.

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